The Fall of Man

Sermon: The Fall of Man

I preached this sermon on September 25, 2011, at the Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC.

Lessons: Genesis 3:1-19; Revelation 20:1-3, 7-10; Arcana Coelestia 206

“And Jehovah God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden eating thou may eat. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eat of it, dying thou shalt die.” (Genesis 2:16, 17)

            We live in a fallen world.  When we look around at the violence and poverty, the cruelty that one person inflicts on another, we acknowledge this.  We live in a broken world.  And we are part of that broken world.  We see the same tendencies in ourselves that appal us in others – greed, selfishness, vengeance.  We know that our world is broken, and there are two questions that we ask: how can something God created be so full of pain and suffering?  And can the world be redeemed?

These questions have been at the heart of many religions for thousands of years.  And for thousands of years, Jews and Christians have turned to the story of Adam and Eve for answers.  In its basic outlines, the story is clear: in the beginning, God created everything, and it was good.  The world was in a state of harmony and peace, and everything was provided for man freely.  There was only one law: they were not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  But they broke this law – and this first sin spelled the downfall from that state of Eden.

That general outline is clear – but the specific interpretation is anything but.  Many Christians take the story literally.  Others believe it to be an allegory or a parable – it represents something.  But few agree on what it represents.

In the New Church, we’ve been blessed with an explanation of the true meaning of the story of the Fall of Man.  The Writings for the New Church show that it is a true story – not that there literally was one man named Adam and one woman named Eve, but that these characters represent a group of people who really did live lives of harmony and peace.  Their sin was not the taking of a single fruit – but the story of taking that fruit perfectly represents what their first sin was.

It’s not at all a stretch to say that the story of Adam and Eve is a parable.  The name “Adam” simply means “man” or “human” – and so it’s a story of the way that humanity fell.  If the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil was simply a fruit, and the action was only a sin because it disobeyed God, then why is the tree named “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and not simply “the forbidden tree?”  Clearly, that tree represents something to do with the knowledge of good and evil.

So if Adam simply means “man,” and Adam and Eve stand for a group of people rather than just for two individuals, who are they standing for?  The Writings for the New Church provide an answer: they stand for the earliest human beings, who were members of what is called the Most Ancient Church.  When the Writings use the word “church,” they’re referring to the group of people who have a special revelation from the Lord – and the Most Ancient Church was made of the first people, who worshipped God.

The people who became the members of the Most Ancient Church went through the process of becoming an image and likeness of God that is described in the creation story. The people of that church became even more a likeness of God than we are today.  Because the human race had not yet fallen, every person of that age born with a will that was not corrupt.  And in fact, the entire structure of their mind was different – their will and their intellect was not divided as it is today.  The things that they loved, they thought, and the things that they thought, they loved.

Because they had this will of good, they had a perception that is unknown today.  The Lord revealed Himself to them directly, speaking to them as if from person to person.  They were able to perceive spiritual realities from a close connection to the spiritual world.  And they had perception of the natural world, too.  Their ability to perceive things from all different sources is what is meant by all the trees that they were allowed to eat from.  Everything they looked at and interacted with contributed to their celestial wisdom; it provided celestial food.  And in the centre of the garden was the tree of life: perception from loving the Lord and trusting in Him.

But there was one tree in the garden that they were not allowed to eat from: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  That tree has a specific meaning; but before we look at that, it’s important to look at the different characters in the story as they were before the fall and see what they represent.

In the story of creation, the Lord created all animals on the sixth day, and gave man dominion over all of them.  The different animals represent different affections.  And the Lord created lower animals like snakes as well as the higher animals.  These lower animals represented the sensual level of the mind – our five senses and their desires, as well as the thoughts that spring directly from these.  This sensual level was and is necessary – but man, or the internal person, is supposed to have dominion over it.  But as it was necessary, there was a snake in the garden.

The second chapter of Genesis describes the creation of woman as being from Adam’s rib.  This woman, as she is created from a rib, represents a person’s proprium, or what is a person’s own, made alive by the acknowledgment and perception that what seems to be our own really flows into us from the Lord.  We need to have a sense that we live from ourselves – but for it to be living, it needs to include that acknowledgment that life is really from the Lord.  That sense of self-life is Eve.

Finally, Adam in this story represents the rational level of the mind, and the internal man – the part of the person that was making decisions, the person himself.  So the serpent is the lowest level of the mind, Eve is our sense of life from ourselves, and Adam is the higher, rational part of our mind.  With this in mind, we can look again at how the Most Ancient Church fell away.

The Lord had put all trees in the garden, but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they were not to eat from.  At first, this can seem strange – isn’t it good that people would want to know what was good and what was evil?  It is – but the tree of knowledge of good and evil represented something different than simply knowing.  It represented the desire for a person to know from himself what was good and evil, rather than listening to God.  That’s why the serpent said, “In the day that you eat of it… you shall be like God, knowing good and evil.”  It represents that belief that a person can be his own God, and determine for himself what is good and what is evil.

Remember, that serpent represents the sensuous level of the mind, the operation of the five senses, the knowledge we have from them and the desires we have from them.  The ability to do whatever we like is seductive, and appeals to our sensuous desires.  And the knowledge we have from the five senses can be seductive too, because it can sometimes seem more real than higher, abstract concepts.  And the strongest desire in the lowest part of our minds is the love of self.  That is the head of the serpent.

That serpent – desires and thoughts from the lowest part of the mind – appealed to Eve.  In a good sense, Eve represents an own, a proprium, a sense of self-life, that has been made living by the acknowledgment that life is from the Lord.  But in a negative sense, Eve represents both the sense and the belief that we live from ourselves.  That sense is seduced by the serpent, those sensuous things of our mind – because it feels like we live from ourselves.

This is what happened to that generation of the people of the Most Ancient Church.  They allowed themselves to be seduced by the lowest level of the mind.  They allowed themselves to be seduced by the appearance that they lived from themselves.  And they confirmed those things even in their interiors, on the rational level of the mind represented by Adam.  This was the fall of mankind, and has been the fall of every church ever since: from a love of self, people believed that they could know good and evil from themselves, from things of the five senses, rather than from the Lord.

It can seem hard to believe that this is the cause of the fall, that this attitude leads to death.  The serpent says, “In the day that you eat of it, you shall not surely die!”  It seems like people can make decisions based on their own desires and thoughts and still live moral lives.  But that morality is just a covering, like those fig leaves Adam and Eve used to try to cover their nakedness.  It does not penetrate to the level of the internal man.

But this may seem contrary to the teachings of the New Church.  Doesn’t the New Church teach that everyone is saved if they live by what they believe to be right?  Well, yes and no.  The New Church teaches that anyone who believes in God and lives in charity according to the teachings of their own religion is saved.  And it is not bad that different people have different understandings of what the Lord is saying in His Word.  Two people can understand the Word completely differently, and still be trying to follow it.  But the important thing is still that those people have an attitude that they are taking guidance from the Lord’s Word – not that they are coming up with their own plan of living.

The case is completely different with someone who refuses to believe anything other than what they see with their five senses.       Those who refuse to believe anything they cannot see or feel trust in themselves and not in the Lord; they live from and for the love of self.  Many even acknowledge this, saying that all humans act from self-love – which extends also to putting one’s own offspring above others – and that this is the only rational way to act.

Now again, it may not seem like this attitude really is the source of all evil.  After all, we know atheists who live morally.  And we can’t judge anyone’s interiors; some people may believe in a higher power, an absolute morality, even if they don’t call it by the name of God.  But anyone who truly believes that there is nothing beyond the realm of the senses cannot believe in an absolute morality.  Morality for them is based on “whatever works” to keep society in order.  And if there is no absolute morality, then there is nothing inherently wrong in lying or stealing or committing adultery.  The laws against them are necessary for society, but there is nothing “wrong” if I break them and no one finds out – even “right” and “wrong” rely on a belief in something higher.

But if this attitude – that we can determine right and wrong for ourselves – is at the root of all evil, then of course it extends far beyond those who have confirmed themselves in atheism.  We all are tempted by the love of self – and along with that comes a love of our own intelligence.  Even those of us who don’t think of ourselves as particularly smart or learned have a tendency to love our own intelligence more than we love to seek wisdom.  We have a tendency to fall in love with our own ideas.

How many of us have our own pet theories about the way the world really works, or what’s really needed to live a life of religion?  How many of us find at least one way to make an exception for something that is said in the Word?  “Well, yes, I know what the Word says about that; I’ll let the others believe that and I won’t say anything about it, but really I know differently.”  Again, this is different from saying, “I sincerely understand the Word differently from the way you do”; it is saying, “I don’t buy that part of the Word.”  It is basing our beliefs on what we want to be true or what we feel is true, not on what the Lord says.

It’s hard not to do this, to base our beliefs more on the external evidence of our senses than on what the Word says – that serpent of feelings is powerful.  For example, the Word says that it is wrong to act on lust.  But many people do it anyway, and when they do, they often say something like, “It doesn’t feel wrong.  It doesn’t even feel like a big deal.  I don’t feel like it really made any difference.”  Our feelings trump our understanding of what the Word says.

But putting our faith in our feelings rather than the Lord’s Word is the path that leads to death.  Because by nature, we’re inclined to evils of every kind.  And evil feels good.  Once a person is able to “move past” whatever hang-ups they have from their upbringing or culture around them, they realize that committing adultery sometimes just feels right.  If a person can let go of that old belief that revenge is evil, and just completely destroy someone who’s hurt them – that feels great!  When people start to make their own feelings the arbiter of morality, the world begins to collapse.

Have you ever read or heard testimony from people who steal or commit fraud or even murder?  Many, many of them continue to justify their actions.  There is always a justification readily available, and if we’re free to determine our own morality based on what feels right, there will always be murders and rapists and thieves.  There will always be war and violence, because people will always justify the lust for power as the natural way of things – the way human beings are.

We live in a fallen world.  But there is hope.

When the Most Ancient people fell, their wills became corrupted.  And because their will and their understanding were so closely tied, they could not be revived by a knowledge of what was true.  And it may have seemed, then, like the human race was hopeless.

But from the time when the Most Ancient Church began to fall, the Lord provided people with hope, in the form of a prophecy.  God told the serpent that he would bruise the heel of the Seed of the woman – but that the woman’s Seed would bruise his head.  That Seed of the woman is the Lord.  This was the first prophecy of the Lord’s coming – and faith in the Lord to come sustained His church for the next several thousand years.

The will of man would be still be evil from birth.  But the Lord would separate the understanding from the will, so that a person could know what was right and choose to live by what was right.  That higher perception of the will would be closed off, because the will was evil.  But there was a way that the Lord could show himself even to the lowest level of the mind.  The Lord would come as a Divine Human, a visible God, and reach even people with fallen wills.

And so there is hope for us today.  We still are born with corrupt wills.  But we can learn what is true.  We can humbly ask the Lord to teach us what is right, then choose to live by that, acknowledging that it is only because the Lord came and conquered the forces of hell that we are able to do so.  We can force ourselves to live, not based on our own intelligence, or what we feel like doing, but on our understanding of His Word.  And when we do that, the Lord gives us a new heart.  When we act in obedience to the Lord’s Word, He creates in us a new, heavenly will, a will to do what we know is right.  And He can bring us into the New Jerusalem – where once again we find the tree of life: love to the Lord, and the acknowledgment that our lives come from the Him, and not from ourselves.  When we fight against the temptation to live based on our own selfish desires, and instead to live by the Lord’s truth, that serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, is cast down, and we are made free.

Leaving the Land of Our Birth

Sermon: Leaving the Land of Our Birth

I preached this sermon on October 23, 2011, at the Dawson Creek Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC.

Readings: Genesis 12:1-10; Luke 9:57-62; Arcana Coelestia 5135


A Sermon by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn

“Get thee out of thy land, and from thy birth, and from thy father’s house, to the land that I will cause thee to see.” (Genesis 12:1)

When Abram was seventy-five years old, he left his home.  He left his father and mother, his siblings and most of his family, and began a journey to a land where he had never been before.  He and his wife Sarai and his nephew Laban left the land of their youth to begin a new life.

The literal sense of this story, when we take the time to reflect on it, has some deep emotions in it.  It would not have been easy for Abram to leave everything he knew – but the story does not focus on that.  It rather focuses on Abram’s total faith – the Lord says to go, and Abram goes.

We don’t have to dig very deep to see a clear message in this story: a message about trusting God, and being willing to go to uncomfortable and unknown places simply because the Lord has told us to go.

But there is a lot more to this story than first meets the eye.  Abram is a model for us – but in a deeper sense, he represents the Lord Himself, Jesus Christ, when He was in this world.  By learning about the deeper sense of this story, we can get to know the Lord better.

This might sound like a startling statement to make, that Abram represents the Lord, since it’s not at all clear from the literal sense of the story.  But even the earliest Christians knew that everything in the Old Testament prefigured the life of Jesus Christ.  On several occasions the Lord referred to passages from the Old Testament that referred to David or Israel, and showed how in a deeper sense, they were about Him.  For example, the prophet Hosea wrote, “When Israel was a child, I loved Him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1) – but in the gospel of Matthew, this is revealed as a prophecy of the Lord, who would go down to Egypt as an infant with His parents, and return at the death of Herod the king.  And so it is not at all a stretch to suggest that Abram’s travels into Egypt also represent something about the Lord’s development.

From passages like this, it is clear that the Old Testament stories represent different aspects of the Lord’s life.  What is not so clear is exactly what part of the Lord’s internal life all these different characters and stories represent.

Fortunately, the Writings for the New Church – and in particular the work Arcana Coelestia – reveal what it is that these stories teach us about the Lord.  And this story, in its deepest sense, is the story about the Lord’s first progression, when He was child, toward becoming completely Divine.

This is a story about the Lord’s early childhood.  The Word makes it clear that the Lord, in His soul, was always God, from the moment he was conceived.  But although His soul and the internal elements of His mind came from God, His body and the external elements of His mind came from His mother Mary.  From His mother, the Lord inherited tendencies toward earthly and worldly things, including tendencies toward evil – although He never gave in to these tendencies.  Throughout His entire life, the Lord was going through a process that the Writings call glorification – the process of replacing those parts of Himself that were merely human, that He had from his mother Mary, with things that were Divinely Human, from His soul, the Father, God.

Why does it matter that we know about this process, though?  Is this practical knowledge?  Why does Arcana Coelestia focus so much on the Lord’s process, when this process for the most part is above even the comprehension of the angels?

The reason it is practical and useful to learn these things is that they help us to love God, which is the first and great commandment.  Think about it – how can you come to love someone until you learn about what they are like – not just their external actions, but some of what goes in on their minds and hearts?  The story of the Lord’s internal life, told in the spiritual sense of the stories of the Old Testament, helps us to know Him better and love Him more.

But more than this, the Lord’s process of glorification is the model for a process that every person must go through to reach heaven: the process of regeneration.  Now, the Lord went through His process much more thoroughly and completely than we go through ours – but by looking at the Lord’s process, we can see how he is present with us as we go through that process of our own rebirth.

So to return to the story of Abram.  The story begins, “And Jehovah said to Abram…”  That voice of Jehovah was the Lord’s first mental awareness of the Divine that was within Himself.  And that voice told Abram, “Get thee out of thy land, and from thy birth, and from thy father’s house, to the land that I will cause thee to see.”  That land where Abram was told to leave was a land of idol worship, and because of this, in the internal sense it represents a state of relative blindness or obscurity.  It represents the lower levels of the mind.  And Abram was told to go to a new land.

The Lord felt within Himself a calling to leave behind the things He had inherited from His mother – the merely natural things – and to begin the journey that would last throughout His entire life, the journey towards becoming completely Divine – and yet still completely human.  And the first step in that process was to leave behind those comfortable things of his infancy and move toward something new.

This specifically is describing the Lord’s mind as an infant and young child.  But in general terms, it is also an image of a call that comes to us over and over again: to move from lower things to higher things, from where we have been to somewhere new – from what is comfortable and known to what is uncomfortable and unknown.

We see this call in several places in the Lord’s Word.  From the creation of Adam and Eve, the Lord said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife.”  In our reading from the New Testament this morning, the Lord went even further: He would not even let a disciple return home to bid his parents farewell.  What did He mean by that?

We know that in other places the Lord did command His disciples to honour their father and mother.  But what He was telling His disciples in this case was that they would have to let go of things that they had from their past, and specifically from their parents.  They would have to move on to new things.

What are those things that we have from our parents that we need to leave behind?  The Writings tell us that from our parents – even if they are very good people, even angelic people – we inherit inclinations toward evils of every kind.  We are born with a tendency toward selfishness.  Little children are clearly selfish – they have to be taught to share with others.  This is not to say that they are bad, because their selfishness is from innocence, and can even be lovable because it’s so sincere.  But at some point we have to move beyond that childhood desire to have everything the way we want it to be.  We have to leave behind the land of our birth.

But the truth is that it is not only bad things that we need to leave behind in our childhood.  There are many things that are very good and absolutely necessary for us in our childhood states, but that we need to leave behind, or at least to change, as we get older.  No matter who we are or what religion we were raised in, at some point we have to let our faith develop into something new, something deeper, than it was when we were children.

The Writings describe this process, and we read a passage this morning describing the way this takes place.  And again, this does not necessarily mean we reject our childhood faith.  In fact, that is not the ideal way for it to happen.  Abram leaves the land of his father – but he does not cut off ties.  He sends his servant back to this land to find a wife for his son Isaac.  Isaac’s son Jacob, too, is commanded to return to this land, to Abram’s relative Laban, to find a wife to marry.  But the person’s relationship to that childhood faith changes – it grows and deepens.

The faith we have as children is based primarily on things we have been taught, especially by our parents.  It is good for us to learn this way – this is the orderly way for things to happen.  The Lord, too, learned things in the way we do.  But at some point, as a child grows up, he begins to question things.  This is often strongest when a person is in their teen years – but if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us still have things that we believe simply because we were raised to believe that way.

But there are different ways of progressing on our journey, some ways better than others.  Sometimes a person will look within himself, and ask, do I really believe this?  Or do I only believe this because this is how I was raised?  For some people, when they realize that they’ve never really believed in God, or angels, or life after death, they say, “I’m going to start being honest with myself – and that means not pretending to believe these things that I don’t really believe.”  Many people who reject faith in this way say it is freeing, because they are no longer lying to themselves.

But this is not the only way to journey on from childhood faith – or even the ideal way.  The essential thing in developing our faith is always to remain committed to loving others.  If we continue to make charity to the neighbour the primary thing, the Lord will keep leading us toward Him, no matter what the path may look like.  And so, when we realize that we are not sure of the things we’ve always believed, we can at least hold on to this: we should love others.

Love for the human race was always the thing that motivated the Lord.  It was never love for Himself.  Right after Abram was told to leave the land of his father, he was given a promise: that he would be made into a great nation; that Jehovah would bless him, and make his name great.  From these things, it could sound like the motivation for Abram – and thus the Lord – was to be selfish.  But the promise continues – that Abram would be a blessing, and that in him all the families of the ground would be blessed.  And in a deeper sense, this prophecy is about the people who the Lord would reach, and draw into His kingdom.  The great nation that would come from Abram represents all the people who would have faith in the Lord.  And the Lord would be a blessing to the whole world.  It is for this reason – and not for Himself – that the Lord willingly pushed Himself to fight against the forces of hell that assailed Him.

And so the primary thing we can do to ensure that our faith will develop is to focus on loving others and living in charity.  Charity is the life within faith, and our faith will never feel real if it isn’t connected to love for others and love to the Lord.  And when we see that the faith we have within ourselves doesn’t seem real to us, rather than saying, “I’ve been lying to myself,” we can ask, “How can this faith come to life in me so that it is real?”

But that’s not the only thing.  The truth is, what we actually believe will change, even if we don’t throw it out.  For example, the passage we read this morning described important things that we learn as children and that form the core of our faith – but it included the teaching that God rewards the good and punishes the evil.  We do need to have this idea as children – but as we grow, we come to understand it in a deeper way – that the Lord punishes no one, but evil punishes itself.

It is important for our childhood faith to be joined to charity, and so to come alive; but there are also ways that in this process, it will change.  How do we know what to believe?  How do we know what parts of our faith are from God, and what parts are merely from our culture or our parents or our ministers?  Again, the primary thing here is to focus on love: love to the Lord, and love to the neighbour.  And when we are focusing on love, then we can move to the next step – seeking what the Lord actually says.

