The Parable of the Fig Tree

The Parable of the Fig Tree

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, November 25, 2007

‘If it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ (Luke 13:9)

Whenever scripture speaks of a tree, it is really telling us something about a man, or something about a man’s mind or spirit. Everything about a tree stands for something human. For example, the branches stand for the things that we know about the world of nature that we have learned through our own senses, our own experience. The leaves signify rational truths, for these spring forth from the branches, just as rational thought springs forth from our thinking about the things we learn from the world of nature. The flowers of the tree signify the earliest spiritual truths that are formed from rational thought, and the fruits that follow the blossoms signify the kindness and thoughtfulness towards others that comes from a life according to the truths of the Word. (See AR 936)

There are many different kinds of trees mentioned in the Word, and they are ranked according to their relative value. Often the Olive tree is highest, because it produces olive oil, which was used to anoint kings and priests and which represents love to the Lord, the highest love of all. The fig is also highly regarded because it produces a valuable food. The grape vine is also regarded as a tree, and is highly regarded because of the wine it produces, which stands for Divine Truth. (See AR 936)

In other places in the Word, as in our first lesson, the trees are ranked according to their stature and appearance, as well as to the usefulness of their fruit. There were four levels, the Olive, the Fig, the Vine, and the Bramble. In this series, it is not just the fruit or the leaves that determines the ranking, but the usefulness of the wood and its appearance as well. (See Judges 9:8-15)

Fig trees receive prominent attention in the New Testament. The disciple Nathanael was first seen by the Lord sitting under a fig tree. The Lord prophesied about the judgement He had come to make on the Jewish Church when He told His disciples that just as the budding leaves on the fig tree foretold of summer, so also did the events they were witnessing each day foretell events to come. And it was the fig tree that received the brunt of the Lord’s anger when He cursed it for not having fruit, and the next day it was withered away.

The reason the fig tree received such attention from the Lord in the New Testament is because not only does it stand for a man, but it also stands for the whole of the Lord’s church on earth. Sometimes the tree represents the Jewish church, sometimes the Christian Church He was about to establish in the world. We can tell the difference from the context of the story, whether the tree produced good fruit, and what happened to it.

The fig tree in particular, stands for natural good, the good that we do naturally, without instruction, and so it also particularly represents the Jewish Church as it was when the Lord was on earth. This was appropriate because the people of the Jewish church were mostly interested in natural things such as their rituals and laws, while they were not much interested in the spiritual things within their rituals and laws. Therefore the fig, which signifies natural good represents the Jewish church in particular. This tells us why the Lord, when finding no figs on the fig tree, cursed it so that it withered away.

The Jewish Church, which was established by the Lord Himself, should have been doing many good things in the world, but it was not. It was not producing good fruit, and so it was “cursed,” that is, brought to a conclusion, “consummated” and replaced by the Christian Church. The Heavenly Doctrines explain:

One who does not know that all things of the Word contain a spiritual sense, may believe that the Lord did this to the fig tree from indignation because He was hungry; but “fig tree” means here not a fig tree, but the church in relation to natural good, in particular, the Jewish Church (AE 386:29).

The scripture passage tells us that the Lord came to a fig tree and found “nothing but leaves” (Mt. 2:19). The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that the leaves signify the truths of the sense of the letter of the Word, the stories of scripture. Indeed, the Jewish church did have the Old Testament scripture and held it in high regard – but they did not live according to its teachings.

It is a hard saying, but if we are to look at the evidence presented in the New Testament, and at the examples of how the Pharisees and Sadducees thought and acted towards others we can see that as a nation they had come into evil, even though individual Jews were still able to shun what was evil and live a good life. These Jews who loved truth are the ones who loved what the Lord was teaching, who followed Him, and who believed in Him. But the fact that there were good men at that time does not change the fact that as a church, they were in dense falsities and in evil loves. What good was done was done in spite of the teachings of the church, and did not spring forth from it.

That nothing whatever of natural good would ever be able to exist with this church ever again in the future is represented by the Lord saying to the fig tree, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” (Mt. 2:19). At one time the Jewish church had been able to serve the Lord’s ends on earth, but it was no longer able to do this. It could no longer serve as the particular church in the world which had the Word and by it knew the Lord.

Like a fruit tree which produces only leaves, The Jewish Church was to be discarded as no longer suitable to serve as the Lord’s church on earth. The time was right for this to happen because the Lord had come on earth and was now ready to establish the new church that would take the place of the Jewish church, the church which would serve as the tree of life to the spiritual and natural worlds.

However, we would be missing the point entirely if we were to think that this lesson applied only to the Jewish Church, and that somehow this message does not apply to our own time and to our own church. The Christian Church sprouted up and for a time produced leaves and fruit, but when faced with a battle between those who believed absolutely in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and those who denied His divinity, the leaders of the Christian Church compromised and created an impossible image of God, the trinity of persons, instead of having the courage to face the challenge to the Lord’s divinity and stay with the genuine faith that church had been founded upon: the faith Jesus Christ was Himself Jehovah God come to earth.

When the doctrine of the trinity was invented by the church leaders, the tree that was the Christian Church lost its leaves, its genuine faith, and we know that no tree can live, let alone produce good fruit, without its leaves. So the tree of the Christian Church also withered and died. Now the responsibility rests with the New Church. The challenge is to establish and maintain the Doctrine of Genuine Faith from the Word, and at the same time, teach its truths, and lead men to the life of heaven by means of those truths.

The difficulty is to establish the proper balance between leaves and fruit. If we put too much emphasis on the leaves, the doctrine, we can fall into faith alone. On the other hand, if too much emphasis is put on the fruit, the activities of the church, we can fall into works alone, and at the same time loose our doctrinal integrity.

We have to face the fact that the New Church is a doctrinal church, and that in order to maintain that doctrine every one of us must take the time to study the Word in a regular, organized fashion – both the priests, and the laymen. It is too easy to get involved in all kinds of activities and believe that by so doing we have fulfilled our obligations to the church and to our neighbour and so therefore no longer need to study the Word. An even more subtle danger is to think that by talking about the business and politics of the church we are actually discussing doctrinal matters. So often we find ourselves talking about budgets, or buildings, or staffing, and we think that we are talking about “the Church,” but we are actually only speaking of our concerns for natural, man-made forms.

What is essential is for us to come together from time to time to discuss the doctrines of the church so that our understanding of the doctrines can be increased – and then we can benefit by discussing the ways of applying them in our lives with each other. If we centre and direct our lives on what we learn from the Word through our own study, then the tree which is the New Church will have both healthy leaves, and will produce useful fruit.

Everything previously said about the Jewish, Christian, and New Churches also applies in much the same way to the man of the church – to each one of us individually. This is particularly expressed by what is called the “Parable of the Fig Tree” in Luke (as read in the second lesson), which tells of a man who had a fig tree in his vineyard that did not produce figs. He ordered his helper to cut it down because it was useless. But the gardener asked for a little more time, a chance to loosen the dirt around the roots, to fertilize the tree, to give it one more year to produce figs, and then, if it still could not produce, he would cut it down.

Let us for a moment imagine ourselves as that tree.

                  1. Who among us is producing figs as he should?
                  2. Who among us stands ready today to be inspected by the owner of the vineyard?
                  3. Who among us has taken the truth revealed to us in the Word and used it to produce many useful, fruitful deeds for our neighbour, our country, and our church?
                  4. Who among us does not feel the need for a just little more time to prepare, to make ready to produce good fruits for the Master of the vineyard?

In many places in the New Testament, the Lord tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a vineyard. The Lord is the owner of that vineyard, and the harvest is that time when each of us makes our journey from this world into the next, that is, the death of the natural body. We are all trees in the Lord’s vineyard, and the warning should be as clear to us as the promise. The warning is that those trees in His vineyard that, having been given every opportunity and aid, have not produced any good fruit, will be cut down and cast into the fire. The promise is that those who do use what has been given them by the Lord, those who heed His warning, when the harvest-time comes, they will find themselves in the heavenly vineyard, producing flavourful and nourishing fruit to eternity.

The Psalmist wrote,

Blessed is the man

Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,

Nor stands in the path of sinner,

Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

And in His law he meditates day and night.

He shall be like a tree

Planted by the rivers of water,

That brings forth its fruit in its season,

Whose leaf also shall not wither;

And whatever he does shall prosper.

(Psalm 1:1-3)


First Lesson: JDG 9:7-21

Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and cried out. And he said to them: “Listen to me, you men of Shechem, That God may listen to you! {8} “The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ {9} But the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I cease giving my oil, With which they honor God and men, And go to sway over trees?’ {10} “Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us!’ {11} But the fig tree said to them, ‘Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, And go to sway over trees?’ {12} “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us!’ {13} But the vine said to them, ‘Should I cease my new wine, Which cheers both God and men, And go to sway over trees?’ {14} “Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us!’ {15} And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me as king over you, Then come and take shelter in my shade; But if not, let fire come out of the bramble And devour the cedars of Lebanon!’ {16} “Now therefore, if you have acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done to him as he deserves; {17} “for my father fought for you, risked his life, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian; {18} “but you have risen up against my father’s house this day, and killed his seventy sons on one stone, and made Abimelech, the son of his female servant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother; {19} “if then you have acted in truth and sincerity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. {20} “But if not, let fire come from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem and Beth Millo; and let fire come from the men of Shechem and from Beth Millo and devour Abimelech!” {21} And Jotham ran away and fled; and he went to Beer and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother. Amen.

