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"At that time, says the evangelist, Herod the tetrarcfc heard of the fame of Jesus, and said unto his servants, this is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him."
It is not easy to meet with a more striking instancethan tin's of the force of conscience over a guilty mind, or a stronger proof how perpetually it goads the sinner, not only with well-grounded sears and appehensions of impending punishment and vengeance, but with imaginary terrors and visionary dangers.
No sooner did the same of Jesus reach the ears of the tyrant Herod, than it immediately occurred to his mind that lie had himself, not long before, most cruelly and wantonly put to death an innocent, virtuous, and holy man, whofe reputation for wisdom, integrity, and sanctity of manners, stood almost'as high in the estimation os the world as that of Jesus; and who had even declared himself the herald and the forerunner of that extraordinary person. This instantly suggested to him an idea the most extravagant that could be imagined, that this very person who assumed the name of Jesus was in sact no dther than John the Baptist himself, whom he had beheaded, and who was now risen from the dead, and was endowed with the power of working miracles, though he never performed any when living. It is evident-,. that nothing could be more improbable and absurd than these suppositions, nothing more contrary even to his own principles; for there is reason to believe that Herod, like most other people of high rank at that time, was of the sect called the Sadducees, a sect which rejected the immortality of the foul, and the doctrine of a resurrection, and must therefore be persectly adverse to the strange imagination of John the Baptist being risen from the dead.— Yet the sears of Herod overruled all the prejudices of his sect, and raised up before his eyes the semblance of the murdered Baptist armed with the power of miracles, for the very purpofe (he perhaps imagined) of inssicting exemplary vengeance upon him for that atrocious deed, as well as for his adultery, his incest, and all his other crimes: which now probably presented themselves in their most hideous forms to his terrisied imagination, pursued him into his most secret retirements, and tortured his breast with unceasing agonies.
The evangelist haying thus in;rodiiced the mention of John the Baptist, goes back a little in his narrative, to make the reader acquainted with that part of the Baptist's history which brought down upon him the indignation of Herod, and was the occasion of his death. '.- -- . - :. j •;
This flagitious prince had, it seems, in the sace of day, and in desiance of all laws, human and divine, committed the complicated crime of adultery and incest, attended with every circumstance that could mark an abandoned and unprincipled mind.
He had been married a considerable time to the daughtei of Aretas, king of Arabia Petræa, but conceiving a violent passion for his brother Philip's, wise, Herodias, he. sirst seduced her affections from her husband, then dismissed his own wise, and married Herodias, during the lise-time of his brother. It was impossible that such portentous wickedness as this could escape the observation or the reproof of the holy Baptist. He had the honesty and the courage to reproach the tyrant with the enormity of his guilt, although he could not be ignorant of the danger he incurred by such a measure; but he determined to do his duty, and to take the consequences. The consequences were, "that Herod laid hold of John, and bound him, and threw him into prison*." And undoubtedly his wish was to have put him immediately to death, but he was restrained by two considerations. The sirst was, because John was held in such high esteem and veneration by all the people, that had any violence been offered to him by Herod, he was apprehensive that it might have occasioned a general insurrection against his government for we are insormed by St. Matthew that " he seared the multitude, because they counted John as a prophetf."
The other reason was, that although he selt the utmost indignation and resentment against John for the freedom he had used in reproaching him for his licentious conduct,
* Matth. xiv, '3. f Matth. riv. y.
yet at the same time the character of that excellent man,
his piety, his sanctity, his integrity, his disintereftedneis, nay, even the courage which had ib much offended andt provoked him, commanded his respect and veneration; and excited his sears; for we are told expressly that UeraX ftared John, knowing he was a just man and a holy'.—~ Nor is this all, he not only seared John, but in some degree paid court to him. He frequently lent for him otrt of prison, and conversed with him, and, as the evangetist expresses it, obferved him; that is, listened to him witn. attention and with pleasure; nay he went sarther still, & did many things, many things which John exhorted and enjoined him to dof. He perhaps showed more attention te many of his public duties, more gentleness to his subjects, more compaction to the poor, more equity in his judicial determinations, more regard to public worship; and vastly hoped perhaps, like many other audacious sinners, that this partial reformation, this half-way amendment, would avert the judgments with which John probably threatened him. But the main point, the great object of John's reprehension, the incestuous adultery in which he lived, that he could not part with; it was too precious, too savorite a sin to give up; too great a sacrisice to make to conscience and to God. *
What a picture does this hold out to us of that strange thing called human nature, of that iiiconsistenee, that contradiction, that contrariety, which sometimes take place in the heart of man, unsanctisied and unsubdued by the power of divine grace! and what an exalted idea at the same time does it give us of the dignity of a truly religious character, like that of John, which compels even its bitterest enemies to reverence and to sear it; and forces even the most prossigate and most powerful of men to pay ar. unwilling homage to excellence, at the very moment, perhaps, when they are meditating its destruction »
In this state of irresolution Herod might probably have continued, and the sate of John have remained undecided for a considerable time, had not an incident taken place, which determined both much sooner perhaps than was u>
* Mark, vi. jo. f M*rk, vi. ao.
