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Lay Preachers.

by Isaac Leeser

In the absence of a regular system of public instruction, such as other denominations enjoy weekly and almost daily, to incite them to a religious course of life, and which, alas! leaves Jews often exposed, without outward aid, to the assaults of temptation: it is evident that all who have a sincere regard for the faith of their ancestors have a solemn duty to perform, to labour for the spread of their religion, if they wish to to be regarded as sincere in their professions; because it is demanded of every Israelite to reprove his neighbour if he sees him acting irreligiously, for we are distinctly told (Levit. 19. 17): "Thou shalt in anywise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him." Persons may consider this but one of the minor duties, which they may practise or omit at pleasure. In truth, however, it is one of the most important means for propagating the faith, and deserves to engage the constant attention of all those who wish to do their duty faithfully and fearlessly.

Let us consider: "What is religion to us?" It is our life, our very essence. It is mingled up with our thoughts, our feelings, our every action. Born as Jews, nurtured as Jews, growing up as Jews, our mind has received a bias, which it is almost impossible to shake, even by a voluntary outward abandonment of the communion with Israel. Now is this characteristic of any value? To doubt this would be to assert in effect, that we preserve with the utmost care a sentiment utterly worthless in itself and of no practical use in its tendency. There is no Israelite however sinful, nay the very apostate, who will dare to say that the Jewish religion is a useless thing in theory or otherwise than beneficial in its application. It reconciles man to God, and establishes peace between men and brethren. It is therefore highly important that each one should persevere in the faith in which his early steps have been directed, and do all in his power to promote the welfare of the house of Israel. But it cannot escape the notice of the thinking, that if religion, the religion of Moses, is important to him, it must be equally so to every other Israelite, if not to every man in general. We will, however, confine our remarks to those who belong with us to the seed of Abraham, since for these our words are primarily intended. We assume then, that as soon as one feels the importance of religion in his own person, he ought to feel at once that he ought to secure the sane benefit to others; and he does not act rationally nor consistently if he leaves the means for the confirmation of the faith in others, which are within his power, untried, or if he relaxes till he is convinced of the utter fruitlessness of his endeavours. For it is not a rare occurrence amid the high pressure of worldly ambition or a speculative fever in the pursuit of wealth, that the words of advice fall dead upon the ear, when the counsels of wisdom remain unheeded, as though they would bring destruction in their train. It is at such times that silence may for a season be the most useful, "lest the fool despise the wisdom of the words of the godly." But only for a season can silence be consistently maintained; because there is no period even amidst political turmoil and during the feverish anxiety of commercial enterprise that the truly wise cannot find moments of calm, of, so to say, an intermission during the fever, when he may with good effect put in a word in season, which rarely fails of arresting the attention, even if it fail of effecting any permanent good. It may be, it is, disheartening to be speaking, speaking, without any visible result; only those who have tried it can  know how often the heart sinks faint, and weary, and disappointed within itself, because of the anguish caused by labour lost from which one would reasonably have hoped to see some good result; but let the motto be, "Cheer up, cheer  up, the sun of righteousness yet shines in heaven;" and let each repulse be the inciter to renewed activity.

We wish Israelites to take example from the activity and missionary zeal of all the sects which surround us. Look at the energy of the messengers themselves, who penetrate to the poles almost, and the most remote regions of the equatorial parts of both the old and new continents; and for what? to make barbarous savages acquainted with their system of belief! Look at the means, both pecuniary and persuasive, to induce our own brothers to forsake the standard of Israel and to embrace the various genthe creeds! Look at the mighty efforts to spread certain principles of moral reform and temperance, and the labours bestowed to farther sectional education! Look at all these scenes, constantly enacted around us, and then we would respectfully ask our readers: "What do they teach you?" We know well enough that we shall be answered, that our Christian neighbours have numbers, wealth, and a superfluous host of unemployed divines, who anxiously embrace these means to procure a livelihood or to acquire fame in the world; or an elevated standing in their respective churches. But does this satisfy us that we should attempt nothing? True, the Christians are much more numerous than we are likely to be for centuries to come; but the amount of their uninstructed population is not less in proportion than our own. The same holds good with regard to their respective wealth; for even suppose that we were comparatively poor, it is not asked of us to spend any thing towards carrying our religion to foreign parts; in fact we ask for no pecuniary sacrifices at all beyond those incidental to charity, and an occasional effort to diffuse religious knowledge. It is farther acknowledged that we have few or no young divines who may make themselves busy from one unworthy motive or the other. But we ask not the aid of any such, even  of those that are true and sincere; we do not appeal to the greatly endowed, to the highly educated; but we address these words of appeal to one and all, to young and, old, to the learned and unĀ­learned, to men and to women; we call upon Israelites of every degree to become missionaries, not to carry the good tidings beyond  sea and into desert lands, but to the bosom of their own families, to their neighbours, to their friends. Let each Israelite reflect that he has received some knowledge, be it ever so little, and  that there is probably some one who either does not know this particular thing, or has wilfully neglected it. It is then in  his power to teach the unknown truth in the one case, or to alarm the conscience in the other. We know and confess that this may be somewhat unpleasant in the execution; no one likes to be told that he is ignorant or that he is a sinner, in direct terms; still there is a way of effecting all this without giving any offence. The person to be corrected is not to be approached as though he were a desperate sinner, unless in very rare instances indeed; but conversation can be commenced more or less distantly, bearing upon religious subjects, and then let the reproof or advice be gradually introduced, at first indirectly, that the person addressed may feel the general truths, and then if possible make the application and appeal direct, so that the full force of what you have to say may be brought out to its utmost extent.

