|They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.|
That is the testimony of an old man, and one who had the richest and deepest experience of any man living on the face of the earth at the time. He was taken down to Babylon when a young man; some Bible students think he was not more than twenty years of age. If any one had said, when this young Hebrew was carried away into captivity, that he would outrank all the mighty men of that day -- that all the generals who had been victorious in almost every nation at that time were going to be eclipsed by this young slave -- probably no one would have believed it. Yet for five hundred years no man whose life is recorded in history shone as did this man. He outshone Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Cyrus, Darius, and all the princes and mighty monarchs of his day.
We are not told when he was converted to a knowledge of the true God, but I think we have good reason to believe that he had been brought under the influence of Jeremiah the prophet. Evidently some earnest, Godly man, and no worldly professor, had made a deep impression upon him. Some had at any rate taught him how he was to serve God.
We hear people nowadays talking about the hardness of the field where they labor; they say their position is a very peculiar one. Think of the field in which Daniel had to work. He was not only a slave, but he was held captive by a nation that detested the Hebrews. The language was unknown to him. There he was among idolaters; yet he commenced at once to shine. He took his stand for God from the very first, and so he went on through his whole life. He gave the dew of his youth to God, and he continued faithful right on till his pilgrimage was ended.
Notice that all those who have made a deep impression on the world, and have shone most brightly, have been men who lived in a dark day. Look at Joseph; he was sold as a slave into Egypt by the Ishmaelites; yet he took his God with him into captivity, as Daniel afterward did. And he remained true to the last; he did not give up his faith because he had been taken away from home and placed among idolaters. He stood firm, and God stood by him.
Look at Moses, who turned his back upon the gilded palaces of Egypt, and identified himself with his despised and down-trodden nation. If a man ever had a hard field it was Moses; yet he shone brightly, and never proved unfaithful to his God.
Elijah lived in a far darker day than we do. The whole nation was going over to idolatry. Ahab, and his queen, and all the royal court were throwing their influence against the worship of the true God. Yet Elijah stood firm, and shone brightly in that dark and evil day. How his name stands out on the page of history!
Look at John the Baptist. I used to think I would like to live in the days of the prophets; but I have given up that idea. You may be sure that when a prophet appears on the scene, everything is dark, and the professing Church of God has gone over to the service of the god of this world. So it was when John the Baptist made his appearance. See how his name shines out to-day! Eighteen centuries have rolled away, and yet the fame of that wilderness preacher shines brighter than ever. He was looked down upon in his day and generation, but he has outlived all his enemies; his name will be reverenced and his work remembered as long as the Church is on the earth.
Talk about your field being a hard one! See how Paul shone for God as he went out, the first missionary to the heathen, telling them of the God whom he served, and Who had sent His Son to die a cruel death in order to save the world. Men reviled him and his teachings; they laughed him to scorn when he spoke of the Crucified One. But he went on preaching the Gospel of the Son of God. He was regarded as a poor tent-maker by the great and mighty ones of his day; but no one can now tell the name of any of his persecutors, or of those who lived at that time, unless their names happen to be associated with his, and they were brought into contact with him.
Now the fact is, all men like to shine. We may as well acknowledge it at once. You go into business circles and see how men struggle to get into the front rank. Every one wants to outshine his neighbor and to stand at the head of his profession. Go into the political world and see how there is a struggle going on as to who shall be the greatest. If you go into a school you find that there is a rivalry among the boys and girls. They all want to stand at the top of the class. When a boy does reach this position and outranks all the rest the mother is very proud of it. She will manage to tell all the neighbors how Johnnie has got on, and what a number of prizes he has gained.
You go into the army and you find the same thing -- one trying to outstrip the other; every one is very anxious to shine and rise above his comrades. Go among the young men in their games and see how anxious the one is to outdo the other. So we have all that desire in us; we like to shine above our fellows.
And yet there are very few who can really shine in the world. Once in a while one man will outstrip all his competitors. Every four years what a struggle goes on throughout our country as to who shall be the President of the United States, the battle raging for six months or a year. Yet only one man can get the prize. There a good many struggling to get the place, but many are disappointed, because only one can attain the coveted prize. But in the kingdom of God the very least and the very weakest may shine if they will. Not only can one obtain the prize, but all may have it if they will.
It does not say in this passage that the Statesmen are going to shine as the brightness of the firmament. The Statesmen of Babylon are gone; their very names are forgotten.
It does not say that the nobility are going to shine. Earth's nobility are soon forgotten. John Bunyan, the Bedford tinker, has outlived the whole crowd of those who were the nobility in his day. They lived for self, and their memory is blotted out. He lived for God and for souls, and his name is as fragrant as ever it was.
We are not told that the merchants are going to shine. Who can tell the name of any of the millionaires of Daniel's day? They were all buried in oblivion a few years after their death. Who were the mighty conquerors of that day? But few can tell. It is true that we hear of Nebuchadnezzar, but probably we should not have known very much about him but for his relations to the prophet Daniel.
How different with this faithful prophet of the Lord. Twenty-five centuries have passed away, and his name shines on, and on, and on, brighter and brighter. And it is going to shine while the Church of God exists. |They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.|
How quickly the glory of this world fades away! Seventy-five years ago the great Napoleon almost made the earth to tremble. How he blazed and shone as an earthly warrior for a little while! A few years passed, and a little island held that once proud and mighty conqueror; he died as a poor broken-hearted prisoner. Where is he to-day? Almost forgotten. Who in all the world will say that Napoleon lives in their heart's affections?
But look at this despised and hated Hebrew prophet. They wanted to put him into the lions' den because he was too sanctimonious and too religious. Yet see how green his memory is to-day! How his name is loved and honored for his faithfulness to his God.
Seventeen years ago I was in Paris at the time of the Great Exhibition. Napoleon the Third was then in his glory. Cheer after cheer would rise up as he drove along the streets of the city. A few short years and he fell from his lofty estate. He died an exile from his country and his throne, and where is his name today? Very few think about him at all, and if his name is mentioned it is not with love and esteem. How empty and short-lived are the glory and the pride of this world! if we are wise we will live for God and eternity; we will get outside of ourselves, and will care nothing for the honor and glory of this world.
In Proverbs we read: |He that winneth souls is wise.| If any man, woman, or child by a Godly life and example can win one soul to God, their life will not have been a failure. They will have outshone all the mighty men of their day, because they will have set a stream in motion that will flow on and on for ever and ever. That little boy may shine in God's kingdom if he will.
God has left us down here to shine. We are not here to buy and sell and get gain, to accumulate wealth, to acquire worldly position. This earth, if we are Christians, is not our home; it is up yonder. God has sent us into the world to shine for Him -- to light up this dark world. Christ came to be the Light of the world, but men put out that light. They took it to Calvary and blew it out. Before Christ went up on high He said to His disciples: |Ye are the light of the world. Ye are my witnesses. Go forth and carry the Gospel to the perishing nations of the earth.|
So God has called us to shine, just as much as Daniel was sent into Babylon to shine. Let no man of woman say that they cannot shine because they have not so much influence as some others may have. What God wants you to do is to use the influence you have. Daniel probably did not have much influence down in Babylon at first, but God soon gave him more, because he was faithful and used what he had.
Remember a small light will do a good deal when it is in a very dark place. You put one little tallow candle in the middle of a large hall, and it will give a good deal of light.
Away out in the prairie regions, when meetings are held at night in the log school-houses, the announcement of the meeting is given out in this way: |A meeting will be held by early candle-light.| The first man who comes brings a tallow-dip with him. It is perhaps all he has; but he brings it and sets it on the desk. It does not light the building much; but it is better than none at all. The next man brings his candle; and the next family bring their candles. By the time the house is full, there is plenty of light. So if we all shine a little, there will be a good deal of light. That is what God wants us to do. If we cannot all be lighthouses, any one of us can at any rate be a tallow candle.
A little light will sometimes do a great deal. The city of Chicago was set on fire by a cow kicking over a lamp, and a hundred thousand people were burnt out of house and home. Do not let Satan get the advantage of you, and make you think that because you cannot do any great thing you cannot do anything at all.
Then we must remember that we are to let our light shine. It does not say, |Make your light shine.| You do not have to make light to shine; all you have to do is to let it shine.
I remember hearing of a man at sea who was very sea-sick. If there is a time when a man feels that he cannot do any work for the Lord it is then -- in my opinion. While this man was sick he heard that a man had fallen overboard. He was wondering if he could do anything to help to save the man. He laid hold of a light and held it up to the port-hole. The drowning man was saved. When this man got over his attack of sickness he got up on deck one day, and was talking with the man who was rescued. The saved man gave this testimony. He said he had gone down the second time, and was just going down again for the last time, when he put out his hand. Just then, he said, some one held a light at the port-hole, and the light fell on his hand. A man caught him by the hand and pulled him into the lifeboat.
