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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Arcana Coelestia 4236

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

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

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

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

Spiritual Frontier – Emanuel Swedenborg

VISIONS AND DREAMS

VISIONS AND DREAMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Apocalypse Revealed 224:1-4e

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

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

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

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

Spiritual Frontier – Emanuel Swedenborg

BLESSING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons: Psalm 103, 145, AC 8939

Arcana Coelestia

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

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

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

EVANGELIZATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons: Mark 6, TCR (selections)

True Christian Religion

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

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

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

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

THE EASY YOKE

THE EASY YOKE

A Sermon by Rev. Terry Schnarr

Preached in Sydney, Australia August 25, 1996

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The passage adds:

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

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

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

Heaven and Hell 359

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

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

THE BRONZE SERPENT

THE BRONZE SERPENT

A Sermon by Rev. Terry Schnarr Preached in Sydney, Australia May 19, 1996

“And so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived” (Num. 4:9). “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14,15).

When the Children of Israel were in the wilderness for forty years on the way from Egypt to the land of Canaan, they became very discouraged at times. It is similar with us. At times through life we can become very discouraged about ever coming into a state of heavenly peace, or finding happiness.

When the Children of Israel became discouraged, they longed for the “good old days” in Egypt. They complained about the manna from heaven the Lord provided them with every day. They complained about the lack of water in the dry and dusty conditions of the wilderness. They forgot the misery of their lives in Egypt as slaves.

Similarly, as we journey through life trying to follow the Lord and find happiness, we sometimes become discouraged and long for the “good old days” when we were younger and life seemed happier and simpler. We complain about the tiny morsels of brief periods of happiness the Lord gives us. We complain that the teachings of the Word demand us to change too much, that they are not satisfying. We forget that in our younger years we were led around like slaves by our sensual desires and our worldly ideas.

When the Children of Israel longed for the “good old days” in Egypt they were bitten by serpents, and many died. Similarly, when we become discouraged and start longing for the good old days of sensual satisfaction and worldly fulfillment, we are in danger of being bitten by our sensual desires and losing our spiritual happiness. The Lord gives us a cure for this discouragement.

All the animals in the Word correspond to human affections and desires. Serpents are symbols of our sensual desires. The lowest part of our mind consists of our sensual desires and thoughts, because our senses are the means whereby we are connected with the things outside of us in the world. Above, or within the sensual degree of our mind, is our natural mind; above this is our rational mind. Our rational mind is like the bridge to our spiritual mind, which is above or within these natural parts of our mind. Our spiritual mind is the kingdom of heaven within us and has three parts, related to the three heavens which are called the celestial heaven, the spiritual heaven, and the natural heaven.

Just as serpents are among the lowest animals, crawling on the ground, eating dust, and looking up to most other animals, so also our senses, or our sensual mind, is the lowest part of our mind looking up to the higher parts. The sensual part of our mind or spirit can be good or evil, and so there are non-poisonous and poisonous serpents.

Our senses are useful and good because they allow us to be connected to the world, and after death to be connected to the spiritual world. They enable us to be in contact, in touch with other people, and to enjoy delights and pleasures in both worlds. Without this lowest degree of our mind we could not exist because we would have no way of connecting to our external environment here or in the spiritual world.

On the other hand, our sensual mind can become quite poisonous, can bite us, and can kill our spiritual happiness. Our sensual mind can trick us, as the serpent tricked Adam and Eve, into thinking that all happiness comes from the world, from external things, from sensual things. Our senses can lure us into focusing outward and externally to the things of the world as the source of happiness and delight.

After birth, as we grow and develop physically, our mind is also growing and developing. Our sensual mind is the first level that develops: witness the sensuality of babies and infants, putting everything into their mouths, for example. Next the natural mind opens, and then our rational mind opens about the time we become adults. We are not conscious of the fact that as these natural levels of our mind are opened, the three heavenly levels of our mind, from highest to lowest, are developing at the same time. Because we are conscious of our senses, our sensuality, for the longest time we are most comfortable with this lowest level of our mind, and turn to it for comfort in times of anxiety or depression. An example is how people use food, alcohol, or other sensual stimulants as stress relievers.

Our sensuality becomes increasingly active when we are discouraged about our spiritual progress. When we go through a spiritual drought and experience periods of little internal peace and happiness, the evil spirits with us stir up our sensual desires to seek some sort of immediate physical experience of peace or satisfaction so that we feel more delights. Physical and sensual delights are easy to find and are quick to fade, whereas the spiritual delights are more difficult to experience but satisfy much longer. When we are discouraged we are very attracted to the quick fix, the fast food, of the sensual world.

The attractiveness of sensual desires is what is meant by the Children of Israel’s being bitten by the serpents. Following our sensual desires and the false reasonings of our senses can kill us spirtually by keeping us from developing the spiritual parts of our mind keeping us from being born again, or being born of the spirit. When we focus on selfish, sensual, and worldly things, our minds are drawn down to the lowest level of life. Then our spiritual mind begins to shrivel and eventually will die. This is what is meant by many of the Children of Israel’s dying from the bites of the serpents.

When we get discouraged and despair of ever finding genuine and lasting spiritual happiness and peace by following the teachings of the Lord, when we lose our patience with the Lord and His timing, evil spirits have the opportunity to stir up our sensual memories and the false ideas of our sensual reasoning to inspire us to seek happiness and delights through sensual and worldly things. Food, alcohol, and drugs including nicotine, caffeine, and sugar are common stress relievers in our culture. Things like sex, swimming, hiking, exercise and gardening are other sensually pleasing activities we use to escape our depression. Striving after worldly riches, honor, reputation, and success are other forms of pleasing our senses, though these are not as obviously sensual.

In themselves these things are not evil; in fact they can be useful when used or done in moderation for the sake of refreshing and recreating the vigor of our minds, or for performing uses. When we love them for their use, they are like non-poisonous serpents. When we overdo them or abuse them, then our desires for them are like poisonous serpents which can kill us.

Few of us will go through life without being bitten by our sensual serpents. While it is a deadly disease, the good news is that the Lord provides us with a cure, symbolized by the cure He provided for the Children of Israel. Moses made a bronze serpent, raised it up on a tall pole, so everyone who was bitten and who looked at it could be healed. “And so it was” we read, “if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived” (Num. 21:9).

Quite a miracle, eh? Pretty simple. Not much to it. A very quick and easy cure. The really good news is that it is just as easy, simple, and quick for us to be cured of our serpent bites as well. We can be healed of our sensual and worldly desires just as easily. It may be hard to believe, but the Lord tells us how by explaining in His second coming the meaning of looking at the bronze serpent.

