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when once a man has involved himself deeply in guilt, he has no safe ground to stand upon. Every thing is unsound and rotten under his feet. He cannot say, "so far will I go in wickedness, and no farther." The crimes he has already committed may have an unseen connection with others, of which he has not the slightest suspicion; and he may be hurried, when he least intends it, into enormities, of which he once tho't himself utterly incapable. This was the case in the present instance. When Herod first engaged in his guilty intercourse with Herodias he probably meant to go no further. He meant to content himself with adul tery and incest, and had no intention of adding murder to the black catalogue of his crimes. He had no other view but the gratification of a present passion, and did not look forward to the many evils which scarce ever fail to arise from a criminal connection with a profligate and artful woman. This was the original and fruitful source of all his future crimes and future misfortunes. He flattered himself that, notwithstanding his marriage with Herodias, he should still be master of his own resolutions and his own actions. But Herodias soon taught him a different lesson. She shewed that she understood him much better than he did himself. She convinced him that his destiny was in her hands; that she held the secret wire that governed all his mo. tions; and that she could, by one means or other, bend his mind to any purpose which she was determined to accomplish. It was his intention to save John the Baptist. It was her intention to destroy him, and she did it. He had indeed the courage to resist her repeated solicitations that he would put John to death. And piqued himself probably on the firmness of his resolution. But Herodias was not of a temper to be dis couraged by a few denials or repulses. She knew that there were other more effectual ways of carrying her point. If the king could not be compelled to surren. der by assault he might be taken by stratagem and sur prize. And to this she had recourse. She saw that her daughter had attractions and accomplishments
which might be turned to good account, which might be made to operate most powerfully on such a mind as Herod's.
She therefore, as we have already seen, planned the project of her dancing before him on the festival of his birth-day, in the hope that in the unguarded moments of convivial mirth, he might be betrayed into some concession, some act of indulgence towards this favorite daughter, from which he could not easily recede. The plan succeeded even probably beyond her expectations. The monarch was caught in the snare that was laid for him. He made a rash promise to Salome, and confirmed that promise by an oath, that he would give her whatsoever she would ask. And when, to his infinite astonishment and grief, she demanded the life of a man whom he wished to save, instead of retreating by the only way he had left, that of retracting a promise which it was madness to make, and the extremity of wickedness to perform, he was induced by a false point of honor (as worthless men frequently are) to commit an atrocious murder rather than violate a rash oath, an oath which could never make that right which was before intrinsically wrong, which could never bind him to any thing in itself unlawful, much less to the most unlawful of all things, the destruction of an innocent and virtuous man.
I have entered thus minutely into the detail of this remarkable transaction, because, as I have before remarked, every line of it is replete with the most important instruction; as indeed is the case with every part of the sacred history in the Gospel, and the Acts, which teach full as much by the facts they relate as by the precepts they inculcate. The moral lessons to be drawn from the passage before us I have already pointed out in some degree as I went along; but there are one or two of a more general import, which I shall briefly add in conclusion, and which will deserve your very serious attention.
