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בס"ד

The Divine Kingdom.

A Sermon.

Brethren!

Among the blessings which we are promised at the coming of the Messiah, we find the following announcement, as delivered to us in the fourteenth chapter of Zachariah v. 9.

והיה ה׳ למלך על כל הארץ ביום ההוא יהיה ה׳ אחד ושמו אחד׃ זכריה י״ד ט׳׃

"And the Lord shall be the King over all the earth; in that day there shall be the Lord One, and his name shall be one."

Among the causes which withdraw man from the service of his Maker are prominent want of faith and want of knowledge. We constantly transgress, because we have not confidence in divine assistance and a belief in God's superintendence, or because we are not sufficiently familiar with divine things, which knowledge it is that is to place us above the temptations of everyday life. Admit that we are duly familiar with our duties, that from our very infancy it has been the practice of our parents to point out to us the way we should go, and that in riper years we applied ourselves diligently to a study which is so rich in blessed fruits; what is it that renders us children of wrath by the pursuit of sin? Then let us cast a look into our own heart, and we shall discover that the Lord does not reign alone there, but that his place is supplied by the lust for pleasure, or desire for wealth, the fear of the world, the cravings of ambition, the hatred of our fellow-men, or perhaps of that thrice accursed love of ease which despises labour, and seeks its own gratification at the hazard of injuring the immortal spirit by polluting it with transgressions against our neighbour's rights and possessions. We are told, and every thing around us assures us of its being so, that God rewards and punished the deeds of his creatures; but we have not that universal all-pervading feeling of adoration which will enable us to acknowledge Him the sole adorable One; we have united in us, strangely though it be, a love of God overshadowed by the desire for unsubstantial, fleeting, things not inaptly called the goods of this earth; for when we cease to be indwellers of this sphere, or when our spirit has severed its mysterious connexion with the material body, all the gifts which were valuable and prized in our mixed state of being are left behind as appertaining to the earth and its inhabitants. O, then does the man of power cast off his purple as an heir-loom for other shoulders; then does the man of war not wield any more his martial baton; other hands than the former owner clutch the much-desired gold; and broad lands and fertile domains welcome the young possessor who will lavish perhaps the hard earnings of his penurious predecessor. And it is the desire after such treasures or the pleasures and gratifications which they bring, which force aside, as it were, the love which we naturally feel for our supreme Benefactor; I say naturally feel, for lost indeed must be that spirit which, amidst the throng of evils which surround it, does not occasionally throb with gratefulness and awe for the Author of its existence. But the multitude of mankind are almost exclusively alive to the advantages which wealth, power and pleasure afford; they see tangibly before them, that the man who is blessed with riches can live at ease, and command the smiles no less than the services of equals as much as of inferiors; that he who has authority conferred upon him is envied and courted, because of the influence he has over the affairs of his country or for the favours he can bestow; and there is scarcely a single individual who does not endeavour to enjoy life in all the varieties of satisfaction which he may deem attainable, and to avoid all the hardships, labours and sorrows which, he fancies, may embitter the brief hours which are allotted to him here below. If therefore our faith is not strong. if we have not so far learned to place a proper value upon earthly things, as to postpone these to the favour of the Lord, it is evidently to be expected that transgressions will be the natural result, inasmuch as such a course will bring us, according to our worldly views, nearer to the things we so highly prize.

Thus much may be said of transgression when the cause is want of faith, where nevertheless a knowledge of religion has been imparted to the sinner. But suppose that we are unacquainted with our duties, that our days have been spent in the vain pursuits of worldliness, without any appreciation of the blessings flowing out of the word of God:—what can you expect, but that every deed almost, done under the influence of such deplorable ignorance, will be in contravention of the law of God? For the want of proper information will be the cause that the person who is about to act will not be able to judge correctly between the right which should be practised, and the wrong which ought to be avoided; and hence it is not to be presumed that he will forego the apparent advantages of absolute gain for the remote and unseen benefits resulting from a course of godliness.

