|Vol. I, No. 12
Adar 5604 March 1844
O Lord our God! How exalted is thy goodness, how fearful is thy power! Thou speakest, and we are called into being, and thy right hand and thy support shield us as we gradually advance into life. And when we stand before Thee in all the strength of manhood, in the vaunted light of human intellect, it is at last thy light and thy wisdom which fill our soul with knowledge and imbue our spirit with understanding. And when in thy unerring judgment our end has come, when it seems to Thee best that our allotted task be ended: is it not then thy power which sets a limit to our being? O truly we know that we are thine, the work of thy hands; thine to dispose of as seems best to Thee, with no one to gainsay thy will, saying, "What doest Thou?" O cause us then to feel our nothingness, fill us with the full appreciation of our dependent state, in order that we may learn to subdue our hearts to thy worship, and to subject to thy will all our desires and our otherwise unholy wishes; so that we may be able to submit cheerfully to whatever Thou decreest over us; and to say even when those dear to us are all removed, "The Lord gave, the Lord has taken ; blessed be the name of the Lord." Amen!
We often hear persons boast of their religious observance, of their religious hopes and comfortable experience of an inward holiness; whereas there are others who ridicule all such sentiments and actions founded upon them, and speak and live as though there were nothing deserving of more consideration than the mode of life which they would fain make us believe to be the legitimate result of human reasoning. The pride of spiritual elevation of the first class, and the vaunting indifference of the other are equally apparent; and if the first is at times onerous through its often misplaced zeal and stoical indifference, the latter become disgusting through its disregard of the spiritual light which the Creator bestows on men through the variety of incidents and changes which constitutes human life. When therefore a man is absorbed in the idea of his own excellence, be this the result of an overweening sense of righteousness and religious confidence, or produced by a disregard of the duty which man owes to his Maker, he is equally void, although in different degrees, of that religious humility and singleness of faith which is held up to our imitation by the great luminaries of our race, such as Abraham and Moses. But the number of outwardly strict zealots, whose religion consists in externals more than in a deep-seated knowledge of their sinful nature, is not so great as of the class of the unbelievers in a direct responsibility to God for all their doings; or, in other words, there are more who do not feel religion both outwardly and inwardly, than those who are mere formalists; consequently, we are very apt to be oftener shocked by non-conformity, than by the heedless, persecuting zeal of men who lack spirituality in their religion.
It is not, however, our purpose to day to contrast the evils which spring from the absence of religion on the one side, and its misapplication on the other; but we will merely endeavour to show the applicability of a proper sense of our relation to God to the endurance of whatever may be dispensed to us; and to exhibit the dangers which must arise, if our mind is not betimes subjected to a proper training, and a correct conception of things which it behooves us to weigh well in every stage of our existence. Let us reflect. We are the creatures of an all-wise Providence. What is Providence? It is that quality or attribute of the Deity which surveys, superintends, and provides for all the occurrences of life. Can this attribute be exercised by inadvertence? without due care and reflection? Assuredly not; or else we must impute to our God the imperfection of finite nature, since the absence of care and thought is the cause of error in man as often at least as want of knowledge. To impute want of knowledge to God would at once strike any reflecting mind as inconsistent with his purity; and for the same reason the absence of must be equally so. Now, if God knows every thing,—we know he does and must,—it follows from our definition, that he cannot avoid from the immensity of his knowledge and power, which extend and are applicable to the minutest thing, no less than the greatest, from directing his view and superintendence to every portion of what He has created, that is, to every thing which enjoys an existence. In such a superintendence there can occur no mistake in any event within the ken of the supervising Power; or, in other words, no event can take place in all the range of existence which has not received the sanction of Providence, which is the power exercising this superintending care. I do not mean to assert that this limits our liberty of choice; for the agents endowed with intellect, such as man is, have received a freedom to do as they please without control, so far as actual force is concerned; that is to say; there is no compulsion exercised to make them act counter to their will and inclination. In addition to, and in consequence of, this freedom of choice; there is responsibility, by which I mean, that each and all are responsible for any act they do from a free choice, where no insurmountable force is laid upon their freedom of choice. In so far only, then, the Providence which guards us is not accountable for every occurrence, and in so far are we not at liberty to say, that every event in which man as a free agent is the actor is of an unmixed good character and tendency, since herein man and not Providence is responsible. It is not, however, for us to determine precisely how the omniscience of God is compatible with an unlimited freedom of action; enough for our purpose that this is the doctrine of Scripture; and with this we must rest satisfied as believers in the justice and truth of the Most High. All that was meant to be exhibited in this connexion is to assert, as a legitimate deduction from scriptural authority, that all the occurrences of life emanating immediately from a Source independent of direct human agency are in their nature an unmixed benefit to the world at large, and within the scope of a just administration of the world by its Divine Author. Let us examine this by the standard we have laid down. The Creator must be beneficent, or else He would not of a free choice have given life to so many beings, and filled the world with so many means of affording enjoyment to every living creature; as says David, (Ps. 145. 15, 16,) "The eyes of all wait upon Thee, and Thou givest them their food in due season; Thou openest thy hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing." He cannot be capricious, irritable, and changing in his affections; for wherever we turn our view, if we inquire into events of a bygone age or of our own time, we shall discover that an unceasing chain of acts of kindness is visible in every department of nature; and that where a destruction is presented at a first glance, it is but a step to a renewed existence in another and perhaps a more beautiful and permanent shape and form; in fact, that which in our haste we term destruction, annihilation, or loss, is not so in reality.
