Michal’s Disdain

Michal’s Disdain

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 24, 2005

revcooper.ca

And as the ark of the Lord came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart (2SA 6:16).

  1. In order for us to understand what was behind David’s dancing before the ark, it is important that we have some kind of overview of the kinds of things David had been doing with his life to lead up to this moment which was so important to him. We need to see the battles and the anguish before we can properly understand the peace and the joy.
    1. David was a soldier, a mighty warrior, long before he was a king. As a shepherd boy, he had fought a lion and a bear to protect his sheep. Then, when he came into the camp of the children of Israel to deliver food to his soldier brothers, he offered to fight the Philistine giant, Goliath. We all know that David’s stunning victory over this Philistine marked the beginning of his long and remarkable life as a hero and king of Israel. He served as a musician to King Saul, but the king saw him as a threat to his kingdom and sought to kill him. This drove David out of Israel into Philistia, where he remained until Saul’s death.
    2. Defeated and mortally wounded by Philistine archers, Saul fell on his own sword. He and three of his sons all died that same day, leaving Israel and Judah without a king.
      1. We are told in the Word that the men of Judah came and anointed David as their king, confirming the choice that the Lord had made when Samuel anointed David as king so many years before, but in the north, the men were still loyal to Saul and his descendants. They did not want David to be their king, and so began a long civil war between Israel and Judah, lasting more than seven years. As David and his army grew stronger, the forces of Israel grew weaker, until finally, the men of Israel approached David and made him their king.
    3. With his kingdom finally united, and with visions of future peace and prosperity, David began to look for a new national capital. David chose Jerusalem to be the new capital because it had never been associated with either Israel or Judah. It was a Canaanite city, occupied by the Jebusites.
      1. David fought a brilliant battle to capture the heavily fortified city, and in his joy he made preparations to bring the ark itself into Jerusalem.
      2. We can understand how it would be extremely desirable for David to consolidate the symbols of earthly and heavenly power in one place. He saw this as a sign that the Lord was with him, and that Israel would become a great nation, and that he would be its great king.
        1. So they went to Hebron, and began to move the ark to Jerusalem. But, rather than carrying the ark in the traditional manner, they made a new cart for it, and David and all the house of Israel played music on instruments of wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals. Words are not adequate to describe what a joyous procession this must have been.
        2. But then disaster struck. The oxen stumbled, the ark rocked dangerously on its cart, and a man named Uzzah reached out and touched the ark to steady it. He was struck dead for his error.
      3. This was a tremendous blow to David. He no doubt saw it as a sign from God that the ark should not go to Jerusalem; that God was angry with His people Israel — and its king. So David stopped the procession, and had the ark taken to the house of Obed-Edom, the Gittite. Then he and the people returned to nearby Jerusalem to await developments.
  2. The ark rested with Obed-Edom for three months, and not only did no other disasters occur, but Obed-Edom prospered. David took this to be a sign that God’s anger was abated, or satisfied. Once again he formed a procession to bring the ark to Jerusalem.
    1. The procession stopped every six paces so that oxen and sheep could be sacrificed!
    2. We can well imagine that David, a man of passion and a warrior given to quick, decisive action, could no longer stand the pace (even though he had set it himself) and began to dance for joy that the ark was finally coming to his capital city.
    3. We can well imagine that as he danced in a wild expression of his joy, he began to throw off the heavy outer garments of his kingly office, until he was dancing before the ark as it processed to Jerusalem in his linen ephod, or undergarment.
  3. His wife Michal awaited them in the city. She was Saul’s daughter, given to David in an attempt to cement the political bonds between her husband and father. It does not appear from the letter of the Word that there was any love between David and Michal. She was, and always had been, a political wife. At this time he had a number of other wives and concubines (2SA 5:13) with more to come later.
    1. When she saw David’s joy, she could not share in it. She struck out at him with contempt, and sneered at his expressions of exaltation.
    2. Meanwhile, David entered the city, saw the ark placed in the tabernacle that had been prepared for it, gave gifts of food to all the people, and sent them to their homes.
    3. As he returned to his home, however, he was greeted by Michal’s remarks, implying that he was undignified, and perhaps even unqualified to be a king if he was to behave that way in public — and the comparisons to her father would have been unspoken, but difficult to miss.
      1. The Word tells us that Michal was childless from that time forward. The only possible reason for mentioning this fact at this time is to clearly indicate that from that time forward Michal was separated from the marriage bed. Her derision and disdain had made it impossible for them to be conjoined as husband and wife again.
  4. This is a fascinating story of human relationships. It would be worth reading even if it were only a history of important historic military leaders. But it is not. Every element of this story has been given to us by the Lord in order to tell us important things about how we are to live our own lives in heavenly order, how we are to handle the problems that we meet in our own lives. Let us then take the major elements of the story of the entry of the ark into Jerusalem, and see what the Heavenly doctrines reveal as the Lord’s truth within this story. We begin with the ark, having left Obed-Edom’s house, and about to enter Jerusalem.
    1. The ark represents the Word of the Lord, because it contained the Ten Commandments engraved on the two tablets of stone.
    2. A city represents the doctrine that is formed in our minds throughout our lives as we live according to the Word and form the church within ourselves.
    3. We also need to consider the fact that the ark is coming to Jerusalem after a long and difficult journey.
    4. These things tell us that this story begins in our own lives when we learn a new spiritual truth from the Word through some kind of difficult experience or temptation. The ark approaching the city is like a new truth approaching the mind.
  5. Then David dances for joy before the ark, throwing off his outer garments.
    1. In the Word, dancing represents a sphere of heavenly joy at the reception of a new truth. In such states, things that are merely external are put aside for a time, thrown off, as it were, and the more interior thoughts and affections are noticed. When we feel that we have learned something really new and important, we feel good about it, and our thoughts focus on it. We want to share it with others, while other, lesser matters are properly put to the side for the time being.
    2. Saul as a king represented the Lord in His Divine Human. But, when Saul began to allow his own delusions and anger take over his life, and he turned away from obeying the Lord, he began to represent false ideas that are opposed to spiritual truth instead — for Saul opposed David.
    3. Daughters in the Word usually represent affections for good and true things. However, Michal carries with her the mark of her father, and so she represents the affections of those falsities that are opposed to spiritual truth.
    4. In other words, Michal represents that part of our minds that delights in questioning the ideas that we have, particularly ideas that favor others. She represents that part of us that would delight in any thought or action that would place the needs and desires of self before or above the needs of others.
    5. We are told that Michal watched David dance from a window. Windows, because they allow light to enter into a room, usually have the representation in the Word of intellectual things that bring light to the mind.
    6. However, since it is Michal looking through the window, it changes to its opposite representation, and tells us that the intellectual part of our minds can be drawn into the trap and be used not to understand spiritual and natural truths, but be used to create reasonings and self-justification as to why it is good to feel such things as contempt for others.
    7. That Michal looked at David from the window tells us that we sometimes face the temptation of using our minds to think up reasons that support the belief that to delight in spiritual things is somehow silly, that spiritual things are somehow not “real” and therefore not worthy of an adult’s serious attention.
      1. And further, we sometimes face the temptation of looking at the sincere expression of spiritual life in others, and ridicule them for it, for we have reasoned within our own minds that such things are not “dignified” or “proper.”
      2. Michal, we are told, despised David in her heart, which is to say that the love of self delights in making comparison of others to self, and finding fault where none actually exists.
    8. In the meantime, the ark is placed in the tabernacle prepared for it, which tells us that even while these thoughts of ridicule are being formed in our minds, we can yet carry on, the truth can continue to bring delight as it is lived, and obeyed.
      1. We can be of two minds! We can delight in doing what we know to be true from the Word even as another part of our mind forms arguments against it! As the ark is placed in the tabernacle, David gives the sign of obedience by offering burnt offerings.
      2. Even in our times of mental questioning, doubt, and temptation, we can (and must!) continue to obey the Word in our daily lives.
  6. David gave gifts of bread, meat, and raisin cakes to the people and sent them to their own homes.
    1. Foods represent the good of truth, which tells us that as we begin to live according to the new truth, even as the arguments against it begin to mount in our own minds, as the storm clouds begin to gather, we begin to feel the benefits of living according to the truth. We find that it is good, both for ourselves and for others.
  7. Then David returns to his own home, and the confrontation with Michal. A temptation is a battle between loves.
    1. Any time a love is challenged, we feel pain, for our loves are our very life itself. When a good love is challenged by an evil affection, we will feel pain no matter which one wins, because both were a part of our own life, and it is painful to have any love removed.
    2. In this case, we see represented the confrontation between the affection for a newly found truth, a truth acquired over a long trial, and the twisted reasoning of self-intelligence and self-love.
    3. Michal’s expression of disdain for David’s behavior represents a tendency in each of us to ridicule things that are different or unusual. This can in part show us the power that external conventions have, especially in things like worship.
      1. We must remember what happened to the men of the Ancient Church when they filled their world with representative symbols of the Lord, and then forgot what they meant and began to worship the symbols themselves. They fell from the true worship of the Lord into idolatry.
      2. We too can loose our perspective and begin to worship externals which no longer have anything spiritual within them. At the same time, we may find ourselves ridiculing new ideas for the expression of worship just because they are new and unfamiliar to us. There is also a tendency for us to be fearful of externals that are too different from what we have come to expect.
  8. Finally, David tells Michal that the maidservants will hold him in honor for dancing with joy. This tells us that the real test for forms that are appropriate expressions of the affections of spiritual truth and good is in their use to the Lord and to the neighbor, for maidservant represents a thing of use. The battle, the temptation was ended.
    1. Michal was childless from then on, she was no longer conjoined with her husband in the marriage bed. This represents conquering in temptation which comes when we follow truths from the Word, fight the feelings of ridicule by striving ever forward in our daily lives, continuing to live well, and then letting the usefulness of a thing the final judge.
      1. Michal was only looking to herself, and so she was rejected, alone and childless until her death.
      2. On the other hand, David, who danced before the Lord in his linen ephod, was given rest from his enemies.
  9. It is so easy to be critical of others when they do something unfamiliar. No doubt some of the things people do actually are odd or even harmful — but we cannot immediately judge only from outward appearance. We must allow each other a certain freedom to express what we feel in our heart to be from the Lord. The only true criterion of judgment is the use that is performed.
    1. Ideas need to be judged, not on the reputation of the one who presents the idea, but rather on whether or not the idea will help us feel the Lord’s presence in our lives.
    2. We need to shut away the critic Michal so that we too can dance with joy in the presence of the Lord, and be given rest from our enemies. AMEN.

    Lessons: 2SA 6:12-23, JOH 5:24-30, AC 6203, 6204

    First Lesson: 2SA 6:12-23

    Now it was told King David, saying, “The LORD has blessed the house of Obed-Edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with gladness. {13} And so it was, when those bearing the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, that he sacrificed oxen and fatted sheep. {14} Then David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. {15} So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet. {16} Now as the ark of the LORD came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. {17} So they brought the ark of the LORD, and set it in its place in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it. Then David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. {18} And when David had finished offering burnt offerings and peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts. {19} Then he distributed among all the people, among the whole multitude of Israel, both the women and the men, to everyone a loaf of bread, a piece of meat, and a cake of raisins. So all the people departed, everyone to his house. {20} Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” {21} So David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the LORD. {22} “And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor.” {23} Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death. Amen.

    Second Lesson: JOH 5:24-30

    “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. {25} “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. {26} “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, {27} “and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. {28} “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice {29} “and come forth; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. {30} “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. Amen.

    Third Lesson: AC 6203, 6204

    In regard to the origin of the influx of evil from hell, the case is this. When a man first from consent, then from purpose, and at last from the delight of affection, casts himself into evil, then a hell is opened which is in such evil (for the hells are distinct from one another according to evils and all their varieties), and there afterward takes place an influx from that hell. When a man comes into evil in this way, it clings to him, for the hell in the sphere of which he then is, is in its very delight when in its evil; and therefore it does not desist, but obstinately presses in, and causes the man to think about that evil, at first occasionally, and afterward as often as anything presents itself which is related to it, and at last it becomes with him that which reigns universally. And when this takes place, he then seeks for such things as confirm that it is not an evil, and this until he wholly persuades himself; and then, in so far as he can, he studies to remove external bonds, and makes evils allowable and clever, and at last even becoming and honorable – such as adulteries, thefts effected by art and deceit, various kinds of arrogance and boasting, contempt for others, vituperations, persecutions under an appearance of justice, and the like. The case with these evils is like that with downright thefts, which when committed of set purpose two or three times, cannot be desisted from; for they continually cling to the man’s thought.

    6204. Be it known further that the evil which enters into the thought does no harm to the man, because evil is continually infused by spirits from hell, and is continually repelled by angels. But when evil enters into the will, then it does harm, for then it also goes forth into act whenever external bonds do not restrain. Evil enters into the will by being kept in the thought, by consent, especially by act and the consequent delight. Amen.

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The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

(Olivet Church, Toronto – April 29, 2007)

revcooper.ca

A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (MAT 16:4)

The scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees were often found nearby when the Lord was preaching to the crowds that followed Him everywhere He went during the last stages of His ministry. Each of these three groups of Jewish leaders had something to fear from the Lord, because His teaching threatened the established order, the order from which they themselves benefited and derived their power. Skeptics and scoffers, they tried to discredit Jesus, to turn the crowd’s adoration and attention into laughter and scorn; and so, as the Lord taught, they would call out to Him, asking for a sign, a testimony, some miracle that would prove that the things He taught about would actually come to pass. They were demanding proof of Him, and as they were sensual, natural men, they would not believe unless there was some sign that they could hold onto with their own hands, see with their own eyes. If they could not feel it with their own senses, as far as they were concerned, it did not exist. They demanded a miracle because they believed He could not give them one. In their hearts, they wanted Him to fail.

