Visions of the Lord

Visions of the Lord

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper


But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (MAT 17:7-8)

In our lesson from the Divine Love and Wisdom we read how important it is for a person to have the correct idea of God, that each of us will find our home in heaven according to the idea of God which is confirmed and made manifest by our attitudes and actions towards each other. Our idea of God, how we visualize Him, how we regard Him, how we respond to His teachings, is unique in each of us, and becomes a part of our very character and being. We are taught that in all the heavens there is no other idea of God than that He is a Man (DLW 11), and that this is so because heaven as a whole and in regard to its least detail is in the human form. The thought of every angel proceeds according to the form of heaven, and when the Lord looks down on heaven it appears to Him in the form of a Grand Man because each of the societies there has functions that correspond to the various organs of the human body. Thus we can say that heaven itself is in the human form, and so it is impossible for any angel to think of God in any other way than as a Man.

Since heaven itself is in the form of a Man, and all the angels think of God as a Man, if we wish to be conjoined with the angels as to our thoughts while in this world, and as to our lives when we pass into the next, we must therefore learn to think in the same way that they do. If we believe that God is a “universal creative force,” or “nature,” or something else non-human, we have not aligned our thoughts with the angels in heaven, but instead we have begun to think as do the devils in hell.

We read from the work The Last Judgment that,

The Gentiles, especially the Africans, who acknowledge and worship one God, the Creator of the universe, have … the idea that He is a Man, and declare that no one can have any other idea of God. When they learn that there are many who cherish an idea of God as something cloud like in the midst of things, they ask where such persons are; and on being told that they are among Christians, they declare it to be impossible.… I heard a certain elder from the Christians say that no one can have an idea of a Human Divine; and I saw him taken about to various Gentile nations, and successively to such as were more and more interior, and from them to their heavens, and finally to the Christian heaven; and everywhere their interior perception concerning God was communicated to him, and he observed that they had no other idea of God than that He is a man, which is the same as the idea of a Human Divine. (LJ 74)

The Lord loves us, and we are to love Him in return, for the joy of heaven depends on this reciprocal conjunction, but the nature of love is such that for there to be genuine love (and not just some kind of affection or fondness) the one loved has to be able to return the love in a like manner. In other words, humans can only truly love other human beings. Can anyone love a force? Does it even make sense for you to say that you love gravity? Does your feeling about gravity make the slightest difference in its operation in your life? Of course not, and for this reason, we must have an idea of God as a Man, not as some cosmic, mysterious force.

It’s not even enough to think of Him in some kind of general way. We cannot love all of mankind, but we can love individual human beings. We cannot love individuals whom we have never met or spoken to. There has to be individual specific knowledge before there can be genuine reciprocal love. It is not enough to believe in some undefined “supreme being.” We are told that we must get specific knowledge of God as Man from the Word, and come to know Him as He reveals Himself there – and then we can begin to learn to love Him.

The Lord reveals His human to us gradually in the Word. Each revelation was carefully designed to be appropriate to the spiritual states of the men who were to see it. He had to show Himself to the men of the Most Ancient Church in a way quite different from His revelation to the prophets of Israel, to His disciples, or to Emanuel Swedenborg, because each of these were able to receive Him and understand Him in a different way. We are able to see the complete picture, for we can see Him in all of His revelations.

Today, we will look at several of these revelations or visions of the Lord so that we can see how the Lord shows Himself to us in such a way that our understanding of Him as God-Man can begin in our minds and grow throughout eternity. We will select some passages from the Old and New Testaments that will serve to illustrate the way we are to develop our picture of the Visible God even as our understanding of Him grows.

The first instance were the Word pictures God as Man is in Genesis. Adam and Eve are in the garden, have been tempted to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and have succumbed. We read:

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” (GEN 3:7-9)

Who among us has not taken a walk in the garden in the cool of the day? What a distinctly human view of God the Creator is presented here: the father finding out the naughty children. True, their punishment is harsh, but no one who reads this passage can fail to see that they did the only thing that they were specifically forbidden to do. God has presented Himself to us here in a distinctly human way, although with a sharp edge of stern justice. A “universal life-force” does not walk in the garden in the cool of the day.

The Lord revealed Himself to Moses first in a bush that burned without being consumed, and later when He gave the law to Moses on Sinai, we are told that there was flame on the top of the mountain, and the cloud descended halfway down it. Also the Lord signified His presence in the camp of Israel by a continual cloud over the tabernacle during the day, and flame of fire by night. These symbols of the Divine presence were apparently as much as could be received by the Jewish Church during the age of the patriarchs. The Lord would occasionally speak to the prophets, or appear in a night vision, but such revelations did nothing to develop the idea of His Divine Humanity with them. Instead, He taught of His Humanity by prophecy that looked forward to the time that He would come in person as the shepherd of Israel.

The Psalms contain many different images of the Lord as a warrior, as a king, but the most memorable image of the Lord given to us in the Psalms is that of the Lord as The Shepherd:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever. (PSA 23)

This Psalm may well be the most well-known and most beloved part of the Old Testament precisely because of the beautiful picture that it paints of the Lord, and because it leads us to love this image of Him because it is what we need to have a proper human picture of Him, so that we can begin to love Him as a person whom we know, and who has personal human qualities which we admire.

This theme of the Lord as the gentle shepherd is continued in the New Testament because the Lord wanted to present Himself to the people in such a way that they would understand His relationship to them, and since the great majority of people in those days worked in the fields, it should not be surprising that the Lord used this image to describe His relationship to His people.

