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are the herbs and weeds; the soil bears the weeds naturally, the herbs not without culture. What with traduction, what with education, it were strange if we should miss any of our parents' misdispositions.
Herodias and Salome have what they desired. The dance pleased Herod well those indecent motions that would have displeased any modest eye, (though what should a modest eye do at Herod's feast?) overpleased Herod. Well did Herodias know how to fit the tooth of her paramour, and had therefore purposely so composed the carriage and gesture of her daughter, as it might take best, although doubtless the same action could not have so pleased from another. Herod saw in Salome's face and fashion, the image of her whom he doted on; so did she look, so did she move: besides that his lavish cups had predisposed him to wantonness, and now he cannot but like well that which so pleasingly suited his inordinate desire. All humours love to be fed, especially the vicious, so much more as they are more eager and stirring. There cannot be a better glass, wherein to discern the face of our hearts, than our pleasures; such as they are, such are we, whether vain or holy.
What a strange transportation was this!
thou shalt ask:" half a kingdom for a dance! Herod, this pastime is over-paid for; there is no proportion in this remuneration; this is not bounty, it is prodigence. Neither doth this pass under a bare promise only, but under an oath, and that solemn, and (as it might be in wine) serious. How largely do sensual men both proffer and give for a little momentary and vain contentment! How many censure Herod's gross impotence, and yet second it with a worse, giving away their precious souls for a short pleasure of sin! What is half a kingdom, yea, a whole world, to a soul? So much therefore is their madness greater, as their loss is
So large a boon was worthy of a deliberation. consults with her mother upon so ample and ratified a promise. Yet so much good nature and filial respect was in this wanton damsel, that she would not carve herself of her option, but takes her mother with her. If Herodias were infamously lewd, yet she was her parent, and must direct her choice. Children should have no will of their own; as their flesh is their parents', so should their will be. They do justly unchild
themselves, that in main elections dispose of themselves without the consent of those which gave them being. It is both unmannerly and unnatural in the child to run before, without, against the will of the parent,
O that we could be so officious to our good and heavenly Father, as she was to an earthly and wicked mother; not to ask, not to undertake ought without his allowance, without his directions; that, when the world shall offer us whatsoever our heart desires, we could run to the oracles of God for our resolution, not daring to accept what he doth not both license and warrant.
O the wonderful strength of malice! Salome was offered no less than half the kingdom of Herod, yet chooses to ask the head of a poor preacher. Nothing is so sweet to a corrupt heart as revenge, especially when it may bring with it a full scope to a dear sin. All worldlings are of this diet: they had rather sin freely for a while, and die, than refrain, and live happily eternally.
What a suit was this! "Give me here in a charger the head of John Baptist." It is not enough for her to say, Let John's head be cut off; but, "Give me it in a charger." What a service was here to be brought into a feast, especially to a woman! a dead man's head swimming in blood. How cruel is a wicked heart, that can take pleasure in those things which have most horror!
O the importunity of a galled conscience! Herodias could never think herself safe till John was dead, she could never think him dead till his head were off; she could not think his head was off, till she had it brought her in a platter: a guilty heart never thinks it hath made sure enough. Yea, even after the bead was thus brought, they thought him alive again. Guiltiness and security could never lodge together in one bosom.
Herod was sorry, and no doubt in earnest, in the midst of bis cups and pleasance. I should rather think his jollity counterfeited than his grief. It is true, Herod was a fox, but that subtle beast dissembles not always; when he runs away from the dogs, he means as he does and if he were formerly willing to have killed John, yet he was unwillingly willing; and so far as he was unwilling to kill him as a prophet, as a just man, so far was he sorry that he must be killed. Had Herod been wise, he had not been perplexed. Had he been
so wise as to have engaged himself lawfully, and within due limits, he had not now been so entangled as to have needed sorrow. The folly of sinners is guilty of their pain, and draws upon them a late and unprofitable repentance.
But here the act was not past, though the word were past. It was his misconceived entanglement that caused this sorrow; which might have been remedied by flying off. A threefold cord tied him to the performance; the conscience of his oath, the respect to his guests, a loathness to discontent Herodias and her daughter. Herod had so much religion as to make scruple of an oath, not so much as to make scruple of a murder. No man casts off all justice and piety at once, but, while he gives himself over to some sins, he sticks at others. It is no thank to lewd men, that they are not universally vicious. All God's several laws cannot be violated at once: there are sins contrary to each other; there are sins disagreeing from the lewdest dispositions. There are oppressors that hate drunkenness, there are unclean persons which abhor murder, there are drunkards which hate cruelty. One sin is enough to damn the soul, one leak to drown the vessel.
