E-text prepared by Chuck Greif
A GUIDE FOR THE RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION OF JEWISH YOUTH.
Proposed to Teachers by
Rabbi and Professor, Member of the Oriental and Leipsic, Halle, etc., etc., etc.
Translated from the Italian by M. H. Picciotto.
London: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co., Stationers'—Hall Court. MDCCCLV.
London: Printed by J. Wertheimer and Co.
Notice by the Translator.
1. His existence. Cosmological argument.
2. First Cause, necessary, eternal.
3. Omnipotent, free, provident, omniscient, infallible.
4. All-wise, good, pure, immutable.
6. Psychological argument.
7. Moral argument.
8. His faculties.
9. His destination.
12. Free will.
13. Immortal soul.
14. Double tendency.
19. Idea of religion.
20. Necessity for man.
INSUFFICIENCY OF NATURAL RELIGION.
23. Tardy development of reason.
24. Ascendancy of sensuality.
25. Want of opportunity.
26. Social life.
27. Internal anarchy.
28. Limitation of human understanding.
29. Uncertainty of human knowledge.
31. Necessity of a revelation.
32. Its actuality.
33. Its truth.
34. Its fundamental principle.
35. Relation between God and man.
36. Divine plan.
37. Essence of revelation.
38. Lofty aspiration of man.
40. Prediction of the future.
OBJECTION AND ANSWER.
41. Rationalism antagonistic to faith.
42. Self-love in the physical world.
43. Self-love in man.
44. Heroism of man.
45. Proceeding from love.
46. Is the cause of faith.
47. Is not the offspring of imagination
48. Depends on the subjection of the sensual appetites.
49. Furnishes evidence to faith.
PRELIMINARY DISPOSITIONS OF REVELATION.
50. Contingency in revelation.
51. Its removal.
52. Choice of a portion of mankind.
53. Beginning from an individual.
54. Election of that individual.
56. His virtues.
57. Aim of his vocation.
58. Covenant established with him.
60. Abraham's progeny.
61. Providential measures.
62. Egyptian bondage. Moses.
63. Preamble of the revelation.
64. Modality of the revelation
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.
66. First Commandment,
71. Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth,
74. Their character.
76. Their twofold direction.
75. Their sanction.
REVEALED NOTIONS RESPECTING GOD.
77. Knowledge of God.
78. Opportunity of such a knowledge.
79. Immediate relation between God and man.
80. Love of God.
81. Fear of God.
82. Other duties towards God.
DUTIES TOWARDS FELLOW-MEN.
84. Negative duties.
85. Positive duties.
86. Other duties.
87. Charity and benevolence.
88. Duties toward the animate and inanimate nature.
DUTIES TOWARDS ONE'S-SELF.
89. Fundamental rule.
90. Duties towards the body.
92. Other special obligations.
93. Religious idea.
94. Its vicissitudes among the Jews.
97. Action, creed, hopes.
THE name of Isaac Reggio of Goritz, is now a celebrity in the Hebrew literary world. A man of vast mind, a profound scholar, a philosopher, and an elegant writer, his numerous works on Theology, Hermeneutics, Philology, History, and Literature, written in Hebrew, in Italian, and in German, have tended much to revive the taste for Hebrew literature, and to reconcile modern education to the study of Jewish antiquities.
The present little book is one of his latest productions in the Italian language. In a style at once concise and perspicuous, and with a form of reasoning suited to the scientific requirements of the times, he introduces the student to an enlarged view of Religion, ascends with him to the heavenly source from which it emanated, and leads him, through the paths of virtue and love, to the comprehension and admiration of the objects contemplated by it. In short, he teaches—if I am permitted the expression—the philosophy of religion.
I humbly, but firmly believe that, in the hands of able Jewish teachers, this work will considerably assist them to infuse into religious instruction a little more spirituality, and to impart a more comprehensive view of religion, than the routine of former days deemed necessary, and that, by so doing, they will be better able to enlarge and satisfy the minds, improve the hearts, and generally advance the moral education of youth.
Notwithstanding the well-intentioned and beneficial efforts of many friends of education among the British Jews, and the praiseworthy exertions of some excellent teachers, the education of the mass is, we must confess, still in a condition, in which the attainment of those objects has not ceased to be a desideratum. We may or may not be on a level with our neighbours, but we have very urgent and special calls of our own for self-improvement, we have a particular mission to fulfil, with its concomitant duties. Such self-improvement and such duties are demanded by the spirit—not of the age, as is too commonly said and believed—but of an age which began thirty-two centuries ago, at the revelation on Mount Sinai—the spirit of Judaism, of well-understood Judaism. Our age, with all its boasted and undeniable progress, is still, morally, far below the type designed by Providence for humanity in the Sinaitic dispensation, far behind the spirit which dictated and pervades the pages of the sacred volume, and which, when thoroughly understood and generally acted upon, must bring about the supreme reign of justice, charity, and universal love, and—as far as attainable—the ultimate perfection of mankind.
It has appeared to me that these truths find a plain and logical exposition in this little work, and that its contents may not prove uninteresting even to the general reader. I also believe that a more correct apprehension of the true spirit and principles of Judaism by our Christian brethren, than is commonly arrived at, will have the twofold effect, of gradually leading to a larger measure of justice being dealt to the Jew, and inducing the latter to a higher degree of self-respect. For these several reasons, I have volunteered to translate it for the use of the English public, while other versions are being prepared in Germany and France. I trust that those to whose lot has fallen the honourable but arduous task of educating and informing young minds, and to whom it is more particularly addressed, will give it their earnest consideration, for the sake of whatever good they may cull from it, as a material in aid, while they are laying the foundations of virtue in the hearts of the rising generation.
That the results may correspond to the intentions is the sincere wish of THE TRANSLATOR.
IN the exercise of the sacred mission entrusted to you by Providence—that of educating our youth to piety and religion—it must have frequently occurred to you, to wish that such an instruction could be imparted, not in the shape of dogmas demanding to be admitted without investigation, but as doctrines addressed to the intellect by proper demonstrations, and finding their way to the heart by stimulating its noblest feelings. The little book that I present to you is intended to satisfy, at least in part, that wish. You will not find in it a complete treatise on Jewish Theology, or a systematic catechism, but only the essential elements, which may serve to the future elaboration of both. You will find deposited in it the rough materials, which some abler hands will perhaps one day employ in constructing an edifice, in which our youth may find a safe refuge from the storms of doubt, unbelief, and irreligion. I have purposed to avoid all exuberant ornaments of style, all pompous parade of erudition, and contented myself with a plain diction, and a strict laconism. I have not quoted authors who preceded me in the same field; I have not called up for investigation what of valuable or defective could be found in them; in short, I have not instituted comparisons, scientific disquisitions, or critical examinations of the opinions of others. A series of aphorisms, simple, plain, unadorned, of easy understanding, drawn from no other source than the Divine Word, presented with the greatest possible perspicuity and precision, progressing in a regular chain of consequential propositions, and containing in few words the most important points of the Israelitish creed—that is the form in which I have thought more proper to present to those, who are already versed in the Bible and in Hebrew literature, a skeleton of the vast religious science, in which they may perceive at a glance the principal characteristic of Judaism, its various ramifications, subsidiary parts, and special tendencies; they may then easily discover and account for the multifarious phases, in which it manifested itself in the various epochs of the universal history of mankind. To supply the deficiencies, to adorn those naked propositions, to provide them with evidence deduced from the sacred text, to enlarge them with appropriate applications, to illustrate them with examples, in fine, to reduce the whole into such a catechistic form as will suit a sound system of instruction—such is the task which remains entrusted to your intelligence, and to your zeal. By employing the proffered materials with that discretion which is peculiar to your ministry, with that method which the tender minds of your pupils require, and with the love inspired by the sublimity and importance of the subject, yours will be the merit of having propagated the seeds of truth that will bring forth charity and universal edification; to me suffices the happiness of having, in some degree, contributed to so noble a work.