The first is, that in the conduct of life there is nothing more to be dreaded and avoided, nothing more
dangerous to our peace, to our comfort, to our charac ter, to our welfare here and hereafter, than a criminal attachment to an abandoned and unprincipled woman, more particularly in the early period of life. It has been the source of more misery, and besides all the guilt which naturally belongs to it, has led to the commission of more and greater crimes than perhaps any other single cause that can be named. We have seen into what a gulph of sin and suffering it plunged the wretched Herod. He began with adultery, and he ended with murder, and with the total ruin of himself, his kingdom, and all the vile partners of his guilt. The same has happened in a thousand other instances; and there are, I am persuaded, few persons here present, of any age or experience in the world, who cannot recollect numbers, both of individuals and of families, whose peace, tranquility, comfort, characters, and fortunes, have been completely destroyed by illicit and licentious connections of this sort. Nor is this the worst. The present effects of these vices, dreadful as they sometimes are, cannot be compared with the misery which they are preparing for us hereafter. The Scriptures every where rank these vices in the number of those presumptuous sins, which, in a future life, will experi ence the severest marks of divine displeasure. The world indeeed, treats them with more indulgence. They are excused and palliated, and even defended on the ground of human frailty, of natural constitution, of strong passions, and invincible temptations; and they are generally considered and represented in various popular performances (especially in those imported from foreign countries) as associated with many amiable virtues, with goodness of heart, with high principles of honour, with benevolence, compassion, humanity, and generosity. But whatever gentle names may be given to sensuality and licentiousness, whatever specious apologies may be made for them, whatever wit or talents may be employed in rendering them popular and fashionable, whatever numbers, whatever examples may sanction or authorise them, it is impossible that any thing can do
away their natural turpitude and deformity, or avert those punishments which the gospel has denounced against them. They are represented there as things that ought not even to be named among Christians, as defiling the man, as warring against the soul, as grieving the Spirit of God, as rendering men incapable of inheriting the kingdom of heaven, as exposing them to the indignation of Him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.* And as if men had endeavored in those days as well as in our own, to soften and to extenuate and explain away the guilt of licentiousness, the apostle adds, with great solemnity and great earnestness, "Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience."+
Let every man then that pretends to be a Christian," and lives in the habitual practice of the vices here condemned, weigh well these tremendous words. If there be any truth in the Gospel, they will not be vain words; nor will offences of this nature ever pass unnoticed or unpunished by the righteous Governor of the world.
These remarks are not introduced here without reason. It is the peculiar prevalence of these very vices at this moment which demand such animadversions as these; a prevalence which I infer not merely from an imaginary estimate of the low state of morals amongst us, founded on rumour, on conjecture, or misconstruction, but from facts too well ascertained, and which obtrude themselves on the notice of every observing mind. I mean those daring violations of the nuptial contract, and the frequent divorces resulting from them, which seem daily gaining ground in this kingdom. This is a most melancholy and incontrovertible proof of increasing depravity amongst us, and I am sorry to add, of depravity of the very deepest dye; for instances have not long since occurred, in which the guilt of the parties too nearly resembled that of Herod,
Ephes. v. 3. Matth. xv. 18. 1 Pet. ii. 11. Cor. vi. 9, 10. Ha bak, i. 13.
t Ephes. v. 6.
In the Spring of the year 1800.
combining the two atrocious crimes of adultery and incest! Surely such enormities as these are enough to make us tremble, and loudly call for the interposition of the legislature, lest they bring down upon us the just vengeance of an offended God. "Shall I not visit for these things, saith the Lord! Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?"*
Another reflection arising from this short history of Herod and John the Baptist is this; that although, in the ordinary course of divine administration, the punishment of the wicked does not always overtake them here, but is reserved for the last awful day of account; yet it sometimes happens (as I observed in my last Lecture) that their crimes draw after them their just recompence, even in the present life. This was eminently the case of the flagitious Herod; for besides those terrors of conscience, which, as we have seen, perpetually haunted him, which raised up before him terrific forms and agonizing apprehensions, and represented John the Baptist as risen from the dead to avenge his crimes; we are informed by the historian that his marriage with Herodias drew upon him the resentment of Aretas, king of Arabia Petræa, the father of his first wife, who declared war against him, and, in an engagement with Herod's army, defeated it with great slaughter. This, says the historian, the Jews considered as a just judgment of God upon Herod for his murder of John the Baptist. And not long after this, both he and Herodias were deprived of their kingdom by the Roman emperor, and sent into perpetual banishment. And it is added by another historian, that their daughter Salome met with a violent and untimely death. Instances like this are intended to shew, that the Governor of the universe, though he has appointed a distant period for the general distribution of his rewards and punishments, yet in extraordinary cases, he will sometimes interpose to chastise the bold
* Jer. v. 9.
Jos. Ant. L. xviii. c. 5. s. 1. 2.