|Vol. IV, No. 4
Tamuz 5606, July 1846
A Short Essay on the Truth of the Jewish Religion.
by "A Southern Jew"
Man is essentially a dependent being—dependent upon his fellow-mortals for kindness, for friendship, for comfort, and for aid; but far more dependent is he upon that higher and holier Power, in whom “he lives and moves and has his being”—by whom he was formed, and by whose wisdom, goodness, and mercy he is sustained and supported. It is a knowledge of this dependence upon God—love and gratitude to Him for his never-ending care and mercy, and humility for our own unworthiness, that constitute the soul and essence of religion. “To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God,” is all that our heavenly Father requires of us; indeed, this is “the whole duty of man.”
There are, however, various forms or denominations of religion in the world; and, alas! the dark passions of man too frequently lead him into dreadful excesses on this subject—into “envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness;” producing persecutions of his fellow-man, in which a demon might delight. The essence and object of all religion must be the same, though its forms and doctrine and belief may materially differ. It is this overweening self-love, so foreign to true religion—this self-righteousness, by which man establishes a system of orthodoxy, and makes his own opinions the standard of right, that produces the spirit of proselytism—a dark spirit, which one while, with peace, and love, and charity on its lips, and hatred and malice in its heart, and the sword and fagot in its band, would have driven the chosen of God from the pure worship of His unity to kneel before the altar of a triune god—a strange god, whom their fathers knew not; and now, when persecution has failed, this spirit comes in another and a different guise. The sword and the fagot are laid aside, the white flag of peace is unfurled, and Israel is to be cajoled and flattered into an abandonment of the pure faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, and Aaron, and the long line of prophets, whose hearts were warmed by the spirit of God, and whose lips breathed His inspiration. Yes! we are now approached with mildness, with kindness, with flattery. We are now told that we are children of a common Parent—the elder child of our Father’s household; that the Jew is still to preserve himself distinct from his Christian brethren, and that he is religiously to observe and keep all the ordinances, forms, and ceremonies of his faith and his nation; all that he is asked is, that he shall abandon his belief in the unity of God, and receive Christ as the Messiah. Strange hallucination! We are asked to abandon the substance, and adhere to the shadow, to pull down the foundation of the temple, and guard with religious care the scattered fragments of its broken walls and shattered columns. But Israel will not listen “to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely;” the seed of Abraham, if but a remnant, will adhere to the forms and ceremonies of their faith, but they will adhere still more closely to its crowning beauty, its distinctive characteristic, the pure and simple, but awful and majestic unity of God. Still will they exclaim with pious fervour, “Hear, oh Israel! the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”
Still, whilst we have this confident reliance upon the purity and beauty of our fault, and the utter incapacity of man to pull down that which God has built up: yet we feel that there is a necessity for exertion, to counteract the powerful and unceasing efforts of the opponents of the religion of the Bible; and hence we have determined to “cast our bread upon die waters,” with prayerful and trustful heart that the God of Israel will bless our efforts. And oh! if one wandering and erring son or daughter of Israel should be brought back to the fold, or one doubting mind strengthened and confirmed, we shall feel that we have not lived in vain, and that God has blessed our exertions.
