A Superlative Minister
May 2nd, 1971 @ 10:50 AM
THE SUPERLATIVE MINISTER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-2-71 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Superlative Minister; speaking of the minister of state and speaking of the greatest prime minister who ever lived, the prophet Daniel.
Last Sunday we closed an epoch, an era. The golden head, the first great world empire of the times of the Gentiles [Daniel 2:38], the kingdom of Babylon, it is gone now [Daniel 5:30-31]. The golden head has fallen, and the breast of silver with its arms of Media and Persia [Daniel 2:32, 39] now reigns supreme in the earth [Daniel 5:31]. But this Daniel, holy saintly man of God continues in power [Daniel 6:2], in grace, in glory, in gracious acceptance. So I begin; in the sixth chapter:
It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom a hundred and twenty satraps, princes, which should be over the whole realm;
And over these three presidents; of whom Daniel was first,
Now this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.
Then the presidents and the princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; for he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him.
Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God.
Then these presidents and princes assembled together to the king, and said thus unto him, King Darius, live forever.
All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, the and the princes, the counselors, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall call or make a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions.
Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.
And the dupe, the king signed the writing and the decree [Daniel 6:9].
It begins with the kingly exaltation and choice of Daniel. And over these presidents Daniel was first [Daniel 6:2], and that is the key to all that follows after. We are so caught up in the story, even as children, just simply overwhelmed by the lions’ den and the guardian angel; and the night of agony, and watchfulness, and wakefulness; and the retribution to his enemies [Daniel 6:14-24]. We’re so caught up in the story that we don’t notice this sentence which is a key to all that follows after "of whom Daniel was first" [Daniel 6:2].
I remember something like that in the story of Saul, the king of Israel; everything so beautiful and so fine and just going along until he heard the women singing after the defeat of the armies of Philistia and their giant, Goliath, by young David. When Saul heard the women of Israel singing, "Saul hath slain his thousands, but David hath slain his tens of thousands" [1 Samuel 18:7, 21:11], it was new day and a different one. This is the key to all that follows after, "of whom Daniel was first" [Daniel 6:2]. He was first in the eyes of the people; a noble, pure life of dedication and integrity. You can’t hide a city that is set on a hill [Matthew 5:14], nor can you hide a noble, worthy, steadfast Christian life. This Daniel was first, manifestly so, overtly so, in the eyes of the people. He was also first in the eyes of the new king.
The king was looking for a man of integrity to be prime minister and head of state, and he found every worthy endowment in this Daniel. "And he thought to set him high above all of the rulers and princes in the realm of whom Daniel was first" [Daniel 6:2]. Now, this Daniel was "preferred above the presidents and the princes." That word "preferred" is an Aramaic word, meaning "he outshone them all." There was a light in him not found in the other counselors and cabinet members. It was as though he were inspired. His judgments were as though a man had inquired at an oracle of God. His words were like music, as though they came from a heavenly height, and his syllables were full of glory, as though the Lord God was speaking through him. This Daniel was preferred. He outshone; there was a light in him. There was a charismatic grace about him; there was a spirit in him; a heavenly quickening. "He was preferred above the presidents and the princes, because an excellent spirit was in him" [Daniel 6:3]. An excellent spirit was in him. God saw it and He thought so – He inspired the writing of the story. God saw him and found in him an excellent spirit.
Three times in the Book of Daniel is he called "the beloved" [Daniel 9:23, 10:11, 10:19]. God called him that! In the Book of Ezekiel, the Lord names three great men: Noah first, Job third, and every time, Daniel in the middle. "Noah, Daniel, Job" [Ezekiel 14:14, 20], and Daniel was alive! He was a contemporary of Ezekiel, and yet the inspired apostle Ezekiel saw in Daniel that excellent spirit. As I read the Bible, there are three wonderfully noble, pure, saintly, godly men in the Old Testament. One was Joseph; there was never a fault in him. Another is Jonathan, the pure, magnanimous, self-effacing, loving Jonathan, the friend of David. And the third is Daniel. There was an excellent spirit in him, and God saw it and said so [Daniel 6:3].
