Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.
The text needs no apology. It is for the day. The day is that of the poor martyred innocents, and the text the story of it. Yet, what does day, or story, here to-day? How does the relation of one of the saddest murders that the sun ever saw, suit with the news of the gladdest joy that day ever brought forth? How do the cries and screeches of slaugh-tered infants keep time or tune with the songs and hymns of angels?--an hellish crew of murderers to-day, agree with the heavenly host we heard of three days since? What does Herod so near Christ, or Childermas in Christmas? Do not both day and story want an apology, though the text does not?
Neither of them; they come well now to season our mirth and jollities, that they run not out too lavishly. For we find too oft there are sad days in Christmas too; days wherein we play the Herods, and kill our children and ourselves by dis-orders and excesses, for want of some such serious thoughts: story and day stand fitly here to mind us of it.
[226/227] But besides, they are well placed to teach us that we must, not look only for gaudy days by Christ. He says himself, he came "to send a sword;" sent it to-day amongst the little ones: sends sword and fire too, sometimes, amongst the great ones, in the midst of all their pleasure; and we must expect it commonly, the closer we come to him. Nor Christianity nor innocence can excuse us. We therefore not to think it strange when it so falls out; reckon it rather a Christmas business, the matter of our rejoicing, to suffer with these infants for Christ, though we know not why, no more than they; never to think much to lose our children or ourselves for him at any time, and so bring them up that they may learn to think so too. These meditations, I hope, are not unseasonable, no, not in Christmas.
Yet, for all that, I ask again, Is it possible that there should be such a thing in truth-such a wantonness in cruelty as to kill so many thousand children so barbarously in a time of peace? is it probable that men should raise up fears and jealousies of their own, and make such innocent lambs pay for it? It is Gospel, you see, so true as that. Such a thing there was in the days of Herod; and we have seen so much like it in our own, that we may the easier believe it: children and innocents slain and undone, for nothing but because some men, with Herod here, thought they were mocked witch disappointed of their projects--when Christi Domini, the Lord's Christ or Anointed, had escaped them, and the wise men came not in to hinder it: so they grew exceeding wroth upon it, and remake poor Bethlehem and Rachel, all of us, still rue sorely for it.
Well then, the text being so true in itself--so pat to the time, and not disagreeable to the times of late--so profitable besides, we will now go on with it, by God's blessing, and see what we can make of it. It is the martyrdom, I told you (and I have the word from S. Cyprian and S. Austin) of a company of little innocent babes. And we have in it these particulars:--
I. Their persecutor or murderer, Herod.
II. The occasion of their martyrdom, persecution, or [227/228] murder: his thinking himself mocked. "When he saw he was mocked of the wise men," &c.
III. The cause of it. Wroth he was, "exceeding wroth," infinitely angry to be disappointed; that is the reason he fell upon them.
IV. The little martyrs themselves. "All the children that were in Bethlehem, and all that were in the coasts" about.
V. Their martyrdom. Slain they were; men were sent out to kill them. He "sent forth and slew" them.
VI. The extent and exactness of the cruelty observed in it. All the children "from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men."
These are the parts that make up the history. And if in the pursuing it I show you a mystery now and then--show you there are more Herods and more martyred children than we see in the letter of the text--that the story is acted over still every day by ourselves, you will he content, I hope, to take it for an application that brings all home. And it will not do amiss even now at Christmas to mind us of it, that however we may not act it then, of all times else; never pollute our mirth with sinning against ourselves or others in it, or defile our joys with the cries of the oppressed; never bring Herod so near Christ again; never make a Childermas of Christmas.
I. To go on yet in time order of the text, we begin with the persecutor or murderer of time innocents whose day it is; and that, here we find, was Herod.
Indeed, there were under officers that did the deed, for some such are intimated when it is said he "sent;" and some such there will be always to do the drudgeries of sin for them that will employ them: but the wickedness yet is laid at the contrivers' doors: that is insinuated when the apekteine notwithstanding, is given to Herod by and by; he did but "send," and yet he "slew" them, says the text. Let who will be the executioner, the plotter or commander is the murderer; and God will brand him for it, be he never so cunning, never so great. Herod, with all his men of war, shall not escape it.
