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THE ROYAL EDICT
ADVERTISEMENT.—The author feels it necessary to prefix to this Sermon some short account of the occasion on which it was delivered.
The author was at Amsterdam, (in June 1818,) partly with a view of re-establishing there an Episcopal Chapel, in which there had been no service for seven years, but principally with a view of seeking the welfare of the Children of Israel. He went thither rather to explore than to act. (See Nehemiah 2:12-16.) But just previous to the 18th of June, he understood that the Third Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo was to be kept throughout the Netherlands, as a day of thanksgiving: and just at that time also he quite accidentally heard, that the King of the Netherlands had a year before issued an Edict, requiring all the Jews to educate their children in the knowledge of their own Scriptures, and calling upon all his Christian Subjects to aid in this good work. Despondency, not unlike to that which paralyzed all exertion at Jerusalem, in Nehemiah’s days, so universally prevailed, that no one had risen to the occasion; the very Commissioners, who had been appointed to carry the Edict into effect, had published a Report, in which they gave it as their opinion, “that the Lord’s time was not come;” and there was great danger that the gracious designs of the Monarch would be altogether frustrated. The author therefore judged this a fit occasion for calling the attention of the Public to the Edict; and accordingly, after devoting the Morning Service to the more appropriate subject of the day, he employed the Evening Service in an endeavour to forward this good work. Considerable attention was excited to the subject by means of the Sermon; which was therefore instantly printed in Dutch, French, and English, for the purpose of its being circulated throughout the Netherlands: and he has reason to hope, that active exertions were afterwards made in many places, to promote, what every benevolent mind must ardently desire, the edification and welfare of the Jewish People.
So good an example having been set by the Emperor of Russia and the King of the Netherlands, the author hopes that the attention of our own Governors also, both in Church and State, may be called to this long-neglected People; and that, now the British Public has been invited by authority (the King’s Letter) to aid in supporting Missions to the Heathen World, the claims of the Jewish Nation, to whom under God we owe all the light that we ourselves enjoy, will not be overlooked. It is with a view to this great object, that the author sends forth the Sermon in this country; where, if the foregoing explanation had not been given, its relevancy and use might have been justly called in question.
2 Chronicles 17:9. And they taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of the Lord with them, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught the people.
ON a day set apart for thanksgiving to God for mercies received, it is peculiarly proper to consider what we may render unto the Lord for all his benefits. Certainly, if any event ever deserved repeated annual commemoration, it is that which has freed the world from the most grievous tyranny that ever it endured. Of the bitter cup which was put into the hands of every nation in Europe, this nation [Note: The Netherlands.] drank very deeply: and the change which it has experienced, in the restoration of their rightful Monarch, and in the establishment of a free Constitution, calls for their devoutest acknowledgments to Almighty God. Doubtless we may with justice pay some tribute of honour to those who by their counsels and their arms effected the overthrow of the Usurper: but it is God alone who giveth victory to kings, and to whom the glory of this great victory must be primarily ascribed: and he who accounts a day consecrated to this service superfluous, shews, that he is far from justly appreciating the blessings that have been conferred upon him. The monarch himself has given to his people a very decided evidence, that he feels the depth of his obligations to the God of his salvation: and it will be your own loss if you do not cultivate a similar spirit, and improve the occasion to the honour of your God.
But it is not to thanksgiving only that your Monarch invites you: he calls you, by a special Edict, to unite with him in seeking the welfare of your Jewish Brethren, who, in their struggle with the enemy, signally approved their fidelity to their legitimate Sovereign. Their welfare he in his turn studies to promote; and he desires to combine the energies of all his subjects in efforts for their good. Methinks he is like Jehoshaphat of old, who, well knowing that piety must be founded in knowledge, and happiness in piety, sent forth the Princes of his empire, with a select number of Priests and Levites, to instruct his people in the knowledge of God’s blessed word.
His edict on this occasion, and the manner in which it was carried into effect, will form the subject of my present discourse.
Then, we notice the edict of King Jehoshaphat—
This was such as became a great and pious monarch: and we shall find it not unprofitable or unsuitable to the present occasion, to enter into a distinct consideration of it. We observe then, that it was a kind and benevolent edict; a wise and politic edict; a good and beneficial edict.
