Does Love Justify Evil?

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, Sept. 28, 2008

And He said to [the Pharisees], “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (LUK 16:15)

 

With these clear and powerful words, the Lord put forth the fundamental issue that we face during our lives on earth: the fact that our nature is such that many of the things that we seek after are just those things that are most harmful to our spiritual lives. And to make it worse, we use our rationality, the part of our minds that was specifically created by God to help us rise above our evil desires, to twist and turn the truth until we are able to convince ourselves, if not others, that our evils are actually good.

We like to think that we’re “okay,” that while we might have a few flaws to work on, for the most part, we’re essentially, good, honest people. We like to think that because it makes us comfortable. The hells encourage us to think like that, because while we are feeling comfortable and safe, we are not going to explore our real motives, and while our motives remain hidden and unexamined, we do not feel the need to change. In this way, the hells win the battle for our souls by default.

In the newspaper of another city a few years ago, there were two news items on the same day that dramatized some extremely important spiritual truths. Both headline stories had to do with men confessing their adulteries. The one was an internationally known church leader in the midst of a sex scandal; the other a local man who was interviewed by the newspaper after placing a classified ad in the personals in which he extolled the virtues of loving two women – only one of which was his wife.

It’s not unusual today to read about people who are unfaithful to their partners – in fact it’s becoming far too common. So what made these two stories particularly worthy of note? Both of these men, one of whom was a church leader, stated publicly while confessing to adultery, that they stated that they had done nothing wrong. Consider the following passage from the True Christian Religion:

…He who trespasses against one commandment of the Decalogue trespasses against all. But the meaning of this assertion is different from its sound, for it is to be understood thus, that he who purposely or deliberately acts contrary to one commandment, acts contrary to the rest, since to so act from purpose and deliberation is to deny utterly that it is sin, and when it is said to be sin, to reject the statement as of no account; and he who so denies and rejects the idea of sin gives no thought to anything that is called sin. (TCR 523)

How can a man come to the point in his life that he can publicly assert that adultery is not a sin? What kind of reason can such a person give? They said it was correct and exemplary behaviour because they did it for “love.” By this I believe they meant to say that it was acceptable for them to behave the way they did because the only standard for behaviour in their lives was their own feelings of pleasure or happiness. The one said it was okay to leave his wife and take up with another man’s wife because he no longer “loved” his wife, and therefore his obligations to her were at an end; the other said that since he felt “love” for both his wife and his girlfriend, that it was right and proper for him to have both. How would the angelic heavens respond to such a statement? It happens that Swedenborg records their response to a similar situation:

When the angels had heard this they replied, “You talk in this way because you are merely sensual; for all who are in hell have the ideas of their thoughts immersed in the bodily senses, and are unable to raise their minds above the senses. We therefore excuse you. A life of evil and a consequent belief in what is false have so far closed the interiors of your minds that with you any elevation above sensual things is impossible unless in a state remote from your evils of life and falsities of belief. (TCR 77:3)

It should be emphasized that the angels are not excusing the evil, but the insane speech of those who are immersed in their bodily senses, and because they are unable to lift themselves up from them, they are in hell.

These two adulterers, through their public statements, have brought an important issue to light. It is useful for us to have our attention drawn to this question so that we can identify the same kind of subtle falsity in our own thinking, and drive it out if it is present. The question is, when does “love,” (or our own feelings of happiness) justify doing what is evil? Indeed, does love ever justify doing what is evil? The answer to this question revolves around the difference between evil and sin.

The difference between evil and sin is the same as the difference between an action and the motive behind the action. God has told us of certain things that we must not do because they are evil, and these things are summarized in the Ten Commandments, but there are times and circumstances where, if the motive is good, these commandments can be broken without permanent spiritual harm. Sin, on the other hand, has to do with the motives behind the actions, and a person can sin without appearing to others to break any of the commandments.

For example: a mother is destitute and sees that her child is starving, so she steals a loaf of bread to feed the child. Her action is evil, because it has broken the commandment against stealing, but since her motive was the protection and preservation of innocent life, it is not counted as a sin. Another example: a soldier faces an enemy in the act of invading his homeland, and in the heat of battle, he kills. To take a life is evil, but the motive of protecting his homeland and nation means that it is not accountable to him as a sin.

