When ‘Ends’ Conflict

Lastchurch - The Eternal PurposeSelection from Arcana Coelestia ~ Emanuel Swedenborg

… for the evil which is thought against anyone is intended; and as things alienated cannot intend good, it is therefore said that they intend nothing but evil. The case herein is this:

The man who has been alienated from good and truth intends nothing but evil, because he cannot intend good; and what he intends, reigns with him, and therefore is in all his thoughts, and in every least detail of him; for the intention or end is the veriest life of man, the end being his love, and the love being his life. And what is more, a man is exactly such as is the end with him, and such also is his image in the light of heaven; and — this may surprise you — such as is his image in general, such is the image of the least things of his will. Thus the whole man is such as his end is.

From this it is evident that the man who is an evil end cannot possibly be among those who are good ends; thus he who is in hell cannot possibly be in heaven; for the ends conflict, and the good ends prevail, because they are from the Divine. Hence also it is evident that they do not think truly who believe that everyone can be admitted into heaven from mercy alone; for if one who is an evil end comes into heaven, his life labors as with one who lies in the death agony, and he is direfully tortured; besides that in the light of heaven he appears as a devil. Hence it is evident that they who have been alienated from truth and good can think nothing but evil; and that this evil is in the least things of their thought and will is very manifest from the sphere which from afar exhales from such spirits, for their quality is thereby perceived. This sphere is like a spiritual evaporation from every detail of the life.

(Arcana Coelestia 6571)
June 13, 2017

The Rise of a Counterfeit Christianity

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Christ gave an ominous warning—that many would come in His name, teaching a different message that would deceive many. They would create a counterfeit of true Christianity, starting a religion that would largely supplant the true Church.

“Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name . . . and will deceive many” (Matthew:24:4-5).

Jesus Christ told His apostles to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in His name. Most people who are familiar with the Bible realize that those apostles zealously embarked on that mission. Their converts were first called Christians in the city of Antioch (Acts:11:26). Over the centuries, vast numbers of people were born or converted into what eventually became the hundreds of denominations known collectively as “Christianity”—to the point that it became and still remains one of the world’s most popular and dominant religions.

People assume that all, or at least almost all, who bear the name Christian follow the beliefs, teachings and practices of Jesus Christ. But the Bible tells us that not everyone who accepts the name of Christ is really a Christian!

Jesus foretold that some would claim His name but deny Him by their actions. He said they would “call Me ‘Lord, Lord,'” but “not do the things which I say” (Luke:6:46).

Christ and His apostles spoke of false prophets, false apostles and false brethren. They revealed that two opposing religions would emerge, both claiming to be Christian. One—the actual Church Jesus founded—would be led by God’s Spirit and remain faithful to His teachings. The other—guided and influenced by a different spirit—would accept the name of Christ but twist His teachings to create a convincing counterfeit of the true Church of God.

Both would use Christ’s name and claim His authority. Both would perform works that would outwardly appear good and right. Both would claim to be following Christ’s true teachings. But only one would faithfully represent its founder, Jesus Christ. The other would capture the minds and hearts of humanity by attaching the name of Christ to biblically insupportable religious customs and doctrines that Jesus and His apostles neither practiced nor approved.

The apostles repeatedly warned Jesus’ followers to beware of false teachers who would introduce counterfeit-Christian beliefs. Jesus Himself warned: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name…and will deceive many” (Matthew:24:4-5).

The New Testament presents a concise historical sketch of the roots of these two religions that profess to be Christian—one real, one counterfeit. Christ’s apostles described the origin of each and their fundamental characteristics.

We have already examined the apostles’ description of the Church Jesus founded. Now let’s look at the record they left us of another supposedly Christian religion—one that distorted and corrupted the truth and grew to become far more powerful and influential than the small Church Jesus promised would never die out.

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Teaching the traditions of men

Where do most churches get their teachings and practices? Most of their members assume they come from the Bible or from Jesus Christ Himself. But do they?

Jesus commanded His apostles to teach others exactly what He had taught—”teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew:28:20, NIV). He condemned the replacing of God’s commandments with traditions and human reason. Speaking to the Pharisees, Jewish religious leaders of His day, He said: “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men…All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark:7:8-9).

Jesus taught that His Church should keep the commandments of God: “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew:19:17). He warned: “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied [preached] in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” (Matthew:7:22-23). He knew that false teachers would arise who would reject the commandments of God for a distorted gospel of no law—lawlessness!

Like Jesus, the apostles consistently taught obedience to God. Peter and the other apostles risked their lives to make it clear that “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts:5:29). Paul expressed the same commitment he shared with the other apostles—of a life of obedience. “Through him [Christ] and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith” (Romans:1:5, NIV).

Paul later cautioned members of the congregation in Colosse to hold fast to what he had taught them: “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught” (Colossians:2:6-7).

Following Christ’s example, Paul warned the Colossians not to accept traditions as replacements for the commandments of God: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians:2:8; compare Mark:7:8-9, 13).

Why did Jesus Christ and the apostles sound such urgent warnings to avoid the traditions of men?

Subversion from within the Church

As the apostles strove to establish still more congregations of believers among the nations, a phenomenon arose that eventually produced an alternate and outwardly Christian religion—but one quite different from the Church Jesus and His apostles established.

New and different doctrines were subtly introduced. Some began subverting the Church by challenging and contradicting the teachings of Christ’s apostles. Paul warned, “For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus:1:10-11).

To counter this trend, Paul instructed fellow elder Titus to carefully consider the background, knowledge and character of anyone being considered for ordination: “Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless… He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (verses 7, 9, NIV).

Increasingly, “false apostles” began contradicting and undermining the teachings of the true apostles of Christ. Paul cautioned the church in Rome: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil” (Romans:16:17-19, NRSV).

Competing religious leaders, masquerading as ministers of Christ, began teaching their own false doctrines “in opposition to” Christ’s apostles and other of his faithful servants. At first they came predominantly from a Jewish background. But then false teachers emerged from people of other backgrounds within the Church. The subversive doctrines that eventually grew to be the most influential were a blend of pagan and misguided Jewish philosophies synthesized with the mysticism popular at that time.

Simon the Sorcerer was one such false teacher mentioned early in the Scriptures. After his baptism by Philip, Simon attempted to buy the office of apostle from Peter, hoping to obtain the power to grant others the Holy Spirit. Motivated by greed for power and influence, he faked conversion and managed to receive baptism to appear Christian (Acts:8:9-23). Later historical sources indicate that he blended various elements of paganism and mysticism into a counterfeit Christian philosophy.

A dangerous trend was established. Soon “false apostles,” “false teachers” and “false brethren” abounded.

A counterfeit Christianity was born. And it would grow. In saying his farewell to the elders of the church of Ephesus, Paul stated: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts:20:29-31).

A different gospel gains ground

The impact of distorted teachings devastated the early Church. For example, Christians in the Roman province of Galatia turned en masse from the teachings of the apostle Paul and to a corrupted, cunningly devised but counterfeit gospel promoted by these false apostles.

Paul described the approach they used and the effect the false teachers had on Christians in Galatia: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians:1:6-7).

The brethren in that area were being swept into one of the many sects making up the emerging false Christianity. Paul had to contend with religious strife generated by Jewish and gentile elements in the Galatian congregations.

These cunning pretenders did not reject outright the gospel Paul taught. They simply perverted aspects of it. Then they seduced the Galatian Christians into accepting their gospel—a deadly mixture of truth and error. It contained enough truth to appear righteous and Christian, but it contained sufficient error to prevent any who would accept it from receiving salvation.

Notice Paul’s blistering condemnation of that “different” gospel: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (verses 8-9).

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A gospel of no law

Jesus warned His apostles this would happen: “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew:24:11-12). Jesus explained that lawlessness, the key element in the message of the false teachers, would make their ideas appealing and popular. Disregard for God’s law would finally become the foundation of a popular and successful counterfeit Christianity.

The false prophets devised their message and doctrines by verbally acknowledging Jesus as “Lord” while refusing to obey Him (Luke:6:46). Jesus Himself warned of their deceitful, cunning approach: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew:7:15).

Jesus made it clear that teachers of lawlessness, who outwardly appear as innocent sheep performing devoutly religious acts, are not His apostles or servants: “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” (verses 22-23).

God’s law: the religious battleground

Controversy over God’s law erupted within the Church as soon as the first gentiles were converted. Certain Jewish believers wanted to force circumcision and other physical requirements on the gentiles. They demanded that gentile converts be physically circumcised to receive salvation (Acts:15:1).

In a major conference in Jerusalem, the apostles and elders determined that physical circumcision should not be regarded as a requirement for the gentiles’ salvation (Acts:15:2, 5-10). Peter noted that God had recently given the Holy Spirit to several gentiles without their being circumcised, demonstrating His will in the matter (verse 8; Acts:11:1-4, 15-18).