Second Lesson: MAR 11:12-24, LUK 13:6-9

Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. {13} And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. {14} In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” And His disciples heard it. {15} So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. {16} And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. {17} Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” {18} And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching. {19} When evening had come, He went out of the city. {20} Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. {21} And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.” {22} So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. {23} “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. {24} “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.

(Luke 13:6-9) He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. {7} “Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ {8} “But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. {9} ‘And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’”

Third Lesson: Arcana Coelestia 9337

In the Word throughout man is likened to a tree, and his truths of faith are signified by the leaves (n. 885), and his goods of love by the fruits (n. 3146, 7690).

From this it is plain not only that “to be fruitful” denotes an increase of good; but also that good is man’s chief thing, even as the fruit is the chief thing of a tree. The leaves are indeed put forth first, but for the sake of the fruit as the end. That which is the end is not only the last, but it is also the first thing, because it is the one and only thing regarded in the means, thus it is everything. The case is similar with the good of love relatively to the truths of faith. Such was the signification of “a fig-tree,” of which we read in the following passages:-

Every tree is known by its fruit. Of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; but the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil. Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? (Luke vi. 44-46.)

From all this it is evident that the fruit of faith, as it is called, is the primary thing of faith; and that faith without fruit, that is, without the good of life, is only a leaf; and thus that when a man (here meant by “the tree”) abounds in leaves without fruit, he is the fig-tree which withers away and is cut down.




A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; He also has become my salvation. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst. (Isaiah 12:2,6)

Our text for today is taken from the twelfth chapter of book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is a prayer of thanksgiving, as well as a complete list of the things that we need to acknowledge in our life in order to genuinely benefit from the Lord’s Divine Providence. It is our intention to examine this chapter section by section so that perhaps we will be able to perceive the message of humble gratitude that was inspired by the Lord and hidden in the sense of the letter.

Each year we set aside one Sunday in the fall to celebrate the Harvest Festival and turn our attention to the many gifts given to us by the Lord during the normal course of the year. It is proper for us to put aside some time each year to get together with family, enjoy the bounty of the earth, and be thankful to the Lord for all the good things in our lives. It is right that we should do this because the busy nature of our pursuits in the natural world distract us from spiritual things. Our worldly concerns limit our vision of the spiritual blessings that fill every day of our lives, things we could easily see if we would only take the time to notice. It is good to take time off from the normal routine to pay attention to our spiritual blessings, and give thanks to the Lord who constantly provides them.

While we can easily see that we must give thanks to the Lord for His many natural gifts, we must remember to thank Him for the many spiritual gifts we receive from Him as well. For example, the fact that the Lord, and the Lord alone, has the power to raise all mankind to Himself in heaven, is cause for giving thanks. We can be certain that the Lord, through His Divine Providence, is continually drawing each one of us to Him if only we do not refuse Him. He not only has the power to do this, it is His ruling love. All other blessings that we enjoy flow from this, His ruling love of providing for our salvation.

We must remember that all conjunction with the Lord is reciprocal, that is, we must respond to His leading as of ourselves. The directions we must follow are given in every verse and sentence of the Word. It is through the Word that the Lord makes His advent to every one of us in the church. It is through the Word that the Lord instructs us in the way to eternal life, and because of this, Isaiah said, Sing unto the Lord, for He has done excellent things (Isaiah. 12:5).

The opening phrase of the chapter in Isaiah from which our text was taken says, and in that day, and it signifies the Lord’s advent, or coming (see Lord 4), for whenever the Word says, and in that day, it refers to the time when the Lord will come. In fact, the Lord’s coming is the subject of all the Prophets (see Lord 3). It follows then that we should rejoice and be glad because the Lord came into the world to execute a judgment, subdue the hells, establish a new church, order the heavens, and glorify His Human. That the Lord did this in time is a blessing, for by so doing He preserved spiritual freedom for all people everywhere. The real cause for joy is that He will come and be born in the heart and mind of any one who will invite Him in.

It may appear to us sometimes that the Lord is angry, but the truth is that the Lord is never angry. When we are in an evil state it appears to us that the Lord is angry with us in the same way that a child fears the anger of his parents. What the child sees as anger should be love in the form of zeal to preserve and protect order. Thus, the “anger” of the Lord is said to be “turned away” and that the Lord “comforts” because a person has seen his own disorder and turned away from it as if of himself, so restoring his state of peace and order. When a person puts himself in order, there then comes a state of blessing, peace and spiritual freedom from the Lord; and that brings a state of comfort. When that happens, we can, like Isaiah, say, Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He also has become my salvation (Isaiah 12:2).

The real strength that can carry a person through life in this world to the life of heaven comes from the Lord Jehovah alone. By our nature, we are lazy and always looking for an easier way. This has some natural benefits for it can lead to many material blessings. It is incredible how hard and long some people will work to create a device or process that will reduce work. When it comes to saving labor, people seem to have limitless energy and ideas. This is not wrong, for there could be no time for reflection and thought about the things of the Word unless the daily requirements of food and shelter could be taken care of with some time to spare. Indeed, civilization itself has its roots in the development of tools and processes that allowed the necessary work to be done by fewer people in less time, leaving room for specialization in art, literature, thought and religion.

In the same vein, men have put considerable thought into developing religious philosophies that describe an “easier” way into heaven. These fall into two general categories: works alone and faith alone. These doctrines may seem like blessings because they teach a simple, instantaneous way to the promise of heavenly bliss, but they are not blessings, for the short-cuts derived from man’s self-intelligence simply do not work. As it happens when a person is building something from a kit: it is far easier to do it right the first time, according to the instructions, than to have to go back and take it apart and repair your work after doing it incorrectly. The Word is our instruction book for salvation, the well from which we draw the living water with which to quench our thirst for spiritual truth. It is far better for us to read the instructions carefully and do it right the first time, for it is not likely that we will get a second chance to repair our work.

Anyone of us, whatever we may wish to do, can know the truth from the Word, and so can drink from the well of living water. But that truth is not living in us until and unless we make it a part of our as-of-self life. To be conjoined with the Lord requires not only spiritual knowledge from the Word, but also the love that binds that knowledge to the will. This becomes our own when we hold ourselves in order according to the truth that we have from the Word, because it is from the Word. This is our salvation, our conjunction with the Lord. When this happens, we are ready to call upon the Lord.

And in that day you will say: Praise the Lord, call upon His name; declare His deeds among the peoples, makes mention that His name is exalted (Isaiah 12:4). When the Word speaks of the “name” of the Lord, it does not actually refer to His name, but instead it represents and stands for everything that has to do with our worship of Him, and because He is worshipped in accordance with the doctrine in a church, by His “name” is understood everything of doctrine, and in the universal sense, everything of religion (see AR 81, AC 2009:3). To call upon the name of the Lord, then, is to ask Him to teach the way of life that leads to heaven, that is, the doctrine of the church, or everything of religion. We should give thanks to Him because He has provided such a doctrine that is accommodated so perfectly to our understanding that we can each approach him in our own way, according to our own loves and abilities.

Sing to the Lord, for He has done excellent things; this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst (Isaiah 12:5,6). This passage also reminds us of the blessing of the Lord’s advent, because the form that the Divine Truth itself took on in the world, and is now glorified, was that of the Divine Human (see Lord 40). That He is seen in the midst is also important, for ‘In the midst’ signifies in the inmost, out of which the things that are around, or are outside, draw their essence… (AR 44, see also AE 313:4) The Lord in His glorified Human is the source of life for the church. Without Him as its center, a church has no life. Without Him as our center, we are without spiritual life. On the other hand, that the central faith of the New Christian Church is in the Lord in His Divine Human is cause for giving thanks. The promise of eternal life in return for living our lives according to this faith is cause for joy because of the awe-inspiring power of it, the potential for happiness that this knowledge and life can bring, the incredible mercy and Providence of the Lord who designed the universe to work in just this way. And yet at the same time, the sight of such a grand plan for human happiness, the way that the Lord’s love for each individual person and at the same time for all of mankind that shines so brightly, can draw us up short when we see ourselves reflected in that true light. We do not always act according to our knowledge of the Lord’s will. This can bring on a feeling that we do not deserve the rewards that He has promised, that we will never be able to earn them. In other words, when we acknowledge our own base nature, as we must from time to time, we are humbled before the Lord. This humiliation, when seen in the proper light, is also a blessing, for it is the confession that the Lord Alone can save mankind through His own power.

