A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn November 14, 1993
“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:31).
The Word is filled with beautiful promises. The text is one. The Lord, our Savior, promises to draw us to Himself, to lift us from death to life, from earthly life to heavenly life. “I have come,” He said, “that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). This is the yearning of His Divine love: to love others, to desire to be one with them, to foster their happiness (see TCR 43). Drawing people to Himself pictures the Lord’s end and purpose: a heaven from the human race (see DP 27). The Lord’s power to uplift the human spirit is taught throughout the Word. In Exodus He speaks of releasing Israel from Egypt: “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself” (Exodus 19:4). In the Psalms we are taught that “the Lord upholds all who fall, and raises up all those who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:14). Another psalm urges the Lord: “Save Your people, and bless Your inheritance; feed them and lift them up forever” (Psalm 28:9).
When on earth, the Lord took up children in His arms, laid His hands on the crippled woman unable to raise up herself for eighteen years who immediately stood up straight, took the hand of the little daughter of Jairus who lay dead and said to her, “Arise!” and she arose.
In the Heavenly Doctrine we read that “there is actually a sphere proceeding continually from the Lord and filling the entire spiritual and natural worlds which raises all toward heaven” (TCR 652:3). And how tenderly the angels demonstrate the Lord’s uplifting power in their representations to those little children who die and are being taught in heaven: ” … with incomparable prudence and gentleness. In adaptation to the infantile mind they let down little cords almost invisible, very soft and tender, by which they lightened the Lord’s ascent … ” (HH 335).
The presence of a force of elevation in creation is demonstrated even on the natural plane by the upward thrusting of plants toward the natural sun. The human mind is no less attracted to the light and life of a spiritual sun, the source of heavenly life. The difference is that the natural forms of life on earth spontaneously respond to the attraction of the sun, but people may choose to turn away.
Throughout the Word, in a thousand places, we read of elevation from a lower state to a higher, of an uplifting force. If we are like Nicodemus, who came to the Lord by night, we will not understand the Lord’s teaching. Nicodemus could not understand being “born again” because he thought of it only naturally. But human life is marvelously complex. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Life has its flesh and spirit, its surface and substance, its depth and degrees.
Life on the surface and in the flesh is animal-like. It has its purpose and its pleasures, but is only the matrix for the more perfect life of the spirit. We must be “born again.” The Lord has given us the capacity of being raised up and awakened in spirit. ” … man possesses this special privilege above the beasts … ” we are told, a privilege and capacity symbolized by our ability to stand erect and look upward, unlike any animal (see TCR 69). This is our “special privilege” as the highest and most perfect creation of the Lord’s love. How important it is that we learn to exercise this privilege!
“The human mind, like the angelic heaven,” we read, “is divided into three degrees, and may therefore be lifted up into a higher and still higher degree or be let down into a lower and still lower degree; but so far as it is lifted up into the higher degrees it is lifted up into wisdom, because into the light of heaven; and this God only can do. Moreover, so far as the mind is thus lifted up it becomes a man … ” (TCR 69).
What is meant by lifting up the mind? We speak in terms of space, of “higher” or “lower.” What is higher means what is “interior” or within; what is lower means what is “exterior” or on the outside. This also is what is meant by higher or lower degrees.
New Churchmen are familiar with the terminology of degrees. These refer to levels or planes of thought or love that are distinct or differentiated. For example, thought based on sense experience alone is a lower or more exterior degree of thought than rational thought. The higher form of thought is clearer and more true. This can be illustrated by the fact that a conclusion of rational thought may correct a false conclusion based on a sensual appearance. Scientists know, even though it appears otherwise, that the sun does not “rise” or “set.” In a similar way, a just man, from his interior plane of thought, knows that laws are necessary to preserve civil order even though those laws appear arbitrary to a criminal.
The Writings often point to “fallacies of the senses” as the source of many false conclusions. Such “fallacies” permeate our culture and personal life today. The only escape from them is to be elevated by the Lord into higher light, be it rational, spiritual or celestial.
If there is a “special privilege” for man to be capable of elevation, there is a special privilege and responsibility for all those who know of the New Church and acknowledge that its Heavenly Doctrine is the very Word of God. This Word and its doctrine is the essential means for the uplifting of the Christian world! It has the truths by which human minds can be lifted above the fallacies of a sensual culture and thought that are a curse in society today, truths by which human minds can be enlightened from within to see the Lord’s will and the Lord’s way.
What this world needs is the truth. And it needs an army of those who love the truth, who live it, and who proclaim it to the world. For the truth is sorely needed to free those who are bound in the fallacies and evils that grip the world today.
That the Lord is the hope for our elevation from the fallacies of the senses and the errors of our natural thought is taught in the Word where we read: ” … the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God … ” (Deut. 28:13). “To make as the head” means, we are told, “to make spiritual and intelligent, and thus to elevate out of the light of the world into the light of heaven; and `to make as the tail’ means to make sensual and foolish, so as not to look to heaven but only to the world … ” (AE 559).
The Writings make several points about the purpose of our elevation into interior planes of thought. These show us the vital importance of the New Church. It is only as we elevate our understanding above natural loves which are inborn, and from that height see those loves, that we can judge their quality, and, if we find them evil, be able to amend, chasten and remove them (see CL 96). Otherwise, we would see no need to change. Without the Heavenly Doctrine this cannot be done.
Again, since we have the ability to raise our understanding, we may see, in the light of heaven, what we must will and do, that we may be “prosperous in the world for a time and blessed after death to eternity” (TCR 588).
“Unless man’s thought can be elevated above sensuous things so that these are seen as below him,” we are told, “he cannot understand any interior thing in the Word, still less such things as are of heaven … for sensuous things absorb and suffocate them” (AC 5089:2).
When an elevation of the mind takes place, we become more closely joined with a heavenly society, receiving the light and wisdom of it. “Moreover, the interiors are actually raised and are then actually withdrawn from the body and from the world,” we are told. “When this is done, the interiors of the man come actually into heaven, and into its light and heat … This communication is what is called influx and enlightenment” (AC 10330:2).
The Heavenly Doctrine warns that there are obstacles that stand in the way of our elevation. Though it is desirable for us to come into association with interior societies of heaven to enjoy the light of their wisdom, our natural tendency is to remain below, immersed in the false ideas and natural loves that are our heritage. This is why it is so important that the Lord continually seeks to lift us up and draw us toward what is more interior. He strives to set our priorities straight. ” … the things of eternal life and of the Lord’s kingdom are set before those which belong to life in the body and to the kingdom of the world. When a man acknowledges the former as the principal and primary, and the latter as the instrumental and secondary, then with him truths and the affections of them are elevated … The contrary happens when the man sets the things of the life of the body and of the kingdom of the world before those of eternal life and the Lord’s kingdom” (AC 4104:3).
The inclination to set the things of the body and the world in higher priority than the things of eternal life is prompted by the influence of so-called sensuous spirits which are said to “abound” in the other life at the present day. “Troops” of them come from our world, we are told, and the influence of their self-indulgent, useless nature “prompts man to indulge his natural inclination, and to live for himself and the world” (AC 6201). It is said that for a man to be uplifted from these spirits, “he must think about eternal life” (Ibid.). It is our clear duty to shake free of these influences and to assist our children in the ability to think about them from the Word.
The elevation from natural to spiritual life is a two-step process. While we live in this world our understanding can be raised even to the light of heaven. This is the first step. Even evil persons can be elevated as to thought. However, the thought cannot remain elevated unless there is also an elevation of our loves. We are taught that “love, which is of the will, is raised only by fleeing from evils as sins, and then by goods of charity, which are uses, which the man thereafter performs from the Lord. Consequently, when love, which is of the will, is not at the same time raised, wisdom, which is of the understanding, however it may have ascended, falls back again down to its own love” (DLW 258).
The process of elevation requires our cooperation with the Lord. It is the Lord who lifts us up, for “no one can look above himself except by means of an elevation by Him who is above” (AC 7607). Nevertheless, in spite of the Lord’s constant desire to lift up our life, He cannot succeed without our efforts at the same time. We are told, “no one can think above sensual things and see the truths of the church unless he acknowledges God and lives according to His commandments … ” (TCR 402:20). Again, “the mind is elevated when it recedes from evil” (AC 2401).
We provide the conditions for elevation and association with interior societies of heaven by our life of regeneration. Fleeing evils and applying the truths of the Word in our life opens our mind to heavenly influence. This should be the first priority of our New Churchmanship.
