WHAT IS CAESAR’S AND WHAT IS GOD’S?

WHAT IS CAESAR’S AND WHAT IS GOD’S?

A Sermon by Rev. Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, Illinois November 1, 1992

 

“Render … to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21).

How would you explain these words spoken by the Lord? Was He establishing a separation of church and state or was He speaking of an ideal unity of both? Beyond this philosophic issue a more important question is, How do our minds look at the world of our daily experience? Do we tend to employ one set of criteria and principles in personal spiritual matters and a different one in reference to civil law and in business or the operation of our local, state and national government? For example, in an election what spiritual principles affect your choice of whom to vote for, or is it primarily a matter of natural concern, as it were “one of Caesar’s things”?

In reality the focus of this story is not on a conflict of spiritual life versus civil law. It is on an attempted trap. We may face similar traps in our interactions with others, but whether we do or not in the natural arena of life, we certainly will face them in our own thinking and decision-making. Nothing would delight the forces of destruction in our lives more than to get us stuck between two unworkable alternatives. They would love to get us stuck between being mushily nice and being harshly righteous. They would love to get us stuck between short-term pragmatism and an abstract idealism. No matter which course we take, given these alternatives, our words and deeds will cause harm or at best will do little good. No matter which course we take our internal tormentors will stand in judgment against us.

The Lord spoke these words in response to a plan to discredit Him. Ever more directly He had been pointing out the hypocrisy of the leading religious leaders, the chief priests and the Pharisees. Immediately before the incident spoken of in this story, the gospel of Matthew records two parables that the Lord had spoken directly against these religious leaders. These parables stated in only slightly veiled language that the religious elite had rejected God and would be rejected themselves. Their place would be given to others.

The chief priests and the Pharisees knew that much of what the Lord said was correct. They could not directly challenge Him. Instead they decided to entangle Him in a politically volatile issue, one in which He would be in trouble no matter which of the two obvious answers He gave. The Pharisees sent their followers along with some followers of the Roman ruler Herod to ask the Lord His opinion on the lawfulness of paying taxes. If in His answer the Lord had said, “Yes, it is lawful,” the Pharisees would perhaps have called Him a dupe of the Romans, and would have spread rumors about His supporting the pagan worship through His freely given tax money. If the Lord had said that it was not lawful, perhaps the Herodians would have branded Him a dangerous revolutionary, one likely to bring harm to the Jews. Perhaps they would have sought His arrest for advocating tax evasion.

To their surprise the Lord gave neither of their expected answers. Instead He again publicly branded them as hypocrites and then asked to see the tax money. In response to His next question they answered that the tax money was from the Roman ruler, Caesar. His response: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

What do these words mean? At times deeply committed religious people have felt themselves to be following a dictate higher than civil law, and that this higher dictate allows them to ignore the demands of civil law with impunity. From this perspective only the laws of the country that directly fit with Divine law are to be followed. Is this what the Lord expects us to do?

Consider the famous historical example of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates. He was accused and convicted of the highly questionable charge of corrupting the youth with his teaching. The penalty was death by a self-administered drink of hemlock poison. After his conviction his friends arranged the possibility of his escape from Athens and his death sentence. One record of this event has Socrates telling his friends that he could not leave. His perspective was that escape would undermine the health of the city-state of Athens. Its health and consequent ability to care for the whole community of people who lived there was far more important than his own single life. Although he believed he was innocent, he was willing to accept the unjust punishment given him because he saw that the welfare of his country was more important. Isn’t this an expression of love of the neighbor, with the country being a higher or more important neighbor to be served than any individual or immediate community?

To what degree would we support a similar perspective today? How willing are we to vote for a politician whose policies serve the broader welfare of the country but are personally disadvantageous to ourselves? The future of our country is not very bright if everyone hopes to get more than he gives. And rather like a marriage, it probably isn’t very bright if everyone begrudgingly does what he or she perceives to be just their share and no more.

A fundamental question is posed by this story. Do you believe that if a person truly understands what is meant by loving his neighbor, the principles supporting this understanding will apply in all situations? Do you believe that if he truly understands what is going to be useful in the long run for individuals, for his community, for his country, that the principles supporting this understanding will apply in all situations?

In common usage today, if someone is said to be acting politically, many will hear a clear negative connotation. Being political can carry the implication of being willing to do what it takes to accomplish one’s goals even when the course is far from ideal. It carries the implication of being untrustworthy because what a political person says in one situation may not be what he believes in his heart. But consider the example that the Lord has given us. He has been willing to adapt His words to the state of mind of those listening to Him. The Writings carry a clear criticism of those who are not willing to apply or adapt themselves to others and study to bend their minds (see AC 1949:9). Consider this description of the Lord’s work: “It is a heavenly secret that the Lord uses those things that are a person’s own both his illusions of the senses and his natural desires to lead and direct him toward things that are good and true” (AC 24:3).

We are told that the Lord “bends all evil into good” (AC 1079), and that “the principles a person adopts from infancy the Lord never breaks but bends” (AC 1255). “The Lord leads everyone through his affections, and thus bends through a silent Providence” (AC 4364:2). These words mean that some of the directions that the Lord heads us toward are not at all what He hopes we will continue in forever, but rather the change, though still far from ideal, is a step better than where we are now. There are times that the Lord knows we will hear things from Him that aren’t really genuinely true, but He allows and even provides that this happen because it is what we need to hear at the time. He is present with infinite love and wisdom in each moment of our lives, working to adapt His presentation of truth and good to best bend us from where we are to a better state of life. At times, if we become aware of someone acting or speaking in this very way, our perspective sees that person as being two-faced and political. But if we really care about what is most useful in the long run, we also will apply or adapt ourselves to others and study to bend their minds. We might say the acknowledging and adapting ourselves to where someone’s heart and mind is now are the things of Caesar, and the goals we seek are the things of God. If we are going to be useful we must serve both.

Similarly, we must attend to many matters that are here and now, short-term, natural and simultaneously consider the eternal perspective. Life doesn’t work very well if a person ignores the present for an aimless and shapeless eternity, or an idealized spirituality. The Lord is very clear that the true life of charity toward the neighbor is not a life of remote piety, but rather it is to “do what is just and right in every work and in every job” that is our responsibility (HH 360:2). The husband and wife who devote so much of their time to “saving the world” but severely neglect their children are missing what the Lord calls us to. But big issues, the health of the community, can seem so much more important than playing a game of Candyland with a five-year-old. Yet if we forget the things of this world that build the higher goals that we seek, will they truly get built? The here and now, the short-term necessities and needs can be called the things of Caesar, and the big picture or broader goals can be called the things of God. If we are going to be useful we must serve both.

Again, the Lord tells us we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We need to take care of ourselves and our own needs if we are to be useful to others. But we are not to make these more important than the needs of others, so much so that we trample on their rights, opportunities and needs. We have our needs and others have theirs. Our community has its needs and others have theirs. Our country has its needs and others have theirs. Protecting our own interests by trampling on those of others is not what we are called to do. Do we really care about what is useful for all? Can we balance our own needs, the things of Caesar, with the welfare of all, the things of God? If we are going to be useful, we must serve both.

Balancing the difficult issues in our lives of what to say and when, and what to do and when, can sometimes seem like a difficult load. We might wish that the Lord could have given us a simple rule that was easily applied in all situations. Instead He has given us hearts, minds and freedom. He gives us the opportunity to work at a balance that expresses our understanding, our dedication to the goals that we pursue in life. But He reminds us to watch out for the traps that come from going too far to one extreme or another. He calls us to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. Amen.

 


Lessons: Matt. 22:15-22, NJHD 84-86, 91-93

New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine

84. It shall first be shown what the neighbor is, for it is the neighbor who is to be loved, and toward whom charity is to be exercised. For unless it be known who the neighbor is, charity may be exercised in a similar manner, without distinction, toward the evil as well as toward the good, whence charity ceases to be charity: for the evil, from benefactions, do evil to the neighbor, but the good do good.

85. It is a common opinion at this day that every person is equally the neighbor, and that benefits are to be conferred on everyone who needs assistance; but it is in the interest of Christian prudence to examine well the quality of a person’s life, and to exercise charity to him accordingly. The person of the internal church exercises charity with discrimination, consequently with intelligence; but the person of the external church, because he is not able thus to discern things, does it indiscriminately.

86. The distinctions of neighbor, which the person of the church ought altogether to know, are according to the good which is with everyone; and because all good proceeds from the Lord, therefore the Lord is the neighbor in the highest sense and in a supereminent degree, and the origin is from Him. Hence it follows that so far as anyone has the Lord with himself, so far he is the neighbor; and because no one receives the Lord, that is, good from Him, in the same manner as another, therefore no one is the neighbor in the same manner as another. For all who are in the heavens, and all the good who are on the earths, differ in good; no two ever receive a good that is altogether one and the same; it must be various that each may subsist by itself. But all these varieties, thus all the distinctions of the neighbor, which are according to the reception of the Lord, that is, according to the reception of good from Him, can never be known by any person, nor indeed by any angel, except in general, thus their genera and species; neither does the Lord require any more of the man of the church than to live according to what he knows.

91. But the neighbor is not only man singly, but also man collectively, as a less or greater society, our country, the church, the Lord’s kingdom, and, above all, the Lord Himself; these are the neighbor to whom good is to be done from love. These are also the ascending degrees of neighbor, for a society of many is neighbor in a higher degree than a single person is; in a still higher degree is our country; in a still higher degree is the church; and in a still higher degree is the Lord’s kingdom; but in the highest degree is the Lord. These ascending degrees are like the steps of a ladder, at the top of which is the Lord.