[228/229] 1. But may we know what this Herod was? An Idumean first, he was; you may know it by his hands, red and rough. No such hands, I hope, in Israel, or in the dwellings of Jacob. They are strangers to that, at least, that can be so cruel; and it had been happy for the sheep, happy for us of late, if we had not known the voice of strangers, men of another country, to help on our ruin, but kept close to our own shepherds, as Christ tells us his own sheep do.
2. Herod was a man but of an obscure and private family. It is such commonly that build up their greatness upon blood and ruin; the noble and generous suit! abhors it.
3. Yet, thirdly, this private and mean condition his subtlety and cunning had now advanced into a throne; the less wonder still that he should be so savage. Tyrants and usurpers are so ever, jealous and suspicious, fierce and bloody. They are they that dye their purples in the gore of innocents, whilst kings even undo themselves with their own mercies. It is the stepmother that would have the child divided; such only that are for Divide et impera, that are for divisions to maintain their interest or their plea. The true mother had rather part with her child and all she hath, than see it murdered; but the ambitious design of power and greatness, the driving on an advantageous in-terest, the keeping an unjust possession, are things that slay all before them; nor the tears of mothers, nor the cries of infants, nor the relations of nature, nor the obligations of friendship, nor the charms of innocence, can do any thing against those furies. Ahab, and Jezebel, and Zimri, and Jehu, and Herod, are sufficient witnesses how cheap the heads of all sorts are, that seem but to stand in the way of their designments; how easily judges and judicatories are packed against them, notwithstanding reason and law stand whole for them.
4. From such a one as I have hitherto presented Herod, we can perhaps look for no other. But Herod, I must tell you, was a great pretender to religion, a high dissembler of zeal and piety throughout; none more zealous and importunate to know Christ and go and worship him, than he. And is he the persecutor? Yes, he. It is not all religion, any brethren, that is called so; nor are all for Christ that [229/230] pretend for him. The greatest zealots have proved often the greatest persecutors. And the proselyte, either to a false religion, or to the pretence only of a true, (and one of these was Herod,) is commonly "twofold more the child of hell" than he that made him. We cannot, you see by Herod, trust all pretenders. There are some that varnish over their very murders with that pretext of religion; and whilst they pour out the blood of innocents upon their scaffolds, dare say they sacrifice at the altar of the God of justice. And had we not seen and felt it too from some huge saints and zealots, I should have spared the note. But you see, ere we were aware, we have discovered mysteries from the text, and showed you, as I intimated I should, other Herods there besides this one. I am afraid I shall show you more anon. In the interim, shall I give you Herod's character out of Chrysologus, to conclude the point? Magister mali, minister doli, iræ artifex, &c., says he. He was a master of mischief, a minister of deceit, an artist in cruelty, an inventor of wickedness, a contriver of villany, a destroyer of religion, an enemy of nature, an oppressor of innocence; bad to all, worse to his own, worst to himself; from whom Jesus fled, not so much that he might escape him, as that he might not see him; a fiery dragon by his name, Herodes draco ignitus, (so Arias Montanus etymologizes it from the Syriac,) a dragon that devours all like fires before him, spared not his own if they came but in his way; hear a kin, sure, to the dragon in the Revelations, that was "wroth with the woman and her seed," did all he could to destroy it--even the pro-mised Seed too, could he have found him. The fittest tem-pered man in the world this, to begin time persecution of the Church, and by whom we may learn what sort of persons they are who are still raising or continuing it; mushrooms of a sudden growth, men newly raised, men "covetous" and ambitious, "proud and disobedient," "traitorous and heady; men without natural affection," brethren removed, as I may say, as the Edomites from the Israelites; great pretenders, though, to godliness and the power of it, yet without it. Such make the "perilous times" the Apostle speaks of, or the [230/231] times perilous both to men and children. And now let us see what occasion they take to do it. Herod's here was his conceiting himself "mocked by the wise men."