The bronze serpent is a symbol of the the sensual mind of the Lord, of Jesus. All we have to do to be healed of our excessive sensuality is to look at the Lord’s physical manifestations, His sensuality. All we need to do is to think about His presence in the physical and sensual things of this world. His Divine presence is visible everywhere in the world, to everyone, like the bronze serpent raised up on a pole for all to see who wanted to.

We can see His physical activity as a Divine Human in the Word: healing those who looked at the bronze serpent, parting the Red Sea, giving the ten commandments, healing the woman who merely touched His clothes, healing the blind man with mud made from His spit, feeding 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and fish, bleeding on the cross, inviting doubting Thomas to touch His hands and His side, eating bread and fish with His disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in His last resurrection appearance. Or we can look at the Lord in our present environment, causing our hearts to beat, waking us up every morning, providing heat and light and rain and soil for all the plants to grow, creating everything in the world to continually reproduce itself. Or we can look at the Lord in the people around us in the good love they demonstrate, in the enlightened thoughts they share, in the good uses they do for others. Or we can look at the Lord in our own lives the wonderful periods of peace and happiness He gives us, in the many blessings for which we are thankful, in the timely occurrence of events He arranges providentially, in our ability to love and our ability to think.

In sum, for us to be healed of our serpent bites, of our sensual desires, all we need to do is think about the physical presence of the Lord in us and around us. There are two reasons why doing this will cure us. The first is that God came into the world in order to experience for Himself life as a human being in the world. Jesus was born as a sensual baby and He experienced the development of His sensual, natural, and rational minds as we do. God has experienced the allurement of our senses, and knows first-hand our temptations. He can relate to us and we can relate to Him, knowing we have had similar experiences. Furthermore, Jesus overpowered the evil spirits tempting His sensual mind, made it Divine, and established His permanent power over them by even making His physical flesh and bones Divine. By thus glorifying His Human, making His sensual mind and physical body Divine, He became constantly present in His own Divine Human mind and body in the sensual world of all the minds of all human beings present with the power to repel all the evil spirits.

The second reason why thinking about the Lord’s presence will cure us of unhealthy sensuality is the spiritual law which is that thought brings presence. It is according to this law that when we think about good loves and true thoughts, the angels draw near to our spirit, and when we think about evil loves and false thoughts, evil spirits draw near to us. So when we think about the physical and sensual body of Jesus, and about the things He does in the physical world, He draws nearer to our sensual mind. The evil spirits cannot stand being in His presence and flee, taking with them their selfish sensual and worldly desires, with the result that our sensual desires subside. We are temporarily cured, even as the Children of Israel needed to go and look at the bronze serpent each time they were bitten.

A permanent cure results when we “believe in the Son of Man.” The “Son of Man” is the Word, which John tells us was in the beginning with God, and was God, and became flesh and dwelt among us as the Divine Human, Jesus. To believe in Him means to live according to and from the truths of His Holy Word, because to do so is to live in and from Him because He is the Word. When we take the written Word into our natural mind by means of our senses and sensual mind, and then love and think and act from its teachings, the Lord enters us because He is the Word. When He is present in our rational, natural, and sensual desires, thoughts, and activities there is simply no room for evil spirits and their sensual desires. We have a permanent cure.

The “bronze serpent” which will cure us of excessive sensuality and worldliness is the Divine Human of the Lord, thinking of His sensual and physical presence both now and in the past. Among the ways we can look at Him, the most effective and by far the most powerful, is to physically take up His written Word and read it whenever we are struggling against the serpents of our sensual desires. While we are reading we will be cured temporarily, because the Lord will be present in the sensual part of our mind. A permanent cure comes when we constantly carry the Word in our hearts, in our loves, in our minds, in our thoughts, and so in our speech and actions. Then we will be angels.

“And so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived” (Num. 4:9). “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14,15).


Lessons: Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:13-21, AE 581:selections

Apocalypse Explained 581 (selections)

That “serpents” signify in the Word the sensual man in respect to craftiness and in respect to prudence can be seen from the following passages. In Moses: “The serpent was more crafty than any wild beast of the field which Jehovah God had made” (Gen. 3:1). “Serpent” here does not mean a serpent, but the sensual man, and in a general sense the sensual itself, which is the ultimate of the human understanding; “the man and his wife” signify the Most Ancient Church, which fell away when the men or that church began to reason from sensual knowledges (scientifica) respecting Divine things, which is signified by “eating of the tree of knowledge”; their craftiness in reasoning respecting Divine things from the sensual is described by the reasoning of the serpent with Adam’s wife, by which they were deceived. The serpent is said to have been “more crafty than any wild beast of the field” because it is poisonous and its bite is therefore deadly, and because it hides itself in lurking places. “Poison” signifies craft and deceit, and therefore the “bite” of the serpent signifies deadly hurt; and the lurking places from which it bites, and in which it conceals itself, signify craftiness.

It is to be known that all beasts signify affections such as are in man, and “serpents” signify the affections of the sensual man, for the reason that they creep on the belly upon the ground as does the sensual of man, for this is in the lowest place, and creeps as it were upon the ground beneath all the other faculties. Moreover, sensual men in the spiritual world dwell in the lower parts, and cannot be elevated toward the higher parts, since they are in externals, and from these they judge and form conclusions respecting everything. …

The sensual, which is the ultimate of the intellectual life, is signified also by: “The stretched serpent” (Isa. 27:1; Job 26:13); also by the serpent into which the rod of Moses was changed (Exod. 4:3, 4; 7:9-12). (See AC 6949, 7293.) Again, sensual things which are the ultimates of man’s life are signified by the fiery serpents sent among the people who wished to return to Egypt, while the healing of the bite of such serpents by the Lord’s Divine sensual is signified by the brazen serpent set upon a standard, by looking upon which they revived (Num. 21:5-9).

The expression “the Lord’s Divine sensual” is used because the Lord when He was in the world glorified, that is, made Divine, His whole Human even to its ultimates, as can be seen from the fact that He left nothing in the sepulchre, and that He said to the disciples: “He hath bones and flesh, which a spirit doth not have” (Luke 24:33, 40).

The ultimate sensual, which was also glorified or made Divine by the Lord, is signified by that “brazen serpent” set upon a standard, respecting which the Lord Himself thus spake in John: “As Moses lifted up the serpent, even so must the Son of man he lifted up; that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life” (3:14, 15). The Lord was represented before the Israelitish and Jewish people by such a sign, because they were merely sensual, and the sensual man in looking to the Lord is unable to elevate his thought beyond and above the sensual; for everyone looks to the Lord according to the elevation of his understanding, the spiritual man looking to the Divine rational, and so on. This makes evident that “the brazen serpent” signifies also the sensual, but the glorified or Divine sensual of the Lord.