The king saw it. He found in Daniel an excellent spirit. The king was aware of all of those gracious, noble statesman-like ministries of Daniel in the days gone by as he stood before Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 2of his book, there outlining the course of history [Daniel 2:31-45]; and as he stood in the presence of Nebuchadnezzar in the fourth chapter of the book, and there guided the realm of the Chaldeans for the seven years that the king was mad and insane [Daniel 4:19-37]. And then in the fifth chapter of the book, standing before Belshazzar, the degenerate and unworthy and debauched grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, in whose life the kingdom died [Daniel 5:22-23] – in every instance, Daniel was a faithful counselor and a true friend. And Darius found for him that same dedicated endowment, "an excellent spirit" [Daniel 6:3]. And we find it as I read in the life of Daniel, I feel the quickening uplift of this saintly, and holy, and godly man. "For there was found in him an excellent spirit" [Daniel 6:3].
Look at him just for a moment. How old was he? How old was he here? Well, let’s add it up. He was born about 25 – about 625 BC. When Cyrus, the Medes and the Persians, took over the kingdom, it was 538 – 37 BC [Daniel 5:30-31]. So if Daniel was born about 625 BC, and this happened in about 537 BC, Daniel was ninety and three years of age. I would say any man ninety-three years of age is a candidate for decrepitude, wouldn’t you? He ought to be living in the past. He ought to be patting his great-great-grandchildren on the head and telling them about the good old days. Not Daniel! There is summertime in his heart; there’s God-wardness in his soul; there is a moving, quickening, uplift about the man even though he’s over ninety years of age. There’s a youthfulness about him; there’s a hopefulness about him; there is a spirit of optimism about him. And it’s contagious. This Daniel, over ninety years of age, still in soul and in spirit living the life of a young man; old in body, young in being.
How do you like that? Dr. Reed, I’ve just about concluded you and I are just getting started good. Yeah! Think of the years that lie ahead – our best and our finest.
"An excellent spirit in him" [Daniel 6:3], but most of all, look at him once again. You’ll never – and we have many, many words in these twelve chapters about Daniel and about the life and spirit of the man. Look at him, in all of these chapters and all of these words, there is never even an approach to a complaint. Not one! Why, he’s a captive. He’s a slave. He’s a trophy of war. He’s one of the spoils of battle, uprooted out of his home, carried off to a strange and alien land, made a servant in the court. Never a word of complaint! His spirit is free. His soul is unfettered. His thoughts soar heavenward and God-ward. He lives the life of a triumphant man.
Why, bless you, that’s what it is to be a Christian. How many dungeons, and how many rocks, and how many dens and dives have heard the singing of God’s saints that the lofty cathedral has never heard? How many of these people who are oppressed, and persecuted, and cast out as the scum of the earth have in their angelic devotions taken wings to soar into the very heaven of heavens. Daniel was like that: slave, a captive, a servant, a foreigner, an alien in a strange land, but never a word of complaint.
Again, I think he was a eunuch. The reason I think that was when the king of Babylon, when Nebuchadnezzar was head of the Neo-Babylon Empire, in the ancient empire – I’m talking about the empire of Babylon, oh! many, many, many years before, hundreds of years before – there was Merodach-Baladan, who sent to Hezekiah to woo him away from Assyria. And Hezekiah was oh, so complimented [Isaiah 39:1-2]. And his vanity so pleased that he had an emissary from Merodach-Baladan. And I haven’t time to follow the story through, but God sent Isaiah to Hezekiah. And Isaiah said, "The days are come when your kingdom and nation are going to be carried away captive to Babylon. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt begat shall they take away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon" [Isaiah 39:6, 7]. Now, the Book expressly says that Daniel was of the seed royal [Daniel 1:3]. And in 605, when Nebuchadnezzar had besieged Jerusalem and took it for the first time, he took away some of the children of the king, and one of them was Daniel. And if the prophecy is correct, I think Daniel was a eunuch [Isaiah 39:7, Daniel 1:3-6]. Do you ever find his complaint about being an emasculated man – a dry branch without hope of issue or offspring? Do you? This man, "there was found in him an excellent spirit" [Daniel 6:3], always up, always looking Godward, always filled with hope, and optimism, and persuasion of things glorious yet to come – an excellent spirit. Real Christians, the trials, the tribulations, the sorrows of life, but make them shine the brighter like polishing a mirror. Why, I remember reading about one who in Romans 5:3 said, "Wherefore, we glory in tribulations also." They are the compliments of God. I tell you verily, a Christian like that is an ornament of the earth and the beauty of heaven.