II. We cannot help men's conceits, though they help on our ruins; nor cure a vain jealousy, though death attend it at the heels. We perish oftentimes by mere mistakes. The wise men mocked not Herod, he only thought so; nor wise nor good men use kings or princes so, though they be Herods, as bad as can be. God calls them another way, and he takes it for an affront, that they paid not him the compliment of a visit ere they returned. A hard case, (1) that time attendance upon a command of God's should drove so prejudicial that obedience should be a crime; but we can look for no other, where a Herod is the interpreter of the action.
And yet (2) it is harder, a harder case, to be undone for another man's error or omission. It was so here: the wise men offend--at least are thought so--and the children pay for it beyond an imagination. Delirant reges plectuntur Achivi. The wise men return another way; Herod fancies himself neglected by it; and the innocent babes, who were concerned in neither of then, are punished for the one's omission and the other's mistake.
Nay, and (3) it seems God's own contrivement too. And does time God of justice so little regard innocent blood, as thus to draw it on by the way of a particular providence we cannot understand the reason of? It is enough God does. We have nought to do but to submit, and think that best that God does, be it never so hard. Our own wisdom will mock the wisest of us, more than Herod was by the wise men, if we pry narrowlier.
For the only business we can see clearly here, is, how small a thing men make an occasion to commit a villany. "How great a matter does a little fire kindle!" says S. James. Lord! how easily do men raise themselves into an anger; and in their anger, fall presently upon the next comes near them-dig down a wall, too, to come at them! Need we had, with S. Paul, to "cut off occasion from them that desire occasion," do what we can to do it; for there are those that will take it, even concerning the law of our God, as [231/232] Daniel's adversaries served him, rather than want an oppor-tunity to do mischief.
Indeed, I know a mock, an affront, a bitter jest, a cutting word, strikes deep, wounds sore; and I could wish men would be warier in that point than sometimes we see them; kingdoms and churches have been shattered by it. But there are mocks as well as scandals that are taken and not given: these I know not, how to cure; and to fence, less.
Men think sometimes they are mocked, when disappointed of a sin, of a project of doing mischief. Potiphar's wife, when Joseph would not comply with her lewd desires, she was mocked, forsooth! The Hebrew servant "came into mock" her, when he would not come in to sin with her; nay, and her husband must bear the blame--as if he had done it, brought him to that purpose. There, being disappointed of a sin, was being mocked.
Dalilah, forsooth, she is "mocked" too, she says, because Samson will not discover where his great strength lay, that she might rob him of it, and destroy him by it. There, being disappointed of doing mischief, was being mocked.
Again, Balaam, he is "mocked" by the poor ass; smites her with his staff, and tells her so, when she falls down and would go no further; hindering thereby the project he was going about, of enriching himself with "the wages of righteousness." There, the disappointment of a rich or gainful project, is a being mocked.
Nay, sometimes the very denouncing of God's judgments seems to some men a mocking, as it did to Lot's sons-in---law. Sometimes the very preaching a resurrection does so too. I am afraid both do so still to many now-a-days, whose wits are more than their religion, and their parts greater than their graces; not to say their portions too in this life, fairer, I fear, than in the other. Sometimes when God bids one thing, and men another--God sends us this way, and they call that--if we obey God's order and not their ordinance, they are mocked, they think, and slighted; and we must look to answer it with our peril, and the children unborn perhaps may rue it. In a word, men will needs think they are mocked sometimes; say here with Herod they see it too, unless you will betray Christ and his [232/233] religion to them, that they may seize and order them how they please. That is the brief of the business here, that Herod so much stomached; that the wise men would not do so, would not tell him where Christ was, that he might murder him.