92. A society is the neighbor more than a single person because it consists of many. Charity is to be exercised toward it in a like manner as toward a person singly, namely, according to the quality of the good that is with it, thus in a manner totally different toward a society of the upright than toward a society of those not upright. The society is loved when its good is regarded from the love of good.

93. Our country is the neighbor more than a society because it is like a parent; for a person is born therein, and it nourishes and protects him from injuries. Good is to be done to our country from love according to its necessities, which principally regard its sustenance, and the civil and spiritual life of those therein. He who loves his country, and does good to it from good will, in the other life loves the Lord’s kingdom, for there the Lord’s kingdom is his country, and he who loves the Lord’s kingdom loves the Lord, because the Lord is the all in all things of His kingdom.

WANTING TO BE LIKE OTHERS

WANTING TO BE LIKE OTHERS

A Sermon by Rev. Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, Illinois, on June 29, 1986

 

“Now make for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (I Samuel 8:5).

The Lord had provided the Children of Israel with leaders since He first sent Moses to them. Moses had led them out of Egypt to Mt. Sinai, and afterwards for more than forty years of wandering in the wilderness. After Moses died, Joshua had been their warrior leader who led them in their conquest of the land of Canaan. After Joshua died, the Lord provided judges in times of need who would help deliver the Israelites from their enemies. The Lord had provided them with the leaders they needed, but now they wanted to be ruled by a king like the other nations around them. At first Samuel felt that he himself was being rejected, but the Lord assured him that this was not the case. The Lord said, “… they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (I Sam. 8:7). By asking for a king, the Israelites, whether they recognized it or not, were turning from the Lord.

What was the reason they gave for the change that they requested? Twice they said that they wanted a king “like all the nations.” They wanted to be ruled like the peoples that lived in the land around theirs. The Israelites had seen or heard of the apparent advantages and glories of having a king and had decided that they wanted one. What trouble their roving eye and consequent longing produced! In its most universal form their problem continues as a significant stumbling block for a great many people.

Each of us is born with a tendency to look around and note what others have in their lives that we don’t, and then to feel discontent with our lot. It can be a matter of wishing that you could have some nice material possession that someone else has, whether it be their car, their house or something much smaller. It can be a matter of wishing that you had the spendable income or free time that others seem to have in greater abundance than you sense yourself having. It can even be a matter of wishing that you had the prestige that someone else has and that you wish for yourself. All of these aspects of living in the natural world can turn our minds downward and away from following the Lord. The desire to emulate others no matter what the spiritual cost is what makes the love of the world such a dangerous enemy of spiritual life. The love of the world can lead us to reject the Lord as surely as it caused trouble for the Children of Israel.

We who are trying to follow the Lord have the daily challenge set before us of living in the world but not being worldly in its bad sense. Being willing to be led by the Lord does change the way a person lives his life. At times the differences may appear small to the casual observer, but at other times the true Christian’s life will march to a very different drummer from the one that guides the thinking semi-agnostic. Being a follower of the Lord can lead a person to make choices that others wouldn’t understand.

Perhaps we can imagine a Canaanite expressing utter disbelief that the Israelites were led by a priest like Samuel. Perhaps you can imagine the condescending tone that he would use in speaking of the advantages he saw in having a king to judge his people and lead them in battle. It would not make any sense to him to suggest that the real leader of the Israelites was the Lord, and that He could provide for their every need with infinitely greater ability than any earthly king ever could.

So many of the choices we make come down to a question of the values that guide our lives. Wanting to be like others clearly isn’t a very high motive for directing one’s life. Neither is wanting something merely because it is impressive, fun, stylish, appealing or sensuously attractive in many ways. Now, of course there is nothing inherently wrong with things that are impressive, fun, stylish, appealing or sensuously attractive. The descriptions that we have been given of life in heaven indicate that things fitting these descriptive words are a part of daily life there. Problems arise, though, when our values are driven by a desire for these things without consideration of the ways in which they either help to accomplish something useful or lead us away from accomplishing something useful. It is the regular unspoken posing of the question “What would be most useful in both the short and long run?” that best allows us to live in the world and enjoy many of its pleasures without being dominated by a love of the world.

If a person were primarily dominated by the desire to look impressive or be stylish, then it would not be unlikely that he would buy a car that met those needs even though it was actually rather impractical or unrealistically expensive for his budget, or just plain didn’t run very well. Obviously such a car would not be the most useful purchase for him to make. Similarly, if a person chose a church to join and attend based on the status it gave him, or the advantageous social contacts it provided or the impressive nature of the church building, the beauty of the choir or any of a number of other external considerations, such a person might pick a church that was spiritually a wasteland. The chosen church might have many worldly advantages and attractions, but it would not be useful for the person’s present spiritual life, nor would it aid in his journey toward heaven. It would perform little lasting use. Yet for some people the choice of a church means little more.

The Writings for the New Church indirectly suggest that the love of the world is the dominant evil of today, eclipsing the love of self that has dominated in other ages (see AC 230). Happily, the love of the world is not as evil as the love of self and isn’t so directly destructive. Nevertheless, it leads many away from heaven to a permanent existence in hell. A specific definition of the love of the world is that it is a love of possessing goods in the world from the mere delight in possession and for the sake of riches and not from the delight in the useful things that these can bring into being (see AE 950:3).

In its worst form love of the world expresses itself in a love of possessing the goods of others no matter what deception is necessary to attain this end (see DP 215:6). This would presumably include expecting to be paid for a day’s work when a significant percentage of the day had been wasted or had been spent on personal business. It would also presumably include someone who intentionally sells something to someone else when the buyer really has little need or use for it. Certainly a fool and his money will soon be parted, but convincing the fool to part with it without due reason is spiritually damaging.

People have had a tendency to lay up treasures for themselves on earth in spite of their temporary nature since early times. Why is worldliness so prevalent in our culture? Specifically, people in a number of other countries consider Americans quite decadent for the materialism and emphasis on owning things that seems to be such a powerful part of our culture. We might argue that this is mostly “sour grapes” on their part because their countries lack the standard of living that our country enjoys. One suggestion from the Writings is that our very success can lead to trouble. Arcana Coelestia observes that opulence generally begets the love of the world (see AC 6481). Certainly it is true that being surrounded by material allurements can lead us to focus our lives too heavily on them. A qualifying teaching is that those who have been raised with wealth, as we all are in comparison to those in many places in the world, can sometimes be less fixed on worldly possessions than someone who has been in abject poverty and desires to be richer. The fact is, of course, that whether or not we have many worldly possessions, the significant matter is whether we sense that we need more, and tend to be discontent about what we lack.

In the history of the Children of Israel recorded in the eighth chapter of I Samuel the people were not content to be led by the Lord as they had been in the past. They wanted a king like all the nations around themselves. Their envious comparison of their lot with others caused them trouble, just as our envious comparison of what we have in life with what others have can cause us trouble. Learning to be content with one’s lot in life can be a difficult state of mind for some to attain.

There is a deeper message in this story than the rejection of the Lord by following the standards of the world. On a deeper level, the way that the Lord had previously led the Israelites is an image of how genuine charity can rule in a person’s life. This is an image of an individual who guides his decisions by a desire to serve his neighbor, and this desire in turn guides his thinking to a sight of genuine truth. Such an individual leads his life quite differently from one who guides his decisions by relatively inflexible principles that he has been taught or has formed for himself. While these principles may have been derived from something that was true in the right context, when applied indiscriminately they may or may not accomplish something useful. Quite often rigid truths lead a person to condemn others and treat them harshly. By itself truth condemns all to hell. Truth separate from good has this quality and consequently it has little of the Lord’s life in it. This truth separate from good is represented by the Israelites wanting a king to rule over them (see AC 2015:10, 11). The harshness of this truth is imaged by all of the things that Samuel promised that the king would do to the people in terms of demanding taxes and service from the people. The Lord would warn us from guiding our lives by these rigid principles. They make others’ lives miserable and they make our own lives likewise unpleasant. A passage from the Arcana on the subject of humility before the Lord speaks of the rigid quality of truth separate from good: “… they who are in truth are as it were rigid, and stand erect as if they were hard, and when they ought to humble themselves before the [Lord] they only bend the body a little; but they who are in good are as it were soft, and when they humble themselves before the Divine, they bow themselves even to the earth. For truth without good is altogether rigid, and when it looks to good as an end, that rigidity begins to soften; but good is in itself soft, and truth which is implanted in it, as it becomes good there, also grows soft” (AC 7068).

The rigid quality of dogmatic principles is further demonstrated by another passage: “[I]t is according to the laws of order that no one ought to be persuaded in a moment concerning truth, that is, that truth should be confirmed in a moment so as to leave no doubt at all concerning it, because the truth which is so impressed becomes persuasive truth, and is without any capacity for extending or yielding. Such truth is represented in the other life as hard, and as closed to good in such a way that it can be applied. Hence it is that when by manifest experience any truth is presented before good spirits in the other life, there is soon afterward presented some opposite which causes doubt; thus it allows the spirits to think and consider whether it be so, and to collect reasons, and so to bring that truth rationally into their minds whereby the spiritual sight has extension as to that truth, even to opposites; consequently, it sees and perceives in the understanding every quality of truth, and consequently it can admit [appropriate] influx from heaven … for truths receive various forms according to circumstances” (AC 7298:2).

