A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida May 13, 1990

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7).

Our text occurs seven times in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation. It is the concluding exhortation of each of the messages to the seven churches. Indeed, the Lord frequently ended His instruction to the Jews by saying: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear … ” (Matt. 11:15, et alia). The fact that this phrase and similar admonitions occur frequently throughout both the Old and the New Testaments warrants our consideration of its purpose and meaning.

In the Arcana Coelestia we are told that “to hear” in the Word does not mean simply the physical act of hearing, but rather the reception of that which is heard, first in the memory, next in the understanding, then in the will, and finally in the life (AC 9311).

Two of the five senses, we are told, especially serve man in perfecting the mind: the sense of sight and the sense of hearing. These are also the primary senses involved in man’s reformation and regeneration, for they are formed to receive those things which contribute to this end. The things which enter the mind through the sense of sight enter the understanding and enlighten it. For this reason when “seeing” is mentioned in the Word and it is frequently mentioned it refers to the enlightenment of the understanding. However, the things which enter through the sense of hearing enter both the understanding and the will, and for this reason when “hearing” is mentioned in the Word it refers to perception and obedience (see AE 14).

That “seeing” refers to understanding and enlightenment, and “hearing” to perception and obedience, is evident from ordinary speech. When we want to know if something is understood we ask: “So you see what I mean?” And if it is understood the answer is given: “Yes, I see.” Also we say of a person endowed with an unusual intelligence that he or she is bright or brilliant. Or if a person is low in intelligence we say he or she is dull. “Dull,” “bright,” and “brilliant” are attributes of light, and thus of sight.

That “hearing” refers to perception and obedience is also clear from ordinary speech. When somebody has been explaining something to us which he considers important, and we get the message, we say: “I hear.” Or, when we are trying to exact obedience from a child in a certain matter, we end by saying: “Do you hear me?” And if the answer is “Yes,” we expect obedience from that child.

These expressions, we are told, flow down into human speech out of the spiritual world, where man’s spirit is, by correspondence. Furthermore, in the Grand Man of heaven, those who are in the province of the ear are in obedience from perception. This province is said to be the axis of heaven, that is, the whole of the heavens have direct relation to those who are in obedience from perception because the ruling perception of heaven is that if a thing is true it must be done (see AE 14; AR 87).

In communication between people the function of the ear is to receive the speech of another and convey it to the mind so that we can perceive what is in the mind of the other person. Thus “to hear” is to perceive. The function of hearing is to transfer what a person is speaking from his thought, into the thought of another, and from his thought to his will and from the will into deed. Therefore to hear also involves obedience. The circle of communication, then, is from the will into thought, and so into speech, and from speech through the ear into another’s thought and will (see AC 5017).

The most important of all communication is that which exists between the Lord and mankind. And the medium of this communication is the Word. The Lord’s ardent love for the eternal happiness of mankind descended into His thought and from His thought into words, which were communicated to those who were prepared by the Lord for the office of revelator, who wrote them down. For the circle of communication to be completed these words must be conveyed to the understanding of man and from the understanding to the will, and from the will into life. When the Lord’s love is received in a person’s will, conjunction between the Lord and that person takes place. It is not enough that the Lord’s wisdom contained in the Word be communicated to our understanding; this merely produces presence but not conjunction. This is the reason the Lord has established a church and instituted worship so that His Word may be heard, that there may be an appeal to the very will itself.

Thus in the church we have the written Word and the spoken Word. To develop our understanding we should read the Word and presentations on its Divine doctrine and reflect calmly and deeply on their meaning. In this way we will grow in spiritual intelligence. But if we wish to grow in wisdom also, we should hear the Word read and preached. In hearing there will be, or should be, an added appeal to the affection. Thus it should enter into our will and from that into our life where the will is terminated and made permanent.

In His wisdom the Lord has provided that the mind of man may be reached through both of these senses through “seeing” and “hearing.” The written Word is almost devoid of emotion except for the emotion which the words themselves convey. Thus the intellect is appealed to so that the mind can come to know, understand, and believe the truth which the Lord teaches, simply because it is true. The spoken Word is then added to appeal to both the intellect and the will. The ideas expressed by the words are received in the understanding but the tone of voice and the inflection affect the will, so that what is said may be received in the will and cause a person to do that which is heard. From this we may see that there is a use and a need for both kinds of communication, and we can see what our response to both should be.

We are taught in the Word that to hear the voice of the Lord means to obey what is proclaimed from the Word; and that they who do so become rational and spiritual, but that they who do not become sensual and corporeal. “Those become … sensual and corporeal,” we read, “who have … known the things of the spiritual world and have afterward rejected them, and have imbued themselves with principles of falsity contrary to truths; and as to life, have looked solely to worldly, bodily, and earthly things, and from this have believed that life ought to be enjoyed with every pleasure, saying: `What has man more while he lives? When we die we die!’ … If anyone by rational arguments sets them thinking at all about eternal life, they think that they shall fare no worse than others, and immediately relapse into the state of their former life.

“With such there is a closing of the passage for the light of heaven and its influx, and light of heaven in their natural becomes thick darkness, but the light of the world … becomes brightness, and the brightness is so much the more brilliant as the light of heaven is more darkened; hence it is that such see no otherwise than that the evils of their life are goods, and that consequently the falsities are truths. It is from this then that a person becomes sensuous and corporeal” (AC 6971).

In other words, if we do not obey what we hear from the Word, we degenerate. Instead of becoming rational and spiritual, we become sensual and corporeal our minds are darkened and our will vitiated.

Compare this state with that of the angels of the celestial heaven. The wisdom of the angels of the inmost heaven consists in wishing to be led by the Lord and not by themselves, in loving what is good and delighting in what is true. Because they love nothing so much as being led by the Lord, whatever they hear from the Lord, whether through the Word or by means of preaching, they do not store in the memory but instantly obey it, that is, will it and do it (see HH 278). “In that heaven, love to the Lord is willing and doing Divine truth” (HH 271).

In the teachings which have been presented, we see sharply contrasted the final lot of those who hear only with their ears and those who really hear with the ears, with their understanding and with their will. We should need little convincing as to which state is preferable. But we may well ask ourselves: “Where do we fit in this picture?”

To find the answer to this question we should ask ourselves more particular questions. To what extent have we allowed the truths we have heard to enter into and change our lives? What is our usual reaction to the truths we hear preached? Do they enter only as far as the external ear and then vanish beyond recall? Are we momentarily stirred but cannot remember several days later what it was that moved us? Or do we see and perceive an important truth a truth which, if lived, can change our lives and make us better men and women? Do we will that truth and determine within ourselves to obey it?

Speaking generally, the purpose of a sermon is to draw a particular truth from the Word, to put it into perspective by showing its relationship to other truths, to examine it from several different aspects so that its nature and quality may be perceived, and to indicate the application of that truth to life. A sermon is not preached merely to uplift and soothe, nor is it intended to upset or depress the congregation, and certainly it is not to weary them. The Word is studied and its truth presented with the hope that it may be received, perceived and obeyed.

In the Arcana Coelestia where it treats of the reading of the covenant by Moses to the Children of Israel, we are told that to “read in the ears of the people” signifies hearkening and obedience. For when anything is read, it is that it may be heard, perceived and obeyed (AC 9397).

In the passage from the Apocalypse Revealed which we read for a third lesson, we are assured that if we read the doctrine of the New Jerusalem with a desire to know that doctrine, if we hear the things which are taught from it, and if we live according to it, then we will be blessed. We will be, as to our spirits, in communion with the angels of heaven even while we live on earth (see AR 8).

What, then, should be our attitude and response to the reading of the Word and the preaching from it that we regularly hear in Sunday worship? The nature of our response is clearly indicated in the Word itself. We should say in our hearts with conviction and determination: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do and hear” (Exodus 24:7). Amen.

Lessons: Exodus 24:1-13; Rev. 1:1-3; 2:1-11; AR 8

Apocalypse Revealed 8

Verse 3. “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein” signifies the communion of those with the angels of heaven, who live according to the doctrine of the New Jerusalem. By “blessed” is here meant one who as to his spirit is in heaven; thus, one who, while he lives in the world, is in communion with the angels of heaven; for as to his spirit he is in heaven. By “the words of the prophecy” nothing else is meant than the doctrine of the New Jerusalem, for by “prophet” in the abstract sense is signified the doctrine of the church derived from the Word, thus here the doctrine of the New Church, which is the New Jerusalem; the same is signified by “prophecy.” By “reading, hearing, and keeping the things which are written therein” is signified to desire to know that doctrine, to attend to the things which are in it, and to do the things which are therein; in short, to live according to it. That they are not blessed who only read, hear and keep or retain in the memory the things which were seen by John is evident (n. 944). The reason why “a prophet” signifies the doctrine of the church from the Word, and “prophecy” the same, is that the Word was written through prophets, and in heaven a person is regarded according to that which belongs to his function and office. From this also is every man, spirit, and angel named there. Therefore, when a prophet is mentioned, because his function was to write and teach the Word, the Word is meant as to doctrine, or doctrine from the Word. Hence it is that the Lord, because He is the Word itself, was called the Prophet (Deut. 18:15-20; Matt. 13:57; 21:11; Luke 13:33). To show that by “prophet” is meant the doctrine of the church from the Word, some passages shall be adduced, from which this may be collected. In Matthew: “In the consummation of the age many false prophets shall rise up and shall seduce many. There shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and, if it were possible, they shall lead into error the elect” (Matthew 24:11,24).

