Luk_3:19-20. Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.
THE inspired volume, when considered only as containing a history of other ages and other nations, is read rather for the purpose of informing the mind, than of benefiting the heart; and hence it produces comparatively little effect even on those who are most conversant with its contents. But the true light in which it should be regarded is, as a history of man, to whatever age or nation he may belong. It is a mirror, that reflects the human heart in all its dispositions, and in all its actings: and, when viewed in this light, it acquires a ten-fold greater importance, because it exhibits us to ourselves, and makes us the actors in all that is done.
In reading an account of John the Baptist, and of his imprisonment by Herod, we feel but little interest, except as we condemn the licentiousness of Herod, and commiserate the fate of his faithful monitor. But if we would divest ourselves of the idea that it passed many centuries ago, and consider the transaction as having recently occurred in our own neighbourhood, we should almost of necessity be led to contemplate it in a more general view, and to notice in it the power and malignity of sin. It is in that view that I propose to call your attention to it at this time.
Let us take occasion then to remark from it,
The power of sin—
Wonderful indeed is its power to blind, to enslave, to harden all in whom it dwells—
[Herod could not but know, that it was wrong for him to take his brother Philip’s wife. Yet doubtless he contrived by some vain excuses to justify it to himself. And thus it is that every sinner deludes himself. In some cases, he denies the criminality of his actions altogether, “calling evil good, and good evil, and putting darkness for light, and light for darkness [Note: Isa_5:20.].” Where they cannot altogether hide from themselves the evil of their ways, they find some excuse, either from their constitutional propensities, or the habits of all around them, or some peculiarity in their situation at the time. “They feed on ashes; and yet to such a degree hath a deceived heart turned them aside, that they cannot deliver their souls, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand [Note: Isa_44:20.]?” Whatever be the particular lust of which they are enamoured — — — it is “Satan that hath blinded their eyes [Note: 2Co_4:4.];” they walk in the vanity of their mind, “having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts [Note: Eph_4:18.]:” and “they know not whither they go, because that darkness hath blinded their eyes [Note: 1Jn_2:11.].”]
[Though Herod was willing to “do many things,” and forbear many things respecting which he was admonished by John, he could in no wise be prevailed on to part with his incestuous consort. And thus it is with sinners of every description: there are some sins to which they have but little inclination, and which therefore they may be induced to renounce: but their besetting sin they cannot find it in their hearts to mortify, so addicted are they to the commission of it, and, as it were, “tied and bound with it as with a chain,” which they cannot break [Note: See this in the drunkard, the whoremonger, &c. &c.] — — — Whilst they see, and cannot but acknowledge the sinfulness of their habits, they have a “law in their members warring against the law in their minds, and bringing them into captivity to the law of sin which is in their members [Note: Rom_7:23.];” or rather, they are “taken in the snare of the devil, and led captive by him at his will [Note: 2Ti_2:26.].”]
[One would have supposed that when Herod, “knowing that John was a holy and just man, feared” him, he would never have been induced to persecute him for his fidelity. Yet of his own mind he had imprisoned John, and would have put him to death, had he not been restrained by his fear of the people; and, when solicited by his daughter to give her John’s head in a charger, he sent an executioner to behead him, and presented it to her according to her desire. This he did for hs oath’s sake. But how could any oath bind him to the commission of murder? He would have found ample means of inducing her to alter her request, if sin had not “seared his conscience,” and “made his heart as adamant.” But sin is of its own nature progressive: and to such a degree do men become “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin,” that evils, which once they could not have contemplated as possible ever to be committed by them, are committed easily and without remorse. Hazael, when warned of the enormities which he would one day commit, exclaimed, “Is thy servant a dog that he should do such things?” Yet he afterwards executed these things to the full extent of the predictions concerning him. And if the future conduct of many, who are now but just beginning their career of sin, were opened to their view, they would not believe that they should ever attain to such impiety. But, what is said of strife, may be said of every other sin; namely, that “the beginning of it is like the letting out of water:” the breach at first is small; but it soon widens, till the inundation becomes irresistibly powerful, and irremediably destructive.]
Such is the power of sin; of which in the history we may yet further see,
It tends to inflict misery,
On all who indulge it—
[Look at Herod in the midst of all his indulgences: was he happy? Which of the two, I would ask, was the happier; Herod, in the midst of his excesses, or John, when bound with chains in prison for righteousness’ sake? No one, I think, can entertain a doubt. The truth is, that sin and misery are indissolubly connected even in this life; according as the Apostle, speaking of the ungodly, has said, “Destruction and misery are in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known [Note: Rom_3:16-17.].” Take the adulterer, for instance: You may suppose him as happy as his heart can wish. But what is Job’s account of him? “The eye of the adulterer waiteth for the twilight, saying, No eye shall see me; and he disguiseth his face. In the dark they dig through houses which they had marked for themselves in the-day time. They know not the light: for the morning is to them even as the shadow of death: if one know them, they are in the terrors of the shadow of death [Note: Job_24:15-17.].” And of the wicked generally, Eliphaz says, “The wicked man travaileth with pain all his days: a dreadful sound is in his ears: he believeth not that he shall return out of darkness, and he is waited for of the sword [Note: Job_15:20-22.].” Yes, an evil conscience will so haunt a man, that he shall be afraid to go out into the dark, or almost even to look under his bed: so truly is it said, “The way of transgressors is hard [Note: Pro_13:15.].” There are indeed those who will profess to feel no apprehensions: but we are assured by the heart-searching God, that their boastings are vain: for “the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt: there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked [Note: Isa_57:20-21.].”]
On the world at large—
[See what misery the gratification of Herod’s lusts produced; on Philip, whose wife he took; on Herodias, whose mind and conscience he so defiled; on John, whom for his fidelity he murdered; and on all the Church of God, whom he thus deprived of a faithful counsellor and instructor. But he cared not what evils he inflicted, if only he might have his own licentious passions gratified. And who can tell what miseries the seducer inflicts upon his hapless victim; and the adulterer, on the object of his unlawful desires? — — — The same may be spoken of the ambitious man, who wades through seas of blood to the attainment of fame and power — — — May I not mention the scoffer too, who hates and derides all serious piety, and cares not how many souls he ruins, provided he may but indulge his enmity against God and his Christ? — — — But what is it that has turned the whole world into one vast theatre of contention and sorrow? It is sin, which has established its empire on the ruins of peace and love. Nor is there to be found a nation, or family, or individual, whose happiness has not suffered from this malignant evil.]
From this subject we may yet further learn,
The danger of indulging sin—
[Who shall say whither one sinful thought shall carry us? Little did Herod imagine to what the first desire which he formed after Philip’s wife would lead him. And little did David anticipate the results of the first glance which he caught of Bathsheba. Say not then, of a sinful thought or desire, that it is little: but learn to flee from it as from the face of a serpent; and let every declension from the path of duty be viewed by you as a step towards hell itself — — —]
The duty of reproving it—
[We are not all called to act like John, and to obtrude our remarks on the ears of kings and princes. But a holy fidelity becomes us all in our respective spheres. We must take care indeed that we do not reprove others in a wrong spirit. There are many circumstances wherein silence may be the most effectual reproof. But a holy fortitude becomes us all. We must all be witnesses for God in the place where we live, and shine as lights in a dark world. And if for our fidelity we be called to suffer, as John suffered, we must rejoice that we are so honoured of our God, and be willing to lay down our own lives, if only we may save the souls of others.]