Now, if this can be proved to be true; it follows as a necessary consequence, that every act of Providence is of an unmixed good character. But what can be said of pain? of sorrow? of sickness? of death? are they not evils? they certainly are so, to speak the language of man; but it does not follow that they are not requisites in the economy of a beneficent Providence. It is only necessary that we come to approach the investigation, whenever any such evil is presented in our own instance or that of those dear to us, with minds properly imbued with knowledge and confiding trust, and the consideration that, however we may look upon ourselves and our own immediate friends as of vast importance to ourselves, we and they are at last nothing more than a small integral portion of the entire immensity which forms, in its various ramifications and almost endless variety, the system of nature which our and its God has created in wisdom and mercy.
Says David (Ps. 145. 9): "The Lord is good to all, and his mercies are over all his works;" and the longer we investigate, the more readily will we yield assent to the truth of this assertion. We must not forget that our God is eternal, everlastingly the same, of unending power. If then to-day we are suffering from any thing we call evil, that does not prove that to-morrow there may not be a sudden and blissful change in our circumstances. At the beginning of night there may be weeping, and sobs, and sorrow, and the rising sun may scatter joy, and gladsome smiles, and renewed hope. Ay, the sun of our earthly life may set, as men speak, for ever; but may, does it not shine more lucent, more unclouded in a renewed state of existence? Are we cut off utterly, because our earthly life is ended? Reflect, brethren, that admitting you do not understand this, I would ask you to explain to me what is life as we find it before us? Look upon the butterfly which flits along on gay painted pinions;—has it not life? Upon the nightingale whose melody, though himself unseen, ravishes your delighted ear;—has he not life? Upon the fleet horse as he dashes along in his heedless career obeying the will of his rider? Upon the vast and huge elephant, who stands in his towering strength amidst the din of battle and the rush of contending hosts; has he not life? And then turn upon the many races of man, each distinguished by some peculiar characteristic, by some marked difference of feature; and tell me, have they not life? And then inform me, if you can, what paints the butterfly's wings? What gives sweetness to the nightingale's song? what fleetness to the horse? what strength, and sagacity, and courage to the elephant? what speech, variety of dialect, diversity of colour and temperament, to the different races of our own species? Perhaps to explain this mystery, you will resort to the assertion that it is the result of organization, coupled with vitality. But by saying this you only use synonymous terms with the word life, and you have not advanced a single step in your attempted explanation. And no matter how learned you are, all you can do is assert it is so; and if you are really wise, you will at once confess your ignorance of God's ultimate purpose, and your inability to penetrate farther than the mere surface into a proper understanding of his creation. We assume, therefore, as proved, that life itself is a mystery, that the intellect which distinguishes man above the brute is too subtle a substance, (if substance it may properly be called which can not be subject to the admeasurements capable to be performed by our bodily senses,) to be correctly comprehended by any means in our power. We will proceed a step farther, and assert that there is an essential difference between animal and human life; for, despite of the great sagacity which some dumb creatures, such as the horse; dog, camel, and elephant display; despite of the forethought exhibited by others, for instance, the beaver and the busy little bee; despite of the extreme swiftness possessed by some, as the chamois and the deer, and the inaccessible heights which they resort to; despite of the ferocity exhibited by many others, like you see in the lion, the ferocious tiger, and the spotted leopard, they are all subject to the power and control of man, who is generally their inferior in some physical capacity; and nearly all, if not all, can be tamed to his use, and be even domesticated and live in companionship, though in servitude, with him. Does not this prove the truth of the Scripture which in the history of creation asserts, that man was created to be the lord of all subordinate nature, from the insect that dances in the sunbeam, to the mighty whale that lashes into foam the waters of the vasty deep? Another thing, however, it proves likewise, that the spirit of man is essentially different from the vitality which is inherent to animals; and that though man, considered as an