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.”

Copyright © 1982 – 2008 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

The Gospel of Redemption

The Gospel of Redemption

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto – April 19, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st Lesson: Psa 8

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

2nd Lesson: Mark 16

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

3rd Lesson: AC 780

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

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

 Bible Meanings Home

Sacrificing the First Born Son

Sacrificing the First Born Son

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto – February 27, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Lesson: John 3:9-21

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

Second Lesson: AC 2776:2,3

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

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

 Bible Meanings Home

Elijah’s Temptations

Elijah’s Temptations

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, Feb. 25, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


First Lesson: 1KI 19:1-21

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

Second Lesson: LUK 22:39-48

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

Third Lesson: AC 8823

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

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

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

 Bible Meanings Home

Naaman, the Syrian Leper

Naaman, the Syrian Leper

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 13, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

States of Grieving?

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

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

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

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

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

First Lesson: 2KI 5:1-14

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

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

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

Copyright © 1982 – 2007 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper

 Bible Meanings Home

Page last modified September 27, 2009

Forgiving Trespasses

Forgiving Trespasses

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (MAT 6:14, 15).

Our text for this morning is taken from the Sermon on the Mount; the verses that immediately follow the Lord’s Prayer. These words are extremely familiar to us as the responsive that follows the Lord’s Prayer in our services of worship: The minister says, “O Lord forgive us our trespasses,” and we respond, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Forgiveness is an extremely important topic, because we are all affected by it in so many ways, and in so many different aspects of our lives. We look at the course of our own lives and we pray to the Lord for His forgiveness. We examine our relationships with family and friends and we become painfully aware of things that we have done to anger or hurt the ones we love – and we long for their forgiveness. Perhaps we even look deeply enough to see things that we profoundly regret that we have done to ourselves or to others against our better judgement, things that cause us to grieve, to say, “I’ll never be able to forgive myself for that.” We need to forgive ourselves so that we can be at peace with ourselves and get on with the uses of life.

All these kinds of forgiveness – from the Lord, from others, and from ourselves – have one thing in common: that we have done something that has caused offence to others and for which we need to be forgiven. This is the forgiveness that is given the most attention in the Heavenly Doctrines, for it specifically regards our personal relationship with the Lord.

However, there is another side to forgiveness that is just as important to our spiritual welfare, and that is that we must be forgiving to others.

While the natural world is governed by the Lord, yet He permits evil men to act, so that the evil can be seen, and rejected. If He did not allow men to express their evils, they would forever remain in the will, and would corrupt the spirit from within. Therefore, in order that a person can be saved from his evils, the Lord allows him to act them out. That means that things do not always happen the way we think they should. People try to say one thing, and something else is heard. A friendly jest made in passing strikes deeply into an unsuspected emotional wound and causes extreme pain instead laughter.

We could go on at some length compiling a list of the ways in which we can offend people without intending it, or even knowing that it has happened, but the picture should be clear enough by now. Giving and receiving offences is a fact of life in the natural world. These offences lead us to feelings of anger, enmity and even hatred towards those with whom we live and work. Everyone can immediately see that feelings of anger, enmity, and revenge make it impossible to act in charity toward the neighbour, and since the life of religion is to do good, these angry feelings actually remove us from a life of religion. Forgiveness is the only salve for these painful emotional wounds.

The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church tell us that in the other world new spirits sometimes do or say what is wrong. Spirits who intend evil to another and then act on it are severely punished. However, good spirits, if they happen to speak something unkind or thoughtless, or do something that has been forbidden, are not punished, but pardoned and excused; for it was not their intention to do evil. The angels know that the evil actions were excited in them by the hells, so it is not judged to be their fault. The nature of their intention can be determined by whether or not the spirit has resisted the act on previous occasions, and, if he has failed in his resistance, by whether he was obviously grieved by his failure. (Remember that in the spiritual world no one is able to be hypocritical, their true nature shines forth from their face for all to read.) These are the signs that the angels use to judge a spirit’s intentions. We can use these same signs (resisting beforehand and grief if there is failure) ourselves in our everyday relationships with other unregenerate human beings (See AC 6559).

It has happened to every one of us that an unkind word, or an evil act has simply popped out before we could do anything about it. If it’s a minor thing, we can sometimes smooth it over with a quick and sincere apology. Since it has happened to all of us, we should then be able to recognize in the abstract that the same thing can, and does, happen to anyone – and when it does, it is no more their fault than it was when you did it.

As long as we are not personally involved we can stand aloof, be objective, and try to calm the angry parties down. We frequently excuse one person’s actions to another by saying, “yes, I heard what he said, but he didn’t mean it that way…”

This is even easier to see when we think of an adult trying to settle an argument between squabbling children. We find it so easy to tell the children to stop being angry at each other because the offences were not intended. We insist that they stop being so silly, that they make-up, and be friends.

