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Herod was not merely restrained from violence, by a reverence for the Baptist; it should seem, that he listened to hit instructions, even after his imprisonment. We conclude, also, that he paid attention to his doctrine; for it is expressly said, that he 'observed him,' and, what is still more remarkable, that he ' heard him gladly.'
Some may enquire, How can persons, of such a character as Herod, receive any pleasure from the plain and faithful declarations of God's word? Possibly, the speaker may be approved; his abilities, address, or elocution may excite notice and applause, even where the principles he maintains, and the practical exhortations he delivers, are not regarded. Beware of resting in such a superficial attendance! Be not satisfied in feeling admiration and delight, while the awful mysteries of redemption are exhibited, and 'good tidings of great joy' are announced. If you experience no godly sorrow for sin, no warm attachment to your Saviour, no renovation of heart by the Spirit; the sermons which you hear, may afford you entertainment, but will not promote your salvation.
Herod, however, advanced farther than merely expressing an admiration of the preacher; 'he did many things,' relinquished many of his evil habits, and applied himself to the performance of various duties. But Herodias was still retained, and thus he betrayed the unsoundness of his heart. The real convert rests not in a partial amendment of life: he will abhor and forsake one sin as well another, and yield a sincere and uniform regard to every known precept. If, then, under the awakening influence of the word of God, you profess to be penitents, examine faithfully whether you are 'new creatures.' Has a universal renovation been produced? Are you determined, by divine grace, to put away all ungodliness? Have you made no reserve? Do you plead for no exception? Is there not a' sin, which easily besets you,' and to which, from your constitution or situation, you are most exposed? Is this what you are willing to abandon? This is, more than any other, the Herodias, which must be divorced: for, if the favourite passion still retain its ascendency, where is your deliverance from the love and power of iniquity?
Let us mark the event with the king of Galilee. Highly as he reverenced the Baptist, he was at length persuaded to consent to his death, probably through the importunate entreaties of Herodias. At a splendid banquet, prepared for the celebration of his birth-day, when the daughter of his queen had danced before him and his nobles with great applause, he declared with an oath, that he would grant her some mark of his favour, whatever she would ask, though it were the half of his dominion. [Matt. xiv. 6-11; Mark vi. 21-28.] This was an instance of extreme rashness, and produced the most terrible effects. Alas! what can we expect from entertainments, which are calculated to inflame and gratify the passions? The young woman was persuaded by her mother to claim the head of John the Baptist, who had excited her resentment. How strange the proposal! but a vindictive mind will give up every consideration for the sake of wreaking its vengeance on an enemy. The gratification of lust issued in murder; and, we fear, it is no uncommon event. When men abandon themselves to the indulgence of their sensual desires, no bounds will be sufficient to restrain them. They may be hurried from one base action to another, and be determined to persevere, even while they themselves recoil at every step they take. Let us beware of yielding to those solicitations, which will be encouraged by our compliance to increase their demands upon us, and may produce the most tremendous consequences. We may be exasperated by the rebukes of a faithful monitor, and induced to adopt some violent measures against him. But though we should succeed in that point, still we may not be able to sin without restraint: we may carry about with us an inward tormentor, and, like Pashur, become a terror to ourselves.
Herod himself appeared to be struck with horror at the thought of perpetrating the atrocious deed, and yet had not firmness enough to resist. However his conscience might remonstrate, he determined not to exasperate Herodias by a refusal; and argued absurdly, that unless he complied, he would be despised by his nobility for weakness and inconstancy. He consented, therefore, to the request, though with visible reluctance, and instantly commanded the head of the Lord's prophet to be severed from the body, and introduced into the company, as an object, probably, of their profane sport and contemptuous ridicule. Yet, if we make a right estimate of things, we shall be disposed to envy the condition of the Baptist, expiring by the hand of'violence, rather than that of Herod, exalted upon a throne of iniquity.
It should seem, the king pretended a regard to veracity in this base transaction: he was unwilling to violate his oath. What vile dissimulation was this 1 To avoid the charge of perjury, he committed a murder of peculiar enormity. No declarations, however confirmed by an oath, could have bound him to act in direct opposition to the clearest commands of God. It was his indispensable duty to depart from the pro* mise, and repent of the rashness from which it proceeded. Probably, the pretext was false. He perpetrated the crime, not to satisfy his conscience, but to preserve his credit among the courtiers, to silence the importunate clamours of his queen, and perhaps with a view of procuring ease to himself, by removing so troublesome a reprover.
