The First State of Man After Death

The First State of Man After Death

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto – November 20, 2011

“Let (the wheat and the tares) grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:30)

While the Old Testament is essentially silent on the subject of the life to come, the Lord Himself taught many parables about heaven. He used simple terms familiar to the farmers, shepherds, and merchants of that time. He taught that life was the time of growth, but that all must eventually face the harvest. Then the good things would be put up in barns to be used, and the bad and useless things would be burned in the ovens. A simple concept for a simple people, but it met their needs. And in its simplicity, it re­minds us that each of us must also face the time of harvest, and find out whether we are the wheat that is put up in barns, or the tares that are to be burned.

            During the years following His life on earth the men of the church took those beautiful, simple ideas that Jesus taught and turned them into complex and confusing doctrines. The doctrines of men took away the peace and the comfort that Jesus had brought to earth, because the men of the church could derive more power and profit from fear than from comfort. But now the Lord has come again in the spiritual sense of the Word to open and reveal the secrets of heaven, to restore the sense of peace and comfort. Our subject for this sermon, and the two which will follow it, is the or­derly process that the Lord has provided for us to make our transition from this world to the next.

            We are all created for heaven, not this world. Just as the human body is prepared for life in the natural world by life in the mother’s womb, so the human soul is pre­pared for life in the spiritual world by a period of gestation in the natural world. Natural birth requires labor and pain, but once born no one wishes to return to the simple but unconscious life of the fetus. Spiritual birth also requires labor and pain, but once we have passed through the pro­cess and see for ourselves what spiritual life is like, we will have no desire to leave the reality of heaven to return to this world of illusion and fantasy.

            Before we go any further in this treat­ment we will take a moment to define sev­eral important terms while recognizing that they are not always used consistently.  One must always pay attention to context. First of all, we find that the most common usage of the term “spiritual world” is to describe the whole spiritual universe which includes heaven, the world of spirits, and hell. Occasionally, “spiritual world” is used to refer to heaven only, but it is usually obvious from the context.

            “The World of Spirits,” however, is a much more specific term. It is always used to refer to that part of the spiritual world which lies between heaven and hell and which is the place where all people go first when their natural bodies die. In character and appearance it is very much like this world.

            The word “spirit” is also a very general term. Its most general meaning is to refer to anyone living anywhere in the spiritual world. It is most frequently used to refer to someone who is still living in the world of spirits and has not yet chosen heaven or hell. A “good spirit” is someone who, if not already an angel in heaven, is nearly there. Similarly, an “evil spirit” is someone who, if not already in hell, has clearly shown his ruling love to be evil.

            Finally, an “angel” is a particular kind of spirit, specifically a spirit who has been through all the states of introduction and has chosen heaven. An angel is a person who, with their conjugial partner, has been completely prepared for and accepted into a heavenly soci­ety which will be their home to eternity.

            With these terms in mind, let us return to the consideration of what happens to a person whose natural body has died, and who is in the process of awakening into eternal, spiritual life. Just as a newborn baby in this world needs special care and attention, the same is true of the heaven-born spirit and so the same kind of angels that are present with infants are the ones who sit with the new spirit as he gently awakens. These angels hold him in a peaceful state and lead him to think about eternal things. Eventually, though, he  becomes aware of them and questions about what’s going on begin to form in his mind.  When they sense that this is happening, the celestial angels know that their work is done so they withdraw and make way for the angels from the spiritual heaven to draw near. They arrive as he awakens enough to open his eyes and begin to looks around.  They are there to answer questions about this new life. Eventually the new spirit becomes curious about his surroundings and wants to go out and explore so the spiritual angels move away to be replaced by angels from the natural heaven who show the new spirit around. Finally, when he is ready, they lead him to the world of spirits.

            Once the new spirit is fully conscious in the spiritual world and comfortable with his new surroundings and the way things work, the Lord then leads him through a process that gradually reveals the true nature of his character and then uses that information to prepare him to enter his eternal home.  This takes place in three stages.  The first is the state of externals.  Then comes the state of internals.  Finally, for those going to heaven, comes a period of instruction and preparation.  Like every good rule, this one too has exceptions.

      “There are some who are immediately after death taken up into heaven or cast into hell. …Those who have been so regenerated and prepared that they need simply to cast off natural impurities with the body are at once taken up by the angels into heaven. …Others are cast immediately into hell. …But all these are few in comparison with those who are retained in the world of spirits, and are there pre­pared in accordance with Divine order for heaven or for hell” (HH 491).

            As far as the new spirit is concerned, and as far as he can tell from the testimony of his senses, the World of Spirits is just like he previous life in the natural world. There are several reasons for this. One is that by creating a sphere so like the natural world, it reduces the shock to the new spirit and allows him to return to his own way of life, to return to his own genuine character. He would not be able to do this if he sensed that he was in an alien or artificial environ­ment. After all, we are all on our best beha­vior when away from home. Another reason is that the Lord wishes everyone to feel welcome, comfortable, and at peace. We all know how pleasant it is to find familiar things when we travel to far away places. The same principle applies in the World of Spirits. However, it is a different world. And, the new spirit does remember what he was told during his states of resuscitation and think about them from time to time. But soon the testimony of his senses distracts him from such thoughts, and he returns to a life according to the belief that he still lives in the natural world.

            His natural life continues into his spir­itual life. The death of the natural body is merely a transition from one mode of life to another. The doctrine testifies that one of the most important features of this state is that of meeting with friends and family that have gone on before. We are told that a new spirit is immediately recognized by his friends, both by his face and by the sphere of his life, and this introduces one of the more unusual aspects of heavenly life to the new spirit. Time and space seem to be as they were in his former life, but yet they are somehow changed. Specifically, whenever he thinks about anyone who is also in the spiritual world, that person be­comes present as if he had been sent for, or called. So, as he thinks in turn about each of his friends from the world that have died, they appear before him! The doctrines tell us that these meetings are joyful for both parties.

            These meetings are especially mean­ingful for husbands and wives. They meet, congratulate each other, and resume their life together. The length of time they re­main together depends on the state of their marriage. If they were friends and partners in the world, they continue so to eternity. If, however, they cannot find delight with each other, they eventually separate, each going to their own place in the spiritual world. Even so, they are not allowed to separate during this first state, for it is only a state of exteriors, and the exteriors are only an ap­pearance. It would be a tragedy if people who were internally suited to each other separated because of merely external prob­lems when those very external character­istics are about to be shed in favor of new externals which correspond to their true in­terior qualities. So, even if there is anger, hatred, or even actual combat, couples re­main together throughout the state of ex­teriors.

            Another characteristic of this state is that new spirits are surprised to find them­selves in a body. For most people in the world, the only source of information about heaven and hell is what they have read from the Word, or what they have been taught in church. A careful study of the Old Testament will reveal that there is virtually no teaching about the nature of the spiritual world (other than that strange passage where the witch of En-Dor raises Samuel’s spirit at Saul’s request). And while there are quite a few parables about heaven in the New Testament, most of them are limited to presenting the idea that there is a life after death where the good are rewarded and the evil punished in unspecified ways. So, as they become aware of the reality of the spiritual world, they become eager to know more about heaven and hell.

            At first they converse with their friends about it, then they are taken from place to place and shown around. Swedenborg reports that many of the people in his time were indignant at how poorly they had been prepared for eternal life through their own ignorance and the lack of instruction from the church.  The big question that soon comes to each of them is whether or not they are worthy to enter heaven.

Most arrive believing that they are worthy of heav­en because they lived a moral life in the world – at least in externals. However, they don’t realize that both the good and the evil can live a civil and moral life. In the first state, where people are still allowed to present themselves as they wish to be seen, it is hard to tell the good spirits from those that are evil because all kinds of people are capable of living a moral life in the world:  All people, no matter how black their hearts, are able to live under governments and subject themselves to the requirements of civil law. The good and the evil can acquire a reputation for honesty and justice, they both can receive favor and be raised to honors, and they can both acquire great wealth, so none of these things can be used to judge between the good and the evil during their first state in the World of Spirits.

There is a way that they can be distin­guished, though.  People who are evil at heart are eager to talk about external things about people and events, but pay little attention at all when the topic turns to internal or spiritual things.  They are willing to listen to conversations about the goods and truths of the church, but it is obvious that they do not enjoy it.

A second way of determining the dif­ference between good and evil spirits is that when left to themselves they turn themselves to face specific directions in the World of Spirits and follow the paths that lead in those directions. By observing their paths it is possible to know the kind of love that leads them. (See HH 496)

This first state of man after death con­tinues with some for days, with some for months, and with some for a year; but seldom with anyone beyond a year; for a shorter or longer time with each one differently in accordance with the agreement or disagreement of his interiors with his exteriors (HH 498).

In conclusion, we can say that the first state of a new spirit in the world of spirits is one of introduction and welcome. It is provided so that each person who enters the spiritual world will have a chance to get their bearings, and become accustomed to the fact that they are no longer in their natural body and that they have awakened into eternal life. They are kept in surroundings that are as familiar as possible, and encouraged to wander around and learn all that they desire for as long as they need. But eventually the spirit is ready to move on, he feels a desire to find his true spiritual home. When this hap­pens, he is ready to enter into the next state, the state of his interiors.

This second state will be the subject of the next sermon in this series, which will be delivered next Sunday.

            AMEN.

First Lesson:  Mat 13:24-30, 36-43

Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; {25} “but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. {26} “But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. {27} “So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ {28} “He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ {29} “But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. {30} ‘Let both grow to­gether until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gath­er together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’ “

{36} Then Jesus sent the multi­tude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” {37} He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. {38} “The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. {39} “The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. {40} “Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. {41} “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, {42} “and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. {43} “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! Amen.

Second Lesson: HH 491.

THE FIRST STATE OF MAN AFTER DEATH.

There are three states that man passes through after death before he enters either heaven or hell. The first state is the state of his exteriors, the second state the state of his interiors, and the third his state of pre­paration. These states man passes through in the world of spirits. There are some, however, that do not pass through them; but immediately after death are either taken up into heaven or cast into hell. Those that are immediately taken up into heaven are those that have been regenerated in the world and thereby prepared for heaven. Those that have been so regenerated and prepared that they need simply to cast off natural impurities with the body are at once taken up by the angels into heaven. I have seen them so taken up soon after the hour of death. On the other hand, those that have been inwardly wicked while maintaining an outward appearance of goodness, and have thus filled up the measure of their wickedness by artifices, using goodness as a means of deceiving-these are at once cast into hell, I have seen some such cast into hell immediately after death, one of the most deceitful with his head downward and feet upward, and others in other ways. There are some that immediately after death are cast into caverns and are thus separated from those that are in the world of spirits, and are taken out from these and put back again by turns. They are such as have dealt wickedly with the neighbor under civil pretenses. But all these are few in comparison with those that are retained in the world of spirits, and are there prepared in accordance with Divine order for heaven or for hell. Amen.

 

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