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בס"ד

Israel's Faith and Deeds

A Sermon for Sabbath Teshuba, 5606.

O Eternal God Our King! hear our supplication, which we pour out in thy sanctuary--in the house where thy children congregate to sanctify thy name. Many are the evils which beset us; and Thou knowest the dangers which accompany us during our pilgrimage in the valley of tears, where scarce a joy blooms, but sorrow lurks in the opening cup of the dazzling flower. How fleeting are our days, and how permanent art Thou; we are here like a shadow that flits swiftly away before the light of the sun; whilst to thy existence there is no end, to thy days no measurable termination. O tale us, then, under the protection of thy power; shield us, by thy spirit, from the attacks of misfortune which constantly threaten us. But if it be thy will to afflict us with any one of the ills to which flesh is subject, because of its mortality: then let us be strengthened, that we may be able to endure submissively and penitently the wounds which we have to bear. Let us feel that it is Thou, O Father! who chastiseth, that it is not in wrath, but in parental love, that we are bruised by thy justice; so that we may be healed through our wounds, and our souls rise upward in the resplendent light of purity and sins forgiven, to become angels before thy throne, messengers of mercy to other mortals yet dwelling in the houses of clay, in their dark hours of tribulation.

O Father, another year is gone, a new year is again commenced, and we stand yet in thy house, renewed in the beauty of holiness, to be a worthy dwelling for thy name. Through difficulties and trials we have been preserved, and we are again permitted to come hither to seek thy presence. Dark looks the past over which we have travelled--its joys are nearly forgotten, its bitterness is too well remembered. Dark frowns the future in its uncertainties and prospective dangers. O grant that the evils of the past may redound to our salvation, and that the apprehended dangers of the future may become means of righteousness and purification, which are to bind us strongly to Thee, to be indissolubly united to thy Spirit in everlasting bliss. And may, in the words of thy prophet, "Thy work be seen upon thy servants, and thy glory upon their children." So shall we be sanctified by thy grace, O God, and so shall this house become a light unto salvation to all who come. hither to pray. And may this year be to us and all Israel a year of blessing and peace, of light and truth. Amen.

Brethren,--

To us it was said by the prophet who had been made the instrument of our redemption:

כי חלק ה' עמו יעקב חבל נחלתו: דבר' ל"ב ט':

"For the portion of the Lord is his people, Jacob is the lot of his inheritance."--Deuteronomy 32:9.

Full of compassion for our degraded state in the bondage of Egypt, did the Lord descend in his glory, to purchase, as it were, unto himself, a people which should be his peculiar portion among the families of the earth; just as in preceding centuries, He had called to his service the shepherd Abraham, imparting to him, out of compassion for the forlorn state of mankind, some of those everlasting truths which are the best guardians of human happiness. By the calling of Abraham, God covenanted that, descended from him, there should always exist a nation, though ever so small in numbers, that should be specially devoted to profess a belief in the Creator, which should conform to the word of the Bible: "And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy people;" meaning, that as it is the priests' business to do the work of the temple to which they may be appointed, and to teach to their scholars the peculiar doctrines which appertain unto their system, thus should the Israelites, the sons of Abraham, exist on earth as priests in God's temple, the entire world, to be devoted, to the specialties of the service which might be demanded of them, and to teach the doctrines of their faith, each generation to their successors. The religion was to be thus a privilege, an especial favour, by which its possessors were to be exempt from the curse of ignorance which afflicts other men. We have before exhibited how the calling of Abraham, and the raising from his descendants of a peculiar people, were necessary in the divine economy, and how they have thus far best subserved to become ultimately the means of subjecting all mankind to the truths which the divine revelation contains. And not a light privilege is this. Think, brethren! all the sons of man are the children of God; they have received at his hands life, free will, and intellect; the human face divine marks than to be like yourselves, parts of the last and best work of the creation. Yet they have not been instructed like you. Folly and wickedness, in times past, nay, from the very creation almost, obscured the brilliancy of wisdom and truth, and mankind, by them misled, have adopted various systems of belief, various ideas of a Godhead, various notions on duty; so that error is palpably every where prevalent. Men of intellect, feeling the degradation thus cast upon them, have ever struggled to dispel the mist, to rend the veil which covered the nations; but in vain; the mist still continues to rest upon the weary soul, and the veil of doubt and darkness yet covers the face of the nobles of the earth.

