PREPARING FOR ETERNAL LIFE

PREPARING FOR ETERNAL LIFE

A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn November 20, 1994

 

“Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is” (Mark 13:33).

What is the most important thing we have to do during our life on this earth? Prepare for eternal life. But how often does this need get pushed to the bottom of our list of things to do?

Our life is so full of many urgent things. We spend long hours, even sleepless nights, preparing for a 35- or 40-year career in the world, but how much time and effort do we devote to the spiritual career that we will have for thousands of years? We spend many dollars and rush frantically until the last minute getting ready for a single holiday celebration, but how urgently do we consider preparing for the celebration of our resurrection which is coming inevitably at a time we cannot foretell?

This sermon is an appeal to listen to the Lord: to learn what we should be doing about our spiritual life before it is too late.

The Scriptures give clear advice: “Watch … for you do not know when the master of the house is coming … lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping” (Mark 13:35f). The image of sleeping is used in the Word to describe a person who is in merely natural life. Here, the “master of the house” is the Lord, who has given us responsibility for our life. For Him to “come suddenly” and find us sleeping means that at the time of our death He finds us unprepared

Another passage warns: if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come …” (Rev. 3:3). As the thief steals valuable things from a home, so valuable things of our eternal life are taken away from us after death if we have neglected to cultivate and use them. This idea of the Lord’s coming as a thief in the night, by surprise, is also reflected in another teaching: Here, we read if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into” (Matt. 24:43f). “This means that if man knew the hour of his death he would get himself ready …” (AE 193:5).

Why doesn’t the Lord give us a warning about death so that we can take time to prepare for it? For good reason we are not given that knowledge. If we knew the end of our natural life it would certainly motivate us in spiritual things; however, “not from a love of what is true and good,” we are told. By a premonition of our death we would act “from a fear of hell. …” but this would make no lasting change in our character. Our doctrine teaches that last-minute repentance or spiritual reform motivated by fear alone is of no effect. Instead, we are told, we should by our own free choice and desire be “getting ready all the time (Ibid.; AR 164). “Therefore, you also be ready,” the Lord said, “for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him” (Matt. 24:44).

The danger of neglecting spiritual life is also taught in the Lord’s parable of the foolish rich man who built larger barns for his many worldly goods. Because of his riches he thought he had nothing more to do than to “eat, drink, and be merry. ” “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?”‘ (Luke 12:16-21)

The need for spiritual preparation during our life may be outlined from the doctrine: First, we are not born good. Second, we can change only during our life in this world. Third, no change can take place without our active participation. Fourth, the change must be from our free choice, not by compulsion.

As we examine these needs, we should keep in mind that the Lord is a constant companion and source of strength and protection. As our Redeemer and Savior, He does all that He can to bring us into His heavenly kingdom. But He will not force us.

As to the first proposition, that we are not born good, the Writings make the startling assertion that “man is born a hell.” However, it is added that although he is born a hell, “he is not born for hell but for heaven” (AE 989, emphasis added). If we take no action against our hereditary inclinations during our lifetime, we will remain a hell. Only infants who die and others of simple or irrational mind have their hereditary tendencies nullified. The rest must be watchful, that is, consciously aware and actively in combat against them.

The latent dangers of hereditary nature are deceptive. While gross and violent crimes have become all too common in our society today, clearly demonstrating the existence of evil, still the great majority of people we know about seem God-fearing, moral, and useful citizens. However, we are told that moral life may spring from two possible origins – a heavenly origin or a totally selfish origin – and appear just the same. To such as are hypocrites, acting well from evil intent, the admonition is given: “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die …” (Rev. 3:2).

The doctrine applies this text to “those who live a moral but not a spiritual life, because they have little regard for the knowledges of spiritual things” (AE 182). They act well outwardly from inwardly selfish ends. The appearance of morality and good will in their actions and our own is not necessarily a sign of true goodness or heavenly character. It is simply the way we have learned to get what we want. “A man may indeed live like a Christian without truths,” we are told, “but this only before men, not before angels” (AR 706)………. all things that are with him are in themselves dead,” we are told, “that is, are ‘about to die,’ unless they are made alive by truths and goods …” (AE 188).

As to the proposition that our life can be changed only while in this world and therefore is a matter of urgency, this is commonly accepted in Christian doctrine. The basis for it is to be found in the Lord’s statement to Nicodemus about rebirth. “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). While there are differing interpretations of what is meant by being born again, there is agreement that this conversion or change must take place during a person’s lifetime. In this the New Church is no exception. Our doctrine teaches that “if evil is not removed in the world it cannot be removed afterwards” (DP 277), consequently that the person cannot be saved. “This is what is meant by the common saying that as the tree falls, so it lies; or as man dies, such he will be” (AC 4588). “It should be known that man remains to eternity such as his whole life is, even to the end, and by no means such as he is at the hour of death: repentance at that time with the evil is of no avail, but with the good it strengthens” (AE 194).

Where the doctrine of the New Church differs from other Christian doctrines is in the third proposition: that our change in life takes place only according to our active personal involvement in it. Why else would the Lord have asked people to be watchful and awake unless they were to have some part in the process? To “be watchful,” we are told, “signifies that they should be in truths and in a life according to them” (AR 158). This is our part in the process. “He who learns truths and lives according to them is like one who is awakened out of sleep and becomes watchful, ” we are told. This is possible only by means of truths from the Word which have been accepted and applied.

In the book of Revelation, we find this warning: “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments lest he walk naked …” (Rev. 16:15). This statement is regarded as a prophecy of the second coming of Christ. But what more does it mean? We have shown before that the coming of the Lord as a thief refers to our loss at our death of any goodness or spiritual virtue which we have merely pretended to exercise. The “garments” mentioned here mean truths of faith from the Word by which we learn to live well.

The meaning of the text is described as follows: “He who has not acquired [truths] from that source, or he who has not acquired truths or semblances of truths from his religiosity, as the Gentiles, and applied them to life, is not in good, howsoever he supposes himself to be.”

Such is the one who is found naked. It is a person with no religious truths or principles. The same would apply to the man cast out from the wedding feast because he did not have a proper wedding garment. A person who has not acquired and acted on some truths of religion simply cannot enter heaven. Truths are the basis of rebirth or regeneration. This reason is given: “… as he has no truths from the Word, or from his religiosity, he suffers himself to be led by means of reasonings equally by evil spirits as by good spirits, and thus cannot be defended by the angels” (AC 5954:8).

We cannot enter heaven apart from some means of living a heavenly life. Although the Lord is Mercy itself and desires everyone’s salvation and eternal happiness, He cannot give us eternal life apart from the orderly process He has provided, which includes our participation.

We know from living experience that success in this world requires education, application, persistence, concentration, patience and many other things which are our responsibility. For success in spiritual life the Lord requires the same things of us. What is remarkable is that we seldom seem to act that way.

The Lord’s exhortation to “take heed, watch and pray” is given for good reason. He has told us to “be awake!” because it is so easy to sleep. He urges us to be “watchful” because often we are not. All of these urgings are to remind us of the most important goal of our life.

At times, circumstances in our life are a powerful reminder of our mortality. We have a brush with death. Someone we know dies. We are brought up sharply, perhaps make some resolutions for ourselves. This is from fear. It soon wears off and we go on with our natural life. So we read: “… whatever a man does from fear does not remain with him, but what he does from love remains; therefore he should be getting ready all the time” (AE 193:5). What a powerful statement! This most important process of our life, in which we have such a part to play, should be ongoing, not sporadic. We should be getting ready all the time! The challenge is to make this something done from love, not from fear.

What then of your life? Do you fail to engage in the useful steps of spiritual learning and new life because you don’t feel inspired to do it? Do you stay home from worship because you don’t find it inspiring? Do you rarely turn to the Word in any of its forms because it doesn’t seem to touch you or apply to your states of mind? Do you find greater excitement thinking about advancing your career than thinking about the needs of your spiritual life? The list could be lengthened, but suppose you already feel guilty. How can you change deep-seated habits, youthful aversions, a sense of inadequacy? How can you renew the commitment to “be getting ready all the time”? What love can motivate a change?

