The Testimony of Rabbi Charles Freshman:
Charles Freshman was born in Micklosh, a city pleasantly situated on the river Waag, in Hungary, as the oldest of thirteen children. The parents were strict adherents of Judaism and the father was a business man, not rich, but always honest and well thought of. When but three years old, the boy, who had to be carried to school and back by a servant upon her shoulders, commenced to learn the Hebrew alphabet and the first Scripture lesson (which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4,5, and is called the "Shema"). The "fringes", according to Numbers 15:38, were also put upon him. The boy, is spite of his great youth, learned quickly, and when he was about four years of age, his father made a great festival, a Sudah, in his honour. All the friends, relatives, and associates of the child were invited to meet on a certain Sabbath day to partake of a plentiful supply of cakes, plums, nuts and other eatables, together with a glass of pure grape wine, and to listen to the reading of the Old Testament in the Hebrew language by the child.
The whole religious training of the child was strict in the extreme. He was obliged to pray out of the Jewish Prayer Book every morning and evening, and was not allowed to eat or drink anything without first asking a blessing upon it with his head covered.
Charles Freshman made rapid progress, and at the age of eight years he could read Hebrew well and translate every word without difficulty, requiring a dictionary but seldom. He could also repeat from memory many choice passages of the Old Testament and whole Psalms in the Hebrew language. Even of the Chaldaic he knew a little, and could read and write the Aramaic language. Being naturally very ambitious and proud, his mind became fully possessed of the one determination of becoming a Rabbi, not an ordinary Rabbi, such as one meets every day, but a great Rabbi, such as those who had immortalized their names and imprinted their thoughts upon the pages of the Talmud. Fired with desire, he studied the Talmud day and night and soon became so proficient in it that he was able to assist his fellow students and thus earn a little money for himself. At the age of eleven he was admired for his astounding knowledge and also for his manifest piety. He used to read and pray a great deal in secret, fast very often, and be very strict and scrupulously exact in the discharge of all religious duties, but alas he was very proud and overbearing, claiming that he knew more than the teacher himself. But "a haughty spirit goeth before a fall."
An unaccountable change came over the boy, now entering upon his twelfth year. He became mischievous and to some extent positively wicked. Prayers were no longer offered; the Sabbath was desecrated; bad books were diligently sought and read; and, grossest of all sins to a strict Jew, an attempt was made to read the New Testament in secret. The words, "I and my father are one," however exasperated the boy so much that he hurled the book across the room and hated Christianity. He also neglected his books, played truant from school, and finally left school altogether. Then he got into the habits of idleness and distaste for further study and loitered around and got into mischief, no longer desiring to be a Rabbi.
But God brought the prodigal to himself. His father met with a misfortune in business which involved the loss of everything. There was hardly bread enough left in the house to satisfy the present demands of the large family. The sudden misfortune and still more the appeal of the father to his boy to help in the work caused Charles to resolve not to be mischievous any more, but to become a pious lad again. He now went to school again and was being prepared for confirmation by a private teacher. But alas, when the time for confirmation came, he could not be confirmed, for the father was again so poor that he could not spare enough money to purchase the necessary phylacteries and nice clothes. The proud boy was extremely humiliated and resolved to leave his father's house and enter some Jewish theological institution in some distant city. With only a few cents in his possession, the boy said goodbye to parents and home and started out into the wide, wide world alone.
After many hardships he reached a place called Namensdorf where the Rabbi received him kindly, and after satisfactory examination permitted him to become a student in the Talmudical School. The means of the new student were quite limited, and he often went hungry, but he was comparatively happy and studied diligently. Still, he was no nearer the obtaining of phylacteries and confirmation. Hence he resolved to go to Poland, where famous colleges for the training of young Jews were found. So off he started.
In Bialla he found an old friend of his father, who offered to send him to College if he would like to become a Roman Catholic priest. The young Jew refused the offer and turned to go away. Then the man gave him a little money, and Charles Freshman departed in great happiness, for he escaped from being swallowed up by the Christian Church, he thought, and had at last the means of procuring the phylacteries which he had so longed for. He lost no time in procuring them, and then laid out a plan to go to the great Jewish College of Helleshan in Moravia.
