Serving the Lord

Serving the Lord

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

revcooper.ca

But as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:14)

Joshua, whose name is the Hebrew form of the Greek word which we translate into English as “Jesus,” is perhaps the most steadfast and dependable character in the whole of the Old Testament. We first meet Joshua when he goes with Caleb and ten others to spy out Canaan just after fleeing from their slavery in Egypt. Of all who returned, only Caleb and Joshua reported that it would be easy for the children of Israel to enter Canaan and drive out the Canaanites with the help of the Lord. The other ten spies were afraid – they had seen giants in the land, and, in spite of the miracles they had just seen as Jehovah destroyed Pharaoh with the 10 plagues, their fears overcame their trust in the Lord. Their fears infected the rest of the people and they were able to convince them that they would die if they tried to enter Canaan.

Because of their fearfulness and because they did not trust in the Lord, the children of Israel were to wander in the wilderness for forty years, until all those who had been slaves in Egypt died in the wilderness. A new, tougher generation was born in the desert that was willing to follow Jehovah into the promised land. Of all the multitudes that followed Moses out of Egypt, only Joshua and Caleb actually entered the promised land.

Not much is directly said about Joshua during those years of wandering, but we do know that he served Moses by training the young men to be soldiers. Joshua spent forty years in the wilderness doing the Lord’s work by teaching the children born of the slaves that had fled Egypt and creating from them a powerful, disciplined army.

After Moses died, and it was time for the children of Israel to enter the land of Canaan, Joshua was given the responsibility of leading this disobedient and difficult people. Miraculously, the Jordan river parted for the ark as it entered its waters, proving to the people that Joshua was a leader, like Moses, chosen for them by the Lord Himself. He led them according to God’s plan against Jericho, and their easy victory against that powerful, heavily fortified city struck terror in the hearts of the remaining Canaanites. When some of Joshua’s men, encouraged by their easy victory at Jericho, decided to try to conquer the nearby city of Ai on their own, but failed, Joshua led the tribes of Israel through the process of self-examination that eventually revealed the thief who had stolen forbidden things from Jericho. Joshua courageously led them as they conquered the Canaanites in the South, and then again in the campaign in the North. He administered the division of the land among the tribes with justice. He established the cities of refuge. He saw to it that the priesthood received their fair share of the land. He ruled with absolute power throughout the conquest and settlement of Canaan, and he did so without a single mention of disorder, selfishness, or dishonesty. Joshua, more than any other individual we know from the Word, served the Lord with integrity and strength all his days.

After doing everything the Lord has asked him to do, Joshua reached his old age. He called together the elders of the children of Israel, and gave them his final charge. He reviewed all that they had done, and especially emphasized all the things that Jehovah had done for them, making it quite clear that everything they had was a gift from God, and that they had done nothing of themselves. Finally, the historical review complete, he challenged his people to look to the future, to make some important decisions about how they would go on without his firm leadership. He reminded them that there were still Canaanites in the land who worshiped idols, and that there were some of the children of Israel who were tempted to join in their profane worship, but he put it to the people this way: “Now, therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:14-15).

Joshua might have done many things with this opportunity. He might have threatened. He might have warned. He might have scolded. But he did not. An absolute ruler for many years, loved by his people because he was a good leader in both war and peace, he turned it back to them. He said in essence, “There’s nothing more I can do. I’ve taught you everything I know. It’s up to you to make something of yourselves. I can’t stop you from chasing after the idols of the Amorites if that’s what you really want. You will be what you choose to be.”

“The Amorites” is a general term for many of the peoples who lived in the land of Canaan, and they represent evils in general. This tells us that Joshua’s words are directed not just at the children of Israel, but in fact are equally valuable advice to all people in all times. All of us are tempted from time to time to do things that are selfish, cruel, or dishonest. We are then faced with a choice of whether we should do what we want to do, or should we instead do what the Lord wants us to do? Of course, as soon as it is put that way, it becomes obvious to all of us that we should do what the Lord wants – but with the help of the hells we usually manage to avoid phrasing it in just that way, and we can then more easily think of good reasons why we should keep doing exactly what we have always done, pushing the Lord and the Word out of our thoughts until some later time when we think it will be easier to change.