COMPASSION

COMPASSION

By Rev. Terry Schnarr Preached in Sydney, Australia Sept. 4, 1995

When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep’” (Luke 7:13).

Jesus is a God of love and compassion, of mercy and forgiveness. He is a loving and merciful God. He is tender, understanding, and gentle with us. He loves us dearly.

Last Sunday we were encouraged to pick one day this week to compel ourselves to practice one teaching of the Lord all day, to consciously try very hard to work on it. Did you try? How did it go? Perhaps you intended to but forgot. Perhaps you started to keep some teaching in mind but forgot after a short time. Perhaps you tried but intermittently forgot during the day. Perhaps you were able to keep it up all day and even did it for two or more days.

If you forgot, or didn’t try, or tried and failed, how did you feel? Did you conclude, “I’m just no good,” “I can’t do this,” “I can’t even remember the Lord for one day,” or “I’m just a heathen”? How many of you had this kind of experience and those kinds of thoughts? How many of you felt defeated, hopeless, like giving up, or guilty? Maybe you feel bad or guilty right now. Maybe you feel despairing of ever getting closer to the Lord, of ever having the strength and determination to exercise your freedom and willpower to compel yourself to do the Lord’s will.

“Do not weep.” All of those kinds of thoughts and experiences are from hell. The evil spirits are fighting you. They are the ones putting those thoughts into your head. It feels as if they are your own thoughts, but they are not. They are from the evil spirits who are with you. They are trying to stop you, make you feel hopeless, and make you give up. Don’t let them win. Keep at it. Keep trying. It takes perseverance and practice, but with a little patience you will be able to do it because the Lord is with you and is giving you the power to do His will.

He is not angry with you. He isn’t giving up on you. He is still with you, loving you, having compassion on you. He is keeping the evil spirits away and preventing them from making you feel worse. He is surrounding you with angels so that you can do what He wants. Don’t quit trying. What the Lord is concerned with is the intention of your will. Keep trying. The Lord is completely understanding of the difficulties and challenges we face. His mercy and compassion and forgiveness are unconditional.

This is so evident from many stories in the Word. When He came to Jerusalem and looked down over it from the Mount of Olives, from the east, He wept. From His love He could see there was no love and charity left in Jerusalem. He wept because He was grieving for the people who had no love, no charity, no understanding, no light, and no truth. They were confused and in darkness. He went to the temple, cleansed it, and began to teach and healto give them help.

There is never any anger in the Lord, only love and compassion. He is love itself and cannot possibly be angry. Even when there is an appearance of anger, as when He cleansed the temple, He was really acting from love, mercy and compassion.

The Lord never punishes either. He is always understanding and forgiving. Even when there is an appearance of punishment, as when people are said to be sent to hell, the Lord is acting from love and mercy allowing them to choose their life and providing a place for them to pursue their evil loves, all the while trying to restrain them from plunging into lower hells and greater frustration and dissatisfaction.

In the original Hebrew, Jehovah’s compassion is expressed by a word which means the inmost and tenderest love. Such love is pictured by the Lord’s looking for the one lost sheep and carrying it back in His arms.

The Lord has compassion on all of us. He especially has compassion on us when we are in ignorance, when we lack a knowledge of truth and wish we had more, because we are then in doubt and confusion. He is also especially compassionate on us when we are deficient in love and desire to have more good loves, because we are then feeling empty and devoid of life, lacking the blessings and delights which come from doing good and using our talents to serve Him.

Nevertheless, the Lord does not intercede, step in, and change us or fix us. He works to maintain our freedom, controlling the spirits around us so that we are free to approach Him. He never interferes with our lives, but always tries to make the path to His door the easiest path to follow so that we will choose to follow Him.

When we do choose to follow Him, to obey His teachings, then He enters into our lives with love and wisdom, giving us good desires, enlightened thoughts, and joys when we do good works of charity for others.

The Lord is especially close to us, actually dwelling inside of us, when we have compassion on others, when we love and care for one another the same way He loves and cares for us. We cannot be compassionate when we are in truth alone, when we know truths but do not act on them in our daily lives. We become compassionate, loving, and caring toward others only when we do the good works the Lord teaches us in the Wordbecause to do them we have to quit being selfish and materialistic to have time and energy to do for others. When we do good works, then the Lord fills us with love and compassion for others. For example, He forgives us our sins when we forgive others their sins against us.

When we have compassion for others, we enter into a closer relationship with the Lord. The Heavenly Doctrines teach us that when we feel pity or compassion toward others, the Lord enters into us with an influx of love. This is said to be an admonition, a kind of suggestion or command from the Lord to reach out to another person. “When those who are in perception feel compassion,” we read, “they know that they are being admonished by the Lord to give aid” (AC 6737). When we feel compassion, we are being urged and prompted by the Lord to act. This is one way of experiencing the Lord in our lives.

He is especially compassionate toward us when we have been suffering spiritual miseries and temptations. The widow of Nain was suffering grief and despair over the loss of her husband and now her only son. “A large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.'”

To not weep means to be consoled, we are taught in the Heavenly Doctrines. Not only does the Lord have compassion on us but He acts on His compassion. He gives us consolation. He consoles us. How?

The Lord consoles us three ways. First, when we pray to Him and approach Him He comes to us and surrounds us with angels. We are taught that He answers our prayers with something like a revelation, which is manifested or experienced in our affections as hope, comfort, or a kind of internal joy. Second, the angels stir up our thoughts to help us remember truths from the Word which can be helpful to us. Third, He admonishes other people to come around to give us support and assistance, even as many people in Nain were gathered around the widow who had lost her husband and only son.

A man who was covered with leprosy came to Him, imploring Jesus to help him. He was not just asking for a simple favor; he was begging for his life with complete humility. He came to Jesus as his last hope. He got down on his knees and said, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”

The leper’s dramatic example demonstrates to us the kind of attitude we need to bring to the Holy Supper. We need to acknowledge Jesus Christ as our God, as the only one who can save us from our evils, as the only one who has the power to cleanse our minds. We need to acknowledge Jesus as the only hope we have left for our salvation because He really is. When we kneel down to take the bread and wine, we would do well to keep the words of the leper in our thoughts: “If you are willing, You can make me clean.”

“Jesus, moved with compassion, put out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed” (Mark 1:40-42).

“Jehovah is gracious and full of compassion. He has given food to those who fear Him” (Psalm 111:4,5). He is “slow to anger and great in mercy. Jehovah is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:8,9).

Jesus is willing to help you. Jesus is more than willing. He desires nothing more than to cleanse your spirit so that He can be with you and be inside of you. This is His love. Ask for His help and you will receive it; seek for His power and you will find it; knock and He will open up the door for you and come in with all the blessings of peace and happiness. He will do for you as He did for the widow of Nain, an ordinary person like you and me. “When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep'” (Luke 7:13). Amen.

