Natural and Spiritual Freedom (the Saigon Factor)

  1. Natural and Spiritual Freedom

An Extemporaneous Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he tore his clothes; and as he passed by on the wall, the people looked, and there underneath he had sackcloth on his body. (2KI 6:30)

  1. To tear one’s clothes is a recognition that one is without truth.
    1. The king’s actions are a powerful symbol of the state we come to when we become dramatically and personally aware of the evil that surrounds us.
      1. The first lesson describes people suffering from famine and siege
        1. Walled up in a fortified city;
        2. The Syrian army outside waiting for the opportunity to tear down the walls
        3. Food became so scarce that a small portion of dove droppings sold for five shekels of silver.
        4. In this context, we are told of two woman reduced to the point of cannibalism – not just cannibalism, but they were eating their own children
  2. In 1975 the North Vietnamese Army was closing in on Saigon.
    1. After a lifetime of stress and war, it was about to come home to the people of Saigon
      1. It was observed that as the NVA drew closer
        1. As it became clear that the end was near,
          • The whole fabric of their ancient and civilized culture collapsed
            • Personal property was no longer recognized, there was rampant looting
            • People coldly murdered each other to gain an edge
              • And no one seemed to care – even the Police.
            • Every aspect of civilization, the rule of law was thrown aside in the interests of self-preservation and escape.
            • Today, this total collapse of a society under stress is called the “Saigon Factor.”
  3. Today, Independence Day, we can be grateful that our civil life is not under that kind of stress and uncertainty.
    1. And yet, in a lesser degree, we have a lot of stress in lives – partly caused by our ability to communicate so easily. There is so much more for us to know about and worry about!
      1. While a generation ago the biggest fear was of a foreign enemy, today the nation’s children have more to fear from the random violence of their own classmates in school.
      2. In our homes we either face ourselves, or know someone who is facing such stressful events as a death in the family, a marriage in trouble, a move to a new location, various degrees of chronic illness, or even simply the process of aging.
        1. Any one of these by itself can knock your life off the rails
        2. But when these have to be faced in the context of a complete societal change where character and moral integrity no longer seem to be important to the voting public
          • The moral foundations of society and thus our own mental stability are at risk.
        3. We all know the problem. How can the church help us cope?
  4. The story is told that a man had a friend who was very ill with a serious disease. He was moved to pray for his friend’s health. The prayer was difficult for him because he was not accustomed to it, but he put his heart and soul into it because he loved his friend.
    1. A few days later, the friend died, and the man was bitter because his prayers, made at such great personal effort, had not been answered.
      1. If we step back for a moment, and try to view this as the Lord would see it, that all things happen for the sake of eternal ends, we can see that in fact the prayer had been answered because that sick friend, now in the spiritual world, would never again be sick, but his health and physical vigor would continue unabated to eternity!
        1. It only seemed that the prayers had failed because we are constantly deceived into thinking that this world is the point of our existence, we think that our happiness in this world is what the Divine Providence is supposed to provide. When we pray for health, we pray for the health of our physical bodies, ignoring our much more important spiritual health.
  5. Even though we may feel things are going poorly
    1. Yet the Divine Providence is operating
      1. We just have to know where to look
      2. The Divine Providence regards eternal ends.
        1. The Doctrines speaks of two ways that we ignore this teaching
          • Those who ascribe all things to prudence, and nothing to Providence
            • First, the Heavenly Doctrines speak of those “who ascribe all things to their own prudence and little or nothing to Divine Providence” (See AC 2694:3).
            • We are taught that they may be shown in a thousand different ways that the Divine Providence governs the universe down to the most minute particulars, and they may even from time to time perceive this truth in their own life by living experiences. However, as quickly as the memory of the event fades, so fades their conviction, and they return to their former belief in their own prudence. This change is temporary because it was a change in the thought only, not accompanied with a change in the affection. An opinion cannot be changed as long as the person who holds it still loves it. The affection for the opinion must change before the opinion itself can change, and the affections are only changed through temptation. In states of anxiety and grief that come from spiritual temptations, strong opinions can be broken, for then it may be seen that all power, prudence, intelligence and wisdom are from the Lord. At the same time we acknowledge that are nothing, and need His Guidance and help. (See Ibid.)