Was it not, then, a great thing, that, before our eyes, were revealed the fires of glory that blazed terrifically on Mount Sinai? that we heard the awful thunders which surrounded the majesty of Heaven? and that our ears drank in sounds which yet re-echo there, words which once and for ever broke the chains of darkness, and kindled the everlasting lamp of life in our spirits, and which taught us to know the great God who created without an assistant, who governs without any foreign aid, and who blesses without a mediator? Were these things matter of thankfulness? were they themes for rejoicing to the enlightened searcher for truth? Yea, they were, they are so to this day. Glorify, then, the Lord, you of the house of Jacob; bless his eternal name, ye of the seed of Abraham; for great was his kindness which He displayed over us in his might, and blessed be his name, which abideth in truth for ever. We indeed were taught by those events which no human power could have produced, that there is no god in heaven or on earth, who can do like our God's great works and mighty deeds; and the lesson has sunk deeply into our innermost soul, and the events of thirty and more centuries have not been able to obliterate it from our recollection. And wherever the Israelite may be, he hears a voice whispering in his ear: "There is but one God." When he lays himself down to sleep, there is revealed to his understanding: "But one Being rules thy destinies; protected by Him thou needest not fear evil; His hand is ready to snatch thee from destruction; his mercy will watch over thee whilst thou sleepest, his angels will guard thy head." And when he rises in the morning, the rejoicing light, the hum of the insects, the lowing of the cattle, the busy walks of men, will again admonish him, "That one God has made them all." There is no doubt, no uncertainty in your minds, believing sons of Jacob; your God spoke to you on Horeb; He there took you for his heritage, and ever since you have believed in Him, and have borne your willing testimony to the truth of his revealing.

But simple as is the doctrine which constitutes us a people—for it is at last nothing but a single doctrine--"Our God is one;" simple as this is, it has not yet been responded to by all mankind. The struggle for the cause of truth is not yet over--the warfare against sound reason is not yet accomplished, and we must needs stand by our defences till the time that it may please the Lord God to enlighten others, even as He has enlightened us, and to draw all men unto Him by the uniting bonds of a perfect love, of a confiding trust and single-hearted devotion. Simple is the truth; but as yet the empire of error has not yielded; and though many of the absurdities of gross idolatry have faded away, they have in many cases only been changed for others equally pernicious, though perhaps less absurd. We are not, therefore, at liberty to relax in our vigilance, to sleep, sluggard-like, on our posts; but let us loudly proclaim that we are Israelites, that we have full confidence in the word which has been taught us, and that nothing which men can accomplish shall ever wrest it out of our hands. We are God's people by our professing the law which God has written; we are therefore his sacred portion from the other children of Adam, who worship not as we do; we who are descendants of Jacob, who laboured long and well-nigh hopelessly in Egypt, at the bidding of cruel masters; and by redeeming us thence, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, the Lord established a claim of gratitude upon us more than upon other men, because, in addition to life, the gift to all, we have obtained the gift of everlasting freedom; and this we can only repay by our endeavouring, in very truth, to be worthy of being called the lot of his inheritance; to be indeed dutiful servants, faithful to our master, who seeks only our own happiness; to be obedient children, unwavering in our attachment to our heavenly Parent, who watches over us when our earthly parents slumber, who provides for all our wants when we are unable to labour, and who enlightens our soul when otherwise it would grope in darkness, in uncertainty and despair.