The children of Israel were constantly tempted to worship idols, just as we are constantly tempted to turn away from the Lord and towards things that favor our loves of the self and the world. This is a problem for us now, as it was for them then, and Joshua’s words, in the spiritual sense, speak to our hearts as we face these very problems today.

Joshua named the problem, the temptation to worship idols, and while leaving everyone in freedom to do what they believed to be right, still showed the way, for he said that as for himself and his house, he would serve the Lord. In the outermost sense, it is clear that he was referring to more than his own immediate family in this, but rather included all those who wished to be like him, those who admired him. In this sense, those who listened carefully to his advice were his “house.” In other words, Joshua was telling his people that if they wished to be like him, to be counted as part of his extended family, they should serve the Lord. At the same time, he was telling them that he was not sure that their resolve to follow the commandments and serve the Lord was strong enough. He said to them that he did not believe that they could stay in the way of the Lord. He repeated his warning about following other gods. The people seemed to insist that they wanted to follow the Lord, so he made them witnesses to themselves, and ended with the direct command that they were to put the foreign gods away immediately.

Joshua called for them to join him in serving the Lord. The Hebrew word for “servant” can also mean “to serve.” However, when that word is used in conjunction with one of the Hebrew words for God, the meaning changes from “to serve” to “to worship.” This is exactly parallel with the internal sense, for we are told that “to serve” represents “obedience and also worship” (AC 9318, 9322). From this, it is clear that the Hebrew concept of the worship of Jehovah revolved around the idea of service to Him through obedience to His commands, performance of ritual acts in strict obedience to revelation, without regard to the meaning of the acts themselves.

This seems to us to be merely external, like the blind obedience of children, or the simple, but yet we can find within it the true concept of heavenly worship, of service to the Lord. Divine worship itself in the heavens does not consist in going to church and listening to sermons, but in a life of love, charity and faith in accordance with doctrines. Preachings in churches serve solely as means of instruction in matters of life. …The angels said that these are outward acts that ought to be done, but are of no avail unless there is an internal from which they proceed, which is a life in accordance with the precepts that doctrine teaches (HH 222).

It’s exactly the same message whether it is Joshua asking the children of Israel to choose between the LORD or idols, or the Lord telling us through Swedenborg in the Writings that the most important human faculty is freedom of choice in spiritual things. The Lord gives each of us spiritual freedom, which is like a muscle. Unless it is used it becomes stiff and weak to the point of uselessness. We must exercise our spiritual freedom by making choices, and the choices we must make are whether or not we are going to worship the idols of our fathers and or the Amorites, or whether we are going to serve the Lord.

Just as there are many kinds of idols we might wish to worship, there are also many ways that we can serve the Lord. Generally, when ever we do something for the sake of another, we serve the Lord. We also feel delight when we do, for serving the neighbor for the sake of their happiness is heaven [itself] (HH 408:e).

  • We serve the Lord by obeying His commandments, and by teaching our children to obey His commandments.
  • We serve others for the sake of the Lord when we come to church and add to the sphere of worship by joining in with the singing, by saying the prayers with the rest of the congregation, but taking part in all the ritual, and even just by our presence.
  • We serve the Lord by helping the needy, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked.
  • We serve the Lord when we share our love for the Word with others who are seeking for answers, when we answer a question, when we listen to a friend with sympathy and understanding.
  • We serve the Lord when we take a few moments every day to sit quietly with the Word, reflect on its meaning in our life, and try to add a little bit to our understanding of doctrine. In this way particularly, the Lord’s presence with us through His Word is enhanced, and the church will grow in power and meaning in our lives.

Every day, every hour, every moment, we are faced with choice of worshiping the Lord or worshiping the “idols of the Amorites.” When we face this challenge we must remember the message given by the Lord through Joshua that we are going to be whatever we ourselves choose to be. We are free to choose to worship idols or the Lord. It’s entirely up to us.

Joshua first entered Canaan as a young spy, and knew that with the Lord’s help, his people could conquer its dangers and possess its beauty. Denied an early entrance into the land of Canaan by his people’s fears, served under Moses to build a powerful army for the Lord while in the wilderness, and with that army and the Lord’s help, conquered that land for the children of Israel. Courageous in war, he was a just and able leader in peace. Joshua shows us the way to heaven by his example, and we would do well to listen to his final challenge to his people with our minds and our hearts. “Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for your selves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (text). AMEN.

