The Parable of the Wedding Feast


An Extemporaneous Sermon by James P. Cooper

The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. (MAT 22:2,3)

  1. It is not very unusual for us to be invited to a wedding these days.
    1. The wedding itself is usually followed by some kind of celebration, and, for the guest, the whole thing is over and done with in a few hours.
    2. Things were different in ancient times.
      1. Without all the holidays and vacations that we enjoy, the wedding feast was pretty much the most fun they could have.
      2. Since most people traveled on foot, if the wedding was in a village more than a few miles away, it would mean staying overnight.
      3. These two considerations resulted in the tradition that existed in the Lord’s time that a wedding feast featured eating and drinking to excess, and a good one could last as long as a week.
      4. It was against the backdrop of this tradition that the Lord told the parable of the wedding feast.
  2. King = Jehovah
    1. King’s son = The Messiah
    2. God invites the Jews to heaven.
      1. He prepared oxen and fatted cattle
        1. Purification and regeneration of the external man.
      2. They preferred to attend to their businesses and farms.
        1. Things of self and the world.
      3. They mocked and killed the kings servants when they were sent out to call them and remind them of their invitation.
        1. The servants are the prophets, who, as everywhere else in the Word represent the Word itself.
        2. The killing of the servants is therefore destruction of the truths of the Word; a prophecy of the crucifixion.
      4. Because of their response, he sends out armies to destroy them.
        1. This represents the judgment on the Jewish Church.
        2. It is a consummation, a summing up, a closing of the books after the last opportunity is past, the last test failed.
    3. When the Jewish Church refuses to come, only then does He send out His invitation to the gentiles to come and join Him in a new church.
      1. The wedding hall is filled with guests, which is a picture of the rapid and enthusiastic growth of the early Christian Church.
      2. It would be a lovely story if it ended right here – but it doesn’t.
  3. The man without a wedding garment.
    1. At first it seems odd
      1. The common people were invited to the wedding from the streets, but only this one man was thrown out.
      2. What made the obvious difference? What is it that we miss in the telling of the story that the people hearing the parable would have picked up?
        1. None of the people had “wedding garments” in the sense that we think of them — a tuxedo or a special gown.
        2. But they did have the tradition of the Mosaic law of ritual washing before important events.
          1. And Joshua said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” JOS 3:5
          2. To “sanctify” simply meant for them to wash themselves and their clothes.
            1. It was certainly symbolic of spiritual washing, of course, but the point here is that there was a long standing tradition that even if you had only one garment to your name, you took it off and washed it and yourself before presenting yourself before the Lord.
        3. The thing that marked this particular man is that he had not prepared himself before coming to the wedding.
          1. Walking down the road, the king’s messenger invites him to the wedding. Instead of going home, or to an inn, or even to a well to wash and prepare himself, he just arrives at the feast still covered with the dirt acquired on his journey.
          2. Even today, with our more casual ways, we don’t spend Saturday working in the garden, and then go straight to a wedding without first cleaning up. We can all imagine the kind of reception we would get if we did.
        4. The rude guest was immediately cast out of the wedding, because the spiritual state of hypocrisy and deceit which this represents cannot endure the sphere of heaven for long.
          1. There are some persons who during their bodily life have been imbued with the deceit of being able to feign themselves angels of light; and in the other life, when in this hypocritical state, they are also able to insinuate themselves into the nearest heavenly societies. But they do not remain there long, for the moment they perceive the sphere of mutual love there, they are seized with fear and horror, and cast themselves down (and it then appears in the world of spirits as if they had been cast down), some toward the lake, some toward Gehenna, and some into some other hell. (AC 2132)
  4. God invitation to heaven is universal.
    1. The Lord continually invites every man to come to Him; for He says: — The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man, a king, who made a marriage for his son, and sent his servants to call them that were bidden; and finally, he said, Go ye therefore into the partings of the ways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage (Mat. xxii. 1-9). Who does not know that the invitation or call is universal, and also the grace of reception? Man obtains life by going to the Lord because the Lord is Life itself, not only the life of faith but also the life of charity. (TCR 358)
    2. The Man without the wedding garment.
      1. This may weigh heavily on us because we don’t want to be like him.
      2. We want to be able to stay in heaven.
        1. By “garments” in the Word are signified truths which clothe good, and in the opposite sense, falsities which clothe evil; for man is either his own good or his own evil, the truths or falsities thence proceeding are his “garments.” All angels and spirits appear clothed according to the truths of their good, or according to the falsities of their evil. (AR 166)
        2. The “wedding garment” is the Divine truth from the Word.
      3. You can’t just “come as you are.”
        1. You have to wash yourself
          1. OT — Thou Shalt Not — with a Holy fear of harming the Lord and His Word.
          2. NT — to have an awareness of the morality behind the rules.
          3. HD — to have an awareness of the rationality behind the morality, to be able to address the gray areas of home, family, marriage, and business.
        2. You have to wash and patch and prepare your garments.
          1. Learn new truths
          2. Make adjustments when you find that what you thought was true before may not be true after all.
          3. Admit that you have been fooling yourself about some things, and take steps to correct the problem.
      4. These things are difficult to do while we yet live in this world
  5. But we must hold to the vision of angels, clothed in light, for it is the Lord’s will, and the very purpose of the creation of the universe, that we will someday be one of them. Amen.

1st Lesson: Isa 62:1-5

For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, And her salvation as a lamp that burns. {2} The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, And all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, Which the mouth of the LORD will name. {3} You shall also be a crown of glory In the hand of the LORD, And a royal diadem In the hand of your God. {4} You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; For the LORD delights in you, And your land shall be married. {5} For as a young man marries a virgin, So shall your sons marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you. Amen.

2nd Lesson: Mat 22:1-14

And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: {2} “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, {3} “and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. {4} “Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’ {5} “But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. {6} “And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. {7} “But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. {8} “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. {9} ‘Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ {10} “So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests. {11} “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. {12} “So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. {13} “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ {14} “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Amen.

3rd Lesson:

Apocalypse Revealed 812

812. Verse 7. Let us rejoice and exult, and give the glory to Him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, signifies joy of soul and heart, and thence the glorification of the Lord, that henceforth there may be a full marriage of Him with the church.

It may be evident almost without explanation, that when the Lord’s Human is acknowledged to be Divine, there is effected a full marriage of the Lord and the church; for it is known in the Reformed Christian world, that the church is a church from the marriage of the Lord with her; for the Lord is called the Lord of the vineyard, and the church is the vineyard; and the Lord is also called the Bridegroom and Husband, and the church is called the Bride and Wife.

That there is then the full marriage of the Lord and the church, when His Human is acknowledged to be Divine, is manifest; for then God the Father and He are acknowledged to be one, as the soul and the body. When this is acknowledged, the Father is not approached for the sake of the Son; but then the Lord Himself is approached, and God the Father through Him; because the Father is in Him, as the soul is in the body, as was said.

Before the Lord’s Human is acknowledged to be Divine, there is indeed a marriage of the Lord with the church; but only with those who approach the Lord, and think of His Divine, and not at all whether His Human is Divine or not. The simple in faith and in heart do this; but rarely the learned and erudite. Moreover also there cannot be given three husbands to one wife, nor three souls to one body: and therefore, unless one God is acknowledged, in whom is the Trinity, and that that God is the Lord, there is no marriage. Amen.

The Rules of Life


An Extemporaneous Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field. (GEN 39:5)

  1. Our text for today speaks of the Lord’s blessings. The context is the Joseph story where the hero is able to turn one disaster after another into a personal victory through his own native abilities, and because he trusts implicitly in the fact that the Lord is guiding his every step. He knows that he is blessed because the Lord is with him.
    1. The Joseph story is also a powerful example of how the Lord turns evil, the hatred and jealously that his brothers held for Joseph, into good, for it was only through Joseph’s leadership that Egypt was able to prepare for the famine, and thus become a safe haven for Joseph’s brothers and father.
    2. So it is with the dual thoughts of our desire to be blessed in the things of our natural life, and the need to put ourselves in the stream of the Divine Providence in order to receive that blessing from the Lord, that we consider today the “Rules of Life” of Emanuel Swedenborg.
      1. While the history is interesting, the focus should be on what these rules say, not who wrote them, or when.
        1. They provide a simple, easily remembered summary of the life of charity which everything in the Three-Fold Word leads to.
        2. The “Rule of Life” are not part of the Theological Writings, but were found among his papers after his death.
  2. The Rules
    1. Diligently to read and meditate on the Word of God
    2. To be content under the Dispensation of God’s Providence
    3. To observe a propriety of behavior, and to keep the conscience pure.
    4. To obey what is ordered; to attend faithfully to one’s office and other duties; and in addition, to make one’s self useful to society in general.
    5. Diligently to read and meditate on the Word of God
      1. AR 611 – Reformed clergy who believed in faith alone
        1. It was granted me to see upwards of three hundred of the clergy of the Reformed world, all men of learning, who knew how to confirm the doctrine of faith alone even to justification, and some of them still further. And because there prevailed a belief among them also, that heaven consists only in admission by favor, leave was given them to ascend to a society in heaven, though not one of the higher ones.
      2. How they appeared to the angels
        1. And as they ascended together, they appeared at a distance like calves. And when they entered into heaven they were received with civility by the angels, but when they discoursed with them, they were seized with trembling, afterwards with horror, and lastly with the agonies as it were of death, and then they cast themselves down headlong, and in their descent they appeared like dead horses.
      3. Why they had that appearance
        1. The reason of their appearing like calves as they ascended, was, because from correspondence the natural affection of seeing and knowing appears gamboling like a calf; and the reason why they appeared like dead horses as they fell, was, because from correspondence the understanding of truth from the Word appears like a horse, and the non-understanding of truth in the Word, like a dead horse.
      4. Youths, completing their education in the world of spirits
        1. There were boys below, who saw them falling, to whom in their descent they seemed like dead horses. And then they turned away their faces, and said to their master, who was with them, “What is this portent? We beheld men and now instead of them there are dead horses, the sight of which we could not bear, and we therefore turned away our faces. Master, let us not stay in this place, but let us go away:” and they departed.
      5. Their teacher’s explanation
        1. The master then instructed them in the way what “a dead horse” signified, saying, “`a horse’ signifies the understanding of the Word; all the horses which you saw, signified that; for when a man goes meditating from the Word, then his meditation, at a distance, appears as a horse, noble and lively, as he meditates spiritually on the Word, and, on the contrary, poor and dead as he meditates materially.”The boys then asked, “What is it to meditate on the Word spiritually and materially?” And the master replied, “I will illustrate it by examples. Who, when he reads the Word, does not think of God, his neighbor, and heaven? Every one who thinks of God only from Person, and not from Essence, thinks materially; also he who thinks of the neighbor only from form, and not from quality, thinks materially; and be who thinks of heaven only from place, and not from the love and wisdom which heaven is, he also thinks materially.”
      6. The boys’ fears
        1. But the boys said, “We have thought of God from Person, of the neighbor from form, that be is a man, and of heaven from place; did we therefore, when we were reading the Word, appear to any one as dead horses?”
      7. The difference between stupidity and ignorance
        1. The master said, “No, you are yet boys, and could not think otherwise; but I have perceived in you an affection of knowing and understanding, which because it is spiritual, you have also thought spiritually.
      8. The Point
        1. Reading, studying, and meditating on the Word have real spiritual consequences – it’s not just one of those rules that parents make up to regulate the behavior of children.
    6. To be content under the Dispensation of God’s Providence
      1. LUK 3:14
        1. Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”
      2. AC 4981
        1. Hence the “blessing of Jehovah,” in the external sense or in the sense which relates to the state of man in the world, is to be content in God, and thence to be content with the state of honor and wealth in which one is, whether it be among the honored and rich, or among the less honored and poor; for he who is content in God regards honors and riches as means for uses; and when he thinks of them and at the same time of eternal life, he regards the honor and riches as of no importance, and eternal life as essential.
    7. To observe a propriety of behavior, and to keep the conscience pure.
      1. DP 77
        1. Everyone is able, from his faculty called rationality, to understand that this or that good is useful to society, and that this or that evil is harmful to it; for example, that justice, sincerity and the chastity of marriage are useful to society, and that injustice, insincerity and adulterous relations with the wives of others are harmful to it; consequently that these evils in themselves are injuries, and that these goods in themselves are benefits. Who, therefore, if he be so disposed, cannot make these things matters of his own reason?
    8. To obey what is ordered; to attend faithfully to one’s office and other duties; and in addition, to make one’s self useful to society in general.
      1. AC 8899
        1. But be it known that the commandments of the decalogue are rules of life both for those who are in the world and for those who are in heaven – the sense of the letter or the external sense being for those who are in the world, and the spiritual or internal sense for those who are in heaven – and consequently both senses, external as well as internal, are for those who while they are in the world are also in heaven, that is, for those who are in the good of life according to the truths of doctrine.
        2. That the commandments of the decalogue are also for those who are in heaven, is plain from the internal sense of all things in the Word, and clearly from the fact that the things which Jehovah God (that is, the Lord) Himself speaks, are not only for men, or for the world; but are also for angels, nay, for the whole heaven, because the Divine truth which proceeds from the Lord flows through heaven and passes through down unto man. This is the case with these ten commandments, which the Lord Himself spoke from Mount Sinai.
  3. The four rules, once again, are
    1. Diligently to read and meditate on the Word of God
    2. To be content under the Dispensation of God’s Providence
    3. To observe a propriety of behavior, and to keep the conscience pure.
    4. To obey what is ordered; to attend faithfully to one’s office and other duties; and in addition, to make one’s self useful to society in general.
  4. Of the four rules, three are relatively easy.
    1. Anyone can, keep to the external rules of civil behavior.
      1. And with effort, and the Lord’s help, begin to keep the internal rules.
    2. The one that is most difficult is learning to be content with Providence.
      1. We are tempted to think that we could have designed the world better.
      2. We are easily tempted to think that we deserve better than we get.
      3. The Lord oversees riches and positions of power.
        1. He allows both good and evil people to accumulate wealth and power because the good use their wealth and power to do great good; and when the evil use wealth and power to try to hide their evils by appearing exteriorly generous and kind, they can also do great good.
          1. How many churches, libraries, and hospitals have been built by people seeking to improve their tarnished image in the community or to ease the burden of their conscience?
        2. While others, who might be corrupted by great wealth, He protects from it.
      4. We are in the “Womb of Heaven”.
        1. We are only here to prepare ourselves for rebirth into spiritual life.

And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (LUK 12:15) Amen.

1st Lesson: Gen 39:1-6

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there. {2} The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. {3} And his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand. {4} So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority. {5} So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field. {6} Thus he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.

2nd Lesson: Luke 3:7-14

Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? {8} “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. {9} “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” {10} So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” {11} He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” {12} Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” {13} And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” {14} Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

3rd Lesson: AC 4190

For although the Gentiles know nothing about the Word, and accordingly nothing about the Lord, they nevertheless have external truths such as Christians have; as for instance that the Deity is to be worshipped in a holy manner, that festivals are to be observed, that parents are to be honored, that we must not steal, must not commit adultery, must not kill, and must not covet the neighbor’s goods; and thus such truths as those of the decalogue ; which also are for rules of life within the church. The wise among them observe these laws not only in the external form, but also in the internal. For they think that such things are contrary not only to their religious system, but also to the general good, and thus to the internal duty which they owe to man, and that consequently they are contrary to charity, although they do not so well know what faith is.

[2] It has at times been given me to speak with Christians in the other life concerning the state and lot of the Gentiles outside of the church, in that they receive the truths and goods of faith more easily than do Christians who have not lived according to the precepts of the Lord; and that Christians think cruelly about them, in assuming that all who are out of the church are damned, and this from the received canon that without the Lord there is no salvation.

This indeed, as I have said to them, is true; but the Gentiles who have lived in mutual charity, and have done from a kind of conscience what is just and equitable, receive faith and acknowledge the Lord more easily in the other life than those within the church who have not lived in such charity. Moreover Christians are in what is false, in believing that heaven is for them alone, because they have the book of the Word, written on paper but not in their hearts.

Self Examination

Notes for an Extemporaneous Sermon By James P. Cooper

And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye..  LUK 6 41-42

The text for today was taken from the version of the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Luke, and it speaks eloquently to the importance of self-examination as a necessary part of everyone’s spiritual life.  The context of our text is that it comes just after the Lord taught the apparently difficult and frequently misunderstood doctrine that we should Judge not, and you shall not be judged.  Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.  (LUK 6:37) But the Writings tell us that this passage also teaches about the importance of self-examination:  These things man is able to explore in himself, but he cannot do so in others; for the ends of everyone’s affection are known to the Lord alone.  This is the reason why the Lord said:- Judge not, and you shall not be judged; condemn not, and you shall not be condemned (LUK vi.  37) [AC 3796:3]

This is a clear warning to us in all that follows:  Our natural tendency is to hear about self-examination, and think of all the other people whom we think should get busy—but that is the kind of judgment we are forbidden to make.  The judgment we must make is the one that says, “I need to find the evils in my own character and get to work on them in a systematic fashion.”

This is exactly what is meant by our text:  We are so busy examining the speck in our neighbor’s eye that we neglect the plank in our own.  The Lord’s teaching is clear:  We have to look to our own evils first before we are entitled to comment on others.

The Lord confirmed this teaching when He told the crowd that was so eager to stone the woman taken in adultery, He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.  (JOH 8:7)

Acknowledging General Sinfulness is not sufficient.  Anyone can say this:  Confessing to General Sinfulness is a device to attempt to deceive God, and to avoid actually confronting an evil—because to confront it means 1) that it exists, and 2) you now have to do something about it. This makes us uncomfortable because it requires us to change.

