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בס"ד

The Coming Year.

(A Sermon at the Conclusion of 5604.*)

* We had purposed continuing this month our “specimens of German Preachers;” but the limited time permitted us by a temporary absence on a journey as far as the Falls of Niagara, and the intervention of the holydays compels us to substitute one of our own late productions preached in the regular course of duty without the remotest thought to its immediate publication. We are not in the habit of making apologies for the defects in our articles; but this time we must beg the reader to excuse the somewhat defective connexion discoverable in this sermon. It was intended as an exhortation for the coming New Year, as thoughts for reflection; and we request therefore that it may be viewed in this light only; and happy shall we be if we could be the instrument of calling upon the pilgrim on the journey of life with a serious “stop traveller,” and make him turn his heart to the way he has gone, and to return to the safe enclosure in the mansion of the Lord where there is hope, and where there is forgiveness for the sinner.

God of righteousness and truth, how abundant is thy goodness which Thou extendest over thy children, how glorious the mercy with which Thou watchest over their actions! When righteous they obtain thy favour, though their deeds be so insignificant, as the deeds or man must ever be; and if in rebellion they arise to gainsay thy will, Thou wilt not destroy, but waitest for their repentance, and warnest them in time that they may return unto Thee. But even in chastisement we behold Thee as the Father of spirits; because Thou purifiest the child of sin in the furnace of tribulation, that he may be purged from transgression and be rendered worthy again of thy favour. O do then act towards us even according to thy goodness of which our fathers have spoken, and which they have ever received at thy hands; send us blessing and prosperity in our labour, that we may not toil in vain and spend our days in fruitless repining and hopes deferred which render the heart faint and desponding; but if success should elevate our heart to value itself unduly and to forget thy holy precepts, then let thy rod fall on us to remind us that we are thy servants, who are bound to obey thy every will, to listen dutifully to thy every word. So that we may always feel that we are under thy august protection and amenable to thy justice, by which knowledge our life will be rendered happy and our souls be made pure, to be fitted to dwell in the secret of thy tabernacle, in a world without sorrow, in a life without death, where the sun never sets and where thy glory ever shines. Amen.

Brethren!

A few days more only will elapse before this year will have closed, and when another will dawn upon us with all its uncertainties of joy and sorrow, of light and shadow to which our life is subject. How solemn it is to reflect upon the past, how fearful to think of what is to come! Whoever is among us that has had enjoyments but must feel that his pleasures have not been unmixed, that his brightest day was not unclouded? If even pleasure opened her gladsome receptacle and poured out into his bosom exquisite sensations and brought him some ecstatic moments, was not some pain lingering under the pleasant surface and made itself perceived in the most joyous hours? There is always in life, as in nature, an under-current which is not perhaps perceptible to the naked eye; to the inattentive observer the surface of the stream may appear as smooth as the tranquil mirror, with not a ripple to disturb the glassy plain; but launch your bark on the silvery tide, and how resistlessly are you forced backward, and each step in advance has to be achieved at the expense of all the exertion you are capable of. Or even if you glide smoothly down with the current, if pleasant gales fill your sails and waft you swiftly to the desired haven: O how often then are sunken rocks hidden in your course; your vessel strikes upon the unknown danger, your sails shake out, as it were, the breeze that erst impelled them, the timbers are riven one by one from the sides of the bark that was to bear you on in safety, and you float alone, forsaken, unaided upon the stormy flood which now foams and boils up around you on all sides. This is life! this its course! The observation, perhaps, is trite, like a thrice told tale; you have heard this before; you have seen it in books written by men of all ages; true, too true; but this is because all men have experienced the same fate, have had to feel the same sensations of sorrow and disappointment; and hence many have expressed what experience has forced upon their consideration.