The Israelites wanted a king because he would serve as a tangible leader and judge for them. We also can be inclined to turn the guidance of our lives over to relatively inflexible principles of behavior. The principles seem so much more secure and solid, and certainly less bothersome than having to think what would be the most useful thing to do or say in a particular circumstance. But if we are really willing to be led by the Lord, we need to fight this tendency to respond to situations with set reactions. We need to seek for the wisdom to see what would truly be the best course of action.

At times being led by the Lord may seem like a difficult task. Whether we are fighting with our tendency to be worldly and fixed on material wants and needs, or whether we are fighting battles on more interior levels of our spiritual life, the prayer that guides our thoughts should be one that has us turn in humility to the Lord to see what His will truly is in the situation before us. If we seek Him in sincerity, He will surely come to us to guide us as our Lord and king. Amen.

Lessons: I Samuel 8:1-22, TCR 3949 404 (portions)

 


True Christian Religion

There Are Three Universal Loves — The Love of Heaven, The Love of the World, and the Love of Self.

394. These three loves must first be considered for the reason that these three are the universal and fundamental of all loves, and that charity has something in common with each of them. For the love of heaven means both love to the Lord and love toward the neighbor; and as each of these looks to use as its end, the love of heaven may be called the love of uses. The love of the world is not merely a love of wealth and possessions, but is also a love of all that the world affords, and of all that delights the bodily senses, as beauty delights the eye, harmony the ear, fragrance the nostrils, delicacies the tongue, softness the skin; also becoming dress, convenient houses, and society, thus all the enjoyments arising from these and many other objects. The love of self is not merely the love of honor, glory, fame and eminence, but also the love of meriting and seeking office, and so of ruling over others. Charity has something in common with each of these three loves because viewed in itself charity is the love of uses; for charity wishes to do good to the neighbor, and good and use are the same, and from these loves everyone looks to uses as his end, the love of heaven looking to spiritual uses, the love of the world to natural uses, which may be called civil, and the love of self to corporeal uses, which may also be called domestic uses that have regard to oneself and one’s own.

404. When love of the world or of wealth forms the head, that is, when it is the ruling love, man puts on a wholly different state, for then the love of heaven is exiled from the head and betakes itself to the body. The man who is in this state prefers the world to heaven; he worships God in deed, but from merely natural love which places merit in all worship; he also does good to the neighbor, but for the sake of recompense. To such, heavenly things are like clothing, clad in which they appear before the eyes of men to be walking in brightness, but before the eyes of angels they appear indistinct, for when love of the world possesses the internal man, and the love of heaven the external, the former makes all things belonging to the church obscure and hides them as under a veil. But this love is of great variety, worse in the degree that it verges toward avarice, in which the love of heaven grows black; so too if it verges toward pride and eminence over others from love of self. It is different if it verges toward prodigality, and is less hurtful if it has in view as an end the splendors of the world, as palaces, ornaments, magnificent clothing, servants, horses and carriages pompously arrayed, and other like things. The character of every love is determined by the end which it regards and intends. This love may be compared to blackish glass, which smothers the light and variegates it only in dark and evanescent hues. It is also like mists and clouds which take away the rays of the sun.

LOVE YOUR ENEMIES

LOVE YOUR ENEMIES

A Sermon by Rev Peter M. Buss, Jr.Preached in Mitchellville, MarylandFebruary 4, 1996

We have a challenging section of the Word to focus on this morning. The words themselves are easy enough to understand, but the meaning – what the Lord is asking us to do – can easily elude us. We read from the Sermon on the Mount:

 

You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also (Matthew 5:38,39).

We can guess at the intended message: that the Lord wants us to respond to evil with something other than revenge or anger; but beyond that, questions arise. Are we really meant to let evil run its course? Do we have to put up with the abuse other people inflict upon us?

Fortunately, answers have been given. The Writings for the New Church come to our rescue and explain that we do not need to take these words too literally. But there is an important message contained within, which teaches us a great deal about how to respond to injustice when we are the victims.

David and Saul. To begin thinking about the meaning we turn to the story of David and Saul (see I Samuel 26:5-12). Saul was jealous of David’s success and wanted to kill him. Twice during David’s extended flight he had the opportunity to kill Saul. We read about how David and Abishai came into the middle of Saul’s camp one night and stood over Saul while he and the whole camp slept. Abishai, ever willing to please, asked David if he could take Saul’s spear by his head, and thrust it through him, for as he said, “God has delivered your enemy into your hand” (1 Samuel 26:8). But David would not let him, saying, “Who can stretch out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” (1 Samuel 26:9). David had the motive, the opportunity, and even the justification (by most people’s standards) to kill Saul. But he didn’t because the Lord forbade it. He refused to repay evil with evil.

Although he may have acted out of simple obedience (he may have wanted to kill Saul even though he didn’t), we can admire his steadfast character – especially in the context of a nation whose rule was: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (see Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:17-20).

Looking within. In the New Testament we hear the Lord asking people to go the next step. Instead of just resisting revenge, He asks us not to resist evil. We are to love our enemies – to turn the other cheek. The interior message is that we need to master more than our actions and speech; we also need to notice the emotions and feelings, our thoughts, intentions and attitudes which cause us to act in certain ways. These are things of the internal realm, within our minds. In His request to “turn the other cheek” we are invited by the Lord to reflect on our reactions to evil when we see it – when we are the victims. Do we clench with anger and coil up – repay wrong for wrong? Or do we have the courage to resist that primal urge and hear the Lord asking us to be merciful instead of vengeful?

The urge to seek revenge. Like it or not, we are the center of our own universe. Although this does refer to our love of self, a love which the Lord wants us to work on, the main reason for bringing it up is that it speaks to our perspective in general. We know our own thoughts and intentions; we do not necessarily know those of other people. We feel the pain when someone says or does something cruel to us; we don’t automatically perceive what’s going on in the other person’s mind.

Because of this self-centered view, we have a natural and automatic surge of defensiveness when attacked. It takes an effort of will to rise above such an inclination, to think about the thoughts and feelings of someone else.

Let me offer a couple of examples to give a context in which to think about this principle of overcoming our native perspective:

1) If someone short-changes us at the checkout, it’s easy to assume that that person is incompetent. It takes more effort to reflect that the person may have just made a mistake.

2) If someone lies to us knowingly, it’s easy to insinuate all kinds of negative things about that person’s spiritual character – maybe even say a few of them. It’s harder to open ourselves up to think about the reasons the person lied, and how best to deal with the situation.

3) If someone insensitively yells at us for something we didn’t do, our natural tendency is to yell back to make sure he or she knows of the injustice. It takes more courage to explain the error calmly, and to hold no ill will toward the person.

The list could go on and on. These things happen all the time. Therefore we need the Lord’s words of encouragement, reminding us to rise above our instinctive desire to repay injustice, and instead be moved to think about what’s going on in other people’s minds as we experience our own thoughts and emotions.

“Turn the other cheek.” I believe the Lord knows He’s asking a lot of us in this regard. It is difficult to counter cruelty with mercy. He explains this by means of the very words He chose during His Sermon on the Mount. The things He asks there intentionally go against our common sense – beyond what we would reasonably expect the Lord to ask of us. Think about what it means to “turn the other cheek.” A person slaps you in the face. Such an act is an affront to our selfhood. It is a way of cutting someone to the core – of provoking us to almost certain anger. Yet the Lord says in effect, “Let him slap you again.”

The rest of the requests are equally as alarming if we think about actually doing what the Lord says. If someone wants your clothes, He asks you to give them up. If someone needs to borrow money, He asks you to lend without expecting repayment. He commands us all to give any of our possessions to anyone who asks. The reason for this imagery is to make us aware that it is not easy to overcome our desire for revenge. It is not something, we would tend to do if left to ourselves.

There is a deeper reason, of course. It comes by means of the internal sense. A passage from Arcana Coelestia explains:

Who can fail to see that these words should not be taken literally? Who is going to turn his left cheek to one who has smacked him on the right cheek? Who is going to give his cloak to one who wishes to take away his tunic? Who is going to give what he has to all who ask for it? And who will not resist evil? But these words cannot be understood by anyone who does not know what the right cheek and the left, tunic and cloak, a mile, a loan, and all the rest are being used to mean. The subject in these verses is spiritual life or the life of faith, not natural life, which is the life of the world (AC 9049:5; cf. AE 556:8).

Spiritual life is the key. Again the Lord is asking us to focus on what’s going on in our minds – our intentions, affections, thoughts, attitudes. When someone insults us, what happens to our spiritual life? What causes us to react in a merciful or vengeful way? This is what comes out by means of the internal sense.

Spiritual Associations. A major idea is contained within the Lord’s introduction to His message: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ ” (Matt. 5:38). This again is the law of retaliation. It is the exact opposite of the Golden Rule which the Lord spoke of later in the same address: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” (Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31). The truth contained within is that one is the law of heaven, while the other is the law of hell. In heaven, angels are motivated by mutual love, or charity – they do to others as they want others to do to them (see AR 762). But devils in hell place themselves first, desiring to abuse and manipulate those around them. When it doesn’t work, they break forth with acts of violence and cruelty. But the law of retaliation takes effect, and whatever they do to others comes crashing back on them in the form of punishments (ibid.). By such means the Lord maintains some semblance of order in the hells.

The power of such a teaching is that it opens up a reality never before known. In the lessons we read about our spiritual associations (see AC 4067). We are in the presence of spirits and angels right now. The spiritual world, the realm of the afterlife, is full of people who once lived on earth. The Lord uses them to lead us. Every single thing we think and feel is caused by our association with certain spirits. We are present with spirits who like to think and feel the same way we do, even though we are entirely unaware of it.

