A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose Preached in Bryn Athyn July 23, 1995

The subject of this sermon is the love of ruling other people, a love stemming from the love of self. It is about a selfish inclination to control other people or dominate them. There is a passage about this love in the book Divine Providence which says: “This [love] has its abode in the interiors of every man from his birth; if you do not recognize it (for it does not wish to be recognized) [vult enim non cognosci it does not want to be known] it dwells securely, and guards the door lest man should open it and the Lord should thereby cast it out” (DP 210).

In contrast to this love there is a beautiful thought articulated by Gideon when he was asked to be leader of his people. “And Gideon said to them, `I shall not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you'” (Judges 8:23). How beneficial if people would say (not out loud) as they deal with other people, “I shall not rule over you the Lord shall rule over you.”

There is an invitation in the Writings: “Let those who are in this evil explore it in themselves” (CL 262, TCR 661:4). The Writings call this evil the head of all infernal loves (see DLW 141). Compared to this love all other evil loves are easy (see DP 146). And of course we have already mentioned the saying that if you do not recognize it (and it does not want to be recognized) it dwells securely and guards the door.

What is this selfish love like? We might say, “Oh yes, I know some bossy people. I know some obviously selfish people, people who brag a lot, people who are stubborn about getting their own way.” There are personality traits that are caricatures of evil loves. There are historical figures that seem to epitomize the loves: Adolph Hitler, Alexander the Great, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar. The Writings do talk about such extraordinary people, not that they differ from us in having these loves, but they differ from us in having the opportunity to let it go on without restraint. When we look at someone who goes to great extremes, we are not seeing a different love but we are seeing a common love and what it looks like when it goes on to its extremes (see HH 559).

Here is what the love of self is like: ” … so far as external restraints are removed, which are fears of the law and its penalties … so far it rushes on until it finally wants to rule not only over the whole terrestrial globe but also over the entire heaven, and over the Divine Himself, knowing no limit or end. This propensity lurks hidden in everyone who is in the love of self, although it is not manifest to the world” (HH 559).

Looking into evil loves brings surprises. It surprised Swedenborg. “At first I wondered how it is that love of self and love of the world could be so diabolical, and how those who are in these loves could be such monsters in appearance; for in the world there is little reflection on the love of self, but only on that elated state of mind in external matters which is called haughtiness, which because it is so apparent to the sight, is regarded as the only love of self” (HH 555).

Let us look for a moment at our own experience of the more evident traits of selfishness, bossiness and pride. If you encounter someone who is constantly calling attention to his accomplishments and superiority, you might sense that rather than an unusually evil person you are encountering an insecure person, perhaps a person who suffers feelings of inferiority. This can be especially evident in a young person who brags about himself.

We read in the Arcana: “The love of self is not always that which in the external form appears like haughtiness and pride, for such persons may sometimes have charity toward the neighbor, for such an external is born with some, and with others is contracted at an early age, but afterwards is brought into subjection, the externals still remaining” (AC 2219:5). The number says the love of self is much uglier than that.

Another passage in the Arcana says that the exteriors of the love of self are “contempt for others in comparison with self, and an aversion to those who are in spiritual good, and this sometimes with manifest elation or pride, and sometimes without it” (AC 4750:5).

In our lesson (AC 1505-1508) we read of some who have a kind of overbearing sphere they have contracted but it is conjoined with a sphere of goodness. It is a sphere which they are able eventually to get rid of (see AC 1508).

It makes good sense to get rid of the external characteristics of bossiness or of the habit of imposing on the freedom of others. It is good for your popularity and for effectiveness in your work. A good, competent marriage counsellor who may have no belief in God or in the spiritual side of marriage will rightly advise you in this regard.

On another level the love of dominion of one partner over the other “entirely takes away conjugial love and its heavenly delight” (HH 380). “Where there is dominion no one has freedom; one is a servant, and the other who rules is also a servant, for he is led as a servant by the lust of domineering” (Ibid.).

Here is a story of Swedenborg’s experience relating to the love of dominating. Once when he was meditating, there came upon him the wish to understand the universals of heaven and of hell or a general knowledge of each. He asked a wise teacher what those universals were, and he was told of three sets of opposites. The universals of hell are: 1) the love of ruling from the love of self; 2) the greedy love of possessing the goods of others, and 3) obscene love. The three loves of heaven were three opposites: 1) the love of ruling from the love of being useful; 2) the love of having the wherewithal to be useful; 3) true conjugial love (see TCR 661).

He went home with this thought and a voice from heaven said, “Examine those three universals that prevail above and below, and afterward we shall see them on your hand.” He realized that when you examine something until you understand it, the angels can see it as if it were written on the hands.

He began with the love of ruling from the love of self. “While I was studying [it] a perception was given to me that this love is in the highest degree infernal, and therefore prevails with those who are in the deepest hell … This love is such that so far as loose rein is given it, which is done when no impossibility is in the way, it rushes on from step to step, and even to the most extreme; neither does it stop there … But on the other hand, those who wish to rule from the love of uses have no wish to rule from themselves but only from the Lord, since the love of uses is from the Lord Himself …

“While I was meditating upon these things it was said to me through an angel from the Lord, `Now you shall see, and it shall be proved to you by sight what the infernal love is.'” Then there arose a devil from hell so ugly that he did not wish him to come near. This devil said he came from where they are all emperors of emperors, kings of kings. At first Swedenborg started to reason with him and to say that this was insane, but then he realized that he was addressing an impossible insanity.

Then as he beheld this overbearing insane monster it was made known to him that he was not talking to someone who had been a world leader or a prominent figure. In fact he had been a house servant, but had nursed a contempt for other people.

Then another devil arose even more terrible, with ecclesiastical trappings. The first devil fell down on his knees and worshipped him. When asked why he did so, he said, He is God. Swedenborg asked the one who was being worshipped what he said to that. The reply: “What can I say? I have all power over heaven and hell; the fate of all souls in my hand.” Swedenborg was allowed to scold him and say, “How can you rave so? In the world you were merely an ecclesiastic … You have worked up your spirit to such a height of madness that you now believe that you are God Himself.” Being angry at this, he swore that he was God and that the Lord had no power.

This experience gave a glimpse of the political and ecclesiastical love of self. We are taught that priests ought to teach “but still they ought to compel no one, since no one can be compelled to believe contrary to what he thinks from his heart is true” (HD 318). They “ought not” to compel and they cannot compel. Do not do what you are unable to do anyway! Actually the love of dominating is a love of the impossible. Do not try. Do not want to compel. Say, rather, “I shall not rule. The Lord shall rule.”

The encounter with the ugly domineering spirits was followed by a beautiful experience. Swedenborg encountered two angels. He found in them no desire to domineer. They conversed about what it is to serve uses. They said that they had actually sought out their positions, but only so that they could be of more service. They talked of the difference between doing something from a selfish motive and doing it from an unselfish motive. They were asked the question: How can the individual know what his motives are? The answer was that we cannot decisively tell, but “All who believe in the Lord and shun evils as sins perform uses from the Lord; but all who do not believe in the Lord and do not shun evils as sins perform uses from themselves and for their own sake” (TCR 661).

The shunning of evil involves the acknowledgment that evil exists. Most of the time we are unaware of evil in ourselves. Who among us has any sense that he desires to rule over the whole universe? Who among us can say that he has within himself the hatred of God? But there is no one with open eyes who is not aware of evil in the world and its horrible results. In a way we are like Belshazzar in knowing second hand about evil. He knew all about Nebuchadnezzar and how his arrogance had been humbled. As Daniel said, “You knew all this” (Daniel 5:22). He knew it and yet he had not humbled himself.

When we observe the result of evil love, such as the horrible devastation of war (and wars are taking place right now), we are observing the effect of evil loves which have a dwelling place with us. We need not say as we view atrocities, “There go I.” We can say, “There goes it.” “It” is the love of self. “If you do not recognize it (for it does not wish to be recognized), it dwells securely, and guards the door lest man should open it and the Lord should thereby cast it out. Man opens the door by shunning evils as sins as if from himself, with the acknowledgment that he does it from the Lord” (DP 210).

Put the Lord in the picture as you go about your life, and in the name of the Lord renounce the love of self and the love of dominion. Inwardly say over and over again. “I shall not rule over you … The Lord shall rule over you.” Amen.

Lessons: Daniel 5:18-30, Matt. 20:20-27, AC 1505-1508

Arcana Coelestia 1505-1508

1505. I have also been informed how these spheres, which in the other life become so perceptible to the senses, are acquired. Take as an example one who has formed a high opinion of himself and of his own pre-eminent excellence. He at last becomes imbued with such a habit, and as it were with such a nature, that wherever he goes, though he looks at others and speaks with them, he keeps himself in view; and this at first manifestly, but afterwards not manifestly, so that he is not aware of it; but still it is regnant, both in the particulars of his affection and thought and in those of his bearing and speech. Men can see this in others. And this is the kind of thing that in the other life makes a sphere, which is perceived, but no more frequently than the Lord permits. The same is the case with other affections; and therefore there are as many spheres as there are affections and combinations of affections, which are innumerable. The sphere is as it were the man’s image extended outside of himself, the image in fact of all things that are in him. In the world of spirits, that which is presented to the view or perception is only something general; what the man is as to particulars is known in heaven; but what as to the least particulars is known to none but the Lord.

1506. In order that the nature of spheres may be known, I may adduce some things from experience. A certain spirit who had been known to me and with whom I had conversed while he lived in the body appeared many times afterwards among the evil; and as he had a high opinion of himself, he had acquired a sphere of pre-eminent excellence, because of which the spirits suddenly fled away, so that none appeared but himself alone; and he filled the whole surrounding sphere, which was one of self-regard. Being deprived of companions, he presently fell into another state; for in the other life one who is deprived of the society in which he is, at first becomes as if he were half dead, for his life is then supported solely by the influx of heaven into his interiors. He then began to lament and feel torment. The other spirits afterwards said that they could not endure his presence because he desired to be greater than others. Being at last brought into association with others, he was carried up on high, so that it seemed to him that he alone governed the universe; to such a degree does the love of self puff itself up when left to itself. He was then cast down among the infernals. Such a lot awaits those who think themselves greater than others. More than any other love is the love of self contrary to mutual love, which is the life of heaven.

1507. A certain person during his bodily life had seemed to himself to be greater and wiser than others; in other respects he was well disposed, and not much given to despising others in comparison with himself; but as he had been born of high rank, he had contracted a sphere of supereminence and authority. In this character he came to me, and for a long time spoke not, but I notied that he was encompassed as with a mist, which going forth from him began to cover the other spirits, at which they began to be distressed. Thereupon, addressing me, they said that they could not possibly stay there, for they were deprived of all their freedom, so that they did not dare to say anything. He also began to speak to them, calling them his sons, and at times instructing them, but with the authority that he had contracted. This showed the nature in the other life of a sphere of authority.

1508. Many times has it been given me to observe that those who in the world had been endowed with high rank could not help contracting thereby a sphere of authority, and therefore in the other life they could neither hide nor get rid of it. In those of them who had been endowed with faith and charity, the sphere of authority is in a wonderful way conjoined with a sphere of goodness, so that it is not troublesome to anyone; indeed a kind of corresponding subordination is shown them by well-behaved spirits; and in fact they have no sphere of commanding, but only a sphere that is natural to them from their high birth, and which after some delay they put off; for they are good, and strive to put it off.