A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, November 11, 2008

This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends (JOH 15:12-13).

Today is Remembrance Day, the day set aside to commemorate the bravery of those who fought to defend their countries during the first great European war. The 11th of November was chosen as the day to remember them because it was on that day in 1918 that an Armistice was signed bringing an end to the war on the Western Front.

When researching this sermon it was astonishing to discover how frequently nations declared war on each other in the 19th Century. Napoleon Bonaparte (and his successors), Kaiser Wilheilm and other military leaders raged through Europe. In North America, England invaded the United States, while the US invaded Canada and later fought Spain for the possession of colonies from Cuba to the Philippines. There were revolutions and civil wars on every continent. Finally, in 1914, it seemed that all the anger focused in Europe where they fought the war “to end all wars,” leaving the land permanently scarred, and a large segment of an entire generation of young men dead or maimed.

More out of exhaustion than anything else, the people of that time hoped that finally the forces of evil had been brought to their knees, and that peace and freedom would rule. Unfortunately, we can look back and see that even as the peace was being settled, there were forces already in motion to lead the world into a second general world war, and when that war came to its conclusion, we entered a third phase, a “cold war” that has only recently come to an end – only to be followed immediately by a new conflict of a different nature in the Middle East.

There are two reasons for mentioning this unhappy and depressing litany of anger and destruction: First, it means that 11th of November has been enlarged so that we no longer only remember the veterans and the dead of the First World War (according to the newspaper, there is only one Canadian vet of W.W.I, the “last man standing.” He’s 108 years old), but that we now remember all those who have either risked or actually given their lives in defence of their homes. Second, a moment’s reflection on the conflict and hatred so obvious in the relations between the nations of the world is an incredibly clear picture of how the hells can influence the lives of men.

Sometimes we find it hard to believe that hell has much of an influence on us, because for the most part we, and our friends, manage to live outwardly orderly lives. But evil is a subtle thing, and wars are permitted, we are taught, for the very reason that evil will then expose itself, be seen for what it is, and can be defeated. (See DP 251, our third lesson) Therefore, this date serves to remind us both of the horror of war, and to honour those men and women who overcame that horror for the greater good to mankind, their nation, their homes, and their families.

The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church tell us that Charity itself is acting justly and faithfully in the office, business, and employment in which a man is engaged, because all that such a man does is of use to society, and use is good. (TCR 422). The Lord told us in the New Testament that the two Great Commandments are to love the Lord, and to love the neighbour as ourselves (MAT 22:37-40), and in another place, He taught that the way we were to show our love to God was by doing good to others (MAT 25:40), and we are taught further that the more people who are affected by our actions, the greater degree the neighbour is served (See C 72).

The fourth commandment is that we are to Honour your father and your mother (EXO 20:12), and in the natural sense it means that we are to honour our parents, to be obedient to them, and to be grateful to them for they have brought us into the world so that we may act in it as civil and moral people, and they have prepared us for heaven by teaching us the precepts of religion. In this way, parents provide both for our worldly and eternal happiness from a love which they have from the Lord, for they are acting in His place (See TCR 305).

By extension, the fourth commandment applies to others beyond our natural parents. In a broader sense, it tells us that we should honour the leader and governors of our country, since they, like parents, provide for everyone in general the necessities which parents provide in particular. By further extension, it can be seen that this commandment also means that we should love our country, since it too supports and protects, and is therefore called a “fatherland” (See TCR 305, 414).

In reflecting on the sacrifices made by so many for the protection of their homes and families, we are comforted by the knowledge that the Lord Himself protects the eternal welfare of those, His servants, who have given their lives for principles of freedom.

That one’s country should be loved, not as one loves himself, but more than himself, is a law inscribed on the human heart; from which has come the well-known principle, which every true man endorses, that if the country is threatened with ruin from an enemy or any other source, it is noble to die for it, and glorious for a soldier to shed his blood for it. This is said because so great should be one’s love for it. It should be known that those who love their country and render good service to it from good will, after death love the Lord’s kingdom, for then that is their country; and those who love the Lord’s kingdom love the Lord Himself, because the Lord is the all in all things of His kingdom (TCR 414).