The love to do this will not come naturally. What comes naturally to us is the desire to avoid anything spiritual. We should realize that strong forces are at work to obscure and dampen our efforts to follow the Lord. The Writings reveal that troops of sensuous spirits abound in the other life, spirits loving self-indulgence and scoffing at spiritual things. Their presence drags our lives down. It is said that to be uplifted from their influence, we must “think about eternal life” (AC 6201). Our daily concern about material things also has its dampening effect. Material things are said to be like weights which draw the mind down from spiritual thoughts and immerse it into earthly things (see AC 6921). We cannot “sell all that we have,” but can we try to gain perspective on what is truly important in our life, not placing our love on material things alone? (See Life 66.)

The love of spiritual things is an acquired love. It may be developed. With self compulsion and a sincere intention to obey the Lord, it can grow in your life.

Obviously the spirits of hell will do all in their power to discourage us from taking positive steps to free ourselves from their influence. If we are aware that this is one reason we may lack inspiration for spiritual things, we may succeed in rising above that influence to find a new excitement in daily spiritual efforts.

We are familiar with procrastination as a common natural failing. It is putting off doing things we don’t enjoy or that are difficult. This is certainly a spiritual tendency as well. Almost any excuse will seem good enough to defer or put off the next spiritual step. Unfortunately, spiritual procrastination is the easiest of all, for its consequences are not apparent to our friends or enemies. We can easily hide it from the world, but we can never hide it from the Lord. Its results are just as serious, even more so, than the results of any natural procrastination. The longer we neglect spiritual responsibilities, the more difficult it will be to face up to them.

One example of this is given in the Heavenly Doctrine. There we are told that those who have not practiced self- examination find it an almost impossible task, as terrifying as the prospect of storming an enemy trench full of armed soldiers (see TCR 562).

Here the Writings speak also of the power of habit, perhaps because the cultivation of habits can be a useful tool to combat procrastination. We would do well to institute regular habits of spiritual endeavor even if it requires serious self- compulsion. I think of such things as a time for prayer and reading of the Word, self-examination, reflection about the deeds and thoughts we have had each day. “Everyone becomes imbued with the end he has in view and the habit arising therefrom” (TCR 563).

If you persist in the intention to overcome spiritual indifference or neglect, the Lord will strengthen your efforts. If you make a beginning, it will become ever easier to meet your spiritual responsibilities. The kingdom of heaven can grow within you as a grain of mustard seed which is so small, yet becomes a tree (see Matt. 13:31).

You are never alone in your spiritual efforts for, behold, “He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep …. The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul” (Psalm 121:4,7). “I lay down and slept,” wrote David in a crisis of temptation. “I awoke, for the Lord sustained me” (Psalm 3:5). Let us all embrace this resolve of spiritual vigilance: “Watch, therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42). Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 119:57-72; Mark 13:24-37; AE 187a

 


Apocalypse Explained 187a

“Be wakeful” signifies that they should acquire life for themselves. This is evident from the signification of “being wakeful” as meaning to be in spiritual life; but here, since those whose life is moral and not yet spiritual are treated of, “Be wakeful” is that they should acquire for themselves spiritual life. This life is meant by “wakefulness” and “being awake,” because spiritual life is to moral life, apart from spiritual life, as wakefulness is to sleep, or as noonday light is to the evening, yea, to darkness. But that this is so is not known or perceived by those who are in natural life alone, neither by those who are in moral life apart from spiritual life, for this life also is natural life. They do not know or perceive this, because they are in natural lumen only, and this lumen in comparison with spiritual light is as the darkness of evening to the light of noonday. Moreover, to such the darkness of evening seems like light; for their interior sight, which is that of the thought, is adapted to that darkness, just as the sight of bats, owls, and other birds that fly by night, is adapted to the shade. Consequently they believe themselves to be in light because they are able to reason, when yet they are in darkness. That this is so is manifest from the state of such after death, when they become spirits. They then believe, when with their companions, that they are in light, because they not only see all things that are about them, but also are able to think and speak about any matter whatever; and yet their light, when the light of heaven flows in with them, is changed into darkness, and they become so blind in respect to the understanding as not to be able to think at all. Moreover, when angels who are in the heavens look down on those who are in such lumen, they see nothing there but mere darkness. That spiritual life compared with moral life apart from spiritual life is as wakefulness compared with sleep can be further seen from this, that those who are in spiritual light are in angelic wisdom and intelligence, which is such as to be incomprehensible and ineffable to those who are in natural lumen alone, and this not only with men while living in the world, but also with the same when after death they become spirits, and when intelligence and wisdom constitute wakefulness. From this it can now be seen that “Be wakeful” here signifies that they should procure for themselves spiritual life.

FORGIVENESS

FORGIVENESS

A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn October 23, 1994

The subject of this sermon is the Divine example of forgiveness. The text is the Lord’s well known statement:

 

“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

These were the Lord’s words as they crucified Him. They are an expression of the Divine love for the human race a love so deep that it never faltered, even in the moment of its supreme rejection. It did not ask, “How often? Seven times?” But forgave “until seventy times seven,” and even to the end.

This moving incident of forgiveness does not stand alone in Scripture. It is prefigured by an incident that took place in the days of Jacob and his sons. We refer to Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers. In their jealousy, the older sons of Jacob had plotted against Joseph and sold him into slavery in Egypt. Staining his garment with the blood of a goat, the brothers brought it to Jacob as evidence of the fate of Joseph, and Jacob concluded that he was dead.

But Joseph was not dead. By a kind of figurative resurrection he rose to supreme power in the land of Egypt, and when famine struck, Joseph stood as a savior to the people. The brothers by whose hand he was betrayed come to beg bread, and Joseph forgave them.

Two incidents of forgiveness one in the book of Genesis, another in the Gospels both expressing the same eternal truth about the Divine love. The Writings declare that the Lord came to fulfill the Law. This means not only that the prophecies about the Messiah to come were fulfilled by His birth, but more than that, in every respect the Lord lived up to the eternal truths expressed in the Word. So, in the instance of His crucifixion and the Lord’s words of forgiveness which he said then, we have the Lord’s expression of Divine forgiveness prefigured in the Joseph story. The entire Old Testament is a veiled preview of the Lord’s life on earth. The Heavenly Doctrine for the New Church specifically teaches that “how the Lord was received when He came into the world, and how He was tempted and then became Lord of heaven and earth … is described by the story of Joseph” (AE 448:16).

There are parallels even in the literal accounts. Joseph’s coat of many colors which his brothers stripped from him reminds us of the Lord’s garments divided among those that crucified Him. Garments are said to signify the appearances of truth in the Word, or truth in the natural degree (see AC 4733). As such they can be twisted to confirm any belief. Without the light of the internal sense, natural truths can be used to confirm any idea. So the blood on Joseph’s coat was used to convince his father that Joseph was dead. Again, in Egypt, Joseph had escaped the seductive grasp of the wife of Potiphar only by slipping from his garment the garment later brought as evidence against him. The human heredity the Lord took on from Mary was the outer garment of His life which He had to lay aside to become Divinely Human. Joseph was lowered into a pit to be left for dead. The Lord was put in a tomb. Joseph rose from obscurity in an Egyptian prison to become a ruler in Egypt. The Lord rose from the tomb to become ruler of heaven and earth.

It is by a revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word, however, that the full harmony of the Scriptures may be seen. In the account of Joseph’s reconciliation the full implication of the Lord’s words of forgiveness on the cross may be known. Here we learn that the Divine love is the essential and unchanging essence of God. This unfailingly extends forgiveness to all. More clearly expressed in the Joseph story, however, is the requirement of the Divine wisdom. Embodied in this account is the truth about repentance on our part if we are to be forgiven.

