HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY AND TRUST IN THE LORD

HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY AND TRUST IN THE LORD

A Sermon by Rev Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, IllinoisJanuary 14, 1996

 

“While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:22,23).

The Lord has told us that if we want to be led by Him, we need to balance a trust in His wisely loving care with the need for us to act in freedom according to our own best understanding of what is true and good. The Lord has given us great potential in our lives. We have the capability of doing a great many things. We can be incredibly useful to ourselves and others. We can be incredibly destructive to ourselves and others. Or we can muddle along, living a rather mediocre life, having little effect on anyone other than ourselves. What will determine the effect of our lives for good or for ill? It depends on how well we follow the Lord, seeking His guidance and help in our efforts.

The words sound simple enough: “follow the Lord, seeking His guidance and help in our efforts.” But we know that the meaning of these words for each decision we make is not so simple. There is a tension between trust in the Lord and reliance on our own view of what would be best. There is a tension between what our hopes and desires are and an acknowledgment of “Thy will be done.” Sometimes there seems to be a direct conflict between what we see as being important for our present and future happiness and what the Lord wills or allows to happen under the government of His Divine Providence. Sometimes it seems that our choices and actions are crucial for the resolution we hope for, and sometimes it seems that we are called to put more reliance and trust in the Lord’s role in bringing about what is really best. Take the example of prayer: prayer is very important and yet a part of our mind tell us that it is useless and that we need to get on with life. We can put too much trust in the power of prayer to solve our problems apart from any other effort on our part, and conversely we can so devalue prayer in comparison to our own efforts that we never pray or that its presence in our lives is purely mechanical and perfunctory.

Consider the example contained in our first lesson today. When David’s infant son was very sick, David prayed and fasted in hopes of being able to save him, but when the son died, David accepted that there was nothing else that he could do and that he must get on with life. While David’s actions in this situation are not a perfect model for us, they do illustrate an approach that combines human prudence and a sense of trust or faith. Literally it appears that David was trying to convince the Lord to act differently by his acts of external self-denial and continuous request. If we are facing a major crisis, the Lord is not recommending that we seclude ourselves from all our other responsibilities, fast and pray for days at a time. David, as king, can represent the part of our mind that thinks, weighs issues, makes decisions and so guides our pursuit of what we desire and love. Fasting and mourning both represent a heart-felt sadness that there is an absence of good loves and true ideas in our own life or that of someone we care about. Feeling this sadness some of the time is essential for our eternal happiness. This is spoken of in the beatitudes: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:4,6). To the extent that a person just shrugs off problems with the reaction, “Well, that is just the way things are,” there is likely to be little sense of personal responsibility, personal capability of bringing about a change, and consequently the present state of affairs may continue unchanged indefinitely or even get worse.

What generalizations could we make about the relationship of human prudence to trust in the Lord? Consider what life would be like without a sense of trust or faith. What it would be like without a sense of the Lord’s grace? Without a sense of trust, one could hardly avoid having a fearful and lonely view of the world. The world and all of nature would appear like a huge merciless machine that crunched on without pity for human needs and wants. On the other hand, consider what life would be like without a sense that we need to use our prudence. Wouldn’t it become random living with decisions made on no more basis than the toss of a coin? Life without a balance of trust and human prudence could hardly be called life at all.

The challenge of balancing human prudence and trust is knowing when each of the two needs to play its part. When should we trust and when should we be prudent? The answer is that we are to use our best judgment in situations where we can have an effect. And in situations where we can have no effect, our lives will be aided by a sense of acceptance. While David’s son was alive, he did what he could; after his death, David did not keep dwelling on his loss.

The difference between these two responses is clearly evi- dent in the difference that we can have in our thoughts before some event has occurred and after it has already taken place. Before a woman accepts the proposal of marriage from a suitor, she is wise to carefully consult her heart and even talk with others who might know her and the prospective husband. But after she has become a wife, the question of whether this was indeed the right person to marry should not continue to be an active issue. A similar statement could be made for a man who is think- ing of proposing to woman. The distinct places of trust and prudence also show themselves in our behavior before a possible accident has taken place and after it has occurred. What have we done to prevent the accident and how much does guilt or remorse ruin our lives after it has taken place?

Almost anyone’s faith is shaken when a great tragedy occurs. The early death of a spouse may be among the most devastating tragedies. A dream has been shattered and blown away. Often there is a cluster of many thoughts and feelings that arise in the living spouse: a sense of grief, a sense of deep sadness; and within the grief and sadness often there is something of anger and denial anger that the event has occurred, and difficulty acknowledging the implications that the passing of the spouse has brought about. The grief and sadness, the anger and denial are a normal part of coming to an understanding of a great change in one’s life. We are told in the Arcana Caelestia that “All anxiety of grief arises from being deprived of the things with which we are affected or which we love” (AC 2689:2).

In time of tragedy it is rather meaningless and even callous to suggest that anger and grief need not exist. The event was not chosen. It may highly offend our prudence. “How could the Lord take my husband when there are so many children to be raised and so many bills to pay?” These thoughts are almost universal. The question is, what is the individual going to do about them? Will the person recognize that this is the way she feels at present? Will she reflect on the source of her sadness and grief? Will she in time consider the implications that the tragedy has for her life? Yes, will the individual see how she, or if it is the husband that is left behind, how he must live his life? Will a bereaved husband recognize that he should not give in to the desire to withdraw? Or will the new widow see that she should not hold onto angry thoughts, which like a festering wound would gradually infect her whole life? This is not easy to do. The evil spirits who inspire these thoughts are a determined group. They will grab what opportunities they can to prevent a person from living a useful life. After a tragedy has occurred, human prudence needs to look toward a continuance of life, and faith can gradually help quiet the angry thoughts and thoughts of self-pity.

Where is the dividing line between trust in the Lord and trust in our own prudence? What sort of statement would you make about how much life insurance a person should own? How much should you provide for the possibility of an early death, and how much should you trust that the Lord will help? There are probably as many answers to this question as there are people in this congregation. What about other questions that involve our judg- ment, such as, how does a person know if he or she has found the right person to marry? How can this question be answered? For those who are married and experiencing great trouble in their marriage, how can one decide if sticking it out would be best or whether the time has come for a separation? Parents face the regular task of trying to determine whether their child’s present behavior is a part of his inborn nature and therefore changed with great difficulty or whether the present behavior is rather external and could be improved on by some simple intervention and bending of the child’s state.

One of the challenges we face in balancing our prudent judgment of what needs to happen and trust in the Lord arises from the difference between prudence from the Lord and prudence that comes from our own limited and imperfect perspective. It is important, though, that as we use prudence, we try to hold onto the thought that all true wisdom and all good affections come from the Lord. Prudence from our own view of things apart from the Lord is not really prudent. Our own perspective considered entirely apart from the Lord’s is caught up in short-term thinking, considering the needs and wants of hours, days and sometimes years, but neglecting the perspective of eternity. Prudence from our own perspective apart from the Lord is caught up in the way things seem to appear in this world. It is caught up in what is apparently good, what is apparently fair, and what is apparently just. Remember, the serpent in the garden of Eden said that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was desirable. It would make one truly wise. The serpent in this story presents an image of a part of the mind of each of us. It is a part of the mind that misperceives the danger in trusting in our own intelligence. It has misperceived in the past, it does misperceive today, and will misperceive in the future.

All true wisdom comes from an understanding of the Lord’s words. The Lord insures that everyone has what he needs in order to understand what is necessary for a good life (see DP 326).

The primary danger in our own prudence is that we do not trust that the Lord knows what is best. We doubt that the Ten Commandments are spiritual laws. We doubt that the spiritual murder of gossip is really all that bad. We doubt that petty thievery, so-called borrowing from one’s place of work or delib- erate misrepresentation on one’s tax return, is against Divine law. We at times have doubts about the need to foster a sense of charity. We have doubts about the dangers of nurtured anger or about our subtle or direct attempts to make others seem inferior to ourselves. We come up with excuses that allow ourselves unreasonable impatience. We could hear a lifetime of sermons and never accept that we need to change our lives in some substantial ways.

The Lord has told us that if we want to be led by Him, we should use our prudence as a servant who faithfully dispenses the goods of his lord (see DP 210:2). The riches that the Lord has given us are the ability to do good things, the ability to re- ceive true wisdom, and the ability to care about what is truly good. We have this ability. Each of us today, this week, can help many people. If we listen to the Lord’s words, if we pay attention to what we can do, then we can be truly helpful; we can truly meet the needs of those around us now and in the future. We will gradually come to an ever wiser balance between our trust in the Lord’s wisely loving care and the need for us to act in freedom according to our own best understanding of what is true and good. Amen.

Lessons: 2 Samuel 12:15-23; Divine Providence: Chapter headings 1-3, Five Laws of Providence

 


The Divine Providence

Chapter Headings:

The Divine Providence is the Government of the Lord’s Divine Love and Divine Wisdom.

The Lord’s Divine Providence Has As Its End a Heaven from the Human Race.

The Lord’s Divine Providence Looks in Every Thing That It Does to What Is Infinite and Eternal.

The Five Laws of the Divine Providence:

It is a law of the Divine Providence that man should act from freedom in accordance with reason.

It is a law of the Divine Providence that man should as if from himself put away evils as sins in the external man; and the Lord is able in this way and in no other to put away evils in the internal man, and simultaneously in the external.

It is a law of the Divine Providence that man should not be compelled by external means to think and will, and thus to believe and love, the things of religion, but should guide himself, and sometimes compel himself.

It is a law of the Divine Providence that man should be led and taught by the Lord from heaven by means of the Word and by means of doctrine and preachings from the Word, and this to all appearance as if by himself.

It is a law of the Divine Providence that nothing of the operation of the Divine Providence should be evident to man’s perceptions or senses, but that he should, nevertheless, know about it and acknowledge it.

USING OUR TALENTS

USING OUR TALENTS

A Sermon by Rev. Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, Illinois July 23, 1995

 

“His lord said to him, `Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord'” (Matthew 25:21).

In New Testament times, a talent was a huge sum of money. Its origin as a monetary unit comes from the value of a heavy ingot of precious metal. A talent was approximately 75 pounds in weight. It is said to be equivalent to six thousand denarii or that it was equivalent to more than fifteen years’ wages of a laborer. In today’s values it would be equivalent to hundreds of thousands of dollars. When the man in the parable gave five talents, two talents and one talent to each of three servants, he was entrusting them with a major responsibility. Any of us would certainly feel the weight of this obligation if someone gave into our care a similar sum of money for an unspecified time.

As with most parables, that of the talents gives us few details. We are left to infer what happened in the hours and days that passed immediately after the master gave his servants the talents and then went right away on a journey. Do you think it is likely that the first two servants went right out and started using the money they had been given on the first opportunity that showed itself? Isn’t it more likely that they gave careful consideration to the most prudent way to make use of the huge sum of money the master had given each of them?

When the day of reckoning came, the first two servants had doubled the money they had been given, and the master spoke those gracious words of praise and reward: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21).

The third servant miserably states that he was so afraid of the responsibility given him that he had buried the talent in the ground for safekeeping until the master returned. It is interesting to note that the master doesn’t refer to this fear in his condemnation of the man’s actions. Instead the servant is called “wicked and lazy.”

The meaning of this parable is not difficult to recognize. The Lord has given a significant capability to each of us. For example, most of us by the end of our stay in this world will have had at least forty or fifty years worth of adult life, each day of which we will have an influence on other people either by what we do and say or by what we don’t do and say. Just as a talent was equivalent to thousands of denarii, we have thousands of opportunities to be an influence for good or for ill on those around us.

We know quite well that the Lord doesn’t measure the success of our lives by crude materialistic results. He states so clearly: “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 6:20).

Not only are we given time and the physical capability of getting things done and of communicating with others by speech, tone and expression, but we also have been given minds that can learn. The Lord ensures that all people have the capability of learning the essential truths that allow them to see the value of caring for others.

It is our privilege not to have only a vague and poorly defined idea of what is true and good, but to have a source of Divine truth revealed by the Lord in the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Writings of the New Church. Over and over again in the Word, truth is compared to wealth. Knowing the truth gives a person a tremendous capability. The question for each individual is, what am I doing with the knowledge, time and ability that I have?

A broad and clear knowledge of many things can be used by a person to be very critical of others. The more a person knows of what is right and wrong, the more he or she can use that knowledge to measure the actions and words of others. When looked at with a harshly critical eye, all of us fall so far short of the ideal that we can easily be condemned by others.

Knowing the truth is important only to the degree that it leads us to do what is good. The purpose of knowledge, its goal, is wisdom and intelligence or good itself (see AC 2967:3,7). Our lives in this world have the capability of showing this wisdom and of bringing good to others. We also can bring the opposite to others. A person can be destructively negative, quick to take offense and to point out the faults and flaws of others. Often this is done by a person in order to feel better about himself. A man or woman can convey directly and indirectly to others that they are unimportant and that their primary value is to benefit him or her.

We all have had experience with people whose presence tends to leave others feeling better about themselves and their day, and we have had experience with people whose presence tends to bring anger, fear, and sadness.

Why are some people so hard on others? If you asked them, they would have their reasons, just as the servant who hid the single talent in the ground had his reason for doing it. He said he was afraid. We know that there are good and healthy fears and destructive ones. The evil spirits present with us from hell love to inspire countless destructive fears in our mind. Perhaps you can think of a recent time in which a fear arose in your mind as a result of some event or something a person said to you, and as a result of that fear you did or said something hurtful to someone else. The hells would certainly like us all to believe that the best defense is a strong offense, and that we should attack those who threaten us and the things we love. The hells firmly believe that it is wise to get others before they get you.

The master did not condemn the servant for being fearful. He called him “wicked and lazy.” Being useful requires us to overcome the fears inspired by the evil spirits associated with us. We don’t have to be driven by the ideas and motivations that they inspire. We don’t have to act or speak from them. Whenever the fears that they inspire within us emerge in our words and deeds, we do evil to others. And to the degree that we are capable of rising above such destructive fears and don’t, we are being wicked and it has an influence on the nature of our eternal spiritual life.

Picture a husband who is worried that his wife will be disappointed with him. The evil spirits with him can use this fear and harness it to thoughts of all the faults and flaws of his wife. They can inspire rationalizations for his own weaknesses and poor choices. Given time, they can build up a tremendous anger within that man, ready to blow up at the slightest indication of displeasure by his wife, and out of his mouth can come a stream of accusations and put-downs.

That same husband could recognize this pattern and acknowledge that it comes from hell. He could honestly look at himself and what he is capable of doing. He could say a prayer to the Lord asking that the destructive fears and evil thoughts inspired by the hells can be withdrawn from him. He can ask for the wisdom and strength he needs to be a good husband. If he does this, when his wife expresses or appears to express displeasure, the man can reflect on its meaning, perhaps calmly asking for clarification. Perhaps there is something he needs to attend to and perhaps there isn’t. Through shunning the fears and evils of the hells, he can become a more wisely loving husband.

The Lord has given us minds that can think and the spiritual freedom to choose between the influence of heaven and hell on our thoughts and motivations. We have a huge wealth of choices to make using this freedom. The following words from the book The Divine Providence speak of this possibility: “If therefore you wish to be led by the Divine Providence, use prudence as a servant and steward does who faithfully dispenses the goods of his master. This prudence is the talent which was given to the servants to trade with, of which they must render an account (Luke 19:13-25; Matt. 25:14-31). Prudence itself appears to a person as his own; and it is believed to be his own so long as he keeps shut up within him the deadliest enemy of God and the Divine Providence, the love of self. This dwells in the interiors of every person from birth; if you do not recognize it, for it does not wish to be recognized, it dwells securely, and guards the door lest the person should open it, and it should thus be cast out by the Lord. A person opens this door by shunning evils as sins, as of himself, with the acknowledgment that he does so from the Lord. This is the prudence with which the Divine Providence acts as one” (210:2, emphasis added).

May each of us consider how we are using the talents that the Lord has given us. It matters little to the Lord what occupation we have. He does not call all of us to intentionally have an obvious effect on huge numbers of people or to profoundly change the quality of this world. There are many people who have held jobs that others considered lowly or who have worked patiently and lovingly with the apparently small number of people who contact them each day. Some of these people are nevertheless among the greatest in heaven and their influence for good is huge in the light of heaven. May we dedicate ourselves to learning from the Lord and to using that knowledge in making our daily choices. May the Lord protect us from the fears that would have us destroy rather than build. May each of us some day be able to hear the Lord say: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21). Amen.

 


Lessons: Matthew 25:14-30; AC 2967 (portions)

Arcana Coelestia 2967

[3] That a “merchant” signifies those who have the knowledges of good and truth, and that “merchandise” signifies the knowledges themselves, is evident from the passages that have just been quoted from Matthew and Luke, and also from … Ezek. 27:3, 12, 13, 15-24. … The “traffickings” and “merchandise” and the “wares” that are here mentioned are nothing else than these knowledges; … That “Judah and the land of Israel” are “traders in wheat, minnith and pannag, honey, oil, balm” signifies celestial and spiritual things from the Word. The other nations and their merchandise which are mentioned are the various genera and species of truth and good, thus the knowledges which are with those who are signified by “Tyre.” That they are knowledges from which come wisdom and intelligence is plainly evident in the same prophet, where it is thus said: “Son of man, say unto the prince of Tyre, `By thy wisdom and by thine intelligence thou hast gotten thee riches, and hast gotten gold and silver into thy treasures; by the multitude of thy wisdom, by thy trading, thou hast multiplied thy riches, and thy heart is lifted up because of thy riches; therefore behold I will bring strangers upon thee, the terrible of the nations” (Ezek. 28:2, 4-7), where it is manifestly evident that the wares with which they traded are the knowledges of good and truth; for from these and from no other source come wisdom and intelligence; and it is therefore said, “by thy wisdom and by thine intelligence thou hast gotten thee riches, and thou hast gotten gold and silver into thy treasures.” But when knowledges are for the sake of self, for gaining eminence and reputation or wealth, then they have no life, and those who acquire them are altogether deprived of them; they are deprived of them in the life of the body by embracing falsities for truths and evils for goods; and in the other life they are wholly deprived even of those which are true; and from this it is said, “because thy heart is lifted up because of thy riches, therefore behold I will bring strangers upon thee” (that is, falsities) and “the terrible of the nations” (that is, evils). …

[7] That a “merchant” is one who procures for himself knowledges of truth and good, and thence intelligence and wisdom, is evident from the Lord’s words in Matthew: “The kingdom of the heavens is like unto a merchant man seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45, 46)”; the “goodly pearl” is charity, or the good of faith …

[9] From all this it may now be seen what is meant by “trading,” that is, buying and selling, namely, that it is procuring for one’s self the knowledges of good and truth, and by means of them good itself. That this is from the Lord alone is taught in the same prophet: “Ho every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no silver, come ye, buy and eat; yea come, buy wine and milk without silver and without price” (Isaiah 55:1, 2), where “buying” denotes procuring for one’s self; “wine” denotes spiritual truth (n. 1071, 1798); “milk,” spiritual good (n. 2184). Anyone may see that “coming to the waters” here is not coming to the waters, that “buying” is not buying, that “silver” is not silver, and that “wine and milk” are not wine and milk, but are that which is said to correspond to them in the internal sense; for the Word is Divine, and to its several expressions which are from the natural world and man’s sensuous things correspond Divine spiritual and celestial things. In this way and in no other is the Word Divinely inspired.

THE HOLY CITY, NEW JERUSALEM

THE HOLY CITY, NEW JERUSALEM

A Sermon by Rev. Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, Illinois June 11, 1995

 

“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3).

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 picture of the New Church as a radiant city descending from heaven. This picture represents the qualities that the church in our own lives should evolve toward.

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.

The final chapters of the book of Revelation present a wonderful description of the New Jerusalem. This heavenly city is a picture of the Lord’s church, both as it exists among all people who receive Him and also as it can be with each human being. It is the picture of the church that we want to look toward becoming ourselves. What are its qualities and how do they differ from what we sometimes find ourselves inclining to or actually thinking and doing?

The New Jerusalem is from no other source than the Lord. It is not a product of keen human intelligence. It is not the result of doing a certain number of good deeds. It is fundamentally a quality that a person’s heart has received from the Lord as he or she works to understand and live according to the Lord’s Word. Certainly we have our own role in receiving this life. John compares that city to a bride adorned for her husband. When you picture a woman preparing for her wedding, don’t you imagine her taking more care with each detail of her preparation than she would at any other time in her life? Don’t you picture her planning out each step in order? This preparation is not done from fear, nor from a self-absorbed focus, but rather comes from her desire to represent the importance of her relationship to her bridegroom. We prepare for our relationship with the Lord through taking the ideas and implications of His Word into our thoughts and deeds. How haphazard are we about this preparation? Is it like that of a bride adorning herself for her wedding? Is it that important to us?

The New Jerusalem is described as ” … having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal” (Rev. 21:11). One of the important qualities that the Lord wants for the New Church is that we understand His Word. He does not want us to be in blind obedience to rules that don’t make any sense to us at all. He does not want us to be befuddled about who He is, how He is a presence and powerful force within our daily lives, and how we can cooperate with Him. Certainly there will always be things that are hard for us to understand because of our finite perspective. We should not expect that doctrinal understanding will help us see specifically why some tragedy has occurred. We will still need to have a faith or trust in the Lord’s love and wisdom even when our eyes or thoughts don’t easily recognize that love or wisdom. But we are to grow in understanding about the Lord’s will and presence. We are to worship a visible God. This means that we come to see His presence more and more in our own lives, in the lives of others and in the events of this world. This will never occur without learning about Him and what He asks of us, reflecting on its specific meaning in our own lives, and then trying to live according to this understanding. Learning facts about the Lord is not enough. Neither is insight during moments of reflection distant from the daily ups and downs that so characterize this world. We need to learn; we need to see the personal meaning of this knowledge and we need to act from it. If we do this, our lives will be seen by the angels as having a light that “was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.”

The holy city has a wall that is described as great and high. For many this implies protection against dangerous enemies. But that idea is in conflict with the fact that the gates of the city are constantly open in all directions. The wall is not so much an image of protection against enemies as it is a definition of what is true and good. It is a picture of the clear boundaries that we place on what we will think, say and do. These boundaries come from our recognizing that the Lord has told us in His Word of the kind of life toward which He wants to lead us. Its strength comes from our calling from memory specific words and sentences that we have learned from the Word. It defines what we will and won’t do in work, friendships, marriage, and family. It stops us from saying hurtful things. It stops us from harboring thoughts of revenge. It helps define for us what it means to justly, faithfully, and honestly do the work that the Lord places before us each day.

The twelve gates of the city, three for each direction of the compass, represents all the ideas of what is true and good by which a person is introduced into the church (see AR 899). These ideas vary tremendously in the degree to which they reflect “more or less in the love or the affection of good, and for those who are more or less in wisdom or the affection of truth” (n. 901). One of the challenges that we tend to face as human beings would be imaged by a city with only one gate. We can get stuck on the idea that our view of an issue at some point is the only right one. We can close our mind off to considering other ideas and other values that might have an important contribution to a wise decision. We can do this by rejecting the validity of others’ opinions or by rigidly fixing our own mind on the one and only right way, even when the Lord is working to help us see the limitations of that view. The Lord’s church in our lives is to have an openness in all directions to come to understand what is good and true from the Lord. This openness is not an acceptance of every idea that comes down the road, but rather a willingness to consider its possible legitimacy and value.

The twelve foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with twelve different kinds of precious stones. We are told that these words signify that: ” … all things of that doctrine in their order from the sense of the letter of the Word, with those who immediately approach the Lord and live according to the commandments of the Decalogue by shunning evils as sins, for these and no others are in the doctrine of love to God and love toward the neighbor, which two are the fundamentals of religion” (n. 915).

With all the complexity and breadth of knowledge that has been revealed for the New Church it is absolutely essential that we keep in mind that the two fundamentals of religion can be stated quite simply. If we are to be grateful for any qualities that have a growing presence in our lives, they should be that of our love of the Lord and our love toward our neighbor.

The gates of city were twelve pearls, each one made from a single pearl. We are told that this signifies that: ” … the acknowledgment and knowledge of the Lord conjoins into one all the knowledges of truth and good, which are from the Word, and introduces into the church” (n. 916).

As John describes the New Jerusalem, he observes, “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22). We might intuitively imagine that this holy city would have a magnificent house of worship. But the reason why it does not represents a problem that can come with such things as church buildings or other external expressions of worship and good. In this world it takes regular effort to keep external forms from becoming things in themselves. For example, many people are quite capable of saying the Lord’s prayer giving it no more thought than they do to the basics of walking. It can become a series of sounds made basically without any conscious reflection on their meaning. This is an external form without any internal. We are told concerning the New Church that: ” … in this church there will not be any external separated from the internal, because the Lord Himself in His Divine Human, from whom is the all of the church, is alone approached, worshiped, and adored” (n. 918).

At times we benefit significantly from compelling ourselves to go through external forms that do not at that moment have an appropriate internal of understanding and will. But while we do such things, we are called to approach the Lord, asking for that internal, praying for understanding and for the love that can properly motivate the external act we now are doing more from obedience.

In the New Jerusalem there was a river of the water of life. This represents the breadth and depth of truth from the Lord that is available to those who seek it from a desire to live a good life. Near the end of the final chapter we read: “And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). We are told that these words mean that: ” … he who desires truths should pray that the Lord may come with light; and that he who loves truths will then receive them from the Lord without labor of his own” (n. 956).

And in that city there is also the tree of life. This is the same tree that is described in early Genesis as being the center of the Garden of Eden. The tree of life is unusual in that it bears not one kind of fruit but twelve. This represents all the good qualities and actions that will flow from our lives because of the church within us. And the leaves of the tree are described as being for the healing of the nations. These leaves represent the sensible and understandable ideas we have learned from the Lord that we can share with friends and acquaintances to help them lead better lives. Even when the source of these ideas is completely unknown, they can help others become wiser and more useful people.

The heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, is a picture of the Lord’s church both as it exists among all people who receive Him and also as it can be with each human being. It is the picture of the church that we want to look toward becoming ourselves. May we dedicate ourselves to receiving that church. May we daily approach the Lord with the prayer that it may descend ever more completely into in our hearts, minds and lives. Amen.

 


Lessons: Revelation 21:1-4, 9-26; Apocalypse Revealed 956

Apocalypse Revealed 956

“And let him that heareth say, Come; and let him that thirsteth come, and let him that willeth take the water of life freely” signifies that he who knows anything of the Lord’s coming, and of the New Heaven and New Church, thus of the Lord’s kingdom, should pray that it may come, and that he who desires truths should pray that the Lord may come with light, and that he who loves truths will then receive them from the Lord without his own work. By “let him that heareth say, Come” is signified he who hears and thence knows anything of the Lord’s coming, and of the New Heaven and the New Church, thus of the Lord’s kingdom, let him pray that it may come; by “him that thirsteth, let him say come” is signified he who desires the Lord’s kingdom, and, at the same time, truths, let him pray that the Lord may come with light; by “him that willeth let him take of the water of life freely” is signified that he who from love is willing to learn truths and appropriate them to himself will receive them from the Lord without any work of his own; by “willing” is signified to love, because that which a man wills from his heart he loves, and that which he loves, the same he wills from the heart; by “the water of life” is signified Divine truths through the Word from the Lord (n. 932); and by “freely” is signified without his own work. The things in this verse have the same signification as these in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, as in heaven so also upon the earth” (n. 839). The Lord’s “kingdom” is the church which makes one with heaven; wherefore it is now said, “Let him that heareth, say, Come, and let him that thirsteth come.” That “to thirst” signifies to desire truths appears from the following passages: “I will pour water upon him that thirsteth, I will pour My spirit upon thy seed” (Isa. 44:3). “Every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; buy wine and milk without silver” (Isa. 55:1). “Jesus cried, saying, If anyone thirst, let him come unto Me and drink; whosoever believeth in Me, out of his belly shall flow streams of living water” (John 7:37, 38). “My soul thirsteth for the living God” (Psalm 42:2). “O God, Thou art my God; my soul thirsteth for Thee; it is weary without water” (Psalm 63:1). “Happy are they who thirst after justice” (Matt.5:6). “Unto him that thirsteth I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely” (Rev. 21:6). By which is signified that to those who desire truths for any spiritual use, the Lord will give from Himself through the Word all which conduce to that use. That by “that” and “thirsting” is also signified to perish from lack of truth, is evident from these: “My people are exiled because they have no acknowledgment; the multitude is dried up with thirst” (Isa. 5:13). “The fool speaketh foolishness, and his heart doeth iniquity, and he maketh the drink of the thirsty to fail” (Isa.32:6). “The poor and needy seek water but there is none; their tongue faileth for thirst; I Jehovah will hear them” (Isa. 41:17). “Plead with your mother lest I strip her naked, and slay her with thirst” (Hosea 2:2, 3). Mother here is the church. “Behold, the days come in which I will send a famine in the land; not a famine for bread, nor a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of Jehovah; in that day shall the beautiful virgins and the young men faint for thirst” (Amos 8:11, 13). But by “not thirsting” is signified not to have a lack of truth, in these passages: “Jesus said, Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall not thirst to eternity'” (John 4:13-15). “Jesus said, He that believeth on Me shall never thirst'” (John 6:35). “Jehovah hath redeemed Jacob; then shall they not thirst; He shall make waters to flow out of the Rock for them” (Isa. 48:20, 21).