But O fond Herod, what needed this unjust scrupulousness? Well and safely mightst thou have shifted the bond of thine oath with a double evasion; one, that this generality of thy promise was only to be construed of lawful acts and motions; that only can we do, which we can justly do; unlawfulness is in the nature of impossibility: the other, that had this engagement been so meant, yet might it be as lawfully rescinded as it was unlawfully made. A sinful promise is ill made, worse performed. Thus thou mightst, thou shouldst have come off fair; where now, holding thyself by an irreligious religion, tied to thy foolish and wicked oath, thou only goest away with this mitigation, that thou art a scrupulous murderer.
In the mean while, if an Herod made such conscience in keeping an unlawful oath, how shall he in the day of judgment, condemn those Christians which make no conscience of oaths lawful, just, necessary? Woe is me, one sells an oath for a bribe, another lends an oath for favour, another casts it away for malice. I fear to think it may be a question, whether there be more oaths broken, or kept. O God, I marvel not, if being implored as a witness, as an avenger of falsehood, thou hold him not guiltless that thus dares take thy name in vain.
Next to his oath, is the respect to his honour. His guests heard his deep engagement, and now he cannot fall off with reputation. It would argue levity and rashness to say and not to do; and what would the world say? The misconceits of the points of honour have cost millions of souls. As many a one doth good only to be seen of men, so many a one doth evil only to satisfy the humour and opinion of others. It is a damnable plausibility so to regard the vain approbation or censure of the beholders, as in the mean time to neglect the allowance or judgment of God. But how ill guests were these! how well worthy of an Herod's table! Had they had but common civility, finding Herod perplexed, they had acquitted him by their dissuasions, and have disclaimed the expectation of so bloody a performance: but they rather, to gratify Herodias, make way for so slight and easy a condescent. Even godly princes have complained of the iniquity of their heels how much more must they needs be ill attended, that give encouragements and examples of lewdness!
Neither was it the least motive, that he was loath to displease his mistress. The damsel had pleased him in her dance; he would not discontent her in breaking his word. He saw Herodias in Salome: the suit, he knew, was the mother's, though in the daughter's lips; both would be displeased in falling off, both would be gratified in yielding. O vain and wicked Herod! he cares not to offend God, to offend his conscience; he cares to offend a wanton mistress. This is one means to fill hell, loathness to displease.
A good heart will rather fall out with all the world than with God, than with his conscience.
The misgrounded sorrow of worldly hearts doth not withhold them from their intended sins. It is enough to vex, not enough to restrain them. Herod was sorry, but he sends the executioner for John's head. One act hath made Herod a tyrant and John a martyr. Herod a tyrant, in that, without all legal proceedings, without so much as false witnesses, he takes off the head of a man, of a prophet. It was lust that carried Herod into murder. The proceedings of sin are more hardly avoided than the entrance. Whoso gives himself leave to be wicked, knows not where he shall stay. John a martyr, in dying for bearing witness to the truth; truth in life, in judgment, in doctrine. It was the holy purpose of God, that he which had baptized with water, should now be
baptized with blood. Never did God mean that his best children should dwell always upon earth: should they stay here, wherefore hath he provided glory above? Now would God have John delivered from a double prison, of his own, of Herod's, and placed in the glorious liberty of his son's. His head shall be taken off, that it may be crowned with glory. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."
O happy birth-day (not of Herod, but) of the Baptist! Now doth John enter into his joy; and in this name is this day ever celebrated of the church. This blessed forerunner of Christ saith of himself, "I must decrease." He is decreased indeed, and now grown shorter by the head; but he is not so much decreased in stature, as increased in glory. 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.
The head is brought in a charger. What a dish was here for a feast! How prodigiously insatiable is the cruelty of a wicked heart! O blessed service, fit for the table of heaven! It is not for thee, O wicked Herod, nor for thee, malicious and wanton Herodias; it is a dish precious and pleasing to the God of heaven, to the blessed angels who looked upon that head with more delight, in his constant fidelity, than the beholders saw it with horror, and Herodias with contentment of revenge.
It is brought to Salome, as the reward of her dance; she presents it to her mother, as the dainty she had longed for. Methinks I see how that chaste and holy countenance was tossed by impure and filthy hands; that true and faithful tongue, those sacred lips, those pure eyes, those mortified cheeks, are now insultingly handled by an incestuous harlot, and made a scorn to the drunken eyes of Herod's guests.
O the wondrous judgments and incomprehensible dispositions of the holy, wise, Almighty God! He that was sanctified in the womb, born and conceived with so much note and miracle, "What manner of child shall this be?" lived with so much reverence and observation, is now, at midnight, obscurely murdered in a close prison, and his head brought forth to the insultation and irrision of harlots and ruffians. O God, thou knowest what thou hast to do with thine own. Thus thou sufferest thine to be misused and