Mark the benevolence displayed in it. He sought the present and eternal welfare of his subjects. He knew, that as men are raised above the beasts by the exercise of reason, so are they elevated in the scale of rational beings, in proportion as their intellectual powers are cultivated and enlarged. Man destitute of knowledge, is a mere savage; but when instructed in the various branches of science, he becomes refined, and civilized, and capable of contributing to the general good. In the very cultivation of knowledge there is much pleasure arising to the mind; and in the application of that knowledge to useful purposes there is an exquisite delight. We need only observe persons when employed in their several vocations, how happy they are, how contented, how cheerful, oftentimes unconsciously proclaiming their happiness, like the birds of the air, in festal songs, or consciously, and with devotion, in songs of praise.
But it was not mere intellectual improvement which Jehoshaphat sought to convey; he wished his people to be instructed in the knowledge of that God whom they professed to fear and worship. This alone could make them truly happy: this alone could impart to them sound wisdom or solid consolation. He therefore gave particular directions that they should be taught “in the Book of the Law of the Lord,” and this throughout the whole land. O happy people, whose governor so employed the authority with which he was invested! And happy that monarch, who so improved his influence, not for his own personal aggrandizement, but for the best interests of the people committed to his charge! In so doing, he approved himself to be indeed what every governor should be, the friend and father of his people.
Nor was the policy of this measure at all inferior to its benevolence. A people well instructed in moral and religious knowledge will view government as an ordinance of God, and will learn to obey the constituted authorities, not so much from fear of their wrath, as for conscience sake towards God. They will view their governors as God’s vicegerents upon earth; and will consider allegiance to them as an essential part of their duty to him. Hence will spring up love in their hearts, and a real delight in manifesting, on all proper occasions, their loyalty to their king: they will form a bulwark around his person in case of necessity, and even glory in laying down their lives for him as their greatest benefactor.
The benefits arising from this edict were incalculable. Such was the effect of it, that the fear of Jehoshaphat, and of Jehovah as his protector, fell on all the nations that were round about him; so that none, however hostile in their hearts, dared to make war against him [Note: ver. 10.]. Doubtless this resulted chiefly from an impression made upon their minds by God himself: yet it was also produced by a dread of that energy which an united people were ready to put forth at any instant, at the call of their beloved monarch. At the same time that peace was thus secured, prosperity reigned in every part of the empire; and, as the immediate fruit of it, Jehoshaphat, as well as the people, “had riches and honour in abundance [Note: ver. 5.].” In his own mind too he reaped the fruits of his own benevolence. God smiled upon him, and manifested himself to him, and enabled him to walk with “his heart lifted up in the ways of the Lord [Note: ver. 6.].”
Such was the edict of the pious Jehoshaphat,—benevolent, politic, beneficial. And what, I would ask, is the Edict which has been issued by the highest authority in this kingdom? Do we not see in it the same blessed characters as in that which we have been considering? It was “in the third year of his reign [Note: ver. 7.]” that Jehoshaphat sent forth teachers to enlighten and instruct his subjects. The very instant he felt himself at liberty from the more urgent and pressing calls of duty, (such as the fortifying of his land against foreign enemies, and the correcting of some great internal abuses,) he engaged in this good work of diffusing light and knowledge through all classes of the community. In like manner the sovereign of this kingdom has scarcely had time to repair the ravages of war, and to establish his empire, too long weakened and impoverished by a cruel usurpation, before he stands forth as the friend and father of his people, and more especially of that portion of them who have in every age and place been most treated with neglect and disdain, to have them educated in scriptural knowledge and in the fear of God. It is much to be lamented, that the Jewish people have not in general been so attentive either to the learning or morals of their children as might be wished: and hence arose a necessity for some authoritative admonition on the subject. Yet, if I may say it without offence, this neglect has not been more reprehensible in them, than has been the indifference with which the Christian world has regarded it. The monarch (may God recompense it richly into his bosom!) has risen up to remedy the supineness both of the one and the other, and to call forth the united energies of all to correct and terminate this evil. Yet, whilst he thus consults the best interests of his subjects, with what paternal tenderness has he guarded against wounding the feelings of any, or exciting their religious prejudices! The Scriptures of the Old Testament are alone to be used in the schools that shall be established; even those Scriptures, which Jews as well as Christians believe to have been given by inspiration of God, and to contain truth without any mixture of error. In this is marked the policy, no less than the benevolence, of the edict; for it is not by constraint, but by conciliation and kindness, that good is to be done to any, and more especially to those who have shewn themselves now, for so many centuries, proof against all the efforts of intimidation or force. In this kingdom they form no small body, and, I may add, no unimportant portion of the community. It is well known how extensive is their influence in the affairs of commerce; and how, by their activity, they contribute to enrich the state. Hence it is now generally seen and felt, that they are entitled to the same respect as any other subjects of the realm; and whilst, as in the present instance, they see how deeply their monarch feels interested in their welfare, they cannot but on their part be sensible of the privileges they enjoy under his paternal government, and testify their gratitude to him by every possible expression of loyalty and affection.
