The Tree of Life

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

“On either side of the river is a Tree of Life bearing twelve fruits, each month yielding its own fruit.” (Rev. 22:2)

In the Word, the Tree of Life is mentioned in two places the story of the Garden Eden in Genesis, and in the description of the descent of the Holy City New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation.

As we read in our lessons, the Tree of Life stood in the center of the garden of Eden representing our perception or inmost feeling that life is from the Lord. This perception that all life is from the Lord and not, as it sometimes appears, from ourselves, is the most important of all the perceptions that the Lord gives to us to help guide our lives. For this reason the Tree of Life is described as being in the midst of the garden. Man and his wife were permitted to eat of the Tree of Life, and every other tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The Tree of Life represents the perception that life is from the Lord, but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents the perception that life is from oneself. Therefore, to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents our desire to feel and believe that life is our own, and not at all from the Lord.

The desire to feel life as one s own was the cause of the fall of mankind, and since the fall it is the heritage of all of us to be born full of the desires to do all manner of selfish and thoughtless things, and convinced of the falsity that life is our own. When people remain in this conviction and manner of life, they move the Tree of Life to the outskirts of the garden, and put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden in its place, which is to destroy the Lord s created order. In a sense, it could be said that the whole of the Word between the second chapter of Genesis and the final chapter of Revelation describes the Lord s attempt to lead fallen man back into the order of the garden of Eden, that is, to move the Tree of Life back to the center of the Garden.

In the book of Revelation, the Tree of Life stands as a central representative in the establishment of the New Church. Our text is from the final chapter, and describes what the Holy city New Jerusalem would be like after its descent from heaven like a bride adorned for her husband, after the establishment of the New Church in the world. The Word uses the imagery of the Tree of Life to help us understand our own creation into this world as living beings in the Creation story, and concludes by using the imagery of the Tree of Life to help us understand the purpose of the Lord s New Church, that all people should eat of the Tree of Life, that is, should be conjoined with the Lord in heaven.

Scripture often uses a tree to represent a man, or the quality of a man. For example, in the ninth chapter of Judges, Jotham s parable uses the olive tree, the fig tree, the grape vine, and the bramble to tell us of Abimelech s evils, and what kind of king he will be. (JDG. 97 ff.) The first Psalm compares a righteous man to a tree planted by rivers of water, and that brings forth good fruit in its season. (PSA. 13) In Matthew and Luke the Lord taught His disciples that as a good tree must produce good fruit, and a corrupt tree must produce useless fruit, so in this way you may judge men by their fruits. (Mat. 717, Luke 643)

The Tree of Life represents that most important perception that all life is a gift from the Lord. We are taught in the Heavenly Doctrines that this is not something that every man immediately perceives. We are taught that the celestial man, or an angel of the highest heaven, “acknowledges, because he perceives that all things, both in general and in particular are the Lord s.” (AC 122)

The spiritual man, or angel of the middle heaven, is not so perceptive. The feeling of life from the Lord is somewhat removed from the activity of his own life. He does, however, read the Word, and believe what he learns there, so he too can acknowledge that life is from the Lord, although he does so only “with the mouth, because he has learned it from the Word.” (Ibid.)

The worldly, corporeal man, or angel of the lowest heaven, while he may live in obedience to the precepts of the Word, does not much care for such things. He “neither acknowledges nor admits” that life is from the Lord, and “whatever he has he calls his own, and imagines that were he to lose it, he would altogether perish.” (AC 123, Cf. AC 141)

A tree is truly a beautiful representative of our relationship to the Divine Creator. Our natural world is full of trees in seemingly infinite variety. Trees, and their products, have sheltered, protected, healed, and nourished people from the beginning of time. At the same time trees have caused people to wonder at their beauty as they change from day to day, season to season, year to year. The gardens of heaven are filled with beautiful trees, put there by the Lord as the angels minds turn towards the perceptions about the life they receive from the Lord.

In the Worship and Love of God, a little work of devotional literature written soon after his call, Swedenborg wondered if perhaps the first men were literally born from a “Tree of Life”, a tree caused by the Lord to produce special fruits which could be miraculously infilled with human life. We may smile at this poetic idea at first, but upon reflection, there is much that commends such a creation. The vegetable kingdom is the kingdom of uses, and what higher use could there be than to provide the first forms to receive human life? Is it any greater miracle for eternal human life to be implanted in a form created by the vegetable kingdom than for it to be implanted in a form produced by the animal kingdom?

Everything about a tree represents some aspect of our life the branches serve to carry the food produced in the leaves to be stored for use in the trunk, and in this function they represent how truths are introduced into the mind through our senses; when we think of a tree s leaves blowing and playing in the wind, we are reminded of the way that various ideas flow into our mind, turning this way and that as we decide what to do with them, and so represent rational truths, knowledges that we reason about, comparing one to another, and turning them over in our minds. And when all the trees systems work together they produce fruit. The fruits of the tree represent the things that we do in the world.

Even the changes that trees go through during the seasons of the year represent the changes of each of our states as we pass through life. Imagine a stark winter scene the black silhouette of a single, leafless tree in a field of wind-driven, drifting snow. Is this not a very powerful symbol of a our relationship to the Lord while in the depths of temptation? From the tree s point of view, the warmth and light from the life-giving sun are simply not present. Whatever life and warmth there had been before seems to be forever lost. This illustrates how a we feel in the depths of spiritual combat. In the same way that we draw comfort and hope from our remains, that is, from the affections of good and truth secretly stored up deep in our minds by the Lord while we are fighting our spiritual battles, so a seemingly lifeless tree draws life from the sap stored deep in its roots. As soon as the state is ready, as surely as a tree begins to produce new flowers, leaves, branches and fruit, when we ask for the Lord s help as we fight the combats of temptation, we will begin to feel that there may be hope; that the state of temptation may end; that there is, after all, reason to live.

Just as we know that the leafless tree in winter is not dead, even though it appears to be dead, so also we can be certain that the Lord never leaves us in our times of trial and doubt. As the tree s sap draws inward for the winter, so our perception of the Lord s life and presence is drawn deep into our minds where it is protected during the winter storms of our temptations. It resides there in safety, until, at the Lord s bidding, it begins to have its effect in more outward ways. We look across the valley, and see the branches tipped with a hint of red. We become aware that spring is returning, and begin to notice that green flowering things are appearing all over the land. So too the person who has fought side by side with the Lord in temptation begins to feel the warmth and light of the Lord s life within him; and the more he acknowledges that this feeling of life is from the Lord, the more the Lord give to him the feeling that it is his own, to do with as he likes.

We are taught that the general sphere of heaven is that of perpetual springtime; and what better represents the state of joy that comes to men and angels when they have brought themselves into a state of order and have vanquished some evil in their lives? Their minds are clear, their muscles strong, and they are ready to do the Lord s work in any way that might present itself. Imagine an apple or peach orchard in full bloom, making a fragrant promise of the delicious fruit to come; and compare that to image of the leafless tree in the wind-swept field. Does this not powerfully represent the difference between what we are in and of ourselves, and what we can be when we accept the Lord s leading?

Our text tells us that the Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem was bearing “twelve fruits, each month yielding its own fruit.” (text) The Heavenly Doctrines teach that this means that the “Lord produces goods with the man in accordance with every state of truth with him.” (AR 935) It is obvious that people change as they go through their lives. They acquire new knowledges, new experiences, new wisdom. If they are seeking to follow the Lord, they will be continually trying to apply these new truths to their lives. The important point brought out here is that although we know that all good is from the Lord, for He alone is the Tree of Life, the source of all things, yet He does good in us according to own state of truth, or faith. If we know that the Lord alone lives and acts, and also know that He freely gives us the feeling of life as our own, and the freedom to choose our own path, then we act as if from ourselves in accordance with heavenly order.

In the same way that the seasons pass through their yearly cycle in the world, so men pass through their own seasons of doubt, temptation, rejoicing, and usefulness. We are given the memory of spring and summer to sustain us through the fall and winter of our lives. Each time we pass through such a cycle, we are changed for better and can produce new and better uses. These uses or fruits are the twelve fruits of the Tree of Life. By the image of each month yielding its own fruit we are to understand our progression through life to eternity, continually learning, revising, perfecting, and doing, all at the Lord s bidding, with the Lord s help.

The inmost of the doctrine and life of the Church is the Divine Love of the Lord, represented by the Tree of Life. This Divine Love is the source of all the good that a person does apparently as from himself. (See AR 931, ref. to 222) When anyone approaches the Lord directly, that is, approaches the Lord in His Divine Human as revealed in the Word, and out of love for Him flees from evils as sins, then, because he has the two essentials of the New Church, he will be conjoined with the Lord; he will eat of the Tree of Life.

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have power in the Tree of Life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” (Rev. 2214) AMEN.

1st Lesson GEN. 24-9

This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, {5} before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; {6} but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground. {7} And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. {8} The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. {9} And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Amen.

2nd Lesson Rev 221-5

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. {2} In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. {3} And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. {4} They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. {5} There shall be no night there They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever. {12} “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. {13} “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” {14} Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have power in the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. Amen.

3rd Lesson AR 933

From these things collected into one sense, it follows that by “in the midst of the street and of the river, on this side and on that, was the tree of life bearing twelve fruits,” is signified that in the inmosts of the truths of doctrine and of life in the New Church is the Lord in His Divine love, from Whom all the goods which a man does apparently as of himself flow forth.

