Rabbi Charles Freshman
originally from Hungary, Charles Freshman served as rabbi in Quebec City, Canada in the 18th century,. He came to faith in the Messiah and became a minister in the Wesleyan Methodist church. His entire family – his wife and seven children – also came to faith. His son, Jacob, became a minister and established “The Hebrew Christian Work”, a mission to the Jewish people in New York City.
From Charles’ Freshman’s autobiography, chapters 4, 5 and 6. For the entire text, click here.
For a shorter version of his story, click here.
Before entering, however, on a detailed account of that wonderful chain of circumstances which led to my conviction and conversion to God, I may be permitted just here to recall a circumstance which happened in my own native land, as an appropriate conclusion to this chapter.
One night during the progress of the revolution to which I have adverted, I happened to be remaining at a hotel in the city of Dashaw. While there, a Jewish missionary, employed by the Scottish Church, was passing through Hungary, selling very neatly bound editions of the Old and New Testaments, very cheap. He came to the hotel at which I was stopping, and offered me one of his books. I told him I did not want any, as I had copies enough of the Old Testament; and as for the New, I would not give a krenzer for one. But he was not to be put off so easily. He said to me, “If you do not want the New Testament, cut that part out, and sell it to some poor Christian; you will then have the Old, and besides, I have no doubt, make something by the transaction.” There was something so persuasive in his manner, and his whole address, that I felt myself drawn towards him. Of course I did not know he was a converted Jew; if I had, I should not even have conversed with him. As it was, I felt very much inclined to purchase one of his books. I thought to myself, as he offered me a beautiful gilt-edged one, handsomely bound, for a gulden (fifty cents), “why, it is very cheap;” so, without more ado, I purchased it — not that I felt any desire to read it, but because the pleasant colporteur almost forced it upon me. I have been thankful to God for that purchase, many a time, since the light of the Holy Spirit has shone into my heart !
I took it home with me but never even looked into it. I left it lying among my books somewhere, and when I was coming to this country I left a number of my books in Hungary, which would only have been an encumbrance, and I thought I had left this among the number. What was my surprise, therefore, on arriving in Quebec, and unpacking my books, to find among them this Bible, with the New Testament in it! I mention this circumstance here, because this little Bible plays no unimportant part, under God, in that wonderful chain of events by which I, a poor benighted Pharisee, was brought out of darkness into light. I had not then discovered its value, as was very evident by my conduct ; for, as soon as I discovered it among my books, I took it and locked it up among my private papers, lest my own wile or children, or some of my congregation, should find out that I had such a book in my possession. I felt like a guilty person because I did not destroy it at once; but I believe God, in an inscrutable manner, directed the whole transaction, to bring about the final result. But I must not anticipate.
I now begin to approach the most important period in my history, and my own idea of its importance must be my excuse for going into considerable detail. I will also, just here, take occasion to beg the liberty of making use of the names of some who, under God, were instrumental in bringing me out of darkness into the marvellous light of the Gospel of Christ.
Before entering upon the account of my conversion, however, a detailed account of that wonderful chain of circumstances which led to my conviction of the errors of Judaism may not be out of place.
Towards the end of my third year in Quebec, I have explained how my mind used to be exercised in regard to the Christian religion. On such occasions, I have felt strongly tempted to look into that New Testament which I still kept locked up in my private desk. I generally resisted the temptation, after a brief mental conflict. But on one occasion, after preaching to my congregation about the restoration of the people of Israel, my mind became more beclouded than ever, and I felt I did not fully believe all I had told my people. In this state of dissatisfaction and perplexity, I went to my desk and carefully unlocked it, all the while trembling as if I were about to commit a great crime. Taking out my Bible, I went into my library and locked the door, so that I might not be disturbed. When thus secure from interruption, I opened the New Testament, and commenced hastily to read a few pages ; but, after a very short time, I threw it away in disgust, thinking all the while I had been reading, ” This cannot be ! ” “That is impossible!” So disgusted did I become, that I believe if a fire had been in my room at that time, I would have thrown the book right into it. Soon I took it up again — read a while, and again threw it from me. So I continued for about an hour. At last I became so excited, that on again taking up the book and reading awhile, I threw it on the floor with such violence that several leaves were torn from their places. In a moment afterwards I was seized with remorse for what I had just done, and, gathering up the loose leaves, I placed them in their proper places, carried the book to its former hiding-place, and locked it up, with a firm resolve never to look into it again.
Evening came, but my mind was so greatly disturbed that I could scarcely perform my routine duties in the synagogue . and even when night came I could get no rest. Still, I did not know exactly what was the matter with me. The next day being the Christian Sabbath, I went as usual to visit among my congregation. I first called upon Mr. Jacobs, the president of our synagogue. As soon as he saw me, he enquired what was the matter with me, “for,” said he, “you do not look well.” I, however, kept my own counsel, and made no reply. He then said to me, ” Rabbi, you will have an opportunity to-day of witnessing a very strange spectacle, the like of which, perhaps, you may never have seen before.” He referred to a grand procession which was to pass through the streets.
In a short time it came along, and it was indeed an imposing spectacle. All the Roman Catholic priests of the city, dressed in their full canonical costumes, according to their various orders, with the Host elevated before them, passed in front. These were followed by a numerous retinue, among whom were exhibited, in great variety, banners, crosses, and images. As I looked upon them, I fancied the priests of olden time must have presented a somewhat similar appearance. I watched them disappear in the distance, unable to repress the mental exclamation, “How long, O Lord, how long shall we poor Jews be deprived of our glorious restoration!”
