Phillip Saphir 1823-1849
from “Memoir of Adolph Saphir” by G.A. Gavin
TO FULLY to appreciate the blessed results of the conversion of the Saphir household, we must not overlook the devoted career of the elder brother Philipp, who is mentioned in the earlier chapters. His memoir, written by Adolph when a student in Edinburgh, is of remarkable interest. A life so devoted and so nobly spent for the good of those around him, in the midst of great physical suffering and depression, we have seldom read. It is a beautiful life. We give some of the leading features as brought out in his brother Adolph’s narrative, which is of thrilling interest throughout, and shows how, when there is a burning zeal for Christ, all impossibilities vanish.
Although he received a good education at home, the temptations of the world proved too strong for Philipp, and he led a careless and wild life. Yet he found no lasting happiness in worldly joys and sins, and at times a strong reaction would take place. Resolutions of improvement were formed. Sometimes he turned to the strict observance of the Jewish laws and institutions, at other times he felt attracted by the grandeur of the Romish Church, and its outward show of devotion.
On the one hand, the unmeaning, often hypocritical, at best lifeless, formalism and orthodoxy of the strict Jews could produce no other effect than that of repelling him, and impressing him with the feeling that in these antiquated forms there was no spirit, and that these ceremonies were not the indices of a holy and devoted life; while, on the other hand, the hollow infidelity, the undefined morality, the witty scorn of all positive religion which characterized the young, talented, and gifted, while they attracted him, inspired no principle, strength, or object of life. Again, the Christian population was without light, and dead. Christianity had become a lifeless form. Christ was never shown to him. Gay life, amusements of every kind, less of an intellectual than a merely carnal and sensual nature, seemed to form the centre of the life of those so-called Christians. But, with all the coldness and death which prevailed in the synagogue, the Old Testament was there read and taught, and its morality, however deficiently apprehended, was inculcated; and, by afflictions sent on the whole population and his family in particular, God prepared his heart for the reception of the truth.
When Philipp was fifteen years old a terrible inundation took place at Pesth. The water in places reached the height of ten feet, and stood on a level with the windows of the second storey. Many buildings fell, and there was great loss of life. He was especially active, and saved many lives and much property. This event made a deep impression, and prepared the way for more solemn convictions.
In 1842, about a year after the establishment of the mission, the Rev. C. Schwartz visited Pesth on his way to Constantinople, and was detained there for some weeks. He addressed many Jews in German, and produced a great impression, among others, on Philipp Saphir, then nineteen years of age. The light broke in upon him. He wrote to Mr. Schwartz, after his departure: — ** 1 thank God daily for having sent you to us, and for having inclined my heart to receive the message you brought, and to enter in at the straight gate which leads to God. … I feel the strength and joy of the Holy Spirit; so do also my sister and brother.’* He honored also for others. ” One thought gives me much pain and distress. What will become of your parents, your relatives, your people? Mr. Smith and Mr. Wingate seek most earnestly to lead me to salvation. I cannot pray enough for them.”
All associated with him remarked that he was altogether a changed being. He sought the direction of God in all he undertook, and the Word of God was his delight. But nothing was more manifest than the consciousness of sin and weakness, and the remembrance of sins which, although he believed them to be forgiven of God, could not yet be forgotten by himself. This consciousness gave him that modesty and humility which so characterized him.
On Tuesday, April 4, 1843, he was baptized in the Calvinistic church of Pesth, by the superintendent, the Rev. Paul Torok. He wrote two days after to Mr. Schwartz : — Tuesday was the most important day in my life. I was admitted into the Church of Christ. I cannot describe my feelings to you. Ah ! the infinite love of God ! He has given me much peace. Nothing will deprive me of it. I am happy, joyful ; my soul is with God. I praise Christ every hour. I regard my life only as one single point, and have death continually in view; therefore I lay myself into Christ’s arms every evening, so that, if it should be my last sleep, I may fall asleep in the Lord. This is now my joy ; but the week before my baptism I thought upon almost nothing else but my sins. I looked back upon my past life. I was quite overpowered by the thought of Christ’s redeeming love, and I wept and repented, and God has wiped away my tears, and I have heard His voice, “Be of good cheer, My son, thy sins are forgiven thee.”