The Lord compared Himself to the good shepherd as a symbol of His spiritual mission. The wolf which attacks the sheep is hell, and the Lord teaches that He will fight even to the death of the physical body for the sake of His people. We can see in hindsight that He was predicting His own death by crucifixion in the following passages, even while he was teaching the people about His great compassion for them. He taught:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But he who is a hireling and not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (JOH 10:11-16)

Not only did He lay down His life for His sheep, He has shown us that His compassion and love extends beyond the bounds of the Jewish Church to encompass all people in all nations who love Him and keep His commandments. In His spiritual kingdom, there is indeed only one flock, and one shepherd. In heaven, the trivial differences that divide the nations of the world drop away as useless and the true spiritual bonds within serve to unite all peoples in uses which serve the Lord and His kingdom.

Our final vision of the Lord comes from the Gospel according to Matthew; the Transfiguration:

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, brought them up on a high mountain by themselves, And was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (MAT 17:1-8)

There are several important representative elements to note here. Peter represents faith. James represents charity, and John represents the works that are the product of charity and faith in the man of the church. Also, the Lord was seen by them in the presence of Moses and Elijah. Moses was a symbol of the Law itself, and Elijah was loved as the greatest of the prophets, and so, by their presence, the Lord was graphically displaying to the three disciples His own relationship to the Word. Moses and Elijah are the Law and the Prophets — the Old Testament — and Jesus Himself stands for the New Testament.

The Lord gave the Word to us for the sake of our salvation. In it, He gave us many different visions of Himself so that we could see Him in our mind’s eye as a Man, the Divine Human, and come to know Him and thus love Him. We may first think of Him as our heavenly father, or as a shepherd, or as Jesus Christ. But if we desire it, and if we bring faith, charity, and works (Peter, James, and John) into our lives, then whatever image we have of the Lord will be transfigured before our eyes, and we will see the Lord as he really is — God-Man in His Divine Human — first with our minds as our understanding opens, and later with our spiritual eyes when we achieve our heavenly home. Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, brought them up on a high mountain by themselves, And was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. (MAT 17:1,2) AMEN.

Lessons: EXO 33:7-11, REV 1:9-18, DLW 12, 13

1st Lesson: Exo 33:7-11

Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the LORD went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp. {8} So it was, whenever Moses went out to the tabernacle, that all the people rose, and each man stood at his tent door and watched Moses until he had gone into the tabernacle. {9} And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. {10} All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door. {11} So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. Amen.

2nd Lesson: Rev 1:9-18

I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. {10} I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, {11} saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” {12} Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, {13} and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. {14} His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; {15} His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; {16} He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. {17} And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. {18} “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. Amen.

3rd Lesson: DLW 12, 13

12. The common people in Christendom have an idea that God is a Man, because God in the Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity is called a “Person.” But those who are more learned than the common people pronounce God to be invisible; and this for the reason that they cannot comprehend how God, as a Man, could have created heaven and earth, and then fill the universe with His presence, and many things besides, which cannot enter the understanding so long as the truth that the Divine is not in space is ignored. Those, however, who go to the Lord alone think of a Human Divine, thus of God as a Man.

13. How important it is to have a correct idea of God can be known from the truth that the idea of God constitutes the inmost of thought with all who have religion, for all things of religion and all things of worship look to God. And since God, universally and in particular, is in all things of religion and of worship, without a proper idea of God no communication with the heavens is possible. From this it is that in the spiritual world every nation has its place allotted in accordance with its idea of God as a Man; for in this idea, and in no other, is the idea of the Lord. That man’s state of life after death is according to the idea of God in which he has become confirmed, is manifest from the opposite of this, namely, that the denial of God, and, in the Christian world, the denial of the Divinity of the Lord, constitutes hell. Amen.

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Preparing For Temptation

Preparing For Temptation

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Now, therefore, send quickly and tell David, saying, “Do not spend this night in the plains of the wilderness, but speedily cross over, lest the king and all the people be swallowed up” (2SA 17:16).

Absalom was the favorite son of King David. He was tall. He was handsome. He was the apple of his father’s eye. While his father sat on the throne doing the actual work of bringing justice to the kingdom, Absalom stood in the gate of the city and greeted all the people who came to petition the king. He told each one just what he wanted to hear, that if he were king, he would surely decide in that one’s favor. More and more people began to succumb to this flattery and began to love Absalom more than they loved David.

Absalom seemed to have everything going his way, but he did have one glaring fault that led him into many disorders: he wanted to be king so badly that he could not patiently wait for his father to die or give him the throne. Absalom spent most of his adult life plotting to violently overthrow his father and rule in his place.

The amazing thing is that David knew of his son’s plans, he knew that Absalom was a constant threat to the stability of his kingdom and his own life, and yet he continued to turn his eyes away from Absalom’s wickedness, and play the fool to Absalom’s lies. His love for his son was not based upon respect, or on the good things that Absalom was able to accomplish among the people. Instead, his love was based on the mere fact that Absalom has arisen from his own body, and for that reason alone David protected him from the consequences of his behavior. If David had only acted as a responsible parent and brought Absalom under control, it would have saved both of them much misery in their lives.

As with every story in the Word when viewed from the perspective of the regenerative series, David, as the central figure, represents each of us as we try to regenerate. Absalom stands for the evils that we love even though we know that they are evil.

