Alfred Edersheim 1825-1889
” The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear.” (Psa. xxvii. 1 — 3.) ” I trusted in thee, O Lord : I said, Thou art my God.” (Psa. xxxi. 14.)
Yes, this be our motto! Enmity and opposition of every sort may await us ; sorrow and grief may befall us ; but if God be our God, what does it matter? “Thou art my God !” Oh blessed word, essence of the Gospel — of the joyful message of salvation which has gone out to all lands! We, who before were captives to sin, are now free ; we, who before lived in enmity with God, are now His children. The gulf which separated us from Him is filled up ; the veil which was between ns and the Holiest of all, is rent, the Saviour is come, and thou Jehovah, art my God ! For unto us is born this day a Saviour. So do we sing in joyful remembrance of the day of our new birth. And how should we be elevated above all temporal and earthly trouble and pain, did we consider that God not only so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son for it, but that He has taken us out from amongst the thousands of our brethren, and drawn us by the force of His love, — attracted us by the light of his grace, that we should show forth His praises, who has thus called us out of darkness.
The world may scorn us, our brethren distrust us, and what is more trying than either, but few, very few, in the church of Christ, may stretch out the hand of welcome to us ; yet, if God be our God, we murmur not, we fear not ; we are filled with joy and peace in believing. In ourselves we are weak ; but in the Lord Jehovah we have righteousness and strength : even in the midst of trials our joy abounds ; and if all on earth is cold and cloudy, we can in spirit retire into a region of unclouded sunshine and perpetual spring.
“And wherefore all this joy?” Askest thou, my brother of the house of Israel; for to thee do I address these lines : ” if by any means I may provoke to emulation them that are my flesh, and may save some of them.” (Rom. xi. 14.) Ask the man to whom his righteous sentence of death has been read, — who now waits in his dungeon, expecting from hour to hour that this sentence will be put in execution, — when lo ! his prison bars are opened, a free pardon is presented to him, and he goes forth from his darksome cell to the green and smiling earth ; — ask him wherefore he is joyful ! Such a deliverance has been ours, and shall we not rejoice? Between eternal condemnation and eternal happiness there is a mere bridge, a narrow way, and that way is Christ Jesus. If the following brief notice of my life shall convince even one of my brethren of this truth, I shall be more than recompensed for the disagreeable feelings that accompany the public avowal of that secret experience of the soul, that we feel to be most sacred.
Born of wealthy parents, I passed my childhood joyfully, unconscious of the sinfulness within me. From my earliest age, all my attention was directed towards study, which I loved above everything; and the greatest punishment my parents and teachers could inflict on me, was a threat that I should be- come a merchant. In looking back on this period, however, I can scarcely remember an evening when I went to sleep without having prayed in my heart, and poured out before God, all my little joys and sorrows. I remember, that I often left my playfellows, in order to come to God ; and the contempt which I had to endure on that account, made me only come more frequently. Even much later, at the age of twelve years, I rose during the night, for prayer, moved by a feeling I cannot describe; I was often bathed in tears, but I rose again from my knees without being comforted. At an early age I entered the Gymnasium, where, among all the Jewish students I was the only one to whom the prizes were allotted during four years. At that time, I also diligently studied the Bible; and my thoughts, when I read the prophecies of Isaiah, were that the times of the Messiah would be those, when the Christians would return from their idolatry, to the one God, whom the Jews adore.