On the Sunday following he received for the first time the Lord’s Supper. A few days after he left Pesth for Carlsruhe, to be trained as a teacher, having an ardent desire to be useful in spreading the truth among his countrymen. He began his studies in the Carlsruhe Seminary for teachers, with great diligence and earnestness. He worked from five in the morning till nine at night with scarcely any interruption, and thus undermined his constitution. He met with many pious friends, with whom he had refreshing intercourse, and continued to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. At this time he wrote to u near relative who was then very sad and depressed,
“Let cares become prayers. Luther says, a man who does not cast his care upon Christ is a dead and rejected man. Therefore, as a good soldier of Christ, bear those afflictions patiently, and overcome them.” In his papers of that summer lie often renewed the covenant he made with God in baptism. Before the end of the year he became ill through over-study. The submissiveness of his spirit and Christian joy in his illness are remarkably shown in these words, quoted from a letter written to his parents in Dec. 1843: — “It is my duty to inform you of what the Lord in His great love has done to me. I will tell you, with a humble heart, that confesses itself guilty and deserving of chastisement, the afflictions which our wise and gracious God has sent me, — and my lips will be opened to praise Him. It would be my greatest comfort to know, that like children of God, to whom all things work together for good, you will regard this also as a proof of the love of Jesus, and will be able, without murmuring and questioning, to submit cheerfully to God, who loves us so much.” “Shall I be able,” he says at the close, ” to complete my studies ? Ah ! my joy in the prospect of being a teacher was perhaps too great.”
His journal in 1844 is full of deep humility and earnest devotedness of heart to God ; self- examination the more searching because the light was burning so brightly within — the light of the Spirit. In December of that year he again became ill, and from this time he lived, with but little interruption, a life of sickness and pain.
In his diary we find a prayer, of which the following is a portion : — ” I thank Thee from the bottom of my heart for this punishment, and but one thing now I request of Thee — that Thy holy and good Spirit may effect in me Thy purpose ; that Thy disciple may recover in body and mind : that this sickness may be unto life eternal. . . Lord Jesus, I hear Thy Amen. If I die, I will see and praise Thee. If I recover, the rest of my life will flow a stream of gratitude, spent in Thy service to the honour of Thy name.”
He wrote at the same time to the Rev. C. Schwartz : — ” Now I learn how God loves me. I can only thank God for this illness. 1 am very ill> weak, and thin. I think I will go home to my Lord and Saviour. I look forward to my end with joy/’
He had to return to Pesth in 1845. His illness increased. But his confidence in God never wavered. His energetic nature could not endure idleness and inactivity. A union of believers, especially of such as were in the strength and vigour of youth, for their mutual advancement in Christ, and for the sowing of the seed of Christ in every possible way, suggested itself as the best work he could *do. He called round him a meeting of Christian young men, who entered heartily into his idea, and a Young Men’s Society was constituted, on the following basis.
1. It was to be called The Society of Young Men.
2. Its object was to propagate the Kingdom of God, especially among young men, also to assist brethren in distress,
and inquirers after truth.
3. The means to be employed were to be reading of the Word of God, prayers, and contributions.
4. The Society was to meet three times a week for reading and prayer.
5. Only true, earnest-hearted Christians were to be invited to join as members ; but they were to try to bring in young men to the meetings.
6. There was to be a weekly collection on Saturdays;
7. there were to be annual reports, with accounts of the finances.
This Society, so well and wisely organized, proved a great blessing, and gave Philipp much joy, cheering him in his suffering, and making him glad in doing work for Christ.
His views of Christian truth were exceedingly clear, like those of his brother Adolph. He writes : —
“I do not merely say I try to be a Christian, but I say I know it, and the Lord knows it. I am a Christian. . . . God makes us His children by His grace through the merit of Christ Every Christian has this adoption — I, as much as Moses, Paul, Peter. It is God’s gift. But the full appropriation j of God’s gift, the sanctification ^of the soul, is ! different in different individuals, and complete only j in heaven. . . . When the work of sanctification is . most prosperous, they will seek the oftener to see
God’s grace in Christ the crucified. . . . Yes, a child of God is and remains a child of God, in good days and evil days, in bright days and dark days, under lively and under dull feelings, in the storm and stress of temptation, yea, even in his fall.
