|Vol. IV, No. 10
Tebeth 5607, January 1847
God Rules The World
A Sermon, delivered on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Kislev 9, Nov. 26, 5607.
O God, our Father, who dwellest on high, and whose eyes survey all on earth beneath, we approach thee in humble thankfulness because of the many acts of mercy and truth which Thou hast rendered unto thy servants. In vain were it for us to appeal to our own deeds as justly laying claim to thy bounty; we have done nothing to deserve thy blessings; for the majority of our doings is emptiness, and the days of our life are as nothing before Thee, for all is vanity. But Thou graciously willest to bless; and from the abundance of thy goodness then flows the rich plenty which rejoices the heart of the husbandman; comes the joy which sheds a sweet light over our days on earth springs the health which gives strength and elasticity to our limbs, and issues the wisdom which enlightened our souls. And still we are sinful before thy eyes; we regard with complacency our own conceits, and imagine that of our own understanding we are wise, that of our own feeble industry success crowns our work; and thus we hasten along in pride of heart, and we will not hearken to thy instruction, we heed not to number our days, thereby to bring our hearts to wisdom; but we love what thou hatest, and we pursue with unnatural avidity what thy word has condemned. This has been our course, as it was that of our fathers, and we have lived in thy world without feeling that we are dependent solely on thy bounty, that thy breath hath made us, that thy word can render us again as naught. Be it then thy will, O our Father! to cause wisdom to enter into our souls, so that we may see Thee in all that befalls us, that we may recognise thy overruling providence when prosperity smiles in our dwellings, and also then when the voice of sorrow is heard in our midst, in order that we may subject our souls to thy service, and endeavour to seek for the wisdom which springs so abundantly from thy word, which Thou didst reveal to our fathers.—And let us beseech Thee, Guardian of Israel, to watch over the remnant of thy people that have escaped, and protect them against the evil counsels which the aliens of thy worship may frame against them. Lo! we are powerless; we are exposed to the fury of the ungodly; but in Thee there is power to save, and to arrest the arm of the destroyer. Cause, then, tidings of salvation to be heard in our boundaries, and break speedily the yoke of the gentiles from our necks; so that we may be able to worship Thee in singleness of faith, in peace and security, on that day, when, under the reign of the man Thou wilt send, thy dominion will be established in every place, and thy name be adored as the One who alone is God, who alone is Saviour. Amen!
In the affairs of nations as in those of individuals, success is but too often promotive of pride; and those who have seen prosperity following upon their exertions, speedily imagine that they are placed in an elevated position by something inherent in themselves; it is, in their view, the strength of their hand, the plans so well laid by themselves that failure was impossible, and the wisdom which so preeminently distinguishes them, which have naturally brought about the wealth, the prosperity, the renown which they now claim as peculiarly their portion. In seeing one of crowd speaking and acting after this manner, we very correctly ascribe it to an undue and false appreciation of self which no one can share with him, since no other beyond himself can see with his eyes or experience the same sentiments which animate the actor. But if communities vaunt of their progress, if entire nations forget that they are accountable: the folly, though equally great as in an individual, is not so easily apparent to the observer; so many are engaged in the same exhibition of pride, that but few indeed imagine that the guilt is partly their own; and hence the moralist is little heeded who admonishes his countrymen to ponder well over their acts, and not to arrogate to themselves the power of self-sufficiency which he sees good cause to deplore.
When arrogance overpowers the individual, and he forgets that the One above watches all his ways, he speedily lapses into sin; because he forgets to consult the oracles of his God, to learn thence what is demanded of him as a sojourner in the world of the Creator, where all his fellow-beings are permitted to dwell and to enjoy their existence equally with himself, though they be the poorest of the poor, and he the mightiest among the mighty. Just so with nations; when they forget the struggles of their infant state, the dangers and doubts that attended their assuming rank among the families of the earth—how they themselves exclaimed against the oppression of their rulers and the injustice of arbitrary enactments; and then become themselves the oppressors of the weak, the spoilers of the defenseless: we must say, that these nations have grown proud through their success—they forget that an almighty Hand aided them in their righteous quarrel, and that their transgression now will claim its due visitation from the unerring retributive Justice, which is discoverable in the government of the world no less than in the fate of families. And when the ruling powers of states forget their dependence upon the Supreme, the individual members of the community are but too apt to follow the example set them in their private conduct; and with the increase of national pride, sinning in private circles increases also; the love of dominion in the state, produces its concomitant love of aggrandizement, in individuals; and when the rulers forget the law of neighbourly love by assailing adjoining territories or by ruling with arbitrary sway over the dissentients in their own boundaries, private men will speedily follow to exact with rigour from their debtors, or fraudulently to obtain advantage over those whom business compels to have intercourse with them. And because the bonds of morality are loosened, and because accountability is removed from the thoughts as far as possible: dissipation in is various forms will spread abroad, the law of God will be neglected, and individual and public prosperity hasten naturally downward on the path of ruin.
