|Vol. IV, No. 1
Nissan 5606, April 1846
Life in Faith
Installation Sermon by the Rev. James K. Gutheim, at Cincinnati, on Sabbath Beshalach, 5606.
To express much in few words, is a necessary and at the same time difficult task, which the teacher of the word of God is called upon to fulfill; since for many words, the time is too short, the work too great, and not seldom is the audience unwilling to listen to them; moreover, to interpret the precepts and truths which comprise our eternal salvation, in all their sublimity and grandeur, the language of man is too poor, too deficient, too incompetent. And how various must be the effect the words of the preacher are to produce! He has to convince the mind, and to soothe the heart; it is his province to encourage the believing, to strengthen the wavering, to reclaim the backslider, to convince the skeptic, to console the afflicted.
But how much more difficult is this task, when a comparative stranger addresses for the first time a congregation in behalf of this holy cause. Ought he not to choose and select and search for the right words, in which to pour out his heart and spirit, to make his discourse a theme of reflection, and a source of gratification to his hearers?
My friends! in such a position do I now stand before you. Personally unknown to the large majority of these who are here congregated in the presence of God, I have received the honourable call, to preach to you his holy law. Aware as I am of the magnitude of the undertaking; diffident as I feel in my humble capacities, chiefly on account of its being the first time I have the honour to address by word of mouth a congregation of my coreligionists in the English language; I yet joyfully respond to the invitation tendered to me, in the firm consciousness that, where such a solicitude for our holy religion has manifested itself, I can hope that my effort will be judged with indulgence and charity.
But can it be wondered at that I felt some embarrassment how and wherewith to fill out this holy hour, in order that the spirit and the heart of my hearers be engaged and edified? And I opened the book of truth, and I explored its divine treasures, and I asked our sages what text to choose which would correspond with my task: to impart to the Israelite, in few words, the knowledge of his destiny on earth? I find an answer in the Talmud:
בא חבקוק והעמידן על אחת על אחת שנאמר וצדיק באמונתו יחיה: מסכת מכות
Then came Habakkuk and comprised the whole faith in one fundamental doctrine, saying: Behold his soul, which is lifted up, is not upright in him; but the just liveth in his faith.
In this passage of the Talmud it is shown how every succeeding prophet endeavoured to simplify the word of God, to condense the precepts of religion into one focus, the blessed rays of which should illumine and invigorate our whole life. Thus did David, thus Isaiah, thus Michah, until Habakkuk came and reduced the simple truth to a single point, and God-inspired, he exclaimed: וצדיק באמונתו יחיה! "The just liveth in his faith!"
Could we find a more beautiful answer to our question than these words of the prophet? When the patriarch of old, our father Abraham, received from the, Lord the promise that his descendants should be as many as the stars on heaven, Scripture tells us, "And he believed in the Lord and he counted it to him for righteousness." When the children of Israel were groaning under the yoke of Pharaoh, and received the first message from the Lord that He was mindful of his covenant, and that he would liberate them from bondage, Scripture tells us: "And the people believed!" And when, as we read in to-day's Parashah, their liberation was accomplished under the most miraculous circumstances, Scripture again tells us: "And they believed in the Lord and in Moses his servant!" In all these important incidents in the life and history of our forefathers, "Faith" was sincerely manifested by them; could we then employ this hour more usefully, more advantageously, than to make
"Life in Faith"
the theme of our reflection? Let us therefore, for the better understanding of our subject, consider life
I. In our Domestic Circle;
how it will exhibit itself, if we, like the just, live in faith in all our pursuits, in all our actions; and if we live in faith, wherever we stand, wherever we sit, wherever we walk. May the Lord grant us his countenance and his blessing in this hour of devotion. Amen.
"The just liveth in his faith!" Where, brethren, do we spend a greater portion of the days allotted to us on earth, than at home, in the family circle? Ushered into this life, the first streak of the light of day beaming upon him, it is the house that receives the helpless infant born of woman, that offers him protection, and retains him in his youth, the spring-time of life. When fatigued and worn out by continued exertions, the man leaves his laborious pursuit, his toilsome occupation, to seek repose after the labour and trouble of the day, it is the house, the home, that offers him a place of recreation to recruit his courage, to gather new strength for renewed toil. And when the sand of life is nearly run out, and his days are drawing to a close, it is again the house that opens to him its doors, offering the last shelter from his great pilgrimage.
