A Sermon by Rev Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn AthynOctober 1, 1995


“Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:4).

Solomon, the wisest king of Israel, prayed for wisdom: “I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in” (I Kings 3:7). When the prophet Jeremiah was called, he said, “I cannot speak, for I am a child” (Jer. 1: 6). Gideon, the judge, also doubted his ability to save Israel: ” . . . how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15).

The true heroes in Israel were humble men. The Lord chose them for greatness because they acknowledged their weakness. If they became arrogant they could not serve. So, in the days of Saul the King, the Lord sent Samuel to rebuke him: “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? . . . . you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel” (I Sam. 24:17, 26). Even the great Moses lost his chance to enter Canaan at the head of the tribes because he neglected to attribute to the Lord credit for the miracle of bringing water from the rock.

The Lord has stressed the importance of humility time and again in the Word. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” He taught (Matt. 5:3). “Whoever exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Matt. 23:12). “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

We need to consider the Lord’s teachings about humility. It seems demeaning that He wants us to humble ourselves, to put ourselves down, to acknowledge that from ourselves there is nothing but evil and falsity. The Writings even speak of the need for the “annihilation” and “loathing” of self that the Divine may flow in (AC 3994). This brings to mind the picture of Israelites groveling in the dust before their God, putting ashes on their heads and sackcloth on their bodies. Is this the kind of humility and contrition the Lord demands of us? In the Psalms we read that “the Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18). “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

But we live in a culture uncomfortable with humility. Outward signs of humility are embarrassing to us. In our democratic society we are raised to be free and equal, self-reliant and proud. Today, a sense of humility might even be seen as damaging to our self-esteem. Certainly, no one wishes to be publicly humiliated. Winners can afford to be humble after the victory, but competition requires aggressive self-confidence. How do we reconcile this? How do we reconcile the life style we live with the Lord’s teachings about humility?

First, let us see what the doctrine teaches. The essential truth is that all good is from the Lord. There is nothing in a person that is good except what he receives from the Lord. This may be considered to be one of the “hard sayings” of the New Church. People have difficulty with this. The appearance is that there are many good and useful people in the world. While violent crimes and hidden plots increasingly blight society today, still, aren’t most people we know generous, kind, and willing to serve? And what about you? You are aware of your motives and tendencies better than anyone, but do you rate yourself as an evil person? Probably not. And therefore what happens to your self-image as you are told over and over that your loves are selfish, your motives self-serving; your ideas false, and that you can’t trust your feelings? This is a powerful attack on your spirit. Some would question whether it is healthy to think this way. Extremists might even call it spiritual abuse. Yet it seems that the Lord teaches we must think this way; indeed, it is the only way to regain the loss of spiritual health.

Hear what the Writings teach: “The secret of this cannot be opened unless it be known that none is good save God alone,” we are told, “and that there is no good which in itself is good save from God. Therefore . . . he who turns away from God and wills to be led by himself is not in good; for the good which he does is done either for the sake of himself or for the sake of the world, and so is meritorious or simulated or hypocritical” (CL 444:4). Again, we are told: “He who is of elated mind is in the love of self, and not only sets himself above others but also cares nothing for the Divine, and consequently rejects the influx of good, and thence its conjunction with truths. This is the genuine reason for man’s humiliation before the Divine” (AC 4347:2). “Man cannot be in humiliation, nor consequently can he receive the Lord’s mercy (for this flows in only in humiliation or into a humble heart), unless he acknowledges that there is nothing but evil from himself, and that all good is from the Lord” (AC 5758). Finally, this: “To be spiritually poor and yet to be rich is to acknowledge in heart that one has no knowledge nor understanding nor wisdom from himself, but that he knows, understands, and is wise wholly from the Lord” (AE 118).

These passages from the Heavenly Doctrine confirm the fact that life flows in. We only receive it. We are vessels.

We have been fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator. He has made us in His likeness; that is, like Him in feeling alive with self-determination. We have been created with the appearance of self-life. This strong appearance was intended by the Lord so that we could have a sense of selfhood. Yet the truth is that the life that seems to be ours is not. We feel it as our own, but must know and acknowledge that it is from the Lord. We are capable of knowing the truth in spite of the appearance. This capability belongs only to mankind as we see in the following teaching: “To think from truth is the human and consequently the angelic principle itself; and it is a truth that man does not think from himself, but that it is granted him by the Lord to think, to all appearance, as from himself” (DP 321:5).

The arrogance and pride of ignoring this truth has brought down the human race. The origin of all evil, the fall of man, is simply this: to confirm in ourselves the appearance of self-life.

What does this mean? It means we have taken that God-given feeling of life within us and have come to believe that it is actually ours. This “fall” is described by the seduction of the serpent and by Adam and Eve’s eating of the fruit of the tree in Eden. “This origin of evil was not (primitively) in Adam and his wife,”we are told, “but they made the origin of evil in themselves, and this because, when the serpent said, In the day that ye eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ye shall be as God’ (Gen. 3:5), they turned away from God and turned to themselves as God. To eat of that tree signified to believe that one knows good and evil and is wise from himself and not from God” (CL 444:4). This is the reason for the strong appearance that people are good in themselves and wise in the ways of the world.

Swedenborg once confronted spirits who were confident in their own prudence. When they argued that it was absurd to believe people had no life of their own, he answered to the contrary that “it is absurd and insane to believe that man has life from himself, and that wisdom and prudence do not flow in from God but are in man, consequently also the good that belongs to charity and the truth that belongs to faith. To attribute these to oneself is called insanity by every wise man, and thus it is absurd. Moreover, persons doing so are like those who occupy the house and property of another, and being in possession persuade themselves that these are their own; or they are like stewards and estate managers who believe all their master’s property to be their own; or like serving men to whom their master gave large and small sums to trade with, but who rendered no account of them and kept them as their own, and so acted as thieves” (DP 309).

We have dwelt on this matter of the “ownership” of life because it is the key to understanding the importance of humility and why it is so necessary for us to “walk humbly” with our God.

But what should this relationship with the Lord be like? It appears, especially in Old Testament teachings, that Jehovah God demands the submission of His people even glories in their adoration and worship. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the following teaching explains: “The Lord does indeed demand humiliation, adoration, thanksgivings,” we are told, ” . . . but not . . . for His own sake, for the Divine has no glory in humiliation, adoration, and thanksgiving , . . . but they are for the sake of the man himself . . . because when he is in this state the Lord can flow in with heavenly good” (AC 5957:2, 4347:2).

What the Lord requires today can be distinguished from what He required of Israel. The elaborate rituals of the Israelitish nation have been abrogated. The Lord no longer requires of us the many forms of ritualistic worship which He imposed on the Jews. All of this was an external enactment of what should be an internal attitude. We know now that worship is to be twofold: internal as well as external. The external of worship relates to matters of piety and practice. People of an external disposition, and this would include children, are led to attitudes of humility before the Lord by the practice of sacred rites. Such persons believe that they are acting against their conscience if they do not sacredly observe external rites (see AC 1098). The internal of worship relates to charity. The Lord taught this distinction even when He was in the world. To the Pharisees He said, “You pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin,” that is, in strict obedience to the Levitical statutes, “and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23), important aspects of a charitable life. These latter, He said, ought to be done; and the external observances should also be done.

So too in the New Church. We are instructed to live the life of charity, obeying from conscience the internal laws of life which the Lord has revealed, but not neglecting appropriate forms of external worship either. “The man of the internal church makes the worship of the Lord from charity, thus internal worship, essential,” we are told, “and external worship not so essential” (AC 1098).

It is not simply in matters of piety or religious practice that we can approach the Lord in humility of spirit. However, it is important to do this too because we are in the natural world and much caught up in the requirements and spheres of this world. In the flow of our daily obligations it is easy to forget the Lord and spiritual things. It is easy for us to live content in the appearance of self-life, acting with prudence according to our own thinking and according to our natural loves. One of the values external forms of worship have is that these regular rituals remind us of the truth that our life is from the Lord that we owe all glory to Him, that of ourselves we can do nothing that is good. There is no minimum standard set by the Lord for external worship in the New Church. We are, however, reminded that daily prayer and reading, regular attendance at worship services, and partaking of the Holy Supper at appropriate intervals offer opportunities to walk humbly with our God.

Without times of reflection and the interruption of our natural thoughts by higher spiritual thoughts, the human proprium turns in on itself, its ambitions clouding over all thought of the Lord. Sometimes, the only way such a mind can be penetrated is through a life crisis “as when,” the Writings say, “in misfortune, distress, and sickness, the things that belong to the external or natural man are merely lulled. The person forthwith begins to think piously and to will what is good, and also to practice works of piety insofar as he is able; but when the state is changed, there is a change also in all this” (AC 3147:2, 2041:3). It is said that when these external or natural loves are lulled, a person can sense something of heavenly light and its comfort, but only during this state. Later, such relapse into their former life.

What is of greater significance to our spiritual life than the pious observances or states of natural temptation that we have mentioned is our efforts to live internally, that is with a conscience of charity. Here is how the New Church person can truly humble himself before the Lord. By turning to the Lord for direction in all things of life and by submitting yourself to His leading, you open the way for His life to inflow. The Lord has promised: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). Little by little, year by year, our humility before the Lord deepens and our life is refreshed.

The following teaching summarizes the relationship and importance of internal and external humility. “With the man of the church,” we are told, “there must be the life of piety, and there must be the life of charity; they must be joined together. The life of piety without the life of charity is profitable for nothing; but the former together with the latter is profitable for all things” (AC 8252). What this means is further revealed. “By worship according to the order of heaven is meant all practicing of good according to the Lord’s precepts. By the worship of God at this day is chiefly meant the oral worship in a temple, both morning and evening. But the worship of God does not consist essentially in this but in a life of uses . . . for this worship is of the heart; and oral worship, that it may be worship, must proceed from this” (AC 7884). “In a word, to do according to the precepts of the Lord is truly to worship Him . . . ” (AC 10143:5).


Earlier we asked how today’s lifestyle could be reconciled with the Lord’s teachings about humility. In many respects they are incompatible. Still, the Lord has given each of us the ability to think from truth. By this we may be reconciled. For it is a truth that we do not think from ourselves, but to all appearance as if from self. If we acknowledge this from the heart by living a life according to the Lord’s precepts, the way is opened by which we can walk humbly with our God. The disciples asked the Lord, ” Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?'” “Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven'” (Matt. 18:2-4). Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 86:1-13; Matt. 18:1-10; CL 444:4, 5


Conjugial Love 444:4

After I had spoken, the two angels asked: “How could evil come into existence when by creation nothing but good existed? If a thing is to exist, it must have an origin. Good could not be the origin of evil, for evil is the privation and destruction of good and therefore its nullity. Yet, since it is and is sensated, it is not nothing but something. Tell us, then, whence this something had its existence after being nothing.” To this I replied: “The secret of this cannot be opened unless it be known that none is good save God alone, and that there is no good which in itself is good save from God. Therefore, he who looks to God and wills to be led by God is in good; but he who turns away from God and wills to be led by himself is not in good; for the good which he does is done either for the sake of himself or for the sake of the world, and so is meritorious or simulated or hypocritical. It is clear, therefore, that man himself is the origin of evil; not that this origin was planted in man from creation but, by turning away from God, he planted it in himself. This origin of evil was not (primitively) in Adam and his wife; but they made the origin of evil in themselves, and this because when the serpent said, In the day that ye eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ye shall be as God (Gen. 3:5), they turned away from God and turned to themselves as God. To eat of that tree signified to believe that one knows good and evil and is wise from himself and not from God.” [The angels asked,] “Why did God permit this?” I replied: “Man was so created that everything which he wills, thinks, and does appears to him as if in himself and thus from himself. Without this appearance, man would not be a man for he could not receive, retain, and, as it were, appropriate to himself anything of good and truth or of love and wisdom. From this it follows that without this appearance a living appearance, as it were man would have no conjunction with God, nor any eternal life therefrom. But if from this appearance he induces on himself the belief that he wills, thinks, and hence does good from himself and not from the Lord, though in all appearance as from himself, he then turns good with him into evil, and thus makes in himself the origin of evil.

This was Adam’s sin.



A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn September 17, 1995


“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him … I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,’ says the Lord, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty'” (Rev. 1:7, 8).

This text is from the first chapter of the book of Revelation, John’s prophecy of the coming of the Lord. It is also symbolized by the high altar in the cathedral sanctuary. The open Word of the Lord rests atop this altar. Symbolic clouds are below it, through which stream rays of light as though from the open Word. The Lord called Himself “the Alpha and the Omega,” letters which are at the beginning and end of the Greek alphabet, to express the concept of His Divine power in all things from first to last. He is the source of the light which goes forth to all the world.

“He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him.” This is the promise of the Lord’s Second Coming. The faith of the New Church is that this long-expected advent has taken place and it is our mission to announce it. It seems fitting, then, that the altar for our worship symbolize the Lord’s Second Coming. Our religion and our life both are based on the belief that the Lord has come again with spiritual light to enlighten our minds.

Since we know that the Lord has made His promised second coming, our purpose now is to explain the manner of it and how we may be deeply affected by a new vision of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In earlier ages, God revealed Himself through the prophets by speaking with a living voice. Going further back, beyond recorded history, in Most Ancient times He appeared as a loving Heavenly Father before the opened spiritual sight of an innocent race of people. In those ancient times people had a spiritual awareness which is lost today. They had direct knowledge of the presence and power of their God. Over time, however, this spiritual insight was lost. God had to reveal Himself in a new way. Therefore, He “bowed the heavens and came down,” taking on a body from Mary. He taught, He healed, He raised from the dead. His disciples and others saw that He was God incarnate. Even Thomas, the doubting disciple, confessed Him at last, saying: “My Lord and my God!” Through centuries of the Christian era, many who never saw the Lord in the flesh have believed Him to be their God through His teachings and the power of His Spirit.

When on earth, the Lord foretold His return. The disciples had asked, “When will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming?” He said, ” … the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and … they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30). John also confirmed these words. After his visions on the isle of Patmos, He wrote of the Lord: “Behold, He is coming with clouds … ” (Rev. 1:7).

Many Christians have longed for this day and waited for this sign but in vain. The Lord was speaking in parables when He said He would come in the clouds. He did not literally mean that He would return to earth in person, or that we would see Him descending in clouds from the sky.

It has been revealed to the New Church that the Lord’s second coming is to the understanding of the human mind, and the means of His coming is through the written Word. By the “clouds” mentioned in these prophecies we are to understand the teachings of Scripture in their natural or literal sense. The ideas of the Word serve, like clouds, to catch the light of truth, but shield a tender understanding from direct exposure to truth’s innermost power. Just as a cloud can be a welcome relief from the unremitting blaze of the noon sun, so an idea that is adapted to our state and simply expressed means more to us than the naked truth that lies at its source. We can see how this is especially so with children. They are not ready for abstractions but respond to simple stories that convey a deeper message. So it is with the human mind at all ages. We grow gradually in our ability to grasp the meaning that lies hidden in the events of life.

“In order that the Lord might be continuously present with me,” Swedenborg wrote, “He has unfolded to me the spiritual sense of His Word, wherein is Divine truth in its very light, and it is in this light that He is continually present. For His presence in the Word is by means of the spiritual sense and in no other way; through the light of this sense He passes into the obscurity of the literal sense, which is like what takes place when the light of the sun in daytime is passing through an interposing cloud” (TCR 780).

The literal sense of the Word, its surface meaning, is what is symbolized by the “clouds” mentioned in Scripture. A careful reading will confirm this. Some of the most significant events of Scriptural history occur in clouds. The Ten Commandments were given in the midst of clouds on Mount Sinai. Afterwards it was a pillar of cloud that led Israel through the wilderness. When the Lord was transfigured before Peter, James, and John on the mount, they were overshadowed by a “bright cloud” (Matt 17:5). These moments of intense revelation were partially obscured by the clouds, tempered to protect Israel and the disciples. So Scriptural teachings are couched in parables and dark sayings. The Lord’s disciples once asked: “Why do you speak … in parables?” He answered: ” … that seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand” (Mark 4:12).

It may seem curious that the Lord would teach in such a way that many could not understand his inner meaning. Wouldn’t He want to speak plainly? He gave the Word in a form that could either hide or reveal His glory. If we are not ready to see a truth, we may reject it or profane it. Therefore, the Lord has given Divine revelation in the form of a written natural or literal sense within which is its spiritual sense.

“Hitherto no one has known what is meant by the clouds of the heavens,'” Swedenborg records in the Writings. “But it has been disclosed to me that nothing else is meant than the literal sense of the Word … ” (AC pref. to chapter 18). “One may wonder that a cloud’ signifies the Word … The reason is that in the spiritual world the Divine truth flowing down from the higher heavens into the lower appears like a cloud … ” (AE 906). This was a phenomenon that Swedenborg often observed. From this living appearance in the spiritual world the passages of Scripture about clouds take on new meaning. When clouds are mentioned, they mean revelation in its outermost form, within which is the spirit of truth, called “the glory.” So Isaiah the prophet wrote: “Jehovah creates upon every habitation of Zion a cloud by day, for upon all the glory shall be a covering” (Isaiah 4:5). The Writings here say that the “literal sense of the Word is a covering, lest its spiritual sense should be injured” (AR 24). “The Divine truth in outmosts … is also represented by the cloud’ in which Jehovah descended upon Mount Sinai, and promulgated the law,” we are told.

Let us turn now to the Lord’s promise of His second coming. He said He would come “in the clouds” with power and great glory. What is meant, as we have seen, is that the Lord has opened the spiritual sense of the Word so He may be seen and known more interiorly.

Think about it: How does God make Himself known to us? Many who heard the Lord’s teaching that He would “come again” understood that He would come into the world again, “not yet knowing,” the Writings point out, “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). The Lord has communicated in different ways.

Now He manifests Himself only through the Word. “Elsewhere than in the Word the Lord does not reveal Himself,” we are told, “nor does He reveal Himself there except through the internal sense” (AE 36; 594:3). He is present there, “because all things in the Word are from Him and concerning Him” (AC 4060:5). The Word “is the Lord Himself in heaven and in the church” (AE 594:3).

The Word, then, 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 His Word. They think of the Word as merely a record of historical events or of personal spiritual experiences. They see only the “clouds” of the literal sense, dense clouds which hide the light of truth within, when yet there is a hidden “glory” to be seen by those whose minds are open to receive it. As said before, the Lord does not reveal Himself except in the Word “nor does He reveal Himself there except through the internal sense” (AE 36; 594:3).

It is the revealing of the Lord through the internal or spiritual sense of the Word that constitutes His second coming. By “revealing Himself” here is not meant revelation “such as was made [with a loud voice] to the Israelitish people from Mount Sinai,” we are told, but such as is made “inwardly in man.” This kind of revelation is an enlightening of the internal sight, which is of the understanding. Such enlightening takes place only when the Word is being read by someone who is in the affection of truth from the love of what is good. In such a state, the mind of a person “sees” in the light of heaven as clearly as the human eye sees in the light of this world. “When the understanding is enlightened by that Divine light,” we are told, “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).

When we think of revelation in this way, we can have a clearer understanding of what is meant by the Lord’s promise to come in the “clouds” with “power and glory.” We can see a deeper sense in the text which says: “Behold, He comes with clouds, and every eye shall see Him” (Rev. 1:7).

The fact is that the Lord has made His promised second coming. He has manifested Himself again by a revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word which is within the natural or literal sense of the Word. The clouds in which He has come are the clouds of the Divine truth in outermost form. But by opening the spiritual sense He has revealed His hidden presence in that Word. This is the teaching: “The Second Coming of the Lord is not a coming in person, but in the Word” (TCR 776 heading). “The Lord is now to appear in the Word,” we are told. “He is not to appear in Person, because since He ascended into heaven He is in His glorified Human, and in this He cannot appear to any man unless the eyes of his spirit are first opened” (TCR 777). In order to effect His second coming, the Lord called a man providentially prepared for this office, Emanuel Swedenborg, filled him with His spirit, opened his spiritual eyes, and caused him to write and publish the doctrine for the New Church. Concerning his part in this, Swedenborg makes the following remarkable assertion: ” … the Lord manifested Himself before me, His servant, and sent me to this office … From the first day of that call I have not received anything whatever pertaining to the doctrines of the church from any angel, but from the Lord alone while I have read the Word” (TCR 779).

Swedenborg continues: “In order that the Lord might be continuously present with me He has unfolded to me the spiritual sense of His Word … for His presence in the Word is by means of the spiritual sense and in no other way” (TCR 779, emphasis added).

The little work entitled An Invitation to the Whole Christian World to This Church says about the spiritual sense of the Word: “This sense is the very sanctuary of the Word … Not a single iota in this sense can be opened except by the Lord alone.” This revelation, the teaching concludes, “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).

What a gift has been given by the Lord in the Heavenly Doctrine now revealed for the New Church! It is the key to open the spiritual sense of the Word. The gift bears a responsibility equal to its value. We are called to seek the Lord in His Word, to make the light of spiritual truth our light, and especially to follow that light and proclaim it to others.

What does this mean to each one of us? It means that we can approach the Lord Himself in His Word in a new way. He is there in the “clouds,” but now made visible through the opening of the spiritual sense. He will speak to us inwardly as we approach Him in His Word. He gives light to those “clouds” from heaven. This illuminates the mind from within as we read the Word seeking truth for a good use. “Those who are in enlightenment when reading the Word see it from within,” we are told, “for their internal is open … But yet everyone is deceived who believes himself to be in enlightenment unless he loves to know truth for the sake of truth and for the sake of the good of life, thus unless he loves Divine truth for the sake of life, because to live according to Divine truths from the Word is to love the Lord, and all enlightenment comes from the Lord when He is loved” (AC 10551:2). We must do our part. “The Lord’s presence is unceasing with every person,” we are told, “but His coming is only to those who receive Him, who are such as believe on Him and keep His commandments” (TCR 774).

Let us conclude with a beautiful promise about the Lord’s coming in our lives. This is from the True Christian Religion 766: “The Lord is present with everyone, urging and pressing to be received,” we are told, “and His first coming, which is called the dawn, is when the person receives Him, which he does when he acknowledges Him as his God, Creator, Redeemer, and Savior. From this time the person’s understanding begins to be enlightened in spiritual things, and to advance into a more and more interior wisdom; and as he receives this wisdom from the Lord, he advances through morning into day, and this day lasts with him into old age, even to death; and after death he passes into heaven to the Lord Himself; and there, although he died an old man, he is restored to the morning of his life, and the rudiments of the wisdom implanted in him in the natural world grow to eternity” (TCR 766). Amen.


Lessons: Exodus 24:4-18; Mark 9:2-10; AE 594a

Apocalypse Explained 594a

A “cloud” [signifies] Divine truth in outmost form, consequently the Word in the sense of the letter. This signification of “cloud” is evident from appearances in the spiritual world; also from the Word wherever “clouds” are mentioned. From appearances in the spiritual world, as follows: the universal angelic heaven consists solely of the Divine truth that proceeds from the Lord; the reception of this constitutes angels. In the highest heaven this truth appears like a pure aura which is called ether; in the next lower heaven as less pure, almost like the atmosphere that is called air; in the lowest heaven it appears like something thinly aqueous over which is a vapor like a cloud; such is the appearance of Divine truth according to degrees in its descent. There is a like appearance when angels of the higher heavens speak about Divine truths; what they say is then presented to the view of those who are in the lowest heaven under the appearance of a cloud that floats hither and thither; the more intelligent of them know from its movement and brightness and form what the angels of the higher heavens are speaking about with each other. This makes evident why a “cloud” signifies Divine truth in outmost form. As most things in the Word were taken from the appearances in the spiritual world, and thence have a like significance as they have there, so is it with “clouds.”

He who does not know that a “cloud” in the spiritual sense of the Word means the Word in the letter cannot know what arcanum is involved in this: that in the consummation of the age they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and glory (Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:26; 14:61, 62; Luke 21:27). And in the Apocalypse: “Behold, Jesus Christ cometh with the clouds and every eye shall see Him” (Rev. 1:7).

The person who is ignorant that “the clouds of heaven” signify the truths of the Word in the sense of the letter cannot know otherwise than that in the consummation of the age, that is, in the end of the church, the Lord is to come in the clouds of heaven and manifest Himself to the world; but it is well known that since the Word was given, the Lord manifests Himself through that only, for the Word, which is Divine truth, is the Lord Himself in heaven and in the church. From this it can now be seen that the manifestation here predicted signifies His manifestation in the Word; and His manifestation in the Word was effected through His opening and revealing the internal or spiritual sense of the Word, for in that sense is the Divine truth itself, such as it is in heaven, and the Divine truth in heaven is the Lord Himself there. This makes clear that “the Lord’s coming in the clouds of heaven with glory” signifies the revelation of Him in the sense of the letter of the Word from its spiritual sense.



A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn July 30, 1995


“Then they said to [Jesus], ‘My do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?'” (Luke 5:33)

As the Lord and His disciples travelled through the land of Israel, publicans and wealthy citizens often invited them to join them at meals. They ate the food and drank the wine that was offered. This baffled the religious leaders of the Jews. The Lord and His followers did not conform to the customary practices of holy men. They did not renounce worldly ways or fast like the Pharisees or the disciples of John. They freely ate and drank. So the Lord was denounced for being gluttonous and a winebibber (see Matt., 11:19). He seemed to enjoy the company and hospitality of the wealthy even if they were sinners. The Lord did not act the way the Pharisees thought He should. He didn’t obey their rules. Therefore, they concluded He was not a man of God.

Now, as then, there is an expectation that a good person, a truly religious person, is set apart from others by living an exemplary life. Good people, it is thought, live better lives than others. We think of them as “saints” because they renounce the ordinary pleasures we enjoy and human traits we exhibit. They practice a way of life that seems more spiritual than worldly, a life that you or I would find difficult to achieve.

Over time every religious body seems to develop criteria for the devout. Certain standards of behavior mark those considered to be true believers. With the Jews it was prayer and fasting, strict obedience to the Law. With Christians it is piety and charitable deeds. With the Eastern religions it is rigorous discipline.

True religions don’t begin this way. They begin with a spirit that infills practices. As the spirit fades, the practices harden and become ends in themselves. They are like the outside of the cup and platter which may be clean while the inside is full of filth. While the Jews were careful in tithing even on their least herbs, they were negligent about the “weightier” matters of the law: such things as judgment, showing mercy, and loving God (see Matt. 23:23, Luke 11:42).

Again, Christian piety and good deeds may lack love of God and the neighbor and simply be a show of external benevolence.

What of the New Church? Does the doctrine call for a special way of life? What must you renounce to regenerate? We’ll answer that later.

There is a kind of “folk wisdom” about religious life. People say, “If it feels good it must be bad.” If you’re having fun, it must be naughty. How can we forget the Lord’s parable about the rich fool who concluded that he could take it easy, could “eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19)? Not so, said God. It seems this wealthy landowner was not allowed to relax. How about you? Do you feel guilty when you relax and enjoy life?

First, let it be clear: enjoying life is not abandoning ourselves to worldly and bodily pleasures for their own sake. This is spiritually fatal as the following passage shows: “Those who in the life of the body have made mere pleasures their end and aim, loving merely to indulge their natural propensities, and to live in luxury and festivity, caring only for themselves and the world without any regard to things Divine, and who are devoid of faith and charity, are after death … carried down to a hell … I have seen them there carrying dung and bemoaning their lot’ (AC 943).

The teachings of the church give perspective on daily living. The first principle of the church to remember is that the Lord is a God of love and wants happiness for us. The whole power of His Providence is leading us to the greatest possible happiness of heaven (see DP 324:6). What about happiness on earth? For many reasons explained in the Heavenly Doctrine, our life here falls short of the happiness of heaven. We may, in fact, pass through many states of temptation, unhappiness and sorrow on earth all looking to our eternal welfare. However, the Lord does not intend a sorrowful or miserable life for us. The Lord wants us to be happy on earth as well as in heaven. He wants us to enjoy life! “I have come that [you] may have life,” the Lord said, “and that [you] may have it more abundantly” (John 10: 10). “These things I have spoken to you that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15: 1 1).

“What is life without delight and pleasure?’ the Writings ask (DP 195). It is a principle of doctrine that life on all levels, physical and natural as well as spiritual, is good if rightly subordinated. The pleasures of the body, such as the enjoyment of taste, serve for its nourishment. To follow up with this example, we know that the delight in eating is given us by the Lord for a good purpose: to sustain life so there may be a sound mind in a sound body. We are told, “A spiritual man does not despise nourishment nor even its pleasures …” (AC 3951:3). He “may enjoy the delicacies of food and drink if he does not place his life therein (HH 358).

So long as our enjoyment and pleasure support a higher use, they are legitimate and good. It is when we over-indulge appetites, exalting the pleasure out of proportion to its use, that we pervert it and it becomes evil.

Take another example illustrating this principle. In some religious cultures the sexual act between married partners is regarded as an accommodation to the animal-like nature of the body, tolerated merely for the sake of procreation. Not so in the New Church. The Writings give the universal law “that primes exist, subsist, and persist from ultimates.” Every prior and interior love has its resting place and its basis in the natural or ultimate degree of life. “So is it also with this love,” we are told. Its ultimate delights are a basis and foundation for conjugial love (see CL 44:8). “It follows that all the states of blessedness, happiness, delight, pleasantness, and pleasure which, by the Lord the Creator, could ever be conferred on people are gathered into this His love” (CL 68:2).

The Lord wants us to enjoy the legitimate and lovely delights of marriage. The fact that sexual pleasures are so grossly perverted and violated in our world today does not make them wrong in themselves. Misuse or abuse of uses does not do away with the uses (except with those who misuse them) (see DLW 331). We had asked the question, “What must you renounce to regenerate?” The Heavenly Doctrine is clear – not the things of the world. We do not have to renounce the joys and pleasures of life. “It is believed by many,” the Writings teach, “that to renounce the world, and to live in the spirit and not in the flesh, is to reject worldly things, … to be continually engaged in pious meditation concerning God, … salvation, and … eternal life; to lead a life in prayers, in the reading of the Word and pious books; and also to afflict one’s self, but this is not renouncing the world” the Writings teach (NJHD 126, emphasis added). The Lord wants us to live in the world and to engage in its activities.

How sadly misguided those are who put aside the normal activities of this life and their pleasures in order to attain heavenly life. Swedenborg talked with some in the other life who had purposely withdrawn in this way from worldly affairs. Ironically, the harder they had tried to renounce the world and its pleasures to become angels, the less able they were to come among the angels, because the life of angels is a life of joy. These people had acquired a joyless and self-righteous attitude and were unfit for heaven (see HH 535).

We are not required by our religion to plunge ourselves into poverty or self-induced wretchedness, or to shun all bodily delights. This is not how evil in us is mastered or subdued. In fact, such a life leads to the evil of feeling superior to, and more deserving of, heaven than others because of our sacrifice (see AC 1947). This is why it is not as difficult as some have believed to live the life that leads to heaven (see HH 528). We do not have to follow this difficult and unnatural path.

True renunciation is not giving up the things of the world and its pleasures. “To renounce the world,” the Writings say, “is to love God and to love the neighbor; and God is loved when man lives according to His commandments, and the neighbor is loved when man performs uses” (NJHD 126). That’s it: We can live a heavenly way of life full of joy and pleasure provided we obey the commandments and serve the neighbor – no other restrictions; no other sacrifices.

What a refreshing teaching about life! “… a man may acquire riches and accumulate wealth as far as opportunity is given if it is not done by craft or fraud; … he may enjoy the delicacies of food and drink if he does not place his life therein; … he may have a palatial dwelling in accord with his condition, have dealings with others in like condition, frequent places of amusement, talk about the affairs of the world, and need not go about like a devotee with a sad and sorrowful countenance and drooping head, but may be joyful and cheerful; nor need he give his goods to the poor except so far as affection leads him; in a word, he may live outwardly precisely like a man of the world; and all this will be no obstacle to his entering heaven, provided that inwardly in himself he thinks about God as he ought, and acts sincerely and justly in respect to his neighbor’ (HH 358).

From this teaching we can see that wealth and riches are not in themselves evil nor are the enjoyments of life evil. It is the love of wealth and riches for their own sake that is evil. When we set our hearts on them, seek them for their own sake, and revel in their acquisition, we have stripped from them their true value as the means for good uses. It is the same with all loves and delights of this world. If we love them for their use, they are good; if we love them for their own sake, and our indulgence, they become perverted in us.

“The person who is being regenerated is not deprived of the delight of the pleasures of the body and lower mind,” we are told, “for he fully enjoys this delight after regeneration, and more fully than before, but in inverse ratio.” The Writings explain this: “Before regeneration, the delight of pleasures was everything of his life, but after regeneration, the good of charity becomes everything of his life; and then the delight of pleasures serves as a means and as an ultimate plane in which spiritual good with its happiness and blessedness terminates” (AC 8413:2, emphasis added).

The Lord taught the true spirit of life when He spoke in His Sermon on the Mount about fasting. “When you fast,” He said, “do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting.” He spoke against these acts of denial because they were done only for heavenly reward. The Lord said: “… they have their reward,” the reward of reputation and honor. “But you,” He said, “when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (Matt. 6:16-18).

By “fasting” here the Lord did not mean the actual deprivation of food which creates a longing for food. He meant a deeper longing of our spirit for good – our desire for a good life that comes through shunning evils and suffering temptation. Our “fast” is our resolve to follow the Lord and serve the neighbor sincerely, honestly, justly and faithfully in uses of life. This is not something to be done to draw attention to ourselves. What did the Lord teach? “Anoint your head and wash your face.” Live your life in joy, not as a martyr. Do not put on the face of sorrow. There is no merit in that. We find delight and happiness in life when we shun evils and go about our business. Then the Lord gives us a sense of satisfaction and joy.

“Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?'” (Matt. 9:14f). When the Lord is present in our lives we find joy and satisfaction.

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Again there shall be heard in this place the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who will say: “Praise the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His mercy endures forever. (Jer. 33: 10,1 1). Amen.

Lessons: Matt. 6:1-8, 16-18; 9:9-15; AC 995:2, 4


Arcana Coelestia 995:2,4

Some think that no one ought ever to live in the pleasures of the body and its senses who wishes to be happy in the other life, but that all these should be renounced on the ground that they are corporeal and worldly, withdrawing man and keeping him away from spiritual and heavenly life. But those who think so and therefore reduce themselves to voluntary misery while they live in the world are not well-informed as to what the real case is. No one is forbidden to enjoy the pleasures of the body and its senses, that is, the pleasures of possession of lands and wealth; the pleasures of honor and office in the state; the pleasures of conjugial love and of love for infants and children; the pleasures of friendship and of social life with companions; the pleasures of hearing, or of the sweetness of singing and music; the pleasures of sight, or of beauties, which are manifold, as those of becoming dress, of elegant dwellings with their furniture, beautiful gardens, and the like, which are delightful from harmony of form and color; the pleasures of smell, or of fragrant odors; the pleasures of taste, or of the flavors and benefits of food and drink; the pleasures of touch. For these are most external or bodily affections arising from interior affections …

That the pleasures above-mentioned are never denied to man, and that so far from being denied they are then first really pleasures when they come from their true origin, may also be seen from the fact that very many who have lived in power, dignity, and opulence in the world, and who had all pleasures in abundance, both of the body and of the senses, are among the blessed and happy in heaven, and with them now the interior delights and happiness are living, because they have had their origin in the goods of charity and the truths that are of faith in the Lord. And since they had regarded all their pleasures as coming from charity and faith in the Lord, they regarded them from use, which was their end. Use itself was the most delightful thing to them, and from this came the delight of their pleasures.



A Sermon by Rev Kurt Ho. AsplundhPreached in Bryn AthynMay 21, 1995


“You shall not make idols for yourselves; neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar shall you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it,- for I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 26: 1).

It is the faith of the New Church that there is one God and that the Lord Jesus Christ is that God. He alone is to be worshiped and followed. As He said: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

The first of all the commandments is that we should worship the one true God and have no other gods before His face. At first hearing this sounds simple enough. Who among us would bow before a carved image? Who would worship an idol? The fact is, we all do. I hope to show that the essence of the first commandment, found in the text, is as important for us today as it ever was, when understood more deeply.

In ancient times and in primitive cultures the worship of idols was common. Israel was surrounded by nations worshiping false gods: the Baals and the Ashteroths, and a host of others. Indeed, Israel’s most common failing as a people was a recurrent idolatry. Time and again they had to be warned against this practice – meanwhile either suffering defeat at the hand of their enemies or disease or natural disaster when they sinned. The Old Testament thus presents a religion based on fear. God speaks and the people tremble. When they obey Him, they are rewarded; when they disobey, they are punished.

We may wonder today that people could have been so ignorant and superstitious. Did they believe that these images of stone, wood, or metal had any power? The prophet Jeremiah railed against them: “Everyone is dull-hearted, without knowledge; every metalsmith is put to shame by the graven image; for his molded image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them” (Jer. 10 14). What possible attraction could the lifeless idols of foreign nations have had for the people of Jehovah?

Yet if the truth be known, this longing for false gods is just as strong today as it ever was. We are as susceptible to the idols of modern culture as Israel was to the gods of the nations around them. We are as willing as they were to forsake the true God to worship images of our own making. We are as willing to put our trust in them to achieve our ends of imagined prosperity and happiness.

Where is the altar? Where is the image? Not in our house or in our yard but in our heart and mind; yet it is just as real as any statue of wood or gold. The doctrine of the New Church teaches about our gods. “Everyone’s god is that which he loves above all things,” we are told (AE 935). This statement opens up a wide realm of possibilities. Our god could be a leader to whom we are devoted; or a cause; it could be a personal passion; success, power, wealth; the potential list is endless. There are as many “gods” as there are human loves. When any one of these loves rules our life, that is, has more power over us than anything else, including our religious beliefs or training, it becomes our god. We hold it in our mind continually; it affects and colors all that we do; we think about it, and seek ways to promote or act on it; we often surround ourselves with its symbols.

While our doctrine expresses and explains this idea of the gods of our life, common perception also recognizes its reality. You can hear it described in the very language of religion as when a person is described as “worshiping” a friend; or is a “disciple” in some great “crusade.” Money is one man’s “god,” we hear. Popularity may be the “altar” on which another will “sacrifice” his integrity. There are “sacred cows” with some which are above reproach. It is commonly known that a person’s life can be caught up and totally committed to something or someone. This is from a deep love for that thing or person.

We all have ruling loves in our lives, and it is right that we do. It is through these loves that we have motivation and ability to serve our neighbors. However, these loves should not supersede or displace our love of the Lord. When asked what was the greatest commandment, the Lord taught that the first of all the commandments is: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

We today are just as prone as the Israelites to turn away from the Lord to favor instead the false idols of life. And what is more, we will suffer the same curses and plagues and the defeats that come from that apostasy. The difference is that our defeats will not be at the hands of Philistines, Amorites or Assyrians, but according to the false attitudes and perverted loves represented in the Scriptures by these peoples. Our plagues will not be physical but mental. So while our life in the modern world is easier in some respects than life in the ancient world through the advancement of science and technology, would we not admit that we live in troubled and often terrible times? There are anxieties, stresses, injustices, confusions and much unhappiness. People long for what they call “the good old days” when at least it seemed that life was simpler; when family and moral values seemed more prized; and when people seemed to find comfort in their faith in God.

People long for peace – not just worldly peace, but the kind of peace the Lord gives. One of the beautiful passages of the Heavenly Doctrine describes this: “… 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. When a man is in this faith, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing, and no solicitude about things to come disquiets him. A man comes into this state in proportion as he comes into love to the Lord” (AC 8455).

The opposite state of mind, not peaceful but anxious, is described elsewhere in the doctrine as a state of “care for the morrow.” Such care or concern is with those “who are not content with their lot; who do not trust in the Divine but in themselves; and who have regard for only worldly and earthly things and not for heavenly things. With such there universally reigns solicitude about things to come, and a desire to possess all things and to dominate over all … and they have no consolation, because of the anger they feel against the Divine, which they reject together with everything of faith, and curse themselves” (AC 8478).

The key differences between these two opposite attitudes or states of mind are specified. The one state is built on confidence and trust in the Lord, and love to the Lord. The other rests on trust in self. It harbors an anger against the Divine instead of a faith in the Divine.

The underlying issue in finding true peace is obedience to the first commandment. The Lord said, “You shall have no other gods before My face. You shall not make for yourself any carved image; … you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (Exodus 20:3,4). What this means to us today is explained in the Heavenly Doctrine. “Other gods” refer to truths from a source other than the Lord. Since all truth is from the Lord, revealed in His Word, truth from any other source ought to be suspect. It is merely a human understanding of truth; it can be perverted and falsified. Such are the “graven images’ which men make and set up.

Doctrine teaches that by “a graven image” is meant a humanly devised construction of truth. A “graven” image refers to a product of human intelligence as opposed to a product of Divine intelligence. A “molten” image refers to a product of the human will. “To have either the one or the other for a god, or to adore it,” we are taught, “is to love above all things all that which proceeds from self … ” (AC 8869). Here is a clue to the real issue in the first commandment. That which we love above all things may take many forms. It may be a love of power, possessions, or prestige. In every case, however, it has its roots in the love of self as opposed to the love of the Lord. The primary enemy of our love of the Lord is our inborn love of self.

Making graven or molten images is done by those who “entirely disbelieve that anything of intelligence and wisdom flows in from the Divine, for they attribute all things to themselves; everything else that happens to them they ascribe either to fortune or to chance” (AC 8869).

This same distinction between what is Divine and what is merely man-made is found in other contexts of Scripture. For example, it is signified in the command that the altars for worship were to be made of “unhewn,” or uncut, stones. “Hewn stones” signify such ideas as are conceived by what the doctrine calls “self-intelligence.” This self-intelligence is, as the name suggests, an intelligence that a person acquires for himself or herself apart from any reliance on learning it from the Lord. It is a reliance on human experience and intellectual conclusions drawn from such experience. It does not take into account any ideas of truth from Divine revelation. Such thought is described in the doctrine as follows: ” ‘stones’ denote truths” (n. 8940); “and to ‘hew,’ or fit, them denotes to hatch or devise truths, or such things as resemble truths from one’s own, or from self-intelligence. For things which are hatched or devised from one’s own, or from self-intelligence, have their life from man, which life is no life; whereas that which is not from man’s own but from the Divine has life in itself, because all life is from the Divine” (AC 8941).

Does this mean that the human mind is incapable of understanding truth, and that all human thoughts and reflections are worthless? Certainly not. We have a God-given capacity to see and understand truths. It is our responsibility to learn and reflect on the things of life and to apply our understanding to the proper application of principles in what we do. What this does mean is that we are foolish to believe that self-intelligence is superior to Divine intelligence. We should not exalt ourselves above our Creator. We have been given life by the Lord and the capacity to learn from Him what is the purpose of our life. True wisdom is to see this for ourselves and to choose to live in harmony with His Divine purpose. This is the essence of keeping the first commandment. To believe, to the contrary, that there is no God other than a force of nature, and that life’s purpose is to do what pleases us, is the essence of breaking the first commandment.

The Heavenly Doctrine shows the contrast here: “When truths are taken from one’s own, they regard and have as their end dignity and eminence over all in the world, and likewise earthly possessions and wealth above all men, and therefore they have in them the love of self and of the world,” we are told, “thus all evils in the complex” (n. 7488, 8318). By contrast …… truths which are from the Word regard and have as their end eternal life, and have in them love to the Lord and love toward the neighbor, thus all goods in the complex.” The passage continues: “When truths are hatched from one’s own, or from self-intelligence, they rule over the truths which are from the Divine, because these are applied to confirm them; when yet the contrary should be the case, namely, that truths from the Divine should rule, and those which are from self-intelligence should serve” AC 8941:2).

We have been created by the Lord in a most wonderful way. We are “vessels” of life. Our life is a Divine gift, flowing in continually. But the gift is real – that is, given without reservation or reserve. The life we receive from the Lord is given in such a way that it is ours to live. It is under our control. Only then can we fully enjoy and appreciate it. The nature of this gift is rudely pictured, perhaps, by a gift of cash from a parent to a child. The money is not a true gift if the parent places restrictions on it, saying it must be spent for this and not for that. Only when the child feels total discretion over the money does it in any way resemble the Lord’s gift of life to us. The parent, in his wisdom, however, would not give such a gift to a child without preparation. The money could become a curse rather than a blessing if irresponsibly used. So with us. Life does not come to us from the Lord without instructions. The Lord knows how it may best be lived to bring happiness and eternal blessing. Therefore, He has told us the secret of a happy life. This He has fully revealed in the Word of the Old and New Testaments and the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Church. Yet we may ignore everything the Lord has taught without forfeiting our gift of life. We may decide from self-intelligence how we will live. We are free to make this choice. However, since our self-intelligence is imperfect and self-centered, we will draw false conclusions about how to live. We will strain against the true order of life and bring sad consequences upon ourselves.

You might think the Lord would be angry with us for misusing this gift He has given. Far from anger, the Lord grieves for us, as a parent would for a wayward child. And time and again, the Lord tries to lead us back into a happier use of our life – gently, with compassion, with deep love.

Teachings from the Heavenly Doctrine confirm all of this: We are told, “It is in accordance with a law of the Divine Providence that man should think as of himself and should act prudently as of himself, but yet should acknowledge that he does so from the Lord” (DP 321, emphasis added).

“It is also clear that he who believes that everything he thinks and does is from himself is not unlike a beast, for he thinks only from the natural mind which man has in common with the beasts, and not from the spiritual rational mind which is the truly human mind; for this mind acknowledges that God alone thinks from Himself, and that man thinks from God” (DP 321:2).

“The Lord draws after Him the man who from freedom wills to follow, but He can draw no one who does not will to follow Him … For unless it appeared to man that he followed the Lord as if of himself, that is, acknowledged His Divine and did His commandments as if of himself, there would be no appropriation and conjunction, and thus no reformation and regeneration” (AE 864).

Elijah, the prophet of the Lord, came to Mt. Carmel to challenge the prophets of Baal, 400 in number. It was to be a contest by fire. Let fire come down from heaven to testify of the truth. It was a challenge to the people of Israel as well. For Elijah said to the people: “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him” (I Kings 18:21). But the people answered not a word. They awaited the proof.

Then the contest began. Through the long day, the prophets of Baal cried out in vain to bring fire down from heaven, but no fire fell. Then, at the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah gathered the people, rebuilt the altar of the Lord, soaked the sacrifice with water and prayed to the Lord God. Immediately, fire fell and consumed the sacrifice. Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and they said: “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”

May our hearts be moved also by the fire of Divine love to worship the Lord alone, acknowledging His Divine power and love. For the Lord Jesus Christ is the one God of heaven and earth, and you shall have no other gods before His face! Amen.

Lessons: Lev. 26:1-17; I Kings 18:21-26, 30-39; AC 6325


Arcana Coelestia 6325

It is an eternal truth that the Lord rules heaven and earth, and also that no one besides the Lord lives of himself, consequently that everything of life flows in – the good of life from the Lord, and the evil of life from hell. This is the faith of the heavens. When a man is in this faith (and he can be in it when he is in good), then evil cannot be fastened and appropriated to him, because he knows that it is not from himself but from hell. When a man is in this state, he can then be gifted with peace, for then he will trust solely in the Lord. Neither can peace be given to any others than those who are in this faith from charity; for others continually cast themselves into anxieties and cupidities, whence come disquietudes. Spirits who desire to direct themselves suppose that this would be to lose their own will, thus their freedom, consequently all delight, thus all life and its sweetness. This they say and suppose because they do not know how the case really is; for the man who is led by the Lord is in freedom itself, and thus in delight and bliss itself; goods and truths are appropriated to him; there is given him an affection and desire for doing what is good, and then nothing is more delightful to him than to perform uses. There is given him a perception of good, and also a sensation of it; and there is given him intelligence and wisdom, and all these as his own, for he is then a recipient of the Lord’s life.



A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn AthynFebruary 5, 1995


“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!'” (Judges 9:15).

This text is from the parable of the trees which we find in the book of Judges. Hidden in its words is the spiritual law that evil brings its own evil consequences. It is ever the case that to trust in the shadow of a bramble puts you in danger of a consuming fire. To follow unjust expediency brings later regret. To break the commandments for selfish gain brings eternal condemnation.

In considering a text from the book of Judges we are considering a troubled period in the history of Israel. The great leaders Moses and Joshua were dead, and the kingdom had not yet been established. So we read in the book itself: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). In other words, people took the law into their own hands to gain their ends.

Such was the case with Abimelech, son of Gideon. You will remember Gideon, the heroic but humble judge who was called by the Lord to save Israel from Midianite oppression. With a carefully chosen band of only 300 men, Gideon surprised the Midianite forces and drove them out. After this decisive victory the people had wanted to proclaim Gideon king of Israel, but he refused: “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you” ( Judges 8:23).

The humility of Gideon did not pass to his son Abimelech, born of a concubine in Shechem. Abimelech sought a kingdom for himself. Not only did he go against his father’s will by seeking to rule over Israel; he achieved his end by the treacherous murder of the other seventy sons of Gideon, his brothers. Abimelech wanted no rival to his ambition.

But Abimelech did not succeed in killing all of Gideon’s sons. Jotham, the youngest, had hidden himself from the murderers and lived. Later, when the Shechemites had proclaimed Abimelech their king, he appeared before them on the top of Mount Gerizim, overlooking the city. From this mountain where Joshua had gathered the tribes in an earlier generation to read aloud all the laws and statutes of Israel, Jotham spoke his parable of the trees. His lightly veiled words about the bramble were directed against Abimelech.

It was well known that a parable is a story with a message, and the message was clear to the men of Shechem who had conspired with Abimelech. They were the trees who sought for a king. They were in danger of fire from the bramble. The good trees, such as the olive, fig and vine, who refused to rule, were the good men like Gideon who refused the kingdom. The bramble which chokes the trees with its embrace symbolized Abimelech who sought glory and honor for himself at the expense of others. The parable was a prophecy of the tragic result of self-will and greed. This prophecy was fulfilled after three years. The people of Shechem, then disenchanted with Abimelech, rebelled against him. In the battles which followed, Abimelech destroyed the people and the city of Shechem, and burned the tower of Shechem with fire before he himself was mortally hurt.

So ends a dark chapter in the history of Israel. The important thing that remains from this episode is Jotham’s parable. This parable, which had immediate application then, contains eternal truth of universal application. In the incident of Abimelech, blame could be placed on the men of Shechem as well as on him, for they had agreed to his treachery and were a party to it. Evil returns its just reward on all who co-operate in it. Do you see a lesson in this parable for yourself? Whenever you support or allow injustice or lawlessness in hope of some favor or benefit, you are like the people of Shechem and must pay the price.

The doctrine of the church teaches that the parables of Scripture are more than moral fables. They have more than a simple general lesson to teach us here, for example, that evil brings its own reward. This is true enough but, in addition, the parables carry an inner correspondential message related to spiritual life. It is the purpose of the Heavenly Doctrine, now revealed for the New Church, to disclose these inner principles of spiritual law for you to see and apply. We now turn to this exposition of Jotham’s parable.

Trees are mentioned throughout the Word from beginning to end, from trees in the garden of Eden to the tree of life described by John in the midst of the Holy City New Jerusalem. The Heavenly Doctrine teaches that “man himself, in all that belongs to him, is like a tree” (TCR 374). This is indicated where we read of the man who trusts in the Lord being “like a tree planted by the waters” (Jer. 17:8 and in other places).

Noble fruit trees signify the useful and productive qualities of mankind; lofty cedars signify the intellectual and rational abilities which build the framework and structure of true thought. Thorn bushes, on the other hand, and trees with poisonous fruit signify those in falsity and evil. These correspondential representations give new meaning to Jotham’s parable.

Specifically, we are taught that the olive tree of the parable signifies a celestial or heavenly goodness; the vine, true principles of that good. The fig signifies a more external goodness or morality of life, whereas the bramble or thorn signifies a life of apparent or “spurious” good which is based on false principles. The fire from the bramble signifies the evil of lust that flares up when its longings are opposed; and the cedars of Lebanon which this fire devours are rational truths, the landmarks of a good life (see AE 638c). The parable describes a state of life in you when you are unwilling to be led by heavenly good, spiritual principles, or even moral principles. You choose instead, “spurious” good in preference to these (AC 9277:4).

What is this “spurious” good that was chosen over other goods and is symbolized by the bramble? It is that which appears to others as good but is, in reality, self-seeking. Those are in spurious good, we are told, who are “in good as to life, and in falsities as to doctrine” (AR 97). “If . . . there are falsities instead of truths with man,” the doctrine states, “then he does the good of falsity, which is not good . . . . ” The doctrine adds examples. Here is one: “He who is in this falsity, that he can do good which is in itself good without a knowledge of what evil is in himself, thus without repentance, although he appears to do good, yet he does not do good, because without repentance he is in evil.” Here is another: “He who is in this falsity, that good purifies him from evils, and does not know anything of the evils in which he is, does no other good than spurious good, which is inwardly contaminated by his evils” (AR 97).

Spurious good is also illustrated by Abimelech’s appeal to the self-interest of the people of Shechem. He made it appear to them that they would benefit from his rule, being kinsmen. However, this apparent advantage springs only from the falsity that a king is above the law of the land, that he can exercise favoritism instead of justice in his administration. The fact is, if he acts in this way his kingdom must eventually suffer for it. So the Writings of the church teach that the king “who regards himself as above the laws . . . is not wise” (AC 10803). Abimelech was not wise.

Genuine good, in contrast to spurious good, is from the Lord. It is not directed by false principles but is exercised by those who place the Lord’s laws above their own interests, who direct their lives according to His commandments. The life and delight of this goodness is found in uses and service to the Lord and the neighbor rather than to self. This is expressed in the parable by the answers of the other trees: “Should I cease giving my oil, with which they honor God and men, and go to sway over trees?” said the olive. “Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over trees?” said the fig. “Should I cease my new wine, which cheers both God and men, and go to sway over trees?” said the vine (Judges 9:9-13). These answers show the superiority of the life of use to the life of dominion or self-love.

But how often do you choose a spurious good over a genuine good? How often, in the pursuit of what seems good to you, do you forsake the oil of love and the sweetness of bearing useful fruit and put your trust instead in the shadow of an evil lust?

The consequence of this is told in the parable. Fire comes from the bramble to devour the cedars of Lebanon. This destructive fire is the ardent desire of every evil love. When you want your own way over the Lord’s way, self-love burns with hatred against any obstacle. Fire erupts to destroy whatever stands in the way. But as you allow that fire to burn, it also consumes something in you, the lofty “cedars of Lebanon.”

These stately trees, whose valuable wood was used for pillars and beams in the construction of Solomon’s temple, have a noble significance. We are told they signify “things rational which are from truths” (AE 683c). Such rational things ought to form the framework of your thought and action. Think of them as principles of life and action which you have learned from the Word and built into your daily life. These are what you stand to lose when you allow spurious goods to rule your life. It is inevitable that undisciplined self-love destroys the uniquely human qualities of wisdom and rationality. These stand in the way of all selfish interests. They are incompatible with spurious good. So long as you place trust in yourself and pursue questionable ambitions in life, you risk the threat of Jotham’s parable of the fire that will come out of the bramble to devour the cedars of Lebanon.

The offenders of Israel in this case were the inhabitants of Shechem. Let us consider, for a moment, the historical place of this city. It too carries a significance which is relevant to our concern. Shechem was an important city in central Canaan. Here ancient worship had flourished long before the time of Abraham and Israel. The Writings reveal that the church there, as well as in other places in the land, was in spiritual light. Shechem signifies, we are told, “interior truths,” the “first of light” in the mind, and “the truth of the church from ancient time” (AC 1441, 4430, 4433).

So when the Lord called Abram to the land of Canaan that he might build a church from his descendants, Shechem was the first place to which he came, and the first where he built an altar to the Lord. Later, it was appropriate that Shechem was assigned to the priests and made a city of refuge in the land. Representing, as it did, interior truths and doctrines, it was there that the true nature of a fugitive’s motives could be judged when he sought refuge after an accidental homicide. In this place too Joshua had stood many years before and made Israel swear to their covenant with the Lord that they would not worship false gods. You can see, then, how much the people of Shechem had to lose by swearing allegiance to Abimelech. From ancient times they had a precious heritage of spiritual light which they now chose to put in shadow. They fell from wisdom in making Abimelech their king.

Truly, those who are of the New Church are people of Shechem above others. The New Church has been given a precious heritage of “interior truth” now opened and revealed in the spiritual sense of the Word. The New Church too is a place of refuge for all who seek peace from the evil of falsity. It is a city of priests apostles of the new Gospel. You who are of this church can serve to teach and lead others to the New Jerusalem where all things of life are to be made new. Therefore, those of the New Church especially must heed the parable of the trees. Those of the New Church especially must beware the devouring flames of the evils of self-will. For these will destroy the rational things of the church which are so precious, so vital, and so rare today.

The hope of the church, and the hope for a new age of religion, is in the preservation and increase of these rational things which are from truths. It is only by means of these that the human race can be saved. ” . . . for unless there are internal things within external ones, that is, unless men think of internal things when they are in external ones, and unless they are at the same time affected by the internal things . . . there is not anything of the church. For internal things make the church, because in these is the Lord; [and] . . . in these are the spiritual and celestial things which are from Him” (AC 4433).

It is only by rational things which are from truths given by the Lord that you can see the nature and threat of spurious good and have the doctrinal basis with which the angels of heaven can be with you to curb your evil desires. We live in a world full of the likes of Abimelech. More to the point, the ambitions and evils of Abimelech live in you. These can be countered by no other means than by rational principles derived from the Word. Do not, like the people of Shechem, bargain away the heritage of truth that is your only true defense.

Whenever you reject the tempting call of Abimelech, the bramble, then new principles of life may be implanted by the Lord. The cedars of Lebanon will remain as silent sentinels against every false promise of hell.

It is said of the Lord, “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the service of man, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread which strengthens man’s heart. The trees of the Lord are full of sap,” we are told, “the cedars of Lebanon which He planted . . . ” (Psalm 104:14-16, 35b).

This picture of fruitfulness in the Word is a parable of spiritual fruitfulness that stands in contrast to the sad parable of Jotham, the bereaved son of Gideon. So it is, where evils are shunned and goods and truths are loved, there will be the fruitfulness of eternal blessing. We give thanks to the Lord for His spiritual blessing. “O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your riches. Bless the Lord, O my soul! Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 104:24, 35). Amen.

Lessons: Judges 9:1-15, 22, 23, 47-57; Luke 6:43-45; AC 9277:4


Arcana Coelestia 9277:4

. . . what these things specifically involve cannot be known unless it is known what is signified by “the olive-tree,” “the fig-tree,” “the vine,” and “the bramble.” “The olive-tree” signifies the internal good of the celestial church, “the fig-tree,” the external good of that church (n. 4231, 5113); “the vine,” the good of the spiritual church; but “the bramble” signifies spurious good. These words therefore involve that the people who are here meant by the trees were not willing that either celestial good or spiritual good should reign over them, but spurious good, and that they chose this in preference to the other goods. “Fire out of the bramble” signifies the evil of concupiscence; “the cedars of Lebanon that it would consume” signify the truths of good.



A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn December 4, 1994

Our text is the blessing of Balaam upon the camp of Israel:

“How lovely are your tents, 0 Jacob! your dwellings, 0 Israel! Like valleys that stretch out, like gardens by the riverside, like aloes planted by the Lord, like cedars beside the waters” (Numbers 24:5,6).

Before the Lord’s coming, the world was endangered. Mankind’s evils had accumulated. The world was in danger of being overwhelmed by the hells. In those days, people actually were possessed by spirits. In ways unknown to a skeptical modern age, the spiritual world influenced people’s lives. Evil spirits of hell could inspire terror or insanity, or even cause death.

One reason the Lord came on earth was to prevent this destruction of the human race. His love was to save, not destroy. Though people had brought evil upon themselves and deserved punishment and death, the Lord’s love longed for their salvation. Contrast the nature of the Lord’s love with human love: people quickly anger and seek retribution. Once, for example, as the Lord traveled through Samaria toward Jerusalem with His disciples, the Samaritans refused to receive them. James and John said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” That is how they would treat their enemies. The Lord rebuked them. “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:52-56).

How great the Lord’s mercy is in comparison with our own. Instead of seeking retribution against those who have sinned against Him, as we might against those who offend us, He seeks their protection. He is, literally, a shield for us, and by His advent came to stand between us and the fury of the hells.

This was true 2000 years ago; it continues to be true today for each one of us. We do not know the kind of spirit we are of. Often it is the spirit of hell that rules and would lead us to eternal destruction were it not for the Lord’s merciful protection.

The account of Balaam has direct application to our own life. Just as King Balak of Moab conspired to bring destruction on the camp of Israel, calling upon Balaam the seer to curse the tribes, so the hells lurk at the edges of our life, yearning to accuse and condemn us for our faults and evils. Just as the Lord protected Israel from destruction, so He preserves our life no matter how unworthy we may be.

The Heavenly Doctrine teaches that we are born a hell, though not for hell but for heaven. It is of the mercy of the Lord that our lives can be protected from destruction until the Lord makes His advent in our lives and a new spirit moves us.

Balaam, the evil prophet of Syria, came to curse the Israelites passing through Moab. The Heavenly Doctrine reveals what Balaam could have done if there had been no Divine intervention. He could have revealed the inner evil of Israel and by a curse “would have stirred up turbulent hordes [of spirits] against that nation …” (SD 1778). These spirits would have administered punishments that would have destroyed them. However, the occult powers of the Syrian wizard were strictly controlled by the Lord – even turned into a powerful prophecy of His advent. For it was from Balaam’s prediction of the star arising out of Jacob that wise men from the east knew of the Lord’s birth.

Balaam longed for the honors and riches promised by Balak if only he would curse Israel, yet he could not curse; he could only bless them. Three times Balaam went into the mountains overlooking the camp, to the sacred places of Baal. Seven altars were built and bullocks and rams sacrificed. But as Balaam stood beside the smoking altars and scanned the camp of Israel below, no curses came from his lips.

At this, King Balak’s ire rose. He struck his hands together in frustration and said to Balaam: “I called you to curse my enemies, and look, you have bountifully blessed them … three times!” (Num. 24: 10). Balaam’s frustration was as deep as the king’s. It was no love for Israel prompting his blessings. It was the power of the Lord overruling his evil intentions. What happened here is a prime example of the Lord’s power to preserve us from condemnation and destruction at the hands of evil spirits.

Israel was extremely vulnerable to an assault from hell. This is revealed in the Heavenly Doctrine. It is said that there were things in them that were “nefarious, idolatrous, and filthy” (SD 2354). In spite of the high cause to which they had been called, the people of Israel were flawed. Their hearts were wicked. Add to this that the spirits of hell love to discover evil and punish it in others. “They anxiously search for whatever evil they can find,” we are told, and “when they find evil, claim the right over it” to punish and destroy those souls. A curse upon Israel by Balaam would have unleashed the fury of the hells upon them. It would be as though Balaam were a knowledgeable guide leading these armies of hell to the camp of an unsuspecting enemy, pointing out their weaknesses and allowing the spirits to rush in for the slaughter. “The world of spirits before the Lord’s Advent was of this character,” we read, “but after His Advent … [spirits] … were powerfully restrained in this respect” (SD 1778).

All this may seem remarkable to us. We barely reflect about the existence of the spiritual world, still less that it has a powerful influence on our lives. Until the Heavenly Doctrine was given, the destructive power of the hells was unexplained.

There is intimate communication between the spiritual and natural worlds. As to our mind or spirit we are in the spiritual world and subject to the influences of that world. Because of this association every evil carries a consequent punishment, every good its own reward. When we allow our minds to be carried into evils, we invite punishments from the spiritual world, suffering agonies of many kinds. On the other hand, in pursuit of orderly uses, we can be rewarded by angelic spirits with a sense of peace and trust.

In the incident of Balaam, the Lord was unwilling to have the evils of Israel discovered and brought to the attention of evil spirits. Therefore he did not allow Balaam to curse the camp. Evils certainly were there in the hearts of the people – and could be discovered and revealed by such a seer as Balaam – but they were kept concealed for good reason. Israel had been called by the Lord to serve a great use. Though evil at heart, this nation served to represent the church on earth, and was the Lord’s footstool. This, coupled with the fact that the Lord would be born among this people, provided the cause for which Israel was spared.

The prophet’s parting words to King Balak were a warning: “I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the latter days” (Num. 24:14). This warning went beyond the political relationships between Israel and Moab and Israel’s ascendancy over the nations of Moab and Edom. Moab means also a spiritual Moab, a hellish society with intent to destroy the goods of the church. The parable of this prophecy was addressed to a congregation of spirits as well as to the king and his commanders. It was a clear promise that their days of unrestrained evil were numbered. The Lord Himself would come to seek them out in every corner of their domain: “A Scepter shall rise out of Israel and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of Sheth” (Num. 24:17). The coming Messiah would reign triumphant over the powers of hell. As Jesus later said to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

The very destruction threatening Israel at that moment was what the Lord would come to earth to prevent. By His birth and life on earth He would face the hells in combat, conquer them, and forever govern their influence.

The account of Balaam shows how the Lord guards our life. We can see that the unsuspecting Israelites were shielded from disaster by the Lord in spite of their evils. They did not know that Balaam stood with Balak in the hills above their camp, eyeing them in repeated efforts to bring the curse of hell upon them. No more do we reflect that evil spirits, unseen by us, constantly search the loves and affections of our minds, seeking a vulnerability. The Lord delivers us daily from these evil ones!

This is the Lord’s protection of our spiritual freedom. The spirits of hell wish nothing more than to condemn us at the very first hint of evildoing. Their most subtle attack is to convince us that we are too evil to be saved. We are vulnerable because of our interior quality. “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). The Lord knows this, and therefore He does not allow us to suffer condemnation and punishment at the hands of the hells to the extent that we actually deserve. He preserves us from this spiritual devastation even as He protected the camp of Israel.

How the Lord provides this protection is suggested in the text itself. The blessing refers to the tents and dwellings of the camp. Balaam saw the camp of Israel spread out in the valley of Moab. It was an impressive sight: a city of tents in their order, tribe by tribe, family by family. At the center was the tabernacle of the Lord, the place of His dwelling. This order of the camp was the thing that made it possible for the Lord to save them. There was a power in this external form.

We are told that the tribes arranged themselves around the tabernacle in a specified way. Each tribe had its place. At first they had been a rabble of disorganized fugitive slaves. Now they had been disciplined by the laws of the Lord. The organization of their camp was a picture of heaven. The Lord had commanded Israel to follow this order so that the physical camp could represent the pattern of heaven itself.

“The Israelitish people represented the Lord’s kingdom in the heavens,” the Writings teach, “and thus the heavenly order there …” (AC 3703:18). Such an order has tremendous power. It is such that hell cannot possibly disturb it although it constantly tries to do so. “It is this very order, and thus heaven itself, which was represented by the encampments of the sons of Israel in the wilderness …” we are told. And “it was for this reason that when Balaam saw Israel dwelling according to their tribes, and the spirit of God came upon him, he uttered his enunciation” – the blessing upon the tents of Jacob (AC 4236:2).

Balaam could do nothing but bless this camp, for its form suggested the form of heaven itself. The fact that the people in the camp were prone to evils and falsities of every kind was offset by the fact that they held to an outward form of order. This was like a protective shell. Within this orderly form they had the freedom to live life without infestation from the spirits of hell.

This is the Lord’s provision for all of us. While our life may be infected with evils of many kinds, we may yet live safe from them. Order for the sake of uses is our protective shield. Even in hell, we are told, the sufferings of the spirits there are diminished when they are doing orderly and useful tasks. The reason is that this work for others imposes a pattern of order upon their lives and protects them from their evil loves with their direful consequences.

This is not to say that we may gain heaven by observing only external forms of order. When we pass into the spiritual world our interior loves are revealed and become active. We must change these during our life in this world. But this is not a task we can accomplish in one effort, or even many. It is a lifelong process, and during this process the Lord provides a safe space for our development. Tender states of growth require a protective sphere. While we maintain external order in our lives we may quietly and freely come to grips with the deeper evil loves that we find in ourselves. Under the protection of uses, customary forms, and orderly ways of life, we enjoy a freedom that would not otherwise be possible. Only in this sphere of protection and freedom will we make true spiritual gains.

The Writings speak of the necessity of having some study or business to keep our minds circumscribed and use-oriented. When the mind is not bound by purpose and outwardly disciplined to serve, it falls prey to many dangerous influences that enter in and attach themselves to our deep-seated lusts and evil affections. We should be occupied in orderly ways during our lifetime. This organizes our mind into a heavenly form. We need to simulate the heavenly form of life in our words and works even while we work, day by day, to infill the form with a true essence. This is what is meant by the succinct principle of life which the Writings propose: “Act precedes; man’s willing follows” (AC 4353:3).

Some might say this is hypocrisy. Simulation is just a way to cover our evils and so gain our ends in a socially acceptable way. But in fact, hypocrisy is covering evil with intent to deceive. It is not the same to cover evil with the intent to amend it. It is praiseworthy to restrain our evil loves to keep them from harming the neighbor. Meanwhile, we may strive for an inward change.

Finally, we should remember that it was the Lord who taught Israel how to arrange their camp. So too the Lord instructs us in the ways of a good life. We must look for the patterns of an orderly life as they are given in the Word. If we discover what the Lord commands and seek to practice His will in our lives, we will be protected from the influence of evil spirits. This is the means of protection the Lord has provided as we make our personal wilderness journey. We may not be conscious of the strengthening this brings. Like the unsuspecting Israelites who went about their normal tasks in the camp while Balaam labored to curse them, we may be unaware of the eyes secretly observing our life, hoping to find our faults and make us victims of an evil curse.

Perhaps it is a frightening thought to realize that evil spirits as well as angels are with us constantly during our life in the world. Yet we need not fear these hidden watchers as long as we dwell in the camp of the Lord. Their opportunity to realize the curse can never come. It was so with Balaam who longed to curse Israel. He could not. “He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel. The Lord his God is with him … Surely there is no sorcery against Jacob, nor is there any divination against Israel. It now must be said of Jacob and of Israel, ‘Oh, what God has done!”‘

Instead of a curse there was a blessing, a blessing the Lord intends for every person who orders his life by the truths of the Word. “How lovely are your tents, 0 Jacob! your dwellings, 0 Israel!” Amen.

Lessons: Numbers 24:1-6, 9-17; SD 2354; AC 5992:2,3

Spiritual Diary 2354

Concerning Balaam, why he pronounced a blessing. One may wonder that Balaam could curse the people, but that Jehovah did not allow him, yea, also that he had to bless them, as is also read (Joshua 24:9, 10), as if the cursing of the people by him could have effected anything. But I am able to know … from the state of the world of spirits … that very many of them seek a pretext for punishing; and as soon as they find anything of evil that is of any significance, desire the soul to be delivered to them … They anxiously search for whatever evil they can find, and when they find evil, claim the right over it; moreover, the soul is relinquished to them to be punished, for when the evil is great, then it is in the evil to be punished; wherefore the Lord, on account of justice, permits the evil and false to be punished, but only for the sake of its reformation or good. Since, therefore, there were such things in the people of Israel as were nefarious, idolatrous, and filthy, the Lord was unwilling that these should be detected by Balaam, and so be arraigned, for it was true that they were such; they would then have been condemned, which the Lord forbade … That Balaam could speak with spirits, and that he was led by them, is manifest enough from his confession. 1748, June 18.


Arcana Coelestia 5992

Infernal spirits continually attack and the angels protect; such is the order.

[2] The angels especially regulate the affections, for these make the man’s life and also his freedom. The angels also observe whether any hells are open that were not open before, and from which there is influx with the man, which takes place when the man brings himself into any new evil. These hells the angels close so far as the man allows, and remove any spirits who attempt to emerge therefrom. They also disperse strange and new influxes that produce evil effects.

[3] Especially do the angels call forth the goods and truths that are with a man, and set them in opposition to the evils and falsities which the evil spirits excite. Thus the person is in the midst, and does not perceive either the evil or the good; and being in the midst, he is in freedom to turn himself either to the one or to the other. By such means do angels from the Lord lead and protect a man, and this every moment, and every moment of a moment; for if the angels were to intermit their care for a single moment, the man would be precipitated into evil from which he could never afterward be brought out. These things the angels do from the love they have from the Lord, for they perceive nothing more delightful and happy than to remove evils from a man and lead him to heaven. That this is a joy to them, see Luke 15:7. Scarcely any man believes that the Lord takes such care of a man, and this continually from the first thread of his life to the last of it, and afterward to eternity.