“Heaven is not granted from mercy apart from means,” we are taught, “but in accordance with the life” (HH 54, footnote 1). “Sins are not forgiven through repentance of the mouth, but through repentance of the life … Sins adhere to the man however much he may suppose that they have been forgiven,” the doctrine states, “nor are they removed from him except through a life according to the commands of faith. So far as he lives according to these commands, so far his sins are removed; and so far as they are removed, so far they have been forgiven” (AC 8393).

So it was that before Joseph’s reconciliation with the brothers who high-handedly sold him into slavery, we read of their remorse and change of heart. When Joseph, still unknown to them, threatens to keep Benjamin in Egypt while sending the others back, Judah offers his life instead. The same Judah who suggested the selling of Joseph for gain is willing to guarantee Benjamin’s release. This is a remarkable life-change. Think of it. The man who put the blood-soaked coat of Joseph into his father’s hands, allowing him to think his son was dead, now says, “How shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?” (Gen. 44:34) There is a new sensitivity and a deep concern for others that has been born in Judah and his brothers. This allows the reconciliation to take place. The love that Joseph has yearned to express now has a place to be received. So Joseph sent away all his Egyptian servants, revealed his identity to his astounded brothers, embraced Benjamin and wept for joy. “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

We find the true theme of forgiveness in many places in the Word, but a false conception of it pervades the minds of many in the Christian world. The doctrine for the New Church has been given to restore an understanding of the true nature of the Divine love.

“The Lord forgives everyone his sins, because He is mercy itself,” the doctrine teaches. “Nevertheless they are not thereby forgiven unless the man performs serious repentance, and desists from evils, and afterward lives a life of faith and charity, and this even to the end of his life. When this is done, the man receives from the Lord spiritual life, which is called new life. When from this new life the man views the evils of his former life and turns away from them and regards them with horror, then for the first time are the evils forgiven, for then the man is held in truths and goods by the Lord, and is withheld from evils. From this it is plain what is the forgiveness of sins, and that it cannot be granted within an hour, nor within a year” (AC 9014:3).

The brothers of Joseph who came to Egypt received harsh treatment at first. They attributed this to their crime against Joseph. “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us” (Gen. 42:21, emphasis added). They were convinced that their distresses were a direct consequence of their sin. This is typical. How often do we feel we are reaping the harvest of our wrongs? A child may believe that his parents do not love him any more because of his mistakes and bad behavior. Their punishments seem to come from anger.

Sometimes it appears to us that the Lord punishes us or causes us to suffer for wrongdoing. In fact, in the days of Israel, it was thought that every sickness, calamity or tragedy was God’s retribution for sin. So when a man born blind was brought to the Lord, the question of the people was about who committed the sin that caused his blindness.

A common belief in the Christian world is that God was angered by Adam’s original sin against Him at the time of the fall, and that as a result we all are condemned and suffer consequences. It is the Lord Jesus, seen as a separate Person, who is able to save us. He is forgiving and merciful, and pleads with the Father. He has given His life as a sacrifice for ours to satisfy His Father’s anger. Was not this the purpose in His words at the time of crucifixion: “Father, forgive them … “? So it would seem. Yet, if this be so, we must assume that there is a Divine being who must be persuaded to forgive humankind, and who remains angry and vengeful against fallen people unless He is satisfied in some way.

Nothing could be further from the Divine nature. God’s unchanging purpose in creation is to form a heaven from the human race, an eternal kingdom where He may draw all people to Himself to bless and favor them. The Divine love goes forth constantly, unchanging, always seeking to bring about human happiness. If people, in their freedom, fail to respond to the invitation to open the door and to invite Him in, it is surely a grief to the Lord, but no cause to rouse His anger or elicit punishment.

Evil bears the seeds of inevitable sadness, calamity and tragedy. Human evil is the cause of all suffering and unhappiness. God does not will or cause these results. They are not prescribed or meted out by Him, paying us back for disobedience. Rather, these results are a cause of His grief for us. Far from being a provocation, such circumstances are a stimulus to Him to seek new means for our salvation.

Analogy could be made with the human body and its soul. The soul is like the god of the body, always seeking to keep the body in its healthiest possible condition. If we abuse or strain the body, health problems may result. The problems are our own doing, for the soul’s constant effort is to return the body to a healthy state. Its effort is always positive. So is the Divine effort.

Returning to the account of Joseph in Egypt, we see how he treated his brothers. He “acted a stranger to them and spoke roughly to them” (Gen. 42:7). He called them spies, imprisoned them, kept a hostage; yet he gave them the food they needed, restored their money and sent them home. And when he heard them speaking of their guilt and perceived their repentance, he wept for joy. While there was outward rejection, an inward love longed for reconciliation. It was for the same reason the Lord wept for Jerusalem on the day of His triumphal entry (see Luke 19:41).

Why did Joseph treat the brothers harshly? Not to cause suffering. He wanted no revenge for what they had done to him. He sought only reconciliation. He had forgiven them already.

Joseph’s goal was to be reunited with his father. The separation had come about in the first place by the jealousy of the older brothers. Out of envy they had thought to dispose of him, to send him away never to be seen again. But could forgiveness be extended if their envy remained? If Joseph had tried to reunite with his brothers prematurely, they would have rejected him again. This was the reason he waited to see what was in their minds. He had to wait until they were ready for the reunion which he always had wanted. Therefore, when Judah showed evidence of his change of heart and of his repentance, Joseph could no longer refrain from making himself known and embracing them. What he had willed was, at last, a practical possibility. Without further hesitation or reserve, he frankly forgave them. “Do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5). The evil had been turned to good. The circumstances which had arisen as a result of the evil of the brothers actually had become the means whereby that evil could be broken.

It would not be correct to say that the men had been punished enough and now could be restored to friendship. Rather, we would say that through free repentance and an opportunity to change their lives, they had come into a new and receptive state of mind. As soon as this condition existed, Joseph embraced them.

The same thing is true of our relationship with the Lord. We separate ourselves from Him by our own self-will. In the consequences that follow, brought about by our choices, the Lord works to restore conjunction with us. It may appear that these consequences are punishments by the angry God. They are not. And the most remarkable thing is that the Lord is able to turn them to good. While He does not will that we suffer the consequences of our own folly and indeed weeps for us, it is through these consequences that He provides opportunities for us to change the very state that precipitated them.

We have said that people in ancient times regarded every calamity as a Divine punishment for their sin. While we may now understand that this was superstition on their part, we ourselves are not far from falling into superstitions of a similar kind. Often we falsely blame ourselves for things that happen. But it is not because of our secret sins that tragedy strikes. While it is true that we can harm ourselves and others by failing to carry out our responsibilities or by allowing self-love to blaze out of control, most of the things that happen in our life have no direct relation to our behavior, evil or good. An accident or illness is not God’s punishment for our evil. Nor is an unexpected benefit God’s reward for our good deeds. The punishment for evils is the consequence of disorder, just as the reward for good is the consequence of being in order. The Lord never wills punishment. Yet if we put ourselves outside of the laws of order, we are open to unhappiness, frustration, and harm. When we have thrown aside the protection of Divine order, the hells can attack and afflict us.

Then the Lord seeks but one thing our return to order. That is when His mercy burns with a desire, appealing to us in our fallen state, hopeful that we may be raised up again. No state of our life is beyond the reach of the Divine forgiveness. Nothing we can do as a sin against God will turn Him against us. If we make our bed in hell, He is even there.

What worse injustice and repudiation could there be than the Lord’s crucifixion? Yet at that very moment the Lord reaffirmed His inmost love: “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” He did not strike them dead with fire or lightning. He did not cause them to suffer disease or to go childless. He did not curse them with eternal damnation. Instead, He held out a hope for them all. And by His resurrection from the tomb on the third day, He used the death by which He had died to turn the hearts of many through the centuries to acknowledge and worship Him, our savior, Jesus Christ.

