Equilibrium: The Balance Of The Worlds

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Equilibrium: The Balance Of The Worlds


(Spiritual Freedom) is given to man with his life as if it were his; and this is done that man may be reformed and saved; for without freedom there can be no reformation or salvation. (Heaven and Hell 597)

The Lord created the world so that there would be a heaven from the human race. He created both the spiritual and natural worlds so that people might be able to receive His life and live to eternity in heaven; and He created the universe in such a way that each person could be a vessel receiving His life and at the same time be separate from Him. This separation makes it possible for His love to be received, and then returned. To further provide for people to be able to freely return His love, He provides a spiritual environment which is kept in perfect balance or equilibrium. Our purpose today is to see the operation of this equilibrium provides a fundamental order for our spiritual lives, and makes it possible for us to make the changes necessary to prepare ourselves for heaven.

The most important function of equilibrium, or what is the same, spiritual freedom, is to make it possible for a person to express his own will, to act as if of himself, to freely enter into the joys of heaven if he wishes to – or even the freedom to embrace the insanity and filth of hell – all according to what he himself freely chooses.

Equilibrium is essential because, as to our spirits, we live between two powerful forces. On the one hand, all of hell is striving to pull us down. On the other hand, the angels of heaven are constantly working to draw us up into heaven. Both the angels and the devils are anxious that we should join them, and they would prevent our free expression of our will if they could and if it would bring us closer! Fortunately for us, the Lord holds our spiritual freedom to be the most important thing in His government, and He protects it every moment. He constantly acts to keep the spiritual forces around us in perfect dynamic balance so that we are free to act as we ourselves wish to act.

The key word in this idea is “dynamic.” We sometimes think of a balance or equilibrium as something that remains static, completely still. We may think of a scale with the pointer steady, or a sheet of financial figures that all adds up the way it’s supposed to. However, real equilibrium is achieved through the constant activity of action and reaction (See HH 589, 593). With those who are good, the activity is from within with the hells reacting to it. With those who are evil, the activity again comes from within, but the balance is achieved by the reaction of heaven.

If we are to reform our lives, we must first be free to choose to make changes in the way we live. The Lord provides our spiritual freedom by allowing us to associate, as to our spirits, with spirits from hell who love the same evil things we love. These evils spirits serve the use of serving as a conduit for that evil to come to us from hell, thus giving it life and reality in this world. We are also associated with spirits from heaven who serve to stir the good loves within us. They too serve as conduits, directing the influx of good from the Lord into our lives, giving our heavenly delights life. In order to keep us in freedom and balance, the Lord does not allow us to associate directly with angels and devils for their states are too different from ours. Instead, our closest spiritual associates are those who have recently entered the spiritual world and are still mostly in the sphere of the natural world. We still have much in common with such spirits, and they can associate comfortably with us. These associate spirits are in turn watched over by more experienced spirits, and so on, until it reaches to the Lord Himself on the one hand, or to the depth of hell on the other. This connection of one life and one state to another is what the Writings call “mediate” influx, for it flows into each man from the Lord by means of other spirits. (See HH 599-600)

Writing in the Arcana Coelestia, Swedenborg tells how he personally felt and perceived the sphere of spiritual freedom. For many years I have observed the general sphere of the influxes around me. It consisted on the one hand of a continual endeavor by the Lord to do good; by these endeavors opposite to each other I have been constantly kept in equilibrium. Such endeavors and consequent equilibrium are with every one; from this all have freedom to turn withersoever they please; but the equilibrium varies in accordance with the good or evil that reigns with the man. (AC 6477)

And in the work Heaven and Hell, he further teaches: The hells have no power on their own. Life and activity, even for the hells, is nothing but a gift from the Lord to which a person is free to respond in any way he chooses. The reason that spirits who communicate with hell are also adjoined to man is that man is born into evils of every kind, consequently his first life can only be from them. Therefore, unless spirits of a nature like his own were adjoined to man he could not live, nor indeed could he be withdrawn from his evils and reformed. He is therefore held in his own life by means of evil spirits and withheld from it by means of good spirits, and by the two kept in equilibrium. Being in equilibrium, he is in his freedom, and can be drawn away from evils and turned towards good, and good can also be implanted in him, which would not be possible at all if he were not in freedom. Freedom is not possible to man unless spirits from hell act on one side and spirits from heaven on the other, and man is in between.… (HH 293)

The Heavenly Doctrines here teach an amazing doctrine of mercy. Because of his corrupt native (or hereditary) will, a person could not live in the natural world if he were only in the association of good spirits. There would be nothing to communicate with the delights of his own spiritual life, nothing to stir his native will, nothing to arouse his reactive life, nothing to enable him to enjoy conscious life in his initial corrupt state, and as a result, he would not even be conscious! (See AC 2886,2887) Therefore, the Lord provides that evil spirits be adjoined to man so there can be a means of conjunction between the person in the world and his life inflowing in through the heavens. If he could not be adjoined to spirits who had a will similar to his own, he could not receive the influx of life through the world of spirits, and thus would not have conscious thought. If a person cannot have conscious thought, it is obvious that neither can he repent, reform, or be regenerated. Thus, without this connection with the spiritual world, we could not be prepared to enter heaven.

The Lord uses evil spirits to enliven a person’s own life, and yet still protects his freedom by using good spirits so that He Himself can subtly inflow and gently withhold the person from the lusts of his own evils.

The angels, on the one hand, seek to fight for a person against his evils. But, because they love his freedom, they hold themselves back until they are invited to help. On the other hand the devils want nothing more than to drive the person from his own body so that they can enter it and so return to the delights of the natural world (See SD 2656, D. Min. 4693, AC 4793). Obviously, as it is the devil’s intent to enslave, a person’s freedom is not highly regarded by them. The Lord, however, oversees the whole process, so that neither the hells get too strong, nor the angels too enthusiastic, and that these two forces are kept in perfect balance. Thus, any activity of a person’s will is able to move towards heaven or hell according to his own freely chosen reasons and delights.

The way spirits are adjoined to a person reflects the very nature of mankind itself. Within each of us are two conflicting, or balancing, elements: the one is our corrupt native will, the other element is a special gift from the Lord called “remains.” Remains are all those things that are good and true which are secretly implanted by the Lord in a person’s mind from the first moment of life, and which remain with him throughout his life as a kind of connection with heaven (See AC 8, 19, 561, 1906). These two elements, remains and the native hereditary evils, correspond to heaven and hell. Our conscious life exists in the place between these, and therefore corresponds to the World of Spirits. The Lord alone controls remains in order to keep them in perfect balance with the strength of the native will.

