What’s New About the New Church, Part 3; The New Understanding of the Purpose of Life


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto – July 13, 2014

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit everlasting life. (MAT 19:29)

Today, our subject is the “New Understanding of the Purpose of Life.” It is our intention to examine the teachings of the Heavenly Doctrines in order to understand what the purpose of life on earth is, to answer the question, “Why did God create us, and why are we here?”

For the New Church, the purpose of creation is not a vague, unanswered question, but is very clearly stated: The purpose of creation is that there should be a heaven from the human race (DP 27).

The essential nature of God is Divine Love Itself, and there are three essential qualities to His love: that the one loved be someone other than self; that there is the desire for conjunction with the one loved; and that there is the desire to make the one loved happy from oneself (See TCR 43). If we examine the experience of our own lives we will find that all the true loves that we have experienced have all included these three qualities.

God, existing “before” creation, was therefore yearning. There was no one for Him to love outside of Himself; there was no one to be conjoined with; no one to make happy from Himself. In His Divine Wisdom He therefore conceived the plan whereby His love could find its proper expression – by creating heaven.

But, just as we do not begin to build a house by first constructing the roof, God saw that many individual steps had to be taken in order to make a heaven and fill it with beings who would be delighted to be there to eternity. We’re taught that creation is a continual process that takes place from firsts, to lasts, and then into intermediates; that is, from God into the material substances of the world which form the foundation. Then He flows into those relatively lifeless forms, uplifting them, and forming the vessels which contain human life from them.

Science tells us that our universe is the result an immense cloud of cosmic dust collapsed upon itself with such force that it exploded. The stars and the planets are the cooling remnants of that original event. And while we thoroughly admire and agree with the thought that went into such a deduction, we must still ask where the dust that formed the cloud first came from, and science has not yet been able to tell us.

We read from the Divine Love and Wisdom:

Every one who thinks from clear reason sees that the universe was not created out of nothing, for he sees that not anything can be made out of nothing; since nothing is nothing and to make anything out of nothing is a contradiction, and a contradiction is contrary to the light of truth, which is from Divine Wisdom.

Every one who thinks from clear reason sees also that all things have been created out of a Substance that is Substance in itself for that is Esse itself, out of which every thing that is can take form; and since God alone is Substance in itself, and therefore Esse itself, it is evident that from this source alone is the formation of things. (DLW 283)

It is the proper province of science to observe and describe how things work; while it is the proper province of religion to look into the causes of things. Having now seen from religion that God is the first cause of creation, that the very stuff itself from which the universe is made is from God, we can then turn to science for a detailed description of how those substances have, through millions of years, been ordered and prepared until there are planets capable of supporting a wide diversity of life, especially human beings, all according to the Divine order.

The only purpose for the created universe is so that people can live in a world of choices and challenges, and so prepare themselves for heaven. This means that life on earth is not, as some believe, merely the coexistence of the elect with the non-elect until the last day when the chosen few will be raised from their graves to enjoy an earthly paradise with Jesus while the rest of mankind will perish or be cast into hell. Rather, it is every person’s opportunity to choose the life of heaven or hell freely and to prepare for it.

Just as the baby grows his body in his mother’s womb in preparation for birth into this world, so we are in the world of nature to grow and prepare our minds for “rebirth” or “regeneration” into the world of the spirit. And just as no one of us longs to return to the unconscious life of the embryo, no one who has once passed into the wonders of the spiritual world wants to return to the world of nature. But the world of nature is the “womb” of heaven, so to speak, and it is here that we do the work of preparing ourselves for eternal life, it is among men, by learning to love and care for others, that we learn to love to love the Lord. As Jesus Himself taught us regarding the care of the poor and the sick and those in prison, Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (MAT 25:40)

The doctrine of the New Church therefore teaches this “new” idea of good works: that they are not to be shunned for fear of attributing merit to self, but they are the ultimate expressions of love, charity, and the desire to serve, and are the foundation of civilized society. On the other hand, it is also taught that good acts, by themselves cannot save a person. They are not “good” without good motives and selfless intentions which are developed over a lifetime of conscientious practice and effort, for no one is saved in an instant, but gradually, over a lifetime of sincere struggle to live a good life and to shun evils as sins against God.

But what about the idea that so many believe that unless you “know Jesus,” unless you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, you will be condemned by the angry Jehovah? How can it be that if a kind, loving God has created the universe for the sole purpose of a heaven from the human race, that there are so many different churches and doctrines that angrily battle with one another, each claiming the one true way to salvation and eternal happiness?

The variety of beliefs, and the resulting conflict between men of different beliefs, is the result of an essential element in God’s plan for mankind. As before said, it was His sole intention that there be a heaven from the human race; beings separate from Him that He could make happy from Himself, and be conjoined with. But, in His infinite wisdom He knew that all delight comes from the expression of love, and therefore in order for His people to be happy while in heaven, they also had to love others outside of themselves, wish to be conjoined with them, and to make them happy from themselves.

