The World of Spirits
A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper
Next Sunday is the 19th of June, the day we traditionally celebrate as the “birthday” of the New Church, for it was on that day in the year 1770 that the Lord sent forth His twelve disciples throughout the spiritual world to preach the gospel that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, and that His kingdom shall be for ever and ever. This event was significant in that it signalled the completion of a judgement that took place in the spiritual world and brought us into a new spiritual era.
Next week we will be speaking specifically about that judgement, but this week it is our intention to lay the foundation by speaking about the many things that have been revealed about the World of Spirits, the “place” in the spiritual world where the judgement happened, because it will help us in our understanding of the last judgement to know more about the place and use of the world of spirits.
The first thing we must do is to define terms and describe the “geography” of the spiritual world. First of all, “heaven” is a word with several meanings which can only be distinguished from context. For example, in the most general sense, “heaven” refers to everything in the life after death. We say, “When people die, they go to heaven,” and by that we mean that we believe in a life after death. For clarity, when we are talking about the whole of the Lord’s kingdom, the term “spiritual world” will be used instead of “heaven.”
In a more specific sense, we talk about how good people go to heaven, while evil people will go to hell. In this context, “heaven” means that place where good people go after death (and this is the sense that will be used most often in this sermon).
Sometimes we distinguish heaven into celestial, spiritual, and natural degrees, and each of these is also referred to as a heaven, but this usage is apparent from the use of the adjective “celestial,” “spiritual,” or “natural.”
The whole of heaven, that is, the whole of the spiritual world, is divided into three major divisions: heaven, where the good live to eternity, hell, where the evil are, and the world of spirits, which is an intermediate between them, and where heaven, hell, and the world meet. It is important to keep the distinction between the “spiritual world” and the “world of spirits” clear. The “spiritual world” means, as said before, the entire spiritual realm, while the “world of spirits” is only that part of the spiritual world which lies intermediate between heaven and hell.
The world of spirits is needed as a place of introduction for people who have just died, for although we have all been created to live to eternity in the spiritual world, none of us are ready to be introduced into heaven or hell immediately upon the death of our natural bodies. Each of us has elements of good and evil, and these need to be sorted out to see which is dominant before we can enter our final home. Each of us is accustomed to life in the natural world, and we need to be shown the new and different things, and learn the new ways before we can find our eternal, spiritual home. The world of spirits lies between heaven and hell just so that it can be a place where both the good and evil from the world can be gathered, instructed, and prepared to enter their home society in heaven or hell.
When a person dies, he is greeted in turn by celestial, spiritual, and natural angels who nurture him and instruct him until he is fully resuscitated, at which point the new spirit is permitted to explore his new world. We are told that the world of spirits is so much like the world of nature that the new spirit soon forgets what the angels have told him, and believes that he is still in the world and not a spirit at all. The new spirit explores his new world, moving from place to place, led by his affections.
We have probably all experienced the sensation of coming to a new place and finding that we are very uneasy and uncomfortable, that something in that place just does not agree with us, although we may not be able to put our finger on the exact cause. At other times, we may come to a place and immediately feel as if we have come home, again without being able to describe exactly why we feel that way. When new spirits move around in the world of spirits their reaction to each new place is according to their own states, according to whether or not the people in the new place love the same kinds of things the new spirit loves, or whether they hold the same beliefs as he does. The more similar to his own character they are, the more comfortable he feels, the less similar, the less comfortable.
Each one of us, while we live in the world, is a mixture of good and evil, truth and falsity. The reason we live in the world of nature is to learn truth which will lead us away from the evil tendencies in our heredity and towards the good that the Lord has revealed in the Word. While we live in the world, the mixture of good and evil, truth and falsity is acceptable, but once we die, we must either remove all the evil and falsity before entering heaven, or remove all good and truth before entering hell, for there cannot be a confusion or mixture of good and evil in either heaven or hell, and no one in heaven or hell is allowed to have a “divided” mind, that is, a mind that contains both good and evil loves.
The world of spirits partakes of the world because all men who are in the natural world as to their bodies are in the world of spirits as to their spiritual life (although they are not conscious of the other spirits while they continue in the body). It also partakes of heaven and hell in that there men are prepared for their eternal lives in heaven or hell. Since the world of spirits is the meeting ground where heaven, hell, and the world meet, divided minds are permitted there.
Once the new spirit has left the world of nature, he is no longer able to make changes to his basic character which has been fixed and made permanent through changes to the very organics of his mind while he was in the world of nature. And since he cannot any longer change his basic nature, the Lord then knows where that spirit’s eternal, heavenly home will be, and the spirit is associated with it. However, since the spirit has not yet thrown off those things that do not belong in his home society, and he is yet very curious about the new world that he is in, he is free to wander and associate with friends and family that have come into the spiritual world before him.
