David Baron (1855-1926)

From Darkness to Light

I can truly say that I feared God from my youth and as far back as I can remember, even in the days of my childhood, the question, “How can a man be just with God?” very often occupied my thoughts. I was very familiar with the passages in the Word of God where we are told that we are all “born in sin and shapen in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5), that the very “imaginations of the thoughts of our hearts” are “only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5; 8:21), that our hearts are “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9) and, indeed, my experience only corroborated these Bible statements. When I looked into my own heart I found nothing there but “blackness of darkness”. Hatred to the name of God and rebellion against His holy will stood out bare and prominent to my scrutinising eyes and though in the sight of man, even of my own friends and relatives, I was, as they said, good and blameless - and so I might have seemed, for I perfectly kept all the laws and ceremonies prescribed by the Rabbis and was a diligent student of the Talmud beside - yet in the depths of my soul I was convinced otherwise. I felt somehow that God was not well pleased with all my ,good works and religious observances because they were not done out of a willing and obedient heart - to which, by nature, we are all perfect strangers - but merely to pacify God Who “was a terror unto me”, and who, I, thought, as an angry Judge only hated me and watched for my destruction. This thought created in me great bitterness of heart and trouble of soul. The more religious I became the more miserable I felt; for I was brought to see how far short I came of God’s standard, who tells us to be holy even as He Himself is holy (Leviticus 19:2; 21:8; Joshua 24:19).

I felt that there was a great difference between being holy and merely doing what men call holy acts, and I longed and prayed, like David, for a “new heart” and a “right spirit”, which I knew I needed, before I could hope to become holy. Some of my Jewish friends to whom I opened my mind comforted me with the fact that I was doing as much as I possibly could and that I therefore had no cause to fear. But this did not satisfy me, for I knew that we are commanded not merely to do as much as we can but also to keep all the laws and commandments which the Lord our God has given us, and a curse is pronounced on all who do not confirm and do all the words of the law (Deuteronomy 27:1-26), and, as a matter of fact, none of us can keep one commandment perfectly.

Longing for a Temple, a Priest and a Lamb

But what was I to do? God says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20) and He nowhere says that I can get the forgiveness of my sins by my own “good works”. He does say that “it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). Alas! “because of our sins we have been driven from our land and are estranged from our soil”, and “we have no more temple, sacrifice, or priest” (see the Jewish prayers for Day of Atonement). Oh! how I wished, when the great Day of Atonement came round, for a Temple, a Priest and, above all, a Lamb on whose head I might confess my sins and thus roll away the burden from my heart! Thus it continued and I was miserable, without rest of heart or peace of mind, the thought and prospect of death being dreadful to me.

When I was still young, in a vacation time, being out with some of my father’s servants in the field, I met with a very serious accident and was carried home unconscious. When I regained consciousness I saw a doctor standing by my bedside and heard him say that I had but little hope of my recovery. During the night I said to my dear, pious mother who was watching by my bedside, “Dear mother, I am afraid I am dying. What will become of me? Where am I going?”

“My dear child”, she said, weeping, “you have been such a good boy, and should you die you will go to heaven.”

“Oh! no, mother!” I exclaimed, in great agony of mind, “I have not been good, and if my getting to heaven depends on my own goodness I shall never get there.”

For some time after my recovery I wandered about in different places, hoping to get rest of mind, but I could find no one to bind up my broken heart, or apply the “balm of Gilead” to my soul and, as to Jesus being the Saviour of sinners, I had not at that time so much as heard His precious Name mentioned, nor indeed could I then have brought my mind to think for one moment that the Messiah could take away my sins, or speak peace to my soul. At that time all that I looked forward for the Messiah to do was that He should save our people from the hands of our enemies and restore us to the land of their fathers and also, by conquest over all other nations, to give us the supremacy. I had many other hopes in connection with the advent of the Messiah, as have many Jews, but they were all carnal, narrowed down to earth and this present state, and not one of those hopes rose as high as heaven, or was brightened with the light of immortality.

The Spirit of God opens my Eyes

But oh! wondrous grace! At last God revealed Himself to me as “the LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6) and, though I was a lost sinner “walking in darkness and having no light”, with a heart burdened and a soul sore troubled, justly deserving on account of my manifold sins and transgressions nothing but His wrath and displeasure, He “did not deal with me after my sins, nor reward me according to my iniquities” but showed me that there is forgiveness with Him “that He may be feared” (Psalm 130:4), that He has “no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33: 11). The Spirit of God opened my eyes to see that “salvation is of the Lord”, and that He does not sell it; no, not even for our “good works”, any more than He sells the life-sustaining air we breathe, or the water we drink, but He pleads with us, to come and accept of it freely. Listen! “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price!” (Isaiah 55: 1). What an absurd idea to think that the cloak of our “own righteousness” which God calls nothing but “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) could ever hide our sins from God’s all-penetrating eyes, or to be a fit garment for us in the company of the King of kings!

