The Rite of Confirmation

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. (MAT 3:5,6)

  1. It was our privilege today to witness the rite of confirmation. It would be useful for us to take advantage of this opportunity to reflect for a few moments on the meaning and purpose of this rite.

    1. In the New Church there are both rituals (or rites) and sacraments.

      1. There are two sacraments:

        1. Baptism

        2. Holy Supper.

      2. There are presently seven rituals recognized in the General Church:

        1. Confession of Faith or Confirmation of Baptism.

        2. Betrothal

        3. Marriage

        4. Ordination and Inauguration

        5. Memorial Service

        6. Interment

        7. Dedications of various buildings, such as homes, schools, and churches.

    2. The difference between a sacrament and a rite is that the sacraments are specifically commanded by the Lord in the Word and they have the power of real correspondence with spiritual things because they are the Lord’s presence with us in the world; while the rituals are implied by the various teachings, but nowhere specifically commanded and they only represent spiritual things, they do not correspond.

      1. Among the rituals, there is a varying degree of scriptural authority. Certainly, weddings are described in the Word, the Lord tells us that we are created male and female so that we can be married, and it is clear that marriage is a spiritual conjunction, not just a civil relationship. It is easy to see that the church ought to provide for weddings and that ministers should officiate at them (even though we know that ministers are not used in heavenly weddings).

        1. On the other hand, it’s kind of a stretch to say that the Word teaches that we ought to dedicate a home or a school, because the only scriptural reference is to dedicating a house of worship.

      2. So why do we have rituals like the dedication of a home or school? Arcana Coelestia 3720 teaches: the externals of the church are rituals, the internals are doctrinals…. We have rituals because the general doctrine of the church tells us that for internal, spiritual things to be real to us, they have to be ultimated, they have to be brought down into the same plane of existence where our conscious life exists.

        1. For example, it’s not enough for a husband and wife to simply say that they love each other – it is essential that be expressed in a warm embrace.

          1. And, in our attempt to bring that internal into an external form, or ritual, we have the bride and groom exchange spoken vows, and then seal their promise with a kiss! It’s obviously the right thing to do, but it’s not taught in scripture.

        2. Another example is our promise to the Lord that we will work on a particular sin is confirmed and strengthened when it is accompanied by the bread and wine of the Holy Supper.

        3. Finally, our promise to raise our children to love the Lord and keep His commandments, and the Lord’s promise in return to wash away the evils of the proprium is confirmed and ultimated by the waters of baptism.

    3. Confirmation is a Rite, not a Sacrament.

      1. It is not mentioned in Scripture or in the Writings, but it has been in existence as a rite since an early period of the Christian Church. Such a service, under a variety of names, has been a feature of every New Church organization’s liturgy.

      2. In the early Christian Church it was called the “imposition of hands” and was thought to be the “seal of baptism.”

        1. “The sense of seal was afterwards carried over to the word confirm, signifying to make firm, strengthen, or settle and establish. It conveys the idea that the infant after baptism may wander, but that in confirmation he voluntarily returns, and his state is fixed and established by his own act.”1

      3. The rite of Confirmation is an extension of the Sacrament of Baptism. When people join the church as adults, they are baptized according to their own wishes, and take the responsibility for their spiritual lives on themselves. When little children are baptized, the promise is made by the parents on behalf of the children. It has been the practice and teaching of the General Church that it is useful, though not required, for individuals to mark their coming into spiritual adulthood by taking those responsibilities on themselves, and acknowledging the Church as their spiritual mother, and the Lord as their spiritual Father.

  2. What is being confirmed is that the promises of Baptism, made by the parents for the child are now valid and binding on the conscience of the young adult.

    1. To review those promises, they are in general

      1. To take care, so that by life in the world, the child will be prepared for life in heaven.

      2. To cooperate with the Lord in the care of the child so that the Lord’s ends and purposes may come into existence.

      3. To search the Word for the knowledge that will guide you to do your part of the work well.

    2. Specifically

      1. Lead the child to acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Father.

      2. Teach the child the Lord’s prayer as an introduction to true worship.

      3. Teach the child the Ten Commandments so that he may learn to shun evils as sins.

      4. Teach the child to read the Word with understanding, so that he may be prepared for Regeneration.

  3. One of the basic assumptions of the rite of Confirmation is that by taking responsibility for your spiritual life upon yourself, your natural parents become secondary to the care provided by your spiritual parents: the Lord and the church.