Though we have been thus true to the belief in God, though we have never altogether fallen off upon the ways of error: still it is proper that every individual Israelite ask himself, from time to time, "Have I so deported myself as becomes a member of the heritage of the Lord? Have I been faithful to my trust? Have I honoured the name of my Maker?" Alas! to such questions of self-examination what can we answer? what can the best of us aver in extenuation when the Lord comes to judge, when the Infinite demands an account of our doings on earth? The law which constitutes us Israelites has been confided to us solely for our own welfare. It must not be lost sight of, that, for himself, our God could well dispense with our service! for, if we sin, we cannot mar his happiness; if we are righteous, what do we add to his glory? And withal this, how have we conducted ourselves from the day of our first institution as a people, from the day that we each took our position as intelligent agents in the ranks of mankind? The truth will force itself upon our conviction, that, as a people, we have ever neglected the obedience due to our Benefactor, and, as individuals, we have not fulfilled the demands which our Father has a right to exact at our hands. There is always one delusive idea which has led so many to destruction; it is, that belief is every thing, acts, ceremonies, or actual obedience nothing. Were it, to discuss this subject as its importance deserves, that a MAN had ordained our laws, it might, perhaps, be pardonable in us to select from our system what we will keep and what we will reject; there might, in that case, be little acts which could safely be neglected, and important deeds which should claim our especial attention. But this is not our case; no man originated our duties, or no human reason invented our belief. In both these branches it is God alike who speaks to his portion, his people. He assigns in both the lot for Jacob his heritage. When he says, "On the first day of the seventh month ye shall have a holy convocation; no manner of work shall ye do; it shall be a day of the sounding of the cornet unto you." He deserves as much attention as when He proclaims himself the Lord Eternal, who had redeemed us from the iron furnace out of Egypt. In "Thou shalt make thyself fringes on the four corners of thy garment wherewith thou coverest thyself," He expresses as much his absolute will as when He ordains, "Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy." To us one act may appear great, one idea more sublime than the other; but what is our reason that we should confide in it? is our judgment always so certain in mere earthly affairs that we could safely confide our eternal peace to so frail a refuge? How vain is our thinking, how painful our unassisted reflection, our own research in pursuit of physical discoveries in the ordinary affairs of life; how often are we compelled to throw aside all that we have done already as labour lost; and when apparently near the end of our goal, how often are we forced to commence anew, with no better hopes of avoiding failure, the painful toil without which we cannot succeed at all? And still, in matters of religion, our judgment is to be infallible, our own opinion our unerring guide! It requires no argument to prove the fallacy of such reasoning, the very statement of the case is refutation enough of, this pernicious self-delusion. It becomes, therefore, our imperative duty to measure our obligations, not by our reasoning, but by the evident record of the Bible, and the explanation which we have received concerning the same from our forefathers. We must, in short, take for our direction what God has taught, and endeavour to shape our course undeviatingly by this blessed guiding-star, which has been assigned to us to render sure our steps upon the dangerous road of life, and to bring the tossed bark of our national hopes to the secure haven, in its tempestuous voyage upon the treacherous ocean of human events. And let history, both individual and national, speak for us, whether there is not always safety in adhering closely to the observances, and death, yea, death and destruction, in the deviation from the statutes which the Lord has written for our improvement.

It is true that there may be unenlightened men who cling to mere ceremonials, the mere outside of religion, as the spirit thereof, who see nothing in a ceremony but the act itself, whilst the essence, the reason of its institution, is hidden from their eye. But, foolish as these are, they are only guilty of the same folly, which the worldlings commit in neglecting the observances, because they see nothing therein of paramount importance; for these, too, omit to look into the essence of the religion of God. Let us see what did God wish to establish by choosing Israel? a monotheistic race, a people believing in one God, confiding in no other Saviour than the Creator himself, who proclaimed to themselves his law. What was the condition of mankind at that period and since? A constant struggling to destroy this faith, and to build up in its stead a series of errors, all more or less pernicious in their nature, because they hated and yet hate the religion of Israel.

For the belief in a simple unity destroys at once all artificial systems of theory: as soon as you have once heard what our religion is, you understand it just as well as the most learned There is an end to fraud, to tyranny over the spirit. This, however, it was precisely what God intended to teach, all his people should alike know Him, as they were all alike bound to serve Him. When, therefore, this religion became known to the world without, it was met at every step by the contempt, the ridicule, and, not rarely, the persecution of by who differed from us. How was it, then, to be preserved intact amidst this unceasing warfare? Was there to be exerted a constant miraculous power to act as an antagonizing principle to the opposition it had to struggle with? How otherwise could the few monotheists be preserved and distinguished among the many who believed, and still believe, in a plurality of gods in some shape or other? The Lord, therefore, chose his own means to perpetuate his religion; he bound it firmly and for ever to certain observances, which should distinguish his followers among mankind as a people pecu­liarly devoted to his service. So we find with circumcision, "Walk before me and be thou perfect." By the Sabbath: "For it is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever." With the prohibited food: "And ye shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy, and you shall not defile yourselves on any creeping thing which creepeth on the earth; for I am the Lord who bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God, and you shall be holy, because I am holy." With the fringes it is said: "In order that you may remember and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God." We could multiply proofs; but it is enough, with what has been adduced already, to establish, as an incontrovertible fact, that the ceremonial observances have a meaning far above the mere act which is produced by them; they are to revert back on the spirit, render it free from the pollution of the external world, by ever and anon impressing on it the recollection of God, of his miracles, and of his revelation. Observe, brethren, on every occasion wherein Moses, by the order of God, gives a prominent reason for any observance, it is, that we have been bondmen, meaning the act is demanded as an evidence of gratitude, because we have received signal and undeserved benefits from our God and King. The observance, moreover, of the precepts will necessarily make a distinction between us who practise them and those who are not bound thereby. The heathen, the Mahomedan, the Nazarene, can have no interest in keeping the Passover, the Pentecost, the New Year, and the other festivals; they are meaningless to them; they have never been bondmen in Egypt; they never stood at the foot of Sinai to receive a law from the God of heaven; they never had a revealed law to offend against, so that they would have to seek atonement by the humiliation pointed out in the law. To them, therefore, the sound of the cornet is an unharmonious noise; but, to us, it speaks in the voice of a messenger of peace: "Return, ye backsliding children! why will you die, O house of Israel?" To them it would be useless to fast an entire day without bread, without water to pass their lips; but our fathers sinned grievously after receiving the law on Horeb; they speedily departed from the good way, and made, themselves a molten calf to worship the same; it was then that, after many days spent in prayer by the prophet, it was the pleasure of the Most High to stay the just indignation, and to withhold the destruction which had been deserved by the senseless multitude; and to have a constant memorial of the pardoning mercy of God, He instituted the tenth day of the seventh month as a perpetual ordinance, for a fast throughout our generations in all our dwellings. To fast, then, is to acknowledge before the Searcher of hearts that we acknowledge our unworthiness; and our dwelling an entire day in God's house is a confession that we prize his favour above all other treasures; and we shall then also be reminded of the sublime experience of Israel in all ages, that it was one God who rendered our limbs free from slavery; one God and the same Being who delivered our souls from the bonds of darkness by the publication of his law; and one God and the same Being who, undeserving though we were, blotted out our sins without demanding sacrifice or atonement, and refused thus to exterminate those who had so daringly defied his holy will. This ordinance was to be observed throughout all times, in all places; what is this but to say, that every where there is one and only one God? at all times there is and can only be one revelation? Thus the ideas of the Unity and Revelation went hand in hand, and together they were to bless the heritage of the Lord with abundant light and peace, and render them for ever and aye free from the corruptions of superstition, idolatry, and false belief, those awful plagues of the mind, which have at all times exerted so baneful an influence on the souls of men, and the fate of empires.