AC 8390 …regards universal acknowledgment in the place of self-examination.

Hereditary Evils are inclinations, not actual evils.  At this time, heredity is so complex it contains inclinations to every evil.  Only account for what is your own evil by your own free choice. Those who are working on their evils are forgiven the occasional relapse.

Self-examination for fantasy as well as reality.  Not only deeds and thoughts, but what he would do if he did not fear law and disgrace.

AC 2982e  He who wants to know the quality of his trust, let him explore in himself the affections, and the ends, and also the exercises of the life.

DP 278  Not only deeds and thoughts, but what he would do if he did not fear law and disgrace.

Why bother?  Who doesn’t know that they have sins?

AC 1909:2 Everyone can see the quality of life he possesses, provided he explores the quality of his own end.

Knowledge of sin alone does not help unless used to compare one’s life to the law.   Until you take sin PERSONALLY you cannot get rid of it.  You must get it out where you can see it, see that it is your own problem (and not try to blame it on someone else), see what unhappiness it brings, and then get RID of it. Then you can begin to take worship seriously, personally because it now relates to your personal situation, your life.  It is no longer in the abstract.

There are exceptions.  Infants and children up to about 20 years of age.  The date varies with the passage, but the concept is that there cannot be damnation until the rational is fully developed and engaged in the deliberate choice of evil.
The simple, and those not capable of reflection.  Those with no fear of God. Those who are sick in mind and body. Those who fervently believe in salvation by faith alone.

AR 531:7 The Reformed have a deep-seated aversion to actual repentance, which is so great that they cannot compel themselves to examine themselves.

Truths are the key.  If we continue to ingest truths and fail to use them, they will eventually kill the mind as surely as undigested food kills the body.

Self-examination is critical for our spiritual lives. We need to do it for ourselves.  Unless we search ourselves for hidden evils, they will lie within like malignant tumors, eventually bursting forth. It is far better to discover them and root them out early.

We can help others as well.  Through active listening.  It has always been amazing to me how simple conversations so often seem to solve problems.  I have often wondered if in the process of formulating our problem into words to tell to another, we bring it down to a size that we can picture and defeat.  This formulation of our problems is one of the key uses of prayer in the process of regeneration as well.  An undefined problem is impossible to solve.  A defined problem has edges and handles and dimensions that can be dealt with.

Often the biggest help when you don’t say anything.  It seems our job is to comfort not to solve.

CL 529e If a man examines himself once or twice a year…

It is sufficient to set him on the path to heaven.  The difficulty is that we can sit here in church and understand the truth of it but what do we do about it?  The only one who can make us do anything is we, ourselves. True spiritual freedom is self compulsion.

But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?  Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like:   He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock.  And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.   But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell.  And the ruin of that house was great.  AMEN.

Lessons: ISA 1:6,16-18,20, LUK 6:37-42, TCR 525

True Christian Religion 525.

No man in the Christian world can be without recognition of sin, for everyone is taught from infancy what evil is, and from childhood what the evil of sin is. All youths learn this from parents and teachers, also from the Decalogue (which is the primary instruction given to all within Christendom), also, in their subsequent progress, from preaching at church and instruction at home, and in fullness from the Word; and furthermore from the civil laws of justice, which teach the same things as are taught in the Decalogue and other parts of the Word. For the evil of sin is no other than evil against the neighbor, and evil against the neighbor is also evil against God, which is sin. But recognition of sin effects nothing until a man examines the actions of his life, and sees whether he has secretly or openly done any such thing. Until then, there is nothing but knowledge, and what the preacher then says is a mere sound going in at the left ear and out at the right, and finally it becomes a mere matter of thought and something devout in the breathing, and with many merely imaginative and chimerical. But it is wholly different if man, according to what he recognizes as sin, examines himself, discovers something in himself, says to himself, “This evil is a sin,” and from fear of eternal punishment abstains from it. Then what has been said in churches in the way of instruction and devotion is first received by both ears, is communicated to the heart, and from a pagan the man becomes a Christian.

The Doctrine of Original Sin


An Extemporaneous Sermon by James P. Cooper

The fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin. (DEU 24:16)

  1. Introduction
    1. We tend to think about baptism only when we witness one. But most of us present in this church today have either been baptized, or have stood before the Lord and made the promises of baptism over a child.
      1. That in itself is a good enough reason to take up this topic. But there is the additional reason that much of traditional Christian dogma is based on a false understanding of this basic doctrine, and its falsity affects the thinking of every Christian we talk to – because we have a totally different understanding of a fundamental doctrine!
    2. Originally, baptisms and other spiritual washings, were done to represent a spiritual cleansing, a purification of the mind and spirit, a confirmation of another step taken in the process of improving one’s life.
    3. Unfortunately, a thousand years after John baptized the Lord in the waters of the Jordan River, baptism took on a new meaning when the leaders of the Christian Church invented the doctrine of Original Sin.
    4. Our purpose today is to look at that doctrine, and compare it to the New Church doctrine of hereditary evil, so that we can understand just what the spiritual washing of baptism is supposed to signify and represent in our lives.
  2. The traditional Christian Doctrine
    1. Baptism is necessary to wash away sin
      1. But what sin could a baby have? “Original Sin”
        1. Jehovah created the world and put Adam and Eve into it
          1. Everything was perfect until the serpent enticed Eve, who in turn seduced Adam.
          2. Jehovah was so angry that He turned them out of the garden and turned His back on the human race forever. We are condemned by Adam’s sin.
          3. But Jesus, who was born from eternity and so witnessed all this offered to come into the world Himself, take all sin upon Himself, and die with it
  3. Common Sense
    1. The problem with that doctrine is that it doesn’t make sense
      1. If the garden of Eden was so perfect, what was the serpent doing there?
      2. How could the universe and mankind continue when God turned His back?
        1. Does the universe have life in itself?
      3. If Jesus was born from eternity, why did He wait so long to step in?
        1. But most important and unjust, why would God blame me for something done by someone else?
        2. Not just blame, but punish with eternal damnation!
        3. And furthermore, if it is my fault, how is that I can get out of it when Jesus takes my (unjust) blame upon Himself?
    2. Why did the leaders of the Christian Church create and adopt such a doctrine? If everyone is condemned from birth, then their only hope is through the salvation offered by the church. Thus the church gets complete control over their natural and spiritual lives.
    3. Personal experience
      1. In the late 60’s a book called Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was published. It was the story of an unprovoked attack and resulting massacre of American Indians by heavily armed cavalry troops in the 1880’s.
        1. The political climate in the US, particularly with Viet Nam, caused massive guilt
          1. Many young people read that book and felt somehow dirty because of things done by their countrymen in times past, that somehow it was their fault and they were personally responsible for it, and that they should make amends for their guilt. The hells were having a lovely time! They were appropriating, or making their own, evils that had nothing to do with them. They made themselves miserable for the deeds of others.
          2. Young adults are particularly susceptible to this attack from the hells. Powerful feelings wash through them daily, they are fascinated by dark longings and forbidden fruits, and then they feel guilty for even thinking such things. At such times it is important to remember what the Lord teaches in DP 320:IF MAN BELIEVED, AS IS THE TRUTH, THAT ALL GOOD AND TRUTH ORIGINATE FROM THE LORD, AND ALL EVIL AND FALSITY FROM HELL, HE WOULD NOT APPROPRIATE GOOD TO HIMSELF AND ACCOUNT IT MERITORIOUS, NOR WOULD HE APPROPRIATE EVIL TO HIMSELF AND ACCOUNT HIMSELF RESPONSIBLE FOR IT.

            Those who are in the acknowledgment of these two things reflect only upon the evils in themselves and, so far as they shun them as sins and turn away from them, they cast them out from themselves to the hell from which they come.

      2. All evil comes from hell, and all good comes from heaven. And you make evil yours by doing it, and God gives you good when you strive for it, but you cannot take on yourself the good or evil of anyone else.
        1. We had nothing to do with that massacre!
        2. We are only responsible for those things that we ourselves do (or that we allow to happen that could reasonably have prevented).
  4. The teaching of the Word
    1. 1st commandment: Exodus 20:5-6:
      1. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, But showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
    2. Divine law is that each person is responsible for his own sins only
      1. DEU 24:16: “The fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.”
    3. Anger to the third and fourth generation
      1. AC 8876e: In the sense of the letter, by “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons” is not meant that the sons suffer the penalty of the iniquity of their fathers, for this is contrary to the Divine (DEU 24:16); but that evil increases with the fathers, and thus is by heredity carried over into the children, and that there is a consequent successive accumulation of evil (2910, 3701,4317, 8550, 8551).
    4. Hereditary evil
      1. Acquired from parents
        1. A tendency to evil, not actual sin
      2. Removed by repentance, reformation, and regeneration
      3. Those left over when you die are removed by the Lord
        1. If your ruling love is good.
    5. Mercy to a thousand generations that love Him and keep His commandments
      1. a thousand generations = eternity in heaven
      2. to love Him = faith
      3. to keep commandments = charity
      4. Note the ‘and’
  5. Conclusion
    1. Baptism must not be seen as a sign to appease an angry God.
    2. Nor to save an infant from a punishment brought on by the sin of another
      1. That would be like thinking we could wash our bodies once, and stay clean the rest of our lives.
        1. The reality is that we wash our bodies when they get dirty. If we are doing something very strenuous and messy, we wash frequently. When we are sitting quietly we don’t need to wash at all.
        2. It is the same with spiritual washing. You use the truth from the Word as often as you need it. If you are in a major struggle, you must wash a lot. When things are peaceful and calm, you don’t.
        3. Baptism, then, is to be a sign that as evils arise
          1. As they certainly will from our hereditary nature
        4. That we will turn to the Word for the truth to cleanse our spirit.

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. AMEN.

Lesson: DEU 24:10-18, JOH 1:19-34, AR 776

1st Lesson: DEU 24:10-18

“When you lend your brother anything, you shall not go into his house to get his pledge. {11} “You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you lend shall bring the pledge out to you. {12} “And if the man is poor, you shall not keep his pledge overnight. {13} “You shall in any case return the pledge to him again when the sun goes down, that he may sleep in his own garment and bless you; and it shall be righteousness to you before the LORD your God. {14} “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates. {15} “Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the LORD, and it be sin to you. {16} “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin. {17} “You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge. {18} “But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this thing.

2nd Lesson: John 1:19-34

Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

20} He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” {21} And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” {22} Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” {23} He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” ‘ as the prophet Isaiah said.” {24} Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. {25} And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” {26} John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. {27} “It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” {28} These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. {29} The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! {30} “This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ {31} “I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” {32} And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. {33} “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ {34} “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”

3rd Lesson: AR 776

I have spoken with those who … in the beginning believed that what they had decreed were pure and holy truths, but after instruction and enlightenment then given from heaven, confessed that they did not see one truth. They especially believed that what they had sanctioned concerning Baptism and Justification were truths. But still, when they were in enlightenment, they saw, and from enlightened sight confessed, that no one has original sin from Adam, but from his own parents successively; and that this is not taken away by the imputation and application of the Lord’s merit in baptism; then that the imputation and application of the Lord’s merit is a human fiction, because impossible; and that faith is never infused into any suckling, because faith is of one who thinks.

Still they saw that baptism is holy and a sacrament, because it is a sign and a memorial that man can be regenerated by the Lord through truths from the Word, a sign for heaven, and a memorial for man. Also that by it a man is introduced into the church, as the sons of Israel by the crossing of the Jordan were introduced into the land of Canaan, and as the inhabitants of Jerusalem were prepared for the reception of the Lord by the baptism of John, for without that sign in heaven before the angels, the Jews could not have subsisted and lived at the coming of Jehovah, that is, the Lord, in the flesh.

Jesus Teaches Nicodemus


A Sermon Outline by James P. Cooper

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (JOH 3:16)

  1. Introduction
    1. This passage has been used by many to justify and support the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. However, it only appears to support that doctrine when it is taken out of its context. Our purpose today is to look at this key passage in its context in order to see what it was that the Lord was really trying to teach.
  2. Verses 1-4: There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
    1. The concept of re-birth or regeneration is introduced
      1. How can one re-enter the womb?
        1. There were three main opinions about the life after death in the Jewish Church.
          1. Some believed in reincarnation (which is why that teaching is sometimes called “the Jewish heresy”). The Christian version of this is the doctrine of the bodily resurrection on the last day when Jesus comes to establish His earthly kingdom.
          2. A few believed in “Sheol” which was very similar to “hades.”
          3. The majority believed that there was no life after death at all.
            1. The Jews had no knowledge of regeneration or spiritual life. (AC 4904)
  3. Verses 5-8: Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
    1. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit establishes that heaven is a spiritual kingdom. He is talking not about a physical re-birth (reincarnation) but a spiritual one.
  4. Verses 9-16: Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? “Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
    1. No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven
      1. Jesus was conceived of Jehovah. AC 2798a
      2. Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, the Son of God, is the only expert in the matter, because He is the only one who has actually seen heaven and come into the world to tell people about it.
    2. Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life
      1. This verse is taken out of context to justify the heresy of salvation by faith alone, but this verse cannot be understood without the rest of the ideas which follow. It does state the truth that faith in the Lord is essential to salvation, for unless we are doing for His sake, rather than for some selfish motive, our thoughts and deeds are not saving.
      2. The key idea of motive is illustrated by the first lesson where it speaks of men bragging of their good deeds on the street corners, and how Jesus admonished them to be humble.
        1. The third lesson spoke of how people who want to justify their belief in salvation by faith without deeds point to this parable as a demonstration of how deeds are not saving, but actually cause the sin of merit.
        2. The Writings clearly say that this interpretation “does not at all apply”1 rather, it illustrates that while deeds are required, it is the doing of them, not for the sake of self, but because the Lord has asked it of you that is important.
          1. This is His cross, the burden that he asks us to carry — that we do good not for praise, or wealth, or other benefit to ourselves, but simply because He has asked us to.
      3. Belief in God is the first of the church. Without it, no one can receive faith or good from heaven. (AC 10083)
        1. Belief in God is the first thing not the only thing.
        2. In less than an hour of research, I collected more than one hundred passages of scripture that speak of the necessity of good works or deeds.
  5. Verses 19-21: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. “For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. “But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
    1. And this is the condemnation…
      1. that the light (Jesus Christ) has come into the world, and men loved darkness (falsity) rather than light because their deeds were evil.
      2. Note that the Lord did not say that they were evil because Adam and Eve had sinned in the garden of Eden, although the doctrine of original sin is key to the doctrine of salvation by faith without deeds.
      3. Jesus Christ Himself taught that the reason that people were condemned want not because of Adam and Eve’s errors, but because they loved falsity or darkness. He then said that they loved the darkness because their deeds were evil.
        1. The reason for that is when we do what is evil, we have to invent lies and other falsities to hide our evils from others, and to make them seem like good to ourselves.
      4. So, having described why people are condemned, it does not take too much effort to work the other way to see how we are to be saved.
        1. First, we must stop doing evils.
        2. Then, we can learn to love truth, as we no longer require lies to hide our evils.
        3. When we learn to shun evil and to love the truth, the good that you do will be genuine, and because you love good and truth, and since the Lord also loves good and truth, you will be conjoined with Him by love, and so have earned eternal life with Him in heaven.
        4. This teaching is, by the way, fully consistent with everything else Jesus taught regarding the way to earn eternal life.
  6. Conclusion
    1. So often we face the problem of having someone quote a single passage to us to prove some doctrinal point.
    2. Often, we feel inferior because we cannot quote some other, single passage to refute the point, and somehow feel that therefore we have lost.
    3. But, because we have the internal sense, and because of the New Church’s way of teaching and presenting the Word, we may not be able to quote single passages, but we do have an overall view of the Word where we see its wholeness, its perfection, its common sense, that others who cling to individual passages do not see.
    4. Context is so important: Think of the movie reviewer who says that a particular film is “an incredible piece of rubbish” and the advertiser quotes him as saying the film is “incredible.” It’s the truth, but not the whole truth.
    5. So, what does John 3:16 teach in context?
      1. There is a spiritual world — no earthly reincarnation
      2. The first of the church is to believe in the Lord
      3. He does not seek to condemn us, but to lift us up from our ignorance and sin
      4. We prepare ourselves for heaven by shunning evils so our deeds will be good
      5. And then we will love the truth because we will not need to hide our deeds behind falsities.

“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. “For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. “But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” AMEN.


3rd Lesson: AC 4783:2,3

[2] That by interpretations from the sense of the letter the Word can be so explained as to favor anything, is very manifest from the fact that all kinds of doctrines, and even of heresies, are thus confirmed, as for instance the dogma concerning faith separate is confirmed by these words of the Lord:–

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but should have eternal life (John 3:16);

from which words, and also from other passages, it is concluded that faith alone without works is what gives eternal life; and when those who are in this faith have persuaded themselves of this, they no longer attend to what the Lord so often said concerning love to Him, and concerning charity and works (n. 1017, 2371, 3934), thus not to what is said in John:

“As many as received, to them gave He power to be sons of God, even to them that believe in His name; who were born not of bloods, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (i. 12, 13).

If they are told that no one can believe in the Lord unless he is in charity, they straightway take refuge in interpretations such as these — that the law has been abrogated, that they were born in sins and so cannot do good of themselves, and that they who practice cannot but claim merit for themselves; and they also confirm these things from the sense of the letter of the Word, as from what is said in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke xviii. 10-14), and from other passages; although these do not at all apply to the case. [3] They who are in faith separate cannot believe otherwise than that any one can be admitted into heaven out of grace, no matter how he has lived, thus that not the life but the faith remains with man after death. This they confirm also from the sense of the letter of the Word, when yet it is evident from the very spiritual sense of the Word that the Lord has mercy toward every one, thus that if heaven were of mercy or grace, regardless of what the life has been, every one would be saved. The reason why they who are in faith separate so believe is that they do not at all know what heaven is, and this because they do not know what charity is. If they knew how much peace and joy and happiness there is in charity, they would know what heaven is; but this is altogether hidden from them. Amen.


1AC 4783:2

The Promises of Baptism


Toronto, January 9, 2011
A Sermon by James P. Cooper

A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. (John 16:21)

Our text for today speaks to the strong emotions that are present with every couple at the time of the birth of a baby. The sorrow is caused by the months of waiting, of increasing physical discomfort, the difficulty in doing the simplest things, and the fear that every parent secretly harbours in their heart for the health of the unborn child.

The birthing process itself is difficult and painful, something that it would seem that no one in their right mind would actually choose for themselves – but somehow when the baby is born, when that new, unique little person comes into the world helplessly dependent on your care, the sorrow, the pain, the sacrifice are forgotten for the joy that a human being is born into the world.

The love of creating and nurturing children is the most basic and fundamental love given to us by the Lord. It has its origin in the union of the Divine Love with the Divine Wisdom in the creation of the universe itself. That, in itself, is sufficient reason for it to be celebrated in the Word. But through the revelations of the Heavenly Doctrines, we know that there is more to it, that the Word has not been given to us for mundane or earthly reasons. The Word has within every verse and every word an internal, spiritual sense that is open to the angels and spirits with us.

When we read the name of a person in the Word, the angels and spirits perceive instead some quality represented by that name.  When we read of an animal, they are inspired to think of a human affection. When we read of the death of a character, they think of his resurrection into eternal life, and when we read of a birth, they think of re-birth, or regeneration, the process whereby human beings become spiritual beings by shunning their evils.

Today we started the service with a baptism which invites us to reflect on how the church, school, and home work together in the life-long process of regeneration. This is the lesson that was taught by the Lord to Nicodemus:  that He had come to the world to save it, by showing mankind that there was a life after death, and that the thing that would prevent men from being saved was loving darkness, that is, falsity, because their deeds were evil.

So while the primary thrust of the sermon today deals with a parent’s spiritual obligations to their children, everything will also apply our own parenting of ourselves, the work of the interior parts of the mind in governing the lower, natural parts.

Uses of Baptism

One of the first uses of baptism is introduction into the Christian Church.  The net effect of having parents make a decision to approach the Lord in this way, to make a promised before the Lord in the presence of family and other witnesses has the effect of drawing angels who have similar beliefs into our spiritual neighbourhoods.

The acknowledgment of the Lord Jesus Christ in the ceremony is important because  our place in heaven is determined by our idea of God, so it is important to have a correct idea of the Divine Human as He has revealed Himself in the three-fold Word. Since a child is too young to take any kind of obligation upon himself, the parents instead publicly declare their intention to help the child keep the commandments until such time as he is able to keep them for himself.  This, of course has the secondary effect of keeping these things in the mind of the parents and helping them modify their own behaviour accordingly.

Seek light and knowledge to guide you

We may find that when we read the Word without any particular purpose, it can be a difficult book. The language can seem strange, the stories seem to require knowledge about ancient customs before they can be fully understood. However, when the Word is read from purpose, when, for example, we are seeking guidance about the care and upbringing of a child, when we are seeking comfort in a time of personal tragedy, when we are trying to make a difficult decision, then, suddenly, the Word comes to life. It can be opened to any page, and events and stories that pertain to the current situation seem to leap out from the pages.

The secret to reading the Word is our attitude. When we humbly approach the Word, the humility, the willingness to listen, opens the way, for humility is a heavenly attribute. When we associate ourselves in this way with heavenly qualities, then heaven draws near, and when heaven draws near, heavenly light shines into the mind, enlightening it, and showing it the way.
Lead the child to acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ

We cannot love that which we do not know. Therefore it is our responsibility to teach our children to know the Lord. We do this by using the stories of the Old and New Testament to present a living, human image of our Heavenly Father. They may not be able to see Him with their own eyes, but they should be able to picture them in their minds, see Him teaching the crowds, healing, and leading them to heaven.

It’s essential that parents take the lead here, even if they are being assisted by having their children in a New Church school, because how can a child be expected to discover God and religion and morality on their own? A child cannot just be left to their own devices. They must be given something to base their belief on. It is true that when they become adults they must also be free to choose their own way of expressing their love of God, but there has to be a foundation of truth from the Word from which they may explore the different views of God that are in the world.

Teach your child the Lord’s prayer

This prayer, because it is from the Lord’s own mouth, is to be the model for all our prayers, but it is not to be the only prayer. If we have done our job and taught our children to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, it is only natural that we should speak to Him. The heavenly doctrines tell us that prayer is speech “to God from God,” and by that they mean that we pray properly and usefully when we approach Him from those things that are His in us, that is, from good and truth. It is appropriate for us to pray for guidance, for patience, and for the wisdom to see how our actions can best fit into the dispensations of His Providence.

We teach our children to worship when we teach them the Lord’s prayer, when we pray unselfconsciously with them, when they see us praying, and when they are introduced into congregational prayer and feel the power of many people speaking to the Lord at once.

That the child may be introduced into worship

There is more to worship than prayer. There is the obligation that we have to the Creator for giving us life itself, and this too must be taught to the child. He must be introduced to these idea through the outward forms of religion and worship so that the raw material of spiritual life can accumulate in his mind so that the Divine may inflow and organize these things into a spiritual mind. Worship is not just for children, either.  We all need to approach the Lord in humility and love on a regular basis.

Teach the child the Ten Commandments that he may shun evils as sins

The first of the church is charity.  The first of charity is to shun evils as sins.  You cannot shun evils as sins unless you know what they are, and so the first and most important function of parents and the church is to know and teach the difference between right and wrong, using the revealed truth of the Word as the foundation.
Little children don’t sin!  But they do need structure and discipline. It doesn’t just happen by accident. There must be planning. There must be thought about what spiritual principles apply that to allow a child to do wrong is to love the evil more than the child.1 A parent has to respond to disorder. Consistency by parents will prevent the need for frequent punishment, but when necessary, that punishment must be immediate and appropriate. Punishment’s purpose is to restore self-control, not to satisfy a parent’s anger or need for revenge.  Punishment is to end when self-control returns.

Instruct the child in the Word

The Ten Commandments, when understood in their moral and spiritual senses, contain all truth needed to prepare one for heaven. And because of this, they stand as a symbol for the whole of the Word. Therefore, by extension, the obligation to teach the Ten Commandments to our children extends to teaching them the whole of the Word.
Again, the church, school, and home all cooperate in this effort through Children’s talks, Sunday School, regular supervised instruction, and through discussion of the Word at home both formally and informally.

That the child may be prepared for regeneration

The mind has two parts, the will and understanding.  It is the will that we are trying to fix, but it can only be reached through the understanding. The Word is particularly prepared and suited to this task. The only purpose in all this is to prepare our children for heaven. Our children are our treasures. What we really want is what is best for them. Are we guiding them properly if we teach them to aim for earthly treasures that will not last, or is it our obligation to prepare them for spiritual life? Can we not see that to prepare a child for spiritual life prepares him for life in the world at the same time, but to prepare a child for life in the world only, prepares him for nothing else, and leaves his eternal, spiritual life in doubt? Do we want any less for our children than we would choose for ourselves?

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. {10} “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. {11} “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? {12} “Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? {13} “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:9-13)


First Lesson: JOH 16:16-24

A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” {17} Then some of His disciples said among themselves, “What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” {18} They said therefore, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is saying.” {19} Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’? {20} “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. {21} “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. {22} “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. {23} “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. {24} “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Second Lesson:

JOH 3:1-21 (John 3:1-21) There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. {2} This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” {3} Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” {4} Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” {5} Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. {6} “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. {7} “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ {8} “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” {9} Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” {10} Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? {11} “Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. {12} “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? {13} “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. {14} “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, {15} “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. {16} “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. {17} “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. {18} “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. {19} “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. {20} “For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. {21} “But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

Third Lesson: AE 475:21

Washings were instituted in the ancient churches, and afterwards baptisms in their place, which nevertheless are only representative and significative rites, in order that heaven might be conjoined with the human race, and in particular with the man of the church; for heaven is conjoined to man when man is in ultimates, that is, in such things as are in the world in regard to his natural man, while he is in such things as are in heaven in regard to his spiritual man; in no other way is conjunction possible. This is why baptism was instituted; also the holy supper; likewise why the Word was written by means of such things as are in the world, while there is in it a spiritual sense, containing such things as are in heaven, that is, that the sense of the letter of the Word is natural, while in it there is a spiritual sense. (That by means of this sense the Word conjoins the angels of heaven with the men of the church, may be seen in the work on Heaven and Hell, n. 303-310; and in the small work on The White Horse from beginning to end. That the holy supper likewise conjoins, see in The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, n. 210-222, and the same is true of baptism.) But he is much mistaken who believes that baptism contributes anything to a man’s salvation unless he is at the same time in the truths of the church and in a life according to them; for baptism is an external thing, which without an internal contributes nothing to salvation, but it does contribute when the external is conjoined to an internal. The internal of baptism is, that by means of truths from the Word and a life according to them, falsities and evils may be removed by the Lord, and thus man be regenerated, as the Lord teaches (Matt. 23:26, 27), as explained above in this article.


1See AC 4421, TCR 407

Sin and Forgiveness


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Building Healthy Relationships week 5

Toronto, November 9, 2008

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” (2SA 12:13)

  1. The story of David and Bathsheba creates a vivid picture of the spiritual consequences of sin – and at the same time, the forgiveness that the Lord will provide to those who seek it from him by bringing themselves back into order.
    1. Usually, a sermon deals with just a verse or two. In this case, however, the story is contained in two full chapters of the 2nd book of Samuel. While this prevents our studying the literal story in detail, it is offset by the fact that the story is so well known. A few references from the key elements will serve to remind anyone with a basic acquaintance with the Old Testament of the main elements of the story. In our approach for today in taking the wide sweep of the story in our attempt to see the general context and lesson, the detail is not so important.
  2. The key to the story of David and Bathsheba is the apparently unimportant detail that begins and ends the story, the siege of the Ammonite city, Rabbah
    1. The land of Israel generally represents the human mind. All the various Canaanite nations that were originally in the land when Abraham was introduced to Canaan, and against whom Joshua fought and with the Lord’s help conquered, represented the various hereditary evils that we face in our own lives.
      1. This explains why the Lord was so adamant that these nations be utterly destroyed and driven out: they represented evils. You cannot shun an evil conditionally. You cannot shun the evil of stealing, for example, by vowing that you will never steal again – except on Tuesdays. With shunning evil, it is all or nothing.
      2. This story begins with the siege of Rabbah, a city of Ammon. This gives us the key to the story that follows, for it identifies the leading evil that this battle, or temptation, is being fought against. The sons of Ammon represent “those who are in an external worship which appears holy, but who are not in internal worship….Such worship (is with) those who are in natural good, but despise others in comparison with themselves” (AC 2468).
        1. This tells us that while the letter of the story may be about the deeds and misdeeds of Israel’s greatest king, as to its internal sense, it is about our own battles with the love of self, with the belief that we are better than others, and that because we are better than others, that somehow we have the right to do, think, and say anything we like.
        2. Certainly, this is what we see David doing. And the purpose of this story is to lead us to see that such a belief can only lead to that shattering of all the commandments, and deep personal tragedy.
    2. The armies of Israel are being led by Joab, while David remains in Jerusalem.
      1. Which should be noted as something unusual for David.
        1. David had built his reputation as the great warrior king beginning with his conquest of Goliath, and continuing with his reputation as the one who, under Saul, had killed ten thousand Philistines (1SA 18:7,8; 21:11; 29:5). We can only wonder why David did not lead his armies forth this time, as the text does not tell us. However, looking to the internal sense, we can see that this may represent our own reluctance to turn away from our evils. We may know they are there, and we may understand that we have to fight them, but yet we are reluctant to begin. We seek excuses to delay, to put off the painful experience we know shunning evil to be.
        2. There was another aspect to this situation: with all the other men away at the battle, David was relatively alone in the city. Certainly there were servants around, but not the other military men whose opinion mattered to David. He found himself in a situation where he could do pretty much what he wanted without having to justify or explain to anyone of consequence.
        3. The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that the thing that keeps most of us under control, within the limits of external order, is our own fear of the loss of our reputation, honour, or gain. David was suddenly (at least it seemed to him) freed of this restraint, and he allowed his fantasies to become realities.
    3. David sees Bathsheba bathing while he walks on the roof in the evening. Inquiring about her, he is told that she is the wife of Uriah.
      1. Knowing that, he sends for her anyhow. It is not too difficult for us to imagine the various ways he justified his behaviour to himself, but it is clear from the text that he had been specifically informed that Bathsheba was a married woman. He knew it was wrong, but he did it anyhow. And she becomes pregnant.
      2. In the Divine order of things, every truth has some good conjoined with it. Every knowledge can result in something that is useful and of benefit. But adultery represents that conjunction of a good with what is false, thus destroying both the good and its truth. Certainly, we would not eat adulterated food, for we would know that it had been contaminated with filth.
        1. And it is no coincidence that the Canaanite nation that David is fighting represents the adulteration of good and truth. Thus we can see that the subject of this scripture is not just the specific sin of adultery, but includes all kinds of sin where we deliberately combine what is profane and from the loves of self and the world with what is good and from the Lord.
    4. When Bathsheba reveals to him that she is pregnant, David knows that their adultery will become known, for she must explain how she became pregnant while her husband was away.
      1. This is a scandal which David wishes to avoid. He sends for Uriah, who obediently returns from Rabbah.
      2. Three times David tries to get Uriah to spend the night at home with Bathsheba, obviously so the child will appear to be Uriah’s
      3. But Uriah is an honourable soldier. He cannot sleep in comfort at home while Israel is at war.
      4. David decides that he must kill Uriah because only her husband could testify against him. If Uriah is dead, David could say that Uriah was the father of the child without fear of contradiction.
      5. Uriah carries his own death warrant to Joab and he soon thereafter dies in the battle when the rest of his unit retreats.
      6. Uriah was an experienced man of war. He had no doubt trained with this unit. How could it happen that they withdraw from him in battle without his knowledge, with him noticing? Why did he not fall back with them? Perhaps this was his way of showing his love for the peace and security of his country.
      7. Joab sends David a coded message to say that the deed is done and Uriah has died. But Joab’s knowledge of David’s part in this has given him power over David, so David seeks to control Joab in his reply, carried by the messenger. David said, “Thus you shall say to Joab: ‘Do not let this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another. Strengthen your attack against the city, and overthrow it.’ So encourage him” (2SA 11:25)
      8. And David marries Bathsheba as soon as the period of mourning is over. A son is born. The child is not named in scripture.
    5. The 11th chapter ends with things in the depths of sin and despair. Most of the commandments have been broken, but David still thinks he has gotten away with it. After all, he is the king and he can do whatever he wants. Even those who know about what has gone on are too weak to threaten him about it. David feels the false power that comes from hell, the exaltation that comes just before the humiliation of exposure when the truth is revealed – as it always is.
    6. The Lord sends Nathan to tell David the parable of the Lamb.
      1. We may be able to hide our sin from others. We may even be able to hide it from ourselves, but we cannot hide it from the Lord.
      2. Nathan weaves a story of a rich man killing and eating his poor neighbour’s pet lamb
      3. David is outraged and condemns the rich man
      4. Nathan tells him that he is that man.
      5. David is suddenly aware of his sin, and is humiliated.
    7. Nathan is the prophet of the Lord. As everywhere else in the Word, a prophet, because the Lord speaks the truth through him, represents the Word.
      1. The Word has many functions in our lives. It instructs us in the laws of the Lord, it comforts us in times of trouble, and as in this case, it helps to see ourselves as the Lord sees us. We read about the life of some character in the Word, and it strikes a chord within us when we see that we have been acting in the same way.
      2. David is made suddenly aware that his sin has not been hidden, that he has fooled no one except himself. The light of heaven has shone upon him, and the wonderful palaces he imagined in his mind are suddenly seen to be mud huts.
      3. In modern terms, this state of mind is called “hitting bottom,” and it is generally recognized that for a person to make real change in their lives, they have to first hit bottom, that is, truly recognize that to continue on their course of life will mean the destruction of everything they love.
      4. From a spiritual point of view, we know that a person cannot fight hell from their own strength, so we have to ask the Lord to help us. But until we “hit bottom” we are too full of ourselves to admit that we need help. We can’t win without the Lord, and we don’t seek the Lord until we have clearly seen our own failure when trying to do it alone.
    8. David says to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2SA 12:13). The recognition of sin is the beginning of new life: the old self has to die before the spirit can live. But the amazing thing is that once we humbly recognize our own sin, acknowledge it, and seek the Lord’s help in removing it, He does forgive us! “And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die’” (2SA 12:13).
      1. It’s like when kids suddenly find themselves in big trouble. They say, “my parents are going to kill me!” In fact, it often happens that parents are angry over the little, stupid things, but quite helpful and understanding about the big, serious things.
      2. The child becomes ill, Nathan says it will die.
      3. David mourns dramatically, so that the servants fear to tell him when the child dies.
      4. But when he does die, David worships, cleans up, and returns to his house.
      5. While the child lived there was hope for a miracle.
      6. The child was the result of an adulterous conjunction, and as such was a symbol of David’s sin. Even while Nathan had showed him his sin, and there was an intellectual acknowledgement that he had done wrong, yet there lingered within him the memory of the delight, the thrill, of the adultery. This lingering affection for the evil is represented by the child.
      7. But David held himself in order. He did not commit adultery again, and so as time passed, the delight in that evil faded, and eventually died. It is true that while the affection remained, he struggled with it: it was a difficult time for him, but he persevered. And so eventually he knew that it was behind him, and it was time to begin his life anew.
    9. In the eyes of the law, David was free to marry the widow Bathsheba, and so the next child conceived was legitimate and in fact became the next King of Israel.
      1. He and Bathsheba have a second son, Solomon/Jedediah
      2. In spite of how we may feel while struggling in the depths of temptation, there is an end to it, and a life of use and happiness on the other side. With the Lord’s help, no matter how deeply we may fall into sin, we can come out again if we are willing to amend the course of our lives and bring ourselves into order.
    10. And we return full circle to find that Joab is still fighting in Rabbah at least two years later.
      1. Joab calls David to the battle. David returns to his proper position as the ruler of the armies of Israel, the sons of Moab are defeated, and all return to Jerusalem. The cycle of sin and forgiveness is complete. Another hereditary tendency to evil is defeated and removed from the spirit, and there is a time of rest, happiness and peace before it is once again time to fight against the evils within.
  3. Herein lies the mechanism of God’s forgiveness of us.
    1. When we enter the world of spirits upon the death of the physical body, all our deeds, both good and bad, are left behind.
      1. The foolishness of youth
      2. The failures in temptation
      3. The experiments that went wrong
    2. They are no longer with us, they are no longer regarded by the Lord. Only the lessons that we learned while fighting the battles remain, the character that has been built through the trials of life in this world.
    3. In the second states of the World of Spirits, our inhibitions are removed and the interior loves of our hearts are revealed. We are judged (or more correctly we judge ourselves) on the basis of the deeds that come forth from the heart while in the spiritual world.
    4. In heaven, the Lord and the angels do not look to our physical appearance, nor do they look at the size of our bank account. Remember what the Lord said to the prophet Samuel when he was sent to anoint the new king from among the sons of Jesse, and Samuel was surprised that the Eliab, the eldest son had not been chosen. The LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1SA 16:7)
      1. Thus the ultimate in forgiveness – the things that we do not love, that are not a part of us, that we have rejected through the process of self-examination, reformation, and regeneration are left behind, forgotten, and never mentioned again.
      2. AMEN.

First Lesson: 2 SAM 11:1-11

It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. {2} Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold. {3} So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” {4} Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house. {5} And the woman conceived; so she sent and told David, and said, “I am with child.” {6} Then David sent to Joab, saying, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. {7} When Uriah had come to him, David asked how Joab was doing, and how the people were doing, and how the war prospered. {8} And David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah departed from the king’s house, and a gift of food from the king followed him. {9} But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. {10} So when they told David, saying, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Did you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?” {11} And Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are dwelling in tents, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are encamped in the open fields. Shall I then go to my house to eat and drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.” Amen.

Second Lesson: JOH 8:3-11

Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, {4} they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. {5} “Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” {6} This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. {7} So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” {8} And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. {9} Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. {10} When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” {11} She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” Amen.

Third Lesson: AC 8393

Repentance present on the lips but not in one’s life is not repentance. Lip repentance does not cause sins to be forgiven; only repentance in life can lead to this. Being Mercy itself, the Lord is constantly forgiving a person’s sins; but sins cling to a person no matter how much he supposes them to have been forgiven. Nor are they removed from him except through a life in keeping with the commandments of faith. To the extent that his life is in keeping with them his sins are removed; and to the extent that his sins are removed they have been forgiven. For a person is withheld from evil by the Lord and maintained in good; for he can be withheld from evil in the next life to the extent that during his lifetime he was resisting evil, and he can be maintained in good then to the extent that during his lifetime he was doing good out of an affection for it. From all this one may see what the forgiveness of sins is and how it arises. Anyone who supposes that there is any other way in which sins are forgiven is much mistaken. Amen.


Copyright General Church of the New Jerusalem, 1982 – 2008
Author, Rev. James P. Cooper, M. Div.
Page last modified November 9, 2008

New Church Day

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. (MAR 8:22)

Our text for this morning is taken from the Gospel of Mark where is described one of the Lord s many miracles of healing. In this case, a blind man was healed. The blind man in this story is a symbol for those of us who are hurting, who are in real pain because of the mistakes we may have made because of our spiritual blindness.

In the Word, blindness generally represents the inability to see the truths of the Word. It s also important to recognize that there are different kinds of blindness there are those who are blind to spiritual truth because of their circumstances, that is, those who are ignorant of the truth through no fault of their own; and there are those who are blind because their loves of self and the world twist and pervert the truth until it is unrecognizable. They make themselves blind because they close their eyes to the truth. As the common saying goes, “there is none so blind as he who will not see.”

In either case, spiritual blindness leaves us without the means to judge the course of our lives. We cannot see if we are preparing ourselves adequately for heaven. We cannot see if the anger we feel is zeal to protect what is good, or hatred towards those who threaten our possessions and position in society. When we are spiritually blind, for whatever reason, we are in the same predicament as those people who entered the spiritual world during the Dark Ages and who are called in the book of Revelation the “souls under the altar” (REV69). As we read in our lesson, these are those who “were in external worship without internal, and who therefore lived an external moral life, although they were merely natural and not spiritual.” (AE 391)

The purpose of the Lord s Second Coming, as we know from the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church, was to shine the light of truth on these people, to give them the means to see truth for themselves, to decide freely, and for themselves, what kind of spiritual life they should lead. The so-called “Last Judgment” was a judgment by truth, truth which took away spiritual blindness and set those souls free. That light was provided to those in the spiritual world by means of the revelations given to Emanuel Swedenborg, and it was the completion of the last of those works, the True Christian Religion and the consequent establishment of the New Christian Church on June 19, 1770 that we are celebrating this weekend.

So we can see that spiritual truth from the Lord through the Word is the only means of curing spiritual blindness. We can see this further illustrated by what happened next So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. (MAR823)

Remember also that our text tells us that “they begged Him to touch Him.” It is important to note that although the Lord has the power to heal any spiritual disease, He will only do so if He is first approached, for nothing in man s life can be changed apart from his own freedom. If the Lord were to approach on His own initiative, there would be no freedom, so He presents Himself, informs us of His willingness to help, and then awaits our decision and His patience is Infinite.

To be led by the hand out of the town means that in choosing to approach the Lord for help, by recognizing our need for His help, we have already begun the steps to our recovery, for we have left Bethsaida, we have left the state of disorder or ignorance that caused the blindness and have taken the first positive steps towards choosing the truth and the light, and we begin to leave the states that have caused us our spiritual crisis.

The story tells us that the Lord then spit in the blind man s eyes. This is a powerful combination of images that leads us to see what the person going through these states might feel. On the one hand, water from the mouth of the Lord corresponds to truth, and our rational mind tells us that it should be a good thing to have truth directly from the mouth of the Lord applied to the eye, the organ that represents understanding but yet there is something repellent in the thought of anyone spitting in our eyes. It s humiliating, it s a terrible insult.

On the spiritual level, what could be more humiliating than suddenly awakening to the fact that the innocent little fantasies that we have cherished for so long and enjoyed so much actually constitute adultery because they are destructive of marriage? What could be more humbling than really understanding that the little “unofficial benefits” we have enjoyed at work are actually stealing. We could go on at some length in this vein, but the point should be clear that when we first recognize that we are in a state of disorder, we don t always see just how bad it really is. We tend to minimize the damage. But truth from the Lord is bright and powerful, and makes our errors glaring and to see ourselves as He sees us is humiliating.

The text continues, giving us the blind man s response. And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” (MAR824) It is a fact that those people who have had their sight surgically restored and see for the first time (or for the first time in many years) have a great deal of difficulty in sorting out the images they see. In their blindness, they have built up pictures of how things ought to look from the information they have received from their other senses. Things like perspective and shading completely baffle them for a time so that they must continue to use their seeing-eye dogs for some time after their sight is restored. This is the phenomena that the blind man is referring to when he says that men look like trees to him.

Again, the point of this story is not to tell us about how blind people gradually recover their sight, but to tell us about how, even when we have been touched by the Lord and the eyes of our understanding opened, we don t immediately come into pure understanding like that of the angels. The new truth has to be understood, assimilated, adapted to our own experience and character, and studied in the light of the other truths that we already know. It takes time to change a whole lifetime, in fact.

But we can have the courage and strength to carry on because we know that the Lord does not just touch us and then abandon us. Instead, He stays near, guiding our recovery, gradually showing us the way things ought to be. We read from Mark Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. (MAR825) Eventually, in time, we find spiritual peace, we come into new states of life where truths we never imagined are easily seen.

While we are in the state of blindness, of personal evils and selfishness, it hurts when we read the Word, because its light shows up our weaknesses. But it is not the purpose of the Word to cause pain, but to remove its cause. We examine ourselves in preparation for the Holy Supper, not so we can see how bad we are, but so that we can direct the Lord s healing power to where it is needed most.

In the Old Testament, the Lord established a basic covenant with the Jews He would protect them and be their God if, in return, they would simply obey certain external rules. When He came to earth in person, as described in the New Testament, that covenant was changed from an external obedience to an internal, moral response. He introduced the Holy Supper as the sign of an internal acknowledgment of our need to change our attitudes, not just our actions. And the Writings, the instrument of His second coming, serve to reestablish that covenant so that it is rational and spiritual in origin, but shows itself as moral and civil behavior.

We are free to respond to the Lord on any level we choose. If we wish or are able to do no more than to faithfully obey His commandments, because they are from Him, then we will find a wonderful, eternal home in the natural heaven. If, on the other hand, we delight in searching out the reasons behind His commandments, and seeking to obey them in spirit as well as their letter, then we will find our home in the spiritual heaven. But if our greatest delight is in serving the Lord and doing what is good, then our spiritual home will be with the celestial angels but the point is that choice is our depending on our response the Lord s invitation to enter into His covenant.

The sign of this covenant to the Ancient Church was the rainbow. In the Jewish Church, it was the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night over the ark of the covenant that was the constant reminder of the Lord s presence with them. For the Christian and New Christian churches, the sign of His covenant is in the two sacraments that are universal entrances to the church, baptism, and the Holy Supper.

We should take time to reflect on these things as we recognize the 330th anniversary of the founding of the New Heaven, and the sending forth of the twelve disciples throughout heaven to preach the gospel that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, and His kingdom shall be for ever and ever. (TCR 791) Pray that the Lord will touch you with His divine truth and cure your spiritual blindness. Do your part to enter into His covenant with a humble heart, and He will enlighten your mind and lead you into states of eternal peace. AMEN.

1st Lesson PSA 146

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! {2} While I live I will praise the LORD; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. {3} Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. {4} His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish. {5} Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the LORD his God, {6} Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that is in them; Who keeps truth forever, {7} Who executes justice for the oppressed, Who gives food to the hungry. The LORD gives freedom to the prisoners. {8} The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous. {9} The LORD watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked He turns upside down. {10} The LORD shall reign forever; Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD! Amen.

2nd Lesson MAR 822-26

Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. {23} So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. {24} And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” {25} Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. {26} Then He sent him away to his house, saying, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.” Amen.

3rd Lesson AE 391 (portions)

I saw under the altar, signifies those who were preserved under heaven. This is evident from the signification of “to see,” as being to make manifest (see above, n. 351); also from the signification of “altar” as being, in the nearest sense, worship from the good of love to the Lord; in a more interior sense, heaven and the church, which are in that love; and in the inmost sense, the Lord s Divine Human in relation to the Divine good of the Divine love.

“Under the altar” signifies those who were preserved under heaven, because it is said that he “saw under the altar the souls of those slain because of the Word of God, and because of the testimony that they held,” and by these are meant those who were preserved under heaven until the Last Judgment; but as this is not yet known in the world, I will tell how it is.

…Before the Last Judgment took place there was a semblance of heaven which is meant by “the former heaven that passed away” (Rev. 211) and that this heaven consisted of those who were in external worship without internal, and who therefore lived an external moral life, although they were merely natural and not spiritual.

Those of whom this heaven consisted before the Last Judgment were seen in the spiritual world above the earth, also upon mountains, hills, and rocks, and therefore believed themselves to be in heaven; but those of whom this heaven consisted, because they were in an external moral life only and not at the same time in an internal spiritual life, were cast down; and when these had been cast down, all those who had been preserved by the Lord, and concealed here and there, for the most part in the lower earth, were elevated and transferred to these same places, that is, upon the mountains, hills, and rocks where the others had formerly been, and out of these a new heaven was formed.

These who had been preserved and then elevated were from those in the world who had lived a life of charity, and who were in the spiritual affection of truth. The elevation of these into the places of the others I have often witnessed. It is these who are meant by “the souls of those slain seen under the altar,” and because they were guarded by the Lord in the lower earth, and this earth is under heaven, so “I saw under the altar” signifies those who were preserved under heaven. Amen.

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


– The Apostle Paul

The Apostle Paul (Toronto August 19 2007)

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, Since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. (ROM 3:28-31)

The text for today’s sermon is taken from the third Chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. This passage is extremely important because it is the key idea in the debate that Paul was having with the disciple Peter over the place that Jewish ritual and law would have in the Christian Church that they were in the process of establishing. It is also important because some fifteen hundred years after he wrote this letter to the Christians in Rome, church scholars would take it out of its proper context, totally reverse its meaning, and use it to support the heresy that God doesn’t care what you do as long as you believe that Jesus died for your sins.

We tend to ignore Paul in the New Church – certainly we do not put the same emphasis on his works as do other Christian Churches. We hardly ever read his letters to the early church leaders in spite of the fact that the Writings tell us that they are “good books for the church,” and, as we shall see in a moment, even say that Paul was inspired when he wrote them. We need to be aware of Paul’s contribution to the establishment of the Christian Church, we need to have the facts about his life so that we can separate the legend from the man himself, we need to know what he really thought so that we can separate those doctrines which are not his but are now associated with him from those that are his own.

The Heavenly Doctrines turn to Paul’s works for confirmation of the doctrine of genuine truth in a surprising number of cases. There are in the Writings at least eighty references to Paul by name, and hundreds of references to the letters that he wrote to the church leaders in Asia and Europe. Most of these references to Paul’s works are to use his teachings, which are widely accepted in the traditional Christian world, to confirm and support the doctrines of the New Church.

Although Paul never met the Lord Himself, he did in time come to know the disciples, and eventually, through his personality and his accomplishments, became the best known of the leaders of the early Christian Church. Paul was born a Jew in Tarsus, and was named “Saul,” Later in life, when he began to write and preach in Greek, he adopted the Greek form of his name. It is possible that he changed his name as a symbol of the change of his faith.

History tells us that not only was Paul a Jew, but he was also a Pharisee, and a fanatical one at that! He was dedicated to the preservation of the strict application of the Mosaic law, and was willing to punish those who broke those laws, even to death. He (correctly) saw the Christian movement as a threat to the Jewish order that he worked so hard to establish and support, and so he fought hard against the early Christians. We know, for example, that he was personally involved in the murder by stoning of the Christian leader (and first martyr) now known as St. Steven. Some church historians believe that the calm way in which Steven accepted his martyrdom made a lasting impression on Paul and prepared him for what was to happen later in one of the most famous examples of miraculous conversion, the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus.

Briefly, what happened was that Paul was travelling with a company of other like-minded zealots to arrest and punish some Christians who were reported to be setting up a church in Damascus. The scene is described by Luke in the book of Acts:1

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest And asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. And as he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” And the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

This, coupled with his earlier experience at the stoning of Steven, had a profound effect on Paul, and he turned away from persecuting the Christians and instead became one of them. It took some time for him to be accepted by the Christian community, as could be expected considering his record and background, but eventually he was accepted, and as we know, he travelled widely throughout Asia, Asia Minor, Europe and the Mediterranean islands spreading Christianity. Paul, himself a Roman citizen, was arrested and taken to Rome during one of the periodic persecutions of Christianity. What happened to him after that is not known, though there are many legends.

While the Doctrines of the New Church say that Paul was inspired when he wrote his letters, yet they distinguish between the inspiration of Paul and that of those who wrote the gospels. We read from the Spiritual Diary:2

…Paul did indeed speak from inspiration, but not as did the prophets, to whom the several words were dictated; but that his inspiration was that he received an influx according to those things which were with him; which inspiration is totally different; nor has it conjunction with heaven by means of correspondences.

This passage speaks volumes on the nature of the inspiration of the various prophets, far too much for us to go into now. It can only be said that the distinction between the inspiration of Luke, for example, and Paul is that Luke received his inspiration in a “living voice,” the words of his gospel were actually dictated to him from heaven in the manner of all the prophets of the Old Testament from Moses onwards. Paul, on the other hand, was inspired according to his own character and experience.3 Paul’s inspiration was that which we call the “enlightenment of use,” that is, by his attention to and affection for the teachings of the Lord, and through keeping himself in external order, his spiritual state attracted like minded spirits whose presence with him inspired him to certain insights indirectly. To draw a parallel, the difference between the gospels and the epistles is like that between the Word itself, and a sermon carefully drawn from the Word. Both are of value, but only the Word itself is of absolute authority.

Having established the background, let us now look at the question of what Paul really teaches about the heresy that salvation is by faith alone apart from works.