If, now, the being disappointed of a sin, of a project of doing mischief--if the obedience to God's command, if the protecting Christ, which were all the cases here--or if he denouncing God's judgment against sinners, or the preach-ing of the resurrection, or the defence of our religion and not betraying it, (which is almost the parallel case some-times,)--must pass with some great men, and men of wit, for a mocking of then and a sufficient occasion for tyrannical spirits to bring un ruin and destruction even upon the innocent, and a warrantable ground to justify war or murder, rapine or injustice,--God help us and keep us upon all occasions; we know not when we are safe. The comfort only is, "God is not mocked;" he sees it, and disposes it. Christ is safe by the hand, and how ill soever it falls out, man only is mocked; our enemies are so, and all is well.
III. This for the occasion that brought this day's lambs to the slaughter. But was there not some cause besides? Had Herod no cause to do it? All we find expressed is, that he was "wroth," "exceeding wroth;" that is our third particular.
And truly that is enough, in some men's judgments, to cast down all before them. Enough we have found it; but cause I cannot call it, to call it right. Man's own impetuous anger will not excuse the mischief it commits. Anger itself must have a cause, or it but aggravates the sin; is so near a sin itself, that it is hard to discern and discover when it is not. The Apostle cannot mention being angry, but he adds with the sane breath, "and sin not;" dares not leave anger to breathe itself without that caution.
Yet, supposing the anger not a sin, "exceeding" is. Though we may perhaps be angry, we must not be "exceeding." Moses and Aaron both paid for it: lost the enjoyment of Canaan, fell short of their rest by it; and this same "exceeding" still disturbs our rest and quiet-nothing more. Moses' just indignation at the golden calf made him some- [233/234] what oversee himself, when it made him cast down and break the tables of the Commandments, which God himself had written with his own finger. A shrewd intimation to us, that the violence of that passion, even in a good cause sometimes, is very prone ever and anon to make us do so too--do that in a moral and worse sense--break the Com-mandments worse far titan they were broken then.
But if the cause be bad, and the wrath exceeding, no wonder if it break out into all excesses. Shall we examine what it was here? (for the causes of our angers are not always written upon our foreheads.) Was it that the Magi neglected his commands, came not to him in their return? That was somewhat, but that was not it. Was it that he truly thought himself mocked by their not returning by him? Then indeed it was, but it was not that; that was the occasion, but not the cause. What was it, think we then? Why, Christ he saw) was now in a possibility to escape him; and by a misconceit, his kingdom (he imagined) lay now at stake, seeing the King of the Jews, whose birth he had lately heard of and so much dreaded, was now gotten (he feared) out of his reach. This was the business that so tossed him and turmoiled him; and from it we learn these five particulars:--(i.) What strange fears and jea-lousies our interests and ambitions raise within us. (ii.) What unreasonable mistakes those fears and jealousies bring us to. (iii.) What hideous cruelties those mistakes make us run upon. (iv.) How hardly Christ himself escapes from them. (v.) Or if he does, how exceeding wroth and angry we grow upon it.
(i) If interest or ambition possess our thoughts, how do we tremble at the very whistlings of the wind, and start at very shadow but beg Abishag, and he is interpreted to beg the kingdom. Let Abijah find Jeroboam in the way, and foretel him the kingdom shall be his when Solomon sleeps with his fathers,--and Solomon cannot sleep in quiet till he has driven him out of the land. And
(ii.) When these fears have once seized upon us, what mistakes run we not into! Ahimelech gives David but a few loaves of bread, and a sword to defend him in the way he went, and he is presently mistaken by Saul for a plotter [234/235] against his life, for a traitor and a conspirator. Many such mistakes men have made of late; too late, I fear, to be yet forgotten.
Yet forgotten they would be easily, came they not (iii.) attended with cruelties at their heels. Ahimelech's being mistaken, unhappily cost him and his family all their lives, except Abiathar's: men and women, children and sucklings, oxen and asses and sheep, all to the sword upon it. There is no stop nor bounds to the rage of that error and mistake, which interest and ambition raise or nourish for their own ends and purposes.