animal, which he undeniably is, has propensities and wants which ally him to his subordinates, there is something, whatever that something may be, which places him in a state of exaltation far, far above the greatest and wisest of them all. This something, by way of distinction, we call in Hebrew נפש or רוח, soul or spirit in English. It is not so much the words we use as the idea we convey which is of any importance in our inquiry. We say, therefore, that, deny as you please the independent existence of spirit, you must admit that there is a something which elevates man above the beast, properly so called, and whether you call it spirit or not, soul or something else, it matters not; the existence of this ethereal, invisible fluid, (again to use a phrase often employed, though it does not correspond altogether with the idea, so poor is language that very often we feel more than we can express,) is proved by the very means which you employ to deny its existence; for it is felt, its activity is experienced, whether you put man as a rider on the back of the horse, whether you exhibit him as leading the bear along obedient to his every nod, or whether you place him before others of his species expressing by articulate and defined sounds the emotions which are agitating, or the fears which trouble him. Is there not enough of evidence in all these and a thousand other things, to prove beyond doubt, that, as we read in Job 32. 8: "But there is spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding?" And if you say, it is too wonderful for belief, then again we will recur to the question which we already propounded relative to the organization of animal life; and till this be clearly and incontestably elucidated, we will rest for security upon the authority of Scripture, which is, as we have proved, borne out by our own experience, that there is a SPIRIT distinct from matter. If now such an existence is possible, what hinders the Almighty to let it continue in existence after the body shall have taken the usual course of organized life, that is, ceased to exist in the shape it was wont to bear? or to express ourselves in terms more familiarly used, what prevents God to grant us a heavenly life, after our earthly career is ended? But again you say, you do not understand it; let us, therefore, resort to some more minute elucidation. What is death? The cessation of animate existence, or decay, rottenness, corruption, whether applied to animal or vegetable life. Is it any thing else? surely not. You will perhaps say it is annihilation, a destruction, total and final. But is this borne out by our every-day experience? Behold the voracious silkworm, or the destructive caterpillar. It crawls as it were into life, a minute, unsightly, shapeless thing. Watch it,—it seizes upon the green herbage which nature so bountifully provides; it grows rapidly, amazingly, to the full size which it is capable of attaining; behold, its work is done; it eats no more; it only seeks for repose, to weave its own winding-sheet. Approach it again, it lies motionless, buried, dead in its silvery sepulcher; and is its existence ended? You err; a new life soon is active in the tiny charnel-house, and from the wonderful cerement springs forth a new insect, and speeds along to a new existence, and with wondrously spangled wings, basking in the bright sunlight of summer, alighting on the open cups of flowers less glowing and beautiful in gaudy array than the erst despised and crawling worm!—Or follow the ploughman as he draws the lengthening furrows over the yielding soil; behind him steps lightly the seedman and drops into the open bosom of the earth the seed which is to yield him a rich return. The harrow passes again over the furrow, and from the human sight the rich treasure is hid, and is surrendered confidingly into the hands of the Giver of life. And soon the seed dies, rots, decays, is no longer fit for human food, and its bright colouring is changed to a dull, colourless mass. But is the death final? has existence terminated with decay? Again come hither, and look: as far as your eye reaches a covering of the richest green o'erspreads the field, for the decaying seed has become instinct with new life, and a beneficent Providence elicits the germ from a putrescent source. Anon the wintry snows bury up the tender shoots, and again the field is hid from view for days and weeks by the gentle, downy cover which drops from the cloud-clad sky; but still the seeds die not—they yet survive this change even. And when the vernal sun bursts forth to gladden anew the frozen earth, he speedily strips the landscape of its uniform deadness and dreary aspect; and as he mounts higher in his course, so too the young and tender shoots acquire strength and fullness, and ere the summer has sped away, a blissful harvest overjoys the husbandman, who reaps the fruit of his labour from amidst corruption and decay.