In these cases, love, because it is genuine and looking outside of self to the protection and care of others, does justify breaking the commandments, but it doesn’t make it right. The action itself is still evil, but excused by the Lord because of the motive.

On the other hand, one can easily imagine a situation where a man spends many years preparing himself to take a position of trust, presenting himself as a sober and respectable fellow, only to later abuse that position and to exercise his powers for personal gain and pleasure. To do good, when done solely for the sake of self, is a sin. In such a case, his love is not genuine love, not charity, but the love of self, and therefore from hell. Such hellish, selfish love cannot justify or excuse evil.

We all want to “feel good” about ourselves and our lives. We want to do good – at least in our own eyes. We turn away and ignore the sins within ourselves – because it’s easier. Like many other unpleasant tasks, we put it off until later, but the Heavenly Doctrines warn us of the spiritual danger of failing to search out the sins within:

Do you know of any one sin in which you are? Have you ever examined yourselves, and consequently shunned any evil as a sin against God? He who does not shun evil is in evil. (TCR 527:4)

And even though we are in states of evil, we yet believe that we deserve and are destined for heaven, and so we either have to justify our sins, or get rid of them. Justifying sins is a lot easier than shunning them. Remember what the Lord taught when the lawyer asked Him:

“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?”

So he answered and said, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbour as yourself.’ “

And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” (LUK 10:25-29)

The Lord answered him by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, but the point here is that the lawyer asked the question not because he was really interested in knowing the answer, but “to justify himself” (LUK 10:29), to make it seem that the Lord’s answer was so general that it could be applied in almost any way, and especially so that it could be applied to make the lawyer appear to be doing good to the neighbour without having to give up his evils and change his life.

Again, the Heavenly Doctrines speak pointedly to this:

Who cannot understand that he who does not examine and see his sins remains in them? For every evil is delightful to a man from his birth; it is delightful to him to take revenge, to commit whoredom, to defraud, to blaspheme, and especially to exercise dominion from self-love; and does not this delight prevent your seeing these sins? And if, perchance, you are told that they are sins, do you not from their delight excuse them, and even prove to yourselves by means of falsities that they are not sins? And, therefore, you remain in them, and afterward commit them more frequently than before, and this even until you do not know what sin is, or indeed whether there is any such thing. (TCR 567:6)

It seems to be a problem without a solution: our hereditary nature leads us into evils of every kind, and because we get pleasure from acting out our evil loves, we end up sinning; and when we begin to break the commandments with knowledge and intent, we begin to deny them all, and we justify our actions with such falsities that eventually we don’t even know what sin is, let alone that it exists in us and needs to be removed. We come to the place where we can admit to adultery, or some other sin, and still claim to have done nothing wrong, because it gave us pleasure. As the Lord said in our text, we begin to “highly esteem that which is an abomination in the sight of God.”

The Lord is not, as it may appear, standing back, waiting for us to fail, but rather He is doing everything He can to help us break out of the vicious circle, to treat us fairly, and to help us break away from our evils so that we can prepare ourselves for spiritual life. We are taught that those who have removed some evils in themselves that are sins through the process of self-examination, repentance, and reformation, come into a settled and peaceful state where they believe in the Lord and love the neighbour. When we come into such a peaceful state, the Lord then flows in with His love and presence to keep us strong in our resolve to refrain from other evils; to keep us moving in the right direction once we have chosen it freely for ourselves. Once we have established, through our efforts to repent, that it is our true intention to continue to make spiritual progress, then, if from ignorance or circumstances beyond our control, a sin is committed, it is not imputed because it was not done from purpose and consent, and because there is genuine sorrow. (See TCR 523)

Because we all have different characters, and backgrounds, and because the effect of sin is to blind us to what sin really is, there needs to be some standard of truth that is objective, external, for us to judge our opinions against. For us, that standard must be the Word of the Lord, and especially the Ten Commandments – all ten of them.

We need to act courageously, to look within ourselves, and compare what we find there with the standards set forth not in the world but in the Word. When we find what is evil we may try to justify it because it pleases us (because we are “in love”), but we must recognize it for the deadly danger it is, and flee from it as if from the devil himself. Then, as long as we do our best to refrain from that evil, the Lord will flow in with the power of heaven and remove that evil, which can then be replaced by the opposite good. The net effect is that the pleasures we once had from that evil begin to fade, and are replaced by the heavenly delights of the opposite good.