A GUIDE FOR THE RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION OF JEWISH YOUTH.
I. WHOEVER directs his mind to the contemplation of the objects that surround him, the aggregate of which is called the universe, will soon perceive, that the parts of which it is composed undergo continually various modifications and successive changes, every one of them exercising some influence on the others, and receiving from them some alteration. This state of mutual dependence, in which the parts of the universe stand in relation to each other, leads us necessarily to conclude, that none of them has within itself the reason or cause of its existence, but that all of them together depend upon a cause which is out of themselves, and through which they began to exist; the universe, then, has had a cause, an Author.
II. This Author of the universe, if he had not in himself the reason of his existence, must also have it in others, and these again in others. Consequently, we must either suppose an endless progression of causes and effects, which is repugnant to reason, or arrive at last at a Being existing by and of himself,—that is to say, one who owes not his existence to others, and has caused all other things to exist;—and in that case, the reason of his existence must be part of his own essence and nature, and, consequently, inseparable from him and indestructible. The Author of the universe is then a Being necessary and eternal; and as to Him all things owe their existence, it follows that through Him they began to exist, and He created them from nought.
III. He, who could create all from nought, has a power without limits, and nothing is to Him impossible; He, who has given existence to all things, has also ordained the laws to which they are subject; He, who has ordained at His will the laws of nature, has also the power of changing or suspending them at His will; and lastly, He, who caused all things to exist, can alone keep them in existence, governing and directing them with ceaseless providence; and such continual action implies, of necessity, that He should know everything, that nothing should be hidden from Him, and that in Him error should be impossible. The Author of the universe is then omnipotent, free, all-provident, omniscient, and infallible.
IV. Again, whoever attentively contemplates the universe cannot help discovering, with admiration, in every part of it a stupendous art, a constant order, a systematic correspondence of means to ends, which demonstrate that all has been arranged on a predetermined plan and for a fixed purpose, to which all the particular dispositions developed in the course of the natural phenomena are exquisitely adapted. This order and this harmony—which manifest themselves, also, in all the progressive courses of nature—indicate a self-developing excellence, and a tendency to an ever-increasing perfectibility, such as can only emanate from a cause infinitely intelligent and good; and as such qualities cannot be attributed to a being corporeal, because limited and subject to changes, it follows that the Author of the universe is all-wise and good, pure and immutable.
V. Now, this Being, necessary and eternal, whom the contemplation of the universe alone reveals to us as the Author of everything, as omnipotent, free, all-provident, omniscient, infallible, pure, immutable, all-wise, and good, is He whom we call GOD.
VI. But our conviction of the existence of God need not be derived exclusively from the wonders of the universe; for every man can find in himself the evident proof of the existence of that supreme cause. In fact, man feels within himself that he thinks; and if he were even to doubt it, he could not deny that at least he doubts; and the doubt itself is already a thought. Admitting that he possesses the faculty of thinking, he must admit that there is within himself a substance, a being, a something which thinks. But this being, who is conscious of his own thoughts, is also conscious that he exists not by himself, that he has not existed from all eternity, that he is subject to changes, that even the simple ideas, which compose his thoughts, are not produced by himself, but acquired through his senses from external objects; and, in short, that he depends upon various causes placed without himself, and undergoes vicissitudes, which it is not in his power to remove. Therefore man has not within himself the reason of his own existence, but he must trace it to another, who is the Author of it. Now, this Author cannot have received His own existence from another, if He is to be considered the primary cause; otherwise we should fall into a succession of causes and effects to infinity. Then, the true Author of our existence is one who exists by Himself, and as such He is eternal, omnipotent, all-wise, etc., etc.; He is God.
VII. Another source, affording the proof of the existence of God, man finds in himself when his intellectual faculties have attained a certain degree of culture and maturity. He then knows himself to be a moral being; that is to say, a being who, placed between good and evil, can, of his own free will, adhere to the former and reject the latter, if he follows the dictates of his reason. Then the moral sense awakens in his mind the idea of a supreme blessing, of a progressive and infallible moral perfection, of a future final accord between virtue and felicity, and their necessary co-existence. Now, he cannot expect this supreme blessing from anything that surrounds him in nature, because he does not find in the latter the desired union of happiness with virtue, enjoyment with merit. He must, therefore, seek it in a Supreme Cause existing out of nature—in a Cause which should contain in itself the type of the moral law, embrace the whole extent of that law with infinite intelligence, and act up to its dictates with a powerful will. This Supreme Cause is God.
VIII. MAN has many advantages and privileges over all other creatures. Not only can he, like other animals, perceive through his senses all the surrounding objects, but he can compare with one another the perceptions received, associate them together, separate them, and form new ideas. He can know for what purposes things exist, investigate their causes and effects, discern between good and evil, between just and unjust; he alone can communicate his thoughts to others; he alone can speak.
IX. Everything produced by an intelligent Author must be intended for some purpose—must have a destination. Man, the noblest creature on earth, must also have a destination. We shall arrive at a clear knowledge of that destination, when we shall have considered the powers and capabilities possessed by him; for the means with which nature has endowed him, for the development of his activity, evidently point out the goal which that activity is designed to attain.
X. Now, the capabilities that we discover in man are the following:—Besides a body constructed with wonderful skill, but weak, corruptible, mortal, man has within himself a vivifying principle, which substantiates in him the knowledge of things with the aid of the senses, renews in him perceptions once received, unites them, separates them, and forms out of them new ideas. This thinking principle is certainly different from the body, of which no part is apt to think, and is what we call the soul; the act itself of thinking proceeds from a faculty of the soul which we call intellect.
XI. But the soul can also judge, conclude from causes to effects, distinguish between good and evil, between just and unjust, conceive an idea of things never perceived through the senses; it can recognise the supreme Author of the universe, it can adore God. This faculty of the soul is called reason; intellect and reason are the principal or superior faculties of the human soul.
XII. Reason points out good as a thing desirable, and evil as a thing to be avoided; yet man feels within himself a desire or impulse towards all that is pleasurable to the senses, although reason may represent it to him as an evil. And, on the other hand, he is conscious of his perfect freedom of choosing good, however disagreeable to the senses, and of abhorring evil, however tempting it may appear; he has, then, the faculty of directing his action to one or other of these two courses; his soul is endowed with free-will.
XIII. A being endowed with intellect, reason, and free-will cannot be composed of parts, because the operations proceeding from such faculties presuppose a comparison of various relations with each other, and a deduction of consequences from their principles; and these operations require such a unity and simplicity in their subject as are absolutely incompatible with the nature of matter, composed, as it is, of parts. The human soul is therefore a simple being, a spirit, and, as such, indestructible, immortal.
XIV. Man, then, unites in himself two natures, belongs to two classes of beings very different from one another, is a citizen of two worlds. In his body he is linked to the material world, undergoes all the vicissitudes of matter, is subject to the incentives of the senses, and is impelled to gratify the wants and cravings of physical enjoyment. As regards his soul, he enters into the sphere of intelligences, he feels himself attracted by the ideas of the beautiful, of the true, of the just; he participates in the condition of the spiritual beings, aspires to the immense, to the infinite; and is susceptible of an ever-increasing perfectibility, finding within himself the power of abhorring moral evil, viz., vice, and of cleaving to moral good, viz., virtue.
XV. Man has, therefore, within himself a germ of discord between the two principles of which he is constituted, a contrast between the exigencies of the body and those of the soul—between the appetites of the senses and the dictates of reason; and as this latter alone is competent to form a judgment on what he ought or ought not to do, it follows that reason alone should be consulted and obeyed in determining upon every action.