What the ultimate effect of these measures will be, may be conjectured from the blessed results of the edict of Jehoshaphat: all will feel themselves happy under the government of such a prince; and he, whilst he is respected abroad, and beloved at home, will have the happiness of seeing his labours crowned with prosperity throughout his dominions, and with peace in his own soul.
The manner in which Jehoshaphat’s edict was carried into execution is now to be noticed—
The promptness with which his commands were executed deserves the highest praise. All were ready to co-operate in this good work as soon as it was proposed. “Princes, and priests, and Levites [Note: ver. 7, 8.],” all addressed themselves to it instantly, with one heart and one soul. None accounted their dignity so high, or their functions so sacred, but they thought it an honour to be employed in such a service, and found a delight in fulfilling the wishes of their revered monarch: all entered into the work with zeal, and prosecuted it with diligence; and hence a rapid change was effected both in the temporal and spiritual condition of the whole nation. And what may not be effected in this kingdom also, if a similar zeal be exercised by “the princes and priests” (the magistrates and clergy) of the land? With them it must begin. Those who move in a lower station can effect nothing, if they be not aided and countenanced by the higher orders, whose rank in life, or sacredness of character, will give a tone to the general feeling, and combine the energies of the whole kingdom. If it be said, that those for whom the benefit is designed do not feel a desire after it, this only shews how much they need it, and how earnestly we should all embark in a cause proposed by such high authority, and recommended by the soundest dictates of wisdom and piety.
That our obligations to unite in this labour of love may the more distinctly appear, I would beg leave to suggest the following considerations.
First, Loyalty to the king demands our concurrence with him in this good work, and a holy emulation amongst us to carry into effect his benevolent designs. What can the greatest or best of men effect, (what could Jehoshaphat himself have done?) if there be none to act in subserviency to them, and to follow their directions? As the most potent monarch upon earth would in vain proclaim war, if there were no soldiers found to enlist under his banners and to execute his commands, so it will be in vain that the design of benefiting the Jewish people was ever conceived in the mind of the king, or that his edict respecting them was ever issued, if his subjects do not put forth their energies in obedience to his call. In truth, a backwardness to co-operate with him in this blessed work would seem like a reflection cast upon him, as recommending a measure that was unworthy of attention. I do not mean to insinuate that such an idea really exists in the minds of any; for I am perfectly convinced it does not: but certainly in appearance it is open to this construction; and every subject of the empire is concerned to act in such a way, as to cut off all occasion for a reflection like this. I say, loyalty alone, even if we had no higher motive, should be sufficient to call forth our exertions in this cause.
But let me next observe, that gratitude to the Jewish nation demands it at our hands. How great, how manifold are our obligations to them! Behold Moses and the prophets, what instruction have they given us, in reference to the way of life and salvation! Without the moral law, as revealed by Moses, we should never have known to what an extent we need a Saviour; nor, if the prophecies had not so fully designated the promised Messiah, could we have ever so fully known that Jesus was the Christ. Of whom did the Lord Jesus Christ himself come as pertaining to the flesh, but from the loins of David, and of the seed of Abraham? Yet to him are we indebted for all that we either have, or hope for, in time or in eternity. And who were the Apostles, but Jews, who for our sakes went forth preaching the word, and counted not their lives dear to them, so that they might but lead us to the knowledge of Christ, and make us partakers of his salvation? From them too we have received the lively oracles, which are the one source of all spiritual knowledge, and the one foundation of all our hopes. Does all this call for no recompence at our hands? Knowing as we do the vast importance of education, should we not endeavour to impart it to those from whose ancestors we have received such innumerable, such inestimable benefits? Yet behold, these are the people whom for many, many centuries, we have treated with more neglect and contempt than any other people upon the face of the earth: the savages of the most distant climes have received more attention from us than they. Surely it is high time that the Christian world awake to a sense of their duty, and begin to shew to the Jews somewhat of that love, which their forefathers exercised towards us in our Gentile state. We are debtors to them to a vast amount, and it is high time that we begin to discharge our debt. And how can we discharge it better, than by enabling them to read and understand those very oracles, which they have preserved with such fidelity, and which testify so fully of their promised Messiah?