Here we remark the ruinous tendency and progress of sin..
Herod was freed from John's reproof, and persisted in his iniquiy; but he could not forget, that innocent blood had been shed, and under that conviction was rendered miserable. Some time afterward, having heard remarkable accounts of Jesus, he was filled with perplexing fears, lest this should be the very person now restored to life, whom he had beheaded. Did the oppressor expect the retaliation of his cruelty; the murderer, the approach of an avenger? It should seem, the remembrance of the Baptist haunted him as a continual accuser. How powerful is the voice of conscience! Amidst all the pomps of a palace, it will speak, nnd make the king upon his throne tremble. The mind of Herod could not be quieted by all the blandishments of his amorous queen, nor by his own libertine principles. He is generally supposed to have embraced the Sadducean notion of the soul's mortality, and to have disbelieved a resurrection. But, in the present case, he could not act the infidel: recollecting the violence he had committed, he was troubled by the apprehension of John's returning to life. Let us learn to reverence that monitor, which we feel within us; for, if we attend not to its dictates in due season, it may prove a severe tormentor.
The uneasiness of Herod had no good effect. As he afterward threatened to destroy Jesus, it is obvious that he remained an 'enemy of all righteousness.' Our Lord despised his menaces, and, in reply, calling him a fox, has justified the conclusion, that the king possessed the subtle and voracious disposition of that wild and detested animal. It was the same Herod before whom the Saviour stood arraigned asa criminal, just before his crucifixion. He was glad of the opportunity to examine so remarkable a prisoner; but his motive was no better than a curious desire of seeing some miracle performed by this worker of wonders. He proposed a variety of questions, to which Jesus returned no answer. Our Lord well knew his character, what opportunities of information he had neglected, what convictions he had resisted, and therefore refused to afford him any further instructions. This circumstance conveys a solemn admonition. 'Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.' The gracious offers which are yet made, if contemptuously rejected, may never be repeated.
Unhappy Herod! Had he been properly affected, even then, with a sense of his conditioii; had he possessed an honest) teachable disposition, that interview with our Saviour would have been a blessing indeed. But, as the case stood, it tended only to aggravate his guilt and condemnation. He treated the Lord Christ with insolent contempt, as if his pretensions to royalty were absurd in the extreme. He 'set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate.' Those two unrighteous governors, who had been at variance, were reconciled on that occasion, and then, probably, joined their counsels together, in opposition to the Redeemer. It is not uncommon for sinners, who are incensed against each other, to lay aside their private quarrels and party distinctions, that they may unite with greater force against the Gospel. O Lord, 'Of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together.'
At last the judgement of God overtook this proud offender. He suffered such a total defeat in battle from Aretas, king of Arabia, whose daughter he had married and divorced, that the Jews themselves considered it as the effect of divine vengeance upon him for the murder of John the Baptist. He was afterward driven from his high station with disgrace; and both he and his adulterous queen died in exile at Lyonsin Gaul.
Such was Herod: but now, turning our attention to ourselves, let us enquire, What is our own character? Will any persons undertake to justify the licentious conduct which is here exliibited? Sinners, do you not perceive the ruinous tendency of your evil passions? What fruit have you received, or are you likely to receive? Is not the faithful servant of Christ, under all his contempt and persecution, more truly honourable and happy than the king of Galilee? And if we look beyond the present scene, how tremendous a prospect opens upon all those, 'that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ!' 'Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.' 'Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.' For 'God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.
[ROBINSON, of Leieetter.]
ON THE DEATH OF CHRIST.
John xvii. 1. Jems lifted un his eyes to heaven and said, Father!
the hour is come.
These were the words of our blessed Lord on a memorable occasion. The feast of the passover drew nigh, at which he knew that he was to suffer. The night was arrived, wherein he was to be delivered into the hands of his enemies. He had spent the evening in conference with his disciples; like a dying father in the midst of his family, mingling consolations with his last instructions. When he had ended his discourse to them, ' he lifted up his eyes to heaven,' and with the words which I have now read, began that solemn prayer of intercession for the church, which closed his ministry. Immediately after, he went forth with his disciples into the garden of Gethscmane, and surrended himself to those who came to apprehend him.
Such was the situation of our Lord at the time of his pronouncing these words. He saw his mission on the point of being accomplished. He had the prospect full before him, of all that he was about to suffer—' Father, the hour is come.'—»