Vol. VII, No. 1
Nisan 5609, April 1849
On the Formation of a Union of the Congregations of Israelites in the United States.
In Letter II. we dwelt at some length on the absurdity of supposing that we Jews have the vanity to consider our nation as being exclusively cared for by the universal Father. The exposition about to be given of the divine plan for the government of man, brief as it must be because of the pressing necessity for timely treating other points, if it have not the effect of causing to cease all farther attempts to impose that fallacy upon a sometimes too credulous public, may yet tend to put them on their guard against such attempts; and as the relevancy of the exposition to the union of the congregations will not fail to be more and more perceived as we proceed with it, we deem it needless to delay entering upon our undertaking by stopping to offer apologies, and again claiming attention to that which is intimately connected with Israel’s mission, and consequently with a union suggested as the means for better enabling that portion of the nation settled in these states properly to fulfill it.
But those who, by saltation, may be eager to arrive at results, will probably be reconciled to our cause, by observing that in the Occident for February, the reverend Editor, in an article headed “The results of union,” ably adverts to several excellent practical objects worthy of engaging the attention of the united congregations.
Thus, the exalted motive for meeting, and for resolving to recommend the union question, as, likewise, the objects that might be accomplished through its means, are being simultaneously brought under notice.
That the efforts of the zealous may rouse the Jewish people in these states to a sense of their duty, must be the fervent prayer of every well-wisher of theirs and of all who are desirous to see properly performed the office with which our nation has been invested.
It is one of the great effects of a divine revelation, to have opened the eye and mind to the beautiful harmony of the crea<<44>>tion,—to have expelled superstition from the earth, by referring to rational causes those phenomena which anciently terrified benighted understandings;—to have substituted in the place of vain hopes and groundless fears, a firm and sensible reliance on the wisdom, justice, and goodness of the Creator of the wonders which, presenting themselves everywhere, above, below, and around us, testify that nothing exists which is not subjected to laws framed and imposed by infinite wisdom and beneficence. How amazingly have the truths disclosed by a divine revelation contributed to place science on an eminence whence such discoveries are daily made as astonish the atom,—man, at the profundity of his own knowledge!
Would that all who profit by it were humbly and reverently to acknowledge the source to which they are indebted, for being able to penetrate so deeply into the mysteries of nature, or rather into the works of their God.
From the grain of sand to the whole universe, all matter is found subject to laws that silently, but undeviatingly, perform the part assigned to each by their Maker. The vegetable kingdom, displaying matter in a state of organization, is equally governed by laws it cannot but observe. Organic and inorganic matter, as manifested in the vegetable and mineral kingdoms, exhibit no signs of possessing a will or ability to contravene any one of the inexorable laws that govern them.
We are next presented with the animal kingdom,—matter in a higher state of organization, in combination with a mysterious property that, in some, not of the human family, might indicate a faculty approximating to reason in man, but that it is at an immeasurable distance from it, in quality and extent. We find, however, that all, from the lowest to the highest, including man, are likewise governed by physical laws from which none can possibly swerve.
But the laws that govern man are, like himself, of a twofold nature. His corporeal frame is subject to the same physical laws as is that of animals of a lower grade than himself. His body grows and dissolves by similar processes to those that affect the bodies of the animals below him. He has no power by his will to contravene the operation of the laws laid down for all organized matter; but being also of a spiritual nature, he <<45>>is subject, likewise, to moral laws adapted to that nature,—these he has the ability to contravene.
All laws regarding sentient beings, as well as those that affect organic and inorganic matter not sentient, were doubtless framed ere the universe was called into existence. It is reasonable so to conclude; for the foresight, the adaptation of all things to their several purposes, the uniformity of design, and the harmony that reigns throughout, manifest themselves so strikingly, as to compel the belief that this earth and all it contains or appertaining to it, in fact the whole universe, is no work of blind chance, nor of necessity, but the result of a preconceived intention on the part of a First Cause,—a Creator,—a God whose attributes of prescience, wisdom, intelligence, beneficence, and power are infinite; who, not only called into existence but who superintends, and continually sustains his creation.
Whence comes that which is termed gravitation? Whence come chemical affinities? Whence all those other properties supposed inherent in matter? whence, but from the great God, whom it is awful to contemplate even through his beneficent works.
Can matter, which has not the ability for self-movement—can it have framed laws for itself? can it sustain itself? No, certainly not. The God that called it into existence is ever sustaining it, or it would instantly return to its original nothingness.
In the animals below man, that mysterious property so nearly allied, in some, to man’s reason, is, again, governed by an instinct that compels them to observe the laws imposed upon them; thus they may be said to be under the immediate and continual guidance of their Maker. They never, because they cannot, deviate from the course assigned to each; an unerring instinct teaches them to seek and use the means provided for their preservation, for consorting with their own kind; in fine, for attaining to that portion of happiness allotted to them, and for avoiding all that might be obnoxious to their well-being; whilst their wants, their sorrows, their joys, and their anxieties, being all comparatively limited in extent and intensity, and, above all, their inability to conceive abstract truths, induce the belief that their destination ends with their existence here.
Not so with man; he, of all created beings as always been the most difficult to comprehend; employing, ineffectually, the <<46>>minds of the acutest among the ancients, to solve the problem he presents.
At one time exhibiting the aspect and demeanour of an angel, at another that of a demon. The only rebel of the creation, the only being that can, and alas! does too frequently swerve from his nature.
While every animal below him displays invariably a characteristic conformable to what its Maker has assigned it: man, on the contrary, is found alternately to resemble the lion in its dauntless courage, hare in its proverbial timidity, the tiger in its untamable fierceness and insatiable thirst for blood, the fox in its low cunning, the elephant in its sagacity, the sheep in its simplicity, the cat in its treachery, the dog in its attachment, the bee and beaver in their industry and provident care, the sloth in its dislike to action and submission almost to starve rather than seek sustenance by exertion.
Among the brutes none encroaches upon the nature of the others, while every description of quality, whether good or bad, possessed by them in the aggregate, is found among the race of man.
To account for these extraordinary deviations from the otherwise universal analogies that pervade the creation, has been the study of the most gifted minds in all ages; the little success attending their efforts impresses the belief, that the numerous discrepancies discoverable in man’s nature, and the difficulties connected with his destination, would, to this day have remained unsolved, but for the revelation vouchsafed to instruct us on this, the most complex and important of all sciences.
The sacred writings of our nation, those which it recognises as containing the divine will, binding not only on Israelites, but, excepting the ritual and ceremonial portions, intended likewise for all mankind, as affording the only means to secure their true happiness here, and prepare them for a happier hereafter,—the truths, moral precepts, and righteous principles revealed by a beneficent Creator—are contained in twenty-four books, according to our authorized classification, and in thirty-nine according to that of the Septuagint, the whole divided into three parts—the law, the prophets, and the sacred writings or Hagiographa.
Notwithstanding the number of inspired writers employed to <<47>>develop the system it has pleased our Maker to lay down for the government of man, notwithstanding the great interval of time between which they severally wrote: the unity of purpose is maintained throughout, in bringing mankind to know and form just notions of their Creator, to instruct them in the eternal principles of truth and justice, to make them acquainted with their own nature, to disclose to them their final destination, and point out to them the way by which they shall attain to its transcendently blissful state.
Already and consistently is the divine plan clearly designated in the first six chapters of Genesis. The elementary truths and principles they unfold being subsequently amplified in the other portions of the Scriptures. Never are those truths and principles lost sight of, never is there any discrepancy discoverable between the different parts, but, on the contrary, the unity of purpose is so strikingly remarkable as proclaims it could have emanated from no other except from Him, who is emphatically ONE.
Can it then be wondered at that these books have been preserved in their integrity to this day? that not a link in the chain of circumstances to prove their authenticity and source has been suffered to be lost, since they are the gift of a good and gracious God to the whole human family?