fended. Herod, on his birth-day, gave an entertainment t<y the principal ossicers of his army and of his court; and as a. peculiar and very uncommon compliment cn the occasion, Salome, the daughter of his wise Herodias by her farmer husband, came in and danced before the company in a manner so pleasing to Herod and to all his guests, that the king in a sudden transport of delight, cried out to the damsel, as St. Mark relates it, "Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee." And he sware unto her, "whatsoever thou shalt ask of me I will give it thee even unto the half of my kingdom*." The folly, the rashness, and the madness of such an oath as this, on so foolish an occasion, could be exceeded by nothing but the horrible purpofe- to which it was perverted by the young creature to whom it was made, or rather by her prossigate instructor and adviser, her mother Herodias. Astonished and overwhelmed probably with the magnitude of such an unexpected osser, which laid at her seet half the wealth, the power and the splendor of a kingdom, she found herself unable to decide between the various da-zling objects that would present themselves to her imagination, and therefore very naturally applies to her mother for advice and direction. Most mothers, on such an occasion, would have asked for a daughter a magnisicent establishment, a situation of high rank and power! But Herodias had a passion to gratisy, stronger perhaps than any other, when it takes sull possession of the human heart, and that was revenge. She had been mortally injured, as she conceived, by the Baptist, who had attempted to dissolve her present insamous connection with Herod. And she ndt only selt the highest indignation at this insult, but was afraid that his repeated remonstrances might at length prevail. She therefore did not hesitate one moment what to ask; she gave way to all the fury of her resentment; and without the least regard to the character or the delicate situation of her inexperienced daughter, she immediately ordered her to demand the head of her detested enemy, John the Baptist! The wretched young woman unfortunately obeyed this dreadsul command; and, as we are told by the evangelist, "came in straightway with haste unto the kingf." She came with speed in her steps, and
* Mark, yi. a», 23. f Mark. vi. S5. Matth, xiv. 8.
eagerness in her eye, and said, "Give me here John theBaptist's head in a charger." This savage request appal-' led even the unsealing heart of Herod himself. He did^ not expect it, and was not prepared for it; and although he was highly disgusted with John, yet, for the reasons above mentioned, he did not choofe to go to extremeties with him. He was therefore exceeding forry, as the sacred Historian informs us, to be thus forced upon so violent and hazardous a measure; nevertheless, for his oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given to her." Conceiving himself, most absurdly, bound by his oath to comply even with this inhuman demand, and afraid lest he should be reproached by those that were around him with having broken his promise, he presered the real guilt of murder to the salse imputation of perjury, and "sent and beheaded John in prison; and his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel, and she brought it to her mother.'*^7 It is well known that it was a custom in the east, and is so still in the Turkish court, to produce the heads of those that are ordered to be put to death, as a proof that they have been really executed. But how this wretched damsel could so sar subdue the common seelings of human nature, and still more the natural tenderness and delicacy of her ser, as not only to endure so disgusting and shocking a spectacle, but even to carry the bleeding trophy in triumph to her mother, it is not easy to imagine; and it wbuld scarce be credited, did we not know that m times" and in countries much nearer to our own, sights of still greater horror than this have been contemplated, even'By 0 women and children, with complacency and with delight.
Such was the conclusion of this singular transaction; and every part of it is so pregnant with usesul instruction and admonition, that I shall stand excused, I hope, if I take up a little more of your time than is usual in discourses of this nature, in commenting somewhat at large on the conduct and characters of the several actors in this dreadsul tragedy.
And, in the sirst place, there can be no doubt that the most guilty and the most unpardonable of all the parties concerned in this murber of an innocent and excellent man