This supreme example of forgiveness should be the model for our life. Our love for others should be constant. Love for the neighbor is not to be withheld when the neighbor sins against us. The Lord taught, “Love your enemies.” We should not bear grudges or subtly punish those who offend us. We may not harbor hatred or desire revenge against those who wrong us. Again, the Lord has taught to forgive not just seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

But our mercy and love is to be exercised with wisdom and prudence, not indiscriminately. The doctrine of the church teaches that ” … genuine charity consists in acting prudently, and to the end that good may come thereby” (NJHD 100).

The Lord has given the example that we should live according to the spirit of the Divine law.

The beauty of forgiveness is to be found in many accounts of Scripture. We remember the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), the Lord’s forgiveness of the woman who washed His feet with her tears (Luke 7:44), and His admonition to forgive our brothers up to seventy times seven. This is the true spirit of the Divine love. It is the spirit of love we should seek to cultivate that we may become the image and likeness of our God. Amen.

 


Lessons: Gen. 45:1-8, 12-15; Luke 7:36-47, 50; AC 9443-9452

Arcana Coelestia 9443-9452

The forgiveness of sins shall now be spoken of. The sins done by a man are rooted in his very life, and make it; and therefore no one is liberated from them unless he receives new life from the Lord, which is effected by means of regeneration.

The Lord continually flows into man with the good of love and the truths of faith; but these are variously received, being received in one way by one person and in a different way by another; by those who have been regenerated they are received well, but by those who do not suffer themselves to be regenerated they are received ill.

Those who have been regenerated are continually kept by the Lord in the good of faith and of love, and are then withheld from evils and falsities. And those who do not suffer themselves to be regenerated by the Lord are also withheld from evil and kept in good, for good and truth continually flow in from the Lord with every man; but the infernal loves in which they are, namely, the loves of self and of the world, stand in the way, and turn the influx of good into evil, and that of truth into falsity.

From all this it is evident what the forgiveness of sins is. To be able to be kept by the Lord in the good of love and the truths of faith, and to be withheld from evils and falsities, is the forgiveness of sins. And to shun evil and falsity, and to feel aversion for them, is then repentance. But these are possible only with those who, through regeneration, have received new life from the Lord, because these things belong to the new life.

The signs that sins have been forgiven are the following: Delight is felt in worshiping God for the sake of God, in being of service to the neighbor for the sake of the neighbor, thus in doing good for the sake of good, and in believing truth for the sake of truth. There is an unwillingness to merit by anything that belongs to charity and faith. Evils, such as enmities, hatreds, revenges, unmercifulness, adulteries in a word, all things that are against God and against the neighbor are shunned and are held in aversion.

But the signs that sins have not been forgiven are the following: God is not worshiped for the sake of God, and the neighbor is not served for the sake of the neighbor; thus good is not done and truth is not spoken for the sake of good and truth, but for the sake of self and the world. There is a desire to merit by our deeds; others are despised in comparison with ourselves; delight is felt in evils, such as enmities, hatred, revenge, cruelty, adulteries; and the holy things of the church are held in contempt, and are at heart denied.

The Lord regenerates a man from Divine mercy. This is done from his infancy down to the last of his life in the world, and afterward to eternity. Thus it is from Divine mercy that the Lord withdraws a man from evils and falsities, and leads him to the truths of faith and goods of love, and afterward keeps him in these. And after this, in Divine mercy He raises him to Himself in heaven and makes him happy. All this is what is meant by the forgiveness of sins from mercy.

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE NEW CHURCH

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE NEW CHURCH

A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn September 18, 1994

 

“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain … ” (John 15:16).

The Lord spoke these words to His disciples. It was the night of His betrayal. As He sat with the eleven disciples, Judas Iscariot having gone out, He prepared them for the end. He also taught them what they must do to establish His church. He had chosen them for this vital work.

Our doctrine speaks of the Lord’s church in two types: the “universal” church and the “specific” church. In the broadest sense the Lord’s church is one, and is spread throughout the world. This church is not a chosen or elect group. It is a universal church composed of all the well-intentioned and sincere people of the world of whatever faith or creed, even gentile peoples ignorant of Christianity. “The church in the whole world is before the Lord as one man” (AE 351:2). All in this universal church may know the joy of conjunction with the Lord in heaven. “The mercy of the Lord is infinite, and does not suffer itself to be limited to those few who are within the church, but extends itself to all in the whole world” (AC 1032).

That this universal church may have its life, however, there must also be a specific church. The specific church, sometimes called in doctrine the “church specific,” constitutes the inmost part of the universal church, being compared to the heart and lungs within the body which are so vital to its life. The specific church may also be thought of as a hook at the top of a chain of links by which the universal church is connected to heaven and the Lord. Were it not for this specific church, the chain of all good people who are now upheld by it would fall away. The specific church may consist of comparatively few, we are told, yet still perform this vital function for the rest.

But where is the specific church upon which the life of so many depends? What distinguishes it and gives it its essential quality?

We are told that the specific church is that church which has the Word of God and a true understanding of God by means of it. The Word of God, rightly understood, is the link of conjunction between heaven and earth. This is the teaching: “There cannot be any conjunction with heaven unless somewhere on the earth there is a church where the Word is, and by it the Lord is known … without the Word somewhere in the world there would not be conjunction with anyone” (De Verbo 40). This conjunction takes place not with a book on the shelf but in the minds of people who have read and understood, and who have obeyed.

In the course of history, the torch of Divine light has been passed from one church to another, each having its time and place in keeping the flame alive in people’s minds and hearts. For a time, the Word of the Old Testament was the special treasure of the Hebrew or Israelitish people, and later of the Jews in Canaan. It was Jesus who told the woman of Samaria that “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22), for until the advent of Christ, the Jewish Church was the specific church on earth on which the religious life of the world depended. Yet He predicted a new church. True light from the Word of the Old Testament was being extinguished by the false traditions of men. Jesus Himself had come into the world to renew and restore the true understanding of the Scriptures and so again give light to all in the earth. As the prophet had declared: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light … ” (Isaiah 9:2).

So it was that the Lord appointed His disciples to carry the Gospel to the world. “You are the light of the world …,” He said. The Christian Church became the torchbearer to the world. For centuries Christians who read the Scriptures and thereby knew the Lord God were the link to heaven for all people of good will on earth.

However, just as the torch passed from the Jewish to the Christian Church, so now the torch has passed from the Christian to the New Church. The genuine understanding of the Word in Christendom has perished, destroyed by doctrinal fallacies conceived by men and confirmed in church councils. Therefore, in our era it has pleased the Lord to reveal Himself again in His Word so that the light of truth, almost extinguished in the world, may be restored.

The New Church has been established by a revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word and of the Heavenly Doctrine. In this revelation the Lord no longer speaks in parables but teaches plainly of the Father. By this revelation it is permitted to enter into the mysteries of faith with the understanding. By virtue of this Divine gift as great a gift from God as the commandments from Mount Sinai engraved on tables of stone, as great a gift as the incarnation of Jesus Christ, whose teachings in the Gospels have inspired so many the New Church has been chosen and appointed the next specific church, the vital heart and lungs of the universal church.

A new and genuine understanding of the Word of God has been entrusted to this church. God is made known and can be loved. Even while this church is yet among comparatively few on earth, still, by virtue of the doctrine it has been given, it is the hope of the whole world.

It may seem a bold and conceited claim that the New Church is the only church now in possession of the key to a genuine understanding of the Word of God that it is therefore the link between heaven and the church upon which the spiritual life of the entire world depends. This, however, is not a matter for conceit but for humility. It is not a claim of authority but an assignment of responsibility. It is the Lord’s doing. As He said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you … ” (John 15:16).

The New Church has been chosen as the specific church to carry the torch of spiritual light for the whole world just as the Jewish and Christian Churches were chosen in past eras. Therefore it has unique and special responsibilities. As members of this church, you have been called as disciples of the Lord with a sacred trust.

