Lydia Montefiore 1777-1858
Lydia Montefiore grew up in an orthodox Jewish home where the Sabbath and the law of Moses were adhered to strictly. After her parents’ death she traveled to the USA and afterwards several European countries. She eventually settled in Marseilles, where she met the Cohens, Jewish believers in Jesus.
When Mr Cohen was visiting her one day, he noticed a Bible on her table. Lydia told him it was her greatest comfort. He read her Isaiah 53 and told her that he believed it spoke of the Messiah. Oh, she asked, are you a Christian? Annoyed, she scolded the woman who had brought Mr Cohen to see her. You told me he was Jewish!! She was deeply offended. “I think it is quite offensive to seek people out in order to convert them to another religion. Why can’t you leave people alone?! I must tell you, I am a Jew, I was born a Jew and have lived as a Jew for 83 years, and I will die a Jew.”
One thing Miss Montefiore could not understand was that Christians did not keep the law of Moses. Her new friend explained to her that Messiah had come to fulfill the law, not to break it. He had expounded the deepest meaning of the mosaic law, from which the scribes and pharisees had strayed. He showed her the passages in the scriptures that talk of how God will write his law on the hearts of his people. Miss Montefiore was astounded to hear that the Bible talked of a New Covenant. Cohen showed her the passage in Jer. 31:31-33 and she read it with interest.
As they parted, she asked again how it could be, that a Jew who believes in Christ could still be Jewish? Cohen explained, “Do you think I have stopped being Jewish because I believe in Jesus? That can not be: he himself was Jewish, and so were his disciples. He preached almost exclusively to the Jews and only when they refused to hear him, did he send the apostles to the gentiles.” Lydia expressed a desire to see the Cohens again, only not on the Sabbath as that was the day she dedicated to prayer and study of the scriptures.
Mr. Cohen visited again, and the conversation turned to repentance. “What we really need is the forgiveness of our sins, not to always repent, time and again, but to leave them entirely! In Egypt, God did not tell our fathers “When you repent I will save you.” He said instead, “When I see the blood, I will pass over.” The blood was the saving of Israel. And now too, the blood saves our souls (Lev. 17:11).
The Cohens visited Lydia Montefiore often, and the three read the Bible together. When they came to the passage that talks of the holiest day of the Jewish year, the Day of Atonement, she commented “I begin to see that I need more than the blood of bulls.” She began to pray, “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief!” And then one day she prayed “If I have done or said anything against you, forgive me, oh forgive me, because I did not understand what I was doing.”
Lydia Montefiore was baptised in 1855. In a letter to her niece, a believer who had prayed for her for many years, she wrote
„My dear L., it is my prayer that the entire world would believe as I do, that Jesus Christ is God’s only begotten son and was come to carry all our sins to the cross. In believing in him, we are saved. Mrs. r. lent me a Bible with both Old and New Testaments. I knew the Old Testament almost by heart, but I had never read the New Testament. I studied it in the evenings until my eyes burned. How clearly the Bible shows the coming of Messiah!”
To unbelieving relatives, she wrote the following letter:
“I am aware that you have been apprised of my baptism, and therefore I shall not write on that subject, but will merely say that I feel very happy since I have been brought to rely on the merits of my crucified Messiah for salvation; and my prayer to the God of Abraham is, to remove the veil from your eyes, as it has pleased Him to remove it from ine, and enable you to behold in Jesus of Nazareth the true Messiah, who was foretold by the prophets, and looked for by our nation. Be assured it is the love I have for your eternal happiness which induces me to write you on this subject, and to send you the accompanying book (the ‘Old Paths’) which I hope you will accept, and I pray God it may prove as beneficial to you as it has to me. But I must beg you not to lay itaside indifferently, but hope you will carefully peruse it, as it will show you what the religion of the oral law is, which we so blindly follow. I implore you, as you value your souls’ salvation, to divest your mind of all prejudices, and search the Scriptures for yourselves, as I have done; and I feel assured, if you search with an unprejudiced mind, seeking God’s guidance to enlighten you, you cannot fail to be convinced that Jesus is the true Mssiah, of Whom Moses and the prophets wrote, and Whom we have so long rejected, and for which we have been for more than eighteen centuries a byword and reproach among the nations.
“I will refer you to a few of the many passages in the inspired Word of God, and I hope you will give them your serious reflection.
“In Jeremiah xxxi., xxxii., xxxiii., xxxiv., we find it emphatically promised that God will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, etc. Read also Gen. iii.15; Gen.xlix.10; Deut. Xviii.15; Ps ii.; Ps. Xxii.; Isaiah vii. 14; Is. Ix. 6; Daniel ix. 23, 24, 25, 26, 27; Micah v. 2; Zech. Xiii.7; and Isaiah liii. Where we find the sufferings of the Messiah fully portrayed. Now, if you would compare the birth , life, and death of Jesus of Nazareth, as described in the New Testament, with the above passages respecting the messiah, a coincidence so remarkable and minute in every part cannot be the effect of human contrivance, but must be from God. Jesus is therefore the true Messiah, now seated at the right hand of God, as we find in Ps. Cx.”
The Jewish Herald 1855, p. 123-4
Helfand, Jonathan. Passports and piety: Apostasy in nineteenth-century France. in Springer Netherlands Jewish History, vol. 3, no. 2. Fall 1989.
The Conversion of Lydia Montefiore.