DIVINE PROVIDENCE AND TRAGEDY

DIVINE PROVIDENCE AND TRAGEDY

A Sermon by Rev Lawson M. Smith Preached in Westville, South AfricaMarch 10, 1996

“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And not one of them shall fall to the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29-31).

We are grateful to the Lord for all the good things that take place in our lives. Religious people often say of good luck that it’s really the Lord’s providence. But it’s much harder to see how the Lord is taking care of us when misfortune or tragedy strikes someone we love.

We think of natural disasters, such as an earthquake or a volcano. We think of manmade disasters, such as terrorists’ bombs, the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, or the slaughter in Bosnia. We have friends whose spouse or child was killed or maimed in a car accident, or struck down by cancer or some other terrible disease. A person loses his job, and battles to find another, and meanwhile his family suffers great hardship.

Wicked people get away with murder and other terrible injustices. In society, even in families, people are spiteful to each other and hurt each other badly.

We cannot help but ask ourselves sometimes, “Why does God let such things happen?”

In ancient times, people often simply believed that God rules all things, and that they could not expect to know why certain things happened. Many believed that all things, good and bad, came from God.

In the book of Job, for example, we see Job’s terrible suffering as he lost his loved ones, all his wealth, and finally his health. Job saw these tragedies as Divine judgment for his sins and a test of his faith. His comment was, “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

It is so important for us to believe in God, and to believe that He has all power, that the Lord permitted this appearance to be written into the Old Testament: namely, that tragedy and disaster as well as blessings come from Him.

The ancient Israelites needed to believe that Jehovah punished their sins. Otherwise He would have seemed a wimp, not God. They would have felt it didn’t matter whether or not they kept His commandments. But then God came into the world in Person. He revealed Himself to us as our Lord, Jesus Christ. He showed us that He is a God of love, our Heavenly Father, who even feeds the ravens and clothes the grass of the field, and forgives our sins.

God does not send punishments or misfortunes into our lives. But if misfortunes are not Divine punishments, how can we understand them? Besides, what about birth defects and other tragedies that strike infants? Who sinned?

In modern times a rabbi wrote a best-selling book, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. He said, We know tragedies strike good people. We also have the two ideas of God, 1) that He has all power, and 2) that He is loving. But one cannot reconcile both of these ideas with the reality of tragedy. Therefore he chose to give up the idea that God has all power, rather than the idea that God is loving. He suggested that God cares for us, but does not have complete control of events. Things get out of hand, and tragedies occur.

But what is a god who does not have all power? What does that mean? Evil and suffering have been a stumbling-block to many people’s faith. Some people feel driven away from belief in God by bitter experiences, into accepting a godless universe that operates by random chance. In effect, they choose the rabbi’s other option: a god – call it nature – that has all power but does not care or know of individual human lives.

Rather than give up our belief in the Lord, we can try to understand the laws according to which God acts. It may seem strange to think of God acting according to laws. Can’t He do as He chooses? Who could make laws for Him? But we would not think of God acting erratically, doing one thing one day and the opposite another day, merely on whim.

God is the Source of all the wonderful order that we see in the universe. He enables our minds to discover laws of nature, and to work out just laws to govern human society. He is orderliness itself, justice and truth itself, mercy itself. To say that the Lord operates according to laws means that He has a certain purpose or goal in all His actions. Because of His goal, there are certain ways and means which He always follows. Thus there are reasons for what He does which we can understand in some measure, at least in general, if not in particular cases.

The Lord has explained to us the most basic laws according to which He acts so that we can understand and love Him deeply, and defend ourselves against unbelief in times of grief. This book, Divine Providence, includes chapters on five laws of providence, a chapter on the Lord’s goal in creation and in His work with us, and a chapter on His permission of evil and hurtful things. If we believe in God, in this book we can find Him helping us to understand Him.

The Lord’s goal for us is heaven. Heaven is the state in which we love the Lord above all things and we love our neighbors as ourselves. Love must be given freely.

The Lord could force us to behave, out of fear, or He could have created us as robots. But His goal is that we may love Him freely, and choose and want Him to be close to us. Then He can make us happier and happier forever, because we are willing to receive His blessings.

The first law of the Lord’s providence, then, is that human beings must act in freedom, according to what makes sense to them. This implies that people must be allowed not to love but to hate and to hurt. If we are not free to choose evil, neither are we free to choose good. So the Lord always preserves human freedom, even allowing us to do stupid things, to hurt others and to be hurt – but within certain limits.

One of the limits is that we cannot take away another person’s freedom to believe in the Lord and to love Him. One person cannot destroy another’s opportunity to go to heaven. The Lord always guards the spiritual freedom of each one of us. We can help other people believe in the Lord, or we can make it harder for them, but ultimately the choice will be their own.

So the Lord allows no hardship, evil or misfortune which cannot be turned to good. Listen to this passage: “In the other life the Lord permits hellish spirits to lead the good into temptation, consequently to pour in evils and falsities, which they also do as hard as they can. But the Lord is then present with people in temptation, both directly and by means of angels. He resists the hellish spirits by rebutting their falsities and by dissipating their evil, thus giving refreshment, hope, and victory. Thus with people who are in the truths of good, the truths of faith and the goods of charity are implanted more deeply and are confirmed more strongly [as a result of their trials]. This is the means by which spiritual life is bestowed … It must be known that … not one whit [of evil] is permitted [hellish spirits] by the Lord, except to the end that good may come of it, namely, that truth and good may be brought into shape and be strengthened with those who are in temptation. In the universal spiritual world the Lord’s purpose reigns, which is that nothing whatever, not even the least thing, shall arise except that good may come of it” (AC 6574:2,3).

We know some of the benefits that the Lord brings out of unhappy or tragic situations. People confront the nature of evil, and of mankind apart from the Lord. We realize the need to fight injustice in society. The Lord stirs us to act. We face the need for personal change and repentance. Setbacks, such as in business or in health, slow us down in our onward rush to gain material things and pleasures, and give us a chance to re-think our priorities. We gain direct experience of our dependence on the Lord as we realize that we cannot manage without Him. This in turn brings us into a closer relationship with Him than before, allowing us to receive more of His blessings.

The Lord is always thinking of our eternal happiness. While He wants us to be happy all the time, He would never sacrifice our eternal happiness to some short-term pleasure. There are lessons that we cannot learn except through grief because of the selfish and materialistic state of mankind today.

The Lord never causes grief. Hellish spirits are always eager to do that. And sometimes the Lord allows them to cause a limited amount of hurt, because He sees that He will be able,to turn it into a long-lasting strength for the good people going through that trial. In fact the Lord is always, always shielding us from harm, and filling us with good things. Otherwise life would be nothing but miseries from beginning to end.

In times of trouble it seems as though God has forgotten us, or as though He is standing back, waiting to see what we will do. The Writings say that actually the Lord is never closer to us. It’s just that the unhappy state brought on by the hellish spirits around us dims our eyes to the fact that the Lord is carrying us in His arms. He is a very present help in trouble. In the gift of freedom to choose what we love and to pursue our loves, and the ability to think rationally or irrationally, as we choose we see the depth of the Lord’s love for us, and His great wisdom in leading us.

The Lord respects our freedom, because He loves us. He respects it so much that He allows us to get into trouble, and then as far as we are willing, He brings us new strength out of our troubles. He is constantly, though quietly, working with us, encouraging and warning, providing us with circumstances and opportunities to make the spiritual, eternal choices we want to make.

A psalm says, “The footsteps of a [good] man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholds him with His hand” (Psalm 37:23,24) May we come to see the truth of this more and more in our lives. Amen.

Lessons: Matt. 6:25-34; Matt. 10:24-39; DP 70:1,3; 71:heading; 72


Divine Providence

70. It is well known that there is a Divine Providence, but it is not known what its nature is. This is not known because the laws of the Divine Providence are interior truths, hitherto concealed within the wisdom of the angels; but they are now to be revealed in order that what belongs to the Lord may be ascribed to Him, and what does not belong to man may not be ascribed to any man. For very many in the world attribute all things to themselves and their own prudence; and what they cannot so ascribe they call accidental or happening by chance, not knowing that human prudence is nothing and that accidental and happening by chance are empty words.

[3] Since it has been acknowledged in the church that man is unable from himself to do good that is in itself good, and is unable from himself to think truth that is in itself truth, and since these are one with the Divine Providence so that belief in one depends on belief in the other, therefore lest one be affirmed and the other be denied and thus both perish, it must be explicitly revealed what the Divine Providence is. This, however, cannot be revealed unless the laws are disclosed by which the Lord provides and rules the things of man’s will and understanding; for these laws enable man to know the nature of the Divine Providence; and only he who knows its nature can acknowledge it, for in this case he sees it. For this reason the laws of the Divine Providence, hitherto concealed within the wisdom of the angels, are now revealed.

71. (heading)

IT IS A LAW OF THE DIVINE PROVIDENCE THAT MAN SHOULD ACT FROM FREEDOM ACCORDING TO REASON.

72. But as few know that this can be a law of the Divine Providence, chiefly because man has thus freedom also to think evil and falsity, although the Divine Providence is continually leading man to think and to will what is good and true, therefore that this may be clearly perceived it will be set forth distinctly step by step in the following order:

I. A person has reason and freedom, or rationality and liberty, and these two faculties are from the Lord in the person.

II. Whatever a person does from freedom, whether it be of reason or not, provided it is according to his reason, appears to him to be his own.

III. Whatever a person does from freedom according to his thought is appropriated to him as his own, and remains with him.

IV. It is by means of these two faculties (rationality and liberty) that a person is reformed and regenerated by the Lord; and without them he cannot be reformed and regenerated.

V. By means of these two faculties a person can be so far reformed and regenerated as he can be led by means of them to acknowledge that everything true and good that he thinks and does is from the Lord and not from himself.

VI. The conjunction of the Lord with a person, and the reciprocal conjunction of the person with the Lord, are effected by means of these two faculties.

VII. The Lord preserves these two faculties in a person unimpaired and as sacred in every step of His Divine Providence.

VIII. Therefore it is of the Divine Providence that a person should act from freedom according to reason.

THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

A Sermon by Rev. Lawson M. Smith

Preached in Westville, South Africa February 25, 1996

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (Rev. 22:21).

This blessing is the very last thing said in the whole Bible. After everything else, the Lord raises His hands to bless us. The whole point of everything in the Word is that His grace may be with us all.

Let’s picture the Lord blessing the little girl who was baptized today. Each of us was this size once. We may each work toward regaining the simple, humble innocence of a little child. So this applies to us all.

What is the grace of the Lord that He wishes to be with her?

Grace is a seemingly effortless beauty of movement and form. We might picture a ballerina, or a beautiful building, or a kind and tactful manner in relating with other people. These kinds of grace correspond to truth, married to a good love.

Spiritually, grace means having a perception of what is orderly and right, coming from a love of doing the right things. Joseph, the son of Jacob, is a good example. He found grace in the eyes of his master because of his wise and faithful management of the affairs entrusted to him.

Concerning the Lord Himself we read, “And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (Luke 2:40).

The Lord wishes for this little girl that she may grow to be a graceful person, especially in having a love for and a sense of what is the right thing to do.

In the lesson, we read that in the spiritual sense, “grace” means being delighted with truth. Grace is the feeling of joy one has at the discovery or recognition of a truth that is so evidently and beautifully true that we can’t help but smile. Grace is the feeling of security that we are doing something according to conscience, with the Lord’s approval, or in His good graces.

“To those who are in [His] spiritual kingdom,” the Writings say, “the Lord grants that they may be in the affection for truth for truth’s sake. This Divine gift is what is called grace. As far as anyone is in this affection, he or she is in the Lord’s Divine grace, and there is no other grace given to a person, a spirit or an angel, than the grace of being affected by the truth because it is true.”

There is no other grace “since in that affection, they have heaven and all its blessedness.” When a person is in a state of grace spiritually at least in that state he or she doesn’t think of being paid or honored for his understanding of the truth, or of being “right.” And she doesn’t have to force herself to behave. She simply enjoys doing the right sort of things and avoiding wrong things.

When we have this kind of love for following the truth, we learn to act wisely. Acting wisely is the essence of graceful living. The Lord wishes such a free and graceful life for each of us. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory. No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11) .