XVI. Now, by freely and spontaneously resolving to conform all the actions of his life to the dictates of reason, which commands him to be wise in his self-government, upright with others, and pious towards the supreme Author, man will have worthily corresponded to the end for which he was created—he will have fulfilled his destination; for it is clearly the destination of man to make the best possible use of the sublime faculties with which his soul is endowed; and the best possible use he does make when he subordinates his inferior to his superior tendencies, the cravings of the body to those of the soul; in a word, when he obeys the dictates of reason.
XVII. When man obeys the dictates of reason, an internal voice in his heart tells him that he has done right; he feels satisfied with himself, and is penetrated with a sense of true joy. When, on the contrary, he consciously infringes the laws of reason, he is not only deprived of that internal approbation, but an inextinguishable voice rises reproachful within his heart; he is no longer satisfied with himself, but feels uneasiness and perturbation. That internal voice, which judges man's actions, and generates happiness or sorrow, is what is called Conscience.
XVIII. But the human soul, when it concentrates itself within, has also the faculty of feeling the sense of its own individuality, and perceiving that the state in which it is is its own. By virtue of this sense, which we may call feeling, the soul is led always to desire its own welfare, its own happiness; thence springs love or hatred, inclination or aversion towards an object, as this object seems apt to occasion pleasure or pain. But man, sooner or later, discovers that a true and permanent pleasure cannot be obtained through any of the physical enjoyments on earth, which he may not always be able to procure, or, when procured, leave after them weariness and disgust. He, consequently, cannot place in them his true happiness; and his internal sense tells him that there are other enjoyments of a purely spiritual nature, which alone can satisfy the highest aspirations of his soul. The exercise of his moral duties—which, through his freedom of action, lies always within his power, and by which alone he can tranquillise his conscience and fully delight in self-contentment—is that which offers to his soul true and permanent enjoyment; that alone is worth desiring.
XIX. ON man governing himself morally well in life, it becomes manifest to him, on the one hand, that his conduct, being conformable to the end for which he was created, must also be agreeable to the will of the Creator. On the other hand, that same internal sense, which prompts him to satisfy the demands of his own conscience, leads him, also, to elevate his mind towards God; and he feels at the bottom of his heart that he would be wanting in the principal element of his happiness if he referred not his every thought to the Author of his existence. This twofold direction of the mind towards God is called Religion, a word derived from the Latin religare, for, as a moral being endowed with intelligence and freedom, man feels always a certain tendency to disengage himself from the physical order of terrestrial things, and to link himself again to the Supreme Cause from whom he emanated.
XX. All the peoples of antiquity exhibited, in their successive developments, the aptitude of the human soul to entertain religion within itself, nay, the necessity in which it finds itself to connect the exercise of moral duties or virtue with the Supreme Source of all morality. In fact, God, in His infinite wisdom and goodness, wills nothing but what is good; and in no better mode could man ever manifest his gratitude to the Author of his existence, than by doing that which is agreeable to His will. Hence it is, that whoever is true to his destination, is said to be true to God; and he who is virtuous is religious. There is, then, in the human soul a natural disposition to religiousness or piety; and the history of all ages testifies that no people ever existed, who, however rude and uncultivated, has not had some presentiment of the relations which bind the rational creature to its Creator. Man is born to religion.
[Note 1: These truths are now readily admitted by all well-thinking men. It was very easy, and very amusing, for the philosophy of the eighteenth century, to ridicule the ignorance and superstition of the ancients, and to denounce the modern peoples which followed in the same direction, though by different tracks. But the true philosophy of the present age, which has penetrated deeper into the recesses of the human heart, has arrived at the double conclusion, that a superior power has implanted therein certain elements which it is not in human power to remove; and that what is inherent in human nature cannot he combated, but must be wisely directed. Hence, modern civilisation deals lees than preceding ages in abstractions; and in its Intellectual development, accepts religion as a starting point in the laborious but open walk, which leads to human happiness,—The TRANSLATOR.]
XXI. This need for man to be religious constitutes the basis of faith. As man is said to know that which is proved to him by experience, or by the testimony of the senses, so he is said to believe that which is to him a real want, although it cannot be demonstrated to him either by experience or by the evidence of the senses. Knowledge is based upon objective, and belief upon subjective proofs.
The existence of God, the providence with which He governs the world, the immortality of the soul, the excellence of virtue, the just expectation of a final triumph of good, and of an improvement and future perfection of the human condition, are truths which have their foundations in man himself, that is, in the nature of his soul; they originate in him, even without the concurrence of reflection, almost from an innate feeling of the heart, which impels him to admit them; they are founded on subjective proofs, and man believes them as necessities of his own nature. These religious truths are therefore called natural, and their disciples are said to profess a natural religion.
XXII. YET, notwithstanding the possibility for man to attain happiness by only following the voice of reason, experience has shown, in the most unmistakable manner, that natural religion is insufficient alone to guide mankind in the right path, to preserve him from error, and to regulate his life with constant conformity to his destination, under all circumstances and in all conjunctures. Such insufficiency is caused by various obstacles, presented by the self-same nature of man, and the objects that surround him, and which prevent reason from exercising an absolute dominion over the heart, and naturally weaken its influence on human actions.
XXIII. First among these obstacles, is the circumstance, that the intellectual faculties do not exhibit so much vigour in early youth as the animal or appetitive faculties. Long before the force of reason has developed itself in the mind, the sensual tendencies have already grown giants in the heart, impelling man to desire ardently all that has the semblance of pleasure, however fugitive and deceitful. The will, which is in its full vigour even in a child, has already carried into effect most of these desires, and has thus produced such a habit of grasping impulsively, and without reflection, at everything that presents itself in the aspect of an enjoyment, that reason often arrives too late to destroy the ascendancy gained by the lust of the heart, and to claim its dominion over all man's actions.
XXIV. Besides, reason is sometimes in danger of losing its supremacy, even after having asserted it. Instinct, which, in brutes, holds the place of free-will, confines their physical cravings within certain limits, and we never see an animal wallow in intemperance; but man, just because enjoying absolute freedom of will, may extend his desires beyond every limit, and so much strain and invigorate them as to succumb under their influence. Therefore reason, whether from its tardy development, or from the unlimited ascendancy of sensuality, holds the reins of its power always with uncertainty, and is not ever certain of being obeyed.
XXV. Another obstacle is to be traced in the want of opportunity and time, or, in other words, in the little time that man can spare to devote to reflection, in the presence of the multifarious cravings of his body. These cravings, increased, no doubt, by luxury and an inclination, to superfluities, demand daily and hourly to be satisfied. He is, then, obliged to work unceasingly to earn or procure the means of satisfying his own physical wants, as well as, not unfrequently, those of a whole family. Aliment, clothing, habitation, comfort, recreation, and other innumerable cares, real or artificial, require so much labour and exertion, that little or no time remains for the great majority of mankind to devote to the assiduous reflections and researches necessary to determine what duties reason imposes upon them to fulfil, and what actions to perform.
XXVI. A third obstacle to the development of the moral force in man is the very social life which, by his own nature, he is called to enter. The safety of the social fabric demands that the property of each individual be distinct and acknowledged, and establishes a diversity of ranks, offices, honours, and positions, which ill agree with human cupidity. Hence a conflict of desires, a collision of ambitions, a contest of interests, which at all times generate among men discords, machinations, frauds, usurpations, treachery, violence, and rapine. Add the consequences of the pride and ambition, which each more or less entertains, to reach or surpass some others in power, wealth, or fame, whence many causes of disappointments and heartburnings, of hatreds and jealousies, of persecutions and calumnies, of acts of vengeance and injustice of every form, and it will be easily conceived how little, under the influence of so many evil passions occasioned by social life, could populations, in the course of time, be disposed to submit willingly to the severe and exclusive regimen of reason.
XXVII. Independently of these external impediments, there exists a kind of internal anarchy in man, arising from the want of a force exercising the functions of an arbitrator between the mind and the heart, and inclining the latter to shape its decisions on the motives of the former. The truths, which he is frequently able to discover, satisfy his intellect without affecting his will, minister food to the mind, but operate not on the heart; in short, they establish a theory, but command not practice. Hence it often happens that man sees right, approves it, and yet adheres to wrong. Even after having gathered an abundant harvest from long studies and profound meditations, he still feels the need of a guide to direct his steps—of a means, available at all times, and competent to enable him to subordinate the appetitive to the intellectual faculties, and to cause the will to follow the judgments of the mind rather than those of the heart.
XXVIII. The inadequacy of natural religion alone becomes still more manifest, when we consider the weakness and limited extent of the human understanding. To meditate assiduously on an abstract object, which does not fall under the perception of the senses, is given only to a few individuals endowed with uncommon penetration. But by far the greater part of men, disinclined to submit to long and arduous researches, concerning what they ought or ought not to believe and to do, prefer living thoughtlessly; and when they even try to enter upon spiritual meditations, they soon feel discouraged, and, often distrusting their own powers, throw up the difficult task half way, to resume the course of a reckless mode of life.
XXIX. But even the few privileged beings, who believe themselves equal to the task, and plunge earnestly into spiritual researches, must confess to the insufficiency of the intellectual powers, and admit, that beside some few principles which they have succeeded in establishing, many doubts remain to be cleared, many questions to be solved, many objections to be overcome; and they must ultimately conclude, that reason by itself is unable to answer on all that interests man to admit or to deny, to seek or to avoid, to believe and to do, to hope and to fear. There is not, in this wide range of spiritual subjects, a proposition held by one as true, which has not been discarded by another as an error; and there is not a paradox or an absurdity that has not found some supporters, who maintained it as a truth. Doubt and error, in abstract and metaphysical questions, are natural and inherent in mankind, so long as reason is their only luminary in the research.
XXX. The experience of all ages teaches us that the obstacles above stated have always exercised their influence upon the development of the moral sense among men, by retarding, and sometimes even rendering impossible to them, a clear and sound conception of their destination, and a firm resolve to conform to it.
All the nations of antiquity, which, left to themselves, never received from without any spiritual and religious instruction, could never rise from the slough of sensuality and superstition; they sank deep in idolatry, and ultimately adopted creeds and practices abominable and repugnant alike to the excellence of reason and the dignity of man. On the other hand, all the nations that totally or partly succeeded in extricating themselves from a state of brutality and barbarism, must acknowledge that not to the development of their intelligence alone they owe their regeneration, but to certain sublime doctrines—originated in causes quite extrinsical from human nature—which, having found their way to them through a concourse of favourable and apparently fortuitous circumstances, were more or less readily admitted, as notions gained from without, and by degrees ingrafted, under various modifications, on their own primitive ideas.
XXXI. It being, then, almost impossible, or, at least, extremely difficult, for man to arrive, through the sole action of the faculties inherent in his nature, at his intended goal, to shape his course accordingly, and thus to lay the foundations of his future happiness, it was necessary that an intelligence far superior to his own should come to his assistance, communicate to him some fundamental truths concerning his present and future life, enlighten his intellect, guide his reason, invigorate his will in the paths of truth, justice, and righteousness, and thus facilitate to him the attainment of his sublime destination. It was necessary that God himself should instruct him in what was most important to know, manifest His will to him, and explicitly point out to him the way he was to follow, the obstructions he was to avoid, and the goal he had to reach. Man, then, was in need of a revelation.
XXXII. THIS revelation was actually vouchsafed. It pleased the supreme Being, through His infinite mercy, to manifest His will, and make known some great and precious truths, which men would have vainly attempted to discover with the unaided operation of their reason; He chose to undertake, to a certain extent, the education of mankind. From the beginning of the world God revealed Himself to the first man; and He continued afterwards for many ages, as His eternal wisdom deemed proper, to communicate to such individuals as were the worthiest among mortals the instructions which were afterwards to work the salvation of all mankind. Those instructions, which contain truths by far more comforting and sublime than any results which man could have arrived at through his own faculties alone, constitute the substance of Revelation; and he who acknowledges their divine origin, and conforms to them the actions of his life, is called a professor of the revealed religion.
XXXIII. That God has really revealed Himself to some individuals of the human species is an historical fact, the truth of which is proved, like all truths of a similar order, by testimony and documents. But independently of the existing evidence, the possibility of such an act can be easily conceived by the human understanding, when we consider that everything is feasible to the omnipotence of the Creator; and nothing is more consentaneous to His infinite goodness and wisdom, than the blessed purpose of granting to human frailty an assistance calculated to lead the noblest of creatures to the attainment of the exalted end for which he was created. To conceive, also, the precise modes and forms in which such a revelation is effected or conveyed, it was given only to those elect who were themselves the recipients, and who are called Prophets. But we can arrive at the knowledge of the principal characteristics which constitute prophecy, after we shall have placed in a clear light the essence and the final object of revelation.
XXXIV. All the revealed doctrines may be reduced to one fundamental principle, from which they originate, and on which rests the whole edifice of revelation. This principle may be expressed as follows:—Besides the general relation of dependence existing indistinctly between all creatures and their Creator, there is a relation more intimate and special between God and man—a relation of a spiritual and sentimental nature, arising from the circumstance of the latter being created in the image of God, by virtue of which man is not subject exclusively to the blind government of the physical laws of nature, but, almost independent of them, he walks under the immediate influence of his celestial Father; this independence, however, cannot be accomplished before he has succeeded in subduing his sensual appetites, and has bent them to follow the divine direction. Thus acting, he will not remain a passive spectator of the vicissitudes which accelerate or retard the fulfilment of that which the Divine wisdom purposed as the final aim of the creation, but, through the immortal spirit transfused in him, he will feel impelled to take some active part in the great work of the ultimate universal perfection, and to associate his own will to the will of the Creator.
XXXV. The relation between God and man is a tie of love. God being goodness itself, this finds a more extensive field for its manifestation in the rational creature than in any other. On the other hand, man, possessed of a spiritual soul, is superior to matter, and is capable, more than the other terrestrial beings, of receiving within himself an abundance of the Divine benevolence, which diffuses itself throughout the universe in exact proportion to the various aptitudes of the recipients. It is precisely in consequence of the understanding with which man is endowed, and of his aptitude to nourish love for the supreme Being, that he has been elected, from among all terrestrial creatures, to enter into a more intimate relation with God, and to co-operate, in as much as lies in his power, to the accomplishment of the divine plan.
XXXVI. The plan of the Creator is immeasurably profound, and therefore inscrutable. Nevertheless, in so far as it is permitted to the human mind to penetrate it, and as it has pleased the Divine mercy to reveal it, we know with certainty that it is all directed to diffuse happiness and beatitude over all creatures, in proportion to their respective capabilities of participating in them, and to guide all beings towards that end, which, in the scheme of the universe, was pre-ordained by the Infinite Wisdom as the best. Now, the inanimate portion of the creation progresses unconsciously in the way ordained by Providence, obeys physical immutable laws, and is, therefore, only a means to a more exalted end. But the moral being, who has self-consciousness, resolves on action after deliberating upon what he thinks best, and carries out his resolve with free will; he is, then, himself the aim of his life. Therefore, to lead this being towards his own destination, it was proper not to subject him to restraint under laws of necessity, otherwise the freedom of his will would have been destroyed; it was only necessary to enlighten him, to place before him some fundamental truths, capable of dispelling all doubts from his mind, and detaching him from errors and superstitions, and thus to offer him means and inducements sufficient to direct his attention and will towards the end designed by the Divine wisdom.
