Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

reason.

can be maintained against objectors, and reconciled with the character of God.

Let us examine for a moment the representation which your system gives of the divine conduct in relation to yourselves and to the world. We are taught by nature to conceive of the Sovereign of the Universe, as of One totally superior to human weaknesses, One who loves all the creatures he has made, but who loves none of them capriciously, or without a

Among human beings in particular, we are led to conclude, that there is but one ground on which he exercises towards them different degrees of complacency; and that is, the distinction of moral conduct, the difference between virtue and vice. To make, without some peculiar cause, any other distinction than this, - to select a peculiar family for instance, as the objects of his favor, without any ulterior aim in that selection, would be conduct inconsistent with the perfect, just, and impartial character which we conceive as belonging 10 our heavenly Ruler. And especially would such conduct bear the stamp of partiality, and of weakness, if, without any aim beyond that of showing favor to this chosen family, he should assist them in wars against their neighbours, sometimes defensive, sometimes offensive, and should encourage them in excluding from their fellowship, as less honored than themselves, all the other inhabitants of the earth; if finally, after having abandoned his chosen race, without any assignable cause, for at least eighteen hundred years, he should recall them from the lands where they had at length attained a happy settlement, and restore them to that country which their ancestors had not for centuries inhabited, and whose language they had generally forgotten ; that he should conduct them there through the slaughter of all who opposed them, and humble at their feet all other nations on the earth. Can we recognise in such conduct as this, the just, the wise, the immutable God? Would it not appear, that if this be the only account which can be given of God's dealings with his people, it is an account contradictory to natural religion, and one which therefore cannot be true ?

But there is another and a different explanation, equally consistent with your ancient records, and consistent also with all that nature teaches of the character of God. According to this system, it was the design of the Supreme

to

Being, that the human mind should be through all ages free to pursue its own interest, and always furnished with light

ern that interest, in proportion to the developement of its powers. In other words, it was his design gradually to educate the human race, less by direct instruction, than by the influence of motives and circumstances. For the accomplishment of this end, successive measures were adopted, different indeed, but all harmonious, all being parts of the same great plan. At first the few individuals who formed the human family were immediately instructed from above; but as the race increased, and a regard for their freedom of action prevented continual manifestations to them, a single family was selected, for an object, not of partial but of general good, to keep alive in the earth the memory of God and of duty, and to prepare the way gradually for a complete and full revelation. On account of the great interest confided to them, this family, and the nation which sprang from it, were protected in a peculiar manner. To them were communicated, from time to time, instructions of the purest morality, and true and glorious conceptions of the majesty of God. But their worship was regulated in such a manner as to suit an age of the world, which had not outlearned the use of external symbols, and at the same time to prevent too near a contact with surrounding idolatrous nations. At length the prospect seemed to darken around them. Successive conquerors obtained the dominion of their country, and numbers of them were scattered through Egypt, Greece, Asia Minor, and Italy. Wherever civilization had advanced, there were branches found of that nation, whose home was yet in Palestine. Who of them then anticipated the providential events which were to flow from their exile ? Centuries of war at length gave place to peace. The civilized world knew but a single master, the Roman Emperor ; and one language, the Greek, was every where understood. Then it was that the great object, for which the Jewish nation had been set apart, was destined to be accomplished. The world had attained a high degree of mental culture; it was ready to receive a spiritual religion. That religion was proclaimed in Judea ; the life and death of its founder proved his disinterested sincerity; the martyrdom of his followers proved their belief in its truth. Human power opposed its progress in vain. God had prepared the way for it. The profound peace of the world, - the union of civilized Europe and Asia in a single empire, — the prevalence of a single language, aided its progress; the settlement of Jewish communities in every important city gave it more easy entrance ; for in every such community were some by whom it was embraced.

But the sceptre had departed from Judah; — and why should Judah regret its loss ? The peculiar connexion of the Hebrew state with the Most High no longer existed ; but it had terminated with an event more glorious than any which had preceded, during the long centuries of the old Dispensation. Israel had now become the instrument in communicating to the whole world the instructions of Heaven. The law of Moses was not dishonored. Its ritual, national, exclusive portions, had indeed fulfilled their purpose and were no more ; but its spiritual portion, its pure moral precepts, its inspired delineations of the divine character, iis lofty strains of sacred poetry, and its glorious predictions of the Messiah who had now appeared, were henceforth the admiration, the guide of a world. The UNIVERSAL RELIGION, which had appeared, could not indeed give to a single nation exclusive preëminence over others; but it yet reflected glory on the land of its birth ; and thenceforward, Palestine was to all the civilized world, the Holy Land,” Jerusalem “the Holy City.” The memory of their ancient preëminence yet marked the chosen people of God among the nations of the world ;

“The glory remains, while the light fades away." But the light of Judaism has not faded. No. Increased in splendor, purified, spiritualized, freed from every thing exclusive, rendered the source of universal blessedness, it still burns in Christianity, the same with that which beamed from Sinai, in all that then constituted its distinguishing brightness. The great principles of the Unity of God, of the ability of man (assisted by those influences of the spirit which are granted to all) to perform his duty, - of the merciful and long-suffering, yet just and holy character of the Supreme, – these, as the Jews of old' held them, and as they have been retained by Jews to the present day, are, we believe, maintained and enforced in the New Tes

The limits of this letter have been already too much extended to permit our entering on the examination of this subject; -- nor is it necessary. Read the Christian Scriptures for yourselves ; and for yourselves ascertain what they teach. You will find, I trust, to your satisfaction that the Founder of Christianity aimed not to establish any principle, at war with reason, or derogatory to the character of the Supreme Being.

The positions I have endeavoured to support, inay thus be arranged.

1. That the prevalence at the Christian era, of a belief in the power of demons to perform supernatural works, accounts for the fact that the miracles of Jesus did not carry conviction to the minds of all his countrymen.

2. That the rejection of Christianity by your ancestors, in the age of its promulgation, was the natural consequence of its spiritual character, so different from the temporal dispensation which your people have always anticipated.

3. That therefore the supposition that Christianity is true, affords no ground for denunciation against those by whom it was thus rejected. What they did was done through ignorance, — not certainly excusable on the part of all their leaders, but on that of the people in general inevitable, and therefore not criminal.

4. That the very ground, on which Christianity was then rejected, its spiritual nature, appears in our age, to unprejudiced minds, and with clearer light, to be in fact the noblest feature of the religion, constituting its great superiority over that which your ancestors awaited, and affording the only means for reconciling the previous favor shown by God to your nation with the great principle of the divine impartiality.

I call on you then to give another hearing to the cause of Jesus of Nazareth. His claim to be received as Messiah was denied by your predecessors, as I have endeavoured to show, on insufficient grounds. By their decision you therefore should not be bound. Nor, in embracing the religion of Jesus, will you cast any stain upon the memory of your nation, from which filial piety should shrink.

But are you still deterred by a sense of honor, a feeling that you must not desert your brethren, while they constitute a minority, and are exposed to even the possibility of unjust treatment? There is much in such a feeling worthy of admiration; and in other countries and other times its effect on honorable minds must have been great. Yet even there, it afforded no sufficient reason for neglecting to embrace the truth, wherever it should be found. Listen to the words of your own distinguished Rabbi, Moses Mendelsohn, the friend of his nation, and not less the friend of the human race.

“ Whatever the result had been, so soon as I found the religion of my fathers was not the true one, I must have deserted it. Were l in my heart convinced of the truth of any other, it would be the lowest vileness in me to bid defiance to my conviction, and be unwilling to recognise the truth; and what could seduce me to such vileness ?*

But in this country, the motive to which I have referred, musi cease to exist. Here the Christian cannot look down upon you, without violating the principles of his country's constitution, as well as the principles of justice, common sense, and the Gospel. Here you stand on the same level with

your fellow citizens of other sentiments; and if, in some cases, prejudices are still entertained against you, they are not stronger certainly than those which many denominations of Christians entertain against others. Honors and rewards are no longer beld forth to you, if you will embrace Christianity; and therefore it is that I with more confidence invite you to examine its claims. In a temporal point of view, the Jew who becomes a Christian is likely to lose more than he will gain. The motive then, of suffering with your suffering countrymen, no longer exists. The whole ground of examination is fairly before you; and there is nothing to influence your choice but the single consideration, What is the truth?

Farewell then, brethren in the faith of Moses and the ancient Prophets, whom we also revere ; — and should this humble attempt prove unsuccessful, as it probably may, in producing any change in your general sentiments, let it at least convince you, that Christianity is not, as it may have appeared to you, a bitter and persecuting enemy to your race; - that it does justice to the motives and feelings of those who opposed it at its origin, and inculcates upon

its followers towards yourselves no feelings but those of affection and respect.

A UNITARIAN CHRISTIAN. * Mendelsohn's letter to Lavater, published in “ The Jew,” Vol. i. No. 9. p. 181.

« ElőzőTovább »