Therefore, these first six chapters of Genesis claim to be first noticed. The awfulness of the subject they embody might well impress us with apprehension on approaching to its investigation, lest we fail doing justice to its exalted nature.
An unauthorized attempt to penetrate the counsels of Omnipotence would have been highly unbecoming of us; but this investigation has been impliedly and directly imposed upon us Israelites as a duty, by Him who has vouchsafed to disclose, and cause his plan for the government of man to be recorded in the books committed to our charge.*
That commission or command cannot, however, be construed as sanctioning the indulging in vain speculations on the divine essence, nor on his plan for the government of man; we Jews consider such attempts sacrilegious, because convinced that all which infinite Wisdom designed and deemed sufficient for man to know <<48>>on these subjects has been disclosed, and in terms not to be misunderstood. Nor shall we stop to canvass the disquisitions of geologists on the age of the world, nor to discuss points connected with other branches of science; more especially shall we not arrest our course to reply to the remarks of those whose superficial knowledge of the Scriptures, and consequent ignorance of the scheme they disclose, conceived themselves supremely wise when stating objections to passages that are most frequently beautiful elucidations of that scheme.
Our subject is man, “as being the proper study for man,” and we shall use, as being sufficient for our present purpose, the translation commonly known as the English authorized version, notwithstanding its numerous errors; premising that, whenever our exposition requires, those errors shall be corrected by giving the true meaning from the Hebrew text.
To avoid repetitions, we shall give as a heading the books that may be successively appealed to as disclosing the divine economy, with chapter and verse in the margin, unless when some other book except the one immediately under consideration be referred to, in which case, the title, chapter, and verse of that book will be given. We commence then with
In the first chapter of this book, and in the sublime language suited to the majesty of the subject and to the Creator’s attribute of omnipotence, is related the order in which, consecutively, the hosts of heaven, this earth, and all that appertains to it, were called into existence. When the earth had been rendered a fit habitation for man, then was he, the crowning work of this lower world’s creation, called forth.
“And God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our own likeness.”* “So God made man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.”† “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.”‡
Instructed as we are that God has no form, nor can be likened to anything, we are guarded against admitting for a moment, that the likeness of the creature to the Creator <<49>>anything corporeal or material; we should, then, endeavour in vain to discover in what consists the likeness, but for the revelation of the twofold nature and the rank of man in the creation. His corporeal nature partakes of that of other animals, his spiritual nature establishes his superiority over every other living thing on earth. It is in this latter nature that we must seek his resemblance to a spiritual being.
Though at an infinite distance, yet man possesses powers closely resembling several of the divine attributes, such as evince themselves in the works of the creation.
These powers consist in a perfect freedom of thought and action; in a prescience or foresight that enable him, mentally, to design and provide appropriate means for executing a preconceived plan; in those fine perceptions of the beautiful and sublime, of the just and true, both in physics and morals, to which none but a spiritual nature can be sensible. They all contribute to his pleasure and happiness here; but still is he ever restless, ever longing for and aiming at higher attainments, at higher sources of enjoyment suited to his spiritual nature; pleasures mere carnal be feels can never satisfy the aspirations of a nature so highly endowed as his.
Truly is it said, that nothing has been made in vain; nor have these faculties been uselessly bestowed on man; they plainly indicate that he is destined for a higher state of existence, that he is placed here in order that his spiritual nature might receive its first instructions in those moral truths that alone qualify him for his final destination,—another and better world.
Let us now turn to the details of the plan it has pleased his Maker to lay down, through which he may accomplish that destination.
We are assured that in the kingdom of heaven nothing unholy can approach Him who there presides, and is holiness itself. His goodness invites man to become a candidate for the pure bliss which there awaits him; and never satiates. As a means for enabling him to avail himself of the proffered boon, he is required to sanctify to holy and righteous purposes the powers with which he is endowed, and as the vicegerent upon earth of his Maker, and made in his likeness, that he may here faithfully practise and enforce the principles of truth, justice, mercy, and <<50>>benevolence—attributes that constitute the divine essence, and have dwelt with him from eternity; and that through the sanctification of his powers man, individually and in the social state, might, even here on earth, have a foretaste of the peace and happiness that reign in the modes of the blessed.
