The world-power and empire of Babylon passed away forever; and another took its place—the power and empire of Medo-Persia. Here was another principle of government, and here there is given to the world another lesson in religious liberty.
In the Medo-Persian empire the principle of government was different from that of Babylon.
Babylon, as we have seen, was not only an absolute monarchy, but an autocracy—a one-man absolutism. The word of the king was the law, and the law was changeable as the will and word of the king might change. The king was the source of the law; his word was the law for all others; but as for himself there was no restriction of law.
The Medo-Persian government was an absolute monarchy also. There, also, the word of the king was the law: but with this all-important difference from Babylon, that when once the word of the king had gone forth as the law, that law could not be changed nor reversed even by the king himself. The king himself was bound, even against himself, by his own word or decree that had once become the law. The government of Medo-Persia, therefore, was a government of law; its principle was the supremacy of THE LAW.
At the head of the administration of the affairs of this empire there were three presidents, of whom Daniel was first. Because of Daniel’s knowledge, integrity, ability, and general worth in the administration, the king had it in mind “to set him over the whole realm.” This, becoming known, excited the jealousy of the other two presidents and of the princes; and they conspired to break him down.
They sought, first, “to find occasion against Daniel” concerning his conduct of the affairs of the empire. But after long and diligent search, and the closest possible scrutiny, they were obliged to cease their endeavor and confess that “they could find none occasion nor fault,” because “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.” But they could not find any occasion against him concerning even the law of his God, until they themselves had first created a situation that would render inevitable the desired occasion.
Their long and exacting endeavor to find some occasion or fault against him in the affairs of the empire had convinced them of his absolute devotion in loyalty to God. Through their investigation they knew by experience that he could not by any means be caused to swerve a hair’s-breadth from the straight line of absolute devotion to God. But this was wholly an individual matter, in which there was no interference with any man in any way whatever. And in his conduct in relation to others and to the State, their own consciously prejudiced investigation had demonstrated that it was actually beneficial.
Thus there being no possible ground upon which they could find occasion against him even concerning the law of his God, as circumstances and conditions were; and they, therefore, being put to the necessity of actually creating such ground, Daniel’s unswerving devotion to God became the way over which they would proceed. They therefore concocted a scheme into which they drew all the officials of the empire, and went to the king and said:—“O king, live forever. All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, 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 ask any petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into a 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.” (Daniel 6:6-8)
The king allowed himself to be caught by this very flattering proposal of so large a number of the highest officials of the empire, and he signed the decree. Daniel knew that the decree had been framed, and that the writing had been signed by the king. He knew that such was now the law of the empire—a law that could neither be waived nor altered. Nevertheless he went to his house, and as his regular times of prayer recurred, three times a day, he “prayed and gave thanks before God, as he did aforetime.” (Daniel 6:10) And his windows happening to be open, the imperial law had not enough place in his mind or weight upon his attention to induce him to take the precaution even to close the windows.
The plotters expecting nothing but just this on the part of Daniel, “assembled and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God.” Then at sight of this open disregard of the imperial law, they hastened to the king and very deferentially inquired. “Hast thou not signed a decree?” etc. The king answered, “The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.” Then the plotters reported, “that Daniel which is of the children of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree that thou hast signed, but maketh his petition three times a day.”
“Then the king, when he had heard these words, was sore displeased with himself,” because he had allowed himself to be so flattered as to be caught in such a trap as that. “And he set his heart on Daniel to deliver him.” (Daniel 6:11-14) But the plotters were ready with their plea of the supremacy and integrity of “the law”; and to urge arguments that it was “not a question of religion, but of the law;” that to countenance disregard and violation of “the law” was simply to undermine all the government and make an open bid for a reign of anarchy, and for the very dissolution of society itself: that they were exceedingly sorry that such an excellent man as Daniel should be thus involved, yet to allow such open disregard of “the law” by one of such high standing and reputation would be only all the worse; because this very fact of the high standing and wide reputation of the one who so openly disregarded “the law” would be only the more encouragement to all people to do the same, etc., etc.
Yet the king “labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him.” But through all that time and at every turn, the king was met by the plotters with the plea, “The law; the law.” “Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, that no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed.” The supremacy of the law bound the king himself: there was no escape: and, though with greatest reluctance, “the king commanded and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions.” (Daniel 6:16)
The king passed the night in fasting and in sleeplessness. But very early in the morning he hurried to the den of lions and “cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel… O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?”
Daniel answered, “O king, live forever. My God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before Him, innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.” (Daniel 6:20-22) And therein the demonstration is made in perfection forever that the person who disregards any law that touches service to God is innocent before God, and also does “no hurt” to the king, nor to the State, nor to society, nor to any principle of law or government.
All of which in divine truth demonstrates again that no earthly government can ever have any right or jurisdiction in matters of religion: that is, in “the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it.” And in this case there is the additional demonstration that no government can ever of right incorporate in the law provisions touching religion, and then plead the supremacy and integrity of “the law:” that “it is not primarily a question of religion but only of the law:” that “we are not asking for religious observance, we ask only respect for law.” In the case of Daniel and the “supremacy of the law of the Medes and Persians,” the divine answer to all such pleas is that, nothing pertaining to religion can ever of right have any place in the law.
The right of perfect individuality in religion is a divine, and therefore an absolutely inalienable, right. And to make religious observances or prohibitions a matter of law, does not affect the free exercise of this divine right. The fullness of the right, and the perfect liberty of its exercise, abide ever the same, even though religion be made a matter, and a part, of the law. And when religion or religious observance or prohibition is fixed in the law, even though the law be as supreme and inflexible as that of the Medes and Persians, the divine right and perfect liberty of individuality in religion then extends to the law that incorporates the religion, and such law is simply no law. The subterfuge of enforcing religious observances or prohibitions under cover of “the supremacy and integrity of the law,” instead of taking away or in any way limiting the divine right and perfect liberty of individuality in religion, simply reacts to the extent of actually sweeping away all ground of claim for “the supremacy and integrity of the law”—in actually nullifying the specific law in the case.
The civil law is rightly supreme in the realm of things civil, but in the realm of things religious it simply has no place at all.
In the presence of the divine right of individuality in religion as relates to autocratic government, illustrated in King Nebuchadnezzar, the king’s word must change.
In the presence of the divine right of individuality in religion as relates to the supremacy and inflexibility of the law, illustrated in the government of the Medes and Persians, any law that touches or contemplates religion is simply no law at all.
The realm of religion is the realm of God. In that realm God alone is Sovereign, and His will is the only law. And in that realm the individual stands alone with God, and responsible to Him alone.
00- Individuality in Religion – Book Contents and Introduction
01 – Individuality in Religion – As Related to Autocracy
02 – Individuality in Religion – As Related to the Supremacy of Law
03 – Individuality in Religion – As Relates to Church and State
04 – Individuality in Religion – As Related to the Church itself
05 – Individuality in Religion – As Between Individuals
06 – Individuality in Religion – God and Caesar
07 – Individuality in Religion – Recapitulation
08 – Individuality in Religion – Individuality the Supreme Gift
09 – Individuality in Religion – Sunday Legislation