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diligence and zeal in making proselytes. But under this specious exterior, they neglected justice, mercy and truth, and practised the most abominable vices. They were a race of most demure hypocrites, properly compared by our Savior to whited sepulchres. They hated the Lord of life and glory, and persecuted him to death.
Of the Pharisees there were several distinct classes—as the truncated Pharisees, who scarcely lifted their feet from the ground, that they might appear in deep meditation;the striking Pharisees, who walked with their eyes shut that they might avoid the sight of women, and therefore struck continually against the wall as they walked: and the mortar Pharisecs, who wore a cap resembling a mortar, which would only permit them to look upon the ground. They ruled entirely the common people, and had all their votes for every civil and religious office.
The next most powerful sect was that of the Sadducees. They were the infidels of the nation. They derived their name from Sadoc, a disciple of Antigonus, who was president of the Sanhedrim, 260 B. C. His master had taught that our service of God should be wholly disinterested, without any regard to a future state. Sadoc from hence reasoned that there was no future state, no heaven nor hell, no resurrection, angel or spirit. His followers looked upon death, therefore, as the final extinction of soul and body, and maintained that the providence and retributions of God were limited to this world. On this ground only, they pretended to worship and serve God. They rejected the traditions of the Pharisees.
This sect was comparatively small, and was composed chiefly of men of high rank and affluence. Such men gladly embraced this system, because it permitted them to live in sinful indulgence, without any fear of future punishment. Their system was the child of depravity, and it was awfully hardening. We never hear of a Sadducee converted to the Gospel of Christ. The whole sect ever remained bitter opposers of the humble, self-denying doctrines of the Cross. Caiaphas and Ananias, the murderer of James the less, were Sadducees.
A third sect were the Essenes. They took their rise about 200 years B. C. and were really an order of monks. They lived in solitary places, and objecting to sacrifices, came seldom to the temple. They are not therefore mentioned in the New Testament. They were perfect fatalists. They agreed with the Pharisees, except in the resurrection of the body, which they denied. They considered the laws of Moses as an allegorical system of spiritual and mysterious truth; and while they pretended respect to the moral, totally neglected the ceremonial law. They lived in great abstemiousness; renounced marriage; adopted proselytes and children; held riches in contempt; maintained a perfect community of goods; never bought or sold any thing among themselves; wore white garments; rejected every bodily ornament, and triumphed over pain and suffering. They exceeded all other Jews in the strict observance of the sabbath, and lived quietly, and without noise; engaged much, as they pretended, in heavenly contemplation. They took their name from the Syriac verb Asa, to heal, because they inquired much into the cures of diseases, especially the moral diseases of the mind. They had their origin in Egypt; 4000 of them resided on the western shore of the Dead Sea. The Therapeute, was a rigid sect of them, and resided chiefly in Egypt.
The Herodians, a fourth sect, derived their name from Herod the Great. They coincided with that monarch in his views of subjecting the Jews to the Romans. It was therefore a fundamental principle with them, that it was right for the Jews to comply with idolatry and heathen customs, if required by their superiors; and also, that it was a duty to submit and pay taxes to him whom conquest had made their master. / They were therefore opposed to the Pharisees, and being also opposed to Christ, they unitedly engaged to catch him in his speech. Had he replied to the question, “Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar ?" in the negative, the Herodians would have accused him to the Emperor; or in the affirmative, the Pharisees, who would acknowledge no foreign prince, would have accused him to the people. Christ, by his wisdom, avoided the snares of both. When he charged his disciples to beware of the leaven of Herod, he no doubt had particular reference to their compliance with the idolatrous rites of the heathen. The Sadducees were generally Herodians.
The Galileans were a few inhabitants of Galilee, who were instigated by one Judas to resist the Roman tax. By this resistance, they began the war with the Romans, which terminated in the destruction of the nation. They held the religious sentiments of the Pharisees. Some of them, while worshipping at Jerusalem, were barbarously murdered by Pilate, in the court of the Temple, and their blood was mingled with their sacrifices. Our Savior was accused as a Galilean, who went about stirring up the nation to revolt, and refusing to give tribute to Cæsar. · The Karaites were the protestants of the Jewish nation. The name denotes a scripturalist, and was given them about twenty years before the birth of Christ. They boldly protested against all the traditions of the elders, as having no divine authority and strictly adhered to the written law. They have been, from that day to this, the most pious and orthodox of all the sects.
Besides these religious sects, there were three orders of men which claim particular notice—the Scribes, Rabbis, and Nazarites.