If we have correctly described religion—if it is nothing more than that system which teaches us to love God, and obey his commands, and to keep ourselves pure by the practice of virtue, and by doing justly to others: then has the Jew a religion which fits him alike for time and eternity; a religion which taught obedience to Abraham, meekness to Moses, perfect reliance on God to Daniel, and which gave purity to the host of prophets whose prophecies and moral precepts adorn and beautify the Bible, and make it a shining light to guide and direct us through the troubles and trials of life to a blessed immortality. But if religion consists in a belief in certain prescribed dogmas—faith in the power of an atonement for sin through the sufferings of another, and the utter uselessness of good deeds without this faith: then indeed is the Jew without religion, though he worship the God of the patriarchs and the prophets. Can this be so? Surely, surely not. Were the patriarchs and prophets, who held direct communion with God, divested of religion? They believed, and taught, that God asked no more of us than to do justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly before Him, and that this was the whole duty of man; and so do we. They believed (because God had told them so) that He was the Creator and Saviour of the world, and that no atonement, but repentance, was necessary for salvation; and so do we believe. If we err, we err with the good, the pure, the wise, the chosen of God; we err with Abraham, the friend of the Lord—with Moses, the elect of God—with Elijah, who passed not through “the valley of the shadow of death,” but was borne on a chariot of fire to the mansions of the blessed. But we can not err in adhering to our religion; for it is the religion of the Bible—it is that faith and that belief which God prepared for Israel, and whose foundation-stone was laid amid the thunders of Sinai, when the great I AM proclaimed the eternal and everlasting truth to Israel, “Thou shalt have no other god but me.” Oh! house of Israel, wilt thou, canst thou, darest thou, disregard this awful command of thy Friend, thy Father, thy God? But this is not all; we have reasons for the faith that is in us, and we would now proceed to spread out some of those reasons on which our faith is built. We shall appeal to the Bible as our only witness, and we do so with the more confidence, because its truthfulness and divine origin are admitted both by Jews and Christians. If, then, we establish, from that record, the truth and excellence of our faith, who shall say aught against it? Not the Jew, surely, for he can find nothing better; not the Christian, for if he repudiates our faith, founded on Bible truth and Bible revelation, then he pulls down the foundation of his own, and leaves mankind without the Bible, and without a knowledge of God and His law.Let us then appeal to the Bible, and its undisputed truths. God selected Abraham to become the father of the Jewish nation, and to whom were to be revealed the power and goodness of the Lord of the whole universe. In His own blessed word, He says, “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” (Gen. 15:1.) And again, in 17:7, God declares that his covenant is to be an everlasting covenant, and that He will be a God to Abraham, and to his seed after him. Indeed, upon this question there is no controversy. Jews and Christians agree that Abraham was “the friend of God,” and that the Almighty manifested himself, and made known his greatness, his mercy, and his goodness, in an especial manner, to Israel, whom He regarded and called, “my son, even my first born.” (Ex. 4:22.) When we, then, say that the Jewish religion is the work of God, and was revealed to the people of his love, whom He specially selected as the recipients of His holy word, and that this covenant with Israel was to be an everlasting covenant: it seems that we say enough to induce every descendant of Abraham to adhere firmly to the faith of his fathers; simply because the work of God must be perfect, and because Israel and his seed after him were ordered to obey the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments of the Lord for ever. We have no right to add thereto, or diminish therefrom. But even with this indisputable evidence of the truthfulness of the Jewish religion, of its divine origin, and of the everlasting obligation resting on every descendant of Abraham to adhere to it: we would even go yet farther, and would now proceed to inquire, What is the Jewish religion? It is to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might (Deuter. 10:12 and following verses; Ps. 51:16, 17; Is. 55:7; Micah 6:8); to worship one God, and to have no other besides him. (Exod. 20:3; Deut. 6:4, and also 4:35, 39.) Such is our duty to God; and our duty to our fellow-mortals, is that we should “love the stranger and our neighbour as ourselves.” (Lev. 19:18, 34.) Indeed we would refer to that whole chapter as a beautiful illustration of our faith. Such are the truths inculcated, and the duties enforced by the Jewish religion; and we challenge the production of one moral precept in the New Testament, which has not been taken from the Old. Thus then it is clear, that for pure morality, holy thoughts, just conceptions of God and his attributes, a thorough knowledge of our duty to the Lord and to man, and all that is necessary to insure salvation, the old dispensation (as Christians term our holy faith) is full and complete. But Christians say that a mediator and an atonement are necessary for salvation; and taking this for granted, they go on, and attempt to build up their faith, and to establish Christ as that mediator and atonement by erroneous interpretations of the Scriptures. And here we would lay down the broad and unqualified proposition that no mediator nor atonement is necessary for salvation, and that no such requisition can he found in the whole Old Testament. Indeed the idea is altogether repudiated by the Bible scheme of salvation. There is one fact in the history of the children of Israel, as recorded in the Bible, which of itself would establish my proposition. When Moses returned from the mount of the Lord, and found that the children of Israel had made unto themselves a golden calf which they worshipped, he was greatly troubled, and determined to go up to the Lord, to make an atonement for the sin. “And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold: yet now if thou wilt forgive their sin—and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book, which thou hast written. And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.” (Exod. 32:31-33.)