Those who teach the doctrine of Faith Alone quote a portion of our text from Paul as support and confirmation of their doctrine. They quote Romans 3:28, which says, Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. We must admit, that taken by itself, just as it stands, it does sound very much like Paul supports the idea of salvation by faith alone. But some important questions have to be asked: What was the context of this statement? What “law” is he talking about? It is our habit, from reading the Old Testament and the gospels, to immediately assume that when it speaks about the law the reference is to the Ten Commandments, but in this case, the assumption is incorrect. The context of the statement shows that Paul was engaged in a discussion with Peter about whether or not the Jewish rituals (such as circumcision) are necessary in the Christian Church. This was an important issue to them, as at that time Christianity was really more of a cult within the Jewish Church than a church in its own right.

Reading on, Paul’s real view becomes clear. Fearing that he might be misunderstood (clearly a correct fear), he then explains himself more fully a few sentences later, saying, Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law,4 and in this case, he is referring to the Ten Commandments. There are a number of other places in the letters of Paul where he demonstrates his view that works are as important as faith, if not more so5 Those people, who have confirmed themselves in the doctrine of faith alone on the basis of that one verse have stared at it so long that, like someone who stares at the sun, they have become blinded to all the other teachings in the Word and in the letters of Paul where the laws of faith are listed as being the works of charity. They also ignore all those places where Paul declares that those who do not do the works of charity cannot enter heaven! In order to say that Paul supports the heresy of salvation by faith alone, one has to ignore everything else that Paul wrote except that one verse, taken out of context. The Lord says in the Divine Providence, From this it is evident what blindness has been induced by a wrong understanding of this single passage.6

The other great heresy of the Christian Church is that of the division of God into three separate persons, who somehow, miraculously and mysteriously, are also one person. Many times the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church draw on Paul’s teachings on this subject to illustrate and confirm what the Lord Himself taught, that He is One, indivisible, and Divine. Paul taught in his letter to the Colossians7 For in [Jesus] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, thereby teaching the truth that Jesus Christ was the bodily incarnation of Jehovah God – not some portion of God.

We could go on at some length discussing the various doctrines of the Christian Church that have been based on Paul’s teachings, but more important, we should be noting that Paul should not be blamed for the heresies that have been hidden behind his name. In spite of the fact that we regard him as less of an authority as do other Christian churches, that should not take away from our respect for all the things that he did accomplish.

The Apostle Paul was a man, who, like many other men in the history of the church, was flawed, but in spite of his flaws (or perhaps because of them) the Lord could use him in a special way to establish His kingdom on earth. Moses and David are two other examples that readily leap to mind. We have to ask if a truly humble, peaceful, charitable Christian-type person would have had the dynamic personality required to establish the church and cause it to spread in the face of opposition from the Roman empire and the Jewish Church? What about our own Bishop Benade whose fighting spirit separated the Academy movement from Convention, and eventually led to the formation of the General Church when all the members of the Academy, led by his own hand-picked clergy, resigned and formed the General Church because of his abuses.

Paul’s own teaching on the relationship between faith and charity is quite correct and in accord with the doctrines that the Lord Himself taught while in the world – at least when seen in their correct context. His teaching about the nature of the Lord is also quite correct. Some of his other teachings, specifically those on the relationship between men and women, are suspect, but this is the essence of understanding Paul’s works and his impact on the Christian Church and the New Christian Church. All of his letters are a fascinating history of the early Christian Church. Some of the doctrines he teaches are quite good and state genuine truths quite clearly and well, but all of his letters, both the good and the bad, are his own opinion – not Divine authority like the Gospels. Therefore, Paul’s works are “good books for the church” because they teach us history, and can be used to confirm and illustrate the doctrines taught in the Old Testament and the Gospels, but one should not use Paul’s letters as the basis to establish a doctrine not taught elsewhere in the inspired Word. AMEN.

Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

1st Lesson: JOS 24:19-24

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!” Amen.

2nd Lesson: JOH 15:1-14

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. {2} “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. {3} “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. {4} “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. {5} “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. {6} “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. {7} “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. {8} “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. {9} “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. {10} “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. {11} “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. {12} “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. {13} “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. {14} “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. Amen.

3rd Lesson:

TCR 506. …that Paul’s saying, That a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law (ROM. iii. 28), was not rightly understood, for by faith here [it was claimed] Paul did not mean the faith of the present church, which is a faith in three Divine persons from eternity, but faith in the Lord God the Saviour Jesus Christ; also that by “the deeds of the law,” he did not mean the deeds of the law of the Decalogue, but the deeds of the Mosaic law, which were for the Jews; thus that by a wrong interpretation of those few words, two enormous falsities had been established, one, that Paul here meant the faith of the present church, and the other, that he meant the deeds of the law of the Decalogue.

It is clearly evident [these claimed] that Paul meant the works of the Mosaic law, which were for the Jews, and not the works of the Decalogue, from what he said to Peter, whom he accused of Judaizing, although he knew that no one is justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ (Gal. ii. 14-16); “the faith of Jesus Christ” meaning faith in Him and from Him.

And because by “the deeds of the law” Paul meant the deeds of the Mosaic law, be distinguished between the law of faith and the law of works, and between the Jews and the Gentiles, or “circumcision” and “uncircumcision,” “circumcision” signifying Judaism here as everywhere else. Moreover, Paul closes with these words:— Do we then make the law of none effect through faith? God forbid; but we establish the law (saying this in connection with the foregoing), (ROM. iii. 27-31). Likewise in the preceding chapter:— Not the hearers of a law shall he justified before God, but the doers of a law shall be justified (ROM. ii. 13); again:— God will render to every man according to his deeds (ROM. ii. 6); and again:— For we must all be made manifest before the judgement-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done through the body, whether it be good or bad (2 Cor. v. 10); besides other passages in his writings.

From all this it is clear that Paul rejected faith without works, just as James did (ii. 17-26). Amen.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.

1 Acts 9:1-9

2 Spiritual Diary 6062:2

3 See True Christian Religion 154.

4 Romans 3:31

5 1CO 13:13, 2CO 5:10, GAL 2:14-16, ROM 2:6, 2:13, 3:27-31, JAM 2:17-26

6 Divine Providence 115

7 Colossians 2:9

The Parable of the Wedding Feast

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ (MAT 22:8,9)

The parable of the Wedding Feast, as told in Matthew 22, is interesting on many levels: it is very clear in its teaching about the way the Lord was received by the Jewish Church, but on a more interior level it is not about the Jewish Church at all, but about the way that any church receives the Lord, and the temptation that the people of every church face in making their decision between following Him, and succumbing to the temptations of the delights of the loves of self and the world. And it is interesting on another level for it teaches us something about the spiritual world by telling us some important principles that we should follow in order to prepare ourselves for spiritual life. Finally, it reminds us so clearly that none of us can afford to put off our preparation for heaven, for none of us knows the place or time when the invitation will come.

The Wedding Feast is a common image in both the Old and New Testaments. It is common because the beautiful picture of the Lord as the Bridegroom, and the Church as the Bride serves to illustrate the ideal relationship that the Lord strives to create between Himself and the people who receive His love and leadership.<1>

It’s clear from the context that the king who was preparing the wedding feast for his son is a symbol for the Lord, and because of the context of where and when this parable was given, it is also clear that He intended that it refer to the situation then existing in the Jewish Church–specifically that the Lord had made every attempt to be with them, to guide them, and to lead them to the life of good which leads to heaven, but the church had resisted Him at every turn.

Even the most casual reading of the Old Testament shows repeated examples of the children of Israel turning away from the worship of the Lord, and instead following Baal and Ashtoreth. Our lesson from the first book of Kings briefly describes the kinds of evils that prevailed in Israel in spite of the Lord’s presence with the Jewish Church through the prophets. They did not listen. Instead the prophets were killed or imprisoned because they carried the “wrong” message, they required the people to change their ways.

In our parable, the king’s invitation represents the Lord’s covenant and presence with the Jewish Church. The Wedding feast represents heaven, and the fact that those who were invited declined to come, but said that they preferred to tend to their farms and businesses, shows the response of the Jewish Church to the Lord’s leading, and that they loved the things of this world more than the things of heaven, and so turned their back on the Lord and salvation for the sake of earthly pleasures.

History tells us how those people showed their rejection of the Messiah: they crucified Him–and through their rejection set the stage for the new church, the Christian Church which was formed around a kernel of converted Jews, but was eventually formed for the most part from gentiles.

This formation of the Christian Church was predicted in the second part of the parable of the Wedding Feast when the king, angry at the way his servants had been treated, and angry because his people were more interested in their own affairs than attending the wedding feast, caused his servants to go out a second time into the highways of the kingdom, inviting every beggar and traveler that they found there to come to the wedding feast in the place of the others.

This prophecy certainly came true. The disciples themselves went out into the world carried the message of hope that they had learned during their three years with the Master, and, although most of them were persecuted, and some were executed for their teachings and their beliefs, yet they succeeding in establishing the Christian Church among the heathens and gentiles of the ancient world. Truly, the masses from the highways and byways were invited to this wedding feast, and they accepted the invitation gratefully.

So far the parable is very clear. It is easy to see the connection with the judgment that was made on the Jewish Church when it refused to follow the Lord’s leading through the prophets and turned instead to the worship of the things of the world. It is also easy to see the connection with the establishment of the new church, the Christian Church which followed and was made up mostly of gentiles. It is not too great a step to take it to the next level and say that the same kind of thing applies to any church that turns away from the teaching of the Word–that it will fail. And we can even see without too much trouble that a similar warning applies to each of us individually as we struggle through our own states of repentance, reformation, and regeneration. But, at this point the parable takes a surprising turn.

One of the guests, a passer-by with no reason to expect that he would be invited to the wedding feast, is called out by the king, shouted at for not wearing a wedding garment, and is then physically thrown back into the street! Our first reaction is that such treatment is not fair. We know that the king had sent his servants out into the highways to invite everyone and anyone they found there. How could they then turn around and punish this man for not being properly dressed? If we feel that this was unfair, it is probably because our judgment is clouded by our own cultural behavior at weddings.

We, at least most of us in this congregation, have a great variety of clothes to chose from. We have special clothes for different uses, and probably that includes some very fancy clothes that we save for very special occasions, such as weddings.

In the time when the Lord was on the earth, it was a very lucky or very rich man who had two garments. Fabric was in short supply because it all had to be made by hand, usually by the women in the family on a home-made loom. The very rich had servants who did nothing but weave cloth for the family clothes. So, in this context, it is very unlikely that the man in our parable was being punished for not changing into his special wedding clothes–for such a thing was unknown in those days.

On the other hand, a wedding in those days was quite a celebration, sometimes lasting a week or more. The guests lived with the host for the duration of the feast. We know that it was customary in those days to wash the feet of a guest when he arrived. Certainly it does not take too great a stretch of the imagination to believe that the king, upon inviting all these people from the highways, made provision for them to wash themselves and brush out their garments before they came in to the wedding feast. If this were not the case, there would have been far more people called out by the king. In light of this, we can see that the man was being punished not so much for being in his “street” clothes at the wedding, for it could not be helped, but because he did not take the opportunity to prepare himself for the feast before coming in, even though it was offered by the host.

This part of the parable is a warning to each one of us. We don’t know the time of our death. We have no idea on which day we will suddenly find ourselves invited to the Lord’s wedding feast as we go walking down the road of our lives. The question that faces us, the question that the parable addresses, is whether we will be prepared, or whether we will be, like the man in the parable, cast into outer darkness.

How can we avoid that fate? By washing away the dirt from our lives, by examining ourselves, seeking out the faults that are hidden there, asking the Lord for His forgiveness for them, and His help in shunning them, and then begin to live our lives without them. We need to wash away the evil of our lives. It is not enough to do it once, for, like little children being readied for a family photo, it is certain that we will get dirty again very quickly. The washing has to be a regular thing if we are to be prepared when to enter the hall when the bridegroom comes.

The same thing is true of our wedding garment. In the word, a “garment” is a symbol for truths, because truth clothes and gives form to good.<2> So, not only do we need to wash away our evils, but we also need to pay attention to our garments, we have to clean out all the falsities that accumulate in our minds when we go too long without examining them. How many things do we just assume to be true because we heard them “somewhere.” Somebody once told me that dirty fuel injectors cause a diesel engine to make heavy black smoke. Now, every time I get behind a truck or a bus that is making a lot of smoke I instantly diagnose the problem as dirty fuel injectors without even thinking that there might be dozens of other factors to consider. Certainly each one of us could think of a similar example of things we have accepted without confirmation, things we believe because it suits us to believe them–whether they are true or not.

Our job in this world is to keep our garment clean, to use the tools the Lord has given us to beat out the various spots of falsity. We are to use our rational minds to challenge unsupported statements. We are to compare the things that we hear and wish to believe against the same standard that all things must be compared to, the truths given to us by the Lord in the Word, and in particular the Ten Commandments. We need to keep our wedding garment clean, because we never know when we will be invited into the feast, and we cannot be there with the soil of the street covering us.

We can get very smug thinking that we are the chosen church–and by our smugness and our attention to our farms and business, we in effect cast out and kill the prophets of the Lord, that is, the truth of the Word.

However, the Lord is determined that His will be done, that there will be a heaven from the human race, and so, if we will not accept his invitation, then there are others who will be invited and who will accept the invitation with joy.

But still the warning remains–there is no such thing as a carte blanche when it comes to heaven. The Lord may invite all those in the highways, but those who attempt to come in dirty, and without a wedding garment will be cast into outer darkness. Evils have to be removed first, and then the truth from the Word learned, and lived, or we are not worthy to accept the Lord’s invitation and sit down at His wedding feast. AMEN.

Lessons: 1KI 16:29-17:1, 18:1-6; MAT 22:1-14; TCR 358

True Christian Religion 358. (3) Man may also acquire for himself the life of faith and charity. Here again it is the same. For man acquires for himself this life when he goes to the Lord who is Life itself; and access to Him is closed to no man, for the Lord continually invites every man to come to Him; for He says:-

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a man, a king, who made a marriage for his son, and sent his servants to call them that were bidden; and finally, he said, Go ye therefore into the partings of the ways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage (Matt. xxii. 1-9).

Who does not know that the invitation or call is universal, and also the grace of reception? Man obtains life by going to the Lord because the Lord is Life itself, not only the life of faith but also the life of charity. … By the life in faith and charity is meant spiritual life, which is given by the Lord to man in his natural life.

<1> See Arcana Coelestia 4434:6,7

<2> Arcana Coelestia 5954:2,4

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


Who Goes To Heaven?

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. (JOH 3:13)

The two most difficult books to understand in the New Testament are the book of Revelation and the Gospel of John, both written by the Lord through the same prophet.  They are difficult in the sense that they are written in very philosophical terms, and are apparently intended for a learned audience.

When the Lord called John to be one of the disciples, he was a simple fisherman, working on the sea of Galilee with his brother and father.[1]  The Lord passed by and invited him and his brother James to become “fishers of men” instead.  One can only imagine the kind of communication that must has passed between the Lord and these two men that in a single instant they abandoned their father, their home, and their livelihood to walk off into the unknown with this stranger – but they did.

For about three years, John and the other disciples followed the Lord throughout the land of Israel.  They saw His miracles, they learned to heal the sick and cast out demons, and they learned to preach the doctrine of repentance from sin, and they eventually came to believe that He was the promised Messiah, come to lead them to throw off the yoke of Rome and reestablish the royal house of David.  Then came the disaster in Jerusalem where within one week of being welcomed as the Messiah, Jesus had been captured and crucified without putting up any defense.  The resurrected Lord appeared to them, spoke with them, gave them their new mission, and yet they were filled with confusion.  Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John, and two others, believing that the great quest was over, and being practical men, went back to the only other work they had known – fishing.[2]

While they fished, they saw the Lord standing on the shore, and they immediately came in to speak with Him. Finally, as He taught them there, they began to understand the real nature of the work they had been called to do and they abandoned fishing once and for all to begin the work of building the Christian Church.  John, more than the others, was inspired by his time with the Teacher, and once he began to see the true implications of the things Jesus had taught, from being a simple fisherman, he became a scholar, learning all he could from the best minds he found as he traveled throughout the ancient world.  By the time he wrote his gospel, and the book of Revelation, he was a very learned philosopher.

Each of the four accounts of the Lord’s life are written from a different point of view, and apparently intended for a different audience.  Matthew was a Jew, and wrote his account of the Lord’s life primarily for his own people, which explains why he so often refers back to the Old Testament to show how Jesus fulfilled all the Messianic prophecies.

Luke was a Greek, and he wrote for his own people, and since the Greeks did not know the Old Testament, there are very few references to Old Testament events or prophecies.  He also knew Mary personally, so much of his gospel reflects her point of view.

Mark was a simple man, and he wrote for the simple, good people of all backgrounds.  Brief, to the point, Mark lets the Lord’s own words and actions speak for themselves.

But John’s love of philosophy, well developed by the time he began writing his gospel, is apparent.  No Wise Men or shepherds for John. He describes the Lord’s birth by saying, The Word became flesh;[3] he describes the Lord’s reception in the Jewish Church by saying, He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.[4]

It is not our intention to say that John’s writing is unnecessarily complex or difficult to understand.  It is our intention to note that many of the things said in John are not as straightforward and clear as the statements in Mark, for example, and as a result require careful study and thought to see their full implications.  The whole of the Word is like a man, clothed.  Some parts, like the face and hands, are fully exposed, while other parts are hidden from view by one, or in some cases many layers of clothing.  Many things in the sense of the letter are “naked” truths, as for example the Ten Commandments, which mean exactly what they say, and can be understood by anyone.  Who can misunderstand, Thou shalt not steal?[5]  Such truths are to form the basic doctrine of the church, to establish the foundation on which everyone can base their faith.

