The Rules of Life

 

An Extemporaneous Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field. (GEN 39:5)

  1. Our text for today speaks of the Lord’s blessings. The context is the Joseph story where the hero is able to turn one disaster after another into a personal victory through his own native abilities, and because he trusts implicitly in the fact that the Lord is guiding his every step. He knows that he is blessed because the Lord is with him.
    1. The Joseph story is also a powerful example of how the Lord turns evil, the hatred and jealously that his brothers held for Joseph, into good, for it was only through Joseph’s leadership that Egypt was able to prepare for the famine, and thus become a safe haven for Joseph’s brothers and father.
    2. So it is with the dual thoughts of our desire to be blessed in the things of our natural life, and the need to put ourselves in the stream of the Divine Providence in order to receive that blessing from the Lord, that we consider today the “Rules of Life” of Emanuel Swedenborg.
      1. While the history is interesting, the focus should be on what these rules say, not who wrote them, or when.
        1. They provide a simple, easily remembered summary of the life of charity which everything in the Three-Fold Word leads to.
        2. The “Rule of Life” are not part of the Theological Writings, but were found among his papers after his death.
  2. The Rules
    1. Diligently to read and meditate on the Word of God
    2. To be content under the Dispensation of God’s Providence
    3. To observe a propriety of behavior, and to keep the conscience pure.
    4. To obey what is ordered; to attend faithfully to one’s office and other duties; and in addition, to make one’s self useful to society in general.
    5. Diligently to read and meditate on the Word of God
      1. AR 611 – Reformed clergy who believed in faith alone
        1. It was granted me to see upwards of three hundred of the clergy of the Reformed world, all men of learning, who knew how to confirm the doctrine of faith alone even to justification, and some of them still further. And because there prevailed a belief among them also, that heaven consists only in admission by favor, leave was given them to ascend to a society in heaven, though not one of the higher ones.
      2. How they appeared to the angels
        1. And as they ascended together, they appeared at a distance like calves. And when they entered into heaven they were received with civility by the angels, but when they discoursed with them, they were seized with trembling, afterwards with horror, and lastly with the agonies as it were of death, and then they cast themselves down headlong, and in their descent they appeared like dead horses.
      3. Why they had that appearance
        1. The reason of their appearing like calves as they ascended, was, because from correspondence the natural affection of seeing and knowing appears gamboling like a calf; and the reason why they appeared like dead horses as they fell, was, because from correspondence the understanding of truth from the Word appears like a horse, and the non-understanding of truth in the Word, like a dead horse.
      4. Youths, completing their education in the world of spirits
        1. There were boys below, who saw them falling, to whom in their descent they seemed like dead horses. And then they turned away their faces, and said to their master, who was with them, “What is this portent? We beheld men and now instead of them there are dead horses, the sight of which we could not bear, and we therefore turned away our faces. Master, let us not stay in this place, but let us go away:” and they departed.
      5. Their teacher’s explanation
        1. The master then instructed them in the way what “a dead horse” signified, saying, “`a horse’ signifies the understanding of the Word; all the horses which you saw, signified that; for when a man goes meditating from the Word, then his meditation, at a distance, appears as a horse, noble and lively, as he meditates spiritually on the Word, and, on the contrary, poor and dead as he meditates materially.”The boys then asked, “What is it to meditate on the Word spiritually and materially?” And the master replied, “I will illustrate it by examples. Who, when he reads the Word, does not think of God, his neighbor, and heaven? Every one who thinks of God only from Person, and not from Essence, thinks materially; also he who thinks of the neighbor only from form, and not from quality, thinks materially; and be who thinks of heaven only from place, and not from the love and wisdom which heaven is, he also thinks materially.”
      6. The boys’ fears
        1. But the boys said, “We have thought of God from Person, of the neighbor from form, that be is a man, and of heaven from place; did we therefore, when we were reading the Word, appear to any one as dead horses?”
      7. The difference between stupidity and ignorance
        1. The master said, “No, you are yet boys, and could not think otherwise; but I have perceived in you an affection of knowing and understanding, which because it is spiritual, you have also thought spiritually.
      8. The Point
        1. Reading, studying, and meditating on the Word have real spiritual consequences – it’s not just one of those rules that parents make up to regulate the behavior of children.
    6. To be content under the Dispensation of God’s Providence
      1. LUK 3:14
        1. Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”
      2. AC 4981
        1. Hence the “blessing of Jehovah,” in the external sense or in the sense which relates to the state of man in the world, is to be content in God, and thence to be content with the state of honor and wealth in which one is, whether it be among the honored and rich, or among the less honored and poor; for he who is content in God regards honors and riches as means for uses; and when he thinks of them and at the same time of eternal life, he regards the honor and riches as of no importance, and eternal life as essential.
    7. To observe a propriety of behavior, and to keep the conscience pure.
      1. DP 77
        1. Everyone is able, from his faculty called rationality, to understand that this or that good is useful to society, and that this or that evil is harmful to it; for example, that justice, sincerity and the chastity of marriage are useful to society, and that injustice, insincerity and adulterous relations with the wives of others are harmful to it; consequently that these evils in themselves are injuries, and that these goods in themselves are benefits. Who, therefore, if he be so disposed, cannot make these things matters of his own reason?
    8. To obey what is ordered; to attend faithfully to one’s office and other duties; and in addition, to make one’s self useful to society in general.
      1. AC 8899
        1. But be it known that the commandments of the decalogue are rules of life both for those who are in the world and for those who are in heaven – the sense of the letter or the external sense being for those who are in the world, and the spiritual or internal sense for those who are in heaven – and consequently both senses, external as well as internal, are for those who while they are in the world are also in heaven, that is, for those who are in the good of life according to the truths of doctrine.
        2. That the commandments of the decalogue are also for those who are in heaven, is plain from the internal sense of all things in the Word, and clearly from the fact that the things which Jehovah God (that is, the Lord) Himself speaks, are not only for men, or for the world; but are also for angels, nay, for the whole heaven, because the Divine truth which proceeds from the Lord flows through heaven and passes through down unto man. This is the case with these ten commandments, which the Lord Himself spoke from Mount Sinai.
  3. The four rules, once again, are
    1. Diligently to read and meditate on the Word of God
    2. To be content under the Dispensation of God’s Providence
    3. To observe a propriety of behavior, and to keep the conscience pure.
    4. To obey what is ordered; to attend faithfully to one’s office and other duties; and in addition, to make one’s self useful to society in general.
  4. Of the four rules, three are relatively easy.
    1. Anyone can, keep to the external rules of civil behavior.
      1. And with effort, and the Lord’s help, begin to keep the internal rules.
    2. The one that is most difficult is learning to be content with Providence.
      1. We are tempted to think that we could have designed the world better.
      2. We are easily tempted to think that we deserve better than we get.
      3. The Lord oversees riches and positions of power.
        1. He allows both good and evil people to accumulate wealth and power because the good use their wealth and power to do great good; and when the evil use wealth and power to try to hide their evils by appearing exteriorly generous and kind, they can also do great good.
          1. How many churches, libraries, and hospitals have been built by people seeking to improve their tarnished image in the community or to ease the burden of their conscience?
        2. While others, who might be corrupted by great wealth, He protects from it.
      4. We are in the “Womb of Heaven”.
        1. We are only here to prepare ourselves for rebirth into spiritual life.