After five days of weary tramping he arrived at Helleshan and at once became a student in the College. Here he remained over two years, gaining honourable distinction as a student; then he returned to his parents, travelling on foot as usual. He quickly discovered that his parents were not well satisfied that he had left College, but he had no desire now to return to it and for a short time taught at a small school near Micklosh. Then he again left home and resolved to go to the great city of Prague to complete his education as a Rabbi. Again he felt the pressure of hard times as he prosecuted his studies, but he persevered five years, when his education was pronounced complete. He was thoroughly acquainted with the Hebrew language and the Jewish literature, but he had also acquired a good knowledge of languages, of history, philosophy, and science in general. He received his diploma and other credentials of the highest class, and returned home prouder than ever, because he was now a Rabbi and, in his own estimation, a Rabbi of no mean importance.
Instead of looking around for a congregation, the young Rabbi began to look around for a wife, which he found at last. He was married when only 23 years old. Over a year the young couple remained with his wife's wealthy parents, then, instead of looking for a congregation, started in business. Twice he failed, and after officiating occasionally as Rabbi in some of the small synagogues, he was induced to leave his native country for the New World. He came to Canada, accompanied by his wife and five children. Dr. DeSola, the Rabbi of the Portuguese congregation in Montreal, recommended the young Hungarian Rabbi very strongly to the congregation of Quebec, and soon after his arrival in the New World, Charles Freshman was duly installed as Rabbi of a Jewish congregation in Quebec. He at once began to learn the English language, in which he made slow progress however.
The congregation in which Mr. Freshman now ministered was composed of mixed nationalities of Jews, but chiefly German and English. He used to officiate in the Hebrew and German languages, and it was not until he had been a long time among the people that he conducted his first service in English. These Jews had little regard for their Sabbath day. Many of them would attend the services of the synagogue and immediately afterward would repair to their places of business or go to the pursuit of pleasures. The Rabbi, strictly orthodox, was horrified at this impiety, and remonstrated with many of them, reproving them severely for their conduct, but he had little or no influence.
Slowly the Spirit of God began to work upon the mind of the Jewish Rabbi. Often, as he would pass through the streets and see the large congregations thronging towards the various Christian churches, or returning from the services, his mind would be variously exercised toward them. At one time he would think, "What a pity that such a multitude of people will so easily believe in falsehood, and blasphemously worship a bad man." But again he would reflect, "Here are men of intelligence, men of education, men of a profound acquaintance with human nature, men who have the Old Testament Scriptures as well as I have, men who are accustomed to exercise their reason and judgment in regard to their worldly affairs, and men who, I am sure, do not place implicit confidence in the Christian religion without some strong foundation upon which to base it. What if, after all, I have only examined one side of the question? What if, after all, they should be right and I should be wrong?". These kinds of thoughts he usually dismissed without an effort, as a temptation of the devil, but they would frequently recur again, in spite of himself. On one occasion after preaching to his congregation about the restoration of the people of Israel, his mind became more beclouded than ever, and he felt he did not fully believe all he had told his people. In this state of dissatisfaction and perplexity, he went to his desk and carefully unlocked it, and all the while trembling as if he were about to commit a great crime.
Hidden in that desk was a neatly bound edition of the Old and New Testaments. Years before that time, during the last years of his sojourn in Hungary, a Jewish missionary of the Scottish Church met the Jewish Rabbi in a hotel in Cashaw and persuaded him to purchase the book. He never looked into it. When he came to Quebec and unpacked his books, he found among them his Bible which he thought he had left in Hungary. He took it and locked it up among his private papers, lest his own wife or children, or some of his congregation should find out that he had such a book in his possession. He felt like a guilty person because he did not destroy it at once, but undoubtedly God directed him to preserve it that He might bring about the final result. For now, in the hour of deepest anxiety and doubt, he unlocked his desk, took out the Bible and went into his library, locking the door securely. Then, secure from all interruption and disturbance, he opened the New Testament, and commenced hastily to read a few pages. After a very short time he threw it away in disgust, exclaiming, "This cannot be." Soon, however, he took it up again read a while, and again threw it from him. So he continued for about an hour. At last he became so excited that again taking up the book and reading a while, he threw it on the floor with such violence that several leaves were torn from their places. In a moment he was seized with remorse, and gathering up the loose leaves and placing them in their proper places, he carried the book to its former hiding place and locked it up, firmly resolving never to look into it again.
Evening came, but his mind was so greatly disturbed that he could scarcely perform his routine duties in his synagogue. A sleepless night followed, then another day of anxious, perplexing thought, at last the firm resolution carefully to study the prophets, especially those having reference to the coming of the Messiah.
