ANGELS

ANGELS

A Sermon by Rev. Ragnar BoyesenPreached in Freeport, Pennsylvania, in October 1985

The Heavenly Doctrines explain to us the nature of angels, their existence, occupations and how they came to be what they are. Only when the Heavenly Doctrines stood forth to describe spiritual reality was man able to know a coherent doctrine regarding their life.

In the Old Testament, for instance, we are told hardly anything concerning angels. It is true that the Lord promised to send His angel to Israel, and that the Jews learned to regard them as messengers from God. They were called “elohim” — the holy ones — or as it is put in Greek: angelos. The Hebrew expression “elohim” was used to refer to different messengers from God; therefore it is plural. Sometimes these were the prophets, the priests, or grand phenomena in nature, as, for instance, the pillar of light or the pillar of cloud seen by the Israelites in the desert as they were led out of Egypt. All of the signs, the wind, plagues done in the name of the Lord, were called elohim.

The most specific expression is “the angel of Jehovah”; such were identified as “sons of God,” with which the Jews ascribed qualities in themselves which made them believe that they were the chosen people of God. Angels therefore became messengers to them specially approved of by God. The most specific use of the name elohim revolves around the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who was to be the promised one, the King, the Messiah who would carry God’s message of universal salvation of the Jews. After the captivity in Babylon, the Jews developed a complicated angeology. Angels came to be ranged in seven ascending categories. In later contact with Hellenistic thought, it came to be thought that angels were not personal beings but rather emanations from God. Wherever there was a need for an angel it was created in an instant by God. Those of the Jews, however, who came to regard the Palestinian concept as the more correct one believed angels to be individual and personal, but eternal spirits created as such. Since they had been created before the earth existed, angels came to be otherworldly and different. As messengers of God, in time angels came to have less standing than the living Jews, who were the chosen people of God.

This concept of angels as a separate creation of God was imported into Christianity: they were especially created by God, and were to be called His holy family. Like the ancient Greek ideas of the fallibility of gods, the holy angels came to be seen capable of failure, expressed in the belief that one group of angels revolted against God, to go off and form hell. The struggle of good and evil came to be symbolized by the angels of light versus the angels of darkness.

Because the importation of Greek and Babylonian/Judaic thought into Christian thinking caused men to slowly lose sight of the need to prepare themselves to become angels, the Heavenly Doctrines were given to make clear to all who want to understand that angelhood is part of the Lord’s Divine plan for each of us.

But some will say, Why do we need to talk about angels, and all the vague notions of eternal life, when there is such a need for all churches to fight poverty, need, criminality and sickness? Why do we not concentrate on the world, here and now, on America today? Would it not be more New Church to ease the burdens people bear?

Indeed it would if we would remember the original meaning of the term angel: “a messenger from God.” If there is anything which we humans need in all situations of life it is to be reminded that we live in the world for a purpose beyond the world, and that the life we live in the world will be markedly qualified by the type of belief we have of a life to come.

If you think about it, you know so well how the world is filled with organizations to help the needy on the local, national and international levels. All these fight on the natural plane with the natural problems of people, and should rightly do so to enhance society. Yet who in the world is willing to fight for the alleviation of the spiritual problems of the world today? If it is true that God needs messengers to bring the good news from the spiritual world down to the natural world, is it not much more important in our day that there be true reporting on spiritual reality? Without tools the Lord cannot, work. We, as human beings still in the world, are His tools. We are the angelos He wants to send to our neighbors to reassure them that there are qualities which must come from God to each human being in order that we one day may come close to God. We are, therefore, in steady need of reminders of the Lord’s purpose in creation. He made man in His own image and likeness that man one day may be an angel. Every time we fasten our thoughts on eternity we are to remind ourselves and others that heaven is the ultimate home of every sincere man and woman.

We are reminded of the young man who wanted to be an angel and asked the Lord, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The Lord answered, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17).

Life, we are told in the Writings, is the Lord Himself (see AC 2628:5). The Lord as life is heaven, while the angels constitute heaven (see HH 7). Heaven is kept in order by the law that proceeds from the Lord, who is the inmost of heaven. The ten commandments, as we know them from the Old Testament, are the most concrete summary of these laws, and have sprung out of the heavenly law. “In heaven [the ten commandments] do not sound as they do on earth, for in the heavens they are in a spiritual form, but on the earth in a natural form” (AC 8862).

When these laws are earnestly taken into the life of a human on this earth, they will cause a mental crisis, where the powers of good and truth attempt to order the mind from within. The uproar caused by truth is actually proof that truth is working, and that selfish thoughts and expressions of will rebel against them. Our false plans and evil inclinations can only be seen in the true light of the spiritual world, brought to us through angels who want to help us. To be an angel, then, means to learn how to live according to the ten commandments, both in their external and internal application. By using these laws as the yardstick of our willingness to follow the Lord’s will, we can find greater love and wisdom as we clearly receive the help of angels who love to think of us as angels in the making. “To believe and think, as is the truth, that every good and truth is from the Lord and every evil and falsity from hell appears like an impossibility; and yet it is the truly human principle, and therefore truly angelic” (DP 321:4). In the world we believe for the most part that it would destroy our freedom to ascribe everything to the Lord, but the angels know better. “With every man, and with every angel,” the Arcana tells us, “even the most celestial [angel], that which is his own is nothing but falsity and evil. For it is known that the heavens are not clean before the Lord, and that all good and all truth are of the Lord alone. But so far as a man or an angel is capable of being perfected, so far of the Lord’s Divine mercy he is perfected, and receives, as it were, an understanding of truth and a will of good. But his having these is only an appearance” (AC 633).

It is common among humans in the world to believe that they have their own life, because they feel individually separated and master of their lives to some degree. But neither angels nor men actually have life in themselves, even if they feel life in themselves. If this life were their own possession, they would be gods. Our reading today made it clear that what is angelic in the heavens is the Divine love and the Divine wisdom. This Divine love and wisdom is called angelic when it is in angels (see DLW 114).

When this is said, we must also remind ourselves that it is impossible for man or angel to receive the Lord unless there is a feeling of self-life. To feel that life is one’s own is a true and necessary appearance. However, to confirm that we are indeed captains of our lives is harmful. We have but one source of life — the Lord. Yet we have only one feeling of life — as if life were in ourselves. If angels and men could not have this feeling of life in themselves as integral to what they think and do, they could not function. If this feeling of life in ourselves were not there, we would not be able to receive the inflowing life from the Lord. “Who can wish to love the Lord and his neighbor, and who can wish to be wise, without a sense and perception that what he loves, learns, and imbibes is, as it were, his own? Who otherwise can retain it in himself? If this were not so, the inflowing love and wisdom would have no abiding place, for it would flow through and not affect; thus an angel would not be an angel, nor would man be a man” (DLW 115).

What is important to note here is that the sensation that life is in man belongs to both men and angels, but that only angels, and men who are training to become angels, really can acknowledge that life is not their own but a gift to care for and cherish. In the same degree that people believe that love and wisdom really is a function of their own lives, as if it were their own possession, they arrest the love and wisdom, because in the same degree they are not angelic. Everyone who claims life to belong to himself as his own property denies that he lives from the Lord, and believes that he lives from himself. If we are to live from the Lord, we will gladly acknowledge His life as our life, and rejoice in this dependence as a son on his father.

Everyone who wants to be an angel is given the opportunity and the ability to answer the Lord’s Divine love. This ability does not belong to any angel or man, but is the Lord’s with him.

What, then, makes man separate and worthy of Divine attention? Divine Love and Wisdom answers: “In everything created by God there is reaction. In life alone there is action; reaction is caused by the action of life. Because reaction takes place when any created thing is acted upon, it appears as if it belonged to what is created. Thus in man it appears as if the reaction were his, because he has no other feeling than that life is his, when yet man is only a recipient of life. From this cause it is that man, by reason of his hereditary evil, reacts against God. But so far as man believes that all his life is from God, and that all good of life is from the action of God, and all evil of life from the reaction of man, so far his reaction comes to be from [God’s] action, and man acts with God as if from himself” (DLW 68 — emphasis added).

Man can never reach God from his own power. No angel of the heavens has been created in heaven for a life in heaven, but has first been a man with his own ability to react to the Lord. It is the will of the Lord that all human beings receive life both on the three degrees of natural life and the three degrees of spiritual life. Even as some believe that angels have more of the Divine in them than men on the earth, the reality is that the Lord is equally present with all men, wise or simple, but that how we receive the Lord makes all the difference. The difference is not in the Lord. He would have liked to make all men angels. The difference is in man — in his ability and willingness to follow Divine laws, and to make these laws his own with Divine aid. The greater this mutuality grows because of man’s striving to live according to Divine will, the greater the joy, beauty and expression of that Divine life, which when received by man or angel is called angelic.

 

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things have I spoken to you that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10, 11).

Amen.

 


Lessons: Matt. 19:16-30, DLW 114, 115

Divine Love and Wisdom

114. The Lord not only is in heaven, but also is heaven itself; for love and wisdom are what make the angel, and these two are the Lord’s in the angels; from which it follows that the Lord is heaven. For angels are not angels from what is their own; what is their own is altogether like what is man’s own, which is evil. An angel’s own is such because all angels were once men, and this own clings to the angels from their birth. It is only put aside, and so far as it is put aside the angels receive love and wisdom, that is, the Lord, in themselves. Anyone, if he will only elevate his understanding a little, can see that the Lord can dwell in angels only in what is His, that is, in what is His very own., which is love and wisdom, and not at all in the selfhood of angels, which is evil. From this it is that so far as evil is put away, so far the Lord is in them, and so far they are angels. The very angelic of heaven is love Divine and wisdom Divine. This Divine is called the angelic when it is in angels. From this, again, it is evident that angels are angels from the Lord, and not from themselves; consequently, the same is true of heaven.

