The Cyrus Cylinder from Ancient Babylon and the Beginning of the Persian Empire

The Cyrus Cylinder from Ancient Babylon and the Beginning of the Persian Empire

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Lecture by Dr. Introduction by Joan Aruz, Curator in Charge, Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This program is presented with the exhibition The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: Charting a New Empire.Thursday, June 20, 2013© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Among his many achievements, this great leader of wisdom and virtue founded and extended the Persian Empire conquered Babylon freed 40,000 Jews from captivity wrote mankind’s first human rights charter and ruled over those he had conquered with respect and benevolence.”

A brilliant military strategist, Cyrus vanquished the king of the Medes, then integrated all the Iranian tribes, whose skill at fighting on horseback gave his army great mobility. His triumph over Lydia, in Asia Minor near the Aegean Sea, filled his treasury with that country’s tremendous wealth.


Some notions of righteousness present in ancient law and religion are sometimes retrospectively included under the term "human rights". While Enlightenment philosophers suggest a secular social contract between the rulers and the ruled, ancient traditions derived similar conclusions from notions of divine law, and, in Hellenistic philosophy, natural law. Samuel Moyn suggests that the concept of human rights is intertwined with the modern sense of citizenship, which did not emerge until the past few hundred years. [4] Nonetheless, relevant examples exist in the Ancient and pre-modern eras, although Ancient peoples did not have the same modern-day conception of universal human rights. [5]

Ancient West Asia Edit

The reforms of Urukagina of Lagash, the earliest known legal code (ca. 2350 BC), is often thought to be an early example of reform. Professor Norman Yoffee wrote that after Igor M. Diakonoff "most interpreters consider that Urukagina, himself not of the ruling dynasty at Lagash, was no reformer at all. Indeed, by attempting to curb the encroachment of a secular authority at the expense of temple prerogatives, he was, if a modern term must be applied, a reactionary." [6] Author Marilyn French wrote that the discovery of penalties for adultery for women but not for men represents "the first written evidence of the degradation of women". [6] [7] The oldest legal code extant today is the Neo-Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu (ca. 2050 BC). Several other sets of laws were also issued in Mesopotamia, including the Code of Hammurabi (ca. 1780 BC), one of the most famous examples of this type of document. It shows rules, and punishments if those rules are broken, on a variety of matters, including women's rights, men's rights, children's rights and slave rights.

Africa Edit

The Northeast African civilization of Ancient Egypt [8] supported basic human rights. [9] For example, Pharaoh Bocchoris (725-720 BC) promoted individual rights, suppressed imprisonment for debt, and reformed laws relating to the transferral of property. [9]

Antiquity Edit

Many historians suggest that the Achaemenid Persian Empire of ancient Iran established unprecedented principles of human rights in the 6th century BC under Cyrus the Great. After his conquest of the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 BC, the king issued the Cyrus cylinder, discovered in 1879 and seen by some today as the first human rights document. [10] [11] [12] The cylinder has been linked by some commentators to the decrees of Cyrus recorded in the Books of Chronicles, Nehemiah, and Ezra, which state that Cyrus allowed (at least some of) the Jews to return to their homeland from their Babylonian Captivity. Additionally it stated the freedom to practice one's faith without persecution and forced conversions. [13] [14] According to art historian Neil MacGregor, the proclamation of full religious freedoms in Babylon and elsewhere in the Persian empire was an important inspiration for human rights by prominent thinkers millennia later, especially in the United States. [15]

In opposition to the above viewpoint, the interpretation of the Cylinder as a "charter of human rights" has been dismissed by other historians and characterized by some others as political propaganda devised by the Pahlavi regime. [16] The German historian Josef Wiesehöfer argues that the image of "Cyrus as a champion of the UN human rights policy . is just as much a phantom as the humane and enlightened Shah of Persia", [17] while historian Elton L. Daniel has described such an interpretation as "rather anachronistic" and tendentious. [18] The cylinder now lies in the British Museum, and a replica is kept at the United Nations Headquarters.

Many thinkers point to the concept of citizenship beginning in the early poleis of ancient Greece, where all free citizens had the right to speak and vote in the political assembly. [19]

The Twelve Tables Law established the principle "Privilegia ne irroganto", which literally means "privileges shall not be imposed".

The Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, who ruled from 268 to 232 BCE, established the largest empire in South Asia. Following the reportedly destructive Kalinga War, Ashoka adopted Buddhism and abandoned an expansionist policy in favor of humanitarian reforms. The Edicts of Ashoka were erected throughout his empire, containing the 'Law of Piety'. [20] These laws prohibited religious discrimination, and cruelty against both humans and animals. [21] The Edicts emphasize the importance of tolerance in public policy by the government. The slaughter or capture of prisoners of war was also condemned by Ashoka. [22] Some sources claim that slavery was also non-existent in ancient India. [23] Others state, however, that slavery existed in ancient India, where it is recorded in the Sanskrit Laws of Manu of the 1st century BC. [24]

In ancient Rome a ius or jus was a right which a citizen was due simply by dint of his citizenship. The concept of a Roman ius is a precursor to a right as conceived in the Western European tradition. The word "justice" is derived from ius.

The coining of the phrase 'Human rights' can be attributed to Tertullian in his letter To Scapula wherein he wrote about the religious freedom in Roman Empire. [25] [26] He equated "fundamental human rights" as a "privilege of nature" in this letter.

Early Islamic Caliphate Edit

Historians generally agree that Muhammad preached against what he saw as the social evils of his day, [27] and that Islamic social reforms in areas such as social security, family structure, slavery, and the rights of women and ethnic minorities were intended to improve on what was present in existing Arab society at the time. [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33] For example, according to Bernard Lewis, Islam "from the first denounced aristocratic privilege, rejected hierarchy, and adopted a formula of the career open to the talents." [ which? ] [28] John Esposito sees Muhammad as a reformer who condemned practices of the pagan Arabs such as female infanticide, exploitation of the poor, usury, murder, false contracts, and theft. [34] Bernard Lewis believes that the egalitarian nature of Islam "represented a very considerable advance on the practice of both the Greco-Roman and the ancient Persian world." [28] Muhammed also incorporated Arabic and Mosaic laws and customs of the time into his divine revelations. [35]

The Constitution of Medina, also known as the Charter of Medina, was drafted by Muhammad in 622. It constituted a formal agreement between Muhammad and all of the significant tribes and families of Yathrib (later known as Medina), including Muslims, Jews, and pagans. [36] [37] The document was drawn up with the explicit concern of bringing to an end the bitter intertribal fighting between the clans of the Aws (Aus) and Khazraj within Medina. To this effect it instituted a number of rights and responsibilities for the Muslim, Jewish and pagan communities of Medina bringing them within the fold of one community-the Ummah. [38]

If the prisoners were in the custody of a person, then the responsibility was on the individual. [39] Lewis states that Islam brought two major changes to ancient slavery which were to have far-reaching consequences. "One of these was the presumption of freedom the other, the ban on the enslavement of free persons except in strictly defined circumstances," Lewis continues. The position of the Arabian slave was "enormously improved": the Arabian slave "was now no longer merely a chattel but was also a human being with a certain religious and hence a social status and with certain quasi-legal rights." [40]

