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Isaac Leeser.

Discourses, argumentative and devotional, the subject of the Jewish religion. delivered chiefly at the synagogue Mikveh Israel, in Philadelphia, in the years 5598-5601 online

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Online LibraryIsaac LeeserDiscourses, argumentative and devotional, the subject of the Jewish religion. delivered chiefly at the synagogue Mikveh Israel, in Philadelphia, in the years 5598-5601 → online text (page 14 of 26)
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watches over our welfare, who provides for our wants, whose
beneficence supplies us with all we need from our entrance into
life until we are borne off to the grave, whose providence assists
us in joy and in sorrow, and who relinquishes us riot even then
when the spirit has been severed from the body, but bestows on



THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW. J3j

us a life, which is holier, sweeter, happier than the existence in
this mortal state, where pain and pleasure constantly chase each
other over the varied surface of our being. Yes, we are to love
Him, who is holy, pure, wise, good and bountiful beyond what
our most excited imagination can reach ; we the humble worms
are to unite ourselves to the most Exalted by the bonds of love
and attachment ! Here let us pause a moment ; were a man to
utter such a thought we might justly fear that he presumptuously
approached too .near to the Deity; but here Holy "Writ itself
expressly teaches us that we can love our God, that we can
make ourselves worthy of his love ; that, in short, obedience will
unite the creature to the Creator, and that virtuous resolve and
virtuous actions will render us children of salvation, humble
though our actions be. And thus continues the text, " and to
serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul;"
all that is necessary to effect this is to surrender our judgment
to the instruction we have received, not to hesitate at every
point, because we see not the reasons which governed infinite
Wisdom in his enactments; but they who fear the Lord, who
wish to walk in his ways, and who strive to love Him, should
follow the road He has marked out for them with a singleness
of heart which knows no rebellion, and with a devotedness of
soul which gladly yields itself to divine guidance,. to the truth
as manifested in the records of revelation. If thus we think it
will be easy for us to obey the next condition, which is, " to
keep the commands of the Lord and his statutes ;" for to the
humble believer there is nothing unreasonable, nothing super-
fluous in the law ; he will apply the best light given him to elu-
cidate for himself and others the reasons, and scope, and uses of
the precepts, and where his reason fails to carry him farther, he
will prostrate himself before his God, and obey submissively,
knowing that nought but truth and wholesome instruction can
proceed from the Source of all wisdom and knowledge ; he will
adore the Holiness which pervades all, and will never rise in
judgment against Him by whose sufferance he lives, and thinks.
But if we ask : " What is the aim of all this fear, love, and
obedience ?" the Scriptures answer, " that it may be well with
thee ;" the Creator needs not our service to complete his happi-
ness, nothing that we can accomplish will augment or diminish



132 THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW.

his holiness, purity, wisdom, or power; but the acts we do will
revert to ourselves, that we may become, though at an infinite
degree less than God, holy, pure, and wise, and become armed
with faith and a confiding trust in Providence, which attainments
will open for us the portals of that happiness which our appoint-
ment on earth is capable of enjoying, and make us shine like
the stars unto everlasting when our task is ended.

" That it may be well with thee;" yes the punishments of the
law also are for the promotion of happinesss no less than the
rewards and blessings. If God is glorified by the grace which
attends the life of the righteous, by the peace which illumines
the souls of his servants: He is likewise honoured by the equal
measure of justice which reaches the transgressor, by the dark-
ness and cloud which rest upon the spirit of the sinner. So also
says David in the 36th Psalrn, where he styles himself the ser-
vant of the Lord (v. 10) : " For with Thee is the fountain of
life, in thy light shall we see light." It is only when we love,
fear, and imitate God, that the fountain of life can be opened to
us, and only when we diligently obey the commandments, that
we can see the heavenly light which is the light unto everlast-
ing salvation. But on the other hand, as Solomon says in Pro-
verbs xi. 10: "When it goeth well with the righteous the city
rejoiceth ; and when the wicked perish there is shouting." This
means that the joy which the multitude feel when the true friends
of mankind flourish, can be exceeded only by the exulting con-
viction of an overruling Providence, when the daring sinners at
last meet with the judgment they have so long braved, as though
the power of Heaven were too limited, or his watchfulness too
slothful to reach them> and to put a period to their misdeeds.
And when these do fall, when the prosperity on which they so
much relied is taken from them, where is their light? The only
hope they might have had, the beam of celestial comfort which
they might have enjoyed, they have blindly rejected, and they
therefore find themselves in the situation of a disobedient son
who has been expelled from the mansion of his father for re-
peated acts of rebellion. But yet even the sinner is a son of
Israel, he is not wholly rejected, altho' he has transgressed ; to
him too the Scriptures speak in words of love : " And now,
Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear



THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW. 133

the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways and to love Him."
No being, that ever was created, is excluded from the call to
conversion, from the hope of salvation. The prize to be con-
tended for is open to all; the only way unto happiness is obedi-
ence; continued obedience if we are on the road of righteous-
ness, and renewed obedience, if we have deviated unto the
mazes of sin. The light may be obscured, a vail may hide the
face of the sanctuary; but the Holy Spirit appeals to us to fear
and to love God, and to trust in the righteousness of his com-
mandments, and to acquiesce in the justice of chastisements, be
they an immediate infliction from Heaven, or through the deci-
sion of an earthly tribunal, even if this be an ignominious death
for the wrongs with which we have loaded our conscience:
and if we do so, then will the light shine upon us also though
the moment be the moment of our death ; and the vail will be
rent which has excluded from our eyes the face of the holiness
of God, into whose presence an entire surrendering of spirit will
lead us, to everlasting joy, to unending happiness.

This is the scheme of the Mosaic Dispensation, this is the
doctrine which Heaven himself has taught us of his ways and
his goodness ; and by following its dictates in the spirit of hu-
mility and devotion we all may have the satisfaction to know,
that under the guidance of divine grace we may live to work
out our own salvation, each one for himself, but not through
the means of a mediator, an idea which our religion rejects.
No, brethren ! the law was given unto us, the people of Israel,
to be ours, to be our birthright, all the day's of our existence ; it
is the road to happiness, by following which we are pursuing
life, a life of tranquillity of conscience when mortal, a life of
unclouded joy when we have entered the mansion of our Father,
purified by the pangs of death. Nowhere is it said that any
other method exists, nowhere is any other condition required ;
obedience to God's will is the only demand ; but this require-
ment must be implicitly followed ; no deviating to the right or
the left, no swerving into by-paths either from fear of loss, or
a desire to gain the pleasures of a transient life, or to aggran-
dize ourselves at the expense of the law, must we permit our-
selves, if we wish to become true servants of the Lord of the
universe. Guard therefore your innocence, keep a strict watch

VOL. in. 12



134 THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW.

over all your doings, and weigh well every deed, whether or
not it be in accordance with the scale of the way of godliness
pointed out by our text. And thbu youth ! who standest at the
entrance of life, be not lured away by idle pleasure ; turn a
deaf ear to the syren sounds that would draw thee in the whirl-
pool of dissipation ; a thousand lights will dazzle thy eye, a
thousand charms will obscure thy vision ; but only be firm, turn
thy gaze unto the holy Word, drink deep of the waters that thence
gush to quicken thy flagging spirit ; and though the struggle will
be severe, yet it will be shorter than thou weanest, and when
the tumult of passion is hushed, thou wilt bless the hour that
thou vovvedst to be a firm adherent to the Lord thy God.
Maiden ! whom a flattering world calls beautiful and gay, listen
not to those who would undermine in thee the principles instilled
by thy parents ; heed not those who would rob thee of the price-
less jewel, the love of thy holy faith. What are the earthly
baubles which deck thy dazzling brow ? what are the costly
garments which envelope thy lovely form 1 but perishing trinkets,
fading colours, which ere an hour has elapsed may for ever be
snatched from thy longing sight. But the ornament which a
holy life casts round the lovely virgin, the grace which charity
and benevolence spread over the lowly maiden, lowly because
walking in humility before God how unending, how unfading,
how imperishable are they ! In the highest old age their flowers
are yet blooming, their green ever fresh even at the border of
the grave. Seize, therefore, O daughter of Israel ! the book of
life in thy earliest youth, and let its pages guide thee, shield
thee, comfort thee, in all thy ways, whether joy spreads her
soothing pinions over thee, or sorrow steals with deadening
weight over thy troubled soul; and knowthat female loveliness
is heightened, the woman's sweetness increased a thousand-fold
by the summit of perfection pointed out to us, the love and fear
of God. And you, who are fathers and mothers in the house
of Jacob ! would you secure your own and your children's true
happiness? then apply yourselves to search for truth, where
truth alone is found. Human wisdom, human experience may
deceive and mislead you ; but guided by God's own holy law
you cannot go astray ; its precepts lead onward to perfection,
its doctrines are the fruit of the tree of life, which are ever in



THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW. 135

your reach, though the entrance of paradise is barred by the
revolving sword of the guarding Cherubim ; yes, the entrance
to happiness is closed to the sinner, to him who neglects to
obey the precepts of our Father ; but to those who seize hold
of them they are the tree of life, and the shining blade of the
sword, which is destruction to others, becomes to them a true,
unerring light to salvation ! Be it therefore your endeavour to
go before your children with a holy example of righteous deeds ;
let no occasion pass without reminding them of the duty they
owe to God ; let no day elapse that you do not assist them by
your precept and example to fly for support to the words of the
Bible ; and let no moment pass over you when they might see
that you, their earthly parents, honour not your Father who is
in heaven. On the contrary, let it be your first aim to give
your children a thorough religious education above and before
all sciences; do every thing to make them acquainted with
their duties as Israelites ; warn them early of the dangers to
their moral peace which they will have to encounter in their
earthly pilgrimage ; show them by your example that you are
earnest in what you teach, in what you demand of them ; in
short, teach them to be true sons of Israel, and be yourselves
their spiritual light by your own conduct in every stage of life.
If this be your course, how lovely will your offspring grow up
around you, obedient, docile, pious, beloved of men, favoured
by God ; and when your strength fails, when old age creeps
over your weakened limbs, when the gray hairs encircle your
venerable heads, they will tend upon and reverence you, their
pious progenitors, to be in their turn blessed as becomes those
who acted well their part. It is thus in your power, O sons
and daughters of Israel ! to become children of salvation ; be it
yours to rush forward to this desirable goal, to be there re-
ceived, purified through fear and love of God and obedience to
his will, in the embrace of your everlasting Father as children
of faith and salvation !

Father of all ! look down we beseech Thee, from thy high
abode upon us thy children, whom Thou didst call Israel and
Jeshurun, and let the light of thy countenance shine unto us, as
Thou didst unto our forefathers. O forget us not in our capti-
vity, forsake us not in our dispersion ; but let thy spirit and thy



130 THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW.

light guide us rightly, so that we may discern what is thy will,
and follow thy precepts all the days of our life. Bless all thy
children wherever they are ; and them who languish under the
rod of oppression, do Thou speedily save by thy mighty power,
open for them the doors of their gloomy prison, and break the
arm of him who has lifted up the sword against those who have
done no evil. Be it also thy will . to bless this congregation, to
unite them in love and friendship unto each other and all Israel
their brethren, to banish from them hatred, malevolence and
envy ; and to shed upon thy servant* whom they have chosen
to appeal unto Thee in their behalf, eloquence of speech and a
true knowledge of thy ways, so that he may teach thy flock,
and his words sink deep into their hearts ; in order that it may
be well with them and with their children after them. And
upon all our brethren who dwell in this city, in this land and in
all the world, shower thy manifold goodness, and cause thy
words to be sweet unto them, and unto him also whom thy
grace has called to speak of thy greatness; and grant that
through us thy holy name may be glorified now, and when
thy anointed David shall rule in thy name, and when the dead
shall be awakened to everlasting life. Amen.

ElulGth ic-fiM
Sept. 4th { *

* NOTE. This Discourse was delivered on Sabbath Elul 7th at the Syna-
gogue Benai Yeshurun at New York, over which the Rev. Samuel M.
Isaacs was last year elected minister. The next following Discourse was
delivered in the Synagogue Sheerith Israel in the same city on the follow-
ing Sabbath.



137



DISCOURSE XII.

THE DUTY OF CONTENTMENT.

UNTO Thee, O God ! who art good to all, and whose mer-
cies are over all thy works, do we pray, to be with us in all
our doings, to be our support at each and every period of our
life, in order that we may not stumble, nor be made ashamed
unto everlasting. Be with us in our waking hours, guard us
when we sleep, and support us with the mighty hand of thy
salvation at our awakening in yonder life of blissfulness which
Thou hast treasured up for those who fear Thee and love thy
commandment. Amen.

BRETHREN !