115. But how the Lord is in an angel and an angel in the Lord cannot be comprehended unless the nature of their conjunction is known. Conjunction is of the Lord with the angel and of the angel with the Lord; conjunction, therefore, is reciprocal. On the part of the angel it is as follows. The angel, in like manner as man, has no other perception than that he is in love and wisdom from himself, consequently that love and wisdom are, as it were, his or her own. Unless he so perceived, there would be no conjunction, thus the Lord would not be in him, nor he in the Lord. Nor can it be possible for the Lord to be in any angel or man unless the one in whom the Lord is, with love and wisdom, has a perception and sense as if they were his. By this means the Lord is not only received but also, when received, is retained, and likewise loved in return. And by this, also, the angel is made wise and continues wise. Who can wish to love the Lord and his neighbor, and who can wish to be wise, without a sense and perception that what he loves, learns, and imbibes is, as it were, his own? Who otherwise can retain it in himself? If this were not so, the inflowing love and wisdom would have no abiding place, for it would flow through and not affect; thus an angel would not be an angel, nor would man be a man; he would be merely like something inanimate. From all this it can be seen that there must be an ability to reciprocate that there may be conjunction.

TRUE BEAUTY

TRUE BEAUTY

A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn (cataloged 8/11/97)

 

“So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed but a few days to him because of the love he had for her” (Gen. 29:20).

The Hebrew patriarchs had beautiful wives. This was a concern for Abram as he journeyed toward Egypt. He said to Sarai, “I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance … ” (Gen. 12:11). “Say you are my sister,” he said, so that his life would not be in jeopardy among the Egyptians.

A generation later, Abraham’s servant went in search of a wife for Isaac. Who can forget the wonder of his meeting with Rebekah at the well? Even as the old servant prayed for success in his quest, Rebekah came out with her pitcher on her shoulder. “Now the young woman was very beautiful to behold, a virgin …” we are told (Gen. 24:16).

Yet another generation passed when Jacob, like his father before him, loved a woman who was truly beautiful. This was Rachel, the daughter of Laban. It is said that “Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance” (Gen. 29:17), captivating beyond any woman Jacob had ever seen. He was willing to work seven years for her; indeed, when Laban tricked him, substituting the weak-eyed Leah for his bride, Jacob worked yet another seven years for Rachel.

The beauty of women has been a source of inspiration for men from ancient times, but only now has the hidden reason for this been revealed. The wives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were beautiful because they signify inner qualities which create true beauty. The Heavenly Doctrine for the New Church now unfolds the spiritual origin of woman’s beauty. It is from an interior cause flowing from the Creator Himself. While there is a natural beauty of face and form enjoyed by some, inherited from parents, this fades with time. True spiritual beauty is timeless and is what the Writings describe about women who have died old, wrinkled with age, who, as angels after death, are restored to the bloom of their youth and to a beauty unimaginable here on earth. Our purpose is to explore the cause and nature of this true and lasting beauty, not just to know it but that we may strive for beauty in our own lives.

It was the poet John Keats who said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” While this may seem abstract, the poet’s insight opens the way to contemplate an idea of beauty that goes beyond physical form. This idea is confirmed by what we have been given by the Lord in the Heavenly Doctrine. Consider these teachings: “The beauty of angels, and also of men, as to the interiors which are their spirits, is by truths (AC n. 553, 3080, 4985, 5199)” (NJHD 24; AR 161). “Truths themselves constitute as it were the face of beauty … ” (AC 3804). “The very truth of faith presents beauty in the external form … ” (AC 4985). Beauty is from truth!

But this is not the whole story. Recall what Abram said of his wife Sarai as they came to Egypt: “Indeed I know that you are a woman beautiful to look upon” (Gen. 12:11). In the explanation of these words, the Writings say that it is truth from “a celestial origin” that is delightful in this way (AC 1470). Sarai was said to be beautiful and delightful to look upon because she represented something called “celestial truth” (Ibid.).

What does this mean? What is celestial truth? When the Writings speak of what is “celestial” they refer to a quality of love. “Celestial truth” is truth in which there is love. The Writings offer this comparison: ” … truth is then like the light of the sun in the springtime, which has heat in its bosom, from which all things on the earth are made to vegetate, and are as it were animated. This celestial truth is the beautiful itself,” we are told, “or beauty itself … ” (Ibid.).

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Yes, but only when that truth is inwardly alive from love. Let us look again at the statement “Truths are the face of beauty.” Of themselves, truths are empty forms, cold, unbeautiful. If it is to be so that truth is beauty and the “face of beauty,” there must be love in that truth and life behind that face. “From this it is that the angels of heaven are of ineffable beauty,” we are told, “being as it were loves and charities in form … ” (AC 4985).

There is a common perception in the world that true beauty is more than skin deep. People speak of an “inner beauty” that radiates from the lives of people regardless of physical appearance. The Writings teach that everyone’s human form after death is the more beautiful “in proportion as he has more interiorly loved Divine truths and lived according to them … ” (HH 459). What the Writings reveal is that inner beauty is uncovered after death, endowing the angels, especially angelic wives, with a remarkable, indescribable comeliness.

The Writings also reveal why women especially are forms of beauty: it is from creation and their very nature. Let us look further at this. To learn about this, Swedenborg came once to a place near an angelic temple of wisdom where a conversation on wisdom was about to take place. Noticing something unusual, he first asked his host why the house was divided in two by a transparent partition, though seeming still to be one. The angel replied that his wife also was present, though separated by the partition. When Swedenborg inquired why this was so and asked what a wise man or wisdom had to do with woman, perhaps reflecting the attitude of his own day in the learned circles of Sweden, the host called other wise men to join them and repeated Swedenborg’s question. At this they all laughed, saying, “What is a wise man or wisdom without woman, that is, without love? The wife is the love of a wise man’s wisdom” (CL 56:2).

The men then began a discourse about the cause of the beauty of the female sex in which they said that women were formed to be uniquely affected by wisdom, to be the life of wisdom, and to bring alive the warmth and delights of conjugial love with men to the end that men might render thanks to the Lord for this bounty, and repay it by the reception of wisdom from Him (see CL 56:3-5).

The Writings show that beauty in women is especially related to the interaction and conjunction between men and women which the Lord has established by creation. Indeed, it has been revealed that all beauty in the other life is from conjugial love (see AC 2735). This is because true marriage lives from the conjunction of good with truth, or love with wisdom. Heavenly wives are indescribably beautiful because their appearance is from the wisdom which they have received from their husbands, made living from within by their love. Yet another discourse Swedenborg heard in the spiritual world illustrates this. This was by a series of three orators, the first of whom proposed that love was the origin of beauty and the second that wisdom was its origin. The third said: “Not love alone, nor wisdom alone, is the origin of beauty, but the union of love and wisdom the union of love with wisdom in the young man, and the union of wisdom with its love in the maiden … Therefore,” he concluded, “love by wisdom forms beauty, and wisdom from love receives it … ” (CL 384).

With this background of information about the nature of beauty, especially about the beauty of women, what conclusions and applications to our life can we suggest? How can we find and appreciate true beauty?

Most obviously, it is important to maintain perspective about natural beauty as compared to spiritual. We live in a world which puts high value on glamour, fashion and appearance yet often disregards morality, even civility. Let us remember what the Lord said to Samuel when he looked for a king in Israel: “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature … for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Sam. 16:7).

How the angels would cringe at our distorted use of the term, “beautiful people,” when the character and quality of those who are so called in our world often seems so far from the ideals of heavenly life. By contrast, the way to be truly beautiful is clearly put forth in the doctrine: “When … people have removed their evils … [and perform acts of love] … they appear as beautiful people in heaven in the sight of angels,” we are told, “and as their associates and companions” (DP 121).

Let us learn to prize morality, and especially chastity, from love of the Lord. What is truly beautiful in life is what is heavenly. So it is said: ” … the man who is in the good of love, and hence in the truth of faith, is in the form of heaven, and consequently is in the beauty in which heaven is, where the Divine from the Lord is all in all” (AC 5199). “Good itself when it flows in from the internal man into the external, makes beauty; and from this is all human beauty” (AC 3080).

There is a special beauty for which we should pray and should strive in the chaste and loving relationship between husband and wife. “Genuine conjugial love is the image of heaven,” we are told, “and when it is represented in the other life, this is done by the most beautiful things that can ever be seen by the eyes or conceived by the mind … ” (AC 2735).

The Lord has created husbands and wives as two who are to become one. By his love of growing wise, the husband should acquire truths of wisdom. In themselves these truths are lifeless forms. Yet these are the forms which the wife joins to her own life, making them the “face” of her beauty. This beauty inspires the husband to grow in wisdom. The teaching is given in the New Church that “women were created by the Lord affections of the wisdom of men … ” (CL 56:3). A good woman will love the things her husband has learned from the Lord and will make them a part of her life. A good man will see a beauty in these things now made living by his wife’s love, and he will love her for that beauty. Together they become united as one, sharing a love and a wisdom that is unique to them. Together they bring wisdom and love into act, procreating ever new uses of life.

In the heavens angelic couples sometimes are seen as one angel, because their lives are integrated. Swedenborg experienced this integration in various ways. Once, in the presence of angels of most ancient times, he was eager to learn about their marriages. Looking at the husband, then at the wife, he observed a unity of souls and said: “You two are one.” The man replied: “We are one; her life is in me and mine in her … she is the love of my wisdom and I am the wisdom of her love … ” (CL 75).

Later, among angels of the ancient heaven he saw upon the wall of a couple’s house a rainbow, as it were, composed of three colors, crimson, hyacinthine, and white; and he saw how the crimson passed through the hyacinthine and tinged the white with dark blue, while the white flowed back through the hyacinthine into the crimson and raised it to a flamy beam, as it were. The husband then explained that this represented the interplay of the conjugial love of the wife and the intelligence of the husband. “Such things are represented on these walls,” he said, “whenever, from meditation on conjugial love and its mutual, successive, and simultaneous union, we look with intent gaze at the rainbows there pictured” (CL 76).