Against Christianity itself I was very inimical, seeking every occasion to oppose it; and attacking, with violent disputes, every person I could. Previous to this period, even before I was ten years old, all those arguments, which I now hear so often objected against Christianity, by grown up persons, had occurred to myself; such as, that if God thought that Christianity was necessary, all men would have been born Christians ; and how three could be one, etc. I was very fond of reading the Psalms, and continued till my thirteenth year to be a modern Jew, or a pious Deist, who, besides his deism, has still some remnants of Jewish ceremonies. This was the period, when, as I expressed it at that time, I became conscious of myself; or, as I now say, the old Adam awakened within me in all the pride of knowledge. Philosophy, and rhetoric, poetry, and the belles-lettres, were to me a kind of second Minerva, — the very goddess of wisdom, whom I worshipped. From the time I entered my philosophical curriculum, I became in fact a Pantheist, and was a great admirer of Greek mythology; the only difference between my religion and theirs being that they personified single manifestations of the universal Godhead, which I did not. As to my sins, according to the Pantheistic theory, I derived them from the matter connected with God in me; and I thus understood why the Greeks had represented their Gods, as sinning like themselves. In fact, nothing was sin in my estimation ; nothing was, in reality, objective at all ; everything became subjective ; and this concrete subject, in one word, the idol self, became the object of my heart’s adoration. One thing did not suit my system, and that was the idea of eternity. That was evidently to the human mind inconceivable; and how then could such a thing exist? And whence was matter? When, the first thing, even granted that men arose by development of nature? And there we come again back upon eternity. Why not even now such a development? These questions puzzled me so much that I sometimes returned to my old deism, seeking light in prayer; but rose unanswered with as heavy a heart as I had knelt down. This also serves to explain my continued observance of the Jewish festivals.
About this time, I was, through a sudden change of circumstances, thrown alone and unfriended into the wide world; and amid the stern realities of life, many of my poetic fancies left me. By a striking leading of providence, I became acquainted with those Christians who afterwards became my fathers in the Lord. I at first avoided their company; but in a short time, I was obliged, through a wonderful concurrence of circumstances, to spend two hours daily with them. My prejudices were soon removed, and we became very intimate friends; and I could not help greatly admiring in them the holy life manifested as the result of Christian principles. My conscience was now awakening, and I wondered, whence this internal judge came? Was it from education? If so, whence again this opposite principle which I found in me, the inclination to do evil rather than good? There were contradictory principles in me; a voice admonishing to follow after righteousness, and an inclination and tendency to sin; which latter I soon perceived to be of a spiritual and not a material origin. I began to understand that the voice within me was as it were the echo of something without, and what was that? Was it a universal spirit, as I had been accustomed to call it? But what could a universal spirit be, according to the Pantheistic theory, but a number of single spirits, an aggregate of individual consciences? This view being inadequate to solve the mystery, it must needs be the echo of something objective, of something, though in some degree within, still also out of and above men — of God, of a personal creating, governing, judging God!
At this time, I had finished my philosophical studies, and passed my examinations, that I might leave the country in order to pursue my education at a university of higher rank.
I left accompanied by the anxious prayers of my Christian friends, who saw very well that by my going away, all hope of my final conversion, humanly speaking, was lost; and who could only recommend my soul to the especial care of the great Bishop, Jesus. And their prayers were heard; for when I had arrived in the city, in which I hoped to be provided with means for carrying on my journey, I found myself unexpectedly so destitute of these, and met with so many other discouragements, that for the present I relinquished my plan and returned to my former place of abode. I now entered upon a very hard and trying time as to outward circumstances; and the stern school of poverty brought me more and more away from an ideal region into that of realities. I gave myself with more earnestness than ever to my studies; chiefly because I thought to find in them comfort and consolation for outward pressure and dreary isolation in this world. The more I thought, the more I found how unable I was to think to any good purpose. I saw more and more clearly that my former religious system had proceeded from, and was based upon egotism. I was now brought more and more to perceive, that God and self are not identical, but opposed to each other; for the self in me was in direct contrast and opposition to God. This helped to solve one of the chief objections, which Satan raised in me against the truth of Christianity. For when he saw his kingdom about to perish, he endeavoured with the utmost of his power to win me wholly again, and to make of me, who internally was persuaded of the immortality of the soul, of a judgment seat, and a judging, holy, just God, a complete Atheist. He presented before my eyes a loving and merciful God ; telling me that such a God could in consistency with His holiness be nothing but a loving and pardoning Father, seeing that anger and hatred, being sinful, could have no place in God. The consequences which can be drawn out of this dogma, it is needless here to state. Suffice it to say, that by-and-by I was enabled to see, that though God could not be really angry (this expression being only assumed, because, we men could not find a name for a feeling which is not in our nature), still sin being diametrically opposed to God, who is holiness, the rebel, as a matter of course, must be punished by the eternal law of God. But there I met again with the difficulty, that all men are sinners, and that there is no way of escape for any one from the justice of God to His mercy, seeing that the latter could certainly not over-balance the former ; both attributes subsisting in God in the highest perfection.