And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (LUK 12:15) Amen.


1st Lesson: Gen 39:1-6

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there. {2} The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. {3} And his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand. {4} So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority. {5} So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field. {6} Thus he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.

2nd Lesson: Luke 3:7-14

Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? {8} “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. {9} “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” {10} So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” {11} He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” {12} Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” {13} And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” {14} Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

3rd Lesson: AC 4190

For although the Gentiles know nothing about the Word, and accordingly nothing about the Lord, they nevertheless have external truths such as Christians have; as for instance that the Deity is to be worshipped in a holy manner, that festivals are to be observed, that parents are to be honored, that we must not steal, must not commit adultery, must not kill, and must not covet the neighbor’s goods; and thus such truths as those of the decalogue ; which also are for rules of life within the church. The wise among them observe these laws not only in the external form, but also in the internal. For they think that such things are contrary not only to their religious system, but also to the general good, and thus to the internal duty which they owe to man, and that consequently they are contrary to charity, although they do not so well know what faith is.

[2] It has at times been given me to speak with Christians in the other life concerning the state and lot of the Gentiles outside of the church, in that they receive the truths and goods of faith more easily than do Christians who have not lived according to the precepts of the Lord; and that Christians think cruelly about them, in assuming that all who are out of the church are damned, and this from the received canon that without the Lord there is no salvation.

This indeed, as I have said to them, is true; but the Gentiles who have lived in mutual charity, and have done from a kind of conscience what is just and equitable, receive faith and acknowledge the Lord more easily in the other life than those within the church who have not lived in such charity. Moreover Christians are in what is false, in believing that heaven is for them alone, because they have the book of the Word, written on paper but not in their hearts.

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