Lessons: Luke 7:11-17, Mark 1:35-45, AC 6737


Arcana Coelestia 6737

“And she had compassion on him.” That this signifies admonition from the Divine is evident from the signification of “having compassion” as being an influx of charity from the Lord; for when any one from charity sees another in misery (as here Pharaoh’s daughter saw the child in the ark of rush and weeping), compassion arises; and as this is from the Lord, it is an admonition. Moreover, when they who are in perception feel compassion, they know that they are admonished by the Lord to give aid.

DO NOT DESPAIR

DO NOT DESPAIR

A Sermon by Rev. Terry Schnarr Preached in Sydney, Australia June 11, 1995

“Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and loose its seven seals” (Rev. 5:5).

The comfort and consolation of this passage summarizes the meaning of the whole of the fifth chapter of the book of Revelation. Don’t worry. Be happy. Don’t grieve, mourn, and feel sorry for yourself. The Lord God Jesus Christ rules over all things of our lives.

He rules over the angels and evil spirits who are our constant companions, making sure that we are in freedom to make good rational choices even after we have made many bad choices over and over again. Every day, every hour, is new, and we have the freedom to begin a new life.

When John saw the scroll sealed with seven seals and heard that there was no one worthy to open the book, he cried a lot; he wept much. Why? What was he grieving about? John was crying because he knew that if the book was not opened, the whole human race would perish. The whole human race would come under the power and control of satans and devils from hell. Each one of us would be compelled to love ourselves and the world, to be selfish and materialistic, and would spend eternity in hell. John cried out of grief and sadness for the whole human race.

We sometimes find ourselves in this state of grief. It is a depressed state of mind in which we feel, and think, that we just can’t be saved. We feel and think that we can never change, that we will always continue to say and do the nasty and mean things we have habitually done. We feel and think that there is no one who can help, that there is no one with any power to change or do anything for us. We feel despair. We feel hopeless. This is what John felt and expressed, though his concern was for all people, not just himself.

The scroll sealed with seven seals is the Word of God, the Old and New Testaments. Before the Lord made His second coming and revealed the hidden meaning in the stories of the Bible, people did not know how or why the Bible was holy. It appeared to be a poor history book about the Children of Israel and the Jewish race, and a man named Jesus who claimed to be the Son of God, performed miracles and taught a new way of relating to one another.

On the one hand the Word was written to guide us into a closer relationship with God and with each other. On the other hand, it is written in parables and incomprehensible visions, hiding God’s love and wisdom from people who would abuse them for the sake of their own selfish desires. The Word, revealing all of God’s infinite love and wisdom, is hidden from people to protect them from themselves. The Lord opens the hidden meanings in the Word to people slowly and gradually according as they grow in love and wisdom, by doing what it clearly teaches.

After we die, the Lord will begin to open the seven seals of the Word, allowing us to see and understand what is contained in it. How we respond and react to the opening of the Word will depend on how much we have loved the Word and tried to live by it in this world. If we have studied the Word, prayed for enlightenment, asked the Lord to help us shun our evils, and tried to do what the Word teaches out of love for the Lord, then as the internal meanings are revealed to us in the spiritual world we will gladly and readily drink it in. We will go into heaven where there are other people like ourselves who love the Lord and love to try to understand and live according to His Word.

On the other hand, if we have ignored the Word, or only pretended to be interested in living according to its teachings, when the seals are opened to us in the world of spirits after death we will continue to have no interest. In fact, as the Word is opened and we hear and learn of the love and wisdom of God, we will feel revolted. We will turn away and want to hear no more. As the seals continue to open, revealing how far away from loving God and loving our neighbors we really are because we have not done what the Word teaches, have not loved it, have not studied it we will want to get away from the Word. We will flee from heaven and the angels and find a place in hell with people like ourselves who have no interest in the Lord, the Word, or being kind to other people. In both instances we will judge ourselves by how we respond and react to the opening of the Word.

This is what takes place after death for each of us, preparing us for an eternal marriage relationship with the Lord or an eternal life alone against all the other satans and devils of hell. We will judge ourselves by measuring our habitual loves and thoughts and life next to the Word.

Obviously, the devils and satans in hell would not have minded if there really had been no one to open the scroll. Their selfishness, materialism, and love of dominating over others would never have been exposed. They would have been able to trick the new people coming into the spiritual world and turned them into slaves for their own evil purposes. They would gradually have turned the world of spirits, between heaven and hell, into a realm or kingdom in which they ruled and had all power. Then they would have been able to control all the people in the world so that none of us would have a chance to be good or go to heaven because all the angelic influences from the Lord would have been cut off from us. We would feel only evil desires and think only false rationalizations. We all would have been condemned to an eternal life in hell.

This is why John wept much and grieved. He could see the resulting destruction which would come to the human race if the Word of God was not opened. While we can identify with the personal feeling of despair of ever being changed and saved a feeling induced by the evil spirits with us most of us have difficulty recognizing how the whole human race was threatened by the hells.

Most of us have difficulty believing in our hearts, feeling it, that Jesus Christ saved us from destruction. He did this by being in the world, facing the evil spirits, satans, and devils from hell, and bringing them under His control by resisting their influences. The Lord saved the entire human race, all people of all religions, from eternal damnation.

In the middle of the 1700s the hells had again risen up out of hell and were invading the world of spirits, threatening the human race. They had been able to rise up because people were no longer understanding the Word, which was bound with seven seals. People thought the Word was saying that all one needed to do was to believe God sent His Son into the world to save us and then we would be saved, and that although God was one, there were three people in God. Such ideas brought so much confusion in the world and the world of spirits that the hells were able to rise up again.

The time had come for the Lamb to take the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne and open the seals, to restore order in the spiritual world, and ensure once and for all the freedom of the human race.

In His second advent the Lord opened the seals of the Word and revealed the hidden interior meaning of the parables and stories of the Bible. Through the revelation given by Him through the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg the Lord brought rational light and understanding to the meaning of the Word, both in the world of spirits and on the earth. In His second coming the Lord opened the seals of the book sealed with seven seals. Doing this brought about a massive last judgment in the spiritual world, as all the angels, devils, and spirits responded in their own way to the new heat and light or love and wisdom now available in the spiritual world. Some were attracted and some were repelled. Because the new revelation is not in parables but is given in rational explanations, the ordering of the spiritual world will become permanent.

