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might have occasioned a general insurrection against his government; for we are informed by St. Matthew, that “he feared the multitude, because they counted John as a prophet”.” The other reason was, that although he felt the utmost indignation and resentment against John for the freedom he had used in reproaching him for his licentious conduct, yet at the same time the character of that excellent man, his piety, his sanctity, his integrity, his disinterestedness, nay, even the courage which had so much offended and provoked him, commanded his respect and veneration, and excited his fears; for we are told expressly that Herod feared John, knowing he was a just man and an holy-f. Nor is this all, he not only feared John, but in some degree paid court to him. He frequently sent for him out of prison, and conversed with him, and, as the evangelist expressses it, observed him; that is, listened to him with attention and with pleasure; nay, he went further still, he did many things, many things which John exhorted and enjoined him to do *. He perhaps showed more attention to many of his public duties, more gentleness to his subjects, more compassion to the poor, more equity in his judicial determinations, more regard to public worship; and vainly hoped, perhaps, like many other audacious sinners, that this partial reformation, this half-way amendment, would avert the judgments with which John probably threatened him. But the main point, the great object of John's reprehension, the incestuous adultery in which he lived, that he could not part with ; it was too precious, too favourite a sin to give up; too great a sacrifice to make to conscience and to God. What a picture does this hold out to us of that strange thing called human nature, of that inconsistence, that contradiction, that contrariety, which sometimes take place in the heart of man, unsanctified and unsubdued by the power of divine grace
* Matt. xiv. 5. + Mark vi. 20. B 4 still,
and what an exalted idea at the same time does it give us of the dignity of a truly religious character, like that of John, which compels even its bitterest enemies to reverence and to fear it; and forces even the most profligate and most powerful of men to pay an unwilling homage to excellence, at the very moment, perhaps, when they are meditating its destruction 1 In this state of irresolution Herod might probably have continued, and the fate of John have remained undecided for a considerable time, had not an incident taken place, which determined both much sooner perhaps than was intended. Herod, on his birth-day, gave an entertainment to the principal officers of his army and of his court; and as a peculiar and very uncommon compliment on the occasion, Salome, the daughter of his wife Herodias by her former husband, came in and danced before the company in a manner so pleasing to Herod and to all his guests, that the king, in a sudden transport of
delight, cried out to the damsel, as St. Mark
Mark relates it, “Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.” And he sware unto her, “Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, even unto the half of my kingdom *.” The folly, the rashness, and the madness of such an oath as this, on so foolish an occasion, could be exceeded by nothing but the horrible purpose to which it was perverted by the young creature to whom it was made, or rather by her profligate instructor and adviser, her mother Herodias. Astonished and overwhelmed probably with the magnitude of such an unexpected offer, which laid at her feet half the wealth, the power, and the splendour of a kingdom, she found herself unable to decide between the various dazzling objects that would present themselves to her imagination, and therefore very naturally applies to her mother for advice and direction. Most mothers, on such an occasion, would have asked for a daughter a magnificent establishment, a situation of high rank and * Mark vi. 22,23.
and power But Herodias had a passion to gratify, stronger perhaps than any other, when it takes full possession of the human heart, and that was revenge. She had been mortally injured, as she conceived, by the Baptist, who had attempted to dissolve her present infamous connexion with Herod. And she not only felt the highest indignation at this insult, but was afraid that his repeated remonstrances might at length prevail. She therefore did not hesitate one moment what to ask; she gave way to all the fury of her resentment; and without the least regard to the character or the delicate situation of her inexperienced daughter, she immediately ordered her to demand the head of her detested enemy, John the Baptist I The wretched young woman unfortunately obeyed this dreadful command ; and, as we are told by the evangelist, “came in straightway with haste unto the king *.” She came with speed in her steps, and eagerness in her eye, and said, “Give me
* Mark vi. 25. Matt. xiv. 8.