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Lecture Fifteenth

WE said yesterday that the constancy of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, was based upon these two reasons:-Their certain persuasion that God was the guardian of their life, and would free them from present death by his power if it were useful. And also their determination to die boldly and fearlessly, if God wished such a sacrifice to be offered. What Daniel relates of these three men belongs to us all. Hence we may gather this general instruction. When our danger for the truth’s sake is imminent, we should learn to place our life in God’s hand, and then bravely and fearlessly devote ourselves to death. As to the first point, experience teaches us how very many turn aside from God and the profession of faith, since they do not feel confidence in God’s power to liberate them. It may be said with truth of us all — God takes care of us, since our life is placed in his hand and will; but scarcely one in a hundred holds this deeply and surely fixed in his heart, since every one takes his own way of preserving his life, as if there were no virtue in God. Hence he has made some proficiency in God’s word who has learnt to place his life in God’s care, and to consider it safe under his protection. For if he has made progress thus far, he may be in danger a hundred times, yet he will never hesitate to follow whenever he is called. This one feeling frees him from all fear and trembling, since God can extricate his servants from a thousand deaths, as it is said in the Psalm, (Psalm 68:20,) The issues of death are in his power. For death seems to consume all things; but God snatches from that whirlpool whom he pleases. So this persuasion ought to inspire us with firm and unassailable constancy, since it is necessary for those who so repose the whole care of their life and safety upon God, to be thoroughly conscious and undoubtedly sure that God will defend a good cause. And this is also expressed by these words of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego Behold our God whom we worship When they bring forward God’s worship, they bear testimony to the surliness of their support, when they undertake nothing rashly, but are worshippers of the true God, and labor for the defense of piety. For this is the difference, between martyrs and malefactors, who are often compelled to suffer the penalty of their madness for attempting to overthrow all things. We see, indeed, the majority tossed about by their own intemperance. If they happen to suffer punishment, they are not to be reckoned among God’s martyrs; for, as Augustine says, the martyr is made by his cause, and not by his punishment. Hence the weight of these words, when these three men attest their worship of God, since in this way they boast in their power of enduring any urgent danger not rashly, but only as supported by the sure worship of God. I now come to the second point.

If God be unwilling to deliver us from death, be it known to thee, O king, we will not worship thy gods I said first of all, we should be constantly prepared to undergo every conflict, to commit our life to his charge, to submit to his will and hand, and to the protection of his custody. But the desire of this earthly and fading life ought not; to retain its hold upon us, and to hinder us from the free and candid confession of the truth. For God’s glory ought to be more precious to us than a hundred lives. Hence we cannot be witnesses for God without we lay aside all desire of this life, and at least prefer God’s glory to it. Meanwhile, we must. remark the impossibility of doing this, without the hope of a better life drawing us towards itself. For where there is no promise of any eternal inheritance implanted in our hearts, we. shall never be torn away from this world. We are naturally desirous of existence, and that feeling cannot be eradicated, unless faith overcome it; as Paul says, Not that we wished to be unclothed, but clothed upon. (2 Corinthians 5:4.) Paul confesses that men cannot be naturally induced to wish for departure from the world, unless, as we have said, through the power of faith. But when we understand our inheritance to be in heaven, while we are strangers upon earth, then we put off that clinging to the life of this world to which we are too much devoted.

These then are the two points which prepare the sons of God for martyrdom, and remove hesitation as to their offering their life in sacrifice to God. First, if they are persuaded that God is the protector of their life and will certainly liberate them should it be expedient; and secondly, when they live above the world and aspire to the hope of eternal life in heaven, while prepared to renounce the world. This magnanimity is to be remarked in their language, when they say, Be it known to thee, O king, that we do not worship thy gods nor adore the statue which, thou hast set up Here they obliquely accuse the king of arrogating too much to himself, and of wishing religion to stand or fall by his own will. Thou hast erected the statue, but thy authority is of no moment to us, since we know it to be a fictitious deity whose image thou wishest us to worship. The God whom we worship has revealed himself to us we know him to be the maker of heaven and earth, to have redeemed our fathers from Egypt, and to intend our chastisement by driving us into exile. Since, therefore, we have a firm foundation for our faith hence we reckon thy gods and thy sway valueless. It follows:

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