All this only tended to increase my mental perturbation. ” How strange,” thought I; “the sermon yesterday, the affair with the Bible, and the procession to-day — all contributing to keep the Christian religion continually before my mind.” All this I looked upon as an omen of evil. Still, I made no remarks on the subject, but went home, resolved more than ever to lead a strict and pious life.
From this time an all-controlling desire arose in my mind carefully to study the Prophets, especially those having reference to the coming of the Messiah. While engaged in this occupation, a Jewish Rabbi from Palestine, Nachum Hakohen, who had been sent out to America to collect money for the poor Jews of Jerusalem and Damascus, happened to be in Montreal, where I was on a visit at the same time. I met him at Dr. De-Sola’s. He could only converse in the Hebrew and Arabic languages, so that very few except the doctor and myself could have any conversation with him. After he had collected something among the Jews in Montreal, he asked me whether I could do anything for him among my congregation in Quebec. I readily agreed to do all in my power, thinking at the same time, I should have a fine opportunity of conversing with him about those different traditions and beliefs which now characterized our religion in different parts of the world, and also of hearing from him something about those sacred curiosities, so dear to the mind of a Jew, which are to be found nowhere else but in his native land. But chiefly I wished to converse with him about that person whom the Christians worship as ” Jesus of Nazareth.”
I was, therefore, much pleased when he informed me that, being tired of travelling, he would gladly rest with me a few days. He accordingly accompanied me to Quebec, and during the time he remained with us we were never separate, for he would not even take a meal of victuals anywhere but in my house, for fear they might not have been prepared in strict accordance with the requirements of the Jewish religion.
I shall ever be thankful to God for this visit at that time. It seems to me altogether providential that, just at that period, when my mind was so unsettled, I should have the privilege of conversing on these perplexing subjects with one who lived, I might say, in the very place where these wonderful things detailed in the New Testament had transpired. “We used to sit up until after midnight, conversing .upon various topics, all very interesting to me. On these occasions, many questions which I had never before thought about would spring up in my mind, when I would immediately ask his opinion in reference to them.
On the evening before his departure, the subject of conversation was the “Messiah”. I asked him what the Jews in Jerusalem thought about the coming of the Messiah. “We are looking for him every day’ said he. ” And what,” said I, ” do our people there think about the tsaluv – for at that time I did not venture to call him Jesus, since the Jews call him, as already mentioned, Tsaluv, that is, the “crucified impostor,’* ” Of course,” said I, “you, who are living almost on the very spot where he lived and died, must have some more reliable tradition respecting him than we have here! ” He then gave me the tradition which the Jews in Jerusalem hold. This I found altogether different from the one which I had received while at college in Prague. Upon this I asked him how it happened that we, as a people, taken all the world over, had not one and the same tradition on a subject of such great importance? ” We had at one time,” said he, “but since we have had to suffer so much persecution about it in different countries, we never published it in any of our books; and so in many places, the true tradition has been lost; but we in the Holy Land preserve the true account to this day.” Here I may mention that the tradition is of such a blasphemous nature, that I must be excused from publishing it even here. My opinion is, the sooner it dies out the better.
“And do you actually believe,” said I, ” that there is nothing in the Old Testament which refers, in any way, to Him in whom the Gentiles believe as their Messiah ?” “No,” he replied, ” not a word.”
” Then how in the world does it happen,” said I, “that the prophets, in whose inspiration we all believe most firmly, and who have foretold every events great and small, in reference to our nation, should so over-look such a great catastrophe, as not to mention a word about it! Even if he were an impostor, they would, at least, have said something to warn us not to follow him; especially since it is written, ‘Surely the Lord will do no-thing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” — Amos iii. 7.
The poor Rabbi stood there as if struck dumb. This was a new idea to him, the glimmerings of which had never entered his mind, and of course he had no reply to make. After a few moments deliberation he said : “As soon as I get home I will take your question — which is, I admit, of great importance — into earnest consideration, in company with other learned Rabbies; and whatever result we may arrive at, I shall let you know as soon as possible.” He left the next day, but from that time to this I have never heard a word from the good Rabbi. I hope the Lord may make his enquiry and research result in his conversion!
After he had gone, leaving my question unanswered, in this manner I thought to myself, — ” If a Rabbi from Jerusalem cannot answer this question, it cannot be answered, and there is something wrong with our belief — a screw loose somewhere.” From this time my mind became more aroused and agitated than ever, and my inclinations to the opinion that the Christians might be right, stronger than ever. I even commenced to speak my thoughts aloud to some of my congregation, upon the subject that lay so close to my heart ; and, notwithstanding all my former resolutions not to read the New Testament, I again found myself perusing its images, not only in the German, but in the English also, in the study of which I had made considerable progress.
I had a very pious Christian neighbour, a Mr. Hinton, with whom I used to spend hours in conversing on religious topics, and who assisted me very greatly in mastering a reading-knowledge of the English language. After such conversations with him, I used to feel what a miserable position I occupied; for I felt in my heart that I was no longer a Jew, and yet I revolted at the idea of becoming a Christian. I now neglected all Jewish ceremonies, except the mere routine duties of my profession; and when I stood up in the synagogue to conduct the service, I felt that I was a hypocrite.