■ Winds, waves, mists, will not rob him of this faith. . I am a child of God.”
When lying on his bed of weakness, Philipp thought whether he could not promote in some further way the glory and the Kingdom of Christ. ”How happy would I be,” he says in his diary, ” if Christ intended to do anything through me, a poor, weak man ! 0, my God, make me a blessing on this bed of suffering and illness! ”
“When I considered,” he writes, **that my illness would probably be very long, I thought — Could you not do something during the time of trial for Him who did so much for you? So I thought of children, and teaching them, and I began with one boy at my bedside. In a few days I had five, seven, ten; to-day, I have thirty children, about ten girls and the rest boys — a school, you see. I have taught them now for a month; and as Dr. Keith and Mr. Grant, from Scotland, passed through, they examined the children, to the great satisfaction of our friends.”
He wrote thus to Dr. Duncan: — ” In fourteen or fifteen days I had twenty-three children sitting before my bed — fourteen Jewish and nine Christian. I can scarcely describe my feelings as I commenced instruction. It was soon evident that the Bible lessons made an impression on the children. The boys and girls learned with such love and zeal, that I was able to hold an examination . . . I must inform you that I never asked any of the parents to entrust their children to my care. Had I possessed the wish to do so, my lameness and crutches would have prevented me. The parents, as soon as they heard from others that I meant to give instruction to poor children gratis, sent their children to me. As my school increased, I was obliged to change my lodging for one more commodious. I was anxious to provide myself with the means necessary for carrying it on. These, with the exception of some books from Germany, which I eagerly wait for, were speedily procured, and I was enabled to open the school with fifty-two children. There were eight Protestants, twenty-one Jewish boys, and twenty- three Jewish girls. I made a point of speaking personally with the parents, in order to ascertain whether the children had their approval, when they came to me. I immediately drew their attention to the fact that I was no longer a Jew, but a Christian who believed in Jesus as the Messiah that was already come, and that therefore my school was a Christian school. *I teach,’ said I, ‘ the Evangelical doctrine as I find it revealed in the Word of God, and I teach the same whether my pupils be Jews or Christians. My chief object is to lead the children to reverence and love God; if you do not object to the doctrines of Christianity, I joyfully receive your children.’ I was obliged to speak in this manner, as I easily foresaw that if I did not take this precaution I would be accused, in the event of my encountering opposition from the hostility of the Jews.”
Thus nobly and honestly, on his sick-bed, did he carry on his work. Jewish opposition was aroused, and the numbers fell in one day from fifty-three to twenty-two; but the children soon began to come back. Of this time he says — ” A boy, when he heard he could not be sent to the school again, began to weep bitterly.” ** I have a little Jewish girl in the school, who will not be called anything but a Christian. When a Jew told her the other day that Jesus was not God, she began to cry, and accused the unbeliever to her mother.” His liberality of view is illustrated in the following: — ‘* A mother came with her (laughter, and told me that the Rabbi had preached against me, and forbidden the parents to send their children. ‘ Is not this very bad? “ No,’ said I, ‘ he acts conscientiously as his conviction commands him. He is a Jew, I am a Christian; he does not wish to see Jewish children attracted by Christianity.’ ‘ Never mind,’ replied she; ‘ be so good as to receive my children into your school’
“The Jewish children give me more satisfaction than the others. They put so many questions, almost always sensible ones, and sometimes with such deep meaning that I am quite astonished. Many of the little ones rejoice in Christ. At home the children read the Bible and pray.” A service was instituted for Jewish children on the Lord’s Day, and many attended and listened attentively.
” It is impossible,” says Adolph in the Memoir’, “to describe the delight and happiness which he felt in teaching these poor children. Philipp was naturally very lively and playful, not only fond of children, but able and willing to descend to their standpoint and become a child to them. His hearty interest in them, his sympathy with them, and his youthful vivacity and cheerfulness gained him the affection and love of his pupils.”
