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בס"ד

The Jewish Ministry

By the Rev. J. K. Gutheim.

Delivered on Sabbath Bo, January 19th, Shebat 5610.

II.

My Friends,—The relation subsisting between the minister and his congregation creates reciprocal duties. The minister has his duties, most urgent, most important, most unceasing; but while this is true on the one side, it is no less true on the other that the congregation, by the election of a minister and the enjoyment of his services, bring themselves under corresponding responsibilities to him, to their religion, and their God. Your election of a minister is on your part a purely voluntary act. But when it is done, while that relation subsists, while he continues faithful to his work, you cannot refuse to discharge the duties to which it gives rise, without guilt and dishonour. You will bear with me, then, today, if I should speak to you of some things which have a direct reference to myself, and to my future ministry among you. Much as we anticipate from that attachment so happily it commenced between us, it will not prejudice our mutual confidence, it will facilitate our future intercourse, and lay a broader basis for harmonious action hereafter, if at the outset of our connexion we understand each other, and look calmly and steadily at the duties which we are bound reciprocally to perform.

In my last discourse I surveyed, in general terms, the course to be followed by the minister. He should be actuated by truth, guided by light, prompted by love. And it is necessary that his course should be thus truthful, clear, and conciliating, since the difficulties he is likely to encounter are of no ordinary character. Things here are yet in a state of transition, in the process of development. Although congregations in their aggregate capacity are bound by the holiest ties—those of common descent and religion—and unite for a common object—that of worshipping the God of the universe, according to the custom of their fathers; <<75>>yet are they, as a general thing, composed of such heterogeneous elements that a considerable time must elapse before the diversified habits, customs, predispositions, predilections, or even prejudices of the individual members will be blended so as to present an harmonious aspect, and the government and discipline of the congregations and Synagogues be placed on a uniform, consolidated footing.

To assist in bringing about this happy consummation, to render the Synagogue the focus of religious light that is to radiate on every side, is the legitimate province of the minister. That in this he needs the full confidence, cordial support, and warm co-operation of his congregation, need hardly be said; that he must prosecute his labours with undiminished zeal and untiring perseverance is too obvious to be denied. And if in my last discourse the 3d verse of the 42d chapter of Isaiah was selected as text, “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shalt he not quench; he shall bring forth judgment unto truth;” I have chosen for this day the 4th verse of the same chapter as guide.

לא יכהה ולא ירוץ עד ישים בארץ משפט ולתורתו איים ייחלו׃

“He shall not fail nor be discouraged till he have set judgment in the earth, and the isles shall wait for his law.”

Before entering on the subject-matter of my discourse, I invite your attention to a consideration of the chapter from which I have quoted. This and similar passages of the prophet Isaiah have in our day given rise to such flagrant misconceptions, and been the subject of such glaring misconstructions, contrary to the true spirit of scripture, and in violation of all the laws of interpretation, that a few brief remarks offered in their illustration may not be deemed unimportant. Let me for this purpose read the whole passage, verses 1-8. The difference of opinion among commentators with regard to this passage mainly arose from the fact of their not looking upon this and the three succeeding chapters, xlii.–xlv., as one continuous and closely connected prophecy; hence they were at a loss to whom the expression עבד ה׳ servant of the Lord, could refer. Some (Onk. Rdak and Abuab) understood it to be the Messiah, others (Saad.) Koresh, others, again, the prophet himself, and still others referred it to a par<<76>>ticular person, to whom they paid and still pay divine honours, and whose claim they thought it their duty to urge.

Of the Jewish commentators it is especially the deeply learned Rashi who came to the correct conclusion, that the prophet applied the expression “servant of the Lord” to “the people of Israel itself.” And the Septuagint, although not considered an authority by us, are so explicit as to insert in their translation the very words Jacob, and Israel.