Is this not so? is not every growth and increase preceded by corresponding changes of form? What, then, is death, even as we find it, but a transmutation from one state to another? And who says, then, that death is final when applied to man? True, we too open the earth, and each and all of us deposits in the opened grave a seed more valued, than that which readily drops from the hands of the husbandman, with tearful eyes we stand by as more and more the beloved is hidden from view; but do we not, even as does the husbandman, entrust what we place in the earth into the hands of the Lord of life? and may we not then expect to see arising from the grave bedewed with our tears, and warmed ere long by the sun of heaven, a new life, a new and holier existence? It is wonderful thus to believe; but are the physical changes which we have described less wonderful, though they admit not of doubt or cavil? And shall a mere speechless insect rise into a newer and more beautiful life? shall the inanimate seed rise into a new existence, multiplied and varied a thousand fold? and yet shall it be unreasonable to believe that the crown of God's creation may not be likewise restored, nay in the very flesh, arising again from the corruption into which his body has been thrown? Yes, we are doubters; we fancy that our cause is not correctly judged by our everlasting Judge; nevertheless, his word is full of promise, full of the assurance of better things; and thus speaks the prophet (Isaiah 26. 19, 20): "They shall live, thy dead; together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast forth her dead. Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the inclination be overpast." We could cite many more passages from the blessed volume to prove, that it affirms in language not to be misunderstood, that death is but a phase in our existence, a connexion between life and eternity; and if a mystery, it is certainly no greater mystery than life itself, as was endeavoured to be shown.
All this proves, incontestably, that the so-called evil is a part of providential rule, and one of the changes which we must undergo in order to be able to assume that station or that state of existence for which we were created. Some of you may perhaps ask: "Why are we not at once placed into the highest state of perfection without our passing first through so many trials to reach it?" But reflect that to dive in this manner into the counsel of God would be in effect arrogating to ourselves wisdom of an equal degree as possessed by Him. As well might the infant ask, why he is not born at once a man in stature and intellect. Every thing on earth is progressive, every thing is capable of improvement by education and training; and why may we not assume that our earthly existence is also a state of progressive improvement, no less than of probation? The Lord gave us for this reason a law of truth, which, being the emanation of his own will and wisdom, must, if obeyed, lead us aright on the path which leads to happiness. And in this spirit we read (Isaiah 42. 21): "The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; He magnifies the law, and makes it honourable." Yes, brethren, without diving daringly into the secret will of our Maker, we may assert that angelic perfection is no test of merit, inasmuch as perfection attained as the gift of the Creator, without the previous labour of the creature, is not deserving of reward, seeing that it was impossible to reject the least part of the blissful attainment. Whereas the presence of temptation, the existence of attainable evil, renders the avoidance of the last and the disregard of the former a matter of praiseworthy and meritorious activity. If man were immortal, then must he have been made sinless and passionless; for only in such a state would it comport with wisdom to leave him on earth; since, as it now is, the only relief mankind has, under Providence, of the injuries inflicted by the wicked is their removal by death, or incapacity by diseases, mental or bodily. Ask we then, "Why does evil exist? why do we meet with sorrow, with pain, with suffering, with death?" we shall be answered, these are the agents of the Deity to restrain the effects of sin upon mankind at large." Why do the righteous die? and suffer?" Because no man is free from sin, and because man in a mixed state of good and evil is not destined to remain so for ever; and since the spirit cannot be purified whilst it is in connexion with the body, it follows as a necessary consequence that a severance must take place whenever the Lord deems it best. Do not many pious people die young and in the midst of usefulness?" Assuredly; but again, are we the judges of our Maker, to prescribe Him rules for action? Our wise men have left us a beautiful apologue on this subject, which permit me to relate to you in this place. A wise king upon a time hired a number of labourers to work in a beautiful garden near his palace, and about midday he came himself to superintend and to look at his servants. All were at work, but he singled out one who appeared most industrious and intent on his labour. The king seeing this called him to himself, and suffered him not to return to his work for the remainder of the day. At nightfall all the labourers called for their pay, and those who had worked the whole day, were surprised when the king ordered the full amount to be paid out to him who had been at work but half the time. As natural, the others murmured at what they conceived an injustice to them: "Have we not laboured the whole day? and are we to be paid no more than one who has not earned more than half that we did?" "Silence," commanded the king; "it was my fault that he did not work as long as you did, and it was my knowledge of his superior for excellence that I took him early from his task to converse with me." You, of course, understand the application. The king is the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be his name; the garden is our earthly existence; the palace the state of felicity in the presence of our Lord; the labourers all mankind; the day of labour the life of man; the labourer called by the king from his work the righteous who diligently strives to fulfill all the duties accessible to him; nightfall is the close of life, when all mankind come before the divine tribunal to receive the reward of their labour. And when now it pleased the Lord, to remove a faithful servant betimes from the field of his usefulness, what needs he complain? will not his reward be as ample as though all his good intentions had been accomplished? and what right have the aged labourers to complain? was it not the Lord of the beautiful garden, the Master of them all, who called to himself thus early the one who had been appointed to work with them for a time?