This means turning to the Lord’s Word, and seeking for truth there – seeing if what we’ve been taught actually measures up to the Lord’s revelation.  In our story, Abram journeys down through the land of Canaan.  His stops along the way represent a growing perception in the Lord, a perception that came from His celestial love.  But it represents a dim perception, because even though He had the love, He had not learned the truths He needed to clearly see and comprehend that love.  In that state He could not stay in the land.  He needed knowledge as a vessel for that higher love within him, to clarify His perception.  And so He continued down to the land of Egypt.

Egypt was well known in the ancient world as a storehouse of knowledge.  And so Egypt itself came to represent knowledge, and sojourning there came to represent being instructed in that knowledge.  And in the Lord’s case, all that knowledge came from the Word.

This exploring of knowledge helps develop a person’s faith if he is approaching knowledge for the sake of love, for the sake of usefulness.  Abram would not stay in the land of Egypt, nor would his descendants.  The Lord did not learn knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but for the sake of using that knowledge to serve.  And so in the course of developing our faith, the right order is for us to first learn the doctrine of our church from parents and teachers and ministers – but as we get older, to seek what the Word really says when we look to it in the light of the two great commandments – to love the Lord, and to love our neighbour.

Learning truth from the Lord’s Word does not only deepen our faith – it also gives us the ability to fight against the tendencies toward evil that we develop.  In the story of Abram, we read that as Abram first passed through the land of Canaan, “the Canaanite was then in the land.”  The Canaanites – the enemy of the people of Israel – represent those evil spirits who tempted the Lord and attacked Him through those merely human things he had acquired from His mother.  Here Abram is not able to fight them – he merely passes through the land and goes down to Egypt.  And for the Lord, it was only later, after He had gained knowledge from the Word, that He knew enough to be able to resist those evil spirits, to do battle against them.

And so if we want to develop our faith, we can turn to the Lord’s Word, and ask, “What is the Lord really saying?”  It can be a difficult process, as ideas we’ve grown up with may be overthrown.  But if we approach the Word always seeking for ways that we can live by it, for ways that it can help us grow in love to the Lord and love to the neighbour, it will always be leading toward a place where we have a more and more real faith, and truer and truer love.  And throughout this process, it is really the Lord who is fighting for us, fighting to give us a place in heaven – just as He fought for the entire human race when He was in the world.  “And I will make thee into a great nation; and I will bless thee, and will make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.” Amen

Coleman’s Blog | The thoughts and reflections of a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister

The Lesser Evil

Sermon: The Lesser Evil

I preached this sermon on October 30, 2011 at the Dawson Creek Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC.

Readings: Genesis 22:1-14; Matthew 19:3-12; Arcana Coelestia 1241


A Sermon by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn

“Moses, because of your hard​heartedness, permitted you to send away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:8)

Does the Lord’s law ever change?  It can seem that the obvious answer would be no.  The Lord Himself said, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than one little​ ​horn of the Law to fall” (Luke 16:17).  And yet, in some senses it seems like the law did change.  When the Lord came into the world, he abolished sacrifices.  He did away with the ceremonially laws of the Jewish faith.  And in the passage we read from the Gospels this morning, He did away with the Jewish laws that permitted a husband to divorce his wife for reasons other than her adultery.  He did change the law, it seems.

But the law that the Lord abolished at that time was not the true law.  It represented the true law, and it contained the true law within it.  That’s why Jesus could say that nothing would fall away from the law, that he did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it – even though He seemingly DID do away with the law.  He was not adding something new – He was revealing what had been inherent in the law all along.  That’s why He said, “From the beginning” it was not so that divorce was permitted – because from the beginning, the original law, was that “a man should leave His father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two should become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

So what was the purpose of the old law?  The primary purpose of all the laws of the Jewish faith were to represent spiritual things – as Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians, all the sacrifices and feasts were a “shadow” of Christ who was going to come (Colossians 2:17).  But if they would be fulfilled and changed into spiritual laws at the time of the Lord’s coming, why were the children of Israel not simply given those spiritual laws in the first place?  The Lord gave answered that question in his teaching about divorce: “because of the hardness of their hearts.”  The Writings tell us that if God had revealed these deeper laws about marriage to the people at that time, they would have completely rejected Him.  And so He offered them the lesser of two evils – instead of having them completely reject the truth, which would condemn them to a deeper hell, He permitted them to marry multiple wives, to put away their wives for less important things.

The same thing is true with sacrifices.  The Lord has no desire for sacrifice, as he says in Hosea: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings,” (Hosea 6:6).  Among the people of the Most Ancient Church, the earliest worshippers of God, represented by Adam and Eve, the idea of slaughtering an animal as an act of worship would have seemed profane.  But the Lord permitted animal sacrifice to prevent a much greater evil: the evil of human sacrifice, which was common in the people around them at the time, and which they fell into whenever they turned away from the Lord.  We see this permission of animal sacrifice play out on a smaller scale in the story of Abraham.  Now, in the internal sense of this story, the willingness to sacrifice Isaac represents a good thing – a willingness in the Lord to give up all that was merely human within Himself, and to make His rational mind holy.  But in the literal sense, it would have been a terrible thing for Abraham to sacrifice his son.  And so in place of his son, he was permitted to sacrifice instead a ram.

Again, the Lord permits a lesser evil to avoid a greater one.  And the truth is, all around us, all the time, the Lord is permitting lesser evils for the sake of avoiding greater evils.  We can sometimes have a tendency to paint all evils with the same brush, to look at an evil and think only about how bad it is, without realizing that there may have been worse alternatives.  There is a value in seeing the different degrees within evil, that there are lighter and more serious evils.  Today we’re going to talk about three uses in distinguishing between these degrees of evil.  First of all, it helps us understand why the Lord permits evil at all.  Second of all, it helps us make decisions in seemingly impossible situations, where we feel that all we can choose is the lesser of two evils.  And finally, it helps us to refrain from judging the spiritual state of the people around us whom we see committing evil.

The first use in distinguishing between lesser and greater evils is that it helps us understand why the Lord permits what He does permit.  With all the evil we see in the world around us, it may seem that the God does nothing to prevent evil.  The truth is, He is constantly preventing evil, and leading toward greater and greater good.  The book Divine Providence says, “The withdrawal of a wicked person from evil is effected by the Lord in a thousand ways that are most secret” (DP 295).  Although the Lord leaves each person in freedom, He works with that freedom and subtly modifies it.  For example, he inspires people who desire nothing more than their own power to act in ways that benefit society – from that person’s point of view, they are still acting on a lust for power, but the restraints of society keep that from breaking out, and keep the person in some order.  And if He is not able to lift a person into heaven, He at least continually prevents them from plunging themselves into a deeper hell, which is where all of us would go if left to ourselves.

In general, the Lord permits any evil for the sake of His ultimate purpose – the salvation of every person.  The Lord permits people to act on their evil because if it were bottled up inside them, and they were forced to act in good, no one could be saved.  The lesser evil is to allow people to act on their evil inclinations.  Even terrible evils are sometimes allowed so that their true nature can be seen, which is better than them remaining hidden within people’s hearts.  The Lord did not will the horrors of the holocause – but without them, maybe the human race would never have realized the poisonous, murderous intent at the heart of all racism.  Perhaps He permitted that atrocity so that evil could be seen clearly for what it was.  Perhaps it was a lesser evil than for the human race to continually live in continuous hatred of other races.

In all the workings of His providence, the Lord desires that people may live.  The Lord cannot force people to do good, because they would then not be human – they would simply be extensions of the Lord, and not capable of being joined to Him and blessed as separate beings, which is the Lord’s goal in creation.  To be truly happy, people must choose good.  And so it is a lesser evil to allow people to act in freedom.

Besides keeping people in freedom, the Lord in His providence does all that He can to prevent a person from profaning what is good and true.  A person profanes goodness and truth if he for a time acknowledges, loves, and lives by what is good – and then afterwards completely rejects it.  This is much more harmful than if a person never accepts the truth in the first place, and for this reason, the Lord never allows a person into any more goodness and truth than they are capable of being kept in to the end of their lives.  It was to prevent profanation that the Lord did not give the children of Israel the true commandments on marriage – He knew that there nature was such that they would embrace this at first as Divine, but then afterwards reject the teaching, and reject Him altogether.  He gave permission for a lesser evil to prevent a greater one.

The final reason the Lord permits lesser evils is that a person must gradually progress from the evil inclinations that he is born into.  If they were removed all at once, the person would in fact fall down dead – because early on in a person’s path of regeneration, most of his motivation comes from selfishness and a love of worldly things.  If those motivations were taken away, he would simply have no motivation at all, no life.  And so the Lord gradually leads a person from greater evils to lesser evils, and then on from lesser evils to true good.  This is why the children of Israel were told that their enemies in the land of Canaan would not all be driven out at once, but little by little (see Exodus 23:30).

And this leads us into the next reason we mentioned for learning about lesser and greater degrees of evil: to help us make decisions in our own lives.  Because there are times in our lives when it seems that we have to choose between the lesser of two evils.  And this really will be the case sometimes – the Lord cannot rid of us our evils immediately.  What matters is that we are moving in the right direction.

One of the fundamental choices we often have to make has to do with our motivations.  At the beginning of our regeneration, as just mentioned, most of our motives are selfish.  And the fact is, at first we cannot help but think of merit and reward for doing good.  We cannot help but think that the good we do comes from ourselves.  There’s a story in Genesis about the time when Joseph had become a great leader in Egypt, and his brothers came asking for food, not recognizing them.  When Joseph sent them back to their father with food, he had his servants place a silver cup in his youngest brother Benjamin’s bag of grain – and when they returned, he accused Benjamin of stealing it!  This can seem like an odd story, but in the internal sense, it is about the fact that at first, we cannot help stealing from the Lord, in the sense of taking credit for things that really belong to Him.

But this means we have a choice: we can either do good which has some sense of merit in it, or we can hang down our hands and wait for the Lord to flow in, and do nothing at all.  Both of these choices have evil in them – but the first choice is a lesser evil than the second.  Now, this does not mean that we should rest content with the fact that we are doing evil – we should continually strive to truly acknowledge the Lord as the source.  But we do not have to feel bad that at first we are still in an evil.  What matters is that we are progressing toward goodness.  A passage from the book Doctrine of Life, says, “Let people even once in a week, or twice in a month, resist the evils they are inclined to, and they will perceive a change” (Life 97).  It is better to catch ourselves even twice in a month doing some particular evil, and to stop ourselves, then to think we have to be perfect and immediately give up on the task as impossible.  What matters is our progress.

But how do we know what the lesser evil is?  It is not always easy.  The only way to truly know is to search the Word, to continually try to understand.  The book Conjugial Love, for example, says that a young man at first often does not see the difference between having sex with an unmarried woman and with a married woman – when the truth is that the evil of adultery is a much graver evil than the evil of fornication (see CL 486).  Similarly, the same book says, if a young man truly cannot restrain himself from having sex, it is a lesser evil for him to restrict himself to one, than to sleep with many women from a lust for variety, or to fall into the even worse evils of adultery or rape (see CL 459).  It is especially in the laws around sexuality that we find teachings on the importance of distinguishing between lesser and greater degrees of evil.

Sometimes there really are cases where we have to choose between a lesser or greater evil.  And the determining factor is the goal, or motivation – what are we working towards, what are we progressing towards?  If a person truly sees a state of goodness – for example, true marriage love – as the goal, then what matters most is that he is taking steps in that direction.  But there are also time, of course, when it seems that we have a choice between two evils, and the reality is, we could choose neither.  For example, in treating of those permissions around sexuality, the Writings say, “What has been said, however, is not for those who can restrain the heat of their lust, nor for those who can enter into marriage as soon as they attain to manhood” (CL 459).  Those permissions are there for people who truly cannot restrain themselves without harmful effects – and yet it is all too easy to use permissions to lesser evils as an excuse, when we really could reject evil altogether.

There is no easy answer within ourselves to whether we are using the teachings on permission as an excuse, or truly as a lesser evil.  In times when we seem to have to make that choice, it is useful to take a step back and pray to the Lord for wisdom to see if there are other choices.  We can do simple things like write down all the options we have, trying to see if we’ve missed any.  And the Word itself can help us see more options than there seem to be at first.  For example, in the case of certain kinds of dysfunctional marriage – for example, if one partner is an alcoholic – it may seem like the only options are to live in that dysfunction, or to divorce.  But the Writings say that in these cases, where there has not been adultery, the best option is not necessarily to stay together, and definitely not to get a divorce, but to be separated – to still be technically married, to not start new relationships outside of the marriage, but to live separately from each other, perhaps even with court-ordered limits.  That is the better choice in a situation where none of the choices are very good.  We need to study the Word to see what truly is a lesser evil – since we often are wrong about which is the greater and lesser evil.  And we need to pray to the Lord for help resisting evil, to pray for a sight of the goal, which is goodness – and to pray for the strength to be honest with ourselves.

And this brings us to our final purpose in looking at these different degrees of evil.  Within ourselves, we can be honest about whether or not we are truly fighting evil with all our hearts, whether we are giving into an evil because it will prevent a lesser evil, or giving into it simply because we want to.  But we cannot make the same judgment when looking at others.  When we see others around us doing evil, we ought to judge their actions as evil – the Lord said, “Judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).  We ought to do what we can to prevent them, for the sake of the people they may be hurting, and for their own sake.  But we cannot judge their hearts, because we do not know their motivation.  We do not know if they are choosing the lesser of two evils.

In the book Conjugial Love, Emanuel Swedenborg describes seeing several people living similarly, in ways that could be considered bad – dressing finely, eating well, making off-color jokes.  And yet the angels said that for some of the people these were sins, and others were not.  For those who had good as their end, motivation, and goal, these actions were not sinful; whereas for those who had evil as their end, these actions were considered sins.  The motivation made the difference (Conjugial Love 527).

We cannot make spiritual judgments because we cannot know another person’s motivation.  Now, again, we should not use this as an excuse for our own evils – Swedenborg talked to evil spirits who justified their own adultery by saying, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”  But it can help us to acknowledge how it could possibly be that someone who is externally in evil could still be looking and moving in the right direction.

Evil and good are diametrically opposed.  Good does not decrease until it becomes evil – evil is a twisting of good.  And it is important to keep the two separate, to carefully distinguish between good and evil.  But it is also important to distinguish between the different degrees of evil.  Realizing that there are lesser evils helps us see the mercy in the Lord’s providence, in continually leading to lesser evil.  It helps us to make hard decisions, in choosing between two bad alternatives.  And it helps us to see others who are in evil as still capable of making progress toward good.  And in all this, good is the goal.  Heaven is the goal.  And a return to the Lord’s original, eternal law, the law of love and wisdom, is the goal.  “Moses, because of your hardheartedness, permitted [this] – but from the beginning it was not so.”

Jacob’s Ladder

Sermon: Jacob’s Ladder

I preached this sermon on Sunday, November 13, 2011 at the Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC.

Readings: Genesis 28:11-22; John 1:35-51Arcana Coelestia 3701

Throughout the Lord’s Word we find stories of competing brothers: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, and in the story for today, Esau and Jacob.  We did not read the earlier part of this story, but Esau and Jacob were twin brothers.  Esau was born first – but Jacob had sold him a pot of stew for his birthright, and tricked their father Isaac into blessing him rather than Esau.  When Jacob left for the land of Haran, he left for two reasons: to find a wife, and to flee from Esau, who had threatened to kill him.

Why are there all these stories of competing brothers in the Word?  For the Lord’s Word to truly be His Word, it has to be about spiritual things – even in those places that seem to simply be literal histories.  These competing brothers throughout the Word are a picture of two things that compete in our minds for priority: love and wisdom, charity and faith, good and truth.  Which is the most important?  In the earliest days of the Christian church, Christians knew the answer; the apostle Paul wrote, “And now abide faith, hope, love [or charity], these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:3).  The most important thing is love.  But it is not always as straightforward as this.  The goal is that all of us will act from love; but we are not born into acting from love – first, we have to learn truth, and live by it, and only gradually do we come to love doing that.

In this story, Esau specifically represents the love side of things on the natural level – the feelings, the pleasure, we get from love.  And Jacob represents the wisdom side of things on that same level – not the deeper wisdom, but simply knowledge of what is true.  Esau is born first – because love is really the more important thing.  But early on in a person’s development, that love is unfocused and mixed up with bad loves – a person can’t act based on his feelings alone.  So while a person develops, Jacob has the lead – that acting according to knowledges.  That’s what it means for Jacob to have stolen the birthright.

The story begins in a place called Beersheba.  The name Beersheba means both “seven wells” and “well of the promise.”  The deep wells of water there represent doctrines, the many teachings of the church.  Since Jacob represents knowledges, and he lived in Beersheba, he represents part of us that knows the doctrine of the church.  But at this point, that knowledge was not married to life.  It was simply knowledge.  Looked at from this spiritual sense, we can understand what it means that Esau, that love side of things, was getting frustrated with Jacob.  The same thing happens when we spend a lot of time learning things but not much time using it.  The will within us gets frustrated – we just want to start doing, not learning.  It’s a good impulse – but at first we can think it means we should stop learning altogether, that our knowledge is useless.  Esau wants to kill Jacob.  But rather than get rid of our knowledge, the right course is to see how we can live by it.

And so Jacob leaves his home, and sets out toward the land of Haran.  After a day’s journey, Jacob needs to rest, so he piled up rocks for a pillow.  This place where Jacob was, with those rocks he used for pillows, a place remote from Beersheba or doctrinal things, represents the Lord’s truth on the most external level.  This is the Lord’s truth as it exists in the stories of the Lord’s Word, such as this story itself of Jacob’s ladder.  When we are beginning the process of regeneration, even though we might have a lot of doctrinal knowledge, when we’re starting to look at how we ought to live, we have to start with the basics – the essential, literal teachings of the Word.

And Jacob lay down there and slept.  As he slept, he dreamed, and he saw a stairway stretched out before him, from the ground up to heaven.  And on that stairway he saw angels ascending going up to God and returning back down to earth.  The way this is described is a little unusual – we might expect the angels first to be described as coming down from God, then returning to Him.  But this vision is a vision of the process of regeneration, and it does take place in this way – first as an ascent, and then as a return.  It’s a process that takes place on a larger scale over the course of a person’s life, but it’s also a process that occurs again and again on a smaller scale throughout a person’s life to eternity.

Remember, that ground where Jacob lay represented the literal stories from the Lord’s Word – it represented the most external level of truth as it exists with a person, in those basic knowledges.  But from these knowledges, there is an ascent to God.  Arcana Coelestia gives an example (from AC 3690): the first thing a person learns about the Ten Commandments from the Word is the story of how they were given – how the Lord descended on Mount Sinai in smoke and fire, how Moses climbed up the mountain, how he returned to deliver them to the children of Israel at the bottom.  That story forms a foundation.  As a person grows older, he begins to see that those commandments were not just part of a story, that they were not just for the children of Israel, but that they are necessary for all society.  He begins to intentionally try to live by them; for example, he begins by honouring and obeying his parents in accordance with that law of the Ten Commandments.  But as he gets older, his understanding deepens – he realizes that truly following this commandment does not mean literally agreeing with everything his parents say, but honouring what is good in them.  As he goes further, he realizes that honouring this commandment means loving good and truth itself, and above all, loving the Lord as His father.  That is the ascent up that staircase, to the Lord at the top.

But all this progress is made when a person lives by what he knows, forcing himself to act according to his understanding of what is right.  And something else happens as he does this.  More and more, he starts to love following these commandments.  At some point there is a switch – instead doing good because he knows it’s right, he starts doing what is right because he feels the love and goodness in it.  This is the angels’ return back down to earth – when a person acts primarily from love, rather than truth, and brings love down to earth, putting it in practice.

And it’s important that the Lord is at the top there.  That is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Divinely Human God.  All of this stems from His love, as all the angels acknowledge.  From Him, a person goes through this process, in different areas of his life.  It is the Lord who changes our hearts, and gives us the love to do what is right.