It is the nature of love, and its resulting delight, that it cannot be compelled, but must be given and received in freedom. Isn’t that what makes a holiday a pleasure – the opportunity to do what you want when you want to do it, without regard to the usual requirements of your working life? God knew that if His creatures were to enjoy heaven and to return His love, they had to do so of their own free will, and so He created us with freedom of choice in spiritual things.

And that has been a mixed blessing, because true freedom includes the freedom to make terrible mistakes, to deliberately harm others, to choose evil, and to go to hell.

When God gave us freedom, He also gave us the tools to use it correctly. He gave us the Word and particularly the Ten Commandments to guide our lives. He constantly urges us to do what is good by surrounding us with angelic spheres; in His Divine Providence He constantly provides us with choices that, if we freely choose the right one when led by truth that we know, will lead us on the path to heaven. And as long as we keep trying, keep struggling to find the way, He will be there to protect and uphold.

All who look to God in their life and do no evil to the neighbour are led by the Lord no matter what church they attend. Those who are so led are also taught in accordance with whatever their religion concerning God and the neighbour. The Lord is with them, helping to sort out those things that are true and useful from those things which are the results of made-up doctrines of people who wish to use the Word to dominate and control others. Those people who love the Lord and try to be useful to the neighbour love to be taught, and after death, they are instructed by angels and willingly receive such truths as are in the Word. (See DLW 253)

Thus, in the end, there really is only one church, even though it has many manifestations in the world, some of which are more confused than others. The two essentials of the church are the knowledge and acknowledgement of the Lord Jesus Christ as the One God of Heaven and Earth; and to live a life of charity towards the neighbour. Insofar as these two essentials are expressed in a church, it is capable of helping a person find their way to heaven.

In order to truly love the Lord, which is the first essential of the church, we have to freely choose to turn away from our selfish loves and desires, which we certainly do not want to do. When we turn away from our loves of the world, and seek instead to do things that benefit others, we are achieving the second essential of the church. But it is very hard for us to give up our little pleasures for the sake of others.

Fortunately, when God made us free, He also gave us the means of rising above our selfish loves by dividing our mind into two parts: the will and the understanding. We are capable of acting from conscience against our own desires. We can choose to do what is right and put aside our lusts for the sake of our eternal salvation.

This is the very point of our text, that by turning away from the loves of self and the world, symbolized by family members, because the Lord has asked us to, that is, for His sake, we prepare ourselves to receive genuine goods and truths from Him. These are the means of our communication with God, for they are His in us, and they allow Him to draw us near to Him. Thus, when we lay aside our earthly bodies, our spirits are such as are prepared for eternal life of usefulness and happiness in heaven. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit everlasting life. AMEN.

First Lesson: MAT 19:23-30

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. {24} “And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” {25} When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” {26} But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” {27} Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” {28} So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. {29} “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. {30} “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Second Lesson: LUK 10:25-37)

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” {26} He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” {27} So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbour as yourself.’” {28} And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” {29} But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” {30} Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. {31} “Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. {32} “Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. {33} “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. {34} “So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. {35} “On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ {36} “So which of these three do you think was neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?” {37} And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Third Lesson: DP 27


27. By long-continued conversation with angels and spirits it has been made known to me and proved that heaven is not from any angels created such from the beginning, and that hell is not from any devil created an angel of light and cast down from heaven, but that both heaven and hell are from the human race-heaven from those who are in the love of good and thence in the understanding of truth, and hell from those who are in the love of evil and thence in the understanding of falsity.

[2] Now since heaven is from the human race, and heaven is an abiding with the Lord to eternity, it follows that this was the Lord’s end in creation; and since this was the end in creation, it is also the end of His Divine Providence. The Lord did not create the universe for His own sake, but for the sake of those with whom He will be in heaven; for spiritual love is such that it wishes to give what is its own to another; and so far as it can do this, it is in its being (esse), in its peace, and in its blessedness. Spiritual love derives this property from the Divine Love of the Lord, which is such in an infinite degree.

From this it follows that the Divine Love, and consequently the Divine Providence, has for its end a heaven which should consist of men who have become, and who are becoming angels, upon whom the Lord can bestow all the blessings and felicities that belong to love and wisdom, and bestow these from Himself in them. Nor can He do otherwise, for there is in them from creation the image and likeness of Himself; the image in them is wisdom, and the likeness in them is love; and the Lord in them is love united to wisdom and wisdom united to love; or what is the same, is good united to truth and truth united to good.

What’s New About the New Church, Part 2

The New Idea of Heaven

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living (MAT 22: 31,32).

In this, and many other passages of scripture, the Lord tried to reassure us that death is not the end of life, but only the end of life in the natural world. He taught this with His words, and at the same time, He showed it with His actions; for by His touch, many were raised from the dead. And finally, to show His complete power and mastery over death, He even raised Himself from the dead.

Even though the Lord went to such great lengths to show that we had nothing to fear, yet people still do not believe. It is, after all, human nature to scoff at those things that seem unusual, or that cannot be confirmed with the five senses of the body. Remember what happened to the rich man that we read about in our second lesson: all his life he acted as if there was no life after death, and treated others unkindly. Then, when faced with his own evils, he reaches out, hoping to warn his family and friends to not make his mistake and so save themselves from hell. But Abraham sadly tells him, If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead (LUK 16:31).

We can see how true that is, for the Old and New Testaments are full of dire warnings, teachings about the nature of the spiritual world, the description of the Lord’s resurrection; and still people wonder aloud if there is a life after death.

This is the second in a series of sermons which attempts to answer the question, “What is new about the New Church.” In the first sermon, it was shown that the New Church doctrine of the Lord is not so much a new doctrine, but rather a restatement and development of the doctrine which the Lord Himself taught in the gospels. It only seems new because it is different from the doctrines which have been introduced by various councils into the Christian Church during the last seventeen hundred years. Today, we are addressing the concept of the “New Idea of Heaven” and we find much the same situation: The New Church does not so much present a “new” doctrine, but rather develops and enfills that which the Lord taught in the gospels, while stripping away the false and confusing ideas that have been added by men.

The book Heaven and its Wonders and Hell from Things Seen and Heard by Emanuel Swedenborg (commonly known as “Heaven and Hell”) is one of the most commonly published books in the world. It has been read by countless millions of people, and it spite of the fact that it is quite literally the testimony of one who has come back from the dead, one who has actually visited the spiritual world, few take it seriously.

That’s their choice, their freedom. The Lord never presents any truth in such a way that the human mind cannot figure out some way of turning away from it. Even the Lord cannot force someone to believe if they themselves do not want to. But we have to ask ourselves why the Lord went to the trouble of creating the universe if it is only so that people could live out their allotted time and die. It is our understanding of the infinite nature of God’s love for the human race that He created the whole universe for no other purpose than creating a heaven from the human race, and that He has tried to teach us about that heaven through His prophets in the Word.

In the two thousand years since the Lord came to earth to teach us about heaven and hell and the life that leads to eternal life in heaven, Christianity has acquired a lot of ideas from other sources as well, ideas that have mixed with the original teachings until they are almost unrecognizable.

Think about all the different things Jesus taught about heaven in the gospels; the parables of the Sower, the Wheat and the Tares, the Vineyard, the Wedding Feast, and all the others. In every case, Jesus was telling us that when we die, we will be gathered together with others like ourselves. Those who have obediently followed His commandments and been kind to their neighbor will be blessed, while those who have done evil things will be punished.

He also taught that the rewards (or punishments) are immediate, when He told about the poor man in Abraham’s bosom, and when He told the man crucified with Him that he would be with Him in paradise that day.

If we compare these simple, beautiful, and comforting teachings with some of the doctrines that have arisen in the Christian Church, we can only wonder where they came from.

It is my belief that when the doctrine of the trinity of persons was accepted by the leaders of the Christian Church, it introduced a poison into the doctrine of the church that caused all the strange ideas that later appeared.

The reason for this was that the doctrine of the trinity separated the concept of the Angry Jehovah from the Merciful Son, and made them opposing forces, rather than aspects of the same personality. Any parent knows that in order to teach children to respect dangerous things, it is sometimes necessary to appear angry and to punish, but this is only an aspect of parental love and care–it is done from mercy. But with the doctrine of the trinity, Jehovah became the angry, distant God of the Old Testament, furious that Adam and Eve had sinned, and therefore no longer interested in mankind. Jesus, who, in order to make this system work, is the “Son born from eternity,” loves everyone, and wants them to be with Him. Therefore He came into the world, took all sin upon Himself, and died with it as the sacrificial lamb of God, therefore taking it away from people making them all without sin. At least, we are taught by the church leaders, if not from all people, then from those who believe that Jesus died to take away their sins, for then Jesus will approach Jehovah for them. Jehovah, because He loves His Son for His sacrifice, will then look favorably on the believer and remove his condemnation.

Over the years, the doctrine of heaven itself became confused, and whole new structures, never mentioned in scripture, found their way into Christian dogma. We now have Catholics in purgatory and limbo while awaiting their chance to go to heaven. The reformed Christians never get into heaven at all, but wait in the grave until the day when Jesus will return to earth to establish His kingdom–on earth.

It is rare today to hear anyone preach these doctrines, even in their own churches. Common sense, or an intuitive understanding that God’s own way would be more simple and more merciful, has led the Christian back to a more scriptural belief in the afterlife, no matter what the formal doctrine of his church may be.