            • Those who believe in salvation by faith or grace. Again, people who firmly believe this may be shown a thousand logical reasons why this can’t be, and yet they will not be moved an inch, because only the thought has been touched, not the more important ruling affection. We love many different things and our contradictory affections enable us to hold contradictory beliefs. As long as we believe they are our very own beliefs, and we have affection for them, our view cannot be changed.
            • Is it not true that the best way to convince another person to do something is to lead him to propose the project himself? The best salesman is the one who is able to convince the customer that it is the customer’s own idea to buy. It is the affection or love that must be changed, and this can be done only by the Lord during states of temptation, for it is only by temptations that we can be reduced from our belief in our own guiltlessness to the state from which we can perceive the hell in ourselves, and this to such a degree as to despair of ever being saved, then for the first time that persuasive (belief) is broken, and with it (our) pride, and (our) contempt of others in comparison (to ourselves), and also the arrogance that (we) are the only ones who are saved (See AC 2694:4).
    2. Disasters and troubles are permitted for the sake of our ETERNAL welfare.
      1. We need the deep despair in temptation in order to break the persuasive light from our own self-intelligence, so that we will recognize our need for the Lord. Then, as soon as we do realize this, and ask for the Lord’s help, states of comfort and hope are given by the Lord.
      2. From the depths of anxiety and grief, we can be led by the Lord into the heartfelt realization that not only is all good from the Lord, but also all things in the universe, from greatests to leasts, are under His direct, loving care: are of His Mercy. Finally, when we see our own character clearly, we are humbled in heart. We not only think but also know and acknowledge with both heart and mind that without the Lord we are nothing at all.
      3. And then comes a miracle. From this depth of despair, from this feeling of helplessness and unworthiness, when we turn to the Lord for help, the Lord flows in with comfort, and hope, and even delight. The purpose of temptation is to conjoin good and truth in our natural degree, to build a new will in the elevated understanding, a new will full of good from the Lord.
      4. When good and truth are conjoined in us through combats of temptation, we feel delight because the conjunction is a correspondence with the heavenly marriage of good and truth, and also with the Divine Love Itself and Divine Wisdom Itself conjoined in the Lord. This conjunction and union in the Lord is the source of all delight. Thus, when we have resisted an evil in ourselves, and hung on to our conviction that what we are doing is commanded by the Lord for the sake of our eternal life, the evil is removed, good from the Lord flows in, and the state of temptation ends as states of comfort and hope begin.
    3. The importance of an affirmative attitude.
      1. “…Temptations are attended with doubt in regard to the Lord’s presence and mercy, and also in regard to salvation. The evil spirits who are then with the man and induce the temptation strongly inspire negation, but the good spirits and angels from the Lord in every possible way dispel this state of doubt, and keep the man in a state of hope, and at last confirm in him what is affirmative. One who yields in temptation remains in a state of doubt, and falls into what is negative; but one who overcomes is indeed in doubt, but still, if he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative (AC 2338).
      2. It is important to note how we are to become steadfast in the affirmative principle, so necessary for success in temptation: We must allow ourselves to be cheered by hope, we must believe in the feeling that the Lord gives us in our states of temptation that there is a place for us in heaven, and that it is possible to throw off the impediments of this world with the Lord’s help.
      3. If we will allow ourselves to have this hope, then we will see the end and use in temptation, and will not be destroyed by the effort. We are given hope from the Lord so that we may see our way out of the natural and spiritual disasters we experience even while we are in the depths of them, if we have confidence that the Lord has the power to save, that He is the Redeemer.

I cry out with my whole heart; Hear me, O Lord! I will keep Your Statutes. I cry out to You; Save me and I will keep Your testimonies. I rise before the dawning of the morning and cry for help; I hope in Your Word (Psalm 119:145-147). AMEN.


