Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by him: and he was perplexed, because that it was said of some…
That practical unbelief distrusts itself, disavows itself, and punishes itself.
I. ALL SUCH UNBELIEF, LIKE HEROD'S, DISTRUSTS ITSELF. Scepticism is never wholly satisfied with its own creed; never rests confidently on its own reasonings. So it was with Herod. As a Sadducee, he rejected the doctrine of the Resurrection, whether of angel or spirit. And yet, suddenly startled from his self-possession by an alarm of conscience, he is seen in the text to affirm strongly the truth whose denial was fundamental to his system l Sincere faith is serene, self-possessed, reliant. The traveller on the king's highway walks calmly and confidently, because he feels that his feet are on adamant; while he, in a marsh or a quicksand, is all restless and excited, through his distrust of the road. This very vapouring of unbelief in behalf of its tenets is significant of insincerity.
II. That all unbelief, like Herod's, not only distrusts itself, BUT OFTEN, AND IN THE END, ALMOST ALWAYS DISAVOWS ITSELF! It may clamour against the hard things of revelation, as opposed to its instincts and its reason; yet will ever and anon make practical confession that they seem not unreasonable. This is strikingly exhibited in this history of Herod. Yea, and the text's illustration on this point goes much further. It shows, not only that the Resurrection is a reasonable doctrine, but that all the Bible teaches as to the effects of that Resurrection upon its subjects is as well reasonable and philosophic. These teachings may be embraced in two particulars — the positive identity, and the greatly enlarged powers and faculties of the Risen Immortal.
1. The Bible affirms this identity. The creature raised from the grave is to be the same creature who goes down into it. Death has no power to destroy or alter human nature. He says, "It is John. It is John the Baptist. He is risen from the dead!"
2. The Bible teaches that, along with this identity, the raised body shall possess powers and faculties very greatly enlarged. Indeed, there is in human nature something instantly responding to the .voices of revelation. And it is by reason of this that unlearned and weak-minded Christians do maintain their faith so grandly against all the assaults of philosophic infidelity. They cannot argue for the truth, but they can apprehend it. And this natural moral sense exists originally in all men. The Bible never came to a human spirit that did not at some time respond to its felt truthfulness.
III. Passing this, observe, That all such unbelief, like Herod's, POSITIVELY PUNISHES ITSELF. Conscience! Conscience! It was itself a resurrection-power within him! And look at the Tetrarch now! His cheek pale, his lip quivering, his wild eye glaring upon vacancy! He starts from his couch! The wine-cup drops from his hand as he whispers with white lips, "It is John the Baptist — he is risen from the dead!" Ah me! What aileth the Tetrarch there amid princes and nobles? John the Baptist sleeps still in his distant grave. But a simple thought long buried within his murderer's soul hath been unsepulchred! He thought to silence the living voice of God's prophet, but that voice in the dark chambers of his soul will wake echoes for ever! Here then we say is a striking illustration of the power of a roused conscience as God's avenger of sin. I have no room nor necessity here for an argument for retribution. I have only to do with this natural illustration. I am not prophesying what God will do, but only showing what man himself does! It is a favourite postulate, even of the infidel philosophy, that no impression once made on the thinking principle is ever obliterated. And it has doubtless happened unto you all to observe, how some trifling thing — a remark in conversation, the view of a familiar landscape, a strain of some longforgotten harmony, yea, a thing so slight as the rustle of a falling leaf, or the breath of a flower's perfume — has awakened in the mind a long train of recollections. Thoughts long forgotten move again powerfully within us; we are borne away suddenly to other scenes; we live virtually in other times and other conditions. The magic of memory has summoned from the past shadowy forms, faces, voices, it may be of the dead. They rise upon us, they move before us, as life's great realities, and for the time we are under their mysterious power as our angels or avengers l Now, whether or not conscience be but a modification of memory, certain we are it follows the same great law. Conscience, too, may be beguiled for a season of its avenging power. But this you cannot do — you cannot destroy it. Sin, sin it is, as an operative principle within you, that, by arming conscience with an eye of fire and whip of scorpions, gives to the "worm" its fang, and to the "fires" their fierceness. Believe, if you will, that God is too merciful to make a hell. Yet you know, for you have seen, that every sinful man is making it. This is the law of man's moral nature, and under it you are all working out your own retribution. You are doing it always, each one for himself.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by him: and he was perplexed, because that it was said of some, that John was risen from the dead;