Why Herod Feared John
Mark 6:20
For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things…

Herod was a king; John was a subject. Herod was in a palace; John was in a prison. Herod wore a crown; John most probably did not even own a turban, Herod wore the purple; John wore camlet, as we should call it. John was the son of an obscure Jewish country priest and his wife: the child of their old age. There is no hint that John had any wealth, or name, or fame, or education, or influence, when he began his life as a man. He comes on the scene as a rough, angular man, with not many words and not many friends. Herod began to reign just about when John began to live, so that there was no preponderant age in the priest's son over the king's son: that was all on the other side. Indeed, by all mere surface facts, principles, and analogies, John ought to have feared Herod; he ought to have bated his breath and bent his head before him. Now, I propose to discuss at this time the roots of this power and weakness, to see what made Herod so weak and John so strong, and to ask this question, What can we, who are set as John was, in the advance guard of reformers, do to make a deep, clear mark? And I note for you that John had three great roots of power: First, HE WAS A POWERFUL MAN BY CREATION — a with a clear head, a steady nerve, and a nature set in a deadly antagonism to sin and meanness of every sort and degree. He was the Jewish John Knox or John Brown.

"When he saw a thing was true,

He went to work and put it through."He could die, but he could not back down, Every time I meet a man who is a man, and not a stick, I ask myself one question: "Why are you the man you are? Whence does your power hint itself to me? Whence does it come." And while the ultimate answer has never come out of Phrenology or Physiognomy, or any of the sciences that profess to tell you what a man is by how he looks, yet the indicative answer has always lain in that direction. In the head, and face, and form of a man there is certainly something that impresses you in some such way as the weight, colour, and inscription of a coin reveal to you, with a fair certainty, whether it be gold, or silver, or — brass and it is possible, too, that the line in which a man has descended, the country in which he is born, the climate, the scenery, the history, the poetry, and the society about him, have a great deal to do with the man. The father, in Queen Elizabeth's time. as I have known in old English families, may be twenty-two carat gold; and the children in Queen Victoria's time may be no better than lead. That mysterious antagonism that sows tares among the wheat, sows baseness in the blood; and if there be not forever a careful and most painful dividing and burning, the tares will in time come to nearly all there is on the soil. But still forever the great mint of Providence beats on, silently, certainly, continually, sending its own new golden coins to circulate through our human life, and on each of them stamping the infallible image and superscription that tells us "this is gold." Nay, the same great Providence makes not only gold coins, but silver and iron too; and if they are true to their ring, they are all Divine; as in all great houses there be divers vessels, some to more honour and some to less honour, but not one to dishonour if it be true to its purpose; for while the golden vase that holds the wine at the feast of a king is a vessel of honour, so is the iron pot that holds the meat in the furnace; the Parian vase that you fill with flowers is a vessel of honour, and so is the tin dipper with which you fill it at the well. For me, it is a wonderful thing to study merely the pictures of great men. There is a power in the very shadow that makes you feel they were born to be kings and priests unto God. But if you know a great man personally, you find a power in him which the picture can never give you. I suppose this good Jewish country parson, the father of John, flora the little we can glean about him, was just a gentle, timid, pious, retiring man, whose mind had never risen above the routine of his humble post in the temple. But lo! God, in the full time, drops just one golden ingot down into that family treasury, pure, ponderous, solid gold. Yet I need not tall you that there is a theory of human nature that busies itself forever in trying to prove that our human nature in itself is abominably and naturally despicable. Now, this primitive intrinsic nature, I say, was the first element that made John mightier in the prison than Herod was in the palace. The one was a king by creation; the other was only a king by descent. And then, secondly, there comes into the difference another element. Herod made the purple vile by his sin; John made the camel's hair radiant by his HOLINESS. And in that personal truth, this rightwiseness, this wholeness, he gained every Divine force in the universe over to his side, and left to Herod only the infernal forces. It was a question of power, reaching back ultimately, as all such questions do, to God and the devil. So the fetter was turned to a sceptre, and the sceptre to a fetter, and the soul of the Sybarite quailed, and went down before the soul of the saint. Then the good man, the true, the upright, downright man of power, goes right on to the mark. Let me tell you a story given me by the late venerable James Mott, of Philadelphia, whose uncle, fifty years ago, discovered the island in the Pacific inhabited by Adams and his companions, as you have read in the story of "The Mutiny of the Bounty." I was talking with him one day about it, and he said that, after staying at the island for some time, his uncle turned his vessel homeward and steered directly for Boston, — sailing as he did from your own good city, — eight thousand miles distant. Month after month the brave craft ploughed through storm and shine, keeping her head ever homewards. But as she came near home, she got into a thick fog, and seemed to be sailing by guess. The captain had never sighted land from the time they started; but one night he said to the crew, "Now, boys, lay her to! I reckon Boston harbour must be just over there somewhere; but we must wait for the fog to clear up before we try to run in." And so, sure enough, when the morning sun rose it lifted the fog, and right over against them were the spires and homes of the great city of Boston! So can men go right onward over this great sea of life. The chart and compass are with them; and the power is with them to observe the meridian sun and the eternal stars. Storms will drive them, currents will drift them, dangers will beset them; they wilt long for more solid certainties; but by noon and by night they will drive right on, correcting deflections, resisting adverse influences, and then, at the last, when they are near home, they will know it. The darkness may be all about them, but the soul shines in its confidence; and the true mariner will say to his soul, "I will wait for the mist to rise with the new morning; I know home is just over there." Then in the morning he is satisfied; he wakes to see the golden light on temple and home. So God brings him to the desired haven. New John was one of those right-on men. Had there been a crevice in John's armour, Herod would have found it out and laughed at him; but in the presence of that pure life, that deep, conscious antagonism to sin, that masterful power, won as a soldier wins a hard battle, this man on the throne was abased before that man in the prison. Then the third root of power in this great man, by which he mastered a king, — by which he became a king, — lay in the fact that he was a TRUE, CLEAR, UNFLINCHING, OUTSPOKEN PREACHER of holiness. Some preachers reflect the great verities of religion, as bad boys reflect the sun from bits of broken glass. They stand just on one side, and flash a blaze of fierce light across the eyes of their victim, and leave him more bewildered and irritated than he was before. Such a one is your fitful, changing doctrinaire, whose ideas of right and wrong, or sin and holiness, of God and the devil, today, are not at all as they were last Sunday: who holds not that blessed thing, an ever-changing, because an ever-growing and ripening faith, but a mere sand hill of bewilderment, liable to be blown anywhere by the next great storm. Then there is another sort of preacher, who is like the red light at the head of a railway night train. He is made for warning; he comes to tell of danger. That is the work of his life. When he is not doing that, he has nothing to do. I hear friends at times question whether this man has a Divine mission. Surely, if there be danger to the soul, — and that question is not yet decided in the negative, — then he has to the inner life a mission as Divine as that of the red lamp to the outer life. And I know myself of men who have turned sharp out of the track before his fierce glare, who, but for him, had been run down, and into a disgraceful grave. But the true preacher of holiness, the real forerunner of Christ, is the man who holds up in himself the Divine truth, as a true mirror holds the light, so that whoever comes to him, will see his own character just as it is. Such a man was this who mastered a king. His soul was never distorted by the traditions of the elders, or the habits of "good society," as it is called. On the broad clear surface of his soul, as on a pure still lake, you saw things as if in a great deep. He had no broken lights, for he held fast to his own primitive nature, and to his own direct inspiration.

(R. Collyer.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.

WEB: for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he did many things, and he heard him gladly.

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