As a person matures, the kind of spirits associated with him must change. We sense this when we feel the wonderful sphere of a little newborn baby. We are actually feeling the presence of the angels who are with the baby. Little children also have their appeal, but it is a different kind of sphere, and not as strongly felt. This happens because the sphere of heaven has withdrawn as the child’s own personality and character has grown. The same process continues throughout life, only it is not so easily felt in young people and adults. The spiritual reason for this is that the mind, which is the medium of conjunction to the spiritual world, has itself changed. In infancy, the mind is sensual, interested in receiving and organizing sense impressions of the world around it as it becomes aware. In childhood, the mind opens up into the area called memory-knowledges, and from there it matures to the level of youth where there are the beginnings of rational thought. As the mind goes through this process of opening, it enters into a series of new states which correspond to new affections and therefore attract different kinds of spirits (AE 739:2,3). As these changes take place, the Lord oversees the operation, and adjoins spirits to each person in such a way that he is kept in a dynamic balance between the forces of good from heaven and the forces of evil from hell. The Lord also does this in such a way that each person is kept completely unaware of the spiritual activity surrounding him and providing a sphere in which he may exercise his freedom of choice in spiritual things.

Even if a man is of such a nature that he delights in doing evil, and deliberately chooses to do that which he knows to be evil, the Lord adjoins good spirits who, although not in his immediate presence yet, moderate that love in him, to hold him in some kind of order, and in some kind of proper thought while he yet lives in the world so that if possible he might be withheld from plunging into the deepest hell. He is still completely free to choose hell if he desires it, but he is let down into it gently, so that at any time before his actual entry into the spiritual world, it is still possible that he may see the truth, choose to obey it, and begin his life anew. (See AC 868, 929, 3318:5, 9333:2) Until a person leaves the natural world, it is always possible for him to turn away from falsity and towards truth. He can always begin to amend his life when he chooses to live the truth for himself, when he chooses to flee from evils as sins against the Lord. That is what spiritual freedom is – the ability to turn away from the loves of self and the world and turn towards the Lord by means of the truth from the Word. This can happen at any time during our life in the natural world because the Lord has provided spiritual equilibrium for us.

It is the Lord alone who maintains the balance between the forces of good and the forces of evil, for He alone has the power to do it, and He alone is without a proprium that is wholly evil and turned to hell – so nothing selfish can creep into His motives and affect His Mercy and Justice as it would if mere humans were making these decisions.

A spiritual equilibrium in its essence is freedom because it is an equilibrium between good and evil, and between truth and falsity, and these are spiritual. Therefore to be able to will either what is good or what is evil and to think either what is true or what is false, and to choose one in preference to the other, is (spiritual freedom). This freedom is given to every man by the Lord, and is never taken away; in fact, by virtue of its origin it is not man’s but the Lord’s, since it is from the Lord. Nevertheless, it is given to man with his life as if it were his; and this is done that man may be reformed and saved; for without freedom there can be no reformation or salvation.… (HH 597) AMEN.

1st Lesson: GEN 12:1-9

Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. {2} I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. {3} I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” {4} So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. {5} Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. {6} Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. {7} Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. {8} And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. {9} So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South. Amen.

2nd Lesson: MAR 6:45-51

Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. {46} And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. {47} Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. {48} Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. {49} And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; {50} for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” {51} Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. Amen.

3rd Lesson: DLW 68

68. Regarding the elevation of a person’s interior elements which are those of his mind, the following, too, must be known.

Everything created by God has present within it a reaction, life alone being capable of action, and the reaction is occasioned by the action of life. This reaction appears as though it were a property of the thing created because it occurs when the thing is acted upon. Thus the reaction in a person appears as though it were his, because he has no other sensation than that life is his, when in fact the person is only a recipient of life.

It is because of this that a person prompted by his evil heredity reacts against God. However, to the extent that he believes all his life to be from God, and that all goodness of life is owing to the action of God, and all evil of life to the reaction of man, to that extent his reaction becomes one of action, and the person acts in concert with God as though of himself.

The equilibrium of all things is owing to a simultaneous action and reaction, and everything must be in equilibrium.

This much has been said to keep people from believing that they ascend to God of themselves rather than from the Lord. Amen.

Michal’s Disdain

Michal’s Disdain

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 24, 2005


And as the ark of the Lord came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart (2SA 6:16).

  1. In order for us to understand what was behind David’s dancing before the ark, it is important that we have some kind of overview of the kinds of things David had been doing with his life to lead up to this moment which was so important to him. We need to see the battles and the anguish before we can properly understand the peace and the joy.
    1. David was a soldier, a mighty warrior, long before he was a king. As a shepherd boy, he had fought a lion and a bear to protect his sheep. Then, when he came into the camp of the children of Israel to deliver food to his soldier brothers, he offered to fight the Philistine giant, Goliath. We all know that David’s stunning victory over this Philistine marked the beginning of his long and remarkable life as a hero and king of Israel. He served as a musician to King Saul, but the king saw him as a threat to his kingdom and sought to kill him. This drove David out of Israel into Philistia, where he remained until Saul’s death.
    2. Defeated and mortally wounded by Philistine archers, Saul fell on his own sword. He and three of his sons all died that same day, leaving Israel and Judah without a king.
      1. We are told in the Word that the men of Judah came and anointed David as their king, confirming the choice that the Lord had made when Samuel anointed David as king so many years before, but in the north, the men were still loyal to Saul and his descendants. They did not want David to be their king, and so began a long civil war between Israel and Judah, lasting more than seven years. As David and his army grew stronger, the forces of Israel grew weaker, until finally, the men of Israel approached David and made him their king.
    3. With his kingdom finally united, and with visions of future peace and prosperity, David began to look for a new national capital. David chose Jerusalem to be the new capital because it had never been associated with either Israel or Judah. It was a Canaanite city, occupied by the Jebusites.
      1. David fought a brilliant battle to capture the heavily fortified city, and in his joy he made preparations to bring the ark itself into Jerusalem.
      2. We can understand how it would be extremely desirable for David to consolidate the symbols of earthly and heavenly power in one place. He saw this as a sign that the Lord was with him, and that Israel would become a great nation, and that he would be its great king.
        1. So they went to Hebron, and began to move the ark to Jerusalem. But, rather than carrying the ark in the traditional manner, they made a new cart for it, and David and all the house of Israel played music on instruments of wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals. Words are not adequate to describe what a joyous procession this must have been.
        2. But then disaster struck. The oxen stumbled, the ark rocked dangerously on its cart, and a man named Uzzah reached out and touched the ark to steady it. He was struck dead for his error.
      3. This was a tremendous blow to David. He no doubt saw it as a sign from God that the ark should not go to Jerusalem; that God was angry with His people Israel — and its king. So David stopped the procession, and had the ark taken to the house of Obed-Edom, the Gittite. Then he and the people returned to nearby Jerusalem to await developments.
  2. The ark rested with Obed-Edom for three months, and not only did no other disasters occur, but Obed-Edom prospered. David took this to be a sign that God’s anger was abated, or satisfied. Once again he formed a procession to bring the ark to Jerusalem.
    1. The procession stopped every six paces so that oxen and sheep could be sacrificed!
    2. We can well imagine that David, a man of passion and a warrior given to quick, decisive action, could no longer stand the pace (even though he had set it himself) and began to dance for joy that the ark was finally coming to his capital city.
    3. We can well imagine that as he danced in a wild expression of his joy, he began to throw off the heavy outer garments of his kingly office, until he was dancing before the ark as it processed to Jerusalem in his linen ephod, or undergarment.
  3. His wife Michal awaited them in the city. She was Saul’s daughter, given to David in an attempt to cement the political bonds between her husband and father. It does not appear from the letter of the Word that there was any love between David and Michal. She was, and always had been, a political wife. At this time he had a number of other wives and concubines (2SA 5:13) with more to come later.
    1. When she saw David’s joy, she could not share in it. She struck out at him with contempt, and sneered at his expressions of exaltation.
    2. Meanwhile, David entered the city, saw the ark placed in the tabernacle that had been prepared for it, gave gifts of food to all the people, and sent them to their homes.
    3. As he returned to his home, however, he was greeted by Michal’s remarks, implying that he was undignified, and perhaps even unqualified to be a king if he was to behave that way in public — and the comparisons to her father would have been unspoken, but difficult to miss.
      1. The Word tells us that Michal was childless from that time forward. The only possible reason for mentioning this fact at this time is to clearly indicate that from that time forward Michal was separated from the marriage bed. Her derision and disdain had made it impossible for them to be conjoined as husband and wife again.
  4. This is a fascinating story of human relationships. It would be worth reading even if it were only a history of important historic military leaders. But it is not. Every element of this story has been given to us by the Lord in order to tell us important things about how we are to live our own lives in heavenly order, how we are to handle the problems that we meet in our own lives. Let us then take the major elements of the story of the entry of the ark into Jerusalem, and see what the Heavenly doctrines reveal as the Lord’s truth within this story. We begin with the ark, having left Obed-Edom’s house, and about to enter Jerusalem.
    1. The ark represents the Word of the Lord, because it contained the Ten Commandments engraved on the two tablets of stone.
    2. A city represents the doctrine that is formed in our minds throughout our lives as we live according to the Word and form the church within ourselves.
    3. We also need to consider the fact that the ark is coming to Jerusalem after a long and difficult journey.
    4. These things tell us that this story begins in our own lives when we learn a new spiritual truth from the Word through some kind of difficult experience or temptation. The ark approaching the city is like a new truth approaching the mind.
  5. Then David dances for joy before the ark, throwing off his outer garments.
    1. In the Word, dancing represents a sphere of heavenly joy at the reception of a new truth. In such states, things that are merely external are put aside for a time, thrown off, as it were, and the more interior thoughts and affections are noticed. When we feel that we have learned something really new and important, we feel good about it, and our thoughts focus on it. We want to share it with others, while other, lesser matters are properly put to the side for the time being.
    2. Saul as a king represented the Lord in His Divine Human. But, when Saul began to allow his own delusions and anger take over his life, and he turned away from obeying the Lord, he began to represent false ideas that are opposed to spiritual truth instead — for Saul opposed David.
    3. Daughters in the Word usually represent affections for good and true things. However, Michal carries with her the mark of her father, and so she represents the affections of those falsities that are opposed to spiritual truth.
    4. In other words, Michal represents that part of our minds that delights in questioning the ideas that we have, particularly ideas that favor others. She represents that part of us that would delight in any thought or action that would place the needs and desires of self before or above the needs of others.
    5. We are told that Michal watched David dance from a window. Windows, because they allow light to enter into a room, usually have the representation in the Word of intellectual things that bring light to the mind.
    6. However, since it is Michal looking through the window, it changes to its opposite representation, and tells us that the intellectual part of our minds can be drawn into the trap and be used not to understand spiritual and natural truths, but be used to create reasonings and self-justification as to why it is good to feel such things as contempt for others.
    7. That Michal looked at David from the window tells us that we sometimes face the temptation of using our minds to think up reasons that support the belief that to delight in spiritual things is somehow silly, that spiritual things are somehow not “real” and therefore not worthy of an adult’s serious attention.
      1. And further, we sometimes face the temptation of looking at the sincere expression of spiritual life in others, and ridicule them for it, for we have reasoned within our own minds that such things are not “dignified” or “proper.”
      2. Michal, we are told, despised David in her heart, which is to say that the love of self delights in making comparison of others to self, and finding fault where none actually exists.
    8. In the meantime, the ark is placed in the tabernacle prepared for it, which tells us that even while these thoughts of ridicule are being formed in our minds, we can yet carry on, the truth can continue to bring delight as it is lived, and obeyed.
      1. We can be of two minds! We can delight in doing what we know to be true from the Word even as another part of our mind forms arguments against it! As the ark is placed in the tabernacle, David gives the sign of obedience by offering burnt offerings.
      2. Even in our times of mental questioning, doubt, and temptation, we can (and must!) continue to obey the Word in our daily lives.
  6. David gave gifts of bread, meat, and raisin cakes to the people and sent them to their own homes.
    1. Foods represent the good of truth, which tells us that as we begin to live according to the new truth, even as the arguments against it begin to mount in our own minds, as the storm clouds begin to gather, we begin to feel the benefits of living according to the truth. We find that it is good, both for ourselves and for others.
  7. Then David returns to his own home, and the confrontation with Michal. A temptation is a battle between loves.
    1. Any time a love is challenged, we feel pain, for our loves are our very life itself. When a good love is challenged by an evil affection, we will feel pain no matter which one wins, because both were a part of our own life, and it is painful to have any love removed.
    2. In this case, we see represented the confrontation between the affection for a newly found truth, a truth acquired over a long trial, and the twisted reasoning of self-intelligence and self-love.
    3. Michal’s expression of disdain for David’s behavior represents a tendency in each of us to ridicule things that are different or unusual. This can in part show us the power that external conventions have, especially in things like worship.
      1. We must remember what happened to the men of the Ancient Church when they filled their world with representative symbols of the Lord, and then forgot what they meant and began to worship the symbols themselves. They fell from the true worship of the Lord into idolatry.
      2. We too can loose our perspective and begin to worship externals which no longer have anything spiritual within them. At the same time, we may find ourselves ridiculing new ideas for the expression of worship just because they are new and unfamiliar to us. There is also a tendency for us to be fearful of externals that are too different from what we have come to expect.
  8. Finally, David tells Michal that the maidservants will hold him in honor for dancing with joy. This tells us that the real test for forms that are appropriate expressions of the affections of spiritual truth and good is in their use to the Lord and to the neighbor, for maidservant represents a thing of use. The battle, the temptation was ended.
    1. Michal was childless from then on, she was no longer conjoined with her husband in the marriage bed. This represents conquering in temptation which comes when we follow truths from the Word, fight the feelings of ridicule by striving ever forward in our daily lives, continuing to live well, and then letting the usefulness of a thing the final judge.
      1. Michal was only looking to herself, and so she was rejected, alone and childless until her death.
      2. On the other hand, David, who danced before the Lord in his linen ephod, was given rest from his enemies.
  9. It is so easy to be critical of others when they do something unfamiliar. No doubt some of the things people do actually are odd or even harmful — but we cannot immediately judge only from outward appearance. We must allow each other a certain freedom to express what we feel in our heart to be from the Lord. The only true criterion of judgment is the use that is performed.
    1. Ideas need to be judged, not on the reputation of the one who presents the idea, but rather on whether or not the idea will help us feel the Lord’s presence in our lives.
    2. We need to shut away the critic Michal so that we too can dance with joy in the presence of the Lord, and be given rest from our enemies. AMEN.