Glorify the Lord your God, ye of the seed of Israel ! for his
goodness which has been extended to you amidst all the trials
to which you have been subjected. From the infancy of your
nation up to the present moment, it has been your blessed lot
to receive protection in every afflicting event which befel you,
and never can it be said that divine assistance was withheld
to shield the remnant of the descendants of the Patriarchs. And
you have been taught, that in national no less than individual
concerns it is no matter what man may do, no matter what the
intentions of the wicked may be ; for it is at the last the provi-
dence of God which watches, controls, and directs for a wise
and benevolent purpose all the affairs of mankind, and out of
every evil He may and does cause good to spring up, even if
the eyes of those who witness the event do not live to see the
ultimate benefit which is destined thence to arise. Who, there-
fore, can doubt of the mercy of his God, because he is sorrow-
ing ? who will dare to impugn the justice of the Creator,
because he beholds those, whom he deems evil and wicked,
flourishing for a while like the grass of the field ? Says the
doubter : " I am told God is just, merciful, and beneficent; and

12*



138 THK DUTY OF CONTENTMENT.

I who am pious, upright, loving God and man, am suffering the
pangs of sickness, the pressure of poverty, the loss of friends
dear to my heart ; there is no justice in this." But is not this
in itself sinning, rebelling against the majesty of God ? who art
thou, worm of the earth, that darest to criticise thy Maker's
goodness, to doubt of his justice, to accuse his mercy ? Thou
sayest that thou art suffering the pangs of sickness, and that
thy exertions in the service of God, thy devotion to the good of
mankind should insure thee a continuous state of health and
capacity to labour. In other words, thou deemest thyself en-
titled by a prescriptive right to a high reward because of thy
virtue ; thou renderest thyself acceptable to God and deserving
of his blessing ; and thou imaginest that thou art injured if any
interruption be given to thy labour. But say, son of the earth,
is all thy striving solely for the glory of God ? does not some
part of self-aggrandizement mingle itself in thy labours of love ?
Hast thou never boasted inwardly of thy great powers of mind,
of thy great capacity for magnificent schemes ? has humility
always dwelt in thy soul, when thou didst step forward to fulfil
the duties demanded of thee ? has not contempt for thy fellow-
beings often obtruded itself at the very time thou wast engaged
in serving them 1 In other words, was not thy virtue often sin-
ful in part, though the outward appearance betokened naught
but righteousness ? Yet even the most righteous man that ever
lived has sinned in this way, and therefore no one can say that
he has not incurred the just censure of his Creator ; and the
afflictions of the body will thus tell thee, O mortal man ! that
thou art far from perfection, just as thy mortal frame is not
exempt from disease and pain ; and that, if thou wishest to be
accepted from on high, thou must needs purify thy heart, and
remove thence all vain desires and presumptuous boasting, and
learn that no act will render thee worthy of divine favour,
unless it proceed entirely from a pure devotional spirit, from an
entire surrendering of thy will to the guidance of God. And
if the want of strength interrupt thee in thy undertaking, reflect,
that in this visitation too the finger of Goodness is seen, to
recall thee to thyself, and to check the vain-gloriousness of
human pride, which supposes itself necessary almost to carry
out the benevolent purposes of the Creator, who surely is able



THE DUTY OF CONTENTMENT. 139

to raise up other agents besides thee to effect his will ; for His
are all the earth and its fulness, and every being that exists has
received from Him a task which it becomes him to execute,
and it was never intended that a few greatly gifted should
monopolize all the deeds of mercy to which all mankind should
contribute. If therefore thou findest that thy strength fails thee,
search deeply into thy own conduct ; accuse thyself of wrong
where thou discoverest that thou hast erred, and amend thy
ways that thou mayest deserve mercy ; who knows ? but the
Lord may remove the evil from thee, and send healing unto
thy diseased limbs, and restore thy strength as aforetimes. Nay,
if even thou canst not discover any thing sinful in thy doings
(which in itself is almost impossible to suppose) : then too sub-
mit to the chastisement in meekness, and strive to glorify thy
Maker from the midst of pain and anguish, and prove that it is
not the mere love of reward which stimulated thy exertions,
that not merely the desire to appear great before man nerved
thy arm, and roused thy soul ; but that it was the love and fear
of God which prompted thee to serve Him and to imitate Him
in his deeds of mercy ; and know that it is by sorrows alone
that the truly righteous can be probed, and be exalted above
those whose service is not sincere, whose worship is not seated
deep in the soul ; and that he who is convinced of the righteous-
ness of God will say with David :* " Though I walk in the
midst of trouble Thou wilt revive me ; Thou wilt stretch forth
thy hand against the wrath of my enemies, and thy right hand
will save me."

Or thou sayest : " I suffer the pressure of poverty !" Yes,
thou seest worldly prosperity scattered with a liberal hand
among thy neighbours ; thou art envious of their possessions,
thou imaginest thyself entitled, because of thy piety, to an equal
if not to a greater share of success, and thou imaginest thyself
forgotten by God, because He assigns to thee a daily task to
obtain thy bread by the labour of thy hands. Let us plead
with thee. Thou art envious because others are rich ! Is this
becoming one who calls himself a servant of God ? wilt thou
dictate to Him whom he shall bless, to whom He shall be gra-

* Psalm cxxxviii. 7.



140 THE DUTY OF CONTENTMENT.

cious ? Thou sayest, " They are wicked, whereas I am right-
eous." But knovvest thou correctly how far their wickedness
extends ? hast thou the gift to search into the recesses of con-
science, and lay open to the light of day what passes in the
mine of thought, the human soul ? Knowest thou the private
deeds of charity which the apparently wicked exercise? or
admit that they do no deed of mercy, (which again is almost
impossible, for no man is altogether lost to virtue) : still canst
thou tell that the hoard of wealth which thou believest unwor-
thily bestowed may not be destined to fall into hands which will
scatter bounties, and effect charities which thou dreamest not
of? Or perhaps mightest thou not become forgetful of thy
duties, were wealth to smile upon thee, were thy coffers to be
filled with gold 1 for alas ! the example is not rare, where those
who once were apparently pious, whilst the world was un-
friendly to them, became suddenly animated by a new spirit
when they had obtained riches and when prosperity flowed in
upon them. Just as was the case and is to this day with Israel
as a nation. What a glorious spectacle did we exhibit during
ages of oppression ! for when all mankind colleagued together,
as it were, to compel us to forswear our hope of salvation
through the blessed Only One who lives for eternity, when
nearly in every place upon the whole face of the earth we were
trodden upon, trampled under foot, because we would not bow
down to the idols or acknowledge the false worship of the gen-
tiles ; when the root of the tree of our faith was abundantly
bathed in blood and its branches abundantly watered with our
tears : how nobly did we endure all, in love, humility and sub-
mission, because we trusted in the Lord our Saviour, and con-
fided in his power. The louder the storm grew, the more
upraised became our prayer; the darker gathered the clouds,
the more gloomy sunk the darkness the brighter shone the
light of our faith, the holier beamed the faithfulness with which
we clung to our God ! But the times changed. The gentile
world had learned to admire Israel's constancy, to understand
better the beauty of the system which is the rule of our life.
The weight of oppression was lifted in many a land, in others
we were declared equal to the other inhabitants ; and we re-
garded the time as a season of the jubilee, we believed that now



THE DUTY OF CONTENTMENT. 141

the bondmen should go free, and no more be heard the task-
master's voice. And how did we repay the act of grace which
our God had vouchsafed to us ? I say, " our God," because
is it not He who inspires with mercy the heart of him who feels
no pity, and softens the wrath of the tyrant, as Solomon says :
" The king's heart is in the hands of the Lord as the rivers of
water, He turneth it whithersoever He will?" (Prov. xxi. 1.)
Say. how did we act when we found that enlargement had
been extended to us ? Alas ! that truth should compel us to
answer, ungratefully, unworthily, unwisely ! Ungratefully, be-
cause instead of obeying more ardently the will of God, we
went astray upon the paths of perdition ; we neglected the com-
mandments, we forsook the road of life ; and we hewed out
unto ourselves new cisterns, and filled them not with waters
drawn from the fountain whence flows the stream that refreshes
unto salvation, but with the deceitful waters of bitterness which,
though sweet to the taste of the thoughtless, are yet in their end
death and destruction. . And how many are there who have
rebelled against the Lord ! do not our eyes behold the melan-
choly fact that religion lies neglected, that its teachers are un-


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Online LibraryIsaac LeeserDiscourses, argumentative and devotional, the subject of the Jewish religion. delivered chiefly at the synagogue Mikveh Israel, in Philadelphia, in the years 5598-5601 → online text (page 14 of 26)