[2] This takes place with those who go to the Lord immediately, and shun evils because they are sins; thus who will be in the Lord s New Church, which is the New Jerusalem. For they who do not go immediately to the Lord cannot be conjoined to Him, and thus neither to the Father, and hence cannot be in the love which is from the Divine; for the looking to Him conjoins, not a mere intellectual looking, but an intellectual looking from the affection of the will; and affection of the will is not given, unless man keeps His commandments; wherefore the Lord says

He that does My commandments, he it is that loves me; and I will come unto him, and make an abode with him (John 1421-24).

Opening Prayer

O Lord Jesus Christ, You are our Father, You are our God. You are the rock of our salvation. All life and love are from You, and whoever seeks to live his life according to belief in You shall live to eternity. Your kingdom is over all, and Your mercy endures forever. Amen.

Closing Prayer

O Lord, our heavenly Father Jesus Christ, everywhere we look today we will see the trees which You have created and given to us as symbols of Your eternal presence with us. Some are dormant, some are flowering, and some are forming seeds and fruits to prepare for another generation. O Lord, let these beautiful, useful trees remind us of Your presence with us during the different states of our lives, and wonderful variety of life You have created and given to us to hold and feel as our own. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem  .

Page constructed by James P. Cooper

Page last modified September 27, 2009  



A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

When the children of Israel finally reached the Jordan River, the Lord selected Joshua to lead them into their new home in the promised land. We remember how when the Lord first commanded them to enter the land of Canaan and conquer it with His help, they were too afraid, they were unable to trust the Lord’s guidance; and we remember how as a result of their fears and lack of confidence in the Lord they had to wander for forty years, until every single person who had been in slavery in Egypt had died and a new generation, born and bred in the difficult conditions of life in the wilderness, had taken their place.

Joshua and Caleb were the only two of the Egyptian Hebrews to enter Canaan because they alone were constant in their trust in the Lord and courageous in their willingness to do His bidding. They knew the risks they faced. But they had also seen the 10 Plagues in Egypt, and had seen Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea. They had genuine courage based on trust in the Lord’s power.

Now it was time for Joshua to lead his own army, forged in the desert heat by his own hand, guided by the Lord, into the Land of Canaan. Joshua called the people together and spoke to them of the task ahead of them, and reminded them, as Moses had before him, that if they would only have courage, if they would only trust in the Lord’s help, that they would soon have their promised rest. “Be strong and of good courage,” Joshua told them, “for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (text)

It is remarkable to note that although the Word is full of stories of courageous men, that the Heavenly Doctrines have very little to say on the subject of courage. Perhaps this is because the doctrines have so much to say about the human emotion that is conquered by courage, that is, fear. Therefore we must learn about courage by considering the nature of fear.

There are people in the world who claim to be, or seem to be, fearless. These men are not brave or courageous if they actually are without fear, for courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the ability to function in the presence of fear. Everyone has fears of many kinds, so much so that the Heavenly Doctrines speak of fear as the “common bond” among men (see AC 7280) meaning that fear of one sort or another is the one thing that every human being has in common with every other human being — including those living in the spiritual world!

To understand how it is possible for angels to have fears, it is necessary to understand that there are two kinds of fear; internal and external. In the heavens, there is only internal fear, in hell, only external. With men in the world there is a mixture of internal and external fears according to and depending upon each individual’s spiritual development. External fear is the fear experienced by those in hell. It is the fear that external things might be lost or destroyed. The examples given in the Heavenly Doctrines are:

the fear of the loss of one’s reputation among men;

the fear of the loss of one’s honors;

the fear of the loss of wealth;

the fear of punishment;

and the fear of death. (See Ibid.)

On the other hand is internal fear, or, as it is sometimes called in the Word, “holy fear”. This is a fear or anxiety for the sake of something good, that is, a fear that something or someone might be harmed by one’s action, or by one’s failure to act. When a parent holds a newborn baby for the first time, there is a fear that they might hurt the child because it is so small and tender. Parents’ fears for their children continue through childhood as they struggle to find the appropriate balance between learning through experience and perfect safety.

Angels do not experience much anxiety or fear on a daily basis. The fears that they have would most likely take the form of careful thought about what would be a kind and helpful thing to do for their partner, a companion, or their heavenly society. The angels would be most careful and thoughtful to see that the things they do for one another are really appropriate and delightful. The fear of the angels would not seem to be bothersome to them, but rather, it should be seen as a loving concern for the welfare of others, that others might not be harmed or offended in any way by their actions.

In the natural world, as we are caught between the influences of the spiritual worlds and our own varying states, our fears are not clearly defined as being only external or internal. The quality and kind of fear we experience is related to the state of our ruling love, and to external circumstances that are beyond our control.

We cannot simply say that the fear of the loss of wealth, for example, is an external or hellish fear. We may fear the loss of wealth because we love money, or we may fear its loss because without it we cannot properly care for and nurture those under our protection. In the case of children and young people, the fear of punishment is an external fear, but for them it is a step on the road toward having a genuine conscience, and is therefore an acceptable means to instruct them in the way of life according to spiritual principles. Again, we may think we are experiencing an internal fear when we are anxious about the welfare of another, but we may only be anxious because we fear that they will blame us for their misfortune. The examples could go on and on, but the essential point remains that all humans have a common bond in that we all fear something, and courage is how we deal with that fear.

Let us reflect for a moment on our fears, and how we deal with them. Think about something that causes anxious moments, such as walking down a dark street, working late in an empty building, being in a high place, taking a trip in an airplane, or whatever. Everyone, when faced with doing something they fear, will instinctively wish that there was someone else around to be with them, to keep them company. A dark hallway never seems so frightening when you walk down it engaged in a cheerful conversation with a friend. It doesn’t even matter if your companion couldn’t possibly protect you. You still feel better. The dark is always darker, the monster always lurking when we think we are alone.

The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC were bad enough in themselves, but far worse is the byproduct of fear. Suddenly we are forced by the actions of evil men to look for the possibility of mortal danger in such everyday things as a rental truck, a trip by commercial airliner, a simple envelope that arrives in the mail. The Sniper crisis made it feel dangerous just to go outdoors. Safety, and the apparent lack thereof, has become a central feature of our lives, even to the point that we are beginning to speak and act as if the only function of government is to keep us all safe, not only from foreign enemies, but even from our own foolish choices. We are beginning to act and speak as if safety itself is a reasonable goal of life on earth. When was the last time a kid yelled through the screen door, “Me and the guys are goin’ for a bike ride” and all Mom said in reply was “Be home before dark”? Today, just the thought of a bunch of kids going off exploring on their bikes, without helmets and possibly accompanied by one or more dogs – causes us to be fearful.

The Lord teaches in Divine Providence 139 that no one is reformed in a state of fear, because fear closes the interiors of the mind, thus taking away rationality and freedom of thought in spiritual things. Love opens the interiors of the mind, but fear closes them, leaving only a few thoughts – those that present themselves to his animus or to the level of the senses.

Fear, then, must be conquered in order for the rational mind to be able to function, and the rational must be opened in order for the adult mind to prepare itself for heaven. As said before, courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome our fears, to do what is right and proper and necessary in spite of the risks. Life requires us to learn how to be courageous by first facing little fears on the playgrounds, and then, little by little, taking on greater and greater challenges. We must to do this, or we will never be prepared to face the really frightening prospect of facing up to our own evils. One of the features of adult life is that we must, with the Lord’s help, confront hell. We are not going to be able to do that without practice, without learning to be courageous by facing other, smaller battles first. As in all things, balance, perspective, and judgment are all essential, and most important of all is being able to see the “big picture” – that it’s not about getting through childhood without and illness or an injury, but learning how to cross the wilderness first, so we can cross the Jordan later and begin the real battles with our hereditary evils

War is the most fearful thing imaginable, and it both represents our spirituals battles as well as serves to illustrate the point about feeling alone. Because of the incredible fears that must be faced, soldiers form exceptionally strong bonds with one another, based upon their mutual support in the face of fear. War is horrible, yet in the face of its horror men perform heroic, courageous acts of self-sacrifice for the sake of their friends, for the sake of civilian strangers, for the sake of their country, for the sake of high principles. Where do people get this courage? How can we learn from them to face the misfortunes and difficulties of our own lives with their confidence? Such courage comes from the acknowledgment of the heart that no one is ever really alone, that no one ever has to walk a dark hallway alone, because the Lord is with them.

Before the battle (the soldier) raises his mind to the Lord, and commends his life into His hand; and, after he has done this, he lets his mind down from its elevation into the body, and becomes brave; the thought of the Lord, which he is then unconscious of, remaining still in his mind, above the bravery. And then, if he dies, he dies in the Lord; if he lives, he lives in the Lord. (Charity 166)

It is a simple matter to carry this description of a soldier battling for his life, and in simple humility putting his life in the hands of the Lord over into our own lives, our own experience in the battles against evils and falsities. We may think that warfare, with its bombs and guns, pain and death, is the most horrible thing there is; but consider our own spiritual temptations for a moment. When a soldier dies in battle, he loses his natural life, but he dies “in the Lord.” The man who loses his spiritual battles has lost his spiritual life. As the Lord said, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body.… Fear Him who, after He has killed, has the power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4,5)

Our spiritual battles are represented by Joshua’s entrance into the land of Canaan and defeating the various nations found there. Joshua was heroic and courageous as a leader all his life because he knew that the Lord was with him; Joshua lived with the confidence that he would succeed while he did what he was bidden by the Lord, and that the Lord would fight his battles for him, and that the land would eventually be conquered.

The natural world is not always fair. Things happen to us that cause pain and misery. There are things that we have to do that frighten us; and while we are trying to deal with the fears and anxieties of the natural world, we keep being reminded that we are supposed to be fighting spiritual temptation as well! It can seem like too much to bear. We wonder where we will find the strength to carry on, to face the challenges of each new day.