The same Jews also demanded that gentiles observe the temple ceremonies and rituals, which pointed to greater spiritual realities such as the sacrifice of Christ. The apostles insisted that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for the forgiveness of sins through the grace of God (Hebrews:7:26-27).

The temple sacrifices and rituals were only temporary institutions until the sacrifice of the real “Lamb of God” (John:1:29) and His work in the lives of believers. The apostles taught that they were no longer required (Acts:15:11; Hebrews:9:1-15) because they were “concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation” (Hebrews:9:10).

But the apostles never regarded God’s spiritual laws, summarized by the Ten Commandments, as being in the same category with “fleshly ordinances.” They always supported obedience to God’s commandments. Paul made this clear: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (1 Corinthians:7:19). He concluded: “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Romans:3:31).

Distorted view of God’s grace

Just as Jesus had foretold, unscrupulous teachers pounced on the teachings of Paul and the other apostles and twisted their meaning (2 Peter:3:15-16). By distorting the apostles’ words, first about grace and then about those “fleshly ordinances” that are no longer necessary, they discovered a way to excuse their unlawful behavior: “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness [shameful behavior] and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).

To them, grace excused sin—the breaking of God’s law—by allowing them to disregard scriptural teachings they did not like. They twisted Paul’s explanation that we cannot earn salvation with our own “works” into an excuse for making no effort to obey God.

Peter pinpointed their real problem. They “despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries” (2 Peter:2:10). A dominant characteristic of these deceivers was their eagerness to verbally attack and undermine the apostles and elders who were the true shepherds of God’s flock.

As a consequence, said Peter, “they have forsaken the right way and gone astray…For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption” (verses 15, 18-19).

Now a problem even more sinister developed among the scattered congregations of God’s people. False teachers, instead of trying to impose more law on gentiles, began exploiting God’s mercy—the grace of God—to advocate the idea that Christians have been liberated from the law and no longer need to obey it. However, God says transgressing His law is sin (1 John:3:4).

These teachers misrepresented God’s law as an unnecessary burden. John responded: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John:5:3).

Contrary to the idea of being liberated from law, James calls God’s commandments a “royal law” and the “law of liberty” (James:2:8-12). God designed His law to guarantee freedom from the consequences of such evils as adultery, murder, theft, fraud and covetousness.

It is sin, not God’s law, that enslaves us (Romans:6:6). We become free from the enslavement to sin by obeying God (verse 17). Paul explains that obedience and righteousness are inseparable. “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Romans:2:13, NIV).

To better understand the truth about law and grace, send for or download our free book The New Covenant: Does It Abolish God’s Law?

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Satan the devil: master deceiver

Scripture reveals that those who promoted these lawless principles were influenced by an unseen spiritual power, Satan the devil. Paul said: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Corinthians:11:13-15).

Satan hates God’s law. He is a master deceiver. Naturally, he will spare no effort to infiltrate the Church Christ founded.

To accomplish his purpose, Satan uses people to mislead other people. It is easy for him to influence human beings who desire to teach others when they are motivated by personal ambition. This is especially true if they lack a proper understanding of the Scriptures. Satan simply takes advantage of their desire to be spiritual teachers. He seduces susceptible individuals to pay lip service to Christ while creating their own new sets of beliefs and ignoring or disobeying portions of God’s laws.

Paul told Timothy to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine” and have a “pure heart,” “good conscience” and “sincere faith…from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (1 Timothy:1:3, 6-7).

Sincere but misguided religious leaders can and do accept doctrines that in their mind permit them to break some of God’s commandments. Then they persuade others to believe as they do. Sadly, through the devil’s influence, they convince themselves that their misguided concepts are righteous—that God is pleased with them. They believe the false doctrines they teach. Although sincere, they are sincerely mistaken.

Paul says, “The coming of the lawless one [a future teacher who will advocate doctrines contrary to God’s laws] is according to the working of Satan…with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie” (2 Thessalonians:2:9-11). Probably none of the misguided teachers perceives he is in reality advocating Satan’s point of view.

However, by creating a counterfeit Christian religion—one that is not entirely different from the true Church but rejects some of the essential biblical teachings that lead to eternal life—Satan is attempting to thwart God’s plan for the salvation of mankind. Remember, Jesus says, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew:19:17). That is exactly what the devil wants to prevent. He promotes a lawless Christianity that teaches we can selectively obey—or even ignore—God’s commandments.

Lawlessness in varying degrees is the centerpiece of Satan’s counterfeit doctrines. His purpose is to convince people that they are serving Christ while cutting them off from salvation by clouding their understanding of what sin is so they will continue in sin—so they will practice at least some degree of lawlessness.

To accomplish his purpose, Satan exploits human nature. He sways people to believe his deceptions (1 John:5:19; Revelation:12:9). Satan retains just enough truth in his doctrines to persuade people they are following Christ. But he introduces sufficient error to prevent them from living the way that God requires as a condition for inheriting eternal life.

Why disobedience appeals to human nature

Satan is successful in deceiving humanity for good reason. The apostle Paul explains that the natural mind of man—the mind that is not guided by God’s Spirit—cannot always see the purpose behind God’s laws. “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians:2:14).

Most people are not overtly hostile toward many of God’s laws. They usually recognize that deeds such as murder and theft are wrong. However, they are hostile—perhaps without recognizing their ingrained hostility—toward laws that challenge their own personal, natural way of thinking. In that sense lawlessness appeals to people.

Paul explains why disobedience can appeal to our baser instincts: “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans:8:7). The carnal, or fleshly, mind not only lacks spiritual discernment, it resents God’s authority as expressed in His laws. The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates this verse: “The mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so.”

We call this sinful tendency human nature—a combination of human weakness and acquired attitudes resulting from Satan’s influence on people. Satan exploits human nature. He uses his false teachers to convince other people that they are “liberated” from the laws of God, thus excusing their tendency to be hostile toward God’s laws. So, rather than abandoning a life of lawlessness, those led astray by this deception continue in sin. Thinking their disobedient actions are permissible to God, they fail to recognize, at least in some of their beliefs and behavior, the seriousness of their sinful actions.

But the apostle James makes it clear that this approach and attitude to God’s royal law are entirely wrong: “For whoever shall keep the whole law and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James:2:10). The context shows that James is speaking of the Ten Commandments (verses 8-9, 11). God’s fundamental law is made up of 10 points, and He requires us to observe them all—in letter and spirit.

A falling away from truth begins

Christ praised the church in Ephesus for refusing to follow false apostles who tried to take advantage of their human nature and seduce them: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars” (Revelation:2:2).

But not everyone in every congregation followed the example of the church in Ephesus. Many accepted the teachings of the false apostles and reverted to sinning. That is why Peter wrote: “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter:2:20-21).

People began turning away from the teachings of Christ’s true apostles. They accepted the philosophies of false teachers. Peter had explicitly warned that this would occur. He said false teachers would arise “among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Peter:2:1-2).

Peter anticipated that not just a few—but many—Christians would turn aside from the truth to follow doctrines that were more appealing to the carnal mind. Later John confirms that this is indeed what happened: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 John:2:19).

Barnabas and Paul encountered a false prophet determined to turn people away from the truth. “Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus…But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith” (Acts:13:6-8).

On other occasions the problem lay with false brethren (Galatians:2:4). Paul referred to his trials “in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren” (2 Corinthians:11:26).

These false Christians had not become a genuine threat just to Paul’s safety and effectiveness, but they had also become a significant part of the visible Christian community. Some may have finally gone out from God’s special people but continued calling themselves Christian. Others became members of new and supposedly liberated sects that retained the name Christian. Still others probably remained in the fellowship of true believers and over time subverted congregations to their own heretical teachings.

A false Christianity was beginning to take a firm hold.

True Christians forced out of congregations

As the teachings of false ministers gained in popularity, their followers gradually grew to be the majority in some congregations. The apostle John records one such tragic example: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church” (3 John 9-10).

Incredible as it sounds, those who were faithful to the teaching of the apostles were expelled from this congregation! They had become the minority. The majority had chosen to follow Diotrephes, who, in his own lust for power and influence, falsely accused the apostle John. Satan had succeeded in placing his minister over this congregation, expelling the faithful servants of Jesus Christ.

Remember, Jesus had already warned His true servants that this would happen: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew:7:13-15).

He also said, as earlier quoted: “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men” (Mark:7:6-8, NIV).

Now we can understand why Paul explained to Christians in Rome the appropriate response to those who were stirring up division within the Church: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (Romans:16:17, NIV).

Counterfeit Christianity become dominant

By the end of the third century the true servants of God had become a distinct minority among those who called themselves Christians. The counterfeit Christianity had become the majority.

False teachers had successfully gained a far larger following than the faithful ministers of God. However, history shows the counterfeit sects were not united in their beliefs. Many factions existed among them.