The following characteristics remind us of Adolph himself; — “What he knew, and wished to communicate, he stated plainly, concisely, and directly. He was gifted, moreover, with a lively imagination, and apprehended facts not merely abstractly with his reason, but with the mind’s eye, picturing them to himself distinctly and vividly.” He adds: — ” The chief excellency of his teaching consisted in his believing and acting upon the principle that to educate children is to train their hearts to know and love God, and that this object is not only to be kept in view in the specific religious instruction, but to be remembered in every lesson that is taught.”
In the meantime the Young Men’s Society which Philipp had instituted continued to prosper. Twenty pounds were raised in the first year, in connection with it, chiefly to assist those in need; and the meetings on Sundays and Thursdays to study the Bible were most refreshing.
In June 1847 he had to leave Pesth for a time to take the baths at Posteng in the north of Hungary. He was away a month, and all the time he was active in missionary work, especially among the Jews. At Pressburg, where he had formerly resided, he spoke to many of the Jews he had known before. ” On one occasion,” he writes, ” a crowd gathered, and one woman began to speak to me. I saw in her face bitter hatred and anger. I am thankful I was able to speak with her in meekness and love. She called me hypocrite and apostate, and began to describe my death-bed hours, which, she said, would be terrible, on account of the remorse I would then feel for having denied my faith. I waited till she had finished this violent oration, and then told her a few things about the love of Jesus, and asked her to think them over. I went away fall of comfort, remembering the words of Christ, ‘ Blessed are ye when men shall revile you for My sake.’ ”
There is a quiet humour in the following: — ‘* I was speaking to another Jewess on the coming of the Messiah, as promised by God to our fathers.
She thought it a sufficient answer that, as a woman she knew nothing, could not know anything, ought not to know anything, was not intended by God to know anything. But although she professed so frankly her entire ignorance, she showed herself exceedingly learned and skilful in reviling and scolding me. Yet I made her listen to the truth.’* Of the crass ignorance of the people an example is given: — *’ Another woman, to whom I had given a Bible, asked me whether I was the author of the Book; a Jewess! — one of that nation to whom pertain the glory and the covenants, and the giving of the Law.”
He thus yearns over his people: — ” Oh, Israel, how is thine eye covered with a veil ; and thy heart also ! Rend thy heart, and not thy garments; turn to Him who alone can say a powerful Ephphatha to thy closed eye and heart.” And then, remembering his own past: — ‘* Ah, I feel such an ardent desire to testify of the truth in this city, where I led such a godless life.” He gives many examples of the ignorance of the Jews, and of their materialism. To them he seemed a strange phenomenon; because of the Christians so called, none spoke as he did. They were still great in ceremonies, but had nothing else. ” To-day is Sabbath. Wherein consists the sanctification of this day among the Jews? It consists in three points — They wear a three-cornered hat, a blue frock-coat, and velvet pantaloons. The Jews are the same during the week as to-day; only their dress is symbolical of a difference between the days.”
It was his delight to do good, and to speak about Christ; it was no trouble to him; it came spontaneously. Wherever he was, he sought anxiously to find an opportunity of telling those around him what was to him the life and treasure of his soul.
He returned to Pesth in July, none the better, but rather the worse, for the baths. He was then subjected to terrible tortures by a surgeon probing the wounds in his legs. Agonizing pain continued afterwards, but he bore it patiently. ” I suffer,” he says, ” intense pain, but I have resolved not to say much about it. Let me suffer in silence and solitude till it pleases God to send me deliverance.” Again : — “My wounds are burned every day with caustic stone, and they heed not my cries. I wish I could bear the pain more patiently in those terrible moments. God has driven me into deep straits, but, thanks to Him, He is educating me for heaven. His ways are dark. So long as we are down here in this valley, it is impossible to have a clear view of God’s plans or ways; but from the summit of the mountain we shall be able to see it all, and to see how, in every step and turn which God caused us to make, there was wisdom, blessing, and love.”
He recovered a little, and at last, in October, he got back to his school, which was in a bad state, but soon rallied under his care. He thus speaks of his pupils — ” I spoke with them, one by one, read with them God’s Word, and prayed with them, and every word of warning I gave them applied, I felt, as much to myself as to them. So we confessed our sins together, teacher and pupils, and sought God’s help. One of the children, a boy of eight, died after a few days’ illness, giving all evidence of his faith in Christ. A little brother, a year younger, speedily followed, with like faith. This produced a great effect among the children — Jewish children — who began to carry the light to their homes.”