None can fail to admire the holy patriotism, the undying love, the matchless devotion of the meek and gentle man of God; but whilst the Jew exults in these noble traits of the prophet, he still more admires and venerates the stern justice of his Maker, and he is forced to contrast his own beautiful and simple faith with that which teaches that God is satisfied with the sacrifice of the just for the unjust, and that the immolation of his own son was necessary to appease His wrath against an offending world. But with this religion we have nothing to do; we only desire to sustain our own, and would now return to our subject.
God himself tells us what is necessary to salvation:—it is not faith in the redemption of the world by a crucified mediator; but that we should “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” He requires no human sacrifice,—“The sacrifices of God, are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, oh God, thou wilt not despise.”
And in the farther language of the Bible, the conclusion of the whole matter, is to “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Eccl. 12:13.) A mediator, and a sacrifice are not then necessary; and before pointing out other texts on this subject, we would refer our readers to the first five verses of the thirteenth chapter of Deuteronomy, where Israel is instructed how he should regard, and treat even a prophet who should seek to turn him away from the Lord. But let us return and examine the express words of God on this question of a Saviour, and a triune god.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exod. 20:3.)
“Hear, oh Israel! the Lord our God is one Lord.” (Deut. 6:4; 4:35-39.)
“See now, that I, even I am he; and there is no god with me.” (Deut. 32:39; 1 Saml. 2:2; 2 Saml. 7:22.)
“To whom will you liken me, or to whom shall I be equal? saith the holy One.” (Isai. 40:25.)
“I am the Lord, and there is none else; there is no god besides me.” (Isaiah 45:5-6.) Also the 21st and 22d verses, where these remarkable words will be found: “There is no god else besides me, a just God, and a Saviour—there is none besides me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else.”
See also Isaiah 44:8; 46:5-9.
“And in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name One.” (Zach. 14:9.)
Thus we have a mass of authority from the Bible, all going to establish the unity of God, and his power and inclination to save us without the intervention of a sacrificed mediator, if we obey his law and perform his commandments. And, indeed, it is clear that the end and object of God, in revealing his religion to man, was to establish his unity. Whilst upon this subject, we would refer to the 30th chapter of Deuteronomy, from the 9th to 16th verse, inclusive. And what says the Lord? why, that his word is very nigh unto us—in our mouths, in our hearts—and that there is no necessity for any one to go up to heaven to bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it.
Now, with this abundant and unvarying testimony, we ask, if a single sentence can be found in the whole Bible, which declares plainly and specifically, that God is unwilling or unable to save man without the intervention of a mediator? Can you find any where that God says his only begotten son shall be sacrificed to appease his wrath against an offending world? Can you find any where that God has said, that he will have associated with him in mystical unity the father, son, and holy ghost? Is the idea of a triune god, expressed in any part of the Bible? We ask these questions in great confidence; and then ask, if God had ever intended this remarkable change in the faith which He had given to the Jews—this new and wonderful revelation, would he have left it enveloped in doubt? Would He not have specifically declared that such things should come to pass? The Almighty has never left his will and intentions veiled in doubt or mystery. Take for example the prophecies of the dispersion and restoration of Israel; and they are so plain that none can differ or doubt. (Jer. 16:14-16; 32:37, 38; Isai. 11:12; Jer. 23:5-8.)
We have only referred to this subject to show, that God is specific in his promises and prophecies; and that He would not have suffered so important a matter as the redemption of the world by a Saviour, and the ignominious death of that Saviour to have remained in doubt.
This essay, already extended beyond what was intended, must be brought to a conclusion. The subject is, however, by no means exhausted; and we trust that it may be taken up by other and abler pens.
A Southern Jew.