Making Righteous Judgements


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, May 31, 2009

Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgement. (JOH 7:24)

The sixth and seventh chapters of the gospel of John tell of a time of great crisis in the Lord’s ministry. While teaching and performing miracles in Galilee, His disciples began to argue amongst themselves, and with Him, about some of the concepts He was teaching. Many of those who had initially been attracted to the Lord through His teachings and particularly through His miracles found that as the first states of discovery faded, they became dissatisfied, and even angry with the new teachings, with the result that many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. (JOH 6:66)

Although He still had the full support of the Twelve (see JOH 6:67-69), the crisis was not resolved. He was limiting His teaching to the regions around His home in Nazareth in Galilee, in part because the Jews sought to kill Him (JOH 7:1) in Judea. Even so, His own brothers, the sons of Mary and Joseph, challenged Him to prove Himself by going into Judea, in the hope that they would force the issue and either prove once and for all that He was the Messiah, or to see that He was, after all, just another Jewish zealot.

Jesus told His brothers that He would not come with them to the Feast of Tabernacles because His time was not yet at hand. They went ahead to the Feast while He remained in Galilee, but once they were on their way, He too went to the feast, and about the middle of the feast, began teaching in the temple. As the crowds began to gather to hear Him, He asked them outright why they were seeking to kill Him. They answered, You have a demon. (JOH 7:20)

He then responded by saying, I did one work, and you all marvel. (JOH 7:21) referring to the fact that He had healed a man on the Sabbath. His critics had perceived this as breaking the Jewish law against working on the Sabbath, but Jesus reasoned with them saying that since circumcision had to be done on the eighth day after birth, it was permitted on the Sabbath. He was trying to explain that it was not the act itself that mattered, but the intention behind it. Circumcision was permitted because it was a symbol of spiritual washing and healing. The Lord then asked them if that was any different in intention from healing the sick on the Sabbath. The Lord was being judged unfairly, His response was to teach us about judgements themselves, and how to make them properly. He said, Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgement. (JOH 7:23, 24)

One of the problems we face in trying to understand the Lord’s doctrine of judgement as taught in the New Testament is that there seem to be so many contradictory teachings. Our purpose today is to try sort them all out into one consistent doctrine.

The doctrine of judgement falls into three main areas: How the Lord Judges us, how we are to judge others, and how we are to pass judgement upon ourselves.

In thinking about how the Lord judges us, we have to understand what we mean by “judgement.” If by “judgement” we really mean “condemning to hell,” then the Lord says, I judge no man (JOH 8:15), for the first and most essential truth of this doctrine is that the Lord sends no one to hell. Rather, His entire effort is to fight against hell and to draw all men up to Himself insofar as it is possible. (See TCR 652) The doctrine of the New Church teaches that God’s anger is only the appearance of His love flaming, and that in fact, the only purpose of creation was that everyone could freely choose to enter heaven and live there to eternity with Him. Therefore, it would be impossible for God to send anyone to hell. Those who go to hell do so because they love evil more than good, and freely choose to be with others of their own kind. The evil judge themselves to hell by their free choices to turn away from the Lord and from good during their life in this world.

But there needs to be some kind of judgement, as human beings are curious mixtures of good and evil, truth and falsity. Many philanthropists have done great and charitable things for mankind and become very famous for their generosity while yet thinking entirely of their own glory. Many a humble servant has served faithfully and well and without anyone noticing at all because of his love and concern for the welfare of others. Most of the rest of us fall somewhere in between, being a mixture of good intentions and deeply hidden evils. There has to be some kind of judgement to sort it all out.

When we speak of this kind of judgement, we are not speaking of just “condemning to hell” as above but rather we are speaking of

the salvation of those who have faith, and the condemnation of those who do not. (AC 2320)

It is in this context that it is said in the Scriptures that:

  • If I do judge, My judgement is true. (JOH 8:16)
  • For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgement to the Son. (JOH 5:22)
  • For … the Father … has given Him authority to execute judgement also, because He is the Son of Man. (JOH 5:26, 27)

At this point it is important to remember that “the Father” represents the Divine Good, while references to the “Son” or the “Son of Man” represent the Divine Truth. This is why the doctrines tells us that

there is judgement from good and judgement from truth. People who have faith are judged from good, but those who do not have it are judged from truth. (AC 2335:2)

When people die, their spirit enters the World of Spirits, leaving the physical body behind in the natural world, and with the body is left all the deeds of the body. Every spirit starts over with a clean record. Gradually, once the spirit has adjusted to the fact of spiritual life, the inhibitions that have active throughout life in the world are removed. The spirit no longer cares what others may think, or fears punishment by the law, but does exactly what he wants to do when he wants to do it.