Whilst now the above two causes are as active in their operation in the affairs of mankind, as we actually find them at this day, it is natural that we should expect a great mass of sin and corruption. Man's heart is prone to evil; from his infancy he is drawn to iniquity, and the goods and pleasures of life seem to him to be the objects the most to be desired during the course of his earthly pilgrimage. If therefore we turn to the history of the world from its very beginning we shall discover, that though at the very commencement of the creation man was informed of the will of his God, he was yet led away by sensuality to transgress the command which he had received. But, because he was forewarned, he justly incurred the wrath meet for his transgression, and he was banished from the garden of delight to till in sorrow and toil the ground from which his body was taken. So you see that, because our first father valued the advantage of sensual life beyond the favour of God, or in other words, because he had not sufficient faith, trust or confidence in his Maker, he voluntarily chose that which he had been told was sinful and odious to Him from whom he had received his being; and he fell from a state of innocence into one of shame and degradation, where he could only hope to obtain forgiveness and mercy, whereas before he might have looked forward to reward and bliss.

The death decreed against Adam was duly dispensed to him and his progeny; and yet, though stricken, the latter had not learned to fear the Lord. They in the lapse of time forgot much of what belonged to their duty, and what remained unforgotten, was left unheeded amidst the violence and corruption which spread over the earth. And the decree went forth that the sinning race should be cut off; and the mighty flood of waters overflowed the highest mountains, and not a vestige of life was left on the earth, save those who escaped through the mercy of the Lord with the man who was found righteous in his generations. But barely had the flood subsided, scarcely was the sign of the heavenly arch instituted as the covenant between God and all the earth, when Noah himself sinned by converting the blessing of the vine into an inebriating drink, and his son drew upon himself the parental malediction for his disrespect to his progenitor. In the succeeding generations the worship of the Creator fell speedily into disuse; for mankind wished to live free from the trammels of religion, they designed to let their own will be the rule of their actions, and they therefore refused to instruct their children in the truths which had been transmitted through Adam, Enoch, Noah and the righteous ones of those days. No, they would not acknowledge the Lord as the sole King of all the earth; they invested with imaginary power things which are powerless; they invented beings to whom they offered adoration, only to avoid, as they vainly fancied, the responsibility they owed to the Lord of all. Anon they endeavoured to oppose themselves to the decree of their Father who had given unto them the whole earth as their dwelling; but by confounding their language, and making them speak in different dialects, He made them unintelligible to each other, and in this manner forced them to seek different homesteads on the face of the earth, and thus compelled them to endure his rule, although they had forsaken his service.

But what was the state of the world in consequence of the estrangement from the true path? By degrees every species of violence and crime became every where prevailing, and men at length proceeded to worship the most loathsome reptiles and the personifications of the vices as beings deserving of adoration; and where a few were left who yet adored the true God, they had to endure the persecutions and hatred of idolaters. In those days the Lord was not acknowledged King over all the earth. He was not acknowledged the Everlasting One, and his name was not One among the gentiles. But it was also in those days that from the stock of a Chaldean shepherd gradually a nation grew up, to whom the Lord vouchsafed to impart a knowledge of his ways, and whom He desired to place in Him faith and hope as their King and Father, and whom He designated to be his witnesses, that He is indeed the God, and that besides Him there is no other.

