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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. Oh the unjust and fond partiality of this people! they all generally applaud John for a prophet, yet they receive not his 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 Messiah that should come to redeem the world; this must then needs be he, we will look for no other. Yet this perverse people receives John, and rejects Jesus. There is ever an absurdity in unbelief, 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 Jews, profess to receive the Master, and contemn the servants : while he hath said that will make it good, “He that despiseth you, despiseth me."
That which Herod in policy durst not, in wine he 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 purpose of Herodias, I am sure for God's, who, having determined to glorify himself by John's martyrdom, will cast it upon a time when 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 solemnity, 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 drunken 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 birthday, besides the feast, there is music and dancing, and that by Salome, the daughter of Herodias. A meet daughter for such a mother, 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 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 ! “Whatsoever 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 more.
So large a boon was worthy of a deliberation. Salome 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 crave 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.
Oh 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 aught 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!
Oh 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 it me 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!
Oh 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 head 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 his 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 repent
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