The passage gave some examples. A covetous person is in association with covetous spirits; a person who loves himself pre-eminently is with those who share this self-pride; one who takes delight in revenge (an emotion particularly appropriate in this context) is among spirits who feed that desire. It also mentions that people who avoid such vices are in association with angels in heaven, and are thereby led by the Lord Himself.

With this backdrop we can think again about our response to evil or insensitivity. When we react with anger or vengeance it is never from the Lord. When we repay anger with anger, violence with violence, then we are acting under the law of retaliation – the law that governs hell. The result is that we are in association with devils in hell, and as the passage from Arcana Coelestia explains:

[We are] utterly under their control, so much so that [we are] not under [our] own jurisdiction but under theirs, [even though we imagine] from the delight [we experience), and so from the freedom [we have], that [we are] in control of [ourselves) (AC 4067).

Only when we reflect on the fact that there’s more going on than our own emotions and thoughts, that someone else is involved, that there may be reasons for his or her actions, do we open ourselves up to charity – to thoughts about how we would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. Then we are in association with angels of heaven and we are led by the Lord.

This is an amazing new truth which gives us a totally new way of approaching our dealings with other people. Our goal is to be led by the Lord and His angels rather than to fall into the traps of hell.

Specific requests. With this backdrop of our connection with the spiritual world, we can look at a few of the phrases of the Lord’s words, and see clearly what the Lord is asking us to do.

(1) “Do not resist an evil person,” He says. What He means is “Don’t repay evil with evil.” Why? Because it will never help. All it does is bring us into association with the hells. Their desire is to hurt us and control us. If we respond to their influx, we suffer. We can think of anger as an example. It is a powerful emotion. We may derive some delusionary pleasure from “letting someone have it,” but more often than not we end up feeling remorseful and guilty. It doesn’t lead anywhere good.

(2) Our goal, then, is to avoid such consequences. The first way to do so is “to turn the other cheek.” A “cheek” represents an interior understanding of the truth (see AE 556:9; cf. AC 9049:6). When we truly understand the Lord’s request to resist vengeful emotions, we will see that He is asking us to respond from a charitable perspective. “Striking the cheek” represents a desire to destroy (ibid.). When someone steals from us or is cruel, the Lord asks us not to strike back – not to desire to destroy. Instead our goal is to respond from that interior understanding which is “the other cheek” from an interior affection of love toward the neighbor. This includes many of the other things the Lord asks. We are to “love [our] enemies, bless those who curse [us], do good to those who hate [us], and pray for those who spitefully use [us] and persecute [us]” (Matt. 5:43).

In this we see a tremendous challenge: to overcome that instinctive reaction and to act from a higher motive instead; to take influx from heaven rather than hell; to think about the other person – the one who is abusing us – from respect, as a person; to ask ourselves how the Lord would want us to respond. Once we’ve considered these things then we can react. It may be with zeal, or with a desire to clarify the cause for the confrontation, or with a decision to remove ourselves from the situation. Whatever our response actually is, it will be from charity, and so from heaven.

(3) Again the Lord knows that is hard. It is our goal, but we may not always succeed. So the Lord offers a starting point in the next sentence: “If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also” (Matt. 5:40). A “cloak” represents an external understanding of the truth as opposed to the internal understanding represented by a “cheek” (see AE 556:9, AC 9049:6). What the Lord asks here is that we obey even if we don’t feel like it. If we can’t bring ourselves to respond to our “adversary” from a genuinely charitable attitude, then obedience is a place to begin. We may want to respond with anger or revenge, but the Lord asks us not to. It might be useful to think again of David and Saul. David had the opportunity to kill Saul, his enemy, but he did not because the Lord forbade it.

(4) Still, such external obedience should not be our home base. It is just a starting point. The Lord wants us to work toward the goal of genuine mercy and forgiveness. He says so in the last phrase we’ll look at today: “And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matt. 5:41). Going the extra mile represents our willingness to work toward the goal of charity. The more we resist our urge to repay wrong for wrong, the more the Lord will lead us toward control to such a degree that we feel nothing but affection for those in disorder. This doesn’t mean we have to feel happy for them. But it does mean we feel concern, and respond with the idea of helping the situation rather than making it worse. If we do so, then we are on the road to experiencing love toward the neighbor as the angels of heaven do.

Conclusion. The Lord asks us not to resist evil. In the internal sense He explains that evil has its own punishment (see AR 762). He asks that we avoid being affected by someone else’s wrongdoing to such a degree that we drop to their level of operation. All it does is cause us to receive influx from hell.

Instead He says, “Love your enemies …. Do good to those who hate you” (Matt. 5:44). The overriding rule is to do to others as we would have them do to us. If we heed this rule and hold it up as our goal, then we will be “sons of the Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:45). In other words, the Lord will be leading us. He will protect us from harm, and evil will not have its intended effect on us. We won’t respond with anger or vengeance because the source of our response will be heaven rather than hell. As the passage from Arcana Coelestia says:

As [we allow ourselves] to be led to good which is more interior and more perfect, so [we are] conveyed [by the Lord] to more interior and more perfect angelic societies (AC 4067).

Into these societies we will come after death if we make mutual love or charitable regard for others our rule of life. Amen.

Lessons: Matt. 5:38-48; 1 Samuel 26:5-12; AC 4067 (a portion)

 


Arcana Coelestia 4067 (a portion)

[3] Moreover, the good in a person appears to him as what is simple or one, and yet is so manifold, and consists of things so various, that the person cannot possibly explore so much as its generals. It is the same with the evil in a person. Such as is the good in a person, such is the society of angels with him and such as is the evil in a person, such is the society of evil spirits with him. The person summons these societies to himself, that is, he places himself in a society of such spirits; for like is associated with like. For example: the person who is avaricious summons to himself societies of like spirits who are in the same cupidity. The person who loves himself in preference to others, and who despises others, summons those who are like himself. He who takes delight in revenge summons such as are in a like delight; and so in all other cases. These spirits communicate with hell, and the person is in the midst of them, and is altogether ruled by them, insomuch that he is not at his own disposal, but is at theirs, although from the delight and consequent freedom that he enjoys he supposes that he directs himself. But the person who is not avaricious, or who does not love himself in preference to others, nor despise others, and who does not take delight in revenge, is in a society of similar angels, and is led by the Lord by their means, and indeed by means of his freedom, to all the good and truth to which he suffers himself to be led; and in proportion as he suffers himself to be led to more interior and more perfect good, in the same proportion he is brought to more interior and perfect angelic societies. The changes of his state are nothing else than changes of societies. That this is the case is evident to me from the continuous experience of many years, whereby the fact has become as familiar to me as is that which has been familiar to a person from his infancy.

THE LIFE WHICH LASTS FOREVER

THE LIFE WHICH LASTS FOREVER

A Sermon by Rev. Peter M. Buss, Jr.Preached in Mitchellville, Maryland March 26, 1995

Introduction

Sometimes our thoughts about the spiritual world are closer than at other times. The reality of that world hits home when someone we know enters into it – into the life which lasts forever.

It is a comfort to know about the next life – that death is not the end but a new beginning; that the Lord brings each person to life again in His eternal kingdom – the spiritual world; that He awakens the body of the spirit so that we can continue life there. It really is a continuation of life: we continue to be the same people; we meet up with people we know, and what is particularly touching, husbands and wives who had been separated by death are reunited. It is a beautiful picture, and it can provide tremendous reassurance.

At the other end of the spectrum, I would like you to @ for a moment about a tiny baby, specifically about a time you held a baby in your arms. Maybe it was one of your own children, or a niece, or a grandchild. It’s a wonderful feeling to hold a tiny little person, so new to life, and realize the potential enclosed in that weak little body – the things he or she will do in life. How many of those babies have grown up? Many may be bigger than we are. We all began life as little infants; we all grew up. The reason for calling to mind such an event is that it reminds us of a journey that we are all on, beginning at birth and ending at death: a journey toward heaven.

In fact, the whole purpose of our life here on earth is to prepare for the other world – for the life which lasts forever. Of this preparation the Lord has lots to say. In the gospel of Matthew He said the following familiar words: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19- 21). We can see the call to rise above our worldly concerns and recognize the reality of eternal life.

There is a teaching which takes these words one step further by saying: “What more ought anyone to have at heart than his life which lasts forever?” (AC 794). It goes on to say, “Nothing is of greater importance to a person dm knowing what is true.’ We need to know the truth about the spiritual world, about the life which leads there, and about our responsibility to prepare ourselves for it.

Keeping the Spiritual World in Mind

Life is so short. My grandfather said to me once, from his advanced perspective: “You’ll wake up in a few days and realize that twenty-five years have passed.” There is amazing truth in these words. The Lord taught much the same thing in the Psalms: “As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:15,16). Life here on earth, no matter how important it is, is like grass or a flower of the field. The wind passes over it, and it is gone. Sooner or later it will be our turn to cross over to that world we know exists and experience it for ourselves.

How often do we reflect or picture ourselves dying and entering the spiritual world? It’s one thing to know about heaven and hell objectively, but quite another to picture ourselves there.

People don’t generally like to think of their mortality. After all, most of us have pressing concerns which occupy our minds – good concerns. Some of us have families we could not imagine being separated from. Many of us have jobs which absorb our energy and make us feel useful at the same time. We often think about the things we would like to do, trips we would like to take when we’ve retired or when our children are grown.

But even these concerns are temporary, or at best transitional when we think about eternal life. And so the Lord asks us to prepare for that life as we go about our present concerns. He asks this in the following words: “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do diem” (Psalm 103:17,18). Far more substantial is eternal life. Far more important is it to prepare for that life, by fearing or honoring the Lord, by keeping His covenant, and by obeying His commandments. When we keep these principles in mind, and the reality of the spiritual world, then we are much more likely to prepare for our eternal life instead of ignoring it.