David’s uncritical love for his son represents our uncritical loves, all those conflicts between our will and our understanding where we know we should be doing one thing, but we want to do something else. David knew he should control Absalom, but he did not want to. He refused to restrain his son.

Returning for a moment to the literal story, we see that when Absalom believed that he had amassed a sufficiently broad base of popular support, he moved against his father. Absalom and his army rose up in the night and attacked Jerusalem. Their victory was quick, though it was not quite complete. David managed to flee into the country-side with a few of his advisers, servants, and family.

As David fled, he had time to speak to his close friend and loyal adviser, Hushai, and asked him to risk his life by staying and becoming an adviser to Absalom. David’s hope was that Hushai could confound the good counsel that Absalom would get from his other advisers, specially from such wise men as Ahithopel.

Hushai did as his king bid him. He presented himself to Absalom, who recognized him as a trusted friend of David’s. Absalom asked him to explain why he should not be executed for his treason against David. Hushai explained that he had always been an adviser to the king, and now there was a new king to advise. Hushai convinced Absalom that his loyalty lay with the throne, not with the individual who sat upon it. Absalom, a man who was not known for his humility and good sense, believed him, because the explanation pleased him. And so Hushai was in a position to protect David from within Absalom’s inner circle of advisers.

Absalom called his council together to discuss what to do next. Ahithopel correctly advised him that David was now alone in the wilderness, without food, tents, or weapons. He had no army, but only a few personal servants and members of the court. He told Absalom that if he were to strike forcefully and immediately, he could easily overwhelm David and ensure the future of his own kingdom.

Hushai (knowing that if Absalom did move swiftly, David was doomed), cautioned Absalom not to move too quickly. He reminded Absalom of David’s reputation as the slayer of “10 000 Philistines”, and told him that if he thought to fight against such a warrior as David was, he had better be thoroughly prepared. Absalom accepted the counsel of Hushai because he did still fear his father’s reputation as a warrior, and so he lost his opportunity to crush David while he was weak and unable to defend himself. As a direct result of the delay, David was able to gather a powerful army to himself and crush the rebellion, killing Absalom.

This is an interesting story of political intrigue and struggles between powerful men within a royal family, but there must be more to it than that, or it would not be a part of God’s Word. It must somehow address the problems of men that transcend time and place. If it is God’s Word, it must speak to each of us and help us in the daily struggle of our lives. When we think of David as standing for ourselves, and Absalom standing for our evil loves, this story tells us many things about fighting against the hells in states of temptation.

First, it tells us that although the hells (represented by Absalom) seem to be incredibly powerful, we must keep in mind that they are stupid, vain, and cowardly, and we can use these weaknesses to our advantage. We don’t have to fight against them when we are weak and unprepared. We can push them away until we are ready to fight, until we have chosen the time and place that puts us in the better position. The internal sense of the story tells us what these steps are in their order.

Starting from the point where we see that David stands for each one of us, and Absalom stands for some evil within us that we love like a son, we can see the first step in preparing to do battle with and defeat some evil love within us is to flee from it!

  • By ourselves, unprepared, we cannot stand and fight. If we try, we will be defeated.
  • A person who has a problem with alcohol will not beat it by spending a lot of time socializing with people who drink a lot.
  • A man who is tempted to commit adultery cannot defeat it by spending his time in the company of loose women.
  • The belief that we can conquer an evil by immersing ourselves in its sphere and then exercising self-control is a lie spread by the hells. They know that the more often we succumb, the more difficult it will be for us to ever rid ourselves of that evil, so they want us to fight them in such a way that we can be easily defeated, to get into the habit of succumbing in temptation.
  • So we must not let them control the time and place of the battle.
  • We must flee from the sphere of evil before we fight.

After David fled from Jerusalem into the wilderness, counsel was given to both Absalom and David. This tells us that the second step should be that, having fled the sphere of the evil, we must then take counsel.

  • We need to ask ourselves what is right.
  • We need to examine our lives for previous experiences that might be helpful.
  • We need to examine our thought and will for evidences of that evil’s power.
  • We need to spend time gathering information about ourselves and our enemy.
  • We need to read the Word for guidance, for only after we have full knowledge can we act with assurance and safety.

The third step is revealed when Hushai sends word to David that he should not delay, but should “speedily” cross over the Jordan and leave the wilderness. The wilderness represents a state of despair, hunger, loneliness, and temptation. Gilead, the land on the other side of the Jordan, was a good place, pleasant to live in, and represents the sensuous pleasures that delight the natural man.

  • This tells us that we are not to remain in the wilderness state of loneliness, temptation and despair, but that we are to get back to those things which are useful, delightful, and refreshing to us.
  • It is another lie from hell that tells us that somehow we should be full of woe and pain while preparing to fight in temptation.
  • The Lord doesn’t want us to feel sad or guilty ever, and certainly not just when we need our strength and clarity of mind to fight a powerful foe.
  • We need to get out of that wilderness state into another state where our bodies are rested and our minds refreshed so that we can go forth to fight with confidence and with vigor.
  • We are told that this should be done “speedily.” Once we make the decision to fight, we must not then put it off into some far distant future when we think we might be more ready. Again, procrastination is from hell, and is as effective as a full-scale frontal assault if it keeps us from shunning evils as sins.