Confession is a state that is of the heart or will of a person, and shows itself only in a state of humiliation–if at the same time there is the affection of good (see AE 326:3). Before we can truly follow the Lord, we have to become convinced that His is the only way. In order to learn this as-of-ourselves, it is necessary for us to attempt to guide our own lives from self-intelligence first, and see that it does not work. Until we have been convinced by our own personal experience of the matter, until we are convinced by bitter experience of life, we will not accept the Lord’s way. Key to this is the affection of good that leads us through these times of trial and temptation. If we are really trying to reach out for eternal, spiritual ends, and if we allow ourselves to be led by the affection of good that is given to us from birth by the Lord, then the Lord will protect us in our struggles, and prevent us from going too far astray, or causing genuine spiritual harm to ourselves. Then, when we are really ready to listen to the Lord, ready to listen because we have come to realize how powerless we are by ourselves, when we are humiliated, He will hear our cry and pick us up, and lead us to the well of living, spiritual waters.

The Lord only leads; He does not drag. He waits for us to ask, and even then, He bends us towards heaven, never breaking our affections. He leads us according to the distinctly different combination of loves that each of us has. We do not have the power or knowledge to do this for ourselves, so we need to confess our need of Him to the Lord, for He alone has that power, and then He will be with us, and from that knowledge, our spirits will begin to sing.

‘And they were singing…’ signifies an acknowledgment and glorification of the Lord because He Only is the Judge, Redeemer, and Savior, thus the God of heaven and earth (AR 279). We have many things to be thankful for: friends, family, and the Church. But most of all we have the knowledge that the Lord is waiting patiently to be invited into our hearts and minds when we are ready for Him, and He will then lead us to eternal life, conjoined with Him.

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; He also has become my salvation. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst. (text) AMEN.

Lessons: Isaiah 12, John 4:5-26, Lord 3

DLORD 3. Briefly stated, the subjects concerning the Lord that are treated of in all the Prophets of the Old Testament, from Isaiah to Malachi, both in general and in particular, are these:–

i. The Lord came into the world in the fullness of times,

which was when He was no longer known by the Jews, and when, consequently, there was nothing of the church left; and unless He had then come into the world and revealed Himself, mankind would have perished in eternal death. As He Himself says in John: “Except ye believe that I am, ye shall die in your sins” (viii. 24).

ii. The Lord came into the world to execute a Last Judgment, and thereby to subdue the existing dominance of the hells; which was effected by means of combats (that is, temptations) admitted into his maternal human, and the attendant continual victories; for unless the hells had been subjugated no man could have been saved.

iii. The Lord came into the world in order to glorify His

Human, that is, unite it to the Divine which was in Him from conception.

iv. The Lord came into the world in order to set up a new

church which should acknowledge Him as the Redeemer and Saviour, and be redeemed and saved through love to Him and faith in Him. v. He at the same time reduced heaven into order, so that it made a one with the church.

vi. The passion of the cross was the last combat or

temptation, by means of which He completely conquered the hells and fully glorified His Human.

Serving the Lord

Serving the Lord

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

But as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:14)

Joshua, whose name is the Hebrew form of the Greek word which we translate into English as “Jesus,” is perhaps the most steadfast and dependable character in the whole of the Old Testament. We first meet Joshua when he goes with Caleb and ten others to spy out Canaan just after fleeing from their slavery in Egypt. Of all who returned, only Caleb and Joshua reported that it would be easy for the children of Israel to enter Canaan and drive out the Canaanites with the help of the Lord. The other ten spies were afraid – they had seen giants in the land, and, in spite of the miracles they had just seen as Jehovah destroyed Pharaoh with the 10 plagues, their fears overcame their trust in the Lord. Their fears infected the rest of the people and they were able to convince them that they would die if they tried to enter Canaan.

Because of their fearfulness and because they did not trust in the Lord, the children of Israel were to wander in the wilderness for forty years, until all those who had been slaves in Egypt died in the wilderness. A new, tougher generation was born in the desert that was willing to follow Jehovah into the promised land. Of all the multitudes that followed Moses out of Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb actually entered the promised land.

Not much is directly said about Joshua during those years of wandering, but we do know that he served Moses by training the young men to be soldiers. Joshua spent forty years in the wilderness doing the Lord’s work by teaching the children born of the slaves that had fled Egypt and creating from them a powerful, disciplined army.

After Moses died, and it was time for the children of Israel to enter the land of Canaan, Joshua was given the responsibility of leading this disobedient and difficult people. Miraculously, the Jordan river parted for the ark as it entered its waters, proving to the people that Joshua was a leader, like Moses, chosen for them by the Lord Himself. He led them according to God’s plan against Jericho, and their easy victory against that powerful, heavily fortified city struck terror in the hearts of the remaining Canaanites. When some of Joshua’s men, encouraged by their easy victory at Jericho, decided to try to conquer the nearby city of Ai on their own, but failed, Joshua led the tribes of Israel through the process of self-examination that eventually revealed the thief who had stolen forbidden things from Jericho. Joshua courageously led them as they conquered the Canaanites in the South, and then again in the campaign in the North. He administered the division of the land among the tribes with justice. He established the cities of refuge. He saw to it that the priesthood received their fair share of the land. He ruled with absolute power throughout the conquest and settlement of Canaan, and he did so without a single mention of disorder, selfishness, or dishonesty. Joshua, more than any other individual we know from the Word, served the Lord with integrity and strength all his days.

After doing everything the Lord has asked him to do, Joshua reached his old age. He called together the elders of the children of Israel, and gave them his final charge. He reviewed all that they had done, and especially emphasized all the things that Jehovah had done for them, making it quite clear that everything they had was a gift from God, and that they had done nothing of themselves. Finally, the historical review complete, he challenged his people to look to the future, to make some important decisions about how they would go on without his firm leadership. He reminded them that there were still Canaanites in the land who worshiped idols, and that there were some of the children of Israel who were tempted to join in their profane worship, but he put it to the people this way: “Now, therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:14-15).

Joshua might have done many things with this opportunity. He might have threatened. He might have warned. He might have scolded. But he did not. An absolute ruler for many years, loved by his people because he was a good leader in both war and peace, he turned it back to them. He said in essence, “There’s nothing more I can do. I’ve taught you everything I know. It’s up to you to make something of yourselves. I can’t stop you from chasing after the idols of the Amorites if that’s what you really want. You will be what you choose to be.”

“The Amorites” is a general term for many of the peoples who lived in the land of Canaan, and they represent evils in general. This tells us that Joshua’s words are directed not just at the children of Israel, but in fact are equally valuable advice to all people in all times. All of us are tempted from time to time to do things that are selfish, cruel, or dishonest. We are then faced with a choice of whether we should do what we want to do, or should we instead do what the Lord wants us to do? Of course, as soon as it is put that way, it becomes obvious to all of us that we should do what the Lord wants – but with the help of the hells we usually manage to avoid phrasing it in just that way, and we can then more easily think of good reasons why we should keep doing exactly what we have always done, pushing the Lord and the Word out of our thoughts until some later time when we think it will be easier to change.

The children of Israel were constantly tempted to worship idols, just as we are constantly tempted to turn away from the Lord and towards things that favor our loves of the self and the world. This is a problem for us now, as it was for them then, and Joshua’s words, in the spiritual sense, speak to our hearts as we face these very problems today.

Joshua named the problem, the temptation to worship idols, and while leaving everyone in freedom to do what they believed to be right, still showed the way, for he said that as for himself and his house, he would serve the Lord. In the outermost sense, it is clear that he was referring to more than his own immediate family in this, but rather included all those who wished to be like him, those who admired him. In this sense, those who listened carefully to his advice were his “house.” In other words, Joshua was telling his people that if they wished to be like him, to be counted as part of his extended family, they should serve the Lord. At the same time, he was telling them that he was not sure that their resolve to follow the commandments and serve the Lord was strong enough. He said to them that he did not believe that they could stay in the way of the Lord. He repeated his warning about following other gods. The people seemed to insist that they wanted to follow the Lord, so he made them witnesses to themselves, and ended with the direct command that they were to put the foreign gods away immediately.

Joshua called for them to join him in serving the Lord. The Hebrew word for “servant” can also mean “to serve.” However, when that word is used in conjunction with one of the Hebrew words for God, the meaning changes from “to serve” to “to worship.” This is exactly parallel with the internal sense, for we are told that “to serve” represents “obedience and also worship” (AC 9318, 9322). From this, it is clear that the Hebrew concept of the worship of Jehovah revolved around the idea of service to Him through obedience to His commands, performance of ritual acts in strict obedience to revelation, without regard to the meaning of the acts themselves.

This seems to us to be merely external, like the blind obedience of children, or the simple, but yet we can find within it the true concept of heavenly worship, of service to the Lord. Divine worship itself in the heavens does not consist in going to church and listening to sermons, but in a life of love, charity and faith in accordance with doctrines. Preachings in churches serve solely as means of instruction in matters of life. …The angels said that these are outward acts that ought to be done, but are of no avail unless there is an internal from which they proceed, which is a life in accordance with the precepts that doctrine teaches (HH 222).