But some of the truths of the Word are heavily clothed because they need to be protected.  They contain difficult ideas within them, ideas not suited to the very simple minds of those from whom the early Christian Church was formed, ideas that had to be given then, but for which understanding would not come until much later:  I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.[6]

When the Lord came to earth as the Messiah, He wanted to reveal new truth to the Jewish Church, to give them one last chance to turn away from their love of worldly things and become the “chosen” people they claimed to be, “chosen” in the sense that all people who follow the Lord’s commandments are His “chosen” people.  But through their own choice, they were an incredibly external people.  They were so concerned about property and possessions and personal power that in the two thousand years between the call of Abraham and the coming of the Messiah, that church never developed a coherent doctrine of the spiritual world.  At the time of the Lord’s coming, some Jews believed in reincarnation; the Pharisees, known to us as one of the most powerful groups within the Jewish Church taught their followers that there was a life after death; while the other powerful Jewish group, the Sadducees, taught that there was no life after death at all.

There was no clear “Jewish” teaching on the subject, so the Lord had to start at the very beginning with them.  He taught them in parables that the kingdom of heaven was like a vineyard, or a precious pearl, or a wedding feast, or a number of similar things.  These simple parables about heaven are all in Matthew, the gospel that was directed towards the Jews.

But John had moved far beyond such things in his studies.  Inspired by his experience with Jesus, he went far beyond the simple teachings of the Jewish Church, and tried to find the right words to express the beautiful ideas that had been planted in his mind by Jesus himself, had grown under the influence of other scholars, and were now coming to fruit through Divine inspiration.

So, the question is, what did John mean when he wrote about the Lord that No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven?[7]  It appears on the surface to support the traditional Christian teaching that Heaven is for God and the Angels, hell for fallen angels, and that the only paradise that people like us can expect will be on earth after the Messiah returns.  It seems to say that no one has ever gone to heaven (and one must presume that no one ever will) except the Son of Man who descended from heaven.  This is confusing because there are so many other passages where the Lord describes heaven and instructs us how to prepare ourselves for our eternal homes with Him in heaven.  How are we then to understand this passage in the light of all the other teachings in the Word?

The key idea that unlocks the meaning of this teaching is the reference to the “Son of Man.” Throughout the Word of the New Testament, the Lord sometimes refers to Himself as the “Son of Man,” as in our text, or as “Son of God.” These two names reflect essential duality in God. The “Son of Man” has to do with the Lord’s Divine Wisdom, or Truth, while the “Son of God” has to do with His Divine Love or will.

Even a brief study of the New Testament will show that He refers to Himself as the “Son of Man” when He is being tempted, while He refers to Himself as the “Son of God” when He is teaching or doing miracles of healing, but He never refers to Himself as the “Son of God” when He is being tempted.  The reason for this is that God’s inmost, or supreme love is to bring every human being into heaven.  It is for this purpose and this purpose only that He created the universe in the first place.  This Divine Love for the salvation of the human race could never be tempted.

On the other hand, when God took on the human form from Mary, He took on with it certain limitations that had to be fought and put off in the process of glorification.  One of these limitations was that although His Divine Love of saving the human race could never be questioned or tempted, He could have doubts and temptations as to the means He should employ to accomplish that goal.  Should He travel to this town or that?  Should He heal the sick, or cast out demons?  Should He argue with Pilate and Herod?  Should He come down off the cross?  The Lord had to constantly struggle with decisions as to how He was to accomplish the unwavering goals set for Himself by His own Loves.  From this understanding of the Divine nature, we can see that this passage is primarily intended to tell us something about the Divine Truth, and how it will affect our spiritual lives.

John said, No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.[8]  The “Son of Man who is in heaven” is the symbol chosen by John to represent the concept of Divine Truth from the Lord, so we could restate our text in this way:  Nothing can go to heaven except the Divine Truth which comes from heaven.  But this doesn’t really help us much, because our real concern has to do with people going to heaven, especially ourselves.  Let us then rephrase the passage again, to this:  No one can lift himself into heaven, but the Divine Truth can lift him up.  This is how the Doctrines of the New Church explain this passage.  They say, “the Son of man” denotes the Divine truth in the heavens; for this comes down, and therefore ascends, because no one can ascend into heaven unless Divine truth comes down into him from heaven, because the influx is Divine, and not the other way about.[9]

John said, For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.[10]  The Divine Love so desired that all people could have the chance to know how they should live to prepare themselves for heaven that He clothed Himself in that Light,[11] or truth, and showed Himself in the world in the human form.  The “Son of Man” descended from heaven so that He might lift each of us up into heaven.  It was necessary that He do this because we cannot lift ourselves into heaven.

We do not have the knowledge or the strength to save ourselves.  Only God’s power can free us from the bonds of hell and give us eternal life.  He gave us the Word of the Old Testament, and then came in the human form to open it up, explain it, and show the meanings that had been hidden within.  And when we live according to those teachings, when we live in charity as God commanded, we become more heavenly.  The truth that descends from God out of heaven that we make our own, is the same truth that heals our lives and lifts us up into eternal, spiritual life.

John tells us that the Lord taught, If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.[12]  AMEN.


First Lesson:  NUM 21:4-9

Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. {5} And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” {6} So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. {7} Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us.”  So Moses prayed for the people. {8} Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” {9} So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.  Amen.

Second Lesson:  John 3:1-21

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. {2} This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” {3} Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” {4} Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” {5} Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. {6} “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. {7} “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ {8} “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.  So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” {9


[1]MAT 4:21, MAR 1:19, LUK 5:10

[2]See JOH 21:1-14

[3]JOH 1:14

[4]JOH 1:11

[5]EXO 20:15

[6]JOH 16:12-13

[7]JOH 3:13


[9]AC 9807:9

[10]JOH 3:16

[11]see JOH 1:1-14

[12]JOH 3:12-16

The Four States of Life

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying:  when you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, everyone from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the LORD.  (EXO 30:11,12,14)

When little children are first born, they are in a state called “innocence of ignorance.”  By that we mean that they are innocent of any sin because they do not have the knowledge or the opportunity to choose to do evil.  While it is true that little children inherit tendencies to evil from their parents, they do not inherit any actual evils, and therefore, if through some tragedy they die, little children are certain to find an eternal home in heaven – regardless of what religious rituals may or may not have been performed over them or in their name.

On the other hand, an adult who knows the difference between good and evil, and yet consciously and deliberately chooses to do what he knows to be evil for the sake of personal pleasure or gain has made himself guilty of actual sin.  He will, when he comes to the end of his natural life, continue to act in this way in the spiritual world, and will find his eternal home with others like himself in hell – again, regardless of what church he may belong to, or what rituals may or may not have been performed over him.

It is a person’s essential character, or “ruling love” that determines his place in the spiritual world.  This character is built through a lifetime of choices, made freely and with full rational understanding of their consequences.  Since the rational is not yet formed in a child, no matter how naughty he may be, he cannot freely and rationally choose to do evil, and is therefore still innocent in the eyes of the Lord.

It is fairly clear and reasonable to say that the little child is excused by his ignorance, but an adult is responsible for his evils because he should know better.  The question then arises, “at what age do people become responsible for their evils?”   Where do we draw the line?  And how can this knowledge help us in our care of children and young adults?

In the explanation of our text as given in the Arcana Caelestia, the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church indicate that the line of personal responsibility for sin should be drawn at the state of mental development signified by the twentieth year.  This is because “when a man attains the age of twenty years he begins to think from himself”[1]  This is taught in a discussion of the progression of spiritual states that we go through during our life in the world.  There are four basic states, and the Doctrines define them in the following way:

The first state of life, or the state of infancy, is defined as being from birth to the fifth year.  The Writings have so much to say about this state, and how its development is overseen and protected by the Lord through the angels of the highest heaven so that even in the most difficult circumstances, every child is provided with remnants of good and truth that will provide a spiritual balance to his life to eternity.  During infancy, the interior parts of the mind, which will come into play later, are being formed, but are not yet used.  Only the sensual degree of the mind is used, that is, the infant is only really aware of those things that he discovers with his own five senses.  Certainly, he becomes aware of certain abstract ideas, but his understanding of them is still based in thought from his senses.  The infant knows of God, but has difficulty distinguishing Him from his own father, for example.  Because the infant’s understanding is only from the sensual degree, and from things relatively external, he is said to be in ignorance because true wisdom and true understanding come from the spirit, from truth received in the interior, spiritual degrees of the mind.  Sensual truth, no matter how factual or abundant, is to true wisdom as nothing, and is therefore called ignorance.[2]

The second state of childhood and youth is said to run from the fifth to the twentieth year, and is called the state of instruction and memory-knowledge.  As with the first state, the Writings speak a great deal about the various changes that take place in the mind as it develops in this state, but it is not our purpose to enter into that detail, rather we only note in passing that although a child and a youth learns many things, and even learns how to relate these things one to another in intelligent ways, yet he is not thinking or drawing conclusions from himself, but rather he is borrowing such things from his parents, teachers, and others whom he respects.  He cannot from himself discriminate between degrees of truth, or even between truth and falsities – except with the help and leadership of others.

It is obvious that there is a great deal of difference between a first grader and a High School Senior.  The first grader thinks entirely from others, while the Senior is almost an adult and able to think for himself in a limited way.  What the Writings are trying to teach us here is that there is a long period where the mind has to be fed truths in many forms so that it can build for itself a foundation of truth from which it can base future thought and reflection.  The state does not change on the twentieth or twenty-first birthday like a light that has suddenly been switched on.  The state grows and develops in fits and starts all through childhood and youth.  This is the time of life where a young person can be preparing a learned paper on the Industrial Revolution for school one moment, and the next be down on the floor playing cars.  The unifying element of this state is the fact that for the most part, decisions are made not from self, but from another.  Opinions, too, are borrowed from others, because there has not yet been sufficient life experience, nor have the interior degrees been opened enough to allow true thought from self.[3]  And because the opinions are borrowed and have not been earned by personal effort and softened by life experience, they are strongly held and expressed.

The third state, running from the twentieth to the sixtieth years, and, according to the Heavenly Doctrines, called adolescence, young manhood, and manhood.  The key thing that distinguishes this third state from the previous one is that this is the state in which a person first begins to really think and act from his own knowledge, choices, and preferences.  It is during this state that the person develops the self-confidence to step away from the beliefs and attitudes that he has acquired from his family, teachers, and friends.  It is unfortunate that the young person does not always do this gently, easily, or with consideration for the feelings of those on whom he has depended for so long.  On the other hand, it does appear that the conflicts that are characteristic of this age actually serve the important use of helping both parent and child realize that the time has come for the child to leave home and begin his own life, the conflict serving to ease the pain of separation by pointing out the absolute necessity of it for the mental and spiritual health of both parent and child.

A characteristic of this state is the rejection of matters of faith that are from others in favor of one’s own faith.  Even so, this third state is called a “state of intelligence”[4], because the person is thinking from himself, and is able to discriminate between truths, and to form conclusions about his life.  These things then become his own, and it can finally be said that such a person has genuine faith, for until he begins to think from himself and for himself, the faith that he has is not his own, but from another.  Historical faith is not a real faith, because the faith is in the person who taught it, not in the truth of the matter itself.  Such discrimination and thought only comes when the interiors of the mind are opened towards heaven.

This is a key idea.  While we are in the world, our external senses are filled with the things of the world, but we can turn our minds away from the things of the world to spiritual things, thus opening our minds towards heaven.  In proportion that we turn towards heaven for knowledge and inspiration, and for guidance in the choices of our earthly lives, in the same proportion light will flow in from heaven and we will become intelligent and wise.  This is done in so far as we turn away from the loves of self and the world, and instead try to live our lives in use to the Lord and to the neighbor.[5]

0   The fourth and last state is known as the wisdom of old age, and continues from the state represented by the sixtieth year to eternity.  In this state the person has resolved most of the issues about what is true, and what is false in his own life, and is now far more concerned with willing and living according to the truths that he knows, for such a life is what it truly is to be wise.[6]

0   Having looked at the qualities that distinguish the four main states of life, we can now return to our original question, which was “when does a person become spiritually responsible for his actions?”  Clearly not in the first state, for an infant cannot think beyond the sensual, and therefore cannot understand the spiritual consequences of his actions.  The second state, being a state of learning and thought from others also precluded spiritual responsibility, for when a person is in this state he is thinking and acting not from his own character, but from the things he had learned from others and is simply imitating.  Such actions do not have eternal spiritual consequences.

But by the third state, when the person finally begins to take the things learned from others, to challenge them in his life, and to begin to make them his own, can see spiritual consequences and act from his own character.  Therefore he is spiritually responsible and accountable.

The third state is one where the truths of faith and the goods of love can be set in order and disposed by the Lord.  Also, because of the quality of this state, it says in the Word, “from a son of twenty years and upward every one that goes forth into the army” (NUM 1:3), for by “the army” are signified truths disposed in this order – that they do not fear falsities and evils; but repel them if they assault.

Children and infants are not able to go forth and battle against evil in the same way, because the goods and truths that they may have not been set in order by the Lord, and they do not have the rational degree of the mind opened by which they can use the truths of the Word which they know to dispel evil and falsity.  The Lord does not permit anyone who does not have such a defense to be let into true spiritual combats, although everyone experiences temptations to some degree in preparation for this state.  Because a person cannot be allowed to have spiritual combats until he comes into his own judgment, therefore he cannot be held spiritually accountable for the things that he does from ignorance or immaturity.

This is why it is taught in Numbers that when the children of Israel murmured against Jehovah those “twenty years and upward” were condemned to die in the wilderness without entering Canaan (NUM 14:29, 32:10-11), for they signify those who are in a state of intelligence such that they can discriminate, conclude and judge from themselves.  Therefore, they are blamable for their evil.[7]

As parents, we have only about twenty years to do all that we can to assist the Lord in preparing the minds of our children to be truly intelligent, to be spiritually responsible for their own actions, to be able to discriminate between good and evil, and to know to choose the good.  And then we watch with fear and love as they begin to live their own lives, making their own decisions, doing things differently than we would have done them – and we would have them do.  We want to protect them from the errors that we ourselves made at their age – but we can’t really, for it is essential, for the sake of their own spiritual development, that they move out of the childish state of thinking from parents and teachers into the mature adult state of thinking for themselves and taking spiritual responsibility for their actions.  We need to remember how important this state was to our own development, and even more, we need to remember that the human mind is represented in the Word by a “house,” and the Lord tells us that He “builds the house” and that those who would seek to do it without His help and guidance, will “labor in vain.”  AMEN.


1st Lesson:  LEV 27:1-8

Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, {2} “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When a man consecrates by a vow certain persons to the LORD, according to your valuation, {3} ‘if your valuation is of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old, then your valuation shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. {4} ‘If it is a female, then your valuation shall be thirty shekels; {5} ‘and if from five years old up to twenty years old, then your valuation for a male shall be twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels; {6} ‘and if from a month old up to five years old, then your valuation for a male shall be five shekels of silver, and for a female your valuation shall be three shekels of silver; {7} ‘and if from sixty years old and above, if it is a male, then your valuation shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. {8} ‘But if he is too poor to pay your valuation, then he shall present himself before the priest, and the priest shall set a value for him; according to the ability of him who vowed, the priest shall value him.  Amen.

2nd Lesson:   Mat 21:23-46

Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” {24} But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: {25} “The baptism of John; where was it from? From heaven or from men?” And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ {26} “But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” {27} So they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.” And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. {28} “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ {29} “He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. {30} “Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. {31} “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. {32} “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him. {33} “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. {34} “Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. {35} “And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. {36} “Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. {37} “Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ {38} “But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ {39} “So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. {40} “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” {41} They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” {42} Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’? {43} “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. {44} “And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” {45} Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. {46} But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.  Amen.

3rd Lesson:  AC 10225.

From a son of twenty years and upward.  That this signifies the state of the intelligence of truth and good, is evident from the signification of “twenty,” when said of a man’s age, as being a state of the intelligence of truth and good.

That “twenty” denotes a state of the intelligence of truth and good, is because when a man attains the age of twenty years he begins to think from himself; for from earliest infancy to extreme old age a man passes through a number of states in respect to his interiors that belong to intelligence and wisdom.

The first state is from birth to his fifth year; this is a state of ignorance and of innocence in ignorance, and is called infancy. The second state is from the fifth year to the twentieth; this is a state of instruction and of memory-knowledge, and is called childhood and youth.  The third state is from the twentieth year to the sixtieth, which is a state of intelligence, and is called adolescence, young manhood, and manhood.  The fourth or last state is from the sixtieth year upward, which is a state of wisdom, and of innocence in wisdom.  Amen.


[1]AC 10225:1

[2]See AC 10225:3

[3]See AC 10225:4

[4]AC 10225:5

[5]See AC 10225:5

[6]See AC 10225:6

-360[7]See AC 10225:11

The Affection for Truth

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.  (LUK 16:13)

All of us here are engaged in a great struggle:  the struggle between the immediate delights that come from the things of self and the world, and the much greater delights that are promised in heaven if we turn away from the loves of self and the world during our natural life.

This is further complicated by the fact that many worldly things are in fact worthy of our attention, because when approached correctly, they are expressions of spiritual things, and are thus, in essence, spiritual.  Examples of such things are acts of charity and benevolence where we do things of genuine benefit to others less fortunate than ourselves by assisting with education or employment.