XXXVII. It is these truths, offered as means and inducements, that constitute the essence of revelation. Through revelation, man was made acquainted that God created the universe out of nought, that He governs it with His wisdom, and can work every change which He deems suitable; that He created man in the Divine image, that is, with an immortal soul, capable of receiving within itself the Divine idea, of conceiving its sublimity, and carrying it into effect. Through revelation, man learnt that God is One, omnipotent, holy, of infinite forbearance and mercy, and an inexhaustible source of pure love; that He created as a stock of all the human family a single individual (to proclaim thereby the principle of universal brotherhood and mutual love between all the members of that family); that He desires to be loved, worshipped, and served by it, with purity of heart, with elevation of spirit, and with unflinching constancy. Through revelation, we are taught to use wisely the earthly gifts, and to turn their material enjoyment into a subject for edification and the glorification of God; to exercise right, justice, rectitude, charity, piety, and humility; we are also taught that God judges the human actions, punishes those who contravene His will, and is disposed to pardon the sins of those who feel a true repentance. And, lastly, through revelation, an invitation is tendered to man to elevate his mind to the Creator, to imitate Him, to approach Him through self-sanctification; and a perspective is opened before his mind's eye of an interminable future of beatitude beyond the grave, as the ultimate goal of his longings, and a just reward to his virtuous conduct.
XXXVIII. When an individual, after long and serious meditations, and through a concourse of favourable circumstances, acquires a comprehension of this divine plan, and conceives it in its fullest extent and excellence, he will feel an irresistible attraction towards such a contemplation, and an ineffable admiration will seize all his mind; an internal intense desire will spring up in his heart to see it carried out, nay, to contribute himself to its accomplishment, since the first tendency is already engrafted on his very nature. In proportion as this desire extends its roots in the heart of that individual, so will he make it his exclusive pre-occupation, voluntarily sacrifice to it every worldly consideration, and so will he feel impelled to devote himself to promote, promulgate, and bring to universal knowledge those truths which, as stated, form the essence of revelation; his soul will become the receptacle of the Divine idea, his tongue and all his body the organs of its fulfilment; his whole life will be an expression of the idea which pervades him; he will feel within himself an irresistible call to constitute himself, of his own authority, and without any regard to worldly powers, a preceptor to mankind, an adviser and censor of all, a supporter of right and virtue, a herald of truth, and a defender of the cause of God; he will defy every obstacle with unbending spirit, will employ all his powers, physical and moral, to the attainment of his aim; and sometimes he will end by becoming a martyr to his holy project. In short, his will becomes identical with the will of God.
XXXIX. Such a man is a prophet. His mind elevated to the highest degree of intelligence, his heart bent constantly to love what is good, he has almost assumed a second nature, and he lives upon earth a purely spiritual life. Of all that surrounds him, nothing is of any value in his eyes but that which may contribute to the accomplishment of the Divine design; in all passing events he sees but as many dispositions of Providence calculated to direct men to the path in which they are called to walk; the very thoughts which cross his mind, and the wishes which form themselves in his heart, he regards them not as the productions of his own soul, but as emanations from the Spirit of God which dwells in him, and pervades all his being. Such a mode of viewing things is, after all, not a mere effect of his imagination, but a true reflex of the influence that actuates this man, an influence springing from the fact already stated, that his will has identified itself with the will of God. Hence the prophet is called a man inspired by God, for it is the Divine Spirit that pervades, agitates, and directs him; it is the Divine Spirit that found in him an instrument for its operation, an organ for its manifestation, a medium to carry out its high designs, a representative of God on earth, who shall recall men to their Divine origin, and lead them on to their ultimate destination.
XL. From the foregoing exposition of the characters of prophecy it will appear obvious, that those are greatly mistaken, who think that the exclusive or even the principal ministry of the prophet consists in foreseeing and foretelling future events. The prophet may occasionally find it necessary to his ends to predict some events, which he does by virtue of the Divine spirit infused in him; but this is for him only an accessory means to the chief object, which is to propagate and promote among men divine knowledge and religious life. With an all-wise provision, God disposed that, as a rule, the future shall remain hidden from mortals, that they may exert themselves to render it propitious by their good actions; and if He sometimes permitted, as an exception, that it should be revealed to them through the dispensers of His word, it was not to gratify an idle curiosity, but to excite men to worthily conform their works to coming events.
XLI. THE preliminary notions hitherto set forth are to be regarded as placed in the vestibule leading to the temple of Revelation. Now, before we cross the threshold, it may be well to meet at once an objection which will possibly be offered by modern incredulity. It is fashionably said, that rational man can admit nothing as true except that which is proved to him by logical demonstrations; and as for the acceptance of a revealed religion faith is a necessary element, and this must exclude (as commonly pretended) every kind of proof, therefore all reasoning is out of the question, and the very basis of that which is sought to be inculcated as a truth, renders it inadmissible. Such an objection, however erroneous in reality, has too grave an appearance, and its consequences would be too lamentable, to permit us to disregard it. It becomes, therefore, indispensable, before entering the sanctuary of Revelation, to remove the obstruction of such an error, even at the cost of a digression from our path, in order to consider the matter in its origin.
XLII. One of the primary laws of existence in the physical world is self-love; that is, an instinct in every creature to procure its own good, even at the expense of others, so that the preservation of one is attended with the destruction of some others. All nature is in a perpetual struggle within itself, and every component part receives the elements of its own life and increment from the destruction of others. This we see repeatedly happen under our own eyes, as well in plants as in animals, and so evidently, that we need not here record instances to confirm it. It is through this contrast of individual interests, through this perpetual alternation of production and growth with decrease and destruction, that Providence ordained the preservation of the world in its totality, while the individuals perish and the species remain.
XLIII. Man also, considered only in his physical nature, is subject to the universal law of self-love; and until he has arrived at a correct appreciation of his moral nature and duties, he will allow himself to be impelled by that law to possess himself of all that he thinks suitable to his own advantage, regardless of the detriment of others, and even of their very existence; and so will, on the other hand, every one else, being in the same condition, act towards him. But the effects of unrestrained self-love are by far more mischievous in man than in the irrational animals, for the intelligence with which he is endowed affords him more means and artifices to accomplish his selfish views, so long as he is governed by these and not by nobler impulses. Hence it happens also, that so long as a man lies under the fascination of self-love, society, of which he is called to become a member, places him in a condition, from which he looks upon his fellow-men as the natural enemies of his individual happiness; and he feels a propensity to throw obstacles, either by malice or violence, in the way of others, to prevent their attaining that which is denied to him.
XLIV. But we find, also, in man another principle diametrically opposed to self-love, which, proceeding from the noblest prerogatives of his soul, distinguishes him from the irrational creatures, and invites him to a career totally opposite to theirs. This principle, commonly called virtue, we shall express by the more comprehensive name of heroism. As by self-love man is inclined to sacrifice the welfare of others to his own, so by heroism he is led to sacrifice himself to the welfare of others. When we see a mother struggling to death, and with admirable self-devotion, against overpowering waves, or ferocious beasts, or devouring flames, to save her child from certain destruction, it would be stolidity and folly for us to bring into comparison with this act, the cares bestowed by a brute in feeding her young, since as soon as the latter has carried into effect the order of nature, she forsakes them, and, when grown, does not even recognise them; whereas the love of a mother endures beyond the grave. When a husband, bound with the indissoluble tie of affection to the woman of his heart, voluntarily sacrifices to her everything dearest in the world, and finds in her affection ample recompense for his direst privations, who would dare to attribute this to the physical sexual tendency common even to the brutes? a tendency, which, besides manifesting itself only at detached periods of time, disappears altogether in old age, whereas conjugal love runs beyond the confines of time. The same may be said of a friend, who would give his own life to save that of his beloved, of a generous warrior who risks everything for his country's sake, and of a host of others, who magnanimously devote themselves to the relief of suffering humanity; in short, of every one who feels himself moved by a superior force to cross over the boundaries of selfishness and sensuality, and to become a hero.