It’s exactly the same message whether it is Joshua asking the children of Israel to choose between the LORD or idols, or the Lord telling us through Swedenborg in the Writings that the most important human faculty is freedom of choice in spiritual things. The Lord gives each of us spiritual freedom, which is like a muscle. Unless it is used it becomes stiff and weak to the point of uselessness. We must exercise our spiritual freedom by making choices, and the choices we must make are whether or not we are going to worship the idols of our fathers and or the Amorites, or whether we are going to serve the Lord.

Just as there are many kinds of idols we might wish to worship, there are also many ways that we can serve the Lord. Generally, when ever we do something for the sake of another, we serve the Lord. We also feel delight when we do, for serving the neighbor for the sake of their happiness is heaven [itself] (HH 408:e).

  • We serve the Lord by obeying His commandments, and by teaching our children to obey His commandments.
  • We serve others for the sake of the Lord when we come to church and add to the sphere of worship by joining in with the singing, by saying the prayers with the rest of the congregation, but taking part in all the ritual, and even just by our presence.
  • We serve the Lord by helping the needy, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked.
  • We serve the Lord when we share our love for the Word with others who are seeking for answers, when we answer a question, when we listen to a friend with sympathy and understanding.
  • We serve the Lord when we take a few moments every day to sit quietly with the Word, reflect on its meaning in our life, and try to add a little bit to our understanding of doctrine. In this way particularly, the Lord’s presence with us through His Word is enhanced, and the church will grow in power and meaning in our lives.

Every day, every hour, every moment, we are faced with choice of worshiping the Lord or worshiping the “idols of the Amorites.” When we face this challenge we must remember the message given by the Lord through Joshua that we are going to be whatever we ourselves choose to be. We are free to choose to worship idols or the Lord. It’s entirely up to us.

Joshua first entered Canaan as a young spy, and knew that with the Lord’s help, his people could conquer its dangers and possess its beauty. Denied an early entrance into the land of Canaan by his people’s fears, served under Moses to build a powerful army for the Lord while in the wilderness, and with that army and the Lord’s help, conquered that land for the children of Israel. Courageous in war, he was a just and able leader in peace. Joshua shows us the way to heaven by his example, and we would do well to listen to his final challenge to his people with our minds and our hearts. “Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for your selves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (text). AMEN.

First Lesson: Joshua 24:14-28

“Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! {15} “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” {16} So the people answered and said: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; {17} “for the LORD our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way that we went and among all the people through whom we passed. {18} “And the LORD drove out from before us all the people, including the Amorites who dwelt in the land. We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God.” {19} But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. {20} “If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good.” {21} And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the LORD!” {22} So Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD for yourselves, to serve Him.” And they said, “We are witnesses!” {23} “Now therefore,” he said, “put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD God of Israel.” {24} And the people said to Joshua, “The LORD our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!” {25} So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. {26} Then Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. {27} And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness to us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD which He spoke to us. It shall therefore be a witness to you, lest you deny your God.” {28} So Joshua let the people depart, each to his own inheritance. Amen.

Second Lesson: TCR 412-416 (port.)

TCR 412. …Love towards a community is a fuller love to the neighbor than love towards a separate or individual man….

TCR 414. One’s country is more a neighbor than a single community, because it consists of many communities, and consequently love towards the country is a broader and higher love. Moreover, loving one’s country is loving the public welfare. One’s country is the neighbor, because it is like a parent; for one is born in it, and it has nourished him and continues to nourish him, and has protected and continues to protect him from injury. Men ought to do good to their country from a love for it, according to its needs, some of which are natural and some spiritual. Natural needs relate to civil life and order, and spiritual needs to spiritual life and order. That one’s country should be loved, not as one loves himself, but more than himself, is a law inscribed on the human heart; from which has come the well-known principle, which every true man endorses, that if the country is threatened with ruin from an enemy or any other source, it is noble to die for it, and glorious for a soldier to shed his blood for it. This is said because so great should be one’s love for it. It should be known that those who love their country and render good service to it from good will, after death love the Lord’s kingdom, for then that is their country; and those who love the Lord’s kingdom love the Lord Himself, because the Lord is the all in all things of His kingdom.

TCR 415. Since man was born for eternal life, and is introduced into it by the church, the church is to be loved as the neighbor in a higher degree, because it teaches the means which lead to eternal life and introduces man into it, leading to it by the truths of doctrine and introducing into it by goods of life. This does not mean that the priesthood should be loved in a higher degree, and the church because of the priesthood; but it means that the good and truth of the church should be loved, and the priesthood for the sake of these. The priesthood merely serves, and is to be honored so far as it serves. The church is the neighbor that is to be loved in a higher degree, thus even above one’s country, for the reason also, that by his country man is initiated into civil life, but by the church into spiritual life….

TCR 416. The Lord’s kingdom is the neighbor that is to be loved in the highest degree, because the Lord’s kingdom means the church throughout the world, which is called the communion of saints; also heaven is meant by it; consequently he who loves the Lord’s kingdom loves all in the whole world who acknowledge the Lord and have faith in Him and charity towards the neighbor; and he loves also all in heaven. Those who love the Lord’s kingdom love the Lord above all things, and are consequently in love to God more than others, because the church in the heavens and on earth is the body of the Lord, for those who are in it are in the Lord and the Lord in them. Therefore love towards the Lord’s kingdom is love towards the neighbor in its fullness; for those who love the Lord’s kingdom, not only love the Lord above all things, but also love the neighbor as themselves…. Amen.

The Order of Creation

The Order of Creation

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen. 1:1)

Everyone who believes in God, no matter what the details of their faith may be, also believes that God is the creator of everything. The difficulties that we have with the concept of creation begin to arise when we try to understand the process of how He created the universe. We want to know things like, “What is our relationship as created beings to our Creator?” and “Are people fragments of God that will eventually return to unity with Him?” and “Where did the matter of the universe come from in the first place?” These are some of the questions we will address today.

The first thing we must establish is that humans are not part of the “cosmic oneness” of God, but in fact depend on a degree of separation from Him to allow for individual development of personality and character. In order for people to live in freedom, able to respond to God’s leading each in his own unique way, it is absolutely essential that each person be separate from the Divine, while at the same time be of such a form as to be able to receive and use the constantly inflowing Divine life.

God created the universe because He is Divine Love and Divine Wisdom itself, and the nature of Divine Love is to continually seek to express itself, to go forth and give pleasure to others. Therefore, unless there were human beings to love, the Divine Love could not be received and it was frustrated, so God’s whole effort was directed to correcting this situation, to creating individual human beings whom He could love. In the same way, the Divine Wisdom of God also continually seeks to express itself, but it expresses itself in the forms of the created world, it represents God’s infinite knowledge. We can think of an example from our own experience. We feel a need for something, we desire to have it to enable us to perform some use. We then think about the steps that are required for us to make or buy that thing. The desire is like the Divine Love, the steps required to get it and use it, stand for the Divine Wisdom.

Another way to illustrate the Divine Love and Wisdom in God is to think of them like the heat and light that proceed from the sun. We are told that God appears to the angels in the spiritual world as a sun, as the sun of heaven itself, to represent this truth about His nature. When we think of God as the sun of the spiritual world, we can then think of the Divine Love proceeding from Him as heat, and the Divine Wisdom proceeding as light.

Such symbols are commonly used in the world today. When we are loved by someone, we say we feel the ‘warmth’ of their love. When someone explains something to us, we say that they have put a little ‘light’ on the subject. These common illustrations of human relationships are derived from their correspondence with God as He appears in the spiritual sun of heaven.

In the world of nature, the sun provides all the energy (except that which is provided by nuclear reaction). The sun shines on an innumerable variety of green plants which then use that energy to make their food. The sun’s energy is stored in the plants, and is later released when eaten by animals, or when burned in fires, or when turned to coal or petroleum over the passage of time. Even the electricity provided by a hydroelectric plant comes from the sun, for the sun causes the water to evaporate, clouds to form, and rain to fall into the reservoirs, thus the sun lifts the water from the sea into the mountains, and we collect some of the energy released as it rushes back to the sea. Everywhere we turn, we see that the very power to move and live in the natural world is provided by the sun, and if we lift our minds out of the world of nature just for a moment, we can see that this is so because God Himself is the sun of Heaven, and He created the natural sun to correspond to and represent His relationship to all of His creation.

The spiritual sun, and its heat and light are “a proceeding” from the Divine Love and Divine Wisdom of God (DLW 290). The Divine Love proceeds from the Lord as heat, and the Divine Wisdom proceeds from the Lord as light, and these two, taken together, are perceived as the sun of the spiritual world. This sun enlivens spiritual beings by its heat, and renews spiritual objects by its light (DLW 93), that is to say that it is by means of the Divine Love and Wisdom proceeding from the Lord as a sun that the spiritual world and its inhabitants have their life and their continual creation or renewal.