But should we not be told it again by those whom we know ourselves? are we not to be reminded of the truth, as it is the truth, because others have heard the same lesson already? If so the work of the moralist would soon be over, one man indicts a truth, and it would be useless to carry it farther, because the truth had once been spoken. But alas! so perverse is the human heart, so often is it lulled by false security, that the lessons which others have heard do not reach it, unless it has been itself made to test them by experience; and the accumulated wisdom of ages is passed unheeded, as books whose language is not understood, and whose characters are no loner in use among the living. What good is it then to the individual, that moral reflections upon the uncertainty of earthly things have been indulged in before? He too must think upon them, not once, not twice, but every day of his life: for every day he lives he is exposed to the vicissitudes which rob him of pleasure, of friends, of wealth, and of life; and in the very things he had placed his firmest reliance of success, he finds his greatest source of disappointment; and to be induced to reflect in this manner, and to profit thereby in his moral and religious conduct, he ought to be often reminded of the mutability of his fortune and the mortal termination of his earthly existence.—And does not nature herself preach this lesson in all her operations, manifold as they are? Look abroad in the early spring, when the chill of winter is just passing away. Every shrub, every tree, every herb, every flower seems to feel the impulse which the renewed heat imparts to its being, and playfully it opens its leaflets to the warm fanning of the vernal breezes. Anon a rich profusion of white and pinkish blossoms covers every bough along the whole landscape, and with each hour new joys, and new life, and new beauties spring into being. But speedily the blossoms disappear, and the young fruit seems to cleave for protection closely knitted to its parent stem, as if fearing to venture alone upon the path of existence pointed out by the hand of the Creator. Soon, however, it ventures out more boldly, assumes new colours, varying from those of the leaves among which it has hitherto been nestling, and tempts you by the richness of its hue to desire it for yourselves. Thus is summer clad in all the variety of ripening fruit, as before the spring was the time of flowers and blossoms. And now the autumn steals peacefully along; the heats of the preceding season have passed away, the sun has put on a more lovely radiance, which now does not dazzle the eye as when he ruled in all his vigour of renewed strength; the damp of the morning reminds you of the approaching bleak winter, and on every branch and bough the late fruit is ready for your sustenance, ready to be gathered for your winter store. Already the fields are bared of their harvest, and the work of nature seems now finished; the green leaves change their hue, and the dying colours, in far more beautiful tints, supply the place of the former uniformity; and before all is finished a greater degree of glory seems to be cast over every object. But this too passes away, and stripped is the forest of its loveliness, desolate are the fields, and the gardens present but the naked stalks of that which once was beautiful, and the cold and fierce blast of the snow-storm howls among the naked oaks and the dark gloomy pines; and the rivers that formerly sparkled gaily in the sunlight, and reflected like a mirror the beauty that lined their banks now lie frozen, stiff, and cold, and oppose no barrier to the daring foot that ventures on their surface. Is not this life? a true picture of what we ourselves have been, are, and will be again? We too escape from the bosom of night into being; our strength and intellect bud, open, and blossom; we too are decked out with the beauty of infantile years, with the grace and vigour of maturity; and then come on the weakness and uncertainty of declining years, the hair turns gray, the eye becomes dim, the step falters, and youthful associations are but a thing of memory; and lastly the body sinks into the cold, dark grave, and the clod of the valley rattles hollow upon the lid of the coffin, and we are left to rest till that glorious morning when the graves will be opened to immortality, and the earth will cast forth her dead; for to us too, like to the ice-covered lake or the snow-clad earth the reviving sun of righteousness will arise “with healing in his wings,” when our fetters of death and silence will be broken, and our voice will be tuneful in praises of the Most High on every mountain, in every valley, as are the forests filled with the melody of the feathered tribe when the genial warmth of spring calls them forth from their hiding places where they had passed the death-like months of the inhospitable winter.

And do we understand the lesson as it should be understood? or are we indifferent, hardened and unwilling listeners? how do we cling to the present, with what a grasp do we seize what we have acquired, with what energy do we toil to gain what we desire! But what avails it all? Grant that we have accumulated, enjoyed, retained—what has it availed us? has it stilled the longing for more? killed our desire for yet farther acquisition?—How vain is such a supposition! we sigh over the past; the brightest day has never past without its overclouding shadows; we have felt, perhaps, dazzled by the too great brightness, we have been cloyed by too much sweetness. And when we have been uniformly successful, we have felt the want of excitement, and with the stimulant of necessity removed many have fallen into habits of indolence and longed for some pursuit to fill up their vacant hours.—Yes, the past is full of instruction, and teaches us that, be our lot joyous or sorrowful, there is something more than animal pleasures and tangible advantages which is to fill the void in our heart, that there is a craving which is never at rest till we have applied a remedy unconnected with outward circumstances of our existence.