Esposito states that reforms in women's rights affected marriage, divorce and inheritance. [34] Women were not accorded with such legal status in other cultures, including the West, until centuries later. [41] The Oxford Dictionary of Islam states that the general improvement of the status of Arab women included prohibition of female infanticide and recognizing women's full personhood. [42] "The dowry, previously regarded as a bride-price paid to the father, became a nuptial gift retained by the wife as part of her personal property." [34] [43] Under Islamic law, marriage was no longer viewed as a "status" but rather as a "contract", in which the woman's consent was imperative. [34] [42] [43] "Women were given inheritance rights in a patriarchal society that had previously restricted inheritance to male relatives." [34] Annemarie Schimmel states that "compared to the pre-Islamic position of women, Islamic legislation meant an enormous progress the woman has the right, at least according to the letter of the law, to administer the wealth she has brought into the family or has earned by her own work." [44] William Montgomery Watt states that Muhammad, in the historical context of his time, can be seen as a figure who testified on behalf of women's rights and improved things considerably. Watt explains: "At the time Islam began, the conditions of women were terrible—they had no right to own property, were supposed to be the property of the man, and if the man died everything went to his sons." Muhammad, however, by "instituting rights of property ownership, inheritance, education and divorce, gave women certain basic safeguards." [45] Haddad and Esposito state that "Muhammad granted women rights and privileges in the sphere of family life, marriage, education, and economic endeavors, rights that help improve women's status in society." [46] However, other writers have argued that women before Islam were more liberated drawing most often on the first marriage of Muhammad and that of Muhammad's parents, but also on other points such as worship of female idols at Mecca. [47]

Sociologist Robert Bellah (Beyond belief) argues that Islam in its 7th-century origins was, for its time and place, "remarkably modern. in the high degree of commitment, involvement, and participation expected from the rank-and-file members of the community." This is because, he argues, that Islam emphasized the equality of all Muslims, where leadership positions were open to all. Dale Eickelman writes that Bellah suggests "the early Islamic community placed a particular value on individuals, as opposed to collective or group responsibility." [48]

Early Islamic law's principles concerning military conduct and the treatment of prisoners of war under the early Caliphate are considered precursors to international humanitarian law. The many requirements on how prisoners of war should be treated included, for example, providing shelter, food and clothing, respecting their cultures, and preventing any acts of execution, rape or revenge. Some of these principles were not codified in Western international law until modern times. [49] Islamic law under the early Caliphate institutionalised humanitarian limitations on military conduct, including attempts to limit the severity of war, guidelines for ceasing hostilities, distinguishing between civilians and combatants, preventing unnecessary destruction, and caring for the sick and wounded. [50]

Middle Ages Edit

Magna Carta is an English charter originally issued in 1215 which influenced the development of the common law and many later constitutional documents, such as the 1689 English Bill of Rights, the 1789 United States Constitution, and the 1791 United States Bill of Rights. [51]

Magna Carta was originally written because of disagreements between Pope Innocent III, King John and the English barons about the rights of the King. Magna Carta required the King to renounce certain rights, respect certain legal procedures and accept that his will could be bound by the law. It explicitly protected certain rights of the King's subjects, whether free or fettered—most notably the writ of habeas corpus, allowing appeal against unlawful imprisonment.

For modern times, the most enduring legacy of Magna Carta is considered the right of habeas corpus. This right arises from what are now known as clauses 36, 38, 39, and 40 of the 1215 Magna Carta. Magna Carta also included the right to due process:

No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.

The statute of Kalisz (1264), bestowed privileges to the Jewish minority in the Kingdom of Poland such as protection from discrimination and hate speech. [52]

At the Council of Constance (1414-1418), scholar and jurist Pawel Wlodkowic delivered an address from his Tractatus de potestate papae et imperatoris respectu infidelium ("Treatise on the Power of the Pope and the Emperor Respecting Infidels") in which he advocated the peaceful coexistence of Christians and pagans, making him a precursor of religious tolerance in Europe. [53]

Age of Discovery, early modern period and Age of Enlightenment Edit

The conquest of the Americas in the 15th and 16th centuries by Spain, during the Age of Discovery, resulted in vigorous debate about human rights in Colonial Spanish America. [54] This led to the issuance of the Laws of Burgos by Ferdinand the Catholic on behalf of his daughter, Joanna of Castile. Fray Antonio de Montesinos, a Friar of the Dominican Order at the Island of Hispaniola, delivered a sermon on December 21, 1511, which was attended by Bartolomé de las Casas. It is believed that reports from the Dominicans in Hispaniola motivated the Spanish Crown to act. The sermon, known as the Christmas Sermon, gave way to further debates from 1550-51 between Las Casas and Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda at Valladolid. Among the provisions of the Laws of Burgos were child labor women's rights wages suitable accommodations and rest/vacation, among others.

Several 17th- and 18th-century European philosophers, most notably John Locke, developed the concept of natural rights, the notion that people are naturally free and equal. [55] [56] Though Locke believed natural rights were derived from divinity since humans were creations of God, his ideas were important in the development of the modern notion of rights. Lockean natural rights did not rely on citizenship nor any law of the state, nor were they necessarily limited to one particular ethnic, cultural or religious group. Around the same time, in 1689, the English Bill of Rights was created which asserted some basic human rights, most famously freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. [57]

In the 1700s, the novel became a popular form of entertainment. Popular novels, such as Julie, or the New Heloise by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Pamela or, Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson, laid a foundation for popular acceptance of human rights by making readers empathize with characters unlike themselves. [58] [59]

Two major revolutions occurred during the 18th century in the United States (1776) and in France (1789). The Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776 sets up a number of fundamental rights and freedoms. The later United States Declaration of Independence includes concepts of natural rights and famously states "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". Similarly, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen defines a set of individual and collective rights of the people. These are, in the document, held to be universal—not only to French citizens but to all men without exception.

19th century to World War I Edit

Philosophers such as Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill and Hegel expanded on the theme of universality during the 18th and 19th centuries.

In 1831 William Lloyd Garrison wrote in The Liberator newspaper that he was trying to enlist his readers in "the great cause of human rights" [60] so the term human rights may have come into use sometime between Paine's The Rights of Man and Garrison's publication. In 1849, a contemporary, Henry David Thoreau, wrote about human rights in his treatise On the Duty of Civil Disobedience which was later influential on human rights and civil rights thinkers. United States Supreme Court Justice David Davis, in his 1867 opinion for Ex parte Milligan, wrote: "By the protection of the law, human rights are secured withdraw that protection and they are at the mercy of wicked rulers or the clamor of an excited people." [61]

Many groups and movements have managed to achieve profound social changes over the course of the 20th century in the name of human rights. In Western Europe and North America, labour unions brought about laws granting workers the right to strike, establishing minimum work conditions and forbidding or regulating child labour. The women's rights movement succeeded in gaining for many women the right to vote. National liberation movements in many countries succeeded in driving out colonial powers. One of the most influential was Mahatma Gandhi's movement to free his native India from British rule. Movements by long-oppressed racial and religious minorities succeeded in many parts of the world, among them the civil rights movement, and more recent diverse identity politics movements, on behalf of women and minorities in the United States.

The foundation of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the 1864 Lieber Code and the first of the Geneva Conventions in 1864 laid the foundations of international humanitarian law, to be further developed following the two World Wars.

Pope Leo XIII's Apostolic Exhortation Rerum Novarum in 1891 marked the official beginning of Catholic Social Teaching. The document was principally concerned with discussing workers' rights, property rights, and citizens' rights against State intrusion. From that time forward, popes (and Vatican II) would release apostolic exhortations and encyclicals on topics that touched on human rights more and more frequently.

Between World War I and World War II Edit

The League of Nations was established in 1919 at the negotiations over the Treaty of Versailles following the end of World War I. The League's goals included disarmament, preventing war through collective security, settling disputes between countries through negotiation, diplomacy and improving global welfare. Enshrined in its Charter was a mandate to promote many of the rights which were later included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The League of Nations had mandates to support many of the former colonies of the Western European colonial powers during their transition from colony to independent state.