In addition to this regenerative process which should be our daily endeavor, other specific activities and efforts can have a part in releasing our mind from the weight of material and worldly thought which so quickly dissipates anything spiritual with us.
Swedenborg writes of “an elevation toward the Lord which was like an attraction” he felt when reading the Lord’s prayer (AC 6476). Indeed, the reverent reading of any part of the Word effects a communication with societies of heaven. While we may not experience any conscious attraction, as Swedenborg did, the power of association will have beneficial effect. The same may be said of participation in Divine worship, public or private. And we know there is a special power in the sacrament of the Holy Supper. “Human minds are by that supper conjoined with heavenly minds,” we are told (AC 2177).
The Heavenly Doctrine speaks particularly of the effect of anxious thought about such things as give great concern to most persons, namely, about possessions, acquiring riches, about pleasures, and the like. ” … when such thoughts possess the whole of the mind,” Swedenborg writes, “they carry the lower mind downward, and are like weights which drag it down … Once when I was led through the abodes of heaven,” he says, “and was at the time in a spiritual idea, it happened that I suddenly began to sink into thought about worldly things, and then all that spiritual idea was dissipated and became as naught” (AC 6210, 6291; cf. SD 3624ff).
How easily we are distracted from precious moments of spiritual reflection by the pressing concerns of the world! It takes effort to make time in the day to pray to the Lord, to read His Word, and to reflect on His truths. This is sadly true even on Sundays in today’s world. Yet “thought about eternal life” is one of the few ways we can free ourselves from the influence of the sensuous spirits who prompt us to indulge our natural inclinations and pleasures and to live for ourselves alone and the world (see AC 6201).
The world and the things of the world are powerful attractions to us. Yes, we must live in the world but we do not have to partake of its false attitudes and its vain practices. The Lord said, “I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33) With His help, we can find release from the anxious concerns that trouble us and we can be lifted up.
Are we more oppressed today than Israel was in Egypt? The Lord brought them out of their house of bondage. He said: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6).
The New Church too has been borne up to the Lord on eagles’ wings. We are told that the woman John saw who was clothed with the sun and who gave birth to the Man Child was given “two wings of a great eagle” (Rev. 12:14). This woman represents the New Church; her Child, the doctrine of the church. It is by this church and its Heavenly Doctrine that we can be brought to the Lord Himself. And if we will indeed obey His voice and keep His covenant, we will be a “special treasure,” a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation for the healing of all the nations. Amen.
Lessons: Exodus 19:1-8; John 3:1-16; HH 335-336 (parts); AC 6476
Heaven and Hell 335-336 (parts)
CONCERNING CHILDREN IN THE OTHER LIFE AND CONCERNING THE LORD’S PRAYER:
335. Children … [in heaven] … are taught chiefly by representatives suited to their capacity. These are beautiful and full of wisdom from within, beyond all belief. In this way an intelligence that derives its soul from good is gradually instilled into them … Afterwards I saw a representation by the angels of the Lord’s descent to those that are “bound,” and of His ascent with these into heaven, and this with incomparable prudence and gentleness. In adaptation to the infantile mind they let down little cords almost invisible, very soft and tender, by which they lightened the Lord’s ascent, always with a holy solicitude that there should be nothing in the representation bordering upon anything that did not contain what is spiritual and heavenly.
336. It was also shown how tender their understanding is. When I was praying the Lord’s Prayer, and from their understanding they flowed into the ideas of my thought, their influx was perceived to be so tender and soft as to be almost solely a matter of affection; and at the same time it was observed that their understanding was open even from the Lord, for what flowed forth from them was as if it simply flowed through them. Moreover, the Lord flows into the ideas of little children chiefly from inmosts, for there is nothing, as with adults, to close up their ideas, no principles of falsity to close the way to the understanding of truth, nor any life of evil to close the way to the reception of good, and thereby to the reception of wisdom.
Arcana Coelestia 6476
Whenever I have been reading the Lord’s Prayer, I have plainly perceived an elevation toward the Lord which was like an attraction, and at the same time my ideas were open, and from this there was effected a communication with some societies in heaven; and I noticed that there was an influx from the Lord into every detail of the prayer, thus into every idea of my thought that was from the meaning of the things in the prayer. The influx was effected with inexpressible variety, that is, not the same at one time as another; hence also it was made evident how infinite are the things contained in the prayer, and that the Lord is present in every one of them.