Benefits of thinking about eternal life

But teachings like these are not just warnings or reminders. They describe a whole way of thinking, and an attitude about spiritual life which is very healthy. Keeping the reality of the spiritual world alive in our minds is a tremendous asset. I would like to mention three areas in which we can see the benefits.

1. It reminds us to value the good things in our lives. One way to see this is in our relationships. With an idea of eternal life, we know that some of our relationships will continue after death. Certainly if we know someone who has died, we can anticipate with joy the time when we will meet him or her again, and pick up where we left off.

In another way, we can value our current relationships more. The easiest way to see this is in the context of marriage. Most of us enter into marriage hoping that it will last forever – and it will if we work at it. If we hold onto that perspective of eternity, then we may value our spouse more, and not take him or her for granted. The importance of eternity in relation to marriage is emphasized in the Word. If the idea of eternity is taken away, angels feel flat and deeply depressed. The feeling that their relationship will not stop getting better and it will never end is essential. Otherwise why work at it? (see CL 216a).

Other things we may be reminded to value are the church, and the Word which the church has been given. The Word teaches us the life that leads to heaven, and the church supports us in living that life. With a keen sense of our mortality, we may feel called by the Lord to pay attention to these treasures which He has given us.

Another gift we can value is children. The Lord gives parents the privilege of preparing their children, or equipping them with the tools which will help them prepare themselves for heaven. The end of His creation is a heaven from the human race (see DP 27). It is a wonderful thing to realize that He allows us to participate in His system. It can inspire us to recognize our responsibility to do all we can for our children to help them on their way, not just for life in this world but for life in heaven to eternity.

2. When bad things happen. The second benefit of keeping the reality of the spiritual world in mind is that it gives us perspective when bad things happen. In the work 77ze Divine Providence the Lord teaches us a principle of His government: “The Divine Providence regards eternal things, and not temporal things except so far as they accord with eternal things” (heading to nos. 214220). The thrust of this chapter is to show that the Lord is constantly working for our eternal happiness. He does not ignore our present concerns, but if there is a choice, He will always choose our eternal happiness over our present happiness. For example, there are plenty of car accidents involving drunk drivers. In most cases innocent people get hurt through no fault of their own. Does that mean the Lord doesn’t care about these people? Of course not. But His eternal end is that all people may be free to go to heaven. He has to permit people to be selfish and cruel, and even allow them to cause others to suffer, if they are going to have the freedom to do the opposite: to turn to Him from freedom, to respond to His call and return the love He offers.

Knowing this principle of the Lord’s government – that He looks out for our eternal welfare over our short-term happiness – helps to give us perspective. When bad things happen to us and to everyone else we can see that the Lord still cares.

Our job from day one of our lives to the end is to cooperate with the Lord – to let Him prepare us for heaven. His system is set up for that goal, always emphasizing the eternal over the temporary.

3. Men evil delights tempt us. The last benefit I want to mention comes in the form of a negative. It might be easier to see the benefit of having an eternal perspective by seeing what it’s like not to have one.

When people fail to @ about or care about eternal life, they are actually “laying up for themselves treasures on earth.” Such a person is carried away by heR. They are led to think about themselves, and occupy their minds with what will make them happy now, in this world.

We know that all people are born with evil hereditary tendencies. What that means is that all people feel pleasure sometimes when they shouldn’t – an insane hellish pleasure, but pleasure nonetheless. The hells can use these delights to be tremendously persuasive. They use our pleasures to lure us.

Sometimes they don’t have to try very hard, because the delights arising from putting ourselves first are so powerful. There is a teaching in Heaven and Hell which says that hellish pleasures are felt more forcefully than heavenly ones in this world (n. 401). If we think about it, that’s true. It feels good to drink too much. It gives us a feeling of power to make ourselves look good at the expense of someone else. There is satisfaction in having the biggest house and the best clothes to wear. Our senses are so alive, and the worldly pleasures which arise from them are strong.

But heavenly delights are much less forceful in this world. They are there, but internal. Heaven and Hell calls them “a blessedness that is hardly perceptible, because it is hidden away in the interiors” (40 1). Of course it feels nice to do good things. There is satisfaction in doing our job well. The trouble is, it often feels like hard work while we are doing it. The rewards are secondary, and we have to pay attention to them. They’re there, but less forceful in this world.

Fortunately things change in the next life. Selfishness is rewarded not with pleasure but with punishment or frustration, while charity brings delight itself. But while we are in this world, we need to be aware. The hells are much less persuasive when we are paying attention. When we get caught up in acquiring stuff in the world and being well off, it is important to remember the Lord’s words: “I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? … But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you’ (Matthew 6:25,33). The truth is, heavenly happiness is the only real happiness. “A person who is led by the Lord is in freedom itself, and thus in delight and bliss itself (AC 6325). Other states which the Lord promises are states of peace, blessedness and happiness – all of which improve to eternity.

Reminding ourselves of the reality of the spiritual world can help us forego some of those transitory pleasures offered to us by hell.

Conclusion

So we return to the teachings we began with. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” the Lord says (Matt. 6:20). In other words, He asks that we keep the spiritual world in mind as we go about our lives, for then our hearts will be there also.

He also asks us to remember that our days are numbered: “As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:15,16).

Finally He asks that we remember our spiritual responsibility to prepare for His kingdom and obey its laws. For we “ought to know what the laws of the kingdom are so that we can live happily to eternity” (Spiritual Experiences 2331).

If we cooperate, then we can be assured of happiness, for “the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them” (Psalm 103:17,18).

So “what more ought anyone to have at heart dm his life which lasts forever?” (AC 794). “Wherefore let him who wishes to be eternally happy know and believe that he will live after death. Let him think of this and keep it in mind, for it is the truth” (AC 8939:3). Amen.

Readings from the Word: Matt. 6:19-34; AC 794; Psalm 103:1-19

 


Arcana Coelestia 794

“And the waters were strengthened very exceedingly upon the earth.” That this signifies that persuasions of falsity thus increased is evident from what has been said and shown just above about “waters,” namely, that the waters of a flood, or inundations, signify falsities. Here, because falsities or persuasions of what was false were still more increased, it is said that the “waters were strengthened very exceedingly,” which in the original language is the superlative. Falsities are principles and persuasions of what is false, and that these had increased immensely among the antediluvians is evident from all that has been said before concerning diem. Persuasions immensely increase when men mingle truths with cupidities, or make them favor the loves of self and of the world; for then in a thousand ways they pervert them and force them into agreement. For who that has imbibed or framed for himself a false principle does not confirm it by much that he has learned, and even from the Word? Is there any heresy that does not thus lay hold of things to confirm it? and even force, and in divers ways explain and distort, things that are not in agreement, so that they may not disagree?

For example, he who adopts the principle that faith alone is saving without the goods of charity; can he not weave a whole system of doctrine out of the Word? and this without in the least caring for, or considering, or even seeing, what the Lord says, that “the tree is known by its fruit,” and that “every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire” (Matt. 3: 10; 7:16-20; 12:33). What is more pleasing than to live after the flesh and yet be saved if only one knows what is true, though he does nothing of good? Every cupidity that a person favors forms the life of his will, and every principle or persuasion of falsity forms the life of his understanding. These lives make one when the truths or doctrinals of faith are immersed in cupidities. Every person thus forms for himself as it were a soul, and such after death does his life become. Nothing therefore is of more importance to a person than to know what is true. When he knows what is true, and knows it so well that it cannot be perverted, then it cannot be so much immersed in cupidities and have such deadly effect. What should a person have more at heart than his life to eternity? If in the life of the body he destroys his soul, does he not destroy it to eternity?

GAINING MEANING FROM THE WORD

GAINING MEANING FROM THE WORD

A Sermon by Rev. Peter M. Buss, Jr.Preached in Washington, D.C. February 12, 1995

 

“Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:20).

It is amazing how the Lord presents His truth to us in the Old Testament. There are such powerful, worldly images. We see a mass of Israelites camped in the plain before Mount Sinai. We hear the Lord command Moses to prepare the people for one of the biggest events in their history, when He would show Himself to them and reveal the core of their Law: the Ten Commandments. There is the sound of a loud trumpet. The Lord Himself descends in a thick ball of smoke, fire and cloud, which emits thunderings and lightnings of such magnitude that the whole mountain quakes. Then the Lord calls Moses up to Himself, and we see Moses walking up that mountain into the midst of the blackness to meet with God.

What do we gain from this imagery? On the surface we see that the Lord makes a revelation to His people. He ensures that the church has His Word, which teaches people who He is and what He requires of them. We also see from the dramatic elements of this particular revelation that revelations are major events; the people of the church need to pay attention to them and remember them.

We hear many things about how the Israelites of this time were external people. The Lord called them stiffnecked (in Exodus 32:9) and stubborn (in Judges 2:19) people, who played the harlot (Hosea 4:12) with Him at every chance. Because of this character they needed powerful reminders to obey. And that’s why this revelation took place in such a dramatic fashion.

But what is great to realize is that we have an amazing asset because of these external people. We can see spiritual ideas played out for us by means of their actions. The Lord commanded them to do things: perform sacrifices, cleanse themselves by washing their clothes or staying away from unclean foods, walk around cities, etc. These things represent the ways we obey the Lord – what our spiritual duties are. There is a message within the scene. Today’s message is about gaining spiritual meaning from the Word.