In such studies and reflections the winter had passed, and I had the whole time received Christian instruction; always listening, never objecting, under the impression that God alone could show me what was truth. Towards the spring, my outward circumstances had very favourably changed, and thus a great obstacle to my conversion was removed; for I formerly feared that my Jewish brethren would ascribe it to the pressure of temporal necessity. At the same time my health had broken down through hard study and outward privations; and some of my old and forgotten sins arose in the light of an accusing conscience. How was I to escape the just judgment of God? What could help me? Repentance? This could perhaps amend my future conduct, but it could never atone for past sins. Good deeds? In performing these, I could only fulfil my duty and that imperfectly; and how could I expect thereby to blot out the guilt, which I was heaping up daily? There I stood, comfortless, without God, without hope in the world, I began to regard the Bible in a new light. I compared it with contemporary books and what a difference did I find! Who has taught Moses the religion he preached? Who sustained him under all his trials? Who had enabled the authors of the Old Testament to give such a true description of the human heart, one so widely differing from that given by the Grecian philosophers, who, in point of science, certainly stood far higher than the Jews? And then, how the open recital of the faults of the men of God, of whom it treats, impresses the stamp of truth on the whole Bible narration! That book cannot be written as all other books are; it must be divinely inspired; its histories and miracles must be true, and God must have revealed himself to my fathers. But then certainly He must have shown them a way of mercy and life eternal. At this state I was much perplexed by the opposing claims of Judaism and Christianity, both of which profess to spring from the same scripture source. But of this I will speak afterwards.
When I was under this great anguish, not knowing where to flee, my conscience testifying against me, I tried to escape from myself; I fled the church which I had till then regularly attended, but how was I to attempt to flee from the Almighty? My anxiety only increased from day to day. Then it was, that one day, my eye met the gracious and wonderful invitation of God. (Rev. xxii. 17.) *’ Let him that heareth, say, come; and let him that is athirst come.” O Lord, how thirsting am I, but how, and where shall I come? ” And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Here then is a fountain of life opened for every one! Even for the chiefest of sinners! Even for me! I read the words over and over again; and my heart thrilled within me from a mingled emotion of joy and pain.
I was as one thunderstruck. From this moment I date a new era in my life, even the beginning of my conversion through the unspeakable grace of God vouchsafed to me the chief of sinners.
The Bible, wherein my eye met with this blessed truth, that “Whosoever will, may take of the water of life freely,” I have still, and hope to preserve all my life long. Among all the precious passages declaring to fallen men the unspeakable love of God, as revealed in the face of Jesus, the Messiah, this will of course always remain the most precious to me. I showed to my teacher, and father in the Lord, the passage which had so much struck me; and he used it to enforce more and more upon me, the necessity of immediately accepting of that invitation. But how could I do so, without knowing whether Jesus were really the Messiah or not? For, as I before said, here I met with two different great systems, which both professed to be based upon the Bible, viz., Judaism and Christianity. True, I saw immediately, that the present Judaism (whether orthodox or reformed) could in no wise claim to be based upon the Bible. For what is Judaism without sacrifices, without temple and high priest? Nothing but hollow forms, for those were the essence of it; and how can man now, consistently with the Bible, escape the curse of God hanging over him, that remaineth not in all things which the Lord commandeth? How can fasting, prayers, good works, &c., alter the immovable justice of a holy God, which requires the punishment due to sin? God cannot, according to His nature, accept the sinner in himself, his penitence, fasting, prayers, and good works, be they ever so numerous and great. I speak here of a real fasting; for I need not mention the worthlessness of a mere outward abstinence; when one wishes the day to be soon over, that the fasting and prayer may have an end, that lie may be discharged of that troublesome duty, which is not a privilege but a punishment to him. This, I am sorry to say, is the feeling of many of my reformed brethren. And then, how can we do good works, even if we try to do them in the best possible manner, so long as we are in our natural state? What is our intention in doing them, seeing that God judges the heart? Is it with a view to our own individual benefit, temporally or spiritually, or does the love of God constrain us? Have we any ultimate object besides ourselves? ‘ — These, and questions of a similar nature, led me to discover, that any thing which is done by us, cannot possibly justify us ; or, in other words, ” by the deeds of the law, no flesh can be justified.” By nature we are all included under the wrath and curse of God ; and Judaism (whether modern or orthodox, whether Deism or Jewish Popery), which still pretends to work out salvation in such a manner, is hence utterly contrary to reason, and deviating from the word of God, as expressed in the Old Testament. But let us see, on the other hand, what the Bible itself otters us, as an atonement for our sins; for we showed above, that the Bible, having proceeded from a merciful and loving, as well as a just and holy Jehovah, must open for us a way of escape. Sin-offering has now ceased; but even if it were again established, could it itself justify the sinner, or could a dumb animal reconcile for man’s transgression? In itself certainly not; but still it is said, Leviticus xvii. 11, “The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar, to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” And so the blood in the sacrifice being the atonement, it must, though of no value in itself, still have had some spiritual meaning; and what is that?