The Scribes were originally men who registered the affairs of the king. At a subsequent period they transcribed the books of scripture, and thus became more conversant with it than other men. In our Savior's time, they were an important order of men, who expounded the law and tradition of the elders; taught them in the schools and synagogues, and reasoned concerning them before the Sanhedrim. They are variously called scribes, lawyers, doctors of the law, elders, counsellors, and rulers, and those who sat in Moses' seat. They were a most wicked class, who abominably perverted the scriptures. · The title, Rabbi, was given to men of rank in the state, but especially to Jewish doctors, who were eminent for learning. It was given to John by his disciples; to Christ, by Nicodemus, and the wondering populace. Those who received it among the doctors, claimed an absolute dominion over the faith of the people. But it was a title wholly disapproved of by our Savior. He said to his disciples, “be not ye called Rabbi;” i. e. covet no such distinctions in the Church of God; aspire to no honor but that of faithfully serving your Lord and Master.
The Nazarites were a class of men separated from the world for some limited period, or for life, by a vow. During their vow, they were never to cut their hair, or drink any wine or strong drink. They were to attend no funeral nor enter a house defiled by the dead. When the days of their offering were fulfilled, all their hair was shaved off at the door of the tabernacle, and burnt under the altar. Every seventh day they were called to offer peculiar offerings. Those who, like Sampson, Samuel, and John Baptist, were
dedicated for life, had no occasion for these offerings. Such as lived far from Jerusalem, cut their hair in the places where their vow was finished, but deferred their offerings until they came to the temple. Paul once, on some special occasion, became a Nazarite of Corinth, shaved his head at Cenchrea, and made his offering at Jerusalem.
Christ was styled a Nazarite or Nazarene, from the circumstance of his spending much of his life at Nazareth. No particular prophecy which is preserved to us was thus fulfilled, but the general spirit of prophetic writings respecting him clearly was; for these indicated that he should be a true Nazarite, a person uncommonly separated from his birth to the service of God. Well therefore might the evangelist say, "it was fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, he shall be called a Nazarene."
Amid the clashing of various sects, the formality and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the monkish austerity of the Essenes, and the freethinking of the Sadducees, vital piety had almost expired with the nation. The Jews indeed adhered to the worship of the one true God, and venerated the Mosaic law, but they fully believed that they could atone for the vilest transgressions.
They looked for the Messiah, but they expected him only as a temporal prince, who would deliver them from Roman bondage, by a zealous performance of external rites; they so gave themselves up to the grossest wickedness, that Josephus, their eminent historian, remarks, “ Had the Romans delayed calling these abandoned wretches to account, their city would either have been deluged by water, or swallowed by an earthquake, or destroyed like Sodom, by thunder and lightning.”
As was remarked in the history of idolatry, the rest of the world was now sunk in the most deplorable state of heathen superstition. All nations imagined the upper world to be filled with superior beings, whom they called gods, one or more of which they supposed to preside over every province, people, family, element, production and passion. These deities were diverse from each other in nature, sex, rank, and power, and were all appeased and honored by peculiar gifts, rites and ceremonies. Over all, a supreme divinity was generally supposed to preside, who, though more excellent than the rest, was controlled by the fates.
Through a national ambition, the Greeks and Romans gave the names of their own deities to those of other na.
tions whom they subdued; but religious wars were unknown, for every nation suffered their neighbors to enjoy their own gods, rites and ceremonies, considering them as their peculiar province. Some of these gods were furnished from the natural world, as the sun, moon, and stars; but the most of them were deified heroes. Statues and other representations of them were placed in their temples. These temples were exceedingly magnificent. An amazing priesthood was richly supported; but their prayers and ceremonies were of the most foolish and debasing character. There were certain institutions called mysteries, to which only a few were initiated, and which were very imposing upon the common people.
But in the whole system of Paganism there was no tendency to virtue. Indeed morality seems never to have had a place in the religion of a Pagan. In the high mysteries, things were transacted which outraged common decency. Almost every god was a patron of some vice. The gods themselves were supposed to be guilty often of the basest crimes. The Greeks and Romans therefore, the most refined nations of antiquity, were sunk in the lowest sensualities. Their own best writers, such as Horace, Tacitus, Juvenal, confirm the account given of the low moral character of the people, in the second chapter of the epistle to the Romans. Philosophy has done all that it ever can do, unassisted by revelation, in the discovery of truth, and reformation of mankind; and it finally debased the human mind by the most perplexing subtleties, and spread abroad the most demoralizing sentiments. The most popular sect was that of Epicurus, who maintained that pleasure was the chief end of man's existence, and that it was no matter in what way it was obtained, though it was through the lowest sensual indulgence. These powerful nations had no knowledge of the true God, of human accountableness, and the future state of the soul. Satan every where reigned triumphant, and no ray of hope appeared to the eye of reason, of any release from his iron bondage.
At the same time, the state of the world was admirably adapted to the rapid diffusion of the Gospel of Christ. The Roman empire was in its greatest glory. All the nations of the known world were subjected to it; dominion and peace were every where established. Vast nations, therefore, were united in friendly intercourse; many and barbarous tribes were reduced to civilized life. Literature had risen