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E are now, in the course of these Lec
tures, arrived at the fourteenth chapter of St. Matthew, which begins in the following manner:
" At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him ; for Herod had laid hold of John, and bound him, and put him in prison, for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife ; for John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. But when Herod's birth-day was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before VOL. II.
them, and pleased Herod; whereupon he promised with an oath, that he would give her whatsoever she would ask; and she, being before instructed of her mother, said, give me here John Baptist's head in a charger. And the king was sorry; nevertheless, for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her, and he sent and beheaded John in the prison; and his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel; and she brought it to her mother: and his disciples came and took up the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus.”
Before we enter upon this remarkable and affecting narrative of the murder of John the Baptist by Herod, it will be proper to take notice of the two first verses of this chapter, which gave occasion to the introduction of that transaction in this place, although it had happened some time before.
“ At that time, says the evangelist, Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and said unto his servants, this is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore 3
mighty works do shew forth themselves in him.”
It is not easy to meet with a more striking instance than this of the force of conscience over a guilty mind, or a stronger proof how perpetually it goads the sinner, not only with well-grounded fears and apprehensions of impending punishment and vengeance, but with imaginary terrors and visionary dangers.
No sooner did the fame of Jesus reach the ears of the tyrant Herod, than it immediately occurred to his mind that he had himself, not long before, most cruelly and wantonly put to death an innocent, virtuous, and holy man, whose reputation for wisdom, integrity, and sanctity of manners, stood almost as high in
he estimation of the world as that of Jesus ; and who had even declared himself the herald and the forerunner of that extraordinary person. This instantly suggested to him an ideá the most extravagant that could be imagined, that this very person who assumed the name of Jesus was in fact no other than John the Baptist himself, whom he had beheaded, and who was now risen from the dead, and was endowed with the power of working miracles, though he never performed any when living.
It is evident that nothing could be more improbable and absurd than these suppositions, nothing more contrary even to his own principles; for there is reason to believe that Herod, like most other people of high rank at that time, was of the sect called the Sadducees, a sect which rejected the immortality of the soul, and the doctrine of a resurrection, and must therefore be perfectly adverse to the strange imagination of John the Baptist being risen from the dead. Yet the fears of Herod overruled all the prejudices of his sect, and raised up before his eyes the semblance of the murdered Baptist armed with the power of miracles, for the very purpose (he perhaps imagined) of inflicting exemplary vengeance upon
him for that atrocious deed, as well as for his adultery, his incest, and all his other crimes : which now probably presented themselves in their most hideous forms to his terrificd imagination, pursued him into his most secret retirements, and tortured his breast with unceasing agonies.
The evangelist having thus introduced the mention of John the Baptist, goes back a little in his narrative, to make the reader acquainted with that part of the Baptist's history