It was at this stage of my inquiry, that I read the history of Jesus more diligently; He being pointed out to me as the essence of that which the sacrificial blood typified, which again brought me back to a careful and impartial study of the prophets, and especially Isaiah. I cannot look back upon this period without still, as it were, feeling in my heart the echo of the effect, which the fifty-third chapter of this prophet made upon me. Is not here a sufficient explanation given of all the seeming mysteries? Take it simply as it is, without trying to supply artificial, inconsistent, and oftentimes utterly absurd comments ; and will it not at once point to a lamb, to a sin-offering, one, through whose stripes believing sinners are to be healed ? And feeling that I am a dying sinner, why should I not accept this healing so graciously offered ? Let me rather seek to find out whether their really is healing under His wings ; and let me more closely in- quire into the precious truth herein revealed. For, if the explanation thus afforded by the prophet be true, then it must also give a key to all the difficulties of this kind in the Old Testament; and, opening the spiritual meaning of the law, must enlighten our eyes with light from above, even with the illuminating and warming sun of Jehovah. Oh, if people were only as willing to seek truth as God is willing to reveal it, how few^ would remain in fatal ignorance, instead of the millions who are so now! How must, after a little careful reading, even the truth of these words appear to us!
“Novum Testamentuui in vetere latet, vetus ill nove patet.”
New Testament lies in the Old concealed. And, through the New, the Old becomes revealed.'”
When arrived at this period of my spiritual inquiry, I must thankfully acknowledge the great profit, which, under God, I derived from the perusal of an excellent book (Confessions of a Proselyte), written by my esteemed friend, Dr. Frankel, of Elberfeld; of which, I regret that no English translation has yet appeared. This very valuable work helped to clear up a great many difficulties, and to show me, under the direction of God’s Spirit, the following- truths, which I will just mention briefly. It taught me that the Old Testament reveals the existence of a Trinity in Unity In addition to the direct assertion thereof, in the Old Testament, I may here bring forward a few things that occurred to my mind, in order to show the reasoning, as far as I can remember it, through which I came to mental conviction; which may, by the blessing of God, be useful to some of my brethren, who may be in the same position as I was then, God, as being eternal love, must necessarily be Three- in-One, As subject, He is the eternal /; and, according to his nature as love, necessarily objectivising Himself; and the produce of both these, the common love of the eternal / and eternal Thou (if I may be allowed to call it so, for we are men, and have no expressions for things which surpass human knowledge, and can only be practically taught by God himself), the connecting bond of these three is the Holy Spirit, (1 Cor. ii. 2). It seems to me unnecessary, and contrary to the object of the present narrative to enter more fully on the point, and to cite here, as I might do, the opinions of Schelling, Frauensfads, yea, even Hegel, and many others; and I must leave it to the study of my brethren, affectionately warning them, however, of the insufficiency of a mere head- knowledge, and directing them to the only effectual way (as the course of my narrative will also show), that of coming prayerfully to God, who is willing to open both our minds and hearts to this blessed truth. If the divine nature of the Messiah is proved, the Trinity is of course undeniable. I will not, however, expatiate on the point here, as it has been so ably done by many others, but I will ask only one question: If the fifty-third of Isaiah refers to a man, is it not absurd to suppose that one sinful man can atone for another? Volumes, indeed, could be written on this point, and innumerable passages of scripture cited, to show, that God himself is to be our righteousness. Were I to cite and explain the various passages referring to it which worked upon my own mind, it would draw out the present narrative to an undue length.
One word more only on this subject. The reader will remember one difficulty I met with, and which I have stated, but not answered, because I had not arrived at the period of my history where I could do so: I mean, how the justice of God requiring the eternal death of every sinner, any one could escape it I or, in other words, how justice and mercy could be united. I defy any one to explain this difficulty, except in the way the Bible does, — through the sacrifice as a type of, and in dependence upon, the death of the Messiah ; or in the fulness of time, by the sacrifice itself, through the death of the Messiah, offered up once for sin, and making hereby an eternal atonement. Having borne the curse of God for men, eternal salvation is thereby introduced into the world. Here then is a punishment required by the justice of God; and His mercy, having, in this very justice, so strikingly revealed itself, can now enter on its most glorious manifestation. This greatest of all wonders, mercy and truth, are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other! This it was which removed every difficulty, and explained the mystery. And canst thou, O my brother, stand unmoved when thou beholdest it.” Canst thou refrain from the contemplation and meditation of this blessed, glorious, and wonderful truth? The greatest measure of love, yea, such love as only God can have manifested in this very justice. “O the depths of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments; His ways past finding out! ”
Having been convinced of the Trinity, as well as of the divine nature of the Messiah, the question occurred, whether this Messiah had come or not; and on point I was soon instructed to see that Jesus is the Messiah. Who could read the history of the mock and lowly Jesus and not cry out — no! This cannot be a deceiver? And if he is not a deceiver, then he must be the son of God. Here is no middle way. Who that reads, in the last chapter of any one of the gospels, the account of His death (perhaps more especially so in St. John), could deny the more than human patience, forbearance, and humility of Jesus! Besides, whence have these fishermen, who first received and preached the Gospel, become apostles? And well may we here ask, with the Jews of old, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Do we not find our very hearts laid open in their, or rather, in the Holy Spirit’s writings? And whence the power to perform miracles publicly, which are recorded again publicly, and written down and handed over to those who had been present at their performance? And will you tell me, that if that had been true, all Jews would have believed in Him? I point to you Jeremiah, who seemed to prophesy in vain, and to the striking passage in St. Luke, xvi. 31, — ” If they hear not Moses and the prophets, h2 neither will they be persuaded, though one (even) rose from the dead.” (Comp, Isa. xxix. 9 — 15.) Whence the strength of the apostles, — whence their courage, — whence their perseverance? How are all the scripture testimonies to the Messiah fulfilled in Him? How has also Gen. xlix. 10, Daniel, ix. 26, 27, been so strikingly brought about? Surely those co-incidences are not accidental; for, in the first place, nothing is accidental; and then all this has been prophesied of in connection with the Messiah. Out of the acknowledgment of the above-mentioned great truth the others all followed in my own mind, as natural consequences. Having come now so far in my narrative as to be able to say my mind was convinced of the truth of Christianity, I will, before concluding this portion, take a view of the position in which I stood. I knew then that the Bible (both Old and New Testament) was the word of God ; that therein a Triune just and holy God was proclaimed, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ; that God had promised and sent His Son as the Messiah into the world ; and that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah: — and by this knowledge the first step was made.
God’s Spirit had convinced me of my sin and misery; my mind was by him enlightened in the knowledge of Christ; but not yet “was my will renewed, and I persuaded and enabled to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to me in the Gospel.” (Westminster Assembly’s Catechism) Whatever man can learn and know by his intellect, I now knew and had learned; but it had not yet reached my heart; I had not yet experienced the teaching of the Spirit within. A good work had commenced, but the stony heart was not yet taken away; and I could only say, with my brethren of old (Acts ii. 37), ” Men and brethren, what shall we do?” When in this condition, I thought, in my ignorance of the new birth, that all that could be done was now done; and I intended then to apply for baptism. But my heart being yet unchanged, I began to feel what it meant to be about to leave father and mother, to take the cross and to follow Christ. What would the consequences of this step be? Not only should I lose all my present worldly prospects thereby, which weighed comparatively little in my estimation, but what would the world say? What would all those say, who knew and esteemed me before? Would they not think that I had wholly changed my formerly respectable character? Would not my brethren, and even all the Christians, despise me now? How did I judge before of all those who be- come proselytes? But then, what reason is there for so doing? Is it not both unreasonable and unjust to hate a man because he entertains a different opinion from our own? And how then is the injustice of others to restrain me from doing ray duty? But then the Jews looked upon me for future defence and support in their struggles; and is it fair now to disappoint them, and to leave the weaker and oppressed party, and betake myself to the stronger and oppressing one? But then, if the latter be in the right, is it not my duty to follow them? And then, finally, and worse than all, what will my parents say? I dare not even hope that my mother will allow me to enter her house any more. But still it is my duty, and I must, therefore, do it, be the consequences what they may.
