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Ideas worth considering

Among my books there are several by Rev Dr Adolph Saphir: The Hidden Life (Thoughts on Communion with God), Christ and the Scriptures, Expository Lectures to the Epistle to the Hebrews and The Divine Unity of Scripture. They are doubly treasured, for the gracious wisdom and understanding of their content and for the way that God brought his life and light to their author
In the 19th century, as a result of a remarkable chain of providences, the Church of Scotland sent a mission team to Pesth to work among the Jews. The best known of these missionaries was John Duncan, later Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament Exegesis in the Free Church of Scotland College in Edinburgh. One of the families contacted by the missionaries was the Saphir family. The father was a very highly respected leader in the Jewish community who eventually became a believer in Jesus as the Messiah. His love for his son, Adolph, showed itself in a remarkable way and he entrusted the one for whom he had a special love to those who had brought the light of the Messiah into his life. Adolph went to Scotland where he completed his academic studies and prepared himself for the Christian ministry.

While studying at the Free Church College in Edinburgh, Adolph wrote to Rev. Charles Kingsley, the novelist and Christian Socialist, to thank him for his writings and sending him a short biography of his brother who had died very young. Among other things, he said, “It has pleased God to let me see Christ, the perfect God Man, who alone draws us unto God’s communion, and makes us true, real men; the dark riddles that had perplexed me began to be solved.”

The response from Charles Kingsley would be worth including in its entirety for its affection and its discernment. Its length forbids it, but some extracts will indicate its quality.

“If I am surprised at your writing to me, it is the surprise of delight at finding that my writings have been of use to any man, and above all to a Jew. For your nation I have a very deep love, first, because so many intimate friends of mine are Jews; and next, because I believe that you are still ‘The Nation’ and that you have a glorious part to play in the history of the race. Moreover, I owe all I have ever said or thought about Christianity to the study of the Old Testament, without which the New is to me unintelligible; and I cannot love the Hebrew books without loving the men who wrote them; and therefore I love your David, and Jeremiah, and Isaiah, as men of like passions with myself – men who struggled, and doubted, and suffered, that I might learn from them; and loving them, how can I but love their children, and yearn over them with unspeakable pity.

“It is my belief that the Christian Jew is the man who can interpret the New and Old Testament both, because he alone can place himself in the position of the men who wrote them, as far as national sympathies, sorrows, and hopes are concerned.

“I would therefore entreat you, and every other converted Jew, not to sink your nationality because you have become a member of the Universal Church, but to believe with the old converts at Jerusalem that you are a true Jew because you are a Christian; that as a Jew you have your special office in the perfecting of the faith and practice of the Church, but try to see all heaven and earth with the eyes of Abraham, David and St. Paul.”

Today we need that discernment and that yearning.

Rev William MacKay
Chairman of the International Missions Board of the Free Church of Scotland and a member of the CWI Council of Management.

This article first appeared in the winter 2003 edition of the Herald


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