Still, I did not believe in the authenticity of the New Testament, so that my position was altogether a most unenviable one. I had no rest by day. Even the silent watches of the night refused to bring “Tired nature’s sweet restorer— balmy sleep” to my poor wakeful eyes. Many a time have I spent the whole of the night, searching in the Bible, and among Jewish writings, for matter having a direct bearing upon the all-absorbing question of the Messiah. Still, conviction came not. Sometimes I would even think the whole Bible was a work of fiction. Again I would doubt the good providence of God, in causing me to be born a Jew. But sometimes I would become all but persuaded of the truth of Christianity, and then I would reflect, — “What will become of my poor wife and family, if I should renounce the faith of my fathers, and become a Protestant?” (For I never had much opinion of Roman Catholicism). Thus would Satan, the tempter, continually harass my mind with difficulties, which contributed to hinder my progress in the search after truth. I believe now that my greatest mistake during that period was, that I would not entrust any one with the secret which burdened my mind, and was wearing out my life.
The Jewish Passover was approaching, and, as usual, I had to prepare a special sermon for the occasion. Never had I experienced more difficulty in doing so than now. I now neither believed in the Jewish religion fully, nor yet was I convinced of the truth of Christianity. This being the case, I thought the most honourable course for me to adopt, would be to resign my Rabbiship at once. But here greater difficulties than ever began to accumulate. My good wife, to whom I broached the subject, was altogether against it. ” How will you support your family?” she would ask me, “and, as for myself, I will never become a Christian. No, never!” I was thus in a measure forced to practice hypocrisy, and I accordingly commenced, with a heavy heart, to prepare a sermon for the Passover.
The text I chose was — ”The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come ; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” — Gen. xlix. 10. During my preparation of this subject, doubts would continually spring up in my mind: — ” Where is now the sceptre and the lawgiver? Where are now the morning and evening sacrifices? Where are now those distinguishing marks of our religion which characterized it in the days of its glory and magnificence? Where is even the tribe of Judah itself, much less the sceptre swayed by that tribe? These and kindred questions, all unanswerable, would start up in my mind; and it is not to be wondered at, that when my sermon was completed, I determined not to preach it. This sad state of things could not long continue; so I called in my wife, and told her that I could not on any account preach Judaism any longer, giving as my reason my firm belief, thus expressed for the first time, that the Messiah had already come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, in whom the Christians all believe. This was enough to break her down. She commenced to weep bitterly. This soon attracted my elder children, who, on learning the state of affairs, joined in with their mother, and we had a house filled with lamentation and mourning. I must confess I had to weep myself.
Being unable to endure the sight of the misery I had thus brought upon my family, I left my home and repaired to a solitary place beyond the barracks of Quebec. Here no human eye could witness my misery, and, in an agony of soul, I threw myself on the ground, and cried mightily to God. It was a strange prayer, not to be found in our prayer-book, but befitting the occasion; and that cannot always be said of printed prayers. Still, relief came not. I had in my heart renounced Judaism, but I had always an unspeakable shrinking, whenever I thought of acknowledging its errors in public. With a heavy heart and a dim eye, looking, I suppose, as wretched as I felt, I retraced my steps homeward. There I found my family just as I had left them, still bathed in tears. Without saying a word, I went into my bed-room, where I remained awake until after midnight, reading my Bible and praying. At last nature became exhausted, and I fell asleep in my chair. While there I had a very strange dream. I thought I was in some great trouble, out of which no one was able to deliver me, and was just about to resign myself up to despair, when I beheld an image of the Saviour on the cross, over whose head were inscribed the words, “I am thy Saviour.”
I immediately awoke, and, after pondering upon the strange dream awhile, came to the firm resolution that I would not be called a Jew any longer. But, alas ! the flesh is weak. When I came to give in my resignation, my moral courage failed me, and so I put it off again.
On the day before the Passover, I took my Bible, and with a true praying spirit I approached the mercy-seat of the mysterious Jehovah, and prayed that he would lift upon me the light of His countenance, and show me the right way. While I was thus engaged, Mr. Hinton called in to see us, of which my wife duly informed me ; but I would not see him, as I desired to be alone and undisturbed. I still pondered on the text which I was to have preached from on the morrow, little dreaming when I selected it, that it would thus have been made the means of my awakening. In connection with this verse, I also opened at the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, and taking down a commentary, I read until I was as fully convinced of the fact that Jesus Christ is the expected Messiah, as I was of my own existence: and never have I doubted it since that time.
Without the least hesitation I then proceeded to write out my resignation, and sent it to the president of the congregation the next morning.
But now the storm burst upon me in all its fury. My wife and children wanted to celebrate the Passover as usual, while I, poor miserable sinner, was an unbeliever! I had no objection to their doing so, but as for myself, I gave up everything that was Jewish. The ceremonies I felt no longer binding upon me. I put away my prayer-book, but substituted nothing in its place. In fact, I had no desire to pray at all. Of course I believed now that Jesus was the Messiah of whom Moses and the prophets did write but that was all. I knew nothing about justification, or faith in His name. My heart was still as proud as Lucifer; and if any one had told me just then that I was a poor lost sinner, I should have felt inclined to send my slipper after him, or, perhaps, if I had been a woman, tried the virtue of a broomstick.