    Lessons: 2SA 6:12-23, JOH 5:24-30, AC 6203, 6204

    First Lesson: 2SA 6:12-23

    Now it was told King David, saying, “The LORD has blessed the house of Obed-Edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with gladness. {13} And so it was, when those bearing the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, that he sacrificed oxen and fatted sheep. {14} Then David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. {15} So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet. {16} Now as the ark of the LORD came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. {17} So they brought the ark of the LORD, and set it in its place in the midst of the tabernacle that David had erected for it. Then David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. {18} And when David had finished offering burnt offerings and peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts. {19} Then he distributed among all the people, among the whole multitude of Israel, both the women and the men, to everyone a loaf of bread, a piece of meat, and a cake of raisins. So all the people departed, everyone to his house. {20} Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” {21} So David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the LORD. {22} “And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor.” {23} Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death. Amen.

    Second Lesson: JOH 5:24-30

    “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. {25} “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. {26} “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, {27} “and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. {28} “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice {29} “and come forth; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. {30} “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me. Amen.

    Third Lesson: AC 6203, 6204

    In regard to the origin of the influx of evil from hell, the case is this. When a man first from consent, then from purpose, and at last from the delight of affection, casts himself into evil, then a hell is opened which is in such evil (for the hells are distinct from one another according to evils and all their varieties), and there afterward takes place an influx from that hell. When a man comes into evil in this way, it clings to him, for the hell in the sphere of which he then is, is in its very delight when in its evil; and therefore it does not desist, but obstinately presses in, and causes the man to think about that evil, at first occasionally, and afterward as often as anything presents itself which is related to it, and at last it becomes with him that which reigns universally. And when this takes place, he then seeks for such things as confirm that it is not an evil, and this until he wholly persuades himself; and then, in so far as he can, he studies to remove external bonds, and makes evils allowable and clever, and at last even becoming and honorable – such as adulteries, thefts effected by art and deceit, various kinds of arrogance and boasting, contempt for others, vituperations, persecutions under an appearance of justice, and the like. The case with these evils is like that with downright thefts, which when committed of set purpose two or three times, cannot be desisted from; for they continually cling to the man’s thought.

    6204. Be it known further that the evil which enters into the thought does no harm to the man, because evil is continually infused by spirits from hell, and is continually repelled by angels. But when evil enters into the will, then it does harm, for then it also goes forth into act whenever external bonds do not restrain. Evil enters into the will by being kept in the thought, by consent, especially by act and the consequent delight. Amen.

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The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

(Olivet Church, Toronto – April 29, 2007)


A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (MAT 16:4)

The scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees were often found nearby when the Lord was preaching to the crowds that followed Him everywhere He went during the last stages of His ministry. Each of these three groups of Jewish leaders had something to fear from the Lord, because His teaching threatened the established order, the order from which they themselves benefited and derived their power. Skeptics and scoffers, they tried to discredit Jesus, to turn the crowd’s adoration and attention into laughter and scorn; and so, as the Lord taught, they would call out to Him, asking for a sign, a testimony, some miracle that would prove that the things He taught about would actually come to pass. They were demanding proof of Him, and as they were sensual, natural men, they would not believe unless there was some sign that they could hold onto with their own hands, see with their own eyes. If they could not feel it with their own senses, as far as they were concerned, it did not exist. They demanded a miracle because they believed He could not give them one. In their hearts, they wanted Him to fail.

The Lord performed many miracles while He was in the world, as we all well know. He performed miracles of feeding by changing the water into wine, and feeding the 4,000 and 5,000 from a few loaves and fishes. He performed miracles of healing natural illnesses, and of spiritual illnesses. He even raised the dead. Ultimately, His greatest miracle was the Redemption of mankind by raising Himself from the dead, but we shall speak more of this later.

The Lord used miracles throughout His ministry, and yet we are taught in the Heavenly Doctrines that miracles compel belief, and as compelled belief is not free, so miracles are no longer permitted. We wonder, therefore, why the Lord used miracles at that time, but not now, and what special conditions existed that permitted Him to perform miracles and yet allow all men spiritual freedom.

Perhaps the answer lies in mankind’s incredible ability to ignore anything they see that does not agree with what they already believe, or even what they would like to believe. Remember the story of the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. Here was a group of slaves, who witnessed one of the most incredible series of events that has ever taken place in the natural world: the Ten Plagues upon Egypt. They saw rivers turn to blood, darkness descend upon the land for days on end, and pestilence descend only on the Egyptian lands and flocks but not their own. They witnessed the Passover, where every Egyptian first-born died in one night, and finally they saw Pharaoh’s army drowned as the Red Sea closed over them.

When we read these passages and try to imagine what these things must have been like, we think that surely, if we had seen those things, there would be no question that we would believe in the power of God with all our heart! From that moment on, we would obey His every word! And then we read that within a few days of this experience, the children of Israel were complaining that Jehovah had brought them into the wilderness to kill them, and were dancing around the golden calf.

We have an incredible ability to ignore the obvious. It comes with the gift of freedom of thought in spiritual things. If a person is to be truly free to think about and believe in things from the Word, he must also be free to think about and believe all manner of absurd and false ideas.

The Lord performed miracles in the world knowing this, and the miracles He performed did not in any way remove any one’s freedom, but instead served several important uses. First, they served as a confirmation to those who already believed. A married couple knows rationally that they are in love, but they also enjoy confirming their love with kisses and embraces. Kisses and embraces in themselves cannot cause love to occur where it does not already exist, but if love is there the outward signs and gestures confirm it with them. This in itself is a miracle! But no one has ever been forced to love someone against his will through a simple kiss. A kiss does not cause, or force, love, but confirms and enhances the love that is already there.

In the same way, there was no danger of anyone’s freedom being taken away by the Lord’s miracles. We can imagine a skeptic who’d been to see the Lord reporting to his friends that, “Yes, I saw Jesus heal a blind man, but it must have been a trick. I didn’t know the man. He was probably just pretending to be blind.” On the other hand, we can imagine one who was hungry for the Lord’s teachings saying to his friends that he had heard the Master preach words of the hope of spiritual life, “and when He gave sight to that blind man it was as if He opened my own eyes, for then for the first time I truly saw the truth in what He had been teaching.”

We can imagine that many people in those days maintained a tough, skeptical outer shell, for they were hard times, both naturally and spiritually. Many people longed for the Messiah to come, but there had been other claims that had proved false. Many claimed to be prophets in those troubled times, and few of them gave any satisfaction. The Lord performed the miracles to move these skeptics, to make sure that they heard of His deeds, to make sure that they would be curious enough to come and see just once – for once they heard Him speak, they would be moved by His words and be converted. We can see that the Lord used miracles to gather crowds to Himself, and also to help them to confirm their belief in Him.

But the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees were a different matter. There was no question that these groups did not have any desire to listen to the Lord. They sought only to discredit Him in any way they could. When they asked Him for a sign, as recorded in both MAT 12 and MAT 16, He responded to them in apparent anger, calling them “adulterers,” and a “wicked generation” (text). He told them that the only sign they would accept would be the sign of the prophet Jonah, and this would be the sign that He would give them.

To this day, when we speak of the prophet Jonah, the first thing that springs to mind is the memory of the story of Jonah and the whale, for this is one of the most memorable stories in all of scripture. It has all the elements of a great story: it begins with a call to a Divine mission; then there is Jonah’s attempt to flee from the Lord; the drama of the storm which would sink the innocent ship unless Jonah confesses his crime and is punished by being thrown overboard; and the great fish which swallows him whole. It is all fantastic and hard to believe, but possible enough that we want to believe it.

Most of us forget the rest of the things that Jonah did after he escaped from the fish because the story is much less interesting by way of comparison. No doubt, when the Lord told His critics that He would give them the sign of the prophet Jonah, they, being students of scripture, immediately thought of Jonah in the belly of the great fish for three days and nights before being spewed up on dry land, and wondered what this had to do with proof of the Lord’s claim to be the Messiah.

When we study this story from our own perspective, knowing that the Lord was crucified, was in the grave, and rose on the third day, we can see the connection immediately. We see that the three days in the great fish is a symbol for the three days in the grave, and that being spewed out safe on dry land to go on to preach and to save Nineveh represents that the Lord’s work of Redemption was now begun in earnest.

But the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees did not know what was going to happen. They could only guess at what the Lord meant by this, until such time as all the events had actually unfolded. Once the Lord had in fact risen from the grave, then the Disciples, Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and everyone else who was interested in the Lord’s teachings for whatever reason, finally began to understand what it was all about as they remembered what He said, and what He actually did. The message was not only for them, but for the spiritual Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees – the skeptics – who would read the New Testament in generations to come.

Another important difference between the way we see things today, and the way they were viewed at the time of the Lord pertains to the great fish, or whales. Today, many people see the whale as a gentle and intelligent creature, deserving our protection and care. In ancient times, however, perhaps because boats were smaller and sea travel dangerous, the whale was seen as a dangerous monster. In some passages in the Word “leviathan,” “crooked serpent,” “dragon,” “serpent,” and “whale” are all possible translations of the same word (See AE 714:30). To a certain extent, the way things are perceived by men, and therefore are used in their language has an effect on the things animals represent. Since both whales and dragons are large and fearsome, their names are linked linguistically, and so the gentle whale comes to have the same representation as the dragon. The whale (and the Heavenly Doctrines are quite specific that it was a whale) represents “scientifics which pervert the truths of faith,” (AC 7923:2) and the belly of the whale represents the things which are lowest, or “nearest to the earth.” (AC 247)

These representations tell us something about this state of temptation. Do we ourselves not feel that we are “swallowed up” by our own problems? Haven’t we all said about something that frustrates us that it just “kills” us? Do we not sometimes get so wrapped up in “facts” that we miss the truth of the matter?

This is the sign of the prophet Jonah that the Lord gave to all “wicked and adulterous generations.” When we are in temptation and feel spiritually dead, we can know that the Lord has the power to save us, to lift us up out of our states, because He has gone before – He has given us the hope of salvation by doing it for Himself first! He has show us this most important fact about Himself, He has given us the sign that no other prophet could have given, the sign of the prophet Jonah.

There have been other prophets who could perform miracles. There have been others who could heal the sick, and even some who have raised the dead. But there is only one who has been dead and then raised Himself from the grave. He did this to show us the way, to show us that death can lead to eternal life, to show us that we have nothing to fear, to help us believe with our hearts what we hold in our thoughts, to lead us up out of the depths of the various hells that we create for ourselves into the heavenly kingdom that has been prepared for us. When we are in temptation we should remember Jonah’s prayer: The waters encompassed me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head. I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God. (JON 2:5,6) AMEN.

Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson: JON 2:1-10

(Jonah 2) Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly. {2} And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice. {3} For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me. {4} Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ {5} The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head. {6} I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God. {7} “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple. {8} “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. {9} But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.” {10} So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Amen.

Second Lesson: MAT 12:38-42, 16:1-4

(Mat 12:38-42) Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” {39} But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. {40} “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. {41} “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. {42} “The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.

(Mat 16:1-4) Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. {2} He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; {3} “and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. {4} “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed. Amen

Third Lesson: AE 706:6

The Scribes and Pharisees said, Master, we would see a sign from Thee. But He answering, said, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, but no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the belly1 of the earth (Matt. 12:38-40; Luke 11:16, 29, 30).

A “sign” plainly means attestation that they may be persuaded and believe that the Lord was the Messiah and the Son of God who was to come, for the miracles that the Lord wrought in abundance, and that they saw, were no signs to them, because miracles, as has been said above, are signs only with the good. “Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale,” and this was taken for a “sign,” because it signified the burial and resurrection of the Lord, thus the complete glorification of His Human, “three days and three nights” also signifying completeness. Amen.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.

1 The Greek has “heart,” as also found in AC 2798.

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Attending to the Inner Voice

Attending to the Inner Voice

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, March 8, 2009


I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

It’s obvious that each of us in this room today has made either a conscious or unconscious decision to come to church today. The topic of today’s sermon deals with the reasons behind a person’s decision to come to church, and attempts to answer why people feel a need to come to church, and to discover what it is in the human makeup that draws us together to contemplate the Divine influence in the course of our lives.

Many of us come to church without much thought about it. It’s what we always do on Sunday. Attendance at church is for many a tradition, a habit, something that is done as naturally as walking. It’s probably safe to say that the angels themselves have just such a habit, and it gives them great delight to freely express it. After all, is not the process of regeneration a matter of getting rid of bad habits and acquiring good habits with the Lord’s help?

But there are others of us, who, for one reason or another, have never acquired the habit of regular church attendance, and so must make a conscious choice to attend church each time. It is necessary to speak in broad generalities here, for there are as many specific reasons as there are individuals making the choices and of course each individual makes that choice each week after balancing many different options, but several general areas that are worth thinking about can be identified.

The first area to consider is that of the very nature of our church services. Our services are designed to attempt to balance two uses: worship of the Lord; and instruction from His Word. The worship includes elements of both humility and praise, the prayers while kneeling representing humility and supplication, and songs while standing to represent praise and adoration. The instruction includes both reading directly from the Word, and an explanation of the reading’s context, meaning and application to life. In other words, our church services have been carefully designed to serve many needs in ways as appropriate as possible. However, the area of instruction in general, and the sermon in particular have, over time, taken on a greater importance than the worship aspect. Perhaps this is because the sermon take more time than any other single element in the service. Perhaps since the priest spends a far greater time preparing the sermon than any other part of the service it takes on a pre-eminent status in the priest’s mind, and so subconsciously affects his attitudes which then eventually find their way to the congregation.

Because of our emphasis on reading the Word, and the sermon as the most important parts of church, and perhaps because of our traditional emphasis on education as a special use of the New Church, many people choose to come to church to hear the sermon’s message, to be instructed. We come to church hoping to hear something from the Word that will help us out in the trial and tribulations of our daily lives. We hope that we will hear something that will help us solve our problems. Fortunately, that hope and desire is satisfied often enough that we come back. Obviously, very few people would continue coming to a church week after week if they were never satisfied with the instruction they received. So, it’s safe to say that one major reason that people come to church is to learn things that will help them live more satisfying lives.

But the sceptic asks, “Why do you go to church for that, when there are so many self-help books and special interest clubs available?” Indeed. Why do we need to come to church for these things. Why is church felt to be so special? If people choose to come to church to learn things, why not have a doctrinal class format? Why not put up a screen and show overheads? Why not have homework and written exercises and tests? Because that’s not the only reason we come to church. We also come to satisfy some of our emotional needs.

The Heavenly doctrines tell us why we hunger for more than just instruction when they teach that a person is more than just his intellect, that his mind is both will and understanding. The affectional part needs to be stimulated and fed too. However, it is more subtle in getting its message across. Unlike the intellectual side, the affectional side of us cannot directly communicate ideas, so instead it supplies the desire, the inclination to worship, and the intellectual provides the reason (which of course it couches in its own rational terms). So we feel an urge to worship (from the affectional side of the mind), and the intellectual side provides the reason, which is to go and learn something.

This is illustrated by the way we act on vacation. We take our children to some historical spot and then lecture them about the important events that happened at that spot, or we go to the zoo and we cannot resist instructing the children in the various things that we have learned about the animals. The affectional side of us just wanted to have a family outing to someplace new and interesting, and perhaps to enjoy looking at the animals or scenery, but the intellectual side is embarrassed at such a blatant waste of time, so it has to provide some rational reason for such otherwise frivolous behaviour, so we make a holiday trip into an “educational experience” for the children so that we won’t be caught just having fun as a family. We need to remember that the affectional and intellectual sides of us are partners, that there is value in play for the sake of play, in doing something together for no other reason than to share a pleasant experience.

This should remind us of the memorable relations where we see the angel wives gently but powerfully leading their husbands by merely a look or a gesture, but the husbands were unable to communicate in the same way and instead gave lengthy explanations of what they were doing. This should illustrate the idea that going to church is like a marriage. Worship is the “wife”, and instruction the “husband,” that is, the affectional side of a church service is as essential to the churchgoer as a wife is essential to a marriage!

Our affectional side, our will, speaks in our mind without words. It acts as an “inner voice” that does not argue, does not fight, but when we begin to choose to do the wrong things, it makes us uneasy. At the same time, it allows us to feel good when we are doing the right thing. Indeed, it has been said that the reason people attend church is to “attend to the inner voice.” The interesting thing is that this “inner voice” has a common message to all people, a message that gently draws them to worship in some way. The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that the Lord Himself flows into the mind of everyone, from the beginning of his life to eternity, with the message that there is a God, and that He is one. (See TCR 8) The Lord Himself is that inner voice, gently, quietly, calling us to Himself. There are many places in scripture where the word “voice” is used, and we are taught that when it is the voice of Jehovah, it represents a “revelation” from God (See AC 219), and at other times, it represents the “thought and affection, which are the interior things of the voice” (AC 10455).

We are also taught that doctrine, that is, how we understand how the Word applies in our lives, is formed by reading the letter of the Word from doctrine. The teaching about the universal influx shows how this is possible. The Lord flows into the interior degrees of the mind of every individual from the first moment of life with this central doctrine: that there is a God and that He is one. Every human being shares this heritage and gift from God. What he does with it afterwards is a matter of his own free choice – but every one of us begins with this doctrinal basis “built in.” Everything we learn after that is learned in the light of this first truth, particularly the things that we learn from the letter of the Word. Can’t we see this from the way that little children speak of the Lord with confidence and joy? They are predisposed to receive the Word with gladness.

As we grow older, we learn many things, most of which are not from the Word. We learn about cruelty, hatred, and greed, and as we see others exhibit these evils we become cynical, sceptical and suspicious. The “inner voice” cannot be stilled, but it becomes much harder to hear amidst the noise of a mind fully involved in the things of the world. But it is there, quietly, gently feeding its message of hope and peace into the turmoil of the active mind. So we come to church to attend to the needs of the “inner voice” as well as to learn strategies for coping with life, but we cannot properly care for the needs of the “inner voice” until we are aware of it, and come to know its needs, to be sure to make our visit to church worshipful. We can improve the quality of our worship by first recognizing its importance as the feeding of the affectional side of our minds, and so preparing ourselves for genuine worship.

Two specific ways to prepare ourselves for worship are firstly to leave personal cares at home when we come to church, and secondly to examine the thoughts we have while in church from time to time to avoid allowing our minds to wander into thoughts about ongoing projects in the house, or things yet to do at work, or whatever. It is very important that the mind be focused on the Lord and the things of His kingdom if genuine worship is to take place. Further, there must be an opening of the way if instruction about the Lord is to enter, the walls of resistance have to be lowered. This cannot be done automatically, but we must consciously choose to open ourselves to worship and instruction, for the hells do not want this to happen and will inflow with all manner of distracting thoughts if they perceive that we are beginning to genuinely worship and learn about the Lord.

Another thing that we can do to make the worship experience more meaningful is to be careful of the temptation to think about how other people ought to be hearing this instruction, or how other people might be responding in a good or bad way to the subject. For the worship experience to be effective we need to be thinking about how these things apply to our own life. Ours is the only life that can by changed by what we learn, by what we decide to do.

Our rational minds tell us that we should worship the Lord because we have read the Word, and we have found that if we live according to the 10 Commandments that our life is more satisfying than when we do not, therefore we can believe that the Word is from the Lord and is true: it is true because we perceive that to live according to it is good. The Word tells us in many places that we should worship the Lord, so we have duly set up churches and other places of worship where we go to fulfil this instruction addressed to our rational mind, and this is as it should be. However, we need to remember that the affectional side of our life needs nourishment too, it needs to humble itself before the God of Love, to join with friends and family to sing praise to Him who gives life to all, to rest in the warmth of His love, to be simply and profoundly grateful to Him who Created us, and who sustains us with His love every moment of our lives. AMEN.

First Lesson: John 15:1-17

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. {2} “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. {3} “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. {4} “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. {5} “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. {6} “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. {7} “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. {8} “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. {9} “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. {10} “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. {11} “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. {12} “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. {13} “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. {14} “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. {15} “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. {16} “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. {17} “These things I command you, that you love one another.

Second Lesson: True Christian Religion 8.

There is a universal influx from God into the souls of men of the truth that there is a God, and that He is one. That there is an influx from God into man is evident from the universal confession that all good that is in itself good, and that exists in man and is done by him, is from God; in like manner every thing of charity and every thing of faith; for we read:- A man can take nothing except it be given him from heaven (John iii. 27); and Jesus said:- Without Me ye are unable to do anything (John xv. 5); that is, anything that pertains to charity and faith. This influx is into the souls of men because the soul is the inmost and highest part of man, and the influx from God enters into that, and descends therefrom into the things that are below, and vivifies them in accordance with reception. The truths that are to constitute belief flow in, it is true, through the hearing, and are thus implanted in the mind, that is, below the soul. But by means of such truths man is simply made ready to receive the influx from God through the soul; and such as this preparation is, such is the reception, and such the transformation of natural faith into spiritual faith.

[2] There is such an influx from God into the souls of men of the truth that God is one, because everything Divine, regarded most generally as well as most particularly, is God. And as the entire Divine coheres as one, it cannot fail to inspire in man the idea of one God; and this idea is strengthened daily as man is elevated by God into the light of heaven. For the angels in their light cannot force themselves to utter the word Gods. Even their speech closes at the end of every sentence in a oneness of cadence; and there is no other cause of this than the influx into their souls of the truth that God is one.

Copyright General Church of the New Jerusalem, 2009

Page last modified March 8, 2009

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The Pearl of Great Price


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, November 23, 2008


The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (MAT 13:45,46)

The Old Testament is remarkably silent on the matter of the nature of heaven, hell, and the life after death. It appears that the children of Israel were not able to receive truths about heaven, and so were allowed to continue in their belief in the shadowy spirit world which they called “Sheol.” Sheol is related to the Greek concept of Hades and is often translated as “hell”. Perhaps the most powerful teaching of the Old Testament regarding Sheol is in First Samuel Chapter 28 where Saul begs the witch of En Dor to raise the prophet Samuel’s spirit up from Sheol so that he can once more be advised of what to do by the Man of God.

[13] And the king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What did you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.” [14] So he said to her, “What is his form?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.” And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down. [15] Now Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”

Saul’s conversations with the witch and with Samuel’s spirit constitute the majority of the teaching of the Old Testament regarding the life after death. The most that can be said for this doctrine is that it affirms that there is life after death without defining its nature. This graphic scene speaks of a terrible bleakness of spirit that pervaded the people of that church in that time. It shows how they were not able to know anything of what heaven was really like because they were far too interested in personal property, honor, and gain.

In the New Testament however, the Lord frequently taught about heaven, comparing it to many kinds of experiences and places which were common to the people of the day. He began to open the doctrine of the spiritual world in such a way as to take away the fear, while at the same time opening their minds to the knowledge of eternal life. In the Gospel of Matthew alone, the Lord taught that the kingdom of heaven was like:

                  1. a man who sowed good seed” (13:24);
                  2. a mustard seed” (13:31);
                  3. leaven” (13:33);
                  4. a treasure hidden in a field” (13:44);
                  5. a merchant seeking beautiful pearls” (13:45);
                  6. a dragnet cast into the sea” (13:47);
                  7. a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old” (13:52);
                  8. a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants” (18:23);
                  9. a landowner” who hired workers for his vineyard (20:1);
                  10. a certain king who arranged a wedding feast” (22:2);
                  11. and “ten virgins” with lamps who came to the wedding feast (25:1).

The Lord had to speak in these parables, because the people of that church were not prepared to understand His new truths in any other way. The only way to explain a totally new idea to someone is to say that it is like something he does know well.

When someone takes a new job, they look for the things that are familiar and already understood to form the basis for the things that must be learned because they are new.

When trying to learn a new language, the mind eagerly latches on to those words that have similar roots to words they already know. People who speak English as a first language often find Latin easier to learn than Greek because the Latin alphabet is familiar and so many English words have a Latin root. On the other hand, native English speakers probably find that Greek is easier to learn than Hebrew because even though both use a different alphabet, there are far more English words with Greek roots than with Hebrew roots.

For most people, in most circumstances, the comparison of something new and unknown with something familiar and common will often calm the fears enough so that learning can begin. This is but an application of the Lord’s teaching technique to a modern circumstance: explain what is totally new, unknown and unimagined in terms of what is well known and familiar. The kingdom of heaven is not a mustard seed, nor is dying the same thing as going to sleep, but they both can serve as useful illustrations making what might be strange and frightening seem less so. The Lord sought to give the truth to His people, but at the same time to comfort them – not frighten them with new and strange ideas. And so He taught them that the kingdom of heaven was like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, and having found a pearl far superior to any he had ever seen, he sold everything he had to purchase this one perfect pearl.

In the internal sense, the “kingdom of heaven” refers to both heaven and the church on earth. A “merchant” signifies all those people who are seekers of truth and who live according to the new truths they have acquired from the Lord through the Word. Our ability to seek out and acquire new truths comes from the spiritual affection of truth; which affection consists in loving the truth itself and esteeming it above every good in the world, because through truth, we have eternal life. The spiritual affection for truth can be said to be loving truth for the sake of eternal life. This is to be compared to a natural affection for truth, which would be to love truth for the sake of knowing things – natural curiosity – but not for the sake of spiritual goals.

It is important that each of us form a spiritual affection for truth within ourselves, for we are taught that the only means by which eternal life is implanted in man is by means of the truth, consequently by means of the Word, for it is through the Word that the Lord teaches truths to man. The spiritual affection of truth, which is to love truths above every worldly delight and treasure, is what is described by the parable of the merchant seeking to buy one precious pearl of great price. This is so because in the internal sense to “buy” signifies to appropriate to yourself, or make something your own through your own free choice.

