Self-esteem – How to find it?

self-esteemPsychologists have found that self-esteem goes along with being confident and assertive, having good physical health, and pleasing relationships. Yet some people have low self-esteem. They feel bad about themselves. What do you think of yourself? Are you pleased with who you are or ashamed? When someone makes critical remarks about you, is it water off a duck’s back or do you fold inwardly?

How can one feel better about oneself? The answer depends on who you are.

A way for those feeling low self-esteem

Many people with low self-esteem may not necessarily think they are `worthless’ but nevertheless they do feel as if they do not matter much and have little to offer. As a child you may have had somewhat critical parents and taken on board their repeated judgments about you. Perhaps you rushed home from school proudly telling mum or dad `I came second in class’ only to be asked about who came first. How crushed a child would feel — especially if the parents found it hard to express warmth and affection.

If we have a poor sense of self-worth, we often experience an inner voice unfairly criticising our thoughts and actions.

This voice makes snap judgments and jumps to conclusions merely on the basis of superficial information. It prevents us from trying new things and puts us down. It compares us unfavourably with other people and attributes any success we may have merely to chance. Our failures are only to be expected. If we interpret what we do as a failure, then it is a short jump to saying `I am a failure’.

Cognitive-behavioural counselling might help those who are able to learn to recognise this unhelpful voice,  challenge it and find more realistic habits of thought.

A way for those feeling low self-esteem

Repeated abuse, whether verbal, emotional, physical or sexual, drums in a message that the child is inherently bad, and deserving of punishment. If this was your experience of childhood why not try to get some in-depth psychodynamic counselling to explore the roots of your problem?  You can be helped to see past experience through the eyes of an adult and find a more realistic and coherent narrative about yourself. You can’t change the past but you might be able with professional help to come to terms with it and learn to move on.

Self-esteem for Christians

If you are a Christian and do not feel good about yourself, you may be wary of self-esteem as promoting too much self-centredness or disguising the need for God. The trouble is a punitive idea of God is still around and some Christians have felt what they believe to be their basic sinful human nature deserves his condemnation.

If your relationship with God is undermining you then perhaps you could ask whether your image of God is at fault and needs ditching in favour of one that makes more sense. Why not replace him with a God who is not harsh like the one depicted in the Old Testament, and not one with anger appeased by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

An alternative religious view sees us as being neither inherently good nor bad, instead, being born with both positive and negative inclinations. We recognise in the baby’s ignorance of right and wrong an innocence of all blame. We are surrounded by a complex interweaving of problematic situations, interpersonal difficulties and social wrongs that influence our behaviour. We cannot be personally responsible for everything that is wrong in life. We need to distinguish between unrealistic and realistic guilt.

According to this view, the justice of God can only hold us accountable for the things we intentionally do believing them to be wrong.

Self-esteem for the spiritual sensitive person

I would say to the spiritually sensitive person that feeling good about what you do is very different from feeling you are good. We can humbly acknowledge that all that we achieve that is good in our lives is due to a spiritual force which is greater than we ourselves.

Paradoxically the result of this is that we would experience a greater sense of worth. We would see that all the worthwhile things we do is a result of being a willing channel for the power of divine love and wisdom.

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

Christian Charity

Christian Charity

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 19, 2009

revcooper.ca

He who does not put out his money at usury, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved. (Psalm 15:5,6)

The practice of usury is referred to about twenty five times in the Old Testament, and in almost every reference, the letter of the Word tells us that we must not think of profit or recompense when we loan our money to others. There are several references that indicate that it is permissible to benefit from a loan when it is made to strangers, but it is quite clear from scripture that one must not make usurious loans to one’s own people.

At the same time, the investment of money for the sake of profit has been a cornerstone of civilization for at least as long as the scriptures have been read. In fact it is commonly believed that civilization first began to develop about the same time that farmers had developed their skills sufficiently that they were able to raise more food than they themselves could use, thus allowing them to support non-farming individuals with their excess food. A surplus of money or food, properly used, can bring benefits to many more people than to the investor only, for new enterprises can begin, new products discovered and made cheaply available to many, and the standard of living generally rises. 

It is also true that once there is wealth, it is possible to support great endeavours in the arts, in education, in religion. Just think what the General Church would have been without great wealth to support the dream of a system of education based entirely upon the principles of the Heavenly Doctrines. Think about the universities and museums throughout the world that would not exist without freewill contributions made from the profits of carefully invested money. 

It is simply not possible to imagine what our world would be like if we strictly followed the Mosaic Law’s injunctions against usury.[1] Even the world of nature itself tells us that investment of wealth is both prudent, and nature’s own way, for when we plant seed carelessly in stony ground or among thorns, we get no return. But when we prudently plant the seed in good ground, we receive an hundred fold in return.        Divine Law, that is, the Law promulgated on Mount Sinai by Jehovah God, and carried to the Jewish people by Moses, forbade them from charging interest when they loaned their money to others. The Divine Law went even further, and gave specific commands regarding the collateral that supported the loan. The Mosaic Law tells us that if a man borrowed money, and gave his outer garment as security against the loan, the individual who loaned him the money was not permitted to keep that cloak over night. He was permitted to hold it during the day, when it was warm enough to live without it, but at night, when the cloak was a necessary protection from the cold, the cloak had to be returned.

In the New Testament we read about the Lord driving moneychangers out of the temple, but we should note that it’s not that what they are doing is wrong, what’s wrong is that they are changing money and buying and selling in a place of worship and prayer. In both Matthew 25 and Luke 19 the Lord tells parables about how good servants invest wisely, and in each case the servant who didn’t even give the money that was entrusted to him to the “bankers” to earn “interest” were cast into outer darkness.

However, while these laws may have been created specifically for the Jewish people in that historical time, we know that they have since been nullified, made of no effect for our time and place. We no longer have to obey the letter of the whole of the Mosaic law. But then, if these laws are no longer of any effect, why have they been included in the Word? Why must we still read them? What is their use? AC 9211:2 says,

that law was binding on that nation then, but it is not binding on Christians, to whom the more internal things have been revealed by the Lord. Those who belong to the Church at the present day see this to be so, and this is why laws that have to do with charging interest are altogether different at the present day. Even so, the holiness of that law does not therefore come to an end, as though this part of the Word has been abrogated; for its holiness remains by virtue of the more internal things it holds within it. These more internal holy things continue to stir angels’ affections when this part of the Word is read. But let people beware of thinking that the laws of life such as are contained in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere throughout the Old Testament have been abrogated; for those laws have been firmly established in an inward as well as an outward form, because the two are inseparable.

The laws regarding usury are no longer needed as natural laws governing the external behaviour of men, and we need not strictly obey them in our daily life. There is nothing in itself wrong with investing money for the sake of a reasonable future profit. The Law of Usury may be cancelled in its external expression at this time, but it continues to be in force as to its spirit because it is from the Divine. Divine Law is not limited to its external manifestation. God gave Moses laws against usury because He wished to tell us many things about Christian Charity. 