We know that the natural sun is incredibly active, and gives off strong radiation over a wide range of frequencies. In fact, the only reason the sun is life-giving instead of life-destroying is that it is 150 000 000 kilometers away, and the earth’s atmosphere blocks and filters out most of the harmful frequencies of radiation. In the same way we need to have some spiritual distance and spiritual atmospheres between God and us in order to survive His presence with us. The Lord’s Divine Love and Wisdom flow out from Him as a sun, with fierce power. But the first things that He created were spiritual atmospheres to soften and moderate His Divine power so that it could be received by the highest angels. He also created the spiritual world so that it itself acted like atmospheres, receiving the Lord’s Divine presence, softening, changing, and passing it on to the next level in a form particularly suited for the states of those who were to receive it. The warmth of that sun warms the will, and the light of it is the light of the understanding (DLW 96). But although the Divine Love and Wisdom proceed from God as the heat and light from a sun, and although the angels see Him above the heavens as a sun, we must also hold to the clear, repeated teaching of the Heavenly Doctrines that God is not a sun, but a Man: it is just that “The first proceeding from His Love and Wisdom is that fiery spiritual (substance) which appears before the angels as a sun” (DLW 97). In Himself He is not anything but Divine Man (See DLW 97).

The Lord cannot be present with us as He is in Himself, any more than we could live on the surface of the sun. Therefore, the Lord is present with us by means of those things which a person may receive from Him without harm, such as: love, wisdom, and use. Neither love nor wisdom can go out from God and be received by a person except by means of something that conducts it, any more than light and heat can travel from the natural sun to earth without something to carry them. For example, electricity must travel through its proper conductors — it cannot travel through an open switch. Sound and heat must have air (or some other substance) to carry them. Every form of energy that we know about must travel through its proper medium. In the case of love and wisdom, that thing that carries them from the Lord to mankind is use, for the Heavenly Doctrines teach that the spiritual atmospheres carry the effects of the spiritual sun to heaven, and then through heaven to men in the world, making “the Lord’s presence everywhere manifest” (DLW 299). And where the Lord is present, there uses are being performed.

The creative force flowed out from God and a spiritual atmosphere was formed. His power then flowed into that atmosphere which changed it and a lower atmosphere was formed, and so on until the heavens, and the world of nature were created. And, all these degrees and layers of creation continue to exist moment by moment because Life from the Lord is continually flowing into them, renewing them, and maintaining their existence.

Even though in themselves they are dead, each of these degrees of creation has something of the Divine within it, and therefore has a drive (or “conatus”) to return back to the Lord, to rise up in higher uses wherever and whenever the opportunity is present. The material substances of the world are dead in themselves, but there still is life in them from the Lord through the spiritual sun and atmospheres. The Lord has reached out and created level after level of substances and forms, until they are so far from Him that they seem to us to be inert and lifeless, yet they are capable of responding to the influx of life.

In this way, layer by layer, the Infinite was finited, and the material “stuff” of the universe was created. Then having reached the bottom, the most ultimate things of the natural world, the Lord then directed His life into these things so that they began to combine with each other and become more complex forms capable of receiving more life, and performing higher uses. From the basic matter of the universe, He created the mineral kingdom. With that as a foundation and basis, He then added a new level of life and created the vegetable kingdom. When that was well established and could support a new form of life there was another distinct jump and the animal kingdom was added as another kingdom capable of perform even higher uses. Then, when all was in readiness, He drew things together from the whole of creation and created human beings. This creation was unique and remarkable in that it could receive influx immediately from God into an eternal, human soul, it could receive the inflowing life from God into a conscious, rational mind, and it could receive an inflowing life into the material substances of the world and so build a body of natural substances which could serve as a means for acquiring and learning sensual knowledges from the world which would serve as a basis for the intellectual processes of the growing spiritual mind.

But the point of creation was not for the human beings to live for a few years in the natural world, but that there could be eternal, spiritual life for us, and to this end the Lord created people with an internal spiritual form to receive His life which could never be harmed and never die. It is difficult for us to sense this for ourselves, because the feeling of life from the soul has been hidden from people in the world as a protection for them. If people were able to become conscious on the level of the soul, they might choose to do something that would damage it, or make it no longer capable of receiving life from the Lord — certainly people make choices in the natural world that destroy their ability to be rational, so the same principle would apply on the spiritual level. If a person were to do damage to his soul, it would be the end of his eternal life, and so this is why the soul is particularly protected by the Lord — for the sake of man’s eternal life and happiness.

Creation descends from God to the ultimates of nature, and then ascends back to heaven, or as the Heavenly Doctrines say, “from firsts to lasts and thence into intermediates.” (ref.?) God created the universe not from nothing, but from Himself (DLW 55, 56, 291-306). He did so by successive degrees of accommodation until He had created all the material things in the world. These materials were from Him. He then built up the various degrees of creation until He had a vessel that could contain a living soul: a human being. He could inflow directly into this creation, giving it the gift of life, and with it the gift of the feeling that life is one’s own.

Although this treatment has barely touched the surface of this rich doctrine, it should be plain that the Lord created the universe for the sake of mankind. He created it from Himself in such a way that it is not continuous with Him, but that it is in order and thus responsive to Him. From the spiritual sun, life and truth descend by degrees through the spiritual atmospheres, taking on layer after layer of appropriate forms that clothe them. Yet every level is created to receive life or truth, and pass it on, or hold it, so that through his life, each person has the opportunity to act freely as of himself within the spiritual and natural environment created for him by the Lord. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. AMEN.

Lessons: Genesis 1:1-19, Rev. 4, AE 739

1st Lesson: Genesis 1:1-19,

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. {2} The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. {3} Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. {4} And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. {5} God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day. {6} Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” {7} Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. {8} And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day. {9} Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. {10} And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good. {11} Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. {12} And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. {13} So the evening and the morning were the third day. {14} Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; {15} “and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. {16} Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. {17} God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, {18} and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. {19} So the evening and the morning were the fourth day. Amen.

2nd Lesson: Rev. 4,

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” {2} Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. {3} And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. {4} Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. {5} And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. {6} Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. {7} The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. {8} The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” {9} Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, {10} the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: {11} “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.” Amen.

3rd Lesson: A. E. 739:2-4

[2] … Every man at his birth is altogether sensual, so that even the five senses of his body must be opened by use; he next becomes sensual in thought, since he thinks from the objects that have entered through his bodily senses; afterwards he becomes more interiorly sensual; but so far as by visual experiences, by knowledges (scientiae), and especially by the practices of moral life, he acquires for himself natural light (lumen), he becomes interiorly natural. This is the first or ultimate degree of man’s life. [3] … But if he goes on further, namely if he lives according to these knowledges from the Word, the interior degree is opened in him and he becomes spiritual, but only so far as he is affected by truths, understands them, wills them, and does them; and for the reason that evils and the falsities thence which by heredity have their seat in the natural and sensual man, are removed and as it were scattered in this and in no other way. … The interior degree with man can be opened in no other way, because the evils and falsities that are in the natural man keep it closed up; for the spiritual degree, that is, the spiritual mind, contracts itself against evil and the falsity of evil of every kind … On the other hand, when … Divine truths from the Word that derive their essence from good, approach that mind, it opens itself; yet the opening is effected not otherwise than by the reception of the good of love flowing in through heaven from the Lord, and by its conjunction with the truths that man has stored up in his memory, and this conjunction is only effected by a life according to Divine truths in the Word, for when these truths come to be of the life they are called goods. Thence it may be clear how the second or middle degree is opened. [4] … The third or inmost degree is opened with those who apply Divine truths at once to life, and do not reason about them from the memory, and thus bring them into doubt. This is called the celestial degree. Amen.

Christian Charity

Christian Charity

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 19, 2009

He who does not put out his money at usury, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved. (Psalm 15:5,6)

The practice of usury is referred to about twenty five times in the Old Testament, and in almost every reference, the letter of the Word tells us that we must not think of profit or recompense when we loan our money to others. There are several references that indicate that it is permissible to benefit from a loan when it is made to strangers, but it is quite clear from scripture that one must not make usurious loans to one’s own people.

At the same time, the investment of money for the sake of profit has been a cornerstone of civilization for at least as long as the scriptures have been read. In fact it is commonly believed that civilization first began to develop about the same time that farmers had developed their skills sufficiently that they were able to raise more food than they themselves could use, thus allowing them to support non-farming individuals with their excess food. A surplus of money or food, properly used, can bring benefits to many more people than to the investor only, for new enterprises can begin, new products discovered and made cheaply available to many, and the standard of living generally rises. 

It is also true that once there is wealth, it is possible to support great endeavours in the arts, in education, in religion. Just think what the General Church would have been without great wealth to support the dream of a system of education based entirely upon the principles of the Heavenly Doctrines. Think about the universities and museums throughout the world that would not exist without freewill contributions made from the profits of carefully invested money. 

It is simply not possible to imagine what our world would be like if we strictly followed the Mosaic Law’s injunctions against usury.[1] Even the world of nature itself tells us that investment of wealth is both prudent, and nature’s own way, for when we plant seed carelessly in stony ground or among thorns, we get no return. But when we prudently plant the seed in good ground, we receive an hundred fold in return.        Divine Law, that is, the Law promulgated on Mount Sinai by Jehovah God, and carried to the Jewish people by Moses, forbade them from charging interest when they loaned their money to others. The Divine Law went even further, and gave specific commands regarding the collateral that supported the loan. The Mosaic Law tells us that if a man borrowed money, and gave his outer garment as security against the loan, the individual who loaned him the money was not permitted to keep that cloak over night. He was permitted to hold it during the day, when it was warm enough to live without it, but at night, when the cloak was a necessary protection from the cold, the cloak had to be returned.

In the New Testament we read about the Lord driving moneychangers out of the temple, but we should note that it’s not that what they are doing is wrong, what’s wrong is that they are changing money and buying and selling in a place of worship and prayer. In both Matthew 25 and Luke 19 the Lord tells parables about how good servants invest wisely, and in each case the servant who didn’t even give the money that was entrusted to him to the “bankers” to earn “interest” were cast into outer darkness.

However, while these laws may have been created specifically for the Jewish people in that historical time, we know that they have since been nullified, made of no effect for our time and place. We no longer have to obey the letter of the whole of the Mosaic law. But then, if these laws are no longer of any effect, why have they been included in the Word? Why must we still read them? What is their use? AC 9211:2 says,

that law was binding on that nation then, but it is not binding on Christians, to whom the more internal things have been revealed by the Lord. Those who belong to the Church at the present day see this to be so, and this is why laws that have to do with charging interest are altogether different at the present day. Even so, the holiness of that law does not therefore come to an end, as though this part of the Word has been abrogated; for its holiness remains by virtue of the more internal things it holds within it. These more internal holy things continue to stir angels’ affections when this part of the Word is read. But let people beware of thinking that the laws of life such as are contained in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere throughout the Old Testament have been abrogated; for those laws have been firmly established in an inward as well as an outward form, because the two are inseparable.

The laws regarding usury are no longer needed as natural laws governing the external behaviour of men, and we need not strictly obey them in our daily life. There is nothing in itself wrong with investing money for the sake of a reasonable future profit. The Law of Usury may be cancelled in its external expression at this time, but it continues to be in force as to its spirit because it is from the Divine. Divine Law is not limited to its external manifestation. God gave Moses laws against usury because He wished to tell us many things about Christian Charity. 

Divine Law takes its outermost form in the Laws of Moses, but it takes its spirit and life from the will and the intention of the person who understands the internal spirit of Divine Law. In other words, while it is permissible for us to invest money for profit, the Lord put those laws in the Word – and left them there – to remind us that we need to carefully search out our intentions in regard to such business arrangements so that we are not acting in such a way as to harm others, or deprive them of their goods for our own benefit. By definition, then, a usurer is someone who does what is good only for the sake of self-advantage, who gives his money to others without regard for possible harm, or for anything but the potential profit for himself. The Lord Himself taught us in Luke, If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same (Luke 6:33).

But usury does not only pertain to money, but in fact, anyone who does anything for another for the sake of some future benefit or recompense is actually practising usury. To willingly loan your tools to another so that you may eventually build up such a credit that you may later borrow something important and valuable that you would not otherwise be able to borrow, is usury. To take someone out to a fancy dinner so that you can ask them to do something that you believe that they would not otherwise be willing to do from conscience, is usury. To invite someone into your home, or do a favour for them in the hope of obligating them to return the invitation or the favour, is usury.

Many speak of “Christian Charity,” and by it they mean charitable acts such as giving to the needy and poor, in doing good to the neighbour, to the country, and to the church for any cause, or for any result whatsoever. It is an act of “Christian Charity” to give old clothes to the needy, according to this way of thinking, even if the motive behind the action is no more than to clean out the closets and get rid of some old, worn out things that you no longer use. But with a moment’s reflection we can see that the quality of one’s charity can only be determined to be “Christian” or not by its intention. It is the goal, the intended result, that determines the real quality of everything that we do. 

If your purpose is to do something good for the sake of reputation, or acquire honour or profit, then the good which is done is not good, because it is done for the sake of self, and is therefore from self. But if the purpose is to do some good for the sake of another, the country, the church – the neighbour on any level – then the good which is done is genuinely good, for it is done for the sake of good itself. When something is done for the sake of good, it is the same as being done for the neighbour, and when something is done genuinely for the sake of the neighbour, it is done for the Lord, for He Himself taught, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did to Me” (MAT 25:40) (See AC 9210).

When we do good for the sake of good, we are acting from the Lord Himself. At the same time, when we do what is true for the sake of the truth, we are also acting from the Lord Himself, for to do truth for the sake of truth is to do good, for truth becomes good when it passes from the understanding into the will, and from the will goes forth into action. To act in this way, to act from good for the sake of good, or to act from truth for the sake of truth is what “Christian Charity” really is.

But we must not fall into the “merit” trap, that is, begin to believe that if we feel good about something that we are doing for others that somehow what we are doing has lost its spiritual value. We must remember that the angels in heaven feel great delight when they do good, and they always try to do what is good from the Lord. Doing good is its own reward, and the delight of heaven flows in whenever we do genuine good from the Lord. 

The same is true of “Christian Charity.” Sometimes those who do good from “Christian Charity” as defined in its genuine sense, still are really thinking about how such deeds will affect their reputation among men, or may think that some honour may result from the deed, or even some kind of profit. However, these thoughts are not the reasons behind the actions, but reflections about the consequences after the fact. The rewards are not the reason, even though they are foreseen, and they bring delight.

The person who does good from genuine “Christian Charity” regards what is good and just as the essential and only thing, as being in the highest place. Afterwards, they think about the profit and honour that result from these things, but as things that are not at all essential, as being in the lowest place. When such people have in their view what is just and good, they are like brave soldiers who fight in battles for their country, and who have no regard for their own life, nor for their rank, or for their possessions in the world, for the importance of their use makes them all of relatively no account. On the other hand, those who have regard for themselves and the world in the first place are of such a character that they do not even see what is just and good, but only their own selfish desires.

The Word often refers to usury. Our natural interest in money may distract our attention from the real meaning of this law, the real warning that is directed to us:  we must be careful with how we invest the goods and truths given to us by the Lord, our time, our good works, our ideas. The Lord was speaking about money when He gave this law to the Jews, because at that time and in that place, that was all they could understand. But we must remember that the Word was written for all people and for all times, and it is the spirit of the Mosaic law that has been given by God to guide our lives today. The spirit of His law is not hidden. It can be easily found by anyone who seeks for it with genuine humility of spirit and willingness to be lead by the Lord. Do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be the sons of the Highest (LUK 6:35).   AMEN.

First Lesson:  Mat 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. {32} “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. {33} “And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. {34} “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: {35} ‘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; {36} ‘I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ {37} “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? {38} ‘When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? {39} ‘Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ {40} “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.’ {41} “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: {42} ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; {43} ‘I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ {44} “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ {45} “Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ {46} “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Amen.

Second Lesson:  AC 9211

9211. ‘You shall not charge him interest’ means that therefore it must not be done for the sake of gain to be acquired from it. This is clear from the meaning of ‘charging someone interest’ as doing good for the sake of gain

The more internal things within that law are that good done to the neighbour should come from the heart, and that people should believe that there is no merit at all in deeds which spring from self, only in deeds which spring from the Lord present with them. For only the Lord has earned merit, and only He is righteousness; and when a person believes this he does not attach any merit or reward at all to deeds springing from self but ascribes all good deeds to the Lord. And since the Lord in His Divine mercy is the real doer of that good the person ascribes everything to mercy alone. So it is also that one who is led by the Lord has no thought whatever of reward, and yet from the heart does good to the neighbour.

[2] These are the more internal things from which the law among the Israelite and Jewish nation about lending things at interest comes down. When therefore a person is acquainted with those more internal things that law comes to an end along with the others like it which were referred to as judgements. For the Israelite and Jewish nation was confined to the outward forms that represented internal things. Consequently that law was binding on that nation then, but it is not binding on Christians, to whom the more internal things have been revealed by the Lord. Those who belong to the Church at the present day see this to be so, and this is why laws that have to do with charging interest are altogether different at the present day.

Even so, the holiness of that law does not therefore come to an end, as though this part of the Word has been abrogated; for its holiness remains by virtue of the more internal things it holds within it. These more internal holy things continue to stir angels’ affections when this part of the Word is read.

But let people beware of thinking that the laws of life such as are contained in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere throughout the Old Testament have been abrogated; for those laws have been firmly established in an inward as well as an outward form, because the two are inseparable. Amen.

[1]The strict application of the scriptural rules against usury was the cause of an ironic situation in Europe of the Middle Ages. In both Christian and Islamic countries Jews were compelled to be the money changers, the bankers, so that good Christians and Moslems would not have to commit usury. The Jews were forced to commit the sin of usury and live in wretched ghettos, while yet controlling most of the investment money in Europe.