As an illustration of this point, reflect for a moment of what happens when we go shopping in a large store. We are faced with literally thousands of decisions about whether or not we should buy a certain thing or not.

                  1. We might see something that would be nice to have, but decide not to buy it because it seems to be priced too high to be a good value.
                  2. We might see something to replace something we already have that’s wearing out, but decide to wait a little longer.
                  3. We might see something that is almost what we want, but we decide to look a little farther before buying.
                  4. When we see something that is just right, that fits our desires and needs exactly, then we decide to buy it, to make it our own.

This is very similar to the process by which our character is formed during life in the world. Ideas are constantly flowing into our minds from the world of spirits. Some are from heaven, some from hell, but most are fleeting thoughts, unable to remain with us because they find no common ground, no similar affections in our mind to hang on to. Such things are so far removed from our own loves that we do not even notice their passage.

Other ideas enter that are interesting enough for us to turn them over in our minds for a moment, until we see a flaw or a discordant affection, at which point we discard the thought.

But many ideas are delightful to us, so we choose to “take” them, make them our own. We “purchase” some of the ideas that flow in, and as it were take them home and make them a part of our particular lives. This describes how our free will functions in the development of our own unique personality and character – the free selection of ideas and loves that agree with what we love and with what we want ourselves want to be.

We can imagine a merchant, a dealer in pearls, going through his life, buying and selling unremarkable pearls, always searching for one perfect pearl. We too go through life making our decisions based on very mundane and common things most of the time, decisions about what to have for lunch, how to deal with a problem with the children, which course to take in a business deal. These are natural things, so called because they relate to things of the natural world, and so involve the natural degree of the mind.

There are some truths that, once they enter into the natural mind, become quite irritating. We try to ignore them, but they will not go away or be quiet. One the one hand, these can be truths that irritate us because they point out our own weaknesses and failings.

On the other hand there are things in others that irritate us, such as when a normally open-minded and loving spouse becomes very stubborn on one particular topic. There comes a time when we must take a lesson from the oyster, and form a pearl around that irritation. If an otherwise kind and thoughtful spouse has a character flaw that irritates, you can either fight it, rub it, and irritate it until it becomes an open wound, or you can surround it with thoughts of the spouse’s many good qualities will qualify and soften the effect of that single irritating point.

We need to remember that the other person may have been working on that particular problem for some time, and our comments have the effect of reminding them of their failure to conquer it yet. We must be merciful to those we love, and as far as possible look to the good in others.

The “one precious pearl,” long sought by the merchant, is the knowledge and acknowledgment of the Lord in His Divine Human. This is the central, essential idea of faith that qualifies all others, the one precious pearl of wisdom which gives value and meaning to all the others is the belief that the Lord God Jesus Christ is the One God of heaven and earth, and that He

                  1. actually took on a body from Mary,
                  2. lived among us on earth,
                  3. suffered and conquered in temptations,
                  4. restored the hells to their proper place and order,
                  5. and rose into heaven on the third day with His glorified Human.

This is the pearl of true wisdom, more precious than any other: that God Himself came down to earth in a Human body to free us from the dominion of hell and free us to choose to follow His commandments, to become Christians, that is, to live according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

In our parable, when the merchant finds the precious pearl, he sells all that he has that he might acquire the precious pearl. To go and sell all that you have does not refer to ridding yourself of all material possessions, though some have interpreted the passage in this way. The Word speaks in the spiritual sense in terms of spiritual possessions and deeds. To “sell all you have” then refers to cleansing yourself of those things in your thought and will that are contrary to the knowledge and acknowledgment of the Lord in His Divine Human as the One Only God of Heaven and earth, to shun evils as sins against God.

We read in our second lesson (Revelation 21) that the Holy City New Jerusalem, which represents the Lord’s New Church in the Heavens and on the earth, has 12 gates, each of which is formed of a single pearl. There are twelve gates into the city, because twelve represents the idea of all things of good and truth universally. This is significant, for it tells us that there are really as many different ways for people to approach the Lord’s church as there are people, that no two individuals will approach the Lord in quite the same way, yet He has provided that there will an entrance for everyone into His church – as long as one condition is met. That condition is revealed by the fact that the gates are each made of one pearl: Only those shall enter the Holy City New Jerusalem who have as the basis of their faith the belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as the one God of heaven and earth.

We all need to become spiritual merchants. We all need to have a spiritual affection for truth, that is, look to the things of the Word because they lead to eternal life. We need to seek the One Precious Pearl in the only place where it will be found, in the Word. And when we have found the Lord Himself in His Word, we must sell all that we have, that is, give up all that we have that is from self and the world, so that we can enter into the Holy City New Jerusalem through one of the twelve gates, each made of a single precious pearl, unimpeded by false ideas and evil desires. AMEN.

First Lesson: MAT 13:44-52

(Mat 13:44-52) “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. {45} “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, {46} “who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. {47} “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, {48} “which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. {49} “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, {50} “and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” {51} Jesus said to them, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” {52} Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” Amen.

Second Lesson: REV 21:9-21

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” {10} And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, {11} having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. {12} Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: {13} three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. {14} Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. {15} And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall. {16} The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. {17} Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. {18} The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. {19} The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, {20} the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. {21} The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. Amen.

Third Lesson: Apocalypse Explained 863a.

For they are virgins, signifies for the reason that they are in the affection of truth for the sake of truth. This is evident from the signification of “virgins,” as being affections of truth, which are called spiritual affections of truth. For there are natural affections of truth which exist in almost every one, especially during childhood and youth. But natural affections of truth have reward as an end, at first reputation, and afterwards honor and gain. These are not the affections here meant by “virgins,” but spiritual affections of truth are meant, which are such as have for their end eternal life and the uses of that life.

Those who are in such affections love truths because they are truths, thus apart from the world’s glory, honors, and gains; and those who love truths apart from such considerations love the Lord; for the Lord is with man in the truths that are from good. For that which proceeds from the Lord as a Sun is the Divine truth, and that which proceeds from the Lord is the Lord; consequently he that receives truth from spiritual love because it is truth receives the Lord. Therefore of such it is said “these are they that follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.”

Moreover, such are meant by the Lord in these words in Matthew:-

The kingdom of the heavens is like unto a treasure hidden in a field, which a man having found hideth, and in his joy goeth and selleth all things whatsoever he hath, and buyeth the field. Again, the kingdom of the heavens is like unto a man a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one precious pearl, went and sold all that he had, and bought it (xiii. 44-46).

The treasure hidden in a field” and “the pearls” signify the truths of heaven and the church; and the “one precious pearl” signifies the acknowledgment of the Lord. The affection of truths because they are truths is meant by “the man went in his joy and sold all that he had, and bought the field” in which the treasure was hidden, also by “the merchant’s going and selling all that he had, and buying the precious pearl.” Amen.

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