It seems almost too obvious to say that the main difference between the natural and spiritual person is manifested by the kinds of things that they think about and do, and even more importantly, by the reason why they do the things they do.  Those who love the pleasures of the world more than anything else, and to the exclusion of all else, are those who, in our text, are said to worship “Mammon” while those who turn away from self and the world to the Lord and the neighbor are those who look to God as their master.

Our purpose today is to hear how the doctrines of the New Church define the difference between the natural and the spiritual man for the sake of learning how from being natural by birth, we may, through our own efforts and with the Lord’s help, be reborn as spiritual beings.

We are all interested in truth — or at least truth in the form of information.  If that were not true, there would be no market for books, newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and we would spend far less time in conversation with each other.  The doctrines tell us that the reason that we are so hungry for information all the time is that there are spirits with us at all times.  Those spirits serve the important use of routing spiritual influx into our minds, both from heaven and from hell, and thus providing us with a great variety of ideas for us to examine and to choose between.  At the same time, because they are spiritual beings, they hunger and thirst not for food and drink, but for good and truth.  Therefore, the hunger that they feel for truth and its application is what we feel as curiosity and the desire to learn new skills and disciplines.[1]

The hunger for truth is then a faculty in all men, although obviously it is more developed in some than in others.  This hunger can be equally developed in the good and the evil, so the presence of the hunger for truth is not in itself an adequate test of a man’s spiritual quality.  We have to look farther.  We are taught that the natural, external man seeks truth for the sake of self and the world, rather than for the sake of truth itself.  Because they are primarily interested in what truth can do for their own pleasures of life, they do not see the good that it can do.  Such people do not know what good or charity is, nor do they know or care about heaven or hell.  In fact, those who attend church (and many do for any number or external reasons) do not understand the doctrines of their own church, nor do they care whether they are true of false.  They learn them for the sake of their reputation among others in the world, not for the good that they might do through them.  Such people, because they are, as to their spirits always looking down, will deny that there is an internal sense to the Word because since they do not seek truth for the sake of doing good, they have no enlightenment about the Word from the Lord.[2]  But even more serious than the fact that such natural people are not enlightened when they read the Word is the fact that those people who have no affection for truth for the sake of truth, but only for the sake of fame, honor and gain, do not live the life of charity and therefore they make one with hell.  Such people are those who are signified in the Word by “the dragon.”[3]

On the other hand, we are told that the spiritual man, or the person who truly desires to become spiritual, seeks truth for the sake of truth itself, not for personal gain or immediate pleasure.  Those who love to do truth for the sake of truth from an internal or spiritual affection rejoice when they hear the truth, and they immediately begin to think about ways that these truths can be incorporated into their lives.[4]  Such people also love the Lord, because they know that the truth that gives them such pleasure is from the Lord, and that He causes it to become good through their willing it and doing it, thus bringing them into harmony with the uses of heaven and the resulting delights which they then feel.[5]

Those who are in the love of truth for the sake of truth, rather than for the sake of personal gain, also serve the church in an important way, although they may not even be aware of it.  We read from Arcana Caelestia[6]

[2] But be it known that all the doctrine of the church must be from the Word, and that the doctrine from any other source than the Word is not doctrine in which there is anything of the church, still less anything of heaven.  But the doctrine must be collected from the Word, and while it is being collected, the man must be in enlightenment from the Lord; and he is in enlightenment when he is in the love of truth for the sake of truth, and not for the sake of self and the world.  These are they who are enlightened in the Word when they read it, and who see truth, and from it make doctrine for themselves.  The reason of this is that such communicate with heaven, thus with the Lord; and being enlightened by the Lord in this way they are led to see the truths of the Word such as they are in heaven; for the Lord inflows through heaven into their understandings, because it is the man’s interior understanding that is enlightened.  And at the same time the Lord flows in with faith, by means of the cooperation of the new will, a feature of which is to be affected with truth for the sake of truth.

Enlightenment becomes a key issue to those in the church, because it is through enlightenment that the cold truths of the Word begin to live and to bring conjunction with the angels of heaven and the associated delights.

Enlightenment is not a gift to the lucky few, but something that the Lord seeks to give to everyone who prepares themselves to receive it.  One prepares himself for enlightenment by searching the Word for its internal, spiritual sense as a means of improving his life.  Then, because such a person is in externals (the literal story) and at the same time in internals (the spiritual meaning of the literal story), and because the intention is to use such knowledge to do good to others, the person has put himself in the sphere and life of heaven itself.  The angels draw near and add their encouragement, and light from heaven is allowed to shine, ever so briefly, on the subject being studied, and that heavenly light is what “enlightens” the mind, leading it to see truth in its proper spiritual environment.[7]

The church takes a risk in teaching such an idea, however.  Those who are in the love of truth for the sake of truth may have faith in the doctrine of the church, but still they will search the Word for the sake of understanding what God had provided for man to know, and so form their faith and their conscience from the truths which they find there — not from the things dictated by church leaders.  This means that they believe some things that are in variance with the official doctrinal position of the church.  If any one then tells them that they ought to remain in the doctrine of their church, they may reflect that if they had been born in any church, the same thing would have been told them.  After all, almost every church declares itself to the be only right one, the only church that has the truth straight from God Himself!  One could take the cynical view and say that therefore no church was worth the effort — or one could take the approach that the although the Lord did not Himself form any church, He did provide us with the Word, and this being the case, it is the Word that should be searched with devout prayer to the Lord for enlightenment as to its meaning and application.  Such people, who are seeking truth for the sake of truth, do not disturb the church, but strengthen it when they share their ideas and discoveries with others.  They never condemn others for their beliefs, for they know that every one who is a church lives from his own faith derived from study of the Word and understood according to his own circumstances and needs.[8]

While it is true that we were born for heaven, it is also true that the attractions of the natural, the pleasures that affect our body and the lower parts of our minds, tend to pull us down.  On the other hand, our spirit is being continually lifted up and lead towards heaven, because the natural tendency of our spirit is to grow in wisdom and usefulness.

Both these tendencies are ours from birth, and it is our challenge in this world to avoid the one and encourage the other.  The Lord has given us the means to do so in the Word.  We study the Word to learn what is right, and we compel ourselves to do it, even though we don’t want to.  But the key concept that is stated so many times in the Word, is that we have to continually refer back to the Word as our source, our touchstone, and compare out thoughts and actions against it, rather than against the standard set by people in the world.

As mentioned a moment ago, the Lord never established a church:  He came into the world to teach the truth, and then men established the church for the twofold purpose of worship and instruction, because it was recognized that worship is essential to the acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as God and not just a man, while instruction is essential for everyone to live a life in this world that will be in accord with spiritual principles, and which will therefore prepare one for heaven.[9]  This is why the this church provides for both worship and instruction, and it should be a matter of conscience for each member to avail himself of both as often as possible.

To come around full circle, just as a person can wish to learn truth, and even love it, for the sake of personal profit and self-satisfaction, so a person can be a member of the church for purely selfish and external reasons.  Such people, who are not in the love of truth for the sake of truth, are said to be “in” the church, but not “of” it.

Those alone are of the church in whom the church is; and the church is in those who are in the affection of truth for the sake of truth, and in the affection of good for the sake of good, thus who are in love toward the neighbor and in love to God.… They who are not of this character are not of the church, no matter how much they may be in the church.[10]

Truth, even genuine truth from the Word, does not reform a person, because by his nature, man is able to learn truth, then talk about, and even teach them through his ability to elevate his understanding above the loves of his will.  But he can be reformed, and is, if he develops an affection for truth for the sake of truth; for this affection for truth apart from the pleasures of self and the world conjoins itself with the will, then further conjoins the will to the understanding; and this process is the beginning of  the Lord’s regeneration of the man.[11]

So, the Word tells us what we must do, and throughout our life we struggle to do it in spite of what our natural inclinations lead us to desire.  Eventually we find that it is not so difficult to refrain from our evils as it once was, and it actually becomes pleasant for us to do what is right.  But still, we wonder if we are progressing fast enough, and far enough, to be ready for heaven when our time comes.  The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that there are signs that we can perceive that give us an indication that we are getting ready for heaven.  We read from the Arcana Caelestia:—

The signs that sins have been forgiven are the following.  Delight is felt in worshipping God for the sake of God; in being of service to the neighbor for the sake of the neighbor; thus in doing good for the sake of good, and in believing truth for the sake of truth.  There is an unwillingness to merit by anything that belongs to charity and faith.  Evils, such as enmities, hatreds, revenges, unmercifulness, and adulteries, in a word, all things that are against God and against the neighbor, are shunned and are held in aversion.[12]

Even when we learn truth from the Word, we are engaged in the great struggle between heaven and hell.  Are we learning them for the sake of truth and of life?  Or are we learning them for the sake of personal gain?  We need to examine ourselves as to our intentions and our actions from the knowledge that the love of gain is an earthly affection, while the affection of truth is a spiritual affection and that one or the other must have the dominion in our minds, for we cannot serve two masters.[13]

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.  (LUK 16:13) AMEN.

1st Lesson:

(Luke 16:1-13)  He also said to His disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. {2} “So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ {3} “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. {4} ‘I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ {5} “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ {6} “And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ {7} “Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ {8} “So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. {9} “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home. {10} “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. {11} “Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? {12} “And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? {13} “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”  Amen.

2nd Lesson:  AC 5432

[2] They who have arrived at maturity, and still more they who have arrived at old age, and have not viewed with their own eyes the truths of the church, which are called doctrinal things, and seen whether they are true, and then been willing to live according to them, retain them merely as they do all other memory-knowledges; they are in their natural memory only, and thence on their lips; and when they utter them, they utter them not from their interior man or from the heart, but only from the exterior man and from the mouth.  Then a man is in this state he cannot possibly believe that the truths of the church are true, although it seems to him that he so believes.  The reason why it seems to him that he believes them to he true, is that he relies on others, and has confirmed in himself the teachings of others.  It is very easy to confirm things taken from others, whether true or false; for this needs nothing but ingenuity.

[4] …such persons seek nothing but faults in those who are in truths from good, in order that they may accuse and condemn them.… They ridicule and condemn the veriest truths, if any such are to he found; for they do not comprehend that truths are true.  The reason of this is that they have no affection of truth for its own sake, still less for the sake of life, but only for the sake of gain.  Moreover when such men read the Word they search it with the sole end of confirming doctrinal memory- knowledges for the sake of gain; and many of them search the Word that they may that the truths of the church are not truths, but only serviceable for persuading others that they are truths, for the sake of gain.

[5] But they who are in the affection of truth for the sake of truth and of life, consequently for the sake of the Lord’s kingdom, have indeed faith in the doctrinal things of the church; but still they search the Word for no other end than the truth, from which their faith and their conscience are formed.  If any one tells them that they ought to stay in the doctrine things of the church in which they were born, they reflect that if they had been born in Judaism, Socinianism, Quakerism, Christian Gentilism, or even out of the church, the same would have been told them; and that it is everywhere said, Here is the church! here is the church! here are truths and nowhere else!  And this being the case the Word should be searched with devout prayer to the Lord for enlightenment.  Such do not disturb any one within the church, nor do they ever condemn others, knowing that every one who is a church lives from his faith.  Amen.

[1]See AE 117

[2]See AC 9409:5

[3]See AC 757

[4]See AC 10683:3

[5]See AC 10683:4

[6]AC 9424:2

[7]See AC 7012, NJHD 35, AC 10105:2

[8]See AC 5432:5, TCR 231

[9]See White Horse 8

[10]AC 10310

[11]See TCR 589

[12]AC 9449 See NJHD 167

[13]See AC 5433:2

Miraculous and Saving Faith

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

March 14, 2004 — Mitchellville, MD.

And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. (MAR 16:17, 18)

The Lord promised in many places that those who believed in Him would have miraculous powers to heal the sick cast out demons, and even to move mountains.

We believe in the Lord. We read the Word. We follow the Ten Commandments as best we can – but we don’t seem to have these magical powers. About thirty years ago, several hundred “Born Again” Christians – men woman and children – drank Koolaid that had been mixed with cyanide as part of a prayer meeting. They all died. The press said that it was a “mass suicide” and blamed it on their charismatic leader. But was it suicide, or were these people innocently testing their faith, putting their faith in Jesus to save them, for He promised that if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them? (text) Is it possible that this was not so much suicide as a severely misguided attempt to prove their faith in the Lord?

Does the fact that those people died of self-inflicted poison, and the fact that we cannot ourselves do miracles mean that our faith in insufficient? Does it mean that we have failed as Christians and are doomed to hell? That’s what a literal reading of the gospels seems to be saying.

Jesus Himself frequently used miracles as a means of attracting attention to Himself, and teaching those who were drawn to Him about His powers. There is a very simple, yet profound reason for this: The first and primary thing of the Christian Church was to believe that Jesus Christ is Himself God Almighty, for unless that basic truth had been established with them, there could be no church based on a true worship of the Lord God Jesus Christ. Could He have convinced a single person that He was God by arguments from scripture? No. They were a purely external and natural people, and they had to be taught in a purely external and natural way so that they could be led to the spiritual truths within. And so Jesus showed that He was more than just a man by gradually revealing His Divine powers. As a result, at first their faith was miraculous, which in and of itself is not true faith because it is based on miracles, but it can lead to saving faith, and so it is acceptable to the Lord. For example we read in Matthew:

The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my boy will be healed.” When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his boy was healed that same hour. (MAT8:8,10,13)

Jesus Christ healed this person and others according to their miraculous faith, for the Lord was the God of heaven and the God of earth, and no conjunction with Him is possible unless there is an acknowledgment of His Divinity. And the acknowledgment of the Divinity of Jesus Christ is faith in Him. The centurion evidently acknowledged the Lord to be God Almighty, for he said,

Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my boy will be healed. (MAT8:8)

Jesus Christ did not come into the world solely for the purpose of healing natural diseases, otherwise He would have healed everyone. Rather, He used the opportunity of healing physical disease to show the Divine Power hidden within, and those had faith who had a glimpse of that power, accepted it, and so accepted that Jesus was not just a man, but the Son of God. We read again in Matthew:

And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment; For she said to herself, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that hour. (MAT 9:20-22)

The faith that was being demonstrated in this example was simply historical or miraculous faith. The people involved believed because they had seen something momentous that could not easily be explained away. Such a faith, does not endure, however, but begins to fade with the fading memory of the event and as the witness falls back into old habits and old beliefs. However, this faith through miracles served to introduce the essential idea, the foundation of true faith, that Jesus Christ was, or had the power of, the Almighty because He was able to do miracles of Himself.

The prophets of the Old Testament had sometimes done miracles. In fact, both Elijah and Elisha were credited with raising people from the dead. It was never permitted for them to be worshipped, because it was implicit that all their power was actually through them from God. It was always clear, both to the Jews and to the prophets themselves, that any miraculous power they had was from Jehovah, and so it was forbidden for anyone to worship the prophet. When Moses struck the rock in the wilderness and implied that it was he who caused the resulting flow of life-giving water, his punishment was that he was not allowed to cross the Jordan into the promised land because he had taken to himself that which was God’s. However, since the Lord was trying to teach that the power of God was in Him, not passing through Him like with the prophets, He allowed Himself to be worshipped.

The Lord’s acts of healing were only possible with those who already had miraculous faith and with those people, the miracles had the effect of confirming their belief. There are many such instances recorded in the New Testament such as this one:

Now one of (the ten lepers), when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.” (LUK 17:15,16,19)

There were three reasons why faith in the Lord healed such as these; first, because they acknowledged His Divine omnipotence, and that He was God.

Secondly, because they acknowledged that Jesus was God, and that he therefore had the power to heal and save, their minds were turned to thoughts about His spiritual qualities, and it is a law of the spiritual world that thought brings presence, so their faith and belief brought them spiritually closer to the Lord, and into a sphere of spiritual health.

The third reason was, that all the diseases healed by the Lord represented and thus signified the spiritual diseases that correspond to these natural diseases; and spiritual diseases can be healed only by the Lord, and in fact by looking to His Divine power and by repentance of life. This is why He sometimes said, “Thy sins are forgiven, go and sin no more.” This faith also was represented and signified by their miraculous faith. But the faith by which spiritual diseases are healed by the Lord can be given only through truths from the Word and a life according to them; the truths themselves and the life itself according to them make the quality of the faith.

And (the woman) stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. And He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.’ (LUK7:38,48,50)

In this case, the woman came to Him in a state of spiritual disease. She was overcome with the guilt that she felt about the course of her own life. But having seen His power to heal those with diseases of the body, this woman perceived in her heart the truth that He was also the source of healing the wounds of sin, and she approached him in a spirit of humility, begging forgiveness, which He was most willing to give. This passage demonstrates the similarity, in the Lord’s eyes, in healing and forgiving sins – in both cases it only works if there is faith in the Lord and that He has the power to do what is asked of Him.

Certainly we have seen enough confirmations from scripture to see how important it was for the Lord to perform miracles Himself, but we are still unclear as to why He often promised that those who had faith in Him would not only be healed, but would have the power to do miracles themselves. Why did He say, as He did in Mark,

And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover (text)?

Even a cursory examination of the Old Testament will show that the Jewish nation believed in Jehovah and obeyed Him solely because of the miracles that He performed in their presence. The Jews were external men, and external men of any era and any nation are moved to Divine worship only by external things such as miracles which inspire awe. We need to remember that at first, the Christian Church was considered to be a revival movement within the Jewish Church. The first Christians were all members the Jewish Church, and this was necessary so that the Christian faith could first be established in an external way with external men so that it could eventually flourish and become internal. This is also why, in the Divine Providence, that the Lord performed such miracles of healing, why they are recorded in the gospels, and why they are to be preached in the church even today – we need to picture in our minds the Lord doing these things as a foundation and confirmation of our faith and belief. Then, later, as we bring His truth into our life, this historical or miraculous faith can become saving with us.