Equally dark is the future. Stand at the brink of life if I may use such an expression, and cast your view into the black abyss that yawns at your feet; and does not your courage fail? do you feel the assurance of perfect safety which vanity occasionally teaches you to display before the world? You look down the sides of the gulf; they appear steep and inaccessible; you cast your eye about for a friendly hand to lead you upon the narrow path which you espy after a long search in the distance; but you seek in vain; you are alone, and still you are hurried on, you must venture on your perilous journey unaided. But you advance at length; the steepness by degrees vanishes; the narrow path is reached, and it is not so narrow as you at first imagined; and the nearer you approach the black abyss, the more it loses its gloom, the clearer becomes the water that fills it to its brim. Nor are you alone any longer as you progress; there are other pilgrims travelling with you on the same journey who have approached by different by-paths the road you are pursuing; and you are greeted with a friendly smile. as though they had met a long-lost friend. And when as length you stand by the flood which you must pass, since there is no turning back, because the road has become impassable by new obstructions which have sprung up behind you, you find a bridge which you in your onset could not discover, and it invites you to venture over to the land beyond, which lies smiling in the distance, and whence the fragrance of undying flowers comes greeting you, even whilst you hesitate to enter on the new destiny which is before you; and when this bridge, too, is passed, as pass it you must, you can then with complacency look back upon the journey you have accomplished, and think you have travelled well on the road marked out for you.

Thus does the future appal us with its uncertainties and doubts, and thus we look with apprehension upon any event in its commencement. The mystery cannot be solved by reckless daring, nor can the dangers which we may have to encounter be lessened by our denying their existence. But since we must face them, since we must venture on our journey despite of all the difficulties, ought we not to look around to discover something which could cheer us on our lonely way, which could dispel the gloom of solitude, which could render us capable to endure the dangers and hardships which we cannot avoid? We know that our Creator is merciful, or else He would not have arrayed nature in such a garment of beauty as He has done; He must be good, for every thing has enjoyments which it obtains from his undeserved bounty. Should there then be no aid provided for man? nothing to cheer him up, and to carry him forward on his perilous way with safety?—Ay, there is! and it is even the narrow path, as it seems to us in our life’s journey, which our bodily eyes discover at a great distance as dark and uninviting. In a word, it is the religion of Israel, which has been bestowed on us as the gift of God, in which we recognize his mercy and his goodness, and which eases for us the perilous journey on which from our very birth we are destined to venture. Were it that we had absolutely speaking no guide, no directing star to point out the way we should go, what would life be worth to us? better far we had never been born, better we had never seen the light of the sun than “to be in such utter darkness lying,” as we would be if so miserable, so lost, sp alone. But now name me one situation in life where we are not guided, and that truly, by the grace of the Lord? In childhood we have the command to obey our father and mother; here is a plain direction for us, we cannot go astray, whilst they too obey the same precepts which have been given for our common instruction. And when death has struck down these true friends by our side, and we are absolutely alone and left to our own guidance, then have we the written Word which is to point out the path which we are to walk in. Nothing is left unnoticed, nothing is asked which we cannot accomplish. The duties may appear onerous, the sacrifices unpalatable to our obduracy; but are they impossible? are they impracticable? And to these questions we are compelled to answer with an emphatic negative; for ordinarily there is not a single reason why we cannot be obedient; and but rarely indeed, perhaps not once in a lifetime, is there a case where absolute necessity compels us to forego what we are taught as our duty.

Yet even farther does the efficiency of religion extend itself. It not only teaches us duty; but it inspires us with hope, with confidence, with certainty on the dark path which we are pursuing. It is ever ready to inspire us with courage, with perseverance, with hope; for it teaches us that all which is, is from God, all that happens, happens by his dispensation, and that, as every thing belongs to Him, and is the object of his care and benevolence, every thing must likewise tend to a beneficial purpose, to an ultimately good result. But as our wisdom is not sufficient to discover the connexion of events, as we are surrounded with the the doubts and uncertainties which attach themselves to our being, we are certified that we must not measure the wisdom of our Maker by our puny measure of intellect, nor to decide upon events by the hasty decision which we may come to under the pressure of difficulties which beset our way. No, the Creator’s wisdom is far outreaching what we have received, great as this blessing is; his view penetrates at once into all the chambers and recesses of existence, whilst to us chamber only after chamber is opened, whilst only one recess as it rises up upon the surface of existence is revealed to our eyes at one time. To us therefore a thing may at the moment appear wrong and unjust, because we only see it from our point of view; still let us but wait, and what appeared harsh and unworthy of the Goodness which rules our destiny, becomes an evidence of consummate wisdom and overshadowing mercy, and the links of events when combined present a chain of unsurpassed excellence, though each individual in its disjointed state appeared to our imperfect vision fraught with evil and deformity. It is thus that if we will only allow allow good genius, our inclination for virtue, to prevail over our evil destiny, which is at last nothing but our impulse evil, to draw us upon the narrow and uninviting path of religious trust, of religious hope, of religious duty: life will lose many of its bitter moments, and we will be filled with submission to the divine will, and joy in our lot, where otherwise we would have sunk into despondency and been a prey to gloomy melancholy. And how dreadful is that sensation of loneliness which the man without hope experiences in his pilgrimage! All light is shut out from his path, and the steep defile of existence stretches in unlimited extent before him. There is to him nothing but a rocky desert in prospect, not a green spot for his agonized vision to rest upon. It matters not in this respect with what burden the hopeless one is laden, whether it be the load of empire, the uncounted wealth of Korah, or the toilsome sufferings of the day-labourer—it is all the same; if there is no light within the heart, life is a trackless, gloomy desert, full of dangers and apprehensions which destroy every sensation of pleasure, even whilst we are filled to overflowing with what the world calls happiness. If, however, we have schooled ourselves to know the Lord as He is represented to us in his own word, what do we then experience in all our actions and trials? but that there is a benevolent Father watching over us, that nothing which we do or suffer will escape his cognizance, and that as soon as He may deem it enough the trials will be ended to give place to joy and enlargement, springing from sources over which the malevolence of enemies cannot have any control. Such a hope will sweeten solitude; for our God is near to share the lonely cell, or watch the solitary couch, though this be the couch of sickness; we feel his presence when we labour in the field, or when we toil in the hours of night by the dim candle which flickers fitfully in its socket; we will stand before Him when joy numbers us in her gladsome train, or when the tumultuous shouts of our fellow-men hail us as the exalted of the earth, and whatever is thus bestowed, be it worldly good or evil, will be received as the apportionate lot which has been assigned to us from the Father of wisdom and mercy. For, behold, there is a measure in the hand of the Lord, and He grasps the even scales of justice; and what ever is best for each man, even that is meted out to him; and whoever has well fulfilled his task, will be accepted on High, be his worldly state the humblest or the highest, it matters not, provided only that mercy and righteousness have guided his steps while he performed the pilgrimage of life. So also will retribution seize upon all who have neglected their duty, who wilfully shut out the light that would have shone for them on their path if they had but heeded it; and when they come for their recompense, vainly trusting in the carnal acts of greatness which they have achieved, they will be adjudged to that degradation which their unwilling souls have earned for their disobedience.

Let it be then understood that neither in the past nor in the future can we look with calmness and peace, if we have nothing but earthly greatness and human wisdom for our share. As we have said, the past is always reverted to with mingled feelings of sorrow and pleasure; since there is nothing like unalloyed enjoyment ever experienced on earth. And the future can only open for us a constant succession of sorrows and disappointments, if we have nothing but things of the earth to lean upon for support.—But some one may still say, that he knows that to the less wise than himself there may be danger of sorrow if he deviate from the law, which we have pointed out as the solace of our soul in this earthly life; but that to him, being more greatly endowed, there will be no danger if he even follow his own inclination. To such a one, however, if there be one among us, let us recall the words of Moses, who says of a similar case:

והיה בשמעו את דברי האלא הזאת והתברך בלבבו לאמר שלום יהיה לי כי בשרירות לבי אלך למען ספות הרוח את הצמאה׃ דבר׳ כ״ט י״ח׃

“When he heareth the words of this curse, he will bless himself in his heart saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my heart, to add drunkenness to thirst.”—Deut., 29.,18.

To which the prophet then adds, “The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against this man, and all the curses that are written in this book will rest upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven?” This is the warning which we have received; and when has it failed? Whoever of our people that has braved the wrath, has been consumed in the great fire of purgation, which has ever and anon passed over the earth; and there is a certainty that the same result will always be, whilst the same Power bears rule over the earth and its inhabitants. Whoever is of Israel, is bound by the law of Israel, and whoever is instructed, owes allegiance to the same code which we all have been taught to obey. What matters it to our God that we are better, wiser or greater than our neighbours? Does this render us less his creatures, his servants, than we otherwise would be? And what was our distinction bestowed on us for, but to he more useful, more energetic in goodness than we could be, if less endowed? And should such a motive of thankfulness lift us up above the level of mankind, and allow us to be disobedient without the fear of wrath more than our inferior neighbours? Shall additional wealth allow us to work on the Sabbath, when our poor neighbour is in duty bound to rest? Shall our wisdom permit us to despise the word of God, and be gluttons and inebriates, when temperance is enjoined upon the simple man? Shall our beauty be any excuse why we may run not in all the excesses of our desires, when the deformed woud be scoffed for similar wrong doings? Shall our power permit us to die our hands in a brother’s blood, when to every one else human life is sacred? Can we form any reason why the learned in all the sciences may deny his God, and join himself to the worship of the stranger, simply to gain fame and wealth among the enemies of Israel, when such a course would stamp the common man as one derelict in his duty, and an outcast from the household of the blessed seed of Abraham? And whatever other motives of self-congratulation you may discover, they are equally futile as an excuse for sin with those we have just enumerated; and thus, no matter what a man may think of himself, he may be sure of one thing, that there are no valid reasons in existence, which will screen him from the righteous indignation of his justly offended Father. The punishment may be delayed; we are not to suppose that a case is forgotten, because we do not at once see the recompense following the sin; it is not every flash of lightning which scatters destruction, nor is every act necessarily to be punished in a summary manner. It is the mercy of God which waits for amendments; and should then even death ensue ere the sin have been atoned for, the power of God is not abridged, and it still can seize its victim in the world of spirits where, at length, all the deeds of life will meet with their ultimate perfection, be this for good or for evil.

Let it also be remembered that the ways of the Lord are perfect; and therefore, there is not, there cannot be, any immunity for sin; and whatever excuses we may frame, let us be convinced that they will be sifted and carefully weighed in the tribunal where no human error can creep in to mar the decisions of unerring Justice. Let us then lay hold of religion; let us enter upon the narrow path of faith, which will grow broader and fairer as we advance on it. For then only can we look back upon the past without regret; then only can we contemplate the future without apprehension. Hope is the characteristic of the man who knows the Lord; it has consoled him in past adversity, and it illuminates the dark future as a light to his feet. But this consoling treasure must not be looked for in a worldly philosophy, which represents every thing as governed by unavoidable necessity, but in the records of revelation, where we behold God as the Supervisor and Governor of the deeds of man. It is there we behold Him as absolute Goodness, as the Father of all; and if we then feel that we are with our Father, how joyously will we go forward, how gladly will we labour, conscious as we are, that we are guarded and loved, as no mother guards and loves the nursling that sleeps tranquilly on her bosom.

These are a few reflections which naturally spring up at the close of the year; for the man who actually does feel, cannot con­sistently with true wisdom, let day after day mingle itself with the stream of time, without reflecting that each hour he is approaching closer to the end of his earthly career. And we say it without fear of exaggeration, that be we ever so bold and reckless, we must occasionally come to the thought that we are mortal, and fast hastening to the native earth, whence we have sprung. We know also that our soul is immortal, and that we have concerns more precious than any blessings which we can possess on this earth. Is it not then natural that we cast our thoughts to that which is so important, and inquire what we ought to do to be saved? It is; and as there is salvation provided for all men, as God has revealed himself alike to all Israel in the law which we have received: let us search in the Word, and let us endeavour to be faithful to our duty, unwavering in our hope, that we may be received in favour as servants who have done the will of their Master, as children who have trusted on to the last. And well will it be for us, if we improve properly the commencement of the year which is so soon to be with us, with its blessings and its trials; happy will we be if we have purged ourselves of transgression, and learned a lesson from the past; and glorious will be our lot, if on the day of trial the Lord will not impute iniquity to us, and find no deceit in our spirit.—And may then the Lord have mercy on us all, and inscribe us in the book of life and happiness, and decree our portion with the righteous who have done his will. Amen.

Elul 22d, Sept. 6th, 5604.