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.

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