It is much more difficult for us to be calm and objective about a situation where we are personally involved, because our built in defences are immediately called into play. Sometimes we think it is more important to find someone to blame than it is to solve the problem. The Lord created us with a strong love of self so that we could defend, care for, and educate ourselves. It was intended to be controlled by the rational adult mind and be fully subservient to the loves of the Lord and the neighbour. However, very few of us can say that our self-love is under our full rational control. Instead, it intrudes into our lives, blinding us to reasonable explanations, turning us away from peaceful solutions, and making us feel angry and vengeful instead.

Our text tells us two essential truths about forgiveness. First it tells us that the Lord wills to forgive us for those things which we have done against His commandments, and secondly, it tells us that in order to receive the Lord’s forgiveness – which every one of us needs – we must first forgive those who have offended us. We may be able to see that we should forgive those who have offended us, but not know how. We might be able to say, “I forgive you” but find that the anger still burns within, the grudge is still carried. How can we forgive in such a way that we feel better for it ourselves? We must look to the Lord’s own example for our answer.

The Lord tells us that He can forgive any sin, except one: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven because it is in effect the denial that the Lord has the power to save. If a person denies that the Lord has the power to save him, or if he believes that he does not need to be saved, he will not ask for forgiveness. Since we know that the Lord preserves and protects our spiritual freedom above all else, it can be seen that the Lord will not forgive a man who does not wish to be forgiven, who does not ask for His help. The Lord can forgive any sin, He can help a person out of any trouble if only that person sincerely asks for His help. This is why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven: it is not the Lord who refuses to forgive, but the man who refuses to seek the Lord’s help. The Lord will not enter a person’s life without an invitation.

We should try to adopt the Lord’s attitude, to learn from His example. We need to cultivate a forgiving attitude in ourselves, be willing to forgive any offence. This is, of course, extremely difficult to do at first, since our emotions become stirred so quickly – but it might be helpful to remember the arguing children and try to ask ourselves, when offences come, if we really believe that the other person intended to cause harm. And, if we believe that there was no intention of harm, what then were they trying to do? We may find that in most cases where we take offence that there never was any real offence to be forgiven!

In our third lesson, we read about three degrees of hatred. The first, signified by being “angry without cause,” is to have evil thoughts about another person, and could be exemplified by common gossip – telling stories that show people in an unflattering light. The second degree of hatred, signified by saying “Raca” is to intend evil for another, and could be exemplified by slander – telling what we know to be lies to harm the reputation of another. The third degree, signified by saying “Thou Fool” is the evil will, which would lead to harmful action towards another. In forgiveness, each of these three degrees of anger and hatred must be met by the appropriate degree of love and charity. We need to be prepared to counter evil thoughts with good thoughts, evil intentions with good intentions, and evil will with good will.

As we saw in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in our first lesson, and as can also be seen in many other places in the New Testament, the Lord wants us to forgive others in the same way He will forgive us. And in the same way the Lord fails when a man chooses to refuse His forgiveness and join others like himself in hell, we too will sometimes fail in our relationships with other people. We may be willing to forgive, but they cannot bring themselves to ask for it. It is unfortunately true that there are people who, for one reason or another, act as if they either don’t care about the feelings of others, or else they seem to enjoy hurting their feelings. There is not much we can do about such people, for that is the path which they have freely chosen for themselves, except to hope that they may eventually see the light and change their lives.

There is not one of us who has gone through life without making a mistake, without doing something that causes pain and grief to another, pain that we certainly did not intend. We need to look at the deeds and words of others as we would have them look at ours. We need to try to look at the words and deeds of others in the same way that the angels look at the words and deeds of new spirits in the other life. We need to recognize that the feelings of anger, enmity, and hatred that we feel come from hell specifically so that they can destroy charity while at the same time appealing to our loves of self. We must be as aware of these feelings and shun them as we would adultery, theft, or murder – for they are just as dangerous to our spiritual life.

We must even judge ourselves honestly according to the actual intentions we had at the time, and not according to facts that only came to light after the action had already been taken. The Lord judges us only according to the intentions of our hearts, and forgives all those who ask for mercy, provided that they themselves have during their life in this world, conscientiously practised mercy and forgiveness.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (text). AMEN.

