And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead…
I. Now we are to begin with simply considering Herod as ACTED ON BY CONSCIENCE: for it is evident that nothing but the workings of a mind ill at ease would have led him to conjecture that Jesus was the Baptist. Conscience was continually plying Herod with the truth, that a record had been made of his crime by a Being who would not suffer it to pass unavenged, but who, sooner or later, would let loose His judgments. In the midst of his revelry, in the midst of his pomp, there was a boding form flitting to and fro, and no menace could compel it to depart, and no enchantment wile it from the scene. It came in the silence of the midnight, and it came in the bustle of the noon; it mingled with the crowd in the city, and it penetrated the solitude of the chamber. And thus was Herod a witness to himself that this world is under the rule of a supreme moral Governor. And there is this peculiarity in the evidence of conscience, that it is independent of observation, it is independent on deduction: it asks no investigation, it appeals to no logic. A man may take great pains to stifle conscience, so that its voice may be drowned in the storm and in the mutiny of his passions; but this is after its testimony has been given. He could do nothing to prevent the testimony being given. He must receive the testimony, for it in given at once in the chambers of his soul, unlike every other which has to knock at the door, and to which if he will the man may refuse audience. Herod might have met argument, proof by proof, had it depended upon the result of a controversy whether he was to admit the existence of a Being who takes cognizance of actions, and that too for the very purpose of awarding them their just retribution; but he could do nothing with reference to conscience. Conscience left no place for subtleties: conscience allowed no room for evasions. Conscience was judgment already begun; and what had the most ingenious debater to say against that? And if there be one of you in this crowded gathering, who is pursued by the remembrance of his sin, and cannot free himself from dread of its punishment, he is precisely such a witness as was Herod to the retributive government beneath which the world lies. He may be a deist; it matters not; he wants no external revelation to certify him that there is a God who will take vengeance: the revelation is within him, and he cannot disguise it if he would. He may be an atheist — or rather let me say he may call himself an atheist; he may tell me that he sees no foot prints of the Deity in the magnificent spreadings of creation, he may tell me that he hears no voice of the Deity, either in the melodies or the tempests of nature: it matters not; the foot prints are in his own soul, the voice rings in his own breast. A being with a conscience is a being with sufficient witness of a God.
II. To consider him as DRIVEN IN HIS DISTRESS TO ACKNOWLEDGE A TRUTH WHICH HE HAD BANISHED FROM HIS CREED. Conscience is not to be stifled with bad logic.
III. There is yet one more point of view, under which we propose to regard Herod; HE HAD WHAT MIGHT HAVE PASSED AS A SPECIOUS APOLOGY FOR HIS CONDUCT, BUT NEVERTHELESS HE WAS UNABLE (IT APPEARS) TO QUIET HIS ANXIETIES. No doubt Herod pleaded the oath in excuse for the murder, and endeavoured to extenuate his crime to himself by representing it as forced upon him by a combination of circumstances. Our wits are never so sharp, as when our vices are to be excused. But learn ye from the instance of Herod, that all the wretched sophistry, in whose meshes ye thus entangle conscience, will break away, as a thread of tow when it touches the fire, as soon as ye shall find yourselves within the view of death and judgment. God allows no apology for sin; He can forgive it, He can forget it, He can blot it out as a cloud, and bury it in the depths of the sea, but He will take no excuse for it.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.