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of moral or spiritual payments to God or men, now there must be a measure pressed, shaken, running
In good offices and due retributions, we may not be pinching and niggardly. It argues an earthly and ignoble mind, where we have apparently wronged, to higgle and dodge in the amends.
Oh mercy and justice well repaid! “This day is salvation come to thine house." Lo, Zaccheus, that which thou givest to the poor, is nothing to that which thy Saviour gives to thee. If thou restorest four for one, here is more than thousands of millions for nothing; were every of thy pence a world, they could hold no comparison with this bounty. It is but dross that thou givest, it is salvation that thou receivest. Thou gavest, in present, thou dost not receive in hope ; but " This day is salvation come to thine house.' Thine ill-gotten metals were a strong bar to bolt heaven-gates against thee; now that they are dissolved by a seasonable beneficence and restitution, those gates of glory fly open to thy soul. Where is that man that can challenge God to be in his debt? who can ever say, Lord, this favour I did to the least of thine unrequited ? Thrice happy publican that has climbed from the sycamore to heaven; and, by a few worthless bags of unrighteous mammon, hast purchased to thyself a kingdom uncorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away!
JOHN BAPTIST BEHEADED.
THREE of the evangelists have (with one pen) recorded the death of the great harbinger of Christ as most remarkable and useful. He was the forerunner of Christ, as into the world, so out of it: yea, he that made way for Christ into the world, made way for the name of Christ into the court of Herod. This Herod Antipas was son to that Herod who was, and is, ever infamous for the massacre at Bethlehem. Cruelty runs in a blood. The murderer of John, the forerunner of Christ, is well descended of him who would have murdered Christ, and for his sake murdered the infants. It was late ere this Herod heard the fame of Jesus, not till he had taken off the head of John Baptist. The father of this Herod inquired for Christ too soon, this too late. Great men should have the best intelligence. If they improve it to all other uses of either frivolous or civil affairs, with neglect of spiritual, their judgment shall be so much more as their helps and means were greater. Whether this Herod were taken up with his Arabian wars against Arethas his father-in-law; or whether he were employed in his journey to Rome; I inquire not: but if he were at home, I must wonder how he could be so long without the noise of Christ. Certainly, it was a sign he had a very irreligious court, that none of his followers did so much as report to him the miracles of our Saviour; who doubtless told him many a vain tale the while. One tells him of his brother Philip's discontentment; another relates the news of the Roman court; another the angry threats of Arethas; another flatters him with the admiration of his new mistress, and disparagement of the old; no man so much as says, Sir, there is a prophet in your kingdom that doth wonders. There was not a man in his country that had not been astonished with the fame of Jesus ; yea, all Syria, and the adjoining regions, rung of it; only Herod's court hears nothing. Miserable is that greatness which keeps men from the notice of Christ. How plain is it from hence, that our Saviour kept aloof from the court! The austere and eremitical harbinger of Christ, it seems, preached there oft, and was heard gladly, though, at last, to his cost; while our Saviour, who was more sociable, came not there. He sent a message to that fox, whose den he would not approach. Whether it were that he purposely forbore, lest he should give that tyrant occasion to revive and pursue his father's suspicion ; or whether for that he would not so much honour a place so infamously graceless and disordered ; or whether, by his example, to teach us the avoidance of outward pomp and glory ; surely Herod saw him not till his death, heard not of him till the death of John Baptist. And now his unintelligence was not more strange than his misconstruction; "This is John Baptist, whom I beheaded.” First, he doubted, then he resolved; he doubted upon others' suggestions, upon his own apprehensions he resolved thus. And though he thought good to set a face on it to strangers, unto whom it was not safe to bewray his fear, yet to his domestics he freely discovered his thoughts; “This is John Baptist." The troubled conscience will many a time open that to familiars, which it hides from the eyes of others. Shame and fear meet together in guiltiness. How could he imagine this to be John ? that common conceit of transanimation could have no place there; there could be no transmigration of souls into a grown and well-statured body. That received fancy of the Jews held only in the case of conception and birth, not of full age.