The care and solicitude, says his brother, with which we watched the progress and development of the children, who, in such a wonderful way, were committed to his training; the attention and diligence which he bestowed on their education ; the joy which he felt on seeing a new Divine life springing up in the hearts of many of them, and the anxiety with which he endeavoured to cherish and foster the tender plant, made him forget in some measure the pain he then suffered, and helped him to bear the heavy affliction with which God had visited him. The only bright gleam of light, in those dark days of suffering, was to see the love of Christ attracting and saving the children, in whom he felt such a heart interest.
But his sufferings were soon to increase, and the ensuing winter brought him days of severer pain, of deeper agony, both in body and soul, than he ever had before. In the end of January 1848, those increased sufferings began, and the physician, in probing the wound again, gave the fatal news that the bone was affected, and that the complaint was incurable. The return of the spring had a favourable influence, and although the local pain had not decreased, yet with great exertion he recommenced his school, and to his intense delight had about 120 children. In the view that the latter part of his life was to be spent in quiet and blessed labour among the children, he felt comfort, gladness, and cheerfulness.
But suddenly, in that year of turmoil and social earthquakes, there broke out the calamitous Hungarian war. In May of the next year, 1849, Pesth was bombarded. Many had to flee. One of the children in his bed was killed by a bomb. Philipp became weaker and weaker, but his faith filled him with joy. He wrote to his brother: —
” Dear good Brother, — Only a few words. God has laid me on a bed of sickness, from which I wall not rise again. So rejoice to know that I will be redeemed, freed from pain, saved — saved from care! I will be with Christ. What joy and delight! I am ready to depart ; I rejoice in God. Pray for me. My whole body is ruined. In heaven there will be no pain. I praise the Lamb slain for us. So, farewell.” And to his brother-in-law Mr. Schwartz, he wrote jubilantly: — ” I am happy. God has done great things for me. My body is decaying, but my inner man lives and grows. I am weak and miserable, scorched with the heat of affliction, but within I am strong in my God, and rich in Him who became poor for me. Heat takes away the dross, and prepares a transcendent joy. I wait patiently, and keep quiet under His hand. I do not dread to die; the death Conqueror has token away the sting of death. I long to be freed from the body of sin; I long after the house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” These letters were written in July. His sufferings increased till it pleased God to call him to Himself on September 27, 1849.
Israel Saphir wrote of these last days to Adolph, his youngest son:
“It has pleased Him who is Lord of life and death, and the true Father of all families on earth, who is holy in all His ways and righteous in all His doings, to call to himself our dear Philipp. After a painful and severe illness, which lay crushingly upon him from April to 27th September, he fell asleep on that day in the Lord. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, from henceforth, yea, saith the Spirit, that they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.” What rich comfort do these words contain for us, especially in the case of our dear, never-to-be-forgotten Philipp. Yes, we saw his work of faith, his labour of love, his patience in hope. We were witnesses how he remained steadfast in faith to the end; how he loved unto the end and hoped to the end; and we are also certain, because we do believe that God’s promises are yea nad amen, that he now wears the crown of life, and that God has set over many things him that was faithful over few things.