"There was found in him an excellent spirit" [Daniel 6:3]. I am particularly sensitive to that because I find among people, and I get myself into it every once in a while, the spirit of complaint. I’m, my – just get around them, you know, you feel down. "An excellent spirit," get around Daniel, and you feel up. There’s some greater thing God is preparing for us who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9].
Now, I wish I could leave this out, but this is a part of human life: the penalty for his primacy, the bitter, bitter envious diabolical plan to destroy this detested Daniel. All exaltation and all success carries with it those same working principles. Let’s speak first in this primacy, let’s speak first of the penalty that the man pays for it himself. There is no exaltation; there is no success; there is no primacy that is not paid for in the man himself. One, in labor, in work, he’s a slave. He’s chained. Is it a musician? He is fastened to the bench, to the keyboard, to the organ; if he excels; if he’s good. Is he an artist? Is he an author, a poet? Is he a physician? Is he a theologian? If he excels, he pays for it. He slaves at it. He pours his life into it.
Think also of the responsibility that comes with it. Think how powerful the greatest, the most powerful man in the earth is the president of the United States. Why, he said, "I take five minutes for lurch. I take five minutes for dinner." Seated by his aides, eating dinner at the White House, the aide said to me, "I see the president with his coat off and his sleeves rolled up, working arduously into the wee hours of the night," the responsibility that goes with it. These who are cheaply and falsely ambitious, they covet the honors, but they shun the sacrifice and the slavery. All primacy costs, and if there is exaltation there is payment for it. It’s wonderful to be exalted; yes and no. It is to be desired; it is and it is not. Oh, what it carries with it! And so in the life of Daniel; chosen and exalted, but on him the responsibility of state!
All right, another thing that is a concomitant and corollary: it is the price of greatness that it is dogged, and hounded, and followed by envy. The heart burns in rage against him though he has done no injury and no harm. And the more successful the man is and the more exalted he is, the more they hate him. Nor is goodness any deterrent. Hate this man Daniel? Despise this saintly and holy man? He’s an old man, he’s a eunuch, he’s a slave, he’s a captive, but he’s exalted. And there’s a grace in him and there is a success in him. "And we hate him. We hate him!" Hate that good man? That’s human nature.
Do you remember what Plato one time said? Plato said that if truth were to come down from heaven and walk on the earth, if truth were to come, she would be so lovely and so desirable that the whole earth of men would fall down and worship before her. The hypothetical assumption of Plato is denied by both secular and sacred history. Truth did come down from heaven, "I am hē alētheia," the truth [John 14:6]. Truth did come down from heaven, and what did men do? They said: "Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Away with Him!" [John 19:15] They said: "Not this Man, but Barabbas" [Matthew 27:17-26; Mark 15:7-15]. And Barabbas was a murderer and an insurrectionist and a robber. Truth did come down! This in Plato is but one more of the endless, interminable illustrations and instances of the attitude of the man’s philosophy and humanism toward sin. To them, it is a slight thing. It is a peccadillo. It’s just a drug that we shall evolve out of some day. But according to God, it is a portrayal, and a vivid one, of the fall of the entire human soul. Sin is a dastardly, disastrous thing according to the revealed Word of God [Romans 8:22-23]. And it is our minds, and our souls, and our hearts, and our imaginations, and our dreams, and our lives, and our deeds; we are a fallen people. And I don’t know of a more poignant illustration of it than here. Hate this good man? Envy this saintly man? Seek the destruction of a detestable Daniel? [Daniel 6:3-9]. "Yes, by any way; by any way!"
