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wickedness. The Pharisees, as well as all the other Jewish sects, expected in the Messiah, only a mighty, temporal prince, who should deliver them from the dominion of the Romans, and exalt the Jewish nation above all others in power, splendour, and magnificence. Of course they despised the Saviour's humble appearance, rejected his claim to Messiahship, closed their ears against his mild and heavenly instructions, and persecuted him with malice even to the cross, a death most disgraceful and ignominious. They considered themselves too sacred for intercourse with others, and separated themselves from Pagans, and from all Jews, who did not comply with their peculiarities. Hence probably the name of their sect from the Hebrew word Pharash, which signifies to divide or separate.
The Sadducees derived their name from one Sadoc, the founder of their sect, who lived about two hundred and sixty or seventy years before Christ. They believed that God was the only immaterial or spiritual being in the universe; that besides him, there was neither angel nor spirit. Unlike the Pharisees, they rejected all tradition, and adhered strictly to the literal expression of the sacred books, especially the Pentateuch, or the five books of Moses. They believed there would be no resurrection of the dead, nor any future state of rewards and punishments, and that death put a final period to human existence. Hence, as might be expected from such sentiments, they gave themselves up to the indulgence of pleasure, and every species of licentiousness. Of course the pure doctrines and example of our Saviour offended them, and his cutting reproofs fell upon them with such severity, that they united with their bitter enemies, the Pharisees, in pursuing him to death.
The Essenees, who seem to have been only a party of rigid Pharisees, had their rise one or two centuries before the Christian era. They believed the immortality of the soul, the existence of angels, and a future state of rewards and punishments, which they supposed extended only to the soul, considering the body, a mass of malignant matter, the prison-house of the immortal spirit. They believed every thing ordered by an eternal fatality, or chain of causes. They disallowed oaths, except on admission of new members into their society, when they were solemnly imposed, and held most sacred. They paid the highest regard to the moral precepts of the law, but neglected the ceremonial, except what regarded bodily cleanliness, making an annual
present to the temple at Jerusalem, and the observation of the Sabbath, which was so strict, that they would scarcely move an article about them, or even attend to the calls of nature. They were sober, abstemious, and peaceable; they fasted much, despised riches and finery, and wore out their clothes before they changed them. They lived quietly, and without noise; some of them retiring to solitary places, where, like the Roman monks, they devoted themselves to a contemplative life, while others cultivated the earth for support. They rejected women from their society, and generally lived in a state of celibacy; and to support their society, they adopted and educated the children of other men. The Essences are not expressly mentioned in the New Testament; but in all probability Paul alludes to them, when he inveighs against those, who forbid to marry, who command to abstain from meats, and who, through a voluntary humility, pay worship to angels; and it is probable, his epistles to the Ephesians, the Colossians, and his first to Timothy, were written against the errors introduced and inculcated by this sect.
The word Scribes was not the name of a particular sect, distinguished from all others by peculiar modes of practice and belief; but it is a general term, applicable to those of every sect, who made the law of Moses, and the prophetical and sacred books their particular study, so as to become capable of commenting upon them, and of publicly teaching the people. The Scribes were in general the descendants of Levi, who, being very numerous, and not always engaged in the immediate service of the temple, had leisure and opportunity to qualify themselves for this duty. From the frequent mention in the Gospels of the Scribes and Pharisees in connexion, it is probable the greatest number of the Scribes were, at that time, of the sect of the Pharisees. The Scribes are mentioned in the Old Testament, as performing a variety of duties, civil and religious. They registered the affairs of the king, transcribed the scriptures, discharged the duties of secretaries and clerks, executed all kinds of writing, and attended to the education of youth. They were numerous and much respected. The ecclesiastical Scribes of the New Testament, were the learned of the nation, who expounded the law, and taught the people. They were the lawyers or Doctors of the law, and at the same time the preaching clergy among the Jews. But in the time of our Saviour, they were a wicked class, pervert
ing the scriptures, and extolling the absurd traditions of the elders above them.
The Herodians were probably not a religious sect, but a political party, who derived their name from Herod the Great, and who favoured his claims, and those of his patrons, the Romans, to the sovereignty of Judea. It is supposed, that some of the Herodians might be weak enough to believe, that Herod was the Messiah, or to flatter him, that that they might the better please him, and secure his favour. The leaven of Herod, therefore, against which our Saviour warns his hearers, Mark viii. 15, might be the false idea, that Herod was the Messiah, or idolatry, to which the Jews, especially, such as were attached to the Romans, were always inclined.
he was so,
The Gaulonites, though not expressly mentioned in the New Testament, existed as a party in the time of Jesus Christ. They were Galilæans, and took their name from one Judas Theudas, a native of Gaulon in Upper Galilee. In the tenth year of our Saviour he excited his countrymen, the Galilæans, and many other Jews, to take up arms, and venture upon all extremities, rather than pay tribute to the Romans. He taught his party, that they were a free nation, and ought not to be in subjection to any other; that they were the elect of God, and he alone their governor, and therefore, that they ought not to submit to any ordinance of man. He was however unsuccessful, and his followers in their first attempt were entirely routed and dispersed; yet so deeply had he infused his enthusiasm into their hearts, that they never rested, till in their own destruction, they had involved that of the city and temple. To this wild and fanatic party seem to be addressed many of those passages in the New Testament, in which obedience to magistrates is so piously and rationally inculcated.
