Love’s Three Essentials


A Sermon by James P. Cooper

The Essence of Love is to love others outside of itself, to desire to be one with them, and to make them happy from itself (TCR 43).

Love is the most common thing in the world.

We’d love to go on vacation. We’d love to have something nice for lunch. When we admire another’s clothes, we say we love the way they are dressed. We love our friends, we love our children, and our spouses. We love the truth when we hear it, and we try to love God.

Love is the most common thing in the world. So why is it so hard to find? We might think that because we use the word “love” so freely, that it would be easy to say what love is, that it would be easy for us to tell our children how they can tell the difference between infatuation and true, eternal conjugial love. One might expect that we should all be able to tell one another about our love for God in very precise terms. But even though love is the most common thing in the world, even though it is the very substance of the universe itself, and our eternal lives as well, we really know very little about love from ourselves.

We are fortunate, however, that the Lord has revealed certain simple, profound truths about the nature of Love Itself that go a long way in helping to explain some of the more frustrating mysteries of life with other people in the world. Specifically, all true love has three essential qualities: it looks outside of itself; it desires conjunction with the one loved; and it wishes to make them happy (or render the other blessed) from itself (See TCR 43)

The most important thing we must remember if we are to understand the true nature of genuine love is that it is not, as we generally suppose, our own. Our loves for things and other people do not arise within ourselves, even though it may feel that way. Our love is a gift from the Lord, like life itself. So, if we are to understand love as it is in our own lives, we must first understand something of love as it is from its Divine source.

The Divine Love and the Divine Wisdom make one in God. This can be illustrated by sunlight which has both heat and light which cannot be separated Therefore, just as there are three essentials of Divine Love, the same three essentials apply to the Divine Wisdom, with this difference: Love wills things, Wisdom brings them into effect. The Lord willed to have beings outside of Himself to Love. His Divine Wisdom responded by creating the universe in which people could live and have eternal life. One in end and purpose, the Divine Love and Wisdom differ in their effect upon the objects of the world and the souls of men.

The Love and Wisdom of God, united as one, go forth as the heat and light of the Spiritual Sun, and are represented in the world of nature as the light and heat of the star at the centre of our solar system. Just as sunlight falls upon and effects the beautiful flower and decomposing matters alike, so the Divine Love and Wisdom fall upon and enliven all people in the world, the angels of heaven, and the devils of the deepest hell.

The influx of the Divine is the same to all, but it is received differently according to how each person has shaped his life and prepared his mind and soul to receive Love and Wisdom from the Lord. In this context, we sometimes refer to the human mind as a vessel, a thing especially created to receive the inflowing Divine Love and Wisdom. It is helpful to actually picture a vessel, a simple cup, that represents man’s response to the Divine.

An evil person’s vessel is a shabby thing, and turned upside down. It has been shaped by him to receive the Divine Life only after it has flowed into the devils of hell, and been turned into something unholy, unwholesome, and barely containing anything of life.

Most of us, who are still struggling along in the throws of temptation and failure, with moments of generosity and decisions from principle, have a very small, simple, poorly made vessel, seeming to lie on its side. Life from the Lord showers down upon it, but most runs off, just a little remaining within. At the same time, the influx of hell splashes up from below, and some of that enters our vessel and remains as well.

But the vessel of the celestial angel is like a beautiful crystal goblet, full to the brim with Divine Life and joy, with rainbows of colour reflecting off its many facets. (See TCR 43)

The life that inflows from the Lord is the Lord’s gift, the same to each and every person. The nature of the vessel that receives it, however, is our own responsibility. We build it from the truths we learn from the Word, and we turn it toward heaven or towards hell according to the choices we make during the course of our lives in this world.

Some of our loves are from hell, and some from heaven. We know we have to shun those from self and hell, but we find that both good and evil loves give us pleasure! How then are we to know which is which? How can we make the right choices that will build a beautiful vessel, and keep it steadily directed to receive the Lord’s love flowing down through heaven? We identify heavenly and hellish loves by comparing them to the standards of behaviour established by the Word, and examining them in the light of the three essential qualities of love.

The first essential of true love, love that is from the Lord, is that it looks to others outside of self. We see this illustrated in God’s love towards the whole Human race. The sphere of the Divine Love towards mankind is universal, that is, it goes forth to every human being, every living thing in the created universe — for that was the very purpose of creation: that there be things that could receive that love. This is the reason why God created the spiritual and natural universe: Heaven, and the church on earth. His love goes out to all, and, as said before, is received by all, to each according to the vessel that he has built by his own free choices made from the light of truth from the Word.

Human Beings were created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore the love that they are capable of is a reflection, an image of the Divine Love. It, too, has the three essential qualities. It is illustrated by the love that parents feel towards their children, for it inspires them with tender love towards their children, who are outside of themselves. Parents desire to be with their children, and to make them happy from themselves.

All parents, whether they are interiorly good or evil, love their children in this way. In fact, we can see the same kind of behaviour in many kinds of animals and birds, for it is a universal law which has its source in the very being and nature of the Creator Himself. The universal nature of this love also shows itself in our relationships with casual friends when we entertain. We invite them into our home, we take great care to provide delightful food and conversation, we make every effort to make our friends feel loved and welcome. Even if we do not know them well, still, common courtesy causes us to simulate that love. (See TCR 44)

The second essential quality of genuine love is the desire to be conjoined with the one loved, to be one with them. The Lord, being Divine, cannot actually be conjoined with us, for as human beings, even though we are immortal, still we have a beginning in time, and are therefore finite. However, as vessels of life, we are full of goods and truths that are from God. The Lord conjoins Himself with these things which are from Him but in us. Thus we find that the more truth we learn, and the more good we do as a result of that truth, the more closely adjoined we are to God, the more we give of ourselves, the more closely we feel His presence in our daily lives.