(iv.) It were well Christ himself could escape them. But Christ and religion bear the blame as soon as any. And when I told you Ahimelech and the priests suffered so deep upon mistake, it was ready enough for you to conceive religion cannot always defend itself; or its priests and votaries, from the fury even of an unfortunate politician, Saul or Herod. And if the Messiah himself, and known to be so, must be sought out to be destroyed, even by him who both knew it and seemed to desire it, there are men it seems, that for their interests can know Christ and yet persecute him. No wonder then if they deal so with his children and servants, and persecute them, though they know them such.
(v.) Or, lastly, if Christ himself, by some peculiar provi-dence, be delivered from their rage; if the grounds of religion escape sound, the lesser parts, the rites and ceremonies and lesser points of religion--the innocents--must be massacred, (for we are exceeding angry;) and though the head escape, the lesser members shall pay dearly for it; which though the great ones do not, the little ones shall. Herod sends out and slays "all the children that were in Bethlehem, and the coasts" about, as many as he can lay hands on. His interests make him fear, his fears make him mistake, his mistake makes him cruel; and though Christ's kingdom be not of this world, nor Christ an enemy either to Herod or Caesar, yet the politician is bound in honour to justify his own fears; and rather than put up a fancied affront or slighting, or confess a mistake, wreak his anger upon the helpless innocents, and make them both the martyrs of [235/236] Christ and the witnesses of his own cruelty. Those are they I am next to speak of.
IV. And I justly call them martyrs; for if it be the cause that makes the martyr, (and we say it is, and Christ's cause be that which entitles them more particularly to that name, I am sure they are no less; their cause was Christ's; "for his sake they were killed," as the Psalmist speaks, "all the day long; accounted too, as sheep," or little lambs, "appointed to be slain." And you may see them "following the Lamb" too under that notion, with the Father's "name written in their foreheads," the very "first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb," the first that suffered, that died for him. Who, though they could not some of them speak at all, and other of them but jabber at the most, yet they all speak out, and plain, these following lessons.
(i.) That there is no age too young for Christ's business, one way or other. They that cannot speak for Christ can die for him. They that cannot come themselves may be brought to him. 'They that cannot live with him, being just going out of the world as they are coming in, may die with him in holy baptism ere they go. Even "of such also is the kingdom of God," and it matters not whether they go by blood or water thither.
Nor (ii.) is any age too young to speak out Christ's glory neither. "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength;" "thou least perfected praise," says the prophet; and never more eminently fulfilled than this their very cries were songs of praise, "Hosannas to the Son of David, Blessed is he that cometh;" Hallelujahs in the ears of God, in whose name he cometh. None ever cried it louder, or proclaimed it higher.
(iii.) The choir is full one too; of "all the Children of Bethlehem, and time coast is about," to such an age: fourteen thousand is the least that any say, forty-four some. A full chorus indeed, a large first-fruits of martyrdom; to teach us, thirdly, not to doubt of that which is attested by so many witnesses, the coming of Christ; nor think strange of that condition which entered with him, which entered first with Christianity ~whilst it yet was in the cradle--persecu-tion, and martyrdom; but to bear it patiently ever when it [236/237] comes, seeing children themselves have undergone it here by thousands, and trod the way before us.
(iv.) But they not only teach us patience by- their martyr-dom, but innocency by their innocence: a fourth lesson that they give us. Let Herod and all his hosts, all the Herods and hosts and armies of the world, do what they can, they cannot hurt us if we keep our innocence. Out of the world they may thrust us, but into heaven it is they drive us. Here, if they please, they may truly see themselves mocked indeed, when against their wills they undo us into a king-dom; think they destroy us, but will find at last, to their confusion, that they have been thee great instruments to us both of life and glory. Rapiuntur quidem, says S. Austin, a complexibus matrum, sed redduntur gremiis angelorume "These infants," says he, "were snatched indeed from their mothers' breasts, but into the laps of angels were they carried, and into the bosom of the Almighty." Quaum feliciter nati, says he again; "How happily were they born that were thus early born for Christ--how happily are they all born to whom it is given to die for him "Augustus was de-ceived, very foully out, when he cried it was better to be Herod's hog than Herod's child: that child, surely, which died among these innocents, whatever his other were, was born to a throne of glory, to the only crown and kingdom. Enough, this, to dry up Rachel's tears, to stop the tenederest mother's moans at any time, when she but thinks she hath brought forth a child to Christ, and placed him so soon in innocence and glory.
After the thoughts of this, it cannot be grievous if I now tell you of their martyrdom or murder; that as young, and innocent, and many as they were, Herod "sent forth and slew" them all.
V. You must not look that I should give you here time several ways and modes of this bloody slaughter, the various arts of this horrid murder, the diverse schemes of barbarous cruelty, the cunning sleights of those inhuman butcher to delude the tender mothers, and train the innocent infants to their deaths. You must not expect I should decipher to [237/238] you the horrible fury of that grand massacre, the terrible countenance of the savage murderers, the ghastly faces of the astonished parents, the affrighted postures of the amazed kindred and allies, the frights and flights of the little children into holes and crannies, the sad lamentations of weeping mothers, their dishevelled hair, their wringing hands, their torn breasts and garments, their wild frantic garbs, their fights and strugglings to preserve their babes, the horrible screechings of the dying children, the moans and sighs and groans that filled all the corners of the streets, the cries and roarings and yellings that even rent the heavens. You must not think that I can tell you how those tender sucklings were, some of them, in a wanton cruelty danced upon the tops of pikes and spears, others dashed savagely against the walls, some thrust through with swords, others stabbed with poniards, some trampled to death upon the ground, some strangled in their cradles, some stifled in their mothers' arms, and others torn in pieces to get then thence. You cannot imagine I should express the tears, the blood, the wounds, the barbarousness, the cruelties, the confusions, the consternations, the terrors, the horrors of that day. I am not skilled in the tracts of cruelty, nor so good an orator to express it. Nor were it perhaps a rhetoric for Christmas. Only, I can tell you what the text does me: that slain they were, "all the children that were in Bethlehem, and the coasts about, from two years old and under;" and Herod did it.
Not himself, I confess. There are sins we are ashamed to commit ourselves, as well as sins we cannot commit without company to help us. And such was this: so horrid, he was ashamed to stand by to own it; so great, he could not act it but by involving almost an host of men in the guilt and mischief. A murder, which neither the greatness of the one nor the multitude of the other, neither his jealousies nor their obedience, neither his command nor their trade of life, shall be ever able to excuse, nor airy rhetoric ever find a plea for.
VI. But though I cannot be exact in the relation, I must needs say, in the last place, Herod was in the transaction so exact, that (1) Bethlehem he thought too narrow a stage for [238/239] this new tragedy; he takes in "all the coasts" about: though the Prophet had plainly told Christ should be born in Bethlehem, and the Sanhedrim had so resolved it to him, and his main business was to murder him,--yet, to make all sure, he stretches out his fury to the neighbouring towns. By the way, give me leave to observe, great cities are sometimes ill neighbours; they too often destroy our children by the contagion of their mischiefs, and ruin the young heirs of the towns and manors that are near them, by the company that the infernal Herod sends out thither daily to that purpose. But I retreat, and tell you,
(2.) Herod was so exact in the designs of his cruelty, that he extends the time as well as the place, beyond what he had learned of the wise men. Christ was now but a year old at most, and more probably not so much. Herod stretches out his design for two. What is the reason? Why; the bloody man and the unjust possessor never think they are safe till they are beyond all reason. For if Christ was now about two years old, why are the children of but two days slain? If but two months or thereabouts, (as some place this business not long after his being presented in the temple,) why are the children of two years old demanded to the slaughter?
At least, (3) how comes his own son into the number? So Macrobius relates the story, and Augustus alluded to it in his witty speech. This, too, to show us how exactly wicked some men are, that spare neither kindred nor children, to fix themselves.
