A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
“The LORD reigns; The world also is firmly established, It shall not be moved; He shall judge the peoples righteously.” For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with His truth. (Psalm 96:10, 13)
Yesterday was the 223rd Anniversary of an event which marked the end of the previous spiritual age and the beginning of the New Christian Church. This event constitutes the promised Second Coming, and the completion of the final or “Last” judgment on the Christian Church.
This is the last in a series of four sermons that have considered the Last Judgment and the Second Coming as spiritual events which took place, as prophesied by the prophets of the Old and New Testament, in the spiritual world. The Lord said that His kingdom was “not of this world” (John 18:36), and the disciples themselves made the mistake of expecting the Messiah to rule an earthly kingdom, although it is quite clear that He tried very hard to teach them the truth about His spiritual kingdom. They were just not yet ready to hear it (See John 16:12). Is it possible that the Christian Church has not been ready to hear the truth about the spiritual nature of the Second Coming as well, because they have been, like the disciples, clinging to their pre-conceived ideas in the face of the evidence before them?
In this series we have also seen that there has been a series of churches in the history of mankind, and each one has ended with a “last” judgment. In each case a new church has been established from the few remaining good within the old.
The first was called the “Most Ancient Church.” It is described in the Word by the stories of Creation, and Adam and Eve. The final judgment on that Church is described by the Flood story. The next Church, called the “Ancient Church,” was described by Noah and his sons, the survivors of the Flood. The fall and final judgment of the Ancient Church is described by the story of the Tower of Babel. The third Church to be established by God was the Israelitish Church. It is documented in the historical books of the Old Testament beginning with Abraham His Divine command to leave his home and journey into Canaan, and its fall is predicted in the prophetical books. We date the beginning of its fall when the Ten Tribes were carried off and dispersed by the Assyrians. Its final judgment took place when the Lord Himself came to that Church to restore it and uplift it, and instead of receiving Him, they crucified Him. And the Christian Church was formed and established from the few among the Jewish Church who believed in Him and His teachings.
The final judgment on the Christian Church was predicted in the New Testament, especially in the 24th Chapter of Matthew, and in the whole of the book of Revelation. The Lord foresaw that the love of dominion, represented by the great whore of Babylon, and the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, represented by the dragon, would in time pull down and destroy the Christian Church, unless new spiritual truths were revealed to it to lift it up out of the things of the world. These new spiritual truths had been hidden within the sense of the letter of the Old and New Testaments from the very beginning, and all that remained was to reveal the science of correspondences to open the spiritual sense of the Word.
The history of the Christian Church is full of schism and heresy, argument and conflict. It began when the Church leaders could not resolve their differences in the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus Christ and they proposed the doctrine of a trinity of persons in order achieve a compromise. We have no wish to dwell on the disorders that followed, except to say that those disorders were simply the visible effect of their turning away from the divinity of Jesus Christ.
As the doctrines of the Christian Church became more complicated, the Church taught that it was not proper for people to read the Word for themselves, but that it had to be explained to them by the priests, and eventually the church services themselves were held in languages foreign to the congregation. This was done to enhance the sense of holiness and mystery. The end effect was that although Jesus Christ had come to earth specifically to show Himself to men, and to teach them directly, the Church intruded itself between God and mankind, and made it much more difficult for men to genuinely know and love God.
The inevitable result was that many people–good, well-intentioned people–were so confused about spiritual things that they really couldn’t tell right from wrong. When such people died and went into the World of Spirits, the place of introduction that lies intermediate between Heaven and Hell, they were vulnerable to evil spirits. Some of the more clever evil spirits could convince the newcomers that they were angels, and because there was so little spiritual knowledge, the poor newcomers were tricked into believing they were in heaven when they were not.
We might wonder how the Lord could allow such a thing to happen. The Lord permitted this disorder because by so doing, He preserved the freedom of choice in spiritual things for all of mankind. He was overseeing the situation, making sure that nothing bad happened to the poor, ignorant spirits. It was no worse a life for them than they had had on earth, but He could not just come in and take them away and put them into heaven because they themselves were not yet ready for the life of heaven.
So how are spirits in the World of Spirits to get ready for heaven? By opening the book of life, that is, comparing the course of their life in the world against the standard laid down by God in the Word, particularly the Ten Commandments. But it is not the things done that are examined, but rather the motives behind what was done. Did a man give money to charity to salve his conscience so that he could continue to commit some evil, or did he give the money for the sake of the uses it could perform for others? As the Lord told Samuel when he was searching among the sons of Jesse for the king to follow Saul, and as the Lord kept turning down the handsome, strong young men, “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.” (1Samuel16:7)
By the middle of the Seventeenth Century two things had happened that would have a significant effect on the situation in the spiritual world. First, the Christian Church had become so fragmented by the Reformation that it no longer had a coherent doctrine and was therefore no longer able to serve as a true church. And second, the realm of philosophy and science had finally developed the “scientific method” and as a result there were people in the world who were intellectually prepared to carefully and rationally consider the new truths that the Lord wished to reveal about and through the Word.