Those who have consciously and deliberately tried to do what is right for the Lord’s sake, continue to do what is good. While they may require some correction and amendment of false ideas, these, after a struggle known as a vastation, are accepted willingly and with delight. It’s like having a class of eager, bright students who are genuinely interested in learning the subject and putting it to use in their lives. They move ahead quickly and suffer correction easily because they see the good that will come of it. This is what is called the judgement of Good, because they are led and judged by their love of the Lord and the Neighbour.

On the other hand are those who, throughout their life in the world, have confirmed themselves in evil. Because evil is not acceptable in human society, they have carefully and deeply hidden their evils within themselves under a veil of hypocrisy. They have made every effort to make their evil appear to be good, or if that is impossible, to make it appear as if belonged to another. Such people continue to try to do what is evil while in the spiritual world, and continue to try to make their evils appear in others. They deny their wrongdoing and struggle against the angels who are there to lead them and instruct them. Such people cannot be led or judged from good, but only from truth, that is, it becomes necessary to open up the contents of their memory so that their actions and thoughts are exposed to all. When their hidden evils are thus exposed by the factual record of their lives, they rush towards hell of their own desire. The Heavenly Doctrines teach

the situation with regard to judgement from truth is this: The Lord never judges anyone except from good, for His will is to lift all men, however many these may be, up to heaven, indeed if it were possible, up to Himself. For the Lord is mercy itself and good itself, and mercy itself and good itself cannot possibly condemn anyone. It is man, who, in rejecting good, condemns himself. As a person has fled habitually from good during his lifetime, so in the next life he flees from it, and therefore from heaven and the Lord. (AC 2335:3)

When some of the scripture passages which refer to how the Lord judges people are taken as instruction as to how we should judge others, confusion results. The fact that the Lord does not wish anyone to go to hell, and so says, I judge no man. (JOH 8:15), does not mean that we should therefore not make judgements about other people.

We all recognize that in order to live in the society of men in the world, we have to make all kinds of judgements about people from the way they speak, dress, and act. It is usually when someone is about to criticize us that we suddenly remember the passage, Judge not that you be not judged. (MAT 7:1) We tend to use this passage to condemn others for being critical of our actions, or to justify our revenge upon them.

The Lord alone knows the state of remains, and thus the state of regeneration with a person. An evil person can counterfeit what is good, while a good person can be caught up in evil. This is why were are forbidden from making judgements concerning the nature of another person’s spiritual life. On the other hand,

One is allowed to judge the nature of another person’s life, private and public, since this is of importance to society. (AC 2284:4)

It is also a temptation with some to sit in judgement on others, saying they cannot be saved unless their beliefs coincide with their own. This kind of spiritual judgement of another is also forbidden. (AC 2284) Conjugial Love 523 puts it very clearly:

The Lord says: Judge not, that ye be not condemned. (MAT 7:1) This can be understood in no wise as meaning judgement concerning a man’s moral and civil life in the world, but as meaning judgement concerning his spiritual and celestial life. Who does not see that were it not lawful for a man to judge as to the moral life of his fellow inhabitants in the world, society would fall! What would society be if there were no public judgements? or if one did not form his own judgement concerning another? What is not lawful, is judgement as to the quality of the interior mind or soul within man, thus as to what his spiritual state is and hence his lot after death. This is known to the Lord only; nor does the Lord reveal it until after death, and this in order that what a man does he may do from freedom, and that thereby good or evil may be from him and so in him, and he thus live for himself and be himself forever.

That the interiors of the mind, hidden in the world, are revealed after death is because this is a matter of importance and use to the societies into which the man then comes; for there all are spiritual. That they are revealed then is plain from these words of the Lord:

There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, neither hid that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light, and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets, shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. (LUK 7:2,3)

A general judgement such as: If in internals you are what you appear to be in externals you will be saved or condemned, is allowed; but a particular judgement such as, You are such in internals and therefore will be saved or condemned, is not allowed.

Our final question for today is how we should judge ourselves. We already know from the doctrines that we are not judged according to some list of past deeds done throughout life in the world, but rather we are judged according to the quality of the character we have built for ourselves through our free-will choices in life. So the question becomes, “How do we expose the nature of our true character so we can amend it as necessary while there is still time to do so?”

