John the Baptist
Table of Contents
John and Herod
by Charles H. Spurgeon
"For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and holy and observed him;
and when he heard him, he did many things and heard him gladly." Mark 6:20
JOHN sought no honor among men. It was his delight to say concerning our Lord Jesus, "He must increase, but I
must decrease." Though John sought no honor of men, he had honor, for it is written, "Herod feared John." Herod was
a great monarch John was but a poor preacher whose garment and diet were of the coarsest kind. But "Herod feared
John." John was more royal than royal Herod! His character made him the true king and the nominal king trembled before
A man is not to be estimated according to his rank, but according to his character. The peerage which God recognizes
is arranged according to a man's justice and holiness. He is first before God and holy angels who is first in obedience
and he reigns and is made a king and a priest whom God has sanctified and clothed with the fair white linen of a
holy life. Be not covetous of worldly honors, for you will have honor enough, even from wicked men, if your lives are
"holiness unto the Lord." Let it be written on John's tomb, if he needs an epitaph, "Herod feared John."
There is only one better testimonial which any minister of the Gospel might be glad to receive and it is this "John
did no miracles, but all things which he spoke concerning this Man were true." He worked no marvelous works which
astonished his generation, but he spoke of Jesus and all that he said was true! God grant that our Master's servants may
win such praise! My subject at this time does not lead me to speak so much of John as of Herod. I desire to have no Herod
in this congregation, but I am anxious about some of you lest you should be like he and, therefore, I will speak out of the
tenderness of my heart with the desire that none of you may follow the steps of this evil king.
I. I would ask you to consider THE HOPEFUL POINTS IN HEROD'S CHARACTER.
First, we find that Herod
respected justice and holiness, for "Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and holy." I like to see in every
man a respect for virtue even if he, himself, has it not, for it may be that the next step will be to desire it and he that desires
to be just is almost so. Some have brought their minds to such a pitch of sinfulness that they despise goodness and
ridicule justice and devotion. May God grant that we may never, by any process, be brought into such a fearful condition
as that! When the conscience comes to be so confused as to lose its reverence for that which is good and holy, then is a
man in a sad plight, indeed.
Herod was not in that condition. He honored justice, honesty, truth, courage and purity of life. Though he had not
these things, himself, yet he had a salutary dread of them which is a near approach to respect for them. I know I am
speaking to a great many who respect everything that is good and right they only wish they were good and right themselves.
So far, so good. The next good point I see in Herod was that he admired the man in whom he saw justice and
righteousness and that is a step further, for you may admire an abstract virtue and yet, when you actually see it embodied
in a man you may hate him. The ancients recognized justice in Aristides and yet some of them grew sick of hearing him
called "the Just."
A man may be acknowledged to be just and holy and for that very reason he may be dreaded. You like to see lions
and tigers in the Zoological Gardens, but you would not like to see them in your own house you would very much prefer
to view them behind bars and within cages. And so very many have respect for religion, but religious people they cannot
stand. They admire justice! How eloquently they speak of it, but they do not like to deal justly. They admire holiness!
But if they come across a saint, they persecute him. "Herod feared John" and tolerated John and went the length of even
keeping John, for a while, out of the hands of Herodias. Many of you like the company of God's people. In fact, you are
out of your element when you get with the profane you cannot endure them and from those that practice debasing vices
you flee at once. You delight in choice company. So far, so good. But that is not enough. We must go much further, or
else we may remain like Herod, after all.
A third good point about Herod was that he listened to John. It is nothing amazing that you and I should listen to
sermons, but it is rather astonishing that a king should do so and such a king as Herod. Monarchs do not often care for
religious discourses, except such as come from court preachers who wear fine raiment and use soft speech. John was not
the kind of man for a king's palace too rough, too blunt, too plain-speaking. His words thrust too much home, yet
Herod heard him gladly. It was a hopeful point in his character that he would hear a man who preached justice, holiness
and the "Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." It is a fine point and a hopeful point in any man that he will
hear and listen to an honest proclamation of God's Word even though it comes home to his conscience.