Established as an agency of the League of Nations, and now part of United Nations, the International Labour Organization also had a mandate to promote and safeguard certain of the rights later included in the UDHR:

the primary goal of the ILO today is to promote opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.

The Cyrus Cylinder from Ancient Babylon and the Beginning of the Persian Empire - History

II. Government
The Achaemenid empire was known for it's intelligent government system, which superseded the fall, and would end up as the blueprint for other Persian societies.

≈ Known as Cyrus 'the Great' or Cyrus 'the Shepherd' by his people due to his famouslyplain upbringing

≈ during which he established an expansionist

≈ Known as Cyrus 'the Great' or Cyrus 'the Shepherd' by his people due to his famously plain upbringing

≈ during which he established an expansionist rule

≈ son on Cambyses I, and a descendent of Achaemenes, a member of the Achaemenid clan dynasty

≈ succeeding monarchs would also claim heritage to the original Achaemenid clan

≈ became a Persian district ruler of Anshan in 558 bce

≈ led a revolt against Medes rule

≈ led to his capturing of the King Astyages and the overall displacement of the Medians in 550 bce

≈ Named himself King of Persia

≈ his reach would extend from the Halys River in Asia Minor, border of Lydia in the east, to the Babylonian Empire on the south and east

≈ Persian Empire was striving for power in a world dominated at the time by Babylon, Egypt, Lydia, and Sparta in Greece.

  • Cyrus invaded Anatolia and conquered the Lydian empire of Croesus in 549
  • in 539 he seized Babylon, where he had won support against the ruler, Nabonidus,
    • by defending the cult of the god Marduk, the clergy exalted Cyrus in the name of the god as a righteous and beneficent ruler
      • mandate of heaven
      • mandate of heaven
      • buried at his capital, Pasargadae, in Pars (Fars)

      • Third ruler and grandson of Cyrus the Great
      • Took control in 522
      • famous for his lawcode which would become the blueprint for many more empires
      • Known as Darius I or Darius 'the Great' or Darayarahush
      • less successful as a military leader
        • his defeat against the Greeks in 491 bce was famous : Battle of Marathon in 490 was forced to retract the limits of the empire to Asia Minor.

        Darius created his system so that he was in complete control. Of course he couldn't be everywhere at once, centralized his rule by allowing the appointing of regional states, called satrapies.

        Royal inspectors were the "eyes and ears" of the king. They weren't nessecarily more important than the satrap, but on the whole, they were the most trusted by the ruler and the inspector held the opinion of whether the satraps were corrupted or loyal. They checked the satrap's lifestyle and their main jobs were to report suspected rebellions. They were pampered and bribed throughout their unexpected visits to the satrapies, and they reported directly to the king.

        The satrapies were the local princes of their regions. They were appointed and monitered, and their positions were easily taken away. But, despite these strict rules, the satrapies enjoyed lavish lifestyles and were very proud of their own states. Technically they were appointed by the autocrat but after a while, the position often became hereditary sub kings, particularly in the later years of the empire.

        The general of the state was the military influence on the regional states. They would keep the order within the satraps administrationive area. The general also aided in the hiring of military officials. He reported directly to the central state, and the king originally was in direct control of the millitary, yet as time went on, the satrap's influence in their provinces became more part of the society.

        The State Secretary was a small but vital piece to the system. The secretary recorded data, taxes, and helped resolve issues in the satrap's area with an unclouded mindset on the satrap's lands. This theory did not always hold true, though, and bribing these officials were not uncommon. He reported directly to the central government.

        At first there were only 20 satrapies under Darius' rule. As time went on and Achaemenid territory fluxated, more satrapies were created, because maintaining order was becoming increasingly harder. Also, due to the increased power and influence of the existing satraps, more positions were created, also due to the fact that Persian feudal society demanded more rewards.

        ≈ Darius I came up with a unified coinage system

        ≈ helped spur trade across the empire

        ≈along with agriculture and tribute

        Persian Achaemenid Empire was incredibly advanced, and the main reason for much of their success was due to their great military strength. Their leaders were celebrated for their achievements on the battlefield, and

        Cyrus Cylinder Replica

        If you are not entirely happy with anything you have purchased from the online shop, please contact Customer Services within 14 days of delivery.

        Exclusive to the British Museum, a hand-painted resin replica of the Cyrus Cylinder.

        The Cyrus Cylinder is often referred to as the first bill of human rights, as the inscribed text appears to encourage freedom of worship throughout the Persian Empire and allows deported people to return to their homelands. It was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform (the earliest form of writing) on the orders of the Persian King Cyrus the Great (559–530 BC) after he captured Babylon in 539 BC.

        The Cyrus Cylinder was rediscovered in modern-day Iraq in 1879 during a British Museum excavation and has been on display ever since.

        This replica has been made from a cast of the original object, and hand painted by UK-based sculptor Andrew Lilley. It is presented in a custom cherry wood box with brass detailing.

        As this piece is hand-sculpted please allow four weeks for delivery.

        • Product Code: CMCR23490
        • Product Weight: 2.01Kg
        • Dimensions: H11 x W9 x L22.5
        • Brand: British Museum
        • Material: Hand-painted resin
        • Details: Moulded from the original
        • Postage Weight: 5.12 Kg

        Exclusive to the British Museum, a hand-painted resin replica of the Cyrus Cylinder.

        The Cyrus Cylinder is often referred to as the first bill of human rights, as the inscribed text appears to encourage freedom of worship throughout the Persian Empire and allows deported people to return to their homelands. It was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform (the earliest form of writing) on the orders of the Persian King Cyrus the Great (559–530 BC) after he captured Babylon in 539 BC.

        The Cyrus Cylinder was rediscovered in modern-day Iraq in 1879 during a British Museum excavation and has been on display ever since.

        This replica has been made from a cast of the original object, and hand painted by UK-based sculptor Andrew Lilley. It is presented in a custom cherry wood box with brass detailing.

        The Cyrus Cylinder from Ancient Babylon and the Beginning of the Persian Empire - History

        2. It is just as certain that the great Sovereign chooses particular nations to effect certain parts of His work in the final triumph of the Gospel, as that He chooses certain individuals for some special operation "This people have I formed for myself they shall show forth My praise." His sovereignty reaches back of the immediate work. It chooses according to the character of the nation it reaches to the antecedent training and the natural characteristics which combine to prepare the nation most fully for the work nay, this sovereignty in its far-reaching wisdom has been busy all along the history of the people in so ordering the moulding influences under which characters and position are attained, that when the time comes for them to enter into His special work, they will be found all ripe for His purpose. This nation, to whom the passage before us refers, is a marked illustration of this thought. The Jew was designed to be the conservator of the Word of God. He was chosen for this purpose. The object was not propagation, but conservation. The race by nature and education had just those qualities which fitted it for this work. Its wonderful tenacity of impression, its power to hold what once had fairly been forced into it by Divine energy, like the rock hardened around the crystal, belongs to its nature, reveals itself after Providence had shattered the nation, in that granite character which, under the fire of eighteen centuries, remains unchanged. At every step of the progress of Christianity since, illustrations multiply of the truth that God forms nations to His work, and chooses them because of their fitness to accomplish certain parts of that work. The Greek with his high mental culture and his glorious language — fit instrument through which the Divine Word breathed His life-giving truth the Roman sceptred in power over the whole realm of civilisation, and undesignedly constructing the great highway for the Church of Jesus the German, with his innate freedom of spirit, nourishing the thoughtful souls whose lofty utterances awoke, whose wondrous power disenthralled a sleeping and captive Church.

