Degrees of Government

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you. (DEU 7:6-8)

Our lesson from Deuteronomy spoke in the literal sense about how the Lord was choosing the children of Israel to be His own special people. But it is interesting that in the New King James version of the Bible, the heading is given as “A Chosen People” not “The” chosen people. The choice of words is significant because it indicates not that the children of Israel were the only chosen people, but that Word teaches us how we as a church can become a chosen people, and how we as individuals before the Lord can become “chosen,” or saved.

The reading gave a whole list of acts (such as idolatry and intermarriage with the Canaanites) which the children of Israel were to avoid if they wished to be a chosen people. The internal sense of these acts tells us the kinds of things that we must avoid if we wish to prepare ourselves for heaven. But that is not really the reason for choosing this particular passage as a lesson. It was selected because it contained the idea that a people (or a person) is not chosen because they are already good, but because they are loved by the Lord in spite of being in and of themselves, the “least of all peoples” (text), and because the Lord knows that through self-discipline and obedience to His Divine laws, we can become a “chosen people.”

In the writings of the New Church we are told that creation functions from firsts to lasts and thence into intermediates, which means that creation comes through this order: that it starts with the Lord who is the first, the most important, the highest. He then proceeds with His love or influx, and His life flows in to the world. What happens then? it flows into the basic materials of the natural world. Our life is formed on an organic body. Our life is received in our organic body and then from the beginning, from first of all being little children who have no spiritual knowledge or intelligence (they have spiritual life but they don’t have a conscious mind), we begin to grow. We acquire truths, we acquire information, we have experiences and so we become new people. Our characters are built and we prepare ourselves for heaven, and we see that the life flows from the Lord, from heaven, from firsts into the things of the world which we call the lasts and thence we raise up with them, back up into intermediates.

This is the orderly structure the Lord has provided for the world. That’s how creation works. Creation is happening every instant. It’s not something that happened a million years ago, or in 4 004 BC or whenever. It’s not just something that is a single event, but the whole world exists and continues to exist every moment because it is being re-created every moment by the Lord.

This orderly structure of influx, the Lord’s life flowing in, is the means by which our own minds can come from being natural to become rational, spiritual, and eventually celestial. The same doctrine works in the government of the world. It’s called the Doctrine of Degrees, and we’re told that there are two kinds of degrees. The first are called continuous degrees, or degrees of latitude, which have to do with the concept of “more” and “less.” When you use a thermometer to take someone’s temperature and when you pull it out and look and see where the mercury or the alcohol is, you’re looking at something that is more or less. There are certain markings that you can use to judge about what the temperature is, but you can’t say that it is exactly this or exactly that. An analog clock is the same kind of thing. The hand moves around and as it passes certain markings we can say that its a certain time, but its always an estimate because the movement is continuous.

On the other hand there are discrete degrees, and they can be best described as levels, they’re things that are completely different one from another and are a progression. They’re like steps. One of the classic examples that we speak about all the time in the church are the three heavens. The highest is the celestial heaven, then comes the spiritual, and the natural is the lowest and they are distinctly different because the people in each of the heavens have different ruling loves. The people in the highest heaven are there because their most important love, the thing that rules their character is their desire to love the Lord, and everything they do focuses around their love of the Lord. Discretely different and on a lower degree are those people who love the neighbor and everything in their lives is focused around being kind to the neighbor and serving them, and that’s the spiritual heaven. Then distinctly different again is the natural heaven where there are people who love to obey, who don’t want to study much, who wish to live pretty much as they lived in this world but they are willing to obey, simply obey what the Lord teaches.

These degrees, continuous and discrete, apply to every aspect of creation and every aspect of our life and there are even degrees of government. The Lord’s government begins with Him. The Divine Wisdom flows into the natural form of this world and then comes up again in higher forms.

We read the passages in Deuteronomy that talks about the different commandments, where it said that there were judgements and statutes and so forth. This is what the Apocalypse Explained says about that:

In these passages “commandments” mean the laws of life, especially those contained in the Decalogue, which are therefore called the Ten Commandments; while “statutes” mean the laws of worship which related especially to sacrifices and holy ministrations; and “judgments” mean civil laws; and as these laws were representative of spiritual laws, they signify such Divine truths as are in the Lord’s spiritual kingdom in the heavens. (AE 946:4)

What we see here is an example from our reading in Deuteronomy that there are different kinds of laws on different levels and these are discretely different. The divine flows in from Himself from the Divine above the heavens into the world of nature to the lowest things, in an orderly way. We can’t see the influx, we can’t necessarily feel it, but we can see the evidence of its passing. We see that the heavens are organized and governed. We see that there are governments in the world, and there are even governments among the animals in the natural kingdom. An amazing passage from The Divine Love and Wisdom 355 reads as follows:

Any one may confirm himself in favor of the Divine from things seen in nature by giving attention to what is known about bees: that they know how to collect wax and suck honey from herbs and flowers, and to build cells like little houses, and set them in the form of a city, with streets through which to come in and go out; that they scent at long distances the flowers and herbs from which they collect wax for their houses and honey for food, and laden with these fly back in a direct line to their hive; thus providing themselves with food and habitation for the coming winter, as if they had foresight and knowledge of it. (DLW 355 port.)