The elder comforted John by telling Him the Lamb, the Lord in His Divine Human, could and would open the seven seals. This is also why the angels sang a new song, why ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of angels praised the Lord with loud voices, and why the 24 elders fell down and worshiped Him. They were all rejoicing and praising the Lord because He had made His second advent and was about to perform a Last Judgment which would free every individual in the whole human race to choose his own eternal life. They were rejoicing because they knew that from then on, the whole human race would be free to enter into a rational marriage relationship with the Lord that a new golden age of peace, love, and happiness could come.

This is what is meant by the words of the new song the angels sang:

You are worthy to take the book, and to open its seals,
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God in Your blood,
Out of every tribe and tongue
And people and nation,
And have made us unto our God kings and priests,
And we shall reign on the earth (Rev. 5:9,10).

“Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and loose its seven seals” (Rev. 5:5).


Lessons: Revelation chap. 5, AR 279, 283, 284

Apocalypse Revealed

279. Verse 9. “And they sang a new song” signifies acknowledgment and glorification of the Lord, that He alone is the Judge, Redeemer, and Savior, thus the God of heaven and earth. These things are contained in the song which they sang, and the things which are contained are also signified; as an acknowledgment that the Lord is the Judge, in these things which now follow: “Thou art worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof.” That He is the Redeemer, in this: “Because Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us in Thy blood.” That He is the Savior, in this: “Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign upon the earth.” That He is the God of heaven and earth, in this: “They fell down and adored Him that liveth for ages of ages” (verse 14).

Since the acknowledgment that the Lord alone is the God of heaven and earth, and that His Human is Divine, and that in no other way could He be called the Redeemer and Savior, was not before in the church, it is therefore called a “new song.” The reason why “a song” also signifies glorification, which is confession from joy of heart, is because singing exalts, and causes affection to break out from the heart into sound, and show itself intensely in its life. Nor are the Psalms of David any other than songs; for they were played and sung, and therefore were also called songs in many passages … That songs were for the sake of exalting the life of love, and the joy derived from it, is evident from the following passages: “O sing unto Jehovah a new song, make a joyful noise unto Jehovah all the earth, resound, shout” (Psalm 98:1, 4-8). “Sing unto Jehovah a new song, let Israel rejoice in His Maker, sing psalms to Him” (Ps. 169:1-3). “Sing unto Jehovah a new song, lift up the voice” (Isa. 42:10,12). “Sing, O ye heavens, shout ye lower parts of the earth, resound with singing, ye mountains” (Isa. 44:23; 49:13) [et alia].

283. Verse 10. “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests” signifies that from the Lord they are in wisdom from Divine truths and in love from Divine goods, and thus images of His Divine wisdom and of His Divine love, as above (n. 21).

284. “And we shall reign upon the earth” signifies and will be in His kingdom, He in them and they in Him. By “reigning upon the earth” nothing else is meant than being in the Lord’s kingdom, and there one with Him, according to these words of the Lord: “That all who believe in Me may be one, and may be one as Thou Father art in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us; and the glory which thou gavest Me I have given them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and Thou in Me, that where I am, they also may be with Me” (John 17:20-24).

As, therefore, they are thus one with the Lord, and, together with the Lord, constitute a kingdom, which is called the kingdom of God, it is evident that nothing else is signified by “reigning.” It is said “to reign” because it was before said, “Thou hast made us kings and priests”; and by “kings” are signified they who are in wisdom from Divine truths from the Lord; and by “priests,” they who are in love from Divine good from Him (n.20); hence it is that the kingdom of the Lord is also called “the kingdom of the saints” (Dan. 7:15,27); and it is said of the apostles, that “with the Lord they should judge the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28).

Nevertheless the Lord alone judges and reigns; for He judges and reigns from Divine good by Divine truth, which is also from Him in them; but he who believes that what is in them from the Lord is their own is cast out of the kingdom, that is, out of heaven. The signification of “reigning” is the same in the following passages in the Apocalypse: “They shall be priests of God and Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (20:4,6). And concerning those who are to enter into the New Jerusalem: “The Lamb shall enlighten them, and they shall reign for ages of ages” (22:5).

THE VIRGIN BIRTH

THE VIRGIN BIRTH

A Sermon by Rev Terry Schnarr Preached in Sydney, Australia December 1990

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emanuel, which, being interpreted, is God with us” (Matt. 1:23).

The virgin birth of the Lord is a hard thing to believe. Yet the Word teaches it so clearly and vividly that there can be no doubt that the claim of the Bible is that the Lord, Jesus Christ, was conceived from God and born of a virgin woman. Scholars of the Christian Church have claimed that the Greek word for virgin really means young woman and not necessarily one that has not had intercourse with a man. But the Bible also clearly states that Mary had not known a man, which obviously makes her a virgin. This is a fact that must be accepted if we are going to know and love the Lord as the one and only God of heaven and earth, yet we find it so incredible.

The Lord’s soul, from His conception in the womb to His resurrection from the sepulcher, was God Himself, the Infinite and Omnipotent Creator of the universe. It is of paramount importance to the New Church concept of God that He was born into the world of a virgin. He could not have united the Divine and the Human if He had taken a soul from conception by a natural father. In order to save the human race from the damnation of the hells, it was absolutely necessary for God Himself to come into the world, take on an infirm human covering, then put it off again by combating and conquering the hells, and thereby subjugating them to His own omnipotent eternal control. To attain this end, He had to be conceived in a virgin and born of a virgin. The virgin birth is essential to the New Church concept of Jesus Christ as the one and only God of heaven and earth.

It is prophesied in Isaiah that the Lord would be born of a virgin, and it is recorded as a fact in Matthew. Joseph was betrothed to Mary, and betrothal was considered a legal marriage. But before the marriage had been consummated, before they had been bodily conjoined, Mary “was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” Joseph did not at first know of this, and it is said that “being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, he was minded to put her away privately” (Matthew 1:19). But the angel of the Lord came to him in a dream and told him that the child she bore was conceived of the Holy Spirit, adding, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, `Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emanuel, which, being interpreted, is God with us'” (Matthew 1:23).

Even though Joseph was not the father of the Lord, it was important that in the eyes of men it should appear that he was. It was necessary that He be born under the protection of a legal marriage. Joseph was needed as a guardian, provider, and instructor. It was Joseph who led them to safety in Egypt when Herod sought to kill the baby Jesus. It was Joseph who worked to provide Mary and Jesus and their other children with food, clothing, and shelter. And it was Joseph, as the head of the household, who was responsible for the instruction of his children. The Lord as an infant and child was helpless and dependent, as all of us are, on His natural guardians.