In this state I continued several weeks. The matter soon became noised abroad in all parts of the city. My principal Jewish friends forsook me. Others avoided me as if I had the plague, and most of them became my most bitter enemies. One even went so far as to come to our house and try to persuade Mrs. Freshman to leave me, and return to her father’s house, promising if she would do so to provide all her expenses. “The Rabbi,” said he, “is insane, and it is dangerous to live with him!” Others, again, said that I wished to become some great bishop among the Christians; while others gave currency to a story, that I had received ten thousand dollars for renouncing my faith in Judaism. These and similar stories were propagated everywhere, which had not even hay and stubble for their foundation, but still found many among our people who believed them.
During all this disquiet and commotion, I was trying with all my power to convince my wife and elder children (especially my son Jacob, who is now a minister of the Gospel), that Jesus was indeed the true Messiah, and that we should no more have to look for his coming, until we saw him coming the second time, “without sin unto salvation.” My son Jacob, who was a very intelligent boy for his age, readily appreciated my reasoning, and felt the force of my arguments, but would turn with instinctive confidence to his mother, in whose judgment he always placed (and does to this day) the most implicit reliance; and early prejudices in her were not easily eradicated. I do not wonder that I was so slow in convincing them, for I now see that I was still in bondage myself.
I could now read the English Bible almost as well as the Hebrew or German ; but though I read it in one language or other almost incessantly, still I did not get a clear conception of my condition as a sinner in the sight of God, nor of the necessity of a change of heart. I thought, — ” If I believe that Jesus Christ is the true Messiah, that is all that is necessary to constitute me a good Christian;” and yet, although firmly persuaded of the truth of that, I still was not satisfied. I felt my need of something else; I could scarcely tell, or even imagine, what that something was. I had not yet begun to see “men even as trees walking.”
But the Lord would not long leave me to grope at noonday as in the night. He sent me light out of darkness, in his own good time. A Mr. Clapham, a worthy member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, who lived but a short distance from us, having heard of my condition, came to see me, accompanied by the Rev. James Elliott, who was at that time stationed in Quebec, in charge of the Wesleyan Church in that place. He was the first Christian minister who ever visited our house, and I may say, brought salvation into it at the same time; for it was from his lips I first heard the proclamation of the gospel of peace. I must confess that I received him coolly, and felt in no humour to converse with him. After a partially unsuccessful attempt on his part to engage in conversation with me, he turned to my family, and spoke so kindly to them, exhibiting so much the spirit of his Master, that I commenced to like him immediately. Before he left us, he engaged in prayer, I all the while sitting in my chair and looking on, half amused at the whole performance. I thought his prayer a very strange one. He prayed that God would enlighten my dark mind, show me my position as a sinner in His sight ; that He would trouble and then wash my troubled heart in the atoning blood. I thought to myself, “I guess I have trouble enough, without you praying for any more; and, as for being a sinner, I am as good as you are, and perhaps a little better. Then, about my dark mind, I wonder whether you know that I was educated in Prague?” Still he continued to pray — unconscious of the thoughts passing through my mind. As he laid hold upon the promises of God, and pleaded them with such fervency and earnestness, I could not help receiving the impression that he had access to God, and a power with Him which I did not possess. After his prayer I liked him all the better, and went the very next Sabbath to hear him preach.
I cannot well describe my sensations on finding myself for the first time amongst a Christian congregation, engaged in the solemn act of worshipping God. I thought every eye was riveted upon me from the beginning of the service until its close; and every word from the pulpit seemed to have some reference, immediate or remote, to my special case, and intended for my special benefit. Not caring to be looked at, and talked at, for such a length of time, I was very glad when the service was brought to a close, and I found myself outside the church again. But I had received a favorable impression of the Christian mode of worship, and began already to see faint glimmerings in outline of that wonderful scheme of redemption, by which God can be just, and yet the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. I walked home with Mr. Clapham, who asked me, among other things, whether I would have any objection to accompany him to a church-meeting on the following Wednesday evening. I replied, “Not in the least.” He accordingly called for me on the evening appointed, and we went in company.
As I had never been at such a meeting before, everything appeared curious and strange. I looked with wonder and astonishment upon men and women who would stand up, and, with tears in their eyes, confess their sins and bewail their unworthiness before God. I thought to myself, “What does this mean?” Still, I said nothing, until, on our way home, I took occasion to ask Mr. Clapham what it all meant. “Surely,” said I, “these men must have done something dreadfully wicked, to make them weep and lament in the manner I have witnessed; are they going to be sent to the penitentiary, or what is to be done with them ? ” He smiled at my ignorance, and told me that those men were amongst the most respectable citizens ; that their grief arose on account of the evil propensities of their hearts; that their tears were tears of joy when they thought on the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who for their sakes became poor, that they through his poverty might be made rich. “But with all their morality,” said he, ” they realize that, if they had not repented of their sins, they must have perished ever- lastingly; and they continually delight to magnify that gracewhich has averted the just penalty due to their sins.” “Well but,” said I, ” I have never repented in this manner; and I think if I believe that Jesus is the Messiah who should come into the world, that is all that is required.” ” Not so,” said Mr. Clapham, “the devils also believe that much, and tremble.”
Still, I fancied I knew better. ” These Gentiles, after all, know very little; how should they?” And so I parted with him, almost laughing outright at his remark about the “devils trembling.”
The next morning I called to see the Rev. Mr. Elliott, Our conversation naturally turned to the Messiah and his mission, embracing the redemption wrought out by Him, the doctrine of man a lost sinner by nature, and the necessity of being born again before he could inherit the kingdom of heaven.
