Old age – How can one be happy?

old age

Many people are afraid of old age. They fear the loneliness of isolation, the unattractiveness of wrinkles and sagging skin, or the impairment of infirmity.  But according to psychologist Marie de Hennezel, old age is an attitude of mind. She suggests it can be a period of contentment, and happiness that comes with letting go of old attachments and finding new roles. Here are some tips based on her book The Warmth Of The Heart Prevents Your Body From Rusting.

Tip 1
Be realistic about becoming old. Accept that biological aging is unstoppable. Do not be ashamed of losing your seductive shape in old age. Accept you cannot change the loss of former physical powers, and previous economic and social roles.

Tip 2
Look after yourself. Make room for bodily pleasure whilst eating moderately, keeping alcohol to a minimum and avoiding drugs and tobacco.  Stay physically active, doing things at your own pace. One can get more out of life in old age with a body that is functioning to its maximum potential.

Tip 3
Take advantage of your new stage in life to look for things you can now do which you were not able to do when you were young – having more time for yourself with no responsibility of parenthood and earning a living and with greater freedom of speech to say what you think.

Tip 4
Accept the inevitable degree of solitude that comes with living alone in old age and not going out to work, not as isolation but as a freedom to meet ones own inner spirit and be oneself and to discover unsuspected resources and release latent energy.

Tip 5
Maintain a social life when you can, forgetting yourself a little and taking an interest in others, using a pleasant tone of voice, making yourself agreeable, cultivating your charm, giving and receiving and showing generosity. Then smiles and kindness, respect and affection will do you good. Friendship means a chance to share your worries.

Tip 6
Keep contact with the younger generation. This is still possible despite today no longer being an era of the extended family which had meant naturally occurring contact across the generations. The trick is to be young at heart, not expecting too much of others who have their own busy lives but simply being receptive, retaining a taste for life and a desire to pass on one’s experiences and lessons learned.

Tip 7
Make the best of your looks and find new ways of making love to your partner. Don’t bury your own sensuality and desire in old age. When we grow old we are not in love with the other person’s physique but with his or her presence. Think of beauty as something intimately tied to emotion. It is what we call charm: the depth of a look, an expression in the eyes, a dazzling smile. Charm does not grow old, nor does emotion. In fact, both can even gain in depth and intensity with age. Learn about the tradition of the Tao of Love a Chinese spiritual path. It recognises that it takes longer and is more difficult to attain orgasm if you are old. Although sexual relations may be slower and less active it can become more sensual. Sou-Nu the governess of Emperor Huang-Ti declared  ‘A firm hard member which is thrust roughly in and out, is of less value than a weak soft member which moves gently and delicately.’

Tip 8
If you are widowed, and the loss of the partner was a great ordeal, it is possible to work through a bereavement by internalising the company of the deceased loved one and still feeling their protecting presence.

Tip 9
Live in the present moment by savouring the good times and forgetting the bad. Rediscover your ability to be enchanted and amazed, in old age allowing your curiosity to be stimulated by being open to new experiences. You can still learn from life for old age can bring new things.

Tip 10
Find peace with the past and with yourself by taking stock of your life. Ask yourself  ‘What was it all about?’ Give expression to unshed tears, repressed anger, and self-delusions. Forgive yourself for your failures. Be prepared if necessary to pay for past mistakes and negligence and put your life  in order before leaving the world’s stage. It’s never too late to change for example from being a bit of a grumpy, selfish depressive individual who spends life complaining and annoying others: but to do so will require an inner awakening and great effort and forbearance.

Tip 11
Accept help when it is needed. Make needed changes to where you live. Do not feel diminished by receiving personal care. It is possible to entrust your own body to the care of others without embarrassment or sense of humiliation.

Tip 12
With old age, one realises that everything of this transient world passes away. Why not try searching to find something that doesn’t pass away? This could mean listening to what is inside you; an inner part of yourself that is more important than your external side. If you have the courage to explore your own depths you can draw upon them. Allow the part of yourself that does not grow old to live.

Those who have explored this spiritual path have let go of worldly things they had been attached to and said they have found something eternal in which they felt they could put their hope and trust. Paul wrote in the Bible ‘Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.’ (2 Corinthians 4:16). In other words one can leave one’s ‘little me’ and receive a higher consciousness: when one is in contact with the Spirit inside oneself, one never feels isolated or cut off.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

The Parable of the Fig Tree

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, November 25, 2007


‘If it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ (Luke 13:9)

Whenever scripture speaks of a tree, it is really telling us something about a man, or something about a man’s mind or spirit. Everything about a tree stands for something human. For example, the branches stand for the things that we know about the world of nature that we have learned through our own senses, our own experience. The leaves signify rational truths, for these spring forth from the branches, just as rational thought springs forth from our thinking about the things we learn from the world of nature. The flowers of the tree signify the earliest spiritual truths that are formed from rational thought, and the fruits that follow the blossoms signify the kindness and thoughtfulness towards others that comes from a life according to the truths of the Word. (See AR 936)

There are many different kinds of trees mentioned in the Word, and they are ranked according to their relative value. Often the Olive tree is highest, because it produces olive oil, which was used to anoint kings and priests and which represents love to the Lord, the highest love of all. The fig is also highly regarded because it produces a valuable food. The grape vine is also regarded as a tree, and is highly regarded because of the wine it produces, which stands for Divine Truth. (See AR 936)

In other places in the Word, as in our first lesson, the trees are ranked according to their stature and appearance, as well as to the usefulness of their fruit. There were four levels, the Olive, the Fig, the Vine, and the Bramble. In this series, it is not just the fruit or the leaves that determines the ranking, but the usefulness of the wood and its appearance as well. (See Judges 9:8-15)

Fig trees receive prominent attention in the New Testament. The disciple Nathanael was first seen by the Lord sitting under a fig tree. The Lord prophesied about the judgement He had come to make on the Jewish Church when He told His disciples that just as the budding leaves on the fig tree foretold of summer, so also did the events they were witnessing each day foretell events to come. And it was the fig tree that received the brunt of the Lord’s anger when He cursed it for not having fruit, and the next day it was withered away.

The reason the fig tree received such attention from the Lord in the New Testament is because not only does it stand for a man, but it also stands for the whole of the Lord’s church on earth. Sometimes the tree represents the Jewish church, sometimes the Christian Church He was about to establish in the world. We can tell the difference from the context of the story, whether the tree produced good fruit, and what happened to it.

The fig tree in particular, stands for natural good, the good that we do naturally, without instruction, and so it also particularly represents the Jewish Church as it was when the Lord was on earth. This was appropriate because the people of the Jewish church were mostly interested in natural things such as their rituals and laws, while they were not much interested in the spiritual things within their rituals and laws. Therefore the fig, which signifies natural good represents the Jewish church in particular. This tells us why the Lord, when finding no figs on the fig tree, cursed it so that it withered away.

The Jewish Church, which was established by the Lord Himself, should have been doing many good things in the world, but it was not. It was not producing good fruit, and so it was “cursed,” that is, brought to a conclusion, “consummated” and replaced by the Christian Church. The Heavenly Doctrines explain:

One who does not know that all things of the Word contain a spiritual sense, may believe that the Lord did this to the fig tree from indignation because He was hungry; but “fig tree” means here not a fig tree, but the church in relation to natural good, in particular, the Jewish Church (AE 386:29).

The scripture passage tells us that the Lord came to a fig tree and found “nothing but leaves” (Mt. 2:19). The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that the leaves signify the truths of the sense of the letter of the Word, the stories of scripture. Indeed, the Jewish church did have the Old Testament scripture and held it in high regard – but they did not live according to its teachings.