None will deny that this is the only proper construction, if we find in the xli. 8, 9, ישראל עבדי יעקב אשר בחרתיך  “Israel my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen;” again, in the xliii. 10, “Ye are my witnesses, my servant whom I have chosen;” again, xliv. 1, “Jacob my servant, and Israel whom I have chosen;” again; xlv. 4, “My servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen one:” none, I say, can deny the correctness of this interpretation, in view of these parallel passages, the arbitrary headings of authorized versions notwithstanding.

It would be a very curious thing indeed, if in one and the same speech the same expressions should be employed to designate different objects. And hence does this passage apply to the people of Israel only, and not to any mortal man besides.

If we now carefully examine the tenor of the verses read to you, we will find that the prophet depicts the peculiar mission of Israel, and the characteristics attendant thereon. Israel shall proclaim the law, the divine law, to the nations; he shall bring forth judgment unto the nations (v.1); Israel shall establish this law upon earth, and diffuse it among the nations; he shall put judgment upon earth, and the isles shall wait for his law (v. 4). Israel shall be a covenant and light to the nations (v. 6, 7), to remove the blindness of superstition and open the prison of irreligion; it is for this that the Lord has called upon and protected him (6, 7). But the mission of Israel shall be accomplished peacefully. He shall not deliver the law and knowledge of the. Lord to the nations with a clamorous voice, or by repulsive intrusion, not by power and violence—in the manner of Charlemagne against the Teutonic tribes, the Spanish conversions in America, and the conquests of the Islam—but by the power of truth, which will surely, though slowly, work its end; לאמת יוציא משפט he shall bring forth judgment unto truth (3).

This mission of Israel is borne out by his entire history to <<77>>the present day. Israel was selected as the people of revelation, to preserve the religious truths entrusted to his safe-keeping until the whole human family be ripe for their reception, and willing to give their assent. And it is on account of this relation which Israel bears to the rest of mankind that the prophet designates the people by the distinguishing appellation of “servant of the Lord,” and “chosen of the Lord.”

This being the true meaning of the cited passage, we may well be justified in taking it for our guide.

I have said that the relation subsisting between the minister and his congregation creates reciprocal duties; let us now, in resuming the thread of my discourse, inquire into the nature of those obligations devolving on the latter.

I.

It is a duty on the part of the congregation, in order to establish a perfect understanding, to cultivate an intimate acquaintance with the minister. They should seek and offer opportunities to know as well as to become known to him. Mutual knowledge of each other will lead to mutual esteem (if indeed such be at all deserving). Mutual knowledge, while it may reveal imperfections, will yet bring out into more striking light the predominant good feeling; it will enable him to adapt his instructions more perfectly to your character and understanding, and prepare you to listen with more profound attention to the truths he may utter. Do not look upon him as if he were a spy upon your conduct; as if his business were solely that of finding fault with your lives; as if he were a monk looking out of his sepulchral den with a green eye upon all the things that you hold most dear. He is a man like yourselves, of the same social affections, the same intellectual perceptions of all that is beautiful in the world around us, of the same general infirmities, incident to human nature. Do not treat him, therefore, with a distant respect, with the cold politeness of ceremony, as one whom you are to meet only on state occasions, but as one who is to be with you, a sympathizing friend in scenes of trial and of joy, the most thrilling and affecting this side of the grave.

As a congregation <<78>>it is your duty to be in prompt attendance upon the stated times of divine service. This sanctuary—as long as you have not erected an edifice more in consonance with your position and standing; and more in harmony with the beauty and sublimity of our religion—this sanctuary is to be your religious home as well as your minister’s. It would be disheartening, indeed, while leading the service, the devout attendants at the Synagogue should consist of the mere legal number, the bare מנין* while the principal part of the congregation keep aloof. Justly could he complain, “Why did I come when there is no man, why was I called when there is none to answer?”

* Minyan, that is, ten males over thirteen, the requisite number for public worship.

And when he comes forth, after days of mental toil, with his message addressed to you, it is neither honourable in you nor profitable for either to find you absent. The idea of so much salary for so much labour, and when both parties have fulfilled that part of the contract it is no farther matter what course they pursue, is infinitely degrading to the mind that entertains it, while its influence disheartens and paralyses the faithful servant of God.

If your minister is to conduct the devotional exercises in the house of God; if, according to your desire he is bound to preach to you and to your children the word of God; if the whole design for which he gives up all other pursuits, renounces all worldly prospects as fair as any that brighten before his hearers, is that of promoting our holy cause:—then neither honour nor honesty, neither religion nor an elevated morality, can be satisfied with the mere payment of money on your part, while you do not come regularly to offer your worship to our Heavenly Father, and to hear the truth.

Surely you have not agreed with me to represent the whole congregation at our shrine of devotion, nor to preach to empty benches. An automaton could effect that as well and better than a living man; for it has no nerves nor affections to be lacerated and distressed by such an operation. There are reasons, indeed, which in God’s sight will excuse absences from this place. But a little heat, or a little rain, or a little inconvenience produced by time or distance, will never justify the forsaking of the sanctuary to any truly pious mind. Be prompt, therefore, in your attendance at this place of worship. Give me cause to urge <<79>>you, in the words of the prophet (Is. liv. 2), “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitation; spare not, delay not!” It is my hope that an honourable, just, and elevated tone of feeling will, in this respect, characte­rize all the members of this congregation; that they henceforth will sing with the Psalmist, “I rejoice when they say to me, let us walk into the house of the Lord.”

But your mere presence is not sufficient, it is your duty to give a reverential and careful Attention to the services of God’s house. The solemnity of your deportment should correspond with the sacredness of the place and of the worship here offered. The stranger, when he enters this place, should be made irresistibly to feel that he is among a people who know how to value the blessings of their revered, time-hallowed religion. Your children should grow up accustomed to your reverential and thoughtful conduct in the temple of God. Never should they behold in you a light, supercilious air, or a stupid, indifferent, perhaps sleepy, countenance. You should observe strict order and decorum, you should offer the prayers of your heart with the true spirit of devotion, you should listen to the exposition of the word of God, not with a captious nor a critical spirit, not with a desire for the mere drapery of the sermon, but with a healthful appetite for the truth; it should be your desire to hear the truth, rather than seek for the mere enjoyment of a gratified curiosity.

Nor is an attentive hearing sufficient. You will not do justice to your minister if you do not compare his preaching with the word of God. No tradition, no assertions of the holiest minister that ever preached are to weigh a feather with you unless in harmony with this revealed truth. My word is not to be your faith. You will do me great injustice if you do not meditate and search for yourselves in the word of life. It is my prayer that I may never utter one sentiment, never advance one opinion in this place, that the spirit of inspiration will not endorse. But be as­sured, that whether I succeed in this or not, my efforts will be barren of their noblest results, if they fail in stimulating you to a careful and diligent study of the word of God, and the requirements of your religion.

<<80>>And while I thus urge you to an enlightened independence, I ought to warn you against that factious and criminal independence which finds fault with the preacher, either because he does not say all that you would like to have him say on all subjects, or because he may utter sentiments that cross the track of your opinions or your life. Of what worth to you is a man that will not speak the truth on those subjects which are vital to your peace, your comfort, your salvation? Of what value to you is a man whose cry is Peace, Peace, when you are in danger of eternal strife? What interest have you in hearing a man who aims rather to tickle your fancy, amuse your intellect, or play about the mere flowers and drapery of this world, while he is afraid to analyze your character, unfold the great principles on which the noble structure of our heavenly religion is based, and urge you to tread the road of life?

In the truth you have a fearful interest, but in error you have no interest. And hence the great question with you should ever be, has the preacher uttered the truth? is it in harmony, not with our preconceived opinions, but with the word of God? There are many of you proficients in worldly pursuits, at whose feet I would willingly sit and receive instruction in those things with reference to which your lives have been spent. But I should deem myself unworthy of my position here, unworthy of your confidence, if I were to permit any of you to dictate what or how I shall preach, while I remain your minister. You have chosen me to fill this post because you had confidence in me that I would act wisely; and it is my prayer that God will strengthen me to meet, in this respect, your expectations, and justify your confidence.

II.

לא יכהה ולא ירוץ “He shall not fail nor be discouraged.” My labours do not cease here, are not bounded by the walls of the Synagogue; they extend farther. I refer here more particularly to the religious training of your children. If you are at all desirous of establishing your religion on a firm basis, the religious education of the rising generation must not be neglected. They should early be taught the principles of our holy faith, and <<81>>the beauty and sublimity of its doctrines be impressed on their minds; they should early be instructed in the language and history of their fathers, to recognise the ruling hand of Providence that shapes the destinies of nations; they should early be initiated into the practice of those high duties prescribed by our religion, “To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before the Lord,” so that if they become old they will not depart therefrom. Every aid should therefore be rendered to the teacher, to facilitate his task in laying a solid religious foundation in the mind of the young, so that while they grow up to become useful citizens, fitted for any pursuit they may choose to adopt, they may never cease to be good Israelites, in the literal sense of the word, “Champions in the cause of God.”

“He shall not fail nor be discouraged!” Providence has permitted me to enter on the duties of my office in your midst, after some years of ministerial labour, yet in the spring-tide of my public life. Shifted to a new sphere of action, surrounded by new circumstances, I may have much to learn, you may have much to bear. Yet I trust you will find me not an unapt scholar, while I anticipate on your part a kind disposition, that will not be eagle-eyed to detect infirmities, and a charity broad enough to cover many imperfections. To-day I renewedly give myself wholly to your service and to that of our holy religion. Whatever toil of mind or concern of heart appertains to this high position, whatever is just and right, that you are authorized to claim; nor will you find me backward in responding to it.

And whatever a minister ought to ask of any congregation, whatever is just and right and most for their highest good he should ask from them, all that you may be assured will be expected of you. Being the first established congregation in this large and enterprising city, living in the midst of an enlightened community, you have a high and noble task to perform. Judaism is as yet only known by name, and all the interest evinced in its behalf proceeds more from curiosity than a true appreciation of its merits. For the sake, then, of your own souls, for the good of your beloved children, for the prosperity of our people and the accomplishment of its mission, for the triumph of truth in this great Western World, it becomes you “not to fail nor <<82>>be discouraged, until judgment be put on the earth, and, the isles shall wait for the law of God!”

Members of the congregation Shangareh Chessed! Your numbers mostly consist of those who are in opening manhood, or stand in the meridian of life, vigorous in business, active in the pursuits of the world. You should display nerve and activity in maintaining the affairs of the congregation in a well-ordered condition; you should take a noble pride in making this congregation, in all its arrangements, in its steady, intelligent piety, its warm, open-hearted benevolence, a model congregation—this Synagogue a fountain of great and blessed influence; so that as strangers from all parts come hither and behold your order, your growing numbers, your fervent zeal, your devout worship, your godliness and piety, they may go from us as the ancient Israelite left the temple, bearing with him impressions of God’s majesty to the farthest parts of his beloved land.

Our God, our Father! Until here has thy mercy supported us, and thy love not forsaken us. Though we have wandered from the road of life, and disregarded thy holy commandments, Thou didst graciously accept us, whenever we returned to Thee in sincerity and truth! As a father has compassion on his children, thus didst Thou have compassion on us: thy abundant love did never entirely forsake us. Be with us in this hour of devotion, as Thou art near to all those who call on Thee in truth! Endow us with wisdom to choose what is best for our salvation, incline our hearts to serve Thee with zeal and devotion, sustain us in all our trials and sorrows. And we pray Thee, oh God, to guard this city against every impending danger, to pour out thy blessing over all its inhabitants, that they may rejoice in the plenitude of thy bounty. Let peace and security reign in our dwellings, godliness and piety in our hearts, so that day by day we may prove worthier of thy heavenly protection. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy presence, oh Lord! who art our Rock and Redeemer. Amen.