There need be no fear for the want of opportunity to exercise this duty; unfortunately, there is sinning enough, not secret, but open, bold, daring. If a minister of religion undertakes to upbraid, even let all his words be tinctured with moderation and br true to the very letter, worldliness is but too apt to ascribe to a paid-for eloquence the outpourings of a heart gushing over with sympathy for mankind, with a sincere detestation of sin. Little do worldlings know what are the sentiments of the men who labour for their improvement, how utterly they themselves feel their own unworthiness, their want of power; how little the pittance the public accords them for their support has to do with arming their tongues with the holy fire, or to enkindle enthusiasm within their souls. But all Israel is of right equally interested in the upholding of our blessed religion as are our ministers, who are after all but few, quite in disproportion with the constantly increasing mass of our population. Yes, we believe that though the ministers have properly assigned to them certain important duties in the Synagogue and in domestic life, they only belong to the general body, and that all are included in the precept: "Thou shall in anywise rebuke thy neighbour." Besides it is but occasionally that a minister's instruction can be enjoyed, though it be afforded, which is not now the case, upon the  recurrence of every weekly Sabbath, and on all festivals. The number of attendants on these occasions of public teaching must likewise be less than the whole mass. It is therefore the "lay preachers" who are to supply the inadequacy of the official servants of the Synagogue; it is they who are to spread a love for the truth unceasingly and every where. When one of these sees his neighbour go astray, be the transgression great or small, let him appeal to him in the accents of friendly admonition, persuade him if need be by words of entreaty, to reflect upon his conduct, and to compare it with the universal standard of our faith. If he sees a brother's mind tinctured by the errors of a foreign creed, let him endeavour to apply the remedy of rational conversation and cogent argument to overcome the dangerous tendency of the false views which cloud the brother's reason. If public or private instruction has been imparted from lips which the public love to dwell upon, let his conversation lean to the words of life which have been dispensed, and encourage those who are not as yet attentive, or who not yet fully appreciate the way of salvation to seek delight in the same blessed message which brings so much comfort to his soul.

It is needless to give ample directions to those who fear the Lord, how they are to proceed in this labour of love; they must only be wise in the fear of God; they must feel penetrated with the importance of religion to others as well as themselves; they must be deeply impressed with the solemnity of the duty of warning a brother of his errors; and they must bring to the task all the suavity of demeanour which so well graces the humble servant of God, all the eloquence which a deep-seated sincerity so readily calls forth at the very moment it is required, and let their example be in exact correspondence with their admonitions.

There may perhaps be a fear resting on the minds of some otherwise willing to admonish, that their advice may excite wrath instead of wholesome reflection. But this consideration, where the character of the sinner gives us just cause of fear, must only counsel us to act with prudent caution, not to pretermit the duty altogether. For in such a case to act with ill-directed zeal might occasion the very reverse of a beneficial result; it might confirm the haughty to attach yet more importance to his own little self, and to show by his obstinate perseverance sin that he has an opinion of his own which will brook of no control. But on the other hand it would be equally foolish and sinful to stand in dread of such an egotist though his wrath were to be deprecated at all risks. Who is he? Nothing but a man like any of us, and where the service of the Lord is concerned we are not permitted to think even of any injury the anger of such a one may perchance cause us. No, he must be approached, but with that prudence and meekness which overawe the most hardened sinner in the hour of his boldest transgression. Let him then see that mankind, at least that better part whose opinions are alone worth possessing, (for the most reckless sinner values only the praise of the good,) are careless about what he thinks of them, and you may be sure that it will stagger him and produce reflection, much more serious and effective than you have any idea of. Pride may prevent him from acknowledging his error, perhaps it may cause him to assert that he believes himself nowise to blame; but there can be no doubt that his heart feels the rebuke, and the strength of human pride is the only enemy opposed to his reformation.

There is however one important thing which must not be lost sight of; that is, never to appear as though in your own estimation you were actually superior to the brother whom you are reproving. You are only so in your own estimation, if such be your feelings. Religion demands, nay is, the spirit of humility; however much you may have done and suffered in the good cause, you are very far from perfection, and in the eyes of some holier man you yourself will appear very defective, and such a one again will still be very imperfect in the eyes of Omniscience. Therefore reprove your neighbour as though you also had sinned; appeal to him by the common bond which unites all Israel in one as servants of the Most High to walk with you, and to assist you in so doing, the path which leads to the mansions of our heavenly Father; show him that improvement  is not hopeless, because you too are a sinner and hope to be forgiven; tell him that the mercy of the Lord is beyond all measure, that He is willing to forgive though repentance come late; and then entreat him to make the experiment, and to see whether righteousness once tasted will not cause more true joy than all the vain pursuits of life. You will thus make an impression, even if you do not succeed; and if you utterly fail, you will at least have done your duty, and "the blood of the sinner will be on his own head," to use the emphatic words of Scripture.

We have in the above thrown out some ideas for reflection; and we trust that the good sense of our readers will readily supply the deficiencies which they may discover. We only mean to point out the way, confident that there are many who will be able and willing to spread the light of the truth. Let them do this in the best manner they can, and we shall be happy to see the effect, and glad, could we glory in the extension of the kingdom of the God of Israel.