A Sermon Preached in the Jews Synagogue, On Friday, February 6, 1756; Being the Day Appointed by Authority for a General Fast. By Isaac Netto, Archsinagogus of the Portuguez Jews Synagogue. Translated from the Spanish Language by the Author. Published at the Desire of the Rulers of the Synagogue, and addressed to them.
Written and translated by Isaac Netto. Printed in London by Richard Reily, for the Author and sold by H. Whitridge, at the Royal-Exchange, 1756.
From the Sermon:
Circumcise therefore the Fore-skin of your Hearts, and be no more Stiff-Necked. — Deut. x. 16.
Brethren, it is not Sackcloth nor Fasting that appeases the Anger of God, but Repentance and good Works; for we find, that it is not said of the Ninevites, that God saw their Sackcloth and Fasting, but saw their Works, that they turned from their evil Way. — Treat. Tahanit, Cap. ii.
OUR most gracious Sovereign the King, has issued out a Proclamation to observe this Day as a solemn Fast, and to implore the Mercy of the King of Kings, who out of his great Clemency was pleased to shew that he was incensed against us, in order to prepare us to Contrition and Repentance. And His Majesty, knowing the Dissoluteness of the Age, with Reason judged, that the Anger of Heaven might have been raised against us; and directed, with a devout Heart, that we should examine our Actions, and with a sincere Penitence and Sorrow, endeavour to divert the Punishment that the Hand of Divine Justice seems to threaten us with. And at the same Time His Majesty also commanded us to implore the Divine Assistance to his Armies, in case our Neighbours should oblige him to declare War.
This is the Subject of His Most Gracious Majesty’s pious Proclamation, from which we shall not deviate, as it is so conformable to the Precepts of Almighty God.
In consequence of this Command, the illustrious Rulers of the Synagogue have ordered me to ascend the Pulpit, and perform the Duties of the Day; and though my Infirmities, together with my Insufficiency, may plead an Excuse, yet the implicit Obedience due to that illustrious Body, obliges me to a Compliance, and demands those Thanks, that with the greatest Respect I pay Them.
But before I enter into my Discourse, prostrate, and on my Knees, I return due Thanks, in the Name of all, to the Divine Mercy and Favour, for having expressed it’s Wrath against us, to call us to Repentance; praying the Almighty, with a pure Heart, to grant us his Assistance, that we may with due Fear and Reverence serve and adore Him, to turn his Anger from us, and to comfort us, repeating with the Prophet, [O Lord, I will praise thee: because thou wast angry with me, let thine Anger be turned away, and comfort me. — Isaiah c. xii. v. 1.]
GOD commands the Prophet Jonah to go to the City of Nineveh, and there proclaim through the Streets, [Yet forty Days and Nineveh shall be overthrown. — Jonah c. iii. v. 4.] That within the Space of forty Days, Nineveh should either be converted or destroyed. The Prophet disobeys, flees to Tarshish, and refuses his Mission. Tell me, holy Prophet, What moved you to Disobedience? What excited you to fail in your Duty? Did not God command you? Did not the Almighty lay that Injunction on you? How could you refuse so honourable a Charge? Or how withdraw yourself from the divine Command? Hear the Excuse the Prophet addressed to God, [I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my Saying, when I was yet in my Country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: For I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to Anger, and of great Kindness, and repentest thee of the Evil. — Jonah c. iv. v. 2.] I feared the Success even when I was yet in my Country; my Apprehensions foresaw the Result of my Embassy; therefore I fled to Tarshish, well knowing that your Forgiveness would follow their Repentance, which of Consequience would redound to the Prejudice of this Nation; because the Penitence of these Gentiles would rise up in Judgment against the holy People; who, disobedient and deaf to the Call of so many Prophets, and so many Preachers, who have exhorted them to Repentance, are stiff-necked and obstinate, persist in their Idolatry, and continue in their Iniquities. With how great Severity will thy Justice punish them? seeing that those blind Idolaters, who have no Knowledge of the supreme Being, on the least Proclamation, prostrate and humble themselves, becoming penitent, detecting their Sins, and ceasing from evil Deeds; while the People of Israel obstinately persist in their Transgressions.—This was the Reason why Jonah fled; but he did wrong: For no Man should oppose the divine Will, or pretend to know more than the divine Providence. And he met the Punishment he merited, being buried alive in a living Sepulchre. But as his Intention was good, he was freed from Death, and restored to his former Embassy.
Brethren, I fear our Obstinacy, and much suspect our Stubbornness; I know that God has characterized us as a stiff-necked People, [For thou art a stiff-necked People. — Exo. c. xxxiii. v. 3.] and that we cannot easily submit to the Voice of Reason. I am sensible that when Men are initiated in Vice, they cannot easily depart from it; that, plunged in the Pleasures and Vanities of this World, they cannot easily disengage themselves, for they become to us as a second Nature; and as our Rabbies say, That the Frequency of Sin abates the Horror of Sinning, and the Familiarity of Vice makes it pass for Virtue. [Yomah c. i.]
But oh, dear Brethren, reflect that the divine Clemency calls us to Penitence; consider that the Mercy of Heaven invites us to Repentance; behold the Sword of divine Justice drawn against all the World. [And David lift up his Eyes, and saw the Angel of the Lord stand between the Earth and the Heaven, having a drawn Sword in his Hand. — I Chron. c. xxi. v. 16.] [He is the Lord our God, his Judgments are in all the Earth. — Psal. cv. v. 7.]
Our Neighbours have experienced the Severity of his Judgments; let us not provoke him with our Obstinacy; let us not draw upon us his Wrath with our Stubbornness; let us not despise his merciful Intimation, shewed us in the rapid and wonderful ebbing and flowing of the Waters, which in the same Day, and almost in the same Hour the Catastrophe happened in other Kingdoms, the merciful Notification was manifest in many Parts of this Island.
Let us not puff ourselves with the vain Imagination or Belief, that our Merits diverted the Rigour of divine Justice from us; let us not deceive ourselves, with the Supposition or Thought, that we are better than our Neighbours; let us leave that to be decided by the Judge of Truth. What behoves us to do, is as the Prophet advises us, [Let us search and try our Ways, and turn again to the Lord. — Lam. c. iii. v. 40.] Let us search into our Actions, examine our Actions, examine our Occupations, see how we employ ourselves, and endeavour to amend our Lives, that we may escape that Chastisement we so much deserve.
Tell me, Brethren! When was Vanity more predominant than it is now? When were Diversions more followed then at present? When were Pleasures and Entertainments so much the Sutdy of our Lives as now? Or when was Gaming a more universal Passion? Would to God that my Scrutiny might cease here; but I am sorry that I am obliged to proceed.
Tell me, oh dear Brethren, When was Religion more neglected? When were the Laws of Almighty, and Eternal God, less observed? When were his divine Commandments less obeyed? When were his sacred Precepts more foreign from our Thoughts? When was Devotion less practised? When was Wisdom held more in Derision? And in short, When was even God himself, less the Subject of our Contemplation? [Thou art near in their Mouths, and far from their Reins. — Jerem. c. xii. v. 2.]
For Vanity, Pride, Luxury, Gaming, Diversions, and childish Amusements, employ our Thoughts. This is what embarasses our Understanding; this is what hardens our Hearts, and clouds our Reason.
When was there less Fidelity amongst Mankind? When was there less brotherly Love? When was Gratitude less practised? When were Murmurings more frequent? Malice more powerful? Envy more subtil? Vengeance more active? Or Hatred more rooted in us?
You pretend to be Men of Morals, but wherein does your Morality consist? Does not the Scripture tell you, [Lev. c. xix. v. 18] Thou shalt love thy Neighbour as thyself? Is not this the fundamental Basis which alone supports Morality? Is not Morality an Article of Religion? Can any one boast himself to be religious, who is deficient in the Precepts of Morality? Religion cannot be without it; all without it, is but Hypocricy. Upon this Precepts alone, did our excellent Prince and Master Hilel found all Religion. [Treat. Shabat c. ii.] What you would not do for yourself, do not for your Neighbour.