The fourth step is to continue our self-examination, our searching for the truth of the matter. This is represented by the spies, Jonathan and Ahimaaz, who were sent to David by Hushai. We are told that Absalom’s men were looking for them, and they were forced to hide in a well in a courtyard, which was then covered with a cloth and ground grain.

A well in Israel in those days was usually a pit hollowed out of the underlying sandstone. Rainwater would be directed into the pit, and hoarded through the long dry season. This kind of well has a good representation, because it is used to store water, but the water becomes stale after several months, and while it is still useful for watering crops and livestock, it is not as pleasant to drink as running water from a mountain stream. Thus, such a well represents the very lowest sort of truths there are, very external and sensual. This is further represented by the fact that the well was in the courtyard of a house, for a courtyard also represents what is external or natural.

External truths from the Word are our sure ground when we are being attacked by the hells.

  • We remember the things that are simple, basic and strong.
  • We say the Lord’s prayer.
  • We sing our favorite hymns.
  • We may go and sit quietly in the church for a while. We read a favorite passage from the Word.
  • We do something kind for another person.
  • We use this time to gather our inner resources, to fall back on those things that are so sure in our minds that not even the most hellish attack can make us question them or abandon them.

We are told that Absalom’s men were not able to find the spies, which means in the spiritual sense that the hells cannot harm our remains of good and truth.

The fifth step again refers to crossing over into Gilead, and we are told that this is because as we prepare to fight, as we make decisions to do what the Word teaches, as we compel ourselves to fight against evil, the Lord gives us feelings of pleasure and delight. Perhaps we could think of this in terms of an army facing an important battle. How does the General prepare his troops?

  • Does he tell everyone how hard it is going to be, how dangerous?
  • Does he tell the soldiers that he believes they will loose, but they may as well give it a try anyhow?
  • Of course not. A successful General inspires in his men the confidence that they are powerful, competent, and ready. He wants them to feel good about themselves, and to feel that the task ahead is within their abilities.

The Lord cannot stand before us in person and give us a pep talk, but He can touch our hearts and our minds with the strength and courage we need, if we will invite Him to do so. This is what encamping in Gilead means.

And so in this story of Absalom’s revolt against David we learn five steps that we can take to prepare ourselves properly to fight against the hells in states of temptation so that when we fight with the Lord’s help, we will certainly win.

  • First, we must flee from the evil and get out of its sphere and its power.
  • Second, we must read the Word, borrowing its strength to fight to coming battle.
  • Third, we must shun feelings of despair and loneliness, we must not dwell on our evils, but turn our attention to useful activities. We cannot fight effectively when we are morose and depressed.
  • Fourth, we are to gather our inner resources, to reflect on the way the Lord has been with us and helped us in earlier battles, the way He has always been present in our lives.
  • Finally, we must encamp in Gilead. We are not to spend the night in the wilderness, but speedily cross over, lest we be swallowed up by the hells. We must go forth into the battle with the courage that comes from the confidence that the Lord will fight our battles for us, and He never loses. AMEN.

Lessons: 2 Samuel 17:15-29, Mark 10:35-45, TCR 596

True Christian Religion 596.


596. A conflict then arises because the internal man is reformed by means of truths; and from truths he sees what is evil and false, which evil and falsity are still in the external or natural man; consequently disagreement first springs up between the new will, which is above, and the old will, which is below; and as the disagreement is between the two wills, it is also between their delights; for the flesh, it is well known, is opposed to the spirit and the spirit to the flesh, and the flesh with its lusts must be subdued before the spirit can act and man become new. After this disagreement of the two wills a conflict arises; and this is called spiritual temptation. This temptation or conflict does not take place between goods and evils, but between the truths of good and the falsities of evil For good cannot fight from itself but fights by means of truths; nor can evil fight from itself but by means of its falsities; just as the will cannot fight from itself but by means of the understanding where its truths reside.

[2] Man is not sensible of that conflict except as in himself, and as remorse of conscience; and yet it is the Lord and the devil (that is, hell) that are fighting in man, and they are fighting for dominion over him, or to determine who shall possess him. The devil or hell attacks man and calls out his evils, while the Lord protects him and calls out his goods. Although that conflict takes place in the spiritual world, still it takes place in man between the truths of good and the falsities of evil that are in him; therefore man must fight wholly as if of himself, for he has the freedom of choice to act for the Lord, and also to act for the devil; he is for the Lord, if he abides in truths from good, and for the devil, if he abides in falsities from evil. From this it follows that whichever conquers, the internal man or the external, that one rules over the other; precisely like two hostile powers contending as to which shall be master of the other’s kingdom–the conqueror takes possession of the kingdom, and places all in it under obedience to himself. In this case, therefore, if the internal man conquers, he obtains dominion and subjugates all the evils of the external man, and regeneration then goes on; but if the external man conquers, he obtains the dominion, and dissipates all the goods of the internal man, and regeneration perishes.

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Changelessness and Change

Changelessness and Change

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, August 8, 2004

“Change” is a word that is charged with emotional content. Sometimes we fear a change. Sometimes we long for a change and joyously greet it when it comes. And sometimes we grudgingly accept change because we can see that after all, it is for the best – but we still don’t like it very much.

