Dr. Abraham Capadose 1795-1874
personal testimony, from Herschell’s Jewish Witnesses for Christ
Although I was by birth a Portuguese Israelite, I was by no means zealous for the religion of my fathers. My education was rather moral than religious ; and though taught to hate vice, and to love what the world calls virtue, I owe it entirely to the grace of God that at an after period I was preserved from open impiety.
At an early age I was captivated by science and literature. I was fond of balls, plays, and every worldly amusement ; but study afforded me still greater satisfaction. I became acquainted with the works of Voltaire and Rousseau at an early period of my life ; but their false principles, and still more, the frightful consequences of their system, as exhibited before my eyes in the history of the French revolution, preserved me, by the divine mercy, from their hurtful influence. My parents having destined me for the medical profession,I considered it my duty to acquire the knowledge requisite for this calling ; but I felt more inclination for the study of the theoretical sciences, and for philosophic research.
My friends were nearly all young men who made an outward profession of Christianity ; but the Lord had given me one friend among my near relatives.*(Isaac da Costa) As we were both Israelites and had been intimate from childhood, our views on all subjects were very similar. (Dr. C here proceeds to state their intercourse with Bilderdyk, which, as it is in substance the same as the account given by Da Costa, I pass over). The religious element, if I may call it so, had not as yet entered into my soul. In my early childhood, it is true, I had often felt an undefined need of prayer ; and when about nine years’ old, had asked my parents to give me a book of prayers, either in the French or Dutch language, that I might understand them better.* I strongly urged my younger brothers and sisters to the same practice ; and this was the more remarkable as I had very seldom seen any one engaged in prayer in my father’s house. From that time, amid all the changes of my outward life, I never omitted the performance of this duty ; and until my conversion to Christianity, it constituted all my religious worship. The prayer I used ended with these remarkable words : — “I wait for thy salvation, O Lord ! ” I have preserved the book containing it, and never look upon it without adoring the goodness of that ” God of my salvation,” who has condescended to bestow upon me, at a matured age, the blessing that the child of nine years’ old, hardly knowing what he asked, failed not to solicit from Him every night before he lay down to rest.
During the period in which I was engaged in my studies, I occasionally experienced very peculiar emotions. A poor woman used to sing songs in the street on Saturday evenings to excite the compassion of the passengers; and more than once have I left my books to listen to her, overpowered my emotions which I could neither comprehend nor describe. At the theatre also, where Joseph in Egypt was represented, my tears flowed at the sound of the Morning Prayer, which was imitated from the Hebrew. At the synagogue, however, which, for the sake of decorum, I still frequented, nothing had the least power to interest me. On the contrary, the unmeaning ceremonies which appealed not to the heart, the want of reverence, the bawling noise, the discordant singing, and lastly, the employment of a language of which three-fourths of the congregation did not understand a word, disgusted me so much, that I ceased to attend it regularly, having always a great aversion to hypocrisy.
In the mean time, as if the tempter had foreseen what was afterwards to take place, he induced my friend and myself to change our mode of life. We disliked half measures, and could not endure the modern Judaism which chooses at its pleasure to dispense with the requirements of the Mosaic law; we therefore resolved to become Israelites indeed, rigidly observing all the prescriptions of the law, and thus compelling Christians to entertain a higher respect for the Jewish religion. National pride was now our ruling motive. In this spirit, and with these views, we began assiduously to read the Bible. But, oh ! the shame and wretchedness of the unconverted heart! We could not get beyond Genesis. Constant ridicule and jesting, and oftentimes even blasphemy, (Lord, enter not into judgment with us !) were upon our lips instead of prayer ; so that I at length told my friend it was better to abandon our reading altogether than to engage in it in such a manner.
Thus our proposed plan vanished like smoke. My term of study was nearly completed. This was in 1818. I took my degrees in medicine, left the university, and returned to my native city, Amsterdam, full of bright prospects for the future. I had an uncle there, one of the first physicians in Holland, a learned man, and highly esteemed by the principal families. Having no children, he took me into his house and adopted me as his son and successor. I was thus introduced at once to an extensive circle of acquaintance; kind and respectable, it is true, but with whom Christianity was a mere outward profession, accompanied by an entirely worldly life. None of these ever spoke to me on the subject of Christianity. I have even heard some of my young friends make a boast of their infidelity, and speak without reverence of the Lord Jesus Christ. I once expressed my astonishment at this, and said, that though I did not believe in Jesus, I thought that those who worshipped Him, and did not consider Him to be God, were mere idolators. A young physician who Mas of the party, who was afterwards savingly converted to God, told me some years after, how much ashamed he felt at the time, when receiving such a reproof from an Israelite.
In the midst of constant occupation, in the diligent pursuit of scientific knowledge, I yet felt an aching void within. I had been subject from childhood to an oppression of the chest, which made me pass many sleepless nights ; and in these hours of wakefulness I often thought, ” Why am I upon the earth? Why was I created a man ? Should I not be a thousand tunes happier if I were one of the lower animals? I should not then endure what I now suffer in my body and in my soul.” Often did I cry out, ” O that this day were my last!” Yet I was not disquieted on account of my sins, else I should have shuddered at the thought of death ; I was under the burden and curse of sin, without knowing it, or seeking for the remedy.
One day I went to pay a visit to my friend who had been lately married. He had just received a letter from the celebrated professor already mentioned. “Would you like me to read it to you,” said he, ” together with some beautiful verses he has addressed to me ?” I gladly assented to the proposal. The verses, in which he described, with power and feeling, the glorious hopes of Israel, concluded with the words, ” Friend, be a Christian, and I die content.” At these words, which he pronounced in an under tone, my indignation was roused; my friend, it appeared to me, was less shocked than he ought to have been. ” Take care,” said I, “there is a plan laid to seduce us.” I left him immediately.
This occupied my thoughts all the rest of the day. I could not imagine how a man of such profound learning could believe the Christian religion. From that day, however, both my friend and myself began attentively to examine the word of God ; and when we walked together we conversed on those passages that had struck us most. Having begun with the Gospel of Matthew, it was striking to me to perceive, that so far from seeking to subvert the authority of the Old Testament, he made it the basis whereon to build the Gospel of Christ.
My friend and I spent several months in this way, becoming daily more interested in our researches. At length, with thoughts and feelings very different from those which formerly possessed us, we again determined to read the Scriptures together. For this purpose we retired to a room in my father’s house; and I can never think without emotion on these hallowed hours which we went together, as in the presence of the God of our fathers. Our interest increased as we proceeded. My mind, wearied with vain speculations, now saw a new and boundless field open before it, towards which it was irresistibly attracted; and thus before I bad ever beard of the electing- love of God, I bad experienced the power by which He draws to Christ those souls whom be designs to bless. This study of the word of God became at length the most urgent desire of my soul. Merely to know the truth did not satisfy me : I felt that I must really possess it, and live on its substance. I understood not then the work that was going on within me; but I occasionally experienced moments of delight arising from the conviction that divine assistance and protection accompanied the course I was pursuing.
One night, when reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, I was so much struck with its resemblance to the account of the sufferings of Christ which I had read in the Gospels, that I was almost convinced I had got another Bible instead of my own ; being scarcely able to believe that this chapter, which may be truly entitled an abstract of the Gospel, was really in the Old Testament. “How,” thought I”, can any Jew, after reading this chapter, doubt that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah!” Whence could this strong conviction arise? I had often read this chapter before ; but now I read it with the light of the Spirit of God. From this moment I recognized Christ as the promised Messiah, and this gave an entirely new character to our meditations on the word of God. It was the dawn of a glorious day to our souls, the light of which increased more and more, enlightening our minds, warming our hearts, and even then bestowing upon us unspeakable consolation. Many of the enigmas of life, which had hitherto puzzled and distressed me, were now explained ; every thing seemed to revive around me, and the object and interest of my life were entirely changed.
Happy days, thus gladdened by a sense of the Master’s presence! Never can I forget them! I believe it was by divine direction that my friend and I did not disclose to any one what was passing in our minds; and that we confined ourselves to the study of God’s word, laying aside all other books except Heydeck’s Defence of the Christian Faith.” This learned man had been a Rabbi in Germany, and having embraced the Romish religion, was made Professor of Oriental languages at Madrid. This book, written with great talent, and much knowledge of Scripture, is a defence of Christianity against Rationalism. Its perusal was useful to us in two ways ; we found that the powerful logic with which lie combated the reasonings of Voltaire and Rousseau, entirely deserted him when he attempted to defend Popery against the doctrines of the Reformation.
Whenever I had any leisure in the morning, I used to shut myself up to read the word of God, as I dared not peruse it in my uncle’s presence. One day I had been particularly considering the following passage in Isa. vii. 14, Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” On going down stairs I found a Jewish physician, a friend of my uncle’s, waiting for him in the ante-room. He was turning over the leaves of a new edition of the Bible. “There,” said he, ” is a fatal passage we cannot easily wrest from the Christians.” It was the very passage I had been meditating upon. My soul was deeply moved, and I again perceived the guiding hand of my God. “Why, then,” I replied, “should we not confess the truth ?” My uncle now entered, and inquired what subject we were discussing. The physician informed him ; and knowing my uncle to be deeply versed in the Rabbinical writings, asked him what the Rabbis say on the passage. “Alas!” said my uncle, “only a mass of nonsense.” With a beating heart I listened to this admission ; and inwardly thanked God for having- permitted me to hear these words from the lips of one whose Rabbinical learning made him to be considered as an authority by the Jews.