Another meaning of grace is forgiveness. To treat someone graciously is to overlook any faults and show the person favor. The Lord Himself is infinitely gracious, forgiving and kind, not withholding any good thing from those who will receive and use His gifts wisely.

The Lord wants His grace to be upon us in two ways. First, He wants us to receive His gracious kindness into ourselves. He leads us to forgive others, following His example. Such grace is at the heart of love toward the neighbor. Second, as we learn to act and speak more graciously to others, the Lord is able to show us grace and forgive us our sins. The Lord never holds anything against us. But we often hold things against ourselves. We cling to bad habits, we hold onto grudges against others, we nurse hurts done to us by circumstances and by others. The Lord wants us to give up our bad habits and let Him take them away. With them, He will take away both the guilt and also the interest or lust for such things, and replace them with an aversion to evil and a love of better ways.

So the Lord wishes for this little girl that she may learn to act with kindness and forgiveness toward others, and that she may be willing to be set free from her sins.

As parents, grandparents and friends, we can help the grace of the Lord be with her. First, we can set an example, as best we can, of acting gracefully, walking uprightly, and living so as to receive the Lord’s grace. Especially as children grow older, it is appropriate for parents to acknowledge their sins that affect their children, and to ask for forgiveness. Children can then see what self-examination and repentance are in real life. We parents need to think carefully and develop a lot of self-control to act with grace, kindness and truth toward our children.

At times various levels of rebuke and punishment are necessary. Human beings are born with inclinations to be selfish. The fact that we and our children have these inclinations is not our fault. We should know that they are going to say and do unkind, untrue things from time to time, just as we adults do. When they misbehave, we have an opportunity and a duty to help our children. We can show them what is appropriate and orderly, and why. We can help them learn to govern their natural inclinations, according to the Lord’s Word.

But in meting out punishment, we may let a spirit of revenge creep in. It clouds our judgment of what is fair, and limits our perception of a child s state. Correction is sometimes necessary, but we must try to let the spirit of the Lord’s grace be upon us. This requires regular self-examination and repentance. It is also a great opportunity for mutual discussion between husband and wife as to what is the wisest and most loving way to train a child, so that she may receive the Lord’s grace for herself when she has grown up.

The second way we can help our children is to teach them the stories of the Word, and help them learn them with affection. Grace is delight in the truth. New Church schools are a wonderful supplement in this effort. But there’s no substitute for family worship at home.

A child s most respected and loved adults, the closest image of the Lord to her, are her parents. Her parents’ own love of the stories of the Word goes far deeper than what the school alone can provide. Their commitment to finding time for worship; the attention they focus on their children to help them learn these stories and their recitations; their conversations about life, in relation to the Lord these examples have real power with children, potentially lasting into eternal life.

In the promise of true marriage love, more than anywhere else, we see the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Parents can help their children believe in an eternal marriage and aim for it, asking the Lord for guidance and help.

We can help our children be respectful of marriage and things related to it. We can help our sons and daughters honor the opposite sex. Boys can learn to honor the beauty and grace with which the Lord has created women, the love that inspires men to look outside themselves, to pursue the truth and a life according to it no matter what.

A girl can love to be beautiful not just for her own sake but for others; to provide for a sphere of beauty and grace, a gentle sensitivity to human states and needs, which makes the soul and home of all human endeavors.

The Lord came into the world partly to show us how to be good parents. His goal was to make us free to choose whether or not we will receive His grace and truth. He taught with authority and clarity, perfectly accommodating to our states. He made it possible for us to find delight in the truth again, for He Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He showed that within the strong but sometimes harsh words of the Old Testament law is His spirit of grace and truth. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory … full of grace and truth … And out of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace” (John 1:14,16,17).

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” He came to us as the Bridegroom and Husband of the church. He became the visible God, whom we know and can respond to with love, as a bride to her bridegroom and as a wife to her husband.

As we look to Him together as husbands and wives, and as we provide this example for our children, the Lord will be able to bless us with marriages of grace and truth, of love truly conjugial, in which all His blessings are gathered together. So the sacrament of baptism, the sign of entrance into the Christian Church, is full of a wonderful promise: that we may come to know and acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ as our Redeemer and Savior, and follow Him; thus that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ may be with us all. Amen.


Lessons: Rev. 1:1-8, 22:12-21; AE 22 (part)

Apocalypse Explained 22 (part)

“Grace to you and peace” signifies the delight of truth and good. This is evident from the signification of “grace” as being the delight of truth (about which more presently); and from the signification of “peace” as being the delight of the good of innocence and love (on which see in the work Heaven and Hell, where the state of peace in heaven is treated of, n. 284-290). “Grace” means the delight of truth, because there are two things that proceed from the Lord, united in their origin but separated with those that receive them. For there are those that receive more of the Divine truth than the Divine good, and those that receive more of the Divine good than the Divine truth. Those that receive more of the Divine truth than the Divine good are in the Lord’s spiritual kingdom, and are therefore called spiritual; but those that receive more of the Divine good than the Divine truth are in the Lord’s celestial kingdom, and are therefore called celestial. (On these two kingdoms in heaven and in the church, see in the work Heaven and Hell, n. 20-25.) To those in the spiritual kingdom it is granted by the Lord to be in the affection of truth for the sake of truth; and this Divine is what is called grace; so far, therefore, as any one is in that affection is he in the Lord’s Divine grace; nor is there any other Divine grace with man, spirit, or angel than to be affected by truth because it is truth, since in that affection there is heaven and blessedness for them (see in The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine, n. 232, 236, 235; and Heaven and Hell, 395-414). Whether we say the affection of truth or the delight of truth it is the same; for there is no affection without delight.

This in particular is what is meant by “grace” in the Word; as in John: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt in us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth; of His fullness we all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (1:14,16,17).

It is said “grace and truth” because grace is the affection and the delight of truth. And in Luke, after the Lord had explained in the synagogue the prophesy of Isaiah respecting Himself, that is, the Divine truth, it is said: “All wondered at the words of grace proceeding out of His mouth” (4:22).

The Divine truths that the Lord spoke are called “words of grace proceeding out of His mouth” because they are acceptable, grateful, and delightful. In general, Divine grace is all that is given from the Lord; and as all that is so given has relation to faith and love, and faith is the affection of truth from good, this is meant in particular by Divine grace: for to be gifted with faith and love, or with the affection of truth from good, is to be gifted with heaven, thus with eternal blessedness.

BEARING WITNESS IN SACKCLOTH

 

BEARING WITNESS IN SACKCLOTH
A Sermon by Rev. Lawson M. Smith Preached in Westville, South Africa January 28, 1996

“And I will give [power] to My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth” (Rev. 11:3).

The Lord calls us to be witnesses. He wants us to testify on our own behalf, that is, to make up our minds what we believe and what principles we stand for in our lives. He also wants us to bear witness for other people, to help them believe in Him, and to support them in standing for what is right in the way they live.

These are the two most important things for us to make up our minds about: Do we believe that the Lord is the one God of heaven and earth? Are we willing to discipline ourselves to keep His commandments? These are the two witnesses, and they are inseparable.

We do not believe in the Lord unless we are keeping His commandments. We cannot, in our hearts, live a good life according to the commandments unless we do so for the Lord’s sake, and with prayer for His help.

In order to be a true witness, we must be willing to go through struggles, even persecution, because no one can keep the commandments without a struggle. This struggle is reflected in the story of the two witnesses.

The word for “witness” in the New Testament is “martyr,” someone willing to lay down his life as a witness to the Lord. John saw them slain by the beast out of the pit, and people rejoiced at their death.

The witnesses in the book of Revelation were clothed in sackcloth. In ancient times, sackcloth was a sign of mourning and repentance, especially mourning for the violation of the truth, the Lord’s commandments.

The two witnesses, it is said, prophesied for a thousand two hundred sixty days. This period, three and a half years, represents from the beginning, through the middle, to the end the three years and then to a new beginning the half year.

“Prophesying” means teaching, listening to and obeying the truth. So, put together, these words mean that we must continue to teach ourselves the truth and obey it, right from the beginning through to the end of life and so into a new life, even through sad times when the truth is hard to receive. It represents facing up to unpleasant truths about ourselves, and working on making changes in our habits and attitudes because the Lord says so. It means being willing to make sacrifices, to give up things we enjoy, in order to be faithful in performing the duties of our calling, at work and at home.

Think of the Lord’s own example when He was on earth: He kept on teaching the truth in the face of rejection and terrible persecution, even to being crucified. In so doing He exposed the utterly fallen state of the church at that time. He made it possible for good people to make their own judgments and separate themselves from the corrupt church instead of being dragged down with it. He gave His life to set us free from the domination of hell. And so when He was speaking to His twelve apostles on the eve of His arrest, He warned them that the world would hate them as it had hated Him. He said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). The Lord is here warning us that we have to be prepared to face the world’s hatred. But by “the world” here the Lord mainly means evil lusts that rise up in us from hell. When we struggle to give up worldly, selfish pleasures, such as trying to control others, nursing hatred of someone, fantasizing filthy things, or coveting certain possessions, the hells hate us and fight back. But it feels like a struggle, anxiety and grief totally within us.

The Lord often speaks of the sacrifice involved in following Him: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24,25). “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11,12). So if we find ourselves battling with certain lusts, it is a good sign: we are paying attention to our spiritual health. We are noticing some harmful qualities in our lives and resisting them. The Lord says to us, “Be of good cheer,” or of good courage, “for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Since the Lord overcame the hells Himself, we can win as well, by His power.

The Writings say, “Everyone engages in combat [against his lusts] who believes there is a hell and a heaven, and that heaven is eternal happiness and hell eternal unhappiness; and who believes further that those who do evil go to hell, and those who do good go to heaven” (Life 94). In other words, everyone fights against evil in himself who believes in the Lord and His promise of eternal life. But does it have to be a public matter to be the Lord’s witness? Sometimes the struggle may involve facing the disapproval of others, because we are putting the right thing ahead of the popular thing. For example, we may choose to spend some time with family when we’ve been away a lot, rather than spending extra time at the office, winning approval from our boss or colleagues. Or we might have to disappoint some friends, saying we can’t play sports today because of our other obligations. In some cases, people such as Gandhi have faced severe persecution for putting their beliefs into practice. But for most of us, most of the time the issue will be private, struggling with selfish reactions inside ourselves, and trying to make sure they do not get expressed in ugly ways toward others.

The life of religion does not consist in doing special good deeds, like donating money or volunteering time to good causes, or making speeches, laying out our faith and convictions to others. It might well include such things, but those are not the essentials. We are not to live our lives for show. We are not to shun evils just because they are bad for our reputation, but because they are sins against the Lord. On the other hand, the Lord says, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and may glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). We are created to live with and for others, or as the Lord said, “to bear much fruit,” to lead a useful life. We fight against evils because they are sins against the Lord, but the evils we shun mainly consist in the harm we must not do to others. Our goal is to learn to love one another as the Lord has loved us: This is the main lesson we have to learn in this life.

So as the Lord’s witnesses, we testify both to ourselves and to our neighbors at the same time. Our essential witness is our whole way of life, our words, example and sphere of influence taken together. The doctrine says, “With everyone, Christian charity consists in his performing faithfully the duties of his calling. For in this way, if he shuns evils as sins, he daily does what is good, and is himself his own use in the common body. In this way also the common good is provided for as well as the good of each individual in particular” (Life 114).

Our life makes a statement of the measure of our belief in the Lord and the truth and happiness of a life according to His commandments. We are always bearing witness to others, whether we mean to or not. For example, think of a couple who have been married for a long time. Their life bears witness to the rightness and happiness of making a marriage work. They show that it can be done, by the Lord’s help. The witness of their lives also is a support to the heavens, the Writings say. The strength of their commitment gives strength to the angels, and the peace and contentment of their life together gives the angels joy (see AE 1002).

If we live well, our words will have weight and meaning for others, not because of our own wisdom or virtue, but because they will see that the Lord is with us to that extent. We are not to live our lives for show, but if we shun evils as sins against the Lord and look to Him, then He will teach and lead us each day what to do, and our lives will be of service to others. May our lives be a true witness to the Lord in the way He described: “And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning” (John 15:27). Amen.