The only way to establish the true identity of your affections is to discover the end they have in view. If that end is selfish or worldly those affections are not genuine. But if the end is to good of the neighbour, the good of the community, the good of the country, and more still if it is the good of the Church and the good of the Lord’s kingdom, they are genuine, for in that case the Lord is their end.

It is the mark of someone wise to be aware of which ends are present in himself. Sometimes it does seem as though his ends are selfish when in fact they are not, for the human being is such that in everything he considers how it affects himself. But if anyone wishes to know the ends he himself has in view he has merely to take note of his feeling of delight – whether it is on account of his receiving praise and glory, or whether it is on account of his performing some unselfish service.

If it is the latter delight which he feels, genuine affection is present in him. He ought also to take note of the varying states he passes through, for those states cause his feelings to vary considerably. A person is able to find these thing out in himself, but not in others, for the ends in view to anyone’s affection are known to the Lord alone. This is why the Lord said,

      Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. (Luke 6:37)

For a thousand people may apparently share the same affection for truth and goodness, and yet the affection in each of them may have a different origin, that is, each may have a different end in view.

God does not condemn man and send him to hell, but rather draws Him up as close to Himself as He is able. The judgements that God makes are based on the inmost hidden spiritual states of remains, things that are completely unknown to the man himself, or to other humans, and so the Lord alone is able to judge our spiritual states rightly.

In judging others, we are permitted, and in fact required, to make external judgements based on external behaviours, but we are not permitted to judge the spiritual state of anyone.

If we wish to judge ourselves, we must look to our own goals, the ends for which we do things, for it is the end in view that determines the spiritual quality of any action.

In making judgements, we must always remember the limitations of our view of others. That what appears may not actually be the case. We must try to look beyond the external shell and seek out the eternal ends, and then we may be able to judge ourselves and others, not according to appearance, but to judge with righteous judgement. (text). AMEN.

First Lesson: John 7:1-24

After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He did not want to walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill Him. {2} Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. {3} His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. {4} “For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” {5} For even His brothers did not believe in Him. {6} Then Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. {7} “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. {8} “You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come.” {9} When He had said these things to them, He remained in Galilee. {10} But when His brothers had gone up, then He also went up to the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret. {11} Then the Jews sought Him at the feast, and said, “Where is He?” {12} And there was much complaining among the people concerning Him. Some said, “He is good”; others said, “No, on the contrary, He deceives the people.” {13} However, no one spoke openly of Him for fear of the Jews. {14} Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. {15} And the Jews marvelled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” {16} Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. {17} “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. {18} “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him. {19} “Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law? Why do you seek to kill Me?” {20} The people answered and said, “You have a demon. Who is seeking to kill You?” {21} Jesus answered and said to them, “I did one work, and you all marvel. {22} “Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. {23} “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? {24} “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgement.” Amen.

Second Lesson: AC 2335

[2] As regards Judgement it is twofold, namely, from good and from truth. The faithful are judged from good, but the unfaithful from truth. That the faithful are judged from good, is plainly evident in Matthew (xxv. 34-40), and that the unfaithful are judged from truth (verses 41 to 46). To be judged from good is to be saved because they have received it; but to be judged from truth is to be condemned because they have rejected good. Good is the Lord’s, and they who acknowledge this in life and faith are the Lord’s, and therefore are saved; but they who do not acknowledge it in life, and consequently not in faith, cannot be the Lord’s, and therefore cannot be saved. They are therefore judged according to the acts of their life and according to their thoughts and ends; and when they are judged according to these, they cannot but be condemned; for it is a truth that of himself a man does, thinks, and intends nothing but evil, and of himself rushes to hell in so far as he is not withheld therefrom by the Lord. [3] But as regards judgement from truth the case is this: The Lord never judges any one except from good; for He desires to raise all into heaven, however many they may be, and indeed, if it were possible, even to Himself; for the Lord is mercy itself and good itself. Mercy itself and good itself can never condemn any one; but it is the man who condemns himself, because he rejects good. As in the life of the body he had shunned good, so does he shun it in the other life; consequently he shuns heaven and the Lord, for the Lord cannot be in anything except good. He is likewise in truth, but not in truth separated from good. That the Lord condemns no one, nor judges any to hell, He says in John:- God sent not His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. This is the judgement, that the light is come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the light, because their works were evil (iii. 17, 19). And in the same:- If any one hear My words, and believe not, I judge him not; for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world (xii. 47). Amen.

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