All these various circumstances convinced me more and more that truth is to be found in Christianity alone. I could not now be satisfied with mere knowledge, I longed for love. Then it was that the sun of righteousness shed abroad in our hearts, not only the light that illuminates, but the quickening warmth that enables the soul to live the life of God. I saw that love had led the Saviour to seek me. I perceived also my own sinful and miserable condition ; but this feeling seemed absorbed in a sense of the divine love. In Christ I found my life, — the centre of all my thoughts and affections, — the sole object that could fill the void in my heart, — the key of all mysteries, — the principle of all true philosophy, yea the truth itself.
I dull}’ felt more and more the necessity of openly avowing my sentiments. I can record, to the glory of God, that the certainty of losing a considerable property, if I declared myself a Christian, which the event has confirmed) never for a moment entered into the scruples which made me hesitate. I dreaded the effect of the disclosures on the kind relative who had treated me as his son ; on whose choleric temperament it might produce an impression that, at his advanced age, might be fatal. Doubtless, had my faith been stronger, I should have broken through every obstacle; but I could only suffer in silence, at the same time earnestly praying to God to come to my aid, and op)en a way before me.
And the God of mercy attended to the voice of my supplication. It was my uncle’s custom to read the newspaper aloud after dinner. One day when I was sitting opposite to him in a state of great dejection, he read out the following news from Hamburgh: — “We have just witnessed a very interesting event. A Rabbi, after having announced to his co-religionists in the synagogue, that au attentive examination of the prophecies had convinced him that Messiah has already come, and having made a confession of the Christian faith, was baptized a few days since in this city, and received as a minister of the gospel.” On reading this, my uncle said the following words, which the position I was then in rendered so remarkable: “If this man has acted from self-interest, he is worthy of contempt : but if from conviction, he ought to be respected.” Oh, Christians ! You who can sympathize in the feelings of those like-minded with you, need I describe to you what passed in my mind at this solemn moment? In a transport of joy I fell on the neck of the venerable old man, saying, ” Yes, uncle, and it is God who makes you feel thus ; know that he whom you love with the tenderness of a father, is in the same case with this Rabbi ! ” I pronounced these words in such violent agitation, and in a tone so unusual, that my poor uncle thought I was out of my senses. He left the room for a few minutes, as if to allow me to recover myself; and at his return began to speak on a different subject.
I could see that although my uncle was annoyed at what had passed, he did not attach to my words the importance they deserved. I therefore resolved, after having strengthened myself in God, to make the same declaration to him the following day. He could no longer shut his eyes to what had taken place ; and a heart-rending scene followed. He beat his breast, lamented that ever he was born, and exclaimed, in the bitterness of his soul, that I was about to bring his grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. His reproaches went to my heart; but the Lord strengthened and comforted me, and enabled me to show the dear old man such marks of tenderness as at length somewhat soothed him.
When the change became known to my family, they first used gentle means with me in the hope that these new notions might pass away ; but finding I grew bold, and ventured to preach the gospel to them, they resorted to harsh treatment. It was a season of deep trial to my soul. This state of things increased the ardent desire I felt publicly to confess Christ. My family wished me to go into Germany, or some other country, for this purpose ; but to this I objected, lest it should appear as if I were ashamed of the step I was about to take. My friend and I at length decided on Leyden as the place where we should receive the rite of baptism. The 20th of October, 1822, was the day so ardently desired, on which we were admitted members of the church of Christ. Kneeling in the presence of the congregation, before the God of our fathers, Who is the true God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — we had the unspeakable joy, unworthy sinners as we were, to confess before the Christian church, the blessed name of that great God and Saviour who had come to seek and save us when we were lost. Glory be to God.
Quelques Observations sur la régénération morale et la restauration nationale d’Israël, par A. Capadose,… Second appel en faveur d’Israël par Abraham Capadose
Deux discours du docteur Abraham Capadose prononcés l’un devant l’assemblée générale de l’Église libre d’Écosse 25 mai 1846, l’autre au Congrès de l’Alliance évangélique Londres, août 1851. Traduit de l’anglais par Abraham Capadose
Bernstein, A. Jewish Witnesses for Christ. Keren Achvah Meschichit (new edition) 1999
Cappadose, Abraham Conversion of Dr. Capadose, of Amsterdam, a Portuguese Israelite (translated from the French); London: London Society’s House, 1894
(available at the Special Collections Ludwig Roseberger Library of Judaica, Research Center Circulation; University of Chicago
Conversion de M. le docteur Capadose, israélite portugais. Par Pettavel. par Abraham Capadose et Abram-François Pétavel
Gartenhaus, J. Famous Hebrew Christians. Baker House, 1979.
Ridley, Herschell. Jewish Witnesses for Christ.