In the Lord’s spiritual kingdom there are various forms of government differing in different societies, the variety being in accord with the functions performed by the societies, and the functions of these are in accord with the functions of all things in man to which they correspond.

The heavens are organized as a man, and that in the same way that a single man represents a community or a society so the heavens are in that form. For example, there are societies that perform the function of welcoming spirits into the spiritual world when they die. We’re told that those are the spirits in the society corresponding to the mouth. There are spirits who are in love more than in anything else and they’re in the society corresponding to the heart. There are others who are in the love of truth. They represent the lungs, and so on. Every angel has a different function or use. Every society has these different functions.

The body itself is held together and protected by a skin. Now the skin, people sometimes forget, is the largest organ in the body. It’s the most obvious and the one we think of least. The body of the church on earth is held together by its skin which is its external order and organization.

I’ve talked a lot about how government inflows from the Divine itself into the world and how in each of the different degrees it has a different expression. The difficulty, of course, is when we receive that influx into the world. When government by influx is received its not always clear to us exactly what forms it should take and so what we do is we gather together and we discuss these things, and we each compare our own enlightenment, our own knowledge, our own experience to each other and we try and create a structure which is of such a form that it can receive that influx.

That’s what they’re trying to do, and if that influx, if that form is built correctly then everyone benefits because it is a principle of government received in the world, if it’s from the Lord’s influx it receives it correctly then we read that all forms of government agree in this that they look to the public good as their end, and in that good to the good of the individual.

We’re told that our mind is like a house. In the word where it talks about a house it represents the human mind. When we go to build a house we don’t start with the roof, we start with the foundation. We lay the foundation first then we build the walls then the roof goes on the top.

Now listen to how this structure works, how the human mind is built in a similar way. This reference is from Heaven and Hell no 468

There are three kinds of truths, civil, moral, and spiritual. Civil truths relate to matters of judgment and of government in kingdoms, and in general to what is just and equitable in them. Moral truths pertain to the matters of every one’s life which have regard to companionships and social relations, in general to what is honest and right, and in particular to virtues of every kind. But spiritual truths relate to matters of heaven and of the church, and in general to the good of love and the truth of faith.

[2] In every man there are three degrees of life. The rational faculty is opened to the first degree by civil truths, to the second degree by moral truths, and to the third degree by spiritual truths. But it must be understood that the rational faculty that consists of these truths is not formed and opened by man’s knowing them, but by his living according to them.

[3] All this shows how man becomes rational, namely, that he becomes rational to the third degree by a spiritual love of the good and truth which pertain to heaven and the church; he becomes rational to the second degree by a love of what is honest and right; and to the first degree by a love of what is just and equitable. (HH 468)

The house, which is our mind, is built by first laying a foundation of civil truth and once that civil truth is known and done, because it says that you don’t become rational by knowing things but by doing them, then on that foundation can be laid moral truths and on that wall, if you will, then the roof of spiritual truth can be built. It has an order, it has a distinct order, and a foundation is essential. We can’t just wish to be spiritual, wish to be celestial. We have to begin with the civil truth, with the external order, with the outer form.

We prepare for becoming spiritual and celestial by living out our full responsibilities in the natural world. To not only know and do truth but to struggle and to hope the Lord will change our affections so that we can learn to love truth for its own sake.

We also have to take part in those structures of government that have been provided. We’re told that heaven is perfected in its unity by the variety of uses that it contains. The government of our church society is, we hope in some small way, a reflection of that heavenly government. For the Lord’s own government is present in all degrees of life by influx as we saw in the passage in The Divine Love and Wisdom which spoke about the bees.

This week we all have an opportunity to take an active, responsible part in the government of the church. The things that will be discussed and decided at the Annual General Meeting are sometimes mundane but they form the foundation for the structures that are to be established and the decisions that are to be made throughout the whole year. The government and administration of the affairs of our church society will be perfected and unified by the greater variety of views presented in charity at the appropriate time and place. We read again from Heaven and Hell no 217

But all these forms of government agree in this, that they look to the public good as their end, and in that good to the good of the individual. And this is so because every one in the whole heaven is under the auspices of the Lord, who loves all, and from Divine love ordains that there shall be a common good, from which each individual shall receive his own good. (HH 217) AMEN.

Lessons: DEU 7:1-11, HH 217

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

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