Because we have been created in the image and likeness of God, we know that we can learn about the nature and course of our own lives from analogy with what we know about the Divine Itself. In this particular case, we can learn how we should relate to other people in the world. We must conjoin ourselves with the good that is in them from the Lord. We need to look beyond physical appearance and a pleasing personality to the character that lies within. We need to look for the wisdom that comes from a life of charity guided by the Word. We need to love that which is genuinely good in the other, and we can only see that from the truths revealed in the Word.

It too often happens that we make friends with someone – and perhaps even fall in love with someone – simply because we feel good in their presence. We need to carefully examine the nature of these feelings, for too often we conjoin ourselves with that which may please us for the reason that it gives reality and expression to our evil loves. Such a relationship, if it does survive, is destined to lead the parties into the life of hell.

On the other hand, there are as many opportunities for conjunction with what is good as there are goods from the Divine — in other words, an infinite variety! And prime among the delights of heaven which are freely given to the Lord for our pleasure are the delights of marriage.

As was said before, the Lord created the universe by uniting His Divine Love (which desired to reach to others, conjoin Itself with them, and make them happy), with His Divine Wisdom (which knew how to bring this love into effect). The result of this conjunction of Divine Good and Divine Truth was the creation of the visible (and invisible) universe.

In marriage, the husband and wife represent the Divine Truth and Good, and the Lord has arranged it so that when they come together with the intention of creating new life outside of themselves they find their greatest delight, a delight that mirrors the delight that God Himself had in creating the world, and continues to enjoy as new life comes into existence, and as new angels find their way to the uses and delights of eternal life in heaven.

The third essential quality of love is the desire to make others happy from self. True love, love that flows in from the Divine, is focused outside of oneself, and is designed and intended from its very beginnings to bring blessedness and pleasure to others. We see this particularly in the Lord’s loving provision of eternal life in heaven for those who wish it. What greater gift could the Creator give to those whom He had created? And again, we can use this as a basis for judging the love in ourselves: does it look to others, or is it primarily for the sake of self? This may be difficult to judge truly, however, because the very nature of love itself is that when one humbly and honestly gives to another, the delight of heaven flows in, and we feel that delight.

We must be careful not to think that if we ourselves feel good when doing good, that somehow our gift to others is diminished. Rather, we should welcome it as a sign from the Lord that our gift is genuinely selfless and heavenly.

Sometimes we face the puzzle of how to deal with our desire to go to heaven. We know that if we desire to go to heaven, we must turn away from the love of self, yet we want to go to heaven because we will be happy there — so if we want to be happy, it is a selfish love, and we will not be worthy. So, we try to be sad in order to merit heaven — but again, we are being selfish Around and around the problem goes in our minds, seemingly without solution.

The Lord never wanted it to be difficult for us to go to heaven. Heaven is designed specifically for us. He has given us all the tools we need to prepare ourselves for eternal life there. All we need to do is relax, and follow the simple instructions: Learn what good and evil are from the Word. Flee from evil when we see it. Turn away from the loves of self and the world. Look for and assist the good that is from the Lord in others. Do all these things simply because the Lord has asked it of you. Allow yourself to enjoy the delights He gives to those who are doing His work in the world, when we are giving of ourselves to others.

We can use what we know about love’s three essentials to help us sort out the good loves from the bad in our own life. When we need to know if our feelings for a person or thing are good loves from heaven, or selfish loves from hell, we can apply the rules. If we are honest with ourselves in answering the questions, we can know the true nature of our feelings.

We should ask ourselves if the thing we love is outside of ourselves?

Are we looking outward to the Lord, to Heaven, to usefulness to others, or is this love self-centred?

Will it bring happiness to others, or only to ourselves?

We should ask ourselves if we wish to be conjoined to this person or thing to eternity.

Do we really wish to be one with it, and for it to be one with us?

And finally, do we wish to make the loved one happy from ourselves, or is the association designed only to bring pleasure to ourselves?

There are many things in life that give pleasure to both parties even when done selfishly, but through self-examination and honesty, the true nature of our loves can be revealed. And if they are revealed, and the proper actions taken, our lives can be saved a lot of unhappiness.

The principles of life have been given to us by the Lord for our use, to help us sort out the good from the evil in the context of our own life. If we heed the Word of the Lord, if we judge others, and ourselves, against the Divine standards revealed in the Word, we will not be deceived. Amen.

First Lesson: LUK 7:36-50

Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. {37} And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, {38} and 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. {39} Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” {40} And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.” {41} “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. {42} “And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” {43} Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” {44} Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. {45} “You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. {46} “You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. {47} “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” {48} Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” {49} And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” {50} Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Amen.

Second Lesson: TCR 43


There are two things which make up the essence of God – love and wisdom; but there are three which make up the essence of His love – loving others than oneself, wishing to be one with them, and devoting oneself to their happiness. The same three make up the essence of His wisdom, because, as I have shown above, love and wisdom are one in God. It is love which wills these things, wisdom that puts them into effect. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2006 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modifiedSeptember 27, 2009

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