I now attended public worship regularly on Sunday, and most striking was the difference in which, in my estimation the preached word now appeared to me. Formerly, it was either an offence, or, at least, intolerable foolishness to me; it either roused my conscience, or became a wearisome rejection of (what I then thought) the same fable. But now, with what intense attention I listen to the declaration of the truth of God; of that which I found now to be the only wisdom, in the absolute sense of the word! I went to my beloved teacher in the Lord one Sabbath, after service, to ask baptism from him; but after a short conversation, he refused it for the present. I went home mourning. To be separated from all my old friends and my family; to sacrifice all; and still not to be received into the Christian church! But the wound inflicted thereby proved to be, by the blessing of God, a most salutary one. Here the account of my mental conviction, which I have given very shortly and imperfectly, ends, and the history of the renewing of my will, as I trust, begins ; which I will briefly narrate ; but before quitting this part of my subject, let me ask any dear brother, according to the flesh : Does this not stir thee up, at least to inquire whether Jesus be the Messiah or not ; or dost thou still, without impartial or careful perusal of Holy Writ, declare Christianity to be foolishness, not worthy even of thy attention ? Or darest thou go forward and say, in spite of all the experience had by many of thy brethren, — in spite of the truth of God, clearly revealed in the Old Testament, — no, I will not hear ? Awake, ere it is too late! Awake, ere thou canst not awake any more! Awake, ere thou awakest in hell!
It is not without a certain kind of fear that I enter now upon an account of that blessed work, which, as I humbly trust, the Spirit of God began in me.
When I had thus been refused baptism, I returned home with a heavy heart, and urged the next day, my teacher to tell me, why he had not admitted me into the outward church. He showed me in few, but impressive words, how little knowledge I had as yet of my own sinfulness, and how little I could consequently have experienced of the grace of God ; my head might be convinced, but this could as little warrant my admission into the church, as it could procure me a heavenly inheritance. This went deep into my heart. To know, and still perhaps to perish! What, if death were just now spreading- his wings over me? I hear the moving of my watch ; behold, how one minute drives the other, and one hour the other ; and one week, and month, and year the other! Every moment, as it passes, carries me in its flight nearer to the grave, nearer judgment, nearer hell, if I be unconverted. Oh! Brethren these are all well-known truths; but they cease to be notions, they become fearful realities, as soon as God’s Spirit applies them to the heart. I went home, and prayed. Here was another epoch of my life. I prayed till my heart grew warmer and warmer, and I felt what it was to pray, By-and-by God’s sun began to shine into my heart, and I beheld something, both of the dreadful depths of my depravity, and of the glory of Jesus on the cross, exalted a prince and a Saviour. At that time my heart appeared to myself like a glass of clear fountain water, examined with a microscope: the same water, which was formerly thought so pure, is now seen to be full of little insects; a little world, moving and stirring about. So also with me, pride, vanity, and unbelief, had never appeared to me so dreadful, till the Spirit of God held before me the command of a just and holy Jehovah. “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”
My anxiety for a new heart grew till the blessed Jesus began to send me some answer. It would be needless to try to describe my feelings at that time. I am only thankful that I was led to write down, every evening, some of ray thoughts, which I carefully preserve, as refreshment to my soul, when sometimes near to despair. How happy was I then in my first love! I forgot all around me. I laid aside my once so cherished studies, and gave myself wholly to the reading of God’s word, and prayer, with the exception of some time, which I devoted to the reading of some parts of the excellent book of that eminent father in Israel, Dr. Keith.