Divine Law takes its outermost form in the Laws of Moses, but it takes its spirit and life from the will and the intention of the person who understands the internal spirit of Divine Law. In other words, while it is permissible for us to invest money for profit, the Lord put those laws in the Word – and left them there – to remind us that we need to carefully search out our intentions in regard to such business arrangements so that we are not acting in such a way as to harm others, or deprive them of their goods for our own benefit. By definition, then, a usurer is someone who does what is good only for the sake of self-advantage, who gives his money to others without regard for possible harm, or for anything but the potential profit for himself. The Lord Himself taught us in Luke, If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same (Luke 6:33).

But usury does not only pertain to money, but in fact, anyone who does anything for another for the sake of some future benefit or recompense is actually practising usury. To willingly loan your tools to another so that you may eventually build up such a credit that you may later borrow something important and valuable that you would not otherwise be able to borrow, is usury. To take someone out to a fancy dinner so that you can ask them to do something that you believe that they would not otherwise be willing to do from conscience, is usury. To invite someone into your home, or do a favour for them in the hope of obligating them to return the invitation or the favour, is usury.

Many speak of “Christian Charity,” and by it they mean charitable acts such as giving to the needy and poor, in doing good to the neighbour, to the country, and to the church for any cause, or for any result whatsoever. It is an act of “Christian Charity” to give old clothes to the needy, according to this way of thinking, even if the motive behind the action is no more than to clean out the closets and get rid of some old, worn out things that you no longer use. But with a moment’s reflection we can see that the quality of one’s charity can only be determined to be “Christian” or not by its intention. It is the goal, the intended result, that determines the real quality of everything that we do. 

If your purpose is to do something good for the sake of reputation, or acquire honour or profit, then the good which is done is not good, because it is done for the sake of self, and is therefore from self. But if the purpose is to do some good for the sake of another, the country, the church – the neighbour on any level – then the good which is done is genuinely good, for it is done for the sake of good itself. When something is done for the sake of good, it is the same as being done for the neighbour, and when something is done genuinely for the sake of the neighbour, it is done for the Lord, for He Himself taught, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did to Me” (MAT 25:40) (See AC 9210).

When we do good for the sake of good, we are acting from the Lord Himself. At the same time, when we do what is true for the sake of the truth, we are also acting from the Lord Himself, for to do truth for the sake of truth is to do good, for truth becomes good when it passes from the understanding into the will, and from the will goes forth into action. To act in this way, to act from good for the sake of good, or to act from truth for the sake of truth is what “Christian Charity” really is.

But we must not fall into the “merit” trap, that is, begin to believe that if we feel good about something that we are doing for others that somehow what we are doing has lost its spiritual value. We must remember that the angels in heaven feel great delight when they do good, and they always try to do what is good from the Lord. Doing good is its own reward, and the delight of heaven flows in whenever we do genuine good from the Lord. 

The same is true of “Christian Charity.” Sometimes those who do good from “Christian Charity” as defined in its genuine sense, still are really thinking about how such deeds will affect their reputation among men, or may think that some honour may result from the deed, or even some kind of profit. However, these thoughts are not the reasons behind the actions, but reflections about the consequences after the fact. The rewards are not the reason, even though they are foreseen, and they bring delight.

The person who does good from genuine “Christian Charity” regards what is good and just as the essential and only thing, as being in the highest place. Afterwards, they think about the profit and honour that result from these things, but as things that are not at all essential, as being in the lowest place. When such people have in their view what is just and good, they are like brave soldiers who fight in battles for their country, and who have no regard for their own life, nor for their rank, or for their possessions in the world, for the importance of their use makes them all of relatively no account. On the other hand, those who have regard for themselves and the world in the first place are of such a character that they do not even see what is just and good, but only their own selfish desires.

The Word often refers to usury. Our natural interest in money may distract our attention from the real meaning of this law, the real warning that is directed to us:  we must be careful with how we invest the goods and truths given to us by the Lord, our time, our good works, our ideas. The Lord was speaking about money when He gave this law to the Jews, because at that time and in that place, that was all they could understand. But we must remember that the Word was written for all people and for all times, and it is the spirit of the Mosaic law that has been given by God to guide our lives today. The spirit of His law is not hidden. It can be easily found by anyone who seeks for it with genuine humility of spirit and willingness to be lead by the Lord. Do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be the sons of the Highest (LUK 6:35).   AMEN.


First Lesson:  Mat 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. {32} “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. {33} “And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. {34} “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: {35} ‘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; {36} ‘I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ {37} “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? {38} ‘When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? {39} ‘Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ {40} “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.’ {41} “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: {42} ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; {43} ‘I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ {44} “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ {45} “Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ {46} “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Amen.

Second Lesson:  AC 9211

9211. ‘You shall not charge him interest’ means that therefore it must not be done for the sake of gain to be acquired from it. This is clear from the meaning of ‘charging someone interest’ as doing good for the sake of gain

The more internal things within that law are that good done to the neighbour should come from the heart, and that people should believe that there is no merit at all in deeds which spring from self, only in deeds which spring from the Lord present with them. For only the Lord has earned merit, and only He is righteousness; and when a person believes this he does not attach any merit or reward at all to deeds springing from self but ascribes all good deeds to the Lord. And since the Lord in His Divine mercy is the real doer of that good the person ascribes everything to mercy alone. So it is also that one who is led by the Lord has no thought whatever of reward, and yet from the heart does good to the neighbour.

[2] These are the more internal things from which the law among the Israelite and Jewish nation about lending things at interest comes down. When therefore a person is acquainted with those more internal things that law comes to an end along with the others like it which were referred to as judgements. For the Israelite and Jewish nation was confined to the outward forms that represented internal things. Consequently that law was binding on that nation then, but it is not binding on Christians, to whom the more internal things have been revealed by the Lord. Those who belong to the Church at the present day see this to be so, and this is why laws that have to do with charging interest are altogether different at the present day.

Even so, the holiness of that law does not therefore come to an end, as though this part of the Word has been abrogated; for its holiness remains by virtue of the more internal things it holds within it. These more internal holy things continue to stir angels’ affections when this part of the Word is read.

But let people beware of thinking that the laws of life such as are contained in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere throughout the Old Testament have been abrogated; for those laws have been firmly established in an inward as well as an outward form, because the two are inseparable. Amen.


[1]The strict application of the scriptural rules against usury was the cause of an ironic situation in Europe of the Middle Ages. In both Christian and Islamic countries Jews were compelled to be the money changers, the bankers, so that good Christians and Moslems would not have to commit usury. The Jews were forced to commit the sin of usury and live in wretched ghettos, while yet controlling most of the investment money in Europe.

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SETTLE IN YOUR HEARTS

SETTLE IN YOUR HEARTS

A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose

Preached in Bryn Athyn June 25, 1995

“Settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist” (Luke 21:14,15).