However, the new spirit quickly finds that one cannot hide their true feelings behind a facade of friendliness in the spiritual world, and is unable to pretend to like people who do not share his ruling love – nor can they pretend to enjoy his company, and so the visits are quickly over unless they are of similar ruling loves, that is, unless they are guided by similar affections and desires. Such visiting takes place only in the world of spirits before they have been brought into a permanent state which is in accord with their ruling love.
While in the world of spirits, each new spirit is prepared for their new spiritual home by a series of steps whereby those things that do not belong to the dominant feature of their character are removed from them forever. The person who has allowed and harboured hatred and revenge to rule in his heart all his life has everything of good and truth removed. The person who has tried his best to do what the Lord teaches will have all things that inhibit that love removed. In short, each person has all those things that are not a part of their ruling love are permanently removed. No good is carried into hell, and no evil into heaven.
When the process is complete, when the spirit is wholly in agreement as to his spiritual state, he leaves the world of spirits for his eternal home in heaven or hell. In order for those of us who are still in the natural world to have some grasp of this, the world of spirits has been described as a great valley in which a great many people live. Along the sides of this valley there are many gates or doors that lead to paths that lead upwards to the various societies of heaven. There are also many caves and holes behind the rocks which lead downwards to the various hells. We are told that although there are many paths leading out of the world of spirits, they cannot be seen until the spirit himself is fully prepared to leave, and then he only sees the passage that leads to the society which will become his home to eternity.
The passages leading from the world of spirits correspond to the way the life from the Lord inflows into the human mind, for there are two ways that lead to the rational mind of a person; a higher or internal way through which good and truth from the Lord enter, and a lower or external way through which evil and falsity enter below from hell.
The rational mind itself is at the middle point to which the ways tend. As light from heaven is admitted, a person becomes rational; but so far as it is not admitted he is not rational, no matter how rational he may seem to himself to be.
With those preparing for heaven, the regions above the rational mind are opened, but those below are closed to the influx of evil and falsity; while with those preparing for hell, the parts below it are opened, and the parts above it are closed to the influx of good and truth. The result is that the evil can look only to what is below themselves, that is, to hell; while the good can look only to what is above themselves, that is, to heaven.
All the above describes what happens when all things are orderly and when those people who come into the world of spirits have sufficient truth to open the rational degree of the mind. But when a church is coming to its end, as when the Jewish church became totally external in their worship, or when the leaders of the Christian Church divided God into three separate persons, there was longer sufficient truth available for people to be able to make their choices between heaven and hell freely. When the church on earth is failing, it has two immediate effects: The world of spirits is brought into a state of confusion and disorder from the lack of truth; and the Lord prepares to restore truth on earth through a new revelation. When He came on earth for His first coming, the temptations that He suffered were actually battles with the evil spirits who had invaded the world of spirits, and His teachings were the new revelation which brought judgement and order back to the spiritual world.
The evil spirits were only able to cause disorder and confusion in the world of spirits because the church on earth had failed to the extent that new spirits entering the world of spirits did not have enough truth to be able to make a judgement about the other spirits. In other words, speaking specifically about the judgement that took place at the time of the Lord’s Advent, evil spirits were able to set up false heavens in the world of spirits through craftiness and deceit. They would approach a spirit newly arrived from the world and tell him that they were his friends, and that they would take him to heaven with them. They would overcome the new spirit with so much apparent friendliness that he would not be able to see their true nature. We can imagine it as a similar process to that which the religious cults use to ensnare and entrap new members. The evil spirits were only able to create these false heavens and entrap innocent spirits because there was so little truth about spiritual things known by people in the world. The new spirits were unable to make any good judgements on their own as to what was good or evil, true or false, and so through their own ignorance they were made prisoners in false heavens set up in the world of spirits.
But when the Lord came on earth and began to teach the truth, it was also heard in heaven, and when the spirits heard the truth, it was like a bright light coming on. They could then see their “friends” for what they were, they could see the evil and falsity and slavery that they were in, and when they could see it in the light of truth, they could make a rational decision to leave it. The light of truth revealed the false heavens for what they were, and made it possible for all there to make good judgements for themselves, thus bringing the world of spirits back into order.
If we are going to understand the cycle of judgement and revelation, we must understand the function of the world of spirits, for only in the world of spirits do heaven and the world meet in freedom and without harm. It was in the world of spirits where the prophets saw their visions, and it was there where the prophecies actually came true as the Lord fought the hells and subdued them by the truth of the Word in the only place where they could fight for control of the spiritual world without destroying human freedom. AMEN.
Lessons: Psalm 2, Rev. 6, HH 428-429