Lessons: John 15, Life 92-94, 97


Doctrine of Life 92-94, 97

NO ONE CAN SHUN EVILS AS SINS SO AS TO BE INWARDLY AVERSE TO THEM EXCEPT BY MEANS OF COMBATS AGAINST THEM.

92-94. Everybody knows from the Word and from doctrine drawn from it that the own [proprium] of man is evil from his birth, and that this is the reason why from inborn concupiscence he loves evils and is drawn into them. This is why he desires to have revenge, and to commit fraud, defamation, and adultery. And unless he takes thought that such things are sins, and on this account resists them, he does them whenever an opportunity offers, provided that his reputation and thereby his honors and gains do not suffer. Consider also that unless he has religion the man does these things from delight.

As this own of man constitutes the first root of his life, it is evident what kind of a tree a man would be unless this root were plucked up and a new root planted in its place. He would be a rotted tree, of which it is said that it must be cut down and cast into the fire (Matt. 3:10; 7:19). And this root is not removed and a new one set in its place unless the man regards the evils that constitute the root as injurious to his soul, and on this account desires to rid himself of them. But as these evils belong to man’s own, and are therefore delightful to him, he cannot do this except against his will, with a struggle, and therefore with battling.

Every one does this battling who believes in the existence of hell and of heaven: that heaven is eternal happiness, and hell eternal unhappiness; and that those who do evils go to hell, and those who do goods to heaven. And one who thus fights acts from within, and against the concupiscence itself which constitutes the root of the evil, for one who fights against anything does not will it, and to desire is to will. This shows that the root of evil is not removed except by means of combat.

97. This combat is not severe except in the case of those who have given free rein to their concupiscences, and have indulged them of set purpose, and also in the case of those who have stubbornly cast off the holy things of the Word and of the church. With others it is not severe; let them even once in a week, or twice in a month, resist the evils they are inclined to, and they will perceive a change.

FINANCIAL FAITH (Trusting in the Lord)

FINANCIAL FAITH (Trusting in the Lord)

A Sermon by Rev. Lawson M. Smith Preached in Bryn Athyn February 26, 1995

“He will not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7).

Do you believe in the Lord? Most of us would say, “Yes, of course!” Especially we would say this in conversation, but even lying in bed at night alone, or with our partner fast asleep, if we asked ourselves, “Do I really believe in God?” we would still say in our hearts, “Yes, I do!” It makes sense to believe in the Lord. Life without the Lord is meaningless.

But still we are often afraid of many things: financial hardship, the disapproval of others, sickness, death, crime, moral breakdowns in ourselves or our family members, and so forth. We know that God in His providence permits an awful lot of terrible things to happen. We also might wonder whether we could bear some experiences that God might think would be good for us. So we are often nervous or afraid, which leads to stress, loss of sleep, illness, impatience with others, and other side-effects.

Often it appears that if we bend the Lord’s rules, things will work out better, and we will be more secure than if we play it straight. We know the Lord says not to steal, but if we steal here and there, don’t pay our taxes, etc., we will have that extra cushion. We know the Lord says not to tell lies, but if no one knows, what harm is it? We know the Lord says we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, but sometimes they don’t deserve it; sometimes we need to be disagreeable or stern so that people don’t crowd us too much or interfere with our lives.

Whenever we say to ourselves that actually things will work out better for us if we don’t follow the Lord’s rules too closely, we are really saying that we don’t fully trust the Lord. We treat the Lord like an old grandpa: He’s got some good ideas, but maybe they’re a little old-fashioned, a little extreme in our times. We’ve got to modify His ideas for the real world. Since the Lord is not quite in control of things, or not paying close attention (since so many bad things happen), we have to take matters into our own hands to some extent. Clearly this is not complete faith in the Lord, as the omnipotent God of heaven and earth.

But in the Word the Lord insists that actually He is completely in control, even while He is permitting a limited amount of evil. We must learn to have more and more faith in Him by doing what He says.

Let’s look at a few of the Word’s teachings about material prosperity in relation to trust in the Lord.

The Lord puts the case very strongly in the New Testament, where He says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not the life more than food, and the body than clothing? … Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin … Therefore do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?’ and `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the gentiles seek. For your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things” (Matt. 6:25, 28, 31-34). The Lord’s words here, taken out of the context of other teachings, could be interpreted to mean that we should pay no attention to our food, clothing and shelter. Rather it means that although we must take care of our natural lives, our main focus should always be on the Lord’s providence and life in heaven, for which we are preparing.

The psalms vividly contrast two attitudes, one that trusts in wealth to make us secure and happy, and the other that trusts in the Lord. Psalm 49 shows how short-sighted a person is who focuses on material things as the source of happiness and security. “For [a wise man] sees that clever men die; likewise the fool and the senseless person perish and leave their wealth to others. Their inner thought is that their houses will continue forever, their dwellingplaces to all generations; they call their houses after their own names. Nevertheless man, though in honor, does not remain, … For when he dies, he shall carry nothing away … ” (vv. 10-12, 17). The psalm points out that worldly prosperity brings a man honor temporarily. “Though while he lives he blesses himself (for men will praise you when you do well for yourself), he shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light. Man who is in honor yet does not understand is like the beasts that perish” (vv. 18-20). Jesus put this very plainly in the words, “What is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

Psalm 112 gives a contrasting picture of a person who trusts in the Lord. “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who delights greatly in His commandments … Wealth and riches shall be in his house, and his justice endures forever. Unto the upright there arises light in darkness; he is gracious and full of compassion and just. A good man deals graciously and lends; he will guide his affairs with discretion. He will not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord” (vv. 1, 3-5, 7). This is a beautiful portrait of a man who trusts in the Lord. He lends graciously and compassionately, not hoarding his money as though his happiness depends on it. At the same time, he guides his affairs carefully. And if bad news comes a setback in business or a sudden large expense he does not worry too much, because he trusts in the Lord. The Lord gives him the light of peace and hope even in dark times. We do not have to be wealthy to lend to others graciously, to delight greatly in the Lord’s commandments, and to have a steadfast heart.

The Heavenly Doctrine complements these powerful teachings of the Old and New Testaments. It is not disorderly for a person to make provision for himself and his family and take care for the morrow in that sense. The people who break the commandment against care for the morrow are those who do not trust in the Divine but in their own talents and abilities, and who care only about worldly and earthly things. “With this kind of person, worry about the future, and the lust of possessing all things and controlling everyone, rules their whole lives … They grieve if they do not obtain their desires, and are distressed at the loss of them. They have no consolation, for they are angry at the Divine, which they reject together with everything of faith, and condemn themselves” (AC 8478:2).

We can work on cultivating an attitude of contentment with our own situation. We can accept certain limitations and learn to enjoy life within them, even while we’re working hard. Learning to be content with our lot is a fundamental part of trust in the Lord. Contentment is actually the nearest thing to heavenly joy that we can have in this life! People who are driven by a craving for money and things and vacations and so forth do not have room in their hearts for faith in the Lord. Such a life can never be peaceful, because earthly wealth and status are so fleeting. If that’s what we depend on for happiness, we will always be worried, under pressure.

On the other hand, those who trust in the Divine, although they guide their affairs as prudently as they can, based on their best guesses of what the future will bring, do not let anxiety possess their hearts. “Unruffled is their spirit whether they obtain their desires or not. They do not grieve over the loss of them, and are content with their lot. If they become wealthy, they do not set their hearts on wealth. If they are promoted to honors, they do not regard themselves as more worthy than others. If they become poor, they are not made sad. If they are in humble circumstances, they are not cast down. They know that for those who trust in the Divine, all things make for a happy state to eternity, and that whatever befalls them in time is still conducive to their eternal welfare” (AC 8478:3). What a beautiful life, what peace of mind! We can have this peace. The Lord wants to give it to us. We can work hard, guide our affairs with discretion, and yet set our sights on the Lord’s peace as the source of happiness.

The Writings go further, saying that those who trust in the Lord are continually receiving good from Him. Whatever happens to them, whether it appear prosperous or not, is still good, because it contributes to their eternal happiness. But those who trust in themselves continually bring evil upon themselves. Even prosperous and happy-seeming things are evil to them, and contribute to their eternal misery, because they confirm themselves in the notion that wealth and their own cleverness and hard work create happiness (see AC 8480:3). “The Lord provides for the good, who receive His mercy in time, such things as lead to the happiness of eternal life: riches and honors for those to whom they are not hurtful, and none for those who would be led astray by them. But for good people who would be hurt by worldly prosperity, the Lord provides that they should be gladdened with a few things, and to be more content than the rich and honored thus happier!” (AC 8717:3). What more could we want than happiness from the Lord?

Our problem is that we enjoy the love of the world so much. We enjoy thinking of owning a nice car or a bigger house, having nicer furniture and appliances, nice clothes. We also enjoy claiming control of our lives and credit for our successes. But these loves cause us anxiety, both in success and in failure in success because it’s never enough, but we now have more to lose. We have to choose between the peace of trusting in the Lord, that He will provide everything we need to be truly happy, or the excitement, frustration and anxiety of pursuing and maintaining worldly things. In the end, whatever we love most is what we trust.

The Lord wants us to take responsibility for our lives, to be as prudent as serpents yet as harmless as doves. He wants us to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment yet acknowledge that all goodness is from Him, so we are open to receive more goodness. He wants us to take measures to be safe and secure, but at the same time to realize that in the end, He is the only One who can guarantee our security; and that the security He is most interested in is ours and our loved ones’ eternal safety.

The key ingredients in developing a deep faith in the Lord are: first, to be as scrupulous as we can be in keeping the Lord’s commandments, avoiding evils as far as possible, and serving our neighbors as well as we can; and second, to set our sights on the Lord’s promise of eternal life, even while we are enjoying and/or coping with life in this world as best we can.

“To believe in the Lord is to have confidence that He saves. As no one can have this trust except he who lives a good life, living a good life is also meant by believing in the Lord” (TCR 2:3). As we practice the life of charity, the Lord will show us more and more clearly that we do not need to be afraid of anything or anyone, because He is taking care of us. We will become like the man described in the psalm: “He will not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7). Amen.


Lessons: Psalm 49, AC 8717:3

Arcana Coelestia 8717:3

But this subject falls with difficulty into the idea of any man, and least of all into the idea of those who trust in their own prudence; for they attribute to themselves all things that happen prosperously for them, and the rest they ascribe to fortune, or chance, and few to the Divine Providence. Thus they attribute the things that happen to dead causes and not to the living cause. When things turn out happily they indeed say that it is of God, and even that there is nothing that is not from Him; but few, and scarcely any, at heart believe it. In like manner do those who place all prosperity in worldly and bodily things, namely, in honors and riches, and believe that these alone are Divine blessings; and therefore when they see many of the evil abound in such things, and not so much the good, they reject from their heart and deny the Divine Providence in individual things, not considering that Divine blessing is to be happy to eternity, and that the Lord regards such things as are of brief duration, as relatively are the things of this world, no otherwise than as means to eternal things. Wherefore also the Lord provides for the good, who receive His mercy in time, such things as contribute to the happiness of their eternal life: riches and honors for those to whom they are not hurtful, and no riches and honors for those to whom they would be hurtful. Nevertheless, to these latter He gives in time, in the place of honors and riches, to be glad with a few things, and to be more content than the rich and honored.

Spiritual Frontier – Emanuel Swedenborg

Jesus and Being Nice

Jesus and Being Nice

http://christcenteredteaching.wordpress.com/

Jesus casting out the money changers at the temple

Jesus casting out the money changers at the temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus and Being Nice.

If your goal is to be nice all the time you must look away from injustice.

If your goal is to be popular in the social network, don’t take an unpopular stand or make an unpopular statement.

If you want to be like Jesus, you have to give up on being nice all the time because we live in a fallen and corrupted world.

Part of your time will be spent stating the truth in a pleasant manner that is easy for others to receive.

Sometimes you will need to, “Be angry and sin not”.

Jesus knew the tables of the money changers in the temple needed to be overturned in a way that would dislodge greed that was rooted by those in power.

The guys making the money were there because the religious elite allowed it, who no doubt took their cut of the money too.

Our meek and mild Good Shepherd used a whip on the greedy money changers while He shouted, “My Father said my house shall be a place of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves! “

He wasn’t being very nice, was He?

Was it not because the Good Shepherd was busy driving off wolves?

Courage in the face of taking unpopular stand in an enormously risk laden situation is what made Jesus a Good Shepherd.

And He ultimately laid down His life for His sheep.

Still think you have what it takes to be like Jesus?

Or consider the Apostle Paul in Galatians when the pure truth of the Gospel was threatened by a group from James, the brother of Jesus .

These guys wanted to add a single work of the law to the finished work of Christ’s cross and told the Galatians this as well.

Paul said to the Galatians, “If anyone should bring another gospel than the one you have received, let him be accursed! “

He said a lot more colorful things than that as well, but you should really read it for yourself.

Take a challenge and just count the disproportionate amount of exclamation points and question marks contained in this small book of the Bible.

You will be left thinking the same thing I was.

Paul wasn’t being very nice either was he?

But Paul also wrote the famous Love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13.

Was he out of character?

Not at all.

Consider the precious blood of Christ and what it cost to buy us back from eternal judgement and separation from God.

Love isn’t always nice. But it is always right.

http://christcenteredteaching.wordpress.com/

HOW GOOD ARE THY TENTS: DIVINE ORDER IN THE NATURAL PLANE OF LIFE

HOW GOOD ARE THY TENTS: DIVINE ORDER IN THE NATURAL PLANE OF LIFE

A Sermon by Rev. Lawson M. Smith Preached in Mitchellville, Maryland, December 20, 1987

“How good are thy tents, 0 Jacob! thy dwellings, 0 Israel!” (Numbers 24:5)

These words are a beautiful prophecy of the peaceful state of heaven. The pattern of the camp of the Children of Israel, Divinely ordained on Mount Sinai, is an image of the orderliness of heaven. This heavenly order is the basis for all peace and happiness and protection from the curse of the hells. The Lord was born into the world in order to secure this peaceful order for heaven, and to establish it for the human race on earth as well.

As beautiful as the literal sense is, from the spiritual sense we can appreciate even more deeply the Lord’s love and His purpose in coming into the world. We can therefore resolve more firmly to follow where He leads, so that He may fulfill this prophecy for us.

The Lord caused Balaam to utter these words as he stood on the mountains of Moab overlooking the Children of Israel encamped in the plains of Moab below. Each of the twelve tribes had its place around the tabernacle. The twelve tribes represent the whole church, as to every good of life and every truth of faith, and the marriage of doctrine and life. Each one of us has a somewhat different approach to living a useful life. We have various occupations and various groups of people who count on us in many ways. Each of us has a somewhat different idea of the Lord and what He expects of us in this life. But everyone who is sincere in trying to do what is right according to the Lord’s will is represented in the camp of Israel, and in heaven. The Lord makes the center, drawing all of us into a unity.

Within each person’s life a host of different loves and motives each seeks its place. Some loves are nearer to the Lord, some more remote, and some do not belong in the camp at all. We struggle with the question of how to fit in all the things we would like to do or feel we ought to do, and what to cut out. The Lord wants us to respond to these challenges as if from ourselves, yet only the Lord can teach us how to arrange our priorities and set our lives in order.

In general, He teaches us that eternal things should rule the temporary things of this life, and He guides us to see the greater and lesser degrees of the neighbor to whom we should exercise charity. Judah, or love to the Lord, must be straight ahead, to the east. Reuben, or faith and enlightenment from the Word, should be to the right or the south. Specific applications, represented by the camp of Ephraim, will always be spiritually behind, to the west, in relative obscurity compared to the goals and the principles; yet the more we apply the truth to life, the clearer the truth and the warmer our love will become. And to the north is the camp of Dan, representing the most basic foundation truths on which our whole life rests.

The more carefully we reflect and the more earnestly we pray and try to obey, the more clearly we will perceive how the Lord would have us order our lives, and the greater sense of peace and security we will feel. In this way the Lord sets all the loves of our lives in their proper places, in relation to Himself and in relation to all others (see AR 349, AE 341:1,11- 12, AC 3858, AC 3703).

The camp of Israel was an army, though it included the women and children. The reason Balak, King of Moab, was so frightened of the sons of Israel was that they had just completed a successful campaign against two mighty kings of the Amorites, Sihon and Og, and had utterly destroyed them and taken possession of their land. This display of military power was what induced Balak to call Balaam so urgently to come and curse the Children of Israel.

But the camp of Israel represented the order of heaven itself, the Grand Man. This order comes from the influx of the Lord’s Divine Human with the angels, for the Lord’s Divine, inflowing and received by the angels, is what makes heaven, just as the Lord makes peace and order in our lives. The camp of Israel thus represented the order of creation, the pattern of the universe, reality itself. In the pattern of the camp was an image of the intrinsic, necessary relationships between love and truth, and between higher and lower loves, between the Creator and creation. The spiritual gravity of the Divine love that draws all together toward itself, the source of life, yet allows each one of us to find his own distance from the Creator in freedom, is represented in the arrangement of the various tribes and families around the tabernacle, from the Levites at the center to the last families in the circumferences of the camp.

In such order there is all power, for it is the way things really are. The Lord’s commandments are another expression of such power. They are not arbitrary rules to test our obedience. They are the laws by which men and women become happy or sad, by drawing nearer or withdrawing from the Source of life and happiness. So Balaam described the camp as being like a lion: “There is no sorcery against Jacob, nor is there any divination against Israel. Now it must be said of Jacob and of Israel, ‘Oh, what God has done!’ Look, a people rises like a lioness, and lifts itself up like a lion; it shall not lie down until it devours the prey, and drinks the blood of the slain” (Numbers 23:23,24; cf. Num. 24:8,9; AC 6367:6).

Describing the camp, the Arcana Caelestia comments, “This camp, or this order, is such that it cannot possibly be broken by hell, although hell is in a constant endeavor to break it. Hence also this order, or heaven, is called a [military] ‘camp,’ and the truths and goods, that is, the angels, who are arranged according to this order, are called ‘armies’ [or 'hosts'] … It is this very order, and thus heaven itself, which was represented by the encampment of the sons of Israel in the wilderness, and the dwelling together itself in them according to tribes was called the ‘camp'” (AC 4236:1).

Such an army or heavenly host announced the Lord’s birth to the shepherds on the night the Lord was born. They knew how much they depended on the Savior who had been born to preserve the order and peace among them, which makes the heavenly state. We too depend on the Lord’s order to provide peace and freedom in our lives. The Lord enables us to see when and to what degree we must subordinate our interests and ambitions to the greater neighbor, when to assert our knowledge and skill, and when to defer to someone else. The Lord’s order provides for the greatest usefulness and happiness possible for each person in His kingdom, that is, for everyone willing to be guided by His laws.

Against this order the powers of hell cannot prevail. Think of the example of a man who dedicates himself to living an active, useful life. His mind is thereby limited and circumscribed as within the walls of a camp, and within this focus his mind is progressively coordinated into a form that is truly human. He does not have time or interest for the insanities of scortatory lust, because his mind is focused on the uses of his life. The orderliness of his life is like a wall, protecting him from the hells, whereas people who are idle and slothful have no such restraints and protections (see CL 249, TCR 423).

The tents of Jacob and the dwellings of Israel have a special, celestial connotation. A tent stands for all the doctrine of the church and worship from it. A life according to doctrine is true worship. In particular, tents stand for the holiness of love to the Lord. The reason is that in most ancient times, all who belonged to the church dwelt in tents, which they also took on their journeys. We read, “for at that time, they were mostly feeders of sheep, and the father of the family taught those who were born of his house the precepts of charity, and thence the life of love, in tents, as they later did in temples … And because such was the quality of the church among the most ancient people, and the doctrine of love to the Lord was taught in their tents, … therefore tents were loved by the Lord more than temples. And so by command of the Lord on Mount Sinai, a tabernacle was built in which the Israelitish nation might perform holy worship. And afterwards, [when they had settled in the land of Canaan,] the feast of tabernacles was instituted in memory of the most holy worship in the tabernacles [of the most ancients]” (AE 799:1,2).

In another passage we read, “Because the Most Ancient Church was the Lord’s beloved more than the churches following, and because in those times people used to dwell alone or in their own families, each celebrating holy worship in his own tent, tents were considered more holy than the temple, which had been profaned” (AC 414:4). So Balaam, by the spirit of the Lord, spoke these words: “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced? From the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him; there! a people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations” (Numbers 23:8,9).

Here is an ideal for us today. While we live in the world and serve others as well as we can, nevertheless each family should look to the Lord as of itself, celebrating holy worship at home, with as little regard for the ways of the world as possible. Church societies should not be regarded as a crutch, taking over the place of the family, but as a support for each family in turning to the Lord as a family, strengthening each one’s sense of responsibility, freedom, and love to the Lord. Each family can have a unique, precious way of looking to the Lord and a love for the uses of life that is different from every other family’s. This vision and love are a gift from the Lord to them and to all their neighbors. Let’s encourage each family to cultivate its own special life and worship. Let our fathers be strong in teaching their children the precepts of charity and the life of love, and never allow others to usurp that privilege. The strength of our church, our school, and our country depends on the strength of our homes in looking to the Lord, each one by itself.

The peaceful picture of the tents of Jacob, the dwellings of Israel, the good of life according to truth, is completed by the image of gardens planted in the valleys, with aloes and cedars, well watered. The valleys represent the natural man, the lowest part of our nature, while the gardens represent the intelligence and wisdom of the celestial man, like the garden of Eden, and like the trees of life in the holy city. Gardens have this meaning because a tree corresponds to a man, growing from seed, putting forth limbs, adorning itself with leaves and flowers as a man does with natural and spiritual truths, and finally bearing fruits, as a man does the goods of use (see Coro. 27). Spiritual heat and light make us grow, as natural warmth and light give life to plants (see AR 90). And as trees need water, so too our spiritual life withers away without the understanding of truth. The aloes or sandal trees stand for the life of the natural man, while the lofty cedars stand for rational perceptions, both of which are fed by the streams of Divine truth (see AE 518:12,13).

The Lord was born into the world in order to bring celestial love and wisdom down into even the natural plane of life, and to make the natural plane capable of becoming celestial. In the highest sense the valleys planted with gardens by the river represent the Divine Love and Wisdom in the Lord’s Natural Human nature when it had been glorified. The Lord, by coming into the world, gave us rivers of water, streams of knowledge accommodated to the perception of our natural and rational minds, yet capable of being filled with infinite love and wisdom. Such paradises of peaceful, heavenly life can flourish even in this natural world, as far as we stay within the camp of the Divine order which He teaches us. There we are safe, beyond the reach of the curse of hell.

We sense the peaceful, calm sphere of the Lord’s omnipotent order in the Christmas stories, and we know it even more clearly in the Writings of His second advent. Let us invite the Lord to dwell with us in our homes so that His prophecy may be fulfilled for us: “How good are thy tents, 0 Jacob! thy dwellings, 0 Israel! As the valleys are they planted, as gardens by the river, as the sandal trees which the Lord hath planted, as cedar trees beside the waters” (Numbers 24:5,6) Amen.

Lessons: Numbers 24:1,2,5,6,9b, 10- 17, 25; AC 4236


Arcana Coelestia 4236

And Jacob said when he saw them, This is the camp of God. That this signifies heaven is because the “camp of God” signifies heaven, for the reason that an “army” signifies truths and goods (n. 3448), and truths and goods are marshalled by the Lord in heavenly order; hence an “encamping” denotes a marshalling by armies; and the heavenly order itself which is heaven is the “camp.” This “camp” or order is of such a nature that hell cannot possibly break in upon it, although it is in the constant endeavor to do so. Hence also this order, or heaven, is called a “camp,” and the truths and goods (that is, the angels) who are marshalled in this order are called 44 armies. ” This shows whence it is that the “camp of God” signifies heaven. It is this very order, and thus heaven itself, which was represented by the encampments of the sons of Israel in the wilderness; and their dwelling together in the wilderness according to their tribes was called the dicamp. ” The tabernacle in the midst and around which they encamped represented the Lord Himself. That the sons of Israel encamped in this manner may be seen in Numbers 1: 1-54; 33:2-56 as also that they encamped around the tabernacle by their tribes – toward the east Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; toward the south Reuben, Simeon, and Gad; toward the west Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin; toward the north Dan, Asher, and Naphtali; and the Levites in the middle near the tabernacle (Numbers 2:2-34).

