In His Name

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, January 25, 2009

Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. (MAT 18:20)

We read in many places in the Word that the Lord taught that there are four steps to eternal life:  To obey the Ten Commandments; To turn away from the allurements of material wealth; To do good to others; And to do all of these things in His name. Our purpose is to examine more closely what it means to do things in His name. Our text for today is a part of the Gospel of Matthew that covers the period after the Lord showed Himself as the Divine Human to Peter, James, and John, and just before His entry into Jerusalem as a King.

This part of the Word contains many of His most powerful and clear lessons about heaven and the moral life on earth that leads to heaven. This text predicts the early period of the Christian church when it was just a few people who gathered in small groups to listen to the disciples teach what they had learned from the Lord. It also speaks of the New Church because in the whole world there are relatively only a handful of people who know of the existence of the Heavenly Doctrines.

The ancient Greek civilization gave us the concept of democracy, which introduced a sense of justice into civil government, and has provided a sphere of intellectual freedom where the church has been able to grow. At the same time it has led to false notion that the majority is always right. The fact that a lot of people may hold a false idea does not make it true. The truth is the truth, and it is not changed by the number of people who know it. When a person holds a religious view different from all the people he associates with, it can make him begin to wonder if he is wrong, for how could all those people be wrong? The error must somehow be his.

We also know that it makes us feel much better to be with people who share our views, as it is a common experience that there is strength in numbers. The more people who hold a view similar to our own, the more we feel that our beliefs are valid, correct, and the right way to live. We might imagine, if Noah were an actual historical figure, how different he would have felt from his neighbours as he prepared for the flood.

The Christian Church, which many of us have secretly envied for its size, numbers, and wealth, is today becoming fragmented as the division begun with the Reformation continues to break the church into ever smaller denominations. On the other hand, we see a number of very strong, growing religions in the East. When compared with Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam in its various forms, and the several other Asian religions, Christianity in general appears to represent a small fraction that is actually growing smaller.

Obviously, since all people are created for heaven, the Lord must have provided a great many ways for them to get to heaven. As Westerners, our attention has primarily been focused on our method, but upon a moment’s reflection, we soon realize that there must be many other ways to heaven that are suited to the many other kinds of people in world.

If we imagine a whole world full of different people, each with their own different kind of religion suited to their particular way of thinking and suited to preparing that kind of person for heaven, you will have a picture of what the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church call the “church universal.” A great many people in every nation of the world belong to the church universal. In fact, all people who try to do the best they can to follow the commandments of their religion, to turn away from the loves of self and the world, to care for others, and to do all of these for the sake of their God, however they may understand Him, will find their way to heaven. They will find their eternal home there because they love to do heavenly things.

In the work Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg reports, I have sometimes talked with those belonging to … common people, who, while living in the world, believed in God and did what was just and right in their occupations. Since they had an affection for knowing truth, they inquired about charity and about faith, having heard in this world much about faith and in the other life much about charity. They were therefore told that charity … is willing and doing what is just and right in every work, and faith is thinking justly and rightly; and faith and charity are conjoined, …the same as thought and will; and faith becomes charity when that which a man thinks justly and rightly he also will and does, and then they are not two but one. This they well understood (HH 364, emphasis added).

But if the church universal is a “general” church, it needs to get its life and doctrine from somewhere, it must have a vessel for reception, and it must have a means or medium by which life may flow into it through the heavens from the Lord. The means for this to happen is the Lord’s specific church on earth, that church where the Lord Jesus Christ, the one God of Heaven and Earth in His Divine Human is known through the Word and worshipped.

So we can see that in one sense, our text means exactly what it seems to say, that the Lord makes Himself especially present with people when they gather together in His name, no matter who they are, where they are, or by what tradition they worship. And yet there is more. Our text also tells us what it is like for those who learn to love to live a life of charity and faith and who thus become angelic even while in this world.

Everything in the Word is significant, especially numbers. Complex numbers get their signification from the simple numbers of which they are composed. The simple numbers are two, three, five, and seven. “Three” signifies what is full and complete, and also has to do with truths, while “two” and “four” have to do with good. The reason for this is that “two” brings to mind the idea of the marriage or conjunction of two things, and spiritual conjunction is love itself (See AE 532). One who knows the spiritual sense of the Word can know also why it is said … ’where there are two or three,’ namely, because ‘two’ is predicated of good, and ‘three’ of truth, consequently ‘two and three’ of all who are in truths from good (AE 411). So in the spiritual sense, “two or three” does not mean two or three individuals, but rather any person or group that is in truth from good.

Let us reflect for a moment on what that means. The doctrines are talking about a person who is in a state of truth from good. That means that they have already been in a state of good, and the only way to enter a state of good is by living according to the truth from the Lord in the Word, that is, obeying the commandments. So what it means when it talks about a person who is in truth from good is that the person has first learned the truth from the Word, then compelled himself to live according to it because he believed that the Lord wanted him to do so. When a person has entered into such a state of the good of life, the Lord can flow into his mind and open up a new understanding of the commandments, revealing their moral and spiritual levels.

A person who obeys the commandments in the Lord’s name is given enlightenment into the truths of faith, that is, he is given to see the commandments as part of the larger picture. That new understanding is “truth from good.” And because the truth is given by the Lord because of the prior state of good, it is also called the “wisdom of intelligence”, that is, the wisdom that comes from putting knowledge and skill to use for the benefit of others. This is truth from good, the wisdom that comes from doing the Lord’s will. Our text is then speaking of an angelic state, making the promise that if we are good and faithful, that if we do the best we can, because we believe that to do so is what the Lord Himself wants us to do, to do good for His sake and not our own, we too can have the Lord in our “midst,” which is to say, have Him eternally present.

With some people there is the belief that the mere mention of the Lord’s name, without any knowledge of the Word, somehow, magically, brings salvation (See AE 102), but the Heavenly Doctrines tell us that this is not so, that doing things in the name of the Lord means not only His name, but also requires the acknowledgment of Him as the Redeemer and Saviour, and at the same time obedience to Him, and at length the genuine faith in Him that can result only from a life of charity (See TCR 682) We read in the Arcana Coelestia that the “name of Jehovah” signifies all the truths in one complex by which God is worshipped, thus all the good of love and truth of faith; and “in the midst of him,” as being what is in Him, thus also what is from Him; for the good of love is of such a nature that what is in it, is also from it in others, because it has the power of communicating itself.   For it is a characteristic of love that it wishes everything of its own to be out of itself in others; and as this is effected from the Divine Itself through and out of its Divine Human, therefore also the Lord as to the Divine Human is called “the name of Jehovah.” (AC 9310)

So in conclusion, we can see that when considered only from the strict sense of the letter, our text does indeed mean that the Lord is present with those who gather in His name, even when there are just a very few. We certainly should not seek to have small groups by excluding others, but on the other hand we should not let the issue of numbers by itself be discouraging. After all, the Lord has many ways to lead people to heaven, each way especially suited to a particular set of needs. However, when viewed from the knowledge of the internal sense, we can see that there is a deeper, richer meaning that applies to each one of us in our daily lives.

The phrase, “Two or three gathered together,” is speaking about a person who has come into state of wisdom from a life according to the Lord’s commandments in the Word. “In My name” tells us that this person is in a state of genuine worship towards the Lord from a knowledge and acknowledgment of the truth of His Divine Humanity and he conscientiously lives the kind of life that follows such knowledge. “There I am in the midst of them” tells us that with such people there will be eternal, reciprocal conjunction with the Lord.

Our text then develops, explains, and reinforces the Lord’s promise that those who obey His commandments; turn away from the loves of self and the world; and love the neighbour as themselves out of love and regard for the Lord Jesus Christ, will live to eternity in Heaven with Him. AMEN.

First Lesson:  Genesis 7:1-16

Then the LORD said to Noah, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation. {2} “You shall take with you seven each of every clean animal, a male and his female; two each of animals that are unclean, a male and his female; {3} “also seven each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth. {4} “For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made.” {5} And Noah did according to all that the LORD commanded him. {6} Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters were on the earth. {7} So Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood. {8} Of clean animals, of animals that are unclean, of birds, and of everything that creeps on the earth, {9} two by two they went into the ark to Noah, male and female, as God had commanded Noah. {10} And it came to pass after seven days that the waters of the flood were on the earth. {11} In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. {12} And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights. {13} On the very same day Noah and Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark; {14} they and every beast after its kind, all cattle after their kind, every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, every bird of every sort. {15} And they went into the ark to Noah, two by two, of all flesh in which is the breath of life. {16} So those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in. Amen.

Second Lesson:  Matthew 18:10-20

“Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. {11} “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. {12} “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? {13} “And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. {14} “Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. {15} “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. {16} “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ {17} “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. {18} “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. {19} “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. {20} “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Amen.

Third Lesson:  AE 815:12

[12] “To believe in His name” has a similar signification as “to believe in Him,” since the Lord’s “name” signifies every quality of faith and love by which He is to be worshipped, and by which He saves man. This is signified by “His name,” because in the spiritual world names that are given to persons are always in accord with the quality of their affection and life, and in consequence the quality of each one is known from his name alone. So when anyone’s name is pronounced, and the quality that is meant by the name is loved, that one becomes present, and the two are united as companions and brethren. The quality of the Lord however is everything of faith and love by which He saves man, for that quality is the essence proceeding from Him; therefore when that quality is thought of by man the Lord becomes present with him, and when this quality is loved the Lord is conjoined to him. Thence it is that those who believe in His name have eternal life. This shows how necessary it is that man should know the quality of faith and love, that is, the Lord’s “name;” also how necessary it is to love that quality, which comes by doing those things that the Lord has commanded. The names “Jesus” and “Christ” moreover involve this same quality, since “Jesus” means salvation, and “Christ” or “Messiah” Divine truth, which is everything of faith and love as to knowledges, doctrine, and life. When, therefore, these names are mentioned their quality must be thought of and they must live according to it. This is what is meant by the words of the Lord in Matthew:

     Jesus said, If two of you on earth shall agree in My name respecting anything that they shall ask it shall be done for them by My Father who is in the heavens. For where two or three are gathered together in My name there am I in the midst of them (18:19, 20).

There is, indeed, a presence of the Lord with all and also a love towards all; and yet man cannot be led and be saved by the Lord except in the measure of his reception of the Lord by faith in Him and love to Him. Amen.

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