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After bearing this open testimony to the truth of John's divine mission, and the reality of his prophetic character-a truth and reality which were not impaired by the imperfection of his views
-Jesus closes the discourse by some remarks on the effect of his ministry in connexion with his
He speaks of the small number of those who had been moved to repentance by John the Baptist or by himself, and rebukes the people of that age for their perversity in rejecting both, although they were so different from each other in character and habits. John, being of an austere and retired deportment, was charged with being melancholy or crazed ;- they said, “ He hath a devil.” He himself, mingling more freely with men of all ranks, and partaking of their entertainments, was rudely accused of being “a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.” Such a stubborn and petulant generation might be fitly likened to children in the streets, who would refuse to join with their companions in any games, and would neither dance to their festive piping, nor lament with them when they imitated the funeral wail.
It was probably about three months after this occurrence, that the revengeful Herodias found an opportunity of accomplishing the destruction of the Baptist. As Herod was keeping his birthday, by a magnificent supper which he gave to his lords and captains, she sent her daughter by her former husband* into the hall, to dance before him and his guests. The exhibition pleased the tetrarch to such a degree, that he promised with an oath to grant the daughter whatsoever she should ask, even to the half of his kingdom. The young dancer went out, and reported this to her mother, and consulted her with regard to the request which she should prefer. Herodias, without hesitation, and feeling that the dark game was now in her own cruel hands, told her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist; and, in order to make sure of her prey, and guard against any humane deception, she added the condition, that the head should be brought to her on a “charger," or large dish. For such a terrible request, the sobered king was wholly unprepared, and he was “exceeding sorry." Nevertheless, he conceived himself bound by his oath— as if an oath could bind the soul to crime
and sent an executioner to the prison to do the wicked deed. “ It was the holy purpose of God,”? says bishop Hall, “that he who had baptized with water, should now be baptized with blood.” The blameless John — the preacher of repentance and righteousness - the holy reprover of vice, whether a publican's or a king's — was beheaded in the prison. “For one minute's pain, he is possessed of endless joy, and as he came before his Saviour into the world, so is he gone before him into heaven." His faithful disciples forsook him not, though dead; but came; and “ took up the body and buried it;" and then went and informed Jesus of what had taken place.
* She had a daughter, as Josephus tells us, by the name of Salome.
The uneasy conscience of Herod Antipas, would not suffer him to forget the image of his victim. When he afterwards heard of the fame of Jesus, he expressed his belief that it was John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded, risen from the dead.
It is not told us in the Gospels, where the Baptist was buried by his disciples. Less authentic accounts state, that “ in the time of Julian the apostate, his tomb was shown at Samaria, where the inhabitants opened it, and burnt part of his bones; while the rest were saved by some Christians, who carried them to an abbot of Jerusalem, named Philip."*
The Roman Church celebrates the martyrdom of John the Baptist on the 29th of August. But the day on which he is especially commemorated is the 24th of June, which is kept as the day of his nativity ; it being the only nativity, besides that of our Saviour, which that Church observes. The Apostles and other saints bore witness to the truth more especially by their deaths, but John more especially by his birth, with its concomitants. A kind of perpetual commentary is thus afforded on the declaration of the angel, that “ many shall rejoice in his birth." And as our Lord's nativity is observed on the 25th of December, and he was about six months younger than John, the 24th of June is properly selected as the birth-day of the latter. Here again a comment of the same poetical character, on another text, has sometimes been noticed. The days, which begin to lengthen at the first of those dates and to grow shorter at the last, point to that saying of the Baptist already quoted
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
But leaving these somewhat fanciful allusions, we cannot fail to observe that the life of the Baptist, setting forth so clearly and prominently the gravity, disinterestedness, courage, and purity of his character, is a worthy introduction
to the Lives of that “glorious company of the Apostles," who praised God as he did, in life and death, who surround the Lamb in heaven as they did on earth, and whose example enforces that of the forerunner, which so earnestly exhorts us to “constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake." Oh, for more of that primitive faith and virtue! for more witnesses, more disciples !
- Where is the lore the Baptist taught,
The soul unswerving and the fearless tongue ?
Who counts it gain
His light should wane,