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Verse 7

Matthew 3:7. When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees, &c. These are not names of office, but of sects, or sorts of persons of different opinions in matters of religion. There were three religious sects among the Jews, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. Of the latter, indeed, we read nothing in the Holy Scriptures. We shall only, therefore, observe concerning them, that their way of life was very singular. They did not marry, but adopted the children of others, whom they brought up in the institutions of their sect. They despised riches, and had all things in common, and never changed their clothes till they were entirely worn out. When initiated they were strictly bound not to communicate the mysteries of their sect to others; and if any of their members were found guilty of any enormous crime they were expelled. As to their doctrine, they allowed a future state, but denied the resurrection of the body. The reason why we find no mention of them in the New Testament may be their recluse and retired way of life, no less than their great simplicity and honesty, in consequence of which they lay open to no censure or reproof. The Pharisees were a very ancient sect. They are said to have made their first appearance about 150 years before Christ. It is certain from the account given by Josephus, Ant., lib. 12., cap. 10., sect. 5, 6, that in the time of John Hyrcanus, the high priest, about 108 years before Christ, the sect was not only formed, but made a considerable figure; and that it had advanced to a high degree of popularity and power about thirty years after that period. They took their name from the Hebrew word פרס , pharas, which signifies to separate, because they seemed to separate themselves from all others by their peculiar manner of living. They pretended to have greater knowledge of the rites of the Jewish worship and of the customs of their country than other people, and were very strict in the observance of them, as also of all the traditions of the elders. They fasted often, made long prayers, rigorously kept the sabbath, and put on an appearance of great sanctity, with much display of zeal for Moses and the law. On all these accounts they were in high esteem among the people: and some of them, we have reason to hope, had a measure of true piety; but it is evident from several of the discourses of our Lord, recorded by the evangelists, that they were in general devoid of that humility, and sincere love of God, which are essential to true religion. Though they acknowledged the existence of angels, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, and a future state of rewards and punishments, yet they were involved in many great and destructive errors, both in principle and practice. They held the unwritten traditions of the elders to be of equal authority with the written word, pretending that both were delivered to Moses from mount Sinai. From their rigorous observance of these traditions they considered themselves as more holy than other men, and held their own righteousness to be sufficient for their justification before God; having no proper conception of the spirituality, extent, and obligation of the divine law. Accordingly they neglected the weightier matters of it, justice, mercy, and the love of God, and rendered its holy precepts of none effect through their traditions, while they were scrupulously exact in little and trivial things, such as washing cups, &c., Mark 4:0., and tithing mint, anise, and cummin.

The Sadducees also were a sect of great antiquity, having existed, as well as the Pharisees, according to Josephus, from the time of the Maccabees. They had their name from their founder, Sadoc. Antigonus of Socho, president of the Sanhedrim at Jerusalem, and teacher of the law in the divinity school in that city, having often in his lectures asserted to his scholars that they ought not to serve God in a servile manner, with respect to reward, but only out of filial love and fear; two of his scholars, Sadoc and Baithus, inferred from thence that there were no rewards or punishments after this life; and therefore, separating from the school of their master, they taught that there was no resurrection nor future state. Many embracing this opinion gave rise to the sect of the Sadducees, who were a kind of Epicureans, but differing from them in this, that, though they denied a future state, yet they allowed that the world was created by the power of God, and governed by his providence, whereas the followers of Epicurus denied both. The Sadducees, says Luke, (Acts 23:8,) say, there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit. Add to this, that they not only rejected all unwritten traditions, but all the books of the Old Testament, excepting those of Moses. They were not very numerous, but being the wealthiest of the three sects, the rich and great gave in to their opinions; whereas the people were firm in the interest of the Pharisees, and so attached to their notions, that, if a Pharisee should happen to throw out reflections, either upon the high priest or king, he was sure to be believed; for every thing that concerned divine worship was regulated by the Pharisees. So that when the Sadducees took upon them any public employment they were obliged, though never so much against their own interest, to obey the injunction of the Pharisees, which had they presumed to refuse, the consequences would have been dangerous, and would have set the people in an uproar. O generation of vipers A wicked offspring of wicked parents, crafty, malignant, mischievous creatures. In like manner the crafty Herod is styled a fox, and persons of insidious, ravenous, profane, or sensual dispositions, are named respectively by Him who saw their hearts, serpents, dogs, wolves, and swine; terms which are not the random language of passion, but a judicious designation of the persons meant by them. For it was fitting such men should be marked out, either for a caution to others, or a warning to themselves. Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? To put on this form of humility and repentance? What hath moved you to it? How came you to think yourselves in any danger of divine and future wrath, or to use any means to escape it? since you Pharisees think yourselves secure from it, on account of the sanctity of your lives, and you Sadducees imagine there is no such wrath, and that all that is spoken of it is a mere fable and delusion?

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