THE LOVE OF RULING

THE LOVE OF RULING

A Sermon by Rev. Patrick A. Rose Preached in North Ohio June 21, 1992

“For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19:6).

All the angels of heaven rejoiced when the New Church was founded. The joy of the heavens is described in the book of Revelation: “And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as it were the voice of many waters, and as it were the voice of mighty thunders, saying, Alleluia, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19:6). The voice of a great multitude is the joy of the angels of the lowest heaven. The voice of many waters is that same joy in the middle or second heaven. The voice of mighty thunders is the rejoicing in the highest or celestial heaven. The angels of all three heavens rejoiced. They rejoiced, it is said, because the Lord God omnipotent would reign. In other words, the Lord would reign more fully in the church which was now to come than He ever had before (see AR 811). In some way our own celebrations of the founding of the New Church should reflect something of this overwhelming joy felt by the angels of heaven. We should rejoice with those angels at the thought that in the New Church the Lord Himself will reign in fullness. We should rejoice, but we should also reflect. We should reflect on what it actually means for the Lord God omnipotent to reign in the New Church.

If the Lord is to reign over His church, one thing it means is this: the men and women of this church are to allow themselves to be governed by the Lord, and not to seek dominion over one another themselves. And so it is said in the Writings that the love of ruling is an evil which will be especially shunned by those who will be of the New Jerusalem (see SD 6053). The love of ruling is an enemy of the New Church, for it opposes and interferes with the government of the Lord over His church. Indeed, if the Lord’s reign over His church is to mean anything to us, we must shun, as the plague that it is, this evil love of ruling.

It is important that we know what this evil love of ruling is and what it is not. We read that “it is not ruling over others in one’s official position, but desiring to rule over others outside of that, not being content with its own domain” (SD 6052). In other words, it is a love of dominating over others not from a love of use but from the love of self. Descriptions of this love given in the Writings leave us no doubt that this love is far more evil than we might suppose. For example, we are told that the love of rule from the love of self is the head of all infernal loves (see DP 146e, DLW 141). It is the reigning love in hell (see DLW 273:2), for it is the love of self in its very highest degree (see SD 6052). We are told that he who is in this love is such that he thinks nothing of defrauding the neighbor, or of adultery, revenge, murder and cruelty (see DP 215:8). It is a love which knows no bounds. The man who is in it never feels content with whatever power he may have. He feels no joy in using his power to serve others. He always wants to extend his command. We are told that with the laity this love grows when opportunity presents itself until they want to be not only kings, but kings of kings, or emperors of emperors (see CL 262, TCR 405); with the clergy this same love grows until they want to become gods (see Ibid.). Such a love is clearly insane, evil and abominable. The Writings give us a solemn warning about it. They say this: “Let all who are in the world and read these lines know that the love of ruling for the sake of self and not for the sake of uses is diabolical love itself and in it are all evils. Let them know this and be on their guard” (LJ Post 237). These are blunt and serious words, but how do they apply to us? What chance do we have to really dominate over others? Does any one of us seriously desire to be a king or a god so that we might dominate over everybody? Surely none of us feels such an insane love burning within a love which wishes to murder, hurt and subjugate.

The point the Writings make, though, is that this is a latent or hidden love. Just because we do not feel this diabolical love inside us does not mean that the seeds of such a love are not there, waiting for the opportunity to grow.

The evil love of ruling is a subtle love, a love not easily noticed. For one thing, where there is little or no opportunity to actually dominate over others, it lurks unseen, expressing itself only in small, almost unnoticeable ways. Also, when it does express itself, it seldom seems that bad. On the contrary, the love of dominating over others from the love of self is felt as delightful. Indeed, the delights of this love, we are told, surpass all other worldly delights (see DP 215:9; AE 1189:4). Its delight possesses the whole mind, and it is even felt in the body as an elation or swelling feeling in the breast (see DP 215:9). It is a love which feels good very good. Indeed, it is precisely because it feels so good that it is so dangerous. It has a terrifying ability to drag a man down into his own proprium.

The reason the Writings speak of this evil love as a very real threat is that we all inherit a tendency toward it. If a man does not resist and shun it, then it will lie concealed within him, and will flare forth and grow as soon as there is an opportunity for it to do so. Whenever somebody in the love of ruling has the opportunity to force his own will on others, whether in a large or a small way, he will do so. And insofar as such a person succeeds in dominating over others, his lust for doing so will grow. He will seek to enlarge his power. The power he exercises may already be significant. He may, for example, be a government official. Or his influence may be limited to domineering over others in social situations. But whatever power he has, if he exercises it from selfish motives he will not be content with this power, but will desire even more.

