« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
His own sons, two hopeful youths, he cut off by a public execution.-The worst men have natural affection-and such a stroke as this would run so contrary to the natural workings of it, that you are forced to suppose the impulse of some more violent inclination to overrule and conquer it. And so it was; for the Jewish historian tells us, it was jealousy of power,-his darling object -of which he feared they would one day or other dispossess him.-Sufficient inducement to transport a man of such a temper into the bloodiest
Thus far this one fatal and extravagant passion, accounts for the dark side of Herod's character. This governing principle being first laid open, all his other bad actions follow in course, like so many symptomatic complaints from the same distemper. Let us see, if this was not the case even of his virtues too.
At first sight, it seems a mystery-how a man, so black as Herod has been thus far describedshould be able to support himself in the favor and friendship of so wise and penetrating a body of men, as the Roman senate, of whom he held his power. To counterbalance the weight of so bad and detested a character-and be able to bear it up, as Herod did,-one would think he must have been master of some great secret, worth inquiring after He was so. But that secret was no other than what appears on this reverse of his character. He was a person of great address-popular in his outward behavior ;-he was generous, prince-like in his entertainments and expenses. The world was then as corrupt, at least, as now-and Herod understood it-knew at what price it was to be bought-and what qualities would bid the highest for its good word and approbation.
And, in truth he judged this matter so well,that notwithstanding the general odium and pre
possession which arose against so hateful a cha racter-in spite of all the ill impressions from so many repeated complaints of his cruelties and op pressions-he yet stemmed the torrent-and by the specious display of those popular virtues, bore himself up against it all his life. So that, at length, when he was summoned to Rome, to answer for his crimes-Josephus tells us that by the mere magnificence of his expenses-and the apparent generosity of his behavior, he entirely confuted the whole charge-and so ingratiated himself with the Roman senate-and won the heart of Augustus (as he had that of Anthony before) that he ever after had his favor and kindness; which I cannot mention, without adding that it is an eternal stain upon the character and memo ry of Augustus, that he sold his countenance and protection to so bad a man, for so mean and base a consideration.
From this point of view, if we look back upon Herod his best qualities will shrink into little room, and how glittering soever in appearance, when brought to this balance, are found wanting. And in truth, if we would not willingly be deceived in the value of any virtue, or set of virtues, in so complex a character-we must call them to this very account; examine whom they serve— what passion, and what principle they have for their master. When this is understood, the whole clew is unravelled at once, and the character of Herod, as complicated as it is given us in history
—when thus analysed, is summed up in three words- -That he was a man of unbounded ambition, who stuck at nothing to gratify it so that not only his vices were ministerial to his ruling passion, but his virtues too (if they deserve the name) were drawn in, and listed into the same service.
Thus much for the character of Herod, the critical review of which has many obvious uses,
to which I may trust you, having time but to mention that particular one which first led me into this examination, namely, that all objections against the evangelist's account of this day's slaughter of the Bethlemitish infants-from the incredibility of so horrid an account-are silenced by this account of the man; since in this he acted but like himself, and just so as you would expect, in the same circumstances, from every man of so ambitious a head—and so bad a heart- -Consider, what havoc ambition has made-how often the same tragedy has been acted upon larger theatres-where not only the innocence of childhood-or the grey hairs of the aged, have found no protection-but whole countries, without distinction, have been put to the sword; or what is as cruel, have been driven forth to nakedness and famine, to make way for new ones, under the guidance of this passion. For a specimen of this, reflect upon the story related by Plutarch, when, by order of the Roman senate, seventy populous cities were unawares sacked and destroyed at one prefixed hour, by P. Æmiliusby whom one hundred and fifty thousand unhappy people were driven in one day into captivity—to be sold to the highest bidder, to end their days in cruel labor and anguish. As astonishing as the account before us is, it vanishes into nothing, from such views; since it is plain from all history, that there is no wickedness too great for so unbounded a cause; and that the most horrid accounts in history are, as I said above, but too probable effects of it
May GoD of his mercy defend mankind from future experiments of this kind—and grant, we may make a proper use of them, for the sake of JESUS CHRIST. Amen.
Job's account of the Shortness and Trou. bles of Life, considered.
JOB XIV. I, 2.
Man that is born of woman, is of few days, and full of trouble: He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down; he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.
HERE is something in this reflection of holy
of life, and
bility of human affairs, so beautiful and truly sublime, that one might challenge the writings of the most celebrated orators of antiquity, to produce a specimen of eloquence, so noble and thoroughly affecting, Whether this effect be owing, in some measure, to the pathetic nature of the subject reflected on or to the eastern manner of expression, in a style more exalted and suitable to so great a subject,—(or which is the more likely account) because they are properly the words of that Being, who first inspired man with language, and. taught his mouth to utter,-who opened the lips of the dumb, and made the tongue of the infant eloquent; to which of these we are to refer the beauty and sublimity of this, as well as that of numberless other passages in holy writ, may not seem now material; but surely, without these helps, never man was better qualified to make just and noble reflections upon the shortness of human life, and instability of human affairs, than Job was, who had himself waded thro' such a sea of troubles, and in his passage had encountered many vicissitudes of storms and sun-shine, and by turns had felt both the extremes, of all the happiness, and all the wretchedness that mortal man is heir to,
The beginning of his days was crowned with every thing that ambition could wish for ;-he was the greatest of all the men of the east-had large and unbounded possessions, and no doubt enjoyed all the comforts and advantages of life, which they could administer. Perhaps you will say a wise man might not be inclined to give a full loose to this kind of happiness, without some better security for the support of it, than the mere possession of such goods of fortune, which often slip from under us, and sometimes unaccountably make themselves wings, and fly away. But he had that security too; for the hand of providence, which had thus far protected, was still leading him forwards, and seemed engaged in the preservation and continuance of these blessings: GoD had set a hedge about him, and about all that he had on every side; he had blessed all the works of his hands,and his substance increased every day. Indeed, even with this security, riches to him who hath neither child nor brother, as the wise man observes, instead of a comfort, prove sometimes a sore travel and vexation.—The mind of man is not always satisfied with the rea sonable assurance of its own enjoyments, but will look forwards; and if it discovers some imagina. ry void, the want of some beloved object to fill his place after him, will often disquiet itself in vain, and say" For whom do I labor, and be, "reave myself of rest?"
This bar to his happiness, GoD had likewise taken away, in blessing him with a numerous offspring of sons and daughters, the apparent inheritors of all his present happiness.Pleasing reflection to think the blessings God has indulged one's self in shall be handed and continued down to a man's own seed: How little does this differ from a second enjoyment of them, to an affectionate parent? who naturally looks forward with as strong an interest upon his children, as if he was to live over again in his own posterity.