It seemed a small thing to do to hold up the light; yet it saved the man's life. If you cannot do some great thing you can hold the light for some poor, perishing drunkard, who may be won to Christ and delivered from destruction. Let us take the torch of salvation and go into these dark homes, and hold up Christ to the people as the Savior of the world. If these perishing masses are to be reached we must lay our lives right alongside theirs, and pray with them and labor for them. I would not give much for a man's Christianity, if he is saved himself and is not willing to try and save others. It seems to me the basest ingratitude if we do not reach out the hand to others who are down in the same pit from which we were delivered. Who is able to reach and help these drinking men like those who have themselves been slaves to the intoxicating cup? Will you not go out this very day and seek to rescue these men? If we were all to do what we can we should soon empty the drinking saloons.
I remember reading of a blind man who was found sitting at the corner of a street in a great city with a lantern beside him. Some one went up to him and asked what he had the lantern there for, seeing that he was blind, and the light was the same to him as the darkness. The blind man replied: |I have it so that no one may stumble over me.|
Dear friends, let us think of that. Where one man reads the Bible, a hundred read you and me. That is what Paul meant when he said we were to be living epistles of Christ, known and read of all men. I would not give much for all that can be done by sermons, if we do not preach Christ by our lives. If we do not commend the Gospel to people by our holy walk and conversation, we shall not win them to Christ. Some little act of kindness will perhaps do more to influence them than any number of long sermons.
A vessel was caught in a storm on Lake Erie, and they were trying to make for the harbor of Cleveland. At the entrance of that port they had what are called the upper lights and the lower lights. Away back on the bluffs were the upper lights burning brightly enough; but when they came near the harbor they could not see the lights showing the entrance to it. The pilot said he thought they had better get back on the lake again. The Captain said he was sure they would go down if they went back, and he urged the pilot to do what he could to gain the harbor. The pilot said there was very little hope of making for the harbor, as he had nothing to guide him as to how he should steer the ship. They tried all they could to get her into the harbor. She rode on the top of the waves, and then into the trough of the sea, and at last they found themselves stranded on the beach, where the vessel was dashed to pieces. Some one had neglected the lower lights and they had gone out.
Let us take warning. God keeps the upper lights burning as brightly as ever, but He has left us down here to keep the lower lights burning. We are to represent Him here, as Christ represents us up yonder. I sometimes think if we had as poor a representative in the courts above as God has down here on earth, we would have a pretty poor chance of heaven. Let us have our loins girt and our lights brightly burning, so that others may see the way and not walk in darkness.
In the book of Revelation we read: |Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.|
There are many mentioned in the Scriptures of whom we read that they lived so many years and then they died. The cradle and the grave are brought close together: they lived and they died, and that is all we know about them. So in these days you could write on the tombstone of a great many professing Christians that they were born on such a day and they died on such a day; there is nothing whatever between.
But there is one thing you cannot bury with a good man; his influence still lives. They have not buried Daniel yet; his influence is as great to-day as ever it was. Do you tell me that Joseph is dead? His influence still lives and will continue to live on and on. You may bury the frail tenement of clay that a good man lives in, but you cannot get rid of his influence and example. Paul was never more powerful than he is to-day.
Do you tell me that John Howard, who went into so many of the dark prisons in Europe, is dead? Is Henry Martyn, or Wilberforce, or John Bunyan dead? Go into the Southern States and there you will find from three to four millions of men and women who once were slaves. You mention to any of them the name of Wilberforce, and see how quickly the eye will light up. He lived for something else besides himself, and his memory will never die out of the hearts of those for whom he lived and labored.
Is Wesley or Whitefield dead? The names of those great evangelists were never more honored than they are now. Is John Knox dead? You can go to any part of Scotland to-day and you will feel the power of his influence.
I will not tell you who are dead. The enemies of these servants of God -- those who persecuted them and told lies about them. But the men themselves have outlived all the lies that were uttered concerning them. Not only that; they will shine in another world. How true are the words of the old Book: |They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.|
Let us go on turning as many as we can to righteousness. Let us be dead to the world, to its lies, its pleasures, and its ambitions. Let us live for God, continually going forth to win souls for Him.
Let me quote a few words by Dr. Chalmers. |Thousands of men breathe, move and live, pass off the stage of life, and are heard of no more -- Why? They do not partake of good in the world, and none were blessed by them; none could point to them as the means of their redemption; not a line they wrote, not a word they spoke could be recalled; and so they perished; their light went out in darkness, and they were not remembered more than insects of yesterday. Will you thus live and die, O man immortal? Live for something. Do good, and leave behind you a monument of virtue that the storm of time can never destroy. Write your name in kindness, love and mercy, on the hearts of the thousands you come in contact with year by year; you will never be forgotten. No, your name, your deeds will be as legible on the hearts you leave behind as the stars on the brow of evening. Good deeds will shine as the stars of heaven.|