The Lord Himself is unchanged and unchanging. His love cannot grow because it is already Infinite, and His wisdom cannot increase because He is already all-knowing, for He is Wisdom Itself. He is not affected by time because He is the Creator of time, and stands outside of it. We perceive the passage of time. We can speak of things that have happened in the past, and we can plan for things that we expect to happen in the future, all the while living minute by minute in the present. However, the Lord does not have a “past” or a “future.” To Him all things are seen in the present. Because He is therefore able to see our entire lives, both past and future, as now, He is able to understand us better than we can understand ourselves, and at the same time He is able to provide opportunities for us to choose to think and to do things that will be specifically suited to our spiritual states.

The Lord Himself is changeless, but He created change for us, so that we might freely, as if of our own power, turn away from being merely natural and sensual people, and turn toward being spiritual and celestial people.

Change provides contrast in our lives. People who live next to a busy highway soon find that their brains have “tuned out” the noise from the cars and trucks. They find that they can go about their lives as if the highway was not there. The only time they even notice the noise is when a visitor asks them how they can stand all the noise, or when, for some reason like a snowstorm, it suddenly stops.

The same thing is true of our spiritual states. If the angels were to live lives of continuous unrelieved bliss, they would at first become bored, then desperate, and finally unconscious! The rational mind derives its name from the ability to compare one thing to another, to see the ratio or relationship between truths. If all things were the same, if there were no changes of state, then the rational degree of the mind could not function any longer. Since we have consciousness by means of the rational degree of the mind, if it were closed we would become unconscious.

People who live in perpetually snowy lands can become temporarily blind when their eyes cannot detect any contrasts in the entirely whitened out scenery. The brain simply gives up trying to sort out information that is not distinguishable and waits until something comes along to establish a contrast and a point of reference.

We rejoice in the changing of the seasons because these changes in weather, scenery, and activities allow us to contrast one state of our live with another, allow us to plan to make changes for ourselves at these regular landmarks in our lives. As the farmer plants new seed in the spring, so we may vow to begin a new use. As the homemaker plans spring cleaning, so we may be reminded to practice self-examination in preparation for the next Holy Supper. As we watch the leaves turn from green to brilliant colors and then fade away, we understand the message that even in death there is celebration and the promise of new life to come.

Change brings variety and delight into our lives. Change even makes it possible for us to go to heaven, for we are born full of tendencies to evils of every kind, and with all manner of sensual and natural desires. We have to redirect our lives, change our loves if we are to become angels of heaven! God intends that every one of us is to live with Him to eternity in heaven. If we are to enter heaven as our God intends, then we must first cease to do evil, then learn to do good. This is a most profound change, but a change for the better.

We all have a tendency to fear change, because change can take us away from what is known, familiar, and comfortable to something that is unknown, unfamiliar, and therefore very frightening. We establish associations with people and places that make certain locations feel like “home” to us, and other places make us feel very uncomfortable. Some people are more perceptive of this kind of sphere than others, but many people experience spheres when they travel, feeling very much at home in some places, and distinctly uncomfortable in other places – even when they are visiting with close friends or dearly loved family!

We also have very strong affections to things because they remind us of something pleasant, such as the mother who is past childbearing years who yet keeps a small box of infant’s clothes hidden away. To give them away, even though her rational mind says that there is no reason to keep them any longer, is more than her affections can bear, for giving up these soft little garments would be a powerful ultimate sign that a beloved part of her life is over. This would be the kind of change that would be fought, consciously or unconsciously, the kind of change to be feared.

Over the years, each of us builds up a repertoire of ideas that become as real and important to us as the family home, or the baby clothes. We begin to hold these ideas not because they are either useful or true, but because we have always held them. Because our affections are all tied up with these ideas, that is, because we love them not because they are true but because they are our own, we respond with anger to anyone who opposes these ideas.

We all have had the experience of trying to teach something to someone else, an idea that we sincerely thought would benefit them. We presented the idea in as gentle and rational way as we could, and they turned on us in anger! Usually, since our own loves are being challenged, we responded to their anger in kind, and the communication ended. The reason this happens is that everyone has strong affections for their own ideas and beliefs, and when we speak, we must speak with sensitivity and care for those loves – which can be extremely difficult when we don’t know what they are!

We love who we are. Every thought, every belief, every part of our being is bound in place by loves. Some of these loves are good, and some of them are evil. Every time we make a decision to change some aspect of our life, we are at the same time making a decision to kill one of our loves. It may be an evil love that should be destroyed, but it is still a part of us, and it hurts to remove it. It’s like having a splinter in your finger. After a minute it stops hurting so much, and we begin to anticipate the pain of digging it out. Immediately, we begin weighing the cost of digging it out against the cost of leaving it in. We sometimes seriously think that it would be better to learn to live with the splinter than to endure the pain of digging it out. Can we not see the spiritual danger that we face when we begin to think that we would be better off leaving a sin in place than trying to bear the pain of removing it through the combats of temptation? But at least when we make that decision, it comes from within – and we can accept it.

What really causes us to fight against a change is when we believe it is being imposed upon us from without, either by circumstances or by the deliberate action of another person or group of people. Then, our freedom feels challenged, and the Lord has designed us to fight to the death to protect our own spiritual freedom.

Our lives are full of changes. Some we welcome with joy, such as the first buds of spring after a bitterly cold winter. Some changes we wish to avoid, such as giving up one of our many bad habits. Some changes cause tremendous fear and stress because we feel that they are being forced on us by powers outside of ourselves and beyond our personal control. This reminds us of one of the great ironies of life in this world: how easy it is for us to see the need for change in others, and how sure we are that we do not need to change at all.