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Approaching the Holy Supper Worthily

Approaching the Holy Supper Worthily

Toronto, Sept. 18, 2005

A Holy Supper Address by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?

Who may dwell in Your holy hill?

He who walks uprightly,

And works righteousness,

And speaks the truth in his heart;

He who does these things shall never be moved.


(Psalm 15:1,2,6)

We have gathered together once again to celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. There are only two sacraments in the New Church, Baptism and the Holy Supper. Baptism and the Holy Supper, considered together, are called the “universal gates” into the church, for they are the means by which every one can be introduced into the life of the church, and conjoined with the angelic heaven. Baptism and the Holy Supper are called “universal” because they are for everyone who wishes to be conjoined to the Lord.

What does it mean to be “conjoined with the Lord” in this sense? Certainly not a mystical union where one’s personality is submerged in some “cosmic oneness” with God, but rather we are thinking here about something much simpler, much more human: the fact that each of us, when faced by difficulties in life, feels better when someone else is near, someone who loves us, supports us, and can listen sympathetically to our troubles. The Holy Supper is a way by which the Lord Himself can approach us as we, through our voluntary approach to His table, invite Him into our spiritual lives. It serves to help us focus our minds on spiritual things, to think about the Lord, and to ask for His help. When we are thus thinking about the Lord, when we are fighting to do what we believe is right, He draws near to support us in our battles against the hells. The Holy Supper is a physical event that serves to support the spiritual event.

There is a passage in the True Christian Religion that talks about the approach to the Holy Supper, and has been misunderstood by many people. The passage speaks of the “regenerate, who approach the Lord’s Supper worthily… Unfortunately, many people have heard this statement, which is quite correct and understandable within its own proper context, and begun to believe that somehow you must be completely regenerated, or nearly so, before you can approach the Lord’s Supper “worthily.” This is an unfortunate misunderstanding, for nothing could be farther from the truth, and it sometimes prevents the very people who need it the most from coming forward because they, in their state of despair over the sins they see within themselves, feel unworthy to approach the Lord.

The Lord is present with every individual who partakes of the Holy Supper. However, we are taught that He is with those who have not prepared themselves before hand in a “universal” sense, and with those who have prepared themselves “particularly.” It does not cause spiritual harm to take the Holy Supper without preparation. However, it is true that the more you have prepared yourself for the sacrament, the more it will mean to you, and the more it will help.

The question then is, what does one need to do to prepare oneself for the Lord’s Supper? There are a number of different ways to go about it, but for today, let us consider three general steps: Love to the Lord, Charity, and Faith.

First, in regard to love to the Lord, the Heavenly Doctrines warn that partaking of the Lord’s Supper only so that you will appear religious and devout to others is an unworthy way approach to the Lord’s table. This sacrament can only be taken worthily and properly if you are ready and willing to admit your heartfelt belief in God and your dependence on Him for life itself. There is no point doing something that signifies a contract with another individual if you deny that that individual exists.

The second point requires the most work because it has to do with charity, and therefore has to do with how we actually live our lives. We are taught in the Word that to approach the Lord’s Supper worthily, we must first take careful stock of the course of our lives, of our actions. We must examine our life as to acts and intentions to see if there is anything contrary to the Lord’s will. For most human beings living in the world, the problem is not discovering evils of life, but rather, deciding which one of the many to shun. Time should be taken to look closely at the selected evil and its affects on self and on others so that we fully appreciate why this evil is a sin against God, and why we should flee from it for the sake of our spiritual lives. Once having appreciated the impact of our sins, we should beg the Lord for forgiveness, and show our good will in the matter by beginning a new life without that evil.

The Holy Supper then takes the place of our signature on the contract with the Lord that we will go and do that particular evil no more. It will help us in those dark moments when the hells attack our intention, when they swarm over us to break our resolve. We remember taking the bread and the wine on our knees and say to ourselves, “I won’t do that again. I promised.”

The final step in approaching the Holy Supper worthily is to spend some time reflecting on what our faith is, that it is our belief that the Lord Jesus Christ is the One God of Heaven and earth that is central to our lives, and that it is faith in Him that is saving faith. Obviously, it is quite difficult to sit down and just start thinking about “faith” in the abstract. It would do us no more good than it does to condemn ourselves as being sinners without taking the time to look for an individual sin. In order for us to think effectively about our faith, it is necessary for us to use something to stimulate and direct our thought. That is the function of daily reading the Word, for when we read the Word the angels of heaven draw near, and their sphere flows into our mind and directs our thoughts to heavenly things. When we are thinking of heavenly things, the Lord Himself draws near, and orders the things in our mind so that we see the truth in a new light, we are “enlightened.” In this way alone does our faith grow.

So the purpose of the Holy Supper is to turn our attention to the Lord, towards our behaviour towards others, and to view our behaviour from the perspective of the teachings of the Word. And when, having examined ourselves, we find some evil, we must approach the Lord for His help in removing it. This is something that faces every adult from time to time. Therefore, it is the policy of the General Church, that any adult, that is, any person of about 20 years of age or older, who is struggling from conscience against their own inclinations to do what is evil, is both welcomed and encouraged to come forward and take part in the Lord’s Supper and receive the signs of the Lord’s promise to do His part in our battle against the hells. There is no other requirement than an adult’s heartfelt desire to have the Lord’s help in shunning their evils.

The purpose of the sacrament is to make that conjunction with the Lord something that seems more real by associating it with a physical act. In the world of business, when two people reach an agreement they naturally seal that agreement by a ultimate, physical sign: they shake hands, or perhaps sign a contract. The physical action gives a “reality” to the agreement between them. For the same reason, the Lord has asked us to come to the Holy Supper, so that we can share with Him a physical ultimate of His promise to save us if we will try to change our own lives, if we approach the Holy Supper worthily.

We often talk about salvation, of going to heaven, but every one of us harbours the question deep in our hearts, we wonder if we would “make it,” we wonder if we are really prepared for a life in heaven. Of course, we cannot know for sure, and in fact we would not be spiritually free if we did know for sure, for then we would loose our freedom. However, the Lord does not desire for us to be left completely in the dark in regard to this important matter. There are many places in the Word where the Lord speaks to us, to give us help in finding our perspective, to help us judge how we measure up. The fifteenth Psalm in particular can help us see where we stand, to help us see our relationships with our fellow man, to see if we are prepared for the Lord’s Kingdom.

Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?

Who may dwell in Your holy hill?

He who walks uprightly,

And works righteousness,

And speaks the truth in his heart;

He who does not backbite with his tongue,

Nor does evil to his neighbour,

Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend;

In whose eyes a vile person is despised,

But he honoris those who fear the LORD;

He who swears to his own hurt and does not change;

He who does not put out his money at usury,

Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things shall never be moved.

(Psalm 15)


First Lesson: MAT 7:7-23

{7} “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. {8} “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. {9} “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? {10} “Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? {11} “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! {12} “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. {13} “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. {14} “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. {15} “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. {16} “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? {17} “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. {18} “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. {19} “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. {20} “Therefore by their fruits you will know them. {21} “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. {22} “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ {23} “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Amen.

Second Lesson: TCR 719


With both the worthy and the unworthy the Lord is present, because He is omnipresent both in heaven and in hell, and also in the world, consequently with the evil as well as with the good. But with the good, that is, with the regenerate, He is present both universally and individually; for the Lord is in them and they are in Him, and where He is there is heaven. Moreover, heaven constitutes the body of the Lord; consequently to be in His body is also to be in heaven.

[2] But the Lord’s presence with those who come to the holy supper unworthily is His universal and not His individual presence, or what is the same, His external and not also His internal presence. His universal or external presence is what causes a man to live as a man, to enjoy the ability to know, to understand, and to speak rationally from the understanding; for man is born for heaven, and is therefore not merely natural, like a beast, but also spiritual. He also enjoys the ability to will and to do the things that from his understanding he is able to know about, to understand, and thereby rationally speak about. But if the will rejects the truly rational things of the understanding, which are also intrinsically spiritual, the man becomes external.

[3] Consequently with those who only understand what is true, and good, the Lord’s presence is universal or external, while with those who also will and do what is true and good, the Lord’s presence is both universal and individual, or both internal and external. Amen.

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“Desiring the Future”


“Desiring the Future”

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto – May 27, 2012

     Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Mat. 6:34).

We live in a future-oriented age. We have become so used to taking about what we think is going to happen as if it is already fact that we may not even notice it anymore. On TV and the radio we hear things like, “Later today in a news conference, the Prime minister will announce….” One of the most popular parts of TV news is the weather, and even though we know they are wrong more often than they are right, we still watch every night because we are hungry to know what is going to happen tomorrow – and next week.

The more we know of the world around us, the greater the concern we have for our future. Today it seems that every nation in the world is facing some kind of terrible problem. We live in a time where great events are unfolding, and we don’t want to be caught unawares. We feel that we must try to see the future so that we can prepare for it as best we can. 