It is obvious that when nations go to war, most often the cause is that one nation is trying to conquer another, to take its land, its goods, of its people. The Doctrines are quite specific that to support and defend one’s country against outside aggression is one thing, it is quite something else to support one’s country in acts of aggression against another country. The Doctrines do not support blind obedience, but rather state that a nation is to be loved according to the use, to good that that nation performs (C 85), for in the highest sense, use is the neighbour.

The Heavenly Doctrines make it clear that the fact that you were born in a particular place does not mean that you must stay there and defend it, no matter what. For example, if a person is born in a Catholic country, and that person is a Reformed Christian, how could he love his country because of its spiritual good? Nor could he love his country as respect to moral and civil good either, as these both flow from the spiritual good. However, he still has the responsibility to treat his country as the neighbour, according to its good, and do it no injury, and to act in such a way that he does not confirm it in any evil or falsity (See C 86).

Charity is love toward the neighbour, but it expresses itself differently according to the quality of the neighbour. For example, a parent who loves his child shows his love by rewarding the child when it does what is good, and by showing anger and punishing the child when it does what is wrong. If a man repels an insulting enemy, and in self-defence strikes him or delivers him to the judge in order to prevent injury to himself, and yet with a disposition to befriend the man, he acts from a charitable spirit. Wars that have as an end the defence of the country and the church, are not contrary to charity. The end in view declares whether it is charity or not (TCR 407).

The end in view declares whether it is charity or not. We cannot sit back and presume that it is God’s will that we defend our country no matter what. It is our responsibility to learn all we can about a situation and then act according to our best understanding. Sometimes we act with charity when we support our country in times of war even to the point of risking our lives. At other times we may support our country and its principles best when we work to change the country’s course of action. Sometimes, like Swedenborg himself, we may have to leave the land of our birth to find a place where we can live in spiritual freedom. We may be judged harshly by our fellow men, but never by God – for He, as we should, looks to the end in view to see whether it is charity or not.

However, looking back on the great European wars of the previous century, we need not do too much soul searching. History has shown us that there were clear acts of aggression which were repulsed by nations who acted from their love of freedom, and from a duty to protect the lives of their friends. We can look back and see that when the war was done, the victors did not swallow up the vanquished, but rather offered them the hand of friendship, and even helped them rebuild their shattered cities and economies.

Today has been set aside to honour those men of all nations who fought and died for what they believed to be right, to protect those things that they held to be true and of eternal spiritual value. The Heavenly doctrines tell us about those men and their characters. We are taught concerning the commander of the army that if he looks to the Lord and shuns evils as sins, and if he acts sincerely, justly, and faithfully in the affairs of his generalship and command, he does goods of use, which are goods of charity…. He does not go to war except for the protection of his country, and thus is not an aggressor, but a defender. …In battle…he is brave and valiant; after battle he is mild and merciful. In battle he would fain be a lion; but after battle, a lamb. In his inner self he does not exult in the overthrow of his enemy, and in the honour of victory; but in the deliverance of his country and his people from the invasion of an enemy, and the destruction and ruin they would inflict (C 164).

The doctrines speak about the officers in this way: Every one of them may become charity, that is, an angel of heaven, if he looks to the Lord and shuns evils as sins, and sincerely, justly, and faithfully performs the duty of his office. …His country is his neighbour; in the spiritual idea, he is its defence and security from invasion and destruction. …In war he loves the soldiers under him, according to their valour, sincerity, and obedience; is thoughtful for them, and desires their good as he does his own. (C 165).

And if the Common Soldier looks to the Lord and shuns evils as sins, and sincerely, justly, and faithfully does his duty, he also becomes charity; for as to this there is no distinction of persons. He…abominates the wrongful effusion of blood. In battle it is another thing. There he is not averse to it; for he does not think of it, but of the enemy as an enemy, who desires his blood. When he hears the sound of the drum calling him to desist from the slaughter, his fury ceases. He looks upon his captives after victory as neighbours, according to the quality of their good. Before the battle he raises his mind to the Lord, and commits his life into His hand; and after he has done this, he lets his mind down from its elevation into the body and becomes brave; the thought of the Lord – which he is then unconscious of remaining still in his mind, above his bravery. And then if he dies, he dies in the Lord; if he lives, he lives in the Lord (C 166).