First Lesson: Joshua 24:14-28

“Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! {15} “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” {16} So the people answered and said: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; {17} “for the LORD our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way that we went and among all the people through whom we passed. {18} “And the LORD drove out from before us all the people, including the Amorites who dwelt in the land. We also will serve the LORD, for He is our God.” {19} But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. {20} “If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good.” {21} And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the LORD!” {22} So Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD for yourselves, to serve Him.” And they said, “We are witnesses!” {23} “Now therefore,” he said, “put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD God of Israel.” {24} And the people said to Joshua, “The LORD our God we will serve, and His voice we will obey!” {25} So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made for them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. {26} Then Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. {27} And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness to us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD which He spoke to us. It shall therefore be a witness to you, lest you deny your God.” {28} So Joshua let the people depart, each to his own inheritance. Amen.

Second Lesson: TCR 412-416 (port.)

TCR 412. …Love towards a community is a fuller love to the neighbor than love towards a separate or individual man….

TCR 414. One’s country is more a neighbor than a single community, because it consists of many communities, and consequently love towards the country is a broader and higher love. Moreover, loving one’s country is loving the public welfare. One’s country is the neighbor, because it is like a parent; for one is born in it, and it has nourished him and continues to nourish him, and has protected and continues to protect him from injury. Men ought to do good to their country from a love for it, according to its needs, some of which are natural and some spiritual. Natural needs relate to civil life and order, and spiritual needs to spiritual life and order. That one’s country should be loved, not as one loves himself, but more than himself, is a law inscribed on the human heart; from which has come the well-known principle, which every true man endorses, that if the country is threatened with ruin from an enemy or any other source, it is noble to die for it, and glorious for a soldier to shed his blood for it. This is said because so great should be one’s love for it. It should be known that those who love their country and render good service to it from good will, after death love the Lord’s kingdom, for then that is their country; and those who love the Lord’s kingdom love the Lord Himself, because the Lord is the all in all things of His kingdom.

TCR 415. Since man was born for eternal life, and is introduced into it by the church, the church is to be loved as the neighbor in a higher degree, because it teaches the means which lead to eternal life and introduces man into it, leading to it by the truths of doctrine and introducing into it by goods of life. This does not mean that the priesthood should be loved in a higher degree, and the church because of the priesthood; but it means that the good and truth of the church should be loved, and the priesthood for the sake of these. The priesthood merely serves, and is to be honored so far as it serves. The church is the neighbor that is to be loved in a higher degree, thus even above one’s country, for the reason also, that by his country man is initiated into civil life, but by the church into spiritual life….

TCR 416. The Lord’s kingdom is the neighbor that is to be loved in the highest degree, because the Lord’s kingdom means the church throughout the world, which is called the communion of saints; also heaven is meant by it; consequently he who loves the Lord’s kingdom loves all in the whole world who acknowledge the Lord and have faith in Him and charity towards the neighbor; and he loves also all in heaven. Those who love the Lord’s kingdom love the Lord above all things, and are consequently in love to God more than others, because the church in the heavens and on earth is the body of the Lord, for those who are in it are in the Lord and the Lord in them. Therefore love towards the Lord’s kingdom is love towards the neighbor in its fullness; for those who love the Lord’s kingdom, not only love the Lord above all things, but also love the neighbor as themselves…. Amen.

The Order of Creation

The Order of Creation

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

revcooper.ca

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen. 1:1)

Everyone who believes in God, no matter what the details of their faith may be, also believes that God is the creator of everything. The difficulties that we have with the concept of creation begin to arise when we try to understand the process of how He created the universe. We want to know things like, “What is our relationship as created beings to our Creator?” and “Are people fragments of God that will eventually return to unity with Him?” and “Where did the matter of the universe come from in the first place?” These are some of the questions we will address today.

The first thing we must establish is that humans are not part of the “cosmic oneness” of God, but in fact depend on a degree of separation from Him to allow for individual development of personality and character. In order for people to live in freedom, able to respond to God’s leading each in his own unique way, it is absolutely essential that each person be separate from the Divine, while at the same time be of such a form as to be able to receive and use the constantly inflowing Divine life.

God created the universe because He is Divine Love and Divine Wisdom itself, and the nature of Divine Love is to continually seek to express itself, to go forth and give pleasure to others. Therefore, unless there were human beings to love, the Divine Love could not be received and it was frustrated, so God’s whole effort was directed to correcting this situation, to creating individual human beings whom He could love. In the same way, the Divine Wisdom of God also continually seeks to express itself, but it expresses itself in the forms of the created world, it represents God’s infinite knowledge. We can think of an example from our own experience. We feel a need for something, we desire to have it to enable us to perform some use. We then think about the steps that are required for us to make or buy that thing. The desire is like the Divine Love, the steps required to get it and use it, stand for the Divine Wisdom.

Another way to illustrate the Divine Love and Wisdom in God is to think of them like the heat and light that proceed from the sun. We are told that God appears to the angels in the spiritual world as a sun, as the sun of heaven itself, to represent this truth about His nature. When we think of God as the sun of the spiritual world, we can then think of the Divine Love proceeding from Him as heat, and the Divine Wisdom proceeding as light.

Such symbols are commonly used in the world today. When we are loved by someone, we say we feel the ‘warmth’ of their love. When someone explains something to us, we say that they have put a little ‘light’ on the subject. These common illustrations of human relationships are derived from their correspondence with God as He appears in the spiritual sun of heaven.

In the world of nature, the sun provides all the energy (except that which is provided by nuclear reaction). The sun shines on an innumerable variety of green plants which then use that energy to make their food. The sun’s energy is stored in the plants, and is later released when eaten by animals, or when burned in fires, or when turned to coal or petroleum over the passage of time. Even the electricity provided by a hydroelectric plant comes from the sun, for the sun causes the water to evaporate, clouds to form, and rain to fall into the reservoirs, thus the sun lifts the water from the sea into the mountains, and we collect some of the energy released as it rushes back to the sea. Everywhere we turn, we see that the very power to move and live in the natural world is provided by the sun, and if we lift our minds out of the world of nature just for a moment, we can see that this is so because God Himself is the sun of Heaven, and He created the natural sun to correspond to and represent His relationship to all of His creation.

The spiritual sun, and its heat and light are “a proceeding” from the Divine Love and Divine Wisdom of God (DLW 290). The Divine Love proceeds from the Lord as heat, and the Divine Wisdom proceeds from the Lord as light, and these two, taken together, are perceived as the sun of the spiritual world. This sun enlivens spiritual beings by its heat, and renews spiritual objects by its light (DLW 93), that is to say that it is by means of the Divine Love and Wisdom proceeding from the Lord as a sun that the spiritual world and its inhabitants have their life and their continual creation or renewal.

We know that the natural sun is incredibly active, and gives off strong radiation over a wide range of frequencies. In fact, the only reason the sun is life-giving instead of life-destroying is that it is 150 000 000 kilometers away, and the earth’s atmosphere blocks and filters out most of the harmful frequencies of radiation. In the same way we need to have some spiritual distance and spiritual atmospheres between God and us in order to survive His presence with us. The Lord’s Divine Love and Wisdom flow out from Him as a sun, with fierce power. But the first things that He created were spiritual atmospheres to soften and moderate His Divine power so that it could be received by the highest angels. He also created the spiritual world so that it itself acted like atmospheres, receiving the Lord’s Divine presence, softening, changing, and passing it on to the next level in a form particularly suited for the states of those who were to receive it. The warmth of that sun warms the will, and the light of it is the light of the understanding (DLW 96). But although the Divine Love and Wisdom proceed from God as the heat and light from a sun, and although the angels see Him above the heavens as a sun, we must also hold to the clear, repeated teaching of the Heavenly Doctrines that God is not a sun, but a Man: it is just that “The first proceeding from His Love and Wisdom is that fiery spiritual (substance) which appears before the angels as a sun” (DLW 97). In Himself He is not anything but Divine Man (See DLW 97).

The Lord cannot be present with us as He is in Himself, any more than we could live on the surface of the sun. Therefore, the Lord is present with us by means of those things which a person may receive from Him without harm, such as: love, wisdom, and use. Neither love nor wisdom can go out from God and be received by a person except by means of something that conducts it, any more than light and heat can travel from the natural sun to earth without something to carry them. For example, electricity must travel through its proper conductors — it cannot travel through an open switch. Sound and heat must have air (or some other substance) to carry them. Every form of energy that we know about must travel through its proper medium. In the case of love and wisdom, that thing that carries them from the Lord to mankind is use, for the Heavenly Doctrines teach that the spiritual atmospheres carry the effects of the spiritual sun to heaven, and then through heaven to men in the world, making “the Lord’s presence everywhere manifest” (DLW 299). And where the Lord is present, there uses are being performed.

The creative force flowed out from God and a spiritual atmosphere was formed. His power then flowed into that atmosphere which changed it and a lower atmosphere was formed, and so on until the heavens, and the world of nature were created. And, all these degrees and layers of creation continue to exist moment by moment because Life from the Lord is continually flowing into them, renewing them, and maintaining their existence.

Even though in themselves they are dead, each of these degrees of creation has something of the Divine within it, and therefore has a drive (or “conatus”) to return back to the Lord, to rise up in higher uses wherever and whenever the opportunity is present. The material substances of the world are dead in themselves, but there still is life in them from the Lord through the spiritual sun and atmospheres. The Lord has reached out and created level after level of substances and forms, until they are so far from Him that they seem to us to be inert and lifeless, yet they are capable of responding to the influx of life.

In this way, layer by layer, the Infinite was finited, and the material “stuff” of the universe was created. Then having reached the bottom, the most ultimate things of the natural world, the Lord then directed His life into these things so that they began to combine with each other and become more complex forms capable of receiving more life, and performing higher uses. From the basic matter of the universe, He created the mineral kingdom. With that as a foundation and basis, He then added a new level of life and created the vegetable kingdom. When that was well established and could support a new form of life there was another distinct jump and the animal kingdom was added as another kingdom capable of perform even higher uses. Then, when all was in readiness, He drew things together from the whole of creation and created human beings. This creation was unique and remarkable in that it could receive influx immediately from God into an eternal, human soul, it could receive the inflowing life from God into a conscious, rational mind, and it could receive an inflowing life into the material substances of the world and so build a body of natural substances which could serve as a means for acquiring and learning sensual knowledges from the world which would serve as a basis for the intellectual processes of the growing spiritual mind.

But the point of creation was not for the human beings to live for a few years in the natural world, but that there could be eternal, spiritual life for us, and to this end the Lord created people with an internal spiritual form to receive His life which could never be harmed and never die. It is difficult for us to sense this for ourselves, because the feeling of life from the soul has been hidden from people in the world as a protection for them. If people were able to become conscious on the level of the soul, they might choose to do something that would damage it, or make it no longer capable of receiving life from the Lord — certainly people make choices in the natural world that destroy their ability to be rational, so the same principle would apply on the spiritual level. If a person were to do damage to his soul, it would be the end of his eternal life, and so this is why the soul is particularly protected by the Lord — for the sake of man’s eternal life and happiness.

Creation descends from God to the ultimates of nature, and then ascends back to heaven, or as the Heavenly Doctrines say, “from firsts to lasts and thence into intermediates.” (ref.?) God created the universe not from nothing, but from Himself (DLW 55, 56, 291-306). He did so by successive degrees of accommodation until He had created all the material things in the world. These materials were from Him. He then built up the various degrees of creation until He had a vessel that could contain a living soul: a human being. He could inflow directly into this creation, giving it the gift of life, and with it the gift of the feeling that life is one’s own.

Although this treatment has barely touched the surface of this rich doctrine, it should be plain that the Lord created the universe for the sake of mankind. He created it from Himself in such a way that it is not continuous with Him, but that it is in order and thus responsive to Him. From the spiritual sun, life and truth descend by degrees through the spiritual atmospheres, taking on layer after layer of appropriate forms that clothe them. Yet every level is created to receive life or truth, and pass it on, or hold it, so that through his life, each person has the opportunity to act freely as of himself within the spiritual and natural environment created for him by the Lord. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. AMEN.

Lessons: Genesis 1:1-19, Rev. 4, AE 739

1st Lesson: Genesis 1:1-19,

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. {2} The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. {3} Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. {4} And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. {5} God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day. {6} Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” {7} Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. {8} And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day. {9} Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. {10} And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good. {11} Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. {12} And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. {13} So the evening and the morning were the third day. {14} Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; {15} “and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. {16} Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. {17} God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, {18} and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. {19} So the evening and the morning were the fourth day. Amen.

2nd Lesson: Rev. 4,

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” {2} Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. {3} And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. {4} Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads. {5} And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. {6} Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. {7} The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. {8} The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” {9} Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, {10} the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: {11} “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.” Amen.

3rd Lesson: A. E. 739:2-4

[2] … Every man at his birth is altogether sensual, so that even the five senses of his body must be opened by use; he next becomes sensual in thought, since he thinks from the objects that have entered through his bodily senses; afterwards he becomes more interiorly sensual; but so far as by visual experiences, by knowledges (scientiae), and especially by the practices of moral life, he acquires for himself natural light (lumen), he becomes interiorly natural. This is the first or ultimate degree of man’s life. [3] … But if he goes on further, namely if he lives according to these knowledges from the Word, the interior degree is opened in him and he becomes spiritual, but only so far as he is affected by truths, understands them, wills them, and does them; and for the reason that evils and the falsities thence which by heredity have their seat in the natural and sensual man, are removed and as it were scattered in this and in no other way. … The interior degree with man can be opened in no other way, because the evils and falsities that are in the natural man keep it closed up; for the spiritual degree, that is, the spiritual mind, contracts itself against evil and the falsity of evil of every kind … On the other hand, when … Divine truths from the Word that derive their essence from good, approach that mind, it opens itself; yet the opening is effected not otherwise than by the reception of the good of love flowing in through heaven from the Lord, and by its conjunction with the truths that man has stored up in his memory, and this conjunction is only effected by a life according to Divine truths in the Word, for when these truths come to be of the life they are called goods. Thence it may be clear how the second or middle degree is opened. [4] … The third or inmost degree is opened with those who apply Divine truths at once to life, and do not reason about them from the memory, and thus bring them into doubt. This is called the celestial degree. Amen.

Christian Charity

Christian Charity

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 19, 2009

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He who does not put out his money at usury, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved. (Psalm 15:5,6)

The practice of usury is referred to about twenty five times in the Old Testament, and in almost every reference, the letter of the Word tells us that we must not think of profit or recompense when we loan our money to others. There are several references that indicate that it is permissible to benefit from a loan when it is made to strangers, but it is quite clear from scripture that one must not make usurious loans to one’s own people.

At the same time, the investment of money for the sake of profit has been a cornerstone of civilization for at least as long as the scriptures have been read. In fact it is commonly believed that civilization first began to develop about the same time that farmers had developed their skills sufficiently that they were able to raise more food than they themselves could use, thus allowing them to support non-farming individuals with their excess food. A surplus of money or food, properly used, can bring benefits to many more people than to the investor only, for new enterprises can begin, new products discovered and made cheaply available to many, and the standard of living generally rises. 

It is also true that once there is wealth, it is possible to support great endeavours in the arts, in education, in religion. Just think what the General Church would have been without great wealth to support the dream of a system of education based entirely upon the principles of the Heavenly Doctrines. Think about the universities and museums throughout the world that would not exist without freewill contributions made from the profits of carefully invested money. 

It is simply not possible to imagine what our world would be like if we strictly followed the Mosaic Law’s injunctions against usury.[1] Even the world of nature itself tells us that investment of wealth is both prudent, and nature’s own way, for when we plant seed carelessly in stony ground or among thorns, we get no return. But when we prudently plant the seed in good ground, we receive an hundred fold in return.        Divine Law, that is, the Law promulgated on Mount Sinai by Jehovah God, and carried to the Jewish people by Moses, forbade them from charging interest when they loaned their money to others. The Divine Law went even further, and gave specific commands regarding the collateral that supported the loan. The Mosaic Law tells us that if a man borrowed money, and gave his outer garment as security against the loan, the individual who loaned him the money was not permitted to keep that cloak over night. He was permitted to hold it during the day, when it was warm enough to live without it, but at night, when the cloak was a necessary protection from the cold, the cloak had to be returned.