There was I, a poor Nicodemus, considering, “how can these things be? The words “born again,” kept continually resounding in my ears ; and, do what I would, I could not get rid of them. I asked a great many questions about the new birth, and received a great deal of great from Mr. Elliott. Still, I longed for more, but was ashamed just then to ask for it. I have no doubt if I had done so, he would have been pleased to answer me, and that satisfactorily. But I returned home only partially enlightened, saying to myself on my way, ” A pretty fellow you are now, neither a Jew nor a Christian! even worse than a heathen, for they have their gods whom they worship, and a religion in which they believe; while here you are, without God, and having no hope in the world — if all be true that Mr. Elliott says.”
Thus would the enemy work upon my mind, and often assail me with such thoughts as the following: “Only wait,” he would say; “this is only the commencement. Your present difficulties are but little to what they will become. Only wait, and you will discover what a sad exchange you have made, and how difficult it is to become a Christian.”
Notwithstanding this, the cords which had bound me to Judaism became effectually severed. However many difficulties I might meet with in Christianity, I never could again disbelieve in their Messiah. I had now begun to receive some dawnings of truth. I had some little acquaintance with the mode of worship and doctrine of one section of the Christian church. The remainder of the way in which God led me, until he converted my soul, and the providential manner in which he opened up my path, must be reserved for the following chapter.
Up to this time I had lived in blissful ignorance of those minor sectional differences which characterize the Christian church. I thought all Christians were divided into two great classes, Protestant and Roman Catholics, and that all Protestants were alike in their beliefs and ceremonies. This degree of ignorance was not long to continue. I be- came acquainted shortly after with a very nice man, a member of the Baptist persuasion, who invited me to go to their church on a certain evening, when they intended to have a bible-class meeting. I readily consented, and went. While there, I was given to understand that every true believer must be dipped under the water, as a preliminary to his legitimate introduction into the Christian church, ” Indeed,” thought I, ” so this is also a part of Christianity, is it ? If so, I don’t want anything to do with your new faith, my being dipped under the water. If this is necessary, I wonder why Mr. Elliott never said anything to me about it, and I certainly think he is a very good Christian.”
At any rate, I thought I might be a good Christian without attending to that part of its ceremonies. I dare say I expressed my thoughts aloud, on returning from the meeting, for it was only a very short time after this, when the Rev. Mr. Marsh, the minister of the Baptist Church in Quebec, a very pious Christian gentleman, came to see me. He advised me to study carefully the Scriptures, and judge for myself whether immersion was not the proper mode of baptism. I had no particular relish for the study, as I felt a shrinking, whenever the idea would come into my mind, of being dipped under water in some cold and wintry day ; but afterwards, when I began to realize that some form of baptism was necessary, I did commence to study the Scriptures, as I was determined to use my own judgment, let men say what they pleased,
I now began to receive visits from ministers of all denominations, among whom I may mention the names of Dr. Helmuth, a converted Jew, now Archdeacon of the Church of England, in London, Ontario. He came in company with the Rev. Mr. Clark, minister of the Presbyterian Church in Quebec. Both of them were very interesting in conversation, and very solicitous as to my spiritual welfare, and engaged in prayer with me before leaving. It would be tedious to detail the names of all who in this manner visited me. Suffice it to say, that I soon became acquainted with all the Protestant clergy of the city, and even with some Roman Catholic priests. Although all of these were very kind to me, and their conversations interesting and profitable, still I felt a peculiar leaning to the Wesleyan Methodist Church, and to Mr. Elliott as its minister, which none of the other churches or their ministers had been capable of producing. Thus passed away the days of the week, visiting and being visited. My soul was athirst for information on those points in which my education had been defective. So, on Sabbath morning, I again repaired to Mr. Elliott’s church, and heard him preach. The novelty which filled my mind, when present at the first service, had now partially worn away. I no longer felt that all were gazing upon me, and hence had better opportunity to attend to the discourse, to which I listened very attentively. Often during the discourse, I thought many of his remarks were intended for myself; but he preached with power, and with the unction of the Holy Ghost. As he unfolded the gracious scheme of redemption to his hearers, he would at times seem much affected ; and several times I noticed the moisture gathering in his eyes, while many in the congregation were shedding tears. The Spirit of God commenced to operate on my own heart, and I must confess that I often wept myself, although I could hardly tell for what. After service I returned home, more serious and thoughtful than ever, but still unable to grasp the simple doctrine, — ” Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
In the afternoon a friend called at my house to take me with him to a Union Sabbath School. It was that famous school kept by the late Jeffrey Hale, Esq., a worthy member of the Church of England. While there, I could not help being struck with the neatness and decorum which everywhere prevailed. The good conduct and attention of he children, as well as the disinterestedness and devotionof the teachers, could not help making a favourable impression on my mind, especially when I found that all the instruction imparted there had a tendency to make them “wise unto salvation.” Surely, thought I, in the days of my youth had I been privileged to attend such a place, I would not now feel such a difficulty in apprehending the way of faith, as taught in the New Testament, and believed in by the Christians ! I felt, indeed, much surprised that a respectable and very wealthy citizen of Quebec should humble himself so much, as to kneel down and pray with the children, and take so much pains to point them to the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world. But when, at the close of the school, I heard them unite in singing some beautiful hymns, especially that one, — ” I love Jesus,” my heart was much moved, and I thought how gladly would I exchange places with one of these little ones, if I had my life to live over again ; if by that means I could ever get to sing with as much confidence as these seem to manifest, — ” I love Jesus.” I determined, when I should return home, to tell my children what I had seen, and if possible influence them to go the next Sabbath. But I was saved this trouble, for the very next day the Superintendent of the Sabbath -school called at our place, and all my children liked him immediately so much, that, to my great joy, they readily promised him to go the next Sabbath to his school.