It is a hard saying, but if we are to look at the evidence presented in the New Testament, and at the examples of how the Pharisees and Sadducees thought and acted towards others we can see that as a nation they had come into evil, even though individual Jews were still able to shun what was evil and live a good life. These Jews who loved truth are the ones who loved what the Lord was teaching, who followed Him, and who believed in Him. But the fact that there were good men at that time does not change the fact that as a church, they were in dense falsities and in evil loves. What good was done was done in spite of the teachings of the church, and did not spring forth from it.

That nothing whatever of natural good would ever be able to exist with this church ever again in the future is represented by the Lord saying to the fig tree, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” (Mt. 2:19). At one time the Jewish church had been able to serve the Lord’s ends on earth, but it was no longer able to do this. It could no longer serve as the particular church in the world which had the Word and by it knew the Lord.

Like a fruit tree which produces only leaves, The Jewish Church was to be discarded as no longer suitable to serve as the Lord’s church on earth. The time was right for this to happen because the Lord had come on earth and was now ready to establish the new church that would take the place of the Jewish church, the church which would serve as the tree of life to the spiritual and natural worlds.

However, we would be missing the point entirely if we were to think that this lesson applied only to the Jewish Church, and that somehow this message does not apply to our own time and to our own church. The Christian Church sprouted up and for a time produced leaves and fruit, but when faced with a battle between those who believed absolutely in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and those who denied His divinity, the leaders of the Christian Church compromised and created an impossible image of God, the trinity of persons, instead of having the courage to face the challenge to the Lord’s divinity and stay with the genuine faith that church had been founded upon: the faith Jesus Christ was Himself Jehovah God come to earth.

When the doctrine of the trinity was invented by the church leaders, the tree that was the Christian Church lost its leaves, its genuine faith, and we know that no tree can live, let alone produce good fruit, without its leaves. So the tree of the Christian Church also withered and died. Now the responsibility rests with the New Church. The challenge is to establish and maintain the Doctrine of Genuine Faith from the Word, and at the same time, teach its truths, and lead men to the life of heaven by means of those truths.

The difficulty is to establish the proper balance between leaves and fruit. If we put too much emphasis on the leaves, the doctrine, we can fall into faith alone. On the other hand, if too much emphasis is put on the fruit, the activities of the church, we can fall into works alone, and at the same time loose our doctrinal integrity.

We have to face the fact that the New Church is a doctrinal church, and that in order to maintain that doctrine every one of us must take the time to study the Word in a regular, organized fashion – both the priests, and the laymen. It is too easy to get involved in all kinds of activities and believe that by so doing we have fulfilled our obligations to the church and to our neighbour and so therefore no longer need to study the Word. An even more subtle danger is to think that by talking about the business and politics of the church we are actually discussing doctrinal matters. So often we find ourselves talking about budgets, or buildings, or staffing, and we think that we are talking about “the Church,” but we are actually only speaking of our concerns for natural, man-made forms.

What is essential is for us to come together from time to time to discuss the doctrines of the church so that our understanding of the doctrines can be increased – and then we can benefit by discussing the ways of applying them in our lives with each other. If we centre and direct our lives on what we learn from the Word through our own study, then the tree which is the New Church will have both healthy leaves, and will produce useful fruit.

Everything previously said about the Jewish, Christian, and New Churches also applies in much the same way to the man of the church – to each one of us individually. This is particularly expressed by what is called the “Parable of the Fig Tree” in Luke (as read in the second lesson), which tells of a man who had a fig tree in his vineyard that did not produce figs. He ordered his helper to cut it down because it was useless. But the gardener asked for a little more time, a chance to loosen the dirt around the roots, to fertilize the tree, to give it one more year to produce figs, and then, if it still could not produce, he would cut it down.

Let us for a moment imagine ourselves as that tree.

                  1. Who among us is producing figs as he should?
                  2. Who among us stands ready today to be inspected by the owner of the vineyard?
                  3. Who among us has taken the truth revealed to us in the Word and used it to produce many useful, fruitful deeds for our neighbour, our country, and our church?
                  4. Who among us does not feel the need for a just little more time to prepare, to make ready to produce good fruits for the Master of the vineyard?

In many places in the New Testament, the Lord tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a vineyard. The Lord is the owner of that vineyard, and the harvest is that time when each of us makes our journey from this world into the next, that is, the death of the natural body. We are all trees in the Lord’s vineyard, and the warning should be as clear to us as the promise. The warning is that those trees in His vineyard that, having been given every opportunity and aid, have not produced any good fruit, will be cut down and cast into the fire. The promise is that those who do use what has been given them by the Lord, those who heed His warning, when the harvest-time comes, they will find themselves in the heavenly vineyard, producing flavourful and nourishing fruit to eternity.

The Psalmist wrote,

Blessed is the man

Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,

Nor stands in the path of sinner,

Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

And in His law he meditates day and night.

He shall be like a tree

Planted by the rivers of water,

That brings forth its fruit in its season,

Whose leaf also shall not wither;

And whatever he does shall prosper.

(Psalm 1:1-3)


First Lesson: JDG 9:7-21

Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and cried out. And he said to them: “Listen to me, you men of Shechem, That God may listen to you! {8} “The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ {9} But the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I cease giving my oil, With which they honor God and men, And go to sway over trees?’ {10} “Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us!’ {11} But the fig tree said to them, ‘Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, And go to sway over trees?’ {12} “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us!’ {13} But the vine said to them, ‘Should I cease my new wine, Which cheers both God and men, And go to sway over trees?’ {14} “Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us!’ {15} And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me as king over you, Then come and take shelter in my shade; But if not, let fire come out of the bramble And devour the cedars of Lebanon!’ {16} “Now therefore, if you have acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done to him as he deserves; {17} “for my father fought for you, risked his life, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian; {18} “but you have risen up against my father’s house this day, and killed his seventy sons on one stone, and made Abimelech, the son of his female servant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother; {19} “if then you have acted in truth and sincerity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. {20} “But if not, let fire come from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem and Beth Millo; and let fire come from the men of Shechem and from Beth Millo and devour Abimelech!” {21} And Jotham ran away and fled; and he went to Beer and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother. Amen.

Second Lesson: MAR 11:12-24, LUK 13:6-9

Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. {13} And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. {14} In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” And His disciples heard it. {15} So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. {16} And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. {17} Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” {18} And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching. {19} When evening had come, He went out of the city. {20} Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. {21} And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.” {22} So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. {23} “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. {24} “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.

(Luke 13:6-9) He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. {7} “Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ {8} “But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. {9} ‘And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’”

Third Lesson: Arcana Coelestia 9337

In the Word throughout man is likened to a tree, and his truths of faith are signified by the leaves (n. 885), and his goods of love by the fruits (n. 3146, 7690).

From this it is plain not only that “to be fruitful” denotes an increase of good; but also that good is man’s chief thing, even as the fruit is the chief thing of a tree. The leaves are indeed put forth first, but for the sake of the fruit as the end. That which is the end is not only the last, but it is also the first thing, because it is the one and only thing regarded in the means, thus it is everything. The case is similar with the good of love relatively to the truths of faith. Such was the signification of “a fig-tree,” of which we read in the following passages:-

Every tree is known by its fruit. Of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; but the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil. Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? (Luke vi. 44-46.)

From all this it is evident that the fruit of faith, as it is called, is the primary thing of faith; and that faith without fruit, that is, without the good of life, is only a leaf; and thus that when a man (here meant by “the tree”) abounds in leaves without fruit, he is the fig-tree which withers away and is cut down.


Naaman, the Syrian Leper

Naaman, the Syrian Leper

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 13, 2008


So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. (2 Ki 5:14)

The story of Naaman the leper is set in the period of the kings of Israel and Judah, the time in the history of the Jewish nation that followed the glorious days of David and Solomon. Unlike the glory of the past, these were days of civil war, idolatry, and famine. In these sad times, the Lord provided first the prophet Elijah to travel throughout the land reminding the people of their need to follow God’s commandments and performing miracles.. When Elijah’s work was done he has passed his mantle to Elisha (literally – the phrase we use today to indicate the passing of authority comes from this) and gone to heaven in a chariot of fire, leaving Elisha to carry on his work. Elisha was also given the power to perform miracles and he multiplied the widow’s oil, raised a boy from the dead, healed a deadly stew, and fed a multitude with only a few loaves of bread.