As with all things, it hangs on the intention of the heart. Those who go into battle eagerly, with a desire to kill and possess the goods of others are not exercising charity, nor are they to be honoured. On the other hand, those who go into battle with regret, who fight bravely and hard during the heat of battle, and who seek to uplift and aid the enemy when the battle is won are those who, if they die, they die in the Lord – and enter His kingdom ready to serve Him, and it is these brave men and women whom we remember and honour today.

This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends (JOH 15:12-13). AMEN.

First Lesson: Judg 7:1-8

Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the well of Harod, so that the camp of the Midianites was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley. {2} And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ {3} “Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.’ “ And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained. {4} But the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. Then it will be, that of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ the same shall go with you; and of whomever I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ the same shall not go.” {5} So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself; likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink.” {6} And the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people got down on their knees to drink water. {7} Then the LORD said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand. Let all the other people go, every man to his place.” {8} So the people took provisions and their trumpets in their hands. And he sent away all the rest of Israel, every man to his tent, and retained those three hundred men. Now the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.

Second Lesson: John 15:9-17

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. {15} “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. {16} “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. {17} “These things I command you, that you love one another.

Third Lesson: DP 251. (Portions)

The worshipper of himself and of nature confirms himself against the Divine Providence when he reflects that wars are permitted and in them the slaughter of so many men, and the plundering of their wealth. It is not from the Divine Providence that wars occur, because they involve murders, plunderings, violence, cruelties and other terrible evils which are diametrically opposed to Christian charity. Still they cannot but be permitted because, since the time of the most ancient people …, men’s life’s love has become such that it wills to rule over others, and finally over all; and also to possess the wealth of the world, and finally all wealth. These two loves cannot be kept in fetters, for it is according to the Divine Providence that everyone is allowed to act from freedom in accordance with reason…. For unless evils were allowed to break out, man would not see them and therefore would not acknowledge them, and thus could not be induced to resist them. Hence it is that evils cannot be repressed by any act of Providence; for if they were they would remain shut in, and like a disease, such as cancer and gangrene, they would spread and consume everything vital in man.

[2] For man from birth is like a little hell, between which and heaven there is perpetual discord. No man can be withdrawn from his hell by the Lord unless he sees that he is in hell and wishes to be led out; and this cannot be done without permissions, the causes of which are laws of the Divine Providence. This is why there are lesser and greater wars….

[3] There are many other reasons stored up in the treasury of Divine Wisdom why the greater wars with kings and rulers, involving as they do murders, plunderings, violence and cruelties, are not prevented by the Lord, either in their beginning or in their progress, until in the end the power of one or the other has been so reduced that he is in danger of destruction. Some of these reasons have been revealed to me, and among them is this: that all wars, although they may be civil in character, represent in heaven states of the Church and are correspondences. Such were all the wars described in the Word….

[4] Similar things are represented by the wars of the present day, wherever they occur; for all things which take place in the natural world correspond to spiritual things in the spiritual world, and all spiritual things have relation to the Church….

[5] That wars in this world are governed by the Divine Providence of the Lord is acknowledged by the spiritual man but not by the natural man, except that, when a festival is appointed on account of a victory, he may then return thanks on his knees to God that He has given the victory; and except also by a few words before going into battle. But when he returns to himself he ascribes the victory either to the prudence of the general or to some measure or incident in the course of the battle which had not been thought of, by which nevertheless the victory was decided.

[6] It may be seen above (n. 217), that the Divine Providence, which is called fortune, operates in the most individual of even trivial affairs, and if you acknowledge the Divine Providence in these you will certainly acknowledge it in the affairs of war. Moreover, successes and incidents in warfare brought to a favourable conclusion are in common language called the fortune of war; and this is the Divine Providence, especially in the counsels and designs of the general, even although he at the time and also afterwards may ascribe it all to his own prudence. This he may do if he will, for he is at full liberty to think in favour of the Divine Providence or against it, and indeed in favour of God or against Him; but he should know that no part whatever of the counsel and design is from himself: it all flows in from heaven or from hell, from hell by permission, from heaven by Providence.


Copyright © 1982 – 2008 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified Nov. 11, 2008


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