I cannot possibly give you a full account of his last months. you know how he could walk only with great pain by the help of his crutches; how he fulfilled his duties as teacher in the school with great diligence and love; how itwas his great delight to teach, to sing, and to pray with the children. He visited the school without intermission till about the middle of April, when one night a stunning pain seized him in his foot. It could not be removed, although several remedies were applied. He suffered intense pain for several days, then felt slight alleviation, but he could not leave his bed or move his foot; the slightest motion or touch caused him burning pain. At this time the fatal bombardment took place. We were filled with anguish and terror; exposed to danger, he was in the most helpless condition. We could not think of fleeing. But he entreated us, by whatever means we could, to escape the deadly bombardment. We watched a night in fear of death; in the morning, amid a shower of shells, balls and bombs, we fled to a village, Czegled. There we head to struggle with the greatest difficulties. Philipp suffered intensely, yet he was patient, even in good spirits, and cheerful; he was now attacked by a severe cough, which was so violent and obstinate, that he could not sleep for even ten minutes. In a wretched room of a peasant’s cottage, Philipp being in such a miserable state, we spent seventeen painful days. At last we returned to Pesth, and the physicians ordered Philipp to go to Buda, and the baths there. After much trouble this was accomplished, but instead of bringing relief he became rather worse. He came home again, and that very same night, between eleven and twelve, a smost alarming paroxysm seized him, and after a violent cough he discharged much blood, which filled both him and us with terror. We called for the physician; from his face I saw that there was no hope. Next morning Professor B- told me privately that his end was to expected every day. This was the end of June, and from July begins the third stage of his illness, — an uninterrupted chain of fearful and varied suffering. He had not only pain in his foot but also in his chest, uninterrupted violent cough, sore throat, hot consumptive fever, besides lying constantly on one spot, (he lay for thirteen weeks without moving), two open wounds were formed, then he had cramps in the stomach and diarrhoea. This was his state from July to the last of September. And, my dear son, hear and admire the strength of love, faith and hope; Philipp thus afflicted and tormented, complained not, murmured not, but was quiet, and calm, and patient, under burning and stunning pain. The physicians could not understand how he was able to bear such suffering with so great patience and resignation.
HJis inseparable companion wa sthe Bible – in it his favourite book the Psalms. He prayed for many hours of the day secretly. Our family worship was at his bedside. He comforted us all. “Be not sad” he said, “God helped me in Carlsruhe, he will help me agin.” When the pain became very violent, he used to whisper, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” At other times he rejoiced that he would be so soon with Christ.
“He remembered you, and read your last letter with evident joy to our friends…. He felt great desire to see some minister of Christ. THe pastors of this city were all from home. He wrote to Mr Schwartz and Mr Smith to come to him, and waited for them with the greatest longing, but in vain. To me he said often: “It is right and just in God to afflict me thus, for I am a sinner; I was a very great sinner, but I am happy; God comforts and strengthens me wonderfully. I have truly repented and turned to God.’
During his illness he spoke with Jews who visited him about the kingdom of God. Only twice he was able to pray aloud, and then he said, “This sickness is not unto death, but unto the glory of God.” When that passage in the book of Job (which he desired me to read the last evening of his life_ was read, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” he smiled, and visibly was cheered up.
“A few days before his death, he arranged his books, and left each of his friends one, writing for every one three verses. I enclose you one of these little notes.
“On the night previous to his death he was quite sleepless, and as he noticed his sister Elizabeth crying, he called, embraceced, and kissed her: “Why do you weep,” he said, “Look at me. I am a great deal better now. The Lord Jesus, our Saviour, is gracious and of great mercy. Be of good cheer. Trust in him. Should we at any time have offended each other, we will be reconciled now for ever.”
The last day of his life was less painful. About four o’clock P.M., he asked your mother to arrange his pillow, turned round, and lay quiet. I looked at him, and thought he was preparing for his last sleep. Two friends that were with me and I kneeled down and prayed, and I noticed that he heard us. When we arose from our knees, we found that he had ended his earthly, painful life.
He lived in the Lord, he died in the Lord. This is now our comfort and support. You will mourn and be sad; it is right and natural, but moderate your grief; or Philipp, my dear and beloved son, and your faithful brother, is in heaven. We will see him again. This is a certainty, and very comforting it is.
On the 29th of September we consigend his remains to the grave; a great number of people, Jews and Christians of different denominations, attended the funeral. Pastor Bauhofer delivered a suitable address. The school children, fifty in number, attended, and their tears were an eloquent expression of their love and sincere sorrow.
What we felt when we gave the cold earth this dear son and brother, in the blossom of his years, of strong, tried faith, of extensive knowledge, useful activity, and pure walk in all humility, obedience, and love, our hope, and joy, and glory, I cannot describe. “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away, His name be praised.”….
Your affectionate father, Alex. S. Israel Saphir
Bernstein, A. Jewish Witnesses for Christ. Keren Ahvah Meschichit, Jerusalem. New edition 1999.
Carlyle, Gavin. Mighty in the Scriptures: a Memoir of Adolph Saphir, 1893. John Shaw & Co.
Saphir, Philip. Letters and Diaries, edited by Adolph Saphir, 1853. Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunger