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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 18 of 26)
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SALVATION THROUGH REPENTANCE. 173

accepted. We must cast no longing, lingering look behind, as we
are retracing our steps ; but speed onward, onward in righteous-
ness, farther, farther from transgression. And as when sinning
we hastened by accelerated steps after we had once yielded
ourselves to our desires : so will we be strengthened, as we pro-
ceed, to advance faster and faster in the pursuit of righteous-
ness ; for the forsaking of our wicked thoughts, or in other
words the pleasure we at one time felt in transgressing, will
impel us to be active in righteousness, and to grow stronger in
grace and holiness. And what will be the result? "Let him
return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy on him." The
sinner, when he is aroused to self-condemnation, must not de-
spair of mercy ; he must not appeal to the magnitude or number
of his misdeeds as a proof that he cannot return, since to him
no atonement can be given. No, this is not the doctrine which
the Bible teaches ; all may be received into favour, all should
therefore return. Who is there that has stood in the council of
the Lord, and will set a measure to his bounty? who dares to
deny to man the hope which God himself has inspired ? No !
the mercy of God is extended to all who come, his forgiveness is
not exhausted, and never will be exhausted. He has created
mankind for happiness, not destruction ; but it is their business
to earn salvation for themselves, at first, by obedience, and if
they have sinned, by repentance. Still let no man flatter him-
self that he will escape condemnation if he does not repent; for
we are told that impenitence will receive the displeasure of our
God, who is everliving and cognizant of all our deeds. We
cannot escape, except by embracing the call, the invitation to
mercy addressed to us ; let us all therefore seek the Lord while
He may be found, before our life draws to a close ; let all wait
on Him while He is nigh, which is all the days of our existence ;
but chiefly at the season of forgiveness which He has instituted
as a time of atonement for Israel to their latest generation. Let
us be convinced, that it is in our power to be numbered among
the righteous and the accepted, the elect of God, because they
have done his will, and purified their thoughts from evil. Let
there be no holding back, no timidity ; for what have we to
fear, if we act rightly ? and what have we not to dread, if we
are stubborn and persevering in sin ?

15*



174 SALVATION THROUGH REPENTANCE.

O ! that all Israel therefore would hasten forward to embrace
the tree of life which the Lord has planted for them ; how
happy a season of atonement would this be, if all were to return
in truth to the fold of the great Shepherd ! There are those
whose hands are defiled by fraud and unjust gain : let them ask
for forgiveness of their injured neighbour, make restitution for
the wrong they have done, abhor their deceitful way, and then
ask of the Lord to pardon their sin, according to his mercy.
There are they who have caused dissension and strife among
brothers : let them too beware of the wrath they have grie-
vously offended ; they must strive to heal the breach they have
caused ; they must confess that they have acted treacherously,
and humble themselves to their injured fellow-mortals, before
they appeal to Heaven for pardon and forgiveness. There are
they who have polluted themselves by food which the Scrip-
tures call an abomination : they are now warned that their way
is sinful, that it is time to serve the Creator and not strive unto
the end of their days to satisfy a mere carnal craving for use-
less and sinful enjoyments ; and if they have forsaken this evil,
then let them too join the crowd of worshippers, and appeal for
atonement from the Source of all mercy. There are those who
have neglected the covenant of Abraham ; their sons bear not
the impression of the seal which is to mark them servants of
the Most High ; they have in this manner spoken by their acts,
that they wish not to be of Israel, desire for no portion in the
law, the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob ; they have
braved the Lord, and no punishment has hitherto reached them :
but let them too beware ; the justice of God sleeps not He
gives them time for repentance, He will not destroy them, while
there is hope of amendment ; but surely the judgment will at
length be executed, and the outraged covenant will see ven-
geance executed upon the transgressors. Let these also there-
fore seek the Lord while He may be found, come to his foot-
stool with prayer and humiliation, and bring their offspring as
an acceptable offering into the midst of the congregation of the
Lord, and rear them, as they themselves were, to know that
they are of Israel, and their hopes are bound up in Israel's
hope. And they who have violated the Sabbaths of the Lord,
do they not discover that they have sinned long enough, that



SALVATION THROUGH REPENTANCE. 175

no satisfaction attends a constant toiling, a labour uninterrupted
by a spiritual refreshing at the house of God ? What will their
unlawful gains avail when the day of trial at length arrives ?
what will their souls say when they must answer the dread
Judge when demanding an account of their doings whilst in
this state of probation 1 Let these also return from their evil ;
God is near to their pra;, ers, if they will sincerely repent and
sin no more ; they too will be accepted, if they forsake their
sinful way and no longer cling to their thoughts which only
counsel evil and will debar them from an entrance into the
gates of everlasting life.