But how shall we know when our faith becomes genuine, when our faith is sufficient to save us? We, like so many others in the scriptures, want a sign, some proof that the mysterious spiritual things are actually happening as promised. The Lord told the disciples what the signs would be, but like everything else in the Word, their true meaning is contained in their internal sense.

For instance,

that “they should cast out demons in the name of the Lord” signifies that the name of the Lord understood spiritually means everything of doctrine out of the Word from the Lord, and that “demons” mean falsities of every kind, and these are thus cast out, that is, taken away, by the doctrine out of the Word from the Lord.

That “they should speak with new tongues” derives its effect from this, that “new tongues” mean doctrinals for the New Church.

“They should take up serpents” was because “serpents” signify the hells in respect to malice, and thus they would be safe from infestation by it.

“They would not be hurt if they drank any deadly thing” meant that they would not be contaminated by the malice of the hells.

And “the infirm would become well by the laying on of hands” meant to be healed of spiritual diseases, which are called iniquities and sins, by communication and conjunction with heaven, thus with the Lord; the laying on of the hands of the disciples corresponding to communication and conjunction with the Lord, and thus to the removal of iniquities by His Divine power.

The Lord did these things because we need to know Him. It is not enough to just think of God as some benign “force” that is “out there.” We cannot love that which we do not know, and so we were given the New Testament so that we could see His Divine qualities as they presented themselves in the world of men. When we see and know the Lord’s qualities from these teachings, and when these qualities are loved, then we can be conjoined to the Lord. This is why it is said in the Word that those who believe in His name will 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:-

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. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them. (MAT18:19,20)

When we read the passages that tell us how hard it was for the Lord to be received by the Jewish Church, we need to remember that the point of such a passage is not to condemn the Jews, but to teach us to beware of the same kinds of mental and spiritual states in our own lives. Anyone in any age can delight in the idea that some hero is going to come to solve your problems and make you rich and powerful. Anyone in any age can be wholly natural and deny the reality of the spiritual realm. Anyone can use the Word to mislead and to justify the evils that they do to others.

But just as the Lord came bodily to present Himself to the Jewish Church, so He presents Himself to us now in the Word. We don’t actually witness His miracles, but we can see them in our mind’s eye as we read the Word. And, the miracle is, that as we are introduced to the Lord through the Word, as we begin to understand the Divinity within Him as it shone forth from His miraculous powers, we find that we are gradually healed of our own spiritual diseases. We begin to bring ourselves into order. We think of others. We try to be useful, and we find that the effort brings spiritual peace for the Lord has miraculously healed the diseases of our spirit. Jesus said …”Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” (JOH20:29,28) AMEN.

First Lesson:

(John 11:1-45) Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. {2} It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. {3} Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” {4} When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” {5} Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. {6} So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. {7} Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” {8} The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?” {9} Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. {10} “But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” {11} These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” {12} Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” {13} However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. {14} Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. {15} “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” {16} Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”

17} So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. {18} Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. {19} And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. {20} Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. {21} Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. {22} “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” {23} Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” {24} Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” {25} Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. {26} “And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” {27} She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” {28} And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.” {29} As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. {30} Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. {31} Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.” {32} Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” {33} Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. {34} And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” {35} Jesus wept. {36} Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” {37} And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” {38} Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. {39} Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” {40} Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” {41} Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. {42} “And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” {43} Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” {44} And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” {45} Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. Amen.

Second Lesson:

AE 815:7,8 The Lord called the disciples “men of little faith” when they were unable to do miracles in His name, and He was unable to do miracles in His own country because of their unbelief, for the reason that while the disciples believed the Lord to be the Messiah or Christ, also the Son of God, and the prophet of whom it was written in the Word, yet they did not believe that He was God Almighty, and that Jehovah the Father was in Him; and yet so far as they believed Him to be a man, and not at the same time God, His Divine to which omnipotence belongs could not be present with the disciples by faith. For faith presents the Lord as present, but faith in Him as a man only does not present His Divine omnipotence as present.

For the same reason those in the world at the present day who look to His Human alone and not at the same time to His Divine, cannot be saved. And for a like reason the Lord could not do miracles in His own country, for there they had seen Him from infancy like another man; and therefore they were unable to add to that idea the idea of His Divinity; and when that idea is not present while the Lord is present, He is not present in man with Divine omnipotence; for faith presents the Lord as present in man according to the quality of the perception of Him. Other things man does not acknowledge and therefore rejects; for in order that the Lord may operate any thing with man by faith the Lord’s Divine must be present in man, and not outside of him. Amen.

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


The Gift of Heaven

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

“As his part is who goes down to the battle, so shall his part be who stays by the supplies; they shall share alike.” And so it was, from that day forward; he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel to this day. (1SA 30:24,25)

Our two lessons from scripture today, each in their own way, taught an unusual lesson about the Lord’s Divine Providence, and show just how much more generous the Lord is to us than we are to each other.

The first story has to do with David during the period when he had been driven out of Israel by king Saul’s insane jealousy. While David was in self-exile, many people who were unhappy with Saul’s government found their way into his little army, as well a a number of outlaws and soldiers of fortune. Eventually, David became a powerful enough force that Achish, one of the Lords of the Philistines, had made a treaty with him.

Achish invited David to join the attack against Saul, which put David in a very awkward position. On the one hand he had vowed that he would never raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed. On the other hand, he had himself been raiding against various Canaanite tribes, while telling Achish that he was raiding into Judah. Fortunately for David, when he brought his army to assemble with the Philistine armies, the other Lords of the Philistines would not allow him to fight with them. They were very aware of his reputation as one who had personally slain “ten thousand” Philistines, and they feared that if he was allowed to enter the battle on their side, he might change sides in the midst of the fight, trapping the Philistines between Saul and David, and totally destroying them. They told David to take his army and go home – which he did, probably to his great relief.

But as they approached Ziklag, the city which Achish had given to them, they discovered to their horror that while they were away, the Amalekites had raided up from the south, captured all the women and children and goods, and burned the town.

They left in hot pursuit, even though they had just completed a long journey and there were no supplies for them at Ziklag. It wasn’t long before some of the men found that they were unable to keep up. David decided that they could move faster if they shed all extra baggage, and left those who were too tired to carry on behind to guard it.

David’s fast moving band quickly caught up to the Amalekites, and surprised them while they were dancing and celebrating their easy victory. The Lord was with David and his men. They were able to recover all the women, children, and livestock without any loss, and much other spoil besides. The Amalekites were totally routed and the few who survived fled into the desert.

When the rescue party returned to those who had been left behind, the “wicked and worthless” men who had done the fighting decided that those who stayed behind could have their own wives and children, but they would not share in any of the additional spoil. But David, who for all his faults yet was always very conscious of the Lord’s direct presence and leading in his life, startled them all by declaring that all would share equally in the spoil, those who fought and those who only guarded the supplies. David had discovered an important concept:  that it is the Lord who fights all battles; it is the Lord who provides all gifts; and it is not for us to apply our standards to His Divine government. David’s discovery tells us that there are many different kinds of uses, and although some may be more highly regarded than others by men, in the eyes of the Lord each man makes his contribution according to his own abilities.

The same lesson was taught and illustrated in a different way by the Lord Himself in the gospel of Matthew as was read in our second lesson. The story regards the owner of a vineyard hiring casual labor, and is intended to be seen as a parable that teaches how people are prepared for heaven. A vineyard is often used in scripture as a symbol for the church on earth. The Lord is represented by the Landowner. The parable goes that the landowner went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He found some who were willing, and agreed to pay them a each a denarius for a day’s work. It is hard to say exactly how much a denarius is worth in today’s money, but it should be sufficient to think that it represented what the workers would have considered a fair wage for a day’s work. Off they went to the vineyard and began to work.

Once the landowner had set them to their tasks and saw that they were working well, he went back to the marketplace, and saw other men standing idle because they had not yet found work. It is interesting to note that these men were hired not because the first workers were unsatisfactory, but because they were standing idle, and the landowner wanted them to be useful. The agreement with these workers was different than that made with the first group. The landowner did not offer a particular wage, but only said that he would pay “whatever is right” (MAT 20:4). These workers, grateful for any pay, and expecting a reduced wage because they were hired late in the day, agreed to these unspecified terms, and went to work in the vineyard. Three more times, at the sixth, ninth, and eleventh hour the landowner went again to the marketplace, found men standing idle, and offered them work in the vineyard for an unspecified wage.

At the end of the day the landowner gathered his workers to give them their wages. The Lord often used this kind of imagery in His parables to suggest to people who knew nothing of the doctrine of the spiritual world what it would be like when they entered the spiritual world upon the death of the physical body (See MAT 3:12, 9:38, 13:30, 13:39, 25:32, MAR 4:29, LUK 3:9, 3:17, JOH 4:35,36). As we read this we should picture the workers as symbols of those who have died and are now entering spiritual life, approaching the Lord to find out whether they have “made it” into heaven or not. And here is where the parable takes a surprising turn:  all those who worked only a portion of the day, in the case of those hired at the eleventh hour only one hour, each received a denarius for their wage. No doubt, because they had worked only a portion of the day, they were delighted to have received a full day’s wages.

The workers who had put in the full day were also delighted by this, because they were certain that the apparent generosity of the landowner meant that they would get more than a denarius, for they had worked through the heat of the day and put in a full day’s work. However, the landowner paid them according to their agreement, no more. They felt that they had been unfairly treated, but the landowner would not discuss it with them, pointing out that he had kept his word, and that if he desired to be generous with his money, what was that to them? The parable ends with the warning that the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen (MAT 20:16).

In both our stories, the reward is clearly a symbol for eternal life in heaven. With David and his men it was represented by the spoils that they won in battle when the Lord was on their side. This is a picture of our battles when we fight the temptations introduced by the hells, and with the Lord’s help and power, we conquer in those temptations. The spoils are new affections for good, and a clearer understanding of truth. With the laborers in the vineyard, the day is a symbol for our life’s work in the world, and the wage is the reward of heaven.

In both stories there is an apparent injustice. Some of the people worked much harder and risked far more than the others. In the context of the story, and from our own natural reaction, it seems that the reward that people receive should be proportional to the amount of effort put into earning it. Certainly the wage structure of the business world is based on the assumption that greater productivity earns a greater cash reward. But can you have more or less of heaven? The Lord tells us that in heaven are many mansions (JOH 14:2), meaning that there is a special place for each of us, for each according to his own special characteristics and abilities, a place where we can make our own unique contribution to heaven, thereby perfecting the unity of heaven by adding to its variety. But the question here is, is your place in heaven better than my place in heaven? There are higher and lower degrees of heaven, and higher and lower heavenly uses, but my place in heaven is the best one for me because it is suited to my particular abilities and loves. Any other place in heaven would not be heaven at all, for me.

The world judges the value of a person by how much money he makes, and on such a standard, we can, and do, make value judgments. But in heaven we are not valued in that way. The Lord recognizes that each of us has different abilities, and we are judged according to how well we measure up to our own potential. The Lord asks us if we have done our best, not if we have done better than someone else, or measured up to some arbitrary standard, and our heavenly reward is given accordingly.

And yet, there is a lingering unease. After all, the workers who were hired at the beginning of the day were offered a specific wage, but those who were recruited later in the day were only promised that they would be treated fairly. Doesn’t justice demand that there be some distinction between them? Perhaps, from our worldly sense of justice. But remember that the purpose of this parable is to teach us about God’s justice, not for us to tell Him what we expect of Him.

Perhaps we need to think of it this way:  The parable of the vineyard speaks of two groups of people, one group was given a specific promise, the other group promised only that they would be treated fairly. The group given the specific promise represents the Church specific, that is, those people who belong to a church where the Lord is known through His Word. Such people have read the Word and obeyed the commandments, and been taught from childhood that the way to heaven is through obedience to God’s law from conscience. These people labor throughout their lives in God’s vineyard in anticipation of a heavenly life for which they prepare themselves through study of the doctrine and the Word. And, if they have truly labored from conscience, they are given their denarius at the end of the day, they enter heaven as their spiritual, eternal home.

The other group is made up of all those people who are spiritually idle, but searching. In the parable, these people were in the marketplace because, in spite of the late hour, they were looking for work, but just had not yet found it. There is nothing wrong with these people, it is just that through circumstances of birth and education they had not yet discovered a church that could teach them what they needed to know about preparing themselves for heaven through a life of use in the world of nature, although they were looking for such knowledge, and receptive to it when it was found. The world is full of good-hearted people who believe in God, and try to live well according to their own understanding of life, but who yet feel unsatisfied with the religious teaching they have been brought up with. These people are in the Lord’s “universal church,” and if they hold themselves in obedience to those few truths that they do have, when they are gathered into the spiritual world, they will whole-heartedly receive the truth, and enter into His gates with thanksgiving. (PSA 100:4)

Those of us who have be born into the church and have labored hard for many years to learn its truths can sometimes feel a sense of envy when a person who has lived a life of riot and excess (which we secretly believe would have been a lot of fun) finds the church late in life, settles down and (we suppose) ends up earning the same reward as those of us who have worked hard and long. Sure, we know intellectually that the longer a person continues in their evils, the harder it is to shun them, that there is a terrible danger that if you allow yourself to have a riotous youth with the plan of reforming later in life, you run the risk of an early death, or bad habits that cannot be broken in time – but still, we want to have our cake and eat it too.

Remember what the Prodigal Son’s older brother said, and his father’s reply:

So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’

And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive, and was lost and is found.’ (LUK 15:29-32)

The Lord is always with each and everyone of us as our heavenly father. He wants nothing more than to give each and every one of us His kingdom. All that He has is ours. But rather than looking at it from our own perspective, which tends to be worldly and selfish, these stories in the Word are showing us the Lord’s perspective, that the fact that He rejoices when one who was lost is found does not mean that He rejoices any less over those who were never lost in the first place.

Heaven is not a pot of gold that grows larger with every good deed. It is not a big corporation with only so many good openings that have to be won through competition. Heaven is our eternal home, prepared for us by our Heavenly Father who loves us very much. Each of us has different abilities, talents, and affections. Each of us can perform a different use. All the Lord asks of us is for each of us to do the best we can with the tools we have been provided and in the circumstances under which we live. Some will be warriors and go forth into battle to defeat the Amalekites and recover the wives and children, while others will only have the strength to guard the supplies. Some will labor in the church all our lives, while others will only discover the way to eternal life in our “eleventh hour.” And the Lord, who cares for the sparrow and the blade of grass, rejoices over every one of us when we do our part.

Every one of us who seeks to do His will can take comfort these words spoken by our Heavenly Father: – “Do not fear, little flock.  It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (LUK 12:32)  AMEN.


First Lesson:  1SA 30:21-25

(1 Sam 30:21-25) Now David came to the two hundred men who had been so weary that they could not follow David, whom they also had made to stay at the Brook Besor. So they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him. And when David came near the people, he greeted them. {22} Then all the wicked and worthless men of those who went with David answered and said, “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except for every man’s wife and children, that they may lead them away and depart.” {23} But David said, “My brethren, you shall not do so with what the LORD has given us, who has preserved us and delivered into our hand the troop that came against us. {24} “For who will heed you in this matter? But as his part is who goes down to the battle, so shall his part be who stays by the supplies; they shall share alike.” {25} So it was, from that day forward; he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel to this day.

Second Lesson:  MAT 20:1-16

(Mat 20:1-16) “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. {2} “Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. {3} “And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, {4} “and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. {5} “Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. {6} “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ {7} “They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ {8} “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ {9} “And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. {10} “But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. {11} “And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, {12} “saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ {13} “But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? {14} ‘Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. {15} ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ {16} “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”

Third Lesson:  AC 8002:4,5,7,8

AC 8002. [4] As “hirelings” were those who labored for hire, by them in the internal sense are meant those who do what is good for the sake of their own advantage in the world; and in a sense still more interior, those who do what is good for the sake of reward in the other life; thus who desire to merit by works.

[5] They who do what is good merely for the sake of their own advantage in the world, cannot possibly he consociated with angels, because the end regarded by them is the world, that is, wealth and eminence; and not heaven, that is, the blessedness and happiness of souls. The end is what determines the actions, and gives them their quality. Concerning those who do what is good merely for the sake of their own advantage, the Lord thus speaks:– I am the good Shepherd; the good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. But he that is a hireling, and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming, and deserts the sheep, and flees, and the wolf seizes them, and scatters the sheep. But the hireling flees because he is a hireling (John x. 11-13).

[7] But they who do what is good for the sake of reward in the other life, who also are signified by “hirelings,” differ from those just now spoken of, in that they have as the end life and happiness in heaven. But as this end determines and converts their Divine worship from the Lord to themselves, and they consequently desire well to themselves alone, and to others only so far as these desire well to them, and accordingly the love of self is in every detail, and not the love of the neighbor, therefore they have no genuine charity. Neither can these be consociated with the angels, for the angels are utterly averse to both the name and the idea of reward or recompense.

That benefits must be imparted without the end of reward, the Lord teaches in Luke:–    Love your enemies, and impart benefits, and lend, hoping for nothing again; then shall your reward be great, and you shall be sons of the Most High (vi. 32-35; also xiv. 12-14).

[8] That it is so often said by the Lord that they who do what is good shall “have their reward in heaven” is because before he is regenerated a man cannot but think of reward; but it is otherwise when he has been regenerated; he is then indignant if any one thinks that he benefits his neighbor for the sake of reward, for he feels delight and blessedness in imparting benefits, and not in recompense.