The Lord said these things to followers who were later persecuted and brought before councils. Their accusers thought by confronting them they could weaken the cause of Christianity. But it turned out differently. Those confrontations became opportunities for the strengthening and growth of Christianity.

The boldness and eloquence of the disciples, although they were just fishermen, was nothing short of astonishing. Of one outspoken disciple it is said, “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke” (Acts 6: 10). In the 4th chapter of Acts we read of two disciples who were confronted: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marvelled” (Acts 4:13). (King James Version says “unlearned and ignorant men.”) They had a boldness and assurance, and their answers were powerful.

They were somehow triumphant even when they were beaten and imprisoned, and in some cases put to death (see Luke 21:16). We will mention one example of that in a moment.

The text applies of course to us and, we might say, in a much less dramatic fashion. We will not likely be brought before courts and kings nor openly challenged and assailed by enemies.

But we do stand to be attacked by the enemies of our spiritual life. And the more we learn about the assaults of evil spirits on followers of the Lord, the more do we see that it too is dramatic and momentous. Falsities from hell itself assail the person who is being tempted, and the Writings say that to every falsity the hells inject, there is an answer from the Divine.

What we experience in temptation is anxiety, discouragement even to despair. We do not know that evil spirits from hell are fighting against us, nor do we know that the Lord is fighting for us, and the answers from the Divine to the false accusations and undermining thoughts do not come clearly to our consciousness. Here is what the Writings say: “As regards temptations … the hells fight against man, and the Lord for man; to every falsity the hells inject, there is an answer from the Divine …. The answer from the Divine flows into the internal or spiritual man … and in such a manner that it scarcely comes to the perception otherwise than as hope and consequent consolation, in which there are nevertheless innumerable things of which the man is ignorant” (AC 8159:3). (In that answer which we feel only as hope and comfort there are countless blessings that the person has no knowledge of” – new translation.)

Here is the context of the words of the text: “… they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. … [N]ot a hair of your head shall be lost. In your patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:12-19).

The very first Christian to die for his beliefs found that the confrontation was indeed an occasion for testimony. He was falsely accused and brought before a council to answer. His eloquent speech takes up the whole of the 7th chapter of the book of Acts. It is said, “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. … [T]hey cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord and they cast them out of the city and stoned him” (Acts 7:54,57).

That speech which so affected them had begun thus: “… brethren … listen: the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham” and he told the story through Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Solomon, and when he was finished he gazed up into heaven and saw the glory of God. And as they rained stones on him he said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’ and ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this he fell asleep” (Acts 7:2,59,60). It is said that those who looked at him “saw his face as the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

A radiant peace surrounded him. The Lord had promised that nothing would harm them. They were at peace even in death.

“Settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer.” Think deliberately about the future, and think of how not to think of the future. In one of the Lord’s parables a man is called foolish because he did not think ahead intelligently. “Foolish one, tonight your soul will be required of you, and then whose will those things be which you have provided?”

Oh, he had thought and meditated within himself about the future. But what was the level of his thinking? To quote the Gospel: “And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do? … I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater … And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years …” (Luke 12:17-21).

He could look down the road years ahead. He could figure out what he was going to do, and what he was going to say, and God called him a fool. How does our future look to us? How much strength and endurance do you have for what lies in store for you? Can you handle what is yet to come? Do you have the wit? Will you have the wit to respond to what may come to pass?

We live in the illusion that our strength, our intelligence, our very life is from ourselves. How big is our reservoir of energy or endurance or prudence? Since it seems that life is our own, we think in terms of calling on our reserves. Once the disciples set off in a boat on a journey with the Lord. And it had slipped their mind that they should have stored some provision. To quote from the Gospel of Mark, “Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat” (8:14). That was what was on their mind, and the Lord said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? … do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up? How is it that you do not understand?”

He got them to answer the question, and He could ask them on a much later occasion, “When I sent you without money bag, sack and sandals, did you lack anything? So they answered, Nothing” (Luke 22:35). Think of the uncertain times of youth that you have passed through. You made it through your teens. Has the Lord kept you safe thus far? Has He provided?

It is too bad that some people have concluded that it is virtuous not to make provision for the future. It’s understandable. The Lord has given us the message that He will provide. Seek the kingdom of God, and these things will be added to you. But the Writings say this does not mean we should not provide ourselves with food, clothing, “and even resources for the time to come; for it is not contrary to order for anyone to be provident for himself and his own.” The new translation speaks of “resources for the future; for it is not contrary to order to make provision for oneself and one’s dependents” (J. Elliott’s translation).

But there is the matter of putting trust in the Divine. Notice the verb tribuo, something you do. It is translated to “attribute” or to “ascribe.” See how it is used in this teaching about charity in a person engaged in business. “He thinks of the morrow, and yet does not think of it. He thinks of what should be done on the morrow, and how it should be done; and yet does not think of the morrow, because he ascribes the future to the Divine Providence and not to his own prudence.” And then it adds, “Even his prudence he ascribes to the Divine Providence” (Charity 167).

Does that fortunate person who ascribes the future to the Divine just do this at one point in life? Or is it not something to be done deliberately through the progressing stages of life?

Settle it in your hearts. Deliberately ascribe the future to the Lord’s Providence, and do so, if you can, until you can feel a sense of relief as if someone had removed a false burden from you.

Do not think of this merely as “either/or,” as if to say, either you trust in Divine Providence or you do not. It can be a quantitative thing. Some attribute a little bit to the Divine Providence and a lot to themselves (see AC 2694:2). The Writings use the phrase “the more”: the more they ascribe, the stronger or wiser they are (see AC 4932). In our lives we gradually come to ascribe more to the Lord and less to ourselves (see TCR 610 and 105).

The disciples were to learn that peace, the wonderful prize of peace, is to be found in the Lord Himself. He said, “These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world” (Luke 16e). En to cosmo thlipsin exete alla tharsete – In the world you will have affliction, trouble, but take heart. Have courage. I have defeated. I have conquered. I have overcome the world.

Our picture of the future can become less a matter of speculation and worry and more and more a picture of the Lord as one in whom to confide and one who grants peace. Peace has in it confidence in the Lord that He will provide, and that He leads to a good end. “When someone is in this faith, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing and no solicitude about future things disquiets him” (AC 8455).

We sometimes say that the future looks dark. And the unknown is a kind of darkness. But when we ascribe the future to the Lord, we may say at any time in history or at any stage of our life, that the future has light in it, being in the hands of Him who is the light of the world.

Settle it in your hearts anew today. Ascribe the future to the Lord. And He will give you what to think and do, and He will give you peace. Amen.

Lessons: Matt. 10:16-31, DP 179, AC 2493


Divine Providence 179

As a foreknowledge of future events destroys the human itself, which is to act from freedom according to reason, therefore it is not granted to anyone to know the future; but everyone is permitted to form conclusions concerning future events from the reason; hence reason with all that pertains to it enters into man’s life. It is on this account that a man does not know his lot after death, or know of any event before he is involved in it. For if he knew this, he would no longer think from his interior self how he should act or how he should live in order to meet the event, but he would only think from his exterior self that he was meeting it. Now this state closes the interiors of his mind in which the two faculties of his life, liberty and rationality, especially reside. A longing to know the future is innate with most people, but this longing derives its origin from the love of evil. It is therefore taken away from those who believe in the Divine Providence, and there is given them a trust that the Lord is disposing their lot. Consequently they do not desire to know it beforehand lest they should in any way set themselves against the Divine Providence. This the Lord teaches by many passages in Luke (12:14-48).

That this is a law of the Divine Providence may be confirmed by many things from the spiritual world. Most persons when they enter that world after death desire to know their lot. They are told that if they have lived well their lot is in heaven, and if they have lived wickedly it is in hell. But as all, even the wicked, fear hell, they ask what they should do and what they should believe to enter heaven. They are told that they may do and believe as they will, but that they should know that in hell, good is not done and truth is not believed, but only in heaven. To each one the answer is: “Seek out what is good and what is true; then think the truth and do the good, if you are able.” So in the spiritual world as in the natural world all are left to act from freedom according to reason; but as they have acted in this world so do they act in the spiritual world. His own life awaits everyone and consequently his own lot, for the lot pertains to the life.

Arcana Coelestia 2493

1 have spoken with the angels concerning the memory of things past, and the consequent anxiety regarding things to come; and I have been instructed that the more interior and perfect the angels are, the less do they care for past things, and the less do they think of things to come; and also that from this comes their happiness. They say that the Lord gives them every moment what to think, and this with blessedness and happiness; and that they are thus free from cares and anxieties. Also, that this was meant in the internal sense by the manna being received daily from heaven; and by the daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer; and likewise by the instruction not to be solicitous about what they should eat and drink, and wherewithal they should be clothed. But although the angels do not care for past things, and are not solicitous about things to come, they nevertheless have the most perfect recollection of past things, and the most perfect mental view of things to come; because in all their present there are both the past and the future. Thus they have a more perfect memory than can ever be thought of or expressed.

OUR DAILY WORK

A Sermon by Rev Grant H. Odhner

Preached in Rochester,Michigan  January 19, 1992

OUR DAILY WORK

 

It is a common phenomenon that something we begin doing with a sense of higher purpose, in time loses its higher purpose and becomes a rote habit that serves self. For example, we begin giving of our time or money to some “cause” from an unselfish sight of its value, from an idealism and willing sense of duty. But after a while our motives and thoughts subtly drift to our own advantage. First, the thrill of the newness wears off. We do it without much forethought or reflection. Then we find ourselves thinking of our financial contribution (for example) as a tax deduction. Or we find ourselves helping out because we “said we would” or because we want to be thought well of.

This isn’t always the case with noble actions that become habitual. Over a long period of time many of the things we do “on principle” become “internalized” so that we don’t reflect self-consciously about them. We do them spontaneously from unselfish love.

How does this happen? How do our values become internalized in this way? It happens with effort. We need to go through the process of applying principles to our daily lives in a deliberate, self-conscious way. This involves something we might call “pairing”: we deliberately pair with our “working thoughts” higher thoughts about what we are doing and why.

When we’re doing the dishes, for example, we might reflect that washing dishes is a rather low-level job. We reflect on the uses associated with it: it protects us from disease; it enables us to carry on with other uses (viz. tomorrow). We think of the impact that a messy, dish-strewn kitchen has on our attitudes, on the atmosphere of our home, on our own sense of initiative. We think of the uses involved in eating: nourishing the body so that it can work, relaxing and delighting the mind after work, bringing household members together, both physically and spiritually. All these higher uses depend on dishes. And many more things could be mentioned, because all higher uses rest in lower ones: spiritual uses on the natural, domestic, and physical: eternal uses on the daily.

In anything that we are doing any act, any task, any recreation we can do this: we can pair with our present enjoyment or drudgery higher thoughts. This lifts us to a new plane of functioning. And with time and practice it brings a greater sense of delight and purpose to whatever it is we are doing.

The Writings of the New Church provide us with many “higher thoughts” that have the power to elevate the quality of our lives. Among these are some about the neighbor whom we are to love.

All might agree that loving the Lord and loving one’s neighbor as oneself are the essence of religion. These two loves make a Christian. But how do we go about expressing this love? How do we love rightly?

There’s a lot of confusion in our world about what charity (Christian love) is, and about what our primary focus should be in trying to live the religious life. Most Christian churches (other than Fundamentalists) see loving the neighbor primarily as feeling pity for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and for those who are the victims of social inequity or injustice. They suppose that love is best shown by giving money and providing assistance of various kinds. Other aspects of life are evidently viewed as means to the higher end. Having a job, for example, is a means to earning money, and affording leisure time, which we can share with the needy. In any case, this is certainly the order of priority that their clergy would set.

My point here is not to criticize other churches. Rather I want to set a contrast between this common emphasis and that offered in the Writings of the New Church. The Writings teach that the primary way we love the Lord and our neighbor is by doing the work of our particular calling sincerely, justly and faithfully (see AC 4730:3, 4783:5; D. Wis XI:5; Life 114; SE 6105; TCR 422ff). This is “charity” in the proper sense.

Our “calling” is whatever we happen to be doing as our main employment, what we are busy with day-to-day, whether we are retired, whether we are a mother, a professional, a laborer, a student, or whatever. This is what we are spending most of our mental and physical energy on. This is where Providence has placed us. This is the main arena of our usefulness (or our potential usefulness) to others and to society.

To appreciate why our job should be our main focus as a Christian, and how doing it “sincerely, justly, and faithfully” is loving both the Lord and our neighbor, we need to understand the concept of “use” as the Writings teach it.

Everyone’s life and happiness depend on the common good. We owe so much of our well-being to the health of our nation, our society, and to the health of the various groups of which we are a part! (We easily take this for granted.) And what makes for the common good? We are invited to see that it springs chiefly from the jobs that individuals perform in society, and particularly from the integrity, both personal and occupational, which they bring to their work. When everyone is useful in his or her work, the whole benefits. Each person’s use fits into a whole complex of inter-dependent and complementary uses. Together these make up the common good. Contributing to this common good, from love for it and for the people it blesses, is the essential expression of Christian love and charity (see Char 126-157).

It is easy to be misled into thinking that Christian love is expressed most strongly in acts of generosity and kindness toward people. When someone does something kind for us personally, we notice it. We are aware of the delight that it gives us. This kind of action is tangible. Therefore we tend to think that such acts are the primary acts of love.

But this is not the case! Such acts are important (as we will touch on later) and yet they are secondary. For the greatest good that can be given to any person is the good that comes to them from the common good. And this could not exist without each person doing his or her own daily duties faithfully, justly, and sincerely.

Heaven, more perfectly than here, is a “kingdom” of uses that together make a one. Note how the angels of the highest heaven view their main job:

They have no idea that loving the Lord is anything else than doing goods which are uses, and they say that uses are the Lord with them. By “uses” they understand the uses and good works of ministry, administration, and employment, as well with priests and magistrates as with merchants and workmen. The good works that are not connected with their occupation they do not call uses; they call them alms, benefactions, and gratuities” (D. Love XIII).

We find a similar teaching in the Doctrine of Life applies to us here:

Christian charity with everyone consists in faithfully performing what belongs to one’s calling; for by this, if one shuns evils as sins, one is doing goods every day, and is himself his own use in the general body. In this way also the common (or general) good is cared for, and the good of each person in particular. All other things one does are not the proper works of charity, but are either its signs, its benefactions, or its obligations (Life 114, emphasis added).

This passage raises another reason why our occupation is to be considered our primary focus, namely, that by it a person is doing goods every day. Our work (in most cases) brings us into contact with people daily. Through it we can touch others and find opportunity to affect them for good. What’s more, in our daily work we are led to shun evils. This is where real evils show themselves standing in the way of our doing our work properly and in the right spirit.

The Lord provides continual opportunities to love and serve Him through our life’s work! Doesn’t it make sense that He wants our primary focus to be here?! And isn’t it what we do day to day that molds us into the kind of person we are? Our daily job, and especially our attitude toward it and in it, forms us into a human being. It tests us, matures us, puts before us the most character-determining challenges that we face. True Christian Religion offers the same basic teaching emphasizing this last point:

[Acting justly and faithfully in one’s office, business, and employment] is charity itself, because charity may be defined as doing good to the neighbor daily and continually, not only to the neighbor individually, but also to the neighbor collectively. This can be done only through what is good and just in the office, business, and employment in which a person is engaged, and with those with whom he has any dealings; for this is one’s daily work, and when he is not doing it, it still occupies his mind continually, and he has it in thought and intention. The person who in this way practices charity becomes more and more charity in form; for justice and fidelity form his mind, and the practice of these forms his body (n.423, emphasis added; see also SD 6105; Char 158ff).

Now all of this does not mean that our work is the only area that we should give attention to. Far from it! Living the life of charity involves prayer, worship, reading the Word, thinking and talking about its principles, also instructing one’s children, and like things. These are healthy and proper “signs” or manifestations of our Christian love (see Char. 173-183). There are many duties that good people fulfill that lie outside their proper work (see Char 187ff; TCR 429ff). Charitable people take recreation of mind and body seriously (as well as joyfully). Diversions from their work help them stay “sharp” and actually foster their enthusiasm for their work (see Char. 189ff; TCR 433f). Finally, there is the area of showing good will toward others through deeds of kindness or “benefactions” (see Char. 184ff; TCR 425ff).

Earlier I used this last aspect of the life of charity as a contrast to “doing one’s job.” The reason for this is that the Christian world has largely made charity to consist in benefactions in the first place. This emphasis is wrong, and has led to a lot of confusion, guilt, and even to “charity” that has done more harm than good. But it would be a great mistake to minimize the importance of good deeds to the life of charity! First of all, children and the simple are initiated into a deeper concept of charity through simple, tangible good deeds. In the second place, the common good is greatly served through aid to the needy and poor, through the funding of hospitals, through the voluntary support of educational programs, etc. Finally, on a more personal level, good deeds are vital to fostering unity, good will, and friendship. Where would we be without acts of kindness? Where would society be?

Still, we need to remember that the greatest good depends on the uses which each person performs in society, the chief of which are through one’s daily work. This is a difficult priority to hold as a church among others at our day. Many churches are persuaded that our approach is selfish, a weak excuse and justification for maintaining our comfortable lifestyles.

We need to be firm in our resolve to see a deeper picture of our religious responsibility and hold to it. But see it and hold to it we must! For if we make our job our primary focus for the wrong reasons, if we don’t do it for the sake of our neighbor and the common good, then what others might accuse us of becomes true: we are being selfish and narrow! We are in effect using religion to justify our pursuit of our own well-being. What’s more, our church’s emphases do become mere “intellectualizing” or group narcissism.

What can save us from this is frequent and honest reflection about why we do what we do; also entertaining “higher thoughts” while we work. How we think and what we think day to day determine the spiritual quality of our lives; they determine the depth and scope of our Christian love.

Just think! We can deal with, say, a client or pupil, a co-worker or cashier in so many different spirits! We can do it with only self in mind. We can be trying to gain a service from them. We can be trying to impress them, gain recognition, exert influence, get their business, or simply get it over so that we can get on to what we want to be doing. On the other hand, we can deal with them with their welfare in mind. We can be concerned with furthering them, with their sense of job-satisfaction, with their self-esteem.

More deeply, our thoughts can be lifted above the people to the uses themselves which they are involved in. We can deal with them out of respect for their part in society; we can be trying to further or support those uses (even when we don’t like the people). We can be thinking of the good of our neighborhood, or school system, or company. Or still higher, we can be thinking of the good of our state and country and world! The higher our sights are, the deeper and broader the scope of our acts become inwardly and (perhaps in subtle ways) outwardly.

This is where the pairing of higher and lower thoughts we spoke of earlier comes into play. Higher thoughts about what we are trying to do, whom we are trying to love and serve, and how we are going about it are what lift our minds to function on a deeper plane, and to function more perceptively. And by sincerely lifting our thoughts, over time our love is lifted and ennobled. And all this happens through our daily uses.

May the Lord give us the strength and inspiration to do the work which He has put before us each day sincerely, justly and faithfully. And may we offer up with these “daily sacrifices” sweet thoughts, thoughts from His Word, to guide our hearts and bring eternal meaning to the works of our hands! Amen.

Readings: Deut. 15:1,2,7-11; Matt. 25:14-30; SD 6105.


Spiritual Experiences 6105

CHARITY TOWARD THE NEIGHBOR

Charity toward the neighbor, in a specific sense, is to perform the employment, business, and work which belong to one’s calling faithfully, sincerely and justly. The reason is that this is a person’s daily occupation, the very activity and delight of his life. When, therefore, a person performs this sincerely and justly, his life becomes such, thus becomes a certain charity, in its place and degree. [One’s daily work] may be compared to the germ [of a seed]: . . . from this as the essential, the other aspects of charity, which are called the signs, benevolences and obligations, proceed and derive their essence; for they flow from his life, which in this case is a charity. And without that essence, even though he may have the signs of charity, which are acts of piety and the like, though he may have its benevolences, which are giving to the poor, and similar things, though he may have its obligations, which are such things as are his duties at home and outside his home, then, all these are like a shell without a kernel. It is different when he has the germ and essence already described.

Moreover, such a person does good to the community, and does good to the individuals in the community in their degree. Hence, from the community there flows to him delight of life and every necessary. This obtains in heaven and in the societies there. For everyone is a part in the common body. From performing his work sincerely and justly he becomes a worthy part in the common body. For everyone in a society must be in some work. Works produce the communion, and cause all things to be held in connection; for works contain in them all things human. Wherefore, even in hell they must be in works.

AMENDMENT OF LIFE

AMENDMENT OF LIFE
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida (cataloged 8/11/97)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: `Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place'” (Jeremiah 7:3).

The Word teaches that repentance is the first thing of the church in man. We read: “The communion called the church consists of all people in whom the church is, and the church enters into man when one is becoming regenerated, 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” (TCR 510, emphasis added).

The truth of the statement just quoted is amply illustrated by the story of Israel as it unfolds in the Old Testament. The Word was given to that nation a revelation of the Lord Himself, given to them through the prophets. In it He taught them how they ought to live in order to fulfill the covenant made with their forefathers. He gave them commandments of life containing things they were required to do, and things they were forbidden to do.

To all appearances they accepted this revelation. They regarded it as holy and were at great pains to protect it and preserve it. They were very strict in observing the rituals of worship which were laid down. Through their zealous adherence to their God, Jehovah, they made an impact on their neighbors far beyond their numerical size and strength, and their political importance. According to historians, it was their fanatical devotion to the worship of Jehovah that brought this numerically insignificant nation into prominence among their neighbors.

Despite their reputation for devotion and zeal, the Jewish Church never became a church in the true sense of the word. The Writings refer to it as a “representative of a church” (AC 2910:3). The reason given for this designation is that there was no internal charity within its worship. Therefore the Lord spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah, saying: “Do not trust in these lying words, saying: `The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these’… Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other Gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say: `We are delivered to do all these abominations’? `Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? `Behold I, even I, have seen it,’ says the Lord” (Jer. 7:9-11).

It is charity that makes a church to be a church. The quality of a church is according to the quality of the charity among those who constitute the church, just as it is the quality of a person’s loves which determines one’s character. Worship and instruction are means leading to the church and introducing man into it. But it is repentance, or amendment of life, which establishes it. Therefore the Lord said to Israel: “If you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor; if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever” (Jer. 7:5-7). In the Word the land of Canaan represents the church. To dwell in the land of Canaan means to have the church established within oneself.

While the doctrine of repentance is well known in the Christian Church both in the Old and New yet it is not a particularly appealing doctrine. People would rather focus their attention on the more positive aspects of religion: the acknowledgment of God, participation in public worship and the doing of good works. Repentance, or the shunning of evil, involves combat against our natural and instinctive loves; it is seemingly a battle against ourselves. We are naturally disinclined to resist our natural tendencies, for this calls for self-examination, a condemnation of self, and a struggle requiring self-control and self-discipline. Our inclination is to avoid this struggle is we can or, possibly, to postpone it to a later stage in life when we imagine spiritual trials will be less severe.

We may resort to rationalization in our attempts to avoid coming to grips with spiritual reality by asserting that religion is essentially a positive thing while repentance is negative. We may persuade ourselves that if we acknowledge the Lord, worship Him, and do good to the neighbor, then the Lord will forgive us for the evils we do. He will see that we are basically good.

To illustrate the prevalence of the tendency to rationalize on this issue, it is a matter of record that some prominent church leaders have advocated dropping the Ten Commandments from the church liturgy on the grounds that they are negative rather than positive, Judaic and not Christian. They are blamed for making religion unpopular with young people because they consist mainly of prohibitions. Some have even gone so far as to claim that some of the commandments of the Decalogue are no longer relevant, that they are a reflection of the moral standards of a bygone age.

In connection with this view of the Ten Commandments, we would note that the Lord was once approached and asked: “Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” The Lord replied: “Why do you call Me good? There is none good but one, and that is God; but if you will enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:16, 17, emphasis added).

In saying this the Lord Himself established the Ten Commandments as the basis of a spiritual and moral life for the Christian Church. It is interesting to observe that the man asked: “What good thing shall I do?” rather than: “What evils should I shun?” The young man’s saying this is confirmation of the fact that we are inherently disposed to believe that we merit salvation by the doing of good rather than by the shunning of evil. The Lord’s answer, however, dispels this illusion and establishes the fact that heavenly life is imparted to a person as a result of keeping the Lord’s commandments, for He went on to enumerate, in answer to a further question, what evils must be shunned. Jesus said: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness” (Matt. 19:18).

In certain states of life and at certain times, the doctrine of repentance may discourage and depress us and dampen our enthusiasm for the life of religion. But let us realize that it is nevertheless a rational necessity. Perhaps if we better understand why it is so necessary we may adopt an affirmative response to this doctrine, and thus embark willingly and wholeheartedly upon the road to eternal life through the gateway of repentance.

The key to understanding the necessity for repentance is contained in the Lord’s answer to the man who asked Him what good thing he could do to have eternal life. The Lord prefaced His answer with a remark which at first appears to be irrelevant, but which, in fact, is basic to a correct understanding of the matter. He said: “Why do you call Me good? There is none good but one, that is God.”

The man believed that man, of himself, can do good. He did not know that the person he was speaking to was God incarnate. He addressed him as “teacher.” The Lord, perceiving the man’s opinion of Him, pointed out that God alone is good. Goodness cannot rightly be predicated of man.

This is a fundamental truth: The Lord alone is good! We, of ourselves, can do nothing that is good. We can do good only from the Lord. In fact, since the fall of the Most Ancient Church, man of himself apart from the Lord can do nothing but evil. The fall of the human race from its original state of integrity came about as a result of man’s attributing to himself what he receives from God. That is, he ascribed wisdom, intelligence and goodness to himself instead of acknowledging that he receives these from the Lord. Thus the interiors of his mind were turned away from the Lord toward self. Human nature became perverted.

The Word teaches that man, by inheritance, tends toward evils of every kind. Every evil which is indulged in by a person is passed on to the next generation as a tendency, and so on successively generation after generation. The rampant moral disorders and violence that pervade modern society are stark confirmation of this truth.

As noted in our opening quotation, during childhood and youth we are prepared for entering into the church or for regeneration. Through instruction and worship we learn what is good and true, and what is evil and false. We learn to distinguish between them. But though we know what is good, that does not mean that we will it. Intellectually we may prefer good to evil because we see the consequences of each. But instinctively we desire evil because it appeals to our hereditary nature.

Good and evil are opposites. They cannot be together. They mutually repel each other. Evils must, therefore, be put away or shunned in order that good, which we from reason prefer, may be received. In establishing this point we would quote this vivid and picturesque passage from the True Christian Religion. The question is asked: “Who can introduce sheep and kids and lambs into fields or woods where there are all kinds of wild beasts? Who can make a garden out of a piece of ground that is overgrown with thorns, briars and nettles before he has rooted out those noxious weeds? Who can establish a mode of administering justice according to judicial practices in a city held by hostile forces … before he has expelled those forces? It is the same with evils in man. They are like wild beasts, like thorns and briars, and like hostile forces; and the church can no more have a common abode with evils than a man can dwell in a cage where there are tigers and leopards, or sleep in a bed with poisonous herbs strewed upon it and stuffed into the pillows” (TCR 511).

The life which leads to heaven begins with repentance, or amendment of life. There is no other way. As long as we refuse to shun evils as sins, or avoid doing so, we cannot do good that is really good. No matter how active we are in performing uses to others, no matter how diligently we worship the Lord, we are not doing good, for this apparent good is tainted by evils at the source. The Lord said that a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit (see Matt. 7:17,18). Pure water cannot be drawn from a polluted river.

Let us take to heart these words of the Lord, uttered from Divine mercy, for our benefit: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil; learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the oppressor! Defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now and let us reason together, says the Lord: 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.

Lessons: Luke 15:1,11-32, Jeremiah 7:1-11, AC 8387-8391

Arcana Coelestia 8387-8391

He who wishes to be saved must confess his sins and do repentance.

To confess sins is to become thoroughly acquainted with evils, to see them in oneself, to acknowledge them, to regard oneself as guilty, and to condemn oneself on account of them. When this is done before God, it is to confess sins.

To do repentance is, after one has thus confessed his sins and from a humble heart has made supplication for their forgiveness, to desist from them and to lead a new life according to the commands of faith.

He who merely acknowledges that he is a sinner like all others, and who regards himself as guilty of all evils, and does not examine himself that is, see his sins does indeed make confession, but not the confession of repentance, for he lives afterward as he had done before.

He who leads a life of faith does repentance daily; for he reflects upon the evils that are in him, acknowledges them, guards himself against them, and supplicates the Lord for aid. For from himself man is continually falling, but is continually being raised up by the Lord. He falls from himself when he thinks what is evil with desire; and he is raised up by the Lord when he resists evil, and consequently does not do it. Such is the state with all who are in good; but they who are in evil are continually falling, and also are continually being uplifted by the Lord; but this to prevent them from falling into the most grievous hell of all, whither from themselves they incline with all their might: thus uplifting them into a milder hell.

OUR WAY, OUR TRUTH AND OUR LIFE

OUR WAY, OUR TRUTH AND OUR LIFE
A Sermon by Rev. J. Clark Echols, Jr.
Preached in Denver, Colorado, on August 3, 1986

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”‘ (John 14:6).

Imagine yourself in a maze of corridors. There are many corners, and walking along, you quickly lose your sense of direction. You ask yourself, what is motivating me to walk at all? What gives me the ability to make the choices as to which hall to take, where to turn, where not to turn? Such a nightmare situation can leave only a sense of desperation, helplessness and even terror.

Now imagine a person living just before the Lord was born on earth. People lived such a nightmare in their spiritual lives. The hells could easily enter and confuse their thoughts about truth. Was hardly moving at all on the sabbath really helpful? Did the invisible, vengeful God really smell the odors of their sacrifices? Were blatantly dishonest fellow Jews nonetheless one’s neighbor over and above honest gentiles? The maze of regulations for the ancient Jew often led to confusion, doubt and an inner frustration.

And then Jesus came to the earth — God incarnate. Seeing what He did, believing what He said, had unbelievable effects. Confessing a belief in Him, and repenting and beginning a new life actually changed a person’s life. The maze was gone. It was as if a new light was in the heavens: not a light for the eyes, but a light for the mind that enlightened so many things that were then obviously true. And with the light came a warmth: not from the sun but from within, as if the heart could feel it rising from deep within.

The Lord’s redemption of all mankind has saved us from the anguish of the ancient Jews. But the turmoil and conflict still go on in our spirit. In fact, it was His redemption that makes possible our spiritual journey to heavenly happiness. For He opened men’s minds — all men’s minds, then and forever — to a new depth of understanding and feeling. A new light actually could reach into men’s minds. Our Creator’s love could be felt in a new way. Immanuel — God with us — walked the earth, and then rose from the tomb and established His Divine Human, whom we can all see with our mind’s eye, feel with our spiritual heart, and so know and truly love.

Our text proclaims that this redemption was the Lord’s sole objective in coming to earth. He, in Himself and by Himself alone, is the way, the truth and the life for us. We cannot come to know the Father — our Creator and Sustainer — except through His glorified Divine Human. “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Our text contains in a summary the whole process of our regeneration: to go the way of the Lord; to come to a true vision of that way by means of His truth; and thereby to receive His spiritual life.

The Lord called Himself the “way” because only His Human, established by His life on earth, can lead us to heaven. The Divine Human is a concept the finite human mind can fathom. He makes plain, before our sense as we read the New Testament, Jehovah the Father. The Divine Human communicates the Lord’s love and wisdom in a new way, reaching to our limited minds. This is how the Lord is the Word, for the Word is the principal means by which we come to know the Divine Human. It is our only source for our knowledge of the Lord and heavenly things, and the things of our own spirit.

To go the Lord’s way is to use the truth we discover. The Lord has done us a great favor in revealing Himself to us. It is up to us, however, to rely on His revelation of truth as a guide to our way. So we must find the doctrines that the Word teaches: the doctrine concerning the Lord, concerning true faith, concerning spiritual charity, and concerning the work we must do. Then, with an understanding of what the doctrines are — an understanding provided by the Lord, actually — we work to compel ourselves to obey them. Imagine again that maze of corridors. Any sense of desperation, all feeling of helplessness, will disappear when we realize that in our hands is a map — a detailed map setting forth the configuration of our spirit, the dead ends of selfishness, the darkened halls of falsity, the pitfalls of merely worldly advice. And the map, in a bold way, shows the right path, the path out to our promised land.

The Lord, then, has provided us with a revelation, and has given us the ability to use it. As with everything in His creation, there are levels of understanding, and practice is needed. The child begins with the literal sense of the Word alone. The rules are simple, almost black and white. As the child’s mind develops, however, he is able to make interpretations and see the fine lines. Indeed, the literal sense, as understood by adults, is very flexible. The adult is able to interpret it according to preconceived notions. We can even look for wanted results and explanations that will cover for our weaknesses and our sins. The letter of the Word, we are told, can even be twisted by an evil person to confirm whatever he wants to believe.

And so the adult must turn to the internal sense of the Word for guidance in obeying the literal sense, as we are commanded to do. It is as if our map was so good that the maze, even though very complex, becomes ordered. The internal sense will do nothing for us if we don’t see it and feel it guiding our spirit to a certain external way of living. But as we do that, we become less dependent upon the things of our senses. We become less susceptible to external things ruling our spirit. We learn better, with more clarity, just what the Word is teaching us. We learn that we can handle the things that happen to us in this early life from a new perspective. What is truly God’s order for our individual life can be discovered. This is what is meant by discovering the Lord in our life. For the light, warmth, order and delight we feel are all His in us. As the Writings say, the doctrine we draw from the literal sense of the Word by means of the internal sense becomes living, active in every smallest part of our life.

The purpose of doctrine, then, is to lead us to a vision of the Lord that will prompt us to change our ways. Thus, He is the way. We are not born with this vision; we must work to acquire it. While the Lord created us all for heaven, to reach the finish of the maze successfully, hereditary evil and the influences of the hells lead us into dead ends and inescapable pits.

There is one warning the Word gives us about doctrine. Doctrine is drawn from the Word by people who prayerfully are trying to apply the Word to their situation, their age. And so there must be some assurance that whether the doctrine has been developed by oneself or by the church for its members to apply, it is genuine. It must promote our sight of the Lord. It must give us a clear and rational vision of our Creator and Ruler. A false or confused doctrine will destroy our vision of God so necessary to our salvation. The doctrinal confusion in the Christian world today is an example of what happens when the genuine doctrine is not known. In an effort to explain the incarnation and glorification in a politically expedient way, the priest of the Christian Church separated the persons of Father and Son. They left behind the picture given in the New Testament, as well as the experiences and beliefs of the early church leaders. The literal sense says that the Son must lead to the Father. How can the doctrine of separate persons agree with this?

Doctrine is to be drawn from the letter in accordance with the internal sense. Doctrine is thus really spiritual. It is matter of our understanding, not simply the written Word. Look what happens spiritually to the people and life of the church when such a false doctrine is believed. With the Son and Father separated, the visible God is separated from the essential God. Thus the knowable, lovable God given to us through the Divine Human is destroyed. Without a rational and concrete concept of what and who God is, there is no tangible, real foundation of truth for civil and moral law, much less spiritual law. This lack of a clear standard of truth is behind all the confusion we see in the Christian world today. Even good people are in darkness; they have lost their way, and the doctrine of the church provides no guidance. Doctrine may be apparently drawn from the Word, but it is no longer true.

The Writings make clear the distinction between the Divine truth and doctrine drawn from the Word by men. It is the Divine truth that gives doctrine its power in us. This is why the Lord said He is the truth. Not only does He show us the way, but His truth in us is His power to cast out evil spirits from us, reform our minds, enlighten us as to the truth, and judge us as to evil. It is the Lord who saves us. Not only does He show us the way through the maze, but He established the original path.

Ever since the spiritual fall of mankind we have been adding paths, dead ends, quagmires and deep pits to the original straight and even way to heaven. Our evil has even made the road to hell look broad and smooth and the road to heaven narrow and rocky. To realize that we have the power to make the truth seem harsh, demanding, judgmental and condemning is to see that the Lord did not create it that way. The Lord’s Divine truth, His order, the means of the creation of all things, did not make life a maze. Merely worldly interests and desires are a very broad and easy road to follow. The only way to see it for what it is is to use the Word as our guide. And while we are, in a sense, cursed with this situation from our birth, it need not remain that way.

The Lord is the truth. His order, taught us in the literal and internal senses of the Word, defines the straight path to happiness forever. This must be simply an article of faith with us at first. But as we experience it, we will discover that the truth can give us an idea of what the Lord wants us to be. The whole purpose and end to which truth looks is the revealing of what is evil and what is good so that we can learn the distinction. To be in the truth is to be part of the Lord’s stream of Providence, always carrying us through the maze of conflicting ideas and desires. The truth’s work in our spirit is to order and mold us into vessels receptive of the Lord’s love. That is the truth’s real job, not to be a harsh taskmaster or source of guilt and condemnation. The Divine truth shows us the Lord’s love. It is the Son through whom we can come to see the Father: the Lord’s love and constant care for our spiritual progress.

This leads us to see why the Lord called Himself “the life.” Yet this proclamation runs right against all appearances. Don’t we have life? Are we not in control of our life? We never feel it coming into us from somewhere. However, we must ask, what is the source of this appearance, this feeling of ours? Is it to be trusted? In fact, the feeling that we have life in ourselves is manufactured by our senses. As science has shown us, our senses can be easily fooled. What is more important, our senses cannot see around the corners of life. They are blind to spiritual con-sequences of our actions. Their view of our life is full of fallacies and mere appearances.

The whole Word urges us to cast off all belief that we live from ourselves. Certainly the appearance is there: the Lord created the human that way! This is why we are totally free and able, of ourselves, to really choose whether we will love and follow the Lord or not. The Word further tells us — exhorts us — to believe that all life is from the Lord, and that we are totally dependent upon Him. Our benefit will be true freedom. No longer will selfishness, greed and external things enslave us; no longer will low self-esteem and guilt incapacitate us. The Lord is in us, and we have all in Him! The way becomes clear, the truth living, and His love a warmth deep within us. There is little we can know about how the Lord flows into us and gives us life. It is a miracle. Yet our faith in that miracle becomes a living faith when we live our lives in accordance with it. And then, because it is part of us, this hardest of all truths to believe will bless us in unforeseen and greatly delightful ways. That He gives us life means that we don’t have to save ourselves, a task we have found impossible. And it means that we have found the motivating force in our walk through the maze. We have found that the Lord gives us the ability to make the choices before us, to decide which way to turn. What a relief! What a burden off our shoulders! The fact that we have many hard choices to make in our life is no longer depressing. The Lord has provided for our eternal happiness. The choices, though difficult and sometimes painful, are for our progress, and are not Divinely provided roadblocks, dead ends or trap doors created for the sake of our frustration.

Our goal of seeing our way through the confusing, conflicting choices we have to make is reached when the way, the truth and the life are established in our minds. The Lord will dwell in us. When we acknowledge the doctrines of the Word as the rules for our life, the Divine truth is revealed to us and we come to know our God. He is then visible before us, directing our steps to heaven. When we love the Lord, when we wish to do His truth, He can come into us with spiritual life, opening our minds to an ever-deepening understanding of Him and love for Him. Then the Lord is our way, our truth, and our life. Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 25, John 14:1-20, AC 2531:21 3

Arcana Coelestia 2531:21 3

That it may be further known how the case is with the doctrine. of faith as being spiritual from a celestial origin, be it known that it is Divine truth from Divine good, and thus wholly Divine. What is Divine is incomprehensible because above all understanding, even the angelic; but still this Divine, which in itself is incomprehensible, can flow in through the Lord’s Divine Human into man’s rational; and when it flows into his rational, it is there received according to the truths which are therein, thus variously, and not with one as with another. Insofar, therefore, as the truths with a man are more genuine, so far the Divine which flows in is received more perfectly, and so far the man’s understanding is enlightened.

In the Lord’s Word are truths themselves, but in its literal sense are truths which are accommodated to the apprehension of those who are in external worship; whereas in its internal sense are truths accommodated to those who are internal men; that is, to those who are angelic as to doctrine and at the same time as to life. Their rational is enlightened therefrom to such a degree that their enlightenment is compared to the brightness of the stars and the sun (Dan. 12:3, Matt. 13:43). Hence it is plain how important it is that interior truths be known and received. These truths may indeed be known, but by no means received, except by those who have love to the Lord or faith in Him; for as the Lord is the Divine good, so He is the Divine truth; consequently He is doctrine itself, since whatever is in the doctrine of true faith looks to the Lord, and looks also to the heavenly kingdom and the church, and to all things of the heavenly kingdom and the church. But all these are His, and are the intermediate ends through which the last end, that is, the Lord, is regarded.