Envy is an awesome thing. Jealousy is an awesome thing. It destroys where ever it touches; it’s leprous. But you know, the most tragic part of envy and jealousy, as much as vile, as hurtful, as awesome as it is against these that we are envious of, the more destructive thing is found in our own hearts – the affect it has upon us. It is an undercutting of human personality: envy and jealousy. When others are praised, we close our ears. If something is said, we draw away. We are envious. We are jealous.
Ah! I don’t know of a story that ever entered my heart more deeply than the story of F. B. Meyer, God’s great, wonderful, sainted preacher in London when young Spurgeon came along. F. B. Meyer had been in London for a generation. He was God’s great wonderful man. And this young fellow, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, came to London when he was in his teens. And immediately – I don’t mean a year, or two, or three – I mean immediately, you could not find any area large enough to hold the people that wanted to hear that young teenager, nineteen years of age. He was like a star, like a galaxy that appeared in the sky – Spurgeon! And [F. B.] Meyer said immediately when the throngs began to crowd around the young man, enmity and jealousy entered his heart and ate him up. There he was, the great Baptist preacher in London, and these throngs and these throngs, listening to Charles Haddon Spurgeon. [F. B.] Meyer said he got down on his knees and he cried out before God, and he told the Lord all about it. Then he said the Lord began to put into his heart: "Pray for, and intercession for, and pleading for the young man Spurgeon." And [F. B.] Meyer said, "The day came after I prayed and took it to God – the day came when every victory Spurgeon won, I felt as though I had done it myself. I had so prayed for him and so asked God to bless him, that when the rewards, and the exaltation, and the throngs and the souls that turned to God through the young man, I just felt as though I had done it myself. I rejoiced and was glad." That’s Christian!
Envy, jealousy, and these presidents, and these satraps, and these princes, and these governors, and these captains, and these counselors, they were not Christian. And so they said: "Do away with him!" That’s all the answer that paganism has. "Do away with him! Burn them at the stake! Drown them in water! Let them rot in dungeons! Cut their tongues out! Hang them!" Paganism has no other answer. How would communism deal with its people except by fire, and fagot, and flame, and prison? They don’t have an answer. They are godless! They are pagan! They are heathen! There’s not any answer on the part of heathenism except to destroy and to persecute.
And that’s what you have here; it’s the pagan answer. This is the heathen answer. "Let’s do away with him." Well, how do you do away with the detestable Daniel? "First, let’s test everything that he did in the kingdom, and does." And they did: every judgment he made; every deed that he did; every mandate that he signed; every order that he gave as he governed the kingdom. And they found in him no fault at all [Daniel 6:4]. It was as if God Himself were directing the empires of men in Daniel. He dispensed patronage with absolute impartiality. He was above bribery.
There’s not anything in public office so vile and so vicious and so debilitating as the politician who has his hand under the table. Brother, all you’ve got to do is to read the daily newspapers and see how the politician enriches himself with his hand underneath. Had Daniel been open to bribes, subject to bribe, one eye open as he held the scales of balance and justice, closed his mouth when he should be speaking out, had there been any fault in him, they would have seen it immediately. But he was impeccable. He was unbribable. He was incorruptible. He was a man of integrity, and honesty, and nobility, and purity. Try as they could, they could find no occasion nor fault in him [Daniel 6:4]. Don’t you wish you could vote for a man like that? Don’t you? Ah!
Then one of them said, "Look, have you noticed the God that he worships? He doesn’t worship idols. And when we have this grand march to Bel Merodach and go through all of those ceremonies, and genuflections, and incense burning, and worship and adoration before those idols, do you notice he doesn’t do that? Do you notice he talks to somebody he calls Jehovah, the Lord God? And he communes with Him, prays to Him. Do you notice that? That’s our key. That’s our open door. We will accuse him for worshiping his God" [Daniel 6:4-5].
