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.