    1. In order for that to happen, the individual seeking Confirmation must be of an age where it can be reasonably expected that he will be able to successfully take this responsibility upon himself.

    2. Since we are not able to point to a particular passage that tells us to have confirmations, let alone one that guides us to the appropriate age where this should take place, we have to draw from the general doctrine a policy that is as consistent as possible with other teachings.

    3. Bishop W.F. Pendleton wrote, “The trend of thought in the New Church, or at any rate in our body, has been to fix upon a period … when the youth is about to enter upon the duties of adult age, when the rational is to be opened, or illustration given, and the spiritual understanding of truth established; or when the young begin to think from light in their own minds, and no longer from the dictate of command of another; that is, when they have left school, and are about to take their place among men and women; when their state of dependence has come to an end, and they have reached “years of discretion,” marking the period of final transfer from parental control and discipline; and when they are prepared to enter into the combat of spiritual temptation, to enter which, we are told, no one is ready until adult age is reached, or until the spiritual rational mind is opened, or may be opened. (A. C. 1661, 4248, 5044.) It is this opening of the rational mind on the approach to adult age, or the introduction to a state of spiritual enlightenment, that is meant by the gift of the Holy Spirit, which gift is conferred by the laying on of hands, which closes the period that follows baptism and introduces to the period of spiritual temptations. And let us note in this connection that it was after the Spirit had descended upon Him that the Lord entered into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. (MAT 3 :16 and 4:1.)”2

      1. We must note that at the time this was written, the great majority of people went into the world of work after High School. So, when he refers to the time when a young person has “left school” he means graduated from High School.

  4. Finally, we may ask what the rite is supposed to accomplish for the person who enters into it, in other words, why was this ritual created in the first place?

    1. We know that the great challenge of adult life is the blessing and the curse of free will in spiritual things.

      1. The first and most obvious reason is that when a person stands before God and states their faith and their promise to live according to that faith in front of witnesses, it gives them a greater strength and power to keep that promise.

      2. A second reason is more subtle because it’s spiritual and internal. On the one hand, our greatest delight in our lives comes from being able to think about what we want to do, and then go ahead and do it, to act from genuine spiritual freedom.

        1. But, on the other hand, the consequence of real freedom in spiritual things it that you are also free to make terrible mistakes and bear the consequences of those mistakes when you make poorly informed choices. There are no “take backs” in adult life.

        2. You can learn from your mistakes and make better choices later as a result of them, but you can’t redo the past. So it’s important to have some help and encouragement in the exercise of your free will.

        3. In this, it’s helpful to remember that the world of nature exists as a foundation and support of the spiritual world. Just as the letter of the Word was written in the way it was so that it would contain a spiritual sense that it for the angels of heaven, so the angels are involved and associated by correspondence with everything that happens in the world of nature.

        4. When we choose to do or think what is evil or false, we know that it attracts evil spirits who encourage that kind of thought and act.

        5. Happily, the same thing happens when we think what is true and do what is good. We attract to our spiritual neighborhood angels and good spirits who are in a similar state. Our association with them is not conscious, of course, but it brings a secret kind of strength that upholds our hand as we go through life, and gives us the courage and support to do the right thing when faced with a temptation to do what we know is wrong.

          1. The Lord Himself is our spiritual father, and we look to Him for guidance and direction and approval.

          2. The angels themselves are the internal church, our spiritual mother, and our holy fear of harming their states, of disappointing them gives us strength to resist.

          3. Just as by baptism we are associated with the Christian heaven, when we, as adults, confirm for ourselves the promises made for us by our parents, our association with Christian spirits is also confirmed.

But as they grow up and become their own masters and think for themselves, they abandon their angel tutors, and choose for themselves such spirits as are at one with their life and faith. These facts show plainly that baptism is being brought into association with Christians in the spiritual world too. (TCR 677:e) Amen.

First Lesson: Mat 3:1-6

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, {2} and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” {3} For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’” {4} And John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. {5} Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him {6} and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

Second Lesson: TCR 621:11

TCR 621: [11] Respecting baptism [the angels] said, that baptism is spiritual washing, which is reformation and regeneration; that a child is reformed and regenerated when, having become an adult, he does the things that his sponsors promised for him, namely, these two, repents, and believes in God. For they promise first that he will renounce the devil and all his works, and secondly, that he will believe in God. All infants in heaven are initiated into these two duties; but to them the devil is hell and God is the Lord. Moreover, baptism is a sign to the angels that a man belongs to the church.”

Hearing this, those of the assembly said, “We understand that.”

Third Lesson: TCR 677:5

[5] In the heavens, however, children are by baptism brought into the Christian heaven, and have angels there allotted to them by the Lord to take care of them. So as soon as children are baptized, angels are put in charge of them, who keep them in a state in which they can receive faith in the Lord. But as they grow up and become their own masters and think for themselves, they abandon their angel tutors, and choose for themselves such spirits as are at one with their life and faith. These facts show plainly that baptism is being brought into association with Christians in the spiritual world too.

  1. 1Notes on Ritual, p. 86, W.F. Pendleton, ANC 1956

  1. 2Ibid., p 90

Potiphar’s Choice Path of Integrity week 2



A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, “Your servant did to me after this manner,” that his anger was aroused. (GEN 39:19)

The story of Joseph’s brothers coldly deciding to kill him, and his subsequently being sold as a slave into Egypt by Midianites is one that is basically familiar to nearly everyone. And, unlike many of the stories of Genesis, except for the common confusion about whether Joseph was sold by Ishmaelites or Midianites, most people have an accurate picture of what the Word actually says.

(The Hebrew has some ambiguous pronouns that make it hard for scholars and translators to know for sure whether it was Joseph’s brothers, the Midianites, or the Ishmaelites that pulled Joseph out of the pit and sold him into slavery. The Arcana, however, is quite emphatic that it was the Midianites who sold him into slavery because of what they represent in the story – but that’s a subject more suited to a doctrinal class.)

Today, our focus is on the situation in Potiphar’s house after Joseph got there. The elements of the literal story are simple. Potiphar trusts Joseph and give him total control of his house. It would be safe to assume that it was not what we mean by a “house” today – it was more along the lines of a European manor house, or a Southern plantation – a farm with large fields producing a variety of crops, many different kinds of animals, a variety of employees, and lots of labourers to do the work. This is a position requiring a great deal of managerial skill, and authority.

Potiphar, freed from his daily labours by Joseph’s competence, goes about his business as he pleases, leaving all the work and the worry to Joseph. His wife, unfortunately for everyone, is attracted to Joseph and repeatedly attempts to seduce him, eventually leading to the incident where she grabs his clothing and he flees leaving it behind. Potiphar’s wife then loudly and falsely accuses him of improper behaviour towards her, and heightens the tension of the situation by adding the element of the racial hatred that the Egyptians held towards the Hebrews. However interesting and real all this may be, the Heavenly Doctrine tells us that there is no reason for recording these events except for the sake of the internal sense, the level of the Word that communicates with angels in heaven.

AC 4989:2 That these things are signified cannot be seen so long as the mind or thought is kept in the historicals; for then nothing is thought of but Joseph, Potiphar’s wife, and the flight of Joseph when he had left his garment. But if the mind or thought were kept in those things which are signified by Joseph, by Potiphar’s wife, and by a garment, it would then be perceived that some unlawful spiritual conjunction is here described; and the mind or thought can be kept in the things which are signified, provided it is believed that the historic Word is Divine, not from the mere history, but from the fact that within the history there is what is spiritual and Divine….

Stepping back from the sense of the letter so as to be able to see the spiritual life within, we are reminded of this core teaching from the 2nd lesson:

Joseph came to Egypt, where first of all he served in the house of Potiphar, the chief of the attendants, then was held in custody, and after that was made the governor over Egypt, so that the way might be represented in which the Lord by progressive stages made the Human within Himself Divine…. (AC 5307:3)

We also know from the Heavenly Doctrine that each of the major characters in the Old Testament – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Joshua, and Elijah to name a few – all represent the Lord in one way or another, but each of them represents a different quality of the Divine, or a different stage in the process of His glorification (See AC 5307:2)

Returning our focus to this particular part of the story, we find that Potiphar, his wife, and Joseph all represent different aspects of the Lord’s mind as He went through the process of Glorification. Because Potiphar and His wife are Egyptians, they have the general representation of things that are on the natural level of the mind. Because they are a married couple, they represent the way that good and truths are conjoined on the natural level: Potiphar representing natural truth, and his wife representing natural good (See AC 4989).

On the other hand, Joseph represents that quality of the Lord which is called “the celestial of the spiritual deriving from the rational” (AC 5307:2). The Writings explain this state of mind by saying “the celestial is good received from the Divine, the spiritual is truth received from that good, making it the truth of good received from His Divine Human” (AC 5307:2).

Although there are higher planes in the mind, the rational is the highest degree that is opened while we live in the body. The spiritual degree exists in potential, and passes influx from heaven through itself into the rational, but the spiritual degree cannot be opened and consciously used while the soul lives in the material body. The same thing was true for the Lord when He was in the world and living in a material body – the rational was the highest plane of the mind opened. However, unlike the rest of us, the influx coming into His rational degree was Divine Good itself, taking the form of spiritual truth. Or, “the celestial of the spiritual deriving from the rational”.

So, thinking about this story from the point of view of the Glorification series, when Potiphar’s wife grabs hold of Joseph’s garment, it represents what happens when there is a strong desire for something that is on the natural, material level, and it seeks to justify itself by some kind of elevated rational thought. After all, we seldom get our way just by saying “I want that thing because I want it and it will make me happy to have it.” Instead, we have to figure out a way to show that the old one is worn out and about to need expensive repairs, or that acquiring a new one will improve life in some way. So, the desire for some natural pleasure or delight, Potiphar’s wife, reaches out for a justification on a higher level than that of her husband. But the laws of the spiritual world prohibit a conjunction between a natural affection and a spiritual truth, and so she is only able to touch Joseph’s garment – that part of the spiritual truth represented by Joseph that is most external. The difference between Joseph and his garment may be illustrated by thinking about the difference between ideas and the words that express them. We can use holy words, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the ideas they express are holy.

What happens next is when the natural affection is prevented from conjoining itself to rational truth, its true nature is revealed. The desire for delight becomes anger and hatred, and it calls “false” what is true. It reveals that when people think from what is natural rather than from what is rational and spiritual, the true order is inverted.

AC 5013 That a “Hebrew man” here is a servant, is chiefly for the reason that those who are in truth and good natural not spiritual, who are here represented by Potiphar and his wife, regard spiritual truth and good, which is represented by Joseph, no otherwise than as a servant; for in both life and doctrine they are in inverted order, because with them the natural rules and the spiritual serves; when yet it is according to order that the spiritual should rule and the natural serve; for the spiritual is prior, interior, and higher, and nearer the Divine; while the natural is posterior, exterior, and lower, and more remote from the Divine… That natural men regard spiritual things as subservient, was also represented by the Egyptians regarding the Hebrews no otherwise than as servants; for by the Egyptians were represented those who are in natural knowledge and who therefore are natural, but by the Hebrews, those who are of the church and are therefore relatively spiritual….

On the level of the Lord’s Glorification, this incident describes how while the Lord was in the world He was tempted from time to time by natural delights, and was even tempted to justify giving in to those desire by using rational arguments. However, the Divine Good, flowing in through His rational, sustained Him through these temptations, and although it seemed difficult at the time, He was separated from the states represented by Potiphar and His wife, and that the separation came through temptations that made Him feel for a time as if He were in prison. But, as we know, He overcame even that.

Finally, dropping back from the Glorification series to the practical application of the Regenerative series, we can take what we have learned about the Lord’s spiritual life and apply it to our own situations.

Again, we need to remember that all the characters in the story represents elements in our own minds. But, since most of us are in a material body living in the natural world, let’s look at the story from Potiphar’s point of view this time, thinking specifically about the part of the story where Potiphar is confronted with making a decision between his wife’s accusations and his knowledge of Joseph’s character.

Potiphar represents our state of mind when we are trying to make an important decision. On the one hand there are strong affections and desires from the proprium (his wife). On the other hand there are truths from the Word which serve or minds to help us make good choices, to keep our mental houses in order (Joseph).

Potiphar finds himself confronting a situation where he has his love of truth from the Word on one hand in conflict with the loves of his proprium on the other. Which way does he go? He, for some reason we can only guess at, goes with his proprial desires over truth from the Word. We don’t hear about Potiphar again, but we can easily imagine that by choosing his wife, he has lost the peace and order that he had when he allowed Joseph to organize his life.

We all face this choice, to some degree or another, all the time. Simply put, when faced with an important life decision, do we do what we want to do, or what we know we ought to do? There is strong affection for both. The Lord has gifted us with an affection for truth, an ability to be affected by it when we hear it. That’s why Joseph was so quickly accepted into Potiphar’s home, and so quickly rose to power there. It’s easy for us to recognize and love truth from the Word when we hear it.

What about the wife? The proprium wants to lead, not be led. The proprium is jealous of the affection for truth. The proprium wants to destroy it. First, it appears to want to be conjoined with it – to make it seem as if the delights of new truths are from itself – but when the conjunction cannot be established because they are different kinds of love, because it is forbidden by the order of the universe, the proprium acts to destroy what it cannot control. It lies! It screams for help as if it has been attacked when it is in fact the attacker. It reaches down for insults and slurs: “Are you going to let this Hebrew mock us?” And Potiphar is unable to let go of the proprium in order to follow truth from the Word. He does not, according to the record of scripture, even ask Joseph to explain himself. He simply makes a choice to keep the proprium and lock the truth away in prison.

Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. Joseph does get out of prison. We can only hope for Potiphar’s sake that this means that when the heat of the moment has passed that Potiphar continues to reflect on what has happened and eventually comes to the place where Joseph can leave prison and once again come into his life and lead it, this time as the leader of all Egypt.

Joseph in Potiphar’s house is a small part of a larger story, and yet it contains with it so much information about the Lord’s life on earth, and the struggles that we face in our own life as we try to find the right path to heaven. It is given to us by the Lord to give us hope, to show us by example that we have to face temptations in order to move from being natural to being rational and eventually spiritual. It helps us understand something about the Lord’s humanity when we see that we share similar temptations. And it helps us to know that He understands what we face in making life-changing decisions, for it gives us the confidence to know that He is gently leading us in the right way and in the right direction so that we may eventually overcome the things of this world and find ourselves gifted with a new, heavenly proprium that makes making heavenly choices delightful.

This then is the Lord’s promise or covenant revealed by the spiritual sense of this story: when you make a conscious choice to be led by the Lord in His Word instead of being led by the delights of the loves of self and the world, He will be with you. And because the LORD [is with you,] whatever [you do], the LORD [will make] it prosper (GEN 39:23). Amen.


Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson: GEN 39

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 favour 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. {7} And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” {8} But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. {9} “There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” {10} So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her. {11} But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, {12} that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. {13} And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, {14} that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, “See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. {15} “And it happened, when he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me, and fled and went outside.” {16} So she kept his garment with her until his master came home. {17} Then she spoke to him with words like these, saying, “The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us came in to me to mock me; {18} “so it happened, as I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me and fled outside.” {19} So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, “Your servant did to me after this manner,” that his anger was aroused. {20} Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison. {21} But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. {22} And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing. {23} The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper. Amen.

Second Lesson: AC 5307:3

Nothing more specific can be stated regarding this arcanum than the following: Joseph came to Egypt, where first of all he served in the house of Potiphar, the chief of the attendants, then was held in custody, and after that was made the governor over Egypt, so that the way might be represented in which the Lord by progressive stages made the Human within Himself Divine, and so that all this might be written about in a Word that would contain matters of a Divine nature in its internal sense. This sense was intended to serve angels primarily, whose wisdom – which is beyond understanding or description when compared with human wisdom – is concerned with such Divine matters. It was intended at the same time to serve men who prefer historical to any other descriptions, in which, as men turn such descriptions over in their minds, angels can perceive – through an influx from the Lord – the matters of a Divine nature. Amen.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.