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E are now, in the course of these Lectures, 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 he 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 on 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. VOL. II.
But when Herod's birth-day was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before 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 propér 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 he 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."
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 the estimation of the world as that of Jesus; and who had even declared himself the herald and the forerunner of that extraordinary person.