Nevertheless, divided and unconverted as it was, this new brand of Christianity rapidly expanded its membership and became the visible Christian church. Claiming to offer salvation, but without the necessity of real repentance, it held just enough truth to appeal to the masses.

In spite of its faults, it appeared to offer a hope unequaled by any pagan religion at that time. None of the pagan religions offered a believable way for people to receive forgiveness of sins and obtain eternal life. This new religion seemed to offer just that. Little did its followers realize that its promises, without real repentance, were made in vain.

By the end of the third century this counterfeit Christianity was a squabbling, bitterly divided religion. But at the beginning of the fourth century two things happened that abruptly altered the course of Christian history. First, the Roman emperor Diocletian intensified the policy of many previous Roman emperors of persecuting Christians and ordered that all Christian manuscripts be burned. This dramatically renewed a climate of fear throughout the Christian community.

Ten years later another emperor, Constantine, came to power. He had defeated another powerful contender for the right to replace Diocletian as emperor, but he still had many enemies, and his political position remained insecure. In all the empire, only Christians were unaligned politically. Constantine immediately saw an opportunity to use this formerly persecuted and politically alienated religious body to strengthen his hold on the empire.

First he legalized Christianity. Then, only two years later, he called all the divided professing Christian groups together to hammer out a unified system of belief. He wanted a united religious body that was politically committed to him.

To achieve this, Constantine presided over doctrinal deliberations and dictated statements of belief whenever disagreements could not be resolved amicably. He soon successfully molded the bickering groups of counterfeit Christians who were willing to accept state control into a strong and unified vassal of the Roman Empire.

Williston Walker, former professor of ecclesiastical history at Yale University, tells us that, in the year 323, “Constantine was at last the sole ruler of the Roman world. The church was everywhere free from persecution . . . But, in winning its freedom from its enemies, it had come largely under the control of the occupant of the Roman imperial throne. A fateful union with the state had begun” (A History of the Christian Church, 1946, p. 111).

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A religion transformed through syncretism

As this new religion—now supported by the Roman emperors—grew in power and influence, it sought to become a truly universal church. In its ambition to add more members, many new converts—and many new practices—were welcomed into its fold.

Charles Guignebert, professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Paris, described the process: “Now at the beginning of the fifth century, the ignorant and the semi-Christians thronged into the Church in numbers…They had forgotten none of their pagan customs . . . The bishops of that period had to content themselves with redressing, as best they could, and in experimental fashion, the shocking malformations of the Christian faith which they perceived around them…

“[Properly instructing converts] was out of the question; they had to be content with teaching them no more than the symbol of baptism and then baptizing them en masse, postponing until a later date the task of eradicating their superstitions, which they preserved intact…This ‘later date’ never arrived, and the Church adapted to herself, as well as she could, them and their customs and beliefs. On their side, they were content to dress up their paganism in a Christian cloak” (The Early History of Christianity, 1927, pp. 208-210).

What was the result? This state-dominated Christianity became a bizarre synthesis of beliefs, practices and customs from many sources.

As Professor Guignebert explained, “It is sometimes very difficult to tell exactly from which pagan rite a particular Christian rite is derived, but it remains certain that the spirit of pagan ritualism became impressed upon Christianity, to such an extent that at last the whole of it might be found distributed through its ceremonies” (p. 121).

In those early centuries the counterfeit Christianity that the apostles of Jesus Christ had fought so hard to contain grew in size and popularity. In later centuries this religion would fragment repeatedly into competing denominations. Tragically, however, none completely returned to the original practices and teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles. This fact is recognized by many modern biblical scholars.

Meanwhile, those who through these many centuries have faithfully continued to yield their lives to God in sincere obedience to His laws are still, comparatively speaking, only a “little flock” in a confused world.

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2 Spirits and Men

Swedenborg Study.comOnline works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg

2 Spirits and Men

“What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” Psalm 8:4

Faith and Superstition

The ages preceding the dawn of the New Church were steeped in superstition. Every graveyard was peopled with spectres. The Devil made his appointments with witches and wizards, and ministers of the church solemnly cooperated with panicky magistrates to prevent unlawful intercourse with spirits. Diseases were often treated by exorcism—by driving the obsessing demons away.

Today most of us sneer at superstitions. And when we of the New Church nevertheless proclaim our faith in the proximity and influence of the spirit-world, there are those who sneer at us.

But true faith is a very different thing from superstition. Superstition wishes to assign to the supernatural all unknown causes of natural happenings and evades reasonable explanations. It lacks authority. It creates fear rather than understanding. It advances elusive claims to special sanctity or unusual enlightenment which some will capitalize for their own gain or repute. It leads not towards freedom and charity and social progress, but to a slavery to forms and castes, and often engenders distrust and persecution.

Superstition does not draw its origin from Divine revelation, but is conceived from human anxieties and undue ambitions while it is mothered by ignorance. It is not satisfied with the revealed knowledge and shows a lack of faith in the Lord’s omnipotent laws.

But over against Superstition stands Skepticism, which proudly spurns admitting the existence of any invisible factors in life except the purely physical. Not unlike a company of physicians of whom Swedenborg speaks in one of his memorable relations, and who claimed to have cured the pains of conscience by mustard-plasters and cupping-glasses, many skeptics now explain all unusual mental states as mere symptoms of digestive disorders, wrong diet, or glandular deficiencies, and deny any other cause for crime than physical appetites and social maladjustments.2

A rational faith in the interdependence of the inhabitants of the spiritual world and those of the natural, and in the normal but unconscious communion of spirits and men, stands free from both superstition and skepticism. Such a rational faith is derived solely from Divine revelation. Yet it is also founded on the primary testimony of man’s own consciousness —that he is essentially a spiritual being, a free thinking mind, although he is clothed by a body of carefully selected material substances which in many ways limit the expression of his mental powers. Nor can any authentic experience upset our faith in the continual operation of the spiritual world—the proper world of human minds and living forces—into the world of nature. Without any hesitation we can postulate, and challenge any one to disprove, that life does not inhere in matter but inflows from an inner source. Indeed it is beyond the scope of science ever to deny that—ultimately—matter is derived from life.

The mode by which the Lord created the universe is a subject far afield from our present discussion. Still it must be premised that the spiritual can act upon the natural, that the mind can be present in the body, and that there can be an influx of the life of spirits into men living on earth. And this because the world of matter is created and sustained by the Lord mediately through the spiritual world.3 The natural originates from the spiritual, as an effect is produced from its cause.4 The material world is therefore an “open world” which constantly receives a formative influx from the spiritual world. It is the spiritual world which—as the soul of the mechanical universe—imposes patterns and forms and at length moulds material substances to its own purposes, imaging its own forms in the forms of living organisms, whether plants or men. Only when the necessity of this is seen and acknowledged, can our faith in the existence of the spiritual world become rational.

Faith, to be rational, must be calm. It must not be based in hysteria or upon passing moods, or on the testimony of purely exceptional and questionable phenomena; nor on research conducted in darkened chambers. Faith must see the operation of the soul upon the body and of spiritual things upon natural, not as a mechanical process or as a transfer of energy from one physical realm to another, but as the bestowal of the qualities of life upon visible things of nature, which, so far as their own substance and motions are concerned, are dead. Such a bestowal of qualities takes place, we conceive, by what the Writings call “influx.” The spiritual does not act upon matter as do physical forces; instead, it bestows qualities.

When the Writings expound the doctrine that the life of God is mediated for human minds by the spiritual world, or by the spirits and angels there, they are not discussing the currents of natural energy which fashion corpuscular matter and course through the bodies of men, but the transmission of human qualities—of good and evil—qualities which make the natural activities of one man vastly different from those of another; different throughout, different in intention, different in mode, different in effect. The things of dead, elemental nature have attributes, dimensions, conditions, motions. But in a strict sense, nature has no qualities, no “states” of life. Its only state is one of death. Its only quality is its inertia, its lack of any power to change its state. All appearance of life in nature is borrowed from the spiritual world. In plants and in animals we see something added that is not of nature, something which gives an appearance not of blind motion but of purposeful change—a conatus or endeavor, an appearance of aspiration, will, and freedom.

Human Freedom

In man, this freedom becomes self-conscious. He is sensitive to the qualities of life. He is subject to various states and attitudes, and feels that he can to an extent determine them. He can choose between right and wrong. He cannot change his natural environment of a sudden, although this also will yield somewhat to his will. But in the inner realm of his spirit he feels himself above the conditions of nature, feels himself part of a free world in which he can will and think as he pleases; and for what he does in that world he feels responsibility.

But even in his mind man is not utterly free. His natural mind is built up out of elements drawn from heredity and from education, from early impressions and unconscious influences. Is he solely accountable for all the changes within his mind— all the suggestions and impulses of his inner world? If he were, would it not be a terrible responsibility—beyond his power to bear ? One moment of impulse could determine his entire spiritual destiny—one decision might send him into anguish forever—if that were so! And if thus determined, he would no longer be free to change his general state.