Should we not, therefore, do every thing in our power to render the place, where we breathe, where we move so long, as beautiful, as agreeable, and as useful as we can? "The just lives in his faith!" What else imparts to domestic life that which it needs, than faith in God? It affords aliment for spirit and heart. It is the light which chases away darkness; "For virtue is the lamp, and the torah (meaning faith) is the light." It is the food to satisfy our hunger; "For man does not live by bread only; but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of the Lord doth man live." It is love and peace, the pillars and permanent supporters of the house, the bond which unites together in one beautiful whole, all the inmates of the house.
"Behold," begin the words of our text, "his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him," meaning: the soul of the unbeliever will never be happy. Infidelity is darkness, is war, and leads to perdition. The just lives (יחיה) in his faith. Whatever he thinks, whatever he feels, whatever he speaks, whatever he does, whatever he undertakes, all gives clear evidence of his faith in God. and his holy Law. "Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear evil"—"the Lord is with me, I have no fear!" This is his motto throughout his life.
Is it therefore your wish and desire to make your houses the abodes of light and of contentment, of love and of happiness, then must you establish religion in your houses, and introduce faith, as the moving and all-pervading principle. Yes, faith must be living in your houses and regulate all your actions, and you must instil this faith into the tender minds, and cause it to be living in the hearts of those who owe you their existence, your children, that they in their turn may live in faith, to your delight, to the honour of God, and to the glory of our blessed religion.
For, answer me, fathers! answer me, mothers! do you know sweeter domestic pleasures, sublimer enjoyments, purer happiness, than to live in the circle of your children in the faith of the Lord? When thy daily occupation, O father! to satisfy life's wants, has engaged thy attention and energies for the whole day; when thy enterprises and exertions have only met with difficulties and obstacles; when thy efforts prove abortive, thy wishes remain unrealized, and thy hopes are frustrated, leaving a vacancy in thy heart; when thy confidant betrays, thy friend deceives thee, and he, whom thou hast made happy, repays thee with ingratitude, full of disappointment and disgust thou wouldst exclaim, "What profit has man from all his labour?" and then returnest to the beloved domestic circle, thy dear children, for whom thou hast toiled and struggled, joyfully meet thee, and surround thee with their uplifted arms, and salute thee with cheerful words, and exultingly pronounce the word "Father," in their childish, innocent, glee:—should not this fill thy soul with heavenly joys? Should not thy blood flow quicker, and thy heart beat louder at such a reception? Shouldst thou not thus find reward and compensation for all the troubles and vexations thou hast experienced during the day, and imagine thyself in a paradise, in the midst of which is planted the tree of faith, the tree of life, beautiful to behold, and fair to look upon? Yes, it is such scenes that expand the heart, if thou hast but confidence in thy Maker, and they will cause thee to offer praise and, thanks to Him who dispenses all these blessings.—Mother! When care for the health of thy children chases away night's sweet slumbers from thy eyes; when trials of various kinds embitter thy life; when thy husband's anxious and care-worn countenance fills thy bosom with apprehension and fear; when sickness, when distress visit thee or those that are dear to thy heart, and it is thy lot to empty the cup of affliction to the dregs:—and then in a quiet hour after thy troubles and sorrows have ceased, the dear beings for whom thou hast suffered and struggled, gather around thee one by one, and this one says, how it loves thee, and that one, how it lives for thee, and the name "mother," sounds from their truthful lips and touches the very soul,—should not this be reward for all thou hast suffered,—a cheering and invigorating draught to thy maternal heart, which is panting or love and sympathy, if the heart is but true to thy Father in heaven? And how many such instances of domestic felicity, of which time only permits me to give one picture, could I enumerate, if,—and only then—if the tree of knowledge, of the good and excellent—if faith have taken root in our house, and grows, and blossoms, and bears fruit. And with right may we then apply to our homes the prophetic words: "How beautiful are thy tents, oh Jacob, thy dwelling, oh Israel!"
But many may ask, Do we not all profess the faith in one God, and yet we are strangers to this domestic felicity? Answer: "The just lives in his faith!" The entire life, the whole public and private life of man, must be in accordance with his faith, if it is to prove to him a source of happiness.
To profess a truth does not yet argue that we act up to it; to be convinced of a truth does not yet argue that we act so that its effects are visible in our life. But to do this the prophet urges when he proclaims to us in the name of the Lord: "The just lives in his faith." Whatever lives, must be an active and useful link of the whole living creation—and our faith, therefore, must be manifested in our activity and usefulness, if we wish to live in its spirit.ולא המדרש עקר אלא המעשה "Not study is the principal, but the deed; which means: not faith alone will make us happy, but to live in faith.
Whoever, therefore, thinks that religion has not secured his happiness, nor realized his expectations, has not living faith, and he is not living in the faith. Do you complain, parents, that your children have not become such as you once hoped they would be? that they even repay you with ingratitude? then do I pray you add to your complaint the question: "Have we lived in faith? Have we given them examples of a religious life? Was our life, that is, our thoughts and actions, the catechism, which gave answers to their queries? Is our diary of life enriched with inscriptions, which suffering humanity has composed for us in gratitude, which our brothers and sisters whom we have succoured and relieved from distress and want, have written and dedicated to us?" Oh! if you should be unfortunate enough to have no affirmative answers to these questions, then must you accuse, if you have cause to do so, not your children, that they are not such as you hoped they would be; not your religion, that it did not realize your expectations;—but yourselves, your life, that it was not one truth, in concert and harmony, with your faith.
All our energies, therefore, should be employed, to bring about such a happy consummation to our own honour, and to the benefit of the rising generation. For, there is nothing more sublime than the life of the just in his faith in God; nothing more beautiful than true Israelites, who faithfully adhere to, and sacredly perform the duties of our divine religion; nothing higher than Jews who not only meditate on God; pray to Him; but who live and act in his word and in his spirit; in whose soul God dwells; in whose works God is seen; in whose dwelling God is ever present; in whose joys God is first and last; in whose sorrows God is looked to to aid and to comfort. If such as these live in a proud, egotistical age—they do not waver; are they attacked by misfortunes—they do not despair; if vice is ready to allure them into its net—they do not follow; if no alternative is left them but to choose between sin and death—they do not hesitate, they surrender life and save the soul's life; their virtue they cannot betray, their faith they cannot renounce; their God they cannot forsake, with whom they are united, to whom they are devoted.
Oh! that such unshakeable faith may pervade our domestic circles, our whole life; our houses would then be rendered the abode of the highest felicity, and our godly sentiments be reflected in our calling. This brings us to the second point of our discourse.
"The just liveth in his faith!" To live, means, as we have shown, to act. And that occupation in which we are engaged, either by force of circumstances or own inclination, we style our calling. And a calling is the lot of every one, into whom was breathed the immortal spirit of God. "Man is born to labour," says an inspired man of old. But how our calling manifests itself, how it works, to promote or to impede the welfare of our fellow-men; how it answers the high and noble destiny of our being,—that is the point which we ought to ascertain.
But our calling apparently takes a twofold direction, for us in particular, and for others in general. I say, apparently; for in fact we only provide for ourselves by the solicitude and care shown for others. But how to reconcile this apparently twofold calling and to bring it to an harmonious accord—that is the problem which we are to solve, and which is indicated in the words of our text, "The just liveth in his faith."
Which is the right calling enjoined to us by these words? איזו היא דרך ישרה שיבור לו האדם "Which is. the right way," we can ask with the Rabbi, "man should choose for himself?" Let us answer with his words: כל שהיא תפארת לעושה "That which glorifies him; who follows it!"
To glorify, to crown our life we are only able, if we walk in the path of justice and love, as prescribed by our holy religion, and impart to all our actions the impress of these virtues. This is the key to the solution of the problem which our calling requires of us. "Justice, justice thou shalt pursue, in order that thou mayest live!" Justice—what do you understand under this term? If your conduct always corresponds with your dignity as men, and with your duty as Israelites, then you act justly; if you never undertake any thing that is prohibited by our revealed religion, or by your conscience—then you act justly; if, as soon as religion calls, your inward voice admonishes, you do not listen to any other voices, and may they sound ever so sweetly and temptingly, and act in this manner under all circumstances, whether in the presence of witnesses or not, whether it is to your profit or loss—then you act justly. If you leave to every man what is his own, and do not injure any one in word or deed—then you act justly, you are called just, you live in the right path, in the right calling,—you live in the faith of the Lord of justice.