1st Lesson: 2KI 6:24-30

(2 Ki 6:24-30) And it happened after this that Ben-Hadad king of Syria gathered all his army, and went up and besieged Samaria. {25} And there was a great famine in Samaria; and indeed they besieged it until a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and one-fourth of a kab of dove droppings for five shekels of silver. {26} Then, as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!” {27} And he said, “If the LORD does not help you, where can I find help for you? From the threshing floor or from the winepress?” {28} Then the king said to her, “What is troubling you?” And she answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ {29} “So we boiled my son, and ate him. And I said to her on the next day, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him’; but she has hidden her son.” {30} Now it happened, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he tore his clothes; and as he passed by on the wall, the people looked, and there underneath he had sackcloth on his body.

2nd Lesson: MAT 6:19-21, 25-34

(Mat 6:19-34) “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; {20} “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. {21} “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…. {25} “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? {26} “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? {27} “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? {28} “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; {29} “and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. {30} “Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? {31} “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ {32} “For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. {33} “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. {34} “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

3rd Lesson: DP 214, 215 (port)

The Divine Providence regards eternal things, and not temporal things, except so far as they make one with eternal things.

There are many temporal things, yet they all relate to dignities and riches. By temporal things are meant such as either perish with time, or come to an end with man’s life in this world only; but by eternal things are meant those which do not perish and come to an end with time, and therefore do not end with life in this world.

Since, as has been stated, all temporal things relate to dignities and riches it is important to know the following, namely, what dignities and riches are and whence they are; what is the nature of the love of them for their own sake, and what is the nature of the love of them for the sake of uses; that these two loves are distinct from each other as heaven and hell are; and that man hardly knows the difference between these two loves.

Revelation 19


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, MD – June 15, 2003

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. (REV 19:11-12)

It is our custom to celebrate the establishment of the New Church during the month of June because passage 791 in the True Christian Religion reports that it was on the 19th day of June in 1770 that the reorganization of the spiritual world, foretold in the book of Revelation, was completed. This marked the end of one spiritual age, and the beginning of a new age which we call the “New Christian Church.”

The book of Revelation provides a series of powerful images that help us understand both the drama and the importance of these events. The book of Revelation was written by John, the disciple “whom Jesus loved” about 50 years after the resurrection of Jesus. At the time he wrote Revelation, he was an old man in exile on the isle of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. Because Peter and the other disciples had caused a lot of trouble for the Roman government, many scholars assume that John was exiled to Patmos by the Romans. Although there is no direct evidence to support this, it may well be true. It is also possible that John exiled himself to Patmos to spend some time in his old age away from all the controversy and turmoil that characterized the first years of the Christian Church. In any case, while John was on Patmos, the Lord opened his spiritual eyes to many strange and wonderful visions of things that were to come to pass in the spiritual world, and he was ordered to write them down in a book.

As with all visions into the spiritual world, they were full of powerful and frightening images. The images were carefully selected to picture certain human qualities that we can see historically are a problem for the Christian Church in its various denominations. We would be missing the point of this entirely if we came away from our reading of Revelation thinking that it deals only with problems that existed in another time or in other churches. The hells that worked hard to lead our ancestors into all kinds of trouble are still active and working on us. The rules that govern them are tighter than they used to be, and we have a clearer picture of who they are and how they attack, but these things are not included in the Holy Scriptures because they are of historical interest only. These states of evil are present and active in the world today. They are represented in Revelation chapter 19 as the Harlot and the Dragon.

The Harlot represents the love of dominion in general, the attitude represented by the phrase, “Do what you are told by the church and its leaders or you will go to hell.” We know from the history of the Christian Church that this was a huge problem for the Roman Catholics, as evidenced by the practice of withholding the wine of the Holy Supper from the congregation, but keeping it for priests only (a practice that continues in most churches today, even though local priests have the freedom to adapt this law). There was also the practice of withholding scripture, because they believed that trained priests could explain things that would be confusing to the unschooled reader. A final example is that of preaching in Latin whether or not any member of the congregation understood it. This was the common practice until the 1950’s when permission was granted for priests to begin preaching in the mother tongue of the congregation if they wished.

Even though this is the prime example of these conditions within the Christian Church, the love of dominion continues to be a problem in any organization or human relationship where people seek to control the behavior of others by manipulating or withholding necessary information from them. People do this to others because of the pleasure they gain from being in control, but it is a false pleasure.

We’ve all had the experience of driving through the downtown of a major city on a rainy night. The light from the streetlights and neon signs reflecting off the wet surfaces can be quite beautiful. But should you then drive through the same area on a sunny morning, you will see the potholes, the litter, the decay. What looks so beautiful in the artificial light of night is seen to be ugliness in the light of day. The harlot described by John might have even been attractive in the artificial light of night, but when the light of heaven shines upon her and she can be seen in contrast to the Bride of the Lamb, the truth of her ugliness is revealed.

The Dragon is a symbol for faith alone, typified by a church taking the position that if you do not think the right thoughts, or if you ask the wrong questions, you will go to hell. The historic period known as the “Reformation” arose as a reaction to the problems of dominion seen in the Roman Catholic Church, and was started by a Catholic priest, Martin Luther. In order to reform the Christian Church, he saw a structure that swung the pendulum all the way to the other side. He started a backlash that led to Christian Churches that had priests without robes, some new churches organizations had no clergy at all. They held as a matter of faith that no works of penance at all were required to get into heaven. Since nothing whatever that a person could do would ever change God’s mind, then the only thing that can distinguish the saved from those who are not saved is their faith.

As the harlot is a picture of those who control the actions of others, the Dragon is a picture of the state of those who believe that they have the right to control the beliefs of others, who create compelling arguments supported by passages taken from the Word, to convince people that they must think in a certain way, and that they are forbidden to think in other ways, or even ask certain questions about the nature of God, or His will.

The dragon can only have power when there is ignorance. That’s why John had the vision of the dragon poised to destroy the male child. That seemingly powerless little child was the only thing that could destroy the dragon – truth of doctrine from the Word that feeds the rational mind. When we interrupt others, when we don’t want to let other people finish their own ideas because we can’t wait to pursue our own ideas, when we don’t even listen to what they have to say before we dismiss the ideas as worthless, we are living the state represented by the dragon hovering over the Woman clothed in the Sun as she labored to give birth.

Yet it is pretty clear that both the dragon and the harlot represent opposite sides of the same problem – men trying to control other men and making them do what they want them to do by means of taking truths from the Word, taking them out of context, and then using them to threaten and cajole. Contrast the images of the Harlot and the Dragon with those of the church as a Bride and of the Lord as the Lamb that was slain.

“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” {8} And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. {9} Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”

The Chapter closes with the picture of the Lord, not as a Lamb, but as a king riding to victory at the head of His army. The Lord on the White Horse represents the spiritual sense of the Word revealed by the Lord, and the interior understanding of the Word disclosed thereby, which is the coming of the Lord.

The interior understanding of the spiritual sense of the Word is the second coming. He comes to us first in the natural sense when we learn the stories of the children of Israel, or about the gentle teacher Jesus, but the second coming is when the adult mind finally comprehends the big picture presented in the Word – and we cannot do that without having the spiritual sense, the key to understanding it, revealed to us.

A name that no one knew except Himself represents what the quality of the Word is in its spiritual and celestial senses no one sees but the Lord, and he to whom He reveals it.

Many people have theorized that the Word, being written by God, was probably more complex than it appears on the surface. Others have theorized that since there was much obvious symbolism in the Word, there might be other symbols that could be drawn out, but no one was successful at drawing out a consistent meaning for the symbolism on their own. The Word was written for the sake of the internal sense, and it had to remain hidden from those who would harm it, yet be obvious to those who had faith in the Lord. Those who have faith that the Word is holy, is from God, and provides instruction for our spiritual lives are those who can take the key provided by the science of correspondences and apply it and have the wonder of the spiritual sense revealed.