First Lesson: MAT 18:21-35

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” {22} Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. {23} “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. {24} “And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. {25} “But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. {26} “The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ {27} “Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. {28} “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ {29} “So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ {30} “And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. {31} “So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. {32} “Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. {33} ‘Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ {34} “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. {35} “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Second Lesson: LUK 6:20-38

Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God. {21} Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh. {22} Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. {23} Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets. {24} “But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation. {25} Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep. {26} Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets. {27} “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, {28} “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. {29} “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. {30} “Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. {31} “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. {32} “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. {33} “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. {34} “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. {35} “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. {36} “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. {37} “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. {38} “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Third Lesson: AE 746f. [18]

That one who thinks ill of his neighbor without adequate cause, and turns himself away from the good of charity, will be punished lightly as to his soul, is signified by “Whosoever is angry with his brother without cause shall be liable to the judgment;” “to be angry,” signifies to think ill, for it is distinguished from “saying Raca,” and “saying Thou fool.” “Brother” means the neighbor, and also the good of charity, and “to be liable to the judgment” means to be examined and to be punished according to circumstances. That one who from wrong thought slanders the neighbor, and thus despises the good of charity as of little value, will be punished grievously, is signified by “whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be liable to the council,” for “to say Raca” signifies to slander the neighbor from evil thought, thus to hold the good of charity to be of little value. That one who hates the neighbor, that is, one who is altogether averse to the good of charity, is condemned to hell, is signified by “whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be liable to the hell of fire.” These three describe three degrees of hatred, the first is from evil thought, which is “to be angry,” the second is from consequent evil intention, which is “to say Raca,” and the third is from an evil will, which is “to say Thou fool.” All these are degrees of hatred against the good of charity, for hatred is the opposite of the good of charity. Amen.

 Bible Meanings Home

Divine Worship

Divine Worship

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

O come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand (Psalm 95:6-7).

It is our common heritage that we gather together to worship the Lord, to bow down before Him. It can be very useful then, for us to take some time to reflect on the nature of Divine Worship, to take some time to think about the One Whom we worship, and to think about why and how we worship Him.

If we look around us and observe the great number and variety of churches in the world, we note that not only is the New Church a small minority among Christian Churches, all of Christianity constitutes a minority of the people living on this planet. Consider the following teaching from the Arcana:

It is commonly supposed that those born outside the Church, who are called heathens and gentiles, cannot be saved for the reason that they do not possess the Word and so do not know the Lord, without whom there is no salvation. But that gentiles too are saved may be known from the single consideration that the Lord’s mercy is universal – that is, it reaches out to every individual human being. For gentiles are born human beings the same as those within the Church, who are a relative minority; and they are not to blame because they do not know the Lord. (AC 2589, emphasis added)

This teaching is very reassuring because it shows how the Lord implements His goal of creating a heaven from the human race. It also leads us to consider that because there are great numbers of people who either consider themselves members of some sect, or regularly attend some form of religious service, outside of the Christian world culture, it can be seen that there is a common urge among all created human beings to take part in some form of Divine worship. We can also see that those forms are dependent not on some arbitrary and objective standard of behaviour, but on application of principles provided by the Lord in different forms for a wide variety of peoples and nations.

Anyone who beholds the universe, who considers the magnitude of creation and its underlying order, has to acknowledge some supreme being or entity. The Lord inflows through good spirits associated with us with the sense that He is present with us, and that He desires our worship. We are taught in the Heavenly Doctrine that any person who does not have this sense of a need to worship, or who can look at the universe and not acknowledge a Creator is under the dominion of infernal spirits, for such selfishness can only be from hell. (See AC 1308)

The Lord flows into everyone of us with a sense of His presence and a feeling of desire to worship. He does this in secret ways because it is essential that no person be forced into doing something he cannot love, that is totally contrary to his ruling love. We are told that the Lord bends us towards heaven, little by little, ever gently. He never breaks our spheres or attempts to compel our thoughts. He leads us by establishing a spiritual sphere in which we can thrive and uses this to lead us to new truth and consequently to new loves.

This must be done in secret, for He knows that if He were to openly enter our lives, we could no longer be free. How many times have we told someone we love something that was the opposite of what we really wanted to say because it was what we believed they wanted and needed to hear? Would we not also make the same effort to tell the Lord what we thought He wanted us to say? Since He is always with us, would we ever be free to be ourselves if we were constantly aware of His presence?

A person can worship many things. He worships himself when he puts himself above all others, including the Lord – which he does when he believes that his needs are more important than everything else. Divine Providence 250 teaches,

…The worshipper of self and of nature believes that dignities and wealth are the supreme and the only happiness that can be granted, thus happiness itself. If in consequence of worship begun in infancy he has any thought of God, he calls them Divine blessings, and as long as he is not too puffed up by them, he thinks that there is a God, and even worships Him. But there lies hidden in the worship a desire, of which he is unaware at the time, that he may be raised by God to still higher dignities and to still greater wealth. If he attains these his worship tends more and more to outward things until it so falls away that at length he thinks God of little account and denies Him; and the result is the same should he be cast down from the dignity and opulence on which he had set his heart.

