Grace Aguilar.

The Jewish faith : its spiritual consolation, moral guidance, and immortal hope : with a brief notice of the reasons for many of its ordinances and prohibitions : a series of letters answering the inquiries of youth online

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Online LibraryGrace AguilarThe Jewish faith : its spiritual consolation, moral guidance, and immortal hope : with a brief notice of the reasons for many of its ordinances and prohibitions : a series of letters answering the inquiries of youth → online text (page 25 of 33)
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evermore. For the Lord loveth judgment and forsaketh
not his saints. They are preserved for ever, but the seed
of the wicked shall be cut off. .... I have seen the wicked
in great power and spreading himeelf like a green bay-
tree. Yet he passed away, and lo he was not; yea I
sought him, but he could not be found. Mark the per-
fect, and behold the upright ; for the end of that man is
peace. But the transgressors shall be destroyed together,
the end of the wicked shall be cut off. But the salvation
of the righteous is of the Lord."


Can one word of these emphatic verses apply to
earth and time ? If suffering must be the portion of the
righteous, as we know it is ; what joy or comfort could
there be in the thought that he was to be preserved on
earth for ever ? Besides, the promise that he should be
preserved for ever in one verse, and the command,
" Mark the peaceful end of the upright," in another is a
contradiction impossible to be reconciled, if only supposed
to refer to this life. But we know that preserved for
ever, applies to the life beyond; and that the end of the
upright is full of peace, because he knows death to him
is but his birth into a better world ; while to the wicked
even his end is cut off; a powerful expression for the doom
beyond the mere physical cessation of existence.

" For thou hast delivered my soul from death," David
says, in the fifty-sixth Psalm ; " wilt not thou save my
feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the
land of the living?" And in the hundred and sixteenth
Psalm we find the same expressions, only so much more
enlarged upon, that we cannot doubt to what "land of
the living" they refer. " The sorrows of death com-
passed me," he says, after a burst of thanksgiving to the
Lord for having heard the voice of his supplication,
*' and the pains of the grave got hold of me, I found
trouble and sorrow. Then called I on the name of the
Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul.
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea our God is
merciful. The Lord preserveth the simple; I was
brought low, and he helped me. Return unto thy rest,
O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with
thee ; for thou hast delivered my soul from [the fear of]
death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.


I will walk before the Lord in the land of the

Now, " the sorrows of death, pains of the grave," and
troubles here alluded to, are evidently mental, and have
to do, not with sickness and physical infirmity, but that
weakness of humanity to which even the most pious are
occasionally liable; when death and the grave are fraught
with the gloom of leaving earth, instead of with the joy
of entering Heaven. David was human ; liable to all the
despondency and suffering of his fellows, even in those
very things from which, from his constant efforts to know,
love, and serve God, he might have been supposed
exempt. The hundred and sixteenth psalm describes
his combat with his inward self, at the anticipation of
death and the grave, the lot of all; the fifty-sixth,
whence the same words are quoted, alludes to his out-
ward vexations and annoyances, from the enmity of man,
which led him to God for relief from them, even as in
the hundred and sixteenth, he beseeches relief from
himself. In the fifty-sixth " I will not be afraid what
man can do unto me," he says, " for thy vows are with
me, O God ; I will render praises unto Thee, for Thou
hast delivered my soul from death. Wilt Thou not save
my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the
land of the living."

The enmity and dangers from man, painful and an-
noying as they were, still were endurable, for they were
but of earth ; and God's vow or promise was "to deliver
his soul from death." There could be no comfort in
the supposition that this deliverance was merely a longer
life on earth, exposed to all the same annoyances from
man, and to end at last in annihilation. This promise


prompted the urgent prayer, " Save my feet from falling
into the paths of sin" tempted so to fall, from those
petty stings from man which chafe the spirit into irrita-
tion and rebellion, far more than those in reality heavier
trials which can be traced to, and so received submis-
sively from, God. He prayed to be saved from falling,
that he might indeed walk before God in the " land of
the living." If earth were the land of the living alluded
to, even if his feet fell, he would still walk there till his
appointed time; and the sinner had an equal, if not
greater, share of earthly joys. But the land of the liv-
ing which he prayed to enter, was that Heaven, the
dwelling of the righteous, where the Lord dwelleth with
him that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive
the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the
contrite ones."