The purpose of this sermon so far has been to encourage us to look back upon the things we have done in the past, not from the light of self-love or self-intelligence, but in the light of what we know to be true from the Lord in the Word, to warn of the things that prevent us from seeing our own actions clearly. No doubt, each of us can think of many things that we would like to change, things that we thought would work really well but through inattention, or false assumptions, or carelessness ended up hurting ones that we love. But in clearly seeing the wreckage of the past lies the hope for days that lie ahead. In His Divine Wisdom, the Lord created us so that by being able to see and understand the errors of the past, we can improve! We are not doomed to a lifetime of making the same mistakes, of causing the same hurts over and over.

Our lives are a cycle of states. We’re not happy and good all the time, nor are we sad and evil all the time. We can’t have Christmas every day – nor should we dwell in states of depression and self-loathing. We were created to change from state to state so that in looking back we could learn from our experiences, and in looking forward, we could hope for eternal salvation. Let us look forward with hopefulness and joy to the good things that the Lord has in store for us. We close with this reading from the True Christian Religion:

With any one who actually repents it is different. His evils, such as he has recognized and acknowledged, he calls sins, and therefore begins to shun them and turn away from them; and finally to feel their delight to be undelightful. And so far as this is done he sees and loves good, and at length feels the delight of good, which is the delight of the angels of heaven. In a word, so far as any one puts the devil behind him, he is accepted by the Lord, and is taught, led, withheld from evil, and kept in good by Him; and this is the way, and the only way, from hell to heaven. (TCR 567:6) AMEN.

First Lesson: Jer 7:21-28

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat meat. {22} “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. {23} “But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.’ {24} “Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. {25} “Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have even sent to you all My servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them. {26} “Yet they did not obey Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers. {27} “Therefore you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not obey you. You shall also call to them, but they will not answer you. {28} “So you shall say to them, ‘This is a nation that does not obey the voice of the LORD their God nor receive correction. Truth has perished and has been cut off from their mouth. Amen.

Second Lesson: Luke 16:10-18

“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. {11} “Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? {12} “And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? {13} “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” {14} Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. {15} And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. {16} “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. {17} “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail. {18} “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery. Amen.

Third Lesson: True Christian Religion 523.

It is asserted that no man can fulfil the law, and the less so, since he who trespasses against one commandment of the Decalogue trespasses against all. But the meaning of this assertion is different from its sound, for it is to be understood thus, that he who purposely or deliberately acts contrary to one commandment, acts contrary to the rest, since to so act from purpose and deliberation is to deny utterly that it is sin, and when it is said to be sin, to reject the statement as of no account; and he who so denies and rejects the idea of sin gives no thought to anything that is called sin. Those who are unwilling to hear anything about repentance come into this fixed attitude of mind; but on the other hand, those who by repentance have removed some evils that are sins, come into a settled purpose to believe in the Lord and love the neighbour. Such are kept by the Lord in the purpose to refrain from other evils; and if therefore from ignorance or some over-powerful lust, they are led to commit sin, it is not imputed to them, because they did not commit it deliberately, and do not confirm it in themselves.

This may be confirmed by the following facts: In the spiritual world I have met with many who in the natural world had lived like others, dressing finely, feasting delicately, making money by trading like others, attending theatres, joking about lovers as if from licentiousness, and doing other like things; and yet the angels charged these things upon some as evils of sin, and not upon others, declaring the latter innocent, but the former guilty. Being asked the reason of this, since all had done the same things, they replied, that all are viewed by them from their purpose, intention, and end, and are distinguished accordingly; and therefore they excuse or condemn those whom the end excuses or condemns, since good is the end of all in heaven, and evil the end of all in hell. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2008 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
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Evil’s Three Essentials

 

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

What advantage is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed? (Luke 9:25)

In the sermon two weeks ago, we learned about the three essential qualities of genuine love that is from the Lord: 1) That it is directed to others outside of self; 2) that it wishes to be conjoined with the ones loved to eternity; and 3) that it wishes to make others happy from itself.

While reflecting on these truths from the Word, it became apparent that a lot could be learned about evil by looking at the opposites of these three essential The more clearly we see and understand the true nature of evil, the easier it will be for us to discover it in ourselves and, with the Lord’s help, remove it.