The few observations just laid before you on one branch of the ceremonies, could easily be extended to all others; the illustrations chosen were merely those that first presented themselves to my mind, without much weighing whether better and stronger ones might not readily be found. So pure is the religion of Heaven, that it requires no eloquent defence to the thinking; and could only all men be equally instructed, it would assume at once the empire over all souls, and banish in a moment all error from the face of the earth. That this will ultimately result in the course of events, admits of no possible doubt; for God has spoken: "On that day the Lord shall be acknowledged ONE, and his name shall be ONE." It might perhaps then be that the ceremonies, being no longer of the important signification which they were hitherto, could be safely abolished or supplied by others of God's ordaining. But this too is doubtful, and we have no evidence that any changes will ever be made in our religion as regards Israel. At all events now the causes of the institution yet operate; we are to this hour surrounded by those who differ widely from us, whose thoughts of God are not those which the Bible contains, and who reject the law of Israel. If we were then to relax in our observances, if we were to break down the lines of demarcation which separate and surround us: we would at once yield up many of our members to amalgamation with the inimical world at large; we would thus step by step obliterate the heritage of the Lord, and destroy Israel from being his people, his witnesses, the bearers of his unity, unto the end of time. But we are commanded to be faithful; we have met with fearful retribution for neglecting the sacred charge confided to us; what should then be our course? Uphold the system of the ceremonies in all its vigour, and enjoin, by living instruction and faithful practice, upon all the branches of the house of Israel, to be true to the standard of faith which we have received, and not to depart to the right or to the left from the way which the Lord our God has commanded us. Every action, even the smallest, performed in the name, and unto the glory of God, will act as a purification of our heart, it will render it sensitive to the impression of righteousness, and will rivet closer and closer our union with the Father above, who wills to be sanctified in the assemblies of his people. Only thus can we be the heritage of the God of Jacob, when we are faithful ourselves, and draw others after us, the strong and the weak, the wise and the foolish, to come in with us, to enter the sanctuary together, to fall down in humility, to worship with an undivided spirit the ONE who is alone in heaven and earth, who is unchangeable and pure, full of mercy and truth, and whose will called forth the earth, that it stood, and who spread out alone the canopy of heaven.

Brethren! we are standing this day at the commencement of a new year from the creation. A few hours ago we hailed the coming season, and prayed that it might be blessed with abundance from before the God of our fathers. Let us hope that He has heard our prayer, and that the year which we have just commenced may be one of peace and plenty, of righteousness, and acceptability, in which union and good-will may prevail among all our brethren, and they be free from the enmity and attacks of the enemies of their faith. But we also have a duty to perform. We must not expect happiness, either temporal or permanent, without deserving it. Let us then arouse ourselves to additional vigilance; let us lay hold of the law of God, as a firm and only support during our earthly trials, as our only guide to yon realms of happiness, which our Father opens for us beyond the confines of the gloomy grave, which is destined to receive us when our earthly pilgrimage is drawn to a close. Dark indeed will the passage be, if we are without the grace of God; but a joyous awakening will be ours, if we have obtained his forgiveness, if our death has atoned for the wrong we have done.—Be watchful over your conduct; listen to the voice of admonition which is implanted within you; but above all, study the word of truth with unwavering faith, and follow its behests during every day of your life. So shall your prayers be heard on the Day of Atonement, and whenever you humble yourselves before your Father, and He will approvingly accept your repentance, and say by the blessed influence his peace exerts over the soul of man: "I have pardoned, as thou hast spoken."

And may the unbought grace of the Lord, which exceeds all blessings, be ours, now and for ever; and may his holy mime be praised through our humble means, and be to Him alone ascribed the glory, worship, and adoration from all mankind, from eternity to eternity.

Amen.

Wednesday, Elul 29. Oct. 1, 5605.