XLV. In all these phenomena, a principle directly adverse to that of physical nature manifests itself. While in the latter, self-love is a necessary supreme law, in the spiritual life of man we see prevailing, as a foundation to morality, a voluntary sacrifice of self, offered on the altar of love. No pain or regret ever accompanies such an offering; on the contrary, a sensible man undertakes it with cheerfulness, as a manifestation of his exalted nature, and derives from its performance a purer joy than all other earthly enjoyments could afford him. But this love, which limits and conquers self-love, this love which so well testifies to the excellence of man, whence does it proceed? Assuredly not from physical nature; this is, on the contrary, based upon a law which would destroy love. It must emanate, then, from a source, itself a prototype of moral perfection, a perpetual spring of the purest love; and this source is God. Through the effects and impressions of this celestial love, man feels the need of approaching his Creator, of finding in Him the provident Ruler of the human destinies, and of expecting from His kindness the future triumph of good, and an ultimate perfection of all things. God, providence, and the immortality of the soul, become then for him incontestable truths: and at such a knowledge he does not arrive by way of laborious instruction and logical demonstrations; but it springs up, as it were, in his inward feeling, which prompts him to regulate his life according to that sublime model of moral perfection; therefore, although reason furnishes not to him logical proofs of these truths, yet he finds the presentiment of them within his heart, he feels them, he accepts them with a force more sentimental than intellectual, he embraces them with enthusiasm, and can no longer detach himself from them; in short he believes them.
XLVI. Thus, with the same confidence with which man admits as true, what is demonstrated to his reason by solid arguments,—and he is then said to be convinced,—does he likewise give his assent to the noble inspirations of his heart, not yet depraved by abject inclinations,—and he is then said to be persuaded. Thus there are two kinds of truths, equally ascertained, and therefore equally admissible; the one proceeding from intellect and called rational truth, the other formed in the heart, and called moral truth. The source of the latter might also properly be called good sense, which in fact acts, in many circumstances of life, in lieu of pure reason. A man endowed with good sense, and who has not yet become a slave to sensual appetites, will not doubt for a moment, even without having ever been acquainted with the proofs, that lying, calumniating, blaspheming, false swearing, robbing, murdering, betraying friendship, country or honour, are culpable and abominable actions. Other truths based on good sense are also the following: the faith we have in friendship, in the rectitude of those who administer justice, in the fidelity of a beloved object, in the tenderness of parents, in the excellence of virtue, and above all, in the wisdom, goodness, and providence of God; all these things we admit within our souls, not in consequence of a cold calculation of the intellect, but through an irresistible impulse of the heart, and in consequence of a sort of presentiment springing from the consciousness of our own noble spirituality, which develops itself and gains force, in proportion as we elevate ourselves above the material propensities to which we are subject as citizens of this earth.
XLVII. Those who, throwing themselves on a severe rationalism, will recognise nothing as true but what is demonstrated to them like mathematical theorems, will look upon the sentiments above referred to as delusions of the fancy, because they see them founded but upon feeling; but they who think so are manifestly in error. If faith in God, in His providence, and in the immortality of the human soul, were a mere product of the imagination, it would last only so long as the semblance, which had given it aliment, exists; and when man is awakened to the sense of realities and facts calculated to destroy the delusion, he would be seen to withdraw from the meshes of his error, and his reason triumphant would confess the former aberration of the mind; yet it happens not so. In the moment we are struck by some grave calamity, when we see fond hopes, long cherished, vanish in an instant, or when we are on the point of losing what is dearest to us, why is faith in God and in His providence not then weakened in the religious man? Why, on the contrary, does he cling to it more and more? The reason is, because such a faith is not a cold theorem, against which some doubt may eventually arise, but a truth rooted in the love inherent in our nature; and consequently it acquires vigour with the growth of love, and its power cannot be extinguished but when we cease to love. So, also, the other impulses to heroism and to exalted moral action, by which we are induced to great sacrifices, or led to believe ourselves capable of accomplishing them, are produced in us by faith in an eternal Source of pure love, by that faith which carries with itself the surety of a future life and a future kingdom founded upon love. Therefore, in proportion as man succeeds in subduing his own passions, or as these grow faint by age or other causes, so his love grows more vigorous; and as earthly objects gradually disappear, so faith rises and shews itself all-pervading and invincible.
XLVIII. As a condition indispensable to the entertainment of faith, we have already insisted on the necessity of previously freeing the heart from the sway of the sensual appetites; and it is not without a grave reason, for therein precisely consists the secret of the solution of the great question agitated in all ages between the so-called rationalists and the supernaturalists. Intellect and reason are rays from the Divine wisdom, bestowed upon man to assist him to discern between true and false, between good and evil; but such a function is not exercised by those faculties with an absolute power over the human will; they, on the contrary, are subservient to such desires and passions as have acquired a preponderance in the heart; they are similar to those ministers of a prince who, in offering him advice, only aim at facilitating the attainment of their master's wishes; or to the known effects of a glass applied to a jaundiced eye. So long as man remains faithful to his moral duties, and desires nothing but what is good and honest, his intellect and reason always offer him valid arguments to confirm him in his purpose, and to augment his love of virtue; and then, also, the noblest dogmas of faith, God, providence, and immortality find easy access to his mind, and are Harboured with joy. But if depraved propensities have corrupted his heart, so that his aspirations are in a wrong and base direction, then these same faculties become ministers to the predominant passion, and suggest to man sophisms, fallacies, and specious subtleties, whereby to disown that which he heretofore respected, to upset the edifice of his faith, to lull his conscience and quiet remorse, to excuse his weaknesses and break through every restraint, and thus to warrant every kind of fault and vice. Hence it is that the knowledge and discernment of what is true or untrue, in the moral world, depends, in a considerable degree, upon the practice of good or evil; hence it is, that the judgments of the mind are modified by the inclinations of the heart, and that virtue opens the way to faith, and vice is the author of infidelity.
XLIX. From what we have hitherto briefly stated, it will appear sufficiently obvious that the dogmas of revealed religion, though based rather on the ground of faith than on that of philosophy and strict criticism, are yet, for an upright man, susceptible of a degree of evidence equal to that of any other demonstrable truth, inasmuch as they have their foundation in human nature itself, and can be rejected but by him who rebels against the noblest impulses of the heart, to give himself up to the sway of passions or inordinate appetites.
One of the features, which most enhances the value of religion, is precisely this, that it is the product, not of transcendental devices of the mind, but of faith in God, itself springing from love, and that consequently, it is not originated by the intellect, but infused by a Divine grace. Thus we see every day, in our own experience, that the loftiest thoughts of virtue and heroism are not suggested to us by a long and laborious chain of syllogisms, but break upon us unexpectedly as inspirations of the heart; truly—considering the divine spirit dwelling within us, and which we have but to harbour carefully—they break upon us like inspirations of heaven.
Having, as we hope, satisfactorily disposed of the objection usually put forward by the so-called rationalists, we shall now proceed to relate the modes by which Divine revelation historically came into actuality.