Even spiritual freedom is therefore governed most carefully by the Lord. The Lord leads man gently into his freedom. Even the spirit of man has to be surrounded by restraining conditions and circumstances. Its freedom has to be limited to a few things, tested. Its bounds have to be let out gradually, his states have to change by degrees.

Therefore it is provided, that man’s spirit should be surrounded with attendant spirits, good and evil, through whom the influx of life may be accommodated so that his choice and his responsibility can be particularized and limited to his capacity at each moment. It is of Divine mercy that this is so; otherwise man could never be saved, but he would plunge himself into hell with the first evil choice. Instead of being at once introduced into the responsibility for his whole spiritual destiny, he is therefore gradually introduced into a choice between particular states, or between the delights offered by particular spirits, good and evil. He is not made responsible for the state of his whole mind at once.

This, then, is the explanation of the many shifting and contradictory states of a man. He is held in an equilibrium between good spirits and evil spirits. He is given his chance to change his general state, by countless particular opportunities of choice. His spiritual freedom is doled out to him “piecemeal,” and from his moments of choice, a series of free decisions, his character is built up and gradually matures, and becomes able to enter an ever wider choice, a more intelligent freedom.

This is, of course, illustrated by the gradual way in which one acquires freedom in natural affairs in youth and adult age. Parents, teachers, masters or employers will give the youth more freedom, more autonomy, so far as he can be trusted to understand what he is actually committing himself to. But when it is seen that he does not yet have any real insight into a situation or into the consequences of his actions, but is blinded by prejudice or simply borne away by impulsive desires, so far his freedom is—if possible—prudently withheld by wise governors.

The spirit of man is therefore free and responsible only when he realizes the spiritual situation in which he is, and feels himself free to choose. In order that this may be the case, the Lord so orders the lives of men and spirits, that men should not sensibly feel the presence of spirits, or their influx into his mind. If we felt our will as the will of another prompting us we would not feel free—whether the prompting were good or evil. Yet at the same time, if we were never able to know how the case actually is, we would not be able to realize the nature of our choice. From doctrine we are therefore taught about the functions of the spirits who are with us; so that we may see the importance of our choice, the inward nature of our responsibility, the fact that in our consent or resistance to various states, suggestions, desires, and moods, we are in fact turning either towards heaven or towards hell.

Man’s Dependence on Spirits

It is therefore revealed as a truth in the Gospel, that man can do nothing except it be given him from above. And this general truth is in the Writings filled in with infinite particulars which show that man cannot lift hand or foot or think the least idea from his own will or understanding: for his will and understanding are vessels responsive to the spheres of spirits and angels. Swedenborg, in order that he might be instructed, was brought into a state in which he perceived the operation of spirits, yet—by a miracle—was at the same time not deprived of freedom.5 He then received “the clearest experimental proof that all human thought, will, and action are directed determinatively by the Messiah alone”; that there was “not even the least of thought that did not sensibly inflow” from spirits who were themselves also “ruled as passive powers” by the Lord. The spirits sensibly ruled the very movements of his body; convincing him that what appears to be our own deeds is the doing—or rather the willing—of spirits.6 Yet a man is free so far as he can decide what spirits shall attend him!

Spirits who use man as a subject in this manner are not aware that they are with man. Such a spirit “knows so little of the man that he is not even aware that the man is anything distinct from himself.” Man is thus nothing in the eyes of spirits. And if they knew him—as they did Swedenborg— they might chide him with “being nothing” or at best an inanimate machine. Meanwhile the man all the time supposes himself to be living and thinking and the spirits to be “nothing!”7

In his Diary Swedenborg tells that, despite the fact that he could not make the least little motion of his body from himself, yet at the same time there was insinuated into him a faculty of choice in whatever he did. Spirits then supposed (hat he might have acted otherwise. But it was shown them that as a matter of fact the circumstances and the spiritual influxes had conspired and led Swedenborg to what he had (afterwards) decided to do; and also that they themselves had effected nothing from themselves but were subjects of other spirits and societies in an unending chain. It then seemed to these spirits that, if so, they were “nothing”; and they were unwilling to admit this. But Swedenborg insisted that this was indeed true; still, it was enough for them that they seemed to themselves to be able to think, speak, and act as from themselves, and to be their own. What more did they want?8

Surprisingly, Swedenborg instructed some spirits that only when they acknowledge that they are nothing, can they begin to be something. Nor was it enough to know or say that one is nothing; one must believe it.9 “Such is the equilibrium of all in the universal heaven, that one is moved by another, thinks from another, as if in a chain; so that not the least thing can [occur from itself]; thus the universe is ruled by the Lord, and indeed with no difficulty !”10

But when some spirits were unable to tolerate the expression “that they were nothing,” the seer consoled them by saying that “they are always something, but that something is from the Lord.”11 And it is the same with man: “Unless the Lord saw the man to be something,” the whole world of spirits would see him as nothing—or as an inanimate thing. He is “something—not a mere idea of being !”12 And this something is something of reception. Man cannot control the experiences that come to him: but he can receive or reject, react affirmatively or negatively. Heaven consists in every one regarding himself as nothing.13 The celestials know this. They know that to attribute anything to themselves, except reception, is of evil. No doubt this is involved in the Lord’s saying: “Your speech shall be Yea, yea, Nay, nay; whatsoever is more than these, cometh of evil!”

The Non-appropriation of Evil

Evil has no power over one who in sincerity of faith believes himself to be nothing !14

How vitally important and practically effective this truth of faith is, may be judged from the doctrine which describes how evil enters into man. Evil is continually infused by unclean spirits into man’s thoughts, and is as constantly dispelled by the angels. This does not actually harm man.

“Not that which enters the mouth defileth a man,” but that which proceedeth from the heart! It is by detention in the thought and by consent and afterwards by act and enjoyment that evil enters into the will.15 If so, it is appropriated to man—imputed to him as his. But the reason that it is appropriated to a man is that the man believes and persuades himself that he thinks and does this from himself. He identifies himself with it—and so takes sides with the evil. Believing that it is his own, all his self-pride upholds it and defends it.

The evil was not produced by man! Evil spirits—the whole network of hell—produced it, infused it, and subtly made man to feel as if he did it from himself. “If man believed as the case really is, then evil would not be appropriated to him, but good from the Lord would be appropriated to him; for then, immediately when evil flows in, he would think that it was from evil spirits with him; and when he thought this angels would avert and reject it. For the influx of angels is into that which a man knows and believes and not into what man does not know and does not believe.”16

If an evil is appropriated it can be removed only by the arduous and long road of self-examination and of actual repentance. But here we are shown an easier way! Shown how to shun evils before they become man’s own or before they become actual or confirmed; shown how faith defends men from evil! And if a man really believes that the good that prompts him inflows from the Lord through heaven, he is thereby freed from any self-righteous reflection on his own act—a thought which would poison the good which he has received and turn it into the evil of merit and the pride and the contempt of others that follow in its wake.

The knowledge and belief that all our affections, emotions, and moods are the actual results of the presence of spirits, good or evil, must become a watchman who must never shimmer. This faith—that good inflows from heaven and that evil inflows from hell, and that man, except for reception, is “nothing”—must be firmly fixed in definite knowledge. And to the New Church the knowledge is given in a vast body of information about spirits of all types and classes. From the instruction given in the Writings we may perhaps also gather information as to how to say “Nay, nay” to the spirits who produce various evil moods that captivate us; as to how we can to some extent modify or change these states into which we fall—or rather withdraw from them by degrees.

Choice versus Freedom

Man’s spirit is free. Yet it is bound up with the states of the men and spirits around him. No one can deny that our thoughts and affections are influenced by the men of the society with which we are associated in the world’s work and pleasures. Even the church undergoes its cycles of common states, its temptations, its progression in which all take part. Even angelic societies whose uses are intertwined by marvelous modes experience common states, recurrent mornings, noons, and evenings; for each angel is a center for the influx of all others.17

Man’s spirit is free, but never independent! It cannot alter its general spiritual environment by any sudden decision, any more than a man in the world can change the face of nature. The speed of the growth of the mind and of the progression of a man’s spirit is not measured by the fixed time which is associated on earth with the clock and the calendar and the orbit of the planets. Yet spiritual states have their durations—require a preparation and a gradual growth, have their own cycles, rhythms, and climaxes which cannot be circumvented. And the development of the state of one spirit often waits upon that of another, for it depends upon the progressions of the society of which he is a part.

How men’s spirits are affected by the spirits who live in the world of spirits is seen from the state before the coming of the Lord, when no flesh could have been saved unless the spirits of that world had been reduced into order. And history repeats itself. For Swedenborg notes that in his day the, whole world of spirits had become evil, and therefore it could not but be that mankind should become worse through the nearer influx of hell. The good inflowing from the Lord availed less and less, until man could hardly be bent to any genuine good.18

A general judgment then became inevitable; and it took place in the world of spirits in the year 1757.19 Its result was to restore spiritual freedom. Men and spirits had been in spiritual captivity—had been in states which they could not alter or change. The progression of their spiritual life of reformation and regeneration had been arrested because they had been intricately entangled with evil spirits from whom they had no power to separate.

It is not to be thought that men living before the last judgment did not have free agency in spiritual things. All men have free choice, then as now. In the issues which they discerned from time to time they had their choice. But freedom implies more than choice. It implies that one should be free to follow out one’s choice, to progress according to the choice, and find and enter into the delights of his ruling love. Interiorly, all salvable spirits in this world and in the “lower earth” of the other life had made a choice of good as over against evil. Yet they were so much a part of the perverted world of spirits that they could not shake off their infesters who stole their delight in spiritual good and truth, insinuated unhappiness, destroyed cooperation, induced obscurity and confusion as to what was right and wrong, and prevented them from finding their way to heaven—or to the true uses of heavenly life.

The freedom to progress requires an ability to perceive interior truths. It was this new freedom that was “restored” when the Lord ordered the world of spirits by His redemptive work.20 The ordering was done by separating the spirits there according to their various qualities, so that spirits in different spiritual states might be seen in contrast, in their true colors, or—in the light of heaven.

The light of Divine truth which brought about the judgment and reduced the spiritual world into order is still present in that world; and that Divine light is spreading also into this world of ours, through the teachings of the Writings of the New Church. It is the same light. It passes “not through spaces, like the light of the world, but through the affections and perceptions of truth.”21 It affects, and tends to distinguish and order, the spirits who are with us. We would surmise that it also orders the things which go on—subconsciously—within man’s thinking; and thus ensures the free operation of the rational faculty with men, for good or for evil. But consciously and directly it reaches us in the Writings. The teaching is, therefore, that after the last judgment (when the group of spirits which the Apocalypse calls “the Dragon” was cast down), “there was light in the world of spirits. . . . A similar light also then arose with men in the world, from which they have a new enlightenment.”22

The Writings are shedding a new light on all the states through which men pass on earth. They also disclose the character of the spirits who are responsible for our moods of sadness, temptation, melancholy, enthusiasm, rashness, confusion. They give us a knowledge by which to judge wisely how far we can resist such states, and how far they should be left to the Divine providence. It is our purpose to consider this new approach to a rational and spiritual life thus opened to the New Church. But before we enter upon this task it is necessary to recount the perils which attend any mortal effort to break open the gates of the unseen world.

New book: Starting Science from God.
Links theism (religion) to science (psychology and physics) without reduction.

http://www.swedenborgstudy.com/index.html

http://www.swedenborgdigitallibrary.org/

Agnostics Anonymous

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

The popular view of an agnostic, I suppose, is of some poor devil who simply cannot make up his mind whether God exists, or not. Most dictionaries, however, tend to offer a more positive definition. Chambers, for example, holds that an agnostic is “one who holds that we know nothing of things beyond material phenomena.” He might, therefore fervently believe that God does indeed exist, but that we have no such evidence and that we are unlikely to find any – in this world, at any rate.

The term ‘agnostic’ (in contrast to ‘gnostic’) I find, was first used by T.H.Huxley in 1869, though there is mention of an inscription “To an unknown God” in the book of Acts 17,23. The term has also been used to include the more extreme view that knowledge in general can only be applied to what is available to the senses: everything else being irrelevant. Any agnostics found lurking in our churches would scarcely go that far. Others may feel pretty sure that God probably doesn’t exist, but are nevertheless quite prepared to be convinced otherwise.

When I contemplate the immensity of infinite space with its innumerable galaxies, I may find it impossible not to think that somebody must be in control. At the same time, it may also seem equally impossible to concede that anybody is in control. Whether that ‘body’ is masculine, feminine or neuter simply defies human imagination.

Most church-goers, of course, are not plagued with such ambivalent misgivings. They have presumably long ago been totally persuaded, or have persuaded themselves that God, in some shape or form, undoubtedly exists, if not in bodily shape then maybe in some other way.

In this latter case the agnostic’s problem may be somewhat diminished. I suspect that some dubious agnostics, who are also devout church-goers, may attend in the hope that Christian conviction may rub off on them, as it were by a process of osmosis. Such aspiration, I hasten to say, is by no means the same as what a true worshipper experiences as devotion. It can nevertheless be sincere and heartfelt.

However, our benighted agnostic may already have made up his mind that church-goers, though possibly on the right lines, are much too glib altogether. He will seek his evidence elsewhere – in the wonders of the natural world perhaps. Do they speak of God?

The world is full of remarkable things and contains great mysteries – but they prove nothing. Nature might, after all, well, have just happened – sort of emerged ever so slowly all by itself as Darwin and Dawkins eloquently suggest. Then there is the notion that maybe it all stands for something else. Perhaps our planet is a great treasure-chest full of symbols, all of which hold-hands and spell out some almighty ‘spiritual’ story. One day the divine story-teller himself will explain it all – that would surely clinch the matter.

Agnosticism is a perilous addiction, for which no cure is infallible: it requires excellent balance like learning to ride an unswerving holy bicycle: it is so easy to fall for a religious faith on one side or slide into atheism on the other. Such are the perils of uncertainty, the demands of honesty can make for a bumpy passage.

There are many perfectly good and virtuous reasons for regular church-going, not all of which are necessarily theological. A love of church music can be a powerful incentive, especially where there is a good organ and an impressive choir. Tradition and liturgy can impart great comfort in a changing – often threatening – world. The discussion of moral problems helps to stimulate the brain and maintain a caring social conscience. Some of us enjoy holy theatre, and are moved by ritual. Some like to keep up with the local news: the church may often be the best social club in town, and the incumbent an ever-present comfort in times of trouble. But, I wonder, though it is none of my business, may not some of these good people perhaps harbour the guilty secret that they are not always, absolutely certain that God exists?

Sitting on fences is never an easy stance to maintain, since it is, I suppose, an intellectual position without a great deal of support. A true religious faith, on the other hand, is altogether more heartfelt, arising from emotional springs deeply grounded in the human soul. The agnostic needs all the help he can get: fortunately, he gets along very happily with others of a like disposition.

Christian agnostics, being scarce and hard to identify, probably pose the greatest challenge and problem to the believer. But the mysteries of Incarnation are much too deep to fathom here.

Copyright 2010 G Roland Smith

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on31st October 2011CategoriesMeaning of life, ReligionTags,, , , , , ,, , , , , Leave a comment

The Natural Mind is Formed by the Lord ‘by means of’ The Spiritual Mind

Lastchurch - The Eternal Purpose

 Selection from Apocalypse Explained ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
When a man’s spiritual mind has been opened and formed then the Lord forms the natural mind; for man’s natural mind is formed by the Lord by means of the spiritual mind; and for the reason that man’s spiritual mind is in heaven, and his natural mind is in the world; for it is only from heaven, and when communication and conjunction with heaven have been effected, that the natural can be formed to the idea of such things as are in heaven. This formation is effected by the Lord by an influx out of the spiritual mind into the natural, by means of which the things that are in the natural mind are so arranged as to correspond to those that are in the spiritual mind. (This correspondence is treated of in many places in the Arcana Coelestia, and also in the work on Heaven and Hell.) These things that are in the natural mind out of the spiritual are called rational truths, moral truths, natural truths, and in general, truths of knowledge [vera scientifica]; while the goods that are in the natural mind out of the spiritual are called affections and desires for those truths, and for thinking about, speaking about, and doing those truths from such affections, and these are in general called uses. All those things that are in the natural mind out of the spiritual mind come under man’s intuition and into his perception.

It is to be known that this formation of the two minds with man goes on from his infancy to his old age, and afterwards to eternity; and sometimes from the middle age of man to his last age, and afterwards to eternity; but still in another way after the life in the world than during the life in the world. And as man is formed, so is he perfected in intelligence and wisdom, and becomes a man. For no man is a man from his natural mind; from that he is rather a beast;but he becomes a man through intelligence and wisdom from the Lord, and so far as he is intelligent and wise he is a beautiful man and an angel of heaven. But so far as he rejects, suffocates, and perverts the truths and goods of the Word, thus of heaven and the church, and therefore rejects intelligence and wisdom, so far he is a monster and not a man, because he is so far a devil. From this it can be seen that man is not a man from his parents, but from the Lord, of whom he is born and created anew. This, therefore, is regeneration and a new creation.

(Apocalypse Explained 7,8)
April 17, 2017

VII. The Origin of Evil

Creative Digital Camera“Man himself is the origin of evil: not that that origin was put into man from creation, but that he himself, by turning from God to himself, put it into himself.”—C.L. 444.

INQUIRER.—My knowledge of the New Church doctrines is limited; but I understand that your views on religious subjects are essentially different from those generally taught.

MISSIONARY.—The idea may be new to you, as it is to many, but the fact is that we have a system of doctrine which has been Divinely revealed for the spiritual enlightenment of the world, and thus for the salvation of the human race. That is, the genuine truths of the Divine Word are now made known by the revelation of its internal sense. And this we have in the Writings of the New Church.

I.—What do you mean by the genuine truths of the Word? The expression is new to me.

M.—We employ new terms to express distinctively new truths, and to convey definitely spiritual ideas, respecting religious subjects. By genuine truths we mean the spirit, or real import, of the Word, which is within the mere letter, as the soul is within the body. For the mere letter is no more the essential Word than the merely physical body is the actual man. Both of these, indeed, are only the outward form.

I.—There is a passage where the Lord Jesus Christ says: “The words that I speak unto you are spirit, and they are life” (John vi. 63). I suppose the terms spirit and life have reference to the spiritual sense?

M.—Yes; the Apostle Paul also emphatically declares that “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. iii. 6). It is by virtue of the spiritual sense of the Word that we obtain a knowledge of its genuine truths, and from these are derived the living, rational, definite ideas, which alone can make us really intelligent. The literal sense in itself, though also Divine, is full of contradictions, because these are mere appearances of truth.

I.—The Scriptures say that God is love, also that He is angry with the wicked every day. This is surely a contradiction, and it looks as if this must be an apparent truth; for God certainly cannot be infinite love and infinite wrath at the same time. The idea does not agree with the revealed truth of His immutability. Since God is love, and is also unchangeable— the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,—it seems to me that He must be love only, and that He cannot be angry with any one.

M.—Your remarks are in accordance with sound logic, and your conclusion is quite correct. That God is angry, that He manifests feelings of wrath or revenge, that He caused evil and created a hell, that He is arbitrary and cruel in the treatment of some of His creatures, that He casts the wicked into hell, and consigns His enemies to eternal torment in unquenchable fire, and a thousand other things, are all mere appearances of truth in the literal sense of the Scriptures.

I.—How, then, did evil originate? If God did not create hell, who did? And in what manner are the wicked punished, if God does not punish them?

M.—Ah! there you propound questions that require a great deal of time and consideration to answer properly. I fear it may not be possible for me to reply to them as fully as the importance of the subject demands. But we shall make as good use of the time at our disposal as we can.

I.—It is frequently much easier to ask questions than to answer them. But I want light on these dark problems; for it seems to me there is in the old systems of belief a fearful confusion of ideas concerning the points I have indicated.

M.—There is no doubt but that many of the theologians of the day are without any rational doctrine, to enable them satisfactorily to explain matters of this nature. There is great need for light. And He who is Himself the Light of the World desires that all His children should be brought from the darkness of ignorance to the light of intelligence and wisdom.

I.—That surely must be so.

M.—Let us now consider your questions, in the order in which you have put them. As to the first, respecting the. origin of evil, allow me to premise that God, our Creator, gives to man, His creature, the prerogative of thinking, of willing, and of acting in freedom. In the exercise of the faculties with which he is endowed, man has the ability to receive truth into his understanding, and at the same time good into his will, and thus to live according to Divine order. Or, he can do the reverse of this—think what is false, will what is evil, and also live contrary to Divine order. And to come into a life contrary to Divine order is to confirm the false and the evil, and thus wilfully to transgress the laws of God, and so to become wicked and perverse.

I.—Why did God not create man so that it was impossible for him to sin?

M.—Because He could not do so.

I.—Is that not, an unwarrantable assertion? Do you mean to say that anything is impossible with God? Surely there is no limit to His power.

M.—In the true sense of the word, there is no limit to the power of the Almighty. But it is impossible for the Lord to do anything that is contrary to His Divine order. The Lord is the God of heaven; and “order is heaven’s first law.” It is an absolute law of the Divine order that man should be a free agent. As a matter of fact, God could not create man, to be man in the true sense of the word, without endowing him with distinctively human faculties, and giving him the ability to exercise these faculties in freedom. Without free agency, man would be a sort of mechanical creature, and not really a human being.

I.—Very true; but how is man’s free agency related to the origin of evil?

M.—We shall see presently. And here let me assure you that our doctrine, fully considered, satisfactorily explains (to any one that can understand rational truth) the difficult problem as to the origin of evil.

I.—I am greatly pleased to learn that there is such a doctrine.

M.—In most ancient times, men, from the purely natural state to which they were created, passed by stages of development into the spiritual state; and thereafter by orderly progression they at length reached the celestial state. These things are described in the sublime symbolism of the first chapter of Genesis. Then, in times immemorial, the fall of man took place. The fall of man was a gradual degeneracy, continuing through many ages, and not a sudden transition from a good and holy to an evil and wicked state. The beginning of the fall originated in the desire, in the minds of the ancients, to understand things heavenly and Divine by means of the senses, that is, to prefer the evidence of the senses to revealed truth; or, as it may also be expressed, to believe the apparent truth from without rather than the real truth from within.

I.—What about the forbidden fruit? It has always seemed to me a queer thing that sin and death, disease, and all but universal misery, should be introduced into our world by the simple act of a person eating an apple.

M.—The account in Genesis is not to be taken literally, of course. It is purely symbolic language; and it is nonsense to imagine that physical, spiritual, and eternal death could come in consequence of eating any natural fruit. In fact, the literal interpretation of the Scripture in question quite defeats itself. We read: “Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” (Gen. ii. 16, 17). But he did not literally die in that day. For again we read: “And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died” (Gen. v. 5). The Scripture, therefore, has no reference to physical death, as the literalists suppose. It is exclusively spiritual death, the death of the soul, that is treated of.

I.—How do you define the term “spiritual death”?

M.—When man ceases to receive life from the Lord, who is the infinite Fountain of life, he is spiritually dead. A man may be alive as to his body, but nevertheless be dead as to his soul. Of himself, man is spiritually dead, because of the perversion of his life, which is, by inheritance, his natural state. For this reason man requires to be regenerated, or born anew. But to those who confirm themselves in evil, and will not permit themselves to be brought into a state of good, the Lord says: “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life” (John v. 40).

I.—Now I should like you to explain something of the spirit of the passages you have quoted from Genesis.

M.—We will try. In the first place, then, let us consider that we do not understand the words of our Lord in their literal sense, when, for example, He says: “Except ye eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, ye have no life in you” (John vi. 53). Nor does a consistent method of interpretation require us to take the Scripture literally, when we read in Genesis about eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For this, in like manner as the Lord’s words in John, has a spiritual sense. Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man, means to receive and to appropriate the Divine good and the Divine truth from the Lord, in order that we may have spiritual and eternal life.

I.—Quite different from the notion of transubstantiation, to which millions in the Christian world still adhere.

M.—Eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in the symbolic style of expressing ideas, signifies man’s ascribing life and all things of his being, to himself, instead of to the Lord. But from what is revealed to us in the Word and the Writings, we learn that for man to be truly human, he must freely acknowledge that he receives life and all things good and true,—all pure motives, heavenly aspirations, ennobling thoughts and affections,—only from the Divine. Of himself, man is nothing but evil, and prone to confirm himself in false notions of every kind. Whatever is of the genuine human character in him, is from above. It is written: “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven” (John iii. 27).

I.—All very true! And the ancient philosophers were therefore quite right when they said, that “in God we live, and move, and have our being.” It appears that in this respect they were really wiser than many of the learned of modern times, because these do not acknowledge this grand truth.

M.—It is the fundamental truth of the philosophy of human existence. God the Lord alone is self-existent, essential Life, Infinite, Divine, All-Good, All-Wise, Omnipotent, and Omniscient. Man, on the other hand, is a recipient of life, and of all human qualities, by influx from the Lord. The flowers and trees, the things of universal nature,—the countless forms of use and beauty, which adorn the bosom of the earth,—would immediately be dissipated, if the inflowing of the heat and light of the sun were to be withdrawn. The Lord is to the human soul, and to the forms in man recipient of life, what the sun is to the forms and substances of nature.

I.—Your comparisons seem to me quite legitimate, and they help to make the subject intelligible. But I must not interrupt you.

M.—We shall be able to understand this matter of the origin of evil more clearly, when we consider that both evil and falsity are the perversion of good and truth. That is to say, when men come into a state in which they were inclined to abuse their freedom, by thinking and willing, and hence acting, contrary to Divine order, then good and truth from the Lord (the essential principles which form the interiors of the human mind) were turned .into the opposite. Thus evil and falsity had their beginning in man.

I.—But how did men come into a state such as you describe?

M.—Because they permitted themselves to be deceived by the serpent. That is, they were not content to allow themselves to be led by the Lord; but came into a state in which they desired to be led by their own intelligence. They gave way to an inclination to love self and to depend upon their own prudence, instead of continuing to love the Lord supremely, and to trust implicitly in His Divine Providence. Their self-love then induced them to begin to believe nothing but what they could comprehend by means of the senses. This was the very origin of the degeneracy of the human race. And it continued to operate, until, in the fullness of time, the Lord Jesus Christ—who was “God manifest in the flesh”—said to the sensuous-minded Jews: “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matt. xxiii. 33).

I.—You said the language about those things in Genesis is symbolic. I suppose, then, we are not to understand that a serpent ever actually talked with a woman, and persuaded her to eat fruit?

M.—It is certain that no serpent ever literally talked. Nor did the knowledge of good and evil ever literally grow on a tree. The serpent is mentioned in the Word to represent the sensual principle in man, that is, all things which belong to his senses. To be a full and perfect man, one requires the sensual principle also. But this must be made subordinate. The higher principles of human nature should rule in man, and not those of his lower nature. To allow the sensuous propensities to become predominant, is the beguilement of the serpent.

I.—I now begin to get some light upon the subject. And it is gratifying, for I have been in the dark quite long enough.

M.—Let me endeavour to make it still more plain. When men, in most ancient times, began to feel inclined to think that they were wise and good from themselves, and so gradually ceased to be willing to acknowledge that they could only be really wise and good from the Lord, then they did that which is meant by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The celestial man—the man of the celestial Church—so long as he remained in a state of integrity, delighted to acknowledge that the Lord is All in all; that He every instant imparts life and the power to think and act; and that in His infinite mercy He will confer upon His children the joys of angelic life to all eternity. But it is evident that man fell from a state of innocence and purity; that a gradual degeneracy ensued; that men in the process of the ages became wicked, hard-hearted, and cruel; “earthly, sensual, and devilish.”

I.—No one can deny that such has been the outcome. And it is lamentable to think of the state of the Christian world to-day. The effects of the degeneration of the race are, in one form or another, constantly brought under our notice. There are shams, frauds, and deceptions of all sorts. There is a vast deal of disregard for the rights of one’s fellow-man. The Golden Rule is at this day at a fearful discount, although it is the only rule of life and conduct by which we can practise the principles of true religion. Men are careless as to what they believe, and equally so as to how they live. Large numbers in Christendom have become, or are becoming, sceptics, scoffers, rationalists, and atheists. In fact, when one reads so much about the evil doings of people as we read nowadays, it sometimes actually makes one feel ashamed of human nature. But I do not wish to change the subject. Please go on with your explanations.

M.—I was about to say something in reply to your question as to who created hell. Evil and false principles, in the aggregate, constitute hell. The angels receive the Divine good and the Divine truth from the lord, and of these the heavens are formed. But evil spirits, who are devils and satans, in the very act of reception, turn good and truth into the opposite, and of these the hells are composed. We know that reception is according to the character or quality of the recipient.

I.—It evidently could not be otherwise.

M.—We have illustrations of this in nature. Look at the difference existing in the forms of the vegetable and animal kingdoms. The wheat and the tares come up together. The rose and the thorn may grow side by side. The fruit-tree and the poison-producing plant flourish in the same soil. The same physical conditions surround the wolf and the lamb. The owl and the dove breathe the same atmosphere. All these things are developed, and live by virtue of the influences of the heat and light of the sun. But the forms, receiving these influences, being essentially different, the effects produced are various accordingly. The wheat gives us bread for our nourishment; the tares are useless weeds. The bloom and fragrance of the rose delight our senses of sight and smell; but there is nothing very attractive about the thorn. The luscious fruit gratifies our taste, and promotes good health; but the poisonous will destroy the body altogether. The wolf and the lamb are as opposite in their dispositions as they can be; and so are the owl and the dove.

I.—The Lord says: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matt. x. 16). By the sheep are evidently meant the good, and by wolves the evil.

M.—I have not quite finished the point of my illustration. I was about to add, that the Divine love and the Divine wisdom proceed from the Lord as the sun of heaven, for the benefit of all, irrespective of state. That He is no respecter of persons is plainly stated in the Scriptures; and is also meant when it is declared that “He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. v. 45). Love and wisdom, received by an angel, make him a form of heaven; but the same influences are with a devil turned into the opposite, and he becomes a form of hell. The angel is in pure, genuine, heavenly delight; and the evil spirit is in his own impure, sensual, infernal delight, agreeable to his state.

I.—I should like to hear an explanation of the difference between devils and satans.

M.—The devils are those in whom evil predominates, and who from evils are in falsities. The satans are those in whom falsity predominates, and who from falsities are in evils. The Lord said: “One of you is a devil,” because the one referred to, namely, Judas Iscariot, was under the influences of evil to such a degree that he finally betrayed the Lord (John vi. 70). And the Lord on one occasion called Peter, Satan, because that disciple objected to the Lord’s passing through those things which were necessary for Him to fully glorify His human, and to finish the work of redemption (Matt. xvi. 23).

I.—Your view seems to militate against the idea of a personal devil. How about His Satanic Majesty?

M.—There is no personal devil, in the sense of one big devil, or evil deity, who has supreme power in the internal regions, and rules there, as many have imagined. It is written: “I am the First, and I am the Last, and beside me there is no God” (Isa. xliv. 6). By devil and satan are respectively meant all evil and falsity in the aggregate. In the Apocalypse, for example, we read of “the dragon, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world” (xii. 9).

I.—I must now remind you of the question concerning the punishment of the wicked.

M.—The Lord says of those who confirm themselves in evil and in falsity, and make infernal loves the chief delight of their lives: “These shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Matt. xxv. 46). This expresses the truth of the matter. The wicked go away from the Lord. They turn their back upon heaven, with all its shining splendours, its glories, and its unspeakable felicities, and of their own free choice go down into the regions of eternal darkness and spiritual death. They have perverted the order of their life, have become forms of evil, and hence are like owls that cannot endure the light of the sun.They cannot abide in the presence of the beneficent Lord of heaven. And thus we read in the Apocalypse, that they hide themselves in dens, and say to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Matt. vi. 15, 16).

I.—The Lord, then, is not responsible for the sufferings of the wicked?

M.—Certainly not. The Lord desires all to be happy, in time and throughout eternity. And all who come unto Him that they may have life truly human, shall be blessed for evermore. But the Lord cannot compel any one to do right, to live a good life, and go to heaven; because this would be contrary to the Divine law of human free agency. It is sad to think that it should be so; but it is the insane delight of the wicked to violate the laws of Divine order, which have been ordained of God for the direction and guidance, the well-being and spiritual prosperity, of His children. And by the wilful violation of these beneficent laws, without which the universe could not exist for a moment, the evil bring punishment upon themselves; and this as inevitably as effects succeed causes. Let us remember that there is absolutely nothing arbitrary about the Lord’s dealings with His creatures. He is just in all His ways. He doeth all things well. He is, most truly, our Father in the heavens. We, His children, may confidently trust in Him, and in all circumstances of life look up to Him; for His Divine hand will lead us, and His Divine Providence will protect us, that no evil may do us harm. The Lord, whom alone we ought to acknowledge and worship, is pure Love Itself, infinite and unchanging. And it is a genuine truth, expressed in the letter of the Divine Word, where we read: “The Lord is good unto all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Ps. cxlv. 9).

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The Influence of Hell in Our Lives

The Influence of Hell in Our Lives

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper


If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. Even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me (PSA 139:8,10)

It is much nicer to talk about heaven. It’s something we can look forward to; it’s something that’s pleasant. But we do have to acknowledge that evil greatly affects our daily life, and that the source of all evil is hell. We all have evil thoughts. We all have fantasies about what we would do if we were no longer under our present restraints and obligations. We all feel guilty about these thoughts because we are led to believe they are our own, when yet they are fleeting thoughts that originate in hell.

Divine Providence 320 teaches: If man believed, as is the truth, that all good and truth originate from the Lord, and all evil and falsity from hell, he would not appropriate good to himself and account it meritorious, nor would he appropriate evil to himself and account himself responsible for it.

If we can learn something about hell and the way it operates, we can then become more objective about evil; we can stand back and say “that is rubbish from hell and I don’t wish to have anything to do with it” and find that it goes away and torments us no longer. We can become free, genuinely, spiritually free to do and think as we choose.

One more thing needs to be clarified: In the New Church, we often speak of “hell” in much the same way that others speak of “the Devil.” However, the Heavenly Doctrines tell us that the basis for the belief in some one individual who presides over the hells is because the Devil, Satan, and Lucifer are mentioned by name in the Word, and those references have been understood only in the sense of the letter. When understood in the internal sense, it can be seen that these are names which signify different qualities or attributes of hell.

The idea of one ruling devil is also based on the idea that is held in some Christian Churches that heaven is a place where God and the angels dwell, angels being His messengers, spiritual beings created in heaven to serve Him, and have never lived upon the earth. There is the belief that some of these angels rebelled and were cast down into hell, and these fallen “sons of light” became the devils.