If we try to carry the burden entirely on our own, if we insist that we are the only ones who can do it the right way, then we are doomed to failure. If, on the other hand, we can develop within ourselves the confidence in the Lord’s guidance and protection; if we can examine the course of our lives for the evidence of the Lord’s direction and Divine Providence in the past, and from that evidence assure ourselves of His operation in our present and future; if we can think of Joshua patiently building an army for forty years in the wilderness, and then conquering the land of Canaan for his people while yet giving all the credit to Jehovah, perhaps we can begin to feel, to believe that the Lord is always with us, always seeking to lead us to eternal blessedness and peace, always willing to fight our battles for us if only we would ask Him to. Then we can begin to have the real courage that comes from trust in the Lord’s power to save, and we can courageously meet our spiritual foes – and win. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” (Ps. 23:4) AMEN.


First Lesson: Josh 1:1-9

After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, it came to pass that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying: {2} “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them; the children of Israel. {3} “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. {4} “From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. {5} “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. {6} “Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. {7} “Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. {8} “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. {9} “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

2nd Lesson: LUK 2:41-52

His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. {42} And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. {43} When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; {44} but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. {45} So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. {46} Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. {47} And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. {48} So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” {49} And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” {50} But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. {51} Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. {52} And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

3rd Lesson: AC 7280 (port.)

…fear is the one and only means by which those in hell can be constrained and held in bonds. For fear is a bond shared by both those who are upright and those who are evil. But with the upright it is an inward fear, that is, fear for their salvation, or fear lest they should lose their own souls, to be exact, and on that account lest they should do anything contrary to conscience, that is, contrary to the truth and goodness which compose conscience. Consequently they fear lest they should do anything contrary to what is just and fair, thus contrary to their neighbor. But this fear becomes holy fear to the extent that it is wedded to charitable affection in them, and especially to the extent that it is wedded to love to the Lord. Such fear then becomes like that which young children feel towards their parents whom they love. When this happens, then so far as they are governed by the good of love fear is not apparent; but so far as they are not governed by good it is apparent, and develops into anxiety. This is what the fear of God is like to which the Word refers many times.

[2] But with those who are evil there is no inward fear – no fear for their salvation – and therefore no fear that belongs to conscience, for in the world they completely rejected that kind of fear both by the life they led and by basic ideas of falsity that were used to justify it. But in place of inward fear there is with them an outward fear, the fear, to be exact, lest they should be stripped of important positions, monetary gain, and reputation on account of these, be legally punished, and be deprived of life. These are the things that those governed by evil fear for when they are in the world.

Copyright © 1982 – 2006 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

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Silence and Music in Worship

Silence and Music in Worship

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, March 7, 2004

We frequently begin services of worship with the words, The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him. (HAB. 2:20) These words are usually followed by a very brief moment of silence before the minister and the congregation go on with prayers, music, responsive readings, and so forth. Upon reflection, we find that there is almost no silence anywhere in our services: even the interlude between the lessons and the sermon is filled with music. Perhaps some have wondered what is meant by the call for silence that is apparently never answered.

“Noise” stands for all the activity in our mind, all our thoughts and concerns about things of this world. Our plans, our hopes, our mental lists of things to do – our things. Whenever we sit quietly for a moment, all these ideas begin to flow into our mind, fighting for our attention. They make a kind of noise, they cause us to be distracted from thinking about elevated things. Our attention is totally directed towards ourselves, and we become self-conscious. Is the chair comfortable? Is the room too hot or too cold? Is it time for lunch yet?

Sometimes we feel self-conscious when reading aloud during the service, such as during the prayers and the psalter. We may worry about how we sound to others, whether or not we are doing it right, whether or not we are saying all the words correctly. Others of us are distracted by the songs – we may either sing an old favorite with too much enthusiasm, or worry about hitting all the notes in an unfamiliar hymn. There are a lot of different ways that we can become self-conscious during the responsives and the singing in the office.

Then, when we are sitting and listening to the lessons or sermon, we begin to make use of the quiet moments to get a little thinking done. We begin to work on the problems we are having at home or school or at work, or perhaps to plan the new patio, or redecorate the living room. And before we know it, the service is over, and we cannot remember a thing that happened or was said during the whole thing. We couldn’t hear it over the noise of our own thoughts. This is the noise that needs to be silenced.

We should not be embarrassed by this, for it happens to everyone of us any time we relax our attention. If this never happened, the Lord wouldn’t have mentioned it in the Word! Our invitation to worship tells us that we must do everything we can to enter into the true sphere of worship of the Lord by stilling the noise in our heads, by turning our attention away from the cares and concerns of the natural world and turning our attention towards the Lord and His Word.

In the Jewish Church, and to some extent in the early Christian Church, the function of the congregation was only to witness acts of worship performed by the priesthood. In the ancient Jewish Church, the average person’s contribution to worship was to bring the item to be sacrificed, and then watch while it happened. The priests and the Levites conducted the worship, the people stood outside the gates and watched. This carried over to a certain extent into the Catholic Church. The classic illustration is that of a monastery where each monk performs the mass by himself in his room rather than all joining together in a common service of worship; and is further illustrated by the practice (ended in the US in the 1950’s) of delivering the service in Latin no matter what language the congregation understood. Since they were only witnesses to something that the priests were doing, they didn’t need to understand. The Eastern Orthodox Church continues to provide services in Greek, proudly holding to ancient traditions and rejecting modern innovations.

In the New Church, the function of the priest is to lead the congregation in their own personal worship of the Lord, to help provide such forms as are suitable for genuine worship. The priest does not stand between the people and the Lord, but during the course of the service alternately represents the people to the Lord (as when he approaches and opens the Word), and the Lord to the people (as when reading the lessons). There is a whole body of doctrine on the subject of “Liturgics” that provides the basis for deciding how the priest will move on chancel, which direction he faces, the kinds of chancel furniture, and where the furniture goes, but the essential point is that in the New Church it is the whole congregation that is worshiping the Lord, and the priest worships as a part of that congregation.

The appearance is that worship is a passive thing. After all, the congregation spends most of the time during a service quietly sitting and listening either to lessons from the Word, to a children’s talk, or to a sermon, or waiting for the next thing to happen. But such listening is passive because no response is expected. Ask yourselves this question: would you listen differently if you were going to be tested on the material presented in the sermon? If you were going to be tested in some way, would you not wish to have pencil and paper handy to take notes to study from? Would you not wish to have a text book to follow along in? Would not our whole approach to listening become active instead of passive?

Everyone of us has spent a lot of time in school, and each one of us learned along the way that we enjoyed best and learned the most from those courses we took where we conscientiously did the work assigned by the teacher. Simply stated, we found that the more we put into our study, the more we got back out!

If such a thing is true in other areas of life, is it not also true in worship? Will not our own personal worship of the Lord Jesus Christ be as valuable and meaningful to us as the amount of effort we ourselves put into it? Does this not tell us how important regular study of the Word is? Does it not also mean that if we simply bring our bodies into church and expect worship to happen to us, it will not be a meaningful and valuable experience?

We need to learn to take part in the worship service by actively listening, that is, by listening to what the priest is saying with a sense of affirmative skepticism. –Think about what is being said. – Does it sound true? – If you lived according to it, would you being living a good life? – Would you feel right making decisions that way? – Does what the priest says agree with your understanding of the Word? – If not, why not?

Such questioning is essential to the development of the rational mind. Even in heaven the angels must be skeptical of what they hear, for we are told that they are never taught something without the opposite idea being presented at the same time, so that they will have to think about it, compare it to what they already know to be true, and come to a decision about it based upon their own understanding (See EU 77). Even in heaven, we will not be able to accept what is taught with blind faith. We must prepare ourselves for heaven by practicing active listening and affirmative doubt in this life first.

Actively listening, challenging, questioning and testing your understanding against that of the priest during his sermons or messages is also important, for by so doing you are actively taking part in the worship of the Lord, you are using your gift of intelligence in the way that God intended.

But, active listening, being fully involved intellectually is only half the story. Everyone knows that if we want to communicate ideas we use language. Words, either written or spoken, are the means by which ideas move from one mind to another. The Writings tell us that there is also a communication of affection from one will to another, and music is the means of that communication. In other words, music is to our loves as words are to our thoughts!

This concept is well known as shown in common speech. When we share an affectional bond with someone, we say that we are “in tune” with them. When things are going well with the people around us, we say that things are “harmonious.” We see further evidence of this when we remember that happy people hum, whistle, and even burst forth into song – any song – any fragment of a song! We say that people who are happy have a “song” in their heart! There are no doubt many other examples that we could use.

Not only is music a sign of a happy heart, but we also find that music is a good way to change a heart. Studies have shown that music is very effective in changing your mood. If someone is feeling low, you cannot just play happy, cheerful music and expect them to change. It’s far more likely that they will angrily turn the music off. However, it has been found that if you first play music that approximates the person’s mood, and you gradually change the selections from moody to cheerful to bright, the mood will follow.

We can see that, used properly, music can be used to bring a person’s state from depression to cheerfulness, from hell to heaven. If we agree to that view, then can we also assume that the opposite is true, that music is capable of taking someone from a heavenly state to a hellish one? Are there kinds of music that express anger and frustration and hatred and by means of presenting these affections in a powerful way actually bring people into a state of hellish affections? While we should be very careful before postulating a direct cause and effect relationship between heaven or hell and certain kinds of music, we must look carefully at the kinds of affections that any piece of music inspires in our hearts.