Symbols Opening up the Internal Meaning

Mount Sinai in this story is a symbol for heaven (see AC 805:2). This makes sense if we think of it as the location of a revelation. In the Word the Lord teaches us how to live so that we may get to heaven.

The people of Israel represent the people of the church. In other words, they represent you and me, or people who are trying to live according to the Lord’s revelation (see AC 8805:3). Moses symbolizes that part in us which can ascend into heaven to see spiritual truths (see AC 8805:4). It is called our understanding. Moses is the middle man who relays information from the Lord to the Israelites. The Lord commands him directly, which parallels our ability to understand the Lord’s will or to see how we need to live in order to go to heaven. Then Moses in turn commands the people. This represents our thought processes, instructing us, so to speak, to act according to what has been learned. Finally the Lord or Jehovah in that smoky mass on Mount Sinai represents His truth accommodated to our understanding, or put into a form that we can comprehend and use (see AC 8760:2).

If we put all these things together, we have the formula for a revelation. But it is not a revelation that the Lord makes to the church as a whole. Instead this is a revelation He makes to each one of us – a personal revelation about how His truths will work to make our lives better. As we read in Arcana Caelestia: “By revelation here in the internal sense is not meant revelation such as was made to the Israelitish people … but such a revelation … as is made … inwardly in a person” (AC 8780:2). This is not some mystical vision, but rather an understanding of what the Lord wants us to do, based on the teachings in His Word. We see the relevance of the Word to our personal situations, much as we read a poem and see a message in it which far surpasses the words.

The Lord Descending onto Mount Sinai: Accommodation and Enlightenment

The first aspect of this personal revelation is the Lord’s accommodation. Again this means that He puts His truths into a form that we can understand. It is a manifestation of His love, since He offers us a means of conjunction with Him. We see Him descending and making Himself available. And we hear Him call Moses up to Himself. By means of the Word we too can talk with God.

If we look at the actual forms of the Word, we can see that the Lord presents Himself in very different ways. The Old Testament is different from the New Testament, and b6th are different from the Writings for the New Church. But in all these forms, there is always the need for this more personal communication which our story represents.

In the Old Testament the Lord presents Himself as a wrathful and commanding source of power. He threatens punishment, and He scares people with awesome displays of might. It is easy to see that we need to look beyond these images to see the God we worship – the loving Heavenly Father who would never get angry with us. The truths in the Old Testament are heavily veiled over – the Lord’s glory and majesty are clothed in the dense cloud on Mount Sinai.

In the New Testament the Lord presents Himself differently. In contrast to the cloud of smoke and fire, we see a Man, Jesus Christ, who performs miracles and teaches heavenly parables. All of a sudden God is a warm and friendly figure rather than a Divine disciplinarian. But still, we have to see through the appearance that He is the Son of God and not God Himself. His parables also require interpretation. It was only to a select few of His disciples that He revealed internal things, and then only sometimes. But most of the gospel is in imagery: the kingdom of heaven is likened to a mustard seed, or a plant growing in the ground. We need a personal revelation” to see the relevance of these analogies to our relationship with God.

In the revelation of the Lord’s Second Coming, the Writings for the New Church, He promised to reveal Himself clearly. We can think of the image of the Lord in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (see Revelation 1:9-17). The disciple John heard Him saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 1: 1 1), which we can think of as the Lord saying, “I am the one God of heaven and earth.” This appearance of the Lord impressed John so much that he “fell at His feet as dead” (Rev. 1: 17).

In the Writings for the New Church we do see a clear picture of the Lord and a detailed path to heaven. But even then we need enlightenment to see how to respond to what is revealed there. Anyone who has spent time reading the Writings will realize that sometimes it’s heavy going. It’s not that the path to heaven is complicated – it’s quite simple. But there are so many details about how to follow this simple path.

There is a teaching in the work ne Divine Providence, which says: “The Lord admits a person interiorly into the truths of wisdom and at the same time into the goods of love only so far as he can be kept in them tight to the end of his life” (232, emphasis added; cf. AC 8794).

Even the clearest of truths in the Word are protected. We can think about the many things we have struggled to understand in the Word. Maybe it’s some aspect of the Lord’s Providence, or about how good evil spirits are at tempting us, or about one of the ten commandments and what it really means. These concepts may not sink in until the twentieth or thirtieth time we’ve heard them. It’s only when we have prepared fully that suddenly it makes sense. It’s like a breakthrough.

Researchers say that a child learning to speak has to hear each new word five hundred times before he or she can recognize it, and another five hundred times before she can repeat it. I think a similar thing is true of the Word: only when we are ready to listen – when we’ve been saturated with the truth or when we’ve tried hard to understand some aspect of our regeneration – does the Lord switch on the light. This light is the personal or inward revelation pictured in this story.

Sanctification of the People: Our Preparation

One way to ensure that we get this revelation is to prepare for it. We have to approach the Word in the right way. Moses gave the Israelites detailed instructions on how to ready themselves for the Lord: they were to wash their clothes, take measures to purify themselves, listen for the sound of the trumpet, and when they heard it, approach the boundaries of the mountain. These arrangements represent bringing our minds into order (see AC 8788). We can receive enlightenment or hear the Lord talking to us only if we are willing to listen.

One teaching describes the correct approach to the Word as “an affection for truth from goodness” (AC 8780:2). “An affection for truth” means that we desire to learn from the Word – to hear our Lord speaking to us by means of it. “From goodness” means we recognize that the Word has authority – it has power to make our lives better, and to lead us toward a good life. The people of Israel prepared for the Lord, and so we need to read the Word with the correct attitude. Moses Going up to Receive Instruction

If we approach the Word with this attitude, the Lord can make a personal revelation to us. We now reach the climax of the story as told in these words: “Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:20).

Going up the mountain means using the Word to ascend into heaven – to see how the Lord wants us to live so that we may go there one day. That’s exactly what we are trying to do here in this world – prepare ourselves with the Lord’s help so that we can live to eternity in heaven.

Few people in the Word spoke face to face with God. It could be argued that Moses was the most privileged man in the Bible. Certainly we see a beautiful picture of union with the Lord. The Lord approaches and accommodates Himself, and Moses responds by walking up the slopes.

Just one of the truths the Lord has revealed about heaven will help illustrate this climax. At certain times the Lord appears to angels in heaven as a Person and speaks with them directly (see HH 121). In The Aqueduct Papers by Brian Kingslake the fictional angel “Aqueduct” has this wonderful experience, and this is what he says about it: “Once -something happened which was so wonderful I hardly dare speak of it. I was walking along by the bank of a river with one of my brothers, engaged in deep conversation, when a Stranger joined us. In burning words He opened for us a whole new world of thought and vision. And when, almost swooning with excess of joy, we perceived who He was, He vanished away, leaving behind Him a lambent glow, an ineffable perfume, and a sound of celestial music. As we gazed rapturously around us, we saw that the countryside was covered, as far as the eye could see, with glistening flowers of all the colors of the rainbow – and so was my heart” (p. 2 1, Christopher Publishing House, Massachusetts, 1970).

This is the type of miracle the Lord offers to everyone by means of His Word. Each one of us has a chance to meet with the Lord our Creator. He is always available and waiting to teach us things that will make sense to us, which we know will make a difference in our outlook and choices. We can open His Word and feel a warmth which can come only from the Lord Himself – an excitement and connection which will remain with us. All people have the ability to gain meaning from the Word if only they approach it with a desire to hear what the Lord has to teach – from an affection for the truth from goodness. The Lord has descended onto Mount Sinai. He asks us to prepare ourselves to receive Divine instruction from Him. He calls to us from the midst of that mountain to come up to Him. It is a manifestation of His love, which shines through the pages of the Word, and desires our obedience only because it will make us happier. In this story of a revelation to the Israelites, we are Moses of whom it is said: “Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:20). Amen.

Lessons: Exodus 19:3-25; AC 8780:2

 


Arcana Caelestia 8780:2

By revelation here in the internal sense is not meant revelation such as was made to the Israelitish people from Mount Sinai, namely, that the Lord spoke in a loud voice and the people standing around heard; but such a revelation is meant as is not made with a loud voice but inwardly in man. This revelation is made by the enlightening of the internal sight, which is of the understanding when a man who is in the affection of truth from good is reading the Word. This enlightening is then effected by the light of heaven, which is from the Lord as the sun there. By this light the understanding is enlightened no otherwise than is the external sight, which is of the eye, by the light which is from the sun of the world. When the understanding is enlightened by that Divine light, it then perceives that to be true which is true; it acknowledges it inwardly in itself, and as it were sees it. Such is the revelation of those who are in the affection of truth from good when they are reading the Word.

Faith in the Will

Faith in the Will

A Sermon by Rt. Rev. Peter M. BussCataloged May 4, 1997

 

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples” Luke 1:29-31.

Nearly everyone wants to believe. It is a need sown into the human soul, for there is an influx from God which disposes us to believe that He exists. We want to believe that there is such a thing as unselfish love, that there are true ideals that rise above personal inconvenience, that there is a heaven, worth longing for and striving for. We want to believe that there is a perfect God who offers us these things.

Most hero images manifest this deep longing to believe in a power greater than our own. Sometimes we transfer this image to other people. Young people have a tendency to choose an idol and expect him or her to be perfect, and then become disillusioned when faults appear. People become inordinately hopeful about their national leaders or heroes. They treat them as super-beings, who will miraculously give them freedom from hunger or poverty, give them employment, peace, no inflation, no crime. How many times has a nation heralded a new leader with unnatural fervor, and turned on him a few months later because, like everyone else, he has human flaws?

