For of Such is the Kingdom of the Heavens

For of Such is the Kingdom of the Heavens

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of the heavens. Verily I say unto you, Whoever shall not receive the kingdom of the heavens as a little child, he shall not enter into it (Luke 18:16,17).

The Lord sent John the Baptist to prepare His way by teaching repentance, and baptizing in the river Jordan to symbolize the spiritual washing away of sins. He began His public ministry by Himself being baptized by John, and He Himself called many to repentance and baptized them in the Jordan.

Washing dirt from the body with water to represent spiritual washing has been the most basic and important symbol of the Christian Church since its beginning. We are taught in the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church that Baptism is a “universal gate” into the church, and that because it represents the Lord’s presence with His church, it is a correspondence that has real power because the Lord Himself is in it.

As special as a baptism is, there is something even more special about an infant baptism, because we are all brought into something of the sphere of heaven. The parents come forward, and in the presence of witnesses they promise to teach that child about the Lord from the truths contained in His Word. Those present feel a sense of peace, and happiness, not just because they enjoy seeing a cute baby, but because of the sphere of innocence.

In its most general sense, innocence is the “willingness to be lead by the Lord.” It is present in the infant, because, by creation, babies are trusting, and willing to be lead by their parents, whom they naturally love. But more important, it is also present in the parents, for it is they who have made the effort to come forward, and publicly declare their intention to raise their child in the light of the Word.

The key word here is “intention,” for by intending to raise their child according to the teachings of the church, they are bringing their willingness to be led by the Lord down into a concrete, physical act. The child is innocent because of the sphere of heaven produced by the angels of heaven who are with it. The parents are innocent because they have knowingly, deliberately chosen to follow the Lord’s teachings according to their best understanding. These things cause heaven to draw closer, and we all feel the angelic presence.

Innocence is a purely spiritual thing, and as such, cannot be seen directly, but we can learn indirectly about it from children. Though the innocence of children is not genuine innocence, because it is only external, nevertheless we can learn from it what innocence is, since it shines forth from the faces of children and affects those about them. (See HH 277)

Little children, whose senses have hardly begun to develop, know very little about the world of nature. They need food, to be kept clean, to rest, and to be tenderly held. They have no need of money, they don’t care what is on television, they don’t worry about what cool things the other babies have, they don’t worry about how they look, and they have no appointments to keep.

Precisely because their attention is so much away from the things of the world, and towards their parents, they are in a sphere that is much more heavenly than that of most adults. And because they are not attached to the things of the world, they are most like the angels of the highest heaven. It is a principle that in the spiritual world, like attracts like, and so the celestial angels gather ‘round and protect little children.

The parents can share in that special sphere in so far as they themselves turn away from the cares of the world. When everyone is dashing around the house trying to get ready to go somewhere, when the attention is totally on the things of this world, the sphere of heaven is far away, which the baby may sense, and be troubled himself. But when the house is quiet, and the parents have turned their attention back to the child and the spiritual needs of the family, the angels joyously return to inspire some of the most peaceful and beautiful experiences available in this life. (Cf. HH 277:4)

The Word teaches that there are two inmost things of life, namely innocence and peace. These are said to be inmost things because they proceed directly from the Lord. From innocence comes every good of heaven, and from peace every delight of good. (HH 285) That innocence and peace go together like good and its delight can be seen in little children, who are in peace because they are in innocence, and because they are in peace their whole nature [is] full of play. (HH 288)

However, innocence is not just a pleasant and peaceful feeling that we get when we are around babies. Innocence is actually a way of life, a God-oriented, spiritual way of life, because in it’s essence, innocence is attained when we turn away from the allurement of the things of the world, and let the Lord direct our life.

In the children’s talk we heard how, immediately after teaching the disciples and those others who followed Him about the need for everyone to become innocent like little children, a rich young man asked the Lord what he should do to earn eternal life. The first thing the Lord told him was to follow the Ten Commandments. The man assured Him that he had followed them all his life. The Lord then told him that he should then sell all that he had, and give to the poor, so that he would have treasure in heaven. The final step was to then come and follow the Lord.

The Lord repeated these four steps to eternal life in other places in the New Testament, and it is important to our understanding of how innocence relates to our eternal life to see these four steps clearly.

The Lord was directly and specifically asked how to get to heaven. He replied that there were four steps. 1) Obey the commandments; 2) Turn away from material possessions; 3) Help others; and 4) Do these things for the Lord’s sake.

Do these four steps not define innocence itself? If we follow them, will we not become childlike, in the spiritual sense? Each of these four steps to eternal life directs our attention away from our own desires, our own thoughts, and towards the Lord’s ends and purposes and the needs of others.

Is it not, after all, great wisdom to guide our lives in such a way as to earn eternal life in heaven? We do this by willingly following the Lord away from the loves of self and the world, and into activities and uses which help establish His kingdom on earth.

Since we are taught that both the little newborn child, and the angels of the highest heaven are both innocent, we need to see what the difference is between the innocence of childhood and the innocence of wisdom.

The main difference between the innocence of childhood, and the innocence of the adult, has to do with the presence of internal thought about the consequences of various courses of action. The child has no thought about consequence, for he cannot foresee the result of his own choices because he does not have the experience in the world, nor the knowledge of how other people react to make such a prediction. On the other hand, the mature adult can draw upon his own experience in the world and with people, he can imagine within his mind what the probable result of any action could be, and adjust his own behavior to suit the expected reaction. The adult is also capable of suppressing his own needs and desires for the sake of some long term gain.

Because there is so little of genuine as-of-self life yet present in a child, because he has not yet had the opportunity nor the tools to form it, his sphere of innocence has relatively little life in it as yet. Swedenborg reports that while in the spiritual world, he was shown the nature of the innocence of children representatively, and he says that it was a wooden sort of thing, almost devoid of life, which becomes vivified as they are perfected by knowledges of truth and affections for good (HH 341).

To understand what is meant by a “wooden sort of thing” perhaps we should think of the term “wooden” as applied to an actor who gives a lifeless performance. He stands there, obviously human, but there is no sense of the life of the character. The same is true of the innocence of a small child. It is clearly recognizable as innocence, but there is as yet no life within it, so it is described as “wooden.”

Afterwards the representation of the innocence of children, genuine innocence, as it is among the angels of the highest heaven, was represented to him by a most beautiful child, naked and full of life; for the really innocent, who are in the inmost heaven and thus nearest to the Lord, always appear before the eyes of other angels as little children, and some of them naked; for innocence is represented by nakedness unaccompanied by shame (Ibid.).

No one can enter heaven unless he is innocent, for this is what is meant by the Lord when He says:- Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of the heavens. Verily I say unto you, Whoever shall not receive the kingdom of the heavens as a little child, he shall not enter into it (Mark x. 14, 16; Luke xviii. 16, 17). Here, as elsewhere in the Word, “little children” mean those who are innocent….

Truth can he conjoined to good and good to truth only by means of innocence, for unless a man is willing to be led by the Lord, and willing to turn away from the loves of self and the world, he cannot come into any states of genuine good, or know anything of the doctrine of genuine truth, and therefore an angel is not an angel of heaven unless he has innocence in him; for heaven is not in any one until good is conjoined to truth in him; and this is why the conjunction of truth and good is called the heavenly marriage, and the heavenly marriage is heaven. (HH 281, CL 414)

To further illustrate the importance of innocence in those who wish to enter heaven, think about what happens when little children die. The are taken immediately into the sphere of the highest heaven (although they still need to be educated and so travel into each of the heavens in turn until at last they enter the world of spirits for a taste of their true, hereditary nature – to prevent them from having the idea that because they were raised in heaven that they are any better than anyone else).

Those people who have conscientiously spent their time in this world preparing themselves for heaven by willingly following the Lord, are also immediately taken up into heaven. By the same token, those who have conscientiously spent their lives satisfying every love of self and the world, who have constantly sought to have dominion over other are also immediately taken to their eternal home in hell.

Everyone begins their life in this world in a state of beautiful innocence, although it is the innocence of ignorance. But we should regard it as a promise that we, as humans, are capable of turning away from ourselves and being led by the Lord. The sphere of happiness that we feel in the presence of little ones should also be seen as a promise of the peace and happiness of heaven that can be ours, if only we do our part.

Let us remember the sphere of heaven that was present today at the baptism of this young child, and let us be inspired by that sphere of heaven to carefully examine our lives, and in so far as possible, begin to follow the four steps to eternal life: To obey the commandments; to turn away from the desire for material things; to look to the good of others; and to do all this for the Lord’s sake, not our own.

By so doing, we will be turning back to the Lord as the center of our lives, and bringing ourselves into the order of heaven itself. AMEN.

Lessons: Exodus 30:17-21, Luke 18:15-23, CL 396

First Lesson: Exo 30:17-21

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: {18} “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. And you shall put water in it, {19} “for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it. {20} “When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to the LORD, they shall wash with water, lest they die. {21} “So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die. And it shall be a statute forever to them; to him and his descendants throughout their generations.” Amen.

Second Lesson: CL 396

396. The innocence of the Lord flows into angels of the third heaven, where all are in an innocence of wisdom; passes on through the lower heavens, but only through the innocent affections of angels there; and so descends directly and indirectly into little children. Although little children are in a state not much different from that of sculpted forms, still they are receptive of life from the Lord through the heavens.

Nevertheless, if parents did not receive that influx also in their souls and in the inmost levels of their minds, the innocence of their little children would fail to affect them….

That, now, is the reason for the statement, that innocence flowing into the souls of parents joins itself with the innocence of little children.

[2] The fact that this conjunction is occasioned in parents through the instrumentality of the physical senses, but especially through that of touch, is something we can know from experience. As for example, that the vision is inmostly delighted by the sight of them, the hearing by their speech, and the sense of smell by their fragrance.

Evidence that the communication and thus conjunction of innocent states is occasioned especially through the instrumentality of touch is clearly seen from the gratification of carrying them in one’s arms, and from their hugs and kisses – especially in the case of mothers, who are delighted by the resting of their mouth and face upon their bosoms, and at the same time then by the touch of their hands there; in general, by their suckling at their breasts and nursing; and in addition, by the patting of their naked body, and by their untiring work of diapering them and washing them upon their knees.

[3] We have already shown several times before that communications of love and its delights between married partners are occasioned through the sense of touch. Communications of the mind are also occasioned by it, for the reason that the hands are the terminal elements of a person, and his first elements are present together in the terminal ones. This is also what holds all things of the body and all things of the mind that are intermediate in an unbroken connection. So it is that Jesus touched little children (Matthew 19:13,15, Mark 10:13,16); and also that He healed the sick by touching them, and those were healed who touched Him. That, too, is why inaugurations into the priesthood today are performed by the laying on of hands.

It is apparent from this that the innocence of parents and the innocence of little children meet through the instrumentality of touch, especially through that of the hands, and thus join themselves as though by kisses. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

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