Brethren ! by the favour of God we have been preserved to
celebrate the commencement of another year ; his mercy has
not been withheld from the labour of our hands ; as yet it is
time to seek righteousness ! the portals of mercy are not yet
closed ! But who will warrant us that another year will be
allotted to any one here present ? how are we to know who of
us will be soon carried to the grave ? Should we not, therefore,
feel alarmed at the state of uncertainty which is ever extended
over human happiness, over human life ? were it not time there-
fore that we all should look to our deeds, pluck thence the evil
which threatens our peace, and seek for pardon for our past
misconduct ? Let no one say, that we have not sinned, indi-
vidually and collectively ; there is sin in the houses, in private
recesses, in public assemblies, in the dark of night, in the noon
of day ! It is therefore the business of all to assist in clearing
from briars and thorns the highway of salvation, to purify them-
selves and to help in cleansing others. Perhaps we may be
received in favour, perhaps the evil which we have merited
may be converted into blessing, if the Lord sees that we are
entire with Him, and sincere in his service. Perhaps in his
mercy He may visit the outcast daughter of Zion, and build up
her desolate places and heal up the breaches in her sanctuary
which the heathen have trampled down in their triumph, be-
cause we had sinned. And how happy would we then dwell !
protected by the law of God, governed by his own anointed !
No longer would our brothers linger in captivity, and writhe
under the lash of the persecutor ; and righteousness and truth
would guide us all onward to the realms of bliss, to the favour



176 THE COVENANT OF ABRAHAM.

of God. O ! let this holy aim be our desire ! let us return to
our Father, who speaks to us through his word, who appeals
to us through our love of life, through our hope of salvation !
Let us, beloved brethren ! devote ourselves to his service, pro-
claim aloud that to Him alone we will cling, that we will hence-
forward seek in his law alone for instruction, and endeavour to
offend no more. Then will we be received as was David re-
ceived, our sin will be wiped off, and we will not die ; but live
and stand regenerated before our Father who is in heaven, and
amidst the assembly of the saints who have done his will.

Bless us, O our God ! as Thou didst bless our fathers ; and
look not to our iniquity, but forgive us, even as Thou hast for-
given the sinning seed of Adam from the beginning until now.
Accept our prayer, and cause thy word to be sweet unto us ;
that we all may be induced to return from our evil ways, and
seek for life in thy presence, by a submission to thy holy will,
which Thou hast made known to us through thy servants the
prophets. Amen.

Tishry 5th
October 2d



DISCOURSE XV.

THE COVENANT OF ABRAHAM.

BLESSED God, the omnipotent I AM ! whose are all existing
things, whose happiness is immeasurable, whose goodness is
without ending, bless us as ever Thou didst bless the seed of
Abraham thy beloved ; be with us in the moments of joy, be
our stay in the hours of sorrow ; watch over us when we are
obedient, and reject us not when we forsake thy covenant.
Have regard to our sinful nature, remember that we are flesh,



THE COVENANT OF ABRAHAM. 177

and be mindful that we are children of those holy ones of for-
mer years, whose devotion and piety Thou promisedst to pre-
serve unto a thousand generations. Give us then thy blessing,
grant us thy salvation, and cause that from us too may yet
spring' generation after generation of true sons of Israel, who
will sanctify thy name, even as it is sanctified by thy holy mes-
sengers, who declare Thee their God and Creator, and pro-
claim : " Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth
is full of his glory." Be this thy will. Arnen.

BRETHREN !