And oh! what a diabolical scheme do they concoct. Then these presidents and princes assemble together to the king. Look at that. "They assemble together to the king" [Daniel 6:6]. The Aramaic of that is: they tempestuously, impulsively, tumultuously, ran into the presence of the king – forgot all of the etiquette of the Medes and the Persians. It was as though they had been suddenly inspired by a holy impulse, they just come into the presence of the king. The king doesn’t know that it is premeditated and planned. It appears to be the impulsively done; just something that rises up from their hearts as they think of the glory and the greatness of King Darius. They impulsively, impetuously, tumultuously rush into his presence and they say, "O king, we have had, we’ve had a divine inspiration. What we want to do is, we want to make you God for a month" [Daniel 6:7].
I tell you, how stupid can a king get? "We’re going to make you God for a month." Were any of you all ever candidates for a queen for a day? Were you? Anybody here? God for a month! "We’re going to make you vice-president of the whole universe. And no subject in the whole realm is to call upon any god or make any petition to any man except of thee, O King. We’re going to pray toward thee. We’re going to lift up our hands in supplication to thee. We’re going to bow down in adoration to thee. You’re going to be God, divine and infallible for thirty days" [Daniel 6:7]. And I want you to know that whether that was a lunar month or whether that was a calendar month, I want you to know, he was flattered, "HO! Think how great people will know I really am,God." Had he reflected upon it, had there been time for argument – see, there were three presidents [Daniel 6:2]; just two of them were there. Daniel was not there. Had the king even thought, he would not have fallen into such a silly trap: God for thirty days. But it was done tumultuously; they rushed into his presence as though they had a divine inspiration. And they were just filled with impulsive love and appreciation for their great king [Daniel 6:7-8], and without thinking, he signed the decree [Daniel 6:9]. Just like that. Signed it! "And when Daniel knew that the writing was signed," ah! This sedate, and stately, and a holy and godly man walked on, unperturbed in quiet assurance and self-possession. Whether the world noticed him or not, he didn’t change. He walked before God in quiet peace and self-assurance [Daniel 6:10].
Over there on Mrs. Jeffers’ department, up there on the fourth floor of that building across the street, there’s a famous picture of Daniel. I’ve seen it ever since I was a little boy. I looked at it yesterday, again. He’s standing there, with his hands behind his back in quiet contemplation; and the lions looking at him in awe and wonder. What did the prophet Isaiah say? "Thou will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed upon Thee" [Isaiah 26:3]. And when Daniel knew of the writing and it was signed, just the same, unperturbed, without anxiety or foreboding, just standing in the presence of the great God [Daniel 6:10].
As I think of this aged man, I think of aged Polycarp, when they burned him at the stake in Smyrna in 155 AD. Polycarp the aged man, disciple of John – been a Christian eighty-seven years. Polycarp with praises on his lips, in quiet commitment; the flames were but a chariot to waft his soul up to heaven in quiet self-assurance. I think of Simon Peter in the twelfth chapter of Acts: the next morning, Herod Agrippa I was to cut off his head. When the angel came to deliver him, Simon Peter was sound asleep, chained between two Roman soldiers [Acts 12:6]. "Thou will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee" [Isaiah 26:3].
Lord, how I need the sermon! How many times do I find myself perplexed, full of anxiety, and disturbed, and perturbed, and full of fear and foreboding? Lord, Lord, take it away! May I walk through the days of the years of my life with my face upward and my heart quiet in the grace, and goodness, and mercies of God. I’m going to put a comma there, and we will pick it up next Sunday.
Now we’re going to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, while we sing the hymn, would you come down here and stand by me? In the balcony round, there are stairs at the front and back, and on either side, and time and to spare, come. On this lower floor, into the aisle, and down here to the front, "Here I am, pastor, I’m making it now." Decide in your heart and come on the first note of this first stanza, while we stand and sing.
THE SUPERLATIVE MINISTER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Choice of Darius
A. "Of whom Daniel was first"
B. "This Daniel was preferred"
C. "Because an excellent spirit was in him"
II. The Bitter Penalty-always a penalty for exaltation
A. Personal discipline
B. Private envy
III. Diabolical plan
A. How could they find fault with him
B. They could find no fault in him
C. They would use his worship of God against him
D. The flattered king
IV. The quiet, unperturbed Daniel