How many people have married, knowing full well that the partner has really annoying habits, in the belief that their love will mold the partner into more what they had in mind in the first place. The fact that this seldom works leads us to jump to the conclusion that people don’t change – but that cannot be true either, or the whole doctrine of regeneration would be without purpose. The truth is that the doctrine of freedom teaches that only those things that are received with affection and in freedom remain. Change can be accomplished, but it must come from within, from the knowledge of what is genuinely true, and the desire to bring oneself into a life in harmony with the truth.

Sometimes we fight change, sometimes we welcome it. How can we learn to approach change so that we can fight only those changes which might harm our spiritual growth and life, and welcome those changes which will bring us delight, rational thought, and freedom? How can we tell the difference? We have to ask ourselves to look to the use that the change may bring.

What will be its long-term benefits?

Will it bring a more peaceful state into the marriage?

Does it lead to the life of heaven?

What will be its short-term benefits?

Does it solve a particular problem that has been disturbing the home and distracting our minds from more important things?

What are the costs in economic, human, and spiritual terms?

Can the Lord’s will be seen in this change?

Can we accept that the change is in the Lord’s Divine Providence and allow ourselves to accept it until such time as another choice and change become available?

Will making this change bring our life more into harmony with the Lord’s will as it is seen in the Word, or does it favor self?

These are difficult questions to ask of ourselves. They are even more difficult to answer honestly, for sometimes the answer will put our will in conflict with our rational thought-and, when so challenged, the will immediately demands that the thought process begin again – it cannot tolerate loosing.

As we fight these battles within our minds, we feel that we are alone, and perhaps even confused by the way things are constantly changing and shifting in our lives. Both our internal states, and the states of the world and the people around us. In our own personal uncertainty, we search for something sure, a rock to become the foundation of our thought.

The very fact that we are free to fight, to change, to search for answers is proof that the Lord is always there, helping us, protecting our freedom and rational thought. We can search the world over, and we will find lots of opinion and lots of fads to follow, but they are not the firm foundation we need to provide security for our spirits. That firm foundation is the bedrock that the Lord told Peter that His church would be founded on: the doctrine we have from the Word which is unchanged and unchanging forever.

They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, all of them will grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, And they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will have no end (PSA 102:26,27). AMEN

First Lesson:

(Mat 21:33-46) “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. {34} “Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. {35} “And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. {36} “Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. {37} “Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ {38} “But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ {39} “So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. {40} “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” {41} They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” {42} Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’? {43} “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. {44} “And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” {45} Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. {46} But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet. Amen.

Second Lesson:

(AC 8853) Every man has something of his own which he loves above all things. This is called that which rules, or if you will, that which reigns universally with him. This is constantly present in his thought, and also in his will, and makes his veriest life.

(8854) As for example, he who loves wealth above all things, whether money or possessions, is continually revolving in his mind how he may procure it; he inmostly rejoices when he acquires it; he inmostly grieves when lie loses it; his heart is in it. He who loves himself above all things is mindful of himself in everything, thinks of himself, speaks of himself, acts for the sake of himself; for his life is a life of self.

(8855) A man has as the end that which he loves above all things; in each and all things he has regard to this; it is in his will like the hidden current of a river which draws and hears him away, even when he is doing something else, for it is what animates him. It is this which one man searches out in another, and also sees, and according to it either leads him, or acts with him.

(8856) When a man is being regenerated, charity is implanted by means of faith, even until it becomes that which rules; and when charity has become this, he has a new life, for it is then continually present in his thought, and continually in his will, nay, in every single thing of them, even when he is meditating about other things, and when he is engaged in business.

(8857) The case is the same with love to the Lord. When this love is that which rules, it is present in every single thing of the man’s life; as for instance with him who loves his king, or his parent, his love toward them shines forth in their presence from every feature of his face, it is heard in every expression of his speech, and is seen in his every gesture. This is meant by having God continually before the eyes, and by loving Him above all things, with all the soul and with all the heart.

(8858) A man is wholly such as is the ruling principle of his life; by this he is distinguished from others; according to this is formed his heaven if he is good, and his hell if he is evil; for it is his veriest will, and thus the very being of his life, which cannot be changed after death. From all this it is evident what is the nature of the life of one who is regenerate, and what is the nature of the life of one who is not regenerate.

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

Equilibrium: The Balance Of The Worlds

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Equilibrium: The Balance Of The Worlds


(Spiritual Freedom) is given to man with his life as if it were his; and this is done that man may be reformed and saved; for without freedom there can be no reformation or salvation. (Heaven and Hell 597)

The Lord created the world so that there would be a heaven from the human race. He created both the spiritual and natural worlds so that people might be able to receive His life and live to eternity in heaven; and He created the universe in such a way that each person could be a vessel receiving His life and at the same time be separate from Him. This separation makes it possible for His love to be received, and then returned. To further provide for people to be able to freely return His love, He provides a spiritual environment which is kept in perfect balance or equilibrium. Our purpose today is to see the operation of this equilibrium provides a fundamental order for our spiritual lives, and makes it possible for us to make the changes necessary to prepare ourselves for heaven.

The most important function of equilibrium, or what is the same, spiritual freedom, is to make it possible for a person to express his own will, to act as if of himself, to freely enter into the joys of heaven if he wishes to – or even the freedom to embrace the insanity and filth of hell – all according to what he himself freely chooses.