        I. We should regard the text as A WARNING. There are crooked places.

        II. The text is also A PROMISE. "I will go before thee." God does not say where He will straighten our path He does not say how the great thing for us to believe is that there is a special promise for us, and to wait in devout hope for its fulfilment. He who waits for God is not misspending his time. Such waiting is true living — such tarrying is the truest speed.

        III. The text is also A PLAN. It is in the word "before" that I find the plan, and it is in that word "before" that I find the difficulty on the human side. God does not say, I will go alongside thee we shall go step by step: He says, I will go before thee. Sometimes it may be a long way before us, so that we cannot see Him and sometimes it may be just in front of us. But whether beyond, far away, or here close at hand, the great idea we have to live upon is that God goes before us.

        1. Let us beware of regarding the text as a mere matter of course. There is an essential question of character to be settled. "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord."

        2. Let us beware of regarding this text as a licence for carelessness Let us not say, "If God goes before me, and makes all places straight. why need I care?" To the good man all life is holy there is no step of indifference no subject that does not bring out his best desires. "The place whereon thou standest is holy ground" is the expression of every man who knows what it is to have God going before him.

        I. GOD'S PRELIMINARY WORK in "going before His people, making for them crooked places straight, breaking in pieces gates of brass, and cutting in sunder bars of iron."

        1. The first promise lays a foundation for all the rest "I will go before thee." How great must those difficulties be which need God Himself to go before us in order to overcome them! Surely they must be insuperable by any human strength. If we are rightly taught, we shall feel a need for the Lord to go before us, not only now and then, but every step of the way, for unless led and guided by Him, we are sure to go astray. How strikingly was this the case with the children of Israel. You may apply this promise to a variety of things.(1) It is applicable not only to spiritual, but to temporal trials and perplexities — to His going before us both in providence and grace.(2). But the words apply to the manifestation of His holy and sacred will.(3) It is especially in the removal of obstructions that the Lord fulfils this part of the promise.

        2. "And make crooked things straight." This promise springs out of the former, and is closely connected with it for it is only by the Lord s going before that things really crooked can be straightened. But what is meant by crooked places, and whence come they?(1) Some are inherently crooked, that is, it is in their very nature to be so. Thus crooked tempers, dispositions, desires, wills, lusts are in themselves inherently crooked, because being bent out of their original state by sin, they do not now lie level with God's holy will and Word.(2) But there are crooked places in the path of God's family, which are not inherently crooked as being sinful in themselves, but are crooked as made so by the hand of God to us. Of this kind are afflictions in body and mind, poverty in circumstances, trials in the family, persecution from superiors or ungodly relatives, heavy losses in business, bereavement of children, and, in short, a vast variety of circumstances curved into their shape by the hand of God, and so made. "crooked things" to us. Now, the Lord has promised, to make "crooked things straight." Taken in its fullest extent, the promise positively declares that from whatever source they come, or of whatsoever nature they be, the Lord will surely straighten them. By this He manifests His power, wisdom, and faithfulness. But how does He straighten them? In two ways, and this according to their nature. Sometimes by removing them out of the way and sometimes by reconciling our minds to them.

        3. But the Lord also promised Cyrus that He would, by going before him, break in pieces the gates of brass, &c. Cyrus longed to enter the city of Babylon but when he took a survey of the only possible mode of entrance, he saw it firmly closed against him with gates of brass and iron. Can we not find something in our experience which corresponds to this feeling in Cyrus? There is a longing in the soul after a certain object. We press forward to obtain it, but what do we find in the road? Gates of brass and bars of iron. Look, for instance, at our very prayers. Are not the heavens sometimes brass over our heads, so that, as Jeremiah complains, "they cannot pass through"? Nay, is not your very heart itself sometimes a gate of brass, as hard, as stubborn, and as inflexible? So the justice, majesty, and holiness of God, when we view these dread perfections of Jehovah with a trembling eye under the guilt of sin, stand before the soul as so many gates of brass. The various enemies, too, which beset the soul the hindrances and obstacles without and within that stand in the path the opposition of sin, Satan, self, and the world against all that is good and godlike — may not all these be considered "gates of brass" barring out the wished-for access into the city?

        4. But there are also "bars of iron." These strengthen the gates of brass and prevent them from being broken down or burst open, the stronger and harder metal giving firmness and solidity to the softer and weaker one. An unbelieving heart the secret infidelity of the carnal mind guilt of conscience produced by a sense of our innumerable wanderings from the Lord doubts and fears often springing out of our own want of consistency and devotedness apprehensions of being altogether deceived, from finding so few marks of grace and so much neglect of watchfulness and prayer — all these may be mentioned as bars of iron strengthening the gates of brass. Now, can you break to pieces these gates of brass, or cut in sunder the bars of iron? Here, then, when so deeply wanted, comes in the promise, "I will break," &c.

        II. THE GIFTS WHICH THE LORD BESTOWS UPON THEM, when He has broken to pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron, here called "treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places."

        1. "Treasures of darkness." But is not this a strange expression? How can there be darkness in the city of Salvation of which the Lord, the Lamb, is the eternal light? The expression does not mean that the treasures themselves are darkness, but that they were hidden in darkness till they were brought to light. The treasures of Belshazzar, like the Bank bullion, were buried in darkness till they were broken up and given to Cyrus. It is so in a spiritual sense. Are there not treasures in the Lord Jesus? Yet, all these are "treasures of darkness," so far as they are hidden from our eyes and hearts, till we are brought by His special power into the city of Salvation.

        2. But the Lord promised also to give to Cyrus "the hidden riches of secret places," that is, literally, the riches of the city which were stored up in its secret places. But has not this, also a spiritual meaning? Yes. Many are "the hidden riches of secret places" with which the God of all grace enriches His believing family. Look, for instance, at the Word of God. But observe, how the promises are connected with "crooked places," "brazen gates," and "iron bars," and the going before of the Lord to remove them out of the way. Without this previous work we should be ignorant to our dying day of "the treasures of darkness" we should never see nor handle "the hidden riches of secret places."

        III. THE BLESSED EFFECTS PRODUCED by what the Lord thus does and thus gives — a spiritual and experimental knowledge, that "He who has called them by their name is the God of Israel." Observe the expression, "I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name." What an individuality it stamps on the person addressed! How it makes religion a personal thing! But what is produced by this special, individual, and personal calling? Knowledge. What knowledge? Spiritual, heartfelt, and experimental. Of what? "That the Lord who called them by name is the God of Israel." It is as "the God of Israel" that He manifests mercy and grace that He never leaves nor forsakes the objects of His choice that He fulfils every promise, defeats every enemy, appears in every difficulty, richly pardons every sin, graciously heals every backsliding, and eventually lands them in eternal bliss. Now, perhaps, we can see why God's people have so many gates of brass and bars of iron, so many trials and severe temptations. This is to bring them into personal acquaintance with God, the covenant God of Israel to make religion a reality.

        I. St. Paul represents THE CHRISTIAN FAITH as a secret which is now for the first time discovered and made known, and the implication of the apostle, whenever he employs the term, is that the great blessing which prophecies and types had contained, but, containing, had concealed, was now in Christ Jesus brought out as into open daylight for all men to behold and possess. It has never been questioned that this truth was the real meaning of the rending of the veil in the Temple at the moment of our Lord's giving up of the ghost. For three hours there had been suspended over Mount Calvary a thick curtain of darkness but at the ninth hour that veil, like the other close by, was "rent" also "in twain, from the top to the bottom." I find in that darkness the awful symbol of the misery, and the ignorance, and the confusion whereof the world itself had been the victim all through the ages preceding the Advent. But the very same fact which tore down the rich drapery in the building dispelled the dense blackness on the mountain, and declared the very same doctrine that "Christ Jesus was the Saviour of all men, and specially of them that believe." Learn to ascribe your redemption to the clouds of-misery behind which your Surety laid down His life.

        II. Somewhat in this way it would not, perhaps, be extravagant to represent any one of ourselves, at the crisis of his CONVERSION, as looking towards the Saviour much as one of those spectators literally did when the darkness was beginning to clear off from the crucifixion. When the veil is rent, and the power of faith scatters the clouds, and the soul peering through catches the first glimpse of a Saviour, the rapture of being forgiven has, so to speak, been quarried and hewn out of the black deep pit of conviction and remorse.

        III. It will be far less difficult to show that all along the journey of the Christian he digs his BEST AND BRIGHTEST MERCIES out of thick, and often terrible, gloom. I find some of you shut up in the deep pit of constant bodily pain, or infirmity. I find others of you wandering through the pitch dark avenues of a recent family funeral. There is a time for the digging of the gold. That is yours now. And there is a time for the burnishing and the chasing, and the putting on of the gold. That is not yet come. There is a place, says Solomon, for the sapphires in the stones of the earth but the men who take the sapphires first out of the stones need all their skill and practice to tell which is which, and you would not thank the miner for the jewellery just left as he gets it. You must allow a fair time for the lapidary or the goldsmith to take up the business where the rough black denizens of the pit leave off — and "no affliction for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous. Nevertheless, afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them who are exercised thereby."

        I. In one sense, THIS IS TYPICAL OF ALL GOD'S DISCLOSURES. Those things which men discover to-day are treasures which have been in darkness for countless generations, jewels which have been concealed in hidden places during millenniums.

        II. This is supremely true of THE ADVENT AND REDEMPTIVE WORK OF CHRIST. Look at the manner of His coming. See the poverty which surrounded His birth. Look at the nature of His life — "Without a place to lay His head" "a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief." He was, more-over, "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." There is nothing very bright in that record. When Christ, in the hour of utter loneliness, uttered that piercing cry, "My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?" and darkness covered earth and heaven, then out of that dense gloom He who in the beginning made light to shine out of darkness, made the most glorious light to shine so that from the Cross to-day there streams the greatest revelation with which God has ever enriched our race. Again, how graciously true this is of Christ's redemptive work in view of the spiritual darkness of the world which He came to save! What a revelation of the world's night we find in the advent of our Lord. Until then men knew not how dark this world was. These words only gain their full significance in the story of Christ's redemption When He came the world was hopeless and undone. It had exhausted its energies in its numberless attempts to save and ennoble itself, and down deep in recesses of darkness and iniquity were buried the brightest talents with which humanity had been enriched — so many glorious impulses and high capacities prostituted to the vilest uses, or paralysed in the dark and made utterly useless. Oh, the countless lost pieces of silver, and the priceless jewels which He has rescued since then from hopeless degradation and sin!


        1. Was not the first hour of our spiritual enlightenment and enrichment a fulfilment of the same Divine promise?

        2. Then, again, you have had your doubts and fears. They were terrible to bear at the time yet out of them you were at length permitted to snatch a new wealth of assurance and joy.

        3. This is true also, in the life of every one who has accepted Christ, of that other experience which darkens our vision, namely, that of sorrow in its many and varied forms. It is in darkness, too, that we learn trustfulness and faith.

        1. It ought not to be difficult for us to believe that there are spiritual treasures that we have never even got a glimpse of yet. Christ spoke of treasure "hid in a field." That surely must have been among the treasures of darkness. And the Apostle Paul, long after, spoke of the "unsearchable riches of Christ." What he had himself freely taken from this store made him feel himself rich indeed so rich, that he had not the least inclination for anything that the world could give. One of the saddest and most mournful of all things for us would be to settle down contentedly with the notion that God had no treasures to bestow but what we see all about us with the utterly inexperienced eye! To think the common experience of life, to think our own experience, the limit of all things, would be to make life a very poor thing indeed.

        2. God must have infinite treasures and pleasures which He does not want to keep in darkness unused. That ought to be an axiom with us. If we should never dream of speaking of ourselves as spiritually rich, it cannot be because either God has nothing better to bestow, or that He grudges to bestow it.

        3. We seem to believe readily enough that the future may reveal to us glories that we cannot forecast. But why be content to postpone to a future state the higher degrees of true blessedness? Why not possess some of the treasures now?

        4. The phrase suggests to us that what we deem empty, void, and even repellent as darkness, may contain things unspeakably precious. We speak of the "night of sorrow." But it only requires a very moderate faith in God to believe that He is too good and kind ever to let a single sensitive being pass through such trials as are the lot of not a few, unless it were that only so can they be prepared for, and put in possession of, choicer good. But there is a darkness far blacker than the night of affliction and sorrow. It is this awful gloom, this darkness that may be felt, which we all feel at times to involve the moral world. This is a world of tremendous mystery to the morally sensitive soul. Let a man ever come to see that a world which he cannot but feel to be evil to the core, is nevertheless the very best possible school for man in the early stage of his training for immortality that this discipline of evil is absolutely essential for a while that he would clearly be a poorer creature without it that it is the conflict with evil which brings out some of the most precious qualities of the soul that without evil, good itself could not be known that God Himself could not be so gloriously revealed to the heart as He is through the occasion that every man's sin affords that the greatest proof that God is Love must have been for ever wanting, had He, by restraint and force, mechanically prevented the entrance of evil into the universe. Only let one — this one — little ray of light fall upon the darkness, and you will feel how priceless are the treasures of darkness!

        5. But the darkness can be made to yield up treasures only to those who will listen for the voice Divine. To the upright there will arise light in darkness. It is only the children of light who can go into the darkness, and from it fetch out the hid treasures. "God is light: in Him is no darkness at all." Christ is the Light of the World: whoso walketh with Him shall have the Light of Life.

        1. He gives men their superior natural capacity for doing good.

        2. He presides over their education, and gives them the means of improving their superior talents, and forming themselves for eminent usefulness.

        3. God gives them the disposition, which they at any time have, to employ their superior abilities in promoting the happiness of mankind.

        4. God gives great men the opportunity of employing all their power and influence in executing His wise and benevolent designs.

        5. It is God who succeeds their exertions for the benefit of the world.

        1. It is comprehensive, sweeping from age to age, threading millenniums, building its structure from the dust of earth's earliest age to the emergence of the new heavens and earth at the close of time. But it is minute and particular.

        2. He works through individuals. The story of man is for the most part told in the biographies of men. It is through human instruments that God executes His beneficent purposes, His righteous judgments. Through Columbus, He draws aside the veil from the coast-line of America. Through a Watt and a Stephenson, He endows men with the co-operation of steam through a Galvani and an Edison, with the ministry of electricity. Through a De Lesseps, He unites the waters of the eastern and western seas, and brings the Orient and Occident together. Through a Napoleon He shatters the temporal power of the Pope and by a Wilberforce strikes the fetters from the slave. Men do not know the purpose of God in what they are doing.

        3. God's use of men does not interfere with their free action. This is clearly taught in more than one significant passage in Scripture — Joseph's brethren. Herod, Pilate, and the religious leaders of the Jews, were swept before a cyclone of passion and jealousy and it was with wicked hands that they crucified and slew the Lord of glory: but they were accomplishing the determinate counsel of God.

        II. GOD'S PLAN, AS IT AFFECTS INDIVIDUALS. We are all conscious of an element in life that we cannot account for. Other men have started life under better auspices, and with larger advantages than we, but somehow they have dropped behind in the race, and are nowhere to be seen. Our health has never been robust, but we have had more working days in our lives than those who were the athletes of our school. We have been in perpetual peril, travelling incessantly, and never involved in a single accident whilst others were shattered in their first journey from their doorstep. Why have we escaped, where so many have fallen? Why have we climbed to positions of usefulness and influence, which so many more capable ones have missed? Why has our reputation been maintained, when better men than ourselves have lest their footing and fallen beyond recovery? There is not one of us who cannot see points in the past where we had almost gone, and our footsteps had well-nigh slipped: precipices along the brink of which we went at nightfall, horrified in the morning to see how near our footprints had been to the edge. Repeatedly we have been within a hair-breadth of taking some fatal step. How strangely we were plucked out of that companionship! How marvellonsly we were saved from that marriage, from that investment, from embarking in that ship, travelling by that train, taking shares in that company! It is God who has girded us, though we did not know Him.

        1. The Holy Scriptures not only show us explicitly that God has a definite purpose in the lives of men already great, but they show us how frequently, in the conditions of obscurity and depression, preparations of counsel are going on, by which the commonest offices are to become the necessary first chapter of a great and powerful history. David among the sheep Elisha following after the plough Nehemiah bearing the cup Hannah, who can say nothing less common than that she is the wife of Elkanah and a woman of a sorrowful spirit, — who, that looks on these humble people, at their humble post of service, and discovers, at last, how dear a purpose God was cherishing in them, can be justified in thinking that God has no particular plan for him, because he is not signalised by any kind of distinction?

        2. Besides, what do the Scriptures show us, but that God has a particular care for every man, a personal interest in him, and a sympathy with him and his trials, watching for the uses of his one talent as attentively and kindly, and approving him as heartily, in the right employment of it, as if He had given him ten and what is the giving out of the talents itself, but an exhibition of the fact that God has a definite purpose, charge, and work for every man?

        3. They also make it the privilege of every man to live in the secret guidance of God which is plainly nugatory, unless there is some chosen work, or sphere, into which he may be guided.

        4. God also professes in His Word to have purposes prearranged for all events to govern by a plan which is from eternity even, and which, in some proper sense, comprehends everything. And what is this but another way of conceiving that God has a definite place and plan adjusted for every human being?

        5. Turning now from the Scriptures to the works of God, how constantly are we met here by the fact, everywhere visible, that ends and uses are the regulative reasons of all existing things?

        6. But there is a single but very important and even fearful qualification. Things all serve their uses, and never break out of their place. They have no power to do it. Not so with us. We are able, as free beings, to refuse the place and the duties God appoints which, if we do, then we sink into something lower and less worthy of us. That highest and best condition for which God designed us is no more possible. And yet, as that was the best thing possible for us in the reach of God's original counsel, so there is a place designed for us now, which is the next best possible. God calls us now to the best thing left, and will do so till all good possibility is narrowed down and spent. And then, when He cannot use us any more for our own good, He will use us for the good of others — an example of the misery and horrible desperation to which any soul must come, when all the good ends, and all the holy callings of God's friendly and fatherly purpose are exhausted. Or it may be now that, remitting all other plans and purposes in our behalf, He will henceforth use us, wholly against our will, to be the demonstration of His justice and avenging power before the eyes of mankind saying over us, as He did over Pharaoh in the day of His judgments, "Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth."

        1. Observe some negatives that are important, and must be avoided.(1) You will never come into God's plan if you study singularity for if God has a design or plan for every man's life, then it is exactly appropriate to his nature and, as every man's nature is singular and peculiar to himself, — as peculiar as his face or look,-then it follows that God will lead every man into a singular, and peculiar life, without any study of singularity on his part.(2) As little will he seek to copy the life of another. No man is ever called to be another.(3) In this view, also, you are never to complain of your birth, your training, your employments, your hardships never to fancy that you could be something if only you had a different lot and sphere assigned you. God understands His own plan, and He knows what you want, a great deal better than you do.(4) Another mistake is that, while you surrender and renounce all thought of making up a plan, or choosing out a plan, for yourself, as one that you set by your own will, you also give up the hope or expectation that God will set you in any scheme of life, where the whole course of it will be known, or set down beforehand. If you go to Him to be guided, He will guide you but He will not comfort your distrust, or half-trust of Him, by showing you the chart of all His purposes concerning you. He will only show you into a way where, if you go cheerfully and trustfully forward, He will show you on still further.

        2. But we must not stop in negatives. How, then, or by what more positive directions can a man, who really desires to do it, come into the plan God lays for him, so as to live it and rationally believe that he does?(1) Consider the character of God, and you will draw a large deduction from that for all that God designs for you will be in harmony with His character. He is a being infinitely good, just, true. Therefore, you are to know that He cannot really seek anything contrary to this in you.(2) Consider your relation to Him as a creature. All created wills have their natural centre and rest in God's will.(3) You have a conscience, which is given to be an interpreter of His will, and thus of your duty, and, in both, of what you are to become.(4) God's law and His written Word are guides to present duty, which, if faithfully accepted, will help to set you in accordance with the mind of God and the plan He has laid for you. "I am a stranger in the earth," said one "hide not Thy commandments from me" knowing that God's commandments would give him a clue to the true meaning and business of his life.(5) Be an observer of providence. Study your trials, your talents, the world's wants, and stand ready to serve God now, in whatever He brings to your hand.(6) Consult your friends, and especially those who are most in the teaching of God.(7) Go to God Himself, and ask for the calling of God for, as certainly as He has a plan for you, He will somehow guide you into it. This is the proper work of His Spirit. Young man, or woman! this is the day of hope to you. All your best opportunities are still before you. And what shall I say to the older man, who is further on in his course and is still without God in the world? The best end, the next best, and the next are gone, and nothing but the dregs of opportunity are left. And still Christ calls even you. There is a place still left for you not the best and brightest, but a humble and good one.

        1. God may sometimes use a man who seems half a heathen, to remind His people that His providential sovereignty is larger than all finite thought. In the early days of the British rule in India, the old Mogul at Delhi, and the mediatised native sovereigns in other cities, were allowed independent rights within their own palace precincts. The British rule did not intrude there. Now and again half-clad slave girls and palace dependents, in terror for their lives, and wretches waled and trembling with recent chastisements, would escape the palace precincts and seek protection under the humane governments that had been planted in the surrounding cities. These spacious palaces were like little islands of the old despotisms, cruelties, and oppresssions bristling above the tide of constitutional right and privilege and liberty that was rising far and near. In God's empire there are no spots of organised diabolism of that sort, that are separated from the control, direction, and over-rule of providential law. Alas! it is only too easy to find signs of individual and collective resistance to God's law but there are no indrawn spheres or reservations, dominated by pagan ignorance, from which His power, sovereignty, and prerogative are shut out. He rules where He is not worshipped, directs where He is not recognised, girds where He is not known.

        2. In going beyond the circle of the elect nations to choose an instrument for the fulfilment of His counsels, God seems to remind us that the motive of His providential activity is altogether Divine. He uses the imperfectly taught Gentile, and puts upon him honour that might seem to belong to the Jew, to illustrate the sovereignty of His grace.

        3. Partial ignorance of God may be an appointed condition for the test and development of faith. It is not only the virtuous heathen who is girded by an unrecognised Hand and made the agent in providential plans and purposes he cannot fathom. The distinction between Isaiah and Cyrus, between Cyrus and ourselves, is one of degree. On its intellectual side, at least, our religious knowledge is still imperfect, fragmentary, hesitating. God suffers it to be so, possibly that we may be the better disciplined in that humility which is the basis of faith. I have sometimes thought that so long as heathen darkness does not involve a gross and demoralising misrepresentation of God, but only a partial privation of knowledge, it offers the occasion for the exercise of a higher faith than that which is possible amidst the breaking twilights of Christian knowledge. The devout and pure-minded pagan, like Cyrus, who trusts his moral instincts without any adequate knowledge of their Divine origin, who with touching fidelity follows an unsyllabled vocation from heavens that have not yet opened themselves in revelation and definite testimony, who accepts an equipment from a Hand that has touched and guided him out of the darkness, is perhaps a more splendid example of faith than the man who manifests the same trust and loyalty and obedience in the midst of clearer intellectual conceptions of God. The puzzle of the long pagan centuries is not so painful and oppressive if we look at it from this standpoint.

        II. EXAMPLES OF THIS PROVIDENTIAL GIRDING BY AN UNKNOWN GOD will readily occur to us that seem to conform to the type represented by Cyrus.

        1. If we think of the men, the tradition of whose teaching and example is intertwined with all that is highest and best in the life of the nations outside the range of Christendom, we shall see that these men have been girded for their moral conquests and guided to their ascendencies over their fellow-men by the same unrecognised Hand that guided and girded this elect Persian. It is, perhaps, impossible to recall the name of a great and permanently honoured teacher in the past history of India, China, Persia, Egypt, Greece or Rome, whose influence rested upon an immoral doctrine or a contradiction of conscience. There must have been such leaders in the insignificant races that relapsed into cannibalism, scalp-hunting, and animal debasement. But no such names appear in the histories of the great civilised empires.

        2. We must not judge the issues of the social and political movements of the present and past times by the measure of Divine knowledge they exhibit. Some of these movements, however little they seem to recognise God, are empowered by His mysterious hand, and minister to the accomplishment of His secret purpose. The dark despotisms enthroned over the ancient world annealed men into stable communities. And there are doubtless providential issues of the highest value in the democratic movements that are agitating Europe to-day, however reluctant those movements may be to recognise God.

        3. Does not the fact that the theology of the modern scientist is sometimes very dim and defective tempt us to deny the Divine authority of his vocation and to discredit the providential issue in the special work he is called to do? Some of the schools of research and experiment and invention to which we are most deeply indebted are indifferent and even hostile to the claims of religion. And yet God calls the man of science to his work, vouchsafes the needful equipment for success, and guides all the far-off issues to which that work may tend.

        4. And all this is true for ourselves. The knowledge possessed by those of us who know God best is, after all, infinitesimal in amount and degree. It is nothing in comparison with what remains to be known. It seems we can scarcely be the true servants of God and doing Divine work unless we have broader and brighter and more penetrating views of God's nature. We are crushed by the inevitable secularisms of our life, and cannot believe that we are breathing the sacred atmosphere that encircles God's priests and kings. It seems, at times, as though God, and providence, and supernatural vocation, and the high sanctions under which we seek to bring ourselves, were dreams. We are haunted by the thought that there is some subtle curse of ineradicable atheism cleaving to our inmost souls. In spite of the limit in our vision and the miserable failure in the spirit of our service, He is guiding us to beneficent conquests, and strengthening us to achieve holy emancipations, and fitting us for eternal honours. He was making us ready for service of some sort, when we knew far less about Him than we know to-day. And it is so still. And even after God seems to have been revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ, how often do we find God becoming a hidden and an unknown God to us in His providential relations! At times it may seem rather as though some malignant demon were presiding over our lives, or at least sharing the sovereignty. But beyond the widest bound of our faith and knowledge there is providential guiding and girding and victory. And these words seem to suggest solemn comfort to us in view of the final conflict to which we shall all one day be brought. We shall enter the world to come as conquerors girded for our triumph by an unseen Hand. God's elect servants sometimes die in circumstances that make thoughts of God impossible. Perhaps they are snatched away by unexpected accident. They leave life in a struggle that petrifies thought and feeling. In that solemn hour of darkness and humiliation and mental inaptitude, God, unknown and unrecognised, girds for the victory still. Let us not forget that, though the girding is often in darkness, the motive of this girding in shadows is the inbringing of the perfect life.

        I. IT SPRINGS FROM THE ALMIGHTY POWER OF GOD. God is not merely a passive object of worship. He exerts active influence. He did not only work in the past in creating the world. He is a living, active God now. Jesus said, "My Father worketh hitherto." Perhaps the poorest definition of God ever framed is that of "A power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness." Still, even this meagre description of Divinity recognises the fact of an active Divine influence. is not limited by our confession of it, nor by our willingness to submit to it. It inspired the eye of the Greek artist and the tongue of the Greek orator as truly as those of a Christian and .

        II. IT IS DIRECTED BY THE INFINITE GOODNESS OF GOD. We circumscribe this goodness to a pale of grace and a day of grace but it overflows our boundaries and breaks out, free as the air and broad as the sunlight. God does not wait to be called. He is the first to awaken His slumbering children. God thinks of the heathen, and gives strength to those who know Him not. Then no doubt if a Chinese Mandarin pronounces a just sentence, or a Hindu Pundit utters a true thought, or an African chief vindicates the rights of an oppressed tribe, the goodness of these heathen men is an outcome of God's goodness to them. Let us take heart: there is more grace in the world than we know of.

        III. IT AIMS AT THE EXECUTION OF THE WILL OF GOD. Cyrus is called God's shepherd (Isaiah 44:28). So even Nebuchadnezzar, a man of a very different character, is called by God "My servant" (Jeremiah 43:10).

        1. Some serve God when they think to oppose Him. As the gale that seems to be tearing the ship to pieces may be driving her the faster to her haven, so Satan, in Job, aiming at opposition to the right, occasioned the most glorious vindication of it. Persecutors often help the cause they hate.

        2. Many, like Cyrus, serve God unconsciously. As the corn ministers to our sustenance unwittingly, and as science reveals the glory of God, even when the naturalists who pursue it are agnostics. Lessons —(1) The unknown influence of God should lead to our knowing God. We have not to search the heavens for the unseen God. He is nigh us. Our own experience and the blessings of our own life should open our eyes to the goodness of God.(2) This influence, once recognised, should lead us to trust God. If God girded Cyrus the heathen, will He not gird Israel His people?(3) This influence should warn us against neglecting the recognition of God. We cannot escape from God. To do so would be our own undoing. But the hand which girds can ungird!(4) This influence should prompt us to greater zeal in mission work. For God claims the heathen by His present influence on them. He has begun the work and will help His servants in it. It is sad that millions should be left in ignorance of the hand that girds them.

        1. For, obviously, much of the evil within and around us is of our own making.

        2. Much has also been of our neighbours' making We inherited, with much that was good, some evil bias from our fathers. We have often had to breathe an atmosphere charged with moral infections which sprang from the corrupt habits of the world around us. Our education was not good, or was not wholly good and wise. We have had to live and trade, to work and play, with men whose influence on us, if often beneficial, has also been often injurious. The laws, maxims, customs of the little world in which we have moved have done much to blunt and lower our moral tone, to encourage us in self-seeking or self-indulgence, to countenance us in yielding to our baser passions and desires. As we look back and think of all that we have lost and suffered, it is probable that we attribute far more of the evils which have fallen on us to men than to God.

        3. Much that seems evil to us is not really evil, or is not necessarily evil, or is not altogether evil. Cyrus and his Persians had such evils as noxious plants and animals, excessive heat and cold, famine, drought, earthquake, storms, disease, and sudden death in their minds mainly when they spoke of the works of Ahriman, the eternal and malignant antagonist of God. But, as we know, these apparent ills are not necessarily ills at all, or they are the products of causes which work for good on the whole, or they carry with them compensations so large that the world would be the poorer for their loss. To take but a few illustrations. The storms, that wreck a few ships and destroy a few lives, clear and revivify the air of a whole continent, and carry new health to the millions in populous cities pent. The constant struggle for existence among plants and animals is a necessary condition of the evolution of their higher and more perfect species. To variations of heat and cold, and even to excessive variations, we owe the immense variety of the climates and conditions under which we live and to these variations of climate the immense variety and abundance of the harvests by which the world is fed. Is adversity an evil? It is to the struggle with adversity that we owe many of out" highest virtues. And as we are driven to toil by the sting of want, and trained to courage by the assaults of adversity, so also we are moved to thought by the perplexities of life, and to trust and patience by its sorrows and losses and cares. We should not realise how much of good there is in our lives if the current of our days were never vexed by ill winds.

        1. When we contemplate the universe of which we form part, the first impression made on us is of its immense variety but, as we continue to study it, the final and deepest impression it makes upon us is that, under this immense and beautiful variety, there lies an an-pervading unity. As it is with us, so it has been with the race at large. At first men were so profoundly impressed by the variety of the universe that they split it up into endless provinces, assigned to each its ruling spirit, and worshipped gods of heaven and of earth, gods of mountains and plains, of sea and land, of air and water, of rivers and springs, of fields and woods, trees and flowers, of hearth and home, of the individual, the clan, the nation, the empire. Yet even then there hung in the dark background of their thoughts some conviction of the underlying unity of the universe, as was proved by their conception of an inscrutable Destiny or Fate, to which gods and men were alike subject, and by which all the ages of time were controlled. This conviction grew and deepened as the world went spinning down the grooves of change, until now Science herself admits that, by a thousand different paths of investigation and thought, it is led to the conclusion that, if there be a God at all, there can be but one God that, if the universe had a Maker, it could have had but one Maker that if human life is under rule, there can be but one ruler over all. There may be one God, — that to Science is still an open question but there cannot be more than one, — that question is closed, and Science herself stands to guard the way to it as with a sword in her hand. But if there be only one Supreme Lord, there cannot, of course, be any rival Power to His, any Power that introduces alien forces or works by other laws. There may be subordinate powers and at times these may seem to oppose Him, to contend against Him. But one Power or Will is supreme for, as the very word itself suggests, the universe is an unity, — a vast complex of many forces perhaps and many laws, but still a single and organised whole. In reverting to the Persian hypothesis of two antagonistic Powers, therefore, Mill sinned against the most settled conclusion of modern thought. Now, if we either believe in one supreme Creator and Lord, or, following Mill's advice, lean to that conclusion as hard as we can, our next step is to conceive, as best we may, what this great first Cause, this creative and ruling Power, is like. Accordingly, we look around us to find that which is highest in the universe, sure that in that which is highest we shall find that which most resembles the Most High. And in the whole visible creation we find nothing so high as man, no force of so Divine a quality and temper as the will of man, when once that will is guided by wisdom and impelled by love. To him alone of all visible creatures is the strange power accorded of consciously and intentionally arresting or modifying the action of the great physical forces, of conquering Nature by obeying her, of changing her course by a skilfull application of her own laws. So that, even though the Bible did not assure us that man was made in the image of God, reason would compel us to conclude that, since the Creator of all things must include in Himself all the forces displayed in the work of His hands, and since we must see most of Him in the highest of His works, we must see most of Him in man, and in that which is highest in man, — namely, thought, will, affection. Reason has reached this conclusion in that ancient oracle: "Would you know God? Look within."

        2. Now we are prepared to take our next step, and ask: How evil came to be? and how, if God is responsible for it, we can reconcile it both with His perfect goodness and His perfect power?(1) For the origin of evil we must go back to the creation of all things, and be content to use words which, though quite inadequate to the subject, may nevertheless convey true impressions of it. If the conception of God we have just framed be a true one, then there must have been a time when the Great Creative Spirit dwelt alone. And in that Divine solitude the question arose whether a creation, an universe, should be called into being, and of what kind it should be. Or, perhaps, we may rather say, that, just as the intelligent and creative spirit of man must work and act, so the creative Spirit of God urged Him to commence "the works of His hands." However we may conceive or phrase it, let us suppose the physical universe determined upon as the stage on which active intelligences were to play their part and then ask yourselves what is implied in the very nature of active intelligent creatures such as we are, and whether anything less than such creatures could satisfy the Maker and Lord of all. Would you have God surround Himself with a merely inanimate world, or tenant that world with mere automata, mere puppets, with no will of their own, capable, indeed, of reflecting His own glory back on Him, but incapable of a voluntary affection, a spontaneous and unforced obedience? Why, even you yourselves cannot gain full scope for your powers until you are surrounded, or surround yourselves, with beings capable of loving you freely, and obeying you with a cheerful and unforced accord, beings whose wills are their own and who yet make them yours. How much less, then, can you imagine that God should be content with a purely mechanical obedience, with anything short of a voluntary obedience and affection? But if you admit so much as this, consider, next, what is implied in the very nature of creatures such as these. If free to think truly, must they not be free to think untruly? if free to love, must they not be free not to love? if free to obey, must they not be free to disobey? The very creation of beings in themselves good involves the tremendous risk of their becoming evil. Nay, if we consider the matter a little more closely we shall find that there was more to be confronted than the mere risk of the introduction of evil. To me it seems a dead certainty, a certainty which must have been foreseen and provided for in the eternal counsels of the Almighty, that in the lapse of ages, with a vast hierarchy of creatures possessed of freewill, some among them would assert and prove their freedom by disobedience. How else could man, for instance, assure himself that he was free, that his will was in very deed his own? Are we not impatient of any law even by which we are bound, or suspect that we are bound, however good the law may be in itself? Free creatures, again, creatures with intelligence, will, passion, are active creatures: and there is something, as all observers are agreed, in the very nature of activity which blunts and weakens our sense of inferiority, dependence, accountability. The Bible affirms that what reason might have anticipated actually took place. It tells us that both in heaven and on earth the creatures God had made did thus fall away from Him, doing their own will instead of His, taking their own course instead of the course marked out and hedged in for them by His pure and kindly laws. And it moreover asserts, in full accordance with the teachings of philosophy and science, that, by their disobedience to the laws of their being and happiness, they jarred themselves into a false and sinister relation to the material universe that, by introducing moral evil into the creation, they exposed themselves to those physical ills from which we suffer to this day. It must be obvious to every reflective mind that if the whole physical universe was created by the Word of God, if it is animated by His Spirit and ruled by His will, then as many as disobey that high will must put themselves out of harmony with all that obey it, must find the very forces which once worked for them turned against them. They are at war with the will which pervades and controls the universe: how, then, can the universe be at peace with them? If, then, we now repeat the question: In what sense may we reverently attribute evil to God? in what sense can we concede His claim to be responsible for evil as well as for good? our reply must be that, in creating beings capable of loving and serving Him of their own choice, He created the possibility of evil, ran the risk of its existence, and even knew beforehand that it would certainly enter in and mar the work of His hands.(2) How, then, can we justify evil? how can we reconcile it at once with His perfect goodness and unbounded power? On our hypothesis we reconcile it with His power by the plain and obvious argument that even Omnipotence cannot at once create freewill and not create it that, when once He has created it, even the Almighty cannot interfere with it without destroying it. But if we would reconcile the existence of evil with the goodness of God — and this is by far the more difficult achievement — we must take the whole theory of human life and destiny taught by the Bible, and not merely a part of it. As I read it, then, the Bible teaches what human reason had conjectured and hoped apart from the Bible, — that the lines of human life and destiny are to be produced beyond the grave, and wrought out to their final result in other worlds than this.

        Watch the video: First declaration of human rights, Cyrus the Great (December 2022).

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