That instinct is weaker in man than in the animals below him, may have been ordained, in order that its operation might not too forcibly interfere with his free will. And reason has been given to him to control or, rather, properly to use his freewill.
Reason is a faculty of the soul, that spiritual part which constitutes man’s identity; for while no part of his corporeal frame can be said to remain the same for a single moment, and is destined to be resolved into its constituent elements, the soul ever retains and recognises its identity by reminiscences of the past, consciousness of the present, and anticipations of the future.
An emanation from the Deity, the soul, in its pristine state, could have been no other than pure; designed to increase the numbers of the blessed, it is ordained, notwithstanding its high origin, to win its way to that state as a free but accountable being, through a willing and strict obedience to a divinely prescribed course. United to a corporeal frame, its conceptions, when derived only through the agency of the senses, are confined chiefly to truths connected with materiality; and these senses, far from being always to be depended upon, do, in many instances, mislead the mind, and occasion it to form wrong notions of things; so, that what with an instinct that serves him little, with corporeal senses that often deceive him, man, in an uninstructed state, is less provided than the lower animals with means to attain to happiness here, and still less able to qualify himself for an hereafter. The soul’s native powers or faculties prepare it, it is true, to perceive the inherent sublimity and beauty of moral truths when they are brought under its notice; and even when untutored, except through such intelligence as is conveyed to it by the senses, it occasionally gets glimpses of those truths; but, for acquiring a competent knowledge of them, which of his race shall be his instructor, being all under the same apparent impossibility of attaining to that knowledge through merely human means?
<<51>>This question is answered by the Creator himself: “Now, lest man put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live for ever; therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden.”* By which it may be inferred that, according to the divine plan, man shall not or rather will not be able to win his way to immortality through his own powers and unassisted reason.
This some might too lightly consider an unjust or capricious law imposed on mind, forgetting that injustice and caprice are no attributes of the Most High; keeping which in view, we are soon led to discover that this law of mind has been imposed for the most beneficent of purposes; it is, in fact, a natural sequence of things, tending to nothing less than to cause man to have recourse to the only means by which he can perfect his nature here, and attain to his final heavenly destination.
Since nothing unholy can approach Him who presides in heaven, and who is holiness itself, it follows that man must here be rendered holy ere he can aspire to that blissful region. The question then arises: How shall he acquire holiness? how shall he even know in what holiness consists? He would, in vain, seek an answer to these questions from matter, whatever its form, including that of himself and fellow-men, if void of divine instruction; for unholiness is more likely to be acquired through such a channel. It is, then, only through a spiritual being, through contemplation of the divine attributes; and an humble solicitation to be made duly cognizant of them, that he can receive any satisfaction to his questions.
It is, therefore, a self-evident absurdity to expect, from attempting to contravene this law of mind, anything but disappointment and mortification; we shall act infinitely wiser, and more conformably to the beneficent design of our Maker, by submissively obeying it; not to depend exclusively upon human wisdom, nor fix our minds wholly upon earthly things, but timely resolve to turn our thoughts heavenward, looking to Him who reigns there to preserve us from the dire effects of our vanity and presumption, soliciting to be instructed in the way He would have us walk, to attain the high destination He has allotted to us, and which He wills we should aspire to.
Since, then, it appears that it has pleased the Supreme Being to create man with less ability than the other creatures to attain to his happiness here and to his final destination hereafter, through either his instinct or his unaided reason: how unjustly would he have been treated, but for the ample compensation provided for his deficiencies. This compensation is found in the Godhead’s having condescended to be himself man’s instructer. The nature and extent of the instruction the first man received will next engage our attention.
A. A. Lindo
Cincinnati, February, 5609.
Erratum, in Letter II., vol. vi, p. 605, 2d line from bottom, for “Whilst it cannot be productive of prejudicial,” &c., read “cannot but be.”