(Maybe great events have always been unfolding, but before the days of the telegraph people just didn’t know much about anything outside of their own village. Today we have instantaneous access to the whole world. Every other week I meet with a group of minister who are in North America, Europe, and Africa – and nobody is surprised by that.)

We strive to know the future, we worry about what will happen so that we can plan for it, we believe that if we knew what the future held, we would be happier — but would we really? Imagine what would happen if we really could know the future with absolute certainty. 

Just for example, let’s say that you knew with absolute certainty that you were going to have a serious automobile accident, and you could also see all the steps leading up to it. You would have to proceed step by agonizing step toward the accident until it finally happened. The pain and suffering would be nothing compared to the agony of anticipating the accident with the knowledge that there was nothing that could be done to avoid it. 

When most people hear that example their immediate response is to start thinking about what they might do to change the course and the result, thus changing the future.

If you can change it, then it’s not really the future, it’s only one of many possibilities, so you can’t say that you knew the future! (I know the reasoning is circular and difficult here.) The point is that you can’t know the future with certainty because it is the sum total of the choices you (and others) are making in the present.

This is where the problem with the desire to know the future lies. If we really could know the future with certainty, we would not be happier. We would lose our spiritual freedom and be miserable. The whole point of our life in this world is to make ourselves into the people we wish to be by a series of free choices in spiritual things.

It’s the specifics of the future that are hidden. It’s okay for us to know that summer follows spring. It’s okay for us to know that life in this world is followed by life in the spiritual world. And it’s also important to know that the quality of our future spiritual life depends on the kinds of choices that we make today.

Certainly, the future concerns all of us. We can deal with the needs of the future by making and following plans for today. If we spend all our time worrying about our lot in the afterlife to the point of forgetting to amend our lives today, then our concern for our future is self-defeating. We can, however, approach the future by saying, “I want to go to heaven when I die, so I will try very hard to shun this sin today.” The present is the only appropriate path for us to reach the future. What we really need to remember is that the present is where we were created to live, to work, and to begin the work of repentance, reformation, and regeneration. The present is the only place where our choices have an effect, where we can exercise our freedom of choice in spiritual things.

We are told in the Heavenly Doctrines that the angels have a sense of time where both the lessons of the past and the hopes of the future are brought together into their sense of the present, and because of this, and because of their trust in the Lord, they do not have any concern about future things[1].

The devils in hell would very much like us to believe that we rule ourselves because the more we take on ourselves the things that belong to God, the less clearly we can see God’s part in our lives. When we believe that our future depends solely on our actions and decisions we begin to be anxious, we begin to worry about things not going well, we worry that we will be blamed for mistakes, and so we try to imagine all the things that could go wrong and head them off with contingency plans. We take it all on ourselves. We blame ourselves when things go wrong, and we suffer because of it. We take credit to ourselves when things go well, and so become proud in our self-intelligence – and all the while we are building more and more walls of selfishness and anxiety between the Lord and ourselves. 

The whole area of concern for the future falls under the heading of the Lord’s Government, or the Divine Providence, which must, of necessity, operate without anyone’s conscious knowledge. We read from the Divine Providence that, man would have no liberty to act according to reason and there would be no appearance of self-activity if he perceived or felt the activity of Divine Providence, for if he did he would also be led by it.[2] 

Do you think that if you could actually hear the Lord’s voice and actually feel His presence in your heart and mind, you would be able to refuse to do what He was telling you to do? And, if you could not but do the Lord’s bidding, would you still be spiritually free?

The Lord actually leads all people all the time by means of His Divine Providence. An essential element of that government is that each person shall feel and believe that he leads himself, and that he should be able to acknowledge that the Lord leads from the man’s own understanding of the Word. We read further that:

     if man had a living perception or sense of being led, he would not be conscious of living life and would be moved to make sounds and act much like a graven image. If he were still conscious of living he would be led like one bound in manacles and fetters or like a yoked animal. Who does not see that man would have no freedom then? And without freedom he would be without reason, for one thinks from and in freedom; whatever he does not so think seems to him to be not from himself but from someone else. Indeed if you consider this interiorly you will perceive that he would not possess thought, still less reason, and hence would not be a human being”.[3]

The Lord has, in His Infinite Wisdom, deliberately withheld certain knowledge of specific future events from us, because He desires that we should be free in spiritual matters for the sake of our eternal happiness.

Foreknowledge of the future would destroy our delight in planning and doing useful things. In order to bring our dreams into being we try to figure out the best way to make them happen, we guide our course towards accomplishing our goals by means of our powers of reasoning. 

We love to take our ideas and make them work. If, from the very beginning of a project, the finished product and all the steps leading up to it were foreknown, we could play no real part in them. Part of the fun is coming across unexpected problems and figuring out how to solve them. There would be no dreams to dream, no plans to plan, no joy of anticipation as we wondered if the reality would match the dream. If there was no love, no excitement, there would also be no challenge, no thought, no hope.

Marriages begin with “borrowed” states of heavenly joy which then have to be earned back by the effort of building the marriage. When successful, however, the daily pleasure of each other’s company in shared uses can give a picture of how “forever” can be a heavenly thing.

Since certain knowledge of the future would take away a person’s ability to reason, it also takes away from humanness itself. So the Lord has provided that no one is permitted to know the future; but everyone is allowed to form conclusions from their own observations and thought as to what the future might hold, for then a person’s reason is in its own life. For this reason no one may know his lot after death, nor any other event large or small, until he actually experiences it in his own present. 

The desire to know the future is taken away from those who trust in the Lord’s Divine Providence; and these trust that the Lord is in control of every aspect of their lives, and will provide for their eternal welfare at all times[4].

It is difficult for us to form this trust in the Lord’s Divine Providence because we cannot see it directly. For all the reasons already mentioned, the Lord provides that we cannot see the operation of the Divine Providence in the future, for it would take away our freedom to act as-if-from-self. However, all of us can, if we wish, see the activity of the Lord’s Divine Providence in our lives. 

Every so often, we need to take some time to look back at the course of our own life, to reflect on the important, memorable things that have happened. Most of us can look back and see things that, when they actually happened to us, seemed to be terrible personal tragedies but have actually worked out for the best in the long run. Or, some may be able to trace a series of seemingly unimportant unconnected decisions that lead us through a series of improbable circumstances to find the one who would eventually become our eternal partner. 

When we see the course of our lives in retrospect we can see the hand of Divine Providence. Having seen it in hindsight we can then have the confidence to say with heart and mind that since we can clearly see that the Lord’s Divine Providence was working for us in the past, it must therefore be working for us in our present and future. The Lord is constantly leading us into our own individual future with a sure and gentle hand.

The future does not yet exist for us. The past is gone. We live only in the present for the sake of our rational eternal lives. The future is governed by the Lord’s Divine Providence, and we cannot know it until it arrives. If we are to be rational, happy people, without anxieties about what will happen in the future, we must learn to live day by day, and trust in the Lord. 

This does not mean that we are to ignore the future, and make no plans, for we are told that it is the desire to make things better, to hope for improvement is something that gives us joy and makes us human. 

Ÿ  What we need to do is have dreams for the future, and do all we can to accomplish them – today. 

Ÿ  We need to shun evils as sins – today.

Ÿ  We need to be kind to our neighbour, not sometime next week, but today. 

Ÿ  We need to trust that the Lord will provide for our eternal happiness – today.

     Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.[5]


Lessons:  Genesis 21:1-7, Matthew 6:25-34, AC 5177 (port.)

Second Lesson:  Mat 6:25-34

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? {26} “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? {27} “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? {28} “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; {29} “and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. {30} “Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? {31} “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ {32} “For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. {33} “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. {34} “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Amen.

Third Lesson:  Arcana Coelestia

5177. [In the spiritual world] they who have been very solicitous about the future, and especially they who have therefore become grasping and avaricious, appear in the region where the stomach is. Many have appeared to me there. The sphere of their life may he compared to a sickening smell which is exhaled from the stomach, and also to the heaviness from indigestion. They who have been of this character stay long in this region, because solicitude about the future, when confirmed by act, greatly dulls and retards the influx of spiritual life; for they attribute to themselves that which is of the Divine Providence; and they who do this obstruct the influx, and take away from themselves the life of good and truth. Amen.


[1]See AC 1382:e

[2]DP 176:2

[3]DP 176:e

[4]See DP 179

[5]Matthew 6:31-33

Visions of the Lord

Visions of the Lord

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper


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

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

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

We read from the work The Last Judgment that,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st Lesson: Exo 33:7-11

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

2nd Lesson: Rev 1:9-18

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

3rd Lesson: DLW 12, 13

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

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

 Bible Meanings Home

Preparing For Temptation

Preparing For Temptation

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True Christian Religion 596.


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

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

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
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 Bible Meanings Home

Changelessness and Change

Changelessness and Change

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, August 8, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will be its long-term benefits?

Will it bring a more peaceful state into the marriage?

Does it lead to the life of heaven?

What will be its short-term benefits?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Lesson:

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

Second Lesson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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