In heaven, the harmony is actual, not symbolic. Time after time Swedenborg reported hearing heavenly choirs. He explained that each heavenly society has its own distinctive affection or love, and this distinctive love is expressed in the songs of that society. These teachings were in the minds of the priests of the New Church as they set about the task of forming a distinctive new ritual for the New Church. These teachings about music, affection, and harmony are the reason why each service begins with music followed by congregational singing, so that the whole of the congregation can be brought into a common sphere of worship. In the same way, the service ends with congregational singing, followed by a period of quiet music, so that the people can quietly and gently leave the sphere of worship behind.

Music is a powerful tool for creating a response in worship. Just as words are carefully selected by the priest to bring an idea into form in the sermon, so, ideally, the music should be selected to bring the affections of the congregation into a focus that supports and develops the ideas presented in the sermon. The choice is also limited to those songs that a congregation is capable of singing with some confidence and pleasure.

Congregational singing is supposed to bring the diverse collection of people present for worship into a harmony of affection, a harmony that is more perfect according to the variety within it. In order for us to feel the harmony with the others in the congregation, it will be necessary for us to deliberately, consciously put aside our fears about singing in church We must try not to think about how we sound to the others nearby. We must instead try to think about the sound of many people singing together, and how each voice blends in and contributes to the beauty and the quality of the whole.

To do this, we must first find silence. We must leave our thoughts and cares about the world outside the church door as we enter. We must put away the thoughts about the cares of the natural world so that there will be room for the Lord to enter through His Word. Then, as we hear His Word read and preached, we must focus our attention on it, compare what we hear to what we already know, to what we believe, to what we have learned from experience. Finally, we must un-self-consciously take part in the affectional side of worship through song and prayer. Prayers are offered to the Lord by the priest for the congregation, and by the priest and the congregation together. This speech with the Lord is an important part of every worship service, for it turns the mind away from self and towards the Lord. It can be an effective means of silencing our self-consciousness.

When the noise of the world is put off, we will find our worship to be satisfying to us in many different ways. The more effort we put into the worship experience, the greater the spiritual benefit we shall receive.

“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!

Sing to the Lord, all the earth.

Sing to the Lord, bless His name;

Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.” (Psalm 96:1,2)


First Lesson: HAB 2 (port.)

{2} Then the LORD answered me and said: “Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it. {3} For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry. … {18} “What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it, The molded image, a teacher of lies, That the maker of its mold should trust in it, To make mute idols? {19} Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Awake!’ To silent stone, ‘Arise! It shall teach!’ Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, Yet in it there is no breath at all. {20} But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

Second Lesson: MAT 19:16-22

Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” {17} So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” {18} He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, ” ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ {19} ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” {20} The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” {21} Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” {22} But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Third Lesson: AC 2594,5

Gentiles living on earth today however are not so wise, but for the most part are simple in heart. Nevertheless those of them who have led charitable lives one with another acquire wisdom in the next life. Let these be spoken of in what follows next.

I was once listening to a certain [choir] which sounded tuneful yet harsher than [choirs] normally do. From their sound I recognized straightaway that they came from the gentiles. Angels told me that they were gentiles who had been raised from the dead three or four days previously. I listened to this … choir for many hours and perceived that throughout the short period I was listening to them they were being perfected more and more. Wondering at this I was told that these people can be inaugurated into choirs, and so into harmonious groups, within a single night, whereas with the majority of Christians the same is scarcely possible within thirty years. …Choirs exist when many speak simultaneously, all as one, and each as all.

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

Comfort and Hope

Comfort and Hope

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, April 25, 2010

“I cry out to You; Save me, and I will keep Your testimonies. I rise before the dawning of the morning, And cry for help; I hope in Your Word.” (PSA 119:146,147)

We all have hopes for the future. We all look forward to that day when things will be better for us. This is a natural tendency, and we strengthen it by frequent exercise. For example, children ask their parents for favors, and are told, “Maybe later,” and so are encouraged to behave in the hope of some future reward. “I hope Father Christmas will bring me a train,” the child says. “I hope I will get a wagon for my birthday!”

As adults we continue to hope for rewards for our good behavior. The employer replaces the parent, holding out offers of job advancement, or improved salary in return for some new behavior. We hope that we can please the boss and receive the reward.

We must ask ourselves if we carry this natural attitude over into our relationship with the Lord? Do we believe that if we can figure out how to please Him, He will let us into heaven? Do we believe that if we fail to please Him He will send us to hell? Is this our relationship to our Heavenly Father? If so, it is an immature view of God and and immature view of our hope for a better future.

Our thinking may be immature concerning comfort, too. A child’s whole existence is focused on his own comfort. A child has no idea of anyone else’s needs, and makes loud and insistent demands. A child can sometimes be so determined that he cannot stop his crying for something long enough to allow his parents to get it for him! He seeks his own comfort without regard for the needs of others.

If this behavior continues into adolescence and then adult life it may take on a different form, but the search for comfort may remain essentially a selfish endeavor. A selfish, immature person is willing to give of himself to others only because he wants something of value in return.

The question is, if these are the immature, natural views of comfort and hope, what are the mature, spiritual views? How should the adult mind understand comfort and hope? Comfort and hope are states given by the Lord to replace our states of anxiety and grief as we begin to conquer in spiritual temptations. It is most important to note that there is no genuine comfort or hope apart from victory in temptation.

The Heavenly Doctrines give two examples of this, describing two kinds of false ideas, and the spiritual results of each kind of life. First, the Heavenly Doctrines speak of those “who ascribe all things to their own prudence and little or nothing to Divine Providence” (See AC 2694:3). We are taught that they may be shown in a thousand different ways that the Divine Providence governs the universe down to the most minute particulars, and they may even from time to time perceive this truth in their own life by living experiences. However, as quickly as the memory of the event fades, so fades their conviction, and they return to their former belief in their own prudence. This change is temporary because it was a change in the thought only, not accompanied with a change in the affection. An opinion cannot be changed as long as the person who holds it still loves it. The affection for the opinion must change before the opinion itself can change, and the affections are only changed through temptation. In states of anxiety and grief that come from spiritual temptations, strong opinions can be broken, for then it may be seen that all power, prudence, intelligence and wisdom are from the Lord. At the same time we acknowledge that are nothing, and need His Guidance and help. (See Ibid.)

The second example regards those who believe that they have been justified, or saved by grace. Again, people who firmly believe this may be shown a thousand logical reasons why this can’t be, and yet they will not be moved an inch, because only the thought has been touched, not the more important ruling affection. We love many different things and our contradictory affections enable us to hold contradictory beliefs. As long as we believe they are our very own beliefs, and we have affection for them, our view cannot be changed. Is it not true that the best way to convince another person to do something is to lead him to propose the project himself? The best salesman is the one who is able to convince the customer that it is the customer’s own idea to buy. It is the affection or love that must be changed, and this can be done only by the Lord during states of temptation, for it is only by temptations that we can be reduced from our belief in our own guiltlessness to the state from which we can perceive the hell in ourselves, “and this to such a degree as to despair of ever being saved, then for the first time that persuasive (belief) is broken, and with it (our) pride, and (our) contempt of others in comparison (to ourselves), and also the arrogance that (we) are the only ones who are saved” (See AC 2694:4).

This teaching from the Heavenly Doctrines should well establish that we need the deep despair in temptation in order to break the persuasive light from our own self-intelligence, so that we will recognize our need for the Lord. Then, as soon as we do realize this, and ask for the Lord’s help, states of comfort and hope are given by the Lord. From the depths of anxiety and grief, we can be led by the Lord into the heartfelt realization that not only is all good from the Lord, but also all things in the universe, from greatests to leasts, are under His direct, loving care: are of His Mercy. Finally, when we see our own character clearly, we are humbled in heart. We not only think but also know and acknowledge with both heart and mind that without the Lord we are nothing at all.

And then comes a miracle. From this depth of despair, from this feeling of helplessness and unworthiness, when we turn to the Lord for help, the Lord flows in with comfort, and hope, and even delight. The purpose of temptation is to conjoin good and truth in our natural degree, to build a new will in the elevated understanding, a new will full of good from the Lord. When good and truth are conjoined in us through combats of temptation, we feel delight because the conjunction is a correspondence with the heavenly marriage of good and truth, and also with the Divine Love Itself and Divine Wisdom Itself conjoined in the Lord. This conjunction and union in the Lord is the source of all delight. Thus, when we have resisted an evil in ourselves, and hung on to our conviction that what we are doing is commanded by the Lord for the sake of our eternal life, the evil is removed, good from the Lord flows in, and the state of temptation ends as states of comfort and hope begin.

“…When a man is in temptation, he is as it were in hunger for good, and in thirst for truth; and therefore when he emerges he draws in good as a hungry man devours food, and receives truth as a thirsty man imbibes drink. Moreover when light from the Divine appears, falsities and evils are removed, and when these are removed, the way is opened for truth and good to penetrate more interiorly” (AC 6829). We are seldom really hungry or thirsty, so this example from the doctrines does not have much power for us unless we pause to reflect. It does not seem that by “thirst” the passage intends that we think of a mild sensation of dryness in the mouth, but rather the kind of thirst that comes after long, hard physical labor on a hot summer’s day–or perhaps after making a long hike across a desert water. When you then come in and find a cooler of cool, clear water, words are unable to express the feeling of quenching that thirst. It is as if you have lost your life, and then found it again. You can’t seem get enough. It is not just your mouth that welcomes the water, but your whole body rejoices in it. It is much the same when we come out of the states of temptation, our thirst for truth is not merely a casual thing, a kind of increased interest in intellectual things, but our whole mind and body call out for it, demand it–and find it.