I submitted now quietly to the refusal of baptism, knowing, that the Lord would send it in His own good time. And so He did; and that, through the instrumentality of a person, from whom I could have least expected it. As students do generally, and poor ones especially, I had shared in the use of my little room, with a young Rabbi, who, having- finished with great eminence his Talmudical studies, gave now his whole attention to other sciences, which we hence prosecuted unitedly. Many a night we sat together on our narrow bedside, reading- together, and drawing with profound delight, from the broken cistern of an unhallowed literature. Many an evening we had, after a hard day’s work, leaned together at the window, exchanging our thoughts, desires, and cares. Thus, the bond which connected us became stronger and stronger. My friend had sometimes visited my teachers, but standing on the verge of infidelity, he had kept aloof from the invitations of the gospel. He could not but observe the change of mind which was going on in me : no more did we unite in study, or the exchange of feeling ; sometimes, though I tried to conceal it, he found me with my face covered with my hands, as if praying ; he also saw me continually reading the New Testament. All this excited his doubts about me, to which he gave finally utterance, and which I answered frankly, by telling him, that I was convinced of the truth of Christianity. Amazed, he could not understand how I had not yet publicly professed Jesus, and after having explained all, and having once more solemnly, in the presence of Jehovah, questioned me, he bade me follow him. Silently we went through the streets, to my beloved father in the Lord, whom my friend questioned harshly, about my being not yet admitted into the church, since I was surely a Christian, In consequence, a day was appointed for conversation with me in reference to that holy ordinance.
When again returned home, my friend explained to me, what I could easily understand, how, on account of his relations, he could no longer live with me in the same house, though his love to me (as he had shown a short time before) would remain unchanged.
The next evening, I made the first, and indeed, not the easiest sacrifice to my faith, by leaving that little beloved room, which had witnessed so many transitions in my life.
My friend visited now my house only late at night, or very early in the morning, in order not to be observed.
Soon after, I was publicly admitted into the church; having before made all my Jewish acquaintances aware of it. General was the expression of sorrow among all of them; who (I am happy to say) never regarding- me as a man who acted against his conviction, treated mc always after with the very same esteem, which I had enjoyed before. I cannot attempt to describe the feelings which agitated me on the day of my baptism: my evening thoughts of this day being as follows: —
“He that has a voice let him lift it up to heaven, loudly praising. He that has a tongue, let him speak with it of the wonders of our God ; he shall not want words, nor shall he lack sounds, for God is with him, and in him Let him, who desireth joy, come to our Lord and let him, who seeks after pleasure, hasten to his Messiah. For in Him alone there is delight, in Him alone is salvation, in Him alone is eternal life.”
I became now, in every sense of the word, a child; my pleasures, my whole trust, was in my Father; relying upon him, I went boldly forward making joyfully my profession, and defending my belief against all attacks. That was a tune of happiness: no remorse was following me, no care was troubling me ; all round me was spring, because in me there was now spring. The place where I lived had for centuries not been visited by true gospel preaching, which was carried there only by my beloved teachers. Hence (for they taught me nothing but Christ) it is explainable how ignorant I was of the unhappy divisions in the Christian church, of which I became first aware when betaking myself to the university. I was asked, whether I was a predestinarian or not; not whether a believer or not, but whether a H. or Lutheran. The love to Jesus, His kingdom, and my poor blind brethren, which had animated my teachers to leave their home, and to seek for perishing souls, I imagined to be generally prevailing in that country from which they came, and I thought it a Paradise on earth. Poor child that I was, I saw at present only two classes of men ; those few who were disciples of Christ, forming a true union through faith, and the others all standing without. I knew Jesus and His body, the church: and the devil and his body, the world. No trials from false friends had as yet overtaken me: I had no idea, as yet, of those fair-speaking, backbiting, all-sweet, and all-hating creatures who too often call themselves Christians. Alas! I was soon to be mournfully disappointed; and instead of being comforted by all who professed Christ, I was soon left to the comfort which Jesus alone offers. But I will rather be silent on this point, as it calls forth too many bitter recollections.
