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The Jewish Creed.

by Isaac Leeser

(Continued from vol. 1. issue 5. )

“Hear O Israel, the Lord, our God, is the Lord one.”

As we said in our second article on the Jewish Creed, it is the first duty of the Israelite to believe in the existence of God. He is bound to imbue his mind with the conviction that, however great or sublime any thing may be, it is directly derived from a First Cause, the incomprehensible Essence by whom all things were produced. Whatever we contemplate, and if we investigate the origin of any thing, we must come at length to a stopping-place beyond which our knowledge cannot pass, and where we must confess that our intellect is insufficient to dive deeper into the unknown recesses which are concealed from our view. With all this we will be struck with the remarkable fact, that however unknown the First Cause may be, it is uniform in its operation, and that there exists not one thing which from its harmonizing with all else of which we have any knowledge, is not referable to the same Principle. In other words, the Deity, otherwise called the First Cause, is uniformly the same in all nature, and is in harmony with himself and in unison with all existing things. We do not wish to discuss the subject with reference to abstruse reasonings which are beyond our own comprehension, but simply in the most popular form, so that we can whilst understanding our own words make them likewise intelligible to our readers.

If now in our investigations, which are daily forced upon our notice by the objects of nature or the events of life, we could once only meet with a principle diverging from the usual Cause which governs the world, we might perhaps assume that there was a diversity, or a multiplicity in the great Author of all things. This, however, not being the case, we must arrive at the conclusion that there is but one Principle, which is uniformly the same. In other words, there exists but one God, who is the Creator and Governor of all existence. This conclusion can alone account for the astonishing uniformity and regularity which are every where discoverable, and which have been observed at all times of the world. Take any branch of history, and trace the chain of events as they develope each other in regular succession: how the same causes always produce the same effects; how the intellect of man has always been of the same nature and acting alike under the same circumstances: and you must confess, that at least in the government of the human family there has been the same Power as Ruler and Guardian, who, whatever man might determine on, always guided events so as to be productive of some tangible good in some shape or the other. It may be difficult in every instance to trace the benefits which historical catastrophes have produced; but this much we may assume—that whatever positive evil befell a community it was owing to some previous abandonment of the principles on which the happiness of society naturally depends. At all events, the manner of development of such occurrences has ever been the same; hence we assert that the Cause that presides ever the affairs of life has been uniformly the same in all ages of which we have any knowledge.

The same applies to natural phenomena. Whatever agents are known to us always have produced, and still do produce, the same results. Fire, water, earth, and air, whether these be regarded as elementary or compound substances, have always contributed to produce or to enter in the combinations which constitute the different bodies of which we can form any knowledge.  The dissolution and reproduction, and renewal of all substances have been going on in one regular and uniform succession, and never has any one discovered the least deviation from the laws which sound and accurate demonstration has proved to be true. If you analyze substances which are subject to your control, and if you investigate materials which you cannot handle; if you divide the gross objects which are evident to your sight, or let your search be directed to the aeriform bodies which you only can prove as present by their effects; if you meditate on the forces of mechanics or the instruments by which they are produced; if you evaporate or distil in your skilful operations the solids or liquids, or condense them again into their original bodies; in whatever art, or science, or experiment, or discovery may venture on its bold inquiry, in all will you see exhibited the same process of cause and effect, unchangingly and without fail, if no outward disturbing causes are present to prevent the expected result. We say then that over outward nature in all its ramifications, and in all the times of which we have any knowledge, the same superintending divine Power has borne rule; and, to judge from analogy, as we know of no causes which can produce a new and different power, we must go farther, and say, that we learn from outward nature that another Creator is inconceivable as Possible to be associated with the one from whom has sprung whatever now exists.

The great uniformity then which is thus revealed to us in the book of nature will exhibit this fact, that there is but one Power who bears rule, and that whatever evil is discoverable in any part of our investigation is a part of goodness which necessarily enters into the arrangement of those things where we ourselves can discover the beneficence of the Creator. For were it that the evil were a separate principle, a contending force against goodness, there would be discoverable some one thing which fell a victim to the former whilst the protection of the latter was withdrawn. But where is such an instance? On the contrary, up to this moment, nothing has passed away which GOODNESS has called forth; hence the apparent evil must likewise be the effect of the same great Cause. Evil then is a means of correction or progress rather, which helps things from a state of inferior felicity to one of a higher degree, and is constantly accomplishing whatever has been from the first in the mind of Almighty Power as his object to effect in the universe.