This was also a time when Syria, the nation to the north of Israel, was beginning to expand, striking out on all sides to increase its empire, often looking down on Israel as a suitable victim. For it’s part, Israel was a very weak country, tearing itself apart from within through civil war and rebellion. It was rapidly losing its power to resist any external enemy. There was good reason for the kings of Israel to suspect treachery in any dealings with Syria.

It is against this backdrop of evil and disorder that we view the story of Naaman. The Word tells us Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. (2KI 5:1)

Naaman was a brave and honoured man, whose many blessings and uses were being destroyed by his disease. Leprosy, known today as Hansen’s syndrome, is a disease with many symptoms, such as skin ulcerations. In ancient times, when there was no known treatment, the end result of the disease was usually horrible disfigurement leading to a slow and painful death. Although the variety of the disease that exists today is only mildly infectious, in ancient times it was believed to be highly infectious, so lepers were shunned and feared. Obviously a man disfigured by leprosy could not be a military leader or royal adviser as he would be sent away to live out his remaining time with other lepers far from his family and the court.

Naaman’s whole life was being destroyed by his disease. The letter of the Word tells us that he was willing to pay a great fortune to be rid of it, if only that were possible. No doubt he sought the help of the best physicians and wise men that could be found in Syria, but they had been unable to help him, leaving him in despair.

But the Lord finds us in our despair, sometimes in surprising ways. Naaman had a Hebrew servant who said to Naaman’s wife, If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy (2KI 5:3). Another servant overheard this, and carried the message to Naaman, who then requested permission of his king to travel to Samaria. The king gave Naaman permission, and a letter to carry to the king of Israel, making the visit official and thus protecting Naaman in an enemy country. One assumes, from the story in the letter that this was a well-intentioned act, intended to help Naaman in his search for a cure. As we shall see, it was not received in that spirit.

Naaman took a great fortune with him: ten talents of silver, and six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. (2KI 5:5), as a gift for Elisha if he was cured. He arrived at the house of Elisha with his retinue, fully expecting a welcome befitting his exalted position. But, Elisha did not come to the door to greet him, but merely sent a messenger to tell Naaman that he should go wash seven times in the Jordan.

This made Naaman furious! He expected the prophet to at least come out personally, call upon the name of the Lord, perhaps dramatically sacrifice a few animals, and then declare him cured! He was, after all, an important man with an important problem, and he wanted something to cure him that would be suited to his elevated rank. So, he replied, Are not the Abana and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage (2KI 5:12).

Although Naaman was angry and insulted, there was still a basic sense of affirmation with him, for he listened when his servant reminded him that, If the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, Wash, and be clean? (2KI 5:13). This touched the hope of eventual healing that lived within him. He did not really understand what the prophet wanted him to do, since he felt that since the rivers of Damascus were not as small and muddy as the Jordan, they would be much better than the river of Israel for any kind of washing. But at the prompting of a trusted advisor, he was willing to submit, willing to bring himself into the Lord’s order, no matter what he personally thought of the request. Naaman made his decision to follow Jehovah through the word of the prophet Elisha. He washed himself seven times in the Jordan, and his rotted flesh was restored so that it was like that of a little child.

What was it that really cleansed Naaman? The waters of the Jordan are not in themselves miraculous. They do not contain any magic potion. If a leper were to wash seven times in that river now, or at any time, he would not be healed by the waters. What really healed Naaman was his own obedience to the word of the Lord through Elisha. He listened to him, put his own feelings, beliefs and prejudices aside, and submitted himself to the truth of the Word, without excuse or qualification. Thus, his body was restored to its former health.

Naaman’s delight was boundless, as we might expect. He said, Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant. (2KI 5:15). In saying this, Naaman meant to give Elisha his fortune, but Elisha would not accept. Then Naaman made an unusual request and declared his faith in Jehovah: Then, if not, please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD. (2KI 5:17).

Whether we speak of Naaman, the Syrian leper, or a person who discovers that they are in a state of profanation, it is the same. To understand the internal sense of this story, it is important to note that Naaman was a Syrian. Syria, although the prime enemy of Israel at this time, has a good representation. The Syrian nation was a remnant of the Ancient Church, and they were in the knowledges of good (AC 3762), which they had from the Ancient Word (SS 102).

Leprosy represents the profanation of truth (AC 6963, 9468:9). This is the key to Naaman’s representation. He represents a person who has had the Word, has learned truths from it, and even lived according to them. There was something of the marriage of good and truth within him, but it has become adulterated. This happened because, for some reason, he began to turn away from the truth, deliberately bending it, adding qualifications and conditions to the truth, conditions that would allow him to justify the breaking of them in his own mind. He began to look to himself instead of the Lord for the truth.

Many people look to themselves for their truth, in ignorance. They do not really know that there is any other source of truth. The important thing about the person represented by Naaman is that while he does have the Word, and he has lived according to it, he has deliberately chosen to twist the truth for the sake of his own gain, making it false.

When anyone qualifies the commandments of the Lord in the Word, and begins to believe the Lord’s commandments apply to him only under certain circumstances, he has then become a spiritual leper, for he has profaned the truth. He has put himself in the place of the Lord, choosing what he will do from his own perverted truths. His spiritual body, reflecting the state of his mind and will, begins to be more and more disfigured as the twisted falsities that he has instead of truth begin to show in his spiritual face and body.

When a person examines himself and finds that he is a spiritual leper, there remains a means for him to be cured, to return to a life of order, if he still has an affirmative attitude about the Lord and the Word. He must first see that he is spiritually sick through self-examination. The only cure is to return to the Word, the truth that cleanses the spirit of man, that is, he must repent.

When Naaman travelled to Israel to see Elisha, it represented the spiritual leper’s turning back to the Word when he finally realizes how bad his spiritual state is, turning away from his profanation, back to the one source of genuine truth. At such a time, he believes that if only this punishment could be removed, he’d do anything. He wants to return to a state prior to his disorder. In the turmoil of his own mind, he promises the Lord that he will never do it again, if only the Lord will save him now. He desperately wants to strike a bargain with the Lord, giving up all the things that he loves so that the Lord will take away the sins that are bringing misery to his life – the misery that has come from his own free choices and their results. In this state, the man offers his whole fortune to the Lord, if only the disease, the trouble, can be taken away.

States of Grieving?

When we turn to the Word for the answer to a specific problem, for the cure for some evil or falsity that we have found within ourselves, like Naaman, we are impatient with the Lord. We think our problems are the most important problems in the world. Like Naaman, we want some very impressive, important sounding, complex instructions that we can feel is designed especially for us. It is like when we go to the doctor with some complaint – unless the doctor gives us a prescription of some sort (whether we really need the medicine or not), we feel he doesn’t believe we are really sick.

It is very important to us that our spiritual medicine should require some public sacrifice or penance so that others will know how hard we are working on our spiritual state. However, when we turn to the Word we find no such instruction, no complex repentance, nothing very showy at all. We are simply reminded of the very simple basic truths of the Word, and reminded further that all that is necessary for us to be cleansed is that we put ourselves in obedience to the truth, to wash in the spiritual water because we believe it is from the Lord. All we really need do to be cleansed of our spiritual leprosy is to put ourselves back within the confines of spiritual law, undefiled by our own interpretations. And, as with Naaman, the effect is that the truth, like the Jordan washing away leprosy, washes away our sins, but the cause is the fact that we have from our own desire put ourselves in obedience to the Lord’s will.

With us, it is the excuses and qualification of the truth that cause the spiritual leprosy in the first place, and when this is seen and repudiated, the leprosy is cured, and our spiritual state is advanced. This comes only when self is put away, and the Word is seen as the only source of truth.

We are all spiritual lepers whenever we think to ourselves that, for whatever the reason, the commandments of the Lord in the Word do not apply to us. We are spiritual lepers when we decide that the commandments of the Lord apply to others, but not to ourselves. We are spiritual lepers when we say that the commandments of the Word apply to us sometimes – but not under certain convenient circumstances. Thus, every one of us is to some degree a spiritual leper. If we do not recognize that fact, or refuse to seek help for our disease, we are destined to eventually find our way to the filthy caves of hell – the eternal leper colony – to spend our days in horrible disfigurement.

There is help available to us, though not from the works of man. Just as no physician in Syria could help Naaman, no earthly philosophy can cure the diseases of our spirit. There is but one hope – to go and see Elisha, to turn to the truth of the Word, and from self-compulsion come into obedience to it. We do this not once, not twice, but seven times, that is, completely. Then, and only then, we will be cured of spiritual diseases, and will be free to return to our uses and serve the Lord with a full heart, our spiritual flesh like that of a little child, clean, pure and innocent, following the Lord. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isaiah 1:16-18). AMEN.

First Lesson: 2KI 5:1-14

Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. {2} And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel. She waited on Naaman’s wife. {3} Then she said to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.” {4} And Naaman went in and told his master, saying, “Thus and thus said the girl who is from the land of Israel.” {5} Then the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he departed and took with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. {6} Then he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which said, Now be advised, when this letter comes to you, that I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy. {7} And it happened, when the king of Israel read the letter, that he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy? Therefore please consider, and see how he seeks a quarrel with me.” {8} So it was, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Please let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” {9} Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. {10} And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” {11} But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ {12} “Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. {13} And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” {14} So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Second Lesson: Arcana Coelestia (Heavenly Secrets) 6959. [2]

In their childhood, and afterward in their youth, they of the spiritual church have faith in the doctrinal things of their church, but at that time they have faith from parents and masters, and not from themselves, and therefore if they afterward recede from faith, they profane the truth only slightly, which profanation can be removed by Divine means, and thus the man be freed from the guilt of it. But if a man has faith in the doctrine of the church, and in the Word, from himself, that is, by confirmations in himself, and if be then afterward recedes, and denies in himself what he had before believed, especially if he lives contrary to the truth which he had confirmed in himself, and either explains it in his own favor, or altogether rejects it, he profanes the truth; and this because he commingles and conjoins together within himself truth and falsity. As such persons have scarcely any remains of truth and good, in the other life they finally become like skeletons; and have as little life remaining as have the bones relatively to the organic life of the flesh.

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Forgiving Trespasses


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper


For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (MAT 6:14, 15).

Our text for this morning is taken from the Sermon on the Mount; the verses that immediately follow the Lord’s Prayer. These words are extremely familiar to us as the responsive that follows the Lord’s Prayer in our services of worship: The minister says, “O Lord forgive us our trespasses,” and we respond, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Forgiveness is an extremely important topic, because we are all affected by it in so many ways, and in so many different aspects of our lives. We look at the course of our own lives and we pray to the Lord for His forgiveness. We examine our relationships with family and friends and we become painfully aware of things that we have done to anger or hurt the ones we love – and we long for their forgiveness. Perhaps we even look deeply enough to see things that we profoundly regret that we have done to ourselves or to others against our better judgement, things that cause us to grieve, to say, “I’ll never be able to forgive myself for that.” We need to forgive ourselves so that we can be at peace with ourselves and get on with the uses of life.

All these kinds of forgiveness – from the Lord, from others, and from ourselves – have one thing in common: that we have done something that has caused offence to others and for which we need to be forgiven. This is the forgiveness that is given the most attention in the Heavenly Doctrines, for it specifically regards our personal relationship with the Lord.

However, there is another side to forgiveness that is just as important to our spiritual welfare, and that is that we must be forgiving to others.

While the natural world is governed by the Lord, yet He permits evil men to act, so that the evil can be seen, and rejected. If He did not allow men to express their evils, they would forever remain in the will, and would corrupt the spirit from within. Therefore, in order that a person can be saved from his evils, the Lord allows him to act them out. That means that things do not always happen the way we think they should. People try to say one thing, and something else is heard. A friendly jest made in passing strikes deeply into an unsuspected emotional wound and causes extreme pain instead laughter.

We could go on at some length compiling a list of the ways in which we can offend people without intending it, or even knowing that it has happened, but the picture should be clear enough by now. Giving and receiving offences is a fact of life in the natural world. These offences lead us to feelings of anger, enmity and even hatred towards those with whom we live and work. Everyone can immediately see that feelings of anger, enmity, and revenge make it impossible to act in charity toward the neighbour, and since the life of religion is to do good, these angry feelings actually remove us from a life of religion. Forgiveness is the only salve for these painful emotional wounds.

The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church tell us that in the other world new spirits sometimes do or say what is wrong. Spirits who intend evil to another and then act on it are severely punished. However, good spirits, if they happen to speak something unkind or thoughtless, or do something that has been forbidden, are not punished, but pardoned and excused; for it was not their intention to do evil. The angels know that the evil actions were excited in them by the hells, so it is not judged to be their fault. The nature of their intention can be determined by whether or not the spirit has resisted the act on previous occasions, and, if he has failed in his resistance, by whether he was obviously grieved by his failure. (Remember that in the spiritual world no one is able to be hypocritical, their true nature shines forth from their face for all to read.) These are the signs that the angels use to judge a spirit’s intentions. We can use these same signs (resisting beforehand and grief if there is failure) ourselves in our everyday relationships with other unregenerate human beings (See AC 6559).

It has happened to every one of us that an unkind word, or an evil act has simply popped out before we could do anything about it. If it’s a minor thing, we can sometimes smooth it over with a quick and sincere apology. Since it has happened to all of us, we should then be able to recognize in the abstract that the same thing can, and does, happen to anyone – and when it does, it is no more their fault than it was when you did it.

As long as we are not personally involved we can stand aloof, be objective, and try to calm the angry parties down. We frequently excuse one person’s actions to another by saying, “yes, I heard what he said, but he didn’t mean it that way…”

This is even easier to see when we think of an adult trying to settle an argument between squabbling children. We find it so easy to tell the children to stop being angry at each other because the offences were not intended. We insist that they stop being so silly, that they make-up, and be friends.

It is much more difficult for us to be calm and objective about a situation where we are personally involved, because our built in defences are immediately called into play. Sometimes we think it is more important to find someone to blame than it is to solve the problem. The Lord created us with a strong love of self so that we could defend, care for, and educate ourselves. It was intended to be controlled by the rational adult mind and be fully subservient to the loves of the Lord and the neighbour. However, very few of us can say that our self-love is under our full rational control. Instead, it intrudes into our lives, blinding us to reasonable explanations, turning us away from peaceful solutions, and making us feel angry and vengeful instead.

Our text tells us two essential truths about forgiveness. First it tells us that the Lord wills to forgive us for those things which we have done against His commandments, and secondly, it tells us that in order to receive the Lord’s forgiveness – which every one of us needs – we must first forgive those who have offended us. We may be able to see that we should forgive those who have offended us, but not know how. We might be able to say, “I forgive you” but find that the anger still burns within, the grudge is still carried. How can we forgive in such a way that we feel better for it ourselves? We must look to the Lord’s own example for our answer.

The Lord tells us that He can forgive any sin, except one: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven because it is in effect the denial that the Lord has the power to save. If a person denies that the Lord has the power to save him, or if he believes that he does not need to be saved, he will not ask for forgiveness. Since we know that the Lord preserves and protects our spiritual freedom above all else, it can be seen that the Lord will not forgive a man who does not wish to be forgiven, who does not ask for His help. The Lord can forgive any sin, He can help a person out of any trouble if only that person sincerely asks for His help. This is why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven: it is not the Lord who refuses to forgive, but the man who refuses to seek the Lord’s help. The Lord will not enter a person’s life without an invitation.

We should try to adopt the Lord’s attitude, to learn from His example. We need to cultivate a forgiving attitude in ourselves, be willing to forgive any offence. This is, of course, extremely difficult to do at first, since our emotions become stirred so quickly – but it might be helpful to remember the arguing children and try to ask ourselves, when offences come, if we really believe that the other person intended to cause harm. And, if we believe that there was no intention of harm, what then were they trying to do? We may find that in most cases where we take offence that there never was any real offence to be forgiven!

In our third lesson, we read about three degrees of hatred. The first, signified by being “angry without cause,” is to have evil thoughts about another person, and could be exemplified by common gossip – telling stories that show people in an unflattering light. The second degree of hatred, signified by saying “Raca” is to intend evil for another, and could be exemplified by slander – telling what we know to be lies to harm the reputation of another. The third degree, signified by saying “Thou Fool” is the evil will, which would lead to harmful action towards another. In forgiveness, each of these three degrees of anger and hatred must be met by the appropriate degree of love and charity. We need to be prepared to counter evil thoughts with good thoughts, evil intentions with good intentions, and evil will with good will.

As we saw in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in our first lesson, and as can also be seen in many other places in the New Testament, the Lord wants us to forgive others in the same way He will forgive us. And in the same way the Lord fails when a man chooses to refuse His forgiveness and join others like himself in hell, we too will sometimes fail in our relationships with other people. We may be willing to forgive, but they cannot bring themselves to ask for it. It is unfortunately true that there are people who, for one reason or another, act as if they either don’t care about the feelings of others, or else they seem to enjoy hurting their feelings. There is not much we can do about such people, for that is the path which they have freely chosen for themselves, except to hope that they may eventually see the light and change their lives.

There is not one of us who has gone through life without making a mistake, without doing something that causes pain and grief to another, pain that we certainly did not intend. We need to look at the deeds and words of others as we would have them look at ours. We need to try to look at the words and deeds of others in the same way that the angels look at the words and deeds of new spirits in the other life. We need to recognize that the feelings of anger, enmity, and hatred that we feel come from hell specifically so that they can destroy charity while at the same time appealing to our loves of self. We must be as aware of these feelings and shun them as we would adultery, theft, or murder – for they are just as dangerous to our spiritual life.

We must even judge ourselves honestly according to the actual intentions we had at the time, and not according to facts that only came to light after the action had already been taken. The Lord judges us only according to the intentions of our hearts, and forgives all those who ask for mercy, provided that they themselves have during their life in this world, conscientiously practised mercy and forgiveness.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (text). AMEN.

First Lesson: MAT 18:21-35

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” {22} Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. {23} “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. {24} “And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. {25} “But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. {26} “The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ {27} “Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. {28} “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ {29} “So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ {30} “And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. {31} “So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. {32} “Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. {33} ‘Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ {34} “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. {35} “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Second Lesson: LUK 6:20-38

Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God. {21} Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh. {22} Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. {23} Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets. {24} “But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation. {25} Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep. {26} Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets. {27} “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, {28} “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. {29} “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. {30} “Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. {31} “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. {32} “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. {33} “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. {34} “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. {35} “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. {36} “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. {37} “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. {38} “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Third Lesson: AE 746f. [18]

That one who thinks ill of his neighbor without adequate cause, and turns himself away from the good of charity, will be punished lightly as to his soul, is signified by “Whosoever is angry with his brother without cause shall be liable to the judgment;” “to be angry,” signifies to think ill, for it is distinguished from “saying Raca,” and “saying Thou fool.” “Brother” means the neighbor, and also the good of charity, and “to be liable to the judgment” means to be examined and to be punished according to circumstances. That one who from wrong thought slanders the neighbor, and thus despises the good of charity as of little value, will be punished grievously, is signified by “whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be liable to the council,” for “to say Raca” signifies to slander the neighbor from evil thought, thus to hold the good of charity to be of little value. That one who hates the neighbor, that is, one who is altogether averse to the good of charity, is condemned to hell, is signified by “whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be liable to the hell of fire.” These three describe three degrees of hatred, the first is from evil thought, which is “to be angry,” the second is from consequent evil intention, which is “to say Raca,” and the third is from an evil will, which is “to say Thou fool.” All these are degrees of hatred against the good of charity, for hatred is the opposite of the good of charity. Amen.

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Prepare for the Lord

Prepare for the Lord

A Sermon by James P. Cooper


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The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God” Isa. 40:3.

These familiar words of the prophet Isaiah stir deep affections within us. Each year we hear them as we prepare for Christmas, as we begin to read and think about the many Old Testament prophecies that prepared the way for the Lord by planting the seeds of true ideas about Him in the minds of those who longed for His coming. These are powerful words, whether they inspire us to picture Isaiah as he spoke them, or whether we picture John the Baptist as he stood by the Jordan river and actually did the work of preparation by calling Israel to repentance.

The doctrines of the New Church teach in many places that Isaiah was inspired to speak these words in order to announce the Coming of the Lord. First of all, he was to announce it to the children of Israel, to tell them that the Savior and Redeemer of Israel, which had been first promised in the third chapter of Genesis, and since promised in many other prophecies, was still to come; that God had not forgotten His promise. Isaiah was inspired to renew the promise, to tell the children of Israel that He had not yet come because the time was not right. Isaiah was to speak the words that would give those troubled people hope even though their country was conquered by enemies, hope that their enemies would soon be driven away. The children of Israel clung to Isaiah’s words of hope and promise throughout their generations, looking forward to the time when the Messiah would come to lift them up out of their oppression.

The words of our text were to announce the Coming of the Messiah to all people. But who was the Messiah who was coming? Do we really understand who the Messiah was, and what He intended to do? It is quite apparent from scripture that the 12 disciples themselves had only the slightest idea of importance and nature of the Lord’s ministry until after the Lord had been crucified, risen, and visited them in his Glorified Human. Until then the disciples were convinced that the Lord was to be the Messiah in the traditional sense, that is, a military leader, a charismatic revolutionary who would lead the Jews first to cast off the yoke of Rome and then begin to build their power until they were the richest and most powerful nation in the world.

That the disciples themselves did not understand the Lord’s mission should be a warning to us to make sure that we do understand. They thought of Him as the Messiah, the leader of a political revolution, and as a teacher. It is easier for us to have a clearer understanding of His purposes because we have the advantage of the recorded experience in the gospels, as well as the doctrine of the Church which explains those events so that it should be very clear to us that Isaiah is announcing nothing less than the fact that the Creator of the Universe, the One and Only God was going to take on a human body and live among men on earth for the purpose of saving us all from spiritual destruction.

We are sinful by nature, and by ourselves there is nothing we can do about it. Unless God had provided the means for us to know what evil is and given us the power to shun evil as-if-from-ourselves, we could not be saved. Jehovah God Himself took on a human form in the world in order to accommodate Himself to our needs, in order to teach us what evil is, what heaven is, and what we must do to prepare ourselves for heaven. He came in person to show us the way, and since it is the Power and Divine Providence of God which alone can save or Redeem us, we call Him the Redeemer. By the Lord the Redeemer is meant Jehovah in the Human, for Jehovah Himself descended and assumed the Human in order to effect our redemption.

We can see from the many prophecies in the Old Testament that the coming of the Lord into the world had been promised from ancient times, and that ancient peoples believed that it would be Jehovah God Himself who came into the world, and He would come as a man. We see from Scripture that it was announced many times, in many different ways, and to many different people. We might ask why it was so important that the Lord’s birth be announced in all those ways to all those people. What is the essential purpose of all these prophecies and warnings?

For the answer, we need to look to what is the most important possession that man has from the Lord–his freedom of choice in spiritual things. The Lord announced His coming in these many different ways so that everyone could freely accept to believe in the miracle of His birth into the world or not. It had to be freely received and understood because nothing remains with a man unless it is received in freedom. Even more than that, with a matter as important as the Lord’s incarnation, it must be intelligent, informed consent, or there cannot be any conjunction between God and man. (See AC 3157e)

The Lord’s birth on earth was announced for the very simple reason that we might be warned to prepare for it, so that we could receive Him freely, with understanding, and therefore be conjoined with Him through our reception. It can be difficult to visualize how we should prepare ourselves to receive the Lord without some kind of illustration or parable, so let us use our own preparations for the Christmas holidays as an example.

When we begin to make our plans for the Christmas Holidays, we remember the many good times we have spent working together as a family preparing for the holidays. Even those who seldom cook anything fancy during the rest of the year spend some time preparing special Christmas foods. The house is carefully cleaned. Special decorations are lovingly brought out from their places of safe storage and put in traditional places for all to enjoy. The week or so before Christmas, so filled with the busy activity of preparation, is almost as important as the day itself in many families. The Christmas spirit begins to glow in us, and begins to grow until it reaches its peak on Christmas day. Who is there who does not make some preparations to celebrate Christmas?

It is so obvious to us that we need to clean and decorate our homes in anticipation for the many guests that will come during the holidays, that it should come as no surprise to realize that the Lord asks us to prepare ourselves for His advent in much the same way as we prepare our homes, for after all, a home corresponds to a man’s mind.

To prepare for Christmas, we need to “Cease to do evil; learn to do well.” (Isa. 1:16) Just as it would be very unusual to put up decorations and invite guests into our home without first thoroughly cleaning it, the very first step in preparing for the Lord’s Advent is to look to the course of our life and bring it into order by ceasing to do evils, and no longer thinking the falsities that arise from those evils, that is, those lies that make it seem all right to do what we know is wrong. We need to remember that the Lord is continually reaching down to uplift us, and all we need do to receive him is to not refuse him! (See AC 3142) We need to get rid of those feelings of selfishness and worldliness that turn us away from the Lord, that stand in the way of influx, so that He can flow in with heavenly affections. The Lord is indeed present with everyone at all times, but He can only enter insofar as He is invited, because His presence with man is according to man’s reception of Him. (See AC 4190) The Lord has no desire to intrude in our lives.

The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that John the Baptist was to be that “voice” which would cry out in the “wilderness,” and that by the wilderness was not meant the physical deserts of that land, but the state of the Jewish church. The Word calls the Jewish Church in those days a “wilderness”, because it was a church that no longer worshiped the Lord or served the neighbor. Like a land without water, a church without the truths that teach the need to love the Lord and serve the neighbor is a spiritual wilderness.

As the “wilderness” or “desert” describes the state of the Jewish church at the time of the Lord’s coming, it can also describe the state of the church within each of us when we are in states where truth from the Word, and the good of charity that comes from living according to the truths we find in the Word, are very distant from us. We cannot leave this desert of selfish states until we hear the “voice” of the Lord speaking to us in a clear voice to us from the Word.

In the Word, mountains correspond to love to the Lord, because when we look at the beautiful scenery in the mountains, our eyes are naturally lifted up to their peaks. When we look down at our feet or the ground, it stands for our concerns with worldly things, so angels walk with their faces turned up because their minds are elevated to thoughts about the Lord and heaven. So, when we lift our faces up to look at mountains, it inspires the angels with us to think of love to the Lord, and then their state of genuine worship flows back to us and inspires a similar state in us.

But in our text from Isaiah, the mountains are used in the opposite, evil sense, representing the loves of self and the world that are in opposition to love to the Lord. This is why we are told by Isaiah that the mountains will be made low, that is, when we live in obedience to the Lord’s laws, our loves of self and the world will be made low, they will be removed by the Lord through the states of repentance, reformation, and regeneration.

On the other hand, valleys usually represent hell, but here valleys are used to represent a man who has humbled himself, brought his loves of self low, by desiring to lead his life not from his own understanding, but from the Lord’s guidance in the Word. This man is lifted up by the Lord into heaven. Thus we can see that our text means that when we begin to listen to what the Word teaches, when we begin to try to obey the Lord’s commandments and live according to them, He will heal our lives. The mountains of our self-intelligence, our conceit, our loves of self and the world can be smoothed out, brought down to their proper size and place in life. And at the same time, when we have truly humbled ourselves through obedience to His commandments, He will then lift us up out of the valley of our despair.

The cycle of the seasons brings us to the Christmas season once each year, reminding us, in spite of our natural tendency to put such things out of our minds, that the Lord took on the Human and came into the world, conquered hell through temptation, was crucified, and rose with His Glorified Human so that we might live to eternity. However, being reminded yearly, and actually receiving the Lord into our lives are different things. If we are to truly receive the Lord the Redeemer, Jehovah God in His Divine Human, we must prepare ourselves to receive Him, we must examine the house of our minds, sweep out the dust of false ideas, the cobwebs of cupidities, and ready ourselves for His visit. We need to see the loves of self and the world in ourselves and shun them, so leveling the mountains of our self-intelligence and conceit. We must open ourselves up to receive the Lord, to hear His voice in the Word. As this happens, and the Lord is able to regenerate us, the announcement of the Lord’s advent will become a continual thing, for it will come from an internal dictate, a constant, inner awareness of the Lord’s presence with us. Prepare ye the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, And every mountain and hill shall be made low. (Isa. 40:3-4) AMEN.

Lessons: Isaiah 40:1-8, Mark 1:1-11, AC 3142


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Doing Your Best

Doing Your Best

A Sermon by James P. Cooper



To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed (is better) than the fat of rams (1SA 15:22).

One of the things that we all love to do is to sit around with our friends and talk about the future. We love to make big plans about the things we hope to do, the places we hope to visit in our travels, the things we want to do next year in school. Everyone likes to make exciting plans for the future. But when we think about the various people we know, who are the ones we admire? Those who are able to tell a great story, to make a fabulous plan, but who never actually gets around to doing anything; or do we really admire the quiet friend who is always doing interesting and useful things?

One of the best things about Scouting (and there are many good things) is the emphasis on doing. Yes, there is some book learning: some of the badges, by their very nature, seem like school reports. But most of the badges, most of the learning that you do as Cubs and Scouts is for the purpose of giving you the knowledge that you need to do something practical, something that will be helpful to you, or to others: like backwoods cooking, pioneering skills, or life-saving.

One of the qualities that makes people very special, distinct from the other animals of the world, is that they love to learn new things throughout their lives. The little baby crawling on the floor and putting everything it finds into its mouth is trying to learn about the world through its most developed sense, the sense of taste. The little boy taking the clock apart to see how it works–and not being able to put it back together again; the teen-ager learning to drive a car; the business man going to a seminar to learn new ways to improve his business–all demonstrate how important learning is to human beings, that it is something that we keep doing throughout our lives. When we stop learning, we stop growing. But again, just knowing something isn’t enough. The whole point of learning is to prepare yourself to do something that is of benefit to somebody.

The Lord Himself teaches the importance of following through, of doing what you know you should do, in a number of places in the Word. In the the first book of Samuel we read about how king Saul lost his kingdom because he didn’t do his best. God had sent the prophet Samuel to command Saul to take the armies of Israel and to utterly destroy the Amalekite nation to punish them for the terrible things they had done to the children of Israel when they were trying to find their way into Canaan after fleeing from Egypt. King Saul was specifically commanded by God to utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey (1SA 15:3).

King Saul led his army into the battle, and the children of Israel were victorious. They captured Agag, the king of the Amalekites–but they did not kill him. They destroyed most of the possessions of the Amalekites, but they kept the best of the sheep, the best of the oxen, the lambs, and everything that they thought was nice. They only destroyed the things that were worthless to them (See 1SA 15:9).

When the Lord saw how Saul and the army of Israel had disobeyed His commandments, He once again sent the prophet Samuel to Saul to confront the king with his disobedience. As unbelievable as it sounds, the first thing Saul said when he saw Samuel coming, as he stood there surrounded by the animals he had been commanded to destroy, was “I have performed the commandment of the Lord!” (1SA 15:13) When Samuel challenged him, asking where all the sheep and oxen came from, Saul told him that the people had wanted to keep some of the animals to sacrifice to the Lord.

This made Samuel very angry because Saul had let his desire to keep the valuable animals lead him into disobeying the clear commandments of God, and then lying about it. Saul tried again to cover up, saying that he had obeyed by capturing Agag and destroying the Army, even though the command had been to kill Agag, and then he tried to shift the blame onto others by saying that it was the people who took the animals, and that he had been unable to prevent it.

King Saul was trying to excuse their disobedience by saying that they stole the animals so they could make a sacrifice to the Lord! They did something that would make God unhappy so that they could do something else to make Him happy again. It’s like stealing money to buy your parents a present to make them happy again after they find out that you stole the money. That doesn’t make any sense, does it? Wouldn’t it have been better for Saul to just do what the Lord commanded in the first place?

That’s what Samuel thought. He told Saul that the Lord does not really care for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but He cares for our obedience. He said, to obey is better than sacrifice (1SA 15:22). The Lord is trying to tell us through this story in the His Word that empty gestures are of no spiritual value to your life. It doesn’t matter what you say you are going to do, what matters to God is what you actually do.

Jesus Himself gave us a parable that teaches about this when he said, A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? (MAT 21:28-32)

Those who were with Jesus answered correctly when they said that it was the first son who did the will of his father, for this simple story makes the point so very clear that anyone can see the point that the Lord is making: There are two boys who are asked to do something. One says he will do it, but does not; while the other says that he won’t, then does it after all. Since their father wanted some work done, the son who actually does the work is the one who did the will of his father, no matter what each of them may have said. In other words, it’s not what you say, but what you actually do that counts.

Everybody has broken a bone–or knows someone who has. Think about what happens to a person who breaks their arm and has to have it put in plaster for several weeks. Although you get used to having the plaster on, towards the end you are really anxious for it to come off so you can move your arm around freely again. The great day arrives, the plaster comes off–and you can’t move your arm! It stays in place as if the plaster is still there. The muscles have become stiff and inflexible through lack of use. You have to gently stretch them, get them moving again, and over a period of several weeks, exercise them until they regain their former strength and flexibility.

This is an example of a very important law of nature: that if you don’t use something, you will lose it. If you bind your arm so that you cannot use it, it will eventually wither away and become permanently useless. This is why people who wish to keep fit need to exercise their muscles regularly to keep them strong and flexible.

The same thing is true of our minds. When I was fifteen years old and in the Sea Scouts, I took a course to learn how to safely navigate our ship along the coast and in the bays and harbors of the northeastern United States. While I was still in the Sea Scouts and regularly helping to take our ship from one place to another, the things that I learned from the books became very real and important to me, because I was using them. But today, sadly, I hardly remember any of it. I do remember some of the principles of navigation which apply to other things, but the detail is lost. I stopped using it, so I lost it.

The same principles apply in our moral and spiritual life. We can make all the plans we want about how we are going to change our life; we can learn all kinds of wonderful truths about life and about God; but they don’t mean anything unless we put them to use, unless they are regularly exercised so they remain flexible and strong.

At the end of every Cub meeting, Akela says, “Cubs, do your best.” And the Cubs respond, “We will do our best!” And every Scout has promised on his honor to “do his duty to God and Country.” The whole structure and concept of Scouting is to help and encourage young people to learn new things that excite the mind and broaden their view of the world and the people who live in it. But all the learning in the world, no matter how interesting, means nothing unless it is put into action.

King Saul did not understand that. He thought that as long as he said the right things, and went through the correct motions, that he could do pretty much what he wanted. Unfortunately for Saul, he was quite wrong, and as a result the kingdom was taken away from him and given to David instead.

When God came to earth to take on a human body and teach us directly, He taught the same lesson over and over, in many different ways. He taught us that it was not enough to proclaim our love to God, but that we had to obey the commandments, avoid loving the world for its own sake, to care for others, and to do all these things because He has asked us to.

Everyone of us, whether we are involved in Scouting or not, can benefit from remembering these ideas. For each of us to take our proper place in this world, a place where by our efforts we can add to the comfort, safety and well-being of others, we must do our best to put the principles of our lives into effect, to live our lives every day to the benefit of others. As the Lord taught in the 25th Chapter of the gospel of Matthew, then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (v. 34-40) AMEN.

Lessons: 1SA 15:1-23, MAT 21:23-32, LIFE 1

The Lord of the Sabbath

The Lord of the Sabbath

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper



“…If you had known what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Matt. 12:7-8)

The supreme reason for the Lord to bow the heavens and take on the Human was so that He might unite the Divine Itself with the Human, and so save the universal human race from self-destruction. This was the Divine purpose behind the Incarnation that every one who desires it might have the peace and rest of heaven. This is the reason the Lord came to earth, and took on a Human through which He might be tempted by the hells and conquer through victory in temptation; and when the combats were over, He ascended once again with His Glorified Human in His spiritual kingdom where His rule brings rest and peace to all who genuinely desire it.

At the same time that the Lord was waging His hidden battle with the hells for the sake of our eternal lives, He walked on earth among us as a man, teaching all those who were willing to hear the true meaning of the laws of Moses, opening minds to the idea that we could follow God s laws according to the spirit, not merely the letter. He had intended from the beginning that His laws should be upon our hearts so that they might lead us to do good to others. It was, however, the nature of those who kept His laws on earth to use them to bring power and authority to themselves, and by abusing God s laws, by twisting them into unrecognizable forms, the Scribes and the Pharisees had made the laws of the Lord of no effect.

This contrast between the law of the Lord and the law of man is clearly established by our first two lessons this morning. In the Ten Commandments, the Lord commands us not to work on the Sabbath, nor to allow those who serve us to do our work for us, but that we are to dedicate one day each week to things pertaining to God. By the time the Lord came to earth, this commandment had been changed by tradition and practice to the point that it had become ridiculous in the extreme, for, as we read in the second lesson, the Pharisees condemned the Lord and the disciples for breaking the third commandment by merely plucking a handful of grain to eat. Such action was considered by the Pharisees to be “harvesting” the grain, and therefore forbidden work. The Pharisees depended on the law for their authority and power, and they saw Jesus as a threat to their position because He was teaching that it was the spirit behind the law that was important. They feared that if people began to believe and act upon that, there would no longer be a need for Pharisees to interpret and enforce the law. Therefore the Pharisees were eager for the Lord and His disciples to break the law, for then the law could be used to destroy Him.

As always, the Lord turned this challenge by the Pharisees into an opportunity to teach His disciples in every age about His law in general, and the Sabbath in particular. First, He reminded the Pharisees that king David himself had broken commandments when he entered the house of the Lord and ate the showbread. The Pharisees, and all Jews, recognized the justice in that, for king David represented to them the height of their power and influence in the world, a state to which they all wished to return. It was not possible for them to consider condemning king David s actions, since they all knew the story and knew that he only did it out of necessity and from his authority as king of Israel, the anointed of God. The point would not have been lost on the Pharisees that if God s anointed could eat of the showbread, then certainly it was permissible for the Messiah, Himself the “Anointed One” to eat grain on the Sabbath.

The Lord then reminded them that the priests themselves worked on the Sabbath, for it was required of them to perform the various duties in the temple. Again, the point was made that if the law allows God s other servants to work on the Sabbath, certainly the famous Rabbi Jesus and His assistants could not be criticized for gathering a few handfuls of grain for a meal. The Lord continued to develop this point, telling the Pharisees that He was greater than the temple, referring both to the rituals and to the laws of the scribes and Pharisees.

We don t know how the Pharisees took this answer, for their words are not recorded in scripture. We might guess, however, from their extremely literal nature, from their inability to see the spirit behind the letter of the law, and from their desire to sacrifice all for the sake of their own positions of power, that they probably thought that He was openly challenging their power and authority but of course we don t know for certain.

We do know that when the Lord taught that He was greater than the temple, He was teaching by representatives that the temple existed on earth to represent Him to mankind; that the temple was inferior to Him because it was from Him as a source. Indeed, the whole of the ritual to which the priests, scribes and Pharisees so tenaciously hung was nothing but a representation of the Lord to men on earth. This is why the Lord taught them that He was greater than the temple.

The Lord concluded His answer to the Pharisees by saying to them, “But if you had known what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (text) The children of Israel had never really known what was behind the Mosaic law, they had never inquired into their ritual. They were interested only in going through the commanded motions in the commanded sequences. They were not interested in the reason for the sacrifices. For them, it was enough to know that as long as they performed the ritual, and remained in a semblance of external order, they would be the “chosen” people. They ignored the Lord when He taught them through the prophet Samuel that “to obey is better than sacrifice, to hearken than the fat of rams” Through the psalmist, He taught them, “you do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit & and a contrite heart”. Through Isaiah, the Lord taught, “I am full of burnt offerings & Bring no more vain oblations”. But the Word of God fell upon deaf ears.

There are, of course, many more passages of scripture which openly carry this same message, and yet the Pharisees were living examples of how the Israelitish church had ignored the clear teachings given by the Lord through His prophets; how they had refused to turn away from their literalistic, materialistic views; and had so perverted the Lord s laws that they were being used not to lead men to eternal life, but rather to persecute and punish the innocent. The Lord told the Pharisees that if only they had looked to mercy and justice, they would not have condemned the guiltless, because they would have understood that He was the Lord of the Sabbath, that is, they would have been able to see the truth about the Lord, that He was the true Messiah.

The word “Sabbath” is from the Hebrew for “rest,” and it represents both the rest that comes to people when they finally conquer in temptations and the state of rest for the Lord that comes when He is finished fighting the hells for the people who have been in temptation. This is why, when the six days of creation represent our combats with evils, it is said that on the seventh day, the Lord rested. It is because it is the Lord who actually fights for us in the combats of temptation, although it seems to us that we are fighting for ourselves.

The Sabbath comes at the end of the battle, and it is a state of rest for those weary from the battle. It is also the state of peace and rest that comes to those who are victorious in their battles, have driven the enemy away, and have restored order into their lives. The Sabbath represents the state of peace and happiness that the Lord gives to people after good and truth have been conjoined in their minds by means of the combats of temptation. In regard to the Sabbath, the Word teaches that there are only two states for mankind the first is a state of truth alone, where there is combat while the will and the understanding are not as one the person knows one thing but wills to do another. The second state is a state of peace that follows the combat when the will and the understanding are in accord, the one part willing what the other part now knows with a certainty to be true.

It should come as no surprise that the state of heaven is one of peace and rest, for the King of Heaven is the Lord of the Sabbath. The peace and rest of heaven is from the conjunction of the Divine Itself with the Divine Human in the Lord, for when good is conjoined to its proper truth, there is no conflict, nothing to disturb the peace. From the conjunction of the Divine Itself with the Divine Human in the Lord come all other states of harmony and peace, all other states of conjunction of good and truth in the descending planes; the conjunction of the Lord with Heaven, the heavenly marriage of good and truth in the minds and hearts of angels and regenerating men, the fact that doing what is true feel good, and brings a calmer state all these states of peace on all levels of life arise from the supreme truth of the Lord s conjunction of the Divine with the Human in Himself by His own power.

The Sabbath represents the unition of the Divine Itself with the Divine Human. It is the essential truth of the church that it is the Lord in His Divine Human that is to be worshipped. The reason why this truth is the essential truth of the church is that the salvation of the human race depends solely on the union of the Divine Itself with the Divine Human. If the Lord had not come down to earth, taken on the Human, and Glorified it by means of victories in combats with the hells, it would not have been possible for people to freely choose to live according to the truth. It is mankind s nature to try to make God as distant and mysterious as possible. God has reveled truths about Himself to man in many ways in many times, and in every case there have been men who quickly took the simple and open truths and made them so complex and confusing that no one could follow them, let alone understand them. This then prevents mankind from having to actually repent and reform. When we read the Word carefully, we can see that the whole Word treats of the Lord s Incarnation and Glorification, and indeed the very rituals of the church instituted among the sons of Israel represented and signified this essential truth.

To keep the Sabbath inmostly means to worship the Lord in His Divine Human, for the acknowledgment of the Divine Itself in the Lord s Human is essential, for it is according to each one s under standing and acknowledgment of the true nature of the Divine that determines his final resting place in heaven.

Everyone alternates between states of truth, and good, combat and rest. When we are in states of truth alone, we are in conflict and temptation as we try to find our way through falsity and evil. When we seek the Lord s help, and conquer in temptation, then good is conjoined with the newly fought for truth, and there comes a state of peace. But this peace can come from one source only, the Lord of the Sabbath, the Lord God Jesus Christ. The Sabbath state cannot come without the acknowledgment of the Lord in His glorified Human. The Lord taught this supreme truth to the disciples in the presence of the Pharisees, that by the extreme contrast between what the Pharisees were doing and what the Lord was speaking of, all who heard these words of the Lord would be able to understand His message that we are to seek to live according to the spirit of His truth, not the letter. Truth by itself condemns. No one can stand in the sight of the Divine truth untempered by the Divine Mercy. No one can stand in the sight of his fellow men in the light of the law applied literally and without regard for circumstances.

The essence of keeping the Sabbath is not the mere change of pace, the cessation of work. The essential idea contained in the third commandment is that we are to keep the Sabbath by putting aside time in our lives to reflect on the marvelous truth of the Lord s incarnation for the sake our own personal eternal life, to reflect on the sacrifice, the effort, the supreme expression of love that the Glorification represents. We can read the Word and see that inmostly it speaks of nothing else than the Lord s efforts to save, to ever uplift, to continuously draw us into His Heavenly kingdom, and eternal peace. Amen.

1st Lesson EXO 201-11

And God spoke all these words, saying {2} “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. {3} “You shall have no other gods before Me. {4} “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; {5} you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, {6} but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. {7} “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. {8} “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. {9} Six days you shall labor and do all your work, {10} but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. {11} For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. Amen.

2nd Lesson MAT 121-14

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. {2} And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” {3} But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him {4} “how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? {5} “Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? {6} “Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. {7} “But if you had known what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless. {8} “For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” {9} Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. {10} And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”; that they might accuse Him. {11} Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? {12} “Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” {13} Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. {14} Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him. Amen.

3rd Lesson TCR 3011

In the natural sense, which is the sense of the letter, [the Third Commandment] & means that six days are for man and his labors, and the seventh for the Lord and rest for man from the Lord. In the original tongue Sabbath signifies rest. With the children of Israel the Sabbath, because it represented the Lord, was the sanctity of sanctities, the six days representing His labors and conflicts with the hells, and the seventh His victory over them, and consequent rest; and as that day was a representative of the close of the whole of the Lord s work of redemption, it was holiness itself. But when the Lord came into the world, and in consequence representations of Him ceased, that day became a day of instruction in Divine things, and thus also a day of rest from labors and of meditation on such things as relate to salvation and eternal life, as also a day of love towards the neighbor. Amen.

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