About this time the City Missionary, employed by the various religious denominations of Quebec, called to see me. I asked him if there were any German Christians in the city. “Yes,” said he, ” we have some, but they are not converted.” “What do you mean by converted’?” said I. (For at that time I did not know how a man could be a Christian, and not be converted.) He at once explained the apparent anomaly, and left with me a few tracts in German, which he said would fully explain the nature of conversion, and the means of its attainment. I was very much pleased with his conversation, and very glad to receive his tracts; but when, a short time after, he took his leave without praying with me, my good opinion of him sunk several degrees below zero, and I was even inclined to call him back, but did not. Mr. Elliott came in shortly after, with a pious lady in company, who both prayed with us before leaving.
After they had departed, and I was again alone, I commenced to read the German tracts, in which I became very much interested, and which did me a great deal of good.Still, after all the light I could obtain from sermons and tracts, my mind continued very dull to apprehend that great “mystery of godliness,” — ” God manifest in the flesh.” So I again took my formerly-despised Bible, and read the New Testament, with such a burning desire thoroughly to explore its mysteries and imderstand its truths, that I even refused to take my meals. The epistle to the Hebrews was especially difficult. When I came to the ninth and tenth chapters, I could not proceed any farther, as I could not follow the apostle’s reasoning, nor feel the force of his arguments. Accordingly I went to Mr. Elliott, my never-failing resort in times of perplexity, and he assisted me very much in clearing up the intricate points. He also gave me a commentary to assist me in the further explanation of this and other difficult portions of Scripture, which I had met or might meet with.
The great difficulty which now arrested my attention and occupied my mind, was in regard to the atonement. The Jews believe that on the day of atonement God pardoned the sins of Israel, when the High Priest, entering into the holy place with the blood of sprinkling, atoned, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people. Now, I thought, we have neither temple nor sacrifices, and how then are the sins of a Jew atoned for in the present day? Here the enemy would come in and whisper, — ” You are no sinner, you have nothing to atone for ; only adhere to the faith of your fathers, and you are sure of the crown at the last.” But when I would turn to the fifty-first Psalm, I would feel, and my conscience would tell me, that I was no better than David, who had written the psalm, and he evidently felt himself, at that time at least, to have been a great sinner. His penitential expressions in the psalm referred to gave evidence of a mind scarcely less disturbed than was my own ; and much bitterness of soul was my portion when I would reflect upon my position. To such an extent did these feelings prevail at times, that when under their influence I would sometimes feel akin to regret that ever I renounced my old, faith, as then I had no mental disquietude or trouble about my sins. Now I had nothing but trouble. Not only trouble on account of my sins, but trouble also in reference to my temporal cii’cumstances, and the means of supporting my family.
While in one of these unpleasant moods, my wife came into my study one day, and said to me, ” My dear, what are we going to do now? The baker has just been here, and said he could not let us have any more bread until that which we have already received is settled for. We have not a loaf in the house, and the children had to go to school this morning with only a very slight breakfast. What will become of us? We have not a cent in the house ; all our former friends have forsaken us ; rent will soon again be due, and nothing to pay it with.” This was said all in a breath, and the whole concluded with a woman’s most forcible argument — tears. Certainly, affairs looked desperate enough ; but instead of increasing my despondency, it only increased my trust in God. I now felt it to be, my duty to encourage and comfort her, and said to her, ” Never mind, my dear, God will provide for us.” Perhaps this was my first distinct act of faith in God, and I was not disappointed. Hardly had an hour elapsed when Mr. Elliott came in to visit us, and left with me ten dollars, without even enquiring whether we needed it or not. ” Surely,” thought I, “he must know something about our affairs, and God has sent him to succour us.” This tended greatly to increase my confidence in God; and taking the money in triumph to my wife, ” See,” said I, “did I not tell you the Lord would provide?” She, however, was more matter-of-fact than I, just at that time ; and instead of entering heartily into my views of the providence of God, again began her forebodings for the future. ” How,” said she, ” will you support your family when that is gone? And even this is but a pittance, doled out to us by the hand of charity, and rather would I die than live on charity.”
But although she was thus careful and anxious about many things, I had already begun to choose that good part, which, I feel thankful to God, has never since been taken from me. Since that time I have more fully been enabled to prove that our God is not only a God of grace, but a God of providence also ; and as I look back upon all the way in which he has led me, it is with feelings of the most unfeigned thankfulness for the past, and implicit confidence for the future.
My salary from the Jewish congregation was of course discontinued from the time I ceased to officiate as their Rabbi, now more than two months ago. Although the support which I had received from the synagogue was liberal (my salary, together with presents and other perquisites, amounting to much more than a Methodist preacher usually receives), still, at the time of my renouncing Judaism, I had not three dollars in the house, and my debts amounted to about thirty dollars. Hence the straitened circumstances detailed above. But this was not the worst. Other trials yet awaited me. The Jews, as already mentioned, as a natural consequence, became my most bitter enemies, and would do everything in their power to injure me. I had never taught them, when their Rabbi, to love their enemies, nor to return good for evil, nor any of those beautiful precepts of our Saviour ; and now I must take the consequences. The house in which we lived belonged to a Jew, and, with a view to distress my family, we were peremptorily ordered to leave the premises immediately. It required the most unbounded confidence in God to endure these trials, so frequently repeated. And often (after all my confidence), as a picture of my children, forsaken and destitute, would loom up before me, would I find myself exclaiming, ” How long, O Lord, how long ! ” Still, though persecuted, I was not forsaken ; though cast down, I was not destroyed.
I now commenced to attend churches of different denominations, and altliough I found good, pious, Christian people in all of them, I did not feel so much at home in any as in that of the Wesleyan Methodists. I experienced the utmost kindness from the ministers of these various churches, yet none of them obtained such a hold upon my affections as Mr. Elliott. He it was to whom I could go in confidence, and lay open my heart in his presence. He it was who was always the friend in need, and has always since proved, the friend indeed. He it was whose ministrations I most frequently listened to ; and he it was whose ministrations and ccimsels were made, under God, the means of my saving conversion to a knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. One distinguishing feature in his preaching had struck me, in contrast with that of others to whom I had listened. In some of the churches which I had attended the ministers would have a great deal to say about the scriptural mode of baptism, and the necessity of immersion. Others attached a great deal of importance to the apostolic- succession of their ministry, and the regeneration of infants in baptism. Still others would enforce a rigid morality, but; say very little about conversion. Some, again, would preach the necessity of conversion, but would so mix it up dth divine decrees as apparently to nullify the force of their argument. Mr. Elliott, on the contrary, was eminently practical. I do not remember ever to have heard him say a word from the pulpit about the mode of baptism, apostolic-succession, infant regeneration, or the divine decrees. His great theme was, ” Ye must be born again,” ” Except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish.” So constantly did he keep these truths before my mind while attending his Sabbath services, and also in private conversation, that I resolved at last, if there was any truth at all in conversion, that, by the help of God, I would seek to know it. From that time I commenced to seek the Lord with all my heart.
On the same day on which I made this resolve, I was visited by a very pious lady, a Mrs. McLeod, who, before she left us, prayed very earnestly for the conversion of my wife. “Ah !” thought I, ” if she only knew that I am still unconverted, surely she would pray for me also.” However, I prayed as well as I could for myself, and was always much comforted after the visit of a pious Christian friend, be it lady or gentleman. After she had gone, I noticed she had left a favourable impression on Mrs. Freshman, for she came to me and said : “I do believe that is a good woman, and I wish she would often come and see us.” The Spirit of God was evidently beginning to work upon her mind also, and planting those seeds which afterwards developed into such an abundant harvest. We were frequently visited also by a Miss Clapham, also a very pious young lady, who would talk to us, and pray with us, and for us, and whose visits were made a blessing to our whole family. I hope their example may serve to stimulate many others to the exercise of such works of faith and labours of love ; and in the day of final rewards, these devoted Christian ladies may shine as the brightness of the firmament.
Before this, I had sometimes been called upon to pray when attending the prayer-meeting, which I lately had made a practice of doing regu.larly. I had, however, always declined, when called upon, for the simple reason that I could not do it. But this evening, as I went to the prayer- meeting, I resolved to pray in public, even if I should not be called upon to do so. So great had my anxiety become to experience the forgiveness of my sins, that I thought, ” If taking up my cross in public will assist me in procuring deliverance from this bondage, I will willingly do it, or anything else, so that I may be free.” When I arrived in the lecture-room where the prayer-meeting was held, I found no one present but the sexton. I waited anxiously until the congregation assembled, thinking all the time about my duty to pray in public. Mr. Elliott came in, and as he shook hands with me, I tried to muster courage enough to ask him to give me an opportunity to pray ; but I could not do it. He opened with singing and prayer, and the meeting was continued as usual ; but I did not engage in prayer. When it broke up, I felt condemned, and went home weeping. When I got home, I found all my family had retired, except my wife, whom I again found to be in trouble — but a trouble different from that which was distracting me. She met me with upbraidings. ” What is the use,” said she, ” of your going to these meetings, night after night, and leaving your family to starve? Things have come to a pretty pass, when we have all got to be turned out of the house into the street to-morrow,” and much more of the same import, all the while weeping bitterly. I could not answer her a word. This, which I would have considered a great calamity at any other time, was now sunk into the shade by comparison with the greater sorrow which sat nearest my heart. I feared not those who could kill the body, or turn it houseless into the street ; all my trouble was in reference to Him who has power to cast both soul and body into hell. Filled with these thoughts, I went straight to my room, determined that this should be the last night. I felt that things had reached a crisis, and I was resolved, if I had to pray all night, I would not leave the throne of grace until deliverance came. I felt all the time persuaded that if God would only convert my soul, all would be well. I spent the whole of the night in crying to God in deep, earnest prayer, but the more I cried and prayed the more I felt the burden of my sins press grievously upon me. I saw myself more clearly as a lost sinner, unworthy of anything but condemnation and eternal banishment from the presence of God and the glory of his power. Oh ! such a night of agony ! I have thought since then, ” If the torments of the finally unsaved are to equal in intensity the misery of that night, and be protracted throughout eternity, how diligent I ought to be, and how earnest in my endeavours, to save them from such a horrible fate.” Truly, it was the hour and the power of darkness. All my pharisaical props and self-righteous supports were taken from under me. My sins came looming up before me, and piled themselves mountains high. The whole of the individual sins of my past life seemed to flash before my mind, and concentrate themselves in a single instant ; and that instant was protracted through the greater part of the night. So imminent did the danger appear, of having condign punishment immediately visited upon