The idea, however, of the oneness of the Godhead has always been a stumbling-block to gross and material men; they could not conceive that what to them appeared contending forces should proceed from the same source. Hence they invested material objects with divine powers which naturally do not belong to them, or they divided the powers of God between imaginary beings whom they worshipped for their kindness, or whose wrath they deprecated owing to their power of injuring from a sort of malevolence. This division of the powers of God has been the source of many idolatries, or false conceptions of the Deity, and it has adopted different forms in different ages of the world. There is no use to go over all the beliefs of ancient and modern nations; enough that the most enlightened, the Brahmins and Parsees, adopt the idea of evil and good spirits, who are in a constant contest, each one the author of what is akin to his nature. Well known are Ahriman the evil, and Ormuzd the good principle of Zoroaster, corresponding with the Siva, the destroyer, and Vishnu, the preserver, of the Brahmins. It was to combat this error of the gentiles, especially the Persians, amongst whom it was so strongly prevalent, that the prophet Isaiah, in the commencement of his forty-fifth chapter, expresses himself in the following manner: “Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two-leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut: I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of brass and cut asunder the bars of iron: And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, who call thee by name, am the God of Israel. For my servant Jacob's sake, and Israel my elect, I have even called thee by thy name; I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. I am the Lord, and there is no one else, there is no god beside me; I girded thee, though thou hast not known me. That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me; I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” In this the prophet notifies the Persian Cyrus, who was not yet born, whilst the Babylonian kingdom had not yet subdued that of Israel, that he should become the restorer of the Hebrew nation. Cyrus is called the anointed, the Messiah of the Lord, being appointed to fulfil the mission of mercy to God's elect, and is then told, that he most not imagine that the punishment and the reward, the darkness and the light, proceed from different sources, but that, on the contrary, they are all referable to the same principle of eternal goodness, the Lord, who alone is the sovereign Ruler of all things. Cyrus, when he lived to see the accomplishment of this remarkable prediction, must have felt that the truth was indeed with Israel; but beyond this the influence did not extend, and the principle of a divided deity has survived to this day. For when the gentiles at length began to become familiar with the law of Moses and the prophetic writings, they again halted at the Unity, and would not believe that the same power could punish and save. Hence they proceeded to imagine a plurality in the Godhead, one part of which assumed the human form to suffer the penalty of sin, as an atonement to the other that accepted the sacrifice. We really know not how to express the idea in other words. To us it seems but the revival of the notion of a good and an evil principle in a modified form, since needs there must be a species of inexorable justice which cannot forgive or remit transgression. But be this as it may, there can be no unity of purpose nor singleness of will, if a sacrifice can be accepted by one part of the Deity from the other; for where there is a necessity to do an act of homage, which a sacrifice, however voluntary, naturally is, there is at the same time a superiority in the receiver above him who is the victim of the other's wrath, or else the sacrifice could be of no avail. There can moreover be no unity in the essence or nature of these personages, even admitting that two can be one, which we deny, for otherwise the sacrifice would be nothing else than that God sacrificed himself to himself, to make himself an atonement to his own being, in order to forgive iniquity which otherwise he could not; which evidently would require a division of wills if even there be no division of bodies in the Deity. That this cannot be, without even going to Scripture for proof, appears from the fact, that the course of nature emphatically contradicts the existence of two antagonizing principles in the creation; and then the scheme of the sacrifice ought, in justice to the benevolence which must have dictated it, had it actually taken place, to have occurred at a much earlier period in the history of man than it is said to have done. Besides, upon what principle could the agreement to sacrifice a part of himself have been made by the other? except by assuming that the one is amenable to, which would argue, that he is also derived from, the other. Now this view would at once destroy all idea of a unity, and would establish the existence of two separate divinities, the one the principal, the other the secondary, and this would require not personages of the same being, but different beings of, if you will, the same substance, but still separate, and distinct in person, purpose, power, and will.