In this night must we view the loss of the righteous; God found it best to end their task; they had found grace in his sight, and their reward, therefore, must be sure, though others have done more and laboured longer.—"Why are diseases sent?" If life were to pass away without any pain to endure, how bitter would be the parting; we could not think of quitting an existence so constantly blessed with sweets and joys. But in mercy to corruptible nature, the seeds of decay shoot up into sight before the harvest is ready for the sickle; and when the body is racked with pain, when the intellect becomes clouded: man himself looks forward to a cessation of life by the mild hand of death; mild, I say, because it closes upon him a scene of anguish, insupportable for his feeble strength.—"And why do we often suffer from penury? From obloquy? from unmerited censure?" All these are trials by which our constancy is proved, by which we ourselves can judge of ourselves, whether or not we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and might.—Again, we have often sinned, and all such sufferings are then sent us in mercy, to awaken our attention, and to admonish us, that we are in wrath, and that we ought speedily to return and seek a renewal of divine favour.
Who then will complain of the injustice of God? seeing that we are his in every sense of the word, finite while He is unending; mortal whilst He is of everlasting life? Yes, why should we doubt of his mercy when we suffer, seeing that it is in his power to save and to bless, yea, to save and to bless though our life is ended? And so we are taught by our pious teachers. (Berachoth, 9.5): "A man is bound to bless God for the evil, as well as he blesses Him for the good; for it is written, And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might; with all thy heart, subject to Him, thy bad no less than thy good propensity; with all thy soul, even if He take thy soul; and with all thy might, with whatever thou possessest of worldly things; so also art thou bound to be extremely thankful to Him for every measure He may mete out to thee." Yes, this should be our study from our earliest youth, to consider every act of the Lord as intended for our individual and social improvement, as sent in mercy to bind the creature closer and closer to his Maker.
Having premised this much, let us turn our attention to the second point of our subject, namely, the dangers arising from an improper training, which we stated to be an over-confidence in our righteousness, and disregard of spiritual light. The person who looks upon himself as better than his neighbour because of his piety, is not likely to go through life in humility and devotion. He looks upon God as his debtor, who ought to pay him liberally for the many good deeds he daily executes. If, then, any evil occurs to him, he feels himself wronged by his great Judge, he imagines, perhaps, that his case has not been properly noticed before the august tribunal. Again, he beholds those who are wicked prosperous and joyful; and straightway he asks, "What use is my piety? the wicked flourish as well as myself,—nay, they are richer, happier, more renowned than I am; there is no use, so far as I am concerned, in my righteousness. Many feel so, though but few may give vent to their complaints in words; many thus arraign the justice and mercy of Him before whom there is no perversion nor deceit. And see you not, that the next step to such complaining may be an apostasy to the way of the sinner? may not boastful, self-sufficient piety, degenerate into open rebellion? And has not this, alas, been the case with many an Israelite, who, seeing the nations prosperous and at peace; whilst his own brothers are wanderers and oppressed, burst the chains which bind him to the yoke of the Lord; because he felt not the full force of the cause of tribulation, of the purifying effects of sorrow and humbleness upon the rightly thinking mind? And suppose even that the piety of the complaining should be too deeply seated to be moved by his envy and discontent; still he will not be equal to the task of bearing becomingly the lot which the highest of all wisdom and justice may assign him; life will be rendered miserable, and his end, notwithstanding his good deeds, will not be the death of the righteous who have learned betimes, and practised what they leave learned, to regard God not alone as merciful and great, but as just and impartial in all He dispenseth.