The Lord performed many miracles while He was in the world, as we all well know. He performed miracles of feeding by changing the water into wine, and feeding the 4,000 and 5,000 from a few loaves and fishes. He performed miracles of healing natural illnesses, and of spiritual illnesses. He even raised the dead. Ultimately, His greatest miracle was the Redemption of mankind by raising Himself from the dead, but we shall speak more of this later.

The Lord used miracles throughout His ministry, and yet we are taught in the Heavenly Doctrines that miracles compel belief, and as compelled belief is not free, so miracles are no longer permitted. We wonder, therefore, why the Lord used miracles at that time, but not now, and what special conditions existed that permitted Him to perform miracles and yet allow all men spiritual freedom.

Perhaps the answer lies in mankind’s incredible ability to ignore anything they see that does not agree with what they already believe, or even what they would like to believe. Remember the story of the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. Here was a group of slaves, who witnessed one of the most incredible series of events that has ever taken place in the natural world: the Ten Plagues upon Egypt. They saw rivers turn to blood, darkness descend upon the land for days on end, and pestilence descend only on the Egyptian lands and flocks but not their own. They witnessed the Passover, where every Egyptian first-born died in one night, and finally they saw Pharaoh’s army drowned as the Red Sea closed over them.

When we read these passages and try to imagine what these things must have been like, we think that surely, if we had seen those things, there would be no question that we would believe in the power of God with all our heart! From that moment on, we would obey His every word! And then we read that within a few days of this experience, the children of Israel were complaining that Jehovah had brought them into the wilderness to kill them, and were dancing around the golden calf.

We have an incredible ability to ignore the obvious. It comes with the gift of freedom of thought in spiritual things. If a person is to be truly free to think about and believe in things from the Word, he must also be free to think about and believe all manner of absurd and false ideas.

The Lord performed miracles in the world knowing this, and the miracles He performed did not in any way remove any one’s freedom, but instead served several important uses. First, they served as a confirmation to those who already believed. A married couple knows rationally that they are in love, but they also enjoy confirming their love with kisses and embraces. Kisses and embraces in themselves cannot cause love to occur where it does not already exist, but if love is there the outward signs and gestures confirm it with them. This in itself is a miracle! But no one has ever been forced to love someone against his will through a simple kiss. A kiss does not cause, or force, love, but confirms and enhances the love that is already there.

In the same way, there was no danger of anyone’s freedom being taken away by the Lord’s miracles. We can imagine a skeptic who’d been to see the Lord reporting to his friends that, “Yes, I saw Jesus heal a blind man, but it must have been a trick. I didn’t know the man. He was probably just pretending to be blind.” On the other hand, we can imagine one who was hungry for the Lord’s teachings saying to his friends that he had heard the Master preach words of the hope of spiritual life, “and when He gave sight to that blind man it was as if He opened my own eyes, for then for the first time I truly saw the truth in what He had been teaching.”

We can imagine that many people in those days maintained a tough, skeptical outer shell, for they were hard times, both naturally and spiritually. Many people longed for the Messiah to come, but there had been other claims that had proved false. Many claimed to be prophets in those troubled times, and few of them gave any satisfaction. The Lord performed the miracles to move these skeptics, to make sure that they heard of His deeds, to make sure that they would be curious enough to come and see just once – for once they heard Him speak, they would be moved by His words and be converted. We can see that the Lord used miracles to gather crowds to Himself, and also to help them to confirm their belief in Him.

But the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees were a different matter. There was no question that these groups did not have any desire to listen to the Lord. They sought only to discredit Him in any way they could. When they asked Him for a sign, as recorded in both MAT 12 and MAT 16, He responded to them in apparent anger, calling them “adulterers,” and a “wicked generation” (text). He told them that the only sign they would accept would be the sign of the prophet Jonah, and this would be the sign that He would give them.

To this day, when we speak of the prophet Jonah, the first thing that springs to mind is the memory of the story of Jonah and the whale, for this is one of the most memorable stories in all of scripture. It has all the elements of a great story: it begins with a call to a Divine mission; then there is Jonah’s attempt to flee from the Lord; the drama of the storm which would sink the innocent ship unless Jonah confesses his crime and is punished by being thrown overboard; and the great fish which swallows him whole. It is all fantastic and hard to believe, but possible enough that we want to believe it.

Most of us forget the rest of the things that Jonah did after he escaped from the fish because the story is much less interesting by way of comparison. No doubt, when the Lord told His critics that He would give them the sign of the prophet Jonah, they, being students of scripture, immediately thought of Jonah in the belly of the great fish for three days and nights before being spewed up on dry land, and wondered what this had to do with proof of the Lord’s claim to be the Messiah.

When we study this story from our own perspective, knowing that the Lord was crucified, was in the grave, and rose on the third day, we can see the connection immediately. We see that the three days in the great fish is a symbol for the three days in the grave, and that being spewed out safe on dry land to go on to preach and to save Nineveh represents that the Lord’s work of Redemption was now begun in earnest.

But the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees did not know what was going to happen. They could only guess at what the Lord meant by this, until such time as all the events had actually unfolded. Once the Lord had in fact risen from the grave, then the Disciples, Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and everyone else who was interested in the Lord’s teachings for whatever reason, finally began to understand what it was all about as they remembered what He said, and what He actually did. The message was not only for them, but for the spiritual Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees – the skeptics – who would read the New Testament in generations to come.

Another important difference between the way we see things today, and the way they were viewed at the time of the Lord pertains to the great fish, or whales. Today, many people see the whale as a gentle and intelligent creature, deserving our protection and care. In ancient times, however, perhaps because boats were smaller and sea travel dangerous, the whale was seen as a dangerous monster. In some passages in the Word “leviathan,” “crooked serpent,” “dragon,” “serpent,” and “whale” are all possible translations of the same word (See AE 714:30). To a certain extent, the way things are perceived by men, and therefore are used in their language has an effect on the things animals represent. Since both whales and dragons are large and fearsome, their names are linked linguistically, and so the gentle whale comes to have the same representation as the dragon. The whale (and the Heavenly Doctrines are quite specific that it was a whale) represents “scientifics which pervert the truths of faith,” (AC 7923:2) and the belly of the whale represents the things which are lowest, or “nearest to the earth.” (AC 247)

These representations tell us something about this state of temptation. Do we ourselves not feel that we are “swallowed up” by our own problems? Haven’t we all said about something that frustrates us that it just “kills” us? Do we not sometimes get so wrapped up in “facts” that we miss the truth of the matter?

This is the sign of the prophet Jonah that the Lord gave to all “wicked and adulterous generations.” When we are in temptation and feel spiritually dead, we can know that the Lord has the power to save us, to lift us up out of our states, because He has gone before – He has given us the hope of salvation by doing it for Himself first! He has show us this most important fact about Himself, He has given us the sign that no other prophet could have given, the sign of the prophet Jonah.

There have been other prophets who could perform miracles. There have been others who could heal the sick, and even some who have raised the dead. But there is only one who has been dead and then raised Himself from the grave. He did this to show us the way, to show us that death can lead to eternal life, to show us that we have nothing to fear, to help us believe with our hearts what we hold in our thoughts, to lead us up out of the depths of the various hells that we create for ourselves into the heavenly kingdom that has been prepared for us. When we are in temptation we should remember Jonah’s prayer: The waters encompassed me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God. (JON 2:5,6) AMEN.

Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson: JON 2:1-10

(Jonah 2) Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly. {2} And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice. {3} For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. {4} Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ {5} The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. {6} I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God. {7} “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple. {8} “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. {9} But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.” {10} So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Amen.

Second Lesson: MAT 12:38-42, 16:1-4

(Mat 12:38-42) Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” {39} But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. {40} “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. {41} “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. {42} “The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.

(Mat 16:1-4) Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. {2} He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red'; {3} “and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. {4} “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed. Amen

Third Lesson: AE 706:6

The Scribes and Pharisees said, Master, we would see a sign from Thee. But He answering, said, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, but no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the belly1 of the earth (Matt. 12:38-40; Luke 11:16, 29, 30).

A “sign” plainly means attestation that they may be persuaded and believe that the Lord was the Messiah and the Son of God who was to come, for the miracles that the Lord wrought in abundance, and that they saw, were no signs to them, because miracles, as has been said above, are signs only with the good. “Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale,” and this was taken for a “sign,” because it signified the burial and resurrection of the Lord, thus the complete glorification of His Human, “three days and three nights” also signifying completeness. Amen.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.


1 The Greek has “heart,” as also found in AC 2798.

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Attending to the Inner Voice

Attending to the Inner Voice

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, March 8, 2009

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I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

It’s obvious that each of us in this room today has made either a conscious or unconscious decision to come to church today. The topic of today’s sermon deals with the reasons behind a person’s decision to come to church, and attempts to answer why people feel a need to come to church, and to discover what it is in the human makeup that draws us together to contemplate the Divine influence in the course of our lives.

Many of us come to church without much thought about it. It’s what we always do on Sunday. Attendance at church is for many a tradition, a habit, something that is done as naturally as walking. It’s probably safe to say that the angels themselves have just such a habit, and it gives them great delight to freely express it. After all, is not the process of regeneration a matter of getting rid of bad habits and acquiring good habits with the Lord’s help?

But there are others of us, who, for one reason or another, have never acquired the habit of regular church attendance, and so must make a conscious choice to attend church each time. It is necessary to speak in broad generalities here, for there are as many specific reasons as there are individuals making the choices and of course each individual makes that choice each week after balancing many different options, but several general areas that are worth thinking about can be identified.

The first area to consider is that of the very nature of our church services. Our services are designed to attempt to balance two uses: worship of the Lord; and instruction from His Word. The worship includes elements of both humility and praise, the prayers while kneeling representing humility and supplication, and songs while standing to represent praise and adoration. The instruction includes both reading directly from the Word, and an explanation of the reading’s context, meaning and application to life. In other words, our church services have been carefully designed to serve many needs in ways as appropriate as possible. However, the area of instruction in general, and the sermon in particular have, over time, taken on a greater importance than the worship aspect. Perhaps this is because the sermon take more time than any other single element in the service. Perhaps since the priest spends a far greater time preparing the sermon than any other part of the service it takes on a pre-eminent status in the priest’s mind, and so subconsciously affects his attitudes which then eventually find their way to the congregation.

Because of our emphasis on reading the Word, and the sermon as the most important parts of church, and perhaps because of our traditional emphasis on education as a special use of the New Church, many people choose to come to church to hear the sermon’s message, to be instructed. We come to church hoping to hear something from the Word that will help us out in the trial and tribulations of our daily lives. We hope that we will hear something that will help us solve our problems. Fortunately, that hope and desire is satisfied often enough that we come back. Obviously, very few people would continue coming to a church week after week if they were never satisfied with the instruction they received. So, it’s safe to say that one major reason that people come to church is to learn things that will help them live more satisfying lives.

But the sceptic asks, “Why do you go to church for that, when there are so many self-help books and special interest clubs available?” Indeed. Why do we need to come to church for these things. Why is church felt to be so special? If people choose to come to church to learn things, why not have a doctrinal class format? Why not put up a screen and show overheads? Why not have homework and written exercises and tests? Because that’s not the only reason we come to church. We also come to satisfy some of our emotional needs.

The Heavenly doctrines tell us why we hunger for more than just instruction when they teach that a person is more than just his intellect, that his mind is both will and understanding. The affectional part needs to be stimulated and fed too. However, it is more subtle in getting its message across. Unlike the intellectual side, the affectional side of us cannot directly communicate ideas, so instead it supplies the desire, the inclination to worship, and the intellectual provides the reason (which of course it couches in its own rational terms). So we feel an urge to worship (from the affectional side of the mind), and the intellectual side provides the reason, which is to go and learn something.

This is illustrated by the way we act on vacation. We take our children to some historical spot and then lecture them about the important events that happened at that spot, or we go to the zoo and we cannot resist instructing the children in the various things that we have learned about the animals. The affectional side of us just wanted to have a family outing to someplace new and interesting, and perhaps to enjoy looking at the animals or scenery, but the intellectual side is embarrassed at such a blatant waste of time, so it has to provide some rational reason for such otherwise frivolous behaviour, so we make a holiday trip into an “educational experience” for the children so that we won’t be caught just having fun as a family. We need to remember that the affectional and intellectual sides of us are partners, that there is value in play for the sake of play, in doing something together for no other reason than to share a pleasant experience.

This should remind us of the memorable relations where we see the angel wives gently but powerfully leading their husbands by merely a look or a gesture, but the husbands were unable to communicate in the same way and instead gave lengthy explanations of what they were doing. This should illustrate the idea that going to church is like a marriage. Worship is the “wife”, and instruction the “husband,” that is, the affectional side of a church service is as essential to the churchgoer as a wife is essential to a marriage!

Our affectional side, our will, speaks in our mind without words. It acts as an “inner voice” that does not argue, does not fight, but when we begin to choose to do the wrong things, it makes us uneasy. At the same time, it allows us to feel good when we are doing the right thing. Indeed, it has been said that the reason people attend church is to “attend to the inner voice.” The interesting thing is that this “inner voice” has a common message to all people, a message that gently draws them to worship in some way. The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that the Lord Himself flows into the mind of everyone, from the beginning of his life to eternity, with the message that there is a God, and that He is one. (See TCR 8) The Lord Himself is that inner voice, gently, quietly, calling us to Himself. There are many places in scripture where the word “voice” is used, and we are taught that when it is the voice of Jehovah, it represents a “revelation” from God (See AC 219), and at other times, it represents the “thought and affection, which are the interior things of the voice” (AC 10455).

We are also taught that doctrine, that is, how we understand how the Word applies in our lives, is formed by reading the letter of the Word from doctrine. The teaching about the universal influx shows how this is possible. The Lord flows into the interior degrees of the mind of every individual from the first moment of life with this central doctrine: that there is a God and that He is one. Every human being shares this heritage and gift from God. What he does with it afterwards is a matter of his own free choice – but every one of us begins with this doctrinal basis “built in.” Everything we learn after that is learned in the light of this first truth, particularly the things that we learn from the letter of the Word. Can’t we see this from the way that little children speak of the Lord with confidence and joy? They are predisposed to receive the Word with gladness.