But no individual ever rose to distinction, to wealth, or high in wisdom, unless the blessing of Heaven attended his efforts; great standing, riches and learning, are gifts bestowed on the undeserving mortal for the benefit of all who come within the sphere of his action; they are trusts deposited, returnable at the will of the Giver, for the promotion of the good of man and the glory of the Creator. Just as the sun is the centre of light, heat, and power for the vast planetary system which revolves around him within the spheres of his attraction; so is the endowed child of earth the distributor of the good confided to his stewardship, held as this is under the strictest surveillance of his Creator; as David sang: “And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved; Lord, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong; thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.”
And even thus is it when states are at peace; when their commerce flourishes; when their fields teem with plenty; when their flocks and herds increase on their hills and in their valleys; when the arts thrive; when education is extended; when there is no migration from their towns nor wailing and breaches within their villages: who was it that granted all this? was it the wisdom of their laws? was it the honesty of those in authority? was it the intelligence of the merchant—the skill of the artisan—the valour of the soldier—the bravery of the mariner? or was it the blessing of God which was showered down upon the land, even as the rain drops from heaven, to refresh the toilsome labour of the hand of man, which otherwise would perish after all the exertion and skill then exhausted in vain? Yes, it is even so; the signs of prosperity which you discover are the evidences of Divine favour, and as such only should they be viewed, and as incentives to employ the bounties of Providence in diffusing general welfare wherever the hand of the governors can be felt for good; in making as light as possible the burdens of the poor; in holding with a strong and even hand the scales of justice; in scattering light and knowledge in the souls of those whom penury and ignorance seem to mark as their own; in breaking the bonds of the oppressed; and what is more than all, since it embraces every thing, by instilling universally the knowledge of the revealed truths of God, and in drawing the indifferent to the service of Heaven, not so much by direct and violent interference in the rights of conscience, as by the rulers carefully shaping their course in accordance with the principles of universal justice, and giving every freedom to teachers of morality to train the minds of their hearers in the way marked out by the Scriptures, the moral principles of which are now so universally acknowledged by all civilized men, however they yet differ upon the nature of the Supreme who rules the world. Herein too we can, as Israelites, contribute all in our power; for in extending the principles of mercy and truth, although they be not directly recognised as appertaining to our religion, it is evident that they are at all events remotely derived therefrom, since only from our Scriptures has mankind obtained that pure standard of excellence which is the boast of modern civilization.
It is, therefore, well in accordance with a deeply-seated religious sentiment, to appoint national days of thanksgiving for benefits received, as also days of fasting and prayer in times of distress. For by this means the God of the Bible is acknowledged in seasons of prosperity as the great benefactor of the state, and as the chief ruler to whom all eyes are directed to give them their food in due season, which his open-handed bounty so mercifully grants unto them. It tells that the people feel that they themselves cannot enforce the blessings; that their own hand is powerless; that Divine favour alone brings to perfection in what they labour. And should calamity oppress the land, and the citizens resort to prayer, the ancient practice of the patriarchs, to ask of the Lord to stay the plague—what does it show? but that they feel within themselves that they are helpless before the poured-out wrath of Heaven; that unless He avert the shafts from the head of impotent mortals they must sink into the grave or be crushed by the evil which threatens their peace. It is then that men feel that there is a Power, the highest and the holiest to direct all their steps; that there is a Helper whose throne is from everlasting, in whose hand it is to give strength and greatness to all. And well says the prophet Jeremiah, 10:6, 7:
מאין כמוך ה גדול אתה וגדול שמך בגבורה: מי לא יראך מלך הגוים מי לך יאתה כי בכל חכמי הגוים ובכל מלכותם מאין כמוך: ירמי' י' ו' ז'
“Forasmuch as there is none like thee, O Lord! great art thou, and great is thy name in might. Who would not fear thee, O King of the nations? for unto thee doth it appertain, forasmuch as among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms there is none like thee.”
