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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, oh fond Herod, what needed this unjust scrupulousness? Well and safely mightest thou have shifted the bond of thine oath without 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is in the nature of impossibility: the other, that had this engagement been so meant, yet might it be as lawfully rescinded as it was unlawfully made.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 mightest, thou shouldest 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 a 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 may 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 a Herod's table! Had they had but common civility, finding Herod perplexed, they had acquitted him by their dissuasions, and would 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 loth 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. Oh 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 sons. 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."
Oh 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 said 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 he is 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! Oh blessed service, fit for the table of heaven! It is not for thee, oh 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.
Oh 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 sufferedst thine to be misused and slaughtered here below, that thou mayest crown them above. It should not be thus, if thou didst not mean, that their glory should be answerable to their depression.
THE FIVE LOAVES AND TWO FISHES.
WHAT flocking there was after Christ, which way soever he went! how did the kingdom of heaven suffer a holy violence in these his followers! Their importunity drove him from the land to sea. When he was upon the sea of Tiberias, they followed him with their eyes, and, when they saw which way he bent, they followed him so fast on foot, that they prevented his landing. Whether it were that our Saviour stayed some while upon the water (as that which yielded him more quietness and freedom of respiration), or whether the foot passage, as it oft falls out, were the shorter cut, by reason of the compasses of the water, and the many elbows of the land, I inquire not; sure I am, the wind did not so swiftly drive on the ship, as desire and zeal drove on these eager clients. Well did Christ see them all the way; well
did he know their steps, and guided them; and now he purposely goes to meet them whom he seemed to flee. Nothing can please God more than our importunity in seeking him when he withdraws himself, it is that he may be more earnestly inquired for. Now then he comes to find them whom he made show to decline: "And seeing a great multitude, he passes from the ship to the shore." That which brought him from Heaven to earth, brought him also from the sea to land, his compassion on their souls, that he might teach them; compassion on their bodies, that he might heal and feed them.
Judea was not large, but populous: it could not be but there must be, amongst so many men, many diseased; it is no marvel if the report of so miraculous and universal sanations drew customers. They found three advantages of cure, above the power and performance of any earthly physician; certainty, bounty, ease; certainty, in that all comers were cured without fail; bounty, in that they were cured without charge; ease, in that they were cured without pain. Far be it from us, O Saviour, to think that thy glory hath abated of thy mercy: still and ever thou art our assured, bountiful, and perfect physician, who healest all our diseases: and takest away all our infirmities. Oh that we could have our faithful recourse to thee in all our spiritual maladies; it were as impossible we should want help, as that thou shouldst want power and mercy.
That our Saviour might approve himself every way beneficent, he that had filled the souls of his auditors with spiritual repast, will now fill their bodies with temporal; and he that had approved himself the universal Physician of his church, will now be known to be the great householder of the world, by whose liberal provision mankind is maintained. He did not more miraculously heal, than he feeds miraculously.
The disciples, having well noted the diligent and importune attendance of the multitude, now towards