Were life never beset with dangers, were there no critical
situations during the course of our existence : then would we
require no prudence to guide us correctly, no instruction to tell
us how to proceed in our plans. So likewise, were religion
nothing but an admission of certain truths, or an exercise of
nothing but pleasant duties : no admonition, no warnings, no
rewards, no punishments would be requisite to render us all
religious. If this were so, then life on the one hand would pass
away in one uniform state of inaction ; and religion would fail
of improving the soul, or of tending to eradicate the evil pro-
pensities inherent in our nature. But life is one constant suc-
cession of dangers and trials ; all our energies are perpetually
called into action to ward off some unpleasant event or to com-
bat with some pressing difficulty; the mind thus becomes
quickened, the inventive faculties are excited ; and mankind
in consequence are always hastening forward to a state of
change and improvement, no matter whether the latter be either
fancied or real. If occasionally the result of such exertion
must be admitted to be injurious to the great mass : still it is
more frequently highly useful and even necessary, as experience
has amply proved, to infuse life into the stagnant state of inac-
tion or torpid submission to misrule. The same is the case
with religion ; our souls are susceptible of improvement, and
our disposition though inclined to sinfulness can be counteracted,
if we have a constant watch over ourselves, and endeavour to
shape our conduct in accordance with the law of God.

Now let us inquire what it is which we naturally seek ? and
what it is which we are naturally inclined to avoid ? On the one



178 THE COVENANT OF ABRAHAM.

hand, we seek pleasure, ease, and enjoyment ; on the other we
have an aversion to sorrow, labour, and pain. But let us ask,
is it not a moral labour to overcome anger ? the desire for any
thing unlawful ? Only be placed in a situation where your self-
love and authority have been deeply wounded, where the
offender is within your reach for reproof or punishment : and
the natural impulse would be to give way to resentment, and
to let anger take its course of violence and destruction. But
religion steps in and tells you to labour hard against your im-
pulse, to put a bridle on your temper, and to obtain a conquest
over yourselves, even at the expense of your love of self. Or
be placed in a situation where your passions for unlawful en-
joyment are strongly incited, where the chances of detection
are small> the pleasure great and immediate, the opportunity
actually before you though generally of rare occurrence : your
nature is drawn to sin ; but the law of God appeals to you to
beware, to hesitate, to reflect and to renounce your wishes, in
obedience to a higher Will, to a superior Authority. It is
doubtlessly true that the resistance of human nature in both
instances mentioned will be very great, the love of ease and
enjoyment will strongly appeal for gratification ; but the wisely
thinking will nevertheless readily distinguish that the labour of
self-conquest and the pain of suppressing the passions are the
only means to prevent them from feeling hereafter the fruits of
indulgence self-abasement, shame and degradation.

If now any one will not obey the law of God, because it con-
tains precepts the execution of which is painful, laborious and
unpleasant ; if one avers that the God of love could not have
demanded bodily afflictions as a part of his service : we will
tell him, that he does not understand the why of these institu-
tions ; they are intended to teach us to subdue our natures, to
overcome our love of ease and pleasure, to inure ourselves to
the sorrows and cares with which our life is beset from its very
commencement, in order that we may become wiser and bet-
ter, and more fitted for the kingdom of heaven, which is to be
our home unto everlasting, our residence unto the utmost length
of days. All that is wanting to ensure a proper understanding
of these ordinances is a deep-seated faith, or a conviction of
the goodness and truth of the Lord in all He does, in all He



THE COVENANT OF ABRAHAM.