There is nothing that can efficiently hide our sins from God’s sight but blood - on this point both the Old and New Testaments agree (Leviticus 17: 11; Hebrews 9:22) - and there are no other garments becoming those who would be Jehovah’s guests to the great “feast of fat things” which He will provide (Isaiah 25:6-9) than the “garments of salvation” and the “robe of righteousness” with which the Messiah alone can clothe us (Isaiah 53:11; 61:10).

First Contacts with Christians

In the course of my wanderings I was at last, in the gracious providence of God, Who was all the while leading me by “a way which I knew not”, brought into contact for the first time in my life with two men - a Jew and a Gentile - both true followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who came and spoke to me of Him Whom they called their “Saviour”. Now, I need scarcely tell you that my heart was full of hatred and prejudice against Him Whom, until that time, I only knew by the name of Tooleh (crucified) and Who, I believed, taught His followers only to serve idols and persecute the Jews. In this prejudice I was trained up from my earliest days, for when I was only four years old my mother taught me to repeat, whenever I passed a Christian Church, the following words in Hebrew: “Thou shalt utterly detest it, thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing” (Deuteronomy 7:26). I was, therefore, the more bitter against any Jew who professed to believe in Christ; I could to some extent understand that a Gentile should believe in Him for, I thought, it is his religion and he does not know any better, but a Jew, and a Talmudic Jew, too, to believe in Him Whom our nation has pronounced an impostor! Impossible! He must have been bribed to do so, I thought.

Still, I could not help observing that this meshumed (apostate!) was far happier than I was and that not on account of any earthly riches, for he told me, and I could see, that he was not rich, but poor. He seemed to know God as his Father, as the loving God, and one evening he concluded a conversation I had with him thus: “As for me, I tell you honestly, as in the sight of God, that I have never known what true happiness is until I found it in Christ.”

Happiness in Christ! What a strange thing this is, I thought, for a Jew to find happiness in Christ! In vain, however, I argued and opposed. In vain I displayed all my knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures and Talmud to disprove every assertion he made regarding the Messiahship of Jesus, in which, for some time, I thought myself successful; there was one thing I could not get over and that was the fact that there was something about the belief in Jesus of Nazareth which made this man happy. And did not I seek for happiness? Did not I want to know how the God Whom I had offended and Who, on that account, was angry with me, could become my Friend and Comforter (Isaiah 12)?

With these impressions on my heart we parted, unlikely to meet again.

First contact with the New Testament

Soon after this I became possessed of a book, the very existence of which I was as yet ignorant, though there is nothing in the world to equal it in value. Have you seen it? Read it? It is called the New Testament. In it the mysteries of redemption prefigured in the Old Testament are clearly defined, and the way of salvation made so plain that even the simple can understand it. It is a book to which, if you will come with a soul thirsting after the knowledge of God, you will exclaim, “This is the very river of God, from it let us drink and be satisfied!” Oh! what feelings took hold of me as I read these words, almost at the beginning of the first Gospel; words uttered by Jesus of Nazareth Himself: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4: 10).

Now I always thought that Jesus of Nazareth was a false prophet of the kind against whom Moses warned us so earnestly (Deuteronomy 13), but there I found instead that He was teaching men to worship God only, the only living and true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Israel, Who brought our fathers out from the bondage of Egypt, He Who is the great King and Saviour - even Jehovah Who is One and His Name One!

I was still more surprised as I read on in that wonderful book to find Jesus uttering these most Divine words:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven... For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven... Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:3-10, 16, 20, 44, 45).

Truly, “this man spoke as never man spake!” What wonderful words are these! How is it possible that such holy words and sublime teaching can proceed out of the heart of one whom the Talmudists style “the greatest sinner in Israel”? Is not the fruit the test of the tree? And should not the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth be a test whether He was from God or not?