Again, when in the house of the wise angel whose wife was with him, “the wife appeared through the crystal partition and said to her husband, `Speak, if you please.’ And when he spoke, the life of wisdom from his wife was perceived in his speech; for her love was in the tone of his voice. Thus experience bore witness to truth” (CL 56). With these and other experiences the Lord has demonstrated the intended relation between husbands and wives.

The beauty of our marriage depends upon these same heavenly principles. “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

The greatest danger to beauty in marriage is its opposite of adultery, where insanity and perverted loves rule instead of wisdom and love. Adulterous liaisons are inspired by the hells and produce what is ugly and destructive of use. So the Writings teach that the wisdom of life is, in brief: “to shun evils … This,” we are told, “is the wisdom … with which conjugial love binds itself; for it binds itself by shunning the evil of adultery as the pest of the soul, the commonwealth, and the body” (CL 130).

Men and women each have a part in building a true marriage together. The marriage progresses step by step toward greater happiness and beauty as each partner contributes to it. Swedenborg heard from angels that “a wife becomes more and more a wife as her husband becomes more and more a husband … ” (CL 200). Surprisingly, the reverse is not the case. If men fail in their responsibilities, progress in the marriage stops. The husband cannot be pulled along in the relationship by a wife’s unilateral efforts. However, as soon as a husband tries to do his part, the wife will also do hers. “Rarely, if ever, does a chaste wife fail to love her husband,” we are told. “What is lacking is love in return on the part of the husband; and this is lacking on account of there being no elevation of wisdom, which alone receives a wife’s love” (Ibid.). Here is a teaching for the men of the New Church to take to heart. Seek the wisdom of life especially that wisdom that shuns the evil of adultery.

If wives are to be truly beautiful, men must strive first to be truly wise. When men fail in this, marriages languish. Women feel forsaken and neglected.

This should never be so in the New Church. The Lord has given the church the Heavenly Doctrine, the key to unlock the wisdom of heaven. Let this be precious to us all, like a treasure hidden in a field which, when we have found it, becomes a joy to us, worth all that we have (see Matt. 13:44). Then let the words of Isaiah’s prophecy be fulfilled with us: “You shall … be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:3-5). Amen.

 


Lessons: Gen. 24:10-21; CL 42 (portions)

Conjugial Love 42 (portions)

One morning, looking up to heaven, I beheld above me expanse upon expanse. And I saw that the first expanse, which was nearby, opened, and presently the second, which was higher, and lastly the third, which was the highest; and by enlightenment therefrom I perceived that upon the first expanse were angels who form the first or lowest heaven; upon the second expanse, angels who form the second or middle heaven; and upon the third expanse, angels who form the third or highest heaven. At first I wondered what this was and why; and presently a voice as of a trumpet was heard from heaven, saying: “We have perceived and do now see that you are meditating on conjugial love; and we know that, as yet, no one on earth knows what love truly conjugial is in its origin and in its essence, yet it is important that this be known. Therefore it has pleased the Lord to open the heavens to you, that enlightening light and thence perception may flow into the interiors of your mind. With us in the heavens, especially in the third heaven, our heavenly delights are chiefly from conjugial love. Therefore, by leave given us, we will send down to you a married pair that you may see.”

And lo, a chariot was then seen descending from the highest or third heaven, and in it was seen a single angel, but as it drew near, two were seen … They then drew near, and lo! it was a husband and his wife; and they said: “We are married partners. From the first age, called by you the Golden Age, we have lived happily in heaven and always in the same flower of youth in which you now see us.”

I observed them both attentively, for I perceived that they represented conjugial love in its life and in its adornment in its life in their faces, and in its adornment in their apparel.

As to the wife, her appearance was as follows: To me her face was both visible and not visible visible as beauty itself, and not visible because such beauty is inexpressible; for in her face was a splendor of flaming light like the light with angels of the third heaven, and this light so dulled my sight that I became merely stupified with amazement. Observing this, she spoke to me, saying: “What do you see?” I answered: “I see only conjugial love and its form; but I see and do not see.” At this she turned partly away from her husband, and then I was able to observe her more intently. Her eyes sparkled with the light of her heaven which, as was said, is flamy and therefore partakes of the love of wisdom; for in that heaven, wives love their husbands from their husbands’ wisdom and in that wisdom; and husbands love their wives from that love toward themselves and in it. Thus they are united. Hence her beauty a beauty which no painter can emulate and portray in its form, there being no such sparkle in his colors; nor is such beauty expressible by his art.

When I had seen all this, they again spoke with me; and when the husband was speaking, he spoke at the same time as though from his wife, and when the wife, she spoke at the same time as though from her husband, such being the union of the minds from which the speech flowed; and then also I heard the sound of conjugial love, that it was inwardly simultaneous and, moreover, was a sound proceeding from the delights of a state of peace and innocence. At last they said, “We are recalled; we must depart.” And then, as before, they again appeared to be conveyed in a chariot, being conveyed along a road laid out between flower beds, from the borders of which rose olive trees and trees laden with oranges. And as they drew near their heaven, maidens came out to meet them and received them and led them in.

CALLED TO THE MARRIAGE SUPPER (A Short Sermon on the Holy Supper)

CALLED TO THE MARRIAGE SUPPER (A Short Sermon on the Holy Supper)

A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Ho. Asplundh)Cataloged May 4, 1997

 

John “saw the Holy City New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). This is a vision of the New Church.

Why is the church pictured as a bride? Because the idea of a marriage perfectly describes the relationship between the Lord and His church. In fact, the Lord declared Himself to be the Bridegroom and Husband of the church.

In marriage there is a conjoining, or joining together, of two into one life. The marriage of the Lamb is the Lord’s marriage with the people of the church. What is true of genuine marriage is true of this marriage. We think of the mutual love of partners, their mutual confidence, understanding and trust, their shared delights and their creation of new life together. A marriage gives promise of new potential – of new uses and happiness that will be born from this relationship.

The vision of the bride and wife caused the angelic hosts to rejoice, for they knew what it meant. “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7). The angels saw the prospects for this marriage in the same way that we look forward to the marriage of a husband to a lovely bride.

It is said that the “bride has made herself ready.” So too the people of the church must make themselves ready for conjunction with the Lord. The New Church is established and built on earth as the men and women of the church open their minds to its truths, inviting the Lord to enter to touch their inmost thoughts and affections. In the New Church we are permitted to know the Lord and to love Him just as a wife can increasingly come to know and love the qualities of her husband.

Another essential of any true marriage is the quality of freedom in the relationship. Again, the Lord constantly respects our freedom in His marriage with the church. We are not controlled or compelled by Him. We are invited to join ourselves freely to His Will. What could be a more gentle presence in our lives? So the Lord is called a “Lamb.”

“Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” (Rev. 19:9) The Lord calls us all. Will we answer His call and find the blessings which He wants to give us? “Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the Great God” (Rev. 19:17). This is the Lord’s invitation to the New Church and to a state of spiritual conjunction with Him.

If the marriage itself is the establishment of the church, the marriage feast pictures its blessings. “To sup” means to communicate, to share together. This correspondence has its origin in ancient times when people met together for feasts of charity where they shared their blessings and communicated their delights.

The Holy Supper was instituted by the Lord that by it there might be conjunction of the church with heaven. So we are taught, “the Holy Supper is an external of the church that contains within itself an internal, and by means of this internal it conjoins the person who is in love and charity with heaven, and through heaven with the Lord” (AC 421 1).

When the Writings speak of being conjoined with heaven, they mean entering into a heavenly state of mind. Conjunction with angels involves an uplifting of our spirit into the sphere or influence of angels. This is the power of the Holy Supper. It leads us out of ourselves and above ourselves to serve the Lord. It provides us with a new strength of purpose and commitment in loving and following the Lord.

We must prepare ourselves to receive the benefits of this sacrament. We do this by putting on the beautiful garments of the bride to make ourselves ready. By the “fine linen … of the saints” is signified that those who are of the Lord’s church have the goods of life through truths from the Word. This is plainly manifest from the angels of heaven, we are told; the more they are in truths and in life according to them, the more they appear clothed in brighter garments (see AR 815).

We have been invited to come to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Let us, through spiritual reflection and by repentance of life, make ourselves ready to receive the blessings and benefits of the Lord’s second coming and of His New Church. “Come and gather yourselves together to the supper of the Great God” (Rev. 19:17). Amen.

Lessons Isaiah 54:5,6, Isaiah 62:1,4,5, Rev 19:6-9 Rev 19:17, Rev 21:1,2, Rev. 21:9-11, AR

 


Isaiah 54:5,6 – For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of Hosts is His name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall He be called. For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God.

Isaiah 62:1,4,5 – For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth … Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate; but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee; and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.

Rev. 19:6-9 – And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Rev. 19:17 – And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the Great God …

Rev. 21:1,2 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Rev. 21:9-11 And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God …

Apocalypse Revealed

It is said that John “saw the holy city New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven,” here that he saw that city “prepared as a Bride adorned for her Husband,” from which it is also evident that by “Jerusalem” is meant the church, and that he saw it first as a city, and afterwards as a virgin bride, as a city representatively, and as a virgin bride spiritually, thus in a two-fold idea, one within or above the other, just as the angels do, who, when they see or hear or read in the Word of “a city,” in the idea of the lower thought perceive a city, but in the idea of the higher thought perceive the church as to doctrine; and the latter, if they desire it and pray to the Lord, they see as a virgin in beauty and clothing according to the quality of the church. Thus also it has been granted me to see the church (881).

Verse 9. And He said unto me, Write, “Happy are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb” signifies an angel sent from heaven to John, and speaking with him concerning the Lord’s New Church … This was done that it might be announced on earth that the whole heaven acknowledges the Lord alone as the God of heaven, and that He alone is to be adored; also that the New Church is to be established by the Lord on the earth, as it has been established in the heavens … This is the arcanum in these words … (816).

REFUGE AND STRENGTH

REFUGE AND STRENGTH

A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhCataloged May 4, 1997

 

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46: 1).

These words begin the 46th Psalm, one of the psalms that people turn to and love to hear when there is trouble in their lives. Like the 23rd Psalm, which tells of the Lord as our shepherd, and the 91st, which tells of the Lord’s giving His angels charge over us, this psalm too speaks directly to the troubled heart and reminds us of the Lord’s presence and protection.

The picture drawn in this psalm is one of tumultuous change, upheavals, wars, all swirling around, describing the way we sometimes feel when our life’s foundations are shaken and seem threatened by change. But at the center of all of this commotion and unrest, in the eye of the storm, there is a quiet refuge, a stable and immovable holy place: the Tabernacle of the Most High. “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved” (Psalm 46:5).

There is a fascinating teaching in the Heavenly Doctrine that illustrates this inner power from the Lord. Swedenborg reports on it in the following experience he had in the spiritual world: “There was a numerous crowd of spirits about me …. They were complaining that everything was going to destruction …. But in the midst of them I perceived a soft sound, angelically sweet, having nothing in it that was out of order. Angelic choirs were there within, and the crowd of spirits devoid of order was without. This angelic strain continued a long time, and I was told that by it was represented how the Lord rules confused and disorderly things which are without from what is peaceful in the midst, by which the disorderly things in the circumference are brought back into order …” (AC 5396).

In times of trouble we are thrown into distress and anxiety. But the Lord teaches: “Be still, and know that I am God …” (Psalm 46: 10). If we can but still the troubled heart and quiet our mental commotion, we will know that the Lord is with us and is our refuge.

Powerful forces are described in this psalm of David. We read of mountains shaking and moving, tumultuous seas, the removal of the earth. What could be more awesome to the people of Israel than these things? They had seen the power of the Red Sea when it closed upon their Egyptian enemies. They had trembled when the Lord spoke from Mount Sinai.

The Word speaks often of mountains and seas, not only in the poetic psalms but throughout. So the prophet Isaiah speaks of preparing the way of the Lord by exalting the valleys and making the mountains and hills low. In the Gospels we read of how the Lord calmed the stormy sea and how He told His disciples they could cast mountains into the sea if they had faith. Such power seemed unbelievable. Later, John, while on the isle of Patmos, saw visions of fearful events. He saw a burning mountain falling into the sea and causing great destruction. Why all these descriptions?

Everything in the Word carries a spiritual significance. These images of the destruction of mountains and the swelling of the seas are intended to convey spiritual ideas. This is why they are referred to so often in Scripture, as in the psalm under consideration, and with such a notable consistency.

It is revealed in the Heavenly Doctrine that mountains signify the great loves of human life – essentially the two fundamental loves: one good, one evil. So a “mountain” in the good sense signifies love of the Lord and the neighbor; in an evil sense, the love of self. Just as mountains were the major feature of the land, so these fundamental loves are the major feature of human life.

Is it not when our fundamental loves are shaken that we become anxious and troubled? This is what the 46th psalm describes in its spiritual sense. “This [psalm],” we are told, “involves in the spiritual sense that although the church and all things thereof perish, still the Word and the Divine truth it contains shall not perish …. ‘There is a river the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God; she shall not be changed …'” (AE 518:26). This psalm is a promise of the Lord’s power to sustain His church even in times of distress.

The psalms outwardly speak to natural troubles and afflictions. Indeed, many of them relate directly to the troubled fortunes of David both before and after he became King of Israel. We can take natural comfort in their words, for the Lord is near and is a refuge for us. Inwardly, however, the Word speaks to the spiritual states of our life: to our deeper needs. Though much of our natural life is bound up with anxious concerns for the morrow, the Lord assures us that He knows our need of things for earthly life. He urges us to seek first the kingdom of God.

As we read the Lord’s psalms of refuge and strength, let us reflect on the inner strength and protection that comes from having a true faith from Him. This is the deeper subject of the text.

It was faith that the Lord urged His disciples to have when they marvelled at His power. “Have faith in God,” He said. “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that those things he says will come to pass, he will have whatever he says” (Mark 11:22,23). Again, He exhorted them to faith when they failed to perform a miracle of healing. “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt. 17:20).

The Writings explain that the Lord was not speaking of a natural power to move mountains. “The Lord spoke here as well as elsewhere by correspondences,” we are told, and therefore these words must be understood spiritually. “For a ‘mountain’ signifies the love of self and of the world, thus the love of evil …” (AE 518: 10). This is the mountain we can move out of our life if we have faith and ask the Lord for help.

There are many sincere people in the world who believe that by faith even natural miracles can be accomplished. Did not the Lord promise in so many words, “All things whatsoever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matt. 21:22), and “If you have faith, … nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt. 17:20)? Yet how many have been disillusioned when their prayers are not answered? How many have blamed themselves that their faith was not strong enough or that they had not prayed long and hard enough for their wishes to have been granted?

The New Church teaches a different idea of faith. Consider this passage of the Heavenly Doctrine: “It is not according to Divine order for one to receive what he asks if he only have faith,” we read, “or for the disciples to pluck up a mountain or a tree from its place and cast it into the sea. But ‘faith’ here means faith from the Lord, consequently it is called ‘the faith of God,’ and he who is in faith from the Lord asks for nothing but what contributes to the Lord’s kingdom and to himself for salvation; other things he does not wish….” We are told “It is impossible for angels of heaven to wish and so to ask for anything else, and if they were to do so they could have no faith that they would receive it” (AE 518: 10).

It is important to notice that the Writings here speak of a “faith from the Lord.” This is not the same as “faith in the Lord.” Faith from the Lord is strong because it is from the Lord. Faith in the Lord is from ourselves and is only as strong as our personal conviction. Like the faith represented by the disciple Peter, it can falter, can deny the Divine omnipotence.

It is important to understand the difference. Let us illustrate the common idea of faith in the Lord. Suppose we are in an anxious state. Does it help when someone says to us, “Have faith in God”? We are anxious and troubled because we have been unable to feel that faith. It may be well and good for someone to say we should have more faith, but it is little comfort when we don’t feel it. That person can’t give us more.

Faith from the Lord is different. It is the Lord’s gift to us as we live a life of charity. It doesn’t wait on our moods or states, but is His power in our lives. One definition of faith given in the Heavenly Doctrine is as follows: It “is the working of the Lord alone through the charity in a man” (AC 1162). “… it is by this faith, which is the faith of charity from Him,” we are told, “that the Lord removes all evils flowing from the loves of self and of the world and casts them into hell from which they came …” (AE 405:53).

Faith from the Lord is strong because the Lord is strong. Indeed, as we recognize our weakness and put aside our frail confidence, the Lord’s strength takes over. The Lord told His disciples that even if their faith was as a mustard seed – as little as what that tiny seed represents – they could move mountains.

The Writings explain that “a ‘grain of mustard-seed’ is man’s good before he becomes spiritual, which is ‘the least of all seeds,’ because he thinks that he does good of himself …. But as he is in a state of regeneration, there is something of good in him, but it is the least of all” (AC 55:3). This life of good is the beginning of his faith.

We can increase our faith. We do this by bringing the Lord, who is faith itself, into our lives. As to the formation of faith, we are told: “… it is effected by a person’s going to the Lord, learning truths from the Word, and living according to them” (TCR 347). It is as simple as that. The more we learn of the Lord’s truth, believing it is His truth, not our own, and the more we form our lives into obedience to this truth, the more we will have of faith from Him. So we are taught: “It is … a law of order that man by his own exertion and power ought to acquire faith by means of truths from the Word and yet believe that not a grain of truth is from himself, but from God only …” (TCR 71). “Faith,” we are told, “is an internal affection which consists in a heartfelt desire to know what is true and what is good … for the sake of life” (AC 8034).

The Lord often asked those who came to Him for a miracle whether they believed He could do it. “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes,” He said. Once there was a man whose son was afflicted with demons, who came to the Lord to ask that his son might be helped. He cried out with tears in his eyes, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23,24). Sometimes this is our own heartfelt plea. In a time of desperate need, we turn to the Lord for a stronger faith. If our prayer is sincere, the Lord will strengthen us. He has showed us how we may receive faith. So we are told in one of those remarkable passages from the Writings that seems to address us in such a personal way: “… my friend, shun evil and do good and believe in the Lord from all your heart and in all your soul, and the Lord will love you, and will give you a love of doing and faith to believe …. [T]his is salvation itself and eternal life” (TCR 484). In this way God is, indeed, our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 46; Mark 11: 12-14, 20-24; AE 405:35; 510:2

 


Apocalypse Explained

405:35. It is to be known that all who are in the love of self, especially those who are in the love of ruling, when they come into the spiritual world, are in the greatest eagerness to raise themselves into high places; this desire is inherent in that love; and this is why “to be of a high or elated mind” and “to aspire to high things” have become expressions in common use. The reason itself that there is this eagerness in the love of ruling is that they wish to make themselves gods, and God is in things highest. That “mountains and hills” signify these loves, and thence the evils of these loves, is clear from its being said, “a day of Jehovah of Hosts shall come upon everyone that is proud and exalted, and upon all the exalted mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up …” What else could be meant by “coming upon the mountains and hills”? 5102:2. “Mountain” means love in both senses, because the angels of the third heaven, who are in celestial love, dwell upon mountains in the spiritual world; so when a “mountain” is mentioned, that heaven is meant, and according to the ideas of angelic thought, which are abstracted from persons and places, that which constitutes heaven is meant, that is, celestial love. But in the contrary sense “mountain” signifies the love of self, because they who are in the love of self have a constant desire to go up mountains, to make themselves equal to those who are in the third heaven. Because they dwell upon this in their fancy, it is also the object of their endeavor when they are out of the hells; this is why a “mountain” in the contrary sense signifies the love of self. In a word, those who are in the love of self are always aspiring after high things; so after death, when all the states of the love are changed into things correspondent, in their fancy they mount aloft, believing themselves, while in the fancy, to be upon high mountains, and yet bodily they are in the hells.

THE NEW CHURCH IN THE WILDERNESS

THE NEW CHURCH IN THE WILDERNESS

A Sermon by Rev Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn AthynJune 30, 1996

 

“But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent” (Rev. 12:14).

The account of the woman who fled to the wilderness to be safe from the dragon is well known and loved in the New Church. We have heard it repeated many times, have dramatized its action in pageants, and have pictured it in many forms of art.

It is a dramatic story of spiritual combat, with elements of suspense, heroic combat, Divine rescue and uncertainty. There is the woman’s beauty in sharp contrast to the dragon’s repulsiveness; the victory of Michael and his angels; the wings of the great eagle by which the woman could soar to safety. In the end there is a question. The woman was safe. The male child was safe. But the dragon was still at war a living threat to the rest of the woman’s offspring, to those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. The final outcome is in doubt. Can the dragon yet prevail?

Clearly, this is an epic of the forces of evil against good and good against evil. Nor is it merely theoretical or poetic. In a large sense, the words tell the true story of a new spiritual beginning in heaven and on earth. They also can be applied more intimately, as an account of our personal struggle to receive the church.

New Church people are well aware of the main significations involved: that the woman clothed with the sun signifies the New Church; the male child to whom she gave birth, the doctrine of that church; the dragon, also called that “old serpent,” meaning those who think from evils of life and from falsities and thus in oppo- sition to the New Church, whereas Michael and his angels signify those who think and act from spiritual truths from the Lord.

In a broad sense, the account of the woman and the dragon pictures the birth of the New Church and its doctrine in a hostile world and the need for the Lord to protect and preserve it “until from a few it increases among many” (AR 531). As such, this is not a new story.

Through the ages the Lord has established a series of true churches, each succeeding the former church as that former church declined and lost spiritual power. In each case the birth of a new church has been met with opposition and persecution. We can see evidence of this in history. Take, for example, the Jewish Church. These “chosen people” of the Lord were viciously attacked and perse- cuted by the nations. Many of the Jews, in turn, opposed the teachings of Christ when He came with new doctrine for a new religion; and the establishment of Christianity is stained with the blood of martyrs.

Opposition in the world, cruel and hateful as it was, was minor in comparison with the struggles for power and supremacy that raged in the spiritual world at the same time. What was not seen and therefore not recorded in history was the spiritual warfare accompanying the establishment of every new church by the Lord. Each new church could be introduced only after a vast and conclusive spiritual judgment upon the former church. The intensity and power of these judgments is only now revealed to the world.

While there has been little overt persecution of the New Church in this world since its beginning two hundred years ago, the spiritual struggles at its inception have been fierce and far-reaching. Indeed, the book of Revelation with its descriptions of destruction and desolation is a prophecy of the spiritual judgment precipitated by the Second Coming of the Lord and the establishment of the New Church in place of the former Christian churches. The wars and judgments here described took place in the spiritual world, not on this earth. They were spiritual combats which have had little visible effect on our world, although they have been essential for the preservation of our world. “The state of the world hereafter will be altogether similar to what it has been heretofore,” the Heavenly Doctrine states, “for the great change which has taken place in the spiritual world does not induce any change in the natural world as to the external form . . . . But,” we are told, “henceforth the man of the church will be in a more free state of thinking on matters of faith . . . because spiritual freedom has been restored to him” (LJ 73). Spiritual freedom, an absolute necessity for true belief, has been restored.

Let us look, then, at some of the events of the 12th chapter of the book of Revelation from which our text today is drawn. What was the spiritual warfare going on here? Does it have any effect on us today? What is especially meant by the great red dragon? by Michael and his angels? And is this dragon still at large and a force to be reckoned with in our own lives?

The great red dragon is an old serpent. There is really noth- ing new at all in forms of opposition to worship and the life of religion. The great dragon that was cast out of heaven is “that serpent of old called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12: 9). What serpent of old had the power of deception? The serpent in Eden who beguiled Eve. But it was not a snake that beguiled Eve to partake of forbidden fruit. It was the Achilles’ heel of our humanity, God-given but abused, that caused the Fall, and causes every falling away of man from love and obedience to his God.

A dragon, like a serpent, slithers with its belly to the ground. As such it pictures the sensuous, that is, the part of the mind which thinks from sensuous appearances. Many ideas are generated by the sensations we take in, and we know how we can be deceived by the senses. That is why we have been given higher degrees of the mind through which we can look upon and weigh the information of the senses.

The supreme sensation is the appearance of self-life, that is, the appearance that life is in us, is ours to live in any way we wish. To confirm ourselves in that appearance, rejecting the truth that all life is from God, is the beginning of evil. It is the beginning of evil because it is the decision to live for self instead of for the neighbor. This was the beginning of evil with that celestial church portrayed by Adam and Eve. It is the beginning of evil with every church that falls. It is the beginning of personal evil.

We are taught in the Heavenly Doctrine: “The reason why the

serpent’ means all evil in general, and specifically the love of self, is that all evil has had its rise from that sensuous part of the mind” (AC 251). “In ancient times those were called serpents’ who had more confidence in sensuous things than in revealed ones. But it is still worse at the present day . . . ,” the doctrine declares (AC 196).

“More confidence in sensuous things than in revealed ones”! And worse today than ever! Here is the source of opposition to the church. Self-confidence confronts faith in the Lord. Self-guidance departs from Divine leading, “for such is the nature of the love of self that it is unwilling to submit to the Lord’s leading, and prefers to be self-guided, and being self-guided to consult the things of sense and of memory-knowledge as to what is to be believed” (AC 205).

In a religious context the dragon stands for false doctrines in the Christian world which have arisen from sensuous thought about spiritual things. Specifically, these are named as the doctrine of faith alone and also rejection of the Divinity of the Lord’s Human. In a personal context, the dragon stands for any self-derived idea that appeals to our love of self.

In contrast and in opposition to the dragon is the army of Michael and his angels. Michael is not, as some believe, an archangel, the charismatic leader of an angelic army. Rather “Michael” stands for a ministry in heaven that knows and stands up for the truth. This ministry is carried out by all those who confirm from the Word the two essentials of the New Church: that the Lord’s Human is Divine, and that people must live in charity according to the commandments (see AR 548, AE 735). We are told that the false reasonings which the dragonists produce “fall to nothing before the spiritual truths rationally understood, which the Michaels, of whom the New Church consists, bring forward” (AR 564).

” . . . spiritual truths rationally understood.” Here is the strength of the New Church and the foil to the dragon. The battle is joined between those called “serpents,” who put more confidence in sensuous things than in revealed ones, and the “Michaels,” who put their confidence in spiritual truths rationally understood. In the New Church it is permitted now to enter with understanding into the mysteries of faith (see TCR 508). The Word has been opened by the Lord Himself, exposing the fallacies of sensual thought and restoring spiritual freedom. ” . . . true order is for man to be wise from the Lord,” we are told, “that is, from His Word, and then all things follow, and he is enlightened even in matters of reason and of memory-knowledge (in rationalibus et scientificis) . . . . Thus his starting-point must be the Lord and not himself; for the former is life but the latter is death” (AC 129).

Not only has the battle been joined between the Michaels and the dragonists, but the Lord has further provided for the New Church. This is signified by what is said concerning the woman. ” . . . the woman was given two wings of a great eagle that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent” (Rev. 12:14). The Lord gives spiritual wings to the church. This signifies the spiritual intelligence and circumspection that the Lord gives. ” . . . it is granted to the people of the New Church . . . to behold the Divine truths that are in the Word, not sensually, that is according to appearances, but spiritually, that is, according to their essences . . . . From this they have enlightenment” (AR 759).

The eagle is known for its power of flight and for its keen- ness of vision. A soaring eagle can spy its prey from an incredible height. Wings carry the eagle far above the earth, giving it new vision and perspective. We read in the Heavenly Doctrine, “The spiritual also are comparatively like eagles flying on high, while those who are merely natural are comparatively like serpents who creep on the ground, and see the eagles above them” (AE 759).

The wings of an eagle, enabling flight, signify the elevation of the mind to an enlightened understanding of truth. Such understanding and the opening of the spiritual mind is what the Lord has given, and will give, to those who will be of the New Church, we are told (see AE 759e).

By contrast the dragon also had wings. The dragon is a kind of flying serpent. Yet its flight mocks the grace of the eagle, holding up its heavy body with difficulty and soon falling back to earth. The fact that dragons have wings indicates that sensually-minded people also may elevate their understanding to see spiritual knowledges; yet, having no affection for them, they soon sink back into sensual thought. The fact is, “to know the things that are of the Word and of the doctrine of the church does not make a person spiritual, but a life according to those things that the Lord has commanded in the Word . . . ” (AE 714:3).

The war in heaven that was waged between Michael and his angels and the dragon and his angels symbolizes the perpetual warfare between spiritual thought and sensual thought. It began in Eden with the serpent. So the Lord God said to the serpent there, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15). This is the first recorded prophecy of the combat of the Lord with the hells. By His incarnation, the Lord came to oppose the powers of hell with the power of His Divine Human. “In Him was life,” John wrote, “and the life was the light of men.” The Lord elevated the minds of those who believed in Him to new heights of spiritual understanding. But many did not believe His Word. So John added: ” . . . the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4,5). So, too, the Lord said, ” . . . this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil . . . . But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19,21).

Now the Lord has come again, bringing a sevenfold increase of spiritual light. The woman, the New Church, has been established and is nourished in the wilderness for a “time and times, and half a time.” The dragon has been cast down to the earth. Does this mean we are safe now from the age-old conflict between the serpent of sensual thought and the sanity of spiritual wisdom? It does not. The dragon continues to make war. In fact, the confidence in sensuous things over revealed ones is said to be worse today than in ancient times (see AC 196). Our mind is the battleground.

There is a spiritual freedom now to choose between hell and heaven. There are truths revealed for the New Church never before expressed in terms that could be rationally understood. The Lord has given us every possible advantage, but the decision still is ours to make: Will it be faith in spiritual truths from the Word rationally understood, or confidence in sensual things?

If we ask, “What is the future of the New Church?” the Lord has assured us that it will endure forever as the crown of all the churches that have ever existed on the earth (see Inv. 39). But its growth will depend on our reception of it. “It is of the Lord’s Divine Providence that the church should at first be among a few,” we are told, “and that it should successively increase among many, because the falsities of the former church must first be removed; for before this, truths cannot be received . . . . It is certain that the New Church, which is the New Jerusalem, will exist . . . and it is also certain that the falsities of the former church are first to be removed . . . ” (AR 547).

The church will grow and find increase first in the hearts of those who, from a spiritual affection of truth, search the Word for wisdom and for the power to combat sensual thought. The church will grow only as we seek its Divine doctrine from the spiritual sense of the Word and then live according to it.

For this reason, the New Church is called the “church militant” (AC 59, 1692, et al), a fighting church. One definition of militant is “ready and willing to fight.” This is what those who would be of the New Church must be: ready and willing to fight. We must fight the dragon of sensual thought and self-love that is in our lives and in the world. And with the Lord’s help, the battle can be won! The promise is given: “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14). Amen.

Lessons: Gen. 3:1-5,14,15; Rev. 12:1-17; TCR 619

 


True Christian Religon 619

. . . without truths there is no knowledge of the Lord; also . . . without truths there is no faith, and thus no charity; consequently . . . without truths there is no theology, and where this is not, there is no church. Such is the condition today of that body of people who call themselves Christians, and who say they are in the light of the Gospel and yet are in the veriest darkness; for with them, truths lie hidden beneath falsities, like gold, silver, and precious stones buried among the bones in the valley of Hinnom. That it is so I was enabled to see clearly from the spheres in the spiritual world that flow forth from the Christendom of today and propagate themselves.

One sphere is that respecting the Lord; this breathes and pours itself forth from the southern quarter, where the learned clergy and erudite laity reside. Wherever this sphere goes it insinuates itself into the ideas, and with many takes away faith in the Divinity of the Lord’s Human, with many weakens it, with many makes it seem foolish; and this because it brings in with it the faith in three Gods, and thus produces confusion.

Another sphere that takes away faith is like a black cloud in winter, which brings on darkness, turns rain into snow, strips bare the trees, freezes the waters, and takes away all pasture from the sheep. This sphere in conjunction with the former insinuates a kind of lethargy respecting one God, regeneration, and the means of salvation.

A third sphere relates to the conjunction of faith and charity; this is so strong as to be irresistible, but at the present day it is abominable; it is like a pestilence that infects everyone on whom it breathes, and tears asunder every tie between those two means of salvation, established as such from the creation of the world and restored anew by the Lord. This sphere invades even the men in the natural world, and extinguishes the marriage torches between truths and goods. I have felt this sphere, and at such times, when I thought of the conjunction of faith and charity, it interposed itself between them and violently endeavored to separate them.

The angels complain of these spheres, and pray to the Lord for their dissipation, but they received the answer that they cannot be dissipated so long as the dragon is on the earth, because it is from the draconic spirits; for it is said of the dragon that he was cast down unto the earth, and then follows: “Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and woe to those that inhabit the earth!” (Rev. 12:12)

These three spheres are like tempest-driven atmospheres coming forth from the breathing-holes of the dragons, which, being spiritual, invade the mind and control it. The spheres of spiritual truth there are as yet few, only in the new heaven, and also with those beneath heaven, who are separated from the draconic spirits. This is why those truths are so little recognized by men in the world today, just as ships in the eastern ocean are invisible to captains and shipmasters who are sailing in the western ocean.

WHY EVILS ARE PERMITTED

WHY EVILS ARE PERMITTED

A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn February 11, 1996

 

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3).

One of the miracles the Lord did was to give sight to a man who was born blind.

Imagine this poor blind beggar. He had never seen the light of day. He had passed through a childhood of utter darkness and now could only hope for the mercy of others to provide him with the barest necessities of life.

There were many other pathetic beggars in and around the cities in those days. Some were blind, some were lame, some had incurable leprosy. The Lord looked upon all of these miserable and suffering beings with compassion. He grieved at their suffering. Many He healed. He gave hope to others. But most He seemed merely to pass by. For each miraculous physical healing a hundred, a thousand, remained untouched because the Lord’s purpose was to heal the spirit of men, not the body.

As the Lord and His disciples were passing by, the presence of this man who had been blind from birth raised a question. The Jews believed that disease or deformity was a punishment for sin. A man was blind, leprous, or lame because he had committed some evil. His condition was believed to be a direct result of his transgression.

But here was a question. This man was born blind. How could he sin before birth? Was his blindness the consequence of the sins of his parents? The disciples could not see the justice in that possibility. Therefore, they asked the Lord, “Who sinned?”

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3).

There was a reason for the beggar’s blindness, but not the reason most suspected. It was not a punishment for his sin. And, more importantly, a remarkable benefit could come of it. The Lord could use this blindness to show His Divine power to open blind eyes. A “work of God” could be revealed in the healing of this man.

Think of the far-ranging importance of this miracle. Not only was this man’s own life changed, but many who witnessed or heard of this miracle were moved by it. Millions, perhaps, have been touched by the account of it and have found hope for their own lives. And now that the inner sense of the Word has been revealed for the New Church, a new power for good has been released in it that will extend into the lives of generations to come.

The “work of God” this miracle shows is how the Lord can open our eyes to see Him. We all are born blind! – spiritually blind. We are completely ignorant of spiritual truths that make it possible for us to live a full life. The Lord forms our minds with His truths, as a potter forms his clay, and bids us wash. “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean,” He has said. “Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good. (Isaiah 1:16).

Washing in the pool of Siloam signifies our spiritual washing. Having done this, we may come into a belief in the Lord our Savior and may truly worship Him. We see Him at last! This is the real miracle!

The Lord asked him whose sight was now restored, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.’ Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him (John 9:35-38).

There is a striking contrast between a blind man who finally saw and the sharp-eyed Pharisees and other detractors who would never see. Who was better off after all, the man who was in darkness for a few years or these men who will be forever blind? It is said: “There are none so blind as those who do not wish to see!”

Physical blindness is an affliction, but spiritual blindness is a tragedy. Both are of evil. Neither is of the will of God. Some people sincerely believe that disease and other tragic misfortunes are Divine punishment for sins. This is not so. God does not punish. He is a God of love and mercy. “The Lord is good to all,” we read, “and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9). No anger is in Him.

What accounts for the human condition then? What accounts for suffering and temptation? What of the blind, the poor, the insane? Why do infants die and children starve? What of the innocent victims of countries at war?

Some say that God sends suffering and tragedy to teach us a lesson. If we suffer a setback, perhaps we will learn something. If we are subjected to a hard life, perhaps our character will be strengthened by it.

The Lord never wills that we suffer, no matter what the quality of our life may be. It is true that we learn and grow through the experiences of life. It is not true that God inflicts unhappy circumstances upon us for the sake of our own good. If we were to go to the lowest hell, the Lord would grieve over our suffering there. Never, under any circumstances, does He inflict evil upon us. No, He “delivers us from evil.”

Often it appears to be otherwise. And that is just what it is – an appearance. Evil comes from hell. It enters our lives, often unasked, bringing disorder, tragedy, sickness and death. We know that this is so. It is common experience. But why is it so? Why does the Lord allow these things? He is omnipotent and all-powerful. So why does He allow evil to happen?

The answer to this question is now revealed for the New Church in the doctrine of permission. This doctrine teaches that many things of life are not of the Divine will or of His good pleasure, or even by Divine leave. Many things are of permission. The Lord permits what He does not will. He allows evil things to happen. Does this mean He is responsible for evil? Not at all. It is a common misconception that whoever permits something when he has the power to prevent it must also will it. The Writings point out the fallacy of this idea. “It is believed that evils … are from the Divine because the Divine permits them and does not take them away; and he who permits and does not take away when he is able, appears to will, and thus to be the cause. But the Divine permits because it cannot prevent or take away; for the Divine wills nothing but good; and if it were to prevent and take away evils, that is, those of punishments, vastations, persecutions, temptations, and the like, then it would will evil, for then such persons could not be amended, and evil would increase until it had the dominion over good” (AC 8237:2). The Writings give this example: “… where a mild and clement king who intends and does nothing but good must needs suffer his laws to punish the evil and the wicked (although he punishes no one, but rather grieves that they are such that their evils must punish them), for otherwise he would leave his kingdom itself a prey to them, which would be the height of rigor and of unmercifulness” (AC 2447:3). So the Lord permits what He does not will because He cannot prevent it and still protect us from what is worse.

Every injustice, tragedy, illness, madness, and disorder has its origin from what is evil. These are from hell and dwell with us through our freedom of choice, our proprial tendencies and our unregenerate loves. The Lord permits these evils to influence us even though He does not send them upon us. He cannot prevent them, yet He controls them and He uses them.

Here is a remarkable thing about the Lord’s permission: He brings something of good out of everything He permits. The fact that the Lord brings something good out of permission is the very reason it appears that the Lord purposely wills what is of evil upon man. But it is not so. The evil itself comes from a different source. When it has manifested itself, the Lord turns it to what is good. “Not the least of evil is from the Lord,” the Writings declare (AC 592). Indeed, the Lord constantly works to turn whatever is of evil with us to something good, and does not allow anything of evil to enter which cannot be so turned. We read that “not one whit is permitted … except to the end that good may come of it …. Nothing whatever, not even the least thing, shall arise except that good may come from it” (AC 6574). “The evils which are foreseen are by the provident disposition of the Lord continually bent to good” (AC 6489).

The Scriptural account of the blind man illustrates the doctrine of permission. The cause of the man’s blindness was the evil of hell. The Lord did not want this man to be born blind. He did not even intend it so He could use him for this example. However, He could not prevent his blindness, given the circumstances and evil states of the world. He permitted the blindness, foreseeing that He could turn it to some use. So He said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3).

It is the same with everything of this world that is not of order. There are murders, thefts, adulteries, misfortunes, deaths and sicknesses. Many suffer deprivation and persecution. Does it not appear that the disorders of the world are on the increase? Where is justice today? Who lives according to spiritual and moral principle? Even in the life of the church we seem to see a decline, a falling away from first loves. Does this mean that God is losing the battle with hell? Sometimes our faith is sorely tried.

The Writings of the New Church assure us that the Lord is not losing the battle. He is in control. While He permits what He does not will, He governs that permission by the same laws of Providence that rule all things. “The Divine Providence,” we read, “is constantly moving in a way diverse from and contrary to man’s will, continually intent upon its end; and in consequence, at every movement of its operation or at every step of its progress, where it observes man to be swerving from that end, it guides, bends, and directs him according to its laws, by leading him away from evil and leading him to good …. This cannot be done without the permission of evil,” we are told. “Moreover, nothing can be permitted without a reason, and the reason can be found only in some law of the Divine Providence, which law teaches why it is permitted” (DP 234).

The Lord permits evils to occur only for the sake of some important reason. He permits a man to choose an evil, for example, because the man’s ability to act from freedom according to his thought is essential to his life. It is more important for the man to act freely of himself and choose evil than to be forced to live in good. If he were forced to live in good, he would resent it and find no joy in it. If he is permitted to live in evil by his own choice, the Lord may yet save him, and he later may turn himself to the joy of a life of good.

“Evils are permitted for the sake of the end,” we are told, “which is salvation” (DP 249:3, 275-284). “Without permissions man cannot be led from evil by the Lord, and thus be reformed and saved. For unless evils were permitted to break out, man would not see them, and therefore would not acknowledge them, and thus could not be led to resist them. For this reason,” the Writings add, “evils cannot be prevented by any providence; for if they were they would remain shut in, and like the diseases called cancer and gangrene would spread about and consume all that is vital in man” (DP 251).

It is important that we know and understand the doctrine of permission. If we do not know that the Lord permits evils, and yet provides that some good may come from every evil thing that happens, we may lose our faith and trust in Him. “He who does not understand permissions,” the Writings teach, “falls into doubtful and negative things respecting the power of God Messiah over the universe. But this should be known, that without permission no one can be reformed …. Hence are temptations, vastations, punishments, persecutions of the faithful and of the faith, and many things besides. In a word,” the passage concludes, “without the permission of evils, which must be understood in a proper or wise sense, man can never be regenerated … ” (SD 398).

We tend to form God into our own image of Him. Since we abhor pain and suffering for ourselves and those we love, since we do not wish to face conflict or admit that there are disorders in our lives, we want to believe in a God who prevents all these things, or removes them for us. Life is not like that, particularly life which is completely infected with hereditary tendencies to what is evil. Evils must be met according to laws of Divine order, according to laws of permission. This teaching is given in the Writings: “… evils are foreseen, and goods are provided. And the evils which are foreseen are by the provident disposition of the Lord continually bent to good, for the Divine end of good reigns universally. Hence nothing is permitted except for the end that some good may come out of it; but as man has freedom in order that he may be reformed, he is bent from evil to good so far as he suffers himself to be bent in freedom, and (if he cannot be led to heaven) continually from the most atrocious hell, into which he makes every effort to plunge, into a milder one” (AC 6489).

The Lord’s laws of order, when rightly seen, are mercy itself. Often we fail to appreciate what the Lord does for us every moment of our life. He is continually working with us in a way that respects the freedom that is essential to our life and happiness, but drawing us at the same time out of evils. We may cry out in despair, even anger, that many things are permitted that afflict us or cause us grief. We may ask, “What have I done to deserve this?” “How can the Lord let this happen?” In the wisdom of the Lord there is an answer. “In the universal spiritual world reigns the end which proceeds from the Lord, which is that nothing whatever, not even the least thing, shall arise except that good may come from it” (AC 6574e). “The Divine end of good reigns universally” (AC 6489). “The very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30).

The intricate ways of the Lord’s Providence are beyond our comprehension. As the writer of the Psalms has said, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.” We may not see the reason for some particular form of suffering or tragedy in our life, particularly while we are in it; and yet from understanding the laws of providence and permission we may have confidence that the Lord is caring for us and looking to our eternal welfare in everything that happens to us no matter how bad it looks. If we ask the question of the Psalmist, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Psalm 139:6), the answer is that the Lord is always present. The Lord is present in every situation and in every state of life. He has but one end toward which He continually works with the power of His infinite wisdom and love: that we may be saved and find eternal happiness. ‘The Lord sits as King forever. The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace” (Psalm 29: 1 1). Amen.

Lessons: John 9:1-25; AC 10773-10781

 


Arcana Coelestia 10773-10781

10773. The government of the Lord in the heavens and on earth is called Providence. And as all the good which is of love, and all the truth which is of faith, are from Him and absolutely nothing from man, it is evident from this that the Divine Providence of the Lord is in each and all things that conduce to the salvation of the human race. This the Lord thus teaches in John: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

“As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, so neither can ye except ye abide in Me; without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:4,5).

10774. Moreover the Divine Providence of the Lord is over the veriest singulars of man’s life; for there is one only fountain of life, which is the Lord, from whom we live and act and have our being.

10775. Those who think about the Divine Providence from worldly things conclude from these that it is only universal, and that the singulars appertain to man. But these persons are not acquainted with the arcana of heaven, for they form their conclusions solely from the loves of self and of the world and their pleasures; and therefore when they see the evil exalted to honors, and gaining wealth rather than the good, and also that the evil succeed in accordance with their skill, they say in their hearts that it would not be so if the Divine Providence were in each and all things. But these persons do not consider that the Divine Providence does not look to that which is fleeting and transitory, and which comes to an end together with the life of man in the world, but that it looks to that which remains to eternity, thus which has no end. That which has no end is, but that which has an end relatively is not.

10776. Everyone who duly reflects is able to know that eminence and wealth in the world are not real Divine blessings, although from the pleasure in them men so call them; for they pass away, and likewise seduce many, and turn them away from heaven; but that life in heaven and happiness there are the real blessings which are from the Divine. This the Lord also teaches in Luke: “Make for yourselves treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where thief draweth not near nor moth destroyeth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33,34).

10777. The reason why the evil succeed in accordance with their skill is that it is according to order that everyone should do what he does from reason and also from freedom; and therefore unless it were left to a man to act in freedom according to his reason, and thus also unless the consequent arts succeeded, the man could not possibly be disposed to receive eternal life, because this is insinuated when the man is in freedom and his reason is enlightened. For no one can be compelled to good, because nothing compulsory cleaves to the man, for it is not his. That becomes the man’s own which is done from freedom, for that which is from the will is done from freedom, and the will is the man himself; and therefore unless a man is kept in the freedom to do evil also, good from the Lord cannot be provided for him.

10778. To leave man from his freedom to do evil also is called permission.

10779. To be led to happiness in the world by means of his skill appears to the man as if it were done from his own sagacity. Nevertheless, the Divine Providence continually accompanies by permitting and by constantly withdrawing from evil. But to be led to happiness in heaven is known and perceived not to be of man’s own sagacity, because it is from the Lord and is effected from His Divine Providence by disposing and continually leading to good.

10780. That this is the case a man cannot apprehend from the light of nature, for from this light he does not know the laws of Divine order.

10781. Be it known that there is providence and there is foresight. Good is that which is provided by the Lord, but evil is that which is foreseen by the Lord. The one must be with the other, for that which comes from man is nothing but evil, but that which comes from the Lord is nothing but good.

THE ZEAL OF THE LORD

THE ZEAL OF THE LORD

A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn January 21, 1996

 

“When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, ‘Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!’ Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up”‘ (John 2:15-17).

How often do we think of the Lord showing this kind of zeal? The familiar picture of Him is as the gentle Shepherd, the Man of peace, the Lamb led to the slaughter. We think of His blessing little children, forgiving sinners, turning the other cheek, and going the extra mile. He is long-suffering and kind. Because of the promise of heavenly reward for this selfless life, many Christians have made it their goal to follow Christ’s saintly example. Praiseworthy as this is in itself, it is not enough. Those who believe the evils of the world can be overcome simply by a life of unconditional love are sadly deluded. The human race is susceptible to evil, not to good. We make no lasting impression on the state of the world through “random acts of kindness,” well-meaning as they may be. Our chief responsibility as Christians is to fight the evils within ourselves, not to influence others by our good deeds. In fact, our deeds are not good until the evils within have been set aside. The doctrine of life is summarized in the following passage: “Christian charity, with everyone, consists in faithfully performing what belongs to his calling, for by this, if he shuns evils as sins, he every day is doing goods, and is himself his own use in the general body. In this way also the common good is cared for, and the good of each person in particular” (Life 114).

The Lord came on earth to overcome the hells, not to win them over. He fought evil by truths filled with Divine power from within. This is the example the Lord has given us; we must do the same: fight the evils of our life with the truths He has provided in His Word, joined with the zeal of His love.

The account of the Lord’s confrontation with the moneychangers in the temple, which is our text, shows a very different picture of the Lord from that of the gentle Jesus so often portrayed. Here the Lord drives thieves out of His temple with a whip, deliberately spills their money on the ground and throws over their tables. “Take these things out of My Father’s house!” He commands.

Readers often have noticed the difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. The God of the Old is seen to be demanding, a jealous God to be feared. In ancient times He was even called the “Dread of Isaac” (Gen. 31:42). The God of the New Testament is seen to be a God of love, gentle and forgiving. For some, this confirms the concept of separate Persons in the Divine Trinity: God the Father, angry and condemning; God the Son, our Friend and Savior.

But this picture is not consistent. Sometimes Jehovah is presented very differently in the Old Testament: “I, Jehovah, am your Savior, and your Redeemer,” He says (Isaiah 49:26). Isaiah says, “He will feed His flock like a shepherd … and gently lead those who are with young” (Isaiah 40: 1Of). “His anger is but for a moment,” says the psalm. “His favor is for life” (Psalm 30:5). “You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me” (Psalm 86:17). All this is from the Old Testament where Jehovah God is described.

On the other hand, in the New Testament, where we expect to find a mild Jesus, we read of His not only ejecting the moneychangers from the temple, but showing anger toward those in the synagogue watching critically to see if He would heal a man on the Sabbath day (see Mark 3:1-6). Several times He rebuked the Pharisees, lawyers and scribes harshly for their hypocrisy (see Luke 11:39-52); He called the disciple Peter “Satan,” and provoked the Jews more than once to the point where they took up stones to kill Him (see John 8:59; 10:31, 39). All this from the New Testament.

The fact is, there is but one God, who has revealed Himself in different ways at different times. His appearance, whether harsh or gentle, varies according to the quality or state of those who see Him. “Everyone sees these things from his own quality,” we are told. “Hence it is that the zeal of the Lord, which in itself is love and compassion, appears … as anger …. [So some] attribute wrath and anger to the Divine, and also all evil, when yet in the Divine there is absolutely nothing of anger, and absolutely nothing of evil, but pure clemency and mercy” (AC 8875). When we read in the Word that “the zeal of Jehovah shall perform [some cleansing act],” it means that He will do it from “the ardent love of saving the human race … from love and mercy” (AC 8875). There is one God of infinite love and mercy who longs for our salvation!

We can more readily understand the nature of the one God when we see the difference between anger and zeal. This distinction is crucial to our idea of the Lord. The disciples remembered rightly what was written of the Lord: “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up” (Psalm 69:9; John 2:17).

The appearance of God’s anger in the Old Testament is just that – an appearance. The truth is that God is never angry, never condemns, never punishes. His Divine love seeks only our salvation and happiness. To this end He works by what the Heavenly Doctrine calls zeal. ” ‘Zeal’ in the Lord is not wrath [or anger],” the doctrine declares; “it only appears so in externals; interiorly it is love” (AR 216). Appearances can be deceiving. The appearance of rough treatment and harsh words may lead us to conclude that we are not loved. Children often believe this when punished by their parents. Yet we know that just punishment, even when harsh in outward form, springs from a deep love and a desire for the happiness of those who are punished as well as others who might be harmed by what is evil. If parents have this love, how much more does the Lord! (See Luke 1 1: 1 1; Matt. 7:9.)

Here is the difference between zeal and anger: “Zeal has good in it, and anger has evil (n. 4164, 4444)” (AC 8598:2). “Zeal in its outer manifestation appears as anger and wrath,” we are told, “for it is love enkindled and inflamed for the protection of itself against a violator and for the removal of that violator” (CL 363). Anger, on the other hand, goes beyond protection or defense. It is a destructive fire. Where zeal springs from charity and the love of what is good and useful, anger springs from self and the love of self. These are two different fires of life. The fires of anger are driven by an inner hatred. “It is in flames both outwardly and inwardly” (CL 363). With anger the internal is said to be “inimical, fierce, hard, breathing hatred and revenge, and it feeds itself on the delights of these passions. Even when there is reconciliation,” we are told, “these passions are still latent, like fire in the embers beneath the ashes; and these fires break out, if not in this world yet after death” (CL 365). By contrast, the fire of zeal is only an outward manifestation of a good love. It blazes up to protect what is good when this is threatened or attacked. When the threat of evil has been rebuffed, this outward fire subsides. “Its flame dies out and is quieted as soon as his adversary returns to reason,” we are told (TCR 408).

With zeal, things relatively harsh in externals become mild and gentle as they are raised up from what is natural. A beautiful passage in the doctrine calls spiritual indignation not anger but “a certain sadness that is attended with a prayerful wish that it be not so, and in a form still more interior … merely a certain obscure feeling that breaks in on the celestial delight on account of something not good and true in another” (AC 3909).

This was the spirit within the Lord’s act of driving out the moneychangers from the temple. Outwardly, His eyes flashed with fire; His face was inflamed, His actions aggressive, but all from the zeal of protecting what was holy and necessary for human salvation. Inwardly, He felt sadness, prayerfully wishing that it were not so; and, even more deeply, He sensed injury to the celestial delight that looks to everyone’s salvation.

What then does this mean? What has the Lord shown us by His cleansing of the temple? He has shown us that we too must drive out from our lives all that which defiles and profanes spiritual good. We cannot suffer these evil things to remain in place, allowing their influence and damage to increase. The battle must be joined. And battle it is! The Lord went after the moneychangers with zeal. The fire of His love blazed up with strength to meet the challenge. There was nothing lukewarm about this act. The Lord once warned: If you are lukewarm “I will spew you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:16).

The life of religion requires zeal. We must go after the foes in “our own household” with fighting truth. “In the course of regeneration, when man is being made spiritual, he is continually engaged in combat,” we are told, “on which account the church of the Lord is called ‘militant’ …” (AC 59). The New Church is called “militant, but against falsities and evils” (AE 734:14).

For the most part, this is an inner personal struggle. The Lord has shown us what is good, and we must honestly examine ourselves to discover the evils in our lives that threaten our spiritual life. The truths of the Word, especially when explained by doctrine, light up the dark corners of our holy temple. And when we find the thieves of our spiritual life – those loves and their falsities which the Lord observes with sadness and the prayerful wish that they were not part of us – we must drive them out.

We think here of what is said in the Heavenly Doctrine about the man of war. “He does not love war. He does not go to war except for the protection of his country, and thus is not an aggressor but a defender. But afterwards, when war is begun, if so be that aggression is defense, he becomes also an aggressor … In his inner self he does not exult in the overthrow of his enemy and in the honor of victory, but in the deliverance of his country and his people from the invasion of an enemy …” (Char. 164). So should we fight: with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, not taking honor for ourselves in any triumph, knowing that it is by the Lord, but exulting that we have been delivered from an evil and its resulting ruin.

While our own cleansing should be the primary object of our zeal, there are times when we must also stand against evils that threaten the good and useful things of our families, our community and society. The false ideas that abound in the world need to be identified and compared with the teachings of doctrine. We can apply the teachings of the Heavenly Doctrine to those attitudes and practices of society that threaten to destroy the spiritual and moral values of religious life. This is to be done with zeal, but not in the spirit of anger, thus “not from any enmity and hostility … but to remove those who are in falsity and evil, to prevent them from hurting those who are in good and truth” (AC 8598:2). Furthermore, we are told, after “… anyone who has charity resists an enemy, punishes the guilty, and chastises the wicked…. he returns to the charity that resides in his internal man, and then, so far as he can, and so far as is useful, he wishes him well, and from good will does good to him” (TCR 408). “In this way does a man consult the welfare of one who is in evil, or his enemy, and express his good feeling toward him, as well as to others, and to the commonwealth itself, and this from charity toward the neighbor” (AC 2417:7).

The true Christian life is not a life of passive resistance or forbearance. It is a kind of military service in which we are on watch constantly to combat falsities and evils (see AE 734:14).

Thus says the Lord, “When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head …. But he who takes warning will save his life …. So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me” (Ezekiel 33:2-7). Amen.

Lessons: Ezekiel 33:1-16; John 2:13-22; CL 365-6

 


Conjugial Love

365. V. THAT INWARDLY IN THE ZEAL OF A GOOD LOVE LIE LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP, BUT INWARDLY IN THE ZEAL OF AN EVIL, LOVE LIE HATRED AND REVENGE.

It was said that in outer manifestation zeal appears as anger and wrath, both with those who are in a good love and with those who are in an evil; but because the internals differ, the anger and wrath also differ. The differences are: 1. The zeal of a good love is as a heavenly flame which never bursts out against another but only defends itself; and its defense against an evil man is as a defense while the latter is rushing into the fire and being burned. But the zeal of an evil love is like an infernal flame which bursts out of itself and rushes upon another and wills to consume him. 2. The zeal of a good love instantly dies down and becomes mild when the assailant withdraws from the attack, but the zeal of an evil love persists and is not extinguished. 3. The reason is that the internal of him who is in the love of good is in itself mild, bland, friendly, and benevolent. Therefore, while, for the purpose of defending itself his external is rough, bristles up, and erects itself and so acts with severity, yet it is tempered by means of the good in which is his internal. Not so with the evil. With them the internal is inimical, fierce, hard, breathing hatred and revenge, and it feeds itself on the delights of these passions. Even when there is reconciliation, these passions are still latent, like fire in the embers beneath the ashes; and these fires break out, if not in this world yet after death.

366. Because in outer manifestation zeal with a good man and zeal with an evil appear to be alike, and because the ultimate sense of the Word consists of correspondences and appearances, therefore, in the Word it is often said of Jehovah that He is angry, is wrathful, avenges, punishes, casts into hell, besides many other expressions which are the appearances of zeal in its outer manifestation. For the same reason He is called jealous, when yet in Him is not the least shade of anger, wrath, and vengeance, He being mercy, grace, and clemency itself, thus good itself, in whom nothing of the kind is possible.