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THREE YOUNG MEN!
BY REV. E. H. HOFFHEINS.
Though single and alone they siood. SHADRACH, MESHACH AND ABEDNEGO; these three exemplary and faithful Hebrew youths lived during the tyrannical reign of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. They were the early companions of the prophet Daniel; and were, with him, carried captive to Babylon, in the year 602 before the birth of our blessed Saviour. By the special order of the king, and under the superintendance of one of the chief of the princes of Babylon, they were educated in all the Chaldaic learning, in which they made great proficiency; they soon distinguished themselves above all the king's magicians in all wisdom and knowledge, and were made his interpreters, to unravel and explain his dreams and visions, Daniel being the chief among them.
Of the history of these three worthy youths, previous to their captivity in Babylon, we know nothing, except, that they were of the princes of Judah, and were selected from among all other Hebrews youths by the king's order, because “they were without blemish, well favored and skillful in all wisdom and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king's palace." Their Hebrew names were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, which were exchanged, upon their transfer to the court of the king of Babylon, for the Chaldaic names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. As their Hebrew names designated their relation to the God of Israel, so now these new Chaldaic names had reference to the pagan idols which they were now required to worship.
Nebuchadnezzar, the proud and infatuated king of Babylon, having greatly augmented his treasures by numerous conquests which he achieved over surrounding nations, especially that of the Jews, during the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judea, erected a monstrous golden image," whose heights was three-score cubits, and the breadth thereof six cubits,' to his god Belus in the plain of Dura. “Having convened his princes, governors, captains, judges and other officers under him to the dedication of this idol, he issued a decree, that, at a certain signal, every man should prostrate himself before it in token of adoration; and that, if any refused to obey the mandate, he should do it at the fearful expense of being cast into a fiery furnace. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, at once refused, from conscientious principles, to submit to this horrible requisition ; upon which they were immediately summoned to appear before the king, to answer to the charge of disobedience to their king. On their appearing before him, they were again offered the alternative of rendering homage to the idol, or of being cast into the furnace. But they hesitated not a moment; with a noble firmness, such as could face the frown and anger of a mighty monarch, yea, even the most appalling horrors of martyrdom, without fear they replied: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and he will deliver us out of thy hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
In the conduct of these three Hebrew worthies, in refusing to comply with the tyrannical mandate of their imperious king, even at the peril of a fearful death, we have a noble example and worthy pattern of christian fortitude and decision of character, such as cannot fail to strike every beholder with admiration-a pattern that cannot be too carefully studied, nor too closely imitated by every youth.
A want of firmness and decision of character-actions that rest not on strictly upright and conscientious principles, are among the prevailing evils of the times. There is on all sides evidently, too much accommodating to circumstances, too much bending to consequences, and a suiting to the peculiarities of the times, which is highly censurable, utterly inexcusable, and at variance with every principle of firm, unwavering, decided christian character. Men act more from the impulse of the moment-more from a sense of fear or favor--more with a view and desire to obtain the applause, or avoid the frown of men, than to please God. How few do we find, whose actions originate in and proceed from, an enlightened conviction of christian duty.
In order that we may act decidedly, and from fixed enlightened principles, in any instance, we should know, in the first place, and clearly understand what our duty really is. Without such a knowledge and conviction we can never act decidedly, much less from correct principles. And should we act at all, under any such circumstances, our acts will be, at best, but feeble, inconstant and inefficient. The very thought too, that we may be, after all, deceived as to what our duty really is, and, that possibly, we may be acting contrary to the will of God, has a strong tendency to enfeeble our efforts and unsettle us in our purpose. A man can never travel a road with safety and comfort in regard to which he entertains doubts whether it be the right one or not. It was the settled conviction of duty in these three youths which enabled them to act so promptly, firmly, and unhesitatingly, in the presence of their haughty king“O Nebuchadnazzar,” said they, “we are not careful to answer thee in this matter." We are not taken by surprise in this thing. We know what our duty is. We are fully persuaded as to what we are to do, and neither the fear of the fiery furnace, though seven times heated, nor the favor of life can make us swerve from it.
In refusing to do homage to the golden image, they neither acted ignorantly of what the consequences would be, nor under the delusive hope that they would after all escape the frown of the king, nor yet rashly and inconsiderately, but with a full sense of all the fearful consequences, with a determination to meet the worst, let that be what it would; and this they were able to do, from the fact that they knew they were doing right. They knew what this duty was, and were determined to do it without a fear of consequences.
This is the most important requisite in order to act decidedly and firmly--viz: a resolute determination to act at all times in accordance with what we conscientiously know and believe to be our duty, without an improper regard to consequences. It is one thing to know our duty, and altogether another to do it. Some, indeed, glory in their clear knowledge of all their obligations, yet their knowledge will not save them, if they do not act accordingly. Yea, he that knoweth his masters will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes. It is a deplorable fact, that many, especially among the young, who know what their duty is, and are fully persuaded as to the course they ought to pursue, have not resolution and courage to act. When the day of trial comes, and the hour of temptation is at hand, they falter. They yield to the tempter, they commit the
abominable act which will for ever disgrace them, and be as a foul stain upon their character forever afterwards, and render them eternally miserable. And all this for want of resolution, the courage to say in the time of trial after the example of these youths : Be it known unto thee, ( king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor the golden image which thou hast set up.
The three youths, whose conduct we have been commending as most worthy of our imitation, were not only settled in their conviction that they ought not, but also in their purpose that they would not bow down before the idol. This their language clearly shows. Their's was not the language of fear, of doubt or hesitation, but of unyielding determination, of inflexible purpose. Nor was it the language of enthusiasm, of an excited imagination, but that of sober, calm reflection, and of mature deliberation. Such will be, to a great extent, the decision of every christian, who acts from correct, enlightened principles. In vain you threaten him with the fires of persecution, in vain seek to overwhelm him with the waters of tribulation. In vain you deprive him of every thing he holds dear this side of heaven. * Neither the horrors of the prisoner's dungeon, nor the martyr's stake” can turn him from his fixed purpose, faithfully to walk in the path of duty. The consequences he leaves with God.
Our actions, however, should not only be characterized by an enlightened sense of duty, and an unshaken determination to discharge faithfully, under all circumstances, what we know to be our duty, let the consequences be what they will, but also by a confidential and firm reliance upon Almighty God. This is the third most important requisite in order to act decidedly and consistently. This the three young men, again strikingly illustrate and exemplify. “And if it be so," said they, that in refusing to bow down and worship the golden image, o king, we should be thrown into the firey furace, "our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning, fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thy hands, O king.
Noble declaration! Worthy of all cominendation and imitation. Not in themselves, indeed did they confide. Not upon their own strength, cunning, or ingenuity, did they rely for help in this critical hour. But they looked to the Lord--the God whom they served, knowing that he was able to deliver them from the burning furnace. They felt fully persuaded that the God of Abraham, of Moses, of David and of the prophets was still living ; and that He who could divide the waters f the Red sea-cause the walls of Jericho to fall before the bowing of rams horns—and enable David, the stripling in Israel, to slay Goliah the champion of the Philistines, and deliver the prophets out of horrible pits and the mouths of lions, was well able to deliver them out of the fiery furnace, though heated seven times.
Their is still another element in the nature of the decision of these Hebrew youths, which we must not overlook: viz. their quiet resignation to, and calm acquiesence in, the will of God. They had not only full confidence in God, that he would deliver them: “But if not, be it known unto thee, Oking, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
They felt persuaded, that if it should even be so, that their bodies should be destroyed amidst the burning flames, God would be glorified, his holy will would be done, and they themselves be blest and honored in the event.
Such was their faith—such their confidence, resignation and faithfulness in the worst moment of their severe trial. The King's decree had to be executed, the furnace was heatedheated seven times; and “the king, full of fury, and the form of his visage changed against Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego, commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind them; and they were bound in their coats, their hasen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the fiery furnace.” The worst of their trial had come-in the worst came their deliverer. Most glorious was their deliverance !
This, moreover, is not the only instance of patient resignation to the will of God, confidential reliance upon Him, and of glorious deliverance through Him which the Bible contains. Behold Noah in the ark. Abraham on Mount Moriah. Moses at the Red Sea. Daniel in the lion's den. Paul, and a host of others, in every age of the church of Jesus Christ. Arise ! then, young man, and follow these illustrious patterns of christian decision and courage. Be firm, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. See where thy path of duty lies, set thy feet to walk in it; and turn neither to the right hand nor to the left. Lift up thy head, and look to God for help in every case of trying emergency; and know that the God of the Hebrew youths will be with thee ; and the end will be glorious !
As mountains stood to guard
Old Zion's sacred ground,
Embrace his saints around !