I wondered, however, whether all who called themselves Christians really profess to hold this Book with the Divine and glorious truths contained in it as the foundation of their faith and rule of their practice, for, alas! the Christianity which I had seen from my earliest days is as different from the Christianity taught by its Divine Founder and His first followers as light is from darkness. I was greatly perplexed on this point until I came across these words uttered by Jesus: “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven ... Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy Name? and in Thy Name have cast out devils? and in Thy Name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity”’ (Matthew 7:21-23).

Comparing the Tanakh and the New Testament

For twelve months I continued to read and examine the New Testament, comparing it with the Old Testament, and what wonderful discoveries I made in it! And this without help of any man, And all the time I did not say a single word to any one except to two of my unconverted Jewish friends, who certainly gave me no aid in the matter, for they only ridiculed me. The study of some passages of Scripture had only the effect of making the burden on my heart heavier, especially those which demonstrated that salvation can only be obtained as a gift from God through faith in Jesus Christ, and that our own righteousness apart from this salvation avails nothing in the sight of God (Romans 3;4;5; Galatians 3;4).

What! Is there no merit in my prayers, in the strict observance of the ceremonies prescribed by the Rabbis, and, above all, in the study of the Talmud? Only through appropriating faith in Christ can I be saved? It seemed an impossibility to me. I tried to believe, but just then strong torrents of prejudice and hatred, such as a Jew only knows, rushed in upon me and almost overwhelmed me with misery and doubts. “Oh, my God!” I cried, “cast me not away from Thy presence in this manner. I am a Jew, a child of Abraham, Thy friend; from my youth I have tried to keep Thy holy law. Why dost Thou thus punish me, withholding from me that peace and rest of heart without which life is a burden to me? Hide not Thy face from me, lest I be as those who go down to the pit!”

Still no peace came.

I spoke more boldly on the subject to a Jewish friend but alas! he could not help me for, as you who know anything about it from experience will acknowledge, there is actually nothing in modern Judaism to meet the cravings of an awakened soul. “Woe was me! for I was undone.” The foundation of sand on which I had been building all my life was now completely taken from me. I could see the “Rock” (Psalm 40:1-3), God’s “sure foundation”, which He has laid in Zion (Isaiah 28:16) but I could not bring myself to build upon it out of mere prejudice. Oh! how strong are our own wills in opposition to God. How slow are we all, unless aided by the Spirit of God, to accept simply God’s plan of salvation and give up all our own plans and ideas, for God’s thoughts “are not our thoughts, neither are our ways His ways” (Isaiah 55:8).

Hatred to the Name of Jesus broken down

Gradually, however, my prejudice and hatred to the Name of Jesus broke down, for I could now see that it was not as I had always thought, that Christ commanded His followers to hate and persecute our nation. No, in the heart of Jesus I could see nothing but love to our people. Did He not weep over Jerusalem? (Luke 19:41-44). Was He not, on beholding the multitudes of our people who were as sheep having no shepherd, moved with compassion for them? (Matthew 9:36). Did He not even pray for his murderers on the very cross on which they crucified Him? This was His prayer at the time: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34); and this the prayer of our deluded people: “His Blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:25). Now judge which prayer is the more righteous.

Thus it was with me until, by the help of God’s Spirit, I cast myself on my knees one evening and exclaimed, “Oh, my God, if Thou canst not save me on any other condition but faith in Jesus, be pleased to give me that faith, and help me to love that most precious Name which I have so long hated and despised. Thou hast promised to save unto the uttermost all those who come unto Thee in His Name: Oh, save me!”

I remained on my knees some time and, when I rose, I could indeed sing, “O, LORD, I will praise Thee: though Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away, and Thou comfortest me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my Strength and my Song; He also is become my Salvation” (Isaiah 12:1-2).

Though some years have now passed since that memorable evening, I can still sing the same song and am even more determined to “trust in Jesus, and not be afraid”. I have known many days of adversity since that time, but blessed be His Holy Name, His sweet peace has possessed my heart and mind ever since, and I know a little - oh, that I knew more - of what it is to know God as my Father. Have my own beloved parents and friends forsaken me? Lo! “the Lord has taken me up” (Psalm 27: 10) and in Jesus I have found “a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). By my profession of faith in Christ have I lost all heirship to earthly possessions? Lo! I have become “an heir of glory”, and have received “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 1:4). Am I persecuted and despised for my Saviour’s sake? I count it an honour and rejoice and am exceeding glad, for great is my reward in heaven (Matthew 5:12). Have I given up anything which before gave me pleasure?

Thank God, I can say with Paul that “what things were gain to me, those I count loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for Whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 1:7-9).

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