L. THE benefits which the Eternal Wisdom had determined to confer upon mankind through revelation, depended, however, on a condition without which, they could never have been realized. It was necessary that men, on their part, should be inclined to receive the bidding addressed to them, that they should direct their attention to the truths to be gradually promulgated to them for their own advantage; in short, that they should feel disposed to correspond to the Divine intentions. It was no part of the plan of the Divine wisdom that men should be in any way constrained, for that would have been depriving them of the precious gift of free will, and destroying their essence. But this very liberty, of action granted to man, rendered the realization of the Divine thought doubtful; and it might have happened that a generation, sinking itself into complete corruption, would have lost every trace of the truths already revealed; and thence a necessity would have arisen for one or more repetitions of the communication, with equal uncertainty of permanent success.
LI. To avoid such a danger, it pleased the Divine Mercy to found upon earth a permanent institution of an exceptional, wonderful, almost preternatural character, through which the preservation of the principal doctrines, that form the substance of revealed religion, could be insured to mankind. As seeds of rare and precious plants are preserved with care, that the species may not perish, so the Ruler of Providence designed to establish among us a repository wherein to keep the germs of all that which concerns man's spiritual life; and He so ordained that they should be there jealously guarded, and with particular diligence cultivated, in order to bring about their slow and gradual, but sure propagation among all the individuals of the human family. This provision is a most luminous proof of the unbounded love and mercy of the Divine Artificer towards the rational creature, to whom a powerful assistance is thus offered to attain his noble destination, without in the least impairing his liberty of action.
LII. Such a provision consists in God having chosen a small portion of mankind to be a medium for, and co-operator in, the grand work, and having entrusted to it the special important mission of perpetually preserving within its pale, the principal dogmas of revealed religion; of keeping always alive on earth the remembrance of that relation which was established from the beginning of creation between the Creator and the human family; and, in short, of contributing with all its might to the practical realization of the Divine idea. The chosen few had consequently to propose to themselves, as the goal of their career, the defence of the sacred deposit entrusted to them from all attacks that might be directed by malice, ignorance or superstition; they had to promote the propagation of the notions of monotheism; of the divine origin of man, and of the duties incumbent upon him to practice justice, charity, rectitude, and piety; they had to protest incessantly against polytheism, and against all and every idolatrous and superstitious creed, as adverse and injurious to the development of the principles of revealed religion; they had to confirm these theories by making themselves the exemplars of a religious life, and by bearing witness to them, when necessary, by their own martyrdom; they had thus to become the effectual instruments to the gradual diffusion throughout the world of those elements of truth, of virtue and happiness, calculated to bring forth the ultimate and universal perfection of mankind.
LIII. In order that the individuals charged with such a grand mission should be competent effectually to fulfil it, it was necessary that they should themselves have been always free from the pernicious influence of the errors and corruption, which had already spread almost throughout the world; it was necessary that their minds should have remained unpolluted by the notions of the extravagant and degrading idolatries, which were in practice among almost all the ancient nations; and that their hearts should have remained untouched by the contagion of universal depravity. The soil to which any seed, however good, is to be committed, would never respond to the expectations of the husbandman, if it were not cleared from weeds and thistles. Those individuals had, therefore, to be drawn aside from the general society of men; and from their infancy educated and prepared, so as to receive within their virgin souls the seeds that were afterwards to produce in them, and through them, the spiritual regeneration of all mankind. But here another difficulty presented itself; who would have undertaken the charge of watching over those individuals from their infancy, and keeping them in such an isolation, as to make them inaccessible to the general depravity? It was, then, necessary to begin by a single individual, whose descendants should receive from that stock the education capable of fitting them for their future mission.
LIV. The providential measure once decreed, of selecting an individual as guardian of the revealed truths, and making him the father of a posterity, whose duty was to preserve them and to make them fructify, it remained only to determine the selection of the person. And here it is obvious that not a capricious hazard, not an indulgent predilection, but only a strict justice and wise impartiality could determine the important choice. Whoever would have aspired to such a glory—and everybody could have aspired to it—by no other means could he have attained it than his own merits. Such a man must have, of his own accord and spontaneously, withdrawn himself from the general current of depravity; opposed, by his own impulse, the absurd ravings of his contemporaries; displayed a lively attachment to virtue, and a steady abhorrence of evil; cultivated, above all, justice, charity, and righteousness, in his every action; that man must have thrown off the subjection of the senses, and all cupidity of earthly things, and, almost assuming a second nature, have soared towards the eternal Source of truth, the Creator of the universe, offering as a sacrifice to Him his own dearest personal interests, and, if required, his life itself.
LV. SUCH a man did appear on the stage of the world. It was the patriarch Abraham. The rarest qualities of mind and heart concurred admirably to render him fit for the high mission. By the superiority of his intelligence, he arrived at the rejection of the captivating, but absurd, idolatrous opinions of his contemporaries, and at the recognition of a unique supreme Cause of all things, omnipotent, all-wise and holy, that governs all with impartial justice and infinite mercy. The nobility of his sentiments led him to labour and exert himself in the diffusion of these holy notions wherever he found himself; and he was most sedulous in drawing the attention of men to that which most concerned their spiritual life. An unparalleled cordiality towards not only his own friends, but all who approached him; a self-abnegation, carried to the point of refusing the best deserved remuneration; a humility ready to waive any right of his own in order to support that of others; a hospitality full, generous, unasked; a continual exercise of charity and justice, which had become in him a second nature; in fine, a submission of all himself and his dearest to the will of God,—such was the character of that celebrated luminary of antiquity, of that man truly divine, of that exemplar of sublime virtue.
LVI. Although so many pre-eminent merits indisputably assigned to him the distinction we have pointed out, yet the Divine wisdom decided to subject his constancy to various trials, with the view of making manifest to the world the excellence of that virtuous character, and the justice which dictated the choice. In the continual antagonism between the material and spiritual interests involved in the events of his agitated life, he had opportunities to display the noblest firmness in causing the latter to prevail. Involuntary peregrinations, conflicts with foreign potentates, domestic discords, dangers, hazards, hopes deferred, and promises well nigh forgotten, became to him so many occasions for the exercise of the highest virtues: and last, the holy resignation with which he prepared to immolate his beloved son, thinking thereby to respond to a Divine bidding, raised his glory to an unapproachable summit. If the other deeds of his edifying piety caused him to be appointed a herald of the true religion, this last heroic act brought down upon him the greatest blessing, in the shape of a promise, that even to his remotest posterity would be extended the mission of jealously preserving the revealed truths, and effectually cooperating in their propagation, so that through that posterity would be blessed all the families of the earth.
LVII. Abraham's vocation marks a luminous and highly interesting epoch in the history of humanity. It was the commencement of the execution of that plan of education of mankind, which, conceived since the beginning in the Increate Mind, came by means extraordinary, yet consistent with the natural course of earthly events, to diffuse itself gradually and to acquire a progressive force among the various ramifications of the human family. In that vocation we perceive the first threads of a wonderful tissue of events, as well in the physical as in the moral world, which went on preparing a slow but always progressive development of the human intelligence, and will go on to produce ultimately the full final accomplishment of the same primitive plan, so grandly conceived. In fact, in the very act of electing this patriarch, God revealed the ultimate object of the election by saying, that He chose him, in order that he might transmit to his latest posterity the obligation—which was to become characteristic of it—of exercising and promoting CHARITY and JUSTICE, the two chief columns on which rests the edifice of human perfectibility, two conditions indispensable to the fulfilment of the Divine idea, and therefore called ways of the Eternal.