In many passages of the Scriptures the Being whom we adore is called emphatically “The Lord the God of Israel;” this does not however, say that he is aught else than the universal Sovereign. He revealed himself only to our father Abraham, and this one perpetuated, through his pious teaching, the truths he had learned among his own descendants and those who joined themselves to them; and as these men formed a class by themselves, as those who adored but one Deity and that the benevolent universal Father of all, He, the Lord Eternal was naturally called on by them as the Lord, their King, the God of Israel; not to exclude others from his dominion, but to show that they acknowledged Him alone and desired to be called by his name. In truth then our God is the universal King of the nations; in prosperity and sorrow He is the One who grants blessings or vouchsafes relief; and though nations have gone astray after the conceits of their imaginations, and have formed gods out of trees of the forest, and of gold from Ophir, and of silver dug out of the mines from the bowels of the earth: the day will come when all will acknowledge and discover, “that the gods which have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from beneath these heavens,” when they will cast aside the errors they have learned from their fathers, and worship, as we do, the Lord Eternal, the King of the nations. How soothing must this reflection be to the scattered sons of Israel! Long has the world striven against their creed, and against their hopes. But every step that civilization takes, the deeper a pure morality strikes root in the hearts of men: the more are our practices followed and imitated by those who formerly loved not the Israelites and their ways. We are already enjoying in anticipation the ultimate triumph of holiness, in that the nations have learned to call upon the Almighty, the Bestower of life for his blessing in the hour of distress, and to acknowledge his goodness when they are blessed with plenty, health and peace. If this be done in sincerity; if men assemble this day in the many towns of this far extent of land, and truly feel that they are dependents upon the same One God who spoke at Sinai; if they thereby deem themselves impelled to be kind to the afflicted; to relieve the poor; to clothe the naked; to comfort the mourners; to open the bonds of the oppressed; to cultivate good will and friendship to each other; to guard sacredly the constitutional barriers against the encroachment of arbitrary power; to foster peace, not alone within their own borders but also with neighbouring nations; in short to act towards all men as they would desire these to act towards them: it will be a beautiful vindication of the divine image impressed on the human soul, it will be a powerful proof that the liberties of these States are well established, inasmuch as the great Sovereign who hates iniquity, is here feared by the millions who inhabit the fertile plains and valleys of this vast country, who urge the car of commerce over the heaving oceans and the many rivers which intersect the beautiful domain which has been assigned here by Providence to the industry and enjoyment of a hardy race of men, a domain which stretches from the Atlantic to the silent ocean on the West, and which embraces climates of almost every degree and produces nearly all the things necessary for the comforts and wants of man. But if the worship of thanksgiving be merely performed, because it appears well in the eyes of one another to profess devotion; if the hearts be turned to iniquity; if oppression and injustice are to be defended; if truth is to be neglected: then indeed are the inhabitants of the land but inviting the wrath of offended Justice; because they know their Master and still they rebel against him; for how can an offering of the lips be accepted, whilst that is national and individual sin, which His word, universally known and universally believed in, so emphatically condemns? But let us hope that, not alone for the happiness of ourselves whose lot is cast here, but for the progress of liberty over all the earth, true religiousness, as expounded by virtue and philanthropy, based upon the fear of the King of the Nations, may have struck deep roots in the hearts of the millions that live under the mild sway of the laws which render this Republic the home of the free, the refuge of the oppressed; and that the day set apart for thanksgiving and praise may not bass away, without enkindling anew a firm resolve to deserve in some slight degree, so far as sinful man can contribute by his own acts, the continued mercy of the Creator. A day of thanksgiving, if it deserve to be so called in any, nay the least, sense of the word, should be a check upon national pride, and a safeguard against national crimes which spring from this polluted source. For what does it mean when an entire state comes to return thanks for plenty, for peace, for health, for liberty? but to acknowledge that each and all of these gifts are not the result of human labour, however we may have contributed to the same as instruments of the Supreme Ruler of the world; or else why return a pretended gratitude which we do not feel? Else why ascribe glory to God for what we feign He has given to us, when we imagine ourselves within our own hearts the architects of our fortune? Else, wherefore will we say that the Lord has caused our mountain to stand firm, when our souls swell with pride and we say within ourselves, Our hands have gotten us all this greatness? And if thus we banish national pride, the acts which flow from an assumed self-sufficiency will naturally not find favour in the national councils, and not have an abiding place in the halls of justice. But equity, and charity, and universal love will characterize the people in their intercourse with one another and in their dealings with foreign nations; and the liberties which now are the equal rights of the humblest of the inhabitants, will descend unimpaired as the heirloom of a wise and virtuous ancestry to many, yea many generations yet to come.