The miracle of the virgin birth is perhaps the hardest to believe of all the miracles recorded in the Word. Other miracles, even though they seem improbable, can be grasped by our natural minds as being remotely possible. We can see with most of them how there could be natural explanations for them even though we believe that the miracle was that they happened at the right time or in the right place. We can see, for example, the possibility that God could string a number of natural phenomena together to produce the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea at the right time. We are familiar with occasions where people have been pronounced dead and have come back to life. We are familiar with circumstances where people have seemingly been miraculously cured of incurable diseases and ailments. Because of our familiarity with these events, and our knowledge of natural science, we can naturally envision the possibility of these miracles taking place, and we can therefore easily believe them. But the miracle of a virgin birth is utterly inconceivable to our natural minds. It is something we are not at all familiar with. It is unprecedented in history, and it has not been repeated. Our natural minds cannot, therefore, conceive of it. The result is that in general we either blindly accept it, ignore it, doubt it, or deny it. The New Church presents us with another idea rational understanding and belief.

We are thinking in the wrong way when we think in such a way as to accept these miracles only when we can understand them as natural possibilities. As we heard in the third lesson, this type of thinking leads to all folly and insanity. We ought to first believe in the Word, or in the doctrine therefrom, and then confirm that doctrine by rational things of natural science and sense experience. “He who assumes as a principle,” we read, “that nothing is to be believed until it is seen and understood can never believe, because spiritual and celestial things cannot be seen with the eyes or conceived by the imagination. But the true order is for man to be wise from the Lord, that is, from His Word, and then all things follow . . . . It is by no means forbidden to learn the sciences, since they are useful . . . but it must be from this principle to believe the Word of the Lord, and, as far as possible, confirm spiritual and celestial truths by natural truths, in terms familiar to the learned world. Thus man’s starting-point must be the Lord and not himself; for the former is life, but the latter is death” (AC 129, emphasis added). In other words, we ought to believe that the miracles recorded in the Word actually took place simply because the Lord in His Word says they did, and then merely confirm our belief by natural reasonings and explanations which seem to make them possible.

The virgin birth is a case in point. We ought to believe it because the Lord says it is so in His Word. We can try to confirm it by natural reasonings and explanations. For example, we are taught that the soul of every man is a graft, or an offshoot, from his father’s soul. It consists of finite, spiritual substances, so formed as to receive life from the Lord. Carried in the sperm from the father at conception, the mind, disposition, nature, inclination, and affection of the father’s love dwell in the souls of his offspring, from generation to generation (see TCR 103). Thus, we read, “the hereditary evil from a father is internal and remains to eternity. For it cannot possibly be eradicated” (AC 1573).

If Joseph, or any other natural man, had been the father of the Lord, He would have had such a finite soul, with hereditary evil inclinations that could not be eradicated to eternity. It would not have been possible for Him to unite His human to the Divine Soul. He would not have been God Incarnate. This is why it is so important that we believe that He was born of a virgin. His soul was Jehovah God Himself. It was Life Itself, infinite and uncreated. His soul had no evil tendencies, but only infinite love for all mankind. It was not a finite substance, formed to receive life. And in no sense was His soul a graft, or an offshoot, of the Divine, for the Divine is one and indivisible. Therefore, we are not to think of the Divine as being limited, or confined in any way, by the Lord’s body as an infant, as a boy, as a man, or at any time during His life on earth.

We might wonder how God could rule and sustain order in the universe while He was living in the world as a child or a grown man; but this is to think of His Essence from His Person, limited by His physical person, and we are taught to think of His Person from His Essence, nevertheless to think of and approach the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In other words, God’s omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience were no way limited by the material body of the Lord. His soul was unchanged. His soul was infinite and unobstructed in its operation at all times, continually recreating and sustaining the universe as it always has and always will. The Lord’s soul was God Himself, the Creator and Ruler of the entire universe, life itself, infinite love, and infinite wisdom. His soul was the indivisible God of heaven and earth in its totality. He called His soul “Father” and spoke to it even as David speaks to his soul in the psalms.

However, the Lord’s body which was formed of natural substances from the womb of Mary was full of the hereditary evil tendencies of the human race. Through this infirm human the hells could approach and tempt the Lord during His life on earth. He combated them from His own power in His Divine Soul, and was victorious, subjugating them to His eternal control. He thus put off the infirm human nature from His mother, and glorified His Human by uniting it to the Divine which was His soul.

In states of glorification, then, He was Jehovah God Himself on earth, fully aware of all that His soul was doing. In states of temptation or exinanition, however, God appeared as someone separate from Him, and He was then not consciously aware of what His soul was doing. When He was fully glorified there was nothing left of the infirm human nature He had taken on in the womb of Mary. He was God-Man, Divine and Human, Emanuel, God with us. Thus He denied His mother from the cross.

The infant Jesus was born of a virgin so that He could become “God with us.” The purpose of His coming into the world was so that He could be in direct contact with people in the world forever after. How is He immediately present with us here today?

He is here in His Word, but His Word is not a book. Before He came into the world in His own Human, He was mediately present by means of a book. But now, the Word, which was in the beginning, which was with God, which was God, and by which all things were made, became flesh and dwelt among us (see John 1:lff). Jehovah God Almighty came into the world to manifest the true form of the Word the Divine Human. He came into the world to show His true nature in physical ultimates. He came into the world to become visible in His own Human form, which is Divine in Essence. He came into the world so that people could know and love Him as He really is, Divine and Human, Divinely Human. God is the one and only Divine Human Being. He is Divine Love in human form.

The form He is visible in today, the form in which He is immediately present with us today, is as Divine love in Human form. The book upon our altar, and the books upon our shelves, are not in Human form. He is not then immediately present and visible there. But when the contents of His Word have been brought into the forms of human minds and have been loved, thought about, and lived, His Divine love is then received and is immediately present in a visible human form.

When the Word becomes flesh and dwells within people like you and me, the speech and actions of our lives will manifest an image and likeness of the Lord’s Divine Human. The miracle of the virgin birth will be repeated in each one of us, and we “shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emanuel, which being interpreted, is God with us” (Matt. 1:23). Amen.

Lessons:
Matt. 1:18-25; 2:1-16
Isaiah 9:1-7
AC 2568 (portions)


Arcana Coelestia 2568

[2] As regards man, it is one thing to regard the doctrine of faith from rational things and altogether another to regard rational things from the doctrine of faith. To regard the doctrine of faith from rational things is not to believe in the Word, or in the doctrine thence derived, until one is persuaded from rational things that it is so; whereas to regard rational things from the doctrine of faith is first to believe in the Word, or in the doctrine therefrom, and then to confirm the same by rational things.

[4] There are therefore two principles, one of which leads to all folly and insanity, and the other to all intelligence and wisdom. The former principle is to deny all things or to say in the heart that we cannot believe them until we are convinced by what we can apprehend or perceive by the senses: this is the principle that leads to all folly and insanity, and is to be called the negative principle. The other principle is to affirm the things which are of doctrine from the Word, or to think and believe within ourselves that they are true because the Lord has said them; this is the principle that leads to all intelligence and wisdom, and is to be called the affirmative principle.

