The night in which Babylon fell Daniel had been appointed by King Belshazzar "the third ruler in the kingdom," because of his interpretation of the terrible handwriting on the wall. The reason that the highest honor that could be bestowed on him was that of third ruler was that Belshazzar was only associate king with his father. This gave two kings, and so a first and second ruler; and another could not be higher than third ruler.
Thus it was with Daniel; and when that same night Babylon fell, Belshazzar was slain, and his father was a prisoner, and no longer king; this left Daniel the chief official, with whom the conquerors could communicate in rearranging the affairs of the Babylonian State. Because of this, and more particularly "because an excellent spirit was in him," the king of conquering Media and Persia thought to set him over "the whole realm." Thus "this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes."
When all the other presidents, princes, governors, and captains saw that Daniel, a captive Jew, was preferred before themselves, who were high and mighty Medes and Persians, they were much dissatisfied.
And when they discovered that he was likely to be yet further promoted, they determined to break him down utterly. Therefore they formed a conspiracy, and diligently "sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom."
But with all their diligence, and with all their suspicions and prejudiced care, "they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him." There was, however, one last resource, which, by a trick, they might employ. They knew that he feared God. They knew that his service to the Lord was actuated by such firm principle that, in rendering that service, he would not dodge, nor compromise, nor swerve a hair's breadth, upon any issue that might be raised.
"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 even in this there was nothing upon which they might "find" an "occasion." In order to find it they must create it; and create it they did. Pretending to be great lovers of their king and country, and to have much and sincere concern for the honor of the king and the preservation of the State, "they assembled together to the king," and proposed "to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree," that whosoever should ask any petition of any god or man for thirty days, save of King Darius, should be cast into the den of lions. They presented the case in such a plausible way, and with such evident care for the public good, that Darius was completely hoodwinked, and "signed the writing and the decree." Thus the invention of the conspirators became "the law of the land."
Daniel knew that the writing was signed. He knew that it was now the law -- the law of the Medes and Persians too, which could not be altered. Yet, knowing this, "he went into his house" and "kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime." He knew perfectly that no law of the Medes and Persians, nor of any other earthly power, could ever, of right, have anything to say or do with any man's service to God. He went on just as aforetime, because, practically, and in principle, all things were just as aforetime. So far as concerned the conduct of the man who feared God, any law on that subject was no more than no law at all on that subject.
In the Medes and Persians a new set of men had come upon the world's stage; the power of empire had passed into new hands. And these new rulers, as well as Nebuchadnezzar, must be taught the truth of the separation of religion and the State. And in order that they should have opportunity to learn this, Daniel, who was the possessor and representative of this great truth, must stand, unswervingly, to the principle. And so he did.
"Then these men assembled, and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God."
They expected to find him praying that was exactly what they "assembled" for.
And Daniel was not afraid that they would find him doing so. They immediately hurried away to the king, and asked him, "Hast thou not signed a decree, that every man that shall ask a petition of any god or man within thirty days, save of thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions? The king answered and said. The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not. Then answered they and said before the king, 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 suddenly awoke to the fact that he had been duped. And "he was sore displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him; and he labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him." But it was all of no avail; the conspirators were persistent to frustrate every effort which the king could make. And they had a ready and conclusive argument against everything that might be proposed. That argument was "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." There was no remedy; the law must be enforced. Accordingly, though most reluctantly, "the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions."
The king passed the night in fasting and sleeplessness, and very early in the morning went in haste to the den of lions, and "cried with a lamentable voice, . . . O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?" To the infinite delight of the king, 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."
That is divine testimony, published to all the world, that innocence before God is found in the man who disregards any human law that interferes with his service to God. It is also divine testimony that the man who disregards such laws, in so doing does "no hurt" to the king, to the State, nor to society.
Thus God taught to the rulers of the Medo-Persian Empire the separation of religion and the State; that with men's relationship to God, rulers and States can have nothing whatever to do. And it was written for the instruction of all rulers and States unto the world's end.
In these two experiences recorded in the book of Daniel --the one of Nebuchadnezzar and the worship of his great golden image, the other of the conspirators against Daniel's service to God -- all people are taught in the most impressive way, that the God of heaven forbids any ruler to require His subjects to conform to His ideas in religion, and forbids all people to frame any law on any subject touching men's relation to God.
In these two experiences the God of heaven, in the strongest possible way, teaches all people, and particularly His own people, that in the presence of the rights of conscience, in the presence of men's relationship to God, and in all matters of religion, the word and authority of every king or ruler must give way; that all laws framed, which touch in any manner men's relationship to God, which touch any matter of religious observance, are simply naught -- are no more than no law at all on such subject. In it all, the God of heaven also teaches to all that He vindicates and declares innocent all who refuse obedience to such decrees of kings and rulers, all who utterly disregard all such laws; and also certifies to all kings, rulers, and people that those who do disregard all such laws do "no hurt" to either king, ruler, or people.
And these lessons need to be perseveringly taught everywhere to-day. In almost every country in the world, and especially in the English-speaking countries, the schemes and inventions of men in matters religious, and particularly as to the observance of Sunday, are crowded into the law and so forced upon all the people. These men profess to be jealous guardians of religious liberty and the rights of conscience. They "do not believe in enforcing religion upon anybody." Yet all the time they are steadily working to get religious dogmas and institutions recognized and fixed in the law, and then demand obedience to the law, and throw upon the dissenter the odium of "lawlessness, and disrespect for constituted authority," while they pose as the champions of "law and order," the "conservators of the State, and the stay of society;" exactly as did the conspirators against Daniel.
Sunday, not only according to their own showing, but by every other fair showing that can be made, is a religious institution, a church affair, only. This they all know. And yet, in almost every land, those people are working constantly to get this church institution fixed, and more firmly fixed, in the law, with penalties attached that are more worthy of barbarism than of civilization; and then, when anybody objects to the enforcement of such laws, they all cry out: "It is not a question of religion at all; religion hasn't anything to do with it; it is simply a question of regard for law. The law! The law! It is the law of the land! We are not asking any religious observance by anybody; all that we ask is respect for the law!" But the lessons in the book of Daniel teach to all people that no religious or ecclesiastical institution or rite has any right to any place in the law. And that when against right it is put into the law, it gains no force whatever from that, and is to receive no respect nor recognition whatever.
And thus by the word and work of God in the book of Daniel, there is taught to all kings and all people unto the end of the world, the total separation of religion and the State.