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

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