Against all these views, of whatever shade, regarding a plurality of godheads, our religion bears its amplest testimony. “I am the Lord and there is none else,” so says the prophet; there is no conceivable association with the Everlasting in his creative quality; He is alone in his government, He is alone in his will. All derived existence is imaginable as existing in different portions, in divisible articles: not so the perfect Unity whom we worship. We cannot conceive Him to be more than He is, we cannot understand how He could be less. He always was one, for says the Prophet, “there is none else;” and surely this cannot permit us to assume that the One is more or less than one, or that at any one time some part of himself was separated and was actuated by a different will, no matter how benevolent soever this might be, whilst the other required and accepted the atonement. This is no unity, where a submission is necessary; this is no unity, where one is the emanation from the other. One means the same, uniform, unchanging being and this the God of Israel emphatically is: one in purpose, one in power, one in forgiveness, as He is alone in the creation and government of the world.

We will add a few texts to prove that the Bible so taught as we believe. “And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand over Egypt (i. e. punish the guilty) and bring forth the children of Israel from the midst of them,” (i. e. protect the oppressed,) consequently, the Lord is exhibited as the source of both good and evil. (Exod. 7. 5.) “That thou mayest know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth,” i. e. ever ready, ever present to execute my will. (Ib. 8. 18.) “The Lord will reign for ever and ever,” i. e. unceasingly one and alone. (Ib. 15. 18.) “Hear O Israel, the Lord, our God, is the Lord one,” i. e. the Deity whom we worship, the everlasting God, is indeed alone everlasting, consequently alone God and King. (Deut. 6. 9.) “And know that the Lord thy God is the God, the faithful God, who keepeth the covenant of mercy with those who love Him and keep his commandments, to the thousandth generation,” i. e. always present to reward, to the latest posterity, consequently uniformly one. (Ib. 7. 9.) “But that prophet who shall presume to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die,” i. e. there is no other being than the Lord in whose name one could speak with truth. (Ib. 18. 20.) “To fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD.” (Ib. 28. 58.) “The Lord would lead him alone, and no strange god is with Him,” i. e. in all the displays of providence which we have experienced the One is without associate or assistant. (Ib. 32. 12.) “And now thus saith the Lord thy creator, O Jacob, and thy former, O Israel, Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by name, thou art mine.” “For I am the Lord thy God, the holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.” “For I am the Lord, and without me (not us) there is no saviour.” “Already from the beginning of time I am the same, and no one can save out of my hand, (there is no associate who call redeem when the Lord punishes,) I will work and who will prevent me?” “I the Lord am your holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King.” (Isaiah 43. 1, 3, 11, 13, 15.) “And the Lord God is truth, he is the living God and everlasting King; at his wrath the earth will tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.” “Thus shall ye say to them, The gods that made not heaven and the earth shall be lost from the earth and from beneath these heavens.” “Every man is brutish in his knowledge, every founder is ashamed because of the image (he has made), for his molten image is falsehood, and no spirit is in them. They are vanity, the works of error, in the times of their visitation shall they perish. Not like them is Jacob's portion, for He is the former of all things, and Israel is the rod of his inheritance, the Lord of hosts is his name.” (Jer. 10. 10, 11, 14,-16.) We could multiply texts from all the sacred writings, which bear but one interpretation, that is the absolute unity, saving power, and goodness of the Creator; but we refer our readers to the Bible, and forbear farther quotations.

All this exhibits the truth of the second article of our creed, which is the following words: “I believe with a perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be his name, is one, and there is no unity like Him in any manner whatsoever, and He alone is our God, who was, who is, and who will be.” So also in Yigdal: “He is one, but there is no unity like unto his unity; He is incomprehensible, and also his unity is unending.” With this we rest for the present, trusting that what we have advanced has furnished some additional arguments to the Israelitish reader in favour of his faith, and given to our gentile friends an insight into the nature of our firm adherence upon the immutability of our God and Lawgiver, whom we regard as one and true, and the only Eternity, to whom be praise and glory to everlasting.