A person worships the world when he puts acquiring positions of power, honours, and wealth above all else. Of course, neither worshiping self nor worshiping the world is genuine worship, for genuine worship has the Divine Human of the Lord as its object, and nothing else. Thus the Divine Human is both the source and the object of all proper Divine worship. (See AC 6674:4)

It is a key point to understand that although the Lord inflows into every person with the perception that there is a God and that He is to be worshipped, it is not enough to simply worship a nameless, formless entity. Can you really, genuinely love a person whom you have never met? Can you really worship “energy” in the abstract? Of course not. That is why the Lord provides the inclination to worship internally, but allows each of us to choose the forms from those available to us in the world, but especially effective are those which He Himself provided for us in the Word.

Why does the Lord provide us with the inclination to worship, but not provide us with specific forms? For the same reason He gives us the control over our understanding while He Himself governs our will according to the choices we make in our rational minds: He does it for the sake of our spiritual freedom. It must be clear to everyone that while someone could be compelled to perform the external rituals of worship, no one can be compelled to genuine, internal worship. Real worship can only arise through spiritual freedom. (See AC 1947:2, 2880, 2881)

There are two reasons why worship cannot be compelled. The first is that worship does not really belong to us. We may suppose that worship is from ourselves because it is performed by us by our own free choice. But reflect for a moment and you will see that it is really love and faith that make worship genuine and rewarding, and they do not come from a within, but rather they come from the Lord. Worship then becomes the acknowledgement that all love and faith are from the Lord by returning them to Him who is their Source (See AC 10203). It’s like bringing forward a gift of fruit at Thanksgiving. By so doing, we show that we know that He is the One who gives all gifts.

This in turn leads us to the second reason why worship cannot be compelled by another, which is that genuine worship must be accompanied with a sense of adoration or elevation of the Lord, and since God cannot be raised any higher by a person, this relative change of positions can only be accomplished when a person lowers, or humbles himself. There is no way that a one person can humble another person’s proprial loves in relation to the Lord by any kind of external influence. Since genuine worship requires humiliation before the Lord, and this cannot be compelled, therefore genuine worship cannot be compelled in another.

The church in a person, like the church in the heavens and in the world, must have both an internal and an external. This means that in order for there to be a genuine spiritual church there must be forms in which it can live and thrive. The church cannot exist without rituals and structures and traditions any more than we can live in this world without a body, clothes, and routines. The challenge to us as members of the Lord’s Church is to see that the external things of the church are arranged in such a way as to properly contain spiritual things, yet not restrict the freedom of people in the church to worship and live according to their own understanding of doctrine. And, as our understanding of doctrine grows and changes, this will be reflected in changes in the rituals and traditions of the church.

Although the rituals of the church are important forms which serve to receive and hold spiritual things, we must remember that merely performing the rituals of the church, no matter how regularly and devotedly, does not, in itself, confer salvation.

The person who is of the internal church, that is, who has begun to be regenerated by the Lord, makes worship of the Lord from charity the essential of his religious life. He worships the Lord not just by going to church, but by guiding every activity of his life according to what he knows to be true from the Word. Such people are found in every culture, and in every organized church. They express their worship and charity in a great variety of forms, but they all hold their own forms to be essential.

The person who says that he needs no outward forms of worship, that occasionally reading the Word or thinking about spiritual things is sufficient, fools only himself. (See AC 1098) It is the same as saying that you can be in love without desiring to embrace your loved one. If that’s the case, then the love is not true or genuine, for true love not only seeks to love one other than self, it also desires to make the one loved happy, and to be conjoined with the one loved. All three of these qualities must be present for it to be real love (See TCR 43).

In this context it would be useful to remember that the simple habit of regular church attendance is an important part of worship. Human nature is such that we have a great deal of inertia. It always seems like such a huge amount of bother to get ready and go to some event on time. But most of us will recognize that if we give in to the inertia and stay home, we don’t feel any better for it. On the other hand, if we overcome the inertia and attend the service, or the meeting, or whatever we almost always feel enlivened and invigorated by the experience, and are willing to admit to ourselves that we are glad we made the effort. So, making the effort to attend church is something that provides a benefit to the individuals.

At the same time, it’s a benefit to the others who attend. Being part of a lightly attended service makes people uncomfortable. Not only does it make the singing less heavenly, but there’s an underlying suspicion that maybe you missed the memo and really you’re supposed to be somewhere else with all the other people! We are, after all, social animals, and have a fundamental need to be a part of the crowd, and it makes us nervous when the crowd seems to be somewhere else.