Often I hear people in the New Church express a longing to serve their neighbors outside of the church. What a praiseworthy desire! Usually this longing is expressed in a context of social good works. There are so many worthy causes to support in the world today. And we are so few. Perhaps what people often fail to realize is that the function and responsibility of the specific church especially is to serve the neighbor outside, to serve the cause of spiritual life for the whole world.

You want to serve the broader neighbor? You have certainly been called or born into the right church. What you can do as a New Church person can have a more profound effect on the welfare of your neighbors in the world than anything else. You can be the instrument of bringing light and life from the Lord to people in a way that no one else in the world can do. We are not talking here of the individual contact you may have with people outside of the church who may be directly influenced by the ideas you convey to them or by the example of your way of life. The effect of the specific church is broader and far-reaching. What you do as a New Church person to bring your life into conjunction with the heavens has an effect on people you do not know and may never meet. For the touchstone of conjunction in your mind and heart is an avenue for influx from the heavens to countless others. You, with your efforts, are creating a link between heaven and earth. And if we in the New Church do not serve this function, there is no one else who can: not among the millions of Jews or Christians or Muslims, or among the countless people of Oriental or Indian religions.

Here are a few suggestions about our unique and distinctive responsibilities as a church:

 

We are a sacred repository and a holy of holies guarding, preserving, treasuring the Word which we have received as the sole medium of conjunction between heaven and earth.

 

The exposition of the spiritual sense of the Word and the study of doctrine drawn therefrom should be our continuing love, because this provides the foundation on which the heavens rest and by which there is spiritual communication to the minds and hearts of all well-intentioned people.

 

There are many intellectual forces at work today, undermining reverence for the Word of God, indeed, for any supernatural authority. When the skeptical sphere of the world destroys all possibility of a simple faith in the holiness of the Word, who will be left to read it with the kind of reverence which alone makes it effective as a means of conjunction between heaven and earth? Only people in a church with the rational and spiritual truths to stave off skepticism and negativism, and to restore to its exalted place of honor the written Word of God.

The Writings reveal that when the Word is being read by a person who “loves the Word and lives in charity, or by a person who from simplicity of heart believes what is written, … it is presented by the Lord before the angels in such beauty and in such pleasantness … that every particular is perceived as if it had life … Although in the letter it appears crude, there are stored up in it spiritual and celestial things which lie open before good spirits, and before angels, when the Word is being read by man” (AC 1767).

So essential to the heavens is this foundation of thought which comes from people reading the Word on earth that the Word is called “the support of heaven” (AE 816).

As the Lord, now revealed in His Divinely Human form, is to be acknowledged in the New Church, so we should make every effort to hold our minds on the thought of His close presence and in the acknowledgment of His supreme power and mercy.

We must beware of intellectualism. Just as light is impermanent, easily becoming extinguished and darkened, so the mere possession of the Word and mere knowledge of its doctrine is impermanent. Truths can be fixed and engraved on the heart only by a life according to doctrine. So the Writings warn us that a church is not called a church “from the fact that the Word is there and that there are doctrinal things therefrom, nor from the fact that the Lord is known there, and that the sacraments are there; but it is the church from the fact that people live according to the Word … so that the doctrine is the rule of life” (AC 6637).

The specific church cannot fulfill its function as a heart and lungs to the body of the universal church without exercising its responsibility to know truths and to practice living them. Think of these two organs in the body. They are in constant motion. This is the example for our spiritual activity in the church. We need to be inspired, “breathed into,” time and again, with spiritual ideas and principles. This requires instruction. Whether we go to the Word directly or involve ourselves in worship or discussion, thought, reflection and formulating ideas drawn from the Word is an essential part of our religious life and of our service to the neighbor. While it is true that the angels delight in their understanding of the spiritual sense of the Word while it is read in its natural sense by children (see AC 1776), there is an even greater clarity and communication when people on earth read with a true understanding. We are told that interpreting the spiritual sense of the Word from truths of doctrine “opens heaven,” the man then thinking together with angels, and he “thus conjoins them to himself in his intellectual mind” (De Verbo 20). ” … [C]onjunction is effected … ” we are told, “when man perceives the Word in a similar way as the angels perceive it” (AE 950:2). ” … [T]o the man of this church, internal things have been revealed, and therefore communication with heaven is effected by means of internal things and not by means of external things as before” (AC 8972:2).

If the lungs are in constant motion, representing the necessary activity of the intellectual mind to think, the heart beats even more often, regularly feeding the body with new life. The church specific, described by heart and lungs in the body, has a need for both intellectual life and the life of charity. The “heart” in the church specific is that life of charity which gives us conjunction with celestial angels, angels of love (AE 351). Often, we neglect this heart aspect of our role as church specific. The Lord sees the whole church before Him as one man, we are told. “In this man, the church where the Word is and where the Lord is known thereby is like the heart and the lungs; with those who are in celestial love the church is like the heart, and with those who are in spiritual love like the lungs; consequently, as all the members, viscera, and organs of the body live from the heart and from the lungs, and from their influx and consequent presence, so all in the whole earth who constitute the church universal live from the church where the Word is; for the Lord flows in therefrom with love and with light, and vivifies and enlightens all who are in any spiritual affection for truth, wherever they are” (AE 351). Both the heart and the lungs are needed for the body to live. Both light and love are needed for the spirit.

Are we responding adequately to the Lord’s call and appointment to the uses of the specific church? Let us pray that we may fulfill the responsibilities of the Lord’s appointment and that He will grant us light to see those essential uses which, above all others, must be our first love and primary duty.

The Lord’s voice is calling, asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Are we ready to answer in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8)? Amen.

 


Lessons: Isaiah 6:1-8; Matt. 5:13-16; AC 10452:2-4

Arcana Coelestia 10452:2-4

They who do not know the nature of the Word cannot possibly believe that by means of it there is a conjunction of the Lord with the human race, and of heaven with the world; and still less they who despise the Word, or make no account of it. But let them know that the heavens subsist by means of Divine truth, and that without it there would be no heavens, and that the human race subsists by means of heaven; for unless heaven flowed in with man, man would not be able to think at all, thus not to will anything rationally. In order therefore that heaven may subsist, and the human race by conjunction with it, the Word has been provided by the Lord wherein is Divine truth for angels and for men, the Word in its spiritual and celestial sense being of such a nature as to contain within it angelic wisdom itself in so surpassing a degree that it is scarcely possible for a man to form any conception of its excellence, although in the letter it appears very simple and unpolished.

From this it is evident that heaven is in its wisdom from the Word when it is being read by man, and then at the same time the man is in conjunction with heaven. To this end has such a Word been given to man. From this it follows that if this medium of conjunction were not in the world, conjunction with heaven would perish, and with this conjunction all good of the will and all truth of the understanding in man, and with these that very humanity which consociates man with man; consequently evil and falsity would be in full possession, whereby one society would perish after another. For it would be as when a man walks in thick darkness and stumbles wherever he goes; and it would be as when the head is in a delirium, in consequence of which the body is carried madly and insanely even to its destruction; and it would be as when the heart fails, causing the organs and members to cease to perform their uses, until the whole body dies.

Such would be the state of man unless heaven were conjoined with him, and heaven would not be conjoined with him unless there were the Word, or unless Divine truth were communicated immediately through angels, as in ancient times … From all this it can be seen what is the use of the Word; but few will believe that the Word is of such a nature and of so great a use.

THE SECOND COMING

THE SECOND COMING

A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn June 12, 1994

 

“Behold, He comes with clouds, and every eye shall see Him …” (Rev. 1:7).

It is the faith of the New Church that the Lord has made His second coming. In this sermon we will examine what constitutes the second coming and how we can be deeply affected by it.

Throughout the eras of history to the present day, God has made Himself known. In His first coming He “bowed the heavens and came down,” taking on a body from Mary, the mother. He did this so that we could know and love Him, so we could invite Him to be a living force in our lives. And for some this was so. When He spoke to those who loved Him and believed that He spoke the words of eternal life, their hearts burned within them. They were willing to follow Him to the death. Any doubts about His Divine power and mercy were dispersed from their minds. Even Thomas, the doubting disciple, confessed Him at last, saying, “My Lord and my God!” And the Lord said, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Here is a test of faith. Through the centuries of the Christian era many who have not seen the Lord in the flesh have been led to believe in Him through His teachings and the power of His Holy Spirit. This belief sustained them through the hard times of their lives and blessed them in the good times. Such is the faith in the Lord that all people of good will seek.

In earlier ages God had revealed Himself through the prophets, speaking with a living voice; and in Most Ancient times, He had appeared as a loving Heavenly Father before the opened spiritual sight of an innocent race of ancient people. In those times, people had a spiritual awareness unknown today and a direct knowledge of the presence and power of their Heavenly Father.

What of today when such spiritual insight has been lost? The Lord has not forsaken us. He has come to us again. The Lord often spoke of His second coming. Once the disciples had asked, “When will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming?” He said ” … they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30).

Many Christians have waited for this sign, but in vain. The Lord was speaking in parables. He would not return to earth in person, descending in clouds from the sky. The doctrine of the New Church teaches otherwise, saying ” … that the Lord has come whenever the church has been vastated, not indeed in person, as when He assumed the human by birth and made it Divine, but by means of appearings, either manifest, as when He appeared to Abraham in Mamre, to Moses in the bush, to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai … or not so manifest, as by inspirations through which the Word was given, and afterwards through the Word…” (AC 4060:5, emphasis added).

The Lord’s second coming is by an opening of the spiritual sense of the Word. It is an interior coming to the human mind. The principle given to the New Church is that the Lord now manifests Himself through the Word and not elsewhere (see AE 36, 594:3). For the Word, which is Divine truth, “is the Lord Himself in heaven and in the church” (AE 594:3, emphasis added).

He reveals Himself to us ” … not … with a loud voice, but inwardly … This revelation is made by the enlightening of the internal sight, which is of the understanding,” we are told. But this happens only “when a person who is in the affection of truth from good is reading the Word … ” (AC 8780). There are two conditions: We must read the Word and have an affection for the truth. These are important conditions. True enlightenment comes from the reading of the Word but not always. The light of heaven shines into the minds of those only who seek truths from the Word from a love of good.

To understand how this is a coming of the Lord, we must know that the mind “sees” in the light of heaven just as the eye sees in the light of this world. “When the understanding is enlightened by that Divine light, it then perceives that to be true which is true, it acknowledges it inwardly in itself, and as it were sees it. Such,” we are told, “is the revelation of those who are in the affection of truth from good when they are reading the Word” (AC 8780:2). They see their God, know Him and love Him.

The “clouds” mentioned in the prophecies of the Lord’s second coming are not the clouds we see in this world. The literal sense of the Word, its surface meaning, is what is symbolized by the “clouds.” Many passages of Scripture confirm this. Some of the most significant events of Scriptural history occur in clouds: the setting of the rainbow in the cloud seen by Noah; the giving of the Ten Commandments in the midst of clouds on Mount Sinai; covering by the “bright cloud” at the transfiguration (Matt 17:5). “The Lord in this transfiguration caused Himself to be seen as the Word,” we are told (AR 24). Therefore, disciples saw Moses and Elijah talking with the Lord, representing the Law and the Prophets of Old Testament Scripture.

These moments of intense revelation are softened and partially obscured by the clouds. So, too, the Lord’s teachings are hidden in parables and dark sayings (Mark 4:12). Throughout Scripture, clouds correspond to truths adapted or accommodated to the human mind. Such teachings serve, like clouds, to catch the light of truth, but also to shield a tender understanding from direct exposure to truth’s innermost power. Just as a cloud can be a welcome relief from the glare of the noonday sun, so an idea adapted and communicated to our mind is more acceptable to us than the full force of the truth that lies at its source.

We can see this especially with children. They are not ready for abstractions. They learn from stories and living examples. So with us at any age. We grow gradually in our ability to grasp the meaning that lies hidden in the laws of life.

It may seem curious that the Lord would teach in such a way that many could not understand His meaning. Would He not speak so that all could hear and understand plainly? Because we are all in different degrees of readiness to know the truth, sometimes not receptive, at other times open to instruction, the Lord gave the Word in a form that could either hide or reveal His glory.

Swedenborg observed this appearance in the spiritual world and comments on it. “In the spiritual world there appear clouds as well as in the natural world; but the clouds in the spiritual world appear … with those who are in the sense of the letter of the Word, darker or brighter according to their understanding and reception of the Word; the reason is,” he says, “that the light of heaven there is the Divine truth, and darkness there is falsities; consequently `bright clouds’ are the Divine truth veiled in appearances of truth, such as the Word is in the letter with those who are in truths; and `dark clouds’ are the Divine truths covered with fallacies and confirmed appearances, such as the Word is in the letter with those who are in falsities. I have often seen those clouds,” he says (AR 24).

From this living appearance in the spiritual world Swedenborg learned that when clouds are mentioned in the Word they mean revelation in its outermost form within which is the spirit of truth called “the glory.” The “literal sense of the Word is a covering, lest its spiritual sense should be injured” (AR 24).

The Word is our most precious possession. It is God with us. Yet, even as many in Israel failed to see the Divinity of Jesus, thinking of Him only as “the carpenter’s son,” many fail to see God in Scripture, regarding the Biblical books as merely the product of human minds, a record of historical events or personal spiritual experiences. Such see only the “clouds” of the literal sense, dense clouds which mask the light of truth, yet there is a hidden “glory” to be seen by those whose minds are open to receive it.

Let us turn then to the Lord’s promise of His second coming. He said He would come “in the clouds” with power and great glory. The fact is that the Lord has made His promised second coming. He has done this by a revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word. He has revealed His presence in the Word, has shown us He is there to be seen and approached.

In the little work entitled An Invitation to the New Church Swedenborg writes that “the spiritual sense of the Word has been disclosed by the Lord through me, which has never before been revealed since the Word was written with the sons of Israel; and this sense is the very sanctuary of the Word; the Lord Himself is in this sense with His Divine, and in the natural sense with His Human.” And he adds: “Not a single iota in this sense can be opened except by the Lord alone.” He then concludes: This revelation “surpasses all revelations that have hitherto been made since the creation of the world” (Inv. 44). This indeed is “the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30).

Some believe that a person might be more enlightened in spiritual things by immediate contact with spirits and angels than by reading the Word. This is not the case. The reverse is true. The enlightenment by means of the Word is effected by an interior way, while enlightenment by immediate contact comes from without. The interior way is “through the will into the understanding,” we are told. “Man is enlightened through the Word by the Lord so far as his will is in good” (Verbo 29). When the Lord comes to a person through this interior way, He comes to the whole person, first to the will, and through it, to the understanding. Any other approach to the mind, through experience or instruction, is superficial and temporary. By contrast, the Lord’s coming is deeply personal and lasting. A beautiful teaching in the Heavenly Doctrine tells us: “The Lord is present with every man, urging and pressing to be received; and His first coming, which is called the dawn, is when man receives Him, which he does when he acknowledges Him as his God, Creator, Redeemer, and Savior. From this time man’s understanding begins to be enlightened in spiritual things, and to advance into a more and more interior wisdom … ” (TCR 766).

The people of the New Church are highly favored to receive this surpassing revelation, this miraculous opening up of the spiritual sense of the Word. Yet there is also a responsibility. We must seek for it from a love of truths, must make the light of spiritual truth our light, obey its teaching in ourselves, and teach it to others.

What does this mean to each one of us? It means that we can approach the Lord Himself in His Word. The power and glory of His Divine nature has been made visible. The Lord can speak to our hearts as we approach Him there.

But perhaps we feel like those spirits Swedenborg observed in the spiritual world who protested that they had read the Word but still did not understand it, and were not moved by it. The angels with them said, “You did not approach the Lord, and you have also confirmed yourselves in falsities” (AR 224). Not every mind is open to see the spiritual sense of the Word. We may see the clouds but not the glory. If our approach is not sincere, the Lord will hide Himself from our sight.

The fact is, “The spiritual sense of the Word is not given anyone except by the Lord alone, and it is guarded by Him as heaven is guarded, for heaven is in it” (SS 56).

The spiritual sense has been opened, but it is guarded from profanation and falsity. It will be imparted only to him who is in genuine truths from the Lord. No one can open that sense from himself, for apart from the Lord, heaven is closed, and the person sees nothing. We are also taught that “the spiritual sense will not be recognized for a long time … ” The reason is that so many in the world today are confirmed in falsities of doctrine, especially about the Lord. While these falsities remain, the truths of the Lord are not received.

The Lord has made His second coming. Who will receive Him? Those who acknowledge the Divine in the Lord’s Human and are in the spiritual affection of truth from Him, that is, those who “worship the Lord alone, and will hold His Word to be holy, [who] will love Divine truths, and will reject a faith that is separate from charity” (AE 759:2; DP 264:5). All these will receive spiritual light. They will see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

Herein is the prophecy of Daniel fulfilled: “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven … Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” ( Daniel 7:13,14). “The Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, whose kingdom shall be for ages of ages!” (TCR 791) Amen.

 


Lessons: Exodus 33:7-23; Mark 9:2-10; 5 Mem. 16 heading, 18,19; AC 2135a

Arcana Coelestia Preface to Chapter 18 (2135a)

2135a. When [the last time of the church] is at hand, the Lord says that He “will come in the clouds of the heavens, with power and glory” (Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27). Hitherto no one has known what is meant by the “clouds of the heavens.” But it has been disclosed to me that nothing else is meant than the literal sense of the Word; and by “power and glory” the internal sense of the Word, for in the internal sense of the Word there is glory, since whatever is there is concerning the Lord and His kingdom …

[2] Similar is the signification of the “cloud” which encompassed Peter, James, and John, when the Lord appeared to them in glory, of which it is said in Luke: “A voice came out of the cloud, saying, `This is My beloved Son; hear ye Him’; but when the voice had passed, Jesus was found alone” (9:35, 36), where by “Moses and Elias” who spake with the Lord was represented the Word of the Old Testament, which is also called “Moses and the Prophets” (by “Moses” his books together with the other historical books, and by “Elias” the prophet, all the books of the Prophets); but by “Peter, James, and John,” as in all other places where they are named in the books of the Evangelists, were represented faith, charity, and the good of charity. That they only were present signifies that no others can see the glory of the Lord which is in His Word than those who are in faith, in its charity, and in the good of charity. Others are indeed able to see, but still do not see, because they do not believe. This is the internal sense in regard to the foregoing two passages; and in various places in the Prophets also, a “cloud” signifies the Word in its letter, and “glory” the Word in its life.

LORD OF THE SABBATH

LORD OF THE SABBATH

A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn March 13, 1994

 

“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work … ” (Exodus 20:8-10).

So reads the Lord’s third commandment. Our purpose is to investigate what is meant by remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy in our lives.

Unlike other commandments against murder, adultery and theft, which are sustained by the civil laws of society, Sabbath observance is not compulsory for us as it was for the Jews. Traditionally, Sunday has been set apart in the Christian world as a day of worship rather than a working day. However, civil statutes and regulations, often called “blue laws,” instituted to protect the sanctity of the Sabbath have been abolished for the most part. Public worship of the Lord is now, perhaps more than ever, in competition with a great variety of other activities, both occupational and recreational. The plain fact is, many people regard Sunday as just another day off, feeling little or no obligation to attend church services or to reflect on spiritual things.

The teaching of the church is that the worship of the Lord should be by free choice rather than by compulsion (see HH 603). “Worship from freedom is pleasing to the Lord,” we are told, “but not worship from compulsion … ” (AC 9588). We believe this refers to adults capable of making a free and rational choice, not to children. Yet all, adults as well as children, should heed the Lord’s commandment. We cannot be compelled to worship against our will, but we can compel ourselves. True freedom is born of self-compulsion (see AC 1947). And the Lord has said: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”

It is not the purpose of this sermon to decry the state of the world or condemn those who appear to neglect Sabbath observance. We can feel smug about our hour at church and be little the better for it. As with all the commandments of the Decalogue, there is so much more for the New Churchman to learn about what is meant by keeping the Sabbath than its formal observance in public worship. What are the deeper implications of the third commandment?

The external statutes and obedience to them were effective only for the Jewish nation. They worshipped God by religious acts. By obedience to their sacrificial laws they served the world more than they could know until the Messiah came to reveal the deeper, weightier matters of Divine law.

We know that the strict observance of the Sabbath had been carried to extremes in the Lord’s time. Interpreters of the Law had added a proliferation of customs to its original intent. The legitimate forms of observance had been surrounded by man-made additions to the extent that the mercy and purpose of the Lord’s laws were obscured. The Lord came to open their meaning. His acts on the Sabbath, seemingly contrary to Scripture, actually were in accord with its spiritual intent and revealed His eternal laws.

The truth of the law of the Sabbath is simply this: that the Lord alone can save us by His teaching and His healing. This is the “work” of the Sabbath and He alone can do it. That is why we are taught that on this day we should do no work.

When the Lord came as the Son of Man into the world, He said He was “Lord also of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5). He could work the works of God on that day, teaching and healing. And what more appropriate day could there be for His Divine work of saving souls? So He said, ” … it is lawful to do good on the sabbath days” (Matt. 12:12).

We are taught that when the Lord came into the world, “that day became a day of instruction in Divine things … and of meditation on such things as relate to salvation and eternal life, as also a day of love toward the neighbor” (TCR 301). The particular rituals of the Jewish law were annulled, but the Lord in no way abolished the commandment that the Sabbath was to be remembered and kept holy (see AC 9394). Our need for this now is just as great as it was for the sons of Israel. And now we can know why.

The light of the spiritual sense of the Word opens up the deeper meaning of the Scriptural accounts of keeping the Sabbath. One such account is about the “manna” which the Lord gave to sustain the Israelites on their 40-year journey in the wilderness. According to the lesson which we read about this, they were to gather the manna each day, but not on the Sabbath day. This particular conceals an important spiritual reason. This is what we want to consider. First, however, some background about the whole story:

Manna was food. It sustained the people, yet they often tired of this heavenly food and longed for the “flesh and bread” they had left in the land of Egypt. While the manna was natural food, it was produced by correspondence, and signifies something deeper which sustains human life. As the Lord taught, “Man does not live by bread alone … ” so we know that natural benefits worldly possessions, prestige or power, the things of this world do not guarantee human satisfaction or happiness. The goods of natural life which bring pleasure and bodily sustenance can be shallow, even animal-like. People were created to rise above a purely natural existence, to attain spiritual goods of life that satisfy the spirit and bring lasting happiness. The manna signifies this good, called in the Heavenly Doctrine, “Christian good” (AC 8516) or the “good of charity.” Like the manna itself, good is a gift from God.

Hear this teaching concerning manna: “This bread signifies the good of charity that is begotten through the truth of faith. Before regeneration this good is quite unknown to man … For before regeneration a man believes that besides the delights of the love of self and of the world, which he calls good, there cannot be possible any good which is not from this source, or of such a nature” (AC 8462).

This is the reason the people, seeing the dew-like substance on the ground, said “Manna.” The word “manna” asks the question: “What is it?” This food was something entirely new to the people, just as the delights of heavenly love are new to us as long as we are in opposite delights.

“What is it?” we may ask when we hear of spiritual good. It is a gift from the Lord. Its delights and blessedness far exceed those of whatever worldly acquisitions and achievements we are able to attain on our own. There is no comparison between the two kinds of good and, we are told, the heavenly joy which accompanies spiritual good “infinitely transcends every other joy” (AC 8037). This recognition is a long time in coming.

Note that the Israelitish people were not allowed to gather more manna than they needed in any given day. If they attempted to store some, it not only spoiled but bred worms. Some tried this. Their disobedience illustrates our unregenerate state of life. We have a lack of trust. Gathering too much pictures our doubt that the Lord can provide us with lasting happiness, or that obeying spiritual laws which run counter to our natural inclinations will bring reward.

The truth is otherwise. We are taught that “they who trust in the Lord continually receive good from Him” even if what happens to them appears not prosperous, because it leads as a means to their eternal happiness. On the other hand, “they who trust in themselves are continually drawing evil upon themselves” whatever happens, because it leads as a means to their eternal unhappiness (AC 8480:3).

The Scriptural account of the manna reveals a spiritual training program for achieving trust in the Lord. The sons of Israel had no choice. They were forced to depend on the Lord for their “daily bread.” In fact, we too depend on the Lord for our daily bread, not only natural but spiritual as well. The difference between us and the sons of Israel is that we are free to pray for it, understand what it is, and seek it willingly while they were not.

We do not regenerate suddenly. Unregenerate states of life “cling to the man very firmly,” we are told (AC 8403:3). So the battle continues through a lifetime. Just as the Israelites often complained of their diet of manna and lusted for the flesh and bread of Egypt, so we often revert to a desire for our hereditary delights, then accounting heavenly delights “dry and tasteless” or as nothing.

But what of the part of the account that speaks of the Sabbath? The Israelites were allowed to gather manna each day for their immediate use. The sixth day, however, was an exception to the rule. On the sixth day, the people were to gather enough for that day and the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the day of rest, and the Israelites were forbidden to gather anything.

This special regulation shows that salvation is of the Lord alone. The Sabbath signifies a state of peace or rest that comes after labor. Just so, following the six days of creation, “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which He had done” (Genesis 2:3).

To labor signifies our part in the spiritual battle of regeneration. To labor stands for the effort we must make to compel ourselves to obey. We struggle to learn and apply the Lord’s truths to our lives. In doing so we often feel deprived of joy, or feel that some delight of our life is jeopardized because evil must be shunned. It is then we “loathe” or reject the bread of heaven which the Lord has sent down to sustain us. This is a preparation for the important state that follows.

The Sabbath ends the strife. For a brief time of peace, the fight is over. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall not do any work … ” (Exodus 20:9,10).

Spiritual progress comes when we rest! It comes when, at last, we put to rest those ambitions for self or the world that stand in the Lord’s way. On this Sabbath day of no work, we have respite from the struggle to do the right thing. At least in some small aspect of our life the Lord gives us heavenly peace. No longer do we lead ourselves to good by truth; we are led by the Lord through good. In the Heavenly Doctrine, this is described as a state of the conjunction of good and truth. “When a man is in this conjunction,” we are told, “he acts from good, and no longer from truth” (AC 8516).

Conjunction is a marriage. When marriage occurs, new life can be born. The conjunction signified here by the Sabbath day, when no one was allowed to work, generates a Divine birth, what the doctrine calls the birth of Christian good.

It is significant that the verse immediately following the Sabbath statute describes the taste of the manna “like wafers made with honey” (Exodus 16:31). So the spiritual food for our soul is sweet and good when we have learned to accept it from the Lord. It is delightful. The coarse and selfish delights of our former life are put aside, making way for this new birth. In this new state are loves deeply responsive to good from the Lord and acutely conscious of the joy of regenerate delights from first to last. No longer do we have to ask, “What is it?” The good of love will be familiar, a lasting blessing.

We keep the Sabbath holy when at any time, in any situation, we act from the Lord’s will instead of from our own. In essence, what is taught about the Sabbath has no relation to a day or to any time, but to a state of mind. To remember the Sabbath day is to acknowledge the goodness of the Lord, to recognize that the Lord alone is the source of all that is good and to trust that He is the way, the truth, and the life.

You see, the origin of all evil was to confirm in ourselves the appearance of self-life, the false appearance that life is our own. The remedy for evil must be the opposite: to acknowledge that life is not our own but the Lord’s gift to us. This is the inner message of the Sabbath day and the reason to keep it holy. We should value the remembrance of the Sabbath.

The true Sabbath is a spiritual state of peace. It is found in those fleeting but comforting moments when our confidence in the Lord is affirmed. For ” … peace has in it confidence in the Lord,” we are told, “that He directs all things, and provides all things, and that He leads to a good end.” And, wonderful to say, “When a man is in this faith, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing, and no anxiety about things to come disquiets him” (AC 8455). It is noteworthy that self-confidence is what takes away this state of peace.

Although there is an inner meaning to the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, it is important while in this world to remember the Sabbath in external as well as internal worship, and this for the following reasons: first, “by external worship internal things are excited”; second, ” … by means of external worship external things are kept in holiness, so that internal things can flow in”; third, ” … man is thus imbued with knowledges, and is prepared for receiving celestial things”; and fourth, he ” … is also gifted with states of holiness, although he is unaware of this, which states of holiness are preserved to him by the Lord for the use of eternal life” (AC 1618).

We cannot lightly dismiss the human need for regular opportunities to worship the Lord. The Heavenly Doctrine teaches that there are certain “signs of charity” pertaining to worship expressive of our internal charity. These include attending services of worship, partaking of the Holy Supper, praying privately as well as joining in public prayer, holding conversation about spiritual things with others, and reading the Word along with other books of instruction and piety. Further signs include thought and meditation concerning spiritual things, self-examination, aversion of the mind from impious, obscene and filthy language, and the discipline of our natural affections (see Char. 174-175). All of these external signs support internal worship.

The worship of the Lord and the external observance of the Sabbath day should be a regular part of our life in the church. We should respond in the spirit of the psalmist when invited to participate in the worship of the Lord: Can we say, as he did, “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go into the house of the Lord'” (Psalm 122:1)? “I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy … ” (Psalm 5:7). “Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2). Amen.

 


Lessons: Exodus 16:11-17, 22-31; Mark 2:23-3:5; AC 8516

Arcana Coelestia 8516

It was shown above that as by “the Sabbath” was signified the conjunction of good and truth, therefore by “the manna not being found on the seventh day” is signified that when a man is in this conjunction he acts from good and no longer from truth, and also that he must not act from truth any longer (n. 8510).

But as this appears a paradox, it may be further unfolded in a few words. Everyone ought to be led to Christian good, which is called “charity,” through the truth of faith, for the truth of faith will teach not only what charity is, but also what its nature must be; and unless he learns this first from the doctrine of his church (for he cannot possibly know it from himself), he cannot be prepared and thus adapted to receive this good. For example: he must know from the doctrine of faith that it is not of charity to do what is good for the sake of self, or for the sake of recompense, thus not to merit salvation through works of charity; he must also know that all the good of charity is from the Lord and nothing at all from self; besides many other things which instruct what charity is and what its quality must be. From these considerations it can be seen that a man cannot be led to Christian good except through the truths which are of faith. A man must know further that truths do not of themselves enter into good, but that good adopts truths and adjoins them to itself; for the truths of faith lie in the memory of a man as in a field extended beneath the interior sight. Good from the Lord flows in through this sight, and chooses from them, and conjoins with itself, the truths which are in agreement with it …

From all this it can now be known how Christian good is born with a man when he is being regenerated, and therefore also what must be the quality of the man when he has been regenerated, namely, that he acts from good but not from truth; that is, that he is led of the Lord by means of good and no longer by means of truth; for he is then in charity, that is, in the affection of doing this good. All who are in heaven are so led, for this is according to Divine order; and thus all things which they think and act flow as it were spontaneously and from freedom. It would be quite different if they were to think from truth and to act from it; for then they would think whether a thing ought to be so done or not, and they would thus come to a stand-still in every detail, and thereby would obscure the light they have, and finally they would act according to those things which they themselves love, thus according to influx from those things which favor their loves, which is to be led by themselves and not by the Lord.