While engaged in this occupation, a Jewish Rabbi from Jerusalem visited Rabbi Freshman, who at once embraced the opportunity to ask the learned man concerning their Messiah. The poor Rabbi from Jerusalem could not answer the questions, and Rabbi Freshman began to think seriously that there was something wrong with the Jewish belief and that the Christians might be right. He even commenced to speak his thoughts aloud to some members of his congregation, and read the New Testament with great care, notwithstanding all his former resolutions. A pious Christian neighbor, Mr. Hinton, spent hours with the inquiring Jew in conversation about religious topics, but the light did not come. Days and nights he searched the Bible, but conviction came not. He remained torn by doubts, neither believing in the Jewish religion fully nor yet being convinced of the truth of Christianity. He wanted to resign his Rabbiship at once, but his good wife was altogether against it, declaring, "I will never become a Christian."
The Jewish Passover was approaching, and the Rabbi had to prepare a special sermon for the occasion. The text he chose was Gen. 49:10. During the writing of the sermon doubts overcame him so that he determined not to preach it. He called in his wife and told her that he believed in Jesus as the Messiah. She commenced to weep bitterly, and the elder children, learning the state of affairs, joined in with their mother. There was lamentation and mourning, and the Rabbi himself wept. Being unable to endure the sight of misery he had thus brought upon his family, Freshman left his home and repaired to a solitary place beyond the barracks of Quebec. Without human eye to witness his grief and in an agony of soul, he threw himself upon the ground and cried mightily to God. Still, relief did not come, and with a heavy heart he retraced his steps homeward. Without saying a word to his still weeping family, he went into his bedroom where he again prayed and read his Bible.
At last after midnight, he became exhausted, and he fell asleep in his chair. Then he beheld in a dream an image of the Saviour on the cross, and over his head were inscribed the words, "I am thy Saviour." He awoke, firmly resolved to give in his resignation, but again his moral courage failed him and he put it off again.
At last, on the day before the Passover, he once more prayerfully pondered over Gen. 49:10, then read Isaiah 53, and suddenly, became fully convinced that Jesus is the expected Messiah. Without the least hesitation he now wrote out his resignation and sent it to the president of the congregation.
But now the storm burst upon him in all its new fury. His wife and children wanted to celebrate the Passover as usual, while he had no desire to engage in its celebration. The Jews declared that the Rabbi was insane and dangerous, and tempted his wife and children to leave him. His friends forsook and avoided him, and a story that he had received ten thousand dollars for renouncing his faith was circulated. But, worst of all, Mr. Freshman had not yet full light. He believed in Jesus as the Messiah, but knew nothing of justification or saving faith, and had no clear conception of his condition as a sinner in the sight of God, nor of the necessity of a change of heart. His conversion was of the head, but not of the heart. Many ministers and members of churches in Quebec called on him, but the darkness continued.
In this state he continued several weeks; then, while he was listening to a sermon by Rev. Elliott of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, the Spirit of God commenced to operate on his heart, and he wept, although he could hardly tell for what. He again studied his Bible most diligently, commenced to attend churches of different denominations, and prayerfully sought the Lord with all his heart.
One night he was crying to God in deep, earnest prayer and was in greatest agony as he saw himself clearly as a lost sinner, unworthy of anything but condemnation. In very self despair he cried out, "Lord, save me or I perish," and saw no other hope but Christ. At that moment the shadows fled and the burden rolled from his troubled soul. Prayer now gave place to praise, and a marvellous change was wrought in him. He was born again.
Mr. Freshman began at once to show others what God had done for his soul. He commenced with his own family. His wife, though slow of heart to believe, consented to accompany him to church, and the children attended the Sabbath school and read the New Testament, thus imbibing the principles of Christianity. One by one, the members of his family fell in with the doctrines of the cross as revealed by God and taught in the New Testament.
Rabbi Charles Freshman, his wife and seven children, were baptized in the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Quebec. Ministers of other denominations were present and took part in the remarkable exercises, which were witnessed by a vast assemblage of Christians and by some of the members of the Jewish congregation in which Rabbi Freshman had officiated the three years preceding his baptism.
Having spent some time as a lecturer on Jewish subjects, Mr. Freshman was appointed a missionary of the Wesleyan Methodist Church among the Germans in Canada. He was ordained and served the Master faithfully until his death. The congregations which were organized chiefly through his effort were located at Hamilton, Ontario, and in its neighborhood. Many souls were led to Christ through his efforts, among them several Jews.
The Glory of Israel
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Photo of Rabbi Freshman from Google Images confirmed at https://archive.org/stream/cihm_03258#page/n7/mode/2up