The Heavenly Doctrines further teach the amazing idea that the Ancient Church and the Christian Church did not differ at all from each other as to their internal worship (nor, one could suppose, do any of the Lord’s five churches), but they differed only as to their external forms. The true worship of the Lord from charity does not differ from church to church or from age to age because the Lord, who is the only and true source of genuine worship, does not change. Only the external expression of true worship will vary. (See AC 1083:3)

All worship has as its goal that each one of us may be purified from evils and falsities, and consequently that goods and truths may be implanted in us by the Lord so that we may be reborn into spiritual life. (See AC 10022:e) Real worship consists of a life of use and charity towards the neighbour. The externals of worship, such as attending church, attending the festivals, and saying daily prayers, are necessary. But, without the life of charity, they have no effect on a person’s spiritual life.

Although our forms, our rituals, are important because they are our best expression of internal things, we need to recognize that the forms themselves are not true worship of the Lord. They can, and must, change from time to time, and from place to place. The internal of worship inflows from the Lord, and like all other forms of influx, it is receive (and thus takes form) according to the receiving vessel.

Our goal then should be to create forms that can embody the internal of worship from the Lord, and also remember that there is no genuine worship that does not express itself through love towards our neighbour.

And so we need to turn to the Lord as our shepherd and our guide to lead us in His paths of truth, to learn worship the Lord by our loving care of those around us, for He said, Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me (Matthew 25:40). AMEN

First Lesson: Genesis 14:14-20

(GEN 14:14-20) Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. {15} He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. {16} So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people. {17} And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him. {18} Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. {19} And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; {20} And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all. Amen.

Second Lesson: AC 1175 (portions)

…It has been stated and shown already that internal worship, which springs from love and charity, is worship itself, and that external worship without that internal is not worship at all.

Making internal worship external however consists in making external worship essential instead of internal, which is the reverse of worship itself. It is like saying that internal worship without external is no worship, when in reality external worship without internal is no worship at all. Such is the religion of people who separate faith from charity. That is to say, they make matters of faith more important than matters of charity, … and so make outward forms more important than inner essentials.

… It is like saying, for example, that if a person lived where there was no Church, no preaching, no sacraments, and no priesthood, it would be impossible for him to be saved or to have any kind of worship, when in fact he is able to worship the Lord from what is internal. It does not follow from this however that there should not be external worship.

[2] To make the point plainer still, take as another example people who make the essential of worship consist in going to church, attending the sacraments, listening to sermons, praying, celebrating the festivals, and many more practices of an external and ceremonial nature, and who convince themselves, while talking of faith, that these activities, which are the outward forms of worship, are sufficient.

People, it is true, who make worship springing from love and charity the essential engage in the same activities, that is to say, they go to church, attend the sacraments, listen to sermons, pray, celebrate the festivals, and much else, doing so most earnestly and carefully. But they do not make these practices the essential of worship. Since their external worship has internal worship within it, it has that which is holy and living within it; whereas the worship of the people mentioned above does not have anything holy or living within it for it is the inner essential itself that makes the external form or ceremony holy and living. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2007 General Church of the New Jerusalem.

Page constructed by James P. Cooper

Page last modified September 27, 2009

 Bible Meanings Home

Prepare for the Lord

Prepare for the Lord

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

Bible Meanings Home

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God” Isa. 40:3.

These familiar words of the prophet Isaiah stir deep affections within us. Each year we hear them as we prepare for Christmas, as we begin to read and think about the many Old Testament prophecies that prepared the way for the Lord by planting the seeds of true ideas about Him in the minds of those who longed for His coming. These are powerful words, whether they inspire us to picture Isaiah as he spoke them, or whether we picture John the Baptist as he stood by the Jordan river and actually did the work of preparation by calling Israel to repentance.

The doctrines of the New Church teach in many places that Isaiah was inspired to speak these words in order to announce the Coming of the Lord. First of all, he was to announce it to the children of Israel, to tell them that the Savior and Redeemer of Israel, which had been first promised in the third chapter of Genesis, and since promised in many other prophecies, was still to come; that God had not forgotten His promise. Isaiah was inspired to renew the promise, to tell the children of Israel that He had not yet come because the time was not right. Isaiah was to speak the words that would give those troubled people hope even though their country was conquered by enemies, hope that their enemies would soon be driven away. The children of Israel clung to Isaiah’s words of hope and promise throughout their generations, looking forward to the time when the Messiah would come to lift them up out of their oppression.

The words of our text were to announce the Coming of the Messiah to all people. But who was the Messiah who was coming? Do we really understand who the Messiah was, and what He intended to do? It is quite apparent from scripture that the 12 disciples themselves had only the slightest idea of importance and nature of the Lord’s ministry until after the Lord had been crucified, risen, and visited them in his Glorified Human. Until then the disciples were convinced that the Lord was to be the Messiah in the traditional sense, that is, a military leader, a charismatic revolutionary who would lead the Jews first to cast off the yoke of Rome and then begin to build their power until they were the richest and most powerful nation in the world.

That the disciples themselves did not understand the Lord’s mission should be a warning to us to make sure that we do understand. They thought of Him as the Messiah, the leader of a political revolution, and as a teacher. It is easier for us to have a clearer understanding of His purposes because we have the advantage of the recorded experience in the gospels, as well as the doctrine of the Church which explains those events so that it should be very clear to us that Isaiah is announcing nothing less than the fact that the Creator of the Universe, the One and Only God was going to take on a human body and live among men on earth for the purpose of saving us all from spiritual destruction.

We are sinful by nature, and by ourselves there is nothing we can do about it. Unless God had provided the means for us to know what evil is and given us the power to shun evil as-if-from-ourselves, we could not be saved. Jehovah God Himself took on a human form in the world in order to accommodate Himself to our needs, in order to teach us what evil is, what heaven is, and what we must do to prepare ourselves for heaven. He came in person to show us the way, and since it is the Power and Divine Providence of God which alone can save or Redeem us, we call Him the Redeemer. By the Lord the Redeemer is meant Jehovah in the Human, for Jehovah Himself descended and assumed the Human in order to effect our redemption.

We can see from the many prophecies in the Old Testament that the coming of the Lord into the world had been promised from ancient times, and that ancient peoples believed that it would be Jehovah God Himself who came into the world, and He would come as a man. We see from Scripture that it was announced many times, in many different ways, and to many different people. We might ask why it was so important that the Lord’s birth be announced in all those ways to all those people. What is the essential purpose of all these prophecies and warnings?

For the answer, we need to look to what is the most important possession that man has from the Lord–his freedom of choice in spiritual things. The Lord announced His coming in these many different ways so that everyone could freely accept to believe in the miracle of His birth into the world or not. It had to be freely received and understood because nothing remains with a man unless it is received in freedom. Even more than that, with a matter as important as the Lord’s incarnation, it must be intelligent, informed consent, or there cannot be any conjunction between God and man. (See AC 3157e)

The Lord’s birth on earth was announced for the very simple reason that we might be warned to prepare for it, so that we could receive Him freely, with understanding, and therefore be conjoined with Him through our reception. It can be difficult to visualize how we should prepare ourselves to receive the Lord without some kind of illustration or parable, so let us use our own preparations for the Christmas holidays as an example.

When we begin to make our plans for the Christmas Holidays, we remember the many good times we have spent working together as a family preparing for the holidays. Even those who seldom cook anything fancy during the rest of the year spend some time preparing special Christmas foods. The house is carefully cleaned. Special decorations are lovingly brought out from their places of safe storage and put in traditional places for all to enjoy. The week or so before Christmas, so filled with the busy activity of preparation, is almost as important as the day itself in many families. The Christmas spirit begins to glow in us, and begins to grow until it reaches its peak on Christmas day. Who is there who does not make some preparations to celebrate Christmas?

It is so obvious to us that we need to clean and decorate our homes in anticipation for the many guests that will come during the holidays, that it should come as no surprise to realize that the Lord asks us to prepare ourselves for His advent in much the same way as we prepare our homes, for after all, a home corresponds to a man’s mind.

To prepare for Christmas, we need to “Cease to do evil; learn to do well.” (Isa. 1:16) Just as it would be very unusual to put up decorations and invite guests into our home without first thoroughly cleaning it, the very first step in preparing for the Lord’s Advent is to look to the course of our life and bring it into order by ceasing to do evils, and no longer thinking the falsities that arise from those evils, that is, those lies that make it seem all right to do what we know is wrong. We need to remember that the Lord is continually reaching down to uplift us, and all we need do to receive him is to not refuse him! (See AC 3142) We need to get rid of those feelings of selfishness and worldliness that turn us away from the Lord, that stand in the way of influx, so that He can flow in with heavenly affections. The Lord is indeed present with everyone at all times, but He can only enter insofar as He is invited, because His presence with man is according to man’s reception of Him. (See AC 4190) The Lord has no desire to intrude in our lives.

The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that John the Baptist was to be that “voice” which would cry out in the “wilderness,” and that by the wilderness was not meant the physical deserts of that land, but the state of the Jewish church. The Word calls the Jewish Church in those days a “wilderness”, because it was a church that no longer worshiped the Lord or served the neighbor. Like a land without water, a church without the truths that teach the need to love the Lord and serve the neighbor is a spiritual wilderness.

As the “wilderness” or “desert” describes the state of the Jewish church at the time of the Lord’s coming, it can also describe the state of the church within each of us when we are in states where truth from the Word, and the good of charity that comes from living according to the truths we find in the Word, are very distant from us. We cannot leave this desert of selfish states until we hear the “voice” of the Lord speaking to us in a clear voice to us from the Word.