We see the same process on a much smaller and more natural scale in the way we form habits, or break habits.  When we’re first trying to form a habit – say turning off the lights when we leave a room – it can be hard to do.  We forget, or we’re in a hurry, and we have to force ourselves to do it.  But gradually we do it enough that it becomes second nature.

Now picture the same thing on a more spiritual scale.  What if the habit you want to form is not tearing people down.  If you’re in that habit, it takes work at first.  It feels artificial because it IS artificial.  You have to make yourself do it.  But gradually, over time, the Lord changes that habit.  When that switch happens, when you reach the point where you no longer WANT to tear people down, where that feels unpleasant – that’s that point where those angels are coming back down the stairway.  It is summed up this way in Arcana Coelestia: “Act precedes; willing follows” (AC 4353).

But this is a gradual process.  We don’t climb up that stairway very quickly – we take one step at a time.  In our reading from the Writings this morning, we found an example of the very gradual steps the Lord leads us on, so gentle that we don’t even realize we’re ascending until we look back.  At first, early in our process of regeneration, we act mostly from love of self.  The Lord doesn’t destroy this love, but He gently modifies it.  We learn truths that don’t directly contradict that love, but that also lead us forward.  We learn that we do need to take care of ourselves – but that we also need to take care of others.  From these truths we gradually progress, until we get to the point where those truths about taking care of ourselves cease to be the highest truths, but instead become the lowest truths, with the love of the neighbour and love of the Lord as higher.  There is an inversion, that is, it is flipped around – the love of self is still there, but in the last place rather than the first.  The angels come down the stairway after ascending.

Another way to think about this is in terms of families.  Within our families, we have tendencies toward selfishness; but at the same time, we do want our siblings, and especially our kids and grandkids, to have the things they need to make them happy.  Even people who are mostly selfish tend to want good things for their kids.  And even that – wanting something for their kids – is a step up from only loving themselves.  From that step, a person can take the next step up – what will really make my kids happy?  It isn’t to give them everything they want, it’s to give them the things that will help them live fulfilling lives.  The next step up is a love for their use in society, and so on, until what we are really loving in our children is the Lord’s love for others in them.  Step by step, the Lord lifts us up the ladder in that particular area of our lives.  We reach the top and begin to come back down when our interactions with our families stem from this love for what is good for them and what is good in them.

When those new loves have been formed in us, we start to see even the lower things in the world and the Word in a new way.  We start to see things in the world in terms of the use they serve.  Those simple stories from the Lord’s Word touch us in ways they never had before, because we’ve experienced the depth within them.  They have life in them.  When we’re acting from love, we can see the way that the Lord is everywhere, even in the most external things, even in the everyday interactions we have with the people around us.  Everything is full of the Lord.

When Jacob wakes up, the Lord promises him that He will protect him and be with him and return him to this land, and would make him fruitful and multiply him.  In the internal sense, it’s a promise that when we have been regenerated, we see countless new truths in the Word and in the world around us, and begin to feel countless new affections even on that outermost level.  This is what is represented by that rock that Jacob set up and anointed with oil.  That rock represents those outermost truths, the truths in the literal sense of the Word, and the natural world.  And the oil on top represents the way that these become holy when we see them again from love.

Jacob calls that rock the house of God.  When we are able to see the world and the Word from love, we see it as the dwelling place of God.  When the people of the Most Ancient Church, who loved the Lord above all else, looked around them, they saw everything in creation as a representation of God.  Everything was alive to them. We can see this even now in the way a young child sees the world as alive, and in the delight a child takes in reading the Lord’s Word, which the Writings tell us gives the angels the greatest delight.

And this joy that is provided to the angels when a child or a sincere person reads the Word, or when we see the Lord in the things of this world, is the other lesson of this story of Jacob’s dream.  That stairway stretched all the way up into heaven – but it also touched the earth.   Heaven could not exist without a foundation on earth.  And as human beings, living in this world, we have an opportunity that even the angels do not have – we can be a link between the outermost things of the Lord’s creation and the Lord himself.  Arcana Coelestia puts it this way: “Man has been so created that the Divine things of the Lord may descend through him down to the last things of nature, and from the last things of nature may ascend to Him” (AC 3702). We allow this to happen when we use the things the Lord has created in service toward others.  When we do something mundane – bake food for a loved one – we are taking things from the animal, vegetable, mineral kingdom, and using them in service to something higher, to love.  In the same way, if we see a beautiful garden, and from that reflect on the beauty of the Lord’s truth, we are connecting something in this world with the Lord himself – we are helping form the base of that stairway.  Without heaven, this world is lifeless; without this world, heaven would have no foundation.

And this is the house of God.  The Lord lives with us even here.  When He was in the world, the Lord made His humanity completely Divine – even down to the physical level.  The Lord is present in this plane.  A lot of the time we don’t notice the His presence in the world around us.  But He is here, as Jacob discovered.  The Lord was in that place – that place where a person sees the way that even the literal stories in the Word, even the physical stuff of this world, can be a home for the Lord.  And we can see this after the angels with us have drawn us step by step up that stairway, and when we have turned around to bring back the Lord’s love into the world.  As Jacob said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

Glory to God in the Highest

Sermon: Glory to God in the Highest

I preached this sermon on December 11, 2011, at the Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC.  The readings are Jeremiah 23:1-8, Luke 2:1-20, and Arcana Coelestia 468.

“And I will bring together the remnant of My flock out of all lands whither I have driven them, and will return them to their homes; and they shall be fruitful and multiply.” (Jeremiah 23:3)

The remnant will return, and be made fruitful.  The word “remnant” means those who remain.  It’s a promise at the heart of the Old Testament.  Every time the people is captured by an enemy and carried away from their homeland, the Lord promises that he will preserve those few who remain faithful.  He will take that remnant and return them to their land, and will rebuild His people from that small remnant.  Even before the time of Israel, we see the same thing play out in the story of Noah.  The entire world had become evil, and so the Lord sent a flood to destroy the world – but he preserved a few, those who had not completely shut off their interiors against Him.  A remnant was saved, and from them, the earth was repopulated.

The Writings for the New Church explain that in a deeper sense, these stories about remnants being protected and restored represents the way that even in the darkest times of a church, the Lord preserves a few who have not completely destroyed their faith and love in Him.  When the Lord raises up a New Church, it is raised up with that remnant of the old church, along with a people from outside of the church, who had not been able to twist the Lord’s Word because they had never heard it before.

It had been prophesied that when the Messiah came, He would save a remnant of His people, and establish them as the hope for the world.  At the time of the Lord’s birth, the people was in spiritual captivity.  Fewer and fewer people were able to tell right from wrong.  The religious leaders had placed their own traditions above the basic commandments of love and mercy and justice.  The world was becoming darker and darker, because the Lord’s Word was less and less able to reach people.  Meanwhile, the forces of hell were multiplying in the spiritual world, infesting even the lowest levels of heaven, where simple spirits were not able to distinguish between those who were truly good and those who were only pretending in order to get what they wanted.  Unless the Lord had come, to fight the forces of hell and to show Himself as a Divine Human, the human race would have been completely destroyed.

The world was dark.  But there was a remnant, a few who remained, who had not destroyed the goodness and truth in themselves.  These were mostly not the learned class, the priests and the rabbis, since these had perverted the teachings of the Lord.  Most of this remnant were simple people who were not experts in the Word, but who had some amount of natural goodness and natural understanding of truth.  But even though they had not destroyed everything good in themselves, they were still surrounded by that same darkness.  They did not have much knowledge, and not much goodness – only enough, enough that they were open to the Lord.

And so when Jesus was born, there were shepherds in the same country.  Shepherds in the Word usually represent people who teach and lead, and we still use this description – the word “pastor” actually just means “shepherd.”  But the teachers and leaders of Israel, the scribes and Pharisees and rabbis and priests, were mostly corrupt.  In our lesson from Jeremiah, the Lord made a promise that when He came, He would bring up good shepherds.  And these literal shepherds who the angels appeared to really did become the first preachers of the gospel, the good news that the Lord had come.

But at first, they were simple shepherds.  And in addition to representing teachers, shepherds represent an affection for truth within a person, since it is an affection for truth that inspires us to be taught and led.   The shepherds represent the kind of person or the attitude of being humble enough to acknowledge that they need truth.  They seem to have been part of that remnant.

But they were living in darkness – they were out watching their flock by night.  And this is not necessarily as peaceful a scene as it can sound: they’re literally described as “guarding a guard” over their sheep.  They were taking shifts to stay awake throughout the night to watch for whatever unknown predators might come to attack their sheep.  We can imagine that it was already a tense situation, to be sitting in darkness, not knowing what could come out of the darkness – a bear, or a wolf, or a lion.

But they were guarding their sheep.  They are a picture of true innocence – a trust and willingness to follow the Lord.  And we need to fight in defense of that innocence.  This is what these shepherds are pictured as doing – the light has gone, darkness has come on them – but they are still going to guard and protect whatever innocence they have left in themselves and the world.

We can imagine whatever shepherds were awake sitting up, peering out into the darkness, trying to stay awake, trying to catch a glimpse of any wild animals that might come and attack their sheep.  And while they’re straining to catch even the glimpse of a movement in the darkness – suddenly an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.  And they feared a great fear.

Imagine that – being along in the darkness, and suddenly surrounded by an incredibly bright light, the glory of the Lord.  That glory is heavenly light; it is Divine truth.  And the first time a person really sees the truth, it can be overwhelming.  Swedenborg describes a time when person in the spiritual world heard something from the internal sense of the word – and his eyes filled with tears, and he was not even able to keep reading because he was so profoundly moved.  This is a picture of the kind of awe a person can experience as they realize for the first time in their lives: I am seeing the Lord here.  That is the glory of the Lord – the Lord’s Divine Truth.  And it can be almost frightening, because it is so intense, so brilliant, and so much bigger than our own idea of the truth.

But the angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid.”  And he said, “Behold, I bring unto you good tidings of a great joy that will be to all the people.”  Great joy that would be to all the people.  This was the “good news,” or the gospel: that there would be great joy to all the people.  Literally, all the people here could be taken to mean all the people of Israel; but a people in the internal sense represents those who are willing to receive the truth of the Lord, and so this is a promise of great joy to all those who receive the Lord’s truth.  This is the Lord’s ultimate purpose in everything: we can talk about goodness and truth, we can talk about sin and evil, but the purpose of dealing with all those things is so that the Lord can join us to himself, and bless us to eternity in heaven – to give us great joy.

And where does that great joy come from?  The angels said to the shepherds, “For unto you is born this day a Saviour, who is Christ, the Lord.”  When the angels said that this was “Christ, the Lord,” they were telling the shepherds two things: first, that the Christ, or the Messiah, had come.  This was the fulfillment of prophecies throughout the Old Testament: that an “anointed” one would come, who would save the people Israel, and bless the world.  The word “Christ” means anointed, as in the act of pouring oil over the head of a king.  And as a king, the Lord would rule with His Divine Truth.  This is the side of the Lord that ensures that justice is done, that there is fairness and rightness in the world.  But He was not just Christ – He was Christ the Lord.  “The Lord” was the word that Jews in those days used for “Jehovah” mentioned in the Old Testament, the name of God.  And as “the Lord,” this newborn baby was an embodiment of Divine Love – the Lord’s mercy, His compassion.  In this baby, as is written in Psalm 85, “mercy and truth have met together; justice and peace have kissed.”

And the angel told the shepherds that this would be a sign: they would find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  Those swaddling clothes represent those first, most basic truths – the truths of innocence, of trusting the Lord and following Him.  These would be the first truths those shepherds were able to grasp.  He would be lying in a manger, a feeding trough for horses.  A horse represents a person’s understanding – and so the Lord’s lying in a manger represents instruction from the Lord’s words.  Visiting the Lord in the manger represented the way that He would instruct those who wanted to be instructed with truths from His own Word.

But most importantly was that this was a newborn infant, a human being.  The people of the most ancient church were able to have a direct perception of the Lord, but since that time, people had had a cloudy image of who He was.  By coming as a human being – and throughout the process of His life, making that Human Divine – the Lord could enlighten even people who were not able to think about the most natural level.  He could save even them.

So these shepherds, who represent people who want to be good but don’t know how, were given hope of a Saviour.  But still, the remnant was only with a few – and maybe these shepherds still felt alone.  But suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, glorifying and praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”  Just as in the story of Elisha and his servant, when they saw that the Lord’s army vastly outnumbered the enemy army, the shepherds saw that they were not alone at all – that all the army of heaven was rejoicing at this birth.  And this was not an army that sought out war; instead, they declared, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.”

So the shepherds had heard this good news – but they wanted to see it for themselves.  So the journeyed to where the Lord was, and saw the baby lying in a manger, just as the angel had said.  That manger, as a feeding trough, represents the Lord’s Word, through which the Lord feeds our mind just as the food in a manger feeds a horse.  And they made it known abroad – they went throughout the land to spread the good news – and they returned, “glorifying and praising God.”

So we see that these natural shepherds – who because they are simple, unlearned people, are humble enough to accept the Lord – we see them acting as spiritual shepherds, declaring the Lord’s glory, declaring the good news of the great joy that would be to all the people.  In the same way, the Lord later called simple fishermen to be His disciples, saying that they would become “fishers of men” – that is, that they would teach truth.  The shepherds didn’t have a deep, complex understanding of the Lord’s glorification, or the different levels of the Lord’s Divinity and His Humanity – but they knew enough: that He would redeem the world, that He would make it possible for people to be saved, and that He was the Lord.  They had that innocent desire to follow Him as the good shepherd.

And here we come to our place in the story.  At His birth, the Lord came to establish a new church that would worship Him as the one human God.  But along the way, that church lost its focus.  Kings and emperors began to use it as a justification for their own power.  They split God into three, and they lost the focus on love to the Lord and to the neighbour as the two primary things of worship.  And so, the Lord came again, but this time not in person.  He came in a revelation of Himself within the internal sense of the Word.  And in that, He helps us to see not only His body, but the deeper levels of His mind.  And He again has showed us what He showed those shepherds: that He is both human and Divine, and that because of this, He can be present with us.  And He comes to us as the glory in the clouds, the internal sense within the literal sense of the Word.  He comes when we seek for Him in His Word – when we see everything in His Word as an expression of His love and His wisdom, and as instruction for how to bring those into life.

He defeated the power of hell, and can now keep it in check to eternity.  But to receive that, we have to have the attitude of those shepherds.  If we think we know everything, the Lord cannot come in.  If we think that we can save ourselves, the Lord cannot come in.  The world was dark at the Lord’s second coming, and we still see a lot of darkness in the world.  Like the shepherds, we can fight in this darkness to protect the sheep, to protect what is good and innocent in this world.  And if we continue to come to the Lord with humility, we can see the Divine Human – we can see the Lord in the pages of His Word just as the shepherds saw the infant Jesus in the manger.  And we can behold the glory of the Lord.  It doesn’t happen often, but from time to time we can catch a glimpse of that intense truth – truth that all has to do with love.  That glory is the internal sense of the Word, seen within the cloud of the literal sense.

And we do not need to be great scholars to see that glory.  Sometimes we can get lost in the intricacies of trying to understand exactly how the Lord glorified His humanity, trying to explain logically why it’s important that He is Human and Divine.  It is useful to try to understand these things – but it is much more important to simply come and see.  It can never be fully explained even to the comprehension of the highest angels what a difference it makes to worship Jesus as God.  But if you innocently trust His Word and just do it, to try as much as you can to worship Him as God, you can experience a difference that is difficult to describe – as long as you are at the same time trying to glorify Him in your life by living in charity toward the neighbour.  Simple shepherds saw more clearly than the greatest scholars why the Lord’s presence as an infant would bring great joy to the world.  And like the shepherds, when we see the Lord, we can glorify Him.  This is not just about singing His praises, but also about living by what He teaches – being a living expression of His love.  The Lord said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  When we live in obedience to the Lord’s Word, we glorify our Heavenly Father, and we contribute to true peace and true love in this world.  As the angels said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Amen.

Years of Plenty, Years of Famine

Sermon: Years of Plenty, Years of Famine

I preached this sermon on Sunday, January 8, at the Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC.

Readings: Genesis 41; Matthew 6:19-21; Arcana Coelestia 5342

“And all the land of Egypt was famished, and the people cried to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all Egypt, Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do.” (Genesis 41:55)

There was a famine throughout all the land.  Today, and in this part of the world, it may be hard for us now to imagine what a famine is like. Imagine the hungriest you’ve ever been, and then imagine that kind of hunger lasting over weeks, months, years. That’s the kind of famine we can picture taking place in our story, and the famine does not last one season, but seven long years.  But hope was not entirely lost – because there was food in the land of Egypt.  We can imagine people from all the nations around pouring into Egypt to receive sustenance – just enough food to survive for a little while longer, until the famine passed.  There was food in Egypt, but the famine was there too – the famine was unavoidable, but could be survived due to the seven years of plenty that came before.

But before any of that, before even the years of plenty began, Pharaoh had his dreams.  He dreamt of seven fat, beautiful cows that came up from the river, and ate grass by the river bank.  But after them came up seven skinny, ugly cows, that ate up those seven fat, good cows.  And again he dreamed: seven good ears of grain grew on one stalk – but after them came up seven dry, withered husks, and consumed the good ears of grain.  Both were disturbing dreams, and Pharaoh wanted to know the interpretation; but none of his counselors was able to tell him.  At that moment, Pharaoh’s butler remembered Joseph, who had interpreted his dream in prison; and after the butler had spoken to Pharaoh, Joseph was called up from prison to interpret the dream.  Joseph told Pharaoh the dream’s meaning: that there would be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine.  Beyond this, though, Joseph told Pharaoh what he should do with the knowledge from this dream: appoint someone over the land of Egypt, and appoint governors, to store up the grain during the good years, and then to distribute it during the bad.  Pharaoh saw the wisdom in Joseph’s advice, and made Joseph himself that governor over all of Egypt.

Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams of Pharaoh was accurate – but it was a natural interpretation, not a spiritual one.  For the Word to be the Word, everything in it must have something to do with God, a deeper meaning about love to the Lord and love to the neighbour.  And there is a deeper meaning to the dreams of Pharaoh, and a deeper meaning to the events in the story, even though they really did take place as described.  Pharaoh’s dreams at first described a state of plenty, of good things.  They foretold seven years of plenty, when the crops yielded abundantly and there was more than enough food for everyone.  And this described something that happens in our lives.  We have times of plenty.  Every one of us experiences states where things go well – where we feel the Lord’s presence, where things come naturally to us, where we look forward to the day every morning.

The images in the dreams – the good cows and the good ears of grain – specifically represent things we learn and know.  The cows represent a deeper sort of knowledge, the things we know but might have a hard time putting into words; the ears of grain represent the more external knowledges, but still knowledges that contain goodness and love within them, just as an ear of corn contains the kernels of corn within it (see Arcana Coelestia 5198, 5212).  The cows are said to be beautiful and fat.  All true beauty, the Writings say, comes from an affection for truth, a love for truth.  And the fatness of the cows represents love to the neighbour, or charity.  These images are all images of true ideas that we learn with eagerness and affection, because they have to do with love.

And so these seven years, the seven cows, the seven ears of grain, represent times in our lives when we are seeing truth from an affection for it.  We learn about the ideals of marriage, and we love that picture, and we see how it could be possible.  We learn about what it means to be a good parent, by reading the Word and by seeing the example of people we admire.  We learn all the things it takes to follow the Lord: to follow the Ten Commandments, and to acknowledge that it is only with His help that we’re able to do this.  The state described by these seven years of plenty is a state where it’s not uncommon for us to say, “Yeah, I get it!” or “Hey, I just realized this,” or, “Listen to what I just read, isn’t it incredible?”

We all have these states, where we’re learning truth with affection.  Think of a time even when you were a child, when you were learning about something that touches your heart even now: that your parents loved you, that God loved you, that you were being taken care of, that there is a hope for true marriage love, that there is a heaven.  When children learn these things, they’re not just abstract concepts, and it’s not a struggle for them to accept them: of course a person can get married and live happily ever after, of course I’ll go to heaven, of course the Lord loves me.

Even in adulthood, we do have states where things come more easily than at other times.  And Joseph gives Pharaoh advice about these times: if you’re in a state of plenty, appoint someone to store those good things up.  In this story, Joseph represents something deeper in ourselves, and in the highest sense He represents something of the Lord with us.  And the truth is that anytime we’re learning truth with affection, the Lord is storing those truths up within our minds.  But we can also try to make sure we are open to that.  A truth is stored up within us when we see how it can apply to life and when we want to apply it to life.  And so in those good states, we can do several things to ensure that the Lord stores up those good things in us.  We can make an effort to immediately take what we know and see how it leads to greater love for the neighbour.  We can make an effort to learn as much as we can from the Lord.  And we can remind ourselves to thank the Lord for the good things He is blessing us with.  And the Lord does store up every single good and true feeling and thought that we have – we never lose those.

There are seven years of plenty.  But immediately following those seven years of plenty, the famine comes.  Remember, this is not merely talking about a time of hunger – this is talking about a time of complete desolation, of starvation and need.  And as much as we would like to avoid it – and it’s true that we do not want to seek it out – there will be times in our spiritual lives when we experience spiritual famine, spiritual desolation.  The Lord Himself experienced it, many times; He cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46) – and He said, “I thirst” (John 19:28).  The Lord’s despair and thirst came from an inability, in that moment, to see how His goal could possibly be accomplished, to see the truth that the human race could be redeemed.  And just as there are times when we learn the truth and see it clearly, there are times in our lives when we feel blind and hungry.

Remember, those good cows and those good ears of grain represent things we know, things that come into our minds with affection.  But they are not the only things that we take in with our minds.  Even as we learn truth and rejoice in it, we have voices from hell pouring in thoughts and ideas that are harmful and destructive – those seven skinny cows, those seven parched ears of grain.  These are the ideas that say, “Look around you – what makes you think there’s anything other than the physical world?  We have a physical explanation for everything.”  We look around and see all the failed relationships, all the broken marriages, and we think that there’s no such thing as true, lasting love.  And those ideas start to eat up the good and true ideas we had earlier.  We lose our ability to see things that were so clear before.  We thought we knew what it meant to be a good parent, but now we find ourselves at a loss.  We thought we knew what it meant to love other people, but now we find that as much as we want to, we don’t know how.  We experience these times of desolation, when we want so, so much to follow the Lord – and yet the truth seems to be lacking.

These are times when there’s a disconnect between all those ideals we had before, and the way we experience our everyday natural lives.  The truth is, all those good things and true ideas we had before have not gone away.  They’ve been stored up more deeply inside of us, and at times we catch glimpses of them still.  But they can seem so foreign, so distant from where we are now, that they might as well not be there at all.  And often, we can’t even catch glimpses.  The Writings say that those true ideas tied to affections for goodness are drawn up within us for a reason.  There’s a reason for desolation – even though the Lord never wants us to have to experience desolation, He allows it so that good can come of it.  One primary reason that the Lord allows this to take place is that without experiencing times of famine, we do not really appreciate the times of plenty.  By contrast, we’re able to be grateful when we do have those times of plenty.  Also, by times of desolation – which the Word also refers to as times of temptation – we learn that there is nothing good or true that comes from ourselves.  Before experiencing those times, we can think that we know the things we do because we’re good people, or wise from ourselves.  But when those certainties are taken away – when everything is brought into doubt – then we realize that we are not in control of those things.  They don’t belong to us.  We don’t earn salvation – the Lord grants it to us, by giving us the ability to love Him and follow His truth.  By going through times of desolation, we come to a state where we can acknowledge that everything we have, we have because of the Lord’s mercy. And when they return to us, they are softer, more gentle – we do not hold them with pride, but with gratitude and humility.

But what do we do when we are in those times of famine?  Even if we have some idea of why the Lord allows them, we still feel the pangs of starvation.  We still have that desire to love, but lack the knowledge of how to do so.  And those goods and truths that are stored up within us, again, seem remote – the storehouses of Egypt are far away.  What can we do for those true ideas to come back down to the natural level of our levels, into our everyday reality, rather than just being a fading memory?

The people of Egypt did not have immediate access to the food that had been stored up.  Pharaoh told them how they would receive it.  He said to them, “Go to Joseph, and what he says to you, do.”  The way for them to receive as much food as was useful for them was to go to Joseph and then act in obedience to him.  Now remember, Joseph in this story represents something deeper within us, specifically a love for the Lord within the spiritual level of our mind.  And for us to receive food in times of famine, we need to submit the lower levels of our minds, and the natural level of our lives, to something higher.  The book Arcana Coelestia describes it this way:

It is the internal man that should command, and the external that should obey, and that does obey when the man does not have the world as the end, but heaven, and does not have self as the end, but the neighbor, consequently when he regards bodily and worldly things as means and not as the end. (Arcana Coelestia 5368)

The way to submit our external lives to what is higher is to act based on principles of love toward our neighbour.

Now, in times of famine, it is not always easy to see how we can do that.  That is where the hunger is.  But even if we can’t see the specifics of what we should do in a given situation, we can at least act in obedience to this general rule: we ought to submit our own desires for pleasure and worldly things to a higher desire that we act in love toward our neighbour.  This does not mean we have to do away with everything we find enjoyable – but it does mean that we have to look as our own enjoyment – our relaxation, our fun, our pleasure – as only a means so that we can better serve others.

The thing, is, though, that when we do this it does not usually feel very connected to those higher ideals.  It takes compelling ourselves to shun evils as sins, and when we compel ourselves, it mostly feels like hard work, and it contains almost nothing of that inspirational, higher delight that we had in those times of plenty.  The reason for this is that when we seemingly compel ourselves, it is really something deeper within ourselves compelling us, our true selves – but we are mostly conscious on the level of our external selves in those times of famine, and so we feel like we’re being pushed around.  And being fed in times of famine is not the same as being fed in times of plenty.  We do not suddenly end the famine, we do not suddenly force truth to start coming easily again.  But when we compel ourselves to shun selfishness, to shun harsh thoughts and actions even toward people we don’t like, when we force ourselves not to give into the things we’ve always given into before – then we can be fed.  Slowly but surely, we start to see that those deeper things, the things we thought might never have been real, start to take root even in our everyday, normal interactions.

All this takes place, though, only if we acknowledge that these things do not come from ourselves.  It takes place only if we rely completely on the Lord Jesus Christ, praying to Him and acknowledging that He is the source of everything good.  Even that self-compulsion, which feels so much like it comes from us, is actually from the the Lord and all His angels stirring those good things in us, causing us to desire them.  We can’t determine when or how we will once again start to see the Lord around us, or to feel His presence; in fact, the Writings say that the Lord does not answer prayers for a temptation to end, because He knows that if it were ended early, it would do more harm than good for a person.  But we can trust that He will give us as much wisdom and as much love as we need for every day – our daily bread.  And we can trust that, even though it may take seven long years of famine, years of scraping through, the times of plenty will come again.

Joseph himself experienced these cycles again and again.  From being his father’s favourite son, he found himself a slave in Egypt; from being the head of Potiphar’s household, he found himself in Pharaoh’s dungeon.  He experienced times of plenty, followed by times of hardship.  And yet, he trusted that even in the times of hardship, the Lord was doing what was best for him.  Because of the famine, his brothers came from the land of Canaan to seek food – and Joseph was able to save them, to forgive them, and to be reconciled to them.  And in their reconciliation, Joseph expressed the great truth about times of desolation: although the Lord does not cause it, and the evil spirits who bring it about do so for evil causes, yet the Lord uses it for good.  When Joseph’s brothers feared for their lives because of the evil they had done to him, Joseph said to them, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).


Following the Commandments

Sermon: Following the Commandments

I preached this sermon at the Dawson Creek Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC, on January 29, 2012.

Readings: Exodus 20:1-17; Mark 12:28-34; New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine 159-163

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” (John 14:21)

What evils are you currently shunning as sins against the Lord? What evils do you know you have a tendency to fall into? We read from the Writings that those who are being regenerated practice repentance daily. Have you repented today? Did you repent yesterday? What about the day before that?

These can be hard questions to answer, because often we know that our answer is not what we’d want it to be. And often we answer based on a vague feeling –yeah, I feel like I probably stopped myself from doing something wrong today. I feel like I was paying attention to whether I was doing anything I shouldn’t. When we hear that we ought to be repenting, we often turn to these vague feelings to comfort ourselves – maybe I haven’t been focusing on it, but I’ve probably been doing it subconsciously. The problem is that when we take that attitude – rather than consciously focusing on specific evils – the evil spirits find all sorts of ways to blind us to the evil we are doing.

In fact, the book True Christian Religion says that evil spirits love nothing more than for a person to say, “I’m a sinner,” to make a general confession of sin – and yet be unaware of any actual, specific sins in himself. This is not to say that that a person should not make a general confession that he is completely a sinner. In fact, this kind of confession is the same kind of confession that a person makes when he does see his specific sins – but in that case, it is a genuine confession, because he actually knows that from himself he desires evil. A general confession of being a sinner is meaningless if the person doesn’t see the specific evils he’s inclined to, but it is sincere when a person acknowledges that he is a general sinner from seeing the thousands of specific evils he is inclined to.

But the question arises, how should we go about identifying those specific sins that we have a tendency to commit? The answer is to go to the Word. Throughout the Word, we learn what it means to sin – that it is to lie, to abuse the poor, to mistreat others, to commit adultery. The entirety of the Word teaches us what sin is. But all of that is summed up in the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments contain in summary all the teachings of the Word. That’s why they were held in such reverence, why they were proclaimed with thunder and lightning from Mount Sinai, why the ark that contained them was kept in the very heart of the tabernacle and temple, the Holy of Holies.

But in the New Testament reading we read for this morning, the Lord did not list the Ten Commandments when He was asked which commandments were the greatest. Instead, He said that the two greatest commandments were to love the Lord, the one God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and secondly to love your neighbour as yourself. But the truth is, these two great commandments summarize what it really means to follow the Ten Commandments. It’s possible to follow the Ten Commandments simply as moral and civil laws, but what the Lord calls us to do is follow them on a deeper level – to love to do them, since following the commandments is the way we love Him and our neighbour. The earliest Christians knew this; in his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul wrote, “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Romans 13:9).

Now, sometimes it’s not easy to see the connection between following the commandments and love. But the Lord says over and over again that loving Him means following His commandments. And loving Him also means loving others. That’s WHY loving Him means following His commandments – because by following His commandments, we’re allowing ourselves to be vessels of His love, a love for the entire human race. All of the commandments teach us how better to love other people, and when we do that, we are acting as the Lord’s hands in this world. We are putting His love into practice.

But practically speaking, how do we turn to the Ten Commandments and take guidance from them? How do we use them in self-examination and repentance? Again, it’s important that this be a conscious, deliberate thing we do, not a general feeling that, “Oh, I think I’m following the commandments,” or even, “I think I’m probably breaking some commandments, but I’ll try to be better.” The Writings lay out specific steps of repentance. The first step is to know what good is, and what evil is, and specifically what evils are sins, and then to examine ourselves – both our actions and our intentions – and to see where we are guilty of these sins.

An important note about intentions here – the fact that we are attracted to an evil does not make us guilty of it. We examine whether we intend an evil by asking ourselves, would I do this given the opportunity, if there were no fear of consequences? If we would not do it because it is a sin against God, even if we’re attracted to it, we have not committed it in intentions.

So, we need to be examining our lives and intentions. The Ten Commandments are vital in this. The book True Christian Religion has a chapter on the commandments, and goes through describing the literal sense, the broader implications of the literal sense, and the deeper meanings within each of these commandments. One very useful practice is to set aside time at regular intervals a few times throughout the year to slowly go through this chapter and do a self-assessment – am I worshipping other Gods, or putting something before the Lord? Am I murdering – using hurtful words against others, holding anger against others? If we see areas where we’ve fallen down – and we almost always will – we know that the Lord has shown those to us. We need not go through this full, thorough process every day; we can do it a few times a year as we prepare to come to the Holy Supper, and then our daily repentance can be like a quicker check-up – did I fall into any of the tendencies I noticed in myself during those deeper self-examinations?

When we’re doing that thorough self-examination, it’s important to bring it right down even to mundane things. Do I actually steal stuff from work? Do I lie about the hours I work? Do I disrespect my parents when I talk to them, or when I talk to my siblings about them? It can seem like bringing it down to this level makes it less spiritual; but what we’re really doing is giving our spirituality a chance to come down even into the lowest plane of our lives.  And this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t pay attention to those deeper things as well. If the Lord has showed us a way that we are sinning, He’s giving us an opportunity to repent of it. So if on a deeper level I see that I’m stealing from the Lord by pride in my own accomplishments, then that’s something I can seek to shun. But again, it’s important to look at how to do this practically. When my mind starts to wander to how great I am, what am I going to do about it? The answer could be that I will pray to the Lord for humility. It could be to turn my thoughts away from my pride to thoughts about all the ways the Lord has blessed me. But those conscious strategies work far better than vague feelings of, “Oh, I shouldn’t do that.” Repenting means resolving to stop. Sometimes that involves a realization that we can’t stop on our own – we need the help of others, maybe help from friends, a minister, or a professional counselor. Repentance is not about “toughing it out” and making it on our own – it’s about getting rid of the evils in our lives by whatever means we can.

In fact, one of the most important parts of repentance is acknowledging that we can’t do it on our own. When the Writings describe the steps of repentance, they say that after a person has noticed the evils in himself – the things he has done, or the things he would do if there were no fear of the law or fear for his reputation – after he has acknowledged these, and acknowledged that they are sins against the Lord, it is important that he then pray to the Lord for strength to resist them – and to acknowledge that even in his own struggles against those sins, it is really the Lord fighting for him against the power of hell, that he cannot fight from his own strength.

True Christian Religion describes the prayer and confession that is necessary after a person has seen and acknowledged the places where he breaks the Ten Commandments. It says,

“Prayer should be that the Lord may have pity, grant the power to resist the evils of which one has repented, and supply the inclination and affection for doing good, since man without Him cannot do anything (John 15:5). Confession should be that one sees, recognises and acknowledges one’s evils, and reveals oneself as a wretched sinner.” (True Christian Religion 539)

This description makes it clear that shunning evils is not simply about filling out a checklist. We have to throw ourselves into it completely, and completely rely on the Lord for strength. We have to earnestly pray that He change our hearts so that we can not only stop doing the evil, but that we will stop wanting to do the evil. We cannot choose to stop being attracted to evil – that comes gradually, as the Lord changes our heart – but we can decide not to want to be attracted to the evil.

And the Writings are clear that this prayer must be made to the Lord God Jesus Christ, not any other idea of God. Why is that so important? Because in the Lord Jesus Christ, we see a Divinely Human God – we see someone who is definitely outside of ourselves as the only source of goodness, the only One who can change us. And in Him, we see Who God is, and what He wants for us. And unless we know Who the Lord is, we cannot shun evils as sins against Him.

Because the reason that a sin is a sin is that it blocks the Lord’s love from entering into us. The Lord God Jesus Christ wants to live in our hearts. The Ten Commandments are summed up in the commandment to love the Lord and love the neighbour; and the reason that breaking them is a sin is that it damages the Lord’s love. In fact, it’s worse than that. Every breath we take, every beat of our heart, everything that is alive in us is really the Lord’s life. Nothing lives apart from the Lord. Life is an emanation of the Lord’s love. But when we take that life, that love from the Lord, and act in evil against the neighbour – we take the Lord’s love, and twist it. We use to power of life itself to cause death. That’s why a sin is a sin – it’s not just about breaking some rules, it’s about using the Lord’s life in a way that is contrary to His greatest desire, which is that all people be blessed, that all people experience eternal happiness – that all people have life, and have it more abundantly. We hurt that love by hurting others, both because of the harm it does to them, but also because it stops the Lord from being able to bless us, to bring us into heavenly life.

After we’ve prayed to the Lord, the final step in the process of repentance is to actually change our lives. And again, this is where it becomes important to really look at things in practical terms. This is easier with more external things than the more internal things; but most of us do have external things that we could stop doing, places where we can notice actual changes in our behavior. And it doesn’t take much. We can’t change all at once. But a passage from the Writings says if once in a week, or even twice in a month a person resists doing an evil he’s inclined to, he’ll start to notice a change.

When you do this – pick even a few areas that you can consciously observe, a few evils that you know you’re inclined to – and commit to refraining from them, praying for the Lord to help resist – then the Lord works with you not only in those areas, but on your other evils as well. When you’re consciously doing the work of repentance in whatever areas you’re able to see, the Lord upholds you in many of the other areas that you can’t see. If you decide to refrain from outbursts of anger or hatred, the Lord at the same time can be working on a deeper level, working on the root of that anger and hatred, which can stem from a love of having control, of wanting others to be under your dominion. And if you purposefully refrain from one evil, the Lord keeps you in the intention of refraining from them all. And even when we slip up, the Lord can lift us back up; we read in Conjugial Love,

“For as soon as anyone purposefully or deliberately refrains from some evil because it is a sin, he is kept by the Lord in a purpose to refrain from the rest. Consequently, if he then does evil unwittingly or under the sway of some overwhelming lust of the body, still it is not imputed to him, because he did not purpose it to himself, nor does he defend it in himself.” (Conjugial Love 529)

The Ten Commandments are there as practical tools toward regeneration. The literal laws in the commandments are well-known in every culture. But by giving the Ten Commandments in the smoke and fire of Mount Sinai, and commanding that they be kept as the most holy things in the Jewish religion, the Lord was showing that these laws that are necessary on the civil and moral plane are also spiritual laws. There’s a chapter in Heaven and Hell that says that the way that leads to heaven is to live by those civil and moral laws – practical, everyday laws of treating other people right – from a spiritual cause, to resist breaking the commandments because breaking them is an impediment to the Lord’s love. When we do that – when we consciously go through the steps of repentance, rather than trusting that it’s going on subconsciously – the Lord is working within us to make us into vessels of His love and His life. As we fight evil as if of ourselves, while acknowledging that it is really the Lord acting in us, and praying that He enter into us and change us, He answers our prayer. He gives us new hearts. He fulfills the prophecy in Jeremiah: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Jehovah: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:33).


Waiting on the Lord

Sermon: Waiting on the Lord

A Sermon by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn
12 February 2012
Dawson Creek, BC

Readings: 1 Samuel 13:1-15; Luke 12:35-48; Divine Providence 73:6, 7

“Our soul waits for Jehovah; He is our help and our shield.” (Psalm 33:20)

Wait on the Lord. Throughout the Word, this message is given over and over again. In Psalm 27 we read, “Wait for Jehovah; hold firm, and He shall encourage your heart; and wait for Jehovah” (Psalm 27:14). In the book of Isaiah, we read, “The youths shall faint and tire, and the young men stumbling shall stumble; but they that wait upon Jehovah shall renew their power” (Isaiah 40:30, 31). In these passages, we see a promise – that those who wait for the Lord shall be given strength and encouragement. The Lord will give hope to those who wait faithfully for him.

But there are times when this just does not seem true. There are times when we’ve been waiting for the Lord, and we’re continuing to wait, and wait, and wait – and He does not come. He does not seem to be strengthening us. We hold on as long as we can, but we feel our resolve slipping – because even as we’re trying to faithfully trust that the Lord will bless us, everything seems to be going wrong. Everything seems to be falling apart around us.

That is exactly what was happening to Saul in the story we read this morning. It was Saul’s first major battle as king of Israel – it was his chance to prove himself. And everything was falling apart. The Philistines were gathering an enormous force, much, much larger and more powerful than Saul’s force. Day by day, Saul’s already small army was becoming smaller, as his soldiers hid in caves and fled across the Jordan River. And yet, even as the Philistine forces were amassing less than 15 miles away from where he was in Gilgal, Saul could do nothing – could not sound a retreat, could not sound an advance. Because Samuel, the Lord’s prophet, had told Saul to wait in Gilgal until he arrived to offer sacrifices and to tell Saul what he should do next.

We can imagine the growing feeling of panic that Saul must have had as he waited and waited and things looked worse and worse. Maybe he was about to lose the kingdom he had just gained less than two years before. And we can imagine the even worse feeling, as the seventh day arrived – the day when Samuel had promised to arrive – and the day stretched on, and Samuel did not arrive. And the sun set – and Samuel had not come. Imagine that feeling of absolute despair – Saul’s one hope, the thing he had been waiting patiently for, was not happening. He was alone. And we can imagine a sense of panic setting in – if he did not act NOW, his kingdom would be lost.

And so, he decided to take control – to offer sacrifices himself – in direct contradiction to the Lord’s commandment. And right after Saul offered the sacrifice, Samuel arrived. And he told Saul that because he had disobeyed, the very thing he had been trying to gain by his impatient sacrifice – a secure kingdom – would be taken away from him and his descendants and given to another.

It’s easy to sympathize with Saul in this situation. Because he did wait for the Lord. He waited seven days for Samuel to come, and meanwhile he watched as the army around him fled, as things got worse and worse. He trusted the Lord – and then it seemed like the Lord had failed him.

We all wait on the Lord. And we expect that by patiently following him, life will gradually get better, even though it won’t happen in an instant. But sometimes it doesn’t seem that way at all. Sometimes it seems that patiently waiting for the Lord is leading to nothing but disaster. Our lives fall apart around us, and we think, this cannot possibly be right.

For example: imagine a person who loves the Lord’s promise of true marriage love – that a man can leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). He does what the Lord asks: prays for a true marriage, shuns lusts as sins against the Lord. But years of waiting turn into decades. And he feels lonely, and more and more hopeless. Things are getting worse, not better. The promise is not coming true. So he decides to settle – it doesn’t matter who it is, he just wants to be married. And so he marries a woman whom he does not love, who has completely different values from him, a completely different faith. And over time, the man finds that there is a deep seated coldness between him and his wife. He finds that in impatiently trying to get rid of his own loneliness, he’s become more lonely than he was before he was married – just as Saul lost the kingdom by desperately trying to hold onto it.

The same thing happens in other cases. Again, with the example of marriage, imagine a woman who finds herself married to a man she does not love. And rather than getting better, things seem to be getting worse – her life seems to be falling apart.  And in the hope of attaining the Lord’s promise of true marriage, she leaves her husband for a man who she thinks will make her happy. But that willingness to commit adultery undermines any marriage she enters, and again, she loses the thing she wanted so much by acting according to her own impatience, rather than trusting the Lord.

Or think about the case of the church. The church has so much to offer the world – teachings about the Lord as mercy itself and love itself. But there are harder teachings, teachings that are unpopular in our culture, that make it hard for people to accept the church – and so we see young people leaving the church, and fewer people joining it. The church seems to be falling apart. We can be tempted to teach only the easy truths, the truths that won’t chase anyone away. But the Lord says that it is those very hard teachings – the teachings that force us to change our lives – that will truly save the world. If we try to do it our way, we actually lose the very thing we were trying to gain.

In all of those examples, we are tempted to take things into our own hands because waiting for the Lord does not seem to be working. The Lord does not seem to be delivering on His promises, even after we have waited and waited for Him.  But what are we supposed to do when the Lord does not seem to be fulfilling His promises? There’s not a simple, easy answer. But the first thing we can do when the Lord does not seem to be fulfilling His promises is look at what His promises really are.

The Lord does not promise that life will be easy if we follow Him. In fact, He promises the opposite: He told His disciples, “In this world, you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). If we’re following the Lord, it is inevitable that we will go through times when He does not seem to be present, when everything seems to be falling apart.

But He also promises that although we may undergo hardships in this world, if we faithfully follow Him, we can come into eternal joy in heaven. He promises that everything He does in His Divine Providence is for the sake of people’s eternal welfare, their eternal happiness (see Divine Providence 214-220). Life does not make sense unless we truly take this to heart: that life in this world is only a shadow of time compared to life to eternity. And so even when we go through hard times that last for years, we can call to mind this eternal perspective, and ask for the Lord’s strength to continue to work for eternal goodness, rather than settling for temporary gratification. We can rest in the Lord in the assurance that although we cannot see how, every state that we go through is leading to a good end to eternity (see for example Arcana Coelestia 8480:3).

But the fact that Lord’s true blessings are eternal things does not mean that we are doomed to nothing but suffering here on earth. Although it’s useful to have the eternal perspective, we also need to be careful to avoid the attitude that this world is just a waiting room for heaven, merely something to be tolerated while we wait for heaven.  We are here for a purpose – that we can bring the Lord’s love into this world, down to the lowest level of creation. The Lord commands us to live in the world, even though we are not to be of the world (see for example John 17, Heaven and Hell 528).  The Lord came that we may have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).  The Lord said, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). The Lord can be here now, and wants to be here now. The Lord promises that in this world we will have periods of joy – we will have moments where we do sense His presence.  And the Lord even told his disciples to rejoice when they were persecuted (Matthew 15:11, 12) – the fact that we are going through struggles does not mean that the Lord has failed in His promise, but that He is fulfilling it, because it is only by bearing that cross, struggling against our own selfish and impatient desires, that we can eventually learn what it means to truly rest in Him, to love Him, and from that to love our neighbour.

So the first thing we can do when we have been waiting for the Lord and He does not seem to be keeping His promises is to go back and remind ourselves of what those promises really are.  Secondly, we need to realize that waiting for the Lord does not mean being inactive. Waiting on the Lord means doing the things He calls us to with the faith that He will then bless us in those actions.  There’s a story in the Old Testament, when the children of Israel were at the edge of the Red Sea, with the army of the Egyptians chasing after them. Moses told the children of Israel to “stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah.” The first thing for them to do was to stand and wait, to acknowledge that they could not save themselves. But then Jehovah said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward” (Exodus 14:13-15). The Children of Israel had to pray to the Lord and await Him – but they also had to act as if from themselves to go forward.

And so waiting on means waiting for the Lord’s guidance – but then it means going forward. Remember, Samuel – who represents the Lord’s Word – was coming in part to tell Saul what he should do. What if instead of doing it his own way, Saul had done everything in his power to track down Samuel and see what his advice was? Waiting for the Lord does not mean doing the same thing we’ve always done and expecting different results.  It means constantly seeking the Lord’s voice, constantly listening for new ways.

For example, if we work at a job that does things we are morally opposed to, waiting on the Lord does not necessarily mean staying in that job. It may mean leaving that job for work somewhere else, because we feel we cannot work there and keep the Lord’s commandments. Or maybe we do stay there – but we see that the Lord is calling us within that job to try to change the work environment. Waiting on the Lord means faithfully following where He leads, not just standing still.

So, first, we can try to recall the Lord’s promises, and what they actually are. And second, we can see if the Lord is calling us to act in a different way. And finally, and most importantly, when we’re feeling like we have waited too long for anything to change – we can turn to the Lord God Jesus Christ and ask for His patience in our lives. When He was in the world, the evil spirits of impatience attacked the Lord. He was tempted by them – and in all those temptations, He defeated them. And because He defeated them, He can defeat them as they attack us.

The Lord Himself was tempted to act from impatience. When the devil took Him out into the wilderness, the devil tempted Him to act instantaneously to change things – to miraculously turn stones into bread, to immediately become king over everything in the world (Matthew 4, Mark 1, Luke 4). The Lord was tempted to immediately save everyone, whether they wanted to be saved or not.

The Lord could have instantaneously brought the entire human race into heaven. He could have forced salvation on the human race in an instant, rather than letting them continue to suffer. But that would destroy human freedom, and would destroy His very purpose in creation – that He could love free, independent beings outside of Himself, so that He could bless them (True Christian Religion 43). If He had instantly saved the world, he would have actually been losing the very kingdom He came to establish – just as Saul did. But think of the Lord’s patience. Think of this – while He was there in the world, when He was conscious on the Divine level of His mind, He knew the hardship that every single person who ever had lived or ever would live would go through. He knew the struggles you would go through. He knew the long years of pain you’d endure. And he wept because of that suffering – He wept over His people’s pain.

He had the power to instantly end all suffering – and yet, He knew He had to allow it. Even now, He allows it. He allows suffering even though He hates it, because He sees the good that comes out of it. And He is never absent during it. In fact, in the times when He seems furthest away from a person, He is actually most present, fighting with all His might for the person (see Arcana Coelestia 840). He wants to come into our lives; He wants to arrive and end our long night of waiting.

And even when we reach the brink of despair, when it seems like things cannot possibly go right, when it feels like the world is crumbling around us – even then we need to trust that He will come if we follow His Word. In fact, those moments are the most important ones of all. Because it’s in those moments – when we feel like we’re going to lose everything – that we truly and fully make that decision to love Him and to love our neighbour our own. We say, “I will love you, and I will love others, and I will obey, no matter what.” Those moments of despair become the very moment that the Lord arrives (see Arcana Coelestia 2682, 2694, 8165).

The Lord knows our suffering, and the Lord knows the suffering of the world. Because this is not just about us – the whole world is broken, and awaiting the Lord.  But the Lord has promised – He will come to us, even if we have worked and waited months and years and decades with no apparent change. And the Lord will come more and more fully into the world with the light of His second coming, the truths of His love and mercy. We can rest in that promise; we can rest in the sure knowledge that He is coming. The Lord hears our cry, and He will answer. In the last chapter of the book of Revelation, we read, “He who testifies these things says, “Yes, I come quickly, amen.” Yes, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). Amen.

Growing in Wisdom

Sermon: Growing in Wisdom

Posted on March 19, 2012 by Coleman Glenn

A Sermon by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn

18 March 2012

Dawson Creek, BC

Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1-21; Luke 2:40-52; True Christian Religion 387

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in age, and in grace with God and men.” Luke 2:52

Picture someone wise. Try to make it someone you know, someone who really exemplifies wisdom for you. If you’re not able to think of someone you know, then try to think of the kind of person who comes to mind when you think of wisdom. Now think about what it is that makes that person wise. Why did they come to mind and not someone else? Did you think of someone with a lot of education, a lot of knowledge? May so – that can be part of wisdom. But that’s probably not the only thing you thought of – there’s a good chance that the smartest person you know is not the wisest person you know.  So, what other qualities make a person wise? What else made you think of the person you did? Maybe the person you thought of has a real humility – a quiet acknowledgment that they don’t know everything. If you told them they were wise, chances are they’d brush it aside and deny it.  Chances are they’re not the loudest person you know, or the most argumentative, although they could be.  When we think of someone wise, we often think of someone who speaks from their heart, with real warmth in their voice. We think of someone who speaks from life, not just from knowledge. We think of someone who speaks the truth from love.

How old was the person you thought of? Many of us probably thought of people older than us – parents or grandparents, elders who have seen a lot of life and speak from a lifetime of experience.  There is wisdom in old age, as people become humbled by life, and start to gain true wisdom. But some of us might also have thought of children. Most teachers will tell you that they learn as much from their students as their students do from them. There is a special kind of wisdom that comes along with childhood – a sense of wonder about the world that a lot of us lose as we get older. In young children, we see some of that same humility we do in old age – a willingness to ask questions, to admit that they don’t know everything.  There’s a wisdom of innocence in children – they aren’t afraid to say things as they see them, because they don’t even know that they are supposed to see things differently.  It’s not yet the true innocence and true wisdom of old age, but it’s a picture of it. That innocent childhood wisdom is reflected in the words of a Psalm: “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants, You have ordained strength” (Psalm 8:2). That childhood wisdom is the image of the true wisdom that comes with age.

But all wisdom comes from the Lord; and the wisdom of the wisest person we know pales in comparison with the Lord’s wisdom. When He was in the world, though, the Lord did not immediately come into wisdom. He had to gain wisdom gradually – He had to walk the same path that we do. That’s why we read. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and age, and in grace with God and men” (Luke 2:52).

But if Jesus is God, why does He need to increase in wisdom? The reason is that at the Lord’s birth, His soul was Divine, but His body and the lower levels of His mind were merely human. Throughout His life, He went through a process of opening up those lower levels of His mind to the Divinity within Himself, until He replaced everything that was merely human with His Divine Human. And because He went through that process, He can lead all of us through a similar process – not that we ever become Divine or have anything Divine that belongs to us, but that He opens up our minds and hearts to Him more and more to eternity.

So in the Lord’s childhood, He needed to progress just as we progress. The book True Christian Religion describes this: “In respect to His Human He was, for this reason, an infant like other infants, a boy like other boys, and so on; with the sole difference that this development was accomplished in Him more quickly, more fully, and more perfectly than in others” (TCR 89). We see that in the story we read today – He was still growing in wisdom, had not become omniscient on all levels of His mind – but even at twelve He had gained an astonishing amount of wisdom.

So, we return to our story with this in mind – that we can look to the Lord here in this story and ask how we can follow in His footsteps, what He is teaching us here, and specifically what He is showing us about growing in wisdom.

In the story, Mary and Joseph had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, along with many of their relatives; and when they left, they assumed Jesus was with someone else in their company. A day later, discovering that He was missing, they rushed back to Jerusalem, and searched for him for three days. Finally they found Him – not lost somewhere in the streets, but sitting in the temple in the middle of the teachers of Israel.

It says that they saw Him there in the midst of the teachers, “both listening to them and asking them questions.” And here we find something that may be surprising – the Lord is described first, not as teaching these teachers, but as listening to them and questioning them. And again, remember, the Lord really did need to learn things. And this attitude that He expressed here shows us one of the most important things about wisdom – we can only grow in wisdom if we acknowledge that we do not know everything, that we have something to learn from others. This was the God of the universe in human form – and He needed to ask questions, to listen! If we think that we can figure everything out on our own, we have not even reached the foothills of wisdom. We just read a story that Emanuel Swedenborg related about the Temple of Wisdom that he saw in heaven. He spoke to angels about it, and they told him that the only people who could see this temple were those who acknowledged that they knew nothing from themselves, and that what they knew was nothing compared to what they didn’t know. That is the beginning of wisdom.

There’s humility on both sides of the conversation in this story. It took humility for the Lord to ask these great teachers questions; but think of the humility also that it would have taken for those teachers to listen to this twelve-year-old Boy, who hadn’t been trained in their schools, who to all appearances was only a carpenter’s son. Looking in at this story from their point of view, we realize something else – we may not always find wisdom where we expect it. We tend to put people into categories, to judge them as wise or foolish – and once we’ve judged someone as foolish or not worth listening to, we can dismiss the things that they say simply because we don’t like them. If we heard those same things from the mouth of someone we regard as wise, though, we realize the wisdom in them. We need to know that the Lord can talk to us through anyone.

This was true for those teachers, and it was true for the Lord as a twelve-year-old. Many of those teachers in the temple were corrupt – as an adult the Lord often criticized the teachers of Israel. And yet they did know the Old Testament well – the Lord could learn important things from them about it. He could listen for the wisdom in what they were saying, for God’s voice speaking even through imperfect vessels. Again, God can speak even through imperfect vessels, and we need to be open to hearing His voice from anyone.

So far we’ve been focusing mostly on the humility it takes to advance in wisdom, the acknowledgment that we don’t know everything and that we need to listen to others. But sometimes people can take this too far, and to think that they are wise because they question everything, because they never come to any conclusions on anything. This is not the case. The Lord was in the temple listening and asking questions – but the people were astonished at His understanding and His answers. True wisdom means that we do have a sight of the truth. We never think that we know all there is to know, but at the same time, we do not become nihilistic and say that we can never know anything.

There’s a great story that Emanuel Swedenborg relates about a group of spirits he saw in the world of spirits. He heard voices saying, “O how learned,” and came down to find a group of people stamping on the ground, not moving at all. When Swedenborg asked an angel why they were doing it, the angel replied that it was because these people never came to any conclusion about anything, but only discussed and questioned whether something existed, and so they never progressed in wisdom at all.  When Swedenborg asked, “What must the religion be that saves a person?” they spent hours discussing whether religion even existed, or whether salvation even existed, and came to no conclusion at all. When he asked whether they would answer the question within a year, they answered that they couldn’t answer it within a hundred years. Swedenborg replied, “And meanwhile you are without religion!” He said to them, “You are anything but learned, for you are only able to think whether a thing is, and to turn it this way and that. Who can become learned unless he knows something for certain, and goes forward in that as a man advances from step to step, and so on successively into wisdom. Otherwise you do not so much as touch truths with the finger-nail, but put them more and more out of sight.” (True Christian Religion 333). To grow in wisdom, we do have to reach conclusions; acknowledging that we know nothing compared to the Lord’s infinite wisdom does not mean that we deny our ability to know anything at all.

And so the Lord as a twelve year old did not only ask questions, he also answered them, and demonstrated His wisdom – already a wisdom superior to that of the most learned people in Israel.  This is what He was doing when Mary and Joseph found Him, after searching for Him throughout the city. When they asked why he had done this, causing them such anxiety, He replied, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be in what is my Father’s?” The Lord knew even then, as a twelve-year-old, that His soul was Divine, that His role in the world was to exemplify wisdom, as well as to teach it. And so it was the Father’s will – that is, the will of the Divine Love within Himself – that He learn truth and teach it, to advance more in wisdom, to show people how to live in goodness toward their neighbour.

We might expect the Lord’s ministry to begin then and there – but this is not what happens. The Lord still had years ahead of Him to grow to the point where He could teach Divine Truth, where He could be an embodiment of it. And there’s encouragement here. Learning how to live in this world is supposed to be a process. We are not supposed to know everything right away. When God Himself came into the world in human form, even He needed decades to reach His full potential of wisdom. How could we possibly expect it to be any different for us? The fact that we feel like progress is slow does not mean that we’re failing. And it’s a process that continues for ever. We’ll never reach a point where we say, “I’ve arrived – I know everything I need to know.” If we do reach that point, we’re in serious danger, because it’s at that point that we fall in love with our own wisdom, and stop seeking to become more wise – and loving our own wisdom is the height of foolishness.

So the Lord does go back home with Mary and Joseph – and He was subject to them, that is, He was obedient to them. And here’s the final piece of wisdom. In childhood, we learn obedience by obeying our parents – and that prepares us to obey the Lord’s Word. Because it is in living by the wisdom we’ve gained that that wisdom truly becomes part of us. It’s by trying to obey the Lord’s Word that we start to understand it. The Lord said that those who hear His Word and do not do it are like people building their house on the sand. They’re still doing something, building some kind of understanding – but if they don’t do it, that all falls to the ground when struggles and temptations come. But those who do His Word, who act in obedience to it, are like those who build their house on the rock. It does not fall down in times of struggle – it stands strong, because it is built on a rock.

True wisdom comes from building on the rock – that is, on hearing the Lord’s Word and doing it. And we are given the ability to do that because the Lord Himself walked that path for us. He is with us as we learn truth, as we see His wisdom in His word, as we learn also from the people around us. He is with us in that attitude of humility, the attitude that of ourselves we know nothing. He is with us in that willingness to listen for His voice even in unexpected places. He is with us in that childlike innocence, that excitement to learn, the willingness to ask even stupid questions over and over again, from a love of becoming truly wise. And that true wisdom is not about knowing more than someone else – that true wisdom is a wisdom of life, a wisdom of loving our neighbour, and loving the Lord above all else.

The final and most important step is acknowledging that none of our wisdom comes from ourselves. The Lord is the source of all wisdom – and in the world, He became Divine love and Divine wisdom in Human form. He is the Truth itself, that is, Wisdom itself; He is the way Itself, that is, the path that leads to wisdom; and He is life itself, that is, the life that comes from living in love and wisdom. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). Amen.

Coleman’s Blog | The thoughts and reflections of a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister

The Purpose of Baptism

                               Posted on by

A Sermon by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn
March 25, 2012
Dawson Creek, BC

Readings: Isaiah 1:9-20; Matthew 3:1-17; True Christian Religion 685

We just heard the story of John the Baptist, who called all of Judah to himself to be baptized in the Jordan River. In that story, we heard John say that one would come after him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He later told his followers that the one he had spoken about was the Lord, Jesus. And when Jesus was resurrected, He appeared to His disciples and told them to go forth and baptize all nations into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. From the very beginning, baptism has been a key part of Christianity.

In the New Church, we tend not to focus much on ritual.  We put a lot of emphasis on life – the way we live by our religion.  And that’s as it should be – internal worship involves loving the Lord and loving our neighbour.  But there is a value and strength in the external rituals of worship, because they represent those internal things, and actually serve to strengthen those internal things.  And the two most important rituals – the two sacraments in the New Church – are baptism and the Holy Supper.

Without a knowledge of correspondences, it’s hard to understand how there could be a value in the external ritual of baptism.  But the Writings for the New Church describe a deeper meaning within this ritual that show how something as seemingly mundane as dipping someone under water can have profound spiritual influences.  And the Writings for the New Church reveal a purpose in baptism that is unknown to many in the world.

True Christian Religion describes the three primary uses of baptism: introduction into the church, getting to know the Lord, and being regenerated.  Baptism alone does not accomplish these things, but it serves as an external sign of them, and helps bring them about. These three all involve each other and are tied together – each one is an integral part of what it means to be baptized.

The first use of baptism is that it is an introduction into the church – a sign and a symbol that a person is a Christian.  This morning we read the story of John the Baptist baptizing people in the River Jordan.  The Jordan River marked the boundary and the entrance to the land of Canaan.  The reason that John baptized there was that it represented an entrance into the church.

What does it mean to be introduced to the church?  It means that a person is first beginning to learn the truths of the Lord’s words.  These are the simple, basic teachings – that the Lord Jesus Christ is God, that evils are to be shunned as sins against Him, that His Word is truth.  When a person first begins to learn these truths – and to live by them – it is as if he is being washed in the Jordan River.

Now again, this may seem like it wouldn’t have much power.  Doesn’t everyone know that it’s wrong to lie, to steal, to commit adultery, and so on?  They’re such simple teachings, it seems, that a person might scoff at the idea that they have to be bathed by these things. But until we actually try to shun evils because they are sins, we don’t know how strong or weak a hold they have on us. We might think, “OK, yes, I tell lies, but it’s not that big a deal – I don’t think there would be some profound spiritual change in me if I stopped.” But it’s not until we do try to stop because it is a sin against God that we realize how deeply that deceit may or may not be ingrained in us. When we try to stop, and pray for the Lord’s help, we do notice a change.

Being introduced into the church does not just mean introduction into the truth, though.  It also means introduction to the people of the church, and introduction among angelic spirits who make up the church.  That’s why we can perform infant baptisms – because even though the baby is not yet able to learn the truth of the church, there is a promise that they will, and there is also a sign made that they will be raised as Christians.  And it actually changes the spirits who are around that child.

Now, again, this might seem abstract and like it has nothing to do with real life – but that’s only because we don’t realize how huge an influence the spirits around us have.  Every single thought we have flows into us from the spirits around us, as hard as that is to believe.  And so changing our spirits changes the way we are even able to think.  Now, a person’s decisions throughout their lives also affect what spirits are around, and so baptism or non-baptism doesn’t determine a person’s spiritual home, the spirits he will live with forever.  But it does make a difference, because the washing of baptism and the sign of the cross is a physical manifestation and sign that actually brings the person among Christian spirits and angels.

So that first use of baptism is being introduced into the truth of the church, and also coming into the company of Christian people, spirits and angels. But in itself, being brought among Christians is meaningless – being influenced by Christians is not actually what makes a person Christian.  True Christianity – the kind of Christianity described in the book The True Christian Religion – means getting to know the Lord Jesus Christ.  And this is the second purpose of baptism – that a person may know and acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer and Saviour, and to follow Him.

There would be no point in introducing someone into the church without introducing them to the source of all the good and truth in the church.  And we can’t really get to know who He is except by following His commandments. That source is the Lord.  True Christian Religion asks, What would be the use of being called a Christian without this second use, the acknowledgment of Christ, and especially of following His commandments?  We read, “Is it not really like a subject who attaches himself to a king, and yet repudiates the king’s laws or those of the country, and yields allegiance to a foreign king and serves him?” (True Christian Religion 681).  To be called a Christian and yet not to follow the Lord would be an empty thing, and worthless.

This second purpose of baptism – coming to know the Lord – comes from the first – being introduced to the church.  A person learns to follow the Lord by being brought up, supported, and encouraged by Christians.  And here’s another area where baptism becomes relevant for our daily lives.  When we attend a child’s baptism, we attend a ceremony that introduces the child to the church – and we here help make up that church.  In that ceremony, the parents specifically promise to raise the child to follow the Lord – but we all share that responsibility, to support everyone who comes to the church and who is baptized in their path of following the Lord.  It is our responsibility to encourage each other to do what is right and good, and to look to the Lord together.

The second use of baptism is that we may know and acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ, and follow Him.  It might seem like this purpose would be the final use and goal of baptism.  But from the Lord’s perspective, the one remaining use is actually the most important.  That final use of baptism is that a person be regenerated.

The Lord spoke of the importance of a person being born again.  He said, “Unless someone be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”   When we talk about regeneration, we are talking about re-birth.  But we use the word regeneration because it is not referring to one moment in time, as “birth” implies, but a process and progression over time.  The Lord’s purpose in baptism – and even the reason that He wants us to know Him and follow Him – is so that he can create us anew, and give us the blessedness of heaven.

Think about that.  The Lord did not create humanity was for the sake of His own glory, so that He could be worshipped.  The Lord created the world for the sake of blessing the world, not being blessed Himself

And so this final use of baptism – that a person be regenerated – follows from the prior two uses, and it could be said to be its primary end in view.  And it is the use that is most clearly seen in the representation of baptism itself as a washing.  Because the way that a person is regenerated is by spiritual washing, that is, by removing the evil lusts and desires that cling to him.

The way a person does this is by repentance.  And repentance is the common thread that runs through all the different uses of baptism.  A person is truly introduced into Christianity by repenting; he learns to acknowledge the Lord and follow Him by repenting; and he is regenerated by means of repentance.

This is not always an easy process. And in some ways, baptism is presented as a painful thing. It is used as an image of death. Speaking of His crucifixion, Jesus said, “But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!” The image of baptism is one of washing, but it is also an image of being buried – the apostle Paul would later compare Jesus burial and resurrection to the experience of being submerged under the water in baptism and then rising up out of it. In our reading this morning, John the Baptist warned the Sadducees and Pharisees, the religious leaders at the time, that the Lord’s baptism would be like a consuming fire. And when we repent, there are parts of ourselves – the merely natural parts – where we feel like we are dying. Baptism is a symbol of putting to death the parts of us that rebel against the Lord’s love, so that we can be purified. The prophet Malachi compared it to a refiner’s fire: “But who may sustain the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He is seen? For He is as a refiner’s fire, and as washer’s soap.” That refiner’s fire burned away all the impurities in a precious metal. For us to be purified, we have to endure the pain of fighting against the evil cravings that give us pleasure.

But that fire that burns away impurities is also a warming fire of love. The purpose of baptism and of washing is not simply so that evil can be taken away, but so that something new from the Lord can come in and take its place. It is so that the Holy Spirit can flow into a person, giving them a new spirit.  It is so that the fire of the Lord’s love can flow into a person, giving them a new heart. There is a progression there. That progression is described in John the Baptist’s words: “I indeed baptize you with water, but one comes after me Who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with Fire.”

That first kind of baptism is a baptism of water.  The Lord did not only baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire; He also baptized in the waters of the Jordan river, just as John had. The water of Jordan is a picture of the simple, straightforward truths in the letter of the Word.  We start out by following them, by repenting on the very basic, literal level – stopping our stealing, stopping lying, shunning adultery.

As we progress, though, the Lord gives us the opportunity to be baptized with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit represents the Lord’s Divine Truth.  This is contained within the teachings of the Lord’s Word, but cannot really be expressed in words.  It’s a sight we have of the truth.  We learn to see things in ourselves that are sins against the Lord, even if we can’t describe exactly what they are – attitudes or intentions that on a deeper level steal from the Lord.  There’s the love of self, and the raising up of ourselves above others; and when we realize this, and shun these deeper evils because we know they are sins, we are being baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Being baptized by the Holy Spirit means being regenerated by truth.  We come to love the truth, and to love treating our neighbours well because we know it is right.  There is love in the Holy Spirit – but it’s primarily a love for acting by the truth, not simply a love for goodness itself.  That is the next level, the celestial level; and to be regenerated by this love is what it means to be baptized by fire.

A person first becomes spiritual before becoming celestial.  But a person can become celestial.  The way this happens is that gradually the Lord transforms their love for acting by what is true into a genuine love for the Love that comes from Him.  It is love for love’s sake, and when a person reaches this state, they act primarily from love to the Lord.  This washes a person on an even deeper level than that love for truth does.  Those who reach this level are said to be baptized with fire. These are the people who come into a genuine love for the Lord and love for their neighbour, who love to love others.

The external act of baptism does not accomplish any of these things. But when a person has these internal elements – a desire to learn truth, to fight against evil with it, to come to know the Lord and be regenerated – then the external ritual actually makes these things happen more fully and more completely. Through the internal washing of repentance and regeneration, a person is made clean, and made ready for heaven, which is the Lord’s greatest desire. By the first use of baptism, a person is introduced among Christians; by the second use, he comes to know and acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ as God, and follow Him; and by the third use, He is regenerated and born again, in accordance with the Lord’s words in the gospel of John: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12,13)  Amen.


CREATED FOR A SPECIFIC PURPOSE    A Sermon by the Rev. Jan H. Weiss  Preached in Boston, October 15, 1997

“Thus says the LORD who created you, and who formed you, Fear not: for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

I have good news for everyone of you. The Lord has a plan, and a reason, and a destiny for your life, that is specific to you alone. Even before He created you, the Lord had a plan and a reason and a destiny for your existence and life. And you have a choice to accept or reject this plan and destiny. The Lord gave you total freedom to do what He has intended for you, or to do what YOU want to do, what feels right to YOU.

If you deny or reject the Lord’s destiny and you choose yourself as the supreme king of your life, then that amounts to denying the Lord’s purpose and His love for you. If you choose to trust yourself and pursue your own goals, you also choose to trust your own intelligence, and you are on your own. But if you choose to trust in God and you accept His destiny for your life, common sense tells you that He will show you the way and give you His intelligence.

The Lord has to show your destiny, and give you earthly signs in such a way that at all times you will feel a free agent. The Lord wants you to feel that you made the choices and you did the work. This excludes input from prophets, psychics and card readers.

The New Church teaches that your God given destiny is a love relationship with the Lord and a heavenly relationship with a partner of the opposite sex, which will last to eternity. You will have a spiritual home in the heavens where you will perform a use to the overall spiritual health of the heavens. Your destiny is filled with hope and excitement.

It is not filled with doom or terror. The earth is not coming to some terrible end. The Lord is in control of the universe at all times, and protects those who are in sink with His goal. This is my general message. Now let’s go into details.

The Lord is infinite love, and from this love He was moved to create beings outside Himself, whom He could love and who could love Him in return. But the essence of His love is such that He will never force or manipulate anyone to love Him in return. Human freedom is inherent in His creation, and all human beings have two choices. They either love the Lord or they love themselves. In this the Lord does not have any say.

If you choose yourself in preference to the Lord you will be in the happiness of self love. The Lord never retaliates if you choose yourself. He does not bring you any retribution or punishment. But loving yourself above all others has its natural limitations in happiness. It can bring frustration, anxiety, and unhappiness.

But if you choose to love the Lord, your possibilities are unlimited. The more you attune yourself to the influx of His love, the more possibilities are opened, and the happier you become. This increase of happiness continues to eternity (that is, in the dimension of time) and in degree (that is, in the dimension of state), so even if you could stand still in time, your love relationship would still become deeper and deeper.

In heaven you are happy because you perform a use to the whole of heaven. All the heavens are before the Lord as a GRAND man. So performing a use is best illustrated with the model of the human body.

If your body is healthy you feel it as one, though your body consists of many substances, parts, organs, and kinds of cells. All these substances, parts, organs and cells perform a use to each other. The life of each one produces something or does something that can be used by all the others. The more you learn about the workings of the human body, the more you can see, that this is true, and how complex the interaction is.

At conception that body begins to develop, but in the process of time this development progresses more and more. An organ has a small beginning, but it develops in time. It may grow first in size , and then later it may renew itself. This illustrates somewhat what I mean by developing in the dimension of time and the dimension of state.

Another useful model for illustration is a company. In each company there are some who function as the brains, others as the muscle, and others as the bones. All are needed to do their part, so the company as a whole can perform a use to a customer, to give a service or a product. In that model we can see people performing a variety of uses. There is a continual effort to perfect this performance, so that if we would abruptly and randomly change people around in the various jobs, the company would fall apart and would cease to exist.

From both models we can see that each human being has a destiny, but there is the destiny of today and the destiny of tomorrow, and there is the destiny far into the future. The more people come into the heavens, the more perfect the performance of each one can become.

So God does have a plan and a destiny, specific to you alone. The destiny of males is two fold. They work in the world in a forensic use, and they perform a use to their wife when they are at home. The destiny of females is also twofold. Her most important use is to receive from her husband either natural seed leading to birth in this world, or spiritual seed (truth) which she conjoins with good leading to the birth of a new use in the spiritual world. But we know that not all wives in the heavens have the same love for children. Some have a great love and care for many children there. Others have little or no love, and therefore care for few or no children. Yet they are all in heaven and therefore all have a love relationship with the Lord and a conjugial relationship with their husband. Apparently it is a matter of temperament. There does not seem to be a difference in the happiness that they receive from the exercise of their love for children.

While husbands in the heavens are forensic, we also see women out in society performing uses. Sometimes they appear with their husband, but sometimes they appear by themselves and independent of their husband. There is a tremendous difference between husbands and the way they perform their use in society and at home. The same difference exists between the wives that are on earth and in the heavens. There are no carbon copies.

So you should not look for your destiny outside of yourself. You should not see it in others or in general principles. You should look for it within yourself. You should look for the Lord’s handwriting on your own heart and soul, seeing His destiny for yourself in your own heart and spirit. Your destiny is unique and different from all others.

One very important point must be made here. Do not look for some supernatural, overpowering and unmistaken sign. The Lord wants you to operate in complete freedom. Unmistaken signs are never given, because these would take away your freedom. You would not feel that you are living your own life, but you would feel the Lord has taken over your life. So you expect to see your destiny gradually, by listening to your own heart, by seeing your own abilities and your own likes. Sometimes you see these in yourself and by yourself, but sometimes you see them in yourself through the eyes of others, who are close to you. You will approach your destiny gradually. Also, your search for your identity is unique. You will find it in your own way, because of your own abilities and your own doubts.

There is no doubt that the Lord wants to help you find your destiny. He first helps you to find the general direction of that destiny, and then He continually helps you finetune your approach to that destiny, and He will do that to eternity.

The general direction of your destiny is either a state of heaven in which you perform a use to others, or a state of hell in which you exclusively satisfy your own desires. This is the first and most important choice you have to make. You do not need any signs here. It is a decision of the heart.

After that you will have to make series of small decisions, and I can best talk about them and illustrate them with the story of a person entering the spiritual world and going to his spiritual home. When a person arrives in the other world, he/she is first prepared by three types of angels, and after that is set on a path towards the eternal home. Enough of the path ahead is seen so that he/she feels confident to start walking. But the end the path is seen to curve so the final destiny is not seen. This experience is repeated every time the end of the road is reached.

This visual representation illustrates the way the Lord gives you signs to help you reach your eternal destiny. First you have to be prepared, and then you begin to work towards your destiny. In the first state of preparation you are shown your final destination in a dream. Then you wake up to reality, your eyes are opened to reality. In this state you begin to see who you are and who others are. The third state is a state in which you get down to doing what you have been thinking about. This is the moment you set foot on the path and begin to move on the path.

If you did not have a dream, you would not be willing to think about it, or do something about it. But facing the reality of yourself and the world around you, is very important. Our dream may be very unrealistic. You may think you can do something or cannot do something, but you could turn out to be incorrect in either case. Here you have to learn from others around you, which is usually hard on yourself and on the others. You can be very stubborn or you may find it hard to unlearn old habits. You may have a hard time seeing signs, reading signs and acting on signs.

This series of states of preparation and walking is repeated many times. You do not get the dream completely, you do not verbalize your destiny completely, you do not see your own reality the first time around, and you learn only a certain amount when you make a step on the path. It all goes gradually, day by day, and year by year. But this walking, though sometimes frustrating, is also exciting and exhilarating.

Listen how Isaiah describes this walking. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Passing through the waters is coming in contact with falsities in your mind, facing and going through them. Here the Lord is with you every step of the way. Walking through the rivers means facing fantasies about yourself. They will not overcome you. From drowning in these fantasies the Lord protects you. Fire and flames represent selfishness and the foolish desires that arise from these evils. They will not harm you.

At the end of all these experiences is the Lord your God, the One with whom you will have a relationship of love, your Savior, the one who will save you from your selfishness. This relationship will be something very special, and this specialness is expressed by our text.

Thus says the LORD who created you, and who formed you, Fear not: for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are mine. If we were to compare the literal sense of the Word to the Lord while He was on earth, this text would correspond to the Lord’s hands. We can see His hands, there is no cover, there is total clarity. He has created you, and He has formed you from infinite love and according to infinite wisdom. He has redeemed you, which means that He has given you freedom to be your own person, and to have your own relationships with Him and with your partner and with your friends. He has called you out of the womb of your mother, but He has not just called you, He has called you by your name, and He has told you that you are His.

When the Lord calls you it means He wants to teach and lead you to His heaven. But He calls you by your name! By name is meant the essence or quality of a person.In heaven a person is distinguished from another person by his quality. In heaven every person is special and unlike anyone else. It is by this quality that you are known, and distinguished from other people. The Lord calls you by YOUR name, so He teaches and leads you according the state of your love and wisdom. So you are very special in His eye, and once you see this, you can also see yourself as something very special. It is in your seeing and following your special destiny that you resolve and restore your feeling of self esteem. This leads you to a new self love, for first you loved and esteemed yourself as you viewed yourself, but after the Lord has called you by your name, you now love and esteem yourself as the Lord views you and loves you. This is a glorious experience. And so I pray for everyone of you that the Lord in His infinite love, will call you, and that He will call you by YOUR name. Amen



A Sermon by Rev. Jan H. Weiss Preached in Boston on February 23rd 1997

And lo, a chariot was seen descending from the highest heaven, and in it was seen a single angel, but as it drew near, two were seen (CL42:2).

This passage in Conjugial Love expresses “die Sehnsucht der Mensch”, the age old longing of human beings, the longing for marital oneness and agreement. After the description of many visual appearances, we also find this statement: “When the husband was speaking, he spoke at the same time as though from his wife, and when the wife, she spoke at the same time as though from her husband”.

It does not say that the husband was speaking from his wife, or the wife from her husband. Instead it says that when the husband spoke, he spoke at the same time as though from his wife. And when the wife spoke, she spoke at the same time as though from her husband.

Marital oneness does not require that each partner loses individual identity and individual opinion. But marital oneness does require repeated and continual conjunction of an individual man and an individual woman, who are committed in love to each other. After each conjunction this oneness becomes more perfect, and this to eternity.

The concept of oneness applies to many forms of humanity. The heavens are as one before the Lord. There is a oneness between angels in a society, between angelic societies in a heaven. Oneness also applies to the human body and all its individual parts. But marital oneness is very different concept. Marital oneness is only possible between one man and one woman, because conjugial love is mutual and reciprocal (AC2740). Marital oneness is different because it is a oneness between two very different and complimentary forms of Divine life, namely between the male and the female mind. Marital oneness is different and unique also because its first being is from the marriage of good and truth (AC10168).

Two more descriptions of this ideal marital oneness, before we descend into the reality of marital life. He or she loves what the other thinks and wills and does, and he or she loves to will as the other does, to be united to the other, and to become as one man (AC10169).

Her life is in me and mine in her. Our union is like the union between the heart and lungs of the human body, where heart means love and lungs wisdom. So that she is the love of my wisdom and I am the wisdom of her love. Her love veils my wisdom from without, and my wisdom is in her love from within (CL75:5).

Now the reality of our married life while we are living with these ideals in our mind. These ideals are far from realization within our church. Our marriages are not in a blissful peace, where the wife says what the husband thinks and the husband says what the wife feels.

There are a number of circumstances that can bring strife and disturbances. The first is the fact that we do not see clearly the difference between men and women. We either do not see any difference, or we believe in a difference, but we each have incorrect ideas, about which the partners disagree. In other words, we either see ourselves as two hearts or two lungs, or we do not quite see the connection between the heart and the lungs.

The second circumstance is the fact that we do not sufficiently focus our love on the other, and we allow this focus to be diverted or distracted. This leaves the other partner in a deep quandry as to what our focus is. An example of such a mistake is when women find it difficult to give up girl friends, and men find it difficult to give up male friends from the past. Not that we have to give up our friends, but we have to recognize that our marriage is all important and that our partner and children come first before anyone else.

The third circumstance is the fact that we do not welcome and tackle temptations and that we do not suffer ourselves to be purified. We avoid spiritual contacts, we refuse to listen to the other, and so spiritual conjunctions do not take place. Oneness only grows out of such repeated conjunctions.

The fourth circumstance is the fact that we are embroiled in heated discussions and interior struggles for supremacy. Conjugial love looks to union of wills and thus to liberty of agreement. But rivalry for supremacy or rule, removes these two objects from the marriage. It divides and separates the wills of the partners, and changes free agreement into servitude. So long as this rivalry continues, the spirit of the one meditates violence against the other (CL248).

The fifth circumstance is the fact that there is not enough time for listening and talking and not enough time for the conjunction of minds. Many wives in our society are working, either because they have to work, or because they want to work. In either case there is interference with the normal husband- wife communication.

For while it is normal for the wife to think constantly and perpetually about conjunction, when she is at work in a pressure- cooker situation, her normal feelings are interrupted, and upon her return to the home, there are too many distractions that block marital communication.

In a marriage, the husband wants to propagate his own truths, and the love of wisdom with his wife, feels that nothing is more pleasing than to receive these truths as though in a womb, and to carry them in a womb and bring them forth (CL115). But this is the case in heaven. On earth the husband is frustrated in this propagation, because there is no time for reception and conception, no time for bringing forth. In many cases the husband and wife have no time for serious communication, no time for marital conjunction.

The opposite is also true. A wife wants to receive from the husband, but that husband is not interested in giving, and so the wife is frustrated and left hanging.

And so the following teaching from Conjugial Love takes on a special meaning. Love truly conjugial is so rare at this day that it is not known what it is and that it is (CL58). In times of temptation we may wonder if we are married to our eternal partner. But the Lord urges us to realize that it is not important to know whether or not our present partner is going to be our eternal partner. What is important is that you husbands are going to be a heavenly partner for your wife, and you wives are going to be a heavenly partner for your husband. The Lord urges us to focus our love on the other, to purify it, and walk towards heaven by ourselves. Then He will take care of the rest. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Selections for lesson from the Writings.

5. That conjunction is inspired into the man by the wife according to her love, and is received by the man according to his wisdom.

6. That from the first days of marriage this conjunction is effected successively, and with those who are in love truly conjugial, more and more deeply to eternity.

7. That the conjunction of the wife with the rational wisdom of the husband is effected from within, but with his moral wisdom from without.

8. That with this conjunction as an end, the wife is given a perception of the affections of the husband and also the highest prudence in moderating them.

9. That for causes which are necessities, wives store up this perception with themselves and conceal it from their husbands, in order that conjugial love, friendship, and confidence, and thus the blessedness of cohabitation and the happiness of life, may be firmly established.

10. That this perception is the wife’s wisdom, and that it is not possible with the man; nor is the man’s rational wisdom possible with the wife.

11. That from her love, the wife is continually thinking about the inclination of the man to herself with the purpose of conjoining him to herself, not so the man.

12. That the wife conjoins herself to the man by applications to the desires of his will.

13. That the wife is conjoined to her husband by the sphere of her life going forth from her love.

14. That the wife is conjoined to the husband by the appropriation of the forces of his manhood, but that this takes place according to their mutual spiritual love.

15. That the wife thus receives into herself the image of her husband, and hence perceives, sees, and feels his affections.

16. That there are offices proper to the man and offices proper to the wife; and that the wife cannot enter into the offices proper to the man, nor the man into the offices proper to the wife, and rightly perform them.

17. That according as there is mutual aid, these offices also conjoin the two into a one, and at the same time make one home.

18. That according to the above-mentioned conjunctions, married partners become more and more one man.

19. That those who are in love truly conjugial feel themselves to be a united man and as one flesh.

20. That, regarded in itself, love truly conjugial is a union of souls, a conjunction of minds, and an effort to conjunction in breasts and thence in the body.

21. That the states of this love are innocence, peace, tranquillity, inmost friendship, full confidence, and a mutual desire of animus and heart to do the other every good; and from these, blessedness, happiness, delight, pleasure; and from the eternal fruition of these, heavenly felicity.

22. That these are by no means possible except in the marriage of one man with one wife (CL156:3).

They said that the prolific things expended by husbands are received by wives universally and add themselves to their life; that wives thus lead a life unanimous with their husbands, and successively more unanimous; and that hence the union of souls and conjunction of minds exists in effect (CL172).

The wisdom of the man which makes his soul may be appropriated to the wife, and that thus they may become one flesh (CL172).

The wife thus receives into herself the image of her husband, and hence perceives, sees, and feels his affections (CL173). Something of the husband is continually being transcribed into the wife and is inscribed upon her as her own (CL173).

Love truly conjugial is a union of souls, a conjunction of minds, and an effort to conjunction in breasts and thence in the body (CL179).

The sphere of conjugial love is received by women, and through women is transferred to men, and this because women are born loves of the understanding of men and the understanding is a recipient (CL393).

It is from this that the conjugial of one man with one wife is called the precious jewel of human life. This is confirmed by What was said above, namely, That with one wife, because there is union of minds there is also truly conjugial friendship, confidence, potency; that in and from that union are the celestial blessings, spiritual happiness, and thence natural delights which have been provided from the beginning for those Who are in love truly conjugial; that it is the fundamental love of all celestial and spiritual loves, and thence of all natural loves, and that into it are gathered all joys and gladness from their first to their last (CL457).

We are one; her life is in me, and mine in her. We are two bodies, but one soul. There is between us a union like that of the heart and the lungs; she is my love, and she is the love of my wisdom, and I am the wisdom of her love (CORO37:5).

The love between a husband and wife is tempered when the husband is perfected in wisdom and the wife loves that wisdom in her husband. This tempering is effected by and according to the uses which each of them with mutual aid perform in society. Delights then follow in accordance with the tempering of wisdom and its love (CL137:3).

Good Friday Sermon: The Lord’s Temptations

Good Friday Sermon: The Lord’s Temptations

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I preached this sermon on Friday, April 6, 2012 at the Dawson Creek Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC.

Readings: Psalm 22; Luke 23:26-56; Arcana Coelestia 1812

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Imagine. The Lord was being nailed to a cross, His flesh pierced by nails. He had done nothing wrong. He had never acted out of anything other than a desire to save people, to offer them the gift of eternal life. In return, He had been spat on and beaten and mocked. But on being crucified, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He had the power to call down fire from heaven to consume them; He could have easily come down from the cross; He could have condemned them eternally to hell. But He did not. He only said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

What was the Lord going through at that point? The account we read in Luke does not give us all the answers, but from other gospels we see signs that on the cross, the Lord was in great torment. In Matthew and Mark, it is recorded that He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” Those words echo Psalm 22, which we read this evening. It is a psalm of desolation – “My power is dried up as a potsherd; and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and You have set me on the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:15) On the cross, the Lord was experiencing intense temptation, pain, and almost complete despair, far beyond anything you or I have ever experienced. It was worse than the worst physical pain you’ve ever felt, worse than the worst emotional pain. And in that pain, the Lord said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

How could the Lord forgive even in that pain? Before we answer that, we also must ask: What was the source of that pain? The physical pain of the cross would have been excruciating – but many people have been crucified and died painful deaths. Would that be enough to compel the Lord Himself to feel abandoned by His Father, to feel separate from the Divine within Himself? It would not. There were many, many more things going on within Him. The Lord was experiencing temptation: combat against hell almost to the point of despair.

This is what was happening at the cross: the final and most painful temptation the Lord would undergo. But those temptations on the cross were not the only ones the Lord endured. From the time of His childhood, He underwent temptation by every part of hell. And the reason that He experienced those temptations His entire life was that from his childhood, in His soul He was love – and a temptation is an assault on someone’s love.

What does that mean, that a temptation is an assault on a love? Well, say a person loves the ideal of honesty. He strives for honesty in his life, and deep inside, he loves it. But that love is attacked whenever evil spirits stir up in him a desire to lie. The deeper part of him does not want that, and is under attack from that lower craving. Along with that desire to lie can come a hopelessness: “I’ll never be truly honest.” If the person did not love honesty, he wouldn’t experience temptation – he would not feel any pain over a desire to lie. A person only experiences a temptation because there is something good that they love, and evil spirits are trying to pervert and kill that love.

The Lord’s love was a love for the entire human race. It was a burning, pressing desire that everyone be freed from slavery to sin, to come into a heavenly freedom of love for one another. It was desire that everyone be given life – Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Lord in His heart had infinite love, infinite mercy. And so you can imagine how much the spirits of hell hated Him. You can imagine the force with which they would try to attack Him. This was their chance to destroy God, to destroy love itself. And so like wolves to red meat, they swarmed the Lord. For His whole life, the forces of hell attacked Him. That was the source of His temptations.

What was that temptation like? Those evil spirits were trying to destroy the Lord’s love for humanity, and they attacked Him in a thousand devious and hidden ways. Although the Lord had no actual sin, he inherited from his mother a tendency toward sin. And those evil spirits attacked Him through the inclinations toward evil that He had inherited from His mother. They poured into His lower self with their own feelings and thoughts of hatred, and made Him feel as if these were really a part of Him. They poured in thoughts of hopelessness and despair. They projected images of how easy it would have been to force everyone to believe – and in the end, at the crucifixion, to come down from the cross. Even the people present at the crucifixion were joining in the chorus of hellish voices: “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He be the Christ the chosen of God.” (Luke 23:35).

At least a part of that last temptation must have consisted in an aching desire to come down from the cross, to immediately in their presence prove that He was God. And not for His own sake, but for theirs. Because they did not know what they were doing. If He could show them – you are destroying your own souls! How much of His pain on the cross was this torment and grief for the sake of those very people who were nailing Him to that cross? And you can see here how the evil spirits work – they would take that good and pure love in the Lord and try to twist it, to try to make the Lord act from fear and despair over anyone accepting His love, to convince Him that His only hope lay in forcing people to believe – when in reality to do so would take away their freedom, destroying the very thing that made them human and capable of being joined to Him in love.

The Lord’s love was greater than anyone else’s ever – it was an infinite love. And so the temptations, the attacks on it, were more grievous by far than any temptations experienced by anyone else. The despair felt at the idea that His mission might fail – that the human race would not be redeemed – was a deeper despair than anyone else could have ever experienced or endured.

And yet the Lord endured it. The Lord chose to come into the world, to take on human flesh, knowing full well the pain that He would endure. He knew He would be put to death. And He knew that He would have to put to death parts of Himself – everything with the smallest inclination toward selfishness, every particle that tended toward evil and falsity. And it would be like dying – not just once, but every day of His life. He told His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) To live as He did, His disciples would have to take up their cross not once, but daily. Because that’s what He was doing. Every day, He was laying down His life – His own wants – for His friends.

And despite the attacks from hell, the temptations and the despair, the Lord knew He must succeed. Because as powerful as hell was and is, the Lord’s love is infinitely more powerful. And it was from this infinite love that He always fought. We read in Arcana Coelestia,

But in all His combats of temptations the Lord never fought from the love of self, or for Himself, but for all in the universe, consequently, not that He might become the greatest in heaven, for this is contrary to the Divine Love, and scarcely even that He might be the least; but only that all others might become something, and be saved. (AC 1812)

And so even on the cross, love was winning. Would He take revenge, lash out even a little? No. No words of hatred, but “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Those are words of defiance, a battle cry against the forces of hell. No! Even now, even at this, I will not hate. I will put hatred to death. Forgiveness will win. Love will win.

We read the words of the 22nd Psalm, beginning with, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Lord cried out with those words, showing that this psalm spoke of His own thoughts on the cross. But the psalm does not end with despair. And the psalm does not end only with hope for the psalmist. The second half of the psalm promises hope for the world: “They shall remember and return unto Jehovah, all the ends of the earth; and all the families of the nations shall worship before Thy face” (Psalm 22:27) And the Lord’s hope and comfort was not that He Himself would be saved, but that the world would be redeemed. That people would be free to choose His love. And that many, many people would choose that love.

And that comfort sustained Him. On the cross, it seemed as if He had lost. It seemed to His disciples as if evil had succeeded in defeating justice. It seemed that hatred and force had triumphed over love. Maybe hell thought it had won. But it was wrong. They had not destroyed love. It was not love that had been nailed to the cross. Jesus had offered up everything that was merely human, everything that had inherited a tendency toward sin – but it was not simply dying. Jesus was not destroying the physical world, or His physical body. He was destroying everything that was merely human in Himself – but He was replacing it with something else. He was making His human divine, even down to the level of his flesh and bones. He was truly and fully becoming incarnate – the Word of God made flesh. And the story of Good Friday is only a prelude to the greatest miracle of all time – the Lord rose again with His whole body, completely Divine, and completely human.

The Lord laid down His life for His friends. He laid down His life for you and me. He laid down His life so that He could take it up again, and draw all people to Himself. And in defeating hell in His flesh, and becoming Divine on every level of creation, He gained power over hell to eternity. And if the Lord underwent that for us – how can we then turn our backs on Him? If He wept and suffered from pure love, so that we could be saved, wanting nothing for Himself – how can we reject that salvation? It matters. There are times when we hold our own lives cheaply – but the Lord never does. His love is great enough that He would undergo all of those things even if it would save only one person.

He underwent those temptations that He could be present in our spirits, and fight against hell for each one of us. We have no power against hell. We are slaves to sin. But He can save us. How does He save us? By defeating hell with us, and giving us a new spirit. And we allow Him to give us that new spirit by acting in love and obedience to Him. We too must take up our cross daily and follow Him. We have to act as if from ourselves to fight against sin, so that He can replace our selfishness with love. And in doing this, we always have to look to Him, praying for His help, acknowledging that despite the appearance, it is truly He alone who is fighting for us, not we ourselves. And if we want to be conformed to His image, we must strive to fight not from a desire to be great, but from a desire to become servants. We too must fight with all our hearts to say of everyone who has hurt us: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And if we do this, if every day we take up our cross and follow Him – willingly putting to death our own sinful desires – then in Him, we can die to sin, and in Him, we will be raised to life – not the fleshly, temporary life of self-love, but the eternal life of His love – a love for the entire human race, and a love for the source of that love, our Lord Jesus Christ, the One God and Saviour of heaven and earth. Amem


MARRIAGE WITHIN THE CHURCH A Sermon by Rev Douglas M. Taylor

April 25, 1997

“Neither shalt thou make marriage with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son” (Deut. 7:3).

Moses, the Divinely appointed leader and governor of the Hebrew nation, was speaking in the name of the Lord when he relayed this Divine commandment to the assembled congregation just prior to their entry into the promised land. In the name of the Lord he was warning them of the grave danger to which they would expose themselves if they were to intermarry with the idolatrous nations round about them in the land “the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” These nations worshiped various idols, so we can readily understand the reason given for not intermarrying with them, namely, “for they will turn away thy son from following Me, that they may serve other gods; so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly” (Deut. 7:4).

There was no hope of these nations’ coming to the worship of the one God, Jehovah. They were utterly and irrevocably devoted to the worship of strange gods and idols. Therefore the Lord commanded through Moses that there was to be absolutely no inter-marriage with them. If once marriages with the idolatrous nations that would surround them on all sides when they entered into the land were allowed to begin, grave national and spiritual consequences would surely ensue, and, worst of all, would grow.

The national consequence of intermarriage was quite obvious. If it became the general rule, the nation would soon disappear. It would lose its independent identity; it would be swallowed up by the surrounding nations. In a later period in the history of the nation, this is exactly what did happen. What are now known as the ten lost tribes of Israel were apparently swallowed up by intermarriage with the surrounding nations when carried into captivity by the Assyrians. This is also what happened to those left behind in Israel at the time of the captivity in Babylon. They intermarried with neighboring peoples and produced the very confused people known as the Samaritans, who were universally despised by the pure Jews. The pure Jews were those who, in marked contrast, refused to intermarry with their Babylonian captors, who in face of considerable hardship and external pressure remained loyal to the Lord and His commandments, including the one set forth in our text. They obeyed and they survived.

And the church survived with them. The spiritual consequences followed inevitably from the national consequences. For, as the Lord said repeatedly to the Hebrews through Moses: “Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God; the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deut. 6; see also 14:2, Ex. 19:6). It would never have done for the Israelitish or Jewish nation to have disappeared before the Christian Church could be set up, because the representative of a church would have vanished, causing the vital link between heaven and earth to be sundered.

But despite the very definite prohibition of marriages between the people of the representative church and those who were in idolatrous and heathen worship, they were by no means forbidden to intermarry with the nations who accepted their worship, and who, after being initiated into it, acknowledged Jehovah. This truth is vitally important to know and understand if we are to achieve a balanced view of this matter of marriage within the church. The Jews were never forbidden to intermarry with those who, after instruction, could receive their worship. Dedicated idolaters could never do that, but strangers who sojourned or dwelt with them could. They were called “strangers” or “sojourners.” The law concerning them reads: “And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land . . . . One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you” (Exodus 12:48,49).

The acid test, you see, was whether or not they could come into their doctrine and worship wholeheartedly. If they could, marriage with them was not forbidden; if they could not, it was forbidden in the clearest and strongest terms.

It was only to be expected that the Christian Church in its early integrity observed this law. Some of the stronger denominations still remain faithful to it. Their authority for this stand lies in the passages referred to in the Old Testament, to which they have added this very forthright utterance of Paul in his second letter to the members of the church in Corinth: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” (II Corinthians 6, 7)

The same Divine law is given in the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, but it is there amplified and explained so that we may understand why it is forbidden to marry those who are devoted to other gods than the one, only God, the Lord Jesus Christ in His glorified, Divine Human.

Before considering those teachings, let us recall something we already know and believe, so that it will be in the forefront of our minds: that is, that this is in very truth a Divine law. It is the voice of the Lord that says, “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them” (text). It was not Moses who thought it up, though he spoke it; it was not the Levites, who served the use of the priesthood in that church, who decided on this law and decreed and proclaimed it from themselves, though many generations of them have since upheld it; it was not the congregation of the church as a whole that decided to impose this law upon itself like some kind of regulation. It was the Lord, in His love and wisdom, who commanded this commanded it, not merely recommended it commanded it from His eternal wish to give the human race, in general and individually, the greatest happiness possible.

So with the New Church. It is not Swedenborg who thought up the deeper explanation of this law, though he delivered it from the Lord; it is not any individual priest or bishop who thought this a useful requirement to introduce into the church organization; it is not even the united voice of the Council of the Clergy that decreed this law, although every member of the priesthood worthy of his sacred trust and use proclaims it from the Lord as clearly and as conscientiously as he can; nor is it the voice of the whole assembly of the church that says it from itself. It is the Lord alone, from His love and wisdom, who says it. He says it for the sake of establishing the New Church, meant by the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation establishing it in the individual and in the world at large. He says it for the sake of our greater and more lasting happiness.

Our obedience to this concept of marriage within the church is, therefore, obedience to the voice of the Lord; it is a willingness to be led by Him. It is innocence which is the essence of heavenly joy and heavenly peace (see HH 288).

Because the Lord has said these things, it is the duty of the priesthood to teach them. In general, it is the sacred duty, use and function of the priesthood to teach the truth and so lead to the good of life (see NJHD 314, 315). This means all the truth that the Lord has revealed; there can be no willful withholding of the Lord’s Word, no hiding His Divine Light under a bushel. The Word must be preached with a view to goodness of life.

Still, priests must not compel anyone (see NJHD 318). There must be a free and rational acceptance of what the Lord says should be done. In the Word, the priest is compared to a watchman, as in these verses in Ezekiel: “So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from Me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it, and if he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity, but thou hast delivered thy soul” (Ezekiel 33:7-9).

Those who are priests, then, have a sacred duty to teach the Word with all its warnings; those who are laymen of the church likewise have a sacred duty to hearken to the Word of the Lord. In this spirit of willingness to be led by the Lord, let us look into the further explanation that the Lord has provided for the New Church.

In the explanation of the internal sense of our text we find this teaching: “That the Israelites were not to contract marriages with the daughters of the Canaanites also had regard to the spiritual laws that good and falsity, and evil and truth, are not to be joined together, for from that comes profanation” (AC 3024:7).

Whatever refers in the sense of the letter to marriage and conjugial love refers in the internal sense to spiritual conjunction, that is, to the heavenly marriage of truth and good, and good and truth. The reason is that conjugial love derives its origin from this marriage of truth and good, and good and truth (see AC 4434). So it is further explained: “If good were conjoined with any other truth than its own it would not subsist at all, but would be rent asunder and so would perish. In the spiritual church the wife represents good and the man represents truth . . . and . . . they not only represent, but also in all their activities correspond to them” (ibid., section 9). In other words: the state of the marriage depends on the good that is with the wife, and the truth (the moral wisdom, the truth in act) with the husband. But if they are discordant if the good and truth do not agree there will be an interior coldness in the marriage.

In the work Conjugial Love, which satisfies the human longing for a spiritual kind of marriage love by setting forth the truths, the Divine doctrine concerning love truly conjugial, there is a whole chapter on the causes of coldness and consequent separations in marriage. We learn that there are external causes and internal causes of this coldness. The external causes, which need not concern us here, are various natural differences (such as differences of education and upbringing, etc.). But the internal causes are all from religion. This is because conjugial love is according to the state of the church (see CL 130). Four different causes of an interior coldness between married partners are enumerated (see CL 238-244).

These are: (1) the rejection of religion by both partners; (2) that one has religion and not the other; (3) that one is of one religion and the other of another; (4) that there is falsity of religion.

The first and the last of these causes do not seem to apply as directly as the second and third; that is, an absence of religion in one of the partners, and a difference of religion between them. Let us see, then, what is said about these two.

As to an absence of religion in one of the partners, this causes an interior coldness because their souls do not agree. In the case of the one who has no religion, it is closed against the reception of conjugial love, while in the case of the other the soul is open. “Hence in the soul there can be no cohabitation,” we read (CL 241). “This coldness is not dissipated except by the reception of a religion that agrees with that of the other, if this be true” (ibid.).

In the case where one is of one religion and the other of another, the interior coldness arises from the fact that “with them, good cannot be conjoined with its correspondent truth. For a wife is the good of the husband’s truth and he is the truth of the wife’s good . . . . Hence from the two souls there cannot come to be one soul; consequently the fountain of that love is closed” (CL 242). The same passage goes on to give an experience of Swedenborg that shows, perhaps more clearly than any passage from the Heavenly Doctrine so far brought forward, why the Lord in His mercy has forbidden marriage outside the church: “I [Swedenborg] was once wandering through the streets of a great city seeking a place of lodging; and I entered a house where dwelt married partners who were of different religions. While I was ignorant of the fact, the angels spoke to me and said, We cannot stay with you in this house, because the married partners are in discordant religion.’ They perceived this from the internal disunion of their souls” (ibid.).

From all this we can appreciate that the statement in our lesson from the Arcana Coelestia is no exaggeration: “Marriages on earth between those who are of different religions are accounted in heaven as heinous, and still more so marriages between those who are of the church and those who are outside the church” (AC 8998).

The Lord’s wise and loving reasons for making this prohibition ought now to be manifest. He wants to give us the greatest happiness not just a partial, incomplete happiness. He wants each individual to enjoy a marriage of love truly conjugial. He wants to give us complete happiness. In love truly conjugial there is the greatest happiness. It is the good from which all other goods are derived.

This applies to the individual marriage within the church. But it also has a most profound bearing on the future growth of the church (the Lord’s kingdom) on earth. The church as an organization exists for the sake of extending the Lord’s kingdom, extending both widely and deeply the realm where the Lord is King, encouraging the reception of the good and truth that make His kingdom. In the light of that, let us consider this most heartening and inspiring teaching, again from the work Conjugial Love: “The offspring born of two who are in love truly conjugial derive from their parents the conjugial of good and truth, from which they have an inclination and a faculty, if a son for perceiving the things that are of wisdom, and if a daughter for loving what wisdom teaches” (CL 202). What a wonderful prospect this opens up for the real growth of the Lord’s kingdom, for a deepening reception of those qualities that make heaven and the church! What a hope this raises for the deeper reception of the Heavenly Doctrine in heart and life as well as mind! Can we not see here the great use performed by marriage within the church, in that it increases the possibility of marriages of love truly conjugial, with the consequent improvement in the hereditary inclinations of the offspring of those marriages? Can we not see here the surest way to rectify the perverse and twisted inclinations that have been handed down through the ages in a great accumulation of tendencies to evil? Can we not see what a boon the Heavenly Doctrine is to the whole human race if only it is accepted and practiced, beginning with ourselves?

Obviously marriages outside the church to those who are completely devoted to some other god or some other end that they love above all else destroys or at least delays the fulfilment of that beautiful hope. Such marriages may indeed enjoy conjunctions of the lower mind, but they do not conjoin souls. Consequently, those in them, we read, “know nothing of the loveliness and joyousness, still less of the felicity and blessedness, of love truly conjugial” (CL 244).

Besides this, they create practical problems for the individual marriage and for the church organization. In the individual marriage, at the best there is perforce a lack of sharing in the inmost things, the most precious of all and this can only make the heart ache. At the worst, there are disagreements, resentments, and even a striving for dominion. Moreover, the risk is increased that the children will be lost to the church and the Lord’s kingdom.

What, then, shall we do about this Divine teaching?

One thing is certain: We cannot ignore it, or neglect it, or try to get around it. We cannot do these things without grave spiritual danger and harm to the church in ourselves and in the world.

In the first place, we must continue to instruct the people of the church, especially our young people, in what is involved in marriage in the New Church. We must continue to hold out the ideal presented by the Lord in the Writings as something that is not just desirable but actually attainable in the Lord’s strength. We must make it possible to see how neglect of this commandment is not a little matter.

Second, we must encourage those of marriageable age to seek their partners within the church; or, if this is not possible, encourage them to choose only those who are “sojourners,” not idolaters, that is, those who can be instructed and can come to accept the New Church doctrine and worship and so acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ. In their efforts to interest their future partner in the doctrine, let them remember that the New Church partner has far more strength than he or she realizes for the Lord is in the true things of faith.

Third, let us strive to find those in the community who are “sojourners” those who are willing to be instructed, so that we may enlarge the choice available to our young people.

Fourth, let us continue our efforts to have as many of our young people as possible attend the Academy of the New Church through college age, where in addition to becoming educated under the auspices of the church, they will also find themselves in the company of many who are the offspring of parents who have been striving after love truly conjugial, young people who are most likely to have inherited an inclination to perceive and love the things of wisdom.

Fifth, we must help and encourage those who married before they knew about what the Lord wishes in the matter, and who have found that their partner does not share their religion. We must encourage them to interest their partner in the Heavenly Doctrine, so that their souls also may be conjoined. The more clearly we visualize the ideal that the Lord places before us for our greatest happiness, the more willing will we be to try, and the more persistent will our efforts become.

In summary, then: the Lord teaches that marriage within the church is not only the ideal that we must all strive to make real, but it is also the greatest blessing and the surest way of having the Lord’s kingdom come on earth. Consequently, marriage to one who is quite unwilling to be instructed, one who is devoted absolutely to some other god, necessarily an imaginary god, is forbidden by the Lord for the sake or our happiness, both temporal and eternal. But marriage with one who is willing to receive the teaching and worship of the church is not forbidden. Amen.

Lessons: Deuteronomy 7:1-6, Revelation 22:12-17, AC 8998

Arcana Coelestia

8998. In regard to this, the case is that those who have been born within the church, and from infancy have been imbued with the principles of the truth of the church, ought not to contract marriages with those who are outside of the church, and have thus been imbued with such things as are not of the church. The reason is that there is no conjunction between them in the spiritual world, for everyone in that world is in consociation according to his good and the truth thence derived: and as there is no conjunction between such in the spiritual world, neither ought there to be any conjunction on earth. For regarded in themselves marriages are conjunctions of dispositions and of minds, the spiritual life of which is from the truths and goods of faith and charity. On this account, moreover, marriages on earth between those who are of a different religion are accounted in heaven as heinous, and still more so marriages between those who are outside of the church. This also was the reason why the Jewish and Israelitish nation was forbidden to commit whoredom with them.

This appears still more evidently from the origin of conjugial love, which is from the marriage of good and truth. When conjugial love descends from this source, it is heaven itself in man. This is destroyed when two consorts are of unlike heart from unlike faith.



A Sermon by Rev Douglas Taylor Preached in Bryn Athyn June 23, 1996

“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).

This statement and other similar ones have sometimes been taken to mean that the Lord can do anything at all that people can imagine, and that He does everything without means; as for example, that He created the universe out of nothing. But this is tantamount to a miraculous faith.

The Lord can indeed do everything that He wishes to do (see Psalm 135:6). Whatever the Lord from His Divine love intends to do, He can do, because He also has at His command infinite wisdom by which to accomplish the end in view. In this sense it is true that “with God all things are possible.”

But it is certainly not true that He has absolute power to do anything at all evil as well as good, like a capricious earthly tyrant. For the Lord is good and His mercy is forever. He is goodness itself. So we are explicitly taught that His almighty power operates “within the sphere of the extension of good” (TCR 56). It is therefore impossible for the Lord to depart from that good sphere and do anything evil. To do that would be to go outside of Himself. It is impossible for Him to do anything contrary to His own Divine order, simply because He does not wish to do it. It is contrary to His very essence.

Since the Lord is order itself, and does not wish to depart from that order, we find in the Heavenly Doctrine a number of references to things that are impossible for the Lord to do, things contrary to order. On the other hand, the teaching is that “everything is possible that is in conformity with order” (AC 8700), because the Lord, the Mighty One, is in it. What He wishes can be done. “With God all things are possible” (text).

But what does the Lord wish above all else?

He wishes that there might be a heaven made up of human beings drawn from the human race. He wishes that every one of His creatures should receive as much abiding happiness or blessedness as he or she is willing to receive. The everlasting happiness of the human race collectively and individually is what the Lord wishes and strives for above all else as His goal of goals.

So it can be said that everything that leads to that supreme end (which is another way of saying “everything that is in conformity with order”) is possible because the Lord wishes it and has the wisdom to accomplish it.

This, then, is a universal principle; but let us see first what it applies to in our text. Every text has a context. What is the context of the Lord’s statement that “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”?

This nineteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel begins with a discourse on the subject of marriage. In the internal, spiritual meaning the marriage meant is the heavenly marriage, the marriage of love and wisdom in a human mind, the marriage of the will and the understanding the essential marriage.

Then follows the incident of the little children being blessed by the Lord, who says that of such innocent ones is the kingdom of heaven. They represent innocence a free and spontaneous willingness to do what the Lord wishes. That is what innocence is, the very essence of every state of heavenly happiness.

The willingness of the angelic inhabitants of heaven to follow the Lord wherever He leads, their desire to carry out His wishes at all times out of regard for Him, is beautiful to contemplate. But we are not born with that celestial and spiritual willingness to be led by the Lord that the higher angels have attained. We have to be re-born into it.

We begin our reformation with something very different. We begin with a sense of duty with regard to the Lord’s commandments, with the conviction that these commandments are Divine and for that reason must be obeyed. We have to begin by compelling ourselves against the inclinations of our human nature. We follow the Lord, yes; we strive to do His will as it is done in heaven. But we do this without any great delight, but rather with a heavy heart, with a sense of obedience to command. It is a matter of using deliberate will-power as if of ourselves, choosing many times between the Lord’s will and our own. And it is a matter of enduring to the end.

So we learn to do no murder (in any of its forms), to shun contemplating and committing adultery, and to flee away from stealing and fraud and from lying and deceit. We force ourselves to turn our backs on such evils of life because they are sins against the Lord, even though our baser self continually lusts after them and calls them delightful. We also learn laboriously to honor our father and mother, and even to some extent to love our neighbor as ourselves. These things we learn to do by self-compulsion, because we have heard the Lord say: “If you want to enter into [eternal] life, keep the commandments” (verse 17).

Then the Lord in His Divine providence, with His ever watchful eye upon our everlasting happiness, lets us experience a rather rude spiritual shock. We had thought that we were already in the Lord’s kingdom. We smugly say, when contemplating the Ten Commandments,”All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” (verse 20)

In response the Lord makes us realize that keeping the commandments means more than avoiding certain evil actions and doing good acts. Our motive for doing the Lord’s will is of paramount importance; in fact, it is our motivating love that imparts the quality to the act. To the extent that self and self-centeredness enter in, the act is not good. It may well have a good effect on others, but in itself it is not a good act, because it does not go forth from a good motive. As the Lord said on another occasion: “Do men gather grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a rotten tree bears rotten fruit” (Matt. 7:16).

In order for our good actions and words to be genuinely good, even if done in obedience to the commandments, we have to receive the motivating love from the Lord. And in order to do that, we have to give up what is our own.

“Sell what you have and give to the poor” (verse 21). We have to give up all ideas of our own righteousness, all sense of merit of having earned heaven, and of having any rights in the matter any thought that we have the will-power to follow the Lord of and from ourselves, that we are the source of our own goodness and truth. We have to give up all such fantasies, and in poverty of spirit humbly admit the reality: that we have nothing that is good or true from ourselves, but that any such blessings that we may have we have received from the Lord, and from Him alone. “Without Me,” He said, “you can do nothing” (John 15:5, emphasis added). The more thoroughly we are convinced that “no one is good but One, that is, God” (verse 17), the more will our poverty of spirit be enriched, and the more heavenly delights will we be able to receive. Then we will understand what it is to come to the Lord and follow Him.

But this may seem to us a hard saying, one that we cannot bear to hear. For this state (when we experience a spiritual shock) is very much “a young man” an immature, early stage in the reformation and regeneration of our mind; and while we are in it, we may well be tempted to go away “sorrowful,” thinking longingly of the “many possessions” (the proprial delights) that we now realize we must give up. These are not so much our selfish pleasures and covetousness. They include those things; but the “many possessions” are specifically the feelings of ownership that we enjoy with regard to the Lord’s kingdom. We have to admit that we are not the proprietors of the blessings of heaven. Such good things do not in the least come from what is our own. They are the Lord’s, and only the Lord’s.

If we will but acknowledge that the kingdom is the Lord’s and not ours, that the power is the Lord’s and not ours, and that consequently, the glory belongs in fact to the Lord and not to us, then we can really be as little children in the presence of our Heavenly Father, and enter worthily and delightedly into His kingdom, for of such states of innocence is the kingdom of heaven.

But if we are loath to sell what we have and give to the nourishment of that poverty of spirit that is the first of the blessings of heaven, then we will surely depart from the Lord and be full of sorrow. For it will mean that we are trusting in ourselves alone; it will mean that we are worshipping ourselves, because whatever we look upon as the source of goodness and truth and power is for us our God, whatever it is.

If we are puffed up with the pride of our own understanding and intelligence, and the pride of possession; if we glory in what we know in comparison with others; if we gloat over ourselves, enlarging what is our own with the sanctimonious thought that we are not as bad as some others whom we could name and probably do name if that seems safe in the eyes of the world if, in short, we feel, consciously or subconsciously, that we own the kingdom, then we are the rich man who finds it so hard to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is just as difficult for mere knowledge without the humble acknowledgment of the Lord to usher us into genuine spiritual truth as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, a camel corresponding to things known, and a needle to spiritual truth, or truth springing from the goodness of charity.

The amazement of the disciples on hearing what seemed to them a condemnation of natural riches is our amazement and bewilderment on realizing what we must give up in order to receive the innocence and bliss of heaven. It suddenly seems impossible. “What shall we eat [spiritually]? What shall we drink [spiritually]? What shall we wear [spiritually]?” Surely this is asking too much! It will kill us to have to give up our pride of intelligence and possession, our sense of merit. It will take away all our delights, our very life! How can we be asked to sell what we have in this sense and give to the poor? Besides, if this is the way, how can anyone do it, because it is surely against all human nature to do so? Who among us is not to some extent like the rich young man?

But the Lord’s answer to our state of bewilderment is simply this: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (text).

We cannot save ourselves from our own self-love! “How can Satan cast out Satan?” (Mark 3:23). It is utterly impossible.

It is quite impossible for us to become angelic except from the Lord, the only source of power. This is not the same as saying we need God’s help, because that usually means that we can do most of it but we will need some help from the Lord. How often we hear civil leaders proclaim, “With God’s help we shall prevail,” as if all that was needed was a little help from God in the difficult places! And how often God is forgotten after the victory!

No! The truth the reality is that from ourselves we cannot even believe that God exists. We would have no knowledge of Him unless He had revealed it by means of His Word. No one is born with an instinctive knowledge of theology. True, there is “a universal influx from God into the souls of men of the truth that there is a God, and that He is one” (TCR 8). But this influx has to be caught, so to speak, in those receiving vessels that we call knowledges (things known) about Him. These things known can come only from the pages of Divine revelation.

The influx from God (just mentioned) is what sheds light the light of truth upon the things known, which also have been Divinely provided. This light is what enables us to believe in the existence of God, not anything of our own. “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” for, as we are also taught, “it is the Divine that bears witness concerning the Divine” (AE 635:2).

If we cannot believe in the Lord from ourselves, still less can we love Him from ourselves alone. To love the Lord is to put Him first all the time, in every situation and in any company, and act as He would have us act not for our own sake, but for His sake. That is to love the Lord. But this is impossible for human beings themselves. We need to receive the love that goes forth from Him the eternally outgoing love and return it to Him. From ourselves we love only ourselves, putting ourselves first every time.

From ourselves we cannot even love the neighbor. To love the neighbor from charity or goodwill is to wish well to the neighbor, whether an individual, a community, our country, the church, or the Lord’s kingdom. To wish well to those who are the neighbor is to put their good first, or, at the very least, on the same level as our own. It is to wish lasting happiness to them; to serve them with a view to their welfare, not our own; to serve them rather than have them serve us; to be aware of the needs of others, to be considerate and thoughtful of others and remember them; to be neighbor-centered instead of self-centered; to be outgoing, to love and serve even those who are not connected to us by relationship or friendship; to be more concerned with giving rather than getting; to love to give without hoping for and expecting any tangible reward here or hereafter any other reward, that is, than the delight of use, which is inherent in the doing.

That is charity toward the neighbor. But “with men this is impossible.” Let us acknowledge that. It cannot be done. We cannot from ourselves do those things that are involved in loving the neighbor because, if left to ourselves, we are outside the proper order of life for human beings.

But let us never forget the remaining part of the text: “With God all things are possible.” The Lord can bear witness to Himself and His presence. The Lord can lift up our gaze above the seductive fallacies of our five senses and make Himself visible to the eyes of our understanding; the Lord can give us the will to obey Him unselfishly; the Lord can give us the will and determination to shun selfishness as a ruling love because it is a sin against Him (an obstacle to His presence); the Lord can fight for us in our temptations and He can win the battle for us; the Lord can give us that outgoing love that gives to others, the genuine charity that hungers not for rewards and thanks; the Lord can give us that poverty of spirit that ascribes the victory to Him alone.

Here then is the purpose of life. It is nothing else than to be conjoined with the Lord, with whom all things of order are possible, and with whom is the power to save from hell, here and hereafter. If we are conjoined with the Lord, our keeping the commandments will save us. To be conjoined with the Lord is to shun our evils because they are sins against Him and separate us from Him; it is to be in contact with Him, to receive from Him.

That is why the remainder of this chapter speaks about giving up the foes of our own household in order to receive from the Lord. “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven” (John 3:27). “Without Me” (or “Severed from Me”), says the Lord, “you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

When we really see that this is indeed so, then we can respond, from the heart, “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever.” Amen.

Lessons: Jeremiah 32:16-22; Matt. 19:13-26; Life 31

Doctrine of Life

31. That no man can from himself do what is really good is the truth. But so to use this truth as to do away with all the good of charity that is done by a man who shuns evils as sins is a great wickedness, for it is diametrically contrary to the Word, which commands that a man shall do. It is contrary to the commandments of love to God and love toward the neighbor on which the Law and the Prophets hang, and it is to flout and undermine everything of religion. For everyone knows that religion is to do what is good, and that everyone will be judged according to his deeds. Every man is so constituted as to be able (by the Lord’s power if he begs for it) to shun evils as of himself; and that which he afterwards does is good from the Lord.