“…Temptations are attended with doubt in regard to the Lord’s presence and mercy, and also in regard to salvation. The evil spirits who are then with the man and induce the temptation strongly inspire negation, but the good spirits and angels from the Lord in every possible way dispel this state of doubt, and keep the man in a state of hope, and at last confirm in him what is affirmative. One who yields in temptation remains in a state of doubt, and falls into what is negative; but one who overcomes is indeed in doubt, but still, if he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative” (AC 2338). It is important to note how we are to become steadfast in the affirmative principle, so necessary for success in temptation: We must allow ourselves to be cheered by hope, we must believe in the feeling that the Lord gives us in our states of temptation that there is a place for us in heaven, and that it is possible to throw off the impediments of this world with the Lord’s help. If we will allow ourselves to have this hope, then we will see the end and use in temptation, and will not be destroyed by the effort. We are given hope from the Lord so that we may see our way out of the spiritual disasters we experience even while we are in the depths of them, if we have confidence that the Lord has the power to save, that He is the Redeemer.

“I cry out with my whole heart; Hear me, O Lord! I will keep Your Statutes. I cry out to You; Save me and I will keep Your testimonies. I rise before the dawning of the morning and cry for help; I hope in Your Word” (Psalm 119:145-147). AMEN.


Psalm 119:145-152

Matthew 11:20-30

AC 4572:2; AC 2338

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified November 06, 2005

Fighting for Truth

Fighting for Truth

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” Therefore the soldiers did these things. (John 19:24)

The 19th chapter of John is generally read on Easter Sunday for it contains the events leading up to, including, and following the crucifixion of the Lord. However, our focus will be on the story within the story of the Lord’s crucifixion, on the soldiers who were gathered around the foot of the cross, and what they did with the Lord’s garments.

The soldiers were under the command of Pilate, thus of the Roman Empire; yet it was a common practice for the Provincial governor to use local people for a portion of his military guard. The soldiers were Roman in their dress and actions, but they may have been Jews by birth and education.

The soldiers had stripped the Lord before crucifying Him, and His garments were their by the right of spoil. As clothes were far more difficult to obtain and thus much more valuable in those days than today, we can imagine that the soldiers began to argue about which of them should have the clothes. They settled the argument by dividing the less valuable outer garment between themselves equally, one part to each of the four. This represents the destruction and dispersion of truth.

The Lord’s inner garment, called the tunic, was altogether different from the outer garment divided by the soldiers. The tunic had been woven from the top throughout from a single thread, thus to divide or cut this tunic in any way would cause the pieces to unravel and fall apart – useless. The soldiers recognized this type of tunic and knew better than to divide it. Instead, they cast lots for it. The Gospel records that they acted in this way so that they would fulfil the prophecies of scripture. Their actions represented the fact that the internal truth of the Word, as it is with the angels in heaven, cannot be dispersed or destroyed. This internal truth, or the spiritual sense, is the single thread from which the Word itself is woven.1

There is a parallel, then, between what the Jews did to the Lord by crucifying Him, and what they did to His inner and outer garments, for the garments represent the Word. As the Jews were permitted to destroy the Lord’s body, His most external things, they were also permitted to divide His external garments, and by this action representing the dispersal or destruction of the external truths of the Word. But, they had not really harmed the Lord, for He rose again on the third day, and in a similar manner, the tunic, representing the internal sense of the Word, was neither divided nor harmed in any way.

The Heavenly Doctrines show is that it was done by the soldiers, because soldiers represent those who should fight for truth. In the good sense, soldiers represent those who seek truth, care for it, and work to bring it into their lives. The soldiers of our text show the opposite representation as they are actively seeking to replace the truth with falsities that fit their own particular loves2 In addition, these soldiers represent the Jewish Church even though they were under Roman command, because it was the Jewish Church that had the Word, and thus had the truths for which the soldiers should be fighting. That they did not fight represents the failure of the Jewish Church to live the truths from the Word, and the fact that they turned the letter of the Word to their own advantage. As we read in the third lesson, the Arcana teaches that

they had the Word, and yet they were not willing to know from it that the Lord was the Messiah and the Son of God who was to come, nor anything internal of the Word, but only what is external; which they also wrested to their loves, which were the loves of self and the world, thus to favour the lusts which spring from these loves3.

Whatever they found in the Word they twisted and turned and changed until it benefited them and aid them in their pursuit of power and dominion over others.

Is it not then clear that every person is capable of becoming what is represented in the Word by a “bad” soldier when they destroy the Word in themselves by denying the testimony of the Word concerning the Lord and the Lord’s Divinity, or when they misuse or twist the truths of the Word to control or manipulate others? Is it not also true that by applications of the truths presented here in the Word that we can obtain for ourselves those spiritual qualities represented by good soldiers?

The soldiers who cast lots for the Lord’s garments should have been fighting to preserve and protect the things of the Word from the kinds of things the leaders of the Jewish Church were doing to it, but instead, they were selfishly doing what they could to dissipate and divide the truth of the Word.

It is ironic that the soldiers were casting lots for the tunic after dividing and thus destroying the outer tunic. The division of the outer garment represented the way that people pick and choose the sentences and verses from the Word which will support their own particular view of things, so that they can use those teachings to convince others to agree with their views. On the other hand, in their selfish desire to dominate the minds and beliefs of others, to replace the truths from the Word with their own particular falsities and half-truths, even evil men recognize the essential value of the Word. And they also know that the Word has to be whole, there has to be the belief that it is God’s Word in order for it to have the authority they need. If they destroy belief in the Divinity of the Word, then they can no longer use it as a tool — so they have to protect the Word. They see that they must have the sphere or appearance of Divine authority to direct people’s thoughts away from the Divine and to themselves. They must be able to convince others that they, and they alone, have the power to save — that they alone have the real truth. The irony is that the very thing which they seek to supplant, the Divine Authority of the Word, is the very thing that they must have, at least in appearance, for their plan to succeed. If people did not believe there was such a thing as Divine Authority, then others could not claim it for themselves and use it.

Compare this to what the Heavenly Doctrines tell us a man should do, how the love of self-intelligence should be replaced with the love of the Lord’s truth:

…Those who live a moral life from religion and from the Word are elevated above their natural man, thus above what is their proprium, and are led by the Lord through heaven; … Many of the heathen live such a moral life, for they think that evil must not be done because it is contrary to their religion; this is why so many of them are saved4.…To live a moral life not from religion, but only from the fear of the law in the world, and of the loss of fame, honour, and gain, is to live a moral life not from a spiritual but from a natural origin; therefore to such there is no communication with heaven. And as they think insincerely and unjustly regarding the neighbour, although they speak and act otherwise, their internal spiritual man is closed, and the internal natural man only is opened; and when this is open they are in the light of the world, but not in the light of heaven5.

In other words, when people seek to know the truth for the sake of reputation, or that they might be thought to be wiser or more learned than others, those truths are defiled in them by the intention to use them for evil, and therefore, even though they may be truths from the Word, they do not communicate with heaven. On the other hand, if a person fights for truths because they are seen to be the way to live a moral life from religion, then the truths do communicate with heaven — even if they are imperfectly understood and poorly implemented. This, then, is the essential message contained in the text: that a person should fight for the truths of the Word, fight to obtain them for oneself, and fight to protect them from the falsities of the world. By so doing, a person brings himself into a life of morality from religion, and this opens the mind upwards, towards the Lord and heaven, and brings conjunction with the angels.

If a person must fight for truth, if each of us must be a soldier on the side of the Lord, what are we to fight with? What are the soldier’s weapons? As the soldiers in the text recognized the value of the tunic so that they did not divide it, so we too should recognize the value of the influx that the tunic also represents: the continual influx of the affection of truth into the will of mankind. If the Lord did not continually flow into a person’s will and provide him with the ability to be affected by truth when he heard it, then each person’s battle to find and acquire truth would be lost. Thus, the most important weapon in a person’s battle to acquire truth is the ability to perceive that a thing is true because we perceive from remains that it is good. This weapon is our to use from birth6.

If we are to wage this battle, and use the weapons provided us by the Lord, we need to know what we are fighting against, who the enemy is. The enemy is the evils that delight us, and the falsities we invent and conjoin to them so as to excuse them, make them seem proper in our own eyes (if not in the sight of the world), to try to make them seem somehow not evil anymore.

Everyone wants to believe in his own mind that he is doing what is proper and good. Even the hardened criminal has some twisted version of the facts that allows him to believe himself to be innocent, or, at worst, the victim of circumstances. Anyone, or even a church, can find a way of looking at things, that is manipulating the truths, so that they feel justified in their actions. Today we call it putting a “spin” on it. How do we make something we did that was bad look good? Or, how do we make something good somebody else did look bad? A classic illustration of this kind of twisting of the truth can be seen in the example of a horse race with just two horses. The owner of the losing horse reports that his own horse came in second, but the other horse came in “next to last.” It was because of the danger of this kind of twisting being applied to genuine, spiritual truths contained in the Word that the Jewish and Christian churches were not permitted to have the internal sense of the Word. It was to protect those churches from twisting and turning the internal sense until they earned for themselves the lot in the other world reserved for profaners7

Every one must fight for the truths of the Word. Our hereditary nature wants to weave falsities into itself that excuse the exercise of our lusts. To fight this, the Lord has give us the ability to be affected by truth, if we want to be affected. Not just any truth will do, though. The truths that we need to amend our lives and begin to enter into the life of heaven must be truths from the Word, acquired with humility and willingness to listen to what the Lord has to say. Too often we go to the Word to seek justification for some plan or action to which we are already committed. This is just what is meant by dividing the Lord’s outer garment: The gathering of scriptural passages and quotes from the Writings so that they can be arranged to defend or prove the love or views that are already held. What must be done, if we are to be good soldiers, is to read the Word first to see what it teaches, and then use what we learn there to guide our lives. We read from the Heavenly Doctrines:

All things that are in the Word are Divine, … for the reason that they have in them a spiritual sense, and by that sense communicate with heaven and the angels there. When, therefore, man has knowledges from the Word and applies them to his life, then through these he has communication with heaven and by the communication becomes spiritual; for man becomes spiritual by his being in like or in corresponding truths with the angels of heaven….
But the knowledges derived from other books, which set forth and by various means establish the doctrines of the church, do not effect communication with heaven except by the knowledge from the Word they contain….Everyone can see that this is so from this, that the Word in itself is Divine, and what is Divine in itself can become Divine with man by his applying it to his life. Becoming Divine with man means that the Lord can have His abode with man, thus dwelling with Him in what is His own when He dwells in those things with man that are from the Word, for the Lord is the Word8.