In the Word, mountains correspond to love to the Lord, because when we look at the beautiful scenery in the mountains, our eyes are naturally lifted up to their peaks. When we look down at our feet or the ground, it stands for our concerns with worldly things, so angels walk with their faces turned up because their minds are elevated to thoughts about the Lord and heaven. So, when we lift our faces up to look at mountains, it inspires the angels with us to think of love to the Lord, and then their state of genuine worship flows back to us and inspires a similar state in us.

But in our text from Isaiah, the mountains are used in the opposite, evil sense, representing the loves of self and the world that are in opposition to love to the Lord. This is why we are told by Isaiah that the mountains will be made low, that is, when we live in obedience to the Lord’s laws, our loves of self and the world will be made low, they will be removed by the Lord through the states of repentance, reformation, and regeneration.

On the other hand, valleys usually represent hell, but here valleys are used to represent a man who has humbled himself, brought his loves of self low, by desiring to lead his life not from his own understanding, but from the Lord’s guidance in the Word. This man is lifted up by the Lord into heaven. Thus we can see that our text means that when we begin to listen to what the Word teaches, when we begin to try to obey the Lord’s commandments and live according to them, He will heal our lives. The mountains of our self-intelligence, our conceit, our loves of self and the world can be smoothed out, brought down to their proper size and place in life. And at the same time, when we have truly humbled ourselves through obedience to His commandments, He will then lift us up out of the valley of our despair.

The cycle of the seasons brings us to the Christmas season once each year, reminding us, in spite of our natural tendency to put such things out of our minds, that the Lord took on the Human and came into the world, conquered hell through temptation, was crucified, and rose with His Glorified Human so that we might live to eternity. However, being reminded yearly, and actually receiving the Lord into our lives are different things. If we are to truly receive the Lord the Redeemer, Jehovah God in His Divine Human, we must prepare ourselves to receive Him, we must examine the house of our minds, sweep out the dust of false ideas, the cobwebs of cupidities, and ready ourselves for His visit. We need to see the loves of self and the world in ourselves and shun them, so leveling the mountains of our self-intelligence and conceit. We must open ourselves up to receive the Lord, to hear His voice in the Word. As this happens, and the Lord is able to regenerate us, the announcement of the Lord’s advent will become a continual thing, for it will come from an internal dictate, a constant, inner awareness of the Lord’s presence with us. Prepare ye the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, And every mountain and hill shall be made low. (Isa. 40:3-4) AMEN.

Lessons: Isaiah 40:1-8, Mark 1:1-11, AC 3142

Bible Meanings Home

Doing Your Best

Doing Your Best

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed (is better) than the fat of rams (1SA 15:22).

One of the things that we all love to do is to sit around with our friends and talk about the future. We love to make big plans about the things we hope to do, the places we hope to visit in our travels, the things we want to do next year in school. Everyone likes to make exciting plans for the future. But when we think about the various people we know, who are the ones we admire? Those who are able to tell a great story, to make a fabulous plan, but who never actually gets around to doing anything; or do we really admire the quiet friend who is always doing interesting and useful things?

One of the best things about Scouting (and there are many good things) is the emphasis on doing. Yes, there is some book learning: some of the badges, by their very nature, seem like school reports. But most of the badges, most of the learning that you do as Cubs and Scouts is for the purpose of giving you the knowledge that you need to do something practical, something that will be helpful to you, or to others: like backwoods cooking, pioneering skills, or life-saving.

One of the qualities that makes people very special, distinct from the other animals of the world, is that they love to learn new things throughout their lives. The little baby crawling on the floor and putting everything it finds into its mouth is trying to learn about the world through its most developed sense, the sense of taste. The little boy taking the clock apart to see how it works–and not being able to put it back together again; the teen-ager learning to drive a car; the business man going to a seminar to learn new ways to improve his business–all demonstrate how important learning is to human beings, that it is something that we keep doing throughout our lives. When we stop learning, we stop growing. But again, just knowing something isn’t enough. The whole point of learning is to prepare yourself to do something that is of benefit to somebody.

The Lord Himself teaches the importance of following through, of doing what you know you should do, in a number of places in the Word. In the the first book of Samuel we read about how king Saul lost his kingdom because he didn’t do his best. God had sent the prophet Samuel to command Saul to take the armies of Israel and to utterly destroy the Amalekite nation to punish them for the terrible things they had done to the children of Israel when they were trying to find their way into Canaan after fleeing from Egypt. King Saul was specifically commanded by God to utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey (1SA 15:3).

King Saul led his army into the battle, and the children of Israel were victorious. They captured Agag, the king of the Amalekites–but they did not kill him. They destroyed most of the possessions of the Amalekites, but they kept the best of the sheep, the best of the oxen, the lambs, and everything that they thought was nice. They only destroyed the things that were worthless to them (See 1SA 15:9).