Equilibrium is essential because, as to our spirits, we live between two powerful forces. On the one hand, all of hell is striving to pull us down. On the other hand, the angels of heaven are constantly working to draw us up into heaven. Both the angels and the devils are anxious that we should join them, and they would prevent our free expression of our will if they could and if it would bring us closer! Fortunately for us, the Lord holds our spiritual freedom to be the most important thing in His government, and He protects it every moment. He constantly acts to keep the spiritual forces around us in perfect dynamic balance so that we are free to act as we ourselves wish to act.

The key word in this idea is “dynamic.” We sometimes think of a balance or equilibrium as something that remains static, completely still. We may think of a scale with the pointer steady, or a sheet of financial figures that all adds up the way it’s supposed to. However, real equilibrium is achieved through the constant activity of action and reaction (See HH 589, 593). With those who are good, the activity is from within with the hells reacting to it. With those who are evil, the activity again comes from within, but the balance is achieved by the reaction of heaven.

If we are to reform our lives, we must first be free to choose to make changes in the way we live. The Lord provides our spiritual freedom by allowing us to associate, as to our spirits, with spirits from hell who love the same evil things we love. These evils spirits serve the use of serving as a conduit for that evil to come to us from hell, thus giving it life and reality in this world. We are also associated with spirits from heaven who serve to stir the good loves within us. They too serve as conduits, directing the influx of good from the Lord into our lives, giving our heavenly delights life. In order to keep us in freedom and balance, the Lord does not allow us to associate directly with angels and devils for their states are too different from ours. Instead, our closest spiritual associates are those who have recently entered the spiritual world and are still mostly in the sphere of the natural world. We still have much in common with such spirits, and they can associate comfortably with us. These associate spirits are in turn watched over by more experienced spirits, and so on, until it reaches to the Lord Himself on the one hand, or to the depth of hell on the other. This connection of one life and one state to another is what the Writings call “mediate” influx, for it flows into each man from the Lord by means of other spirits. (See HH 599-600)

Writing in the Arcana Coelestia, Swedenborg tells how he personally felt and perceived the sphere of spiritual freedom. For many years I have observed the general sphere of the influxes around me. It consisted on the one hand of a continual endeavor by the Lord to do good; by these endeavors opposite to each other I have been constantly kept in equilibrium. Such endeavors and consequent equilibrium are with every one; from this all have freedom to turn withersoever they please; but the equilibrium varies in accordance with the good or evil that reigns with the man. (AC 6477)

And in the work Heaven and Hell, he further teaches: The hells have no power on their own. Life and activity, even for the hells, is nothing but a gift from the Lord to which a person is free to respond in any way he chooses. The reason that spirits who communicate with hell are also adjoined to man is that man is born into evils of every kind, consequently his first life can only be from them. Therefore, unless spirits of a nature like his own were adjoined to man he could not live, nor indeed could he be withdrawn from his evils and reformed. He is therefore held in his own life by means of evil spirits and withheld from it by means of good spirits, and by the two kept in equilibrium. Being in equilibrium, he is in his freedom, and can be drawn away from evils and turned towards good, and good can also be implanted in him, which would not be possible at all if he were not in freedom. Freedom is not possible to man unless spirits from hell act on one side and spirits from heaven on the other, and man is in between.… (HH 293)

The Heavenly Doctrines here teach an amazing doctrine of mercy. Because of his corrupt native (or hereditary) will, a person could not live in the natural world if he were only in the association of good spirits. There would be nothing to communicate with the delights of his own spiritual life, nothing to stir his native will, nothing to arouse his reactive life, nothing to enable him to enjoy conscious life in his initial corrupt state, and as a result, he would not even be conscious! (See AC 2886,2887) Therefore, the Lord provides that evil spirits be adjoined to man so there can be a means of conjunction between the person in the world and his life inflowing in through the heavens. If he could not be adjoined to spirits who had a will similar to his own, he could not receive the influx of life through the world of spirits, and thus would not have conscious thought. If a person cannot have conscious thought, it is obvious that neither can he repent, reform, or be regenerated. Thus, without this connection with the spiritual world, we could not be prepared to enter heaven.

The Lord uses evil spirits to enliven a person’s own life, and yet still protects his freedom by using good spirits so that He Himself can subtly inflow and gently withhold the person from the lusts of his own evils.

The angels, on the one hand, seek to fight for a person against his evils. But, because they love his freedom, they hold themselves back until they are invited to help. On the other hand the devils want nothing more than to drive the person from his own body so that they can enter it and so return to the delights of the natural world (See SD 2656, D. Min. 4693, AC 4793). Obviously, as it is the devil’s intent to enslave, a person’s freedom is not highly regarded by them. The Lord, however, oversees the whole process, so that neither the hells get too strong, nor the angels too enthusiastic, and that these two forces are kept in perfect balance. Thus, any activity of a person’s will is able to move towards heaven or hell according to his own freely chosen reasons and delights.

The way spirits are adjoined to a person reflects the very nature of mankind itself. Within each of us are two conflicting, or balancing, elements: the one is our corrupt native will, the other element is a special gift from the Lord called “remains.” Remains are all those things that are good and true which are secretly implanted by the Lord in a person’s mind from the first moment of life, and which remain with him throughout his life as a kind of connection with heaven (See AC 8, 19, 561, 1906). These two elements, remains and the native hereditary evils, correspond to heaven and hell. Our conscious life exists in the place between these, and therefore corresponds to the World of Spirits. The Lord alone controls remains in order to keep them in perfect balance with the strength of the native will.