When a person looks to the letter and spirit of the Word to confirm what he already believes, or wants to believe, or when he is looking for ammunition to defeat those who believe differently from himself, he closes his spiritual mind to heaven and focuses his attention on the things of the world. If, on the other hand, he looks to the Word in its letter and spirit for guidance as he formulates his beliefs, he is opening his mind towards heaven, and then the Lord will have His abode in him, dwelling with him in those things that are His from the Word to eternity.

Let us close today with a passage from the Doctrine of Charity about what it means to be a good soldier. And let us also consider how the battle against evil and falsity never ends while we yet remain in the world, and the Lord calls each of us to prepare ourselves to become good soldiers in His heavenly army, to fight the good fight for the sake of His truth.

Charity in the Common soldier. If he looks to the Lord and shuns evils as sins, and sincerely, justly, and faithfully does his duty, he also becomes charity; for as to this there is no distinction of persons. He is averse to unjust depredation; he abominates the wrongful effusion of blood. In battle it is another thing. There he is not averse to it; for he does not think of it, but of the enemy as an enemy, who desires his blood. When he hears the sound of the drum calling him to desist from the slaughter, his fury ceases. He looks upon his captives after victory as neighbours, according to the quality of their good. Before the battle he raises his mind to the Lord, and commits his life into His hand; and after he has done this, he lets his mind down from its elevation into the body and becomes brave; the thought of the Lord – which he is then unconscious of remaining still in his mind, above his bravery. And then if he dies, he dies in the Lord; if he lives, he lives in the Lord9. Amen.

1 (See AC 9942:13)

2 See AC 9942:14

3 AC 9942:14

4 AE 195:2

5 AE 195:3

6 See AC 9942:2

7 See AC 373:5

8 AE 195:4

9 Charity 166

First Lesson: GEN 37:2-22

{18} Now when they saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him. {19} Then they said to one another, “Look, this dreamer is coming! {20} “Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him.’ We shall see what will become of his dreams!” {21} But Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, “Let us not kill him.” {22} And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him”; that he might deliver him out of their hands, and bring him back to his father. Amen.

Second Lesson: JOH 19:14-24

{23} Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. {24} They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says: “They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” Therefore the soldiers did these things. Amen.

Third Lesson: AC 9942:13, 14

[13] Once it is known from all this what ‘a tunic’ means it is evident what ‘the Lord’s tunic’ referred to in John means… Is there anyone, thinking with reason that is to some extent enlightened, who cannot see that in all this Divine things were meant, and that if this had not been so none of it would have been prophesied in David? … From the internal sense it is evident that truths are meant by ‘garments’, and Divine Truths by ‘the Lord’s garments’; ‘casting lots for’ and ‘dividing them’ pulling apart and dispersing them;… The tunic’s not being divided was a sign that Divine Truth on the spiritual level, emanating directly from Divine Truth on the celestial level, could not be dispersed, because this truth is the inner truth of the Word, such as exists with angels in heaven.

[14] When it says that ‘the soldiers did it’ the meaning is that it was done by those who ought to have been fighting for truths, that is, the Jews themselves with whom the Word existed, but whose characters were nevertheless such that they would disperse it. For they had the Word, yet nevertheless did not wish to know from it that the Lord was the Messiah and Son of God who was to come. Nor did they wish to know anything of the inner meaning of the Word, only the outward, which they also drafted to serve their own loves, which were self-love and love of the world, and so to support their desires gushing out of those loves. These things are meant by dividing up the Lord’s garments; for whatever they did to the Lord represented the state of Divine Truth and Good among them then, thus the way they treated God’s truths was similar to that in which they were treating Him; for while in the world the Lord was Divine Truth itself,…. Amen.

Arcana Coelestia

Apocalypse Explained


The Law Restored

The Law Restored

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

Toronto, August 31, 2008

Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes. …And the king went up to the house of the LORD … and he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the LORD. (2KI 22:11, 23:2)

When we were children, everything was so simple. Things were either good or bad, true or not true. Our beliefs were defended not from reason but because that’s what our parents, our teachers, our own friends thought – and therefore they were good and just. Perhaps we look back with affection and longing for those times of simplicity and innocence, but with becoming an adult comes both the freedom and the burden of the rational mind. No longer are things simply good or bad, true or false, but instead there are many degrees of good and shades of truth. As adults we have to worry about the reasons behind our actions, we have to consider far-reaching consequences and the effects we have on other people’s feelings. We have to think before we act! Weeks can go by where the press of business and family concerns prevent us from thinking about anything from the Word, and then suddenly we are drawn to some teaching that brings us up short, as we realize how appropriate that doctrine is to the very situation in which we find ourselves. It’s almost as if the Lord taps you on the shoulder.

With this in mind, let us return to the story of Josiah as it was read in the lessons. Josiah was one of the last kings of Judah, ruling at the end of a long decline as the kingdom drew away from the Lord and became more and more secular. Josiah, however, was unlike most of his predecessors because he was a good, moral man. He saw that the temple was in ruins from generations of neglect and ordered that repairs begin.

The letter of the Word tells us that there were “damages” to the temple, or breaches in the walls, which signify “falsity which comes (from) the separation of good from truth…” and also the “infraction of truth and perversion of it by separation from good…” (AC 4926:2,6)

Josiah, as their leader, represented the Jewish people. The temple, as the centre of worship for the Jewish people, signified the central doctrinal core of the Jewish faith. We can see from this that Josiah can also stand for the adult member of the New Church, and the temple in Jerusalem his core belief structure, a doctrine which has become like a ruin from lack of use. This story is really about a person who has become too busy to live according to the truths of the church learned in childhood and youth from parents and teachers.

We do not have an accurate description of exactly how the temple looked at that time, but we do know that it had not been used in many years. The dust and dirt of years of neglect, the cracks and fissures in the wall, the dark and empty rooms all create a vivid picture of what happens to a person’s faith and doctrine when he does not care for it by bringing it actively into his life. The idealistic faith of our youth crumbles away like an unused, un-repaired building.

Josiah the king represents an adult who is in the midst of establishing home, family, and career, and who finds these concerns take so much time that he just does not have the time for the things of the Church as he did when he was younger, with more energy and fewer responsibilities. There are only so many hours in the day, after all, and they are all filled with the efforts required to establish a secure and comfortable home and place in the world. The temple of doctrine (from historical faith) that was built up in childhood and youth begins to crumble and decay from lack of use and failure to care.

It must be emphasized that Josiah was the first good king that had ruled in Judah in many generations. The kings before him had stripped the wealth from the temple to pay for luxuries for themselves, to bribe the rulers of other countries to betray treaties, or to ransom themselves out of slavery. These kings had even at times worshipped other gods within the walls of the temple – but not Josiah. With Josiah, the neglect had been benign. He simply did not know or understand the significance or the importance of the temple in Jerusalem!

Of all the various attributes of the Jewish faith, that which stands out as most important to that faith is the Mosaic Law, that is, the Ten Commandments and all the other laws regarding every aspect of life and worship in the Jewish Church, laws that were given to Moses by Jehovah Himself. It is incredible to say, but Josiah, a king of Judah ruling in Jerusalem, did not know the Mosaic Law! It was no longer taught or known anywhere in Judah. Again, this is a picture of what can happen when we allow ourselves to get so involved in our natural pursuits.

And even so, the Lord constantly tends to every one’s eternal welfare, seeking to lead each one of us to heaven no matter what our state. He does so gently, imperceptibly, and according to each person’s own loves. So the Lord led Josiah.

Josiah lived in the shadow of the great temple of Solomon, and saw its sad condition. Perhaps he decided to order the renovation of the temple for some personal, selfish reason. Perhaps he wanted to associate his kingdom with that of Solomon. Perhaps he was moved by some undefined feeling of respect for his ancestors. We cannot see how the Lord bends the course of own lives, so we cannot expect to see clearly how He has bent the course of the life of another, but we do know that for whatever reason, Josiah was moved to order the temple repaired. We also know that the direct result of that order was that a copy of the Mosaic Law was found, brought to him, and read to him.

In response to hearing the law for the first time in his life he tore his clothes in agony and humiliation for he was suddenly made aware of the kinds of evils that he and his people had been committing against the Lord all these years. Even though they may have been done from ignorance, he was still distraught at the realization of just how far he and his people had travelled from God.

The hells love to keep our evils hidden from us, for as long as they are hidden, we cannot do anything about them, and unless we see them and reject them as-of-ourselves, the Lord cannot remove them from us. Thus the hells use our natural concerns for the welfare of our homes, families, and careers to direct our attention anywhere but towards self-examination. We may know that we should examine ourselves for evils, but we keep putting it off to some fictional later time when we will “have more time to do something about it.”

If we were left entirely to our own devices, we would happily continue along this course into hell, all the while thinking well of ourselves for being so selfless and concerned for others, when in fact we are concerned only with selfish things: making the home comfortable for the sake of our own pleasure; getting ahead in business for the sake of wealth and the power that it brings and only incidentally for the welfare and comfort of our family; and many other things that are outwardly respectable, but inwardly from hell.