The means employed to effect this object are familiar to you all; by mighty deeds and signs the Lord made his power felt in Egypt, and the people whom He had chosen followed his guidance into the trackless desert, to receive the law which He had ordained as the rule of their actions. On a former occasion your attention was drawn to the fact, that punishment had failed to awaken a sense of religion in mankind, and that a universal revelation, such as had been given in the cases of Adam and Noah, had not imbued the hearts of men with a knowledge of their duties. It is not to be said that there were no other means in the power of the Lord to establish universally a knowledge of His being and of His ordinances; but this much we may freely assert, that He adopted the best method so far as our judgment reaches, by educating a whole people in the school of adversity, taking them out from bondage with a mighty hand without their agency, and imparting to them as their possession a law founded on equal justice, and a system than which not heaven itself can be purer and truer. O, then went forward the ransomed of the Lord with childlike confidence to meet their God and King, and well did He also, at a time when they were stained with guilt, remember unto them this entireness of faith and trust; for thus says the text: "Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord, I remember unto thee the kindness of thy youth, the love of thy espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that is not sown. Israel is holy unto the Lord, the first fruit of his increase, all that devour him shall offend, evil shall come upon them, saith the Lord." (Jer. 2. 2, 3.) But this faith lasted not for ever; soon many sinned and made themselves for worship the likeness of a grass-eating ox; and because the reign of the Lord was not universal, the Israelites also went astray after the vanities of the gentiles. Ignorance too, of much that ought to have been universally known, followed in the train of apostasy, and after being at first an effect of irreligion, it became in its turn the parent of the forgetfulness of the Lord. But now there was a written law from which many could drink; a nation there was to whom the Word of the Lord had been given as an inheritance, and the watchword ה׳ אלהינו ה׳ אחד was too firmly established to be shaken by the most degrading apostasy and image-worship which were practised among our forefathers. And thus, though a thousand systems flourished awhile, and reigned their space on earth, they have all sunk into the black ocean of oblivion, and in their stead newer and more complicated fancies have arisen to make room for others, perhaps yet more startling, which will come after them; whilst the religion announced from Sinai is yet contained untouched, and unchanged in yonder book, which we have preserved with so much care and solicitude.

Now let us inquire, what gave the law of Moses so much greater stability than the prior revelations to the Patriarchs? Simply this, that it was based upon and connected with the history of the people who were appointed its conservators. The covenant of Abraham had been already instituted, and had descended to them with the peculiar protection of God, which had been promised them. But now the ceremonies of the new covenant bore immediately upon the things which they themselves had witnessed; the Sabbath was to remind them weekly of the great supernatural deeds which the Creator alone could perform; the Passover was to commemorate, by the various laws incident to its celebration, the first day when the shackles were knocked off, so to say, from their swollen limbs, and when they were bid to go forth rejoicing unto freedom and truth; the Pentecost was to be kept on the day when their King lowered his majesty before their eyes on Mount Horeb, to speak unto them from amidst thunder and lightning, and the cloud of glory that enveloped the throne of his power; and lastly, the Feast of Tabernacles was established, that in all future generations the ceremonies incident thereto should call to their memories that for many years they had travelled in the deserts of Arabia, where they did not plough the field for their support, and where they cultivated neither the vine, nor the fig-tree, nor the pomegranate, nor the olive; where they did not build houses to live in, nor, cultivated the arts to supply themselves with the elegancies or even the necessaries of life. Yes, for forty years our forefathers dwelt in booths; their garments did not grow old; them shoes did not wear off from their feet; water was given them out of the flinty rock, and their daily bread was every morning, save the morning of the Sabbath, miraculously supplied to them; in short, all their wants were provided for from the immediate bounty of their God. Now these ceremonies and the recollections attendant on them, were handed down from father to son, and from son to grandson; the whole life of the true Israelite was to be and was a series of reminiscences and acts of worship, all founded upon the history of his nation, and the gratitude thence resulting to their great Benefactor. And though, in many instances, much sinning was witnessed among us, the law had taken too deep root to be in danger of perishing entirely in the hearts of all Israel. No, it survived, and will survive to the end of time.

The gentiles, however, with whose history and being our religion had no connexion, could not be expected to embrace a system which was not given to them in a direct manner. They, it is true, saw the excellent effects resulting from the piety founded on the Bible; they could doubtlessly comprehend with ease, the superior truthfulness of the doctrines of the Mosaic dispensation, beyond that of any other. But their knowledge of divine things was not strong enough to overcome the want of faith under which they laboured; and their inclination for unrestrained freedom was not counterbalanced by the conviction of direct accountability. So then has time passed on, and our religion is yet unacknowledged by any other people; and the law of Moses is yet the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob alone. But does it not strike you, brethren, that in all ages, and now no less than before, the proximity of the gentiles has had a pernicious effect upon the conformity to be expected from us? Have we not too readily relinquished our own blessed hopes for the vanities of those whose portion is not as our portion, and whose lot is not like our lot? Ay, truly we have a law; but where is the knowledge thereof which ought to be universal among us? Where the faith which should teach us to place the favour of God above all the desires of our hearts? Alas! alas! the knowledge of divine things is not prized, we seek more the sciences and comprehension of worldly matters than to be instructed in the ways of the Lord and the duties which He has prescribed; and even if we have learned the holy Word, how anxious are we then to prove that we are free from that prejudice, as some term it, of a peculiar Jewish feeling, as though it were a disgraceful thing to esteem the religion which God gave unto the sons of Israel, and to wish to perpetuate the knowledge thereof among our descendants! Prejudice do you call this? bigotry you aver it to be? Then let us bless the time when such prejudice and such bigotry will become universal among us! But no, it is no prejudice which aims at perpetuating what God has bestowed as a special gift on Israel; it is no bigotry which endeavours to instruct the young in the ancestral institutions, and to enforce a due obedience to their be behests; for they are legitimate feelings, necessarily flowing from a conviction of the truth of our professions, and have no reference whatever to the opinions of others differing from us, and have no affinity whatever with intolerance; since they do not look forward to persuade even, much less coerce any one who is not by descent a son of Abraham. But surely we ourselves ought to be ashamed of ignorance in a matter which is our very life, the cause of our existence as a separate people. Had it not been for the law we should have been where the ancient Romans, Babylonians, Assyrians and other nations now are, lost, blotted out, and remembered only for the evil they have done, and for the ruins which mark their existence. Do you wish such a fate for Israel? Is there one Jew, here or elsewhere, who would not shudder at the idea of the total overthrow and annihilation of his own kindred, the house of Jacob?—And how is this preservation to be effected? But and solely, by the transmission to all our descendants of the code which established us, and by the observance of the covenant and the law which make us a separate people among the nations of the earth. We should be a light to them, but are on no account to suffer our light to be darkened by the shadow of their unbelief. If the lamp shines brightest in a dark apartment, does the miner penetrate with its aid in the bowels of the earth: should not the true Israelite endeavour to exhibit in his knowledge and his example a model to others, that they may be struck with the conviction of God's Power, that nations may with safety go in the light of the Lord which was erst kindled at the promulgation of the commandments at Horeb?—The darkness yet covers the earth and a thick cloud the nations. Vanity after vanity has been adopted, and error has been cherished after error. One day the idolatry of a multitude of deities is abolished, only to make way for the admission of the doctrines of a prophet whom God had not sent.—Again millions subscribe their names as servants of the Lord of hosts; but in their ignorance they associate with Him a mediator between Him and his creatures, as though his hand were shortened, and He not able to save the man He has formed and bless the work of His hands! And shall we for things like these cease to be vigilant over ourselves? shall doctrines like these induce us no longer to seek to teach the law and to proclaim aloud without fear or reserve our hope, our confidence, our belief, our entire faith in the Lord One? Shall we be willingly ignorant, or if instructed, be wilfully untrue to our great King, forswear his service and join ourselves to the multitude, for no better reason, that we can discover, but that they are the majority, and we but few in number? And say, at what period of the world was it that the righteous were the most numerous portion of mankind? Say, how many were saved in the ark? and was not Abraham alone in his father's house when he proclaimed his faith in the Lord One? how many associates had Moses when he spoke to Pharaoh in the name of this great Being? when Jezebel slew the prophets of the Lord, how many were with Elijah when he appeared before the multitude of idolaters on Carmel? And to sum up all in a few words, at what period of the history of the world were we otherwise than a small fragment of mankind? Yet now we are to become faint-hearted, because we are not more numerous? because we are not of greater importance in the scale of society? because in the pursuit of our belief we may not be permitted to employ as many days in the acquisition of wealth as our gentile neighbours? But let us be comforted by the reflection, that no matter what our disparity in numbers, importance or worldly gains may be in comparison with others, we shall ultimately suffer no harm, if we only remain true and faithful to our Father in heaven. Let us consider how miraculously every thing has always worked for our preservation; how when the sword and pestilence slew their millions, we were comparatively exempt; how a respect for our law produces temperance and contentment, which bring in their train length of days and vigorous old age; how even in barbarous countries, where our members are denied access to high seminaries of learning, they have nevertheless the reputation for intelligence superior to their neighbours; let us reflect on the many mercies which have sustained us in despite of ourselves when we presumptuously went astray after the evil desires of our heart; let us reflect on the wonderful change which was wrought in the minds of gentiles in modern times, so that now we are regarded with more kindliness than we were before; let us consider that the same Beneficence which provided for our fathers in the desert yet watches over us, and works all these deeds in our behalf: and surely we shall not find cause for murmuring in the fact that the law of Moses is yet imposed on us as our lot, and that we are called upon to make it appear lovely to our children, and to glorify by its observance the name of the Lord One before the eyes of the families of the earth.

In this manner I meant to exhibit, that though we stand alone we would be acting suicidally, were we to relax in our duty. But another consideration yet remains, and this is, that, as we accepted the law because its principles were interwoven with our history and being: so there will come a time when the same will be the case with the gentiles. Remember that the law was not entrusted to us for our own gratification merely, but chiefly that through us the kingdom of God might be established on earth. When this establishment of universal truth will take place, is not for us to solve; the fact is sure of fulfilment; the time only is concealed from us. But till this time comes we are bound by the terms of our covenant with God to keep alive the fire of religion upon the altar of the world.—No matter who thou art, humble son of Jacob! thou art a priest in the sanctuary, and it is thy province to purify thyself for the service by knowledge and faith to nourish the holy flame which is to illumine in God's own time the ends of the earth. Nor must thou be weary with watching! But every day do thou raise thy eyes and heart to thy great Father, and entreat Him that He would give thee light to see and strength to endure; that thou mayest stand undismayed in the assault of passions which would counsel thee to stray aside from thy path, and to walk away upon the ways of sin, the end of which is darkness and death.—And indeed how would it be with us, were we to become unfaitfful to our trust, on the day of the great redemption, when all nations are to rejoice in the great glory to be revealed to all eyes? what shame, what contrition would be ours, were we no longer recognizable as a separate people adhering with unshaken faith to the God of Abraham! But it cannot come to this! We may be inclined to swerve, many may actually sink into the embrace of their seducers, and leave the fold of the Lord; but many more will, with all this, remain to rally round the sacred emblem of the law; and when the standard is raised on the mountains, when nations will flock to the son of David to be taught of the ways of the Lord, the sons of Jacob will be there to receive joyfully among them the sons of the stranger, who will no longer be eager for their destruction, but emulous like themselves to become children of salvation under the law, which is quickening unto life, both by its letter and its spirit. And when this has taken place, the Lord will institute to the gentiles one of our festivals, the feast of which we are now celebrating the conclusion, on which they are annually to assemble through their deputies to worship before the Lord of hosts at Jerusalem. And why this feast? Because the Passover and the Pentecost were properly days of liberation of Israel from physical and moral bondage; but the Tabernacles, as was said already, is a commemoration of divine goodness and protection; it is the emblem of the superintending watchfulness of the all-seeing Eye who leaves not a bird to fall to the ground before its time, and who regards alike the lowly and the great. When now the nations are brought to a knowledge that their thoughts were vain, and their deities powerless to save: they will become, so to say, more immediately children of Providence, and subjects of the King of kings, and servants of the Lord of lords; they will no longer be a stumbling block by their ignorance and example to the people of Israel; but they will, like these, acknowledge as God the Everlasting One alone, and thus He will be the King of all the earth, acknowledged the sole God, and emphatically be called One, since besides Him and with Him no being will receive the adoration of any son of man. And to commemorate this great event the festival of providential care will be a season of universal rejoicing, and from all the earth will come ambassadors to the residence of their King, to bow down and to worship at the house where He will let his glory visibly dwell among mankind. And this state of universal knowledge will be a state of universal righteousness, and no one who is unwilling to acknowledge his subjection to the majesty of Heaven will be left to encumber the earth with his presence.

But says the doubter, "Will indeed all this come to pass?" Yes, it will! all the accounts of past ages teach us that every thing is perishable and has perished or will perish save the word of God alone. This alone has survived all the shocks of time; and often as it was neglected, much as it has been obscured by the acts and words of men, it has ever risen up again with renewed and increased vigour. And therefore have in all ages the altars of heathenism stooped and tumbled down before the power of His Word; and the errors too of the new systems, which have engrafted upon its holy foundation the ideas of a mediator and similar theories, will surely vanish when the warfare against truth will have ended. Already now the mighty fabrics are shaken! the thousand-columned temples tremble! The teachers of error are at war with each other! One binds, the other loosens! pillar after pillar crumbles to the dust! and in vain do the mighty take counsel against the Lord and his anointed. But proceed in your unholy work, your working is in vain! He that sits enthroned in heaven smiles at your endeavours, and the words of faith which our babes are taught to lisp, and which ring in the ear of our dying sires, "The Lord is One," will hurl you from power and level to the ground the mighty fabrics on which you have been toiling for ages. Yes, "the Lord is One! His name is One" will yet be the faith of all the world, and then will be indeed a day of glory, and a day of rejoicing to all the faithful, and the servants that remained true and unshaken, who taught unflinchingly the truth they had themselves received, and who persevered in the service of the Lord whilst but few so worshipped. But they too will rejoice who are glowing with a new zeal in the work of regeneration, who come from all parts of the world, (which now has been rendered easily possible by the recent improvements in the arts applied to travelling,) to worship annually the Lord at Jerusalem his holy city, on this festival of Tabernacles; and thus men from all nations and from all climes, the fair European and the sooty Ethiop; the men from the icy pole and they from the burning equator, all, all will exclaim, with one heart and one voice, in speech again understood by all alike and in a dialect no longer diverse and not comprehended by every son of Adam: The Lord is King over all the earth! no one is to share his glory; there is no saviour besides Him our Saviour; He is one and One be his name, praised and glorified for evermore! Amen!

Our Father and King! cast out for our iniquities we are scattered among the gentiles, and our sanctuary is desolate, our altars are destroyed, and no priest is there to make atonement for our sins. But in our captivity we have been taught to feel more strongly our dependence upon thy bounty and mercy! O have mercy then upon the remnant that has escaped, and be Thou our priest by accepting in favour the words of our lips and the meditations of our hearts as acceptable incense before Thee. Shed also thy grace upon our spirit and enlighten us in the knowledge of our duties so that we may subdue our hearts to thy service; and spread the pavilion of thy peace over us, that we may unitedly press forward to be emulous in thy service. Bless our endeavours which are made to render thy law more known and loved, and remove from among us the stumbling blocks of unbelief, ignorance and causeless contention and hatred. So that we may live securely sheltered by thy blessing and invigorated by thy love amid the nations, till the day when Thou wilt show us again wonders as at the time we went forth from Egypt. May this be thy will. Amen!

Tishry 21st, Oct. 6th, 5602.