Perhaps I address some of you who hear the Gospel only now and then and when you drop into a religious meeting
you are like the dog in the library who would gladly have changed all the books for a single bone! There are many such
people in London. Religion does not suit them places of entertainment are much more to their minds. Some say of the
preacher, "I won't hear him again; he cuts too closely; he is too personal." John said to Herod that it was not lawful for
him to have his brother's wife, but, though he spoke so plainly, Herod listened to him, because "he was a just man and
holy." That was well of Herod and it is well in you, my Friend, if you are willing to hear the Gospel, however practically
it is spoken. So far, so good.
But there was a better point, still, in Herod. He obeyed the word to which he listened. Herod heard John gladly,
"And when he heard him, he did many things." Many of our hearers do nothing. They hear, they hear, they hear and that
is the end of it. They learn the way, they know the way, they are expert in the way but they do not follow the way. They
hear the Gospel invitation, but they come not to the feast. Some seem to think that religious duty lies in hearing, first,
and talking, afterwards. But they are mistaken.
Herod knew better than that. He was not a hearer, only he did something
and it is remarkable that the text tells us that "he did many things." Perhaps these were some of the many things
he discharged a tax-gatherer who imposed upon the people, or righted the wrongs of a neglected widow, or altered a
cruel law which he had promulgated, or changed his habits and manners in certain respects. Certainly, in many
points, he was an improved man, for John the Baptist had an influence with him for good, "For Herod feared John and
when he heard him, he did many things."
I am speaking to some who, when they hear a sermon, put a part of it into practice. And they have done many things
since they first attended here for which we are very grateful. I have known a man become charmed with the Gospel and he
has given up his drunkenness and his Sabbath-breaking and he has tried and succeeded, in a great measure, in leaving off
profane language and thus he has greatly improved. And yet and yet he is only a Herod, after all for Herod was
Herod after he had done many things and, in his heart he was still prepared for all sorts of wickedness. Yet he did amend
somewhat and so far, so good.
There was another point about Herod, namely, that he continued to hear the preacher gladly, for it is put into the
end of the verse, as if to indicate that he heard John still. John touched his conscience, but after all, he still heard him
gladly. He said, "Send for John the Baptist again." Harry the Eighth would listen to Hugh Latimer though Hugh denounced
him to his face and even sent him, on his birthday, a handkerchief on which was marked the text, "Whoremongers
and adulterers God will judge." Harry cried, "Let us hear honest Hugh Latimer."
Even bad men admire those who
tell them the truth! However unwelcome the warning, they believe it to be honestly spoken and, therefore, they respect
the preacher. This is a good point. You who are present and unconverted have heard most cutting sentences from me.
You have heard of "judgment to come" and of that eternal wrath which rests upon those who die in their sins let me
warn you then, that if, after hearing the denunciations of God's Word, you are still willing to hear, I have great hopes
for you! So far, so good.
There was yet one other point about Herod and that is, his conscience was greatly affected through the preaching of
John, for I am inclined to think that a certain translation, which renders the passage, "Herod did many things," in another
way, may be correct "Herod was perplexed," or, "Herod was made to hesitate." Such a sense is found in some
manuscripts. He loved his sin and he could see a "beauty of holiness" in religion and he wished to be holy.
But there was
Herodias and he would not give her up. When he heard a sermon he was like a relative of his in later days, "almost persuaded,"
yet he did not give up his lust. He could not go the whole length John would have him go. He would not leave
his bosom sin and yet he felt as if he wished to leave it. There was a halting between two opinions, a hesitating, a wavering,
he was inclined to good if he could have good and have his pleasure, too but his pleasure was so very much his
master that he could not escape from it.
He was like a bird taken with lime-twigs he wanted to fly but, sad to say, he was willingly held, limed by his lust.
This is the case with many of our hearers. Their consciences are not weaned from their sins! They cannot give them up and
yet they wish they could. They linger on the brink and fear to launch away. They are almost out of Sodom, have almost
escaped the fire shower and yet, in all probability, they will stand like Lot's wife, a pillar of salt, because they will look
back and love the sin that lingers in their heart. Consciences nowadays seem to have gone out of fashion but to have a
conscience sensitive to the preaching of the Word is an admirable thing and if you have such a thing, so far, so good!