And to give you Herod's cruelty here full: "according to the time he had diligently enquired of the wise men" it was also, says the text. Very inquisitive about it he had been, it seems, and he missed not a point of it: so, whether Christ was born when first the star appeared, or whether he was then only first incarnate and conceived in the womb, he would be sure (he thought) to have him; a year under or over would be sure to reach him. So nice and punctual is the cruel and ambitious nature to defend its own interest and greatness, that it cannot rest till it have stopped all avenues and crannies of fear, and satisfied them to a nicety; and it [239/240] boggles not at any age, or time, or relation, or diligence, or inquisitiveness, to effect it. But it is time now to look home.
Yet if any now should be so inquisitive to ask a reason why God should thus suffer these innocent infants thus to be cruelly massacred; though we are not his counsellors, yet we may say, (i.) it might be to show the absoluteness of his dominion, that he is Lord of life and death, gives and dis-poses them as he will. It may be (ii.) to teach us that innocence itself is not always a fence against death or violence. It may be (iii.) to instruct us what they must look for from the first, that have any relation to Christ at all. It may he (iv.) it was, that by this strange accident and occasion, the birth of Christ might be proclaimed through the world. And yet, (v.) fifthly, add but the consideration, that they were the children of Bethlehem, where Christ could get no lodging, where he was fain to make the stable his chamber and the manger his cradle; and it will not seem unreason-able that God should thus punish the fathers in their children for it, and leave some of them scarce a child for their houses, who would not leave him a house for his child. But, lastly, God's thus advancing the deaths of these little infants into a martyrdom, giving them the first honour to die for Christ and, as it were, redeem his life with theirs, so early bringing them to heaven by suffering, there is no reason of complaining; nothing to cloud our Christmas joys, or disturb our rejoicing. Those little ones are singing in the heavens about the Lamb. And it will do well that we here upon earth should sing Blessing, and praise, and glory, that God has so exalted then, and comforts us; make it one of our Christmas carols, our songs of joy.
Yet, somewhat to allay your joy, that your mirth run not too high, I shall, after this long story, tell you a tale in your ears will make them glow. Herod is not dead, nor sleepeth. We are all of us Herods or Herodiases, men and women, one way or other.
We have been as deep dissemblers of piety, some among us, as ever Herod; many as bloody too, upon it. Many sad errors and mistakes have many of us made, and many a thousand souls have miserably perished by them. Angry men have been exceeding angry that the Magi, many [240/241] a wise man and good, would not comply with their interests and projects, or communicate with their sins. I am afraid, still, that Christ, that religion, is escaped their fury, that their kingdoms are not established; though it was Christ's that was by them pretended, but just as the worshipping him was by Herod. And I cannot tell but there may be yet some projects of sending out to slay men and children, to begin Herod's work anew, the war afresh.
But I am sure, though we cannot reach that mystery, there is one you will easily understand, shall serve for an application to drive all home. Our own children are daily murdered by us, their very souls destroyed; a sadder cruelty--than Herod's.
Not to tell you that the mother kills them often in the womb, by the folly and vanity of a dress, by an unruly humour, by a disordered appetite, by a heedless or giddy motion; nor that the nurse kills them at the breast, by her intemperance and excess--though it be too true: yet it is a less murder, that, than to kill the soul; and yet this done oftener. Amid I will assure you, first, they venture their children hard that deny them baptism: I will say no more. But after that they are smothered, some in their mother's lap, killed with kindness and indulgence; stabbed through with poniards, others, undone with cruelty and unkindness; trampled to, death, others, and perish by their friends' care-lessness and neglect. Some are dashed against the walls, their brains beat out at least, wholly corrupted by false principles from their cradles; some we trail along the streets, and destroy them by our ill examples; some we choke with intemperances and excesses, even in Christmas too; some we destroy ourselves: others we send out servants and companions to destroy,--give them such to tend them as teach them pride, and scorn, and anger, and forwardness, and vanity, and wantonness, ere they understand them; such as teach them to bestow a curse ere they came ask a blessing, and to speak ill ere they can well speak. And as if we were resolved to make all sure, we send them abroad to be bred sometimes to places of licentiousness and debauchery, that they may be sure to be gallant sinners,--because, for-sooth, it is pedantic and below a gentleman to be a thorough Christian, to suck in the tame and conscientious principles [241/242] of Christianity; and all upon Herod's mistake, that wise men will mock us for them, when it is only that they are wisely wicked and mistake.