Emanuel Swedenborg was such a man, a contemporary of Sir Isaac Newton, a man trained in the best scientific tradition of the day, a man renowned among the other great minds of a great age of thought. Influenced by the studies and discoveries of his contemporaries, Swedenborg turned the focus of his scientific career to the search for the human soul, because he, like so many others of that day, believed that the newly discovered power of scientific method and deductive thought could dissect the human body and discover the soul within. It was the arrogance of the age that they thought that they could bring the very human soul itself into the realm of simple science. It was also a sign of the heady power that freedom of thought brought to the great minds of the day, once they were free to explore and examine every aspect of the world of nature without the fear of censure and punishment from the church.
Swedenborg was fascinated by the invention of the microscope because he, like many others, believed that through microscopic examination of human tissue, he would be to find the soul. He spent many years studying human anatomy in great detail, striving to bring all the power of the mind to bear on the problem of understanding the nature of life, and the unique characteristics of human life. He wrote many important books about his discoveries which did much to advance the science of Anatomy.
Through his study, from being an anatomist, he became a philosopher as his mind reached beyond the structures he could see through a microscope, and struggled to understand of the very structure of matter itself. It was during this period that he wrote the Principia, a work which signaled the beginning of his realization that human reason by itself could only go so far in the search for the soul, and God. He saw that pure thought, no matter how competently aided by clever devices, could not penetrate into the spiritual realm. And so, still searching for the soul, he turned away from philosophy to the Sacred Scripture.
His preparation was nearly finished. His mind had as complete an understanding of the world of nature as was available in that day. He was the master of all the known sciences. He had learned all that he could from philosophy and from science. And he was wise enough, and humble enough, to know that he knew nothing. It was at this point that the Lord appeared to Swedenborg to call him to take part in an exploration unlike any that a man had undertaken, the exploration of the spiritual world for the sake of describing it to the world of men.
But the wonderful thing was that the spiritual world that he was introduced to was in fact at the peak of its own disorder. Evil spirits had built “false heavens” in the world of spirits where they held the simple and ignorant spirits captive. The Revelation about to take place was to have two related uses, one in each of the Lord’s kingdoms.
Swedenborg was inspired by the Lord while he studied the letter of the Old and New Testaments. He was given a new scientific method of understanding the hidden meaning of the Word, a science of correspondences, which suddenly made the difficult and contradictory passages fall into a beautiful and sensible system that sang in every verse of the wonder of God, His gentleness, and His mercy.
Swedenborg was, like John, commanded to write the things that were being revealed to him. This was the first part of his calling, to reveal these new truths and this new science to the world of men, the Lord’s Natural kingdom. He obediently wrote, and copied, and prepared, and published his works at his own expense, anonymously. Gradually, they became known in the world, and men who truly and humbly sought to understand the relationship of God and man found enlightenment and hope in these works.
At the same time, however, Swedenborg was serving a similar use in the spiritual world. As his inspired study of the Sacred Scripture progressed, he was also, under the Lord’s constant protection and care, being taught about the wonders of heaven by having the senses of his spiritual body opened so that he could consciously walk and talk with spirits in the spiritual world while he was yet living and working among men in the natural world.
Why was this permitted? Because in this way, the Lord was not only introducing new truths into the world of men, but Swedenborg himself, while visiting among the spirits, was speaking with them, telling them about the new things that he had learned through his study of the Word. Swedenborg was not only bringing the truths of the new Revelation into the world through his books, but he was also introducing them into the confused state of the spiritual world.
The result was electrifying. Imagine what it would be like if we were trapped in a huge warehouse without windows or lights, with a thousand other people. Very soon we would begin to relate to one another entirely by touch, and by the sound of the voice. We would join up with others based entirely on what they said, and how convincingly they said it. And we can also imagine that being unable to see the faces of our companions, we might be fooled into doing things we might not otherwise do if we were not impaired.
Now imagine what would happen if suddenly the lights were turned on, and the doors thrown open. What a revelation it would be to suddenly see the face of those you had befriended. Once you could see the faces of your companions clearly, you might be horrified at your mistake, and wish to run away.
This is the effect that the truths revealed by the Lord through Swedenborg had on the spiritual world. Suddenly, the light dawned. The evil, who had been masquerading as angels, were seen for what they were. They saw themselves in the light of heaven, and were unable to bear it, and cast themselves down into hell. The simple good finally realized their error and fled. The Last Judgment had begun, all brought about by the simple revelation of a true understanding of what the Lord taught in the Word.
And so today we come together to celebrate the fact that the Lord has seen fit to come again in the spiritual sense of the Word, to give us the Bride the Holy City New Jerusalem to help us on our journey to heaven, to thank Him who gave us life for also showing us the way to eternal life. He holds out His hand, and invites us to take it and follow him. All He asks is that we look to Him for guidance, and that we love our neighbor by doing good to him. The invitation is His; the choice is ours. And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. (Rev. 22:17)
Lessons: Psalm 96, Rev. 22:6-17, TCR 786, 787