DANGERS TO THE CHURCH REPRESENTED IN REVELATION

DANGERS TO THE CHURCH REPRESENTED IN REVELATION

A Sermon by Rev Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, IllinoisMay 28, 1995

 

“Now when [the two witnesses] finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them” (Rev. 11:7).

The book of Revelation is special to the New Church. When understood in its internal sense it presents a vivid picture of why and how the New Church came into existence. It presents a picture of what we who aspire to be members of that church need to look to in what we care about, what we think and what we do. This sermon will focus on the evil loves and false ideas represented in the middle chapters of the book of Revelation that are a threat to the doctrines and life of the church.

The whole book of Revelation, when properly understood, helps us to see the Lord as a loving God who is reaching out to people, calling them to Him. It helps us to see the importance of understanding what is true and good. It helps us to see the nature of evil and its influence on religious people. And it helps us to see the way the Lord’s kingdom can be, in heaven and on earth.

Understanding the book of Revelation is not just a matter of knowing about a single event the Last Judgment. The spiritual dynamics of that event, which the New Church asserts has already occurred, have a direct counterpart in our daily lives. The better we understand how the Lord showed His loving care for all people through His role in the Last Judgment, the better we can see how He can care for and lead us.

In the book of Revelation there are descriptions of several horrible creatures a beast from the bottomless pit, the seven-headed dragon, a beast from the sea, one from the land, and finally a description of an evil woman riding a scarlet beast. These evil forms represent thoughts and motivations that are a particular threat to people who think of themselves as being part of the Lord’s church. Certainly there are dangerous evil moti- vations and false ideas that trouble the avowed non-believer or a functional non-believer; these are perhaps not as hard for the believer to recognize, but the images of evil in the book of Revelation represent a more subtle threat. They represent forces that can completely destroy the Lord’s church within a person’s life while the person himself thinks he is following God in what he does and doesn’t do.

Chapter 11 of the book of Revelation speaks of two witnesses who testify until they are killed by a beast from the bottomless pit. These two witnesses represent the essential ideas that are the foundation of the New Church. They are, firstly, that the Lord alone is God of heaven and earth, and that His Human is Divine; and secondly that people ought to live according to the principles of the Ten Commandments. These essentials are not just facts that a person stores in his memory. They need to be fundamental principles that affect how we look at our priorities and decisions, and how we see ourselves and others.

When we say the Lord’s prayer, we close with the words, “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever” (Matt. 6:13). These words are addressed to the one God of heaven and earth. They are addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ, our heavenly Father, creator, redeemer and savior. When we think of Him, we are called to see His infinite perfection, power, love and wisdom as being one with His Human. My understanding is that a key part of this Humanity is our recognition that He is personally present with us, aware of the tiniest details of our life, listening to our prayers, and guiding us in things large and small. We separate His Divine from His Human when we make the Lord a remote and impersonal God. We can also separate His Divine from His Human when we justify evil and destructive choices with the thought that the Lord understands why I’m doing this and won’t hold me accountable.

The second essential of the New Church is the idea that we are to live according to the principles of the Ten Commandments. This means more than following their most literal meaning. When we acknowledge that we are not to steal, it includes using deceit to obtain something that belongs to another. It includes not stealing a person’s good reputation by gossip or slander. It includes not taking credit for the work of others, and so on. On a still deeper level this commandment calls us not to take things that are rightly the Lord’s and claim them as our own. When we reflect more deeply on any of these commandments we can recognize that we are prone to break them consciously or unconsciously on many levels.

The two witnesses in Revelation chapter 11 were killed by a beast said to be from the bottomless pit. This beast, the dragon, and the beasts from the sea and land all represent one of the two major threats to the church. These beasts represent historically the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. The fundamental idea in this doctrine is that a person can be a true follower of God and obtain salvation and eternal life without having to obey the commandments or even consider what evil thoughts and deeds he has done and may do in the future.

Over and over again people have found something to substitute for the importance of obedience to the principles the Lord has set before us. The ancient Israelites made the rituals of worship most important. For example, they made ritual fasting an important way to gain God’s favor. In Isaiah 58 the Lord clearly tells the Israelites that this is not what He wants; instead He states: “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6,7).

Likewise, the ancient Israelite tended to focus on the ritual sacrifices made at the temple. Concerning these the Lord said in the book of Micah: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8).

Likewise, the Lord criticized the scribes and Pharisees for scrupulously contributing to the temple a tenth of the spices they used on their food, but forgetting things far more important. He said to them: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone” (Matt. 23:23).

In the medieval world there grew up a belief in penance that encouraged the idea that a person could sin and then, provided he or she lit enough candles, said enough prayers, went on a demanding pilgrimage, or gave enough money or land to the church, the sin would be wiped clean.

Partially in response to the excesses of this belief, the doctrine of salvation by faith alone was evolved. Through the ideas of that doctrine, people have come to believe that they can blamelessly steal, kill, and commit adultery, provided they claim faith that Christ died for their sins.

In all of these cases the key problem has been that people have made loving the neighbor a minor part of true religion. The dragon with seven heads represents a force that strongly seeks to destroy true religion with us as well. The evil spirits whose destructive force are represented by this dragon want more than anything to keep us from being concerned about working to serve the spiritual needs of the people around us. They want very much for us to be apathetic about reflecting on our own bad habits and how they hurt us and others. They want us to be convinced that we are just fine the way we are because we attend the right church or have a certain set of facts in our memory. They do not want us to be firmly committed to living as good and useful and kind and generous a life as we are capable of living.

Revelation chapter 13 describes this destructive force again by two beasts, one from the sea and one from the land. These two beasts represent the belief in salvation by faith alone with the laity and with the clergy. Note that the first beast seen, the one from the sea, represents this belief with the laity. When the people of a church long for an escape from a compelling morality and ask for it in open or subtle ways, they invite the opportunity of a corrupt clergy who will give them what they want. Certainly innocent people can be led astray by devious leaders, but the Writings repeatedly convey an idea of many people in the laity being led by a common-sense belief in the commandments and loving the neighbor. They are safe and actually have kept the clergy from openly stating certain ideas that enlightened common sense sees as insanity. Rather than being too worried that some leader will persuade us that a false idea is true, the Lord calls each of us to learn the doctrine of our church and then reflect in our own minds from what we know He has said as to its reliability and completeness. Does it really represent the life the Lord calls us to live?

The final image of evil that is introduced in Revelation chapter 17 is described in these words: “So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Rev. 17:3-5).

This evil woman represents the desire to control others through spiritual things. Protestant theologians, who have no idea of their relation to the dragon and previous beasts, have long asserted that this image represents Roman Catholicism. More properly it represents the single aspect of that church that sought power and control over the lives and decisions of all believers. This is a terrible evil. A key part of the true church is the spiritual freedom of each individual to act in freedom according to his or her best understanding of what is true. Yet over and over again believers have sought to control others and make them say and act in just one proper way. Often this can be done with righteous anger, but when it takes away understanding and freedom, it is not done in the Lord’s name. Needless to say, we can also fall prey to this evil. We can do so in our marriages, in raising our children, and with the people we interact with. We can be so convinced that we have the one right way that we are willing to force it on others. We are not to force our beliefs on others, but rather can appeal to their understanding and their higher motivations. When we do this we are cooperating with the Lord.

The evils of the book of Revelation are ones that can be a threat to each of us. They have sought and will continue to seek ways of hiding their true intent and being accepted by us as good and right. By ourselves we will not be able to see through their disguises and many permutations. But if we turn to the Lord in daily prayer, He will help us to see their attempts to influence us. He will be with us and protect us. As we act as though from ourselves to fight their influence on our lives, the Lord will be fighting within our efforts with His infinite power. If we turn to Him, victory is assured. Amen.

Lessons: Isaiah 58:3-9; Rev. 11:1-14; AR 500

 


Apocalypse Revealed

500. “The beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and shall overcome them, and kill them” signifies that they who are in the internals of the doctrine of faith alone will oppose them, and assault these two essentials of the New Church, and will reject them, and, as far as lies in their power, will cause others to reject them. By “the beast that cometh up out of the abyss” are meant they who came up out of the abyss and appeared like locusts (chap. 9:1-12). That these are they who are in the internals of the doctrine of faith alone may be seen in the explanation there given; by “making war” is signified to oppose and assault these two essentials of the church, as will be seen presently; by “overcoming and killing” them is signified to reject and extirpate them in themselves, and, as far as lies in their power, to cause others to do the same. The reason why they who are principled in the internals of the doctrine of faith alone will impugn and reject these two essentials is that they have confirmed themselves in two things diametrically opposite to them: first, that it is not the Lord but God the Father who is to be approached; and second, that a life according to the precepts of the Decalogue is not a spiritual life, but only a moral and civil life, and this they confirm lest any one believe that he can be saved by works, but only by their faith. All they who have had these dogmas impressed deeply on their minds in schools and academies do not recede from them afterwards. There are three reasons for this which hitherto have not been known: First, because they have entered, as to their spirit, into association with their like in the spiritual world where there are many satans who are delighted with nothing but falsities from which they cannot at all be separated but by rejecting those falsities; nor can this be done but by immediately approaching God the Savior, and beginning a Christian life according to the precepts of the Decalogue. The second reason is that they believe that re- mission of sins, and thus salvation, is given in a moment in the act of faith, and afterwards in the state or in the progression by the same act continued, preserved, and retained, from the Holy Spirit separate from the exercises of charity; and they who have once imbibed these doctrines afterwards make no account of sins before God, and so live in their uncleanness. And, because they know how to confirm such things subtly before the unlearned by falsifications of the Word, and before the learned by sophistry, it is here said that “the beast which came up from the abyss overcame and killed the two witnesses.” But this takes place only with those who love to follow their own inclinations, being borne along by the delights of their lusts. These think about salvation, cherish those lusts in their hearts, and embrace their faith with both hands, thinking that they may be saved by uttering certain words with a tone of confidence, and need not attend to anything of their life for the sake of God but only for the sake of the world. The third reason is that they who in youth had imbibed the internals of that faith which are called the mysteries of justification, on being afterwards promoted to an honored ministry, do not think in themselves concerning God and heaven, but concerning themselves and the world, retaining only the mysteries of their faith for the sake of reputation, that they may be honored as wise, and by reason of their wisdom be thought worthy of being rewarded with wealth. The reason why this is an effect of that faith is that there is nothing of religion in it. That this is so may be seen in the third relation above (n. 484). That by “wars” in the Word are signified spiritual wars, which are fightings against truth, and are effected by reasonings from falsities, is evident from these passages:

“Spirits of demons go forth to gather them to war in the great day of God eighty” (Rev.16:14).

“The dragon was angry against the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 12:17).

“It was given to the beat of the dragon to make war with the saints” (Rev. 13:7).

“Consecrate war against the daughter of Zion, and let us go up at noon” (Jer. 6: 4).

“Ye have not gone up into the breeches to stand in war in the day of Jehovah” (Ezek. 13:5).

“In Salem is the habitation of God and a dwelling in Zion, where He brake the fiery darts of the bow, and the battle” (Psalm 76:2, 3).

“Jehovah shall go forth as a mighty man; he shall stir up zeal like a man of war” (Isaiah 42:13; Psalm 24:8).

“In that day Jehovah shall be for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, who repel war from the gate” (Isaiah 28:5,6).

“Deliver me from the evil man, and preserve me from the man of violence; all the day they gather together for war; they have sharpened their tongue like serpents” (Psalm 140:1-3).

“Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall mislead many, and ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, see that ye be not troubled” (Matt. 24:5,6; Mark 13: 6,7; Luke 21:8,9).

The wars of the kings of the north, and of the south, and others, in Daniel (chapters 10., 11, 12), signify no other than spiritual wars; besides “the wars” mentioned in other places (as in Isaiah 2:3-5; 13:4; 21:14, 15; 31:4; Jeremiah 49:25,26; Hosea 2:18; Zechariah 10:5; 14:3; Psalms 27:3; 46:8,9). Since by “wars” in the Word are signified spiritual wars, therefore the ministry of the Levites was called “military service,” as appears from these things:

“It was commanded that the Levites should be numbered, to perform military service, to do work in the tent of the congregation” (Num. 4:23, 35, 39, 43, 47).

“This is the office of the Levites to perform military service in the ministry of the tent of the congregation; but from a son of fifty years be shall withdraw from the military service of the ministry, nor shall he minister any more” (Num. 8:24, 25).

See also above (n. 447), where it is confirmed from the Word that “armies” signify the goods and truths of the church, and, in the opposite sense, its evils and falsities.

SEEING IN THE LIGHT OF WISDOM

SEEING IN THE LIGHT OF WISDOM

A Sermon by Rev Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, IllinoisMay 21, 1995

“So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals'” (Revelation 5:4-5).

The book of Revelation is special to the New Church. When understood in its internal sense it presents a vivid picture of why and how the New Church came into existence. It presents a picture of what we who aspire to be members of that church need to look at, what we care about, what we think and what we do. This sermon will focus on the opening of the seven seals, the sounding of the seven trumpets and the pouring out of the seven plagues described in the middle chapters of the book of Revelation.

The whole book of Revelation, when properly understood, helps us to see the Lord as a loving God who is reaching out to people, calling them to Him. It helps us to see the importance of understanding what is true and good. It helps us to see the nature of evil and its influence on religious people. And it helps us to see the way the Lord’s kingdom can be, in heaven and on earth.

Understanding the book of Revelation is not a matter of knowing about a single event, the Last Judgment. The spiritual dynamics of that event, which the New Church asserts has already occurred, have a direct counterpart in our daily lives. The better we understand how the Lord showed His loving care for all people through His role in the Last Judgment, the better we can see how He can care for and lead us.

One of the great false ideas about God is that He is angry at people who do evil and punishes them. If the book of Revelation is read on a merely superficial basis, it seems to support this point of view. The opening of the seven seals, the sounding of the seven trumpets, and the pouring out of the seven plagues, obviously coming from God, are related to numerous disasters, and much destruction. It seems that God causes this destruction as a punishment for the wicked. This is not how God expresses His infinite love. Many people nevertheless act from the idea that it is justified to be angry at people who do bad things and that it is right and good to cause them loss and pain, real or psychological. For example, we know that certain kinds of gossip can tremendously harm a person’s reputation and ability to be useful, but there is a part of faulty human nature that sees “out-of-step” behavior as bad and wrong, thereby justifying our destructive discussion of it and sharing it far and wide. It’s a secret and indirect punishment for the person who has broken some principle of accepted behavior. If this kind of gossip is widespread it can poison at least a segment of a social group and produce an environment in which people do not feel safe or able to trust that they won’t be the next victims of general criticism, shared disapproval, and subtle social sanction.

The book of Revelation describes a condition in which many things are not what they seem. Many things which on the surface look good and useful are actually empty and lifeless, and because they don’t look this way they are evil and destructive. If we could accurately discriminate between fantasy and reality we would make better decisions. For example, how can a middle-aged man contemplate abandoning his wife, family and social connections to marry a much younger woman? He does so because he thinks he will find more happiness with her than with his whole previous life. Typically he is unhappy with his life and believes that the solution is a new relationship. He looks at his previous married life and sees dreariness and unfulfilling effort. He looks at his new relationship and sees freshness and excitement, something that is more spontaneous; here is a new woman that he wants to go out of his way for and who seems to appreciate him more. His adultery looks like heaven and his marriage looks like a dreary hell. He believes his new relationship will have none of the flaws of his present one. He is pursuing a fantasy. If he makes his decision on this fantasy he will be hurt and so will his wife, his children, and in a sense so will all the people whose lives interact with his. His opting out of his marriage vows will tend to further erode their sacred quality and binding nature, making it easier for others to be seduced by a similar fantasy.

Fantasy can also exist on a much smaller and more mundane level. Take for example a woman who is regularly late or who regularly fails to fulfill her commitments, and yet when she is called to account, she always has reasons or excuses as to why it isn’t her fault. It was someone else’s fault, or it was just bad luck, or some natural thing failed, like her alarm clock even though she set it properly. Rarely is anything her fault and consequently she takes little or no responsibility for remedying the situation or trying to change. She sees the problem as entirely outside of herself. Things just happen. When she looks at herself she sees a picture of blameless decisions and actions. She sees a fantasy, which if it remains unchanged, will cause herself and others inconvenience and harm. If she is going to change, her eyes need to be opened.

It is the Lord’s desire that we see what is real. By seeing reality, we can make better decisions. When we base our decisions on fantasies or misperceptions, we hurt ourselves and others.

The book of Revelation specifically describes a condition when reality had been twisted. This occurred in a place that is part of the life after death. After a person’s natural body ceases to live, the person’s spirit awakens with a new body in a place intermediate between heaven and hell. This place is called the world of spirits. Here as in this world, at least initially, good and evil people are all mixed together and can live side by side. When a person’s true nature shows itself and he or she is given a choice of good and true things or evil and false ones, there is a spontaneous and natural judgment separating that spirit from those who react differently. The saying “birds of a feather flock together” describes this separation. But this separation can take place only if reality is seen, only if the light of heaven shines into the world of spirits. The book of Revelation describes a time when that was not occurring. Instead the spirits of people who had chosen evil things as their primary goals kept their true quality hidden. They made it appear as though they were among those blessed by God and that they were already in heaven. They created a false world of cities, trees, rivers, and so forth all of them beautiful but in reality they were fantasies of evil and false things.

John, the narrator of the book, describes seeing a scroll sealed with seven seals and weeping because no one could open it. This scroll represents how the Word of God had been so twisted and obscured by human invention that its fundamental truth was hidden. Historically, traditional Christian explanations of God as three persons, and subsequent explanations of salvation based on earning heaven by attending the right church and doing the right things, or salvation entirely by an intellectual faith apart from what a person cares about, thinks and does, had so clouded the fundamental messages of obedience to God, and love and service to the neighbor that they were lost.

The opening of the seven seals by the Lord represents the initial step necessary for genuine truth to be seen once again. The Word of the Lord needs to be present in our minds and understood before we can possibly see through the fantasies that our own unenlightened eyes would show us. The horses and riders seen as the first four seals are opened describe the progressive loss of true understanding and concern for what is good that can occur in a person’s life or the life of a church. The fifth seal was opened and John described seeing a vision of souls at the foot of an altar mourning their state. These souls represent people who were good but unable to recognize the fantasy of evil. In our own lives they are like the good motives and concerns that can get linked to evil ones and false ideas. Until they can see their proper place they are stuck where they are and change would destroy them. For example, righteous and angry punishment is often connected to something true or good. If the destructiveness of the anger is pointed out to the person, he can respond, “So are you saying I just should not care about the bad thing she was doing?” It seems there is no choice but either to be destructively angry or to decide there is no problem. But this is not reality. The Lord preserved the souls under the altar until the real truth could be seen and their goodness could be preserved. This is also the meaning behind the sealing of the 144,000. It represents a preservation of goodness that is initially too weak and obscure to remain unmixed and untainted by evil and false ideas. Children and teens often show this faulty mixture in their attitudes and decisions. They can simultaneously mix high ideals and short-term, self-centered, natural thinking, such as in their unwillingness to tell the truth if it will get a friend into trouble. Attacking the flaw can sometimes seem to them to attack the ideal of friendship and loyalty.

The sounding of the seven trumpets represents an exploration and opening up of what is real. As the light of truth once again shone forth in the world of spirits, the fantasy that had been accepted as reality was revealed to be quite different. The Lord wants each of us to see through similar fantasies within our own lives. We tend to excuse and even value goals, habits of thought and actions that can be terribly destructive to our own long-term happiness and can be terribly hurtful to others. This destructive life that seems so natural is what the Lord referred to when He said, “He who saves his life shall lose it and he who loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).

The pouring out of the seven plagues represents that the evil fled out of the world of spirits and found their proper place in hell. Genuine evil cannot take the presence of goodness and truth. It wants either to control it, destroy it or get away from it. The Lord didn’t have to cast anyone into hell. He just needed to have something of His love and wisdom draw near to the evil in the world of spirits, and they could not stand to remain in its presence. The Lord hadn’t done it earlier because the good who had been mixed with the evil would have been hurt also.

In our own lives, when we see things as they really are, decisions are easy. When we see and acknowledge that a course of thought or action will hurt us and others, it isn’t hard to turn from it. Evil has its greatest power by appearing to be different from what it really is. It wants to seem beneficial or at least harmless. When seen for its true nature, this fantasy falls away.

May we pray for the light of truth in our own lives. May we seek a knowledge of the Lord’s Word and not just a collection of facts that can be used for intellectual discussion, but a living set of ideas that we use in daily life. May the Word be an open book for us. May we use it to reflect on our thoughts and intentions. May we use it to examine the courses of action that we contemplate. May the light of truth reveal the fantasies of evil that we may with strength and conviction turn from them and to the Lord and the life of heaven. Amen.

Lessons: Revelation 6:1-11, Apocalypse Revealed 320-322


Apocalypse Revealed 320-322

Verse 8.”And I saw, and behold, a pale horse” signifies the understanding of the Word destroyed both as to good and as to truth. “A horse” signifies the understanding of the Word (n. 298), and “pale” signifies no vitality. In the Word this want of vitality is predicated of those who are not in goods of life from truths of doctrine; for the Word, in the sense of the letter, is not understood without doctrine, and doctrine is not perceived without a life according to it; the reason is that a life according to doctrine which is from the Word opens the spiritual mind when light flows into it from heaven and enlightens and gives to perceive. That this is the case he does not know who knows truths of doctrine and yet does not live according to them. The reason why “the fourth animal” showed “a pale horse” was that that animal was like “a flying eagle,” and by it was signified the Divine truth of the Word as to knowledges and understanding therefrom (n. 244).Therefore he showed that with those who were now seen there were no knowledges of good and truth from the Word, nor any understanding of them, and such in the spiritual world appear pale, like those who are without life.

“And his name that sat upon him was Death, and hell followed with him” signifies the extinction of spiritual life, and thence damnation. By “death” is here signified spiritual death, which is the extinction of spiritual life; and by “hell” is signified damnation, which follows that death. Every man indeed has from creation, and therefore from birth, spiritual life, but that life is extinguished when he denies God, the holiness of the Word, and eternal life; it is extinguished in the will but remains in the understanding, or rather in the faculty of understanding. By this man is distinguished from beasts. As “death” signifies the extinction of spiritual life, and “hell” damnation thence, therefore “death and hell” in some passages are named together, as in these: “I will redeem them from the hand of hell; I will liberate them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O hell, I will be thy destruction” (Hosea 13:14).

“The cords of death encompassed me; the cords of hell encompassed me; the snares of death prevented me” (Psalm 18:4, 5; 116:3).

“Like sheep they are laid in hell; death shall feed on them; hell is their habitation, but God will redeem my soul from the hand of hell” (Psalm. 49:14, 15).

“I have the keys of hell and death” (Rev. 1:18).

“And power was given them over the fourth part of the earth to kill” signifies the destruction of all the good of the church. Since by “death” is meant the extinction of man’s spiritual life, and by “hell” damnation, it follows that “to kill” here means to destroy the life of man’s soul; the life of the soul is spiritual life; “a fourth part of the earth” signifies all the good of the church; “the earth” is the church (n. 285). That “a fourth part” is all good cannot be known by anyone unless he knows what numbers in the Word signify. The numbers “two” and “four” in the Word are predicated of goods and signify them; and the numbers “three” and “six” are predicated of truths and signify them; thus “a fourth part,” or simply “a fourth” signifies all good, and “a third part” or simply “a third” signifies all truth; therefore “to kill a fourth part of the earth” here signifies to destroy all the good of the church. That “power was not given to him that sat upon the pale horse to kill a fourth part of the habitable earth” is evident. Besides, “four” in the Word signifies the conjunction of good and truth. That “four” has these significations may indeed be confirmed from the Word, as by “the four animals or cherubim” (Ezekiel 1, 3, 10; Rev. 4), by “the four chariots between the two mountains of brass” (Zechariah 6), by “the four horns” (Zechariah 1:18), and by “the four horns of the altar” (Exodus 27:1-8; Rev. 9:13), by “the four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth” (Rev. 7:1; Matthew 24:31), as also by “visiting the iniquity upon the thirds and fourths” (Numbers 14:18), and in other places by “the third and fourth generation.” By these and by many other passages in the Word, I say, it can be confirmed that “four” is predicated of goods and signifies them, and also the conjunction of good and truth; but since this would not appear without a prolix explanation of these passages, it is sufficient to mention that nothing else is meant in heaven by “four” and by “a fourth part.”

THE LORD CALLS MANY PEOPLE TO HIS CHURCH

THE LORD CALLS MANY PEOPLE TO HIS CHURCH

A Sermon by Rev. Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, Illinois May 14, 1995

 

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, and what you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea” (Revelation 1:11).

The book of Revelation is special to the New Church. When understood in its internal sense it presents a vivid picture of why and how the New Church came into existence. It presents a picture of what we who aspire to be members of that church need to look to in what we care about, what we think and what we do. This sermon is the first in a series of four sermons on this book. It will focus on the opening chapters of the book of Revelation.

The whole book of Revelation, when properly understood, helps us to see the Lord as a loving God who is reaching out to people, calling them to Him. It helps us to see the importance of understanding what is true and good. It helps us to see the nature of evil and its influence on religious people. And it helps us to see the way the Lord’s kingdom can be, in heaven and on earth.

Understanding who the Lord is and recognizing what He values is very important. How do you picture the Lord reacting to the things that are happening in your life or in the lives of people you know? What does He most notice? How does He respond to faults and flaws? All of these questions have answers that directly relate to a living understanding of the Lord. The importance of this understanding can hardly be overstated.

 

To know the Lord is the chief thing of all things of doctrine, or the first and the last thereof; for the primary thing of the church is to know and acknowledge the Lord; for it is conjoined with the Lord by means of acknowledgment and faith, and without conjunction with the Lord all things of doctrine are of no account; this, moreover, is the reason why the Lord has revealed Himself. The Lord has revealed Himself as the Divine Human (Apocalypse Explained 45).

A purely intellectual belief in the Lord can be of no greater significance than a person’s belief that aardvarks exist. I am quite confident that they do. I’ve probably even seen one in a zoo, but their existence has absolutely no impact on my daily life, and I can safely go for years without giving the slightest thought to aardvarks. Some people’s belief in the Lord is not much different from my belief in aardvarks. Sure He exists, but so what? I believe that this is a key part of what the Writings refer to when they speak about the problems of trying to worship an invisible God. If I see that God has no greater impact on my life than the existence of aardvarks, He is largely irrelevant.

How does He come to us and make His presence known? The first time the Lord came to the disciple John he was with his brother mending nets by the sea of Galilee. It seems that John was just going about his business, quietly working to serve people and make a living. The Lord’s first coming to our life inherently has to find us in a relatively natural state. It is described in the following passage from the True Christian Religion:

The Lord is present with every person, urging and pressing him to receive Him. And when a person receives Him, which happens when he acknowledges Him as his God, the Creator, Redeemer and Savior, this is His first coming, and is called dawn. From this time the person begins to have his understanding enlightened as regards spiritual matters, and to advance to more and more inward wisdom (TCR 766).

The acknowledgment spoken of in this passage is one that necessarily changes our lives. When we in heart and mind recognize that the Lord is the God of all the earth, that He has created each of us with a purpose in mind, and that without our cooperation with His work of redemption and salvation there can be no happiness, we recognize that we need to think about His purposes each day.

John was working as a fisherman when the Lord called him. Certainly the Lord saw to it that there were many events earlier in John’s life that prepared him to be a disciple. Each individual too will hear the Lord’s first call in a relatively natural state of life, and likewise the Lord will have done much to prepare him or her for that first and crucial acknowledgment.

The last time the Lord appeared to John he was on the Isle of Patmos “for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ”; it was on the Lord’s day or Sunday, and John says that he was in the spirit. John was then a far different person from the simple fisherman that the Lord first saw by the Sea of Galilee. So too we have the capability of becoming quite different in who we are and how we will serve the Lord as we follow Him as best we can.

Both times the Lord came to John He had a similar purpose. The first time John was called, the Lord promised to make him “a fisher of men.” John didn’t begin this work immediately. There was a time of preparation, of following the Lord and learning from Him. By the time the Lord ascended into heaven some time after the first Easter, John and his fellow disciples were ready to follow the Lord’s commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you (Matt. 28:19,20).

The last time that the Lord appeared to John, He also had a job for him to do. The first part of that job was to write letters to each of the major Christian communities in Asia minor, or what is now the country of Turkey. These letters have a pattern and style that show us some important qualities of the Lord.

In the first place the letters show the Lord’s desire to reach and teach people in many different states of life. The people in the seven churches varied, from those in the church of Philadelphia which is given high praise to those of the church of Laodicea who are in serious spiritual trouble. In nearly all cases the letters that the Lord dictates to John have the following elements. Firstly, the Lord identifies Himself through a unique quality of His life, for example: “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, `These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands'” (Rev. 2:1), or “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, `These things says the First and the Last, who was dead and came to life'” (Rev. 2:8). This reflects how the Lord appears differently to different people in different states of life. We don’t see the Lord in the same way.

The second common element of the letters is that the Lord states that He knows the quality of their lives, for example: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars” (Rev. 2:2), or “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first” (Rev. 2:19).

The Lord knows the least details of each of our lives and those of all people of all nations, religions and backgrounds, and from this knowledge is carefully leading us from our present life to a new one.

This third element in most of the letters is a statement from the Lord that He calls them to recognize that there is a significant flaw in their lives, for example: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4,5).

A quality of some religious thought, particularly that reflected in so-called New Age movements, is that the reality and potential danger of evil is minimized. A part of our minds would prefer to hear that everything is just fine the way it is, or that if there are any faults or flaws present they aren’t our responsibility and we need not give them any attention. This is not how the Lord would have us see the nature and quality of evil. To be sure, He doesn’t want us to be overwhelmed by a fear of evil or to sense that we are incapable of making any headway against its attempts to influence us, but He also wants us to know that if we ignore its existence and impact on our lives, we will hurt ourselves and others in ways both large and small.

The final element of the letters is a promise of wonderful gifts from the Lord for those who overcome. He promises that those who overcome may eat of the tree of life or will be given a crown of life. The Lord wants all people to know the benefits of cooperating with Him in the battles we face against the hells.

The opening chapters of the book of Revelation present a picture of the Lord coming to us and calling us to recognize His life, His presence, and the nature of life He calls all of us to lead. It presents a picture of the Lord calling to many states of life and inviting them to His church. May we listen for the Lord’s call in our own lives. May we attend to His words for us and learn how we can serve Him by serving others. Amen.

 


Lessons: Matt. 4:18-22, Rev. 1:9-19, AE 52

Apocalypse Explained 52

“And for the testimony of Jesus Christ” signifies that the Lord’s Divine Human may be acknowledged. This is evident from the signification of “testimony” as being acknowledgment in heart (n. 10, 27); and from the signification of the names “Jesus” and “Christ” as being the Lord in respect to His Divine Human (n. 26). These things are said concerning the church of the Gentiles, which is about to receive Divine truth and acknowledge the Lord’s Divine Human. The Christian Church indeed acknowledges the Lord’s Divine but not His Divine Human; when, therefore, they think and speak about the Lord from doctrine, they separate His Human from the Divine, and make His Human like the human of another man; when yet the Divine is in His Human as the soul is in the body. This is why such as these can have no idea of the Divine, although it is the idea that conjoins, because thought conjoins; and moreover, without conjunction with the Divine through thought and affection, or what is the same, through faith and love, there is no salvation. It is said that conjunction through thought and affection is the same as conjunction through faith and love, since what I believe, that I think, and what I love, by that I am affected. To believe in the invisible is much the same as believing in the inmost of nature, an error to which the mind readily lapses when it indulges in its own phantasies. Yet there is implanted within everyone from heaven, and this by continual influx therefrom, a desire to see what he regards as the Divine, and this, indeed, under the human form.

This desire is implanted in the simpleminded, and also with well-disposed Gentiles (HH n. 82). All such therefore, if they have also lived a life of charity, are received by the Lord, and heaven is granted them. No others can be received because they are not conjoined. That all angels in heaven, also the most wise in ancient times, and all who have spiritual faith, that is, a living faith, both on this earth and on all the earths in the universe, see their Divine in thought, because they acknowledge the Divine Human, and are therefore accepted by the Lord, (HD n. 280-310); (HH n. 79-86, 316, 321); (EU n. 7, 40, 41, 65, 68, 91, 98, 99, 107, 121, 141, 154, 158, 159, 169). Because this implanted desire, which is in everyone from heaven, has been almost wholly rejected among the learned of the world, and access to the Divine thereby debarred, therefore, a new church is now being established by the Lord among the Gentiles that have not extirpated that idea and faith along with it. The extirpation from the Christian world of this implanted desire had its first beginning with the Babylonish body, which separated the Lord’s Human from His Divine, in order that its chief might be acknowledged as the vicar of the Lord’s Human, and might thus transfer to himself the Lord’s Divine power, saying that the Lord received that power from the Father, when in fact it was from Himself, because it was from His Divine. Thus they are unwilling to hear anything about the Divine Human (AC n. 4738). But on this subject, as it is the chief thing of all things in the church, more will be said hereafter.