A Sermon by Rev. Ragnar BoyesenPreached in Freeport, Pennsylvania, in October 1985
The Heavenly Doctrines explain to us the nature of angels, their existence, occupations and how they came to be what they are. Only when the Heavenly Doctrines stood forth to describe spiritual reality was man able to know a coherent doctrine regarding their life.
In the Old Testament, for instance, we are told hardly anything concerning angels. It is true that the Lord promised to send His angel to Israel, and that the Jews learned to regard them as messengers from God. They were called “elohim” — the holy ones — or as it is put in Greek: angelos. The Hebrew expression “elohim” was used to refer to different messengers from God; therefore it is plural. Sometimes these were the prophets, the priests, or grand phenomena in nature, as, for instance, the pillar of light or the pillar of cloud seen by the Israelites in the desert as they were led out of Egypt. All of the signs, the wind, plagues done in the name of the Lord, were called elohim.
The most specific expression is “the angel of Jehovah”; such were identified as “sons of God,” with which the Jews ascribed qualities in themselves which made them believe that they were the chosen people of God. Angels therefore became messengers to them specially approved of by God. The most specific use of the name elohim revolves around the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who was to be the promised one, the King, the Messiah who would carry God’s message of universal salvation of the Jews. After the captivity in Babylon, the Jews developed a complicated angeology. Angels came to be ranged in seven ascending categories. In later contact with Hellenistic thought, it came to be thought that angels were not personal beings but rather emanations from God. Wherever there was a need for an angel it was created in an instant by God. Those of the Jews, however, who came to regard the Palestinian concept as the more correct one believed angels to be individual and personal, but eternal spirits created as such. Since they had been created before the earth existed, angels came to be otherworldly and different. As messengers of God, in time angels came to have less standing than the living Jews, who were the chosen people of God.
This concept of angels as a separate creation of God was imported into Christianity: they were especially created by God, and were to be called His holy family. Like the ancient Greek ideas of the fallibility of gods, the holy angels came to be seen capable of failure, expressed in the belief that one group of angels revolted against God, to go off and form hell. The struggle of good and evil came to be symbolized by the angels of light versus the angels of darkness.
Because the importation of Greek and Babylonian/Judaic thought into Christian thinking caused men to slowly lose sight of the need to prepare themselves to become angels, the Heavenly Doctrines were given to make clear to all who want to understand that angelhood is part of the Lord’s Divine plan for each of us.
But some will say, Why do we need to talk about angels, and all the vague notions of eternal life, when there is such a need for all churches to fight poverty, need, criminality and sickness? Why do we not concentrate on the world, here and now, on America today? Would it not be more New Church to ease the burdens people bear?
Indeed it would if we would remember the original meaning of the term angel: “a messenger from God.” If there is anything which we humans need in all situations of life it is to be reminded that we live in the world for a purpose beyond the world, and that the life we live in the world will be markedly qualified by the type of belief we have of a life to come.
If you think about it, you know so well how the world is filled with organizations to help the needy on the local, national and international levels. All these fight on the natural plane with the natural problems of people, and should rightly do so to enhance society. Yet who in the world is willing to fight for the alleviation of the spiritual problems of the world today? If it is true that God needs messengers to bring the good news from the spiritual world down to the natural world, is it not much more important in our day that there be true reporting on spiritual reality? Without tools the Lord cannot, work. We, as human beings still in the world, are His tools. We are the angelos He wants to send to our neighbors to reassure them that there are qualities which must come from God to each human being in order that we one day may come close to God. We are, therefore, in steady need of reminders of the Lord’s purpose in creation. He made man in His own image and likeness that man one day may be an angel. Every time we fasten our thoughts on eternity we are to remind ourselves and others that heaven is the ultimate home of every sincere man and woman.
We are reminded of the young man who wanted to be an angel and asked the Lord, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The Lord answered, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17).
Life, we are told in the Writings, is the Lord Himself (see AC 2628:5). The Lord as life is heaven, while the angels constitute heaven (see HH 7). Heaven is kept in order by the law that proceeds from the Lord, who is the inmost of heaven. The ten commandments, as we know them from the Old Testament, are the most concrete summary of these laws, and have sprung out of the heavenly law. “In heaven [the ten commandments] do not sound as they do on earth, for in the heavens they are in a spiritual form, but on the earth in a natural form” (AC 8862).
When these laws are earnestly taken into the life of a human on this earth, they will cause a mental crisis, where the powers of good and truth attempt to order the mind from within. The uproar caused by truth is actually proof that truth is working, and that selfish thoughts and expressions of will rebel against them. Our false plans and evil inclinations can only be seen in the true light of the spiritual world, brought to us through angels who want to help us. To be an angel, then, means to learn how to live according to the ten commandments, both in their external and internal application. By using these laws as the yardstick of our willingness to follow the Lord’s will, we can find greater love and wisdom as we clearly receive the help of angels who love to think of us as angels in the making. “To believe and think, as is the truth, that every good and truth is from the Lord and every evil and falsity from hell appears like an impossibility; and yet it is the truly human principle, and therefore truly angelic” (DP 321:4). In the world we believe for the most part that it would destroy our freedom to ascribe everything to the Lord, but the angels know better. “With every man, and with every angel,” the Arcana tells us, “even the most celestial [angel], that which is his own is nothing but falsity and evil. For it is known that the heavens are not clean before the Lord, and that all good and all truth are of the Lord alone. But so far as a man or an angel is capable of being perfected, so far of the Lord’s Divine mercy he is perfected, and receives, as it were, an understanding of truth and a will of good. But his having these is only an appearance” (AC 633).
It is common among humans in the world to believe that they have their own life, because they feel individually separated and master of their lives to some degree. But neither angels nor men actually have life in themselves, even if they feel life in themselves. If this life were their own possession, they would be gods. Our reading today made it clear that what is angelic in the heavens is the Divine love and the Divine wisdom. This Divine love and wisdom is called angelic when it is in angels (see DLW 114).
When this is said, we must also remind ourselves that it is impossible for man or angel to receive the Lord unless there is a feeling of self-life. To feel that life is one’s own is a true and necessary appearance. However, to confirm that we are indeed captains of our lives is harmful. We have but one source of life — the Lord. Yet we have only one feeling of life — as if life were in ourselves. If angels and men could not have this feeling of life in themselves as integral to what they think and do, they could not function. If this feeling of life in ourselves were not there, we would not be able to receive the inflowing life from the Lord. “Who can wish to love the Lord and his neighbor, and who can wish to be wise, without a sense and perception that what he loves, learns, and imbibes is, as it were, his own? Who otherwise can retain it in himself? If this were not so, the inflowing love and wisdom would have no abiding place, for it would flow through and not affect; thus an angel would not be an angel, nor would man be a man” (DLW 115).
What is important to note here is that the sensation that life is in man belongs to both men and angels, but that only angels, and men who are training to become angels, really can acknowledge that life is not their own but a gift to care for and cherish. In the same degree that people believe that love and wisdom really is a function of their own lives, as if it were their own possession, they arrest the love and wisdom, because in the same degree they are not angelic. Everyone who claims life to belong to himself as his own property denies that he lives from the Lord, and believes that he lives from himself. If we are to live from the Lord, we will gladly acknowledge His life as our life, and rejoice in this dependence as a son on his father.
Everyone who wants to be an angel is given the opportunity and the ability to answer the Lord’s Divine love. This ability does not belong to any angel or man, but is the Lord’s with him.
What, then, makes man separate and worthy of Divine attention? Divine Love and Wisdom answers: “In everything created by God there is reaction. In life alone there is action; reaction is caused by the action of life. Because reaction takes place when any created thing is acted upon, it appears as if it belonged to what is created. Thus in man it appears as if the reaction were his, because he has no other feeling than that life is his, when yet man is only a recipient of life. From this cause it is that man, by reason of his hereditary evil, reacts against God. But so far as man believes that all his life is from God, and that all good of life is from the action of God, and all evil of life from the reaction of man, so far his reaction comes to be from [God’s] action, and man acts with God as if from himself” (DLW 68 — emphasis added).
Man can never reach God from his own power. No angel of the heavens has been created in heaven for a life in heaven, but has first been a man with his own ability to react to the Lord. It is the will of the Lord that all human beings receive life both on the three degrees of natural life and the three degrees of spiritual life. Even as some believe that angels have more of the Divine in them than men on the earth, the reality is that the Lord is equally present with all men, wise or simple, but that how we receive the Lord makes all the difference. The difference is not in the Lord. He would have liked to make all men angels. The difference is in man — in his ability and willingness to follow Divine laws, and to make these laws his own with Divine aid. The greater this mutuality grows because of man’s striving to live according to Divine will, the greater the joy, beauty and expression of that Divine life, which when received by man or angel is called angelic.
“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things have I spoken to you that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10, 11).
Lessons: Matt. 19:16-30, DLW 114, 115
Divine Love and Wisdom
114. The Lord not only is in heaven, but also is heaven itself; for love and wisdom are what make the angel, and these two are the Lord’s in the angels; from which it follows that the Lord is heaven. For angels are not angels from what is their own; what is their own is altogether like what is man’s own, which is evil. An angel’s own is such because all angels were once men, and this own clings to the angels from their birth. It is only put aside, and so far as it is put aside the angels receive love and wisdom, that is, the Lord, in themselves. Anyone, if he will only elevate his understanding a little, can see that the Lord can dwell in angels only in what is His, that is, in what is His very own., which is love and wisdom, and not at all in the selfhood of angels, which is evil. From this it is that so far as evil is put away, so far the Lord is in them, and so far they are angels. The very angelic of heaven is love Divine and wisdom Divine. This Divine is called the angelic when it is in angels. From this, again, it is evident that angels are angels from the Lord, and not from themselves; consequently, the same is true of heaven.
115. But how the Lord is in an angel and an angel in the Lord cannot be comprehended unless the nature of their conjunction is known. Conjunction is of the Lord with the angel and of the angel with the Lord; conjunction, therefore, is reciprocal. On the part of the angel it is as follows. The angel, in like manner as man, has no other perception than that he is in love and wisdom from himself, consequently that love and wisdom are, as it were, his or her own. Unless he so perceived, there would be no conjunction, thus the Lord would not be in him, nor he in the Lord. Nor can it be possible for the Lord to be in any angel or man unless the one in whom the Lord is, with love and wisdom, has a perception and sense as if they were his. By this means the Lord is not only received but also, when received, is retained, and likewise loved in return. And by this, also, the angel is made wise and continues wise. Who can wish to love the Lord and his neighbor, and who can wish to be wise, without a sense and perception that what he loves, learns, and imbibes is, as it were, his own? Who otherwise can retain it in himself? If this were not so, the inflowing love and wisdom would have no abiding place, for it would flow through and not affect; thus an angel would not be an angel, nor would man be a man; he would be merely like something inanimate. From all this it can be seen that there must be an ability to reciprocate that there may be conjunction.