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Besides this work St. John wrote his gospel, intended chiefly to supply the deficiencies of the former evangelists, and particularly to assert the divinity of Christ, against Cerinthus and other heretics of that age. The sacred volume contains also three epistles of St. Joho, the first of which evidently appears to have had the same object as the gospel; for in both of them, as also in his prophetical work, this beloved disciple establishes the important truth, that the Logos or the WORD invariably regarded by the Jewish church as JEHOVAH, was no other than Jesus Christ, the mediator between God and man, who is the “ Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, the First and the Last.” (Rev. I. 8).
At the commencement of the reign of Nerva, the persecution which had so long raged against the christians ceased, and St. John recovered his liberty. From Patmos he instantly hastened to Ephesus, where he resumed the apostolical charge, and fulfilled it with unwearied assiduity and affection through the remainder of his long life. When he could no longer preach to the people with his wonted energy, the apostle constantly caused himself to be carried into the church, and his regular exhortation to the people was “my little children, love one another.” He died at the beginning of the reign of Trajan, aged about one hundred years.
OF THE JEWISH SECTS AND PARTIES.
The principal and by far the most extensive sect of the Jews, was that of the Pharisees, so called from a Hebrew word (Pharesh) which means a separation or division, because they distinguished themselves by a more rigid course of life, than others of their nation. They ascribed all things to fate or destiny. whence they were much addicted to judicial astrology, and were great observers of superstitious ceremonies.
In the time of our Saviour, the Pharisees were in great power and repute among the people, on account of their pretended wisdom and affected sanctity. They fasted often, made long prayers in public places, paid tithes or the dues of the temple scrupulously, distributed alms with ostentation, wore rolls of parchment called phylacteries, on which were inscribed portions of the law in their foreheads, and made broad the fringes or borders of their garments, to shew that they were stricter observers of the law than other Jews.
To denote great external purity they used frequent ablutions, never entering their houses, or sitting down to their meals without carefully washing themselves. They would not so much as touch a publican, or any man who led an ill life, neither would they eat, drink, or pray with him.
They kept many fasts not instituted by the law of Moses, particularly Monday and Thursdày in every week : and in the observation of the sabbath they were remarkably rigid. According to them it was unlawful to heal the sick, or to do any work of necessity or righteousness on that day. Our Saviour upbraids them for their hypocrisy, calling them whited sepulchres, having a pleasing appearance at a distance, but which on being examined are found full of corruption. It appears also that notwithstanding their boasted piety and mortification, they were ambitious and vengeful, oppressive and avaricious. They affected to rebuild the tombs of the old prophets, and to condemn their fathers who had been guilty of persecution; while they were themselves actuated by the same spirit, and opposed all who differed from them with the greatest hatred. These pretended devotees who made so much scruple about the practice of indifferent things, and had such a shew of religion and charity, were, at the same time, oppressors of the poor, and “ consumers of widows' houses."
To the traditions of the antients, they were continually making frivolous additions, thereby overburthening the law with a prodigious number of trifling ceremonies and scruples, equally useless and disgusting. They even went so far as to corrupt and pervert the commandments by false interpretations, thus as our Saviour accused them, “ making the word of God of none effect through their tradition.” (Mark vii, 13).
The Pharisees believed in the immortality of the soul, and acknowledged the existence of angels and spirits; they allowed a kind of metempsychosis or transmigration of the souls of good men from one body to another; thus it was that some of this sect supposed our Lord to be Elias or one of the old prophets, come among them. They also believed in a resurrection, and in these respects they differed essentially from the Sadducees, with whom they had therefore the most violent contentions, The Pharisaic sect survived the destruction of Jerusalem, and the greater part of the Jews at this present day are of this persuasion, being most rigidly attached to their traditions which they call the oral law.
The most ancient sect among the Jews was that of the Sadducees, so named, it is said, from the founder Sadoc, who lived above two hundred years before Jesus Christ. There are some indeed who derive the name from the Hebrew word sedec, which signifies justice, and was applied to this sect on account of their rigid adherence to the letter of the law. They were principally distinguished from other Jews by denying the immortality of the soul, a future state of rewards and punishments, the existence of angels, and the doctrine of a resurrection. As they allowed no retribution in another life, the Sadducees were uncommonly severe in punishing criminals. They strictly kept the law themselves, and were as rigid in enforcing the observance of it upon others. They would not receive any of the traditions, or explications of the Pharisees, but adhered only to the text of the law, alleging that nothing more was to be believed than what was written. The Sadducees are charged with rejecting all the books of scripture except the Pentateuch; but this is evidently a mistake, for many of them were priests, and held the highest offices; which they could not well do if they had openly denied such a large portion of the scriptures.
Josephus affirms that the Sadducees did not .