« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
it is thought that the lamentation of Rachel, here described, has no immediate reference to Rachel, Jacob's wife; but that it simply alludes to the sorrows of her descendants, the distressed mothers of the tribes of Benjamin and Ephraim, who might accompany their children, led into captivity, as far as Rama, in their way to Babylon, who wept and wailed upon this sad occasion, and, as the prophet describes them in the person of Rachel, refusing to be comforted for the loss of her children, looking upon their departure without hope or prospect of ever beholding a return.
Whichever of the two senses you give the words of the prophet, the application of them by the evangelist is equally just and faithful. For as the former scene he relates was transacted upon the very same stage, -in the same district Bethlehem near Rama, where so many mothers of the same tribe now suffered this second most affecting blow-the words of Jeremiah, as the evangelist observes, were literally accomplished; and, no doubt, in that horrid day, a voice was heard again in Rama, lamentation and bitter weepingRachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted ;-every Bethlemitish mother involved in this calamity, beholding it with hopeless sorrow-give vent to it-each one bewailing her children, and lamenting the hardness of their lot, with the anguish of a heart as incapable of consolation, as they were of redress. Monster!could no consideration of all this tender sorrow, stay thy hands?-Could no reflection upon so much bitter lamentation throughout the coasts of Bethlehem, interpose and plead in behalf of so many wretched objects, as this tragedy would make ? -Was there no way open to ambition, but that thou must trample upon the affections of nature? -Could no pity for the innocence of childhoodno sympathy for the yearnings of parental love,
incline thee to some other measures for thy secu rity-but thou must thus pitilessly rush in-take the victim by violence-tear it from the embraces of the mother-offer it up before her eyes-leave her disconsolate forever-broken-hearted with a loss so affecting in itself-so circumstanced with horror, that no time, how friendly soever to the mournful- -should ever be able to wear out the impression?
There is nothing in which the mind of man is more divided than in accounts of this horrid nature. For when we consider man, as fashioned by his Maker-innocent and upright-full of the tenderest dispositions-with a heart inclining him to kindness, and the love and protection of his species--this idea of him would almost shake the credit of such accounts ;-so that, to clear them-we are forced to take a second view of man-very different from this favourable one, in which we insensibly represent him to our imaginations that is we are obliged to consider him not as he was made-but as he is-a creature, by the violence and irregularity of his passions, capable of being perverted from all these friendly and benevolent propensities, and sometimes hurried into excesses so opposite to them, as to render the most unnatural and horrid accounts of what he does, but too probable.—The truth of this observation will be exemplified in the case before us. For, next to the faith and character of the historian who reports such facts,the particular character of the person who committed them is to be considered as a voucher for their truth and credibility ;-and if, upon inquiry, it appears that the man acted but consistent with himself, and just as you would have expected from his principles, the credit of the historian is restored, and the fact related stands incontestible, from so strong and concurring an evidence on its side.
With this view, it may not be an unacceptable application of the remaining part of a discourse upon this day, to give you a sketch of the character of Herod, not as drawn from scripture,-for, in general, it furnishes us with few materials for such descriptions :-The sacred scripture cuts off, in a few words, the history of the ungodly, how great soever they were in the eyes of the world, and, on the other hand, dwells largely upon the smallest actions of the righteous.-We find all the circumstances of the lives of Abraham, Isaac ; Jacob, and Joseph, recorded in the minut-The wicked seem only mentioned with regret ;-just brought upon the stage, on purpose to be condemned. The use and advantage of which conduct, is, I suppose, the reason ;-as in general it enlarges on no character, but what is worthy of imitation. 'Tis however undeniable, that the lives of bad men are not without use ;and whenever such an one is drawn, not with a corrupt view to be admired, but on purpose to be detested, it must excite such an horror against vice, as will strike indirectly the same good impression. And tho' it is painful in the last degree to paint a man in the shades which his vices have cast upon him, yet, when it serves this end, and at the same time illustrates a point in sacred his tory-it carries its own excuse with it.
This Herod, therefore, of whom the evangelist speaks, if you take a superficial view of his life, you would say was a compound of good and evil, that tho' he was certainly a bad man, yet you would think the mass was tempered at the same time with a mixture of good qualities. So that, in course, as it is not uncommon, he would appear with two characters very different from each other. If you looked upon the more favorable side, you would see a man of great address-popular in his belavior, generous,-prince-like in his entertain
ments and expenses, and, in a word, set off with all such virtue and showy properties, as bid high for the countenance and approbation of the world. View him in another light, he was an ambitious, designing man, suspicious of all the world,rapacious,-implacable in his temper, without sense of religion,-or feeling of humanity. Now, in all such complex characters as this, the way the world usually judges, is,-to sum up the good and the bad against each other -deduct the lesser of these articles from the greater, and (as we do in passing other accounts) give credit to the man for what remains upon the balance. Now, tho' this seems a fair,-yet I fear it is often a fallacious reckoning,-which tho' it may serve in many ordinary cases of private life, yet will not hold good in the more notorious instances
mens lives, especially when so complicated with good and bad, as to exceed all common bounds and proportions. Not to be deceived in such cases, we must work by a different rule, which, tho' it may appear less candid-yet to make amends, I am persuaded will bring us, in general, much nearer to the thing we want,-which is truth. The way to which is, in all judgments of this kind, to distinguish and carry in your eye the principal and ruling passion which leads the characterand separate that from the other parts of it,-and then take notice,how far his other qualities, good & bad, are brought to serve and support that. For want of this distinction, we often think oursselves inconsistent creatures, when we are the farthest from it, and all the variety of shapes and contradictory appearances we put on, are in truth, but so many different attempts to gratify the same governing appetite.
With this clew, let us endeavor to unravel this character of Herod, as here given.
The first thing which strikes one in it, is ambition, an immoderate thirst, as well as jealousy of power:--How inconsistent soever in other parts, his character appears invariable in this, and every action of his life was true to it. From hence we may venture to conclude, that this was his ruling passion, and that most, if not all the other wheels were put in motion by this first spring. Now let us consider how far this was the case in fact.
To begin with the worst part of him—I said, he was a man of no sense of religion, or at least no other sense of it, but that which served his turn; for he is recorded to have built temples in Judea, and erected images in them for idolatrous worship,-not from a persuasion of doing right, for he was bred a Jew, and consequently taught to abhor all idolatry—but he was, in truth, sacrificing all his time to a sacred idol of his own, his ruling passion; for, if we may trust Josephus, his sole view in so gross a compliance was, to ingratiate himself with Augustus and the great men of Rome, from whom he held his power,With this he was greedy and rapacious : -How could he be otherwise, with so devouring an appetite as ambition to provide for ?-He was jealous in his nature, and suspicious of all the world. Show me an ambitious man that is not so; for as such a man's hand, like Ishmael's, is against every man, he concludes, that every man's hand, in course, is against him.
Few men were ever guilty of more astonishing acts of cruelty-and yet the particular instances of them in Herod, were such as he was hurried into, by the alarms this waking passion perpetually gave him. He put the whole Sanadrim to the sword,-sparing neither age, or wisdom, or merit; -one cannot suppose, simply from an inclination to cruelty-no-they had opposed the establishment of his power at Jerusalem.