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abhorred. In the removal of the wicked is the establisbment of the throne.
Yet still is this dame called the wife of Philip. She had utterly left his bed, and was soleinnly coupled to Herod; but all the ritual ceremonies of her new nuptials cannot make her other than Philip's wife. It is a sure rule, that which is originally faulty can never be rectified. The ordination of marriage is one for one; "they twain shall be one flesh.” There cannot be two heads to one body, nor two bodies to one head. Herod was her adulterer, he was not her husband : she was Herod's harlot, Philip's wife. Yet how doth Herod dote on her, that for her sake he loads John with irons! Whither will not the fury of inordinate lust transport a man? Certainly John was of late in Herod's favour. That rough-hewn preacher was for a wilderness, not for a court: Herod's invitation drew him thither; his reverence and respects encouraged him there. Now. the love of his lust carried him into an hate of God's messenger. That man can have no hold of himself, or care of others, who hath given the reins to his unruly concupiscence. He that hath once fixed his heart
upon the face of an harlot, and hath beslaved himself to a bewitching beauty, casts off at once all fear of God, respect to laws, shame of the world, regard of his estate, care of wife, children, friends, reputation, patrimony, body, soul. So violent is this beastly passion where it takes; neither ever leaves, till it have hurried him into the chambers of death.
Herodias herself had first plotted to kill the Baptist; her murderers were suborned, her ambushes laid; the success failed, and now she works with Herod for his durance. marvellous hand of the Almighty! John was a mean man for estate, solitary, guardless, unarmed, impotent; Herodias a queen, so great, that she swayed Herod himself, and not more great than subtile, and not more great and subtile than malicious : yet Herodias laid to kill John, and could not. What an invisible and yet sure guard there is about the poor servants of God, that seem helpless and despicable in themselves ! there is over them an hand of divine protection, which can be no more opposed than seen. Malice is not so strong in the band as in the heart. The devil is stronger than a world of men, a legion of devils stronger than fewer spirits; yet a legion of devils cannot hurt oue swine without a perinission. What can bands of enemies, or gates of hell, do against God's
secret ones? “ It is better to trust in the Lord, than to trust in princes.”
It is not more clear who was the author, than what was the motive of this imprisonment, the free reproof of Herod's incest; “ It is not lawful, &c.” Both the offenders were nettled at this bold reprehension. Herod knew the reputation that Joh carried, his conscience could not but suggest the foulness of his own fact; neither could he but; see how odious it would seem to persecute a prophet for so just a reproof. For the colour therefore of so tyrannical an act, he brands John with sedition : these presumptuous taxations are a disgrace and disparagement to authority. It is no news with tyrants, to cloak their cruelty with pretences of justice. Never was it other than the lot of God's faithful servants, to be loaded with unjust reproaches in the conscionable performance of their duties. They should speed too well in the opinion of men,
if they might but appear in their true shape.
The fact of Herod was horrible and prodigious, to rob his own brother of the partner of his bed, to tear away part his flesh, yea, his body from bis head : so as here was at once, in one act, adultery, incest, violence. Adultery, that he took another's wife; incest, that he took his brother's; violence, that he thus took her in spite of her husband. Justly therefore might John say, “ It is not lawful for thee.” He baulked not one of Herod's sins, but reproved him of all the evils, that he had done; though more eininently of this, as that which more filled the eye of the world. It was not the crown or lawful sceptre of Herod that could daunt the homely, but faithful messenger of God; as one that came in the spirit of Elias, he fears no faces, spares no wickedness. There must meet in God's ministers courage and impartiality; impartiality, not to make difference of persons; courage, not to make spare of the sins of the greatest. It is an hard condition that the necessity of our calling casts upon us, in some cases, to run upon the pikes of displeasure. Prophecies were no burdens, if they did not expose us to these dangers. We must convive at no evil : every sin unreproved becomes ours.
Hatred is the daughter of truth. Herod is inwardly vexed with so peremptory a reprehension; and now he seeks to kill the author. And why did he not? “He feared the people. The time was, when he feared John no less than now he hates him : he once reverenced him as a just and holy man, whom now he heart-burns as an enemy; neither was it any counterfeit respect, sure the man was then in earnest. Wliat shall we say then ? was it that his inconstant heart was now fetched off by Herodias, and wrought to a disatfection? or was it with Herod, as with Solomon's sluggard, that at once would and would not? His thoughts are distracted with a mixed voluntary contradiction of purposes : as an holy man, and honoured of the people, he would not kill John : he would kill him, as an enemy to his lust. The worst part prevaileth, appetite oversways reason and conscience; and now, were it not for fear of the people, John should be murdered. What a self-conflicting and prodigious creature is a wicked man left over to his own thoughts ! while on the one side he is urged by his conscience, on the other by his lustful desires, and by the importunity of Satan.
" There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked :” and after all his inward broils, he falls upon the worst, so as his yieldance is worse than his fight. When God sees fit, Herod's tyranny shall effect that which the wise providence of the Almighty hath decreed for his servant's glory. In the mean while, rubs shall be cast in his way; and this for one, “He feared the people.” What an absurd and sottish thing is hyprocrisy ! Herod fears the people, he fears not God. Tell me then, Herod, what could the people do at the worst? perhaps inutiny against thee, raise arms and tumults, disturb the government, it may be shake it off.
What could God do? yea, what not? stir up all his creatures to plague thee, and when he hath done, tuinble thee down to hell
, and there torment thee everlastingly. O fond Herod, that fearest where no fear was, and fearest not where there is nothing but terror!
How God fits lewd men with restraints ! If they be so godless as to regard bis creature above himself, he hath external bugs to affright them withal : if bashful, he hath shame: if covetuus, losses; if proud, disgrace: and by this means the most wise providence keeps the world in order. We cannot better judge of our hearts, than by what we most fear.
No man is so great as to be utterly exempted from fear. The Jews feared Herod, Herod feared the Jews; the healthful fear sickness, the free servitude; the people fear a tyrant's oppression and cruelty; the tyrant fears the people's mutiny and insurrection. If there have been some so great as to be above the reach of the power and machinations of inferiors, vet never any that have been free from their fears and suspicions. Happy is he that fears nothing but what he shouldGod.
Why did Herod fear the people? “ They held John for a prophet.” And this opinion was both common and constant : even the Scribes and Pharisees durst not say, his baptism was from men. It is the wisdom and goodness of God, ever to give his children favour somewhere. If Jezebel hate Elias, Abab shall for the time honour him: and if Herod hate the Baptist, and would kill him, yet the people reverence him. Herod's malice would make him away, the people's reputation keeps him alive. As wise princes have been content to maintain a faction in their court or state for their own purposes; so here did the God of heaven contrive and order differences of judgment and affection betwixt Herod and his subjects, for his own holy ends ; else certainly, if all wicked men should conspire in evil, there could be no being upon earth'; as, contrarily, if evil spirits did not accord, hell could not stand. O the unjust and fond partiality of this people! they all generally applaud John for a prophet, yet they receive not bis message. Whose prophet was John, but of the Highest? what was his errand, but to be the way-maker unto Christ? what was he, but the voice of that eternal Word of his father? what was the sound of that voice, but, “Behold the Lamb of God: he that comes after me is greater than I, whose shoe-latchet I am not worthy to unloose?" Yet they honour the servant and reject the Master : they contemn that prince whose ambassador they reverence. How could they but argue, John is a prophet? he speaks from God, his words must be true; he tells us, this is the Lamb of God, the Messias that should come to redeem the world : this must needs be he, we will look for no other. Yet this perverse people receive John, and reject Jesus. There is ever an absurdity in unbeliet, while it separates those relations and respects which can never in nature be disjoined. Thus it readily apprehends God as merciful in pardoning, not as just in punishing; Christ as a Saviour, not as a Judge. Thus we ordinarily, in a contrariety to these Jew's, profess to receive the master, and contemn the servants : while he hath said, who will inake it good, “ He that despiseth you, despiseth me."
That which Herod in policy durst not, in wine lie dares do : and that which God had restrained till his own time, now in his own time he permits to be done. The day was, as one of the evangelists styles it, “convenient;" if for the
of Herodias, I am sure for God's, who, having determined to glorify himself by John's martyrdom, will cast it upon a time wben it may be most notified, Herod's birth-day. All the peers of the country, perhaps of the neighbour nations, are now assembled. Herodias could not have found out a time more fit to blazon her own shame and cruelty, than in such a confluence. The wise Providence of God many times pays us with our own choice; so as when we think to have brought about our own ends to our best content, we bring about his purposes to our own confusion.
Herod's birth-day is kept, and so was Pharaoh's, both of them with blood. These personal stains cannot make the practice unlawful. Where the man is good, the birth is memorable.
What blessing have we, if life be none? and if our life be a blessing, why should it not be celebrated? Excess and disorder may blemish any solemuity, but that cleaves to the act, not to the institution.
Herod's birth-day was kept with a feast, and this feast was a supper.
It was fit to be a night-work: this festivity was spent in works of darkness, not of the light; it was a child of darkness that was then born, not of the day.
“ Those that are drunken, are drunk in the night." There is a kind of shame in sin, even where it is committed with the stiffest resolution, at least there was wont to be: if now sin be grown impudent, and justice bashful, woe be to us.
That there might be perfect revels at Herod's birth-day, besides the feast, there is music and dancing, and that by Salone the daughter of Herodias. A meet daughter for such a inother, bred according to the disposition of so immodest a parent. Dancing, in itself, as it is a set, regular, harmonious motion of the body, cannot be unlawful, more than walking or running; circumstances may make it sinful. The wanton gesticulations of a virgin, in a wild assembly of gallants warmed with wine, could be no other than riggish and unmaidenly. It is not so frequently seen, that the child follows the good qualities of the parent; it is seldom seen that it follows not the evil. Nature is the soil, good and ill qualities