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Title: No. 4, Intercession: A Sermon Preached by the Rev. B. N. Michelson, B.A.
Author: Michelson, B. N.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "No. 4, Intercession: A Sermon Preached by the Rev. B. N. Michelson, B.A." ***

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                       The Central Synagogue Pulpit

                       A Selected Series of Sermons

                   Delivered at the Central Synagogue,

                        Great Portland Street, W.

                                  No. 4


                     A Sermon Preached On ש"ק פ’ויגש

                    Sabbath, December 30th, 5677-1916

                                  by the

                        Rev. B. N. Michelson, B.A.

                   Acting Minister of the Congregation

                     Printed for Private Circulation

וישלחני אלהים לפניכם לשום לכם שארית בארץ ולהחיות לכם לפליטה גדולה

    “And God has thus sent me before you to prepare for you a
    permanence on the earth and to save your lives by a great
    deliverance.”—Genesis xlv., v. 7.

In a time of effort, suffering and grief such as this country has never
before known, it is well that we should have frequent occasions for a
review of the position in which we stand for a strengthening of our sinews
to continue the struggle in the spirit of the high and noble resolve which
induced our participation in it.

This week-end will be a solemn occasion; it will draw together the
religious bodies in a rare unity of thought and action. If there be in
these times any who think themselves superior to the need of intercession
and prayer they are not to be envied. For these are the days in which
human values are changing and the folly of human pride and the weakness of
human strength are brought home to men—the old-time wisdom of the humble
heart is vindicated once more. And so we take advantage of the fact that
we are again upon the threshold of a New Year to ask that the blessings of
our God may still be poured upon us and those who, with us, are striving
to right the wrong and to make the world the better and purer for our
fight against injustice, barbarism and slavery. We of this generation feel
that we are so ordering our actions—many of us so facing death—that we may
be able to say to future generations: “God hath sent me before you to
prepare for you a permanence on the earth and to save your lives by a
great deliverance.”

The land in which we live is overshadowed, its people perplexed and
exasperated by the fears and resentments of a fierce and desperate War:
and we must needs strive for balance, both mental and moral, if we would
not be swallowed up in the morasses of hate and vengefulness. Whilst we
turn to our God for help in maintaining our just cause, which we cannot
doubt is indeed His cause, we still must guard our actions and our
thoughts, to prevent the blotting out of the moral issues that are at

It would be a wretched perversion of conscience to require of any man,
condonation of the infamous cruelties and treacheries which have disgraced
our foes during the last two years. The best elements in us rise in
irrepressible repugnance before such pageants of wickedness as have
clothed the famous name of Wittenberg with infamy and made the story of
naval warfare a continuing record of wanton crime. No man can think,
without shame, of the so-called civilisation and culture which could
palliate such perversions of justice as those recalled by the fate of
Nurse Cavell and Captain Fryatt.

Yet there are two considerations that may help us to feel that the German
people, so far from being truly represented by the miscreants who have
organised and carried through the atrocities on land and on sea, are
wantonly misled and disgraced by them.

History includes the record of similar horrors perpetrated by other
nations which nevertheless are justly reckoned among the best human
material. May we not hope that the crimes of Germany in the twentieth
century provide no truer index to the national character than did those of
revolutionary France in the eighteenth?

Psychology unites its testimony to that of History. Civilised man stands
as the latest link of a long chain of advancement from aboriginal
beasthood, and he retains within himself the germ of all his earlier
traits, though these are increasingly suppressed and held in check by
higher habitudes. Civilisation represents an elaborate system of auxiliary
disciplines, designed to stifle as far as may be the brute in man and to
strengthen the acquired qualities of justice, mercy and refinement.

When some sudden catastrophe such as Revolution or War befalls, there is
always great danger that that elaborate system of artificial auxiliaries
to virtue will be broken down and the beast let loose in unchecked
savagery. Unquestionably this gives the key to the atrocities that stained
the French Revolution: it probably gives the key to the crimes of German
warfare. It certainly leads us to the contemplation of the horrors from
which we ourselves would be free—a contemplation which helps to make our
Day of Intercession one not merely of prayer for victory and its material
benefits, but for the ennoblement of our minds and the purification of our

The happenings of the past two weeks have led our thoughts to the
possibilities of peace and the consideration of peace terms.

May the peace, whenever it come, be worthy of the conflict that it ends, a
peace which enthrones justice in the affairs of the world and banishes
oppression. May the final treaty include specific provision for the trial
and punishment of the men who have organised and carried out the crimes of
the war. So shall resentment die, when it is realised that our victory is
unstained with injustice, and the German people themselves are helped to
return to the fellowship of civilised mankind. Thus shall the nations now
at war at last be bound together by the ties of international goodwill. If
we are able to realise these high aims then God will indeed “have sent us
to prepare a permanence on the earth and to save lives by a great

How great is the debt we owe to those who are bearing the brunt of the
struggle—how deeply we realise our dependence upon the manhood of this
nation! We cannot allow a day set apart for supplication to come and go
without more than a passing thought for those who have sustained wounds or
suffered hardship for the maintenance of our integrity and our rights of
existence as a nation.

Many are the movements to which the War has given rise, which aim at
alleviating the ravages of the combat. When we think that of the
seven-and-a-half million Belgians left in Belgium, more than
three-and-a-half millions are being fed by the free canteens or receiving
relief in some form from the charity provided in the first place by the
large-heartedness of the American people, we shall understand something of
the vastness of some of the problems which arise only to be dealt with by
outside agencies. The gallant stand of a gallant people is still continued
both before and behind the German lines, where the Belgians are as
stubbornly resistant to day as they were when their King drew his sword
and said: “For us there can be no other answer.” And the passive
resistance of the imprisoned millions in Belgium to the compulsion and
cajolery alike of their would-be friend, the enemy, is a factor in the
German subduing process the world outside must appreciate. But the
Belgians are paying the price. Their resources are diminishing day by day.
The world’s benevolence is dwindling and they are facing an immediate
future wherein life’s necessities will have to be defined in terms of the
irreducible minimum. The whole nation, we are told, is growing so thin on
the small ration that can be provided, that wasting diseases, due to
under-nutrition, are increasing by leaps and bounds.

These facts are here referred to, first and foremost, that we may pay some
tribute, if only in thought, to these and our other brave allies who have
suffered loss incalculable, and in the second place to direct our
attention to our own more fortunate position and to remind us that amid
all the devastation, the War is being commemorated by works of beneficence
and mercy, works intended to show our sympathy for suffering and our
gratitude to the God who is supporting us through these terrible days.

He is not a good man who fails to employ every possible effort to supply
the needs of those dependent upon him in his own household. No less is he
a moral failure who does not lend himself to support every noble effort
for the succour of those bound to him by the ties of religious faith,
especially when suffering has come upon them through their faithfulness.
And so no one could have any compunction in appealing to you as was done a
short time ago for your own brethren. But we must not forget that he who
builds a fence, fences out more than he can fence in. Israel must be
faithful to his own, but his own includes not only the members of Israel’s
faith, who have the first claim upon him, but all the children of God, who
are by the fact of their human birth, his brethren; and to-day the appeal
is made to us on behalf of those to whom we have to pay something we
_owe_. The sick and wounded of our soldiers and sailors have a claim we
cannot ignore: their misfortunes have been brought about by their devotion
to our country’s cause. It is enough that they must suffer for us: we must
see that everything possible is done to alleviate the pains they undergo.
The Sick and Wounded Fund asks for your help, and, as I know you, I am
sure you will give it with no unstinting hand.

We think to day of our wounded, but we think also of our dead. Men may be
willing to die for one cause in one age, and in another for what may seem
a different cause, but in the last analysis it will be found that that for
which human beings lay down their lives is always what they regard as the
Eternal Right.

In every man created in the image of his God there is this strange
mystical susceptibility, this urge to lay all he has upon the altar of the
ideal that he feels has the right to demand his uttermost. Nothing else so
fully demonstrates man’s spiritual nature: it is the one great fact that
differentiates us from the brutes.

On the one hand is man selfish, greedy, earth-bound, false and sordid in
his aims. On the other, at repeated intervals, in great and solemn hours,
comes this austere appeal for all he has to give—and he promptly gives it,
joyously, willingly, without thought of reward, and derives a greater
satisfaction from that self-giving than from all other kinds of gain
together. It is deep, mysterious, elusive, this stress of the spirit, but
we all know it unmistakably as all generations have known it. There is
nothing so strong in human nature as this impulse to fling ourselves away
at the bidding of we know not what, the something that incarnates itself
now in this cause or objective and now in that, and makes us feel וישלחני
אלהים לפניכם לשום לכם שארית בארץ ולהחיות לכם לפליטה גדולה “God hath sent
us before you to prepare a permanence on the earth and to save your lives
by a great deliverance.” There is nothing so exalting within the totality
of human experience as the elevation of soul reached by the one who
willingly dies for the sake of the others.

How many men of character and intellectual gifts, how many thinkers,
writers, artists, how many men fitted to promote the prosperity of their
country in industry and commerce have we lost in the War! And how many of
the rank and file, men who were distinguished for nothing in their lives
so much as the manner of their death! How much poorer the next generation
will be! To the memory of them all we give the grateful tribute of
saddened and chastened hearts: we remember them all in our prayers, we
recall their heroism as we rejoice in their manhood and their glory. Never
was a time when so many of our best and noblest have gone from us
willingly because they have felt it to be their duty and never was a time
when their parents and dear ones have shown such a noble example of
uncomplaining patience under a loss which to them was the greatest that
any loss could be. We may well feel proud not only of the sons but of the
parents that they have willingly given their children and have borne their
loss with dignity and resignation, not repining and bewailing their dead,
but putting their hands to works of charity and helpfulness. Let us who
remain be worthy of those who have been taken, worthy of the country that
can rear such children. They have revealed to us the soul of the nation,
the soul by which, far more than by its wealth or its prosperity or its
material strength, a nation lives: and while the soul of England thus
lives, England will maintain her greatness.

Let us remember our heroes who have made the supreme sacrifice, not
altogether with sorrow, but also with a solemn thankfulness—to God who
strengthened them to play their part, to them for their simple example of
duty done. The memories of these, our heroes, will for us and for those
who come after shine as a holy flame, a light that will burn for ever at
the altar of patriotism and of duty.

And so we commend their souls, even as our own, to the mercy of our God,
looking to Him in all humility and trust to vouchsafe us in His good time
“a permanence on the earth and a saving of life by a great deliverance.”

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