“The consummation of the age” is the last time of the church, which is now, when there are not false prophets but falsities of doctrine. In the same: “He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a just man in the name of a just man shall receive a just man’s reward” (Matthew 10:41).

“To receive a prophet in the name of a prophet” is to receive the truth of doctrine because it is true; and “to receive a just man in the name of a just man” is to receive good for the sake of good; and “to receive a reward” is to be saved according to reception. It is evident that no one receives a reward, or is saved, because he receives a prophet and a just man in the name of such. Those words cannot be understood by anyone without a knowledge of what “a prophet” and “a just man” signify; nor can those which follow: “Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, shall not lose his reward.” By a “disciple” is meant charity, and at the same time faith from the Lord. In Joel: “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, so that your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 2:28). This is concerning the church which was to be established by the Lord, in which they would not prophesy but receive doctrine, which is to “prophesy.” In Matthew: “Jesus said, Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? but then will I confess unto them, I have not known you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22, 23).

Who does not see that they will not say that they have prophesied, but that they knew the doctrine of the church, and taught it? In the Apocalypse: “The time is come for judging the dead and for giving reward to the prophets” (Rev. 11:18); and in another place: “Exult, O heaven, and holy apostles and prophets, for God hath judged your judgment” (Rev. 18:20).

It is evident that a reward would not be given to the prophets alone, and that the apostles and prophets would not alone exult at the Last Judgment, but all who have received the truths of doctrine and have lived according to them. These, therefore, are meant by “apostles” and “prophets.” In Moses: “Jehovah said unto Moses, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh, and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet” (Exod. 7:1); “a god” here means the Divine truth as to reception from the Lord, in which sense the angels are also called gods, and by “prophet” is meant one who teaches and speaks it, therefore Aaron is there called a prophet. The same is signified by “prophet” in other places, as in Jer. 18:18; 23:15,16; 5:13; Isaiah 28:7; Micah 3:6; Jer. 8:10. In these passages, by “prophets” and “priests,” in the spiritual sense, are not meant prophets and priests, but the entire church, by “prophets,” the church as to the truth of doctrine, and by “priests” the church as to the good of life, both of which were destroyed; these things are so understood by the angels in heaven, while by men in the world they are understood according to the sense of the letter. That the prophets represented the state of the church as to doctrine, and that the Lord represented it as to the Word itself, may be seen in The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem concerning the Lord (n. 15-17).


A Sermon by Rev Derek P. Elphick
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida
March 25, 1997

Perfection is defined in the dictionary as “the state, quality, or condition of being perfect.” In light of this definition, what do you consider to be perfect in your life? In a way this is a trick question. Who would want to claim complete perfection in any area of his life? An architect tries to come up with a brilliant design, a composer tries to create his masterpiece, and an artist tries to craft the perfect work of art, but they never achieve complete perfection, only something close to it. Most people would agree that working toward perfection, and participating in the process itself, is much more satisfying and rewarding than arriving at the finished product (see DP 178:1). As finite human beings we are capable of viewing only one part of life’s puzzle at a time, and perhaps it was this realization which prompted that wonderful line to pass between Emerson and Thoreau: “And what has become clearer to you since we last met?”

The desire for perfection comes from the Lord because His laws are perfect (see Psalm 19:7), His way is perfect (see 2 Sam. 22:31), and His works are perfect (see Deut. 32:4). And since the Lord is the only perfect Person, the desire to imitate that perfection can come only from Him. The Lord wishes to share the desire for perfection with everyone, and that is why He says in the Gospel of Matthew, “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect”(Matt. 5:48). In the Greek, the word for perfect is telios, which means whole or complete. The Lord wants our efforts to be whole and complete (see AC 6138). He does not expect perfect “results” from us, ever, and that is because only His works can be called perfect. Also, as one teaching in the New Church says, no point in time “ever exists when anyone is regenerate enough to be able to say, Now I am perfect'” (AC 894).

The desire for perfection is born in us at an early age. I look at my four-year-old son who has recently taken an interest in copying out the letters of the alphabet. He is not content with his letters unless they end up looking as good as the letters printed in his book. He will go through great pains to make sure that what he writes is exactly the same as what is in the book. If it’s anything less, it gets thrown out and he starts again. Why does he do this? He does it because he wants things to be orderly and right. Now, any adult who looks at his work will see that it’s far from perfect, and yet the adult can separate the effort from the product. We know the product is not perfect, and yet we praise the effort as being perfect.

We are told that few people actually realize that life in this world serves simply as an introduction for perfecting one’s life to eternity (see AC 9334:3). In fact, most of us need to be reminded that “a person can never be perfected” (AC 3200), and in the next life will be “perfected all the time” (AC 894). The concept makes sense and yet we have difficulty accepting it. There’s a part of us that wants to arrive at a final destination some day and simply stop. It’s true that good people in this world will go to heaven and “arrive” at their particular society, but they don’t stop. The angels never think of themselves as having “arrived” at anything, and object to this kind of labeling, getting “quite indignant if anyone attributes to them any wisdom or intelligence” (AC 4295). Life to them is a work in progress. The angels of heaven go through changes of state as we do, and in their “evening state” “love what is their own” (HH 158; cf. 155). If it weren’t for these changes of state, including the selfish ones, the angels, as well as ourselves, could never be perfected (see AC 935:2).

Do you remember at the beginning of the book Conjugial Love the visit to the Golden Age? There we are introduced to an angel couple from the highest heaven. The husband was asked if he was able to look upon any other woman than his wife. Notice what he said:

I can, but because my wife is united to my soul, the two of us look together, and then not a trace of lust can enter. For when I look at other men’s wives, I look at them through the eyes of my wife, who is the only one I am in love with. And because she as my wife can perceive all my inclinations, she acts as an intermediary and directs my thoughts, taking away anything discordant and at the same time inspiring a coldness and horror toward anything unchaste (CL 75:6).

The angel husband admitted that he wasn’t perfect. He was in love with one woman, his wife, and not a trace of lust for other women could enter their relationship. But he also hinted at the fact that there are times when “discordant” thoughts enter his mind. These thoughts obviously couldn’t damage the special union they had, but it indicates that there were still many things for him to work on in his marriage.

Now, by saying these things I don’t mean to suggest that there’s little difference between ourselves and angels, or that the angels haven’t really accomplished very much in their lifetime. The angels of heaven are good people. They don’t do bad things; we sometimes do (see AE 304a; AC 10134:4; HH 592). They don’t experience selfish states to the same degree, or for the same duration, as we do (see HH 158; AC 9334-9336). This is because angels, while on earth, made the repeated commitment in thought and deed to be led by the Lord. Now they enjoy the blessings of that life in heaven, but they’re not perfect. The teachings of the New Church say, ” . . . an unlimited number of states of evil and falsity exist with everyone” (AC 894). People on earth, as well as the angels in heaven, have self-interest lurking in their background, which is an “unavoidable” fact of life (AE 867:2). As a result, there’s no point in time in which anyone can say, “Now I am perfect.”

Even though we know we can’t be perfect, that doesn’t stop us from thinking we should be perfect! Where does that message come from? Do women get that message from movies and fashion ads featuring the “perfect” actresses and models which they can’t hope to match? Do men get it from relentless pressure to sell more, to earn more, and from a society that considers those that come in second best the losers? The organizers of the National Spelling Bee every year at the finals have to provide a “comfort room” where children who have spelled hundreds of words perfectly can go to cry, throw things and be comforted by their parents when they finally make a mistake. Yes, there certainly are societal pressures which demand complete perfection, but the cause is much deeper.

The evil spirits from hell encourage us to expect perfection and then knock us down when we don’t achieve it (see AC 5386). It’s one of their favorite tactics. They will trick us into thinking that we should get perfect results from others. How many times have we expected other people to treat us in just the right way, in ways we want, and when they don’t accomplish this impossible task, or match up to our expectations, we feel disappointed, hurt or angry? The hells will also trick us into thinking we can get quick and easy results during regeneration (see DP 278). How many times have you expected or wanted your spiritual landscape to be cleared and trimmed in a moment? Expecting a weed-free environment is totally understandable; it just doesn’t work that way. “If you want to be perfect,” the Lord said to the rich young ruler, “go, sell what you have and give to the poor” (Matt. 19:21). To “sell what you have” is to continue taking those small steps that leave our selfishness behind and put the Lord in front (see AE 934). Those seemingly insignificant steps, the ones that receive little fanfare or attention, accomplish more than we can possibly imagine!

To expect perfect results from ourselves, or from someone else, not only is unrealistic, but it can also harm our usefulness and sense of purpose. Several years ago, a minister in our church did a very important study on some misconceptions about marriage in the New Church (see New Church Life, July-November 1992). One misconception he talked about was a common New Church idea that a husband and wife will become “one” person. This idea is based upon Conjugial Love 42, which speaks of married couples appearing like one angel from a distance (although it should be pointed out that they became two distinct individuals when they came closer). The writer then refers his reader to another passage which says that no couple ever become conjoined into one, but are rather adjoined so as to be near and close to each other according to their love (see CL 158). He then makes this observation:

If partners are to become one, then they should also want and like the same things and think and feel alike most or all of the time. The unrealistic expectation of total togetherness has caused an enormous degree of doubt and guilt in New Church couples, particularly to wives who are often sensitive to the state of the marriage more than husbands (NCL, Rev. Mark Carlson, 1992, pp. 302-304).

To expect our married partner (or anyone else for that matter) to think and feel exactly as we think and feel is an unrealistic expectation. Total togetherness might seem like the “perfect relationship,” and yet, by definition, it must also mean that partners should not express disagreement over any issue if they really are “one” in their thoughts and affections. Sharing and honoring our differences in honest, open communication is the life-blood for any working relationship.

Our desire for perfection will never die. It cannot die. We may get discouraged or upset by the messy results or loose ends we find on our spiritual landscape. Our personal achievements may not always end up looking very pretty, or perfect, but that doesn’t matter to the Lord. We need to realize that life is not some kind of test in which one mistake wipes out all our previous efforts (see TCR 523). Remember, the Lord creates an angel out of all the sincere efforts a person makes in his or her entire adult life.

When the Lord called on His disciples to be perfect, He was speaking about what lay within their grasp. So many of the things we would like to be perfect are beyond our grasp, and as we have seen, it’s part of our human nature to pine after illusionary goals. We need to let go of the mistaken idea that our spiritual landscape can be cleared in a moment. We need to let go of the mistaken idea that the perfect marriage, or perfect relationship, is the one in which we become carbon copies of each other. To “be perfect” in the Lord’s eyes is to tackle the seemingly small, unimportant matters in our life (see AE 979:2; cf. AC 9336; AE 650:59; Life 97; Charity 41). It means changing one area of our life at a time (see TCR 530; CL 529). The results may not appear very dramatic or look very complete, but the effort will be perfect in what it achieves. The angels in heaven take these steps every day and gain the greatest satisfaction in making them because they know it’s the most perfect thing a person can do, in this life and in the life to come. Amen.

Lessons: Matt. 19:16-22; HH 158; AC 894

Heaven and Hell

158. I have been taught from heaven why there are such changes of state there. The angels said that there are many reasons first, the delight of life and of heaven, which they have from love and wisdom from the Lord, would gradually lose its value if they were in it continually, as happens with those that are in allurements and pleasures without variety. A second reason is that angels, as well as men, have what is their own (proprium), which is loving self; and all that are in heaven are withheld from what is their own, and so far as they are withheld from it by the Lord are in love and wisdom; but so far as they are not withheld, they are in the love of self; and because everyone loves what is his own and is drawn by it, they have changes of state or successive alternations. A third reason is that they are in this way perfected, for they thus become accustomed to being held in love to the Lord and withheld from love of self; also that by alternations between delight and lack of delight the perception and sense of good becomes more exquisite. The angels added that their changes of state are not caused by the Lord, since the Lord as a sun is unceasingly flowing in with heat and light, that is, with love and wisdom; but the cause is in themselves, in that they love what is their own, and this continually leads them away. This was illustrated by comparison with the sun of the world, that the cause of the changes of state of heat and cold and of light and shade, year by year and day by day, is not in that sun, since it stands unchanged, but the cause is in the earth.

Arcana Coelestia

894. . . . there is no definite period of time within which man’s regeneration is completed, so that he can say, “I am now perfect”; for there are illimitable states of evil and falsity with every man, not only simple states but also states in many ways compounded, which must be so far shaken off as no longer to appear, as said above. In some states the man may be said to be more perfect, but in very many others not so. Those who have been regenerated in the life of the body and have lived in faith in the Lord and in charity toward the neighbor are continually being perfected in the other life.