Now turn we to the scornful unbeliever, who esteems his own will and wisdom as paramount to all, who looks not to the word of God for his guide through life. How does he regard the workings of Providence? He sees in them nothing to admire, nothing to dread. He knows, at least he cannot help knowing, that he is mortal and corruptible,—the child of disease, of sorrow. But what is that to him? To use a phrase familiar to such spirits, he says, "Whilst we live, let us live:" and he accordingly plunges to satiety into the pleasures and follies of life, as though by such means he could ward off the annihilation which he professes to expect, which he nevertheless dreads. His spirit, his soul, the better part of himself, is in the meanwhile in total darkness; he will not listen, he will not know. He is irresponsible, so he fancies; and if the thought of a Deity present itself, he denies his providence, alleging that One so exalted will not regard the deeds of one so humble as himself. But is this idea the offspring of humility or of pride? Evidently the latter; for if he were humble, and not elated at the consciousness of his dignity, wisdom, and importance, he would forego the inspiration of his own wild notions of things, and submit to be taught by the recorded will of his God. Yet speak to him of an Avenger of the covenant, and he will ridicule the weakness which would ascribe to the purest Spirit the malignity of human passion, forgetting, all the while, that it is not so much our gracious Father who punishes, as the justice which pervades every thing that demands, retribution, for light given and for grace willfully rejected. He therefore lives as though there were no eternity; he fancies there is nothing beyond material life, and nothing more to be prized than the enjoyment of material things whilst this life endures. Thus his days pass away in idle pursuits, in vanities which leave no fruit behind. And when evil befalls him, he curses the fate which he believes unavoidable, and thinks not of prayer, of grace, and divine aid. And when the sands of life run low, he glories, perhaps, in having so long braved the anger of the Most High with impunity, and that despite of his blasphemy he has lived to a high old age, in the enjoyment perhaps of many blessings, with no thunderbolt of Heaven to cut him down in his daring wickedness. He sinks into death, still denying his accountability, and now he believes that annihilation will close on the scene for ever.—But there will be an awakening, an awakening of horror and anguish: the sinner has indeed passed away, but the Avenger, the Judge is ready to mete out retribution! O now it is too late! the agonized soul shrinks abashed, overwhelmed before the Almighty's awful throne; her sins unconfessed, her transgressions unatoned! And gladly would she now return to life to obey the precepts which were once contemned, to seek the light which was formerly shunned, to accept the grace which was but lately rejected. No lying evasions will now avail, and the hiding of the light, perhaps for ever, the denial of grace for enduring years, the rejection from favour till all the sins are expiated, will be the doom. Still even then in mercy will existence be vouchsafed, for even to the wicked their death will not be final; and though "their worm will not die; nor their fire be quenched,'' they will yet have the grace given them to endure the punishment to which they are condemned, and be a memorial of the difference between those who served the Lord and those who sought not his worship.
No, brethren, neither overweening pride of religious hope, nor its opposite, religious forgetfulness, can tranquilize the spirit: nor can that stoical indifference be approved of, which can look unmoved upon suffering, with feelings so blunted that all the shafts of God fall harmless at the sufferer's feet. Sufferings are sent to be felt, trials are dispensed that they might improve us; we may weep, and mourn; but we are only not permitted to murmur; and he who smiles when a friend is carried to the grave, who drops not a tear as the remains of the precious dead are laid low in their narrow dwelling, is equally far from the true point of religious resignation, as he who murmurs and complains, as though a wrong had been done to his person and the merits he has claims for upon Providence. True religion is meek and hopeful; it feels the chastisement of the Lord, yet bows with resignation; it endeavours to learn lessons of humility, and, strives to profit by the warning which is discoverable in the visitation, whilst deeply in the bosom rankles the arrow which has been sent to wound, only to be a call to amendment, and a return from the path of error which prosperity and peace may, peradventure, have opened to us. And thus says the wisest of men (Prov. 3. 11, 12):
ה׳ בני אל
תמאס ואל תקץ
"My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction; for whom the Lord loveth He correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth."
Indeed the Providence which we adore, watches over us with paternal solicitude, and not the slightest occurrence reaches us, be it good or evil, but has been dispensed from Him. We are his children, He our Father; not in anger but in love are his visitations; and even as the Father is everlasting, so is his mercy; and thus are his children always under his care, be they here in this mutable life, or in yonder existence where there is no change nor sorrow.