What need we scan this point, when Herod himself professes, “He is risen from the dead ?” He that was a Jew by profession, and knew the story of Elisha's bones, of the Sareptan's and Shunammite's sons, and, in all likelihood, had now heard of our Saviour's miraculous resuscitation of others, might think this power reflected upon himself. Even Herod, as bad as
believed rection. Lewdness of life and practice may stand with orthodoxy in some main points of religion. Who can doubt of this, when“the devils believe and tremble ?" Where shall those men appear whose faces are Christian, but their hearts Sadducees?
Oh the terrors and tortures of a guilty heart! Herod's conscience told him he had offered an unjust and cruel violence to an innocent; and now he thinks that John's ghost haunts him. Had it not been for
this guilt of his bosom, why might he not as well have thought that the same God, whose hand is not shortened, had conferred this power of miracles upon some other ? now it could be nobody but John, that doth these wonders. And how can it be, thinks he, but that this revived prophet, who doth these strange things, will be revenged on me for his head ? he, that could give himself life, can more easily take mine : how can I escape the hands of à now immortal and impassible avenger?
A wicked man needs no other tormentor, especially for the sins of blood, than his own heart. Revel, o Herod, and feast, and frolic, and please thyself with dances, and triumphs, and pastimes: thy sin shall be as some fury, that shall invisibly follow thee, and scourge thy guilty heart with secret lashes, and, upon all occasions, shall begin thy hell within thee. He wanted not other sins that yet cried, “ Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God.”
What an honour was done to John in this misprision! while that man lived, the world was apt to think that John was the Christ : now, that John is dead, Herod thinks Christ to be John. God gives to his poor conscionable servants a kind of reverence and high respect, even from those men that malign them most; so as they cannot but venerate whom they hate. Contrarily, no wit or power can shield a lewd man from contempt.
John did no miracle in his life, yet now Herod thinks he did miracles in his resurrection; as supposing that a new supernatural life brought with it a supernatural power. Who can but wonder at the stupid partiality of Herod and these Jews ? they can imagine and yield John risen from the dead, that never did miracle, and rose not; whereas Christ, who did infinite miracles, and rose from the dead, by his almighty power, is not yielded by them to have risen. Their over-bountiful misconceit of the servant is not so injurious as their niggardly infidelity to the Master. Both of them shall convince and confound them before the face of God. But, O yet more blockish Herod! thy conscience affrights thee with John's resurrection, and flies in thy face for the cruel murder of so great a saint; yet where is thy repentance for so foul a fact? who would not have expected that thou shouldest hereupon have humbled thyself for thy sin, and have laboured to make thy peace with God and him ? the greater the fame and power was of him whom thou supposedst recovered from thy slaughter, the more should have been thy penitence. Impiety is wont to besot men, and turn them senseless of their own safety and welfare. One would have thought that our first grandsire Adam, when he found his heart to strike him for his disobedience, should have run to meet God upon his knees, and have sued for pardon of his offence : instead of that, he runs to hide his head among the bushes. The case is still ours; we inherit both his sin and his senselessness. Besides the infinite displeasure of God, wickedness makes the heart incapable of grace, and impregnable of the means of conversion.
Even the very first act of Herod's cruelty was heinous. He was foul enough with other sins; “ he added this above all, that he shut up John in prison.” The violence offered to God's messengers is branded for notorious. The sanctity and austere carriage of the man won him honour justly from the multitude, and aggravated the sin: but whatever his person had been, his mission was sacred, “He shall send his messenger," the wrong redounds to the God that sent him. It is the charge of God, “Touch not mine anointed, nor do my prophets any harm.” The precept is perhaps one, for even prophets were anointed; but, at least, next to violation of majesty is the wrong to a prophet. But what? do I not hear the Evangelist say, that “Herod heard John gladly ?How is it then? did John take the ear and heart of Herod, and doth Herod bind the hands and feet of John ? doth