When the Lord saw how Saul and the army of Israel had disobeyed His commandments, He once again sent the prophet Samuel to Saul to confront the king with his disobedience. As unbelievable as it sounds, the first thing Saul said when he saw Samuel coming, as he stood there surrounded by the animals he had been commanded to destroy, was “I have performed the commandment of the Lord!” (1SA 15:13) When Samuel challenged him, asking where all the sheep and oxen came from, Saul told him that the people had wanted to keep some of the animals to sacrifice to the Lord.

This made Samuel very angry because Saul had let his desire to keep the valuable animals lead him into disobeying the clear commandments of God, and then lying about it. Saul tried again to cover up, saying that he had obeyed by capturing Agag and destroying the Army, even though the command had been to kill Agag, and then he tried to shift the blame onto others by saying that it was the people who took the animals, and that he had been unable to prevent it.

King Saul was trying to excuse their disobedience by saying that they stole the animals so they could make a sacrifice to the Lord! They did something that would make God unhappy so that they could do something else to make Him happy again. It’s like stealing money to buy your parents a present to make them happy again after they find out that you stole the money. That doesn’t make any sense, does it? Wouldn’t it have been better for Saul to just do what the Lord commanded in the first place?

That’s what Samuel thought. He told Saul that the Lord does not really care for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but He cares for our obedience. He said, to obey is better than sacrifice (1SA 15:22). The Lord is trying to tell us through this story in the His Word that empty gestures are of no spiritual value to your life. It doesn’t matter what you say you are going to do, what matters to God is what you actually do.

Jesus Himself gave us a parable that teaches about this when he said, A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? (MAT 21:28-32)

Those who were with Jesus answered correctly when they said that it was the first son who did the will of his father, for this simple story makes the point so very clear that anyone can see the point that the Lord is making: There are two boys who are asked to do something. One says he will do it, but does not; while the other says that he won’t, then does it after all. Since their father wanted some work done, the son who actually does the work is the one who did the will of his father, no matter what each of them may have said. In other words, it’s not what you say, but what you actually do that counts.

Everybody has broken a bone–or knows someone who has. Think about what happens to a person who breaks their arm and has to have it put in plaster for several weeks. Although you get used to having the plaster on, towards the end you are really anxious for it to come off so you can move your arm around freely again. The great day arrives, the plaster comes off–and you can’t move your arm! It stays in place as if the plaster is still there. The muscles have become stiff and inflexible through lack of use. You have to gently stretch them, get them moving again, and over a period of several weeks, exercise them until they regain their former strength and flexibility.

This is an example of a very important law of nature: that if you don’t use something, you will lose it. If you bind your arm so that you cannot use it, it will eventually wither away and become permanently useless. This is why people who wish to keep fit need to exercise their muscles regularly to keep them strong and flexible.

The same thing is true of our minds. When I was fifteen years old and in the Sea Scouts, I took a course to learn how to safely navigate our ship along the coast and in the bays and harbors of the northeastern United States. While I was still in the Sea Scouts and regularly helping to take our ship from one place to another, the things that I learned from the books became very real and important to me, because I was using them. But today, sadly, I hardly remember any of it. I do remember some of the principles of navigation which apply to other things, but the detail is lost. I stopped using it, so I lost it.

The same principles apply in our moral and spiritual life. We can make all the plans we want about how we are going to change our life; we can learn all kinds of wonderful truths about life and about God; but they don’t mean anything unless we put them to use, unless they are regularly exercised so they remain flexible and strong.

At the end of every Cub meeting, Akela says, “Cubs, do your best.” And the Cubs respond, “We will do our best!” And every Scout has promised on his honor to “do his duty to God and Country.” The whole structure and concept of Scouting is to help and encourage young people to learn new things that excite the mind and broaden their view of the world and the people who live in it. But all the learning in the world, no matter how interesting, means nothing unless it is put into action.

King Saul did not understand that. He thought that as long as he said the right things, and went through the correct motions, that he could do pretty much what he wanted. Unfortunately for Saul, he was quite wrong, and as a result the kingdom was taken away from him and given to David instead.

When God came to earth to take on a human body and teach us directly, He taught the same lesson over and over, in many different ways. He taught us that it was not enough to proclaim our love to God, but that we had to obey the commandments, avoid loving the world for its own sake, to care for others, and to do all these things because He has asked us to.

Everyone of us, whether we are involved in Scouting or not, can benefit from remembering these ideas. For each of us to take our proper place in this world, a place where by our efforts we can add to the comfort, safety and well-being of others, we must do our best to put the principles of our lives into effect, to live our lives every day to the benefit of others. As the Lord taught in the 25th Chapter of the gospel of Matthew, then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (v. 34-40) AMEN.

Lessons: 1SA 15:1-23, MAT 21:23-32, LIFE 1