The tribes signified all goods and truths in the complex (n. 3858, 3862, 3926, 3939, 4060). It was for this reason that when Balaam saw Israel dwelling according to their tribes, and the spirit of God came upon him, he uttered his enunciation, saying: “How good are thy tabernacles, 0 Jacob, thy dwelling places, 0 Israel; as the valleys are they planted, as gardens by the river” (Num. 26:5, 6).

That by this prophecy was not meant the people named Jacob and Israel but that it was the heaven of the Lord that was represented is very manifest. For the same reason their marshallings in the wilderness, that is, their encampings by tribes, are called “camps” in other passages of the Word; and by a “camp” is there signified in the internal sense heavenly order; and by “encamping” a marshalling in accordance with this order, namely, the order in which goods and truths are disposed in heaven.

That the “camp of God” denotes heaven may also be seen in Joel: “The earth quaked before Him, the heavens trembled, the sun and the moon were blackened, and the stars withdrew their brightness, and Jehovah uttered His voice before His army, for His camp is exceeding many, for numerous is he that doeth His word” (Joel 2: 10,1 1). In Zechariah: “I will encamp at my house from the army, on account of him who passeth by, and on account of him who goeth away, lest the extortioner should pass over them” (Zech. 9:8). In John: “Gog and Magog went up over the plain of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about and the beloved city; but fire came up from God and consumed them” (Rev. 20:9)

Spiritual Frontier – Emanuel Swedenborg

VISIONS AND DREAMS

VISIONS AND DREAMS

A Sermon by Rev. Lawson M. Smith Preached in Mitchellville, Maryland, January 4, 1987

“And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also on menservants and maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28,29).

It is the beginning of a new year. We seek a vision from the Lord, to show us where we are to go in the days and months ahead. In many areas of life, people speak of “visions” and “dreams”: a vision for a business, financial vision; to have a dream for one’s life; dreams for our marriages, and for our children; a vision for the church. To be a man of vision is a wonderful thing. What is it that we seek when we wish for “vision”? How can we receive it? Let us look at what the Heavenly Doctrine teaches about visions and dreams, and then see what the prophecy of Joel can teach us today.

The Lord taught the people of the Most Ancient Church by dreams and visions. These were their primary means of Divine revelation. Angels came to them in their dreams and showed them delightful paradisal gardens and many other things, and at the same time taught them what these dreams meant. Through such visions and dreams, the Most Ancient people learned the most fundamental truths, such as that all life and all goodness and truth are from the Lord alone and none from man. Having been given to understand these fundamentals, from their love to the Lord they perceived countless applications to their lives.

Later, men turned away from the Lord and closed their open communication with heaven. Then the Lord sent an angel to certain people to teach them about Himself and the life after death. The Lord filled an angel with His presence, so that the angel could represent Him to men and speak from the Divine, not from himself. The angel of the Lord came to men in visions during the day, in dreams at night, or sometimes simply spoke to them without being seen. The men to whom the Lord granted visions and dreams then taught others what the Lord had taught them. They were prophets, spokesmen for the Lord. Through them the Lord wrote the Ancient Word and then the Old Testament. The written Word began to be an important means of Divine revelation, though as yet few could read, and the Word was still transmitted mainly by oral tradition.

In Old Testament times the Lord appeared by means of angels to Abraham, Joshua, Gideon and others. The Writings point out that such visions took place by the opening of people’s spiritual eyes, not by their natural eyesight, for the subjects of the visions were in the spiritual world.

Dreams are an important part of the stories of Joseph and Daniel. The Lord used dreams to show them what He was going to do. The Lord also spoke to Solomon twice in dreams, and Solomon also answered the Lord in his dreams.

Later on in Israel’s history, the Lord gave some of the prophets remarkable visions, especially Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah, and later the apostle John, who wrote the Apocalypse. But these visions, along with many other things revealed through the prophets, can scarcely be understood, even in our day, without the help of the Writings. Relatively few people were given visions, and the Lord sent prophets infrequently. Compared to the days of the Most Ancient Church, few people were in a suitable state to accept revelation from the Lord. In Samuel’s day it is said, “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no open vision” (I Samuel 3:1).

Having a vision of what we should do with our lives is very important. But sometimes the word of the Lord seems to come to us rarely, if at all. Then some people will seek visions by other ways than from the Lord.

For example, when the Lord refused to speak to King Saul, Saul turned to a witch or medium to contact Samuel, then deceased. But the law of Moses strictly forbids necromancy and witchcraft: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” a law which even in our day, the Writings say, is altogether to be observed and done (see Exodus 22:18; AC 9349). So Isaiah warned the people, “And when they say to you, `Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? [Go] to the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (8:19,20). This is good advice for us too. It is always unprofitable in the long run to seek guidance by a means which is not according to the Lord’s law, because there is no other source of light and vision than the Lord.

So the Old Testament warns the people to be on guard against false prophets, and to test their words by seeing whether they come true (see Deut.13:1-5). In the days when Jerusalem was under the Babylonian siege, the Lord through Jeremiah commanded the people to surrender, and then they would be well treated in Babylon. But false prophets arose claiming to have been told that there would be peace in the land again soon. Jeremiah urged the people, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: `Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. … They speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the Lord. … I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, “I have dreamed; I have dreamed!” … Indeed, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal'” (23:16, 25-27). The people, sadly, followed the advice of the false prophets, but the word given through Jeremiah came true.

The Lord Himself came into the world when almost all spiritual light and vision had been cut off. He came to bring light to those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, so that we could see a true vision of our God. He did away with the need for representations of Himself through the angel of the Lord. In the Lord’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus, now an angel, to warn his brothers; but in Jesus’ words, Abraham says, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

The Writings cite this parable in explaining the law of the Divine Providence that men must not be compelled in the things of religion. “No one is reformed by visions and dreams,” we read, “because they compel” (DP 134). That is, they compel an outward, temporary, grudging acknowledgment that fades away with time, and leaves a man no better than before. Therefore the Lord does not make use of conversations with the dead to teach us today. This is not the kind of vision we should seek.

Speech with spirits is still possible, and it would not be harmful with those who are regenerate and established in a true faith based in a life of charity. But spirits do not try to teach people anything, but only speak a few words. In general, spirits speak only out of the things in the person’s own memory, and tend to reflect our own states of mind, or what a part of us wants to hear them say, whereas the written Word is an objective standard.

Some people have criticized Swedenborg as violating the Lord’s warning against conversations with the dead. Many others have been attracted to him merely as, in their eyes, a successful spiritist. But several things set Swedenborg apart from spiritists. First, he never sought contact with the other world. The Lord opened his spiritual eyes in order to reveal things to mankind which could not be made known in any other way, as He opened the eyes of the apostle John and other prophets. Second, all of the Writings rest firmly in the Old and New Testaments. Third, Swedenborg never tried to draw attention to himself. Even the Writings themselves were published anonymously until the last two works, when their authorship was already generally known. Instead, the Heavenly Doctrine always leads us to the Lord.

The Writings say there are several false kinds of visions. There are delusions induced by spirits, affecting our natural sight of things in this world. People who are not strong-minded are prone to this kind of vision. Another kind of vision is inspired by fanatical spirits who believe themselves filled with the Holy Spirit. They insist that what they teach must be believed.

All evil spirits see in a false light. An evil spirit is nothing but a collection of lusts and the fantasies of his lusts. He imagines that what is good is bad, and that what is bad is good; he takes delight in filthy and wicked things, and believes these will make him happy. In hell, one spirit miserably torments another by delusions. They also torment us on earth, inspiring similar fantasies in us, such as the feeling that “only if” I can have or do some selfish thing will I be happy.

On the other hand, when a person has a genuine vision, he actually sees things that really exist in the other life. He sees in the light of heaven from the Lord. The things of the heavens all represent the one and only reality in the Lord (see AC 1966ff). Even though today the Lord does not give us visions and dreams involving the opening of our spiritual eyes, He still does give us spiritual light to distinguish what is real and eternal from what is delusive and fleeting, if we sincerely look to Him for enlightenment.

The prophecy of Joel really looks forward to the New Church. In its spiritual sense, it shows us how we can receive vision from the Lord. The prophecy begins with the devastation of the land of Israel by locusts and invading armies. The Lord through Joel explains the reason these disasters have occurred: Israel has been unfaithful. Then comes a beautiful, clear call to repentance: “`Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, `turn to Me with all your heart … Rend your heart and not your garments'” (2:12,13). The beginning of every true state of the church, or the way to prepare for every gift from the Lord, is to repent of evils that we aware of.

But then the Lord promises to drive Israel’s enemies away, and to bless her with the former and latter rain, so that the crops bring forth abundantly. Then comes the text: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also on menservants and maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28,29).

This describes a state in which we are being regenerated. The Lord pours out His Spirit or breath upon us, the breath of life, when we are ready to receive His Holy Spirit. “Upon all flesh” means upon all mankind. In the spiritual sense, “flesh” means all human states, particularly states oriented to bodily and worldly things, which need to be reformed and regenerated by the Spirit of the Lord. The individual groups sons and daughters, old and young, and servants stand for each of the levels of our minds and hearts in which we need to receive the Lord, in order to see Him clearly. “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5; AC 574).

The Lord pours out His spirit upon us by teaching and enlightening us in truths. A man who is being regenerated then “prophesies,” that is, he understands so clearly that he could teach these truths to others. We prophesy to ourselves when from the rational level of our minds we form an idea of what the Lord is saying to us and how we should act, and then tell ourselves that this is how we are going to act.

Sons and daughters are both mentioned, standing for the understanding and the will. The Writings say that our state of enlightenment depends on the state of our minds as formed by doctrinal teachings from the Word, signified by the sons. The more clearly we have the teachings of the Word in our minds, from current, regular reading of the Word, the more clearly the Lord can enlighten us. Faith is perfected by the number and coherence of truths. We can picture a chandelier: the more lights and prisms, the more bright and beautiful a light it will give. There is no substitute for a clear knowledge and understanding of the facts of Divine revelation.

Enlightenment and vision also depend on the disposition of our will, represented by the daughters. For example, we need to be willing to face a vision that calls us to repentance, not just cries of “Peace, peace” when there is no peace.

Each person is different from every other, both in his knowledge of the Word and experience, and in his love’s interests. Accordingly there is a variety of vision as to the uses of life. This variety perfects society as a whole, as long as each man’s vision comes from the Lord.

The old men, who will dream dreams, stand for the gentle, peaceful wisdom of old age, the interior sight that comes from a lifetime of following the Lord. The most ancients received their instruction in dreams. The young men’s visions represent intelligence and an interest in understanding the Word rightly. The men of the Ancient Church received revelation through visions. It is good for us to recognize and value the contributions that each state of life can bring to the church.

The male and female servants stand for rational and natural truths, with their affections. Natural truths are facts, and rational truths are concepts formed from them. Such facts and concepts are servants to visions of spiritual things and dreams of celestial wisdom. When we set our knowledge and our interest in information in subordination to the uses of life rather than making it an end in itself, then the spirit of the Lord is poured out even upon the menservants and maidservants with us.

From this prophecy through Joel the Lord is showing us how we can receive His spirit of regeneration in our lives, and so be blessed with dreams and visions of the goals to which the Lord is leading us. What we really want is a vision of the Lord so that we can cooperate with Him in His purposes. The Lord is always offering us such a vision, as light is always streaming from the sun, but we receive it according to our state. Our vision is always very limited. We don’t see where Divine Providence is leading us; we only glimpse a little of what the Lord hopes and intends for us. But what we can see is enough for us to advance into clearer and clearer light. Our source of vision is the Lord in His Word. If we read the Word, and think about its application to life in whatever uses we seek guidance whether our careers, our marriages, our families, or our church and if we act on what we see with courage and zeal, then the Lord will be able to guide us into the right paths, and into greater light. The prophecy of Joel will be fulfilled: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also on menservants and maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28,29). Amen.


Lessons: Joel 2:12-32; Matthew 2:1-12; AR 224:1-4e

Apocalypse Revealed 224:1-4e

I saw an assembly of spirits, all upon their knees, praying to God to send angels to them, that they might converse with them face to face, and open to them the thoughts of their hearts. And when they arose, there appeared three angels in fine linen, standing before them, and they said, “The Lord Jesus Christ has heard your prayers, and has therefore sent us to you; open unto us the thoughts of your hearts.” And they answered, “We have been told by our priests that in matters of a theological nature the understanding avails nothing, but only faith, and that in such things intellectual faith is of no service to anyone, because it is derived from man. We are Englishmen, and have heard many things from our sacred ministry which we believed; but when we have conversed with others, who also called themselves the Reformed, and with others who called themselves the Roman Catholics, and likewise with sectaries, they all appeared to us learned, and yet in many things one did not agree with another, and still they all said, `Believe us'; and some of them, `We are God’s ministers, and know.’ But as we know that the Divine truths, which are called truths of faith, and which appertain to the church, are not derived to anyone from his native soil, nor by inheritance, but out of heaven from God; and as these show the way to heaven, and enter into the life together with the good of charity, and so lead to eternal life, we became anxious, and prayed to God upon our knees.” Then the angels answered, “Read the Word, and believe in the Lord, and you will see the truths which should constitute your faith and life; for all in the Christian world draw their doctrinals from the Word as from the only fountain.” But two of the company said, “We have read, but did not understand.” And the angels replied, “You did not approach the Lord, and you have also confirmed yourselves in falsities”; and the angels said further, “What is faith without light, and what signifies thinking without understanding? this is not human; even magpies and ravens can learn to speak without understanding. We can affirm to you that every man whose soul desires it is capable of seeing the truths of the Word in the light; there does not exist an animal that does not know the food proper to its life when it sees it, and man is a rational and spiritual animal, who sees the food of his life, not that of his body but of his soul, which is the truth of faith, provided indeed he hungers after it and seeks it from the Lord; whatsoever is not received also in the understanding is not fixed in the memory in reality but only verbally; therefore, when we have looked down out of heaven into the world, we have not seen anything, but have only heard sounds that are for the most part dissonant. But we will enumerate some things which the learned among the clergy have removed from the understanding, not knowing that there are two ways to the understanding: one from the world and the other from heaven, and that the Lord withdraws the understanding from the world when He enlightens it; but if the understanding be closed by religion, the way into it from heaven is closed, and then man sees no more in the Word than a blind person. We have seen many such fall into pits, out of which they have never risen again. Examples must serve for illustration: are you not able to understand what charity is and what faith is? that charity consists in doing well by your neighbor, and that faith consists in thinking well of God and of the essentials of the church, and therefore that he who does well and thinks well, that is, who lives well and believes well, is saved?” … And then they solicited the angels to give them further information, and especially concerning God, the immortality of the soul, regeneration and baptism. To this the angels replied, “We will not say anything but what you can understand; otherwise our discourse will fall like rain upon sand, and upon seeds therein, which although watered from heaven, still wither and perish.” Concerning God they said, “All who come into heaven have their place allotted them there, and thence eternal joy, according to their idea of God, because this idea reigns universally in every particular of worship. The idea of an invisible God is not determined to anyone, nor does it terminate in any; therefore it ceases and perishes …

Concerning Regeneration: “Who does not see that everyone is at liberty to think of God or not to think of Him, provided he be instructed that there is a God; so that everyone has liberty in spiritual things, equally as in things civil and moral; the Lord gives this liberty to all continually, for which reason he becomes guilty if he does not think of God. Man is man from this ability, but a beast is a beast from not having this ability; therefore man can reform and regenerate himself as from himself, provided he acknowledges in heart that it is from the Lord. Everyone who does the work of repentance and believes in the Lord is reformed and regenerated. Man must do both as from himself, but this as-from-himself is from the Lord …

Concerning baptism, they said that it is spiritual washing, which is reformation and regeneration; and that an infant is reformed and regenerated when, on becoming an adult, he does the things which his sponsors promised for him, which are two, repentance and faith in God; for they promise first that he shall renounce the devil and all his works; and second, that he shall believe in God. All infants in heaven are initiated into these two, but to them the devil is hell, and God is the Lord. Moreover, baptism is a sign before the angels that a man is of the church.” On hearing these things, some of the assembly said, “This we understand.” But a voice was heard from one side, exclaiming, “We do not understand”; and another voice, “We will not understand”; and inquiry was made from whence these voices proceeded, and it was found that they came from those who had confirmed themselves in falsities of faith, and who wished to be believed as oracles, and thus to be adored. The angels said, “Be not surprised: there are very many such at this day; they appear to us from heaven like graven images, made with such art as to be able to move the lips and utter sounds like organs, but without knowing whether the breath, by means of which they utter these sounds, comes from hell or from heaven, because they do not know whether a thing be false or true. They reason and reason; they confirm and confirm, nor do they ever see whether it is so. But know that human ingenuity can confirm whatsoever one wishes, even until it appears to be so; therefore heretics and impious persons, yea atheists, can confirm that there is no God, but nature only” …

And after the angels had taught them something concerning correspondence and its effect, some of the company said, “Now for the first time we understand.” And when they said, “We understand,” behold a flame with light descending from heaven consociated them with the angels, and they loved one another.

Spiritual Frontier – Emanuel Swedenborg

BLESSING

BLESSING (A Thanksgiving Sermon)
A Sermon by Rev. Lawson M. Smith
Preached in Mitchellville, Maryland, October 27, 1978

“Bless the Lord, 0 my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:2).

In ancient times, when something wonderful happened, it was customary to say, “Blessed be the Lord” in grateful recognition that the Lord is Blessing Itself and the source of all blessings with everyone (see AC 1096, 2486). People spoke in this way to ascribe all good to the Lord and take no credit for themselves. Also, they wanted to speak from the Divine, or from the Lord’s point of view, and not from themselves (see AE 465). Instead of saying, perhaps, “O Lord, I am so grateful for Your great blessings,” they would simply say, “Blessed be the Lord,” or as in Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord, 0 my soul.” In this way they gave thanks and at the same time prayed that the Lord would continue to bless them, or that they would rightly receive the blessings which the Lord offers (see AC 1096, AR 289).

We receive the Lord’s blessing when we acknowledge from a grateful heart that “the Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9), rather than feeling that we deserve the blessings we have and that we bless ourselves by our works. “A man can receive nothing unless it is given him from heaven,” neither the bread that satisfies his mouth nor the love that makes his life. When we believe this universal truth and turn to the Lord for all His benefits, then the Lord blesses us with contentment in our lot whatever it may be in worldly terms, and fills our natural blessings with the eternal blessings of heaven. At the harvest time of the year and at the harvest time of each day when we sit down to eat together with our families, it is good for us to say, “Bless the Lord, 0 my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (text).

What are the Lord’s benefits that we should not forget? “Blessing,” we read, “involves each and all things which are from the Lord, both good and true, thus celestial, spiritual, natural, worldly and bodily things” (AC 1422:1). We give thanks for the food we eat, for our nice things, for the favor and love of our families, our friends and our neighbors. We are grateful to the Lord for the order, freedom, and prosperity of our country. But for these external things to be a blessing we must also receive the Lord’s celestial and spiritual blessings within them, the affection of good or of being useful and the affection of truth. Of all the Lord’s blessings toward us, the most important are the ability to be useful to other people, and the Word, where He teaches us how.

To be useful is to communicate to others the goods and truths, the blessings and happiness, that we have received from the Lord. This sharing is an image of the Lord’s Divine love, which loves to bless others from itself. “The essence of love is to will to communicate all its good to another” (CL 335:2). The fulfillment of the Divine love is seen in the eternal life received by the angels, which is blessedness,, happiness and felicity without end. This the Lord gives to those who receive His love into themselves, namely, the love of being useful to other people (see TCR 43).

So our eternal happiness comes from the ability to bless others as if from ourselves. Everyone who is in the life of heaven “from inmost affection communicates his own blessedness and happiness to others,” we read, “and it is his blessedness and happiness that he is able to communicate it; and as the universal heaven is of this nature, each angel is a center of blessings and happiness to all, and all together are so to each one” (AC 2872 — emphasis added).

This communication with others is by means of uses (see CL 266:3). When parents teach their children the goods and truths, the ways of life and the ideals that have blessed their own lives in the hope that their children may be happy to eternity, the communication of the use is obvious. But there is a communication of goods and truths whenever anyone from religion acts justly, sincerely, and faithfully in his office or employment, or with anyone with whom he has any dealings (see TCR 423-4). He serves his neighbors, he contributes to the common good, and others draw inspiration from the Lord through his example.

To be of use from the Lord is what is meant in the Word by bringing forth fruit. The ability to be fruitful from the Lord is the fruitfulness that we celebrate with Thanksgiving. For the love of good and truth and the uses that we perform from them are the heavenly and spiritual blessings which make all the rest of our life to be a blessing.

When the word “blessing” occurs in the Word, it signifies in the inmost sense “eternity”; in the internal sense, the happiness of eternal life; and in the external sense, the delight of the affections (see AC 3938:1). The delights of worldly and bodily affections are blessings when they contribute to our eternal happiness. The blessing of eternal life is the only real blessing because it is eternal and is conjoined with every kind of happiness, and is the very esse, the being or reality of blessing. “For what really is unless it is eternal? Everything else ceases to be” (AC 1096:1). “For the wind passes over it and it is gone; and its place shall remember it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear Him…” (Psalm 103:16-7). We are inclined to think of our place in society and our material welfare as the most real blessings. But the Writings say, “Honors and wealth are blessings and they are curses …. Dignities and riches were blessings in the world with those who are in heaven, while they were curses with those who are now in hell … [T]hey are blessings with those who do not set their heart on them…. Not to set the heart on them is to love uses and not oneself in them. … When dignities and honors are blessings, they are spiritual and eternal, but when they are curses they are temporal and fleeting. … Honors and wealth that are curses in comparison with those that are blessings are as nothing compared to everything, or as that which in itself has no existence compared with that which has existence” (DP 217). So the Lord said, “What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

We can perhaps best illustrate that eternal life is the essence of blessing by the example of marriage, for all the blessings of life from the Lord are gathered into conjugial love (see CL 68:2). Those who are in truly conjugial love look to the eternal in marriage because there is eternity in that love, from the fact that the love with the wife and the wisdom with the husband increase to eternity. In this increase of progression the married partners enter more and more deeply into the blessings of heaven which their wisdom and its love store up within them. Husbands and wives, united as wisdom and its love, think and breathe what is eternal, and on eternity their happiness is founded (see CL 216a, 321). All true blessings are eternal.

So the psalm of our text is addressed to the “soul” and to all that is “within us.” The blessedness of the heavenly and eternal affections is a blessing of the soul or spirit itself, which lives to eternity. The affections of good and truth flow in by an inward way, and penetrate down toward the body so far as the delights of natural and sensual loves do not stand in the way. “This blessedness does not exist at all with those who are in the delight of the love of self and of the world, for these loves are entirely opposite” (AC 6408:1).

So the first of the Lord’s benefits of which the psalm reminds us is that the Lord forgives our iniquities and heals our diseases (Psalm 103, verse 3). This is the first blessing because falsities and evils have to be removed before the Lord can crown us with His lovingkindness and tender mercies (verse 4). If we have our hearts set on the honors of the world and its riches rather than on the uses we can perform for other people, we do not see the Lord’s blessings as blessings at all, and we turn away from them. Inwardly we do not even believe that our life and sustenance is from Him.

Everyone begins in this kind of life. But the Lord does not deal with us according to our sins nor reward us according to our iniquities, for as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who learn to fear Him (verses 10, 11). He redeems us from the “pit” of selfishness. The Lord does this Himself out of pure mercy, not from any righteousness of ours, though we have to fight against evils as if of ourselves. By regeneration the Lord gradually removes the loves of self and the world, until they are so far removed that in heaven they never trouble us to eternity. “As far as the east is from the west so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (verse 12).

When a man’s bodily and worldly delights have been reduced to obedience so that he no longer seeks them as an end in themselves but as a use which serves heavenly delight, then the angels can be with him in both his heavenly and his worldly delights. But then his delights become blessedness, and finally happiness in the other life (see AC 3928:1). For example, the Writings point out that the first love of marriage partakes of the love of the opposite sex, a love belonging to the body and from it to the spirit. This love does not conjoin a husband and wife, nor endure, as a love of the spirit does. But spiritual love is gradually insinuated into the souls and minds of the married partners together with friendship and confidence. This takes place as each of them approaches the Lord and shuns the evils of selfishness as sins against Him, and as hurtful to their partner and to their marriage. When spiritual friendship and confidence conjoin themselves to the first love of marriage, it becomes conjugial. We read, “this opens the breasts and breathes into them the sweetnesses of love, doing this more and more deeply as friendship and confidence adjoin themselves to the primitive love, and the love enters into them and they into it” (CL 162).