So much as regards us Israelites as mere citizens, as equal participators in the government of a country where of right we have an undisputed claim to protection and the pursuit of happiness; for in this capacity we are bound to cherish in conceit with our fellow-citizens of every other persuasion the duties of a good citizen, and endeavour by all means in our power so to aid in the direction of public affairs, that the government may be administered to the advantage of all, and to the injury of none, so far as this is practicable through human agency. We are bound as such not to wink at wrong done by the persons selected to perform the public functions; but to upbraid them in the constitutional and peaceful manner befitting freemen, whenever they become derelict to their trust. Our religion demands this, and places us upon the same platform with our fellow-citizens to act thus faithfully in our franchise, a duty equally great as to defend our liberties when assailed by a foreign foe, with arms in our hands, in a personal conflict of man to man. Still in doing this, we have not yet discharged the peculiar obligation which our suffering religion demands at our hands. Let us beware that we be not misled in our personal safety, that it is any thing within our own power which has struck the shackles from our limbs, which ages of darkness and wo had fastened around them. Let us beware that the pride of security do not infuse the poison of infidelity into us, and we be thus induced to forget the Lord in the day of our prosperity, Him whom we invoked when mankind raged in burning wrath against us and our heavenly law. Let us beware that we imagine not that the acquisition of liberty absolves us of the least obligation which the letter and spirit of the law demands of the sons of Israel. But it will be well for us to remember that all the good which we have lately received, is an additional incentive to farther holiness; and we should reflect, that if our fathers persevered to call on their God and to follow his precepts when all was darkness around them, how much more are we bound by every motive of gratitude to exhibit a consistent course of religion now, and here, where we are as untrammelled as the proudest of the sects in the land, where there is no right or power inherent in any set of men to hinder us in our religious exercises, or to abridge our political immunity and franchise, on account of our speculative opinions on religion, or our positive acts in obedience to what we decry our duty. It need not be mentioned to you that Judaism has in this land the amplest field for its development; since the commonest understanding will perceive this at the first glance of the question. The blessing of Providence, influencing a wise legislation, has removed here from us every hindrance which could be imposed upon our religious life. Let it then be our study to improve the opportunity thus given, and to exhibit by our conduct that we are worthy the liberty which is ours. Some men may perhaps be foolish enough to imagine, that to live as Jews will detract from their standing in the community, and hence they may transgress merely to be as like non-Israelites as possible outward appearance can do this. But independently of such an excuse being no justification for sin, it is the reverse of truth. Sincerity will always demand respect; and whatever secret dislike some fanatics may have to our religion, none will think the less of those who openly profess their God, and scrupulously obey his laws. In truth, the Israelites are always safest on the path of duty; with the world it will give them respectability, if even this could weigh the least when higher obligations are concerned; and as regards our relation with the mighty King of Nations, it will obtain for us his blessing, which excels all that heart can wish, or the most exalted imagination desire. Let it therefore be our aim to love our Father in all relations of life, in every position in which He may place us. If He sends us prosperity, let us thank “the One who is good and bestows benefits on the undeserving;” and if He sends visitation to try our constancy, let us return our humble prayer, “Blessed be the righteous Judge.” If thus strong be our faith, thus pure our devotion, we shall move onward in holiness; misfortunes will only purify us from guilt, and prosperity will add new lustre to our piety, and render us worthy children of salvation, as servants of the Great God of heaven and earth, who is one and alone, eternal and ever blessed. Amen.
Thursday, Nov. 26, Kislev 7, 5607.