Herod's birthday ball!

(Horatius Bonar)

"But at a birthday party for Herod, Herodias's daughter performed a dance that greatly pleased him, so he promised with an oath to give her anything she wanted. At her mother's urging, the girl asked, 'I want the head of John the Baptist on a tray!' So John was beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a tray and given to the girl, who took it to her mother." Matthew 14:6-11

Herod's birthday ball was a high and royal festival. Pomp, splendor, luxury, and lust were all gathered there. In the midst of the song, and the glitter, and the mirth, there was one troubled conscience, that of Herod—one trembling man, Herod. His soul was ill at ease, though surrounded with all that the world could give to banish care.

His course of sin had been begun and persevered in. He was braving out his crimes; and like worldly men in such circumstances, he rushes into gaiety to drown his troubles and terrors. The pleasures of the feast and the ball-room, the song and the dance—these are welcomed to induce forgetfulness, and "minister to a mind diseased."

In how many cases do men fly to the ball, the theater, the card-table, the tavern, the riotous party, not simply for pleasure's sake, and to "taste life's glad moments," but to drown care, to smother conscience, to efface convictions, to laugh away the impressions of the last sermon, to soothe an uneasy mind, to relieve the burden, or pluck out the sting of conscious guilt! O slaughter-houses of souls! O slaughter-houses, reeking with blood!

O lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and pride of life, when will you cease to intoxicate, and lead men captive at your will? O God-forgetting gaiety! O dazzling worldliness! O glittering halls of midnight, when, when will you cease to be resorted to by the sons of men to "heal the hurt" of the human soul, to still its throb and heartache, and to medicate the immedicable wound?

It is a gay scene. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life are there. All that can minister to these are there. Herod is there, feeding on lust, drinking in pleasure, stupefying conscience. The fair daughter is there, in all the splendor of gay wantonness. And the vile mother is there, lascivious and revengeful. And the courtiers are there, in pomp and glitter. Music and mirth are there. The dance and the song are there. No note of gloom, no indication of trouble. What a scene of mirth and revelry!

These scenes of royal vanity are instructive; for they present the world in its most fascinating aspects. All that regal state, and princely beauty, and wealth, and gold, and silver, and gems, and tapestry, and blazing lamps can do, to make this world fair, is in such scenes and haunts. These balls are the most seductive specimens of pure worldliness that can be found. Surely the god of this world knows how to enchant both ear and eye. In an assembly like this, the natural man is at home. Here the unregenerate heart gets scope to the full.

It was during that ball that the murder of John was plotted and consummated; that a drunken, lustful king, urged on by two women, perpetrated that foul deed. Such are the haunts of pleasure! Such are the masquerades of time. Lust is let loose; revenge rises up; murder rages; conscience is smothered; the floor of the ball-room is spotted with blood; the dancers may slip their feet in it, but the dance goes on. Such was the coarse worldliness of old days. But is the 'refined worldliness' of modern times less fatal to the soul? The ball is finished, and John lies dead in prison. What a picture of gaiety! What a specimen of ball-room revelry! And this is pleasure! This is the world's joy!

Of the chief actors in this ball-room murder, nothing more is said. They pass to the judgment-seat, there to receive sentence for lust, rage, revenge, and murder. They have sent John before them to the presence of his Judge to receive his reward.

The day of recompense is coming!

O gaieties of earth! Feasts, and revelings, and banquetings, how often have you slain both body and soul! Men call you innocent amusements, harmless pleasures; but can you be harmless, can you be innocent, when you steal away the soul from God, when you nurse the worst lusts of humanity, when you smother conscience, when you shut out Jesus, when the floors on which your votaries dance off their immortal felicity, are red with the blood of souls!