In the fifty-sixth, this conviction gives him comfort in
the midst of trials from man. In the hundred and six-
teenth, it has the same effect in a worse trial of despond-
ency and dread. Trouble and pain and sorrow almost
overwhelmed him ; but his faith did not fail him, and he
called on God, and God answered him with a renewal
of that conviction of his immortality which had comforted
him before. It is very mistaken to imagine that a mere
temporary reprieve from the mortal sickness of death
could have called forth the heartfelt thanksgiving and
spiritual trust in the Lord, with which the whole psalm
teems. If it were, we should find some reference to
relief from physical pain and sickness. The thanksgiving
is for a spiritual benefit, even as the complaint is for
spiritual desertion. The prayer and thanksgiving of
Hezekiah for increase of mortal life is so differently


rendered, that it is impossible to believe that David alludes
to the same thing. " Return unto thy rest, O my soul,"
he says, " for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.
He hath delivered thee from death, mine eyes from
tears, and my feet from falling ; I will walk before the
Lord in the land of the living." Here is no supplication
that he may do so, but a firm conviction that he will.
His soul might again return to its rest; for the faith in
its deathless nature, which no physical pain, no mental
depression could remove, had, through God's grace,

"I will pay my vows unto the Lord, now, in the presence
of all his people," he says, in the fourteenth and eighteenth
verses of the same psalm words as clearly alluding to
this life, and a public thanksgiving for the mercy pre-
viously received, as the ninth verse refers to Heaven as
strongly as if it had been written, " I will walk before
God in the land of souls" But clearer proof than all the
rest we find in the fifteenth verse " Precious in the
sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." How could
this be, if death cut the righteous off for ever, removed
from earth the sole witnesses of God, and gave to the
wicked unlimited dominion, which could not be, if the
same fate attended all? Nothing could give sufficient
strength and endurance to dawning righteousness, if not
for the immortal hope of the righteous who had gone
before. How could the deaths of the only ones who by
loving service obtained the appellation of His saints, be
precious in the sight of the Creator, if such deaths were
the annihilation of soul and body, utterly separating
them from Him as from their fellows. The verse is, in
its brief but emphatic sentence, a complete explanation


of the real meaning of David's spiritual pain, and its
triumphant consolation, and in itself a direct revelation
of Immortality. God, in his infinite mercy, rejoiced in
the death of his saints, because that earthly death relieved
them from earthly sufferings, and permitted the soul's
reunion with its kindred spirits in the land of souls, and
in His presence for everlasting.

Very many more of David's Psalms might be quoted,
as bearing equally on this important subject, dearest
Annie; but I trust you are now sufficiently interested,
to seek for them yourself. I will only quote two verses
from my favourite hundred and third Psalm ; where,
after describing man as one "whose days are like grass ;
and as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth, for the
wind passeth over it, and it is gone, and the place thereof
shall know it no more," he continues, "but the mercy
of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them
that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's
children; to such as keep his covenant, and to those that
remember his commandments to do them. The Lord has
prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom
ruleth over all." Now, if we deny David's belief in
Immortality, there is a complete contradiction in these
verses. If man be only as a flower of the field, over
whom the wind passeth, and findeth him not, how can
the Eternal fulfil His word, and show towards him ever-
lasting mercy? The longest measure of human life is
not a hundred years ; and even if mercy were shewn him
every day of those hundred years, it could not be con-
sidered as fulfilling the promise from everlasting to ever-
lasting. It is also to "those that/ear the Lord, keep His
covenant, and remember His commandments to do


them," that everlasting mercy is promised, in contra-
distinction to the wicked, whose lot is only in this life.
In this world, as we have so often reiterated, there is no
distinction between the righteous and the sinful, nor
ever was, nor ever can be; and therefore we know the
mercy promised must allude to that other state of ex-
istence, which is the portion of the righteous, or the
words are utterly void of meaning. It appears to me
also, that the nineteenth verse is not so wholly uncon-
nected with the preceding eighteenth as the full stop
might lead us to suppose ; but that it is for the seekers
after righteousness, made perfect in his mercy, that the
" Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens," and
thus fulfils his promise of "shewing mercy from ever-
lasting to everlasting to those that fear him."

The only remaining Psalms to which I would call your
attention are the forty-ninth and seventy-third, the one
said to be written for the sons of Korah, and the other
by or for Asaph ; and so bearing additional witness as
to the fact of Immortality having been known to and
taught by the Hebrews, ages before the advent of
Christianity. The remark has, I believe, been made,
that these Psalms, Proverbs, etc., are but the opinions
of erring mortals like ourselves, and will not prove more
than our own ideas may suggest to ourselves. But they
do prove more. Compare the opinions of the Hebrews on
all spiritual matters with the opinions on the same sub-
jects of all the cotemporary nations, and then let the
sceptic reply, how and why they should have so advanced
in such purely spiritual feelings and notions as all the
Psalms and Prophets reveal ? Why do we not find the
same revelations of Heaven and Immortality, the same


aspirings of the panting soul after its God, the same
earnest longings after righteousness, and firm belief in
the mercy that would distinguish between the upright
and the ungodly, in other nations as well as the Jews?
How does it happen, that we have no record left of the
spiritual as we have of the temporal history of the Egyp-
tian, Babylonian, Grecian, and Roman Empires, whose
dominions were so vastly more extensive, whose power was
of so much greater magnitude ; and whose advance in the
temporal arts and sciences equalled, if it did not surpass,
the little land of Palestine ? How is it, that in all the
thousand ages which have elapsed since Moses and
David, and the Prophets, we have never found a writer or
writers to give us what they have? If the writers of the
Bible were mere men, in all respects (I will not say as
we are, for that would be an entirely unfair criterion)
such as the nations existing at the same era ; how is it,
that as time advanced and men's minds matured more
and more, there has never been another book compiled
to take their place? And how is it, that the Bible alone,
of all the writings of the same age, will still bear upon
the wants and aspirations moral and mental feelings of
all humanity ? Mortal indeed they were, liable to all
the frailties and sins, not only of their mingled nation
but of their darkened age, but the spirit had been en-
lightened by the revelation of God himself, to mark
His chosen, and through them to fulfil his promise to
Abraham, that " in his seed all the nations of the earth
should be blessed."

The sons of Korah and of Asaph were musicians, and
Levites, forming the choirs employed in the Temple
service. Asaph himself, and no doubt Korah, were


living in David's time; and some Psalms are supposed
to be the joint production of the minstrel king and his
chief musician Asaph ; that is, the words were by the
one, and the music by the other. Those Psalms, headed,
" For the sons of Korah, or the sons of Asaph," are how-
ever considered by some to be of much later date; to
have been composed and sung by the descendants of those
Psalmists, whose name they bear: a supposition founded
on the seeming reference of their subjects to events in
the history of their people, posterior to the existence of
Asaph and Korah individually. Whatever be their date,
the forty-ninth and seventy-third c bear so strongly on
belief in Immortality, that they prove beyond all ques-
tion, that it was the essence of the Jewish creed, and
that to be so, it must naturally have been revealed, or
why should the Jews have known it more than con-
temporary nations?*

The forty-ninth Psalm is supposed to have been
written during the Babylonian captivity, more than five
hundred years before the advent of the Christian era.
Its translation in the English Bibles is, however, very
obscure. The best rendering is that in page 109 of the
Daily Prayer Book of the British Jews; but that it
refers to, or rather is, an emphatic description of the
differing fates of the righteous and the sinful in the
hour of death, is evident, even in its most confused

* It may be urged that Socrates, Longinus, and other Heathen
philosophers, believed and preached immortality without revelation.
They did : but it was not till the dispersion of the Jews had pro-
mulgated their doctrines in some measure over the lands of their
captivity; and no one can compare the more speculative theories
founded on reason and analogy of the heathen, with the confirmed
belief from divine revelation, which the allusions to this solemn
subject and the spiritual aspirations of the Hebrews so betray.


translation. The very fact of its being chosen by the
ancient compilers of our prayers, as the hymn for
mourners after bereavement, proves this very convin-
cingly. " I will incline mine ear to a parable," the
Psalmist says, after calling on all the people to attend,
" and disclose my dark saying on the harp. Wherefore
should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of
my oppressors encompass me. Of those who trust in
their wealth, and boast themselves in the immensity of their
riches, none can by any means redeem his brother, or give to
God a ransom for him (for the redemption of their souls
is precious, and it ceaseth for ever), that he should still
live for ever and not see the grave. For he seeth the wise
man die, and the fool and the brutes to perish together,
and leave their wealth to others. Their inward thought
is, indeed, that their palaces shall continue for ever, and
their dwelling to all generations, so they call their lands
after their own names." Is not this an exact descrip-
tion of the men of this world, seeking, toiling after the
riches and treasure of this life alone, laying up pre-
cious things, as if they could carry them away with
them ; or seeking the poor honour of building palaces to
their own fame, and calling their possessions after their
own names, that even seeing that death comes to all
alike, and will not spare them, nor their brother, nor
their children, however large the ransom for their lives
which their riches may enable them to offer unto God,
that still they pursue their worldly course. " But man's
honour [the mere worldly honour and earthly distinctions
above alluded to] endureth not. He becometh like
the beasts that perish;" because it was the animal pro-
pensities, whose gratification he sought alone, to the


utter neglect of the spiritual, and, therefore, how was
the soul fitted to appear before God ? " uch is their
way; fools to themselves, and yet their posterity ever
applauds them !" And are not the winners of mere
worldly triumphs and treasure now, as then, the objects
of popular applause ? " Like sheep they are laid in
the grave. Death feeds on them ; but the upright shall
have dominion over them in the morning [of the resur-
rection], when their form shall moulder away in the
grave, their dwelling." " But God will redeem my soul,"
he continues, changing his style from the descriptive to
individual apostrophising, which is so often the case
with our Hebrew writers " But God will redeem my
soul from the power of the grave, when He shall receive
me, Selah. Be thou [here the Psalmist is addressing
his own soul]; be thou not dismayed, then, when a man
[who is not righteous] is made rich, and the glory of his
house is increased. For when he dieth, he shall carry
nothing away, nor shall his glory follow him. For though
he doth here delight his soul, thou shalt be called happy
hereafter, whilst he shall follow the generations of his
fathers, who never saw the light [of heaven]. Man who
is in honour [that is in worldly rank and earthly trea-
sures], and understandeth not [the ways of God by
seeking after righteousness], is like the beasts that

Is not this Psalm the exact commentary of those
verses of the ninety-second Psalm which I have already
so often quoted, dearest Annie? It is in itself so clear an
illustration of the argument, that when the wicked pros-
per, their prosperity is merely of this world, and that
the promised reward and blessing of the righteous is


laid up with God, as the portion of the undying soul,
that it can require no further elucidation. 1 shall be
truly glad, if it be as clear to you as it is to me ; for a
Psalm appointed for an hour of bereavement ought to
have no dark or hidden meaning, but clearly and for-
cibly give us confirmed comfort in the thought, that
immortality is the very groundwork of our creed.

The seventy-third Psalm is, in Bagster's Bible, appro-
priated to Asaph, and said to bear date about the time
of the destruction of Sennacherib's army, seven hundred
years before the Christian era. If the date and the
author be both correct, Calmet is wrong; and Asaph
could not have been cotemporary with David. This,
however, signifies little. All we wish to prove is, that
immortality was known to the Hebrew, ages before the
advent of that religion, which is said to have been the
first to proclaim it, not only to the Gentiles but to the
Jews. Like the forty-ninth, the seventy-third Psalm
first alludes to the prosperity and triumph of the wicked,
which had excited the envy of Asaph, notwithstanding
his internal belief, that " God is good to such of Israel
as are of a clean heart." It is a true picture of the
inward doubts and struggles of a holy and righteous
man, who, despite his constant endeavours to love and
serve God, is himself overwhelmed with trial and care,
and perceives the wicked, who know not, and care not to
know God, flourishing and happy. " Verily," he con-
tinues, in the momentary weakness of his human nature,
** I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my
hands in innocence. For all the day long have I been
plagued, and chastened every morning;" and so his feet
had almost gone, and his steps had well nigh slipped.



And the thought of the prosperity of the wicked, and
suffering of the righteous, was too painful for him : " until
I went into the sanctuary of God, and then understood
I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery
places; thou castedst them down to destruction. How
are they brought into desolation, as in a moment ! They
are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when
one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou wilt
despise their image. Thus my heart was grieved, and I
was pricked in my reins [reproached in conscience]. So
foolish was I, and ignorant : 1 was as a beast before
thee [even for permitting the doubt of thy justice to
enter my mind]. Nevertheless [in spite of my doubt
and sin], I am continually with thee : thou hast holden
me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy
counsel^ and afterwards receive me to glory. Whom have I
in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that
I desire beside Thee. My flesh and rny heart may fail ;
but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for
ever. But those that are far from Thee shall perish :
Thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from
Thee ; but it is good for me to draw near unto God:
I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may
declare all His works."

Will not this psalm prove the strength and comfort
which the Hebrews realised in the reflections on, and
belief in, a future state, dearest Annie ? Do we need
more to convince us (hat it must have been revealed, and
formed part of the inward religion of every Hebrew. It is
folly to argue that it was only known to a chosen few, and
that the Jews, as a people, remained in ignorance as to
this important point till ages afterwards. Their very


Law was a mass of contradiction without it ; and those
psalms which formed part of their temple service, or
helps to their devotions in their captivity, were perfectly
incomprehensible. The press, or the literature of a
country is always the only sure criterion of the ideas, not
of a few, but of a nation. The only literature of the
Jews was sacred, and confined to subjects of such lofty
and spiritual nature, that it bore an impress of advance
and enlightenment wholly unlike the literature of cotem-
porary kingdoms. That literature emanated from God's
Law, and, therefore, all it breathed was taught in that
holy Law, and so was the possession of the whole Jewish
nation. The iniquity and terrible darkness on all sides
surrounding their little spot of holy ground, might, nay
must, have had its effect on but too many, in rendering
them utterly regardless of their glorious heritage ; but
that will not do away with the impression which all their
literature leaves ; that Immortality was known and
taught even before the delivery of their Law, which
without it is as incomprehensible and useless, as with it, it
is perfect and eternal.



THE books of the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes bear the
same witness to the Mosaic revelation of Immortality as


the psalms already quoted. Solomon was, indeed,
inspired individually with unusual wisdom; but that
wisdom did not reveal to him new things concerning
the law already given, but only enabled him to under-
stand yet more fully its spiritual as well as temporal
meaning. The gift of understanding vouchsafed to
him, was very different to the inspirations of the pro-
phets. Solomon asked for wisdom to govern a mighty
kingdom, and that was granted him : but the records he
has left behind him for the benefit of his fellow-creatures
in future ages, are but the transcript of a mind and
heart in all respects like those of his fellows, save that
his wisdom gave him greater facility of thought and
adaptation. Even his understanding, gift of God direct
as it was, could not, like the prophets', penetrate through
the hidden things, or disclose the future. His writings
are simply human experiences, having for their ground-
work the religion of his forefathers. He was a Hebrew
himself, and the faith he followed was that of the Law
given through Moses. All he taught them must have
been revealed in that Law. He tells us nothing but
what his father had written before him. He does not
reveal, but simply confirms is but another witness to the
fact, that the Jewish religion must have taught and reite-
rated Immortality as the " path of life " promised to the
righteous, or neither David nor Solomon, nor the other
psalmists, could have alluded to it as they do.

I was once present at a very beautiful lecture on the

Online LibraryGrace AguilarThe Jewish faith : its spiritual consolation, moral guidance, and immortal hope : with a brief notice of the reasons for many of its ordinances and prohibitions : a series of letters answering the inquiries of youth → online text (page 25 of 33)