Further: A love to the rising generation should lead us to avail ourselves of the present opportunity to promote their welfare.—It is truly afflictive to see how low and degraded is the state of multitudes, especially of the Jewish nation, purely through the neglect with which they are treated in their early youth: and still more grievous is it to reflect on their ignorance of those things which belong to their everlasting peace. To counteract this, we should endeavour to qualify the whole of their population for good and useful employments; and, through the medium of useful instruction, to make them holy, and to make them happy. We need never be afraid that there will not be a sufficient number of poor to fill the lower stations: do what we will, there will never be wanting persons, who, through their own fault or misfortunes, are necessitated to undertake the lowest offices of life. And, if they have been previously instructed in the Scriptures of Truth, they will have a fund of consolation ever open to them in their deepest afflictions; they will learn from the inspired volume, in whatsoever state they are, there-with to be content; and in the prospect of the eternal world, they will find joys with which a stranger intermeddleth not, and which the world can neither give nor take away. We feel the force of these considerations in reference to the poor of our own communion: how is it that we feel it not in reference to our Jewish Brethren? This is a partiality unworthy of us; and we should rise as one man to wipe off this disgrace from our own character.
This brings me to the last consideration which I propose to mention; namely, that a concern for the honour of our holy religion should operate to unite us all in executing the Royal Edict.—What must a Jew think of our religion, when he sees how little it has wrought for us in the production of love? We may tell him of a Messiah, who has loved us, and laid down his life for us: but what credit will he give us for our principles, when he sees how little our practice corresponds with them! May he not well say to us, “Physician, heal thyself?” Shew by your conduct the superiority of your principles, before you call on me to embrace them. It is by love that we must win them: it is by shewing kindness to them that we must efface from their hearts those prejudices which, with too much reason, they entertain against us. We must exhibit in our own person the loveliness of Christianity, before we can bring them to investigate the grounds of our faith, or to imagine that they can improve their own condition by embracing it. May I not then call upon you as Christians to unite in the good work that is now before you, that you may thereby serve and glorify your Lord and Saviour? As Christians, you believe that there is no other way to the Father but by Christ [Note: John 14:6.]; and no other name but his, whereby any human being can be saved [Note: Acts 4:12.]. Where is your piety, where is your love to Christ, where is even common humanity, if you will not avail yourselves of the present opportunity to remove from before your Jewish Brethren the stumbling-blocks, which for so many ages have been laid in their way?
Do any ask, What shall we do? I answer, search out amongst the Jews some persons of probity and talent to commence schools among them; and do you yourselves aid to the utmost of your power in the support of them; provide them with all necessary books for instructing children in the first rudiments of knowledge; provide them with Bibles also, both in the Dutch and Hebrew languages, that they may be thoroughly instructed in the knowledge of their own religion, and learn to walk in the steps of their father Abraham, and of all the holy prophets.
Begin too, without loss of time, Adult Schools. You will find many among the house of Israel who will be glad to avail themselves of your instructions. Let those who are benevolent amongst you dedicate an hour in a day to the instructing of a few who may be desirous to learn; and carefully avoid every thing which may give unnecessary offence. Confine yourselves to the Old Testament, which they venerate, as well as you. Let those who can teach only in the Dutch language give instruction in that: and let those who either understand, or have leisure to attain, the Hebrew tongue, draw their attention to that. In particular, let it be the united endeavour of all to qualify masters for this good work.
And let it not be thought, that this is the duty of men only. The Royal Edict has particularly, and with great wisdom, recommended it to females, who may be of infinite service in conveying instruction to their own sex. This age is distinguished above all others for the activity of females in the service of God, and in the performance of every good work. Were I able to declare the proportion of good that is done in Britain by the female sex, it would appear incredible: I believe from my soul that it far exceeds one half in all the societies raised since the commencement of the present century, in the Bible Society, the Missionary Societies, and the Society for Promoting the Knowledge of Christianity amongst the Jews: yes, let the ladies of this country exert themselves, in a prudent, modest and discreet way, and the effects will soon appear; the Royal Edict will not be a dead letter, but will produce incalculable good to the whole nation;—and the agents in this benevolent work will themselves receive quite as much benefit as they impart, their benevolence being, in proportion as it is exercised, its own reward.
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles 17". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany