“The chief thing of the church is to acknowledge God, to believe in God, and to love Him.”
Emanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia 10816
“The chief thing of the church is to acknowledge God, to believe in God, and to love Him.”
Emanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia 10816
“The church comes from the Lord and it exists in people who go to Him and live according to His commandments.”
Emanuel Swedenborg, Married Love 129
Copyright 2017, The New Church/General Church of the New Jerusalem. All rights reserved.
for Tuesday, January 23, 2018
“Faith is more than knowldege… First and foremost it is obedience to everything that faith teaches; and the primary thing faith teaches and requires our obedience to is love – love for the Lord and love for our neighbor.”
Emanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia 36
We all know that we live in a society of victims.
Everyone understands that rights go hand in hand with responsibilities. But as individuals, we are far more interested in our rights than we are in our responsibilities. We are happy to decry those who apparently impinge upon our rights, whilst ignoring our responsibilities. Litigation is a very real shadow over every form of useful endeavour in our world. The costs of insurance against such an event continues to become an ever-greater burden upon schools, churches, community groups, health providers, and businesses. And these are organisations who exist for our benefit.
If we are in circumstances that we can’t change and which we’ve had no influence over, then we really are victims. A few weeks ago I walked in on my daughter Ebony watching a real-life crime documentary about a double murder – husband and wife attacked and killed in their motel room, by another couple whom they did not know and had never met, who selected them at random for the pure pleasure of killing. They were victims in the truest sense.
But I’m not talking about them today. Neither am I talking about other people who play the blame game. I’m talking about me and you. I’m going to show that there are very few real victims among us. You may feel that you are, or have been, a victim at one time or another. You may feel challenged by some of this, and that is my intention. While I am not interested in what we can’t change, we often accept a great deal that we could influence and change, simply by believing ourselves victims. Let’s begin with …
Our Eternal Welfare.
In some Christian churches, there’s some cause for equivocation about our responsibility for our own salvation. After all, if one must verbally acknowledge the person of Jesus as Saviour in order to be saved, what happens with the countless number who never heard of Jesus, through being born on the wrong place at the wrong time?
But for the New Church, there is no such uncertainty. If we accept heaven and hell as the realities Swedenborg insists they are, no one can blame anyone else for their predicament. God does not condemn people to hell, people do that for themselves:
“Anyone who thinks rationally can realise that no one is born for hell – everyone is born for heaven. We ourselves are to blame if we arrive in hell …” (Heaven and Hell, paragraph 329)
In a very real way, I am master of my own destiny. Now, some might say that this is a denial of the power of God in an individual’s life, and a denial of our need of Him. But this is not the case. I am master of my own destiny only because He makes me so, as we read in Revelation:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)
The possibility of heaven is a free gift from God, without whom I would have no hope of salvation. But in Swedenborg’s work, I learn that I am not specially chosen or privileged by this hope, it is a hope that is on offer to every person on this planet. Thereby, I can only hold myself responsible if I do not take it.
“The Lord never sends anyone to hell, but wishes to lead all away from hell; less still does He bring anyone into torment. But since an evil spirit rushes into it himself the Lord turns all the punishment and torment to good and to some use.” (Heavenly Secrets, paragraph 696)
What about our thoughts?
In recent years, many people – of all faiths and none – have come to recognise that thoughts flow into us from a source outside of ourselves. The modern fascination with meditation, ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), and other psychologies have brought this idea firmly into the mainstream of contemporary thought. But it’s not new to readers of Swedenborg. Of course, then, the question is whether I might be regarded a victim of my thoughts:
“… when some people were shown convincingly that we do not think on our own but receive thoughts from others, …, in their wonderment they claimed that it meant that they were not to blame for doing evil …” (Divine Providence, paragraph 294)
It’s a fairly straightforward conclusion to come to, isn’t it? But Swedenborg continues:
“… If indeed everything a person thinks flows in from others, the fault does seem to lie with those from whom the thought originates. But still the fault itself lies with him who receives, for he accepts the thought as his own, nor does he know anything to the contrary, or want to know anything to the contrary. …” (Divine Providence, paragraph 294)
No, we are neither helpless nor blameless in the face of our mental life. Whilst we certainly may experience unwelcome and disturbing thoughts, we are not compelled to carry them out in any way. We have a choice.
Are we responsible for our actions?
Well, we generally understand that we are responsible for our actions. But we’re not good at applying it to ourselves! Under the law, we are held accountable for our actions irrespective of the circumstances which we might claim either caused or justified them.
Pam and I have recently completed a marriage course, using material from Alpha Course. Session 4 (entitled, The Power of Forgiveness), asks: “At times of disagreement, what words and phrases are you aware that you use, if any, that hurt your partner?” Yes, it does give space to identify what your partner does and says to hurt you, but the primary focus is upon one’s own behaviours. The focus is on my responsibilities not my rights! You see, if my actions are merely the result of my circumstances, then the same must also be true of my marriage partner. But as my actions then become my partner’s circumstances, thus prompting their actions, we would quickly find ourselves in a disintegrating cycle of chaos! The only way to prevent such a trend lies in taking responsibility for one’s own actions.
It is sobering to realise the many well documented cases of physical and sexual abuse in which abusers routinely blame their victims for their crime. The guilty focus their attention not upon their own culpability, but upon the perceived provocation of this they harmed. Intellectually, they make themselves the victim, mentally reversing reality. But they don’t do this because they’re peculiarly evil, they do it because they’re human! It is a tendency we must all guard against.
Surely, we are not to blame for our external circumstances?
Well, … maybe. It’s not as cut and dried as we like to think.
When Pam and I lived in Sydney, during the early years of our marriage, Pam spent time regularly on the road, frequently driving long distances to coastal and country New South Wales. On one occasion, as Pam was travelling down a fast country road, an elderly woman turned left in front of her, leaving no time for Pam to brake, and the two cars collided. Thankfully no-one was injured. In the aftermath, I remember talking to a friend of ours, a lawyer, who was assisting us with the insurance claim. I remember his comment: that every driver is regarded as sharing some responsibility, just for being on the road!
While on holiday earlier this year, Pam indulged her penchant for opportunity shops, and I accompanied her on one of these trips. As I needed something to read, I went and happily browsed the shelves of the secondhand books. One of the books I found was entitled, What If? Military historians imagine what might have been. Although I’m not really much into history, and especially not the history of war, the premise is an interesting one: how would the world be different if Hitler had won the Second World War, for example. The first chapter is on the defeat of the Assyrian army recorded in the Second book of Kings, chapter 17 to 19.
But I want to talk about Napoleon: what if he had won the battle of Waterloo? After all, the Duke of Wellington described it as, “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.”
“Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. One of the greatest commanders in history, his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleon)
So, why did Napoleon fail? Was it pure chance? No. Granted, Napoleon may well have won at Waterloo, but it was only a matter of time before he had stretched his armies just that bit too thinly. Ambitious, and greedy for further conquests, the greatest obstacle to Napoleon’s success was his own character. Evil carries the seeds of its own destruction, and its own punishment.
“Every single thing in the next life is balanced in such a way that evil punishes itself. So evil carries its own punishment with it, as likewise does falsity which comes back on him in whom falsity dwells.” (Heavenly Secrets, paragraph 696)
We have far more influence upon our circumstances than most of us realise. A change in our circumstances may be as simple as a fresh outlook and attitude. I was reading over Pam’s shoulder the other day, as she read a book on finances. Redundancy is never a pleasant experience, but the author suggested a new view of the situation, perhaps as an opportunity to kick-start a new business venture, and becoming your own boss.
There might be other, unexpected ways to influence our circumstances. I find that my immune system is boosted by regular exercise, a consequence I would never have foreseen a few years ago.
“For every smallest fraction of a moment of a person’s life entails a chain of consequences extending into eternity. Indeed every one is like a new beginning to those that follow, and so every single moment of the life both of his understanding and of his will is a new beginning.” (Heavenly Secrets, paragraph 3854)
This teaching is both hopeful and convicting. It is hopeful because at any moment I can make a change for the better. It is convicting because I realise that I am living now with the consequences of my past.
At last, let me turn to our readings for today. They concern two kings of Israel, Saul and David. Both sin, and both are confronted by a prophet with the reality of their actions. But the contrast between their responses could’t be more different.
Saul (1 Samuel 13) is confronted by a vast Philistine army. He has waited seven days for Samuel to come and offer sacrifice before engaging in battle. But Samuel has not arrived, and the people are fearful and deserting. So, Saul panics, and performs the sacrifice himself, thus usurping the old priest’s place. No sooner is the deed done, than Samuel appears and almost without stopping for breathe, Saul is explaining himself: “… I felt compelled” (verses 11-12).
From his rooftop, David sees a woman bathing and initiates a long and tangled chain of events: an adulterous affair, a failed coverup, arranging the death of a man to take his wife. The prophet Nathan arrives and confronts the king, and his response is short and simple: “I have sinned”, and then he stands and faces the consequences (see 2 Samuel 11 & 12 [esp. 12:13]; Psalm 51). To our modern mind, Saul’s mistake was so much less serious than David’s. Saul has merely offered a sacrifice, whereas David has had a man killed. Yet the consequences are so much more serious for Saul – the loss of the kingdom! You see, the difference between a bad man and a good one is not that one sins and the other doesn’t. No, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The difference is whether we acknowledge that sin for what it is, and take responsibility for it, or whether we pretend to be victim of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and seek to excuse our actions.
“Those who lead the life of faith repent daily. They pay attention to the evils present with them, acknowledge them, are on their guard against them, and implore the Lord for help. For by himself a person is constantly falling, but the Lord is constantly putting him on his feet again. By himself he falls whenever his mind desires something evil, but the Lord puts him on his feet again whenever he resists evil and therefore does not carry it out. This is the condition of all who are governed by good.” (Heavenly Secrets, paragraph 8391)
The Grace Of Our Lord Jesus Christ
By the Rev. Eric H. Carswell
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen”
At the end of many New Church services the minister’s final
words are the benediction, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be
with you all. Amen.” Other than this you would probably hear only
rare reference to the word “grace” within the New Church.
The terms, grace, mercy, and forgiveness are interconnected,
but not the same. One of the appealing ideas associated with the
Lord’s message in the New Testament is the concept of Divine
forgiveness. We don’t have to live a perfect life to make it to heaven,
and indeed we are incapable of being perfect. We all fall far short of
perfection. Even the most loving and wise angel doesn’t remotely
approach perfection. We are not perfect because our understanding
is always limited and our motivations are never completely pure.
Sometimes these qualities have only faint effects on our actions and
sometimes we, as human beings, knowingly, and with intention
choose to think, say, and do evil things. In the words of Revelation, all
that we do is written in our book of life. By the measure of perfect
truth, then each of our book of life would keep us from heaven. But
the Lord isn’t just perfect truth. He is perfect love and this love lifts all
to heaven, as it were overcoming the evil loves and false ideas that
we have attached to our lives.
The Lord as King governs each and all things in the universe
from Divine truth; and as Priest, from Divine good. Divine truth is the
very order of His universal kingdom, all the laws of which are truths,
or eternal verities Divine good is the very essential of order, all things
of which are of mercy. Both of these are predicated of the Lord. If
Divine truth alone were His, no mortal could be saved, for truths
condemn every one to hell; but Divine good, which is of mercy, uplifts
from hell to heaven (Arcana Caelestia 1728).
It is very important that each of us thinks of ourselves as being
capable of learning what is true and good and becoming better and
better able to do what is truly useful. Sometimes a person’s thoughts
can so focus on his flaws and ignorance that he feels incapable of
being useful or is encouraged into feeling irresponsible about even
trying to become a better person. But if we overcome these false
ideas, and become better and better at living a truly useful life, it is
important for us to know and acknowledge that we will always need
the Lord’s help.
Every one believes at the present day that the evil loves and
false ideas in a person are entirely separated and abolished during
regeneration, so that when he becomes regenerate, nothing of this
evil or falsity remains, but he is clean and righteous, like one washed
and purified with water. This notion is, however, utterly false; for not a
single evil love or false idea can be so shaken off as to be abolished;
but whatever has been hereditarily derived from infancy, and
acquired by act and deed, remains; so that a person, notwithstanding
his being regenerate, is nothing but evil and falsity, as is shown in a
living way to souls after death. The truth of this may be sufficiently
manifest from the consideration, that there is nothing of good and
nothing of truth in a person except from the Lord, and that all evil and
falsity are the person’s from those things that are his own; and that a
person, spirit, and even angel, if left in the least to himself, would rush
of himself into hell; wherefore also it is said in the Word that heaven
is not pure. This is acknowledged by angels, and he who does not
acknowledge it cannot be among angels. It is the Lord’s mercy alone
that frees them, and even draws them out of hell and keeps them
from rushing thither of themselves.
That they are kept by the Lord from rushing into hell, is clearly
perceived by the angels, and even in a measure by good spirits. Evil
spirits however, like people, do not believe this; but it has often been
shown them (Arcana Caelestia 868:1).
This passage states that it is the Lord’s mercy that frees us.
There are actually three distinct concepts of how the Lord’s
forgiveness is received by a person. The first is a dangerous falsity
that has led people away from following the Lord and trying to live a
good life. This is the belief that a person is forgiven and receives the
benefits of the Lord’s mercy purely by means of faith or an
acknowledgment of Christ’s death on the cross. This idea of
forgiveness and mercy, together with other supporting ideas, has led
some to assert that how a person lives his life makes no difference,
as is spoken of in the following passages:
“From this one error [that truth is the essential of the church, and so
essential that truth, which people call faith, has power to save without
the good which is of charity], very many other errors have been
derived, which have infected not only doctrine, but also life; as for
instance that no matter how a person lives, provided he has faith he
is saved; that even the most wicked are received into heaven if in the
hour of death they make profession of such things as are of faith; and
that every one can be received into heaven merely from grace,
whatever his life has been. In consequence of holding this doctrine
they at last do not know what charity is, nor do they care for it; and
finally they do not believe there is such a thing, nor consequently that
there is a heaven or a hell (Arcana Caelestia 4925:2).
“[A false principle of religion] is the doctrinal idea of a church
which acknowledges faith alone as a principle, as that a person is
justified by faith alone, that then all sins are wiped away from him,
that he may be saved by faith alone even in the last hour of his life,
that salvation is merely admission into heaven through grace, …
These and the like are the special things belonging to the principle of
faith alone. But if the church would acknowledge as its principle the
life of faith, it would acknowledge charity toward the neighbor and
love to the Lord, consequently the works of charity and of love, and
then all these special things would fall to pieces; and instead of
justification it would acknowledge regeneration” (Arcana Caelestia
Both of these passages mention the word “grace” and it might
be concluded from its association with a clearly false idea, that it
perhaps makes one with a false idea of forgiveness and salvation, but
this is not the case.
The Writings of the New Church distinguish a fundamental
difference between grace and mercy that has to do with the
recognition a person has of his or her need for the Lord’s help. Those
people whose approach to the Lord is more dominated by what they
know and acknowledge to be true are called spiritual. Those people
approach to the Lord is more dominated by what they love and
acknowledge to good are called are called heavenly, or “celestial.”
Those who, at the core of their life, are led by their understanding (or
I believe by simple obedience) acknowledge in their thoughts that
they are not perfect and that they need the Lord’s help. They
nevertheless are not so aware of their faults and flaws other than
intellectually. Consequently their humility is affected by the fact that
they sense that they see their faults and flaws with their own
A person can acknowledge, from his own reflection that he has
trouble telling the truth and the whole truth about a situation, can
acknowledge that this evil, feel remorse for this fault, and still have it
all be significantly a matter of thought. Such a person may have a
genuine humility in his approach to the Lord, but it is limited. Such a
person knows that he needs the Lord’s help in fighting this evil
tendency, knows that he needs the Lord’s forgiveness for the times
that he has lied to himself and others, and knows that as he fights this
tendency he will receive the Lord’s help and forgiveness. This state of
mind seeks what the Writings would call the Lord’s grace.
But if a person, at the core of his life, is led by a love of what is
good, he will sense the presence of evil loves and false ideas in his
life with a horrifying and saddening clarity. He will sense at a very
deep level of his life that he is absolutely dependent on the Lord’s
help. His humility before the Lord will be from his heart and far, far
surpass that of the person who is led more by his understanding.
Such people are the ones that the Writings state really understand
the Lord’s mercy.
This distinction is indicated in the following passages: “The
mercy of the Lord involves and looks to the salvation of the human
race; and so does His grace. In the Word however a distinction is
made between mercy and grace, a distinction which depends in fact
on the difference in those who are their recipients. Mercy applies to
those who are heavenly, but grace to those who are spiritual, for
heavenly people acknowledge nothing other than mercy, while
spiritual people acknowledge hardly anything other than grace.
Heavenly people do not know that grace is, while the spiritual
scarcely know what mercy is, for they make mercy and grace to be
one and the same. The reason for the difference springs from each
one’s humility. People in whom there is humility of heart plead for the
Lord’s mercy, but those in whom there is humility of mind seek His
grace. Or if the latter do plead for mercy they do so in a state of
temptation or with the lips only and not with the heart”
(Arcana Caelestia 598:2).
“People governed by an affection for truth are not able to
humble themselves sufficiently so as to acknowledge from the heart
that all things are attributable to mercy; and this being so, instead of
mercy they speak of grace. Indeed the less affection for truth is in
them, the less humility there is within their speaking of grace. On the
other hand the more affection for good exists with someone the more
humility there is within his speaking of mercy” (Arcana Caelestia
The Holy Supper is the act of worship that most clearly reflects
our need for the Lord’s help. In it we turn to the Lord, seeking to
receive more of His life within our own. The bread represents the
Lord’s love that we need within our own hearts, fundamentally
changing what we care about and make most important. The wine
represents the Lord’s wisdom that we need in our thoughts,
fundamentally changing how we see ourselves, others, and the life
we are to lead. Each of us, if we are to approach the Holy Supper
worthily, need to be actively acknowledging that we have specific
faults and flaws that harm us, others, and the uses we seek to
achieve. We need to acknowledge these evil loves and false
ideas to ourselves and to the Lord. We are to pray for His help in
fighting their influence and we are to be doing the best we can to
change the quality of the thoughts, words, and deeds that have been
tainted by them in the past.
To begin with this effort will be more a matter of intellectual
acknowledgment and we will in reality be seeking the Lord’s grace.
As the miracle of regeneration occurs we will come more and more to
recognize and acknowledge on a progressively deeper level that we
can not be the person we want to be or accomplish the things we
hope to without the Lord’s constant presence and help. From an ever
greater humility we will turn to the Lord for this help. More and more
we will truly know what His mercy is.
We cannot instantly change who we are. In fact, by ourselves,
we cannot change at all. With the Lord’s help we can gradually
become better and better human beings. Where ever we are in
spiritual growth, may we turn to the Lord, acknowledging as best we
can our need for His help. May we do our part to receive His life, His
love and wisdom more and more within our lives. And from this we
will become more and more useful human beings, all who our lives
touch will be blessed by this growing ability, and we ourselves will
grow in fulfillment and blessedness.
Lessons: Revelation 22:12-21, Arcana Caelestia 598:2, Arcana
“To acquire a heavenly selfhood a person needs to do good from themself and to think truth from themself, but still must know that all the good and all the truth are from the Lord. ”
Arcana Coelestia 2883
The Transfiguration Of The Lord
A Sermon by Rev Kurt H. Asplundh
“A bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice
came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am
well pleased. Hear Him!'” (Matt. 17:5)
Our subject is the Transfiguration of the Lord, that amazing
event recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, when the
Lord was transformed before the eyes of Peter, James and John. We
will consider this in four parts, each answering a question: First, what
took place and how did it actually happen? Second, what did it teach
about Jesus? Third, what is its representative meaning? And fourth,
What does it mean for us? What did happen?
The Lord, with His disciples, had come into the region of
Caesarea Philippi, a city north of the land of Israel situated at the
headwaters of the Jordan River. Nearby were the slopes of Mount
Hermon rising to snowcapped peaks. We can remember this
mountain from the 133rd Psalm which speaks of the delightful “dew of
Hermon” descending on the mountains of Zion. Choosing Peter,
James and John who accompanied Him on other intimate occasions,
the Lord went up onto this mountain to pray. The disciples, seemingly
dozing off after their climb, suddenly became fully awake to observe
that their Lord’s face was altered as He prayed, now shining like the
sun; and His clothing glistened with whiteness, like the snow, beyond
any imaginable whiteness of clean linen. Also, the disciples saw two
men whom they recognized as Moses, their ancient lawgiver, and
Elijah the prophet, who appeared in glory and spoke with the Lord of
His forthcoming death in Jerusalem.
Peter, overwhelmed at this wondrous sight, said, “Lord, … let us
make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one
for Elijah.” (Matt. 17:4) As he said this, a bright cloud overshadowed
them, and from the cloud a voice saying, “This is My beloved Son, in
whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Matt. 17:5). All three disciples
heard this and fell on their faces, greatly afraid. When the Lord came
to touch them and raise them up, the vision had ended. He was
alone, no longer surrounded by flaming glory and glistening light.
What happened on this occasion was a real experience, not a
dream or hallucination. The three disciples were introduced briefly
into conscious life in the spiritual world. Their spiritual eyes were
opened and, for a few moments, they saw as the angels see:
beholding the deeper spiritual qualities of their Lord that are visible in
that superior realm. Indeed, the disciples saw the face of the Lord like
the sun because His Divine love shines forth in the spiritual world as
a sun. The doctrine of the New Church teaches that He is seen by the
angels above the heavens, encompassed by the flaming brilliance of
His own Divine love.
Spiritual visions are common in Scripture, especially with the
prophets, and these took place through an opening of spiritual senses
latent in us all but now opened only rarely. For example, John
experienced visions when banished to the Isle of Patmos. Again, “in
the spirit,” as at the time of the transfiguration, having his spiritual
eyes opened, He saw the Lord as a Divine Man, “His eyes like a
flame of fire,” His hair “as white as snow.”
Having considered so far what actually happened at the
transfiguration, let us now ask what it teaches about Jesus. The voice
from the cloud which put the disciples into a state of such profound
humility and fear identified him as the “Son of God.” “This is My
beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Matt. 17:5)
Who is this “beloved Son”? The doctrine of the New Church
describes Him as the “Divine Human,” God in Human form. “Before
the Lord came into the world He was present with men of the church
but only medially through angels who represented Him; but since His
coming He is present with men of the church immediately, and this
because in the world He put on also a Divine Natural [form] in which
He is present with men.” (TCR 109) Jehovah God put on a degree of
life called the Natural, “thereby becoming Man, like a man in the
world,” we are told, “but with the difference that in the Lord this
degree … is infinite and uncreated … ” (DLW 233, emphasis added)
He made His Natural Divine.
We are told that while the Lord “was indeed born as is another
man, … this human the Lord entirely cast out, so that He was no
longer the son of Mary, and made the Human in Himself Divine …
and He also showed to Peter, James, and John, when He was
transfigured, that He was a Divine Man.” (AC 4692:5) “It was plainly
the Divine Human of the Lord that was thus seen” and identified by
the voice heard from the cloud as the “beloved Son” (AE 64:3). Many
gospel teachings show the importance of this recognition of the
Divinity of Jesus; from John, for example, where it says that “No one
has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son … He has declared
Him.” (John 1:18) Again, “Jesus said … I am the way, the truth, and
the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
In another instance, when the disciple Philip said to Jesus: “Lord,
show us the Father … ” He answered: “He who has seen Me has
seen the Father… ” (John 14:9) “I and My Father are one,” He said.
“They who are truly men of the church … are acquainted with
and acknowledge a Trine” we are told in the Writings of the New
Church. “But still they humble themselves before the Lord and adore
Him alone, for the reason that they know that there is no access to
the Divine Itself which is called the Father’ except through the Son,
and that all the holy which is of the Holy Spirit proceeds from Him.
When they are in this idea they adore no other than Him through
whom and from whom all things are, thus One.” (Arcana Coelestia
We turn now to the third question of our consideration. What
was the representative meaning of the transfiguration? We must
preface this by pointing out that every account in Scripture has a
representative or parable-like sense. This is illustrated by the Lord’s
parables which contained a deeper meaning. In some places, the
prophets “acted out” a style of life that demonstrated the state of the
nation. What they did had symbolic meaning.
In a similar way, the transfiguration of the Lord represents the
transformation of the Word. In fact, everything that is said in this
account about the Lord can be understood as referring to the Word
and our reception of it.
Consider these parallels. Jesus was present in an external
body. So, too, the Word of Scripture is an external body of history,
laws and prophecy. Jesus revealed a Divine spirit within His body.
So, too, the Word of Scripture has a spirit of truth. When the disciples
went up onto the mountain, their vision was opened to see Jesus in a
new way. When we climb above mundane thoughts and concerns,
we elevate our mind to a state in which we can be given a new vision
of the meaning of the Word.
“The Word in its glory was represented in the Lord when He
was transfigured” (True Christian Religion 222; Doctrine Concerning
the Sacred Scripture 48). We are told in different words that “when
the Lord was transfigured, He presented Himself in the form in which
the Divine truth is in heaven” (Apocalypse Explained 624e). In other
words, He caused Himself “to be seen as the Word” (Apocalypse
It is significant that the two men seen talking with Jesus were
Moses and Elijah, both closely linked with the Word of Scripture.
Moses obviously represents that part of the Old Testament we call
“the Law,” while Elijah represents the Prophets (see also Apocalypse
Moses and Elijah, when talking to Jesus “spoke of His
decease.” (Luke 9:31) The parallel representation is that the Law and
the Prophets of Scripture treat of the Messiah, some prophecies
specifically foretelling His death.
An important representation or parallel is to be found in the fact
that a cloud overshadowed the disciples during the transfiguration.
Matthew’s gospel describes this as a “bright cloud.” We think of a puff
of cloud momentarily enveloping a group of climbers on a mountain
slope, a cloud penetrated by the sun’s rays, bright but obscuring the
sight of nearby objects. It was from such a passing cloud that the
voice was heard saying: “This is My beloved Son.” (Mark 9:7; Luke
We are reminded here of other instances in Scripture where
clouds are mentioned: how Mount Sinai was covered by clouds when
Moses went up to receive the Commandments; the promise that the
second coming of the Lord would be “in the clouds of heaven” (Matt.
24), as it is said:
“Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him
… ” (Revelations 1:7)
While the transfiguration of the Lord represents the Word in its
glory, the overshadowing cloud represents a particular aspect of the
Word called in New Church doctrine the “sense of the letter”
(Doctrine Concerning the Sacred Scripture 48), or Divine truth in its
outmost or literal meaning. (Apocalypse Revealed 24)
When we read of anything in Scripture, as we read here of
clouds, we can interpret the meaning on different levels literal or
symbolic. For example, to believe that Christ will return to earth
surrounded by clouds when the Last Judgment is at hand is to think
literally. We can also think of the same statement symbolically.
The Writings of the New Church have much to say about the
symbolic or representative meaning of clouds. This comes from the
fact that clouds appear in the spiritual world as well as in the natural
world, “but the clouds in the spiritual world appear beneath the
heavens, with those who are in the sense of the letter of the Word,
darker or brighter according to their understanding and reception of
the Word …consequently bright clouds’ are the Divine truth veiled in
appearances of truth … and dark clouds’ are the Divine truths
covered with fallacies and confirmed appearances … ” (Apocalypse
When the Word is read according to this spiritual
representation, we can see new meaning in the account of the
overshadowing cloud. It refers to an obscure understanding of Divine
teachings. It represents truth veiled over with appearances drawn
from a literalistic understanding of the Word. Here is an illustration:
When the Lord spoke to Nicodemus about being “born again,”
Nicodemus wondered how it would be possible to enter again into his
mother’s womb (John 3:4). He took the statement literally. The Lord
intended it symbolically.
Consider another example: The Lord once said He would raise
up the temple in three days if it were destroyed. Many took His words
literally, wondering how He could do this when the temple had taken
46 years to build. But He spoke of the temple of His body and His
resurrection in three days. (see John 2:19-21)
Now when the bright cloud overshadowed the disciples, the
symbolic meaning is that the church at that time (which the disciples
represented) “was only in truths from the sense of the letter” of the
Word (Apocalypse Explained 594a).
The remarkable thing to note, however, is that the voice which
identified Jesus as the “beloved Son” came from the cloud. This
revelation, so crucial to Christian belief, is powerfully given in the
sense of the letter of the Word rightly understood. The Writings give
this explanation: “The bright cloud’ which overshadowed the disciples’
represented the Word in the sense of the letter; so from it a voice was
heard, saying, This is My beloved Son; hear ye Him,’ for no
announcements or responses are ever made from heaven except
through outmosts such as are in the sense of the letter of the Word,
for they are made by the Lord in fullness.” (Doctrine Concerning the
Sacred Scripture 48, emphasis added; see Arcana Coelestia 9905)
This teaching that Divine revelations must be made in the
statements of Scripture is illustrated in the parable of Lazarus and the
beggar. Lazarus, the rich man who went to hell, pleaded with Father
Abraham to send someone to his brothers on earth to warn them of
this fate. The answer was: “They have Moses and the Prophets …. If
they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be
persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:29-31). Unless
revelations are stated in and confirmed by truths in external form,
they have no power. When presented in that form they have
awesome power and effect. Thus, it was that Peter, James and John
humbled themselves profoundly when the voice came out of the
cloud. It was not only the voice that affected them, but the message:
that their Lord was Divine Man God in Human form!
What, then, does all of this mean for us? What spiritual benefits
come from reading about and understanding the transfiguration of the
Lord? There is a sense in which we can put ourselves in the place of
Peter, James and John and be witness to, and profoundly moved as
they were by, a miraculous transformation of our understanding of the
Word. The transformation for us is in the mind. First it is seeing the
glory flaming in the cloud seeing the spiritual sense of the Word
within the letter which gives it Divine life; for as the apostle Paul said
to the Corinthians, “The letter kills but the Spirit gives life.” (2
There is a wonder here a miraculous transformation of
Scriptural teachings that have meant little or nothing to us now
suddenly glowing with Divine love and enlightening our minds with
Divine wisdom. Second, it is sensing a holy fear at the presence of
the Lord in His Word. It is humbling ourselves before Him, being
willing to serve and obey Him. It is saying to the Lord and really
meaning it, “Not my will but Thine be done!”
Lastly, it is being touched by Him and lifted in spirit by His
presence and His words. For He said, “Arise, and do not be afraid”
(Matthew 17:7). When we consider the entire sweep of the Lord’s
ministry and its impending conclusion, do we see a reason He
brought these disciples to the mountain for His transfiguration? Would
the experience strengthen them for the days ahead, for their lives as
apostles? Do not we need such strength for the days ahead? Do not
we need the same encouragement to learn and live our faith? We do!
What a comfort it must have been to Peter, James and John,
being greatly afraid during the transfiguration, to have Jesus
afterward touch them and say, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” They
lifted their eyes and saw no one but Jesus only. (Matthew 17:7, 8)
Here is a representative parallel for us. He is all we need. In our times
of fear and need the Lord Jesus Christ can touch and comfort us. He
extends His Divine mercy and love to us wherever we are spiritually
because He has drawn near by assuming our nature.
This is what the transfiguration can mean to us. It can mean a
renewal of our religious resolve and a rededication to the worship of
the Lord Jesus Christ in His glorified Human.
Lessons: Exodus 19:9-11, 16-20; Matthew 17:1-9; Apocalypse
“Nobody can be joined to the Lord except by means of love and charity. Love is spiritual conjunction itself.”
Arcana Coelestia 2349