For example, the idea that Jesus will come into the world in the flesh once again, this time to rule in an earthly kingdom, has led some people to believe that there will be only one “last judgment” and that all the people who have ever lived will be judged at the same time. This means that everyone who has died since the beginning of time is still waiting for the “last day” when they can be miraculously given a new physical body and judged. Not one person from this world has yet been given eternal life, but all are still waiting in the grave.

But why then did the Lord show us that resurrection is almost immediate by telling the man who was crucified with Him that he would be with Him in paradise that day? Why did the Lord Himself rise from the grave on the third day? For no other reason than to show us that the body does not wait on earth for a physical resurrection. Its use is over, and it is laid aside, releasing the spirit within.

Think of a butterfly. At first it hatches from the egg as an ugly worm that spends its whole life in a single-minded search for food. This, clearly, is a symbol the quality and nature of our earthly lives. Then, when its time is past, it seems to die. It forms a cocoon around itself, does not move for many weeks–a symbol for death. Then suddenly, the cocoon opens, and a beautiful, colorful butterfly emerges. While the hungry worm is a symbol for our lives in the natural world, the beautiful butterfly is a symbol of the spirit soaring free from the limitations of the natural world, living as an angel.

The Lord taught us in the Word that everyone who dies is brought into spiritual life within three days. Once in the spiritual world, each individual is judged according to the quality of things they did in the world, and the intention with which they did them. The Lord, being the One True Judge, is able to look into the heart of everyone, and see what is there. He is able to understand that even when we try to do what is right, still we make mistakes. He is able to forgive our ignorance, our foolishness, and see the true intentions within. He then allows us to join with other like ourselves, once our confusion has been stripped away, and our questions answered.

This much is clear from study of the scripture itself, from Jesus Christ’s own words, and it forms the basis of the doctrine of the New Church concerning the life after death. What we do have that is new is the further explanation and illustration of these principles through the spiritual experiences of Emanuel Swedenborg.

Swedenborg was a man who was uniquely prepared to be a modern prophet. As a prominent scientist, he was prepared to make careful and detailed observations of the things he saw. As the son of a Bishop, he was raised in a home secure in its belief in the Divine, and in Biblical scholarship. And as a man who was independently wealthy, he was able to give up most of his secular work in order to follow the Lord’s bidding. Invited by the Lord to have the senses of his spirit opened so that he could live in both the natural world and the spiritual world simultaneously, Swedenborg accepted, and spent twenty seven years traveling throughout the spiritual world, visiting many different places, and speaking to many different men and women who had once lived on earth.

His observations and experiences are scattered through his theological works. Many of them he collected into the above mentioned work, “Heaven and Hell,” but they do not constitute a “new” idea of the spiritual world, for nothing in any of his observations contradicts what the Lord Himself taught. They do, however, add considerable depth and richness of detail to the Lord’s basic teachings.

It should not be surprising that this has happened, for the Lord said, I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. (JOH 16:12) By this He meant that the human race was not yet ready to hear all the details of the spiritual world. His intention was to lay the foundation of truth, and when the church, and the subsequent thought about doctrine, had sufficiently matured, He would return to explain more fully and more deeply–not in person, but in the “clouds of heaven”–a symbol for the Word itself.

Some of the details of heavenly life which were revealed to the world through Swedenborg are the following:

The “elect” are not those arbitrarily bestowed with salvation by a God who allows all others to perish or be damned, but the “elect” are those who choose to live well from conscience.

Heaven is not a cloud upon which angels with wings sit, playing harps, but it is a real world with homes, villages, trees, avenues, and everything else that humans need and love.

A spirit is not a wisp of air but a real person with the enjoyment of all his activities and senses. Every angel is a married pair, male and female, and the delight of marriage love is the primary delight of heaven because it corresponds to the marriage of Good and Truth in the Lord, and therefore mirrors creation itself.

Heavenly happiness is not eternal leisure, but the accomplishment of useful services such as welcoming and teaching newcomers to heaven, passing influx from the higher heavens into those lower, and thence into the natural world, and various forms of government in the different societies. All these activities are balanced by recreation and sport of all kinds.

Hell is not fire and brimstone, but a world without love where those live who have denied both God and their fellow man. In heaven men serve others from love, but in hell, they are compelled to serve.

The Lord knows that the death of the natural body is frightening–He’s been through it Himself. And so He has given us a rich body of teachings to reassure us and to help us face the fact of our own death. There is nothing capricious about God, He is justice itself. We can be certain that we will find the eternal reward that we genuinely deserve. He has told us these many things so that we can prepare ourselves for heaven by our lives in this world. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (JOH 14:2,3).

Lessons: MAT 22:1-14, LUK 16:19-31, HH 1:e

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