There cannot be one devil who rules the hells, because all who are in hell, like all those in heaven, are from the human race. Just as there is a logical inconsistency in having more than one all-powerful God, there an even greater problem with having two Gods, one of whom has fallen and become evil and the leader of evil beings. Therefore, there is no devil as a distinct individual, although we may speak of the common effort of all those in hell as “the devil” in the same way that we can refer to a joint effort by many individuals in this country as something done by “Canada.”

Keeping these first principles in mind, let us see what else we can learn about hell that will help us to keep free of its insidious influence in our lives.

Everyone knows that the Lord is the King of Heaven. And because Heaven and Hell are opposites that balance once another, the ruler of one must be the ruler of both. This is because from the action and reaction there is an equilibrium which gives permanence to all things. It should also be obvious that there must be a supreme, all powerful governor who can restrain the violence, uprisings, and insanities which would erupt from hell, destroy the equilibrium, and bring down everything else with it. Therefore, although it sounds strange at first, it should be clear that the Lord must be the governor of both heaven and hell.

The equilibrium or balance that is maintained between the power of heaven and hell on our lives in the world of nature is extremely important, for when two things mutually act against each other, since there is equal power on either side, neither has any effect, and both can be acted upon by a third force which then acts without opposition.

This is a simple idea that can be illustrated by springs, or the game of tug of war. But when we are thinking about true spiritual equilibrium we must beware falling into the idea that heaven and hell are balanced because they are of the same strength. The strengths of heaven and hell are not equal. There is far greater strength on the part of heaven, but it is held in restraint. Hell rushes in as far as it is able, to the absolute limit of its power, with the intent of drawing a person into its own sphere. It acts on and stimulates the evil tendencies of our hereditary nature, making us believe that these loves and desires are from ourselves, and not from hell.

Heaven, for its part, wants nothing more than for us to act in genuine freedom of choice. Therefore, although there is infinite power for good in heaven, its power is carefully moderated so that it balances the evil influences, preventing us from being overpowered by them. From superior power and practised restraint, the power of heaven leaves us free to choose our own course, to do what is right from our own decision to act according to the truth that we have from the Lord.

As an illustration, we might think of a young father playfully wrestling with his little boy. The little boy attacks furiously, at the limit of his strength and skill, and the father easily controls and directs that energy so that there is no harm through his far superior strength and skill.

Yes, there is an effective equilibrium in our spiritual lives, but that is because of the infinitely greater power of heaven exercised out of love and concern for our eternal well-being. The purpose and effect on our spiritual lives is to allow us, through our puny and feeble efforts, to co-operate with heaven and lift ourselves up and out of the sphere of hell – and stay out of it!

Hell reaches out to stimulate evil loves and hereditary tendencies to evils of every kind in such a way as to make us think that these ideas and desires are our own. It hides itself, tries to keep its true nature unseen, but the sphere of hell is like a perpetual effort to destroy all that is good and true, combined with anger and a kind of fury at not being able to do so.

The spirits of hell are particularly in the desire to destroy the Divine of the Lord, (that is, to make Jesus Christ no longer Divine and authoritative, but to make Him to be just a man. Just as the acknowledgement of His divinity is the one pearl that forms each of the twelve gates of the Holy City New Jerusalem, the wish to destroy or hide His divinity is the one clod of dirt that guards the entrances to hell.)

The hells wish to destroy the Divinity of the Lord, because that is the source of all that is good and true, therefore the source of all the things that frustrate them and bring them pain because they oppose the loves of self and the world.

A sphere of good and truth proceeds from the Lord out of heaven to restrain and balance the spheres of hell. It is from the Lord alone as a source, although it appears to be from the angels of heaven, and this because it is through them as a means. While they serve the Lord’s uses, they happily and completely acknowledge that the power for what they do comes from the Lord alone and not anything from themselves.

Heaven watches, like a gentle parent, and stimulates the good loves and delightful feelings that we have gotten through the experience of being loved and well-treated by others while in the world. And while in that state, the two forces balance each other out, allowing, as before said, a third force to act as if alone: That third force is the free will of each individual.

When we, in our freedom, make choices, we are the third force acting on our spiritual state. When we choose what is good, the net effect is to add to the forces of heaven, thus moving our spiritual state out of equilibrium toward heaven – and that’s good. Our continual effort and goal should be to co-operate with heaven against hell to push the marker off centre and toward heaven as far as we can, and hold it there as long as we can! Then we will have moved our normal state out of equilibrium into the state of heaven through our own efforts! Truly, this is what the Lord wants for us!

It has already been said that the Lord rules and governs the hells. The Heavenly Doctrines reveal how He does this both in general, and in particular: In general the hells are ruled by a general outflow of Divine good and truth from heaven which counters the flows of evil and falsity flowing forth from hell. The hells are governed in particular by an outflow from each heaven and from each society of heaven which serves to balance their counterparts. There are also angels who look into the hells and restrain insanities and disturbances there. They moderate these insanities and disturbances by their very presence, for the evil spirits fear the power of heaven, and fear is the most effective tool for governing the hells.

Everyone in hell is governed and controlled by means of their fears. Some are ruled by fears implanted in them while in the world, and are still with them. But such fears are not sufficient, and they gradually subside as the memory of the world fades, and they are then replaced by the fears of punishment. In hell, the fear of punishment is the most effective means of deterring the evil from their activities. This is because in hell, the punishment is directly related to the evil desired, and is derived from it.

The punishments of hell are wonderfully varied, and cause tremendous fear and respect from the evil spirits themselves. The punishments are lighter or more severe according to the severity of the evils. They are administered by other evil spirits, who derive pleasure from it. These spirits are in turn controlled by other spirits who protect and ensure that the punishment does not go too far.

But what does “too far” mean when it comes to the eternal punishments of hell? First, hell is eternal, not the punishments. When evil spirits keep themselves in a state of relative order, they are not punished. They are fed, clothed, given shelter, and have simple tasks to do. It is only when their evil lusts well up and break forth that they are punished, that is, only when they are in a state of disorder. When such a state breaks forth, the punishment is as harsh and immediate as is necessary to counter the rush of evil. But – and this is essential for our understanding of how to effectively punish in this world – the moment the spirit brings himself back under self-control and into a state of order, the punishment ends. Evil spirits are never punished when they are in a state of external order, and if they get out of order, the punishment ends the moment their state of disorder is broken. Even in hell, there is nothing of revenge in punishment. It is simply a tool used to restore order when necessary.

If fear is the most effective means of governing the hells, how can we take advantage of that fact in our own lives to control and defeat the effects of evil spirits? By bringing into our lives the one thing that the evil spirits fear the most: the light of heaven; the truth of the Word. When the light of heaven shines on an evil spirit, it reveals him as he truly is, a deformed and pitiful creature. It shows his gifts to be shoddy imitations, it shows his powers to be imaginary, like the beasts that dwell in the nursery shadows. The light of the Word shows them for what they really are, and shows us the way to what is of genuine eternal value.

When we are faced with evil, when we feel the delights of evil within us, we must shine the light of truth on them, drive them back into the caves and holes where they belong, for we know that we are spiritually free, responsible only for what we freely choose to do, and not any passing thoughts. We cannot be harmed by hell unless we want it, for we are under the Lord’s own protection. As the psalmist himself said, I will glorify Your name forevermore. For great is Your mercy toward me, and You have delivered my soul from the depths of hell. Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 139:1-12, Matthew 12:22-30, HH 543


First Lesson:

(Psa 139:1-12) O LORD, You have searched me and known me. {2} You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. {3} You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. {4} For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether. {5} You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. {6} Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it. {7} Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? {8} If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. {9} If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, {10} Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. {11} If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” Even the night shall be light about me; {12} Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You. Amen.

Second Lesson: Mat 12:22-30

Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. {23} And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” {24} Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” {25} But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. {26} “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? {27} “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. {28} “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. {29} “Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. {30} “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. Amen.

Third Lesson: Heaven and Hell 543.

How the hells are ruled by the Lord shall be briefly explained. In general the hells are ruled by a general outflow from the heavens of Divine good and Divine truth whereby the general endeavour flowing forth from the hells is checked and restrained; also by a particular outflow from each heaven and from each society of heaven. The hells are ruled in particular by means of the angels, to whom it is granted to look into the hells and to restrain insanities and disturbances there; and sometimes angels are sent to them who moderate these insanities and disturbances by their presence. But in general all in the hells are ruled by means of their fears. Some are ruled by fears implanted in the world and still inherent in them; but as these fears are not sufficient, and gradually subside, they are ruled by fears of punishments; and it is especially by these that they are deterred from doing evil. The punishments in hell are manifold, lighter or more severe in accordance with the evils. For the most part the more wicked, who excel in cunning and in artifices, and who are able to hold the rest in subjection and servitude by means of punishments and consequent terror, are set over them; but these governors dare not pass beyond the limits prescribed to them. It must be understood that the sole means of restraining the violence and fury of those who are in the hells is the fear of punishment. There is no other way. Amen.


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