And now shall we cry out of Herod's cruelty, and do worse ourselves? Shall we complain he killed the Innocents to-day, and we make nothing every day to destroy even innocency itself? A less, far lesser cruelty it would be to take these tender blossoms and shake them off the tree, than to suffer them to grow up to fruits which we can but curse ourselves, and others will curse the tree from bearing them. Nay, a greater mercy it were to the poor children to "dash them against the stones," to smother them in the cradle, to overlay them in the bed, to dispatch them any way inno-cent into the other world, than to nurse them up to our own follies, than to pollute them with our debaucheries, than to corrupt them with atheistical and ungodly principles, than to defile them with lusts, than to train them up to be wicked, or merely vain and unprofitable, breed them up to hell, to eternal ruin. Yet "the tender and delicate woman that can scarce endure to set her foot upon the ground for niceness," thus daily murders her beloved darling without scruple.
But, indeed, do men and women pray for children as a blessing, that they may only turn them into a curse? only desire them that they may destroy them? Surely one would think they did so, that sees how great a study it is to make them vain, and proud, and envious, and lewd, and wicked. Our Herods and Herodiases cut off the baptized infants' heads as they of old did the Baptist's. We even dance them to death, and compromise them to hell as soon almost as the baptismal waters are dried upon them. And must old Herod and Herodias only hear the blame of murdering innocents, and use that do it over and over scape without an accusation? In this, too, worse than Herod: he only slew the children from two years old and under; we, under and above too, from their first day upward, till we have rendered them incorrigible to age, and past recovery. The subtlest policy of the devil, this, thus to kill poor children from their infancy, when they neither know who hurt them, nor how they came in the confines of that spiritual death they dwell in; can only say they were so dealt with "in the house of their friends."
[242-243] What shall we say, my beloved, when these murdered children shall cry out against us out of their miserable cells at last,--for they will do then at least as these dial from under the altar long ago,--"How long, O Lord, how long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood" on them that spilt it, on our fathers and on our mothers, and on our friends, that thus untimely sent us hither, when we might otherwise have come to thee? Whither shall we turn? what shall we answer? Or rather, because we cannot answer, let us take heed we handle the matter so that we come not to it. We pretend to love our children, and thereupon we strive to make them rich, and fine, and great, and honourable: why do we then beggar them from their childhood with bringing them up to those vanities that will undo them? Why do we deform them with sins and vices, lessen them with education, make them dishonourable by train-ing them up in ignoble and dishonest principles? Why do we in all these ruin them from the first? At least why do we not love ourselves, who, for aught I know, must needs perish with them, and perish for them, for thus destroying them?
Were we but kind to our own souls, we would be to theirs but, to fill up the measure, we play the Herods and act the murderers, lastly, upon ourselves. We daily stifle those heavenly births of good desires and thoughts that are at any time begotten in us by the holy Spirit, and walk on confidently to death and darkness.
But we have acted Herod's part too long, and I fear I have been too long upon it. To be short, now, let us turn our slaughtering hands upon our sins and vices--kill them, mortify them, and henceforward act the part of the blessed Innocents; set ourselves from this day to better practices; study the two grand lessons of the day, innocence and patience; innocence in our lives, and patience in our deaths, or rather patience in them both. Study them ourselves, teach them our children, and continually preserve them in those happy ways, that when we shall have served our several generations, and go hence, we may all meet at last, fathers and mothers and children, at the great supper of the Lamb, and, together with these blessed Innocents in the test, follow the Lamb for evermore. Who, &c.