Archive E.J. Hutchinson Sacred Doctrine The Two Kingdoms

Dare to Be a Daniel

This post is related to several other recent posts: on the question of whether the Christian faith is politically subversive; on prayer as sacrifice; on posture; and on fixed hours of prayer.


In Daniel 6:10, we read: “When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.”

The “document,” of course, was the decree that no one but the king be addressed in prayer for thirty days.

John Calvin finds much of significance in this verse regarding the duty of obedience, the necessary connection between internal faith and external piety, and the formative power of habit in the life of prayer and faith.

Calvin’s Exposition: Outward Form and Inward Reality

Calvin notes that the king’s decree had really only outlawed “outward profession” of one’s faith–one could of course have kept right on praying to God in the secret places of one’s heart. What Daniel believed obedience demanded of him, then, was a continuation in the external forms of prayer, “the principal sacrifice which God requires”:1

We must remark that the internal worship of God is not treated here, but only the external profession of it…..[A]s Daniel here is not the herald of his own virtue, but the Spirit speaks through his mouth, we must suppose that this magnanimity in the holy Prophet was pleasing to God. And his liberation shewed how greatly his piety was approved, because he had rather lose his life than change any of his habits respecting the worship of God. We know the principal sacrifice which God requires, is to call upon his name. For we hereby testify him to be the author of all good things; next we shew forth a specimen of our faith; then we fly to him, and cast all our cares into his bosom, and offer him our prayers. Since, therefore, prayer constitutes the chief part of our adoration and worship of God, it was certainly a matter of no slight moment when the king forbade any one to pray to God; it was a gross and manifest denial of piety.

This decree was in reality outside of the king’s proper jurisdiction, for he legislated where he had no right: he had no right, that is, to compel his subjects to deny the true God. The edict was therefore “impious” and the king acted out of pride rather than wisdom. Because the king’s pronouncement was “sacrilegious,” Daniel declined to obey it. Calvin considers that this demurral was necessary as a testimony to men. For God requires both internal faith and outward “witness and confession.”

And here, again, we collect how blind was the king’s pride when he could sign so impious and foul an edict! Then how mad were the nobles who, to ruin Daniel as far as they possibly could, endeavored to abolish all piety, and draw down God from heaven! For what remains, when men think they can free themselves from the help of God, and pass him over with security? Unless he prop us up by his special aid, we know how entirely we should be reduced to nothing. Hence the king forbade any one to offer up any prayer during a whole month — that is, as I have said, he exacts from every one a denial of God! But Daniel could not obey the edict without committing an atrocious insult against God and declining from piety; because, as I have said, God exacts this as a principal sacrifice. Hence it is not surprising if Daniel cordially opposed the sacrilegious edict. Now, with respect to the profession of piety, it was necessary to testify before men his perseverance in the worship of God. For if he had altered his habits at all, it would have been a partial abjuration; he would not have said that he openly despised God to please Darius; but that very difference in his conduct would have been a proof of perfidious defection. We know that God requires not only faith in the heart and the inward affections, but also the witness and confession of our piety.

The necessary connection between outward form and inward reality is, Calvin believes, the reason that Daniel prayed “with his windows open.” Calvin considers Daniel an example in this respect,2 and wishes that the “doctrine” of loyalty to God “above all earthly pow’rs” were more firmly stamped on the hearts of his contemporaries. To Calvin, those who deride Daniel’s behavior are guilty of drawing a strict separation between faith and outward confession that ought to have no place among Christians:

He was in the habit of praying with his windows open: hence he continued in his usual course, lest any one should object that he gratified his earthly king for a moment by omitting the worship of God. I wish this doctrine was now engraven on the hearts of all men as it ought to be; but this example of the Prophet is derided by many, not perhaps openly and glaringly, but still clearly enough, the Prophet seems to them too inconsiderate and simple, since he incurs great danger, rashly, and without any necessity. For they so separate faith from its outward confession as to suppose it can remain entire even if completely buried, and for the sake of avoiding the cross they depart a hundred times from its pure and sincere profession. We must maintain, therefore, not only the duty of offering to God the sacrifice of prayer in our hearts, but that our open profession is also required, and thus the reality of our worship of God may clearly appear.

Calvin is careful in what follows to distinguish between the type of faithful practice he thinks to be required and the type he thinks to be in one’s own discretion; his criterion is that one can never “pretend either disaffection or apostasy.” He also notes that, had Daniel been allowed into the king’s council, it would have been his “duty” to oppose the king’s decree.

I do not say that our hasty thoughts are to be instantly spread abroad, rendering us subject to death by the enemies of God and his gospel; but I say these things ought to be united and never to be separated, namely, faith and its profession. For confession is of two kinds: first, the open and ingenuous testimony to our inward feelings; and secondly, the necessary maintenance of the worship of God, lest we shew any sign of a perverse and perfidious hypocrisy, and thus reject the pursuit of piety. With regard to the first kind, it is neither always nor everywhere necessary to profess our faith; but the second kind ought to be perpetually practiced, for it can never be necessary for us to pretend either disaffection or apostasy. For although Daniel did not send for the Chaldeans by the sound of a trumpet whenever he wished to pray, yet he framed his prayers and his vows in his couch as usual, and did not pretend to be forgetful of piety when he saw his faith put to the test, and the experiments made whether or not he would persevere in his constancy. Hence he distinctly says, he went home, after being made acquainted with the signing of the decree. Had he been admitted to the council, he would doubtless have spoken out, but the rest of the nobles cunningly excluded him, lest he should interfere with them, and they thought the remedy would be too late, and utterly in vain as soon as he perceived the certainty of his own death. Hence, had he been admitted to the king’s council, he would there have discharged his duty, and heartily interposed; but after the signing of the edict, and the loss of all opportunity for advising the king, he retired to his house.