In the beginning we have to act from self-compulsion, from the knowledge of the Lord’s commandments and the fear of the Lord. We think of the promise of His blessings mainly in terms of natural delights. We act from knowledge of truth and obedience, which is not a truly blessed state (see AC 3203:2). “After death,” we read, “man has blessedness not from truth but from the good which is in truth. Hence he is the more blessed and happy in proportion to the amount of good in the truth” (AC 2434). In the psalm the “mouth” signifies our thought, knowledge, and obedience to truth. When we obey, gradually the Lord infills our obedience with delight in what is good for its own sake (see AC 2434). This is what is meant by the words “The Lord satisfies your mouth with good.” The Lord infills our obedience with innocence, the willingness to obey so that our spiritual childhood (or youth) is renewed (see AC 5236:5) but now in intelligence and wisdom. This intelligence is represented by the eagle (see AR 244, AE 281:4). “The Lord satisfies your mouth with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (verse 5).

The Lord executes justice and judgment for all who realize that they are oppressed and turn to Him for help (verse 6). Without Divine revelation we would know nothing of the life after death, nor of the Lord our God and His eternal purpose in creating us (see SS 116). We would not realize that we can rise above natural self-love to the love of use, to the love of serving the Lord and the neighbor. But in the Word the Lord shows us that we are created for eternal life, a life higher than the mere pursuit of worldly and bodily pleasure. The Lord has made known His ways to Moses, who represents the Word, and through the Word He reveals His acts to the sons of Israel, the people of the church (verse 7). We read, “Wherefore let him who would be eternally happy know and believe that he will live after death. Let him think of this and keep it in mind, for it is the truth. Let him also know and believe that the Word is the only doctrine which teaches how a man must live in the world in order to be happy to eternity” (AC 8939e). Thus the Word, and the ability to be of use now and forever are the greatest of the Lord’s blessings. “Bless the Lord, 0 my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (text). Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 103, 145, AC 8939

Arcana Coelestia

8939 I will come unto thee and I will bless thee. That this signifies the presence of the Divine then, and influx, is evident from the signification of “coming into” anyone, when it is said by Jehovah, as being presence, thus also their flowing in, for faith and charity flow in from the Lord with man. These things are “a blessing” in the internal sense for they are what render man blessed and happy to eternity. During man’s life in the world the things which he calls blessings are those which render him blessed and happy in time, such as riches and honors. But the things which are meant in the internal sense of the Word are not temporal things but eternal things compared with which temporal things are of no account. For there is no ratio between what is temporal and what is eternal, not even if the time be extended to thousands or myriads of years, for these have an end but that which is eternal has no end. Wherefore that which is eternal is, for that which is without end is, because it has being from the Divine, which is infinite, and the infinite as to time is the eternal. But that which is temporal relatively is not, because when it is ended it is no more. Hence also it is plain that “blessing” in the spiritual sense is that which has within it being from the Divine, thus the things of eternal life, consequently those which are of charity and faith.

That worldly blessing is nothing in comparison with heavenly blessing, which is eternal, the Lord thus teaches in Matthew: “What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul?” (16:26). But the man who is in worldly and earthly things does not apprehend this saying, for worldly and earthly things suffocate it and cause him not even to believe that there is an eternal life. And yet I can asseverate that as soon as a man dies he is in the other life and lives as a spirit among spirits, and that he then appears to himself and to others in that life in all respects like a man in the world, endowed with every sense internal and external; consequently that the death of the body is only the casting off of such things as had served for use and service in the world; and moreover, that death itself is a continuation of life but in another world, which is invisible to the eyes of the earthly body yet is there seen in a light exceeding a thousand times the midday light of the world.

As I know this from the living experience of so many years, which is still continued, I solemnly declare it. I still speak, and I have spoken, with almost all whom I had known in the world and who are dead, with some after two or three days from their decease. Very many of them were exceedingly indignant that they had not believed at all in a life which was to continue after death. I have spoken with them not merely for a day but for months and years; and it has also been given me to see their states of life in succession, or in progress, either to hell or to heaven. Wherefore let him who wishes to be eternally happy know and believe that he will live after death. Let him think of this and keep it in mind, for it is the truth. Let him also know and believe that the Word is the only doctrine which teaches how a man must live in the world in order to be happy to eternity.

EVANGELIZATION

EVANGELIZATION
A Sermon by Rev. Terry Schnarr
August 11, 1997 (Cataloged)

“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb … And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:1,2).

“`The leaves of the tree [which] are for the healing of the nations’ are the rational truths [from the Lord with a person], by which those people who are in evils and thence in falsities are led to think soundly, and to live becomingly … [Furthermore], those people who are in evils and thence in falsities cannot be healed by the Word, because they do not read it. But if they have sound judgment they can be healed by rational truths … Rational truths are those which more closely [proximately] receive spiritual truths, for the rational of a person is the first receptacle of spiritual truths” (AR 936).

What is evangelization? “Evangelization is annunciation concerning the Lord, His Advent, and concerning the things which are from Him, which belong to salvation and eternal life” (AC 9925:2). “By `declaring’ [evangelizing] is signified to announce the Lord’s advent and His kingdom” (AR 478).

The first two verses of chapter 22 of the book of Revelation describe the intelligence of the people of the Lord’s New Church, intelligence which is from Divine truths. We are invited by the Lord to enter into this intelligence, to see with the eyes of our understanding the river of water of life. “The Apocalypse [book of Revelation] is now opened and explained as to its spiritual sense. Now, Divine truths in abundance are revealed by the Lord, for those people who will be in His New Church, which is the New Jerusalem” (AR 932).

We are commanded to share this intelligence with other people: “Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations” (Isaiah 2:3,4).

Jesus said, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21). “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). “Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19,20). “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19), which we are taught in the Apocalypse Explained means “to gather people into the church” (AE 513:15).

Concerning “the annunciation of the Lord’s Advent, and of the New Church about to come down out of heaven from Him,” we read in the Apocalypse Revealed, “It is to be announced to all who from religion are in goods, and from doctrine in truths” (AR 626).

Furthermore, we read, “The principal reason [why the Lord was born on this earth] was for the sake of the Word, in that it could be written on our earth, and when written could then be published throughout the whole earth” (AC 9351). “[The art of writing and publishing] has been provided by the Lord for the sake of the Word. That the Word could afterward be published throughout this whole earth is because here there is an intercourse of all nations, both by overland travel and by navigation to all places on the globe. Therefore the Word once written could be carried from one nation to another, and could be everywhere taught” (AC 9353-6).

The prophesies of the New Jerusalem in the Word tell us what to expect: “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habb. 2:14). “Behold, with the clouds of the heavens one like the Son of man came and even to the Ancient of Days; and there was given Him dominion, and glory, and the kingdom; and all peoples, nations, and languages shall worship Him; His dominion is the dominion of an age, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not perish” (Daniel 7:13,14).

People who are in the New Church, meant by the Holy City New Jerusalem, are in the river of water of life, that is, they are in the stream of Providence, the stream of love and wisdom proceeding from the Lord, which is the Holy Spirit. In the words of the Apocalypse Revealed, “In the inmosts of the truths of doctrine and thence of life in the New Church is the Lord in His Divine love. From Him all the goods flow forth, which people do apparently as of themselves” (AR 933,934).

How this influx affects them is described in the Arcana Coelestia: “The influx which is from the Lord is the good of heavenly love, thus of love toward the neighbor. The Lord is present in this love, for He loves the universal human race, and desires to eternally save every member of it” (AC 6495). Moreover, “whatever inflows from the Lord is an end which regards the salvation of the human race” (AC 4054).

People in the New Jerusalem receive an influx of love toward their neighbors, a love and care for their eternal salvation. When acting from this love, these people experience spiritual growth in their own regeneration in addition to helping their neighbors with their regeneration. When one person extends himself to reach out to help another, they both grow.

“`If you shall draw out your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, your light shall arise in darkness and your thick darkness be as the noonday'” (Isaiah 58:10). This describes charity toward the neighbor, here toward those who are in ignorance but at the same time in a desire to know truths, and in grief on account of the falsities that possess them. It also signifies that with “those people who are in such charity, falsities are dispersed and truths shine and become radiant … Those people have this illustration who from charity or spiritual affection instruct people who are in falsities from ignorance; for such charity is a receptacle of the influx of light or of truth from the Lord” (AE 386:25).

“It is a universal law that influx adjusts itself according to efflux, and if efflux is checked, influx is checked. Through the internal man there is an influx of good and truth from the Lord, and through the external there must be an efflux, namely into the life, that is, in the exercise of charity” (AC 5828:3).

To receive influx from the river of water of life, people need to be in the habit and practice of sharing, communicating good loves and delights, and teaching rational truths from the Word. In a word, there must be efflux through a life of charity from a love for the neighbor. Evangelization is really nothing else than charity, which is a communication of love and wisdom from the Lord, a communication of life.

“To communicate and transfer to another what pertains to oneself, in reference to the Lord, … is to communicate and transfer life such as those have who are in a state of illustration and who see and hear such things as are in heaven” (AE 79).

“When a person feels or perceives in himself that he has good thoughts concerning the neighbor, and desires to perform kind offices for him, not for the sake of any gain or honor for himself, and when he feels that he has pity for anyone who is in trouble, and still more for one who is in error in respect to the doctrine of faith, then he may know that he dwells in the tents of Shem, that is, that he has internal things in him through which the Lord is working” (AC 1102:3).

The Word describes the attitude we need to cultivate along with our love to share the gospel with others: “The stranger that dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself” (Lev. 19:34). “[The Lord your God] executes the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loves the stranger, in giving food and clothing. Love you therefore the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:18,19).

Some of us, having grown up in the New Church, have never experienced being a stranger in the land of Egypt. Perhaps you can imagine what it would be like not to know the doctrines of the New Church. Wouldn’t you hope that if someone knew those doctrines, he (or she) would try to share them with you? Wouldn’t you hope he would follow the golden rule, doing to others what you would have them do to you?

We need to have an accepting attitude, recognizing that it takes time for people to come to an understanding of doctrine and a life of charity. In the ancient churches, instructing one another in the truths of faith was among their works of charity; “nor were they indignant if one did not accede to the opinion of another, knowing that everyone receives truth in proportion as he is in good” (AC 6628).

An attitude to be avoided in evangelization is doing it for the sake of reward, either personally, financially, or organizationally. We are warned about seeking reward in evangelization in the following passages: “As soon as the thought occurs that a person wills to communicate what he has for the sake of obtaining that influx of blessedness, the influx is dissipated; and still more so if there presents itself any thought about a reward from him to whom he communicates his good” (AC 6478). “Those who do good for the sake of reward do indeed perform uses, and are of service, but are among those in the Lord’s kingdom who are in the lowest place, for they do not dispense the good which is communicated to them, except toward those who can recompense them, and pass by the rest, who need aid the most; or if they do good to these, it is from the end of reward by the Lord … They thus recede from humiliation, and, in the same proportion, from a state of reception of happiness” (AC 6389).

“They who do goods merely from the end of reward cannot possibly know that in doing goods without reward, the happiness is so great that it is heavenly happiness” (AC 6391:2).

A selfish attitude must be shunned. “The love of self reigns with a person, that is, he is in the love of self, when in what he thinks and does he does not regard his neighbor, thus not the public, still less the Lord, but only himself and those who belong to him; consequently when he does all things for the sake of himself and those who belong to him; and if for the sake of the public and his neighbor, it is merely for the sake of appearance … just as when anyone does anything for the sake of his wife, his children, grandchildren, sons-in-law, or daughters-in-law, he does it for the sake of himself because they are his. In like manner one who does anything for the sake of relatives and of friends who favor his love and thereby conjoin themselves with him; for by such conjunction they make one with him, that is, regard themselves in him, and him in themselves … So far as a person is in the love of self, so far he removes himself from heaven, for in heaven there is the love of the neighbor” (AC 7367-69).

We do evangelization for the sake of our neighbors, and by so doing we prepare ourselves for the heavenly life; for “angelic life consists in use, and in the goods of charity; for the angels know no greater happiness than in teaching and instructing the spirits who arrive from the world” (AC 454).

“One can see how great the delight of heaven must be from the fact that it is the delight of everyone in heaven to share his delights and blessing with others” (HH 399). A giving attitude should prevail in evangelization uses according to the words of the Lord, “Freely have you received; freely give” (Matt. 10:8).

What priority should be placed on the uses of evangelization? On the list of priorities given in the Heavenly Doctrines and read as a lesson this morning (TCR 406-416), where the degrees of the neighbor are given their spiritual value, the love of the Lord’s kingdom rates as the highest priority, because “the Lord’s kingdom on earth consists of all those who are in good, who though scattered over the whole earth, are still one, and as members constitute one body … Such is the … Lord’s church on earth” (AC 2853).

The Lord says: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me … If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:21-24). The Lord dwells in and works through those people who obey His commandments.

He commands us to evangelize, and asks us to follow Him. What was His example? He “went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people” (Matt. 4:23, 9:35). Let us make a commitment to follow the Lord. Let us make a commitment to teach rational truths, preach the gospel, and heal spiritual diseases.

Jesus said to the disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16).

Lessons: Mark 6, TCR (selections)

True Christian Religion

Every person individually is the neighbor who is to be loved, but according to the quality of his good (TCR 406).

The collective man, that is, a community smaller or greater, and the composite man formed of communities, that is, one’s country, is the neighbor that is to be loved … Love toward a community is a fuller love to the neighbor than love toward a separate or individual person (TCR 412).

The church is the neighbor who is to be loved in a still higher degree, and the Lord’s kingdom in the highest degree … The church is to be loved as the neighbor in a higher degree because it teaches the means which lead to eternal life and introduces a person into it, leading to it by the truths of doctrine and introducing into it by goods of life … (TCR 415).

The Lord’s kingdom is the neighbor that is to be loved in the highest degree because the Lord’s kingdom means the church throughout the world … He who loves the Lord’s kingdom loves all in the whole world who acknowledge the Lord and have faith in Him and charity toward the neighbor … Those who love the Lord’s kingdom love the Lord above all things, and are consequently in love to God more than others, because the church in the heavens and on earth is the body of the Lord, for those who are in it are in the Lord and the Lord in them (TCR 416).

THE EASY YOKE

THE EASY YOKE

A Sermon by Rev. Terry Schnarr

Preached in Sydney, Australia August 25, 1996

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

The Lord’s yoke is easy and His burden is light. When we follow Him, our lives are easy and light. When we don’t follow Him our lives become heavy, burdensome, and tiring.

The Lord is a loving, kind, and merciful Creator. He created us to enjoy life. He does not create us and then make life hard and cumbersome for us. We make life difficult and hard for ourselves just so far as we try to lead ourselves.

“It is not so difficult to live the life that leads to heaven as is believed” (HH 528), the Heavenly Doctrines teach us. But why does it seem so hard? We make it difficult by not looking to the Word for guidance in our daily lives.

When the Lord was in the world He said, “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all people unto Me.” As you know, He conquered death and was lifted up. In the process He conquered the hells, subjecting them to His control. He now has the power to control the hells influencing each one of us, and He uses that power to draw us into heaven.

It is harder to go to hell than heaven because to go to hell you have to fight against the power of the Lord leading you to heaven. He has all power in heaven and on earth, and therefore it is harder to go against His power than to go against the power of the hells.

Some people think that the Lord’s yoke is hard and His burden is heavy because they think “they must discard worldly things, which consist chiefly in riches and honors; that they must walk continually in pious meditation of God, salvation, and eternal life; and must spend their life in prayers and in reading the Word and pious books. Such is their idea of renouncing the world, and living in the spirit and not in the flesh” (HH 528). This is a heavy burden, but it is a false idea of becoming spiritual.

In fact, people who do this acquire a sorrowful life that is not receptive of heavenly joy because they focus on negative things, evils and falsities in themselves and others. They are often quite judgmental. The truth is, we read, “to receive the life of heaven a person needs to live in the world and engage in its business and employments and by means of a moral and civil life there receive the spiritual life. In no other way can the spiritual life be formed in a person, or his spirit be prepared for heaven” (Ibid., emphasis added).

Only two things are necessary for heavenly life: thinking rightly and doing rightly. Spiritual life consists in thinking rightly, and civil and moral life consist of doing rightly. If a person thinks rightly but does not act accordingly, then his spiritual life does not really exist. If a person does good but is thinking about himself and how it is advantageous for him to act well, then his thinking is natural and not spiritual.

Going to heaven is as easy as obeying ten rules. The first three commandments are concerned with spiritual lifewith thinking rightly. We shall have no other Gods before the Lord; we shall not take the Lord’s name in vain, passing over His Word lightly; and we shall keep the Sabbath day as a day focused on the Lord and the good and truth which come from Him.

These three commandments tell us how to think spiritually. They tell us to think of the Lord first, not of ourselves. They tell us to take to heart the things that are from the Lord in His Word, to keep the Word in our hearts at all times and not merely to pay them lip service once a week. They tell us to be in constant communication with the Lord through prayer and reading His Word, especially on Sunday, and to respect what is the Lord’s in other people. In other words, the first three commandments tell us what mental attitudes we need to have toward the Lord, toward others, and toward ourselves. By consciously observing and thinking about our attitudes we can easily train ourselves to think rightly.

The last seven commandments teach us how we should and should not act. Most of us live according to the civil and moral life these seven commandments describe. However, some of us live this way for the sake of ourselves, disregarding the first three commandments. If we are guilty of neglecting the first three commandments, we are not spiritual and are not living the life which will lead us to heaven. We are living a civil and moral life with a fundamentally selfish attitude, simply for civil and moral reasons, not because God commands it.

The spiritual person lives the civil and moral life also, and the actions of his life are not distinguishable from the actions of a merely civil and moral person, but the spiritual person lives according to those laws because they are Divine laws. His attitude is that God is always watching him and always cares about the thoughts which produce his acts.

The major difference between a good moral person and a spiritual person is their motivation. The spiritual person believes in the Lord and has the Lord in mind, not himself, in everything he does. The good moral person thinks about himself and lives a moral and civil life for the sake of himself.

Because a spiritual person is consciously thinking about the Lord’s love and the truths of His Word in what He does, he has communication with the angels of heaven. His mind is linked with them unconsciously, and is open to receive their influence. This is accomplished simply by thinking the right way, by thinking of the Lord, His Word, and His truth and goodness in others.

It is a spiritual law that thought brings presence. When we think about the Lord, He draws closer to us. When we think of our own honor and reputation, the hells draw closer to us. When we think about the spiritual truths revealed in the Lord’s Word, the angels of heaven who live those truths are drawn closer to us. So when we think about these things and dwell on them in our thoughts, the Lord and the angels draw nearer, inspiring in us a love for these things and a desire to act on them for the sake of others. “It is a sure and immutable law,” we read, “that so far as a person approaches the Lord, so far does the Lord approach the person.”

Some people think they have to know everything about the Lord and His Word before they think rightly. Not true. “The Lord,” we read,”requires no more of a person than to live according to what he knows” (AC 6706).

When a person lives the spiritual life described in the first three commandments, and brings the attitudes and thoughts of that life to bear on his civil and moral life, his spiritual mind is opened to receive the influences of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, through the angels of heaven. The Holy Spirit then leads his affections and thoughts imperceptibly, stirring up good loves and enlightened thoughts. He ministers to the person so gently that there is nothing whatever of yoke or dominion. The person is led by means of his heavenly delights.

On the other hand, the person who lives a civil and moral life without a spiritual life at the same time has his mind closed to the influence of the angels and the Holy Spirit. The reason is simple. He does not look to the Lord and His Word for guidance, but to himself instead. He is filled with the pride of self-intelligence and chooses to ignore or deny the Lord and His Word. When the angels are in this way shut out, evil spirits from hell are allowed to enter the person. They puff him up with self-esteem and self-love. They lead him in the direction of satisfying his own selfish loves and worldly desires. They sneak in and begin to dominate him, and drive him on. They do not care about him, but only about getting him to do evil so they can feel some selfish delights by being associated with him. Insofar as they can they try to enslave him quite the opposite of the leading the angels do. He who sins becomes a slave of sin.

Yet even then the situation is not hopeless for such a person. All he needs to do is to return to the Lord, study His Word, and train himself to think about Divine things as he goes through his daily routine. “All a person needs to do,” we read, “is to learn truths from the Word and to live according to them” (AE 790:14e). If a person will merely reform the externals of his life, the Lord will regenerate his internals.

The Lord will overcome the evils in each individual as easily as He overcame them in Himself when He was in the world. “By a like Divine power the Lord fights at this day against hell in every person who is being regenerated,” we read, “for hell attacks with such diabolical fury, unless the Lord resisted and tamed that fury a person could not but give in” (TCR 123:6). A person needs to shun only one evil thought or attitude to be saved so long as he continues in that path. We read, “If a person by means of combat against evils as sins has acquired anything spiritual in the world, be it ever so small, he is saved, and afterwards his uses grow like a grain of mustard seed into a tree” (D. Love XVII:5e).

The Lord maintains a balance, or equilibrium, between the forces of heaven and the forces of hell operating on our minds. We are free and able to control the subjects of our thoughts. “Evil and falsity are injected into the thoughts of people from hell and are sent back again. These things cannot defile the person,” we read, “because they are sent back. A person cannot stand apart from thinking evil, but from doing it” (AC 8910:3). In other words, we cannot stop evil thoughts from coming into our minds, but we can send them out again. This is simply a matter of mental discipline, a matter of habit.

This habit is formed first by reading and studying the Word so that you know what is evil and from hell. Secondly, through prayer several times a day in which you ask the Lord to help you recognize the evil thoughts when they come, the habit begins to be formed. Eventually, the state described in the following passage becomes the norm:

When any thing presents itself to a person that he knows to be dishonest and unjust but to which his mind is borne, it is simply necessary for him to think that it ought not to be done because it is opposed to the Divine precepts. If a person accustoms himself so to think, and from so doing establishes a habit of so thinking, he is gradually linked to heaven. So far as he is linked to heaven the higher regions of his mind are opened. So far as these are opened he sees whatever is dishonest and unjust, and so far as he sees these evils they can be dispersed. For no evil can be dispersed until it is seen. Into this state a person is able to enter because of his freedom, for is not anyone able from his freedom so to think? Furthermore, when a person has made a beginning, the Lord quickens all that is good in him, and causes him not only to see evils, but also to refrain from willing them, and finally to turn away from them. This is meant by the Lord’s words, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (HH 533).

The passage adds:

The difficulty of so thinking and of resisting evils increases so far as a person from his will does evils, for in the same measure he becomes accustomed to them until he no longer sees them, and at length loves them and from the delight of his love excuses them, and confirms them by every kind of fallacy, and declares them to be allowable and good. This is the fate of those who in early youth plunge into evils without restraint (Ibid.)

The Lord’s yoke is easy and His burden is light. If life is a laborious burden for you, go to the Lord and He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you and learn from Him. He is gentle and loving, and will give you peace. Peace is described as “bliss of heart and soul arising from the Lord’s relationship with heaven and the church, and this is from the relationship of good and truth with those who are there; consequently there is no longer combat of evil and falsity” (AE 365:18). “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light,” says the Lord. Amen.

Lessons: Ezekiel 34, Matt. 11:28-31, HH 359

Heaven and Hell 359

Since a man can live outwardly as others do, can grow rich, keep a plentiful table, dwell in an elegant house and wear fine clothing according to his condition and function, can enjoy delights and gratifications, and engage in worldly affairs for the sake of his occupation and business and for the life of both the mind and body, provided he inwardly acknowledges the Divine and wishes well to the neighbor, it is evident that to enter upon the way to heaven is not so difficult as many believe. The sole difficulty lies in being able to resist the love of self and the world, and to prevent their becoming dominant; for this is the source of all evils. That this is not so difficult as is believed is meant by these words of the Lord: “Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest to your souls; for My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:29,30).

The Lord’s yoke is easy and His burden light because a man is led by the Lord and not by self just to the extent that he resists the evils that flow forth from love of self and of the world, and because the Lord then resists these evils in man and removes them.

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