179



says ; that He will ordain nothing which is not wise, that He
will demand nothing at our hands which is not for our own
improvement. Were it now, brethren ! that our own wisdom
could be so extended as to understand the operation of outward
nature and the workings of our own mind ; could we precisely
know what is beneficial, what is hurtful, how far one thing may
be safely used, and how far we could without danger proceed
in our intended plans : then indeed might we be permitted to
dive into the recesses of religious truths, and ask for every pre-
cept in the law : " Why is this so ?" But how does the case
stand 1 The knowledge we have of our own selves is very
limited ; the surface only of things is laid open to our view ; \ve
taste, we eat, we drink, we revel, without knowing whether
there is life or death lurking amidst our joy ; we move onward
unconscious whether the next step will bring us to our end.
And we will ask of God, why He so ordained it in his law ? we,
the short of days, the limited in knowledge, will know the rea-
son for every precept before we act ? How presumptuous, how
foolish is such a thought ! The rather, we should have confi-
dence, the assurance I ought to say, that every precept is given
for a wise purpose, for a beneficent end ; and we should obey
it with feelings of thankfulness that the Omnipotent was pleased
to point out to us the way we should go in order to obtain his
approbation. If now the execution of any one commandment
should involve the sacrifice of personal ease, and the endurance
of some little bodily pain : it will be nothing more in effect but
that we have an opportunity to prove, that our love of God is
something more than a love of ease and self-indulgence ; that
our religious hope is something holier than a mere mercenary
feeling ; and that we can love the Lord and worship Him, even
if our natural sensations have to be first subdued before we can
display this love and this worship.

Besides all this we may maintain, that though the Bible asks
of us the performance of duties which involve bodily afflictions,
these are in no case whatever of any lasting or oppressive
duration. For the Lord in giving us his law wisely apportioned
our duties to our capacities ; and it is therefore in our power
to obey whenever the opportunity offers, unless we are restrained
by circumstances over which we have no control, which pre-



JQQ THE COVENANT OF ABRAHAM.

sent then a case of necessity, or, what is the same, an excusa-
ble neglect of our positive duties. But in every other instance
the unpleasantness of an obligation is no reason why it should
not be acted on ; for we should consider that it is a trial of our
faith, a proving of our nature, to show whether our confidence
in God is sufficiently firm and well established to enable us to
sacrifice our ease and inclination in obedience to his will. If
now we obey, we have slain SIN which is inherent in us ; we
have conquered ourselves; and we have proved that we are
indeed servants of the Most High. But if we fail, we have
yielded ourselves slaves to sin ; we have been remiss in the
battle for righteousness, and have proved that we are recreants
in the service of Heaven. On the one hand the spirit has
prevailed in the contest with the flesh, and we have become
children of light, inheritors of salvation; for we have with-
stood, even as is the will of our Master who is in heaven. On
the other hand, however, the flesh has prevailed, the spirit is
slain, the world is triumphant ; and we have earned for our-
selves immortal disgrace, and the lasting displeasure of the up-
upright Arbiter who will judge every one according to deeds.

What is now to be expected from us ? How should Israelites
act? Even as Abraham did, in faith, in singleness of heart, in
submission to divine will. Before to-day the character of this
Patriach has been presented to you as the propagator of reli-
gious knowledge, as the harbinger of glorious truths to a be-
nighted world. Let us look upon him now in the light of the
obedient servant, the uncomplaining, confiding follower of the
Lord of hosts. We read in our lesson of this day as follows :



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" And when Abram was ninety and nine years old, the Lord appeared
to Abram, and said unto him, I am the God Almighty, walk before me, and
be thou perfect. And I will give my covenant between me and thee, and I
will multiply thee exceedingly." Genesis xvii. 1, 2.



THE COVENANT OF ABRAHAM. 181

How greatly had Abram been blessed in all worldly things
except children ; and in later years this blessing also had in a
measure been added to his almost overflowing cup of happiness.
Did he covet wealth ? he was possessed of every thing which
constituted riches in those days. Did he sigh for power? this
too he had, for he was foremost among the chiefs of his time.
Did he desire a good name? this also he possessed in an emi-
nent degree. Moreover he was pious, and had been permitted
to make the truth that was his known to others, that they also
might seek shelter under the wings of Omnipotence, and for-
sake the worship of false deities. He was at this time ninety-
nine years old ; more than half of his life had already passed
away : when he was told, that as yet his piety had not been
perfect, and that with all his devotion, with all his public teach-
ing, with all the trials he had to encounter, there was yet some-
thing more to be done, some farther requisite to holiness was
yet expected from him. Hitherto the trials had been outward ;
that is to say, whatever had happened to our ancestor was the
work of others, which he had to encounter, humanly speaking,
whether he would or not; he was placed in circumstances
which permitted him no other course of conduct. But now the
trial was to be with himself, he was voluntarily to assume the
terms of the covenant which the Lord was about to make with
him. Abram fell prostrate before the awful Appearance, and
the word was vouchsafed to him, and he was told how he
should walk before God and be perfect. "This is my covenant
which you shall observe between me and between you and be-
tween thy seed after thee, circumcise unto yourselves every
male." (v. 10.) Understand well, brethren ! Abraham was on
the verge of a hundred years, he had all along thought that his
course was pleasing to God, and up to this moment he had
never yet been informed that circumcision was either a duty
or praiseworthy. If Abraham now had been of those whose
faith is weak, he might have argued: " Why am I at this late
period commanded to do an act which if it be a duty ought to
have been revealed to me years ago ? Why should God single
out a matter which is painful and unpleasant, and make that a
sign of his covenant 1 Could He not have told me of my duty
much earlier? or could He not give me a sign which is of
VOL. HI. 16



J82 THE COVENANT OF ABRAHAM.

easier attainment and more consonant with my feelings ?" But
he, the first of the children of the East, did not so argue, did not
so set up his judgment above the wisdom of the Lord. He was
informed that he was not yet entire with God, that it was de-
manded of him that he should walk before the Lord, and that
he should assume the sign of the covenant, even the circumci-
sion of the flesh : and he obeyed ; he was elated with the thought
that he at length had an opportunity to prove that bodily incon-
venience did not stand as a barrier to his devotion, that he could
mortify the flesh, if religion so required it. How holy must
have been that faith, how entire that heart which animated the
Patriarch ! He voluntarily shed his blood, of his own free will
he assumed the covenant, and handed it down to his posterity.
And additional blessings were poured out upon him ; the Lord
promised that unto all the future descendants of Abraham he
would be God, that is to say, that never, never, should the
knowledge of the pure ONE depart from Abraham's seed, and
that in all ages the God of all would dwell in the midst of the
descendants of his devoted servant, if they keep the covenant.
And thou, O blessed covenant, hast never yet departed from the
midst of us ! In every age, in every land, our brothers have
brought their offspring as an acceptable offering to the Most
High ; not by immolating them upon the altar of unbelief, but
by rendering them perfect as the law demands. And fathers
have hastened to impress thee on their sons, and mothers have
rejoiced that their portion was so happy ; and the people with
one accord have professed aloud, that in thee they acknow-
ledge, that through thee they are convinced that the Lord is
God alone, that his word will ever endure, and that Israel is
the people selected to be his servants, chosen to be the messen-
gers of his glory.

Hitherto Sarah had been childless ; yet the effects of Abra-
ham's faith were not alone confined to spiritual grace, but were
extended likewise to increase his temporal satisfaction. A year
had just elapsed from the time of the announcement, when
Sarah, to complete her happiness, saw the fulfilment of all her
hopes. Her long-tried confidence, the anxious waiting for the
verification of the Lord's promises, had now witnessed an entire
accomplishment ; and she could no longer doubt that the fulfil-



* THE COVENANT OF ABRAHAM. 183

ment of the other promises would not fail, but that from her
seed all the world should derive blessing, and that her descend-
ants should always be a people sacred to the service of the One
Eternal. Therefore at the age of eight days was the child of
promise circumcised, as the Lord had commanded ; and thus
was the parent of Israel the first of Abraham's sons who re-
ceived the impress of the covenant at his entrance into life.

We, his descendants, stand now on earth, the inheritors of
the covenant, the children of salvation under the law. Centu-
ries have rolled on, ages have followed on ages, and yet this
covenant and this law have stood our protecting angels from
amalgamation and perishing among the gentiles. And this co-
venant is a constant test, a trial of faith, whether we are willing
to walk before the Lord, whether as parents we are sufficiently
embued with the spirit of religion to submit ourselves to divine
.guidance and inflict upon our sons a few brief hours of pain in
obedience to the law, for which temporary suffering they are
to be admitted into the community of those who worship no
God save the Creator, and who obey no law save the emana-
tion of Supreme Wisdom. Parents ! do you fear your God ?
do you dread to appear before Him with the sin of neglect, of
apostacy, upon your conscience? Then hasten to initiate your
children into the covenant, and let them not have occasion in
after-life to accuse you of being the cause that they are not


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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 18 of 26)