As we grow older, we learn many things, most of which are not from the Word. We learn about cruelty, hatred, and greed, and as we see others exhibit these evils we become cynical, sceptical and suspicious. The “inner voice” cannot be stilled, but it becomes much harder to hear amidst the noise of a mind fully involved in the things of the world. But it is there, quietly, gently feeding its message of hope and peace into the turmoil of the active mind. So we come to church to attend to the needs of the “inner voice” as well as to learn strategies for coping with life, but we cannot properly care for the needs of the “inner voice” until we are aware of it, and come to know its needs, to be sure to make our visit to church worshipful. We can improve the quality of our worship by first recognizing its importance as the feeding of the affectional side of our minds, and so preparing ourselves for genuine worship.

Two specific ways to prepare ourselves for worship are firstly to leave personal cares at home when we come to church, and secondly to examine the thoughts we have while in church from time to time to avoid allowing our minds to wander into thoughts about ongoing projects in the house, or things yet to do at work, or whatever. It is very important that the mind be focused on the Lord and the things of His kingdom if genuine worship is to take place. Further, there must be an opening of the way if instruction about the Lord is to enter, the walls of resistance have to be lowered. This cannot be done automatically, but we must consciously choose to open ourselves to worship and instruction, for the hells do not want this to happen and will inflow with all manner of distracting thoughts if they perceive that we are beginning to genuinely worship and learn about the Lord.

Another thing that we can do to make the worship experience more meaningful is to be careful of the temptation to think about how other people ought to be hearing this instruction, or how other people might be responding in a good or bad way to the subject. For the worship experience to be effective we need to be thinking about how these things apply to our own life. Ours is the only life that can by changed by what we learn, by what we decide to do.

Our rational minds tell us that we should worship the Lord because we have read the Word, and we have found that if we live according to the 10 Commandments that our life is more satisfying than when we do not, therefore we can believe that the Word is from the Lord and is true: it is true because we perceive that to live according to it is good. The Word tells us in many places that we should worship the Lord, so we have duly set up churches and other places of worship where we go to fulfil this instruction addressed to our rational mind, and this is as it should be. However, we need to remember that the affectional side of our life needs nourishment too, it needs to humble itself before the God of Love, to join with friends and family to sing praise to Him who gives life to all, to rest in the warmth of His love, to be simply and profoundly grateful to Him who Created us, and who sustains us with His love every moment of our lives. AMEN.

First Lesson: John 15:1-17

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. {2} “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. {3} “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. {4} “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. {5} “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. {6} “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. {7} “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. {8} “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. {9} “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. {10} “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. {11} “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. {12} “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. {13} “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. {14} “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. {15} “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. {16} “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. {17} “These things I command you, that you love one another.

Second Lesson: True Christian Religion 8.

There is a universal influx from God into the souls of men of the truth that there is a God, and that He is one. That there is an influx from God into man is evident from the universal confession that all good that is in itself good, and that exists in man and is done by him, is from God; in like manner every thing of charity and every thing of faith; for we read:- A man can take nothing except it be given him from heaven (John iii. 27); and Jesus said:- Without Me ye are unable to do anything (John xv. 5); that is, anything that pertains to charity and faith. This influx is into the souls of men because the soul is the inmost and highest part of man, and the influx from God enters into that, and descends therefrom into the things that are below, and vivifies them in accordance with reception. The truths that are to constitute belief flow in, it is true, through the hearing, and are thus implanted in the mind, that is, below the soul. But by means of such truths man is simply made ready to receive the influx from God through the soul; and such as this preparation is, such is the reception, and such the transformation of natural faith into spiritual faith.

[2] There is such an influx from God into the souls of men of the truth that God is one, because everything Divine, regarded most generally as well as most particularly, is God. And as the entire Divine coheres as one, it cannot fail to inspire in man the idea of one God; and this idea is strengthened daily as man is elevated by God into the light of heaven. For the angels in their light cannot force themselves to utter the word Gods. Even their speech closes at the end of every sentence in a oneness of cadence; and there is no other cause of this than the influx into their souls of the truth that God is one.

Copyright General Church of the New Jerusalem, 2009

Page last modified March 8, 2009

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The Pearl of Great Price

The Pearl of Great Price

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, November 23, 2008

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The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (MAT 13:45,46)

The Old Testament is remarkably silent on the matter of the nature of heaven, hell, and the life after death. It appears that the children of Israel were not able to receive truths about heaven, and so were allowed to continue in their belief in the shadowy spirit world which they called “Sheol.” Sheol is related to the Greek concept of Hades and is often translated as “hell”. Perhaps the most powerful teaching of the Old Testament regarding Sheol is in First Samuel Chapter 28 where Saul begs the witch of En Dor to raise the prophet Samuel’s spirit up from Sheol so that he can once more be advised of what to do by the Man of God.

[13] And the king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What did you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.” [14] So he said to her, “What is his form?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.” And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down. [15] Now Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”

Saul’s conversations with the witch and with Samuel’s spirit constitute the majority of the teaching of the Old Testament regarding the life after death. The most that can be said for this doctrine is that it affirms that there is life after death without defining its nature. This graphic scene speaks of a terrible bleakness of spirit that pervaded the people of that church in that time. It shows how they were not able to know anything of what heaven was really like because they were far too interested in personal property, honor, and gain.

In the New Testament however, the Lord frequently taught about heaven, comparing it to many kinds of experiences and places which were common to the people of the day. He began to open the doctrine of the spiritual world in such a way as to take away the fear, while at the same time opening their minds to the knowledge of eternal life. In the Gospel of Matthew alone, the Lord taught that the kingdom of heaven was like:

                  1. a man who sowed good seed” (13:24);
                  2. a mustard seed” (13:31);
                  3. leaven” (13:33);
                  4. a treasure hidden in a field” (13:44);
                  5. a merchant seeking beautiful pearls” (13:45);
                  6. a dragnet cast into the sea” (13:47);
                  7. a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old” (13:52);
                  8. a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants” (18:23);
                  9. a landowner” who hired workers for his vineyard (20:1);
                  10. a certain king who arranged a wedding feast” (22:2);
                  11. and “ten virgins” with lamps who came to the wedding feast (25:1).

The Lord had to speak in these parables, because the people of that church were not prepared to understand His new truths in any other way. The only way to explain a totally new idea to someone is to say that it is like something he does know well.

When someone takes a new job, they look for the things that are familiar and already understood to form the basis for the things that must be learned because they are new.

When trying to learn a new language, the mind eagerly latches on to those words that have similar roots to words they already know. People who speak English as a first language often find Latin easier to learn than Greek because the Latin alphabet is familiar and so many English words have a Latin root. On the other hand, native English speakers probably find that Greek is easier to learn than Hebrew because even though both use a different alphabet, there are far more English words with Greek roots than with Hebrew roots.

For most people, in most circumstances, the comparison of something new and unknown with something familiar and common will often calm the fears enough so that learning can begin. This is but an application of the Lord’s teaching technique to a modern circumstance: explain what is totally new, unknown and unimagined in terms of what is well known and familiar. The kingdom of heaven is not a mustard seed, nor is dying the same thing as going to sleep, but they both can serve as useful illustrations making what might be strange and frightening seem less so. The Lord sought to give the truth to His people, but at the same time to comfort them – not frighten them with new and strange ideas. And so He taught them that the kingdom of heaven was like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, and having found a pearl far superior to any he had ever seen, he sold everything he had to purchase this one perfect pearl.

In the internal sense, the “kingdom of heaven” refers to both heaven and the church on earth. A “merchant” signifies all those people who are seekers of truth and who live according to the new truths they have acquired from the Lord through the Word. Our ability to seek out and acquire new truths comes from the spiritual affection of truth; which affection consists in loving the truth itself and esteeming it above every good in the world, because through truth, we have eternal life. The spiritual affection for truth can be said to be loving truth for the sake of eternal life. This is to be compared to a natural affection for truth, which would be to love truth for the sake of knowing things – natural curiosity – but not for the sake of spiritual goals.

It is important that each of us form a spiritual affection for truth within ourselves, for we are taught that the only means by which eternal life is implanted in man is by means of the truth, consequently by means of the Word, for it is through the Word that the Lord teaches truths to man. The spiritual affection of truth, which is to love truths above every worldly delight and treasure, is what is described by the parable of the merchant seeking to buy one precious pearl of great price. This is so because in the internal sense to “buy” signifies to appropriate to yourself, or make something your own through your own free choice.

As an illustration of this point, reflect for a moment of what happens when we go shopping in a large store. We are faced with literally thousands of decisions about whether or not we should buy a certain thing or not.

                  1. We might see something that would be nice to have, but decide not to buy it because it seems to be priced too high to be a good value.
                  2. We might see something to replace something we already have that’s wearing out, but decide to wait a little longer.
                  3. We might see something that is almost what we want, but we decide to look a little farther before buying.
                  4. When we see something that is just right, that fits our desires and needs exactly, then we decide to buy it, to make it our own.

This is very similar to the process by which our character is formed during life in the world. Ideas are constantly flowing into our minds from the world of spirits. Some are from heaven, some from hell, but most are fleeting thoughts, unable to remain with us because they find no common ground, no similar affections in our mind to hang on to. Such things are so far removed from our own loves that we do not even notice their passage.

Other ideas enter that are interesting enough for us to turn them over in our minds for a moment, until we see a flaw or a discordant affection, at which point we discard the thought.

But many ideas are delightful to us, so we choose to “take” them, make them our own. We “purchase” some of the ideas that flow in, and as it were take them home and make them a part of our particular lives. This describes how our free will functions in the development of our own unique personality and character – the free selection of ideas and loves that agree with what we love and with what we want ourselves want to be.

We can imagine a merchant, a dealer in pearls, going through his life, buying and selling unremarkable pearls, always searching for one perfect pearl. We too go through life making our decisions based on very mundane and common things most of the time, decisions about what to have for lunch, how to deal with a problem with the children, which course to take in a business deal. These are natural things, so called because they relate to things of the natural world, and so involve the natural degree of the mind.

There are some truths that, once they enter into the natural mind, become quite irritating. We try to ignore them, but they will not go away or be quiet. One the one hand, these can be truths that irritate us because they point out our own weaknesses and failings.

On the other hand there are things in others that irritate us, such as when a normally open-minded and loving spouse becomes very stubborn on one particular topic. There comes a time when we must take a lesson from the oyster, and form a pearl around that irritation. If an otherwise kind and thoughtful spouse has a character flaw that irritates, you can either fight it, rub it, and irritate it until it becomes an open wound, or you can surround it with thoughts of the spouse’s many good qualities will qualify and soften the effect of that single irritating point.

We need to remember that the other person may have been working on that particular problem for some time, and our comments have the effect of reminding them of their failure to conquer it yet. We must be merciful to those we love, and as far as possible look to the good in others.

The “one precious pearl,” long sought by the merchant, is the knowledge and acknowledgment of the Lord in His Divine Human. This is the central, essential idea of faith that qualifies all others, the one precious pearl of wisdom which gives value and meaning to all the others is the belief that the Lord God Jesus Christ is the One God of heaven and earth, and that He

                  1. actually took on a body from Mary,
                  2. lived among us on earth,
                  3. suffered and conquered in temptations,
                  4. restored the hells to their proper place and order,
                  5. and rose into heaven on the third day with His glorified Human.

This is the pearl of true wisdom, more precious than any other: that God Himself came down to earth in a Human body to free us from the dominion of hell and free us to choose to follow His commandments, to become Christians, that is, to live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

In our parable, when the merchant finds the precious pearl, he sells all that he has that he might acquire the precious pearl. To go and sell all that you have does not refer to ridding yourself of all material possessions, though some have interpreted the passage in this way. The Word speaks in the spiritual sense in terms of spiritual possessions and deeds. To “sell all you have” then refers to cleansing yourself of those things in your thought and will that are contrary to the knowledge and acknowledgment of the Lord in His Divine Human as the One Only God of Heaven and earth, to shun evils as sins against God.

We read in our second lesson (Revelation 21) that the Holy City New Jerusalem, which represents the Lord’s New Church in the Heavens and on the earth, has 12 gates, each of which is formed of a single pearl. There are twelve gates into the city, because twelve represents the idea of all things of good and truth universally. This is significant, for it tells us that there are really as many different ways for people to approach the Lord’s church as there are people, that no two individuals will approach the Lord in quite the same way, yet He has provided that there will an entrance for everyone into His church – as long as one condition is met. That condition is revealed by the fact that the gates are each made of one pearl: Only those shall enter the Holy City New Jerusalem who have as the basis of their faith the belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as the one God of heaven and earth.

We all need to become spiritual merchants. We all need to have a spiritual affection for truth, that is, look to the things of the Word because they lead to eternal life. We need to seek the One Precious Pearl in the only place where it will be found, in the Word. And when we have found the Lord Himself in His Word, we must sell all that we have, that is, give up all that we have that is from self and the world, so that we can enter into the Holy City New Jerusalem through one of the twelve gates, each made of a single precious pearl, unimpeded by false ideas and evil desires. AMEN.

First Lesson: MAT 13:44-52

(Mat 13:44-52) “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. {45} “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, {46} “who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. {47} “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, {48} “which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. {49} “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, {50} “and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” {51} Jesus said to them, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” {52} Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” Amen.

Second Lesson: REV 21:9-21

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” {10} And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, {11} having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. {12} Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: {13} three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. {14} Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. {15} And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. {16} The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. {17} Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. {18} The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. {19} The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, {20} the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. {21} The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. Amen.

Third Lesson: Apocalypse Explained 863a.

For they are virgins, signifies for the reason that they are in the affection of truth for the sake of truth. This is evident from the signification of “virgins,” as being affections of truth, which are called spiritual affections of truth. For there are natural affections of truth which exist in almost every one, especially during childhood and youth. But natural affections of truth have reward as an end, at first reputation, and afterwards honor and gain. These are not the affections here meant by “virgins,” but spiritual affections of truth are meant, which are such as have for their end eternal life and the uses of that life.

Those who are in such affections love truths because they are truths, thus apart from the world’s glory, honors, and gains; and those who love truths apart from such considerations love the Lord; for the Lord is with man in the truths that are from good. For that which proceeds from the Lord as a Sun is the Divine truth, and that which proceeds from the Lord is the Lord; consequently he that receives truth from spiritual love because it is truth receives the Lord. Therefore of such it is said “these are they that follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.”

Moreover, such are meant by the Lord in these words in Matthew:-

The kingdom of the heavens is like unto a treasure hidden in a field, which a man having found hideth, and in his joy goeth and selleth all things whatsoever he hath, and buyeth the field. Again, the kingdom of the heavens is like unto a man a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one precious pearl, went and sold all that he had, and bought it (xiii. 44-46).

The treasure hidden in a field” and “the pearls” signify the truths of heaven and the church; and the “one precious pearl” signifies the acknowledgment of the Lord. The affection of truths because they are truths is meant by “the man went in his joy and sold all that he had, and bought the field” in which the treasure was hidden, also by “the merchant’s going and selling all that he had, and buying the precious pearl.” Amen.

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SELF COMPULSION

SELF COMPULSION

A Sermon by the Rev. James P Cooper

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And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. (REV 21:6,7)

The text this morning is taken from the 21st chapter of the Book of Revelation, and encompasses the whole of the doctrine of man’s freedom of choice in spiritual things. The Lord provides spiritual truths in super abundance for anyone to take their fill. That is, the Fountain of the Water of Life, from which He gives freely and those who then use those truths from that fountain to overcome their sins, are promised that they will inherit blessings and will be conjoined with their Heavenly Father.

There are two things that are brought out in this text that we will focus on today. The issue of freedom of choice in spiritual things and the issue of cooperation with the Divine Providence and with the Lord in our own regeneration.

As the text so clearly states, He who overcomes shall inherit all things. Notice how that is phrased: He who overcomes. Notice especially what it does not say. It does not say “he for whom I shall overcome.” The work and the effort of regeneration are ours , not the Lord’s. He who overcomes shall inherit. So this in turn leads us to consider the fourth law of the Divine Providence as was read in our lesson.

According to the list of the laws given at the end of the Apocalypse Explained, the fourth law is That the understanding and the will ought not to be in the least compelled by another since all compulsion takes away freedom, but that man ought to compel himself, for to compel oneself is to act from freedom (AE 1136).

When we think about freedom and compulsion we may think that they are mutually contradictory. How can you be free if you are compelled? Isn’t it true that you must either be free or compelled – but not both at once? It is also true that the desire to be free from restraint or compulsion from another is innate because freedom is the most precious gift that the Lord gives all people, after life itself. We all enjoy the sense that what we are doing is our own decision and from our own freedom.

Everyone has been given the ability to think about both truths and falsities and everyone has been given the ability to want to do both good and evil things. It sometimes appears to us that we can do these things simultaneously and that there is nothing that another person can do to take that ability away. Certainly the Lord will never take it away, for our freedom is that which gives us the capability of becoming unique individuals as we make our choices in life, and our freedom is the means by which we can reform our lives and eventually be regenerated by the Lord.

We have life and we have spiritual freedom from the Lord. We have hereditary tendencies to evils of every kind from our parents, and we have natural inclinations from our natural bodies. All these things, brought together, make up the vessel that is an individual human being on earth. We may freely choose from a tremendous variety of things on every level that are good or true. Think for a moment about the celestial angel. His freedom is expressed in his choices of ways to show his love to the Lord. The spiritual angel expresses his freedom in his choice of the truths that he learns so that he may act in charity toward others. The angel of the natural heaven chooses among his various duties and uses and does them with good cheer because he is serving the Lord.

If, while living in the world of nature, we choose only from natural inclinations of the body without looking any higher, the result is the drive for absolute freedom from constraint or law. Such freedom from constraint or from law is called “license,” and license is encouraged in us by the hells, because they want us to focus on the things of the world. The more we focus on the things of the world, the less time we will spend trying to understand or get spiritual things. The result is that the purely natural person believes freedom is to be free to do whatever he wants without regard for the freedoms or rights of others.

The situation in the natural world demands that there be laws for the sake of an orderly society, but there are two very different kinds of laws in the world. The first is the kind of law that people make to govern their own behavior in society, and a simple example of that would be traffic laws. It doesn’t really matter whether we drive on the left hand side or the right hand side of the road, there is nothing spiritual in that decision, we don’t need to search the Word for guidance. What is really important is that we all do it the same way. Such laws are easily broken because there is nothing inherent in them to keep them from being broken. They are nothing more than an expression of society’s consensus of how things ought to work at a particular time and place.

The other kind of law is the description of the observed behavior of things and systems. We sometimes call it “Science.” For example, the law of gravity is a description of an order or a power that binds the things of the universe together in an orderly and predictable way. The law of gravity cannot be broken, it can only be applied.

Sometimes people will say in casual conversation that an airplane is a device that “defies the law of gravity.” But when we reflect on it for a moment, it can be easily seen that a device that flies through the air doesn’t defy any physical laws, but that its flight depends on the constant an unchanging nature of the law of gravity and other physical laws to operate safely.

Both kinds of laws have this in common, that they describe how things work. Either they describe the relationships of objects and forces in the physical universe (such as the law of gravity), or they are descriptions of how individuals ought to behave in society, such as the traffic laws.

When we think about the laws of the Divine Providence we must be careful to distinguish between which kind of laws they are. The laws of the Divine Providence are not restrictions on the Divine, which leads to people asking the absurd question “Can the Lord make a rock that is too heavy for Him to lift?” That’s a trick question, a play of words designed to confuse and to detract from the idea. Instead, the laws of the Divine Providence are descriptions of the principles by which He operates. It’s not paradoxical to speak about laws of order or laws of providence for these laws do not in any way restrict God. These laws exist to teach us how we can understand the principles from which and through which He acts in our lives. Thus the Lord can have laws of providence and still be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent because the laws are from Him and simply describe to us the way in which He governs His created Universe.

If we can see that the Lord can operate according to laws and still be entirely free, can we not also see that the laws that come from within ourselves do not restrict our own freedom, for they are simply the forms through which our will presents itself to the outside world? On the other hand, when laws come from outside, from another person or agency, and they are opposed to what we ourselves believe and feel, when they are opposed to what we want to do, when we feel that we are being compelled by another, we immediately rebel because we feel that we are no longer in freedom.

We see this all the time in our relationships with others. The minute we sense that someone is trying to force us to do something, we immediately set up our defenses. On the other hand we know from many different experiences that if we want to get someone else to do something for us we cannot simply issue a command but instead we try to find a way to introduce the idea to the other person so that it appears that it was his idea in the first place. If we can do that, he is then likely to happily go along with it.

True freedom is heavenly freedom as the angels have it. The freedom of angels is the action of their wills, their desires that are within themselves, upon the various truths that they have in their understandings from the Word. The will then selects those truths, those areas of wisdom that are appropriate to itself, and they are then free to act according to their loves through the wisdom that they have. What compels them to do this is their own will and the delight that they feel from doing what is good from the Lord. Thus their compulsion is from within, from their own will and they can do whatever they want to do. An angel’s freedom is complete because he only wants to do what is good and thus is totally free to express any love that he feels.

Unfortunately we can’t have that kind of freedom while we are yet on earth. We each have this freedom within us as a potential, from creation, but its nature is determined by the nature of our will. Each of us is born with a will that delights in expressing a mixture of hereditary tendencies to evil, affections of good and truth, and loves that we have made our own through choice and practice.

While our minds remain free to contemplate good and evil, truth and falsity, we are restrained from acting according to our every passing desire by a fear of punishment, and because of breaking the laws of human society, we are totally free to think about things while we are in this world but we do not have license to act totally according to our will because it’s mixed, because its full of evil, because we will then do harm to others.

We are taught through the doctrines that what makes a person is his loves, and before regeneration the loves that make up our character are not unified, they are not one, but are made up of literally thousands of competing desires and affections, both good and evil. Therefore during temptation the various loves fight one against another for dominance within us. When one love wins, the other opposite love must necessarily have lost. Since the delight of our life was in the losing love as well, we feel that the freedom and delight that we had from that love are gone. We feel that our very life and freedom are in question. And yet, at that very moment we have overcome some evil, we feel that we are actually the most free because we are choosing for ourselves to do what we know to be right according to the Word.

It’s important to note that we have to first shun evil before we can do good because to have good we have to make room for it, we have to move the opposing evil, otherwise they mix themselves in our minds. A thief who steals a particular object but still plans other thefts has not rejected his love of evil by doing the opposite good, for he still believes that stealing is right for him. An adulterer is not reformed by spending time at home with his family while in his mind he plans the next seduction. Both the thief and the adulterer must see the evil that lies behind their actions, search it out, see it for what it is and then flee from it as if from hell. They must see that what they have been doing is wrong and shun it before the opposite good can have any spiritual effect.

When a man does a good deed the Lord gives him a love of doing that good. When a man does an evil deed he confirms and appropriates to himself the delight in doing that evil. A man must first sun the evil before doing good so that there will be room for the good love, so that the evil will be removed and the good love can take its place. If this does not happen then good and evil become mixed in his mind and then they can only be separated by a long and painful vastation after death.

We are told that man’s conscience begins as a gift from the Lord. His freedom and his heavenly proprium are also gifts from the Lord, everything in man is first borrowed from the Lord and then made his own or appropriated to his own through his use of it in freedom of choice. While man in and of himself may be nothing but a vessel of life, he is not nothing, by using the things which the Lord gives him throughout life and in the combats of temptation, he forms the vessel that is the essential individual, stripped of all gifts. By borrowing freedom and using it he forms the unique vessel that can receive and react in a unique way to the influx of life that flows in from the Lord.

The Arcana teaches that it is a universal law that all that which is good and true is inseminated in freedom, for otherwise the ground cannot possibly receive and cherish that which is good, and in fact there is no ground in which the seed can grow (See AC 1937:e).

We read further in the Divine Providence that the internal of thought cannot be forced by any fear; it can be compelled by love and the fear of failing to love. In the true sense, fear of God is nothing else. To be compelled by love and by the fear of failing in it is self-compulsion . . . and is not contrary to freedom and rationality (See DP 136:e).

According to the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church, self-compulsion, which is essential to regeneration and to our own sense of personal freedom, is nothing other than acting according to our own will. If the will has been made new by the Lord through as-from-self conquests in temptation, then it feels wonderful to compel oneself. If one does not really want to do truth, but knows that he should, and thus tries, he can still feel delight in the attempt, because the Lord implants the appropriate affections in him. If he only acts according to the law because of fear, or to hide his evils from others, he burns with his lusts, and chafes under the slavery to his own evil which is called “hellish freedom.”

We close by reading from the Arcana number 1937: In all freedom there is man’s life, because there is his love. Whatever a man does from love appears to him free. But in this freedom, when a man is compelling himself to resist what is evil and false, and to do what is good, there is heavenly love, which the Lord then insinuates, and through which He creates the man’s (heavenly) proprium (AC 1937:6). AMEN.

1st Lesson: REV 21:1-8

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. {2} Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. {3} And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. {4} “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” {5} Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” {6} And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. {7} “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. {8} “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Amen.

2nd Lesson: AE 1136:2-10

The laws of order which are called the laws of Divine Providence are the following:

(1) Man does not feel and perceive and thus know otherwise than that life is in him, that is, that he thinks and wills from himself, and thus speaks and acts from himself; and yet he may acknowledge and believe that the truths that he thinks and speaks and the goods that he wills and does are from God, thus as if they were from himself;

(2) Man does what he does from freedom according to reason, and yet he may acknowledge and believe that the very freedom that he has is from God; and the same is true of his very reason, viewed in itself, which is called rationality.

(3) To think and speak truth and to will and do good from freedom according to reason is not from oneself but from God; and to think and to speak falsity and to will and do evil from freedom is not from oneself but from hell; and yet in such a way that while the falsity and evil are from hell, the freedom itself, regarded in itself, and the ability itself to think, will, speak, and do, regarded in itself, are from God.

(4) Man’s understanding and will must not be compelled by another in the least, since all compulsion by another takes away freedom, but man himself should compel himself, for to compel oneself is to act from freedom.

(5) From sense and perception man does not know in himself how good and truth flow in from God and how evil and falsity flow in from hell; nor does he see how the Divine Providence operates in favor of good against evil; if he did he could not act from freedom according to reason as if from himself; it is sufficient for him to know and acknowledge this from the Word and from the doctrine of the church.

(6) Man is not reformed by external means but by internal means; by external means miracles and visions, also fears and punishments are meant; by internal means truths and goods from the Word and from the doctrine of the church and looking to the Lord are meant; for these means enter by an internal way, and remove the evils and falsities that have their seat within, while external means enter by an external way and do not remove evils and falsities but shut them in. Nevertheless, man may be further reformed by external means when he has previously been reformed by internal means; but a man that has not been reformed is merely withheld by external means, which are fears and punishments, from speaking and doing the evils and falsities that he thinks and that he wills.

(7) Man is let into truths of faith and goods of love by God only so far as he can be kept in them until the end of life; for it is better that he should continue to be evil than that he should be good and afterwards evil, for he thus becomes profane. This is the chief reason why evil is permitted.

(8) God continually withdraws man from evils so far as man is willing from freedom to be withdrawn. So far as man can be withdrawn from evil God leads him to good and thus to heaven. But so far as man cannot be withdrawn from evils God cannot lead him to good and thus to heaven; for so far as man has been withdrawn from evils so far he from God does good that is in itself good, but so far as he has not been withdrawn from evils so far he from himself does good that has evil within it.

(9) God does not teach man truths either from Himself or through angels immediately; but He teaches by means of the Word, preaching, reading, and conversation and communication with others, and thus by thoughts with himself about these things. Man is then enlightened in the measure of his affection of truth from use. Otherwise man could not act as from himself.

(10) Man from his own prudence has led himself to eminence and opulence, when these lead him astray; for by the Divine providence man is led only to such things as do not lead astray and as are serviceable to eternal life; for all things of the Divine providence with man look to what is eternal, since the life which is God, from which man is man, is eternal life. Amen.

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APPROPRIATING GOOD AND EVIL

APPROPRIATING GOOD AND EVIL

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, August 24, 2008

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If a man believed, as is the truth, that all good and truth are from the Lord and all evil and falsity from hell, he would not appropriate good to himself and consider it merited, nor evil to himself and make himself responsible for it. (DP 320)

It is a remarkable truth that everything of good and truth that enters our mind actually flows in from heaven, and that all falsities and evil lusts flow in from hell. It may feel to us as if these ideas and feelings originate in our own minds, but they do not. They flow in from others, outside of ourselves.

The idea that all the activity in our minds comes from others may be upsetting at first – but this concept is essential to our understanding of our own responsibility for the evils that we think about and do, and at the same time our understanding of our part in the good that we do.

If we try to step back from our own personal involvement in this issue, if we try to be objective, perhaps we can see that there really is only one life in the universe, and that is God. He created the universe and continually re-creates it by flowing into the ultimates of nature which have been created by Him to receive His life.

This view of creation is quite different from the popular scientific theories of the day where it is believed that life arose spontaneously when the proper mix of chemicals happened to occur. Today, scientists dig deeper and deeper into the molecular structure of the cell in order to discover life, but can only be frustrated in their search, for they are looking at a structure created to receive and hold life, not life itself.

The belief that life can be found within the physical structure of natural things is quite old. It leapt to dominance with the invention of the microscope in the 17th Century. Emanuel Swedenborg was one of many scientists who believed that the microscope would be the tool to help them discover the soul within the fibbers of the body itself. We know that Swedenborg spent many years studying human anatomy in order to find the soul, and wrote a series of books detailing that search. The results of his search led him away from science to philosophy, and again, he wrote several important books documenting his search for the soul within the human mind. But the only thing he proved to himself is that the soul could not be found by philosophy either, and so finally from being a philosopher, he became a theologian. His eyes were opened to see the spiritual world, and he then experienced first-hand the influx of the Lord’s life through the heavens into each individual human being.

Swedenborg saw that the heavens had not been created merely as some kind of cosmic playground for favoured spirits, but that it had a specific use to men on earth. Just as the earth itself has a series of atmospheres that protect those on its surface from the full effects of the power of the sun, the heavens serve as spiritual atmospheres to protect us from the full power of God’s presence. The Divine life flows into the celestial heaven where it is received by the angels there, modified by them, and passed on to the spiritual heaven. There it is modified again and passed on to the natural heaven, and from there into the world of spirits. There, in the world of spirits, are those who have recently died and who have not yet made the choice between heaven and hell. The states of these spirits are most like our own, and therefore it is these spirits, both good and evil, that are most closely associated with us while we live in the world, and who serve to pass the Divine influx on to us. We sense this kind of inflowing life as the various ideas and feelings that pop into our minds during the day.

However, even though these ideas originate in the spiritual world, we still have the power to direct our mind in certain directions, to invite certain kinds of thoughts and the spirits associated with them. One way of understanding how this works is to think how a radio works. Our atmosphere is full of electro-magnetic pulses over a great range of frequency and power. Anyone who has ever played with a short-wave receiver has a feeling for how many different signals are available at any given time, and there are many other kinds of signals as well: FM, television, and microwave. But we do not hear them now, because we are not “tuned in,” we don’t have a radio. When you turn the radio on, you can then spin the tuning dial and hear all kinds of different programs, and you stop when you find something that appeals to you. Your mind works in a very similar way.

The spiritual world is broadcasting all kinds of thoughts all the time, both good and evil. This is why the Lord taught in the Sermon on the Mount, as read in our second lesson, that we had to be concerned not only with actual evils, but also with the thoughts that flow in and cause them. But the choices we have made, the kind of character we have developed makes us more susceptible to certain kinds of ideas, and to be completely deaf to others. A person who enjoys a warm, happy relationship with his wife simply doesn’t hear the lustful ideas that pass through. He is “tuned out” to them because they do not make a one with his affections.

On the one hand, our basic character effectively filters out a lot of the ideas, but still we are free to turn our minds to any that appeal to us, we can direct our thought and concentrate in a particular direction, or on a particular subject. In our analogy, it is like “fine-tuning.”

There is a common perception with people that evil ideas come from hell, and that good ideas come from the Lord through heaven. Who has not heard a story where the devil tempts some poor soul with the promise of some great achievement now in return for his soul later? And who has not seen the cartoons that represent our temptations by showing a little angel and a little devil, each sitting on a shoulder and whispering in the ear?

While we instinctively understand and agree with this illustration of the good and evil influences in our lives, hardly anyone actually uses these commonly known truths in their own lives! We act as if all the evil ideas that pop into our minds are our own – and because we think they are ours, we love them and try to think up all many of ways to defend them! We learn to weave truths and falsities together so as to make evil seem to be good.

This is exactly what the hells want us to think. They know that if we took one second to think rationally about where these ideas come from, we would know that they come from hell, and flee from them. We could easily fight temptation if we believed, truly believed, that our desire to do evil comes from hell, outside of ourselves. Think about how often we resist doing something just because it was somebody else’s idea. Again, think how often we can be convinced to do something if we can be tricked into thinking it was our own idea in the first place! As we read in the first lesson, that’s how Bathsheba and Nathan were able to make David reverse his own policy of letting his sons fight it out and come out in favour of Solomon as the next king, coincidentally saving the lives of Nathan and Bathsheba who were not loved by David’s other sons. If we think another person is forcing us to do something, we resist, even if it is something pleasant, because our freedom of choice is more precious to us than anything.

The Humanists will tell us that man is inherently good and therefore does not need to be saved. The Reformed Christian Church tells us that mankind since the fall is inherently evil and can only be saved by faith. The New Christian Church says that man, by birth, is neither. He is nothing other than the sum total of the choices he freely makes during the course of his adult life.

Neither good nor evil are ours from birth. We have a hereditary tendency to evil, but it is only an inclination to certain evils, not the actual evils themselves. The Lord has seen to it that our inclination to evil is exactly balanced by an equal inclination to do good through our remains of good and truth. Just as we are not compelled to act according to our hereditary tendencies to evil, neither are we compelled to act according to our hereditary goods, or remains. We are free to choose what we do and whom we shall be for ourselves.

Since our hereditary inclination to evil is from our parents, and our remains are the Lord’s things with us, we actually begin life with nothing of our own and so must choose those things that will be ours to eternity, goods and truths or evils and falsities, that are in accord with our affections and delights. As we read in the lesson, if we will only remember that all life is from the Lord, and that all these things flow in from Him, then we are free to pick what will be a part of our own spiritual character. Both evil and good are outside of us, and we can choose to bring them in by our own actions, that is, appropriate them.

It is an absolute principle of the New Church that the Lord continually strives to protect and provide for man’s spiritual freedom. We feel this freedom while we are on earth in the fact that we can think and believe anything we wish. And, to a large extent, we are free to do whatever we want, except as we are restrained by our fears of the loss of our reputation among men, our honour, and our personal gain. We are even free to believe that we live from ourselves, although this belief is the source of most of our spiritual difficulties. We are even free to do evil from intention or by accident.

In reality, we are only vessels created to receive life from the Lord. The living vessel is flawed, and tends to evils of every kind. The Lord counteracts this by inflowing into the secret parts of our minds with affections for good and truth. Thus we live in a balance, an equilibrium between what is evil on the one hand and what is good on the other. We are even given the feeling that we live from ourselves so that we can feel the delights of life as our own.

Our character becomes the sum of the choices we make from an infinite array of ideas and feelings that flow in from the spiritual world, and which we can then make our own by living according to them. We are in control of our own lives only when we believe and live according to the truth that the ideas and feelings are not ours, but inflow from the spiritual world. We must not feel guilty for evil thoughts and feelings unless we invite them, encourage them, cherish them, and through intention and act make them our own.

If we could really believe that temptations of evil are from hell, that they are hell trying to pull us down by deception, to make us do what the devils want, it would be much easier to reject those temptations. But, if we persist in our belief that we live from ourselves, then the devils of hell can easily persuade us that evil is ours as well, that it is from our own personal loves, and will therefore delight us.

We become guilty of evil only when we believe that we live from ourselves, and that all our thoughts and ideas are our own. We could just as easily choose good if we would accept the truth that life is a gift from the Lord for us to freely use.

If a man believed, as is the truth, that all good and truth are from the Lord and all evil and falsity from hell, he would not appropriate good to himself and consider it merited, nor evil and make himself responsible for it (DP 320). AMEN.

First Lesson: 1KI 1:11-31

So Nathan spoke to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, saying, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king, and David our lord does not know it? {12} “Come, please, let me now give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. {13} “Go immediately to King David and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord, O king, swear to your maidservant, saying, “Assuredly your son Solomon shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne”? Why then has Adonijah become king?’ {14} “Then, while you are still talking there with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words.” {15} So Bathsheba went into the chamber to the king. (Now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was serving the king.) {16} And Bathsheba bowed and did homage to the king. Then the king said, “What is your wish?” {17} Then she said to him, “My lord, you swore by the LORD your God to your maidservant, saying, ‘Assuredly Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne.’ {18} “So now, look! Adonijah has become king; and now, my lord the king, you do not know about it. {19} “He has sacrificed oxen and fattened cattle and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the sons of the king, Abiathar the priest, and Joab the commander of the army; but Solomon your servant he has not invited. {20} “And as for you, my lord, O king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, that you should tell them who will sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. {21} “Otherwise it will happen, when my lord the king rests with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon will be counted as offenders.” {22} And just then, while she was still talking with the king, Nathan the prophet also came in. {23} So they told the king, saying, “Here is Nathan the prophet.” And when he came in before the king, he bowed down before the king with his face to the ground. {24} And Nathan said, “My lord, O king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne’? {25} “For he has gone down today, and has sacrificed oxen and fattened cattle and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s sons, and the commanders of the army, and Abiathar the priest; and look! They are eating and drinking before him; and they say, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ {26} “But he has not invited me; me your servant; nor Zadok the priest, nor Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, nor your servant Solomon. {27} “Has this thing been done by my lord the king, and you have not told your servant who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?” {28} Then King David answered and said, “Call Bathsheba to me.” So she came into the king’s presence and stood before the king. {29} And the king took an oath and said, “As the LORD lives, who has redeemed my life from every distress, {30} “just as I swore to you by the LORD God of Israel, saying, ‘Assuredly Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,’ so I certainly will do this day.” {31} Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the earth, and paid homage to the king, and said, “Let my lord King David live forever!”

Second Lesson: Mat 5:21-30

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ {22} “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. {23} “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, {24} “leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. {25} “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. {26} “Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. {27} “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ {28} “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. {29} “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. {30} “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

Third Lesson: BE 69 (port.)

“Who cannot see, that every man has freedom to think about God, or not to think about Him, consequently that every man has the same freedom in spiritual things, as he has in civil and moral things. The Lord gives this freedom continually to all: wherefore man becomes guilty or not guilty as he thinks. … Man is capable of reforming and regenerating himself as of himself, provided he only acknowledge in his heart that his ability is from the Lord. Every man who does the work of repentance, is reformed and regenerated. … In a word, act of yourselves, and believe that it is from the Lord, for thus you will act as of yourselves. … Everyone, however, contracts guilt, who believes that he does of himself either good or evil; but not he who believes that he acts as of himself. For whatsoever a man believes that he does of himself, that he appropriates to himself; if he believes that he does good of himself, he appropriates to himself that good, and makes it his own, when nevertheless it is of God and from God; and if he believes that he does evil of himself, he also appropriates that evil to himself, and makes it his own, when yet it is of the devil and from the devil.”

Copyright © 1982 – 2008 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
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The Gospel of Redemption

The Gospel of Redemption

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto – April 19, 2009

revcooper.ca


Afterward He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (MAR 16:14-15)

Everything that the Lord did while He was on earth was representative of spiritual things. Everything He taught, every place He went, everything He did, He did with thought concerning how it would be recorded, and what we might be able to learn both from the literal sense, and from the internal sense. Therefore, we can know that it was not by accident that the Lord led the children of Israel out of Egypt in the spring time, and that they remembered that miracle each year thereafter with the feast of Passover. It was also no accident that the Lord chose the feast of Passover, the feast that celebrates the death of the first-born sons of Egypt, to allow the first-born Son of God to be crucified and rise from the grave Glorified.

In our common speech we acknowledge that endings are really beginnings. A university graduation ceremony is often called “commencement” in recognition of the fact that we do not stop at the end of one state, but we continually move on to new states. The crucifixion and death of the Lord’s natural body is a dramatic symbol of the end of one state, but our attention must not focus on just the ending itself for too long.

There was no reason for the crucifixion except for the sake of the Glorification of His Human. The Lord has provided that we come to worship Him thinking about His death and resurrection at a time of year when there is the beauty of the year’s infant growth, when the senses are filled with the eagerly awaited signs of spring, when things that have been as dead, once again begin to live. This is the reason why we bring an offering of flowers to the church on Easter morning: because they are symbols of resurrection. The dead, dry seed is put into the earth and soon bursts forth into a beauty and splendor that the wisest person could not have imagined from looking at the seed.

In heaven, there is perpetual springtime, for the sights, sounds, and fragrances there touch everyone with the message that life has conquered death. So the story of Easter morning, as told through Mark, begins with many symbols of old states ending, and new ones beginning, to draw our minds away from thoughts of the crucifixion. Such phrases as: the Sabbath was past; very early in the morning; the first day of the week; and at the rising of the sun are powerful images that are able to lead the mind to thoughts about new beginnings, fresh starts, a New Age and a New Church. Such images lead our thoughts to the things to come, to reflect on the goals which the Lord sought, which gave Him the strength to carry on in His temptations, the goal of the redemption of all mankind, and the ordering of the heavens.

The purpose for the Lord’s birth into the world was the redemption of mankind. It was for this reason that He took on a material body, so that through combats with the hells on every level He might defeat them and so restore the whole of the spiritual world to order. The crucifixion was the final battle of the war for mankind’s eternal welfare, and the joy of Easter morning is the victory celebration.

Some have misunderstood redemption, believing that by redemption the Lord has bestowed eternal blessedness on every person, no matter what the nature of his life. The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem teach that by redemption the Lord guaranteed that all people who desired it could enter heaven, because He broke hell’s power to deceive and mislead any one who did not wish to be deceived and misled.

Redemption was combat with the Hells, the subjugation of them, and afterwards the [ordering] of the heavens (TCR 126), and redemption was necessary not only for people in this world, but even for the angels of heaven as well (See TCR 121). In order to understand this, we need to remember that the Lord came into the world because the hells had, through deceit and the corresponding receptive states of people in the world, been able to move into the world of spirits and exert a great influence on those there. They were so successful there, that they actually began to intrude upon the freedom of those in the first heaven, threatening their peace and security. Simply put, the states of the spiritual and natural worlds had become such that it was impossible for a person to choose to learn and follow the truth. Unless order had been restored, no one could have risen above his hereditary tendencies to evils of every kind, and thus everyone would have been condemned to hell. Spiritual freedom was about to come to an end. God Himself … descended and assumed the Human, to remove the hells, and thus damnation, from mankind; and this He accomplished through combats with and victories over … all the hells, which were then infesting, and spiritually killing, every man who came into the world. (BE 57)

The Lord took on the Human so that He might be able to have a means for permitting the approach of the hells to Himself, for they could not approach Him as He is in Himself, nor in the heavens. He had to clothe Himself until His spiritual radiance was sufficiently accommodated, or shielded, that the hells could approach Him. In so doing, He received their temptations, conquered them, and so put them back into the hells from which they came. He thus opened heaven once again; and it was once again possible for Him to be present with mankind, and He could save those who chose to live according to the truths presented in the Word. (See TCR 579)

The Lord glorified His Human because by so doing He became the Redeemer, Regenerator, and Savior to eternity. The Heavenly Doctrines further teach that Redemption is like creation in that it is not something that occurs only once in time: The universe has no life in itself; its continued existence is dependent upon the Lord’s constant inflowing with life, sustaining and re-creating it every moment. In the same way, Redemption is not a single act that happened once in time, but a process whereby the Lord continually redeems those who believe in Him and show their faith by living a life of charity to others. He redeems these by continually acting to free them from the unrestrained influence of hell so that they are free to act according to their own choices and their own loves, and are not unduly influenced by others. (See TCR 579)

According to the gospel of Mark, after the resurrection, the Lord first appeared to Mary Magdalene. She went to tell the others, who were mourning and weeping, but they did not believe her (MAR 16:9-11). After that, He appeared to two of them, as they walked (MAR 16:12). They too went to tell the others, and they too were not believed.

Finally, the Lord Himself appeared in the midst of the disciples as they sat at the table (MAR 16:14), and upbraided them for their unbelief. The gospel of Mark does not fully treat this incident, but we know from the record of the other gospels that the Lord spoke with them, moved among them, and ate as a man in the world, in order to put to rest their fears that He was some kind of spirit or ghost, and to bring them to the full belief that yes, He had in fact risen from the dead.

Having shown the disciples the reality of His resurrection, He gave them the following command: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (MAR 16:15).

The disciples were commanded to go forth and preach the gospel to all the world, to every creature. It is important that we understand what is meant by this command, for it applies to us as well. Today, we refer to the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the “gospels.” However, since these books were not yet written at the time of the Lord’s command, it is obvious that He was not referring to what we now call the “gospels” or the first four books of the New Testament. They are called “gospels” because the word “gospel” means “good news,” and they contain the “good news” that the Lord Himself taught, as well as the “good news” of His resurrection and Glorification.

This is the “good news” or “gospel” that all those who wish to be the Lord’s disciples are to preach, that by the Lord’s crucifixion, resurrection on the third day, and Glorification, He has revealed Himself as the Redeemer. This is good news because by His perpetual redemption we are all free to live according to our own will and according to our own understanding of the truth, and not the truth interpreted for us by any man or devil. The Lord as Redeemer has shattered the power of hell, so that we have hell in our own lives only through our own action and invitation. He has conquered spiritual death for all men for all time, and the symbol of that victory is that He rose with the whole body on Easter morning.

As the Lord’s Human was glorified, that is, made Divine, He rose again after death on the third day with His whole body, which does not take place with any man; for a man rises again solely as to the spirit, and not as to the body. In order that men may know, and no one doubt, that the Lord rose again with His whole body, He not only said so through the angels in the sepulcher, but also showed Himself to His disciples in His human body.… (Lord 35).

We are commanded to preach the gospel to every creature, that is, to bring the good new of the Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, the conqueror of death itself, to every person who would be created anew, who would become an angel of heaven. The Lord has given us the good news of His resurrection in the Word, and we must carry that news to others by our life, and by our words. If we so believe and act, then the power of hell cannot harm us, for the Lord told His disciples:

And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen (MAR 16:17-20).

1st Lesson: Psa 8

O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth, Who have set Your glory above the heavens! {2} Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, Because of Your enemies, That You may silence the enemy and the avenger. {3} When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, {4} What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? {5} For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor. {6} You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, {7} All sheep and oxen; Even the beasts of the field, {8} The birds of the air, And the fish of the sea That pass through the paths of the seas. {9} O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth!

2nd Lesson: Mark 16

Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. {2} Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. {3} And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” {4} But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away; for it was very large. {5} And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. {6} But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. {7} “But go, tell His disciples; and Peter; that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” {8} So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. {9} Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. {10} She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. {11} And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. {12} After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. {13} And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either. {14} Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. {15} And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. {16} “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. {17} “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; {18} “they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” {19} So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. {20} And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

3rd Lesson: AC 780

Of all flesh in which there was the spirit of life means a new creature, or the fact that they received new life from the Lord. This becomes clear from the meaning of ‘flesh’ as all mankind in general and a bodily-minded person in particular, as stated and shown already. Consequently ‘flesh in which there was the spirit of life’ means a person who has been regenerated, for the Lord’s life, which is the life of charity and faith, is there within his proprium. Nobody is anything more than flesh, but when the life of charity and faith is breathed into him by the Lord, his flesh in that case is made alive, becomes spiritual and celestial, and is called ‘a new creature’, (Mark 16:15), from having been created anew.


Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified April 19, 2009

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Sacrificing the First Born Son

Sacrificing the First Born Son

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto – February 27, 2011

revcooper.ca

And Abraham built an altar then and placed wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. (Genesis 22:9,10)

Who among us would take a knife and kill a child to prove the strength of our religious belief? Which of us has enough trust in the Lord to follow Him even though the path seems at the time to be more difficult than we can bear? This powerful and frightening story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son at the apparent command of his God not only speaks to one man’s trust in his God, but it is also a prophecy of God’s own sacrifice and victory over death on the cross. 

While Abram was a young man living in Ur of the Chaldees, God spoke to him and commanded him to take Sarai, his wife, and leave his ancestral home to search for his future and fortune in the land of Canaan. Abram travelled for many years, travelling through Canaan to Egypt, and then back to live among the Canaanites, trading and dealing with everyone he met on the way. Thanks to Jehovah’s help, he was extremely successful in his dealings, and soon possessed huge flocks and herds. Abram was a rich, powerful man, who only lacked a son, an heir to receive all this wealth. Sarai was barren, and yet God had made a covenant with Abram that if he would follow God’s commandments, then He would make a great nation of Abram’s descendants. 

However, as Abram and Sarai approached their old age, this promise must have seemed hollow to them, and so they resolved to take matters into their own hands. In order to produce an heir, Sarai gave Hagar her handmaiden to Abram. Since Hagar was Sarai’s property, anything owned or produced by Hagar belonged to Sarai – including any children. Therefore, Abram’s children by Hagar would be the legal heirs to his fortune. So, Hagar was given to Abram, and Ishmael was eventually born and received as Abram’s son and heir.

Later, when Abram was 99 and Ishmael was 13, the Lord returned to Abram to renew the promise of the great nation which would spring from Abram if he would follow the Lord’s commandments. He also then revealed the news which shocked Abraham – that this nation would not descend from Hagar’s son Ishmael, but from another son yet to be born to Sarah! As a sign and confirmation of this promise, the Lord changed Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai’s name to Sarah.

In Abraham’s 100th year, as God has promised, Sarah bore him a son, Isaac. Isaac’s birth put Ishmael and Hagar in a difficult situation, and we can see the measure of Abraham’s desire to have Isaac be a sole, legitimate heir by the fact that he sent Ishmael and Hagar into the desert to fend for themselves or die. And then, with Ishmael gone, the Lord tested Abraham’s trust and faith by apparently asking him to take his only remaining son, the son he had longed for all his life, and make a ritual human sacrifice.

We realize, of course, that the real intent of this command regards the story of the Lord’s glorification which is being revealed in the internal sense of the story, that God could never actually command anyone to kill their son as a gift of faith to make Him happy, as a purification rite, or as blood atonement. God is not a murderer.

We must digress for a moment and look carefully at this concept of blood atonement which is central to understanding of the doctrine of Redemption before going on with the story of Abraham’s temptation. Atonement is said to be “a harmonious relationship between God and Man, effected by Christ.” The traditional Christian theology behind this definition states that atonement is necessary because of the disruption of harmony that occurred in the Garden of Eden. The basic idea is that originally God and Mankind were in harmony, but mankind sinned and the harmony was destroyed, so atonement is the process whereby the harmony is restored. The Hebrew use of the term includes the idea of covering up, or wiping away. Passover is a good example of atonement, where a lamb was killed, and its blood placed on the doors of the houses as a sign of salvation.

The word sacrifice means “to make holy by killing:” and so we begin to see the whole concept of the Lamb of God in both the Hebrew and Christian Churches. The innocent being, made holy by ritual death, who washes away sins with the blood shed in death. This doctrine is the source of the doctrine that says that God gave His firstborn son as a sacrifice to wash away all sin in the world and restore the harmony that was lost when man first sinned in the garden of Eden, and that by His death Jesus imputes His righteousness to us through our faith alone.

Abraham apparently believed (and was encouraged in that belief by the religious rituals of the Canaanite people all around him) that God had to see Isaac’s blood to be happy. Many believe that Jehovah had to see Christ’s blood in order to be happy, to allow humans to be saved. Does the one make any more sense than the other?

In the New Church, we view the temptation of the cross in an entirely different light. Rather than ransoming off or appeasing an angry Jehovah, or wiping away all sin, past, present, and future, the Lord has, through His death on the cross, redeemed us, provided for us to be free to do what we want with our own lives. He did this by conquering the hells; by breaking their hold on man; by allowing His human body to die on the cross instead of coming down and miraculously healing and converting everyone in the world. He brought the whole spiritual world into order and restored spiritual equilibrium, which in turn restored to us our spiritual freedom. This is the atonement, the Redemption:  That we are neither born in sin, nor are we born in good, but that because of order in the spiritual world we are free to make of our lives whatever we wish, we are free to take any course in life we desire, as long as we are willing to accept the consequences.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is really the story of the Lord fighting the temptation of whether or not to let go of His human body. It represents the final temptation of the Lord while he was in the world, the temptation of the cross, for in this series Abraham represents the soul or Jehovah, while Isaac represents the body or Jesus.

Returning to the literal story, we find that Abraham travelled for three days to the place of sacrifice (See GEN 22:4), which, since the number “three” stands for what is complete, means that the preparation was complete and the next stage could begin. When Isaac asks his father, “where is the lamb for the burnt offering” (GEN 22:7), it represents a kind of rhetorical question that the Lord might have asked Himself:  “Where are those of the human race who are to be saved?” which is answered by Abraham when he says, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (GEN 22:8). This means the Divine Human will provide those who are to be sanctified.

Abraham placed wood on the altar, bound his son Isaac, and placed him on the wood. Then he reached out to take the knife and slay his son. This represents that the Lord was willing to take on the most grievous temptations so that He could conquer in them, expelling from Himself anything of a merely human nature until nothing remained except that which was from the Divine (See AC 2816).

The knife represents the truths of faith, which tells us that the Lord’s temptations were as to the truth of faith only. He could receive temptations regarding matters of rational thought in the human nature He assumed from Mary, but He was never tempted as to any love; for the Lord’s loves were all from the Divine, and therefore could not be tempted because they could not be approached or challenged by any spirit (See AC 2817).

The words, “to slay his son” (GEN 22:10), are a prophecy of the passion of the cross, the death of the physical body, and the final expulsion of all that which was merely human. These words signify the Lord’s most grievous and inmost temptations. We are told that Abraham did not actually slay Isaac because it was an abomination to sacrifice sons; but it was represented in the letter of the Word as far as it could be, that is, as to the intent and the attempt, although not as to the very act itself. In fact, we are told that the practice of human sacrifice among the Gentiles originated with their belief that the Lord would come into the world, endure temptations, and finally suffer death. They believed that by sacrificing their sons, they were both purified, and returned to harmony with God. It was because Abraham and his descendants were inclined to human sacrifice that the Lord instituted the rituals of animal sacrifice in their place (See AC 2828).

This story centres on trust. In the natural or historical sense, God had made a covenant with Abraham, had promised to make him a great nation. Now, God asked him to sacrifice his only son, a son miraculously born in his old age as a sign of his trust in God’s Providence. Abraham responded by binding his son, and taking the knife in hand to slay him.

In the inmost sense, also called the “Glorification Series”, the Lord Himself entered into His final combat of temptation where He knew that if He was to win, He must actually seem to lose, He must prevent the natural desires of the body to protect itself, no matter what, from disrupting His Divine purposes. It would not have been a temptation for Him if there was not some doubt in His mind that He might fail. He too had to trust that He had prepared Himself properly for this final combat.

We too must trust the Lord’s Providence and put our “sons” on the altar to slay them. We too must prepare ourselves for the battles of our lives and trust in our own ability to succeed.

Now, what do we mean by putting our “sons” on the altar? There are many different false ideas that we hold as dear as children, ideas that we might feel we’d rather die ourselves than give up. These false ideas are associated with the loves of self and the world. Under closer examination, many of these “sons” may be traditions or concepts learned in childhood that we have never really carefully examined, but just accepted as part of our world view. While many traditions and customs are perfectly fine, others have elements of the love of self and the world lurking within – “our” this, or “we always” do that.

After all, how else can we justify our selfish behaviour except with false ideas? We feel and believe that life is our own, to do with as we please. When we believe that life is our own, we take our own counsel in the place of the counsel provided in the Word. We think that we know what is best for ourselves, that anything that benefits us is what we really need. When we believe that life is our own we cannot focus on eternal goals, but become mostly interested in short-term benefits and end up doing those things that will provide the most pleasure and satisfaction right now, and let eternity worry about itself.

But life is most emphatically not our own. It is a continuously and eternally inflowing gift from God, and since life is not our own, even though He made it so that it feels to us as if it is our own, we have an obligation to the Giver to use it in the ways He intended.

Like the Lord, we must take our only son, our belief that life is our own, bind it, place it on the altar of worship towards the Lord in His Divine Human, reach out and take the knife of truth in our own hands, and kill the false son because that is what our God has asked us to do. To do so takes tremendous courage and trust in the Lord. If we can truly trust in the Lord, in the Word, and in our own strength to do the Lord’s will, we will be victorious in our temptations. The false son of the belief that life is our own can become the true son, the true idea when we acknowledge that life is from the Lord, and that He gives us the ability to feel it as our own as his special gift. The Lord stays our hand, for we have shown trust in Him, and gives us our son back, and much else besides.

When the Lord faced the temptation of the cross, He did not falter. He laid down His life for us, showing us that we had nothing to fear from death. He allowed His body to die, even though He had power to prevent it, so that He could conquer the hells that sought to bind Him and all mankind to the loves of the self and the world through the senses of the body. He broke the power of hell to bind men, and so redeemed us by giving us the freedom to choose for ourselves what our destiny would be. We can follow his example, and lay down not our physical bodies, but instead sacrifice our lusts for evil and the false idea that life is our own to do with as we please. Then we can be truly free, and become worthy of the kingdom of heaven.

“But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham.’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me’” (Genesis 22:11,12). AMEN

First Lesson: John 3:9-21

Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” {10} Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? {11} “Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. {12} “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? {13} “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. {14} “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, {15} “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. {16} “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. {17} “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. {18} “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. {19} “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. {20} “For everyone practising evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. {21} “But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

Second Lesson: AC 2776:2,3

[2] It is generally believed at the present day that the burnt offerings and sacrifices were signs of the Lord’s passion, and that by His passion the Lord atoned for the iniquities of all. Indeed it is believed that He drew away those iniquities on to Himself, and thus bore them Himself, so that those who believe are made righteous and are saved, if only they think, even in the last hour prior to death, that the Lord suffered on their behalf, no matter how they may have lived throughout the whole course of their lives. But such beliefs are mistaken. The passion of the Cross was the utmost degree of temptation endured by the Lord, by means of which He fully united the Human to the Divine and the Divine to the Human, and by doing this glorified Himself. That union itself is the means by which people possessing faith in Him that is grounded in charity are able to be saved. For the Supreme Divine Itself was no longer able to reach the human race which had removed itself so far away from the celestial things of love, and from the spiritual things of faith, that people did not even recognize them any more, let alone perceive them. Consequently to enable the Supreme Divine to come down to all such as this, the Lord came into the world and united the Human to the Divine within Himself. This union could not have been effected except by means of the very severe conflicts brought about by temptations and by means of victories in these, and at length by means of the final temptation, which was that of the Cross.

[3] As a result of this the Lord is able from the Divine Human to enlighten human minds, even those that are quite remote from the celestial things of love, provided that faith grounded in charity is present in them. For in the next life the Lord appears to celestial angels as the Sun, and to spiritual angels as the Moon, 1053, 1521, 1529, 1530, 2441, 2495 – all the light of heaven flowing from Him. The light of heaven is such that when it enlightens the eyes of spirits and angels it also at the same time enlightens their understanding. This ability to enlighten the understanding also exists inherently within that light, so that the amount of internal light, that is, of understanding, which anyone possesses in heaven is the same as the amount of external light he has. This shows the way in which the light of heaven is different from the light of the world. It is the Lord’s Divine Human that enlightens both the eyes and the understanding of those who are spiritual, but this could never be done unless the Lord had united the Human Essence to the Divine Essence. And unless He had united them neither men in the world, nor indeed any spiritual angel in heaven, would any longer have possessed any ability to understand or to perceive that which is good or true. Nor thus would they have possessed any blessedness and happiness at all, nor consequently any salvation at all. From this it becomes clear that the human race could not have been saved unless the Lord had assumed the Human and glorified it.

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Elijah’s Temptations

Elijah’s Temptations

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, Feb. 25, 2007

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Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD (1KI 19:11).

Our subject for today is Elijah’s flight into the wilderness to hide from the fury of Queen Jezebel. In order for us to understand the irony of his flight, we need first to understand the circumstances that surround it, to see that his fear was groundless because rather than being in danger of his life, Elijah was at that moment at his most powerful, for he had just had his famous contest with the 450 prophets of Baal.

There are few places in the Old Testament Word where the vision of Jehovah, the angry and vengeful God, is more clearly presented than in the story of Elijah’s contest with the 450 prophets of Baal. At the Lord’s command, Elijah challenged Ahab and Jezebel’s 450 prophets to a public contest to establish once and for all whether Baal or Jehovah was God. Each side was to construct an altar, place a sacrifice upon it, and then call down fire from their God. The prophets of Baal performed every possible ritual, they leaped upon the altar, cried out, and cut themselves until the blood flowed. They strained from morning ‘til evening, but there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention. (1KI 18:29)

With the help of the people, Elijah repaired the altar of the Lord, placed the wood and the sacrifice upon it, and then commanded that it be doused until it ran with water and the trench around it was filled. When Elijah called upon the name of the Lord, the fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. (1KI 18:38) At that dramatic moment, the people arose at his command and slew the 450 prophets of Baal.

If we were then told that the rest of the story was that Elijah had gone on to lead the people to overthrow the evil king Ahab and his even more evil wife Jezebel so that a king true to the worship of Jehovah could be restored, we would be ready, even eager, to believe it. However, as we read in the lessons, immediately after Jehovah’s great victory over Baal, Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah. Instead of laughing at her threats, which were made impotent by Jehovah’s power and protection, he instead fled from her in terror!

When teaching and leading, Elijah represents the Word, the prophetic voice of truth, and when he defeated the false prophets of Baal, it showed us how the Word, that is, the Lord’s Own truth in our minds, can have great power against the things in our lives that arise from selfish thoughts.

We are taught in the Heavenly Doctrines that the outward form of the rituals performed in the name of Baal were almost the same as those of the Hebrew ritual: for example both Elijah and the prophets of Baal built altars, and laid bulls upon them. (SeeAC1094:3). The fact that the worship of Baal and the worship of Jehovah have almost the same outward forms tells us that the same kind of thing can be said about our own lives, that we cannot tell from the outward appearance or action what kind of person someone is. (See HH 530)

Just as the difference between Baal worship and the worship of Jehovah is in the intention of the worshiper, rather than in the action itself, so we are to judge our own lives by that same standard – and when we have judged our own lives and found them wanting, we can have Elijah (the Word with us) use his power to destroy what is false and evil. When this happens, all appears well at first, but as soon as Jezebel appears, Elijah flees. What is it, that when joined to the false worship of Baal, can make it seem to us that the Word no longer has the power to help us, that makes us feel alone and abandoned by the Lord? It is what is represented by Jezebel when it is conjoined to what is represented by the prophets of Baal.

Jezebel represents the “delights of the loves of self and the world” (AE160). The worship of Baal represents “profane worship” (AC 5044:11), that is, “worship from the evils of the loves of self and the world” (AE160:2).

Everyone daydreams from time to time about winning money, or becoming famous – these thought enter unbidden into everyone’s mind, and we usually follow them for a bit because they seem to be innocent fun. Such thoughts can be made to leave as easily as they entered – as soon as they are seen for what they are and shunned. However, when the evil thoughts combine with an evil desire, and reach out into action as actual evils practised with malicious intent, then you have a powerful force that is able to quiet the prophetic voice of truth from the Word, even to the point of driving it away into the wilderness.

In our text Elijah runs first to the city Beer-sheeba, which in this context represents doctrine (See AC2723). But doctrine is a thing of the rational mind, and the rational mind has been blinded and closed by fear. Doctrine does no good for a person in this state, for this is the wilderness state. Elijah leaves Beer-sheeba and travels into the wilderness that represents the depths of his state of temptation.

The wilderness represents a place of obscurity and of temptation. As there is a lack of food and water in a wilderness, so there is a lack of good and truths in the wilderness state. Here Elijah judges himself harshly, sees himself as nothing but evil, and says, It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (1KI19:4) Someone in the depths of severe temptation may so desire the end of the state that they would rather be dead than to continue in it any longer. But what is the Lord’s response to Elijah’s prayer for release from temptation through death? Sleep, followed by a visit from an angel bringing him food and drink, representing the gathering of remains and the secret building up of trust in the Lord that takes place during temptation. Notice the similar themes in the story of the Lord’s own temptations in Gethsemane – that the angels came to minister unto Him while the disciples slept (SeeLUK22:39-48).

The Lord alone fight evils for us in temptation, but only when we ask Him to fight for us. When we realize that we can do nothing on our own without the Lord’s help, and we ask for that help, then the Lord can move quickly and gently into our lives to uplift and rebuild. The Lord is then able to appropriate goods and truths into our minds, building up a new will. This is what is signified by the angel giving Elijah a cake and water.

From the depths of temptation signified by the wilderness, fortified by the ministrations of the angel, Elijah begins to move upward in his states, though still in temptation, for the Word tells that that he travels for forty days, and the number “forty” represent temptation. While in the wilderness state, Elijah wanted to die, but now he comes into a state represented by Mt. Horeb. Horeb is the low mountain surrounding Mt. Sinai, forming a foundation and containant for Mt. Sinai. As Mt. Sinai represents the Word, Horeb, as its foundation, represents the externals or letter of the Word. Scripture tells us that Elijah left Beer-sheeba to travel to Horeb because someone in this kind of temptation finds the letter of scripture more appropriate to his needs than the ideas of rational doctrine. It is time for Elijah to return to the basics. Do we not ourselves instinctively turn to the stories from the letter of the Word, the Psalms, or the Lord’s Prayer in times of illness, death, or personal crisis?

Once at Horeb, Elijah first stays in a cave. In the internal sense, a cave signifies obscure good, such as exists in a state of temptation. (See AC2463) When we are in a state of temptation, we turn to external things from the scriptures, a verse that gives comfort or reinforces our conviction to shun evil, and in which we find protection and shelter. It may not seem like much, but it is something.

At this point the Lord Himself asks Elijah, What are you doing here, Elijah? (1KI19:9) Of course the Lord knew what Elijah was doing in the cave, but Elijah himself did not. But, it wasn’t until Elijah tried to answer that question for himself that his healing began. It is also important to note that the Lord did not speak harshly to Elijah, condemn him for running away, or for his failure to believe that the Lord would protect him against Jezebel. The Lord simply, quietly, asked him what he was doing.

Elijah replied, I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life. (1KI19:10)

The Lord listened and rather than responding to Elijah’s complaint, He gently spoke to him saying, Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD. (1KI19:11) He then showed Himself to Elijah as a terrifying wind that literally tore the rocks away from the mountains, as an earthquake, a fire, and finally a still, small voice. These different appearances all signify the way the Lord uplifts a person out of his low states, if he will only turn to the Lord. (SeeAC8823)

When the Lord showed Himself to Elijah in this way, He was giving no commands, He didn’t tell him to “cheer up” or “to get busy with something useful.” All He needed to do was give words of comfort to uplift him, bring his mind into focus on the higher uses, turning his attention away from himself. We’re taught that one of the most important functions of temptation is that it opens the mind so that the Lord can flow in with comfort and hope. These gentle words elevated Elijah’s state sufficiently that he was able to come out of the cave, although it was still necessary for him to cover his face with his mantle because he was not yet fully restored to his former states of power. Again, the Lord asks him what he is doing, and once again Elijah lists all the same reasons why he is afraid and unhappy. But notice that this time Elijah speaks from the entrance of the cave, showing that he is literally being drawn out of his states of obscurity by the Lord.

It is at this point as we are coming up out of the states of despair in temptation but are still thinking of our own states, our own situation in life that we need to be redirected, need to be turned once again to the life of use and the needs of others. To represent this redirection towards the life of use, the Lord then speaks powerfully to Elijah, commanding him to go forth and to do important tasks – to anoint Hazael king of Syria, and to anoint Elisha to be a prophet in his stead. Both Elijah, and the person returning from the state of temptation, need to get back into the life of use, to stop thinking only about themselves, and to start thinking about the many other needs of life in this world that must be met in order to prepare for the life of heaven.

Finally, the Lord points out to Elijah that in spite of what he thinks, he is not alone in Israel, that there are yet seven thousand who have not kissed Baal, that is, that there is a great number of people who are also in true worship. No matter what Elijah may believe, he is not alone in Israel, he is not alone in his feelings of despair and weakness during temptation.

When we are thinking about our own problems, our own states of despair or fear, we may feel hopeless, we may feel that there is no point in taking one more step. But we must also know that although a person does not feel it, he is never more free than when in the depths of temptation, because then the Lord draws nearest to him, holding him up and protecting him from the attacks of the hells.

We can also learn from the story of Elijah’s temptation that our Heavenly Father has infinite patience with us. He never gives up. He leads us gently, constantly by giving us just those things that we genuinely need, and when we need and ask for them. He never gives us more than we can use, or less than we need. He sent an angel, a messenger, to feed and care for Elijah in the wilderness, and then, when Elijah was ready, called him to the cave in Horeb, and then from the cave to the entrance. Little by little, giving only what help and strength Elijah could bear, and only when he was ready to receive it freely, the Lord led him out of his states of despair.

Let us then remember to ask ourselves, when we struggle in temptation and feel like we are totally alone, to gently ask ourselves, as the Lord asked Elijah, “What are you doing?”

We need to remember to take time go back to the Word for comfort and strength,

to honestly look at what’s going on in our lives,

to evaluate our own states, our own parts in the problems, to search out the cause of our wilderness states,

and when we begin to see the cause, to have the courage to take the actions that will allow us to leave our state of temptation and despair.

Then we can to be led by the Lord, like Elijah, from the wilderness, to the cave, and finally to stand on the mountain before the Lord, to return to an active life of use in service of the Lord’s eternal kingdom. AMEN.


Lessons 

First Lesson: 1KI 19:1-21

And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. {2} Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” {3} And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. {4} But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” {5} Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” {6} Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. {7} And the angel of the LORD came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” {8} So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God. {9} And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” {10} So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” {11} Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; {12} and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. {13} So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” {14} And he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” {15} Then the LORD said to him: “Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. {16} “Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. {17} “It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. {18} “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” {19} So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him. {20} And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” {21} So Elisha turned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and boiled their flesh, using the oxen’s equipment, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah, and became his servant. Amen.

Second Lesson: LUK 22:39-48

Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. {40} When He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” {41} And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, {42} saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” {43} Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. {44} And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. {45} When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. {46} Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” {47} And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him. {48} But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” Amen.

Third Lesson: AC 8823

And when the voice of the trumpet was going, and waxing strong mightily. That this signifies what is general of revelation through the angelic heaven, is evident from the signification of “the voice of the trumpet,” as being heavenly or angelic truth conjoined with what is Divine (see n. 8815), thus what is general of revelation; for truth Divine is revelation, and that which is manifested through the medium of heaven is general relatively to the truth Divine itself in heaven, for it is without or around (n. 8815), and what is around and without is general relatively to that which is in the midst, or which is within; and from the signification of “going and waxing strong,” as being the increase thereof.

For the case herein is as it is with sound which is on high, where the atmosphere is purer, and the sound is silent; but when it descends to lower regions where the atmosphere is denser, it becomes louder and more sonorous. So it is with Divine truth and Divine good, which in the highest are peaceful and cause no disturbance whatever; but when they descend toward lower things they gradually become unpeaceful, and finally tumultuous. This is what is so described by the Lord in the first book of the Kings to Elijah, when he was in Horeb:- Go forth, and stand on the mountain before Jehovah; behold Jehovah is passing by; so that there was a treat and strong wind rending the mountains, and breaking in pieces the rocks before Jehovah; Jehovah was not in the wind: then after the wind an earthquake; yet Jehovah was not in the earthquake: after the earthquake a fire; Jehovah was not in the fire: lastly after the fire a still small voice (xix. 11, 12). Amen.


Copyright © 1982 – 2007 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

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Naaman, the Syrian Leper

Naaman, the Syrian Leper

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 13, 2008

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So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. (2 Ki 5:14)

The story of Naaman the leper is set in the period of the kings of Israel and Judah, the time in the history of the Jewish nation that followed the glorious days of David and Solomon. Unlike the glory of the past, these were days of civil war, idolatry, and famine. In these sad times, the Lord provided first the prophet Elijah to travel throughout the land reminding the people of their need to follow God’s commandments and performing miracles.. When Elijah’s work was done he has passed his mantle to Elisha (literally – the phrase we use today to indicate the passing of authority comes from this) and gone to heaven in a chariot of fire, leaving Elisha to carry on his work. Elisha was also given the power to perform miracles and he multiplied the widow’s oil, raised a boy from the dead, healed a deadly stew, and fed a multitude with only a few loaves of bread.

This was also a time when Syria, the nation to the north of Israel, was beginning to expand, striking out on all sides to increase its empire, often looking down on Israel as a suitable victim. For it’s part, Israel was a very weak country, tearing itself apart from within through civil war and rebellion. It was rapidly losing its power to resist any external enemy. There was good reason for the kings of Israel to suspect treachery in any dealings with Syria.

It is against this backdrop of evil and disorder that we view the story of Naaman. The Word tells us Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. (2KI 5:1)

Naaman was a brave and honoured man, whose many blessings and uses were being destroyed by his disease. Leprosy, known today as Hansen’s syndrome, is a disease with many symptoms, such as skin ulcerations. In ancient times, when there was no known treatment, the end result of the disease was usually horrible disfigurement leading to a slow and painful death. Although the variety of the disease that exists today is only mildly infectious, in ancient times it was believed to be highly infectious, so lepers were shunned and feared. Obviously a man disfigured by leprosy could not be a military leader or royal adviser as he would be sent away to live out his remaining time with other lepers far from his family and the court.

Naaman’s whole life was being destroyed by his disease. The letter of the Word tells us that he was willing to pay a great fortune to be rid of it, if only that were possible. No doubt he sought the help of the best physicians and wise men that could be found in Syria, but they had been unable to help him, leaving him in despair.

But the Lord finds us in our despair, sometimes in surprising ways. Naaman had a Hebrew servant who said to Naaman’s wife, If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy (2KI 5:3). Another servant overheard this, and carried the message to Naaman, who then requested permission of his king to travel to Samaria. The king gave Naaman permission, and a letter to carry to the king of Israel, making the visit official and thus protecting Naaman in an enemy country. One assumes, from the story in the letter that this was a well-intentioned act, intended to help Naaman in his search for a cure. As we shall see, it was not received in that spirit.

Naaman took a great fortune with him: ten talents of silver, and six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. (2KI 5:5), as a gift for Elisha if he was cured. He arrived at the house of Elisha with his retinue, fully expecting a welcome befitting his exalted position. But, Elisha did not come to the door to greet him, but merely sent a messenger to tell Naaman that he should go wash seven times in the Jordan.

This made Naaman furious! He expected the prophet to at least come out personally, call upon the name of the Lord, perhaps dramatically sacrifice a few animals, and then declare him cured! He was, after all, an important man with an important problem, and he wanted something to cure him that would be suited to his elevated rank. So, he replied, Are not the Abana and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage (2KI 5:12).

Although Naaman was angry and insulted, there was still a basic sense of affirmation with him, for he listened when his servant reminded him that, If the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, Wash, and be clean? (2KI 5:13). This touched the hope of eventual healing that lived within him. He did not really understand what the prophet wanted him to do, since he felt that since the rivers of Damascus were not as small and muddy as the Jordan, they would be much better than the river of Israel for any kind of washing. But at the prompting of a trusted advisor, he was willing to submit, willing to bring himself into the Lord’s order, no matter what he personally thought of the request. Naaman made his decision to follow Jehovah through the word of the prophet Elisha. He washed himself seven times in the Jordan, and his rotted flesh was restored so that it was like that of a little child.

What was it that really cleansed Naaman? The waters of the Jordan are not in themselves miraculous. They do not contain any magic potion. If a leper were to wash seven times in that river now, or at any time, he would not be healed by the waters. What really healed Naaman was his own obedience to the word of the Lord through Elisha. He listened to him, put his own feelings, beliefs and prejudices aside, and submitted himself to the truth of the Word, without excuse or qualification. Thus, his body was restored to its former health.

Naaman’s delight was boundless, as we might expect. He said, Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant. (2KI 5:15). In saying this, Naaman meant to give Elisha his fortune, but Elisha would not accept. Then Naaman made an unusual request and declared his faith in Jehovah: Then, if not, please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD. (2KI 5:17).

Whether we speak of Naaman, the Syrian leper, or a person who discovers that they are in a state of profanation, it is the same. To understand the internal sense of this story, it is important to note that Naaman was a Syrian. Syria, although the prime enemy of Israel at this time, has a good representation. The Syrian nation was a remnant of the Ancient Church, and they were in the knowledges of good (AC 3762), which they had from the Ancient Word (SS 102).

Leprosy represents the profanation of truth (AC 6963, 9468:9). This is the key to Naaman’s representation. He represents a person who has had the Word, has learned truths from it, and even lived according to them. There was something of the marriage of good and truth within him, but it has become adulterated. This happened because, for some reason, he began to turn away from the truth, deliberately bending it, adding qualifications and conditions to the truth, conditions that would allow him to justify the breaking of them in his own mind. He began to look to himself instead of the Lord for the truth.

Many people look to themselves for their truth, in ignorance. They do not really know that there is any other source of truth. The important thing about the person represented by Naaman is that while he does have the Word, and he has lived according to it, he has deliberately chosen to twist the truth for the sake of his own gain, making it false.

When anyone qualifies the commandments of the Lord in the Word, and begins to believe the Lord’s commandments apply to him only under certain circumstances, he has then become a spiritual leper, for he has profaned the truth. He has put himself in the place of the Lord, choosing what he will do from his own perverted truths. His spiritual body, reflecting the state of his mind and will, begins to be more and more disfigured as the twisted falsities that he has instead of truth begin to show in his spiritual face and body.

When a person examines himself and finds that he is a spiritual leper, there remains a means for him to be cured, to return to a life of order, if he still has an affirmative attitude about the Lord and the Word. He must first see that he is spiritually sick through self-examination. The only cure is to return to the Word, the truth that cleanses the spirit of man, that is, he must repent.

When Naaman travelled to Israel to see Elisha, it represented the spiritual leper’s turning back to the Word when he finally realizes how bad his spiritual state is, turning away from his profanation, back to the one source of genuine truth. At such a time, he believes that if only this punishment could be removed, he’d do anything. He wants to return to a state prior to his disorder. In the turmoil of his own mind, he promises the Lord that he will never do it again, if only the Lord will save him now. He desperately wants to strike a bargain with the Lord, giving up all the things that he loves so that the Lord will take away the sins that are bringing misery to his life – the misery that has come from his own free choices and their results. In this state, the man offers his whole fortune to the Lord, if only the disease, the trouble, can be taken away.

States of Grieving?

When we turn to the Word for the answer to a specific problem, for the cure for some evil or falsity that we have found within ourselves, like Naaman, we are impatient with the Lord. We think our problems are the most important problems in the world. Like Naaman, we want some very impressive, important sounding, complex instructions that we can feel is designed especially for us. It is like when we go to the doctor with some complaint – unless the doctor gives us a prescription of some sort (whether we really need the medicine or not), we feel he doesn’t believe we are really sick.

It is very important to us that our spiritual medicine should require some public sacrifice or penance so that others will know how hard we are working on our spiritual state. However, when we turn to the Word we find no such instruction, no complex repentance, nothing very showy at all. We are simply reminded of the very simple basic truths of the Word, and reminded further that all that is necessary for us to be cleansed is that we put ourselves in obedience to the truth, to wash in the spiritual water because we believe it is from the Lord. All we really need do to be cleansed of our spiritual leprosy is to put ourselves back within the confines of spiritual law, undefiled by our own interpretations. And, as with Naaman, the effect is that the truth, like the Jordan washing away leprosy, washes away our sins, but the cause is the fact that we have from our own desire put ourselves in obedience to the Lord’s will.

With us, it is the excuses and qualification of the truth that cause the spiritual leprosy in the first place, and when this is seen and repudiated, the leprosy is cured, and our spiritual state is advanced. This comes only when self is put away, and the Word is seen as the only source of truth.

We are all spiritual lepers whenever we think to ourselves that, for whatever the reason, the commandments of the Lord in the Word do not apply to us. We are spiritual lepers when we decide that the commandments of the Lord apply to others, but not to ourselves. We are spiritual lepers when we say that the commandments of the Word apply to us sometimes – but not under certain convenient circumstances. Thus, every one of us is to some degree a spiritual leper. If we do not recognize that fact, or refuse to seek help for our disease, we are destined to eventually find our way to the filthy caves of hell – the eternal leper colony – to spend our days in horrible disfigurement.

There is help available to us, though not from the works of man. Just as no physician in Syria could help Naaman, no earthly philosophy can cure the diseases of our spirit. There is but one hope – to go and see Elisha, to turn to the truth of the Word, and from self-compulsion come into obedience to it. We do this not once, not twice, but seven times, that is, completely. Then, and only then, we will be cured of spiritual diseases, and will be free to return to our uses and serve the Lord with a full heart, our spiritual flesh like that of a little child, clean, pure and innocent, following the Lord. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isaiah 1:16-18). AMEN.


First Lesson: 2KI 5:1-14

Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. {2} And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel. She waited on Naaman’s wife. {3} Then she said to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.” {4} And Naaman went in and told his master, saying, “Thus and thus said the girl who is from the land of Israel.” {5} Then the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he departed and took with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. {6} Then he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which said, Now be advised, when this letter comes to you, that I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy. {7} And it happened, when the king of Israel read the letter, that he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy? Therefore please consider, and see how he seeks a quarrel with me.” {8} So it was, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Please let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” {9} Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. {10} And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” {11} But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ {12} “Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. {13} And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” {14} So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Second Lesson: Arcana Coelestia (Heavenly Secrets) 6959. [2]

In their childhood, and afterward in their youth, they of the spiritual church have faith in the doctrinal things of their church, but at that time they have faith from parents and masters, and not from themselves, and therefore if they afterward recede from faith, they profane the truth only slightly, which profanation can be removed by Divine means, and thus the man be freed from the guilt of it. But if a man has faith in the doctrine of the church, and in the Word, from himself, that is, by confirmations in himself, and if be then afterward recedes, and denies in himself what he had before believed, especially if he lives contrary to the truth which he had confirmed in himself, and either explains it in his own favor, or altogether rejects it, he profanes the truth; and this because he commingles and conjoins together within himself truth and falsity. As such persons have scarcely any remains of truth and good, in the other life they finally become like skeletons; and have as little life remaining as have the bones relatively to the organic life of the flesh.


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