As a person matures, the kind of spirits associated with him must change. We sense this when we feel the wonderful sphere of a little newborn baby. We are actually feeling the presence of the angels who are with the baby. Little children also have their appeal, but it is a different kind of sphere, and not as strongly felt. This happens because the sphere of heaven has withdrawn as the child’s own personality and character has grown. The same process continues throughout life, only it is not so easily felt in young people and adults. The spiritual reason for this is that the mind, which is the medium of conjunction to the spiritual world, has itself changed. In infancy, the mind is sensual, interested in receiving and organizing sense impressions of the world around it as it becomes aware. In childhood, the mind opens up into the area called memory-knowledges, and from there it matures to the level of youth where there are the beginnings of rational thought. As the mind goes through this process of opening, it enters into a series of new states which correspond to new affections and therefore attract different kinds of spirits (AE 739:2,3). As these changes take place, the Lord oversees the operation, and adjoins spirits to each person in such a way that he is kept in a dynamic balance between the forces of good from heaven and the forces of evil from hell. The Lord also does this in such a way that each person is kept completely unaware of the spiritual activity surrounding him and providing a sphere in which he may exercise his freedom of choice in spiritual things.

Even if a man is of such a nature that he delights in doing evil, and deliberately chooses to do that which he knows to be evil, the Lord adjoins good spirits who, although not in his immediate presence yet, moderate that love in him, to hold him in some kind of order, and in some kind of proper thought while he yet lives in the world so that if possible he might be withheld from plunging into the deepest hell. He is still completely free to choose hell if he desires it, but he is let down into it gently, so that at any time before his actual entry into the spiritual world, it is still possible that he may see the truth, choose to obey it, and begin his life anew. (See AC 868, 929, 3318:5, 9333:2) Until a person leaves the natural world, it is always possible for him to turn away from falsity and towards truth. He can always begin to amend his life when he chooses to live the truth for himself, when he chooses to flee from evils as sins against the Lord. That is what spiritual freedom is – the ability to turn away from the loves of self and the world and turn towards the Lord by means of the truth from the Word. This can happen at any time during our life in the natural world because the Lord has provided spiritual equilibrium for us.

It is the Lord alone who maintains the balance between the forces of good and the forces of evil, for He alone has the power to do it, and He alone is without a proprium that is wholly evil and turned to hell – so nothing selfish can creep into His motives and affect His Mercy and Justice as it would if mere humans were making these decisions.

A spiritual equilibrium in its essence is freedom because it is an equilibrium between good and evil, and between truth and falsity, and these are spiritual. Therefore to be able to will either what is good or what is evil and to think either what is true or what is false, and to choose one in preference to the other, is (spiritual freedom). This freedom is given to every man by the Lord, and is never taken away; in fact, by virtue of its origin it is not man’s but the Lord’s, since it is from the Lord. Nevertheless, it is given to man with his life as if it were his; and this is done that man may be reformed and saved; for without freedom there can be no reformation or salvation.… (HH 597) AMEN.

1st Lesson: GEN 12:1-9

Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. {2} I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. {3} I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” {4} So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. {5} Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. {6} Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. {7} Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. {8} And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. {9} So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South. Amen.

2nd Lesson: MAR 6:45-51

Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. {46} And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. {47} Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. {48} Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. {49} And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; {50} for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” {51} Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. Amen.

3rd Lesson: DLW 68

68. Regarding the elevation of a person’s interior elements which are those of his mind, the following, too, must be known.

Everything created by God has present within it a reaction, life alone being capable of action, and the reaction is occasioned by the action of life. This reaction appears as though it were a property of the thing created because it occurs when the thing is acted upon. Thus the reaction in a person appears as though it were his, because he has no other sensation than that life is his, when in fact the person is only a recipient of life.

It is because of this that a person prompted by his evil heredity reacts against God. However, to the extent that he believes all his life to be from God, and that all goodness of life is owing to the action of God, and all evil of life to the reaction of man, to that extent his reaction becomes one of action, and the person acts in concert with God as though of himself.

The equilibrium of all things is owing to a simultaneous action and reaction, and everything must be in equilibrium.

This much has been said to keep people from believing that they ascend to God of themselves rather than from the Lord. Amen.

Michal’s Disdain

Michal’s Disdain

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 24, 2005

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

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

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

    First Lesson: 2SA 6:12-23

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

    Second Lesson: JOH 5:24-30

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

    Third Lesson: AC 6203, 6204

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

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

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The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

(Olivet Church, Toronto – April 29, 2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Lesson: JON 2:1-10

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

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

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

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

Third Lesson: AE 706:6

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

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

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

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

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Attending to the Inner Voice

Attending to the Inner Voice

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, March 8, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Lesson: John 15:1-17

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

Second Lesson: True Christian Religion 8.

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

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

Copyright General Church of the New Jerusalem, 2009

Page last modified March 8, 2009

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The Pearl of Great Price

The Pearl of Great Price

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, November 23, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Lesson: MAT 13:44-52

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

Second Lesson: REV 21:9-21

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

Third Lesson: Apocalypse Explained 863a.

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

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

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

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

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

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A Sermon by the Rev. James P Cooper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st Lesson: REV 21:1-8

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

2nd Lesson: AE 1136:2-10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Bible Meanings Home



A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, August 24, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Lesson: 1KI 1:11-31

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

Second Lesson: Mat 5:21-30

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

Third Lesson: BE 69 (port.)

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

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