|Vol. III, No. 6
Elul 5605, September 1845
To help in wearing away the rocky barrier of indifference which alone stands between Israel and the priceless blessings awaiting his restoration to the Promised Land.
That “a written prayer is a prayer of faith,” is said (with how much truth all may convince themselves) by one who has produced proverbs not unworthy of the son of David. We may not indeed be able to write a prayer, for we dare not write it from the resources of the mind alone, and the heart may be cold and unfortunately unacquainted with its relations to Him who formed it, as well as to the inestimable comfort and delight of communing with Him; but the very attempt, though it may be at first unsuccessful, will be, in its effects, both purifying and elevating. Let any right-minded individual make the effort, and he will feel, while lost in meditation, before daring thus to address the Omnipotent God of Truth, as he would confide his thoughts and feelings to an absent friend, an equal, that he is learning more of himself and of his Maker than he has ever yet known. The light of purity and holiness, of self-abasement and trusting hope, will presently break through the cloud of his imperfections; he will find himself carefully winnowing away every particle of the chaff of falsehood, conscious of the vanity of offering to Him, who cannot be deceived, any other than the clean grains of truth, however few they may be; and if his newborn convictions and emotions seek utterance in language, the words that flow from his pen, will express the truth as it is in his heart.
In this exercise, if ever, we become conscious of the all-pervading presence of God. While in “his felt presence,” that formal declaration of love without any of its experience—that cold acknowledgment of blessings unaccompanied by one softening emotion of gratitude—that unmeaning confession of utter dependence upon the great Arbiter of our destiny, while secretly denying or doubting his overruling providence—in a word, all the mere formalities of the habitually and thoughtlessly repeated prayer, having no effect upon the heart and only deceitfully quieting the conscience, by enabling us to discharge, however carelessly, a duty which we feel to be incumbent upon us,—vanish utterly: our devotions become worthy of the name, and soon that incomprehensible influence which we may experience, but can never define, will make known to us the truth of those blessed words: “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him,—to all that call upon Him in truth.”
Prayer is the commune of the embodied spirit, with the unembodied Father of spirits; and whatever may promote and perfect this high and holy intercourse is most worthy of our attention and endeavours. To us, blessed members of the house of Jacob, such inducements—such reiterated invitations to this communion—are poured forth, that it is astonishing to see them neglected and disregarded by any bearing the name of Israelite. It is not a God whom neither we nor our fathers have known, and of whose existence the light of reason alone convinces us, that we are thus called upon to approach in spirit; but it is He, who thus announced himself through Moses to the children of Israel: “The Lord God of your fathers; the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; this is my name forever, and this is my memorial throughout all generations;” words which should make every descendant of Abraham, despised as he may be by his blinded and ignorant fellow-men, glory in his unequalled descent. Why do we then coldly acknowledge the truth of those sacred writings which are the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob, and yet, for all the effect we permit them to have on our lives and hearts, treat them as a dead letter? Men, Jewish men,—more especially Jewish gentlemen—are ashamed to believe in the Lord, to call upon Him and to obey Him. But, let me ask: Is the memory of King David held in contempt among men of any rank or any class, because he sought the Lord at all times—because he waited for Him and trusted in Him—praised Him among the people, and sang unto Him among the nations; ay, and even recognised and acknowledged, that in the very government of his kingdom it was God who subdued his people under him?
Let it not be urged that the gift of inspiration preserved David from consequences which would be injurious to the worldly standing of his brethren of the present day. This gift of inspiration may be ours too. Read the Psalms of David, his written prayers, containing the history of his secret intercourse with his heavenly Father; and, then read those books of the law, which he, as king of Israel, was commanded to write a copy of “in a book, out of that which was before the priests, the Levites, that he might read therein all the days of his life; that he might learn to fear the Lord his God; to keep all the words of his law, and these statutes to DO them” (see Deut., 18:18, 19, 20): and the well of his inspiration will be discovered as with the magic wand. His knowledge of God—the promises upon which his prayers were founded—his dread of the just punishments to which he often felt that his errors had exposed him—his right to the blessings he invoked—were all derived from that law which was his delight, and in which, in the true spirit of obedience, he “meditated day and night.”
This law—this well of inspiration—this ladder of Jacob, leading up to God—is OURS. It is the neglected (alas! that my words should be true words)—the despised—inheritance of the congregation of Israel. Let a daughter of Israel, whose eyes have been opened “to behold wondrous things out of this law,” not through any merit of her own, but by God’s blessing upon the teaching circumstances in which He has placed her, appeal to her people in behalf of their inheritance. She does not come to offer an apology for our faith to the strangers among whom we are scattered, and who look upon us in proud pity for our obstinacy in persisting that the words of the Lord are pure words, and that we are neither to add to them nor to diminish ought from them. Well do we deserve their pity; not, indeed, for what they so lavishly bestow it upon us, but for evincing, as we do, our disregard of what we profess to hold most sacred. How long shall it be said, with truth, “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib, but Israel doth not know, my people do not consider?” Let Israel but “consider;” first, that God himself has said: “Ye are my witnesses.” Let each Israelite consider himself, as he is, one of these witnesses—let him only reflect upon the evidences afforded in his own personal existence, and in the many peculiarities which distinguish him from the mass among whom he moves—of the truth of the prophecies contained in his inheritance (we allude now only to the five books of Moses)—let him consider farther the wonderful history of his nation in connexion with these books, and in confirmation of their divine authority: and he will become fully convinced that Moses was commissioned of God, and, as he said, did not speak the words that he uttered out of his own mouth. He will then begin to understand how it is, that he is one of God’s witnesses on the earth, and to inquire what duties are incumbent upon him—what advantages accrue to him—what dangers threaten him in this his glorious calling.
And where will these momentous inquiries, bearing upon almost every action of his daily life—it may almost be said, upon every thought and feeling of his daily experience—where will they find an answer, nay, find as many answers, as the thousand necessities of life demand? They will find them in “the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob; the law which Moses gave to the children of Israel.”
Humble, sincere, earnest inquirer into the riches of your inheritance, you will not seek in vain. You will find the infinite God of the universe, whom the nations about you fear to approach in his incomprehensible and glorious majesty, without the intervention of a mediator, revealing himself to US, as “the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in mercy and truth,” saying to us, “I will take you to me for a people, and I will be your God”—“And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God”—“Take heed and hearken, O Israel; this day thou art become the people of the Lord thy God.”
Having convinced yourself by the ample means within your reach, that these books are truth, and that you are one of these people of the Lord, inquire next into the nature of your duties as one of these people. Here is a comprehensive answer to this inquiry: “Thou shalt therefore” (that is because thou art one of the people of the Lord thy God) “obey the voice of the Lord thy God, and do his commandments and hiss statutes.” Would you know what commandments and what statutes are these? Behold! “They are not hidden from thee, neither are they far off. They are not in heaven, that thou shouldst say, who shall go up for us to heaven and bring them unto us that we may hear them and do them; neither are they beyond the sea, that thou shouldst say, Who shall go over the sea for us and bring them to us, that we may hear them and do them? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.”—It is the LAW delivered by God to Moses, and by him proclaimed again and again to the assembled congregation of your fathers.