The reason such love seeks to extend its power is because it is, in essence, a love that is insane. To believe that we exist to be served by other people is madness. If a man has this attitude, then his deepest thoughts are most certainly not ruled by reason. In the depths of his mind there lies the ludicrous notion that the whole universe has no other purpose than to serve him. Whether or not a selfishly domineering person is aware of it, and normally he is not aware of it, there lies deep within him this insane and irrational thought that he is in some way the king or god of the universe. This is why, whatever his station in life and society may be, he will never be content, but will always strive for greater and greater power.

Where people have such a love active within them, the result is that all happiness, and all that is good and true, are destroyed. If people are inmostly striving to rule over each other from selfish motives, then strife and conflict always lurk in the background. Where such selfishness reigns, the good and truth of the church mean nothing. People who are ruled by selfishness do not love what is good; the only good they know is a feeling that it is good when others do what they want them to do. As for truth, they never really think about the truth, except, perhaps, as a way of getting their own way over others.

It is obvious that where a church is dominated by the love of ruling from the love of self, that church is destroyed spiritually. And this is what happened to the old Christian Church. It must be emphasized that the Writings do not condemn all the people who were in the Christian Church. Indeed, the Writings describe how many of them were received with joy into the new heaven following the last judgment. But still the Writings leave no doubt that over the centuries there were also evil men, men in the love of dominion, who gained enough power and exerted a great enough influence to eventually bring the church to its spiritual end.

Men in the love of dominion had no love for the church itself, but they found in the Lord’s church a way of exercising and extending their power. If the church was to serve their purposes, though, they had to banish good and truth from the church.

First of all, they banished truth the very possibility of truth from the church. The Lord Himself wants our faith to be based upon an understanding of the truth. But the leaders of the Christian Church introduced a totally different type of faith, one based not on an understanding of the truth, but upon a blind submission to official teachings. People were told that they had to believe these mysteries of faith or risk damnation. Once people were in the habit of not expecting to understand the teachings of the church, the leaders of the church then gained great power and dominion over people’s minds. What they taught was accepted without question. In effect, the truth of the church was replaced by a domineering form of mind control.

The good of the church was also destroyed. People were told that they could go to heaven simply by believing the right things. It became easy to get to heaven. Evil was still regarded as undesirable, but what really mattered wasn’t the way a person lived, but what he believed. A person didn’t really have to avoid evil as long as he believed what he was told to believe. There were many people who willingly accepted this easy way out. They were glad to accept whatever they were taught as long as it meant that they didn’t actually have to shun evil. And so it was that men came to rule the church: man-made doctrines were substituted for the Lord’s teachings, and a spiritual lethargy replaced the life of repentance. Indeed the Lord Himself was, in effect, banished from His own church. A clear understanding of the Lord was replaced by the incomprehensible mystery of a Trinity of Persons.

The Lord did, of course, continue to govern mankind. He still reigned over them. But He did so, not so much by means of His church, but in spite of it. In the church, people’s hearts and minds were dominated increasingly by evil spirits and by evil men. This, then, was the state of the church on earth. It is important to realize this, for otherwise we do not fully appreciate the full significance of the Lord’s second coming. We cannot really understand why it was that the Lord’s disciples were sent throughout the universal spiritual world to preach the gospel that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns. The word “gospel” means good tidings or good news. Why was it good news? On first reflection it hardly seems like news at all. Of course the Lord reigns. It is obvious. Why did everybody in the spiritual world have to be told this? But if we bear in mind the state of the Christian Church at that time, we can understand how wonderful this news really was. Practically speaking, the Lord had ceased to reign in the Christian Church. There no longer was a Christian Church on earth; what remained was Christian in name only. The fact that now the Lord was to reign for ever and ever was therefore news wonderful news a gospel to be preached to everybody in the spiritual world.

The Lord had come again. He had cast down into hell those evil spirits who were infesting men on earth, darkening and enslaving their minds. He had formed a new heaven, through which light would flow to the minds of people here on earth. And He had provided new truth, indeed a fullness of truth, within the pages of a new revelation. Now, once again, there could be a church truly Christian upon the earth. But it would be different from the first Christian Church. Now there was something new. Because truth had been revealed in fullness, falsities could now be seen for what they were. In the New Christian Church it would be impossible for anybody to maintain that faith should be blind. It would be impossible for anybody to maintain that repentance is unimportant. It would be impossible for anyone to maintain that the Lord should not be approached directly. The fullness of truth now revealed in the Heavenly Doctrines makes it possible for anybody and everybody in the church to see the error of such falsities. Evil men can no longer use the Lord’s church to gain dominion over innocent men. Now the Lord will reign in His church, not for a time but for ever and ever.

The love of dominion is, of course, still with us. We all have a tendency to dominate. And it is indeed possible for the love of dominion to raise its ugly head in the New Church. But the love of dominion can no longer gain permanent rule over the Lord’s church. The power of truth we have been given is too great. The power of this truth prevents evil men from enslaving the understanding and the conscience of the church. In the end, in the New Church the love of dominion will serve only to separate from the church those who are in such selfish loves. The love of dominion on the one hand, and the doctrines of the New Church on the other, are completely incompatible; they are complete opposites. The Writings teach that it is the Lord who is to dominate or rule the church. It is the Lord who is to rule the lives of men. Indeed, this is why the Lord’s name, in the Latin of the Writings, is Dominus. Dominus the Lord is the one who dominates or rules. Evil men want this role for themselves. They themselves want to dominate over others. Evil men are utterly opposed, interiorly, to the Lord’s dominion. Indeed, the way in which those in the love of dominion are opposed to the Lord’s government is revealed in a telling way in the expression we use for a domineering person. We say that he or she “lords” it over others. There is to be no such “lording” it over others in the New Church. In the New Church there is to be only one Lord: the Lord God Jesus Christ.

There must of course be government in the church. Otherwise uses could not be performed rightly. And so there must be people who serve in this function of government. If they exercise this function with true charity, and with humility before the Lord Himself, then their love is not evil. Indeed, the love of ruling from the love of use is a heavenly love. It is a humble and unselfish love. But if somebody in the New Church should use his office, his position, or his influence, for selfish purposes, caring not for the uses themselves, then his lust for power will grow, and he will enter into active communication with the hells. He will, within himself, become completely and utterly opposed to the New Church and to the government of the Lord.

If we would, then, be true members of the New Church, if we wish to serve the Lord, the one and only ruler of the church, then we must, in all that we think and do, shun especially this selfish love of ruling, the love of domineering over others, the love of getting our own way for selfish reasons.

The Lord God Jesus Christ is to reign. It is a wonderful teaching. But it is a teaching that means nothing unless we live according to it. If the Lord is to reign in His church, then His will is to be done. His Word is to be listened to. His commandments are to be obeyed. We have been called to be of service to the Lord’s New Church. This means that we are here to serve our fellow human beings. And it means, above all, that we are here to serve the Lord. We have been blessed, deeply blessed, with the wonderful knowledge that the Lord has come again to rule over His church. Our greatest happiness lies in forgetting ourselves and in serving Him. This is a wonderful truth. It is joyful news. It is wonderful news. It is the gospel upon which the New Church is to be founded the Gospel that “the Lord God Jesus Christ doth reign” (TCR 791). Amen.


Lessons: Rev. 19:1-10; Rev. 21:10-16, 22-25; TCR 753, 791

True Christian Religion

753. There have been several churches on this earth, and in the course of time they have all been consummated, and after their consummation new churches have arisen, and so on to the present time. The consummation of the church takes place when there is no Divine truth left except what has been falsified or set aside; and when there is no genuine truth, no genuine good is possible, since every quality of good is formed by means of truths; for good is the essence of truth, and truth is the form of good, and without form there can be no quality. Good and truth can no more be separated than will and understanding, or what is the same thing, than love’s affection and the thought therefrom. Consequently when truth is consummated in a church, good is also consummated there, and when this takes place, the church comes to an end, that is, is consummated.

791. Note: After this work was finished, the Lord called together His twelve disciples who followed Him in the world; and the next day He sent them all forth throughout the whole spiritual world to preach the Gospel that The Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, whose kingdom shall be for ages and ages, according to the prediction in Daniel (7:13, 14), and in the Apocalypse (11:15). Also that blessed are those that come to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Apoc. 19:9). This took place on the nineteenth day of June, 1770. This is what is meant by these words of the Lord: “He shall send His angels and they shall gather together His elect, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt. 24:31).

THE PARABLE OF THE VINEYARD AND THE WICKED VINEDRESSERS

THE PARABLE OF THE VINEYARD AND THE WICKED VINEDRESSERS
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida September 1992

“Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country” (Matthew 21:33).

The Lord, while on earth, customarily presented His teaching in the form of parables. The characters, situations and imagery in the parables were selected to appeal to His audience. They were things with which the people He was addressing were well acquainted. They were able to draw conclusions and make judgments concerning the conduct of the characters in the parables because they were familiar with the situations presented in the parable from living experience. By means of the parable they were led to see that the same judgment which they rendered, in regard to the people in the parable, applied to a situation in which they were personally involved but which they had not recognized, or else refused to acknowledge.

The parables which the Lord spoke during His last week on earth were especially directed against the corrupt leaders of the Jewish Church. By means of His parables, He enabled the simple to see the state of the church and the quality of its leadership. In this way the Lord set free those who had been in simple good but who had been blind to the corruption of the church and its leaders. Having been freed, they could then be formed into the nucleus of the new church which the Lord came on earth to establish the Christian Church. Simultaneously, the leaders of the church were induced to pronounce a judgment on themselves.

The parable of the vineyard and the wicked vinedressers is clearly a case in point. The Jews were thoroughly familiar with the setting which the Lord outlined. The growing of grapes and the making of wine was one of the chief industries of that region. According to the parable, a landowner planted a vineyard. Around it he planted a hedge to protect it from wild animals or anyone bent on destruction. He built a winepress to process the fruit of the vineyard, and a tower for a watchman to warn of approaching danger. When everything was fully established, he hired vinedressers to work it and care for it in his absence.

But, because the owner of the vineyard was not present, the vinedressers began to think of the vineyard as their own. Because they worked it and cared for it, they credited its success to their own endeavors and thought of it as their own. So when the owner sent servants to receive the fruit, they beat some, killed others and stoned yet others. When the son of the owner came to collect, they killed him, confident that now the vineyard would be theirs.

The Lord then showed them that the church which had been established with their forefathers was the vineyard, and they, the leaders of the church, were the vinedressers in the parable. The prophets who had been periodically sent to turn them from their evil ways, ending with John the Baptist, were the servants in the parable who had been beaten, stoned, and killed. In the light of this parable, the righteous among the Jews were able to see the true quality of the church and its leaders, and so were freed from their domination. At the same time the wicked leaders were induced to pronounce a judgment on themselves.

Let us realize that the Lord’s parables, being Divine, are timeless. They are not limited in their application to specific times and circumstances. They are universal. Certainly, the fact that this parable was included in the New Testament the revelation to the Christian Church is a clear indication that it was given to serve as a warning to that church not to fall into the same grievous error.

It is a matter of spiritual history, revealed in the Word of the Second Advent, that despite this warning, that church did, like the one preceding it, fall away from the true worship of the Lord. The love of rule springing from the love of self perverted the leaders; the loves of the world its riches and its pleasures corrupted the people, and the church failed.

First the sole divinity of the Lord was called into question and finally denied. Thus the cornerstone of the Christian Church was rejected. The saving power of God was claimed by fallible men the priesthood of the church. The sole and absolute authority of the Divine Word was denied; the church’s interpretation of the Word called the living Word was acknowledged in its stead. Man-made doctrines superseded the Word as the source of the church’s inspiration, faith and life. They made the commandments of God of no effect through their traditions. Once again the vinedressers tried to seize control of the vineyard. So the Lord had to come again to establish a church which would render to Him the fruits of the vineyard in season.

As we have said, the truth of the Lord’s Word is timeless. This parable is also intended to serve as a warning to the New Church which the Lord is now establishing. The selfish, worldly loves and ambitions which caused the two former churches to betray their trust are the common heredity of all mankind. It would be a grievous error for us to look on this parable merely as a matter of history. Rather we must, periodically, examine the New Church in its light both the organized church and the church as it exists in each one of us individually. Because the Lord has revealed the internal sense of the Word given us new light from heaven this is now possible as it never was before.

We have seen that the vineyard is the church: historically, the Jewish Church, but in the spiritual sense, apart from time, it means the church where the Word is, by which the Lord is known (see AE 992:7; AR 650). Thus, at the present day, the New Church is the Lord’s vineyard. The hedge around the vineyard is the exterior truths which are easily apparent in the literal sense of the Word, which serves to protect the church from false ideas, philosophies, ideologies and disorders, which come from outside the church (see AE 922:7); for example: humanism, situation ethics and the social gospel.

By the tower in the vineyard is meant the interior truths of the Word which serve for the conservation and protection of the things of the church interior truths which look to heavenly life (see AC 4599:2, 1306:3; AE 922:7).

The hedge has reference to exterior truths because it was round about the outside of the vineyard, and its purpose was to prevent invasion of the vineyard from those without who would do it harm. The tower refers to interior truths looking to heavenly life and the conservation and protection of the church because the tower was within the vineyard and it ascended upward. Thus it directs the eyes upward toward heaven. But it was a watchtower. From its height anything amiss, either within or outside the vineyard could be observed and the alarm sounded. In this connection I would commend to your attention the series of articles in New Church Life on common misconceptions, in the New Church, concerning conjugial love.

The winepress stands for the things that belong to worship (see AC 1306:3), those pertaining to formal worship and also to internal worship, which is of the life the goods of charity and spiritual good (see AR 651; AE 922:7). When one is in spiritual good, that person is in genuine worship the worship of life. Such a person is given a perception of truth from the good in which he is. This truth serves to sustain and refresh the human spirit, just as the product of the winepress refreshes and restores the spirits and bodies of people.

The landowner who planted the vineyard is, of course, the Lord. It is he who establishes the church and provides it with all that is necessary for its growth, protection and maintenance. But the vineyard must have workers vinedressers to care for it, in order that what has been established may bear fruit: the good of life which comes from love to the Lord and charity to the neighbor, expressed in a life of use (see AR 934).

When a church is first established, the presence of the Lord is keenly felt by those with whom the church is being established. This is true with individuals as well and with organizations of the church. They are vitally aware that the church is the Lord’s. They have been outside the church where the goods and truths of the church were lacking, along with the protection it affords against what is false and evil. But, as time passes, it is as if the Lord has withdrawn from the church the owner goes to a far country. The Lord is as it were withdrawn into heaven and the church is left with the vinedressers.

There is a tendency, with those born within the church, to think of the church as “their” church. Instead of laboring for the Lord the owner of the vineyard they labor for the church as “their” church. The goods which they do the fruits which they produce they tend to think of as theirs, not the Lord’s. The Lord is aware of this human tendency, so he sends his servants to remind them that the vineyard and the fruits thereof are the Lord’s. By the servants are meant those who teach truths, and, in a sense abstract from person, the truths of doctrine taught in the church (see AE 122:3).

We are the vinedressers of the Lord’s vineyard! The Writings teach that the “wicked” vinedressers of the parable are those within the church who have destroyed interior goods and truths, although outwardly they appear to have them (AC 4314: 2-5). They are those who acknowledge the church as being important; they serve it, but as theirs. They do not interiorly assent to those truths from the Word which conflict with their life or their ideas.

When truths are taught which conflict with their loves or the ideas which they hold, they reason against them, twisting them so as to make them appear false, or they reject them some they beat, some they stone, and others they kill. They develop hostile feelings toward teachings from the Word as well as toward those who do the teaching (AC 9256). They want to prevent from being taught those truths which make them uncomfortable. It’s their church and they have a right to control and influence what is being taught in the church.

This attitude inevitably arises when people think of the church as “theirs” and not the Lord’s. They do not interiorly acknowledge that the truths of the Word are the sole authority as to what is to be believed and thought, and as to what should be done, and how one conducts one’s life. If this rejection is carried to the point where the Word itself is repudiated – not just specific teachings one doesn’t like – then the Son Himself is killed, and the church perishes in that individual.

Reluctant as we may be to admit it, all of us have been guilty, at one time or another, of trying to explain away a teaching of the Word or interpret it in such a way that we do not have to give up some pre-conceived idea or opinion which we hold, or make a change in the way we are living. We have rejected truths which would convict us of false thinking or evil doing.

For example, last week we preached a sermon on the importance, yea necessity, of regularly reading the Lord’s Word in order to be directly led and taught by the Lord. What was your reaction? “That’s an overstatement of the case.” Or, “The Lord leaves us in freedom to do what we want.” Or, “Reading the Word is, of course, good, who can deny it, but we can get to heaven without it.” Or, “That is the truth!” And if the latter was your reaction, has it changed anything in your life, that is, if a change was indicated? Examples could be multiplied, but every one of us, if we examine our hearts, knows of specific instances in our own lives when we have either not accepted a truth or have not acted upon it. But this is true: if the church is to survive in us individually and survive as an organization; if we are to remain vinedressers of the vineyard, true to our trust then we must interiorly acknowledge that the church is the Lord’s, and that we do not have the right to formulate its doctrines, policies and practices on the basis of human intelligence and worldly experience. These must come from the Lord of the vineyard directly from the teaching of His Word.

There should be, in the church as a whole and in each one of us individually, an unconditional acceptance of the Word as the only authority as to what we believe, how we are to live, and how the church is to be governed. The Writings make the powerful statement that the people of the church “should acknowledge the Word, and found the church upon it” (AR 749). The Lord has established His vineyard and called us to dress it and keep it. Let us fulfill the responsibility given us and live up to the trust placed in us. Amen.

Lessons: Deut. 8:1-3, 10-20; Matt. 2:33-46; AE 922:7

Apocalypse Explained 922:7

In Matthew: “A man, a householder, planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and digged a wine-press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husband-men, who slew the servants sent to them, and finally the son” (21:33). The “vineyard” which the householder planted signifies the church that was instituted with the sons of Jacob; the “hedge” which he set about it signifies protection from the falsities of evil, which are from hell; “and digged a wine-press in it” signifies that it had spiritual good; “and built a tower” signifies interior truths from that good which looked to heaven; “and let it out to husbandmen” signifies to that people; “they slew the servants that were sent to them” signifies that they slew the prophets; “and finally the son” signifies the Lord.

THE LOST SON

THE LOST SON

A Sermon by Rev. Ragnar BoyesenPreached in Freeport, Pennsylvania, in November 1985

 

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants”‘” (Luke 15:17-19).

The parable of the lost son is summarized in the simple spiritual fact of the loss of spiritual life through egotism. The parable shows us how we can return from being spiritually lost.

The love of pleasures and luxuries is here weighed against the love of parental authority. In itself there is no wrong in seeking pleasures and possessions because these are necessary and enriching as long as they are subjected to our will to serve the Lord. But as goals in themselves, the love of pleasures and possessions is destructive.

The man in the parable has two sons. In the internal sense of the Word the Lord is Himself Father for both the internal and the external churches, for the Christian Church and for the heathen church. The Christian Church is represented by the young son who deceives his father, while the heathen church is represented by the elder son who remains with his father. The parable of the lost son is the internal story of how the Lord lost the Christian Church, His internal church.

The two brothers in the parable are types for the external and internal in each of us. The spiritual man is supposed to affect and subject the external man to itself. But most often the external man is lost in self-service and in the world, trying to appear just in the eyes of others. The external man will do good, but from moral and ethical norms which do not have spiritual motives. This is the elder brother who continues his service in the house of his father, but who nevertheless is distant from him, because his father’s love and mercy are not received in his envy of the younger brother. The older son perceives himself as an unfree servant. The younger son does not feel unfree. He asks his father for his inheritance and travels to far countries, where his riches are squandered. This is the old story of the riches of charity which are lost when man believes that life belongs to himself, and desires to do good from himself.

The lost son has often, in Protestant tradition, been pictured as the poor wayward and misguided son who in actual fact is good but to be pitied. This sentimental interpretation has its counterpart in the view that the young man was the wasteful son. The parable could therefore be called the “wasteful son.” It is this meaning which is taken up in the Writings when they explain that the youngest son represents one who squanders his spiritual riches to no purpose (see AE 279). The waste consists in the individual knowing the spiritual norms the Lord has put on morals and ethics, and yet refusing to live according to these norms. The wastefulness consists in the existence of a knowledge which never is used because the will is lacking.

The older brother, who also represents the simple and obedient man of the Christian Church who in sincerity reads the Word in its literal meaning and lives according to it, cannot in the same way be charged with wastefulness because he does not know the internal meaning of the Word, and for that reason he cannot be expected to use that meaning in his life.

The man of the New Church, however, who knows what the Writings teach but who turns away from using his knowledges is in the highest degree to be likened to the lost son. The one who from an egotistical will tries to live within the New Church, and at the same time only concedes to fill his or her memory with truths, is counted as one of the rebels who have demanded their spiritual inheritance paid out in advance, and who are using it in spiritually luxurious living.

The spiritual inheritance is our knowledges of heaven, the love of the neighbor and love for the Lord. These are spiritual riches which we must guard with care and love, to be used wisely so that they will multiply. But he who keeps his truths to himself as his private property which he can do with as he pleases has that same lack of spiritual responsibility which characterized the wasteful son. Without our conscious struggle to search out the will of the Lord, we waste His riches in self- aggrandizement and illusory joys which are but false pleasures. How often have the tendencies of the world quietly sneaked into our minds while we uncritically have watched the so-called “other people” around us? Are we not often lacking self-critique? Are we not selfish and pleasure-seeking? How often do we not speak from our memory alone, from what we know, and not from what we actually feel and have reflected upon? We are afraid of the proprial feelings in others because we instinctively will want to guard our own proprium.

As long as the impulses of our egocentric will has its way with us, so long do we live in a foreign country.

Like the lost son, we have taken out our inheritance ahead of time when we know about the conditions of eternal life without doing anything about changing. We are wasteful as long as we believe that we have our thoughts and our feelings as our very own possession. As long as they are with us they are selfish thoughts and worldly expressions of will which draw our spiritual gifts down into the dust where they become foreign to us because they have become soiled. We are figuratively reduced to the pitiful status of a swine herdsman every time the needs of the body are allowed to claim all our attention at the expense of our spiritual needs. When the natural in us no longer serves us, but drives us as a taskmaster, we live from “the pods that the swine ate,” subjected in foreign service while our spirit goes hungry.

And here we reach the paradox in the parable. Just this spiritual hunger makes the natural life in us pale. Our natural life appears no longer to have any lasting attraction for us. We are instead apt to discover how meaningless life has become in this foreign service. When the natural man in us will accept the presence of disillusion and despair, we can be reached by a flow of reflection which can wake the conscience in us. Through temptations we are reminded of the blessings of our father’s house, those tender remains from childhood instruction which always will remind us to return to our true spiritual home. Through temptation we feel at first a general sense of bad conscience, the result of evil spirits flowing in to harm us. This is like the famine in the land which forces us to think, to reflect. If we “come to” ourselves, we shall remember that we cannot do anything that is truly good from ourselves, but that we will continue to stick fast in our tendencies to evil. If we could but come so far that we acknowledge that we are not good, that we have no spiritual rights whatsoever, then the Lord can save us from our feeling of evil. One who knows that he or she is not good at heart, but who desires to do good not from self but from the Lord, can be likened to the lost son who comes to himself in that foreign country.

The awakening consists of our realization that we are not only generally sinful, but that we have specific sins. When we gain a new knowledge of our states which convinces us that we have one arch weakness, we can be said to wake up spiritually. With a specific realization of a sin we can pray to the Lord to ask Him for that specific power which we will need to overcome our weakness. Through reflection and temptation we can wake up from our spiritual exile. Like the son we must also wish to return to our spiritual home.

Because only the Lord can remove evils, we have to demonstrate that we want Him to help us. We have to stand up and walk home. This is the same as removing those evils that keep us down. We have to take away those evil habits and thoughts that dominate our natural life. All cooperation with the Lord is initiated by man; otherwise he would not be a free spiritual being. When you and I break one of the commandments, we break all of them, because we deny that such a breach is a sin against God. Without the acknowledgment that an evil action is a sin, we will remain in that sin. The Lord cannot take away our sin without our cooperation (see TCR 523).

When knowledge changes from a joyless confirmation to true repentance, the spiritual life in man embarks on renewal. It is through the gift of freedom that man can discover that specific evil which has forced him into spiritual exile. Through reflection we can conclude and affirm: this evil is a sin. Like the lost son, we awaken from the dry desert states of egotism when we open up to remember those states of charity and joy from childhood. These memories light a new longing within our minds: “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants'” (Luke 15:17- 19).

Humility and that genuine acknowledgment of our own spiritual poverty can make us determine to reform, with the Lord’s help. Through self-examination we can find those weaknesses which protect our egotistical side of life. Through prayer for help, we turn our thoughts to our heavenly Father, which will motivate us to return to His house. If we dare to confess that we actually have that very specific weakness, that very one which hinders us from being conjoined with the Lord, then we will receive courage through our prayers. By confessing freely, we can be given the will to submission by the Lord. This is the will to start from the beginning, like a servant who is not worthy to be called a son. By a willing submission we are motivated to return to our Father’s house, to that new contact with heaven that will. inspire us and bring us onward in life. By a willing return to the Lord in the Word, we will find that the Lord can reveal to us our inmost intentions, our most secret thoughts. When we go to the Lord with the willingness to be led, to learn to obey, then a new life begins.

“But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). Joyfully the father of the lost son brings him into the house where he asks the servants to slaughter the fatted calf while he puts new clothes on his son — the best robe, a ring and shoes. “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:24).

The Lord sees us like a father even when we are far away from Him. The vigil of His Providence never leaves us. When we make that first confession: “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and against You, and am no more worthy to be called Your son,” then the Lord inflows with a new strength and hope in our mind.

Through the repentance of action are we capable of returning to our Father’s house, to the Lord as He is revealed in the Word. The new robe He clothes us with are new perceptions and new realizations from a love of truth which longs to see it work in our lives. The new ring, which is love in the internal man, is that love of conjunction which gladly accepts submission to the Lord. The new shoes are the new affections in the external man that make the external man serve the internal man because of our willingness to exercise self-compulsion (see AE 279).

The Lord will give us this new and heavenly love when we resist evil for the explicit reason that we wronged the Lord. No other motive is capable of bringing us back to the house of our spiritual Parent. “… a man who is in good not only acts aright from the will but also thinks aright from the understanding, and this not only before the world but also before himself when he is alone. Not so a man who is in evil …. For whatever anyone wills from love, he wills to do, he wills to think, he wills to understand, and he wills to speak …. To this is also to be added that when a man shuns what is evil as a sin, he is in the Lord, and the Lord then works everything” (Life 47, 48).

The first resistance to our states of egotistical life is the beginning of our heavenly life. First we lose our egotistical nature before we are given a heavenly willingness to serve. Having been a spiritual squanderer by letting the knowledges from the Lord remain inactive, we are turned through self-compulsion to serve Him and our fellow man. By this willing service we are given that new heavenly freedom which makes us part of that heavenly family of helpers who love nothing better than obeying the will of their Father while attending to the needs of their brothers and sisters. In joy the Lord comes to meet us: “For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” Amen.

Lessons: Luke 15:11-32, TCR 510

 


True Christian Religion

510 The communion called the church consists of all men in whom the church is, and the church enters into man when he is becoming regenerate, and everyone becomes regenerate by abstaining from the evils of sin and shunning them as one would an infernal horde with torches in hand, endeavoring to overtake him and throw him upon a burning pile. There are many means by which man, as he progresses in his early years, is prepared for the church and introduced into it; but the means whereby the church is established in man are acts of repentance. Acts of repentance are all such things as cause man not to will and consequently not to commit evils, which are sins against God; for until this takes place, man stands outside of regeneration, and if any thought respecting eternal salvation should then creep into his mind, he turns toward it, but immediately turns away from it, for it enters the man no further than into the ideas of his thought, and from that goes forth into the words of his speech, and also, it may be, into some gestures conformable to speech. But when such thought enters the will, it is in the man, for the will is the man himself, because in it his love resides, while thought is outside of the man, except when it proceeds from his will, and then will and thought act as one, and both together constitute the man. From this it follows that for repentance to be repentance, and to be effective in man, it must be a repentance of the will and from that of the thought, and not of the thought only; therefore that it should be actual repentance, and not merely verbal. That repentance is the first thing of the church is very evident from the Word. John the Baptist, who was sent beforehand to prepare men for the church which the Lord was about to establish, when he baptized, preached at the same time repentance; and therefore his baptism was called the baptism of repentance, for the reason that baptism signified spiritual washing, which is a cleansing from sin. This John did in Jordan because Jordan signified introduction into the church, for it was the first boundary of the land of Canaan where the church was. The Lord Himself also preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins, teaching thereby that repentance is the first thing of the church, and so far as man repents, his sins are put away, and so far as they are put away, they are forgiven. And still further, the Lord commanded His twelve apostles, and also the seventy whom He sent forth, to preach repentance. From all this it is clear that the first thing of the church is repentance.