The Exposition Continued: Things Indifferent in Themselves, but Useful to Faith

Calvin now moves on to the outward aids of which Daniel made use in his prayer and of which there are three: the opening of the windows; fixed times for daily prayer; and the bending of the knees. First, with respect to the windows: turning his face toward Jerusalem was to be for Daniel a “stimulus” to greater earnestness in prayer, for my doing so he would be reminded of the current bondage of his people. It was not for God’s benefit that he did so, but for his own. This too is to be an example to us: we should “collect all the aids which can arouse our feelings and correct the torpor of which we are conscious,” echoing a point that has been made here before. This practice, moreover, was an aid not only to Daniel, but to those in his house: it served as an encouragement to perseverance and hope that God would deliver them out of their bondage. Others would see that, though an exile, he looked forward to the “promised inheritance.”3

He now says,His windows were open towards Jerusalem The question arises, Whether it was necessary for Daniel thus to open his windows? For some one may object — he did this under a mistaken opinion; for if God fills heaven end earth, what signified his windows being open towards Jerusalem? There is no doubt that the Prophet used this device as a stimulus to his fervor in prayer. For when praying for the liberation of his people, he directed his eyes towards Jerusalem, and that sight became a stimulus to enflame his mind to greater devotion. Hence the opening of the Prophet’s windows has no reference to God, as if he should be listened to more readily by having the open heaven between his dwelling and Judea; but he rather considered himself and his natural infirmity. Now, if the holy Prophet, so careful in his prayers, needed this help, we must see whether or not our sloth in these days has need of more stimulants! Let us learn, therefore, when we feel ourselves to be too sluggish and cold in prayer, to collect all the aids which can arouse our feelings and correct the torpor of which we are conscious. This, then, was the Prophet’s intention in opening his windows towards Jerusalem Besides, he wished by this symbol to shew his domestics his perseverance, in the hope and expectation of the promised redemption. When, therefore, he prayed to God, he kept Jerusalem in sight, not that his eyes could penetrate to so distant a region, but he directed his gaze towards Jerusalem to shew himself a stranger among the Chaldeans, although he enjoyed great power among them, and was adorned with great authority, and excelled in superior dignity. Thus he wished all men to perceive how he longed for the promised inheritance, although for a time he was in exile. This was his second reason for opening his windows.

Next, fixed hours of prayer. Calvin’s exposition here is consistent with what we have observed previously: fixed hours are not a matter of law, for “God allows us liberty.” They may not be required as an essential of true piety. Rather, though a matter of evangelical freedom, regular times of prayer are of great use to us; regular disciplines are the “proper remedies” for our natural sluggishness and weakness.

He says, He prayed three times a-day. This is worthy of observation, because, unless we fix certain hours in the day for prayer, it easily slips from our memory. Although, therefore, Daniel was constant in pouring forth prayers, yet he enjoined upon himself the customary rite of prostrating himself before God three times a-day. When we rise in the morning, unless we commence the day by praying to God, we shew a brutish stupidity, so also when we retire to rest, and when we take our food and at other times, as every one finds most advantageous to himself. For here God allows us liberty, but we ought all to feel our infirmities, and to apply the proper remedies. Therefore, for this reason, Daniel was in the habit of praying thrice.

And, finally, the matter of bending the knee for prayer. Calvin finds it to be (again) of exemplary importance that Daniel did so as a regular habit:

A proof of his fervor is also added, when he says, He prostrated himself on his knees; not that bending the knee is necessary in prayer, but while we need aids to devotion, as we have said, that posture is of importance. First of all, it reminds us of our inability to stand before God, unless with humility and reverence; then, our minds are better prepared for serious entreaty, and this symbol of worship is pleasing to God. Hence Daniel’s expression is by no means superfluous: He fell upon his knees whenever he wished to pray to God. He now says, he uttered prayers and confessions before God, or he praised God, for we must diligently notice how many in their prayers mutter to God. For although they demand either one thing or another, yet they are carried along by an immoderate impulse, and, as I have said, they are violent in their requests unless God instantly grants their petitions.

Calvin’s distinctions are once more of crucial importance. Such a practice is not “necessary,” and yet “posture is of importance.” Why? Because it is an “aid to devotion”–it cultivates humility and reminds us of our inability to stand before God in our own power. Further, because our minds do not exist in isolation from our bodies, the right use of the body is protreptic and preparatory for the right use of the mind. Finally, it is a “symbol” that, Calvin says, is “pleasing to God.”


In sum, Calvin finds much more in this one verse than mere historical narration,though, to be sure, it is that as well. Rather, there are a number of things about the situation in which Daniel found himself that are relevant to God’s people in all times and places. Are all times and places precisely like Daniel’s Babylon? No, of course not. But there are a number of characteristics of political and religious life that frequently recur, some of which are experienced by all alike (e.g., weakness and apathy in our service to our Creator)–that is to say, they are common. And, in so far as they are common, Daniel’s practices are instructive to us, even when they touch upon matters that are, fundamentally, matters of liberty.


  1. Cf. the recent post on Tertullian.
  2. Thus making Calvin an early exponent of “Dare to Be a Daniel,” notwithstanding the mockery to which such sentiments are often subjected.
  3. This remark points to another way in which Daniel can be exemplary even now, though Calvin does not pursue it here: we should imitate his longing for the consummation of our promised inheritance in the new heavens and new earth, a topic treated here several times in the past.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.