This longing of the human heart, to believe in a savior, was fulfilled when the Lord came down to earth. It was for this purpose that He came, so that He could show Himself as the one perfect Man – God-man. Only He can fulfill the need within us for a complete trust.

He had no flaws. He did not put a foot wrong in all that He did on earth, nor did He show anything but the most perfect love and wisdom. Much though we love a human being, however deeply we revere a wife or husband or parent or friend, we cannot trust him or her altogether. There will be areas in which her love or his wisdom is not equal to helping us. But in Jesus we see infinite qualities at work, and we are able to say with Simeon, “My eyes have seen Your salvation.” In our faith in the Lord is our hope, and our security.

It is that certainty, that faith, which is meant by Simeon’s words, when he held the infant Lord, and knew that this was the moment for which he had been kept alive. He prayed to die: “Now let Your servant depart in peace.” For the longing to believe is with us only for a time. When we discover faith in the Lord, then the wish to believe dies. It departs – in peace – because it has done its job, and its time has passed.

Yet Simeon does not represent simple faith in the Lord and His power. For faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a powerful and comforting thing, but it is not effective if it is a belief in the Lord as Someone standing outside of us. It is the sense of the Lord within us, coming to be born in our hearts, that matters. The first faith a person has is an intellectual picture, the mental vision of his God. But the understanding is not the person himself. We are the things we love.

Therefore the Lord comes to us in our wills, in our hearts, and Simeon, that just and devout man who longed to see Jesus with the eyes of his body represents our wish to have the Lord within us. In the internal sense of the Word, Simeon (whose name is taken from the word “hearing”) represents faith in our will, faith working in our lives, so that the Lord can dwell in us.

What do we know of the Simeon story? He was just and devout, and he was waiting, longing, for the “consolation of Israel.” Because of this, the Holy Spirit had promised him that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Christ. He was led of the spirit into the temple to worship at just the time that Jesus was presented there, and in this infant he recognized the salvation of all people. He took Jesus up in his arms, and blessed God.

These actions represent a state of mind in us which follows after we already have an intellectual faith in the Lord. For Simeon was already a believer, and he was just and devout. He was putting into practice the things he believed. When faith is put into practice, it becomes “faith in the will,” faith in act, the wish to make our religion a reality (AC 342; 3862; 5472; 3869; 3872). Simeon also represents obedience, for obedience is the willing subjection of our will to the Lord’s truth (AC 6238).

To understand Simeon’s part in the Christmas story, it is important to reflect on the abiding emotion which ruled his life. For Simeon knew that it was his lot to remain on this earth until the promised Messiah came. His days were filled with hope, and with eager anticipation of this most wondrous event. This spirit, of hope leading into anticipation, is what keeps us going between the time of our first obedience to the Lord until charity, or true love is born in our hearts. The Writings say that hope is of the understanding, but confidence (or anticipation) is of the will (AC 6577, 6578). It comes about when we trust the Lord with our hearts.

There is a wait between the start of our obedience, and the birth of true love. Simeon waited for the consolation of Israel. How long did he wait? Probably for a long time. But was it an anxious wait? No. Was it a wait filled with uncertainty? No. He knew: the Holy Spirit had told him that his waiting would come to an end.

In our own lives nothing worth having comes to us in a moment. The truly worthwhile joys, the satisfying experiences in life take time. When did you first fall in love? How long was it from that day until your marriage? When did you first decide on a career? How long was it from the time you dreamed of owning a house until you inhabited it? A baby takes nine months to grow before you can hold it.

But the time between the beginning of the dream and its realization is pleasant. At first there is hope. Then hope gives way to something even better – a knowledge that the thing you dream about is going to happen. Two lovers plan their wedding: now they know it is going to happen. They still have to wait, but they are not anxious. That period of waiting, when you are certain of the end, is an important period. Each day that you wait, you reflect on the importance of your dream, of its special nature. The wait increases the delight in the final goal, and makes it more satisfying when it becomes a reality. In fact, if we were to gain our important wishes too quickly, without the pleasure of anticipation, much of the joy would not be there. More important, we would not have gone through the preparation which makes the joy meaningful; and even more important, we would not have used our own reason, in freedom, to prepare for that event, so that there is something of the as- from-self in the experience of the event. It is the wait that allows the Lord to give us a part in the joy that we experience. The Lord gives gifts, and through waiting and planning and looking forward to them, we have a part in their creation.

This principle applies when we start to seek the Lord’s love. Obedience is the beginning, but there is a long way to go. We don’t change from being selfish people to being loving people in a moment. We learn, step by step, and each step is a discovery. It is an adventure. It brings its own satisfaction.

The feeling which Simeon represents is the certainty that if we obey, love will be ours. Tomorrow, or maybe for many tomorrows to come, we may show signs of the selfishness that is still within us, but the time will come when unselfish love is born in us. The Holy Spirit has said so. We know it.

That waiting period is not an unhappy one. A person who is obedient to the Lord has some immediate rewards. He or she has a clear conscience. There is satisfaction in each day’s work. There is a feeling of accomplishment in fighting a weakness and overcoming it. There is real pleasure in finding growing kindness in one’s self. There are moments of quiet reflection and prayer when there is thankfulness that the future is going to be good.

It’s just that we do not yet have the love which makes heaven. The Lord has not yet been born inside us.

How did Simeon picture the meeting that he would have with His Messiah? How many times he must have imagined it! What was his mental vision? We don’t know, but we suspect that nothing prepared him for the joy which overwhelmed him when the infant Lord was brought into the temple and he had the privilege of holding Him in his arms.

We talk of unselfish love, but when it begins to be felt in our hearts, it is going to be much better than we had imagined it.

Simeon asked to die. Why? Because the spirit of anticipation has a limited life. Faith in the will lasts only so long, because when true love is born, faith becomes love, and faith flows from that love. We no longer look forward to charity, it is here, now. Hope, even certain hope, dies when its goal is reached (DP 178). “Now, Lord, you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to Your word. For my eyes have seen!” It has happened.

Like Simeon, we will spend a lot of our lives waiting for something. We are born to love others, and to find joy in loving them unselfishly. At some moment in our lives we believe the promise of the Lord that it can be so, and we begin to obey. But there is a long wait before love becomes a reality. We are invited to enjoy that wait, to find happiness and contentment in it. We are invited to use our reason and our planning and our activity – our freedom! – to look forward to the day when love is a reality. It is into that freedom that the Lord inspires hope, and then confidence, and eager anticipation (see AC 6577, 6578). It gives us the power to go forward, waiting for the consolation that will surely come. “It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26). “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word do I hope…. for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption” (Psalm 130:5-7). Amen

Lessons: 1. Psalm 130; 2. Luke 2:22-35; 3. DP 178

 


Divine Providence

178. Man is not granted a knowledge of future events, also for the reason that he may be able to act from freedom according to reason; for it is well known that a man desires to have in effect whatever he loves, and he leads himself to this end by his reason. It is also known that everything a man meditates in his reason arises from the love of bringing it into effect by means of his thought. Therefore, if he knew the effect or result from Divine prediction his reason would come to rest, and with it his love; for love with reason comes to an end in the effect, and from that point it begins anew. It is the very delight of reason to see from love the effect in thought not the effect in its attainment, but before it, that is, not in the present but in the future. Hence man has what is called Hope, which increases and decreases in the reason as he sees or looks forward to the event. This delight is completed in the event, but it thereafter fades away with the thought concerning the event. It would be similar in the case of an event that was foreknown. [2] The mind of man is continually in these three things, called end, cause, and effect. If one of these is wanting the human mind is not in its life. The affection of the will is the originating end (a quo); the thought of the understanding is the operative cause (per quam); and the action of the body, as the speech of the mouth, or external sensation, is the effect of the end by means of the thought. It is clear to anyone that the human mind is not in its life when it is in nothing beyond the affection of the will, and similarly when it is only in the effect. Therefore, the mind has no life from one of these separately, but only from the three conjointly. This activity of the mind would diminish and pass away if the event were foretold.

FAITH AND HUMAN FREEDOM

FAITH AND HUMAN FREEDOM

A Sermon by Rev. Peter M. BussPreached in Bryn Athyn on March 15, 1987 (Pendleton Hall)

 

“And many more believed because of His own word; and they said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of your saying: for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (John 4:41, 42).

 

“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” John 8:32).

Our freedom is limited in all sorts of ways and at different times of our lives. A child grows up under authority and learns to take orders. He also learns his parents’ ideas of morality and his parents’ religion. He has to obey the rules of the school, of the town in which he lives, of his country. He is taught to look up to and obey those in higher positions than he, and he comes to have a feeling for the authority of man and the power of certain persons. He feels the press of social law — doing what society expects of him. All these things limit his freedom to do what he wants.

Rational society knows that some freedoms should not be given to us. To break the laws of the country should be forbidden unless they are totally and spiritually unjust. We should be bound by social law as well. Society has a right to punish people who show no care for its members in moral matters (see AC 4167 et al).

Some freedoms we should work for and even fight for. We have made a history of doing so, and we have to wish well to all people who are trying to do so throughout the world. The freedom to worship, to speak the truth, to act from conscience, to live where you may make a living — all these things should be guarded by a government which deserves to survive. For these freedoms are part of human longing. They can be smothered for a while, but the human soul yearns for them and will go on looking for them through any oppression.