Love is the second spring which moves the just in his conduct. "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," is the highest moral commandment we have received from our divine Legislator. Love, therefore, is a part of our calling. What do we understand under this word? A warm interest for all that ennobles mankind; a sincere solicitude for their welfare, and an earnest desire to assist in promoting this welfare, by word and deed—that is love The most powerful feeling implanted in the human heart is love. And we must thoroughly feel the condition of our fellowmen, if we wish to ameliorate it. Our heart and our soul must be filled and animated by this heavenly flame. Our love and charity, therefore, must not be limited to handsome words; we must not promise much and perform little; not outwardly appear active and zealous, whilst inwardly we are dormant and idle; we must not have many words and few deeds! The love enjoined by our religion knows no distinction of station, of creed, of nationality, and wherever we are called upon to act in its spirit, we dare not ask: "Who art thou? My brother or not? My co-religionist or not?" Our love must not be limited to the small circle in which we live; but it must embrace the whole human family, and be spontaneously practised, wherever the welfare of the individual, or of the whole can be promoted and secured. And how delightfully and happily do we glide through life, if we conform to this precept. In the circle, where love reigns, every one must feel contented, the heart will be free the mind disenthralled. In a family, where love is the uniting bond, the parents know no higher bliss than to live in the midst of their children, and the children dream of no sweeter joys than to be near their parents, to pour out their sorrows on the bosom of those who gave them life, to vent their feelings of joy on the neck of those who were the guardians of their infant years. In a congregation where love prevails, all have but one end in view; one thought, one wish inspires every heart, to effect the most glorious, the most lasting good, to their own honour, and to the benefit of posterity.
Such, my hearers, is the conduct of the just. He walks in the faith of God. Yes, to walk in this faith, is our calling, our calling as men, as Jews; to live in this faith, to have it, as it were, for our constant companion through life, not to think without it, not to feel without it, not to act without it—that is our duty, if we, like the just, wish to live in the true faith.
Walk then in faith, oh fathers and mothers, all ye who wish to vindicate the glory of our religion before the eyes of an admiring world, you who would perpetuate this heavenly trust in the hearts and minds of your children, that they may tread in your footsteps, and prove worthy descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; walk in this faith, oh ye heads of families, who, even in the midst of treasures and riches, are harassed by troubles and cares, who wish to pursue your earthly career with honour, and to carry with you to the grave the name of honest, pious, and just men,—live in this faith, and your exertions will be blessed and your wishes accomplished. Walk in this faith, youths and maidens of Israel! on the narrow and slippery path of virtue—hold fast to your religion, and you will be secure against vice and disgrace. The poor who walks in faith, behold him—with what resignation he bears his lot; for, should He who supplies food for the beast, and gives to the young ravens what they cry for, forget man? This is the consolation that sustains him, the spice of his frugal meal. The old man who has walked with God in faith, when he is but a few steps from, the grave, has no fears. Joyfully he looks back on his past career, where the good he has accomplished shines forth brightly; and it animates and cheers his heart, when the lamp of life is faintly and dimly flickering in its socket; and with composure and resignation he awaits the hour that calls him to the presence of his Maker. The dying who has walked in faith, observe him—how tranquilly he departs, how he gathers those that are dear to him, around his couch; and he can say with truth, "I know that my Saviour lives. To thy hand I recommend my spirit; thou wilt redeem me, God of truth!" This is his valedictory; this the hope that sustains him in his last moments, and makes him look forward with joy to the blissful regions above.
Such, my friends, is the life of the just, from the cradle to the grave. Would! that we also may lead such a life in our houses, in our calling. Life in faith should animate parents and children, old and young, rich and poor. Life in faith should inspire our schools and our Synagogues, our instructors and our scholars, our preachers and our congregations. Then, yes then, shall we have found the way to our happiness and welfare; and "then will the Lord open for us the door in which the just enter;" and the gory of God will be vindicated by his chosen people; and the time will be hastened, when all nations shall speak one language, and when One God—the Holy One of Israel—will be acknowledged, of whom it is said: "The Lord shall reign for ever and ever." Amen!