Fortunately we are not left entirely to our own devices. The Lord is continually watching over each one of us, endeavouring to quietly, gently bend us away from our selfish loves and towards Himself. From time to time He may find it appropriate to stir something in our remains, to touch a fond memory, remind us of a friend and something said to us that was important, perhaps a word or gesture that made us feel loved and valued. A little thing like this, seen in the right context at a critical point in our lives, can turn us, turn us as Josiah turned towards repairing the temple, turn us towards the Lord in His Word.

This might express itself in so simple a form as returning to church after a long absence. A long absence from church can be accompanied with feelings of fear, and guilt which make it more difficult to return. To gain control over those feelings is an act of humiliation, as if we were literally tearing our garments.

The Heavenly Doctrines teach that since “garments” represent truths (AC 2576:15), to rend or tear the garments signifies “humiliation because there is nothing pertaining to them that is signified by the adornment of garments” (AC 2576:16). This means that it is recorded that Josiah tore his garments to signify that the truths represented by a king’s garments were not present with him, and that he was humiliated to discover that he did not have those truths that he should have had. Another passage in the Doctrines tells us that Josiah tore his garments to signify “mourning on account of lost truth,” it being lost to him because it was only known, and not lived. (See AC 4736:6)

Josiah represents an adult who has been living without much thought of the Church, except in matters of habit, who is brought up short. A crisis brings some teaching from the Word, so memory from childhood into sharp focus. He suddenly, perhaps for the first time, sees the doctrine of the Church as speaking specifically to him, to his own life, to his own particular situation. It suddenly becomes clear to him that his life is not as orderly as he thought. He cries out in his own mind that he didn’t know, that he simply didn’t understand. He has come from an “accidental” self-examination to a fully developed state of temptation, complete with humiliation, anguish, and despair that he might ever be saved. When this happened to Josiah, he said,

Go, inquire of the LORD for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the LORD that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us (2KI 22:13).

Josiah’s words indicate that he is in a state of deep despair and anguish for himself and his people. He clearly sees that they have been doing none of the things that the Lord has commanded, and that they have been doing all of the things that He had forbidden. Josiah turns to the only source of help that he can think of – a prophet, or in this particular case, Huldah, the prophetess. Josiah’s purpose was to immediately confess his ignorance and his sin, and then ask for forgiveness and it was traditional to use a prophet to serve as a means of conjunction between man and God, for a prophet represents the truths of the Church in the letter of the Word.

When brought to the depths of a state of temptation, when a person sees nothing but evil and feels nothing but despair, what better source of comfort and hope is there than to turn to the Word, to the simple passages learned in childhood, to the Lord’s prayer itself? To ask the Lord, in the genuine humility of temptation, for Him to lead you in the way of His will, is the most profound prayer of all. It is the most profound because it becomes the turning point from which a person stops despairing of his own ignorance and troubles and begins to see that the Lord has provided the Word for him to follow, to uplift him, to reform and regenerate him. In this state, a person can turn away from himself and towards the Lord, away from the negative and hellish and towards the affirmative and heavenly, to the doctrine of genuine truth from the Word.

Huldah the prophetess tells Josiah that even though he and his people had been doing evils, because his heart was tender and because he humbled himself before the Lord, the Lord has heard him, and has promised that he would be gathered unto his fathers, and into his grave in peace (2KI 22:19,20). While this may not seem like much of a reward for us, we must remember that in those days a king’s peaceful death would be both unusual and welcomed. Since their idea of the afterlife was limited to that shady place known as “Sheol,” the promise that he would be gathered to his fathers must have sounded very appealing. So too with the man who returns to his Church after a long absence. The initial anxiety and fear are replaced with a state of comfort and peace.

However, by Huldah’s promise is represented nothing less than the Covenant, the promise given by the Lord that if we will as of ourselves flee from evils as sins, He will teach us the doctrine of the church and give us the loves to conjoin with the doctrine. We read from the Arcana Coelestia,

“The … Word is a covenant … because it is the Divine from the Lord, thus the Lord Himself. And therefore when the Word is received by man, the Lord Himself is received” (9396:9).

At the beginning of the story from the Word, king Josiah was just another ancient man. He was known to his people as a “good” king. In other words, he treated his subjects fairly and well. He brought all his people into the knowledge of the law of the Lord, so that they could learn to follow the law and love the Lord too. He was led by the Lord to begin the restoration of the temple, which set events in motion that changed him and his whole kingdom for the better, but only after it had taken him to the depths of despair and humiliation, only after he had truly seen what he was in and of himself, and called upon the Lord in His Word for help. As the prophetess said to Josiah,

Thus says the Lord God of Israel. …Because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, …and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you, says the Lord. Surely, therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace….” (2KI 22:18-20) AMEN.

First Lesson: 2KI 22:8-20

Then Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. {9} So Shaphan the scribe went to the king, bringing the king word, saying, “Your servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of those who do the work, who oversee the house of the LORD.” {10} Then Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. {11} Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, that he tore his clothes. {12} Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Michaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king, saying, {13} “Go, inquire of the LORD for me, for the people and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the LORD that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” {14} So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. (She dwelt in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter.) And they spoke with her. {15} Then she said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Tell the man who sent you to Me, {16} “Thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will bring calamity on this place and on its inhabitants; all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read; {17} ‘because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands. Therefore My wrath shall be aroused against this place and shall not be quenched.’” ‘ {18} “But as for the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the LORD, in this manner you shall speak to him, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel: “Concerning the words which you have heard; {19} “because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard what I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they would become a desolation and a curse, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you,” says the LORD. {20} “Surely, therefore, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place.” ‘ “ So they brought back word to the king.

(2KI 23:1-2) Now the king sent them to gather all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem to him. {2} The king went up to the house of the LORD with all the men of Judah, and with him all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the LORD. Amen.

Second Lesson: AC 9396 [9]

The reason why Divine Truth or the Word is a covenant or joining together is that the Word is the Divine from the Lord, thus is the Lord Himself; and this being so, when the Word is received by a person the Lord Himself is received. From this it is evident that it is through the Word that the Lord is joined to a person; and since the Lord is joined to the person, so too is heaven joined to that person. For heaven is called heaven by virtue of the Divine Truth emanating from the Lord and therefore from the Divine. This explains why those in heaven are said to be ‘in the Lord’. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2008 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper

Page last modified September 27, 2009

The Woman Clothed with the Sun

The Woman Clothed with the Sun

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

And a great sign was seen in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And being with child, she cried, travailing and pained to bring forth (Rev. 12:1,2)

Of all the books of the Word, the book of Revelation is the least well understood. Laymen and scholars find the imagery and visions difficult to interpret into a meaningful message. Most non-New Church scholars and theologians simply say that the Revelation of John must be symbolic on some level, but they admit that they do not have the key to unlock that symbolism. Consequently the book of Revelation is revered by many simply because it has been included in the Bible, but it remains a mystery to those in the traditional Christian dogma.

The science of correspondences, revealed by the Lord to the world through the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, provides the key to unlock the symbols of the book of Revelation, showing it to be a clear prophecy of the time and manner and establishment of the New Christian Church. Our text, the vision of the Woman clothed in the sun, is from the twelfth chapter and teaches how the New Christian Church was established at first in the heavens at the time of the last judgment, and how it showed the Lord’s Divine Love for all people and His plan to regenerate them.

In school we were taught that it is not correct to begin a sentence with the word “and,” and we were also taught that the Bible is an example of excellent English writing – yet many sentences, paragraphs and even chapters begin with the word “and” as does the twelfth chapter of Revelation. There is a spiritual reason for this: the science of correspondences tells us that when a chapter begins with a conjoining word such as “and” it signifies a continuation of the general sense of the previous chapter. Here the previous chapter was the vision of the two witnesses. The two witnesses (olive trees and lampstands) represent the two essentials of a true church, the knowledge and acknowledgment of the Lord, and a life according to His commandments. That these two are essential is shown by the last thing said in the twelfth chapter which refers to the seed of the woman clothed in the sun, that they should keep the commandments and have the testimony of Jesus Christ, that is, to know the Lord, and live according to His commandments (See REV 12:17). Our text must be understood in the light of this leading idea contained within it in its internal sense: that the church is established by the Lord, by means of men who acknowledge Him and live according to His commandments.

The image of the Woman clothed with the Sun is a familiar one to us, for it is often used in illustrations of our church literature – but the usual illustration of a beautiful, radiant young woman with the moon under her feet and a crown of stars, while delightful, is not complete. The woman John saw in his vision was great with child, in the final stages of labor. Her face may have expressed both pain and joy: the pain that comes from the ending of one state of life and the joy that comes with the beginning of another.

This woman seen by John in the spiritual world represents the New Church. The church is represented by a woman, because the church is the bride and wife of the Lord. As a bride is in the affection of the wisdom of her husband and loves him because of that wisdom, so the church looks to conjunction with the Lord, for, like a bride, it wants to be one with the Wisdom that is from the Lord.

The Lord appears in the spiritual world as the Sun of Heaven to represent the power and life-giving nature of His Divine Love and Divine Wisdom. The woman who represents the church is seen with that power and life from the Lord radiating to men through her as if from a sun. She is clothed with the sun for two reasons: Because the Lord’s life flows into man through the church in the heavens, also, when men in the church know the truths from the Word and live according to them they are in love to the Lord, which love is signified by the light and heat of the sun. Thus, the radiant power of the woman comes from the reciprocal conjunction of men with the Lord. Man receives good and truth from the Lord through the church, and then as if of himself chooses to make it his own, thus returning that love to the Lord. This reciprocal conjunction is the life of heaven from which all delights and blessings flow.

The moon, representing the faith of the New Church, was seen under her feet, because at the time of John’s vision, and even at the time Swedenborg was visiting the spiritual world, the New church in the heavens had not yet been conjoined to the church on earth. The conjunction of the New Church in the heavens and the church on earth was the Lord’s purpose, and the revelation of the internal sense of the Word through Swedenborg was the means to that goal.

However, that was not the end, but a beginning. The Lord has, through His second coming, given us the tools to establish the church on earth if we sincerely desire it and work for it. Our text warns us that establishing the church on earth will not be easy: she travailed and pained to bring forth (text). The Writings tell us that this means the church on earth will not be easily received at first, especially by those who are in faith alone (AR 531).

Because we are living in a world where the traditional Christian churches have very powerful influence, it is tempting to use this teaching to excuse our small rate of growth, to apply this teaching only to others, those outside the church; to say that the New Church would grow if it weren’t for the appeal of the doctrine of faith alone. We do this in part because we believe that things would be easier for us if the New Church were larger, for then there would be more resources for us to draw on; We could proudly tell our friends and business acquaintances that we belonged to the New Church (and they would have heard of it), and many other natural reasons. But what is the true reason for us to work for the growth of the church on earth? The true reason is that “the church in the heavens cannot subsist, except there be also a church on earth, which is in concordant love and wisdom” (AR 533).

This is the spiritual reason for working for the growth of the church, the fact that the church in the heavens and the church on earth are related as the spirit and body of a person. Just as no person can come into the spiritual world without having first lived in the natural world, the church in heaven cannot exist without the church in the world as its foundation. This means that the growth of the church on earth, both in numbers of members and in the quality of spiritual life, greatly affects the growth and eventual development of the church in the heavens. The heavenly church cannot be built beyond the foundation laid for it upon the earth. The church on earth and the church in the heavens are more intimately related that we can imagine, for they correspond to each other, and both are founded upon the reception of the Word by man and angel. Thus, it is absolutely necessary that there be a church somewhere in the world, where the Word is, and where by it the Lord is known (AR 533).

The purpose of creation is that there shall be a heaven from the human race. The Lord has provided all the things needed to achieve that goal: the Word, the church in the heavens, the church on earth, freedom of choice in spiritual things, and spiritual equilibrium. All that remains is for each of us to exercise our freedom of choice, to allow the Lord’s Divine Providence to lead us by means of the church on earth to the church in the heavens.

However, since each of us is truly free, falsity and evil have a pull on our hearts and minds equal to that of good and truth. Every one of us must make hard choices and turn away from the pull of hereditary tendencies to evils. To do this requires real power. The power to turn away from evil and falsity does not come from within ourselves, although it may at times seem this way. It comes from the Lord through the church and is represented by the “male child which shall rule the nations with a rod of iron” (REV 12:5). This child represents the doctrine of the church – not the words and ideas presented in the Word, but the ideas after they have been received in the mind and confirmed by a life according to them (See AR 148).

Truth must have power to remove falsity from the natural mind of a person, to turn him away from self-intelligence which leads toward hell. Truth has the power to turn him back toward the Word of the Lord which leads toward heaven. The doctrine rules with a rod of iron because iron represents truths in the natural degree (AE 176:4), and it is that degree which contains both truth and falsity mixed, acquired by the senses. The interior degrees of the mind cannot receive falsity for they are protected by the Lord for use by the truly spiritual person, an angel. So it is there, in the natural degree, that truth and falsity wage their battle. On the one hand are all the ideas that favor the loves of self and the world, and on the other hand are the ideas from the Word and preaching from it that a person has believed and lived.

The ideas from the Word that are of the person’s life itself, because he has lived them and thus appropriated them, are represented by the male child, for they are the person’s doctrine. It rules his mind with a rod of iron because that represents the power of doctrine to remove the falsity in the natural degree of the mind when a person chooses to remove it and asks for the Lord’s help in doing so. The resulting battle is felt as suffering and conflict, and is called “temptation.”

Our text calls to mind the battle that the Lord waged against the hells in order to complete the final judgment on the hells, and restore order to the spiritual world, thus establishing the New Church. We remember that its establishment was witnessed by Swedenborg in 1770 at the conclusion of the Last Judgment in the spiritual world. We might think about how far the church has come in its 213 years, and reflect on how far it has yet to go. We take pleasure in its successes and strengths, we hope and pray for its future growth among people in the world, wondering how we can best serve the Lord’s goals in furthering the church on earth.

But, at the same time, we must remember that the church must be in the mind and heart of each individual member before it can really be said to be established. Each of us is a little world, either a heaven or a hell. There must be a judgment in each of our minds, so that our own spiritual world can be reordered, and so that each of us may become a church, a true church, knowing the Lord as He is revealed in His Word, and living according to His commandments.

When each individual strives to become a true church, then the church on earth will surely grow in both numbers and quality, and the church in the heavens may then have a sure and excellent foundation to eternity. And there was war in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not, neither was their place found anymore in heaven. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of God. (REV 12:7.8.10) AMEN.


First Lesson:

(Gen 3:1-13) Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” {2} And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; {3} “but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'” {4} Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. {5} “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” {6} So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. {7} Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. {8} And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. {9} Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” {10} So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” {11} And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” {12} Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” {13} And the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Amen.

Second Lesson: Rev 12

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. {2} Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. {3} And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. {4} His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. {5} She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. {6} Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days. {7} And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, {8} but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. {9} So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. {10} Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. {11} “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. {12} “Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.” {13} Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. {14} But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. {15} So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. {16} But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. {17} And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Third Lesson: TCR 773, 774

The Lord’s coming is for the purpose of forming a new heaven of those who have believed in Him, and for the purpose of establishing a new church of those who shall hereafter believe in Him, inasmuch as these two are the ends for which He came. The very end for which the universe was created was no other than the formation from men of an angelic heaven, where all who believe in God shall live forever in eternal blessedness; for the Divine love which is in God and essentially is God, can intend nothing else, and the Divine wisdom which is also in God and is God, can effect nothing else.

TCR 774. The Lord’s presence is unceasing with every man, both the evil and the good, for without His presence no man lives; but His Coming is only to those who receive Him, who are such as believe on Him and keep His commandments. The Lord’s unceasing presence causes man to become rational, and gives him the ability to become spiritual.

This is effected by the light that goes forth from the Lord as the sun in the spiritual world, and that man receives in his understanding; that light is truth, and by means of it man has rationality. But the Lord’s coming is to him who joins heat with that light, that is, love with truth; for the heat that goes forth from that same sun is love to God and love toward the neighbor. The mere presence of the Lord, and the consequent enlightenment of the understanding, may be likened to presence of solar light in the world; unless this light is joined with heat all things on earth become desolate.

But the coming of the Lord may be likened to the coming of heat, which takes place in spring; because heat then joins itself with light, the earth is softened, and seeds sprout and bring forth fruit. Such is the parallelism between the spiritual things which are the environment of man’s spirit, and the natural things which are the environment of his body. Amen.

True Christian Religion

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“My Lord and My God”

David Spares Saul

Helping Others is Good for You

The website has an interview with Dr. Stephen G. Post, author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving, and president of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love. (Call me a cynic, but the name “Institute for Research on Unlimited Love” does not instil in me a lot of confidence; it sounds like a hippie farm or a horrific Orwellian government office.)  An excerpt:

IC: What about altruism and longevity?

POST: A remarkable fact is that giving, even in later years, can delay death. The impact of giving is just as significant as not smoking and avoiding obesity. A 2005 study conducted by Alex Harris and Carl Thoresen of Stanford University found that frequent volunteering is strongly linked to later mortality. Called the Longitudinal Study on Aging, it followed more than 7,500 older people for six years. Volunteering was a powerful protector of mental and physical health. Another study, a 1992 survey of older people by Neal Krause of the University of Michigan found that helping others lowers depression. Krause found that, for older men, ten years of volunteering can dramatically slash mortality rates. Another researcher, Doug Oman and his colleagues did a study involving 2,025 older residents of California and found that those who volunteered had a 44 percent reduction in mortality-and those who volunteered for two or more organizations had an astonishing 63 percent lower mortality rate than non-volunteers. If you are an older adult, I have one recommendation: volunteer!

I like that research like this is being done.  As with any study like this you have to be careful not to mistake correlation with causation, but I would guess that these studies at least attempted to control for this, and I would guess that there is SOME element of volunteerism actually causing longer life.  Serving others – performing a use for society – gives a person purpose and a drive to keep living.

Studies like this – and like the marriage study I blogged about a few months ago – have helped me understand a passage from Conjugial Love that confused me the first time I read it.  Conjugial Love n. 130 says,

In brief summary, [wisdom of life] is this: to flee evils because they are harmful to the soul, harmful to the civil state, and harmful to the body, and to do good things because they are of benefit to the soul, to the civil state, and to the body.

The soul and the civil state made sense – the body, not so much.  But more and more research confirms this: things like anger and deceit are harmful to the body, whereas things like doing good are beneficial to the body.  Research like this contributes directly to “wisdom of life” in that it shows just how evil is bad for the body and good is good for it.

That said, it seems like there must be a point where over-volunteering becomes a health risk, rather than a benefit.  I’ve talked to several people who have had doctors tell them that for the sake of their health, they have to stop doing so much.  And I think over-volunteering is often tied with the falsity that we have to do enough good works to merit heaven (Swedenborg has a great description of people in the spiritual world who fell into this fallacy in Arcana Coelestia n. 1110).  I’d like to see research into where that healthy balance is and how people can find it. (Arcana Coelestia)

( (Conjugial love)