LVIII. Abraham and his race having been called upon to perpetuate the idea of the relation existing between God and man, it was obviously necessary that such a relation should be fixed and established in a more precise mode in the individuals of that race than it was in any others; in other words, it was necessary to show clearly that the idea, which was to be promoted among others, was firmly seated, under permanent and concrete forms, in those who were called upon to propagate it. This permanency of the relation exhibited itself, then, to Abraham and his posterity under the form of a covenant between God and that family, whereby the contracting parties, as it were, promised and undertook to maintain certain conditions, upon which depended the subsistence of that relation. The mutual conditions established were, in substance, nothing else than the universal relations subsisting between God and every rational being, but expressed, with respect to Abraham's, family, in more special and characteristic terms, viz., under a form in which God promised Abraham that He would be particularly his God, his Protector, Guardian, and Benefactor; and the Abrahamites, on their part, bound themselves to recognise Him alone as the Deity, to whom adoration and loyal obedience were due. Thus the covenant, which had been formerly established in general terms with Noah, as the representative of all mankind, was afterwards confirmed in more specific terms to the Abrahamites, as those who were appointed to keep and to promote among mankind the fulfilment of the conditions of the said relation.
Considering the Abrahamitic covenant in this point of view, all objections of unreasonable exclusiveness and unjust predilection, which have been sometimes urged, must disappear. The God of Abraham is the God of the universe; and the descendants of Abraham propose to themselves nothing more than the attainment of that same happiness to which every mortal can aspire.
LIX. In order that the idea of the contracted covenant might remain firmly impressed on all Abraham's progeny, it was necessary to institute some external mark, which should continually recall it to the mind; for an idea being but an abstraction, it could not be very long retained in men's minds, without some symbol or visible sign capable of keeping its remembrance alive. It was also necessary that the adhesion of that progeny to the covenant should not begin to take effect in individuals in the adult age only, and as a result of one's own spontaneous reflexions, as had been the case with the first stock of that family, but that it should present itself as an accomplished fact, and, therefore, irrevocable and obligatory; so that every future offspring should bear from his birth an external indelible mark, characterising him as a follower of that principle, and qualifying him to enter into the pale of that association. By such means the preservation of the covenant was insured, and a beginning was made in the system of those external, symbolical, and commemorative acts, which were to be thereafter prescribed to all that race, when sufficiently increased to form an entire people distinct from others. This external mark, instituted before the birth of the elect progeny of the patriarch, is the circumcision.
LX. Before Abraham's descendants attained that degree of maturity which would fit them to receive a revealed legislation, they had to pass through various stages of progressive material increment and intellectual development, and also to undergo several sad vicissitudes produced by the inevitable relations of contact with other nations. Throughout all this period, which we may call preparatory, the Divine Wisdom was pleased to take that race by the hand, guiding its first steps, and watching in an extraordinary manner over its destinies, so as gradually to prepare it for the high mission for which it was designed. We, therefore, perceive, during that epoch, a continual intervention of the Divinity in regulating the particular concerns of the patriarchs and their successors, and an incessant care to draw their attention to the future destiny of their grandchildren, and to their duty of preparing worthily for it. Such a care manifested itself, particularly, in various providential measures, the objects of which evidently were to remove from them everything that might exercise over them a sinister influence; to enlighten them on the importance of their election, and to make them acquainted beforehand with the severe trials in store for them for several centuries, before they could deservedly reap the intended benefits.
LXI. To this category of providential measures belongs the state of isolation and of precarious subsistence, in which, by the Divine will, the first fathers had to live, in respect to their neighbours, in that same land which was yet promised to them as a perpetual inheritance; whereby they were brought to learn from the beginning that the great work, which their children were called upon to accomplish, was not absolutely dependent on the possession of a land under their own sovereignty, but rather on the religious doctrines to which they were to remain faithfully attached. To it belongs, also, the severance or removal of the elder branch of the first two families, which was too much inclined to material interests, to teach thereby that physical superiority is not at all requisite to the preservation of a covenant based entirely on spirituality. And, lastly, to the same category of measures belongs the decreed long servitude of the Abrahamites in a strange land, in which, not only the door to social enjoyments would be shut against them, but a barbarous tyranny would also deprive them of the free exercise of acts which are an imprescriptible right of all mortals. Through the instrumentality of such an oppression, the profound counsels of the Eternal Wisdom designed so to regulate the first education of that growing people, that, refined in the crucible of adversity, it should early learn to renounce the subjection of the senses, and turn its heart and soul to God, from whom alone it could hope salvation. It was only by depriving that people of all human support, and of all extraneous influences on its culture, that it could acquire a character, firm, independent, tenacious in the principles adopted, adverse to foreign notions, faithful to its vocation, and that its mind could be deeply impressed with the sentiment of a constant adoration of the Supreme Being, as its only Deliverer, Legislator, Father, and Sovereign.
LXII. THE descendants of the patriarchs, grown into a numerous people, were, then, obliged to undergo the severe trial of a long servitude in Egypt, from which they could expect no rescue otherwise than by a recourse to the God of their fathers. If the privations of earthly enjoyments tended to strengthen their spirits and courage against adversity, and to direct their desires towards gratifications of a more elevated nature; if the repulsive conduct of their oppressors (by character hostile to all strangers, and by system constituted in different castes, each of which jealous of its own privileges) favoured in a great measure their isolation, and kept them from a pernicious contact and association, it was the prayer which they offered up from the bottom of their hearts to the Supreme Ruler of their destinies, whose covenant with their progenitors they remembered; it was that prayer that hastened the termination of so severe a discipline, and drew near the epoch of their glorification. A fit instrument only was wanted, through which the deliverance should be effected, an organ to communicate to the people the Divine laws, a medium for the new solemn covenant which was to be proclaimed between God and Israel. This elect from among all mortals—whose noble character, resplendent with all human virtues, was heightened by the true grandeur of an unexampled humility—was the holy legislator Moses, the divine man, the faithful expounder of the will of God, the first link of the glorious chain connecting the human family with its Maker. He was appointed to deliver miraculously the Israelitish mass from the yoke of Egypt, and to lead it to the skirts of a mountain, where the grand act of the revelation was to be accomplished.
LXIII. Before imparting that revelation, the Divine wisdom vouchsafed to declare to the people at large, in brief but clear words, the ultimate object intended to be attained by such an institution, and the principal condition conducive to its realisation. Therefore it was, that God began his communications by saying to Israel, through Moses, "I have brought you unto me" a concise and sublime sentence, which comprehends in itself the whole system of revealed religion, for the recognition of the intimate relation which brings the rational creature near to its Creator, is the true goal of man's destination. He added that, to facilitate the attainment of that object, He had adopted the means of electing a small portion of mankind to be His missionaries ("although" said He, "all the earth is mine"); that He wished, therefore, to form of them a sacerdotal kingdom, that is, a class of persons, who, as priests of God, should watch over, conserve, and promote spiritual interests upon the earth; and that in consequence of the gravity of such a task, He required of them that they should become a holy people, that is, a people peculiarly devoted to self-sanctification—which substantially consists in imitating, in as far as human nature permits, the Divine perfections, or virtues.
LXIV. The awfully solemn act which succeeded this preliminary manifestation is the most portentous event to be found in the annals of the world. Two millions of persons, ranged around the skirts of a mountain, witness a majestic supernatural vision; and amid thunder and lightning, dense vapour and blazing fire, the whole ground trembling and the mountain echoing, a sonorous voice from heaven descends on the terrified ears of the people, and carries distinctly and unmistakeably to humanity the high message of God. By the pomp and circumstance which attended the glorious scene of the first revelation, God was pleased to afford an incontestable evidence of the truth and divinity, not only of the doctrines which were then and there being revealed, but of those, also, that were to follow; the unimpeachable testimony of the senses of a vast multitude, brought to bear upon the first and fundamental communication, was capable of producing so full and lasting a conviction in the minds of the numerous hearers, as to remove for the future all doubt as to the divine origin of revelation. Through an immediate sensible perception—which by its nature carries the most irrefragable certainty—Israel, then, received from God Himself the first dictates of a religion, of which that people was to become the professor, conservator, and propagator, in perpetuity; and equally convinced of the true mission of its leader, Moses, it naturally accepted from the latter all subsequent instructions, as laws emanating from the same divine source.