Considerations like these should ever be before our eyes, whenever the current of life does not run along in one undisturbed calm surface. And how seldom is this! every day almost brings with it some care, some grief to remind us of our mortality, to convince us that we are but a shadow that passeth away. Nations and communities, no less than individuals, are liable to these warnings; for death is constantly busy to snatch away those prominent for virtue and usefulness, after their task is done, and to bear them off to the silent tomb. Is it, then, proper, that such an event should occur without our attention being arrested? without the chastisement being felt? No, this were not wise; this would not be the part of children of grace, as are the people Israel, who have so long been taught to know that their Redeemer indeed liveth, and that they are his creatures, and to Him accountable. Let us, then, pause awhile on the bereavement which this congregation so lately experienced in the death of its president.* It is not my purpose now to pass a splendid eulogium upon the departed; for it becomes not a mortal when he acknowledges his nothingness, to glorify another mortal. But this much we may be permitted to say, that our late president was a sincere believer in the tenets of our faith, devotedly attached to its principles. Of late years, especially, he had given proof that he felt the solemn obligation of surrendering his interests to the calls of his religion; and every measure proposed, which promised to promote piety, met with his hearty approval and co-operation. We will not advert to his private relation in the bosom of his family circle; enough that he was there beloved, and respected abroad. When he erred, we may freely assert, that it was never from bad intentions, such was the kindliness of disposition which he evinced on all occasions.—But lately he was active among the living, anticipating a happy succession of years. Yet this anticipation, as if in mockery of human calculation, was sadly frustrated; and after a few brief days of illness he sunk calmly, imperceptibly almost, into the embrace of his Maker, surrounded in his last by many friends and dear relatives, who all felt that a valuable man had been taken away from among us. You were witnesses how numbers flocked together to pay the last honours to his memory, and how universal a burst of sympathy was expressed for those whom he left to mourn over their bereavement. Does it need any farther proof to attest his worth?—Only one thing remains now for me to do; it is to admonish you all not to neglect the correction which you have all received in this sad admonition. Are your lives secure against the approach of death? are you prepared to meet the change that is impending? Prepare yourselves, then, betimes, whilst yet the sun is high above the horizon, for know that his setting is fast approaching. O! vow it here, here in the house of our God, to be true and faithful, faithful to the end, that you may be accepted when your spirit is required back, let the summons come when it may. Tarry not, delay not, O men of Israel! But resolve at once to show your regard for the deceased, whom you wish to honour, and your love for God's word, which you should obey, that you feel the warning that has been addressed you in its full force. Believe me, there is sin among us,—let us not deceive ourselves in regard to our righteousness; and let the evil be removed whilst the grace is yet given us to amend. By this means we shall indeed be chastened and made better; more peace and more light will dwell among us; and when in after years we call to mind the memory of the departed, let us hope that we may be able to say, that many who before were indifferent, have through his decease been awakened to reflection, and been thus made children of salvation through obedience to the law. Then, indeed, will his spirit rejoice over has been wrought, and he will rest in peace, whilst we all shall be participants of the blessings which are destined for the righteous.
O Thou, our Father and God! how great and wonderful art Thou. Low before Thee every creature bends; powerless and weak are the mightiest men.—Do Thou, O Lord, send the spirit of thy consolation unto those who mourn, and cause them to understand that it is Thou who afllictest them in mercy. Make even for us the path of life, and when our end has come, O, then, render for us easy the pangs of death, that we may yield our spirit into thy hand, resigned to, and conscious of, thy universal rule in all the world, feeling that indeed Thou art One, the sole God, whom our forefathers, thy servants, adored.—Upon the widow, the orphans, and the relatives of the deceased, we beseech Thee to shed thy grace, and make them strong in hope, teach them to lean upon Thee in truth, and to acknowledge the justice and mercy of thy decree; and cause thy light to be with them in their pilgrimage, that they may devote their heart and soul to Thee, their God and King.—And upon this congregation look down with mercy and forgiveness; and if Thou comest to purify, then let thy mercy prevail, and diminish us not in thy wrath which we have merited by our many transgressions. And O fill the minds of the rulers of this Synagogue with knowledge and the spirit of truth, that they may lead the flock entrusted to their care aright, so that many blessed fruits of piety may spring up under their guidance. But not for our own righteousness, but for the sake of thy Holy Name do Thou this, for we know that we have sinned; yet it is thy wont to forgive and to pardon. Do therefore now as Thou hast ever done, and bless thy people Israel with much might and peace; so that we of this city, and wherever we are scattered, may all live to glorify Thee and to hallow thy name in this life, and be witnesses of thy glory at the time of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead. Amen!
Kislev 27th, (December 10th,) 5602.