Now King Herod heard about this, for Jesus' name had become well known, and people were saying, "John the Baptist has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him."
I. THERE IS EVEN A VARIETY OF OPINION IN THE WORLD ABOUT CHRIST. Whenever he is heard of human thought is exercised about him. The element of the extraordinary is always recognized as attaching to his personality and action. "However great be that variety, yet often the truth lies outside of it" (Bengel)
II. CHRIST HAS TO BE ACCOUNTED FOR. Very little was as yet known about him in Galilee, yet the question as to who he was at once arose. The reason of this is that the character of Christ is a challenge to the spiritual nature of man.
1. It appeals to the spiritual hopes of men. Even with the most debased and degraded, it is from the unseen that help and salvation are looked for. The common Jewish notion, that Elijah should come again, and the more general one, that the prophets were not dead, but reappeared at different times to repeat their messages, were but phases of the inextinguishable hope that characterizes the popular mind in all ages. They both start into life again at the appearance of Christ. He cannot be thought of by them but religiously or spiritually, the religious nature of his work is so pronounced. "The thoughts of many hearts shall be revealed."
2. Conscience is addressed. It is the king who fancies he detects the ghostly association. The guilty past started up in all its horror. John's faithful teachings and lofty example could not be forgotten. Was it the long-slumbering national conscience of the Jews that identified Christ with the prophets, whom their fathers had killed? It is the guilty conscience that fears him; the believer hails him with rapture and delight. So the Son of man judges the secrets of men all through time, and at the judgement day.
III. ANY BUT THE HIGHEST ESTIMATE OF CHRIST WILL PROVE UNSATISFACTORY. Popular opinion was at variance within itself; it falls below the true dignity of Christ.
1. There was, of course, an element of truth in their guesses. All true spiritual workers are represented by Christ, and their work is identified in greater or less degree with his. The kingdom of God is one in all its manifestations through all time. The higher personality and office of Christ is inclusive of all lesser ones. He was a Prophet, and more.
2. It was an inversion of the true order of reference which they perpetrated. Those prophets were but dependents of Christ, owing all their power and illumination to his indwelling Spirit.
3. Their error was due to moral causes Had their fathers received the prophet message instead of killing him, the generation of Christ's day might better have understood his gospel. The lairs of heredity and traditional. mental attitude had much to do with their blunders, but most of all their own rejection of John, or supine allowance of his death. It seemed as if the spiritual consciousness of the Jews was condemned to stationariness at the very point of Divine revelation where John had failed to reform them. And so all men's lack of faith and their unworthy conceptions of Christ have a moral root also. It is only as Christ himself, by his Spirit and teaching, enables us that we can truly say, "Our Lord, and our God." - M.
And king Herod heard of Him; (for His name was spread abroad: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.)
I. A SELF-REVELATION. The text with a single stroke lays open before us the mind of Herod. Deeper than mere speculation, below all the apathy of worldliness, there exists in man some conviction of spiritual reality and of moral obligation. The awe of Christ's marvellous works awoke the solemnities of even that debased nature. Deep called unto deep. The vibration of miraculous power brought up the secret shapes of conscience, as it is said the vibration of cannon will bring drowned men to the surface of the water. Now, this spiritual substance, in which man differs widely from all other creatures, and in which all men are most alike, is both a point of recovery and a ground of condemnation. I say, in the first place, this is a point of recovery. In the worst man — though his nature, like Herod's, be enslaved to passion, though his hand, like Herod's, be stained with blood, — there is this profound relation to spiritual things. In some way they are acknowledged. And, however vile the man may be, it is a sign of hope and a point of recovery. But this spiritual consciousness is also a ground of condemnation. Responsibilities are in proportion to capabilities. In the reckoning for talents used, we rate as a decisive element the amount of talents possessed. The depth of a man's fall must be measured by the dignity of his original position. Let no man delude himself, by any manner of sophistry, with the notion that the evil of his guilt ends with the guilty act, or that the wrong which he has done lies buried in his memory as in a grave. It may lie as in a grave; but there will be trumpet blasts of resurrection, when conscience calls, and memory gives up its dead. "Confessions of faith," so called, may be sincere, or they may be heartless and formal. Yet the most genuine confessions of faith are not expressed in any creed or catechism, but in utterances of the moment, that come right out of the heart. So Herod made his confession of faith. So might any man be startled by his own self-revelation.
II. But the text also suggests a point of CONTRAST. The contrast is between Herod, and John whom he beheaded. Here are two different types of men, — a type of worldliness, and a type of moral heroism. Two different types of men; and yet let it not be considered a mere play upon words, when I say not two types of different men. Beneath all external and all moral contrasts lay the same essential humanity. The self-willed and voluptuous king was forced to acknowledge the same spiritual realities as those in reference to which John so steadfastly acted. But starting from this common root, see how unlike these two men were in the branching of their lives. Herod illustrates the sensuality of the world, the imperious domination of appetite and passion. He treated the world ass mere garden for the senses. But there appears in Herod another phase of worldliness, — the phase of policy. I do not mean wise policy, but policy divorced from principle. Herod had no honest independence: he vacillated with the wind. Now, I suppose there are a great many such men in our day, — men who, on the whole, are disposed to honour truth, to eulogize it, even to put it foremost, if just as well for themselves. But they would imprison it, behead it, and send the desecrated head around in a charger, if they could gain votes or get pleasure by doing so. Moreover, Herod was obedient to a false code of honour. "For his oath's sake, and for the sake of them that sat with him," he commanded that John should be beheaded. All men, however faithful and earnest they may be, are not cast in the mould of John the Baptist, or tempered to such a quality. But such a soul crying out in the world does the world good. It is refreshing to see the moral heroism of John set sharp against the worldliness of Herod. But, in closing, let us consider the fruit and consummation of these two lives thus brought in contrast. The world's power triumphant. O sad type of many a defeat of many a fallen cause! Such, then, is the upshot of these two lives, — Herod victorious in his wickedness; John in his moral loyalty defeated and slain. But we do not, we cannot, say this. We form a different estimate than this of John and Herod. Even in the conditions of this world and of time, we hear the tetrarch crying out, "It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead!" We see him driven into exile, and dying an inglorious death. We see, too, the Baptist, in the processes of his truth, going abroad throughout the earth in "the spirit and power of Elias." So, in other instances, we are to judge not by the transient event, or the aspect of the hour, but by the prevailing influence, the product that abides. Truth conquers in the long run, and right vindicates itself against the wrong, as "John risen from the dead."
(E. H. Chapin.)I. CONTEMPLATE IN THE CONDUCT OF HEROD AND OF HIS QUEEN THE NATURAL PROGRESS OF DEPRAVITY. LOOK PRIMARILY TO HERODIAS.
II. LET ME ADD SOME OBSERVATIONS, APPLICABLE TO YOUR OWN CONDUCT, WHICH ARE SUGGESTED BY THE HISTORY BEFORE US.
1. In the first place, allow not yourself to be entrapped into sin by the solicitations and importunities of others, not even of your friends and your nearest relations, should you be unhappy enough to perceive tempters among them.
2. That one sin naturally leads to another: that, if you indulge in small offences, you will be carried headlong into greater. You have drawn up the floodgates: and who shall pronounce where ""he torrent shall be stayed? How frequently doth a similar progress occur. In the humbler ranks of life you see a man beginning to be idle, and to neglect his business. This evil habit grows upon him. His time soon hangs heavily upon his hands: and he fills it up at the public house; at first going thither sparingly, but ere long to be found there almost every day. Now drunkenness is added to idleness. These two sins speedily make him poor: and he resorts to dishonest means of gaining money: till justice overtakes him, and he finishes his days in exile or on the gallows. The criminal of high life, in the meantime, pursues a kindred career, but in a wider and a more splendid circle. He commences with fashionable extravagance. He grows hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Make your stand through Divine grace against the beginnings of sin: for you know not what will be the end thereof.