[5] The more they who think from the negative principle consult things rational, the more they consult memory knowledges, and the more they consult things philosophical, the more do they cast and precipitate themselves into darkness, until at last they deny all things. The causes of this are that no one can apprehend higher things from lower ones, that is, spiritual and celestial things, still less Divine things, from lower ones, because they transcend all understanding, and moreover everything is then involved in negatives from that principle. On the other hand, they who think from an affirmative principle can confirm themselves by whatever things rational, by whatever memory knowledges, and whatever things philosophic they have at command; for all these are to them things confirmatory, and give them a fuller idea of the matter.

[6] Moreover, there are some who are in doubt before they deny, and there are some who are in doubt before they affirm. They who are in doubt before they deny are they who incline to a life of evil; and when this life carries them away, then insofar as they think of the matters in question, they deny them. But they who are in doubt before they affirm are they who incline to a life of good; and when they suffer themselves to be bent to this by the Lord, then insofar as they think about those things, so far they affirm.

LIVING CONFESSION

LIVING CONFESSION

A Sermon by Rev. Philip B. Schnarr Preached in Phoenix, Arizona. – August 17,1997

“Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins (Matt 3:5,6).”

In the Word, as it is written in the third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew we find the story of John the Baptist, or, as some translations say, John the Baptizer. John was a lone voice in a wilderness, in the wasteland of a devastated church. And he was called to prepare the way for the Messiah by crying out for the people of Palestine to repent. And many came. They came flocking to John’s baptism in the Jordan river from all over Judea, from Jerusalem and all the regions round about. And as they were being baptized by him in the Jordan, the Word says that they confessed their sins.

Our sermon this morning is on the subject of confessing sins. And we will consider some basic questions such as:

How are we to understand confession and where does it fit in with the process of repentance?

How important is it for us to openly declare the particulars of how we have sinned against the Lord?

What benefit is it for those of the New Church to practice various forms of confession?

Confession by itself has very little use unless we first see that it fits into a much bigger process. We cannot grasp its full place and power without seeing that it is essentially one of three main steps of repentance.

Now most Christians are familiar with the Lord’s teaching that repentance is an essential part of dealing with our evils. The Word teaches this plainly in many places. In Ezekiel (14:6) we read:

Thus says the Lord God ‘Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations.

In Matthew (4:17) we read that Jesus as well as John preached:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

And in Luke (I 3:5):

Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

So it should come as no surprise that many people accept the need for some form of repentance. But “to turn away from evil” – which is the meaning of the word “repent” – means different things to different people.

Some believe that repentance simply means “penance” or “contrition” which is feeling sorry and penitent for our evils. When I asked some older children what they thought repentance was, that is exactly what they said. It is “sort of feeling sorry for your sins.”

Others believe that repentance means more than saying and feeling that we are sorry for our sins. They take it a step further and say we must show that we are sorry. This calls for making amends to those we have wronged wherever possible. Suppose we have cheated on our taxes, we would admit our guilt and make restitution. If we hurt our spouse with angry words we might apologize and then perhaps offer a gift to show that we are truly sorry. If we mistreat our children, perhaps we give them a treat to try to make up or “heal the wound.”

In some faiths, repentance also requires an act of self- mortification. In the time of the Israelites the sorrowful Israelite would clothe himself in sackcloth, place ashes on his head and then sit in the ashes (Matthew 11:21).

In the Writings for the New Church there is a more complete idea of repentance. While it does require we make ourselves guilty for our sins, there is much more to it than any external act of contrition or sorrow. And it’s more than making amends too.

Repentance, we are taught in the Writings is “the first of the Church” (TCR 510:2). In general it has three main steps. First comes self-examination, which involves recognizing our sins as transgressions against the Lord, and acknowledging to ourselves that they are a problem. The second is to confess our sins before the Lord and pray for His power and help to remove them. And lastly, step 3, comes the living of a new life – the ongoing effort to change our patterns of thinking and living (TCR 528-531). These three must all be present for actual repentance to take place. But for now let us look more closely at the second of these three steps, confession.

The first and foremost thing to remember about confession is that it is absolutely necessary for our salvation. The Writings for the New Church state unequivocally, “The person who wants to be saved must confess his sins, and do repentance” (AC 8387). Unless we are ready to admit our weaknesses and admit our guilt, that we have sinned against God and our fellow man, then we cannot receive the life of heaven that the Lord seeks to give to us.

Salvation is a state of being conjoined with the Lord in true love for Him and for our neighbor. How can this come to be unless we are willing to openly confess that we have worldly and selfish desires that are getting in the way.

Yes, confession is an important – no a vital – step forward in our spiritual life and it is a remarkable turning point for many people. It often means breaking through the silent fears that keep us from being honest with ourselves and others. Just listen to what the Psalmist said as he turned from his silence to confess his sin:

“When I kept silent, my bones grew old
Through my groaning all the day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah
I acknowledge my sin to You.
And my iniquity I have not hidden.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
And you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.
For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to you….

And now listen, listen to what follows after the Psalmist’s confession and prayer…

You shall surround me with songs of deliverance (Psalm 32).

Songs of deliverance, yes the sweet melody of freedom will come to us too when we break the silence and admit our wrongdoing before the Lord. Evil thrives in silence. Many of the worst abuses happen in our society because people fear to break the grip of silence.

In this same silence we resist the acknowledgement that we must humble ourselves before the Lord not for His sake but for our own sake! We may even feel a twinge of anger that we are asked to be submissive to Divine authority. Our lower self resents the implication that there is a power greater than us.

But confession and daily prayer to the Lord for His help will bring a gradual change. If we make a habit of them, these two open us up to reveal how the hells are doing their work inside of us. And by exposing the hells, they lose some (not all but some) of their power.

We have all experienced this ourselves at one time or another. Whether we are dealing with external dependencies like smoking, caffeine, alcohol or with compulsive and harmful behaviors, the grip these things have over the mind is simply amazing. And when the time comes that we are ready to give up a dependency, whatever it is, when it has become really unmanageable and harmful to us, -a sincere confession to the Lord and perhaps to people we trust, can be part of the miracle of recovery. It can lift the burden and lead to a sense of freedom, freedom to change and to be changed.

Remember that John baptized in the Jordan River. The Jordan marks an entry point to the land of Canaan. The children of Israel, after 40 years of struggle, when they crossed the Jordan, had put the past behind them. They were finally free of the plagues of Egypt and the perils of the wilderness. In the same way, people came to John at the Jordan River to be washed, to be cleansed from their trespasses, and to begin a better life. And during their baptism they confessed their sins. They opened their hearts up to the Lord so that He could find a dwelling place with them.

