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SECTION VIII.

Considerations on the Circumstances of St. John's Death.

WE have now accompanied St. John through the several stages of his life. We have rejoiced with his parents and kinsfolk at his birth, and spent some time in contemplation with him in the deserts; we have stood by him, as a preacher and a Baptist, at the river Jordan, and have been made acquainted with the repeated testimonies borne by him, at different times, to the Messiahship of Jesus; we have heard him, like another Elijah, reproving another Ahab, and have visited him in prison, where the glory of his great Master, and the salvation of those committed to his care, still continued to be the objects of his attention. It remains only, that we behold him paying that debt to nature, from which the greatest of them that are born of women are not exempted. And here our acquaintance with him must end, till we meet him in the kingdom of God. Thus do scenes of real life pass swiftly away, and, when looked back upon, appear like those which are described within the compass of a small volume like this. In the course of a few years, the child, at whose birth we made merry, is become a man; he sickens, and dies, and we mourn at his funeral. Some gleams of success and prosperity, perhaps,

brighten and adorn certain parts of his life, as the sun gilds the edges of a dark cloud, or imprints upon it the still more beautiful colours of the rainbow. But while we gaze, the sun sets, the colours fade, the bow vanishes, and "the place thereof knoweth "it no more.

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Of prophets, as well as of kings, it may be observed, that there is generally but a short interval between their imprisonment and their death; the enmity which occasioned one, seldom leaving them till it have accomplished the other. And "more "bitter even than death itself is the woman whose "heart is snares and nets, and her hands bands"." Herod had thrown John into prison; but this would not satisfy Herodias. Even there she heard him still preaching upon the old text, and reproaching her with her crimes. "She had a quarrel against "him; eveixev avrw, she fastened upon him, and would "have killed him, but," for some time, she "could not"." For though Herod had not religion enough to produce in him the fear of God, he had policy enough to produce the fear of the Jews, among whom John's reputation as a prophet ran very high. Herodias, however, in her heart, had determined to effect her purpose by procuring, sooner or later, the execution of him whom she falsely deemed her enemy: as if sin could not be committed with impunity, while John was living to hear of it; as if his blood would not cry louder than his voice had done; or the head of the prophet could

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Eccles. vii. 26.

z Mark, vi. 19, &c.

enter the palace, without reproving the adultery of the tetrarch. But an imperious lust, in the height of its career, can brook no obstruction; and were it possible, as well as necessary, the world itself would be blown up to make way for it.

Sin being once resolved on in the heart, an opportunity of committing it is seldom long wanting; and the mind is upon the watch, to embrace the very first that offers. "When a convenient day was "come, that Herod's birth-day should be kept, he "made a great supper to his lords, high captains, "and chief estates of Galilee." It is certainly no sin in a prince to keep his birth-day, or to make a great supper upon it. But how much it behoveth a man, at such times of rejoicing, to be upon his guard, lest unawares he be induced to sacrifice truth and conscience to mirth and gaiety, the melancholy catastrophe of this banquet may serve to show us; since neither Herod, nor any of his guests imagined, when they sat down to table on that fatal evening, how horribly their great supper would conclude. But so it happened, that, before the night was out, a deed was done, which displayed to all succeeding generations the malice and cruelty of Herodias, with the weakness and wickedness of Herod; teaching us, at the same time, that the greatest of prophets and the best of men are not more secure from violence. than from natural death, but rather more exposed to it than the rest of mankind, if with fidelity and fortitude they execute the trust committed to them.

Herodias, by her lawful husband Philip, had a daughter named Salome, who condescended to grace

the festivity by dancing before the company, in a manner which "pleased Herod, and them that sat "with him." A pious prelate of our church, in his contemplations on this occurrence, observes, that dancing, in itself, as it is a set, regular, harmo"nious, graceful motion of the body, cannot be un"lawful, any more than walking or running." We may add, that it hath in all ages and nations been one way, and that a natural one, of expressing an uncommon degree of joy and gladness; on which account it was adopted into the number of religious ceremonies formerly enjoined to be observed by the people of God. But for a young lady to appear, as a dancer, before Herod and his "lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee," probably, when they were well warmed with wine, became only the daughter of an Herodias, educated by her own mother.

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Herod, quite overcome and thrown off his guard by Salome's performance, makes her a foolish promise; and, as if that was not enough, confirms it with a rash oath: "Whatsoever thou shalt ask of

me, I will give it thee, to the half of my king"dom." A very handsome recompense, one would think, for a dance! But it will appear presently, that the king had not offered enough. Half his kingdom would not do. Something was required more valuable than the whole of it, had it extended from Judea quite round the globe. Nothing would satisfy, but his honour, his conscience, his soul; the price which sin never fails to ask! The glorious golden opportunity of revenge was not to be lost. Herodias

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is consulted by her daughter, and lo, the soft, tender, delicate Salome re-enters, all athirst for blood"Give me in a charger the head of John the Bap"tist;" of a prophet; of a person whom thou knowest to be innocent, holy, upright. Make me this sacrifice, and I am content. With such eagerness and sagacity does "the adultress hunt for the "precious life!"

Bad as Herod was, the petition of Salome at first shocked him. "The king was sorry." He thought of John's character, the atrociousness of the murder, and the opinion which the world would entertain of the murderer. But the tide which had ebbed soon flowed again, and obliterated, in a moment, what had been written on the sand during its recess. The love of Herodias, the address of Salome, the festivity of the season, and the presence of the "lords and high

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captains," who had been witnesses of the promise, and might possibly approve the proposal; all these circumstances on the side of the temptation prevailed. And perhaps Herod, upon recollection, might think that the supposed obligation of his oath would afford him a better excuse than he should ever be master of again, for complying with the importunity of Herodias, and taking off a monitor troublesome to them both. "For his oath's sake, and for their "sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her." Thus, if any extraordinary wickedness is to be transacted, religion must be made a cover for it. As if wrong became right, when acted in the name of God; and it were more acceptable in his sight, to massacre a prophet, than to repent of a rash oath,

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