me, that in agony of soul I cried out in very self despair, ‘-Lord, save me or I perish;” “Jesus, have mercy upon me, or I am eternally lost.” I saw there was no other hope, and I realized the sufficiency of that one ; and at that moment ‘the clouds dispersed,” the shadows fled, the Invisible appeared in sight, and rolled away the burden from my troubled soul. Prayer now gave place to praise, and I could select no language suitable in which to convey the raptures of my new-born soul, save ” Glory to the Lamb !” ” Glory to the Lamb ! ” I can no more doubt the reality of the change that was then wrought in me, than I can doubt the fact that previously I was a poor condemned sinner in the sight of God. Why, even the face of nature seemed to have undergone a transformation. As I paced my room, singing and shouting the praises of God, and as I looked out of mywindow upon the moon wending her pathway through the heavens, among those myriad troops of stars which everywhere spangled the firmament above, I could not but thank God for my very existence ; and never before had I been so sensible of His goodness in placing me in such a beautiful world, surrounded by so many delightful and lovely objects. Even as my ien. traces these sensations, I feel like exclaiming, ” What would I not give if I could only have, at least once a week, such a foretaste of heaven upon earth as it was then my privilege to experience.” But never since then, except on one occasion, and that was when I heard my son Jacob preaching the gospel for the first time, have I experienced anything like the same intensity of joy, although I have had many, very many, sweet seasons of spiritual refreshing coming from the presence of the Lord. ” Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless and praise His holy name ! ”
Thus I spent the remainder of the night in blessing and praising God for his goodness, and when morning came I could not keep my happiness all to myself. I first thought how happy the good news, that I had found the Saviour, would make Brother Elliott, so I bent my steps in the direction of his residence. Every one whom I met on my way, I told of the great things which the Lord had done for my soul. Many seemed to think I was beside myself, and perhaps I did not act entirely according to the most established and approved conventional usages of society ; but my heart was full of love, and it seemed to me that —
” If all the world my Saviour knew
All the world would love him too. ”
So on I went, practically complying with that injunction, — ” As ye go, preach.” Brother Elliott was delighted to hear the good news which I had to tell him ; but I did not give him much of an opportunity for remarks. My tongue was let loose, and I did almost all the talking. This was on a Friday morning, and I asked Brother Elliott to give me an opportunity to preach on the following Sabbath. It seemed as though I must preach ; and if I had been standing on a mountain top, with the whole world gathered at my feet, I would have rejoiced in the opportunity to publish to them all what the Lord had done for me, and exhort them to a like precious faith in Christ. Brother Elliott readily granted my request ; and on the following Sabbath I preached in three different churches, telling everywhere what God had done for me, and publishing the great truth that Christ has power upon earth to forgive sins. It was real preaching, too. If I ever preached an original sermon it was on that eventful Sabbath. I believe I said little else but ” Come all ye that fear God, and I will shew you what he hath done for my soul.” Whether my congregations were affected or not, I myself was deeply moved, and from this time my desire continued to increase to become a preacher of the everlasting gospel which had done so much for me.
I commenced with my own family. My wife, although very slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had written concerning the Messiah, still was no more opposed to Christianity, and even consented to accompany me to church. My son Jacob, who was brought up a pious lad, now loved to attend the Sabbath-school, and read the New Testament. My other children had also imbibed some of the principles of Christianity in the Sabbath- school so that when I commenced, after my own conversion, to preach Christ to them, I found the ground in a manner prepared for me. My own life and conversation also disclosed them to hear the word with gladness, for they saw there was a great change for the better in myself as compared with former times, so that I had no longer to meet with opposition from my family, but, on the contrary, had the happiness to witness them gradually, one by one, falling in with the doctrines of the cross, as revealed from God, and taught in the New Testament.
The next Sabbath the city missionary came to inform me that a ship had just arrived from the old country, with German emigrants on board, and requested me to go and preach to them in their own language. This I willingly consented to do, being very glad to get such an opportunity. I never had heard the gospel preached in the German language, and hence perhaps it is natural that I felt a little strange while on my way to the ship, and thinking in what manner I should best express myself. The missionary had provided me with a prayer-book of the Church of England in the German language. This I made use of for a short time in the commencement of the service. After a moment or two praying from the book, I laid it aside, and commenced to pray out of the fullness of my heart. I suppose it was a very original prayer, for after the service, the captain called me aside, and said to me, — ” That was a terrible prayer ; to which church do you belong, sir.” I told him, — “I do not know yet; I am a Christian.” Here my old German Bible, which I have had occasion to mention before, came in very useful. It was it which I took with me to preach from, and, strange as it may appear, the lesson which I felt impelled to read to them, and make the basis of my remarks, was one of those very loose leaves which had been so violently torn from its place in the manner which I have before described.
After service was over, the captain called me into his cabin, thanked me for the sermon, and offered me a glass of wine, which, however, I respectfully declined, — and here I may be allowed to mention that long before I became a Christian, I and my family became strict adherents to those principles usually advocated by those who are called, for whatever reason, ” Teetotalers.”
Thus was the Lord leading me in a way that I knew not, and opening up my way into that which afterwards became my providential path.