And one freedom is so important that it is in the hands of the Lord Himself. He won’t let anyone take it away for more than a while. It is the liberty to believe what you want to believe and to love what you want to love. That spiritual freedom is deep within the heart of man, and it can hide where no person can ever go, and it can be protected even when terrible pressures are being put on us to give it up. The Lord holds as inviolate the principle that every human being is free to choose his or her belief, and to cherish his or her chosen loves. You can deny someone the free expression of belief or love, but not the secret, private conviction and enjoyment of them (see DP 129, AC 5854, et al).

In the long run no one can deny us this freedom, but it can be muted and delayed and interfered with over a period of years. A person who is sick is not in full freedom, because the private enjoyments of life are denied him, and he may be afraid of death. A person acting under strong fear is not free: the fear makes him think differently from the way he might otherwise think. Someone who is mentally ill may find his spiritual freedom impaired for a long time.

There are also pressures that can limit it. Some countries, for example, teach their people that disagreeing with the rulers is a crime, and often succeed in limiting free thought (see TCR 814, SD Minor 4772). Society can do that as well: if people are made to feel that merely to express a differing opinion is sinful, they will be pressured into the more acceptable modes of thought. A church can be just as bad if it limits the understanding of truth to what the leaders of the church teach. Anyone in the church can do it too: if you express an idea and someone looks at you with surprise and faint distaste because the idea is “not what the church teaches,” you may feel pressured to relinquish your idea in favor of one that will make you less unpopular.

It’s amazing how deeply the people around us can affect our enjoyment of the most precious freedom there is — the one the Lord guards secretly in our minds so that no one can destroy it forever. It can’t die, but it can be held ransom for months or years; and bits of it can be limited so that we have to wait, maybe until the next life, to feel true spiritual freedom.

The Lord has given the Writings for the New Church to restore that freedom, to establish it at the highest level possible. In His order there is nothing more important, because unless we can turn to Him in freedom, we can’t turn to Him at all. The freedom to choose our loves and our beliefs is so important that He Himself never forces anyone. In fact, He says that were He to force someone to love what is good, that person “would come into such torment and into such a hell that he could not possibly endure it, for he would be miserably deprived of his life” (AC 5854).

The Writings establish and uplift this freedom in several ways. First, they are given to take away the authority of man, to cut through the dogmas or the customs of any organization — even of the church that acknowledges them! They were given to enable people to look not to the learned and the outspoken and the eloquent for guidance, but to the Lord Himself for leadership in all spiritual things. They were given to provide personal, private, and therefore totally free, contact with the Lord and His truth. “If ye abide in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

This last revelation by the Lord is quite different from all those which went before, even though it agrees with them in every point. It is different in its appeal. First of all, it is complete. It talks about all matters of human life, in terms that people can understand. The Old and New Testaments touch on all parts of human life, but often so briefly that people have not understood them. The Writings are a comprehensive, consistent and completely presented description of the Lord’s laws.

They are not just comprehensive. They also have depth. They talk about things that we could never know without the Lord’s telling us. They tell us about the life after death and the spiritual nature of the life we will live there. They tell us secrets about human life here — how, for example, the bond of marriage spiritually changes a young man and woman and prepares them for total love. They tell of the thousands of secret things the Lord is doing when He rebuilds the human heart that turns to Him. Inside of his new revelation there is a depth that will never be plumbed. We will go on learning its secrets for tens of thousands of years and never grow tired of them.

They appeal to that human understanding which longs for truth and goodness. They touch the part of us which wants to see the truth for itself. The Writings aren’t written in the form of commands. They set out our obligations, and they most certainly tell us what is forbidden. But their whole approach is Lo ask us to consider what is said and see if it is true, and only embrace it when we see it. “What the spirit is convinced of,” they say, “is allotted a higher place in the mind than that which enters from authority and the faith of authority without any consultation of the reason” (CL 295). And again they say, “Real faith is nothing else than an acknowledgment that the thing is so because it is true; for one who is in real faith thinks and says, ‘This is true and therefore I believe it.’ … If such a person does not see the truth of a thing, he says, ‘I do not know whether this is true, and therefore as yet I do not believe it. How can I believe what I do not comprehend with the understanding? Perhaps it is false” (Faith 2). It is nonsense to say that we should believe without understanding. The Lord has given us the power to see His truth. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

The freedom to look at truth for ourselves and see it for ourselves; the freedom to find joy in discovering that what He has said is true: the Lord offers us this by telling us of His truth and doing so quietly, without persuasiveness, without threatening us or appealing to anything but our love of the truth.

This can be done only if it is the Lord Himself who reveals these truths. If a brilliant man explains the truth, even if he is enlightened by the Lord Himself, then he can give insights into the truth, but he can’t give freedom! The reason is simple — you are believing the truth on the basis of his understanding and his awareness, and so it is the faith of authority. If the Writings were the work of the most brilliant man who ever lived, they couldn’t make us free. Even if they were the Lord’s revelation to Swedenborg, which he then told us about, our faith in them would be a trust in a man’s understanding of what the Lord showed him. It would be a faith in the authority of some man, and that is limited. Only an explanation of truth which comes directly from the Lord Himself can open the mind. For the Lord reveals the truth in perfect form. It is unsullied by human adjustment and interpretation. It is from His mouth, and there is no fault in the expression, and therefore when we have faith in it we have faith in something pure which our minds can explore in total freedom.

This is the quality of the truth in the Word of the Lord — truth opens all the way to the Lord Himself. It is couched in the language of man, coming apparently through the prophets, through the apostles, through Emanuel Swedenborg. But the truth itself is from the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. And because it is His truth, He adds, “No man comes to the Father but by Me.”

And therefore the Writings for the New Church also do not allow us to use them — the Writings — to control the minds of others. It is true that while children are growing up, we teach them truths from the Writings without questioning them. But we don’t allow a child to confirm his faith. He or she must be an adult before taking that step. Time and again the Writings preach against historical faith — the notion that what was good enough for your fathers is good enough for you — and they reject all faith on authority — believing because people we admire believe. Time and again they urge the people of the church not to band together and decide what is true. We are not to make councils and decide what is true, nor ask people to believe in something because we, the leaders or older generation in the church, have seen it. “Put no faith in councils,” they say, “but in the holy Word; and go to the Lord and you will be enlightened; for He is the Word, that is, the Divine truth in the Word” (TCR 624e). And again they say, “But, my friend, go to the God of the Word, and thus to the Word itself … and you will be enlightened” (TCR 177e). The authority for the New Church is now and evermore will be the Word itself; it has no formal, written doctrine outside of it.

A person who is confirmed in the New Church is stating his or her faith in that Word — the Old and New Testaments and the Writings. He is saying that he believes they are from the Lord and are the only authority, the only ruler over his mind. We must obey civil law, of course; we must observe moral laws; but we reserve the right to decide from the Lord Himself, from His Word, their justice, or the rightness of anything on earth or in heaven. In doing so we give up a certain freedom — the freedom to espouse any idea we want, to decide for ourselves what is true; but we give it up willingly, for now we are saying that we want to be in favor, not of ideas but of what is true, and the Lord has shown us perfect truth. Many people may be tempted to disdain ideal truth. Like Pilate they might ask, “What is truth?” The Lord has answered that: “Everyone that is of the truth hears My voice.” “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

But in the last analysis we don’t accept faith in the Lord in order to reject faith in other people and in false ideas. We accept it because we know that we need living faith, faith in living truth, so that we ourselves can be changed. There is only one thing in all this world that is perfect, and that is the Lord’s Word, and when we turn to it, we are asking for that perfect, faultless help that flows through that Word from the Lord — the help we need if we are to forsake evil and love what is good. When a man or a woman stands before the Lord and joins the New Church, he or she is taking just the first step along the path of a happy and blessed life. He or she is saying, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.” “Lord, I know that in Your Word You are present. Guide me in all the steps that are to come.

Even when we accept Him He still gives us freedom. He shows us a perfect truth, and we can say, “I want it,” or “I don’t.” But if we choose to, then He gives us the power to find the ultimate freedom. Every angel of heaven is free to do what he or she wants, because what he or she wants is good.

This is the freedom which starts when a young man or woman declares a faith in the Word, which is the Son of God. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” Amen.

 


Lessons: John 4:19-30, 39-42; John 8:30-47; Faith 2, 3

Doctrine of Faith 2, 3

Real faith is nothing else than an acknowledgment that the thing is so because it is true; for one who is in real faith thinks and says, “This is true, and therefore I believe it.” For faith is of truth, and truth is of faith. If such a person does not see the truth of a thing, he says, “I do not know whether this is true, and therefore as yet I do not believe it. How can I believe what I do not intellectually comprehend? Perhaps it is false.”

But a common remark is that no one can comprehend spiritual or theological matters because they are supernatural. Spiritual truths, however, can be comprehended just as well as natural ones; and even if they are not clearly comprehended, still as soon as they are heard it is possible to perceive whether they are true or not. This is especially the case with those whose affection is excited by truths. I have been permitted to know this by much experience. I have been permitted to speak with the uneducated, with the dullminded, and with the utterly senseless, as also with persons who had been in falsities, and those who had been in evils, all born within the church, and who had heard somewhat about the Lord and about faith and charity; and I have been permitted to tell them certain secrets of wisdom, and they comprehended everything and acknowledged it. At the time, however, they were in that light of the understanding which every human being possesses, and felt withal the pride of being thought intelligent. All this happened in my intercourse with spirits. Many others who were with me were hereby convinced that spiritual things can be comprehended just as well as natural, that is, when they are heard or read. But comprehension by the man himself when thinking from himself is by no means so easy. The reason spiritual things can be comprehended is that in respect to the understanding a man may be uplifted into the light of heaven, in which light none but spiritual things appear, and these are the truths of faith. For the light of heaven is spiritual light.