But let us remember that the Jordan river was the boundary, a gateway to Canaan. And so it is with the washing of our spirits that comes from confession. It is also only a starting place. Confession is an entrance to spiritual life, but it should not be confused with heavenly life itself. Yes it can be a momentous turning point and entryway to the life of peace which in the Word is described as a promised land flowing with milk and honey. But we must resist the temptation to think that a mere oral confession of our guilt will purify us.

The truth is that purification only comes with patience and a ready willingness to acknowledge an evil whenever it surfaces. If we are patient we will be purified by the Lord indeed. But our evil affections are only gradually uprooted and replaced by good ones (cf AC 10236.2).

This devotion to ongoing effort is what makes our confessions to be living, to be from the heart, not just the lips. We know from much experience that changing our habits and our self-destructive patterns does not happen overnight.

We must also guard diligently lest we confess our sins to benefit our own reputation, or sense of self-satisfaction. This will only make real confession harder. We read, “mere lip- confession of being a sinner is not repentance, or the recounting of various particulars in regard to it” (TCR 529).

But how then should we confess? Is it something between us and the Lord alone? Or should we confess openly before others? Should we go to a priest? Should we confess to our spouses?

These are not easy questions and the Writings give us only a few specific guidelines about external forms of confession. It is obvious however, that our priority must be to the Lord. We read in the Arcana Coelestia “to confess our sins is to declare them before the Lord and admit that all good is from the Lord and all evil is from (him)self'(AC 3880.7).

It is true that the Lord knows all of our evils already. So we need not go to great lengths enumerating them. Still when we confess them sincerely, it puts us in a true relationship with Him as our God. He alone has the power to save us.

As to the methods of confession, it would seem that the Lord leaves that largely to a matter of conscience. The principles that must guide our conscience, however, are very clear. Confession of the lips and not at the same time of the heart is not a living confession and does more harm than good. From the Writings we read:

Interior confession is of the heart and comes forth in humiliation, and at the same time in the affection of good: but exterior confession is of the lips, and may possibly come forth in a feigned humiliation and a feigned affection of good, which is none at all.. (AC 2329).

To confess our sins from the heart before the Lord, a trusted person, perhaps our spouse, has been for many people a life changing experience. In The True Christian Religion we learn that we can gain relief from our sins by telling them to a priest. It can serve to lighten our burden and establish the habit of self-examination.(TCR 539e). Often a skilled counsellor can help us discover and express negative thoughts and feelings that come from hell but need to be observed and acknowledged for us to deal with them. And although nothing sets us free from our sins but resisting evils and living a life of faith (AC 8387- 8394), the Writings tell us that if we should feel freed from our sins after confessing them, this is not a bad thing. It can lead to good providing we refrain from that evil in the future (AC 3993. 10).

One thing is sure. Confession is good for the soul. True, living confession of the heart lightens our burdens. It helps us to see that all good is from the Lord and not ourselves. It changes the direction of our thinking so that when we make mistakes, when we fall down, and when our minds wander into angry, resentful and unkind thoughts we will be quick to be lifted up by the Lord.

Those who fail to acknowledge their sins through regular confession and self-examination find repentance in this world and the next to be a distasteful and difficult exercise (TCR 561-2).

Confessing our sins, like admitting our mistakes, is hard for many of us. But once begun, the task gets easier. What has seemed to be a burden can become a refreshing way of putting the past behind us and beginning a new life. Let us be fearless as we go before the Lord in humility, asking Him to have mercy upon us, to blot out our transgressions, to wash us and make us clean, to create in us a clean heart and to give us the joy of His salvation (cf Ps 5 1). Amen,


Lessons: Psalm 51:1-13; Matthew 3:1-11; TCR 539; Lord 17.

Psalms 51

1 To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

Matthew 3

1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
4 And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,
6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
10 And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:

True Christian Religion

539. There are two duties incumbent on man, to be done after examination, namely, supplication and confession. The supplication should be that the Lord may be merciful, that He may give power to resist the evils that have been repented of and that He will provide inclination and affection for doing good,

Since apart from the Lord man can do nothing (John 15:5).

The confession will be that be sees, recognizes, and acknowledges his evils, and finds himself to be a miserable sinner. There is no need for man to enumerate his sins before the Lord, nor to supplicate forgiveness of them. He need not enumerate them, because he has searched them out and seen them in himself, and consequently they are present to the Lord because they are present to himself. Moreover, the Lord led him to search them out, disclosed them, and inspired grief for them, and together with this an effort to refrain from them and begin a new life. Supplication need not be made to the Lord for forgiveness of sins, for the following reasons: First, because sins are not abolished, but removed; and they are removed so far as man continues to refrain from them and enters upon a new life; for there are innumerable lusts inherent, coiled up as it were, in every evil, and they cannot be put away instantly, but only gradually, as man permits himself to be reformed and regenerated. The second reason is, that as the Lord is mercy itself, He forgives all men their sins, nor does He impute a single sin to any one, for He says, “They know not what they do.” Nevertheless, the sins are not thereby taken away; for to Peter asking how often he should forgive his brother’s trespasses, whether he should do so seven times, the Lord said:-

I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven (Matt. 18:21-22). What, then, will not the Lord do? Still it does no harm for one burdened in conscience to enumerate his sins before a minister of the church, in order to lighten his burden and obtain absolution; because he is thereby initiated into a habit of examining himself, and reflecting upon each day’s evils. But this kind of confession is natural, while that described above is spiritual.

Lord

17. Something shall now be said of what is meant by taking away sins. To take away sins means the same as to redeem man, and to save him; for the Lord came into the world to render salvation possible to man. Without His advent no mortal could have been reformed and regenerated, and so saved. But this became possible after the Lord had deprived the devil (that is, hell) of all his power; and had glorified His Human, that is, had united it to the Divine of His Father. If these things had not been done, no man would have been capable of permanently receiving any Divine truth, still less any Divine good; for the devil, whose power was previously the stronger, would have plucked it out of his heart. [2] From what has been said it is evident that the Lord did not take away sins by the passion of the cross; but that He takes them away, that is, removes them, in those who believe in Him by living according to His commandments; as He also teaches in Matthew:–

Think not that I am come to loosen the law and the prophets. Whosoever shall loosen the least of these commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of the heavens; but whosoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens (5:17, 19). [3] Who cannot see from reason alone, provided he is in some enlightenment, that sins cannot be taken away from a man except by actual repentance, which consists in his seeing his sins, imploring the Lord’s help, and desisting from them? To see, believe, and teach otherwise, is not from the Word, nor from sound reason, but from cupidity and a depraved will, which are proper to man, and from this comes the debasement of his intelligence.