The first fortnight passed thus in the richest and purest delight, when I was called upon to behold, every day, new beauties in my Redeemer. Some like-minded men, who were looking forward to the same ordinance which I had already received, together with our pastors, formed a flock of men whose happiness was unmingled and undisturbed. I find it is impossible to speak about the patriarchal simplicity and the strength of the bond which united us: we were in fact one family, whose head was Jesus Christ himself. Soon I was called upon finally to select the calling in life which I would follow. I trust I was guided by the Lord to decide on the ministry, with a view to the missionary work; the preparation for which, I trust, will soon give place to the office itself. My thoughts on it were, at that time, as follows: —
“Since the time of my conversion, I calmly observe every day bringing- me nearer to death. I have merely one desire before I depart, one which I cannot suppress, one which God has put into my heart, and which will not expire even with my last breath; that is, to be in the service of my Saviour — to win souls for the kingdom of heaven from my outcast brethren; and thus to be in God’s hand the weak instrument to collect, perhaps, some of the lost sheep of the house of Israel. This is my daily prayer, and I am sure that the Lord will, in his- unspeakable grace, open a way for it, seeing that I ‘pray in the name of Jesus for it. When I have attained that, then I will die joyfully in the Lord, for I know that my Saviour liveth, and sitteth at the right hand of God, and shall give me a place in ‘ the new Jerusalem.
But of this and many other circumstances (from reasons easily to be understood) I cannot speak any more ; suffice it to say, that the Lord has opened a way, and that till the time that I entered upon my professional studies, I exhorted publicly and privately all to come and to receive Jesus freely offered in the gospel. On a missionary tour to my native place, I met with the first persecution, both from my own relatives and the world. But the Lord held me up, and gave me in his unbounded mercy a soul for my hire, which, by its wonderful conversion and consistent profession under great trials, formed afterwards one of the brightest ornaments of the Saviour’s church. A heavy trial awaited me also here. Before my baptism I had not informed my parents of the step I was about to take, knowing too well their disapproval of it ; and here not wishing to offend them more than necessary by direct disobedience to their express command, sinful fear had kept me silent as to the step I had taken; but now I was obliged to write to them concerning it. Well may the reader imagine with what feelings I did so. But I had made it a matter of much prayer; and to my surprise and delight, some time after, I was restored, not only to their love, but enjoyed their confidence more than ever. The Lord has been also pleased to bless some of my weak labours in his vineyard ; and my friend, the young Rabbi also was stirred up to an earnest enquiry, the results of which, after so long an interval begin now, by the instrumentality of more efficient labourers, to appear.
Quickly these six months, the happiest of my life, passed away, and a new relation began. Since then the Lord has been pleased to discipline me by more or less chastisements and trials, of which I cannot speak. But if the Lord leads only, what matters it how? We know that he leads to green pastures, and to quiet waters (perhaps in tears and sorrows) ; and here we might well say, that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than even John. My defence is of God, who preserves the upright in heart. In Thee “our fathers trusted; they trusted and Thou didst deliver them.” If God is for us, who may be against us? Yea, if the whole world rise, if a host encamps against us, still He will stand at our right hand, lest we be greatly moved. He will hide us in his pavilion at the evil time, fill our cup, anoint our heads with oil, and make us to shout aloud for joy! Blessed be His holy name for ever.
Let us now beware, brethren, lest we write or read to our own condemnation; for this brief and imperfect narrative will testify against us, if we believe not. Oh ! May God grant that we all may meet at the right hand of Jesus, where there is fulness of joy for ever- more.
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The Temple and Its Ministry and Services at the Time of Jesus Christ (London, 1874)
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Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ (1876)
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (2 vols.,1883; condensation in one volume, 1890)
Prophecy and History in Relation to the Messiah (Warburton Lectures for 1880-1884, 1885)
Tohu va Bohu, “Without form and Void.” A Collection of fragmentary Thoughts and Criticisms. Ed. with a Memoir, by Ella Edersheim (1890)
Bernstein, A. Some Jewish Witnesses for Christ. Keren Ahva Meschihit, 1999. Israel. pp. 195-198.
Edersheim, Stuart: www.speraindeo.org/aprread.html
Herschell, Ridley H., (Ed.) Jewish witnesses that Jesus is the Christ
Mishkin, David. The Wisdom of Alfred Edersheim, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2008, ISBN 978-1556359392