3. Contemplate the inconsistency, the weakness and the corruption of human nature. Herod withstood for a season the arts and importunities of Herodias. She waited until she found a convenient time; renewed the attempt and succeeded. The great enemy of man is ever on the watch to betray you. He is waiting for the hour when you shall no longer be on your guard; or when you shall have grieved by a recent offence the Spirit of God; or when a concurrence of ensnaring circumstances shall heighten the allurements of sin. The birthday of Herod shall arrive. Thy heart shall be opened to enticement. The year shall not revolve without bringing the convenient time. Mirth shall render thee thoughtless: or sorrow shall bow thee to despondence. Pride shall inflate thee with confidence: or sloth shall indispose thee to exertion. Then shall the temptation present itself afresh: perhaps in its original garb; or, if need be, in colours more attractive.
4. That nothing short of a settled determination to labour to avoid all sin, joined with constant application to God, through Christ, for the influence of His sanctifying Spirit, can authorize you to hope that you will preserve for a single hour a conscience void of offence.
(T. Gisborne, M. A.)
(T. Gisborne, M. A.)I. THE BEST PEOPLE OFTEN EXPERIENCE A HARD FATE. No garland of roses for the followers of Him Who wore the crown of thorns. Do not suppose from this that God is indifferent to goodness. He is with His people when they are in affliction, even more than at other times. The loss of material comfort is made up to them by a richer spiritual gain.
II. BAD KEN HAVE GOOD FEELINGS AND PURPOSES. The spiritual nature may be repressed and brought into bondage by sin, but it cannot be destroyed. Conscience and memory make themselves felt.
III. AN IRRESOLUTE MIND IN RESPECT TO GOOD IS THE CAUSE OF GREAT MISCHIEF. Herod was but the tool of Herodias. Although he did not originate the murder of John, he executed it. Without him it might not be done.
IV. THE DANGER OF DALLIANCE WITH SIN. Herod gladly listened to John, but would not obey him. Had he heeded the faithful prophet and put away Herodias, he might never have had the sin of murder to answer for. No safety in partial courses. We must not only hear, but heed the warning voice.
V. THE HAUNTING ALARMS OF GUILT. A Sadducee conjuring up a ghost — what a contradiction! No safeguard can protect a wicked man from the most absurd, but to him terrible, alarms. They spring up to poison his enjoyment in unexpected hours. Never again would Herod enjoy "a happy birthday." There is no misery more exquisite than that proceeding from an evil conscience. Think of it when proceeding to sin. This sin does not sink into oblivion, and nothing come of it. Committed, it becomes a pursuing vengeance. It assumes a dreadful voice and takes to itself feet, and, like a bloodhound, follows the evil-doer, baying frightfully on his track.
(A. H. Currier.)
1. There is the terror that seizes him. Haunted with feeling that he is not done with the prophet yet.
2. He gains nothing by the murder, for no sooner is John slain than Jesus rises ominously on his horizon.
3. He seals in death the only lips that could teach him the way of mercy.
4. All his improvement at once evaporates, and he lives to mock the Saviour (Luke 23:11).
5. The woman whom he gratified at such a cost became his ruin. Her ambition moved her to long for a higher title for Herod than that of tetrarch. Against his own judgment Herod permitted himself to be overborne, and going to Rome to ask for higher honour he found himself accused before Caligula. They were banished to Gaul, and died in obscurity and dishonour.
(R. Clover.)I. YOU HAVE HERE THE VOICE OF A STARTLED CONSCIENCE. We all of us do evil things that it is not hard for us to seem to forget, and with regard to which it is not hard for us to bribe or silence memory and conscience. The hurry and bustle of daily life, the very weakness of our characters, the rush of sensuous delights, may make us blind and deaf to the voice of conscience; and we think all chance of the evil deed rising again to harm us is past. But some trifle touches the hidden spring by mere accident; as in the old story of the man groping along a wall, till his finger happened to fall upon one inch of it, and immediately the hidden door flies open, and there is the skeleton. An apparently trivial circumstance, like some hooked pole pushed at random into the sea, may bring up by the locks some pale and drowned memory long plunged in an ocean of oblivion.
II. HERE IS AN EXAMPLE OF A CONSCIENCE AWAKENED TO THE UNSEEN WORLD. Theoretical disbelief in a future life and spiritual existence is closely allied to superstition. So strong is the bond that unites men with the unseen world, that, if they do not link themselves with that world in the legitimate and true fashion, it is almost certain to avenge itself upon them by leading them to all manner of low and abject superstitions. Spiritualism is the disease of a generation that does not believe in another life.
III. AN ILLUSTRATION OF A CONSCIENCE WHICH, PARTIALLY STIRRED, SOON WENT FINALLY TO SLEEP AGAIN. Do not tamper with a partially awakened conscience; do not rest until it is quieted in the legitimate way. It is possible so to lull the conscience into indifference, that appeals, threatenings, pleadings, mercies, the words of men and the gospel of God, may all run off as from a waterproof, leaving it dry and hard. The convictions of conscience which you have not followed out, like the ruins of a bastion shattered by shell, protect your remaining fortifications against the impact of God's truth.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)I beheaded." There is an emphasis in the Greek upon the "I; whom I beheaded." "Herodias tempted me! Herodias' daughter titillated my lust; I fancied that my oath bound me; I could not help doing what would please those who sat at the table. I said all that before I did it. But now, when it is done, they have all disappeared, every one of them to his quarter; and I and the ugly thing are left there together alone. It was I who did it, and nobody besides." And the blackness of the crime presents itself to the startled conscience as it did not in the doing. There are many euphemisms and soft words in which, as in cotton wool, we wrap our evil deeds, and so deceive ourselves as to their hardness and their edge; but when conscience gets hold of them, and they pass out of the realm of fact into the mystical region of remembrance, all the wrap pages and all the apologies and all the soft phrases drop away; and the ugliest, briefest, plainest word is the one by which my conscience describes my own evil. I beheaded him! I, and none else, was the murderer.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)I. THE FACTS OF CONSCIENCE.
1. We have a discernment of the difference between right and wrong.
2. We approve of the one and we disapprove of the other, as of good and bad laws.
3. We condemn ourselves for what conscience disapproves in our states and acts.
4. We are impelled by conscience to do what is right, and deterred by it from what is wrong.
II. OF THIS MYSTERIOUS POWER THE OBVIOUS CHARACTERISTICS ARE —
1. That it is independent of the understanding and will.
2. It is authoritative.
3. It does not speak in its own name. The authority which it exercises is not its own.
4. It is avenging. Remorse is a state produced by conscience.
III. OUR DUTY IN REGARD TO CONSCIENCE.
1. To enlighten it.
2. To obey it.
3. Not only to obey it in particular cases, but to have a fixed and governing purpose to permit it to rule.The ground of this obligation to obey conscience is —
1. The authority of God in whose name it, speaks.
2. Respect for our own dignity as rational and moral beings.
(C. Hedge, D. D.)I. AN EXAMPLE OF THE LENGTH TO WHICH UNGODLY MEN WILL GO IN THE WAY OF RELIGION. Herod feared and honoured John. He heard him preach — gladly. Let no one be too hasty in concluding that he is religious.
II. AN EXAMPLE OF MINISTERIAL FAITHFULNESS.
III. AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE CERTAINTY AND THE REASON OF PERSECUTION. The certainty — the reproof. The reason — pride, interest, conscience. The favour of worldly men worthless.
IV. WE HAVE EXEMPLIFIED THE TWO-FOLD ASPECT OF THE WORLD — to its own, to the Church. The festival for the one — the dungeon for the other. The world in miniature.
V. A SAMPLE OF THE WORLD'S HIGHEST PLEASURES. Masked pride, vanity, envy. Masked misery.
VI. An instance of AN ABANDONED PARENT SACRIFICING HER CHILD. VII. An instance of MINGLED HYPOCRISY AND COWARDICE. Herod's oath, cowardice — through fear.
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