And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.
The case of Herod and Felix much alike. We are not told of Felix that he ever did more than tremble; there is no register of his having taken any steps in consequence of his conviction. Herod did "many things" in consequence of what he heard from the Baptist.
I. Now it is very carefully to be observed (for upon this we shall throughout have to lay no small stress), THAT HEROD FEARED JOHN, BUT THAT NOTHING IS SAID FROM WHICH WE CAN INFER THAT HEROD FEARED GOD. We are not, perhaps, aware what power there is in the principle of the fear of man, for it will often cause persons to disobey God, and peril their eternity, rather than run the risk of a frown: And this principle may operate as well to the withdrawing men from vice, as the confirming them in it. It is not indeed by this denunciation of sin in the general, that the preacher will become an object of fear, and a motive to reform; for a man will sit with the greatest complacence under the universal reproof, and think it nothing to be condemned in common with all. But when he denounces particular sins, and thus, as it were, singles out a few from the mass, he may cause those few to feel so sensitively, as though all eyes were upon them; so that if the sins be such as may be abandoned without great pain, they will be likely to abandon them just to prevent the being again thus exposed. They give up one thing after another, according as conscience is more and more urgent; but the favourite practice, the darling passion, this still retains its mastery, whilst less cherished habits are broken, and less powerful desires are subdued. The man whose master passion is covetousness may become most rigidly moral, though he had not heretofore been distinguished by purity of life; but measured morality, in place of being attended with diminished covetousness, may be only a make weight with conscience against the abiding and even the grooving eagerness for gain. The man again, whose master passion is sensuality, may give much in alms to the poor, though he had previously been accounted penurious; but is he, therefore, necessarily less the slave of his lust? Ah, no. He may only have bought himself peace in the indulgence of his appetites by liberality in relieving the destitute. It is the same in the case of every other master passion. Unless it be Herodias that is put away, there is no evidence of genuine repentance; all that is surrendered may be nothing more than a proof of the value put upon what is retained. And therefore, if you would discriminate between reformation and repentance, if you would know whether you have limited yourselves to the former and are yet strangers to the latter, examine what it is you keep, rather than what you give up. Reformation will always leave what you love best to the last; whereas repentance will begin with the favourite sin, or go at once to the root, in place of cutting off the branches.
II. BUT WE SAID THAT IT WAS A YET MORE REMARKABLE STATEMENT, IN REFERENCE TO HEROD, ESPECIALLY AS CONTRASTED WITH FELIX, THAT HE HEARD JOHN GLADLY. There is a pleasure in being made to feel pain, even where a long course of dissipation has not generated the disease of ennui. Is it not thus with the frequenters of a theatre, who flock eagerly to their favourite amusement when some drama of terror and crime is to have possession of the stage? They go for the purpose of being thrilled, and of having the blood made to creep, and of feeling an indefinable horror seize upon their spirits. They are altogether disappointed if no such effect be produced; and unless the exhibition of fictitious suffering quite carry them away, and so produce all the emotions which witnessed suffering will produce, they lay blame upon those who have conducted the mimicry, and count them deficient in skill and in power. We repeat, then, our words, that there is a pleasure in being made to feel pain even with those who cannot be said to have worn out their sensibilities, and, of course, in a greater measure with others to whom such description applies. And would it, therefore, follow that Herod could not have heard John gladly had John so preached as to make Herod tremble? Oh! far enough from this. It may just have been the fact of trembling which made Herod a glad hearer of the Baptist. There was a power in the Baptist of exciting the torpid feelings of a jaded voluptuary. Because you are made to tremble, and because, so far from shrinking at the repetition of the process, you come with eagerness to the sanctuary and submit yourselves again to the same overcoming influence, you may easily fancy you have a just apprehension of God's wrath, and even that you have duly prepared yourselves for a day, of whose terror you can hear with something of pleasurable emotion: and therefore we have laboured to show you that there may be a complacency and gladness beneath the preaching of the Word, when that preaching is the preaching of vengeance, which is wholly unconnected with any effort to escape what is threatened, but may quite consist with the remaining exposed to it with no shelter against its fury, no real dread of its coming. It is not merely possible, but in a high degree probable, that a man addicted to gambling might gaze in anguish at the scenic representation of a gambler, hurried on until utter ruin crushed his family and himself, and then pass from the theatre to the gambling table, and there stake his all on the cast of the dice. We should not necessarily conclude, from observing the frequency with which the gambler came to the representation of the gamester, and the riveted interest which he felt in the harrowing drama, that he was at all sensible to the evils of gambling, or would at all endeavour to extricate himself from its fearful fascinations; we should, on the contrary, see nothing but a common exhibition of our nature — a nature that has pleasure in excitement, though the exciting thing be its own ruin, if we knew that on the very night, after listening to the thrilling cry of the maddened victim of the hazard table, he hurried to the scene where he and others did their best towards making the case precisely their own. We need not draw out a parallel between such an instance and that of a sinner, who can listen with an eager interest to the descriptions of the sinner's doom, and then depart and be as resolute as ever in doing evil deeds. The parallel must be evident to you all, and we only exhort you so to form it for yourselves, that you may never confound the having pleasure in the hearing future judgment energetically set forth with the being alive to that judgment, and watchful to remove it from yourselves. But we do not design, as we have already said, to ascribe the gladness of Herod exclusively to such causes as we have alone been endeavouring to trace. If Herod were at times made to tremble, and if that very trembling were acceptable as a species of animal excitement, we may yet suppose that this was not the only account on which he heard the Baptist gladly. Herod had "done many things," and it is therefore likely that he thought himself sufficiently righteous and secured against the vengeance which John denounced against the wicked. He may have become that most finished of all hypocrites, the hypocrite who imposes on himself; and having wrought him self into a persuasion of safety, he may have hearkened with great delight to the descriptions of dangers in which others stood. It is therefore a matter of prime moment, that we warn our hearers against the inferring that they have undergone a moral change, from the finding they have pleasure in listening to the gospel. For even where men have not, like Herod, "done many things," they may, like Herod, "hear the Baptist gladly." There is many an enthusiastic lover of music, who mistakes for piety and religious emotion, the feelings of which he is conscious, as the sacred anthem comes pealing down the aisle of the cathedral, just because he feels an elevation of soul and a kindling of heart. As the tide of melody poured forth from the orchestra comes floating to him, he will imagine that he has really an affection towards spiritual things, and really aspires after heaven. Alas! alas! though music be indeed an auxiliary to devotion, it proves no devotion that you can be thrilled and lifted out of yourselves by the power of music. It is altogether on natural feelings and sensibilities, which may or may not be drawn out by religion, that the lofty strain tells with so subduing an effect; and even when you are most carried away and overcome by the varied notes, I see no reason whatsoever, why you might not return from the oratorio of the "Creation" and ascribe the universe to chance, and from that of the "Messiah" and be ready with the Jews to crucify the Christ. The case is altogether the same with the preaching of the gospel. In sacred music, it is not the words, it is only the machine by which the words are conveyed, that produces feelings which the man mistakes for devotion. He may be without a care for the truth which is uttered, and yet be fascinated by the melodies of the utterance, and thus take the fascination as proof of his delight in spiritual things. And thus in the case of preaching. Indeed, the cases are so identical, that it was said by God to Ezekiel, when multitudes of the impenitent flocked to the hearing of him, "Thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that has a pleasant voice, and can play well upon an instrument."
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.