Robe dipped in blood signifies the Divine truth in its ultimate sense, or the Word in the letter, to which violence has been offered. Garments represent exterior or natural truths. Blood represents the way people have sought to use the Word to their own ends and so used it to justify theft, murder, and war. We are not to go to the Word to confirm what we already believe to be true, or to justify what we want to do. We are to ask the question, “What should I do in this circumstance?” and go to the Word for the answer.

King of kings, Lord of lords represents that the Lord teaches in the Word what He is, that He is the Divine truth of the Divine wisdom and the Divine good of the Divine love, thus that He is the God of the universe. A few verses ago it said that He had a name that no one knew, but now it is written in two places, proclaiming that He is King of kings, and Lord of Lords. This verse is full of teachings about the duality of the Divine. A garment has to do with Divine Wisdom; the thigh has to do with Divine Good. King of kings has to do with Divine Wisdom; Lord of lords has to do with Divine Good. He would not be God of the universe unless He had both the desire to create a heaven from the human race (Divine Good) and the knowledge of how to accomplish and govern it once it was created (Divine Wisdom).

The heart of this chapter is the contrast between the love of one’s own intelligence, and the love of having dominion over others with the power that comes from allowing the Word to lead your thought and the Lord to rule over your life. We can clearly see from the history of the church that when faith and charity are separated, then the bride becomes the Harlot, and warrior on the white horse becomes a Dragon. This alone should make it eminently clear how important it is for faith and charity to be one, both in the spirit and the life of the church.

When it comes to our own actions, do we want the angels who are with us and can see the intentions behind our acts of charity to see the Harlot, or will they see the Bride? When they examine our thoughts, will they see the Dragon, or one of the host of heaven, riding a white horse, following our Lord and King as he rides victorious back to the Holy City? Why does the Lord ask this question of us in the Word? Because while we live in the world of nature, it remains possible for us to become self-aware, to see the Harlot and the Dragon within, and with His help, drive them out.

And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. {20} Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. Amen.

1st Lesson: REV 19:1-16

After these things I heard a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God! {2} “For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.” {3} Again they said, “Alleluia! Her smoke rises up forever and ever!” {4} And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God who sat on the throne, saying, “Amen! Alleluia!” {5} Then a voice came from the throne, saying, “Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!” {6} And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! {7} “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” {8} And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. {9} Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.” {10} And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” {11} Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. {12} His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. {13} He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. {14} And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. {15} Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. {16} And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Amen.

2nd Lesson: SS 26

Henceforth the spiritual sense of the Word will be imparted solely to him who from the Lord is in genuine truths. The reason of this is that no one can see the spiritual sense except from the Lord alone, nor unless from Him he is in genuine truths. For the spiritual sense of the Word treats solely of the Lord and His kingdom; and this is the sense in which are His angels in heaven, for it is His Divine truth there. To this sense a man can do violence if he has a knowledge of correspondences, and wishes by means of it and from self-intelligence to investigate the spiritual sense of the Word. For through some correspondences with which he is acquainted he may pervert the meaning of it, and may even force it to confirm what is false, and this would be doing violence to Divine truth, and also to heaven. And therefore if anyone purposes to open that sense from himself and not from the Lord, heaven is closed; and then the man either sees nothing, or else becomes spiritually insane.

[2] Another reason is that the Lord teaches everyone by means of the Word, and He teaches from those truths which the man already has, and not without a medium does He pour new truths in, so that unless man is in Divine truths, or if he is only in a few truths and at the same time in falsities, he may from these falsify the truths, as it is well known is done by every heretic in regard to the Word’s sense of the letter. Therefore in order to prevent anybody from entering into the spiritual sense of the Word, or from perverting the genuine truth that belongs to that sense, guards have been set by the Lord, which in the Word are meant by the cherubim. Amen.

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