The Nazarenes were a body of Christians, converted principally from the Pharisees. Though they embraced Christianity, they entered so little into its real spirit, that they were still fond of the beggarly elements, and carnal ordinances of the ceremonial law. To repress their inordinate superstition, seems to have been the intention of the severity, with which the law is treated in the apostolic writings, where we are taught to let no man judge us with regard to meats or drinks, or the observance of holy days, or of the new moons, or of the Sabbath days, which were a shadow of things to come, whereof Christ is the substance.
Besides the absurd traditions, the fatal blindness, and the groundless expectations of these Jewish sects, the Christian religion had to contend with the no less erroneous and dangerous principles of heathen philosophy, of which there were various sects among the Greeks and Eastern nations. From blending these false principles with Christianity arose the Gnostic sects, which, though not expressly mentioned in the New Testament, are frequently alluded to. The word Gnostic is of Grecian origin, and signifies a knowledge superior to that of other men,
The Nicolaitans, mentioned in the Revelation of St. John, were a Gnostic sect, who derived their name from one Nicolas, their founder. They taught, that lewdness and idolatrous sacrifices were lawful. They were of course, loose and profligate in their lives, and aimed at nothing but their own secular advantage.
The Cerinthians were another of the Gnostic sects. It took its name from one Cerinthus, who taught many extravagant and debasing notions of God, of the creation of the world, of Jesus Christ, and the worship, which he came to establish. To refute these dangerous errors, it is supposed, St. John, in a great measure, wrote his Gospel and Epistles. It is against the philosophy of the Gnostics, and not against any true science, that those texts of scripture in the New Testament, are levelled, which seem to arraign and decry philosophy. This is that philosophy, which is described as vain, deceitful, traditionary, founded upon the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. These are the profane and old wives' fables, the endless genealogies, vain babblings, and opposition of science falsely so called, which we are to reject, and not to give heed to. Of these Gnostics, or knowing ones, as they presumed to call themselves, the apostles write, when they say, there are certain men, crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation; ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus 'Christ. And again, Now if Christ be preached, that he rose from the dead, how say some among you, that there is no resurrection of the dead?
At the time our Saviour made his appearance upon earth, almost the whole human race seems to have lost the knowledge of the true God, and the nature of that worship, which he requires. The Jews, though in possession of the scriptures, had perverted their meaning, and substituted for them
an endless variety of tedious ceremonies and traditions, little less absurd than the bloody rites of Paganism. The whole heathen world, even the most polite, learned, and civilized nations, were, with few exceptions, sunk in the grossest superstition and idolatry, and the most abominable corruption and depravity of manners. They neither understood the true nature of God, the worship due to him, nor the moral duties he required of his creatures. They had no clear notions or firm belief of the immortality of the soul, and a state of rewards and punishments in another life. They believed the world to be under the direction of a vast number of gods and goddesses, to whom they ascribed the very worst passions and vices. They worshipped dead men and women, birds and beasts, insects and reptiles, together with an infinite number of idols, the work of their own hands. In their conduct they were almost universally addicted to the most infamous vices. Even many of their most solemn ceremonies, and acts of devotions, were scenes of the grossest sensuality and licentiousness. Others of them were attended with the most savage and cruel superstitions, and sometimes even with human sacrifices. This is the state, in which our Saviour found the world; under the influence of superstition, false philosophy, and national prejudice; and in opposition to all these was his religion to be established. No wonder its progress was so slow, and that it was so soon contaminated by the systems, which it had to encounter.
The sacred writings, which Christians receive, as divinely inspired, are called in general scripture, or the scriptures, which literally signifies writing, or the writings. This title often occurs in the New Testament, and was commonly used, in the time of our Saviour, to denote the books received by the Jews, as the rule of faith. It has since been extended to the writings of the apostles and evangelists, as completing the whole of divine revelation; so that the writings of the Old and New Testaments are now indiscriminately called by Christians, by way of distinction, scripture, or the scriptures.
The whole collection of these sacred writings is called the Bible. This word, in the original, signifies book, and is given to the writings of prophets and apostles by way of eminence. These collectively are called the book or the Bible, as superior in excellence to all other books.
The Holy Scriptures are divided into the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament contains the books written