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ing it with hopeless sorrow,-gave vent to it-each one bewailing her children, and lamenting the hard. ness 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 childhood, no sympathy for the yearnings of parental love, incline thee to some other measures for thy security, 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 forevern-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 uprightfull of the tender'est 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 insensibiy represent him to our imaginations ;-that is, we are obliged to consider him, not as he was made-out 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 so you would have expected from his principles, the credit of the historian is restored, and the fact related stands incontestable, 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 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 ininutest manner. 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 una deniable, that the lives of bad men are not without use ;-and whenever such a one is drawn, not with a corrupt view to be admired,but on purpose to be detested,-it must excite such a horror against vice, as will strike indirectly the same good impression. And though 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 history,—it barries 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 though 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 is not uncommon, he would appear with two characters, very different from each other. If on the more favourable side, you would see a man of great address, popular in his behaviour,mgenerous,-prince-like in his entertainments and ex. penses, and, in a word, set off with all such virzues and shewy properties as bid high for the countenance and approbation of the world.
View him in another light, he was an ambitious, designing mang-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, though this
f you looked
seems a fair,yet I fear it is often a fallacious reckoning - which, though it may serve in many ordi
, nary cases of private life, yet will not hold good in the more notorious instances of men's 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, though 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 character and separate that from the other parts of it ;-and then take notice, how far his other qualities, good and bad, are brought to serve and support that. For want of this distinction, we often think ourselves 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 endeavour 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,mI 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 this time to a greater 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. Shew 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 Sanhedrim to the sword, sparing neither age, wisdom, nor merit!-One cannot suppose, simply from an inclination to cruelty :
;they had opposed the establishment of his power at Jerusalem.
His own sons, two hopeful youths, he cut off by a publick 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