In the New Testament we read about the Lord driving moneychangers out of the temple, but we should note that it’s not that what they are doing is wrong, what’s wrong is that they are changing money and buying and selling in a place of worship and prayer. In both Matthew 25 and Luke 19 the Lord tells parables about how good servants invest wisely, and in each case the servant who didn’t even give the money that was entrusted to him to the “bankers” to earn “interest” were cast into outer darkness.

However, while these laws may have been created specifically for the Jewish people in that historical time, we know that they have since been nullified, made of no effect for our time and place. We no longer have to obey the letter of the whole of the Mosaic law. But then, if these laws are no longer of any effect, why have they been included in the Word? Why must we still read them? What is their use? AC 9211:2 says,

that law was binding on that nation then, but it is not binding on Christians, to whom the more internal things have been revealed by the Lord. Those who belong to the Church at the present day see this to be so, and this is why laws that have to do with charging interest are altogether different at the present day. Even so, the holiness of that law does not therefore come to an end, as though this part of the Word has been abrogated; for its holiness remains by virtue of the more internal things it holds within it. These more internal holy things continue to stir angels’ affections when this part of the Word is read. But let people beware of thinking that the laws of life such as are contained in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere throughout the Old Testament have been abrogated; for those laws have been firmly established in an inward as well as an outward form, because the two are inseparable.

The laws regarding usury are no longer needed as natural laws governing the external behaviour of men, and we need not strictly obey them in our daily life. There is nothing in itself wrong with investing money for the sake of a reasonable future profit. The Law of Usury may be cancelled in its external expression at this time, but it continues to be in force as to its spirit because it is from the Divine. Divine Law is not limited to its external manifestation. God gave Moses laws against usury because He wished to tell us many things about Christian Charity. 

Divine Law takes its outermost form in the Laws of Moses, but it takes its spirit and life from the will and the intention of the person who understands the internal spirit of Divine Law. In other words, while it is permissible for us to invest money for profit, the Lord put those laws in the Word – and left them there – to remind us that we need to carefully search out our intentions in regard to such business arrangements so that we are not acting in such a way as to harm others, or deprive them of their goods for our own benefit. By definition, then, a usurer is someone who does what is good only for the sake of self-advantage, who gives his money to others without regard for possible harm, or for anything but the potential profit for himself. The Lord Himself taught us in Luke, If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same (Luke 6:33).

But usury does not only pertain to money, but in fact, anyone who does anything for another for the sake of some future benefit or recompense is actually practising usury. To willingly loan your tools to another so that you may eventually build up such a credit that you may later borrow something important and valuable that you would not otherwise be able to borrow, is usury. To take someone out to a fancy dinner so that you can ask them to do something that you believe that they would not otherwise be willing to do from conscience, is usury. To invite someone into your home, or do a favour for them in the hope of obligating them to return the invitation or the favour, is usury.

Many speak of “Christian Charity,” and by it they mean charitable acts such as giving to the needy and poor, in doing good to the neighbour, to the country, and to the church for any cause, or for any result whatsoever. It is an act of “Christian Charity” to give old clothes to the needy, according to this way of thinking, even if the motive behind the action is no more than to clean out the closets and get rid of some old, worn out things that you no longer use. But with a moment’s reflection we can see that the quality of one’s charity can only be determined to be “Christian” or not by its intention. It is the goal, the intended result, that determines the real quality of everything that we do. 

If your purpose is to do something good for the sake of reputation, or acquire honour or profit, then the good which is done is not good, because it is done for the sake of self, and is therefore from self. But if the purpose is to do some good for the sake of another, the country, the church – the neighbour on any level – then the good which is done is genuinely good, for it is done for the sake of good itself. When something is done for the sake of good, it is the same as being done for the neighbour, and when something is done genuinely for the sake of the neighbour, it is done for the Lord, for He Himself taught, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did to Me” (MAT 25:40) (See AC 9210).

When we do good for the sake of good, we are acting from the Lord Himself. At the same time, when we do what is true for the sake of the truth, we are also acting from the Lord Himself, for to do truth for the sake of truth is to do good, for truth becomes good when it passes from the understanding into the will, and from the will goes forth into action. To act in this way, to act from good for the sake of good, or to act from truth for the sake of truth is what “Christian Charity” really is.

But we must not fall into the “merit” trap, that is, begin to believe that if we feel good about something that we are doing for others that somehow what we are doing has lost its spiritual value. We must remember that the angels in heaven feel great delight when they do good, and they always try to do what is good from the Lord. Doing good is its own reward, and the delight of heaven flows in whenever we do genuine good from the Lord. 

The same is true of “Christian Charity.” Sometimes those who do good from “Christian Charity” as defined in its genuine sense, still are really thinking about how such deeds will affect their reputation among men, or may think that some honour may result from the deed, or even some kind of profit. However, these thoughts are not the reasons behind the actions, but reflections about the consequences after the fact. The rewards are not the reason, even though they are foreseen, and they bring delight.

The person who does good from genuine “Christian Charity” regards what is good and just as the essential and only thing, as being in the highest place. Afterwards, they think about the profit and honour that result from these things, but as things that are not at all essential, as being in the lowest place. When such people have in their view what is just and good, they are like brave soldiers who fight in battles for their country, and who have no regard for their own life, nor for their rank, or for their possessions in the world, for the importance of their use makes them all of relatively no account. On the other hand, those who have regard for themselves and the world in the first place are of such a character that they do not even see what is just and good, but only their own selfish desires.

The Word often refers to usury. Our natural interest in money may distract our attention from the real meaning of this law, the real warning that is directed to us:  we must be careful with how we invest the goods and truths given to us by the Lord, our time, our good works, our ideas. The Lord was speaking about money when He gave this law to the Jews, because at that time and in that place, that was all they could understand. But we must remember that the Word was written for all people and for all times, and it is the spirit of the Mosaic law that has been given by God to guide our lives today. The spirit of His law is not hidden. It can be easily found by anyone who seeks for it with genuine humility of spirit and willingness to be lead by the Lord. Do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be the sons of the Highest (LUK 6:35).   AMEN.


First Lesson:  Mat 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. {32} “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. {33} “And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. {34} “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: {35} ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; {36} ‘I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ {37} “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? {38} ‘When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? {39} ‘Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ {40} “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ {41} “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: {42} ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; {43} ‘I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ {44} “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ {45} “Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ {46} “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Amen.

Second Lesson:  AC 9211

9211. ‘You shall not charge him interest’ means that therefore it must not be done for the sake of gain to be acquired from it. This is clear from the meaning of ‘charging someone interest’ as doing good for the sake of gain

The more internal things within that law are that good done to the neighbour should come from the heart, and that people should believe that there is no merit at all in deeds which spring from self, only in deeds which spring from the Lord present with them. For only the Lord has earned merit, and only He is righteousness; and when a person believes this he does not attach any merit or reward at all to deeds springing from self but ascribes all good deeds to the Lord. And since the Lord in His Divine mercy is the real doer of that good the person ascribes everything to mercy alone. So it is also that one who is led by the Lord has no thought whatever of reward, and yet from the heart does good to the neighbour.

[2] These are the more internal things from which the law among the Israelite and Jewish nation about lending things at interest comes down. When therefore a person is acquainted with those more internal things that law comes to an end along with the others like it which were referred to as judgements. For the Israelite and Jewish nation was confined to the outward forms that represented internal things. Consequently that law was binding on that nation then, but it is not binding on Christians, to whom the more internal things have been revealed by the Lord. Those who belong to the Church at the present day see this to be so, and this is why laws that have to do with charging interest are altogether different at the present day.

Even so, the holiness of that law does not therefore come to an end, as though this part of the Word has been abrogated; for its holiness remains by virtue of the more internal things it holds within it. These more internal holy things continue to stir angels’ affections when this part of the Word is read.

But let people beware of thinking that the laws of life such as are contained in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere throughout the Old Testament have been abrogated; for those laws have been firmly established in an inward as well as an outward form, because the two are inseparable. Amen.


[1]The strict application of the scriptural rules against usury was the cause of an ironic situation in Europe of the Middle Ages. In both Christian and Islamic countries Jews were compelled to be the money changers, the bankers, so that good Christians and Moslems would not have to commit usury. The Jews were forced to commit the sin of usury and live in wretched ghettos, while yet controlling most of the investment money in Europe.

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