Diabolical love is opposite to Divine Love, and is, in itself, hatred. We see this clearly illustrated in our lesson about Amnon, King David’s son who lusted after his half-sister: Did he love her? He said he did, but his actions say that everything he did was directed towards himself and his own needs. Did he wish to be conjoined with her? Physically, yes. But as soon as his own needs were satisfied, he ordered her thrown out. Did he wish to make her happy? Not at all. From start to finish, everything had been craftily planned to bring pleasure to himself and for himself only.

This is what evil does. It hides in the mind and disguises itself as love or longing, but as soon as it is expressed, as soon as it comes out into the open, it can be seen for what it is. Amnon apparently believed at first that he loved Tamar1, but once he had achieved his objective,

Amnon hated her exceedingly, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her.2

There are, from creation, three universal loves. They are the love of heaven, the love of the world, and the love of self. The Word is so full of condemnation for the loves of self and the world that we may have a hard time understanding the fact that they are loves that are given to man by the Lord from creation.

We are created with the love of self for the simple reason that without it, we would not eat, would not protect ourselves, and in general would very quickly die. If we had no love of the world, there would be no drive to learn or to build: there would be no civilization at all!

The loves of self and the world have been given to us for a reason. When they are subordinated to the love of the Lord and the love of the neighbour, they perfect a person It is only when they are out of order, when we put the loves of self and the world ahead of everything else that they pervert.

Real love, love that flows outward from the Lord, and is given to every human being as a gift, looks outward to others. But diabolical love is the opposite It is totally introverted, and although it may appear to look outward at times, the bottom line is that whatever is being done is being so that it will eventually bring some benefit to self. Self, and the glorification of self, underlies everything, and causes everything.

Evil is the opposite of love. The doctrines of the New Church frequently use warmth to illustrate the nature of love. The opposite of warmth is cold, and that in itself is a very revealing thing, for cold is not in itself a thing, but rather it is the absence of heat. A refrigerator does not make cold, it moves the heat out of the insulated box. Any device that cools does so by removing the heat. The same thing is true about light and darkness You cannot darken a room by turning on a “dark,” you darken a room by preventing light from entering Cold and dark are what you get when warmth and light are removed or prevented from entering The point of this is to say that evil is not really a thing, but rather describes the empty state of the person who has turned away from God and looks only to self. Hell is cold and dark, because those there have turned away from the light and warmth of the spiritual sun of heaven.

We know that genuine love looks outward to the good of others Evil continually strives to do anything that will benefit self at the expense of others, and so, evil itself is often called in the Heavenly Doctrines, “the love of self.”

The love of self is not merely the love of honour, glory, fame, and eminence, but also the love of meriting and seeking office, and so of ruling over others. The love of self is wishing well to oneself only and not to others except for the sake of self, not even to the church, one’s country, any human society, or to a fellow-citizen; it is also doing good to them only for the sake of one’s own reputation, honour, and glory. When such a person cannot feel and perceive something that adds to his sense of power or reputation, he says in his heart, “What does it matter Why should I do this? What will I gain by it?” – and if he cannot sense any gain at all, he leaves it undone.3

The second essential of true love is to wish to be conjoined with others, to actually become one with them, to give up something of your own personality and replace it with something from another. The husband in a conjugial marriage gives up the loves of his own will in order to make room for the loves and affections of his wife. The wife, for her part, is willingly led by her husband’s wisdom The angels of the highest heaven constantly acknowledge that their very life is from the Lord, freely giving away the feeling that life is from themselves, and the Lord is conjoined with them by means of that truth.

The love of ruling from self is from the deepest hell, because the love of ruling from the love of self is the same as ruling from what is one’s own, or the old will. Our hereditary nature is from birth evil itself, although we can, through regeneration, rise above it. The old will is therefore diametrically opposite to the Lord. Consequently, the more that a person follows that love, the more they turn away from the Lord and the church.

There are people who will look at their lives and say that they are not in the love of self because they care deeply for many people, and do many kind things for them.

But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. {33} “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.4

But the Doctrines add the warning that when someone loves only those who are in his own immediate family, but not others, it is merely an expanded form of the love of self.

The True Christian Religion teaches,

He who loves himself also loves those who belong to him who are especially his children and grandchildren, and in general all who make one with him, whom he calls his own. Loving these is loving himself .5

The third essential of genuine love is to make others happy. The prime example of this is the Lord’s creation of heaven as our eternal home as the expression of His love for us. We also see it in the gifts and gestures that are the obvious signs of love between married partners, parents and children, and friends.

By contrast, evil has no desire to make anyone else happy. In fact, those who are in the love of self actually hate others and try, in subtle or open ways, to cause unhappiness. At first, it may show itself in mild forms, but if it is indulged it develops into hatred, and persecution. If allowed to develop still father it becomes a burning for revenge, and the desire to see the other destroyed. We are told that eventually, such people love to be cruel to others.

Just as all the essentials of true love are united in genuine love towards the Lord and the neighbour, all the essentials of the loves of self and the world are focused in the opposite of the love of the Lord, that is, in the love of dominion. The love of self continually strives to rule over others, to control them, to bend them to its own particular will. It cannot stand to see that others have anything of value that gives them pleasure, but strives to possess the goods of all – as much to deprive them of their pleasure as to have them for himself.

These things are all illustrated in the story of Tamar and Amnon. In it we see his love of dominion illustrated in the way that he contrived to take away Tamar’s freedom of choice, and put her in a situation where through his physical strength and her fear he was able to take from her that which was to be preserved as a gift to her husband Then, once Amnon had taken away Tamar’s virginity, she no longer had anything of value or interest for him, and he exposed his inner hatred and cruelty by having her thrown out of his rooms.

When the love of self is fully developed, as it is with the devils in hell, it no longer concerns itself with the neighbour, but directs its attention to hatred of God Himself, accompanied with the desire to overthrow Him, and rule in His place.

Swedenborg describes in TCR 661 seeing hells in which all there thought they were kings, and they would struggle with each other to become the absolute ruler, the king of kings. Then he saw another hell, where all thought they were emperors, and fought with each other to be the emperor of emperors. Finally, he was shown a hell where all there thought they were gods. They, too, strove with each other to rule over that hell and become “god of gods.” This is why those who are in hell do not acknowledge the Lord, but rather acknowledge those spirits as gods those who surpass others in power. Therefore they acknowledge lower and higher, or lesser and greater gods, according to the extent of their power. And, as each one of them believes that he should rule over all others, that he should be the god of gods, every one in hell burns with hatred against his own god.

This “god,” for his part, burns with hatred against those who are under his control, treating them as no more than vile slaves, to be treated well only so long as they worship him. This evil spirit who thinks himself god rages with fire against all others, and also inwardly, or in his heart, against his own subjects.6

There is not one of us who does not know that the love of self is opposed to the love of the Lord, that the love of self seeks to have dominion over others, and to possess the goods of others. We also know that it lurks within each one of us from creation, hiding itself from us, and from others, because we fear that if it were to show itself we would loose our reputation among others, our honour in the world, or the means to earn our livelihood. We also know that if the love of self is kept in its proper order, in submission to the loves of the Lord and the neighbour, serving them, then it can assist us and perfect us in our life in this world.

The problem that we face while in this world, then, is how to identify the love of self within ourselves, and how to judge whether or not it is subjugated to the loves of the Lord and the neighbour, or whether it is in fact the ruling love of our lives. How can we know if we perform uses from the loves of self or the love of use? Every man, both good and bad, performs uses and performs them from some love.

Suppose a society in the world consisting of devils only, and another consisting of angels only; …the devils in their society, moved by the fire of love of self and the splendour of their own glory, would perform as many uses as the angels in theirs. Devils perform uses for the sake of themselves and their reputation, in order that they have honoris, or acquire wealth; but angels perform uses for the sake of the uses from love of uses.7

While we are yet in the world, we are unable to distinguish these two kinds of uses, but the Lord does.

All who believe in the Lord and shun evils as sins, perform uses from the Lord; but all who do not believe in the Lord and do not shun evils as sins, perform uses from themselves and for their own sake.8

If we wish to know about our own inner states, and the loves that rule in them, we must examine ourselves in our quiet moments, in the thoughts that we have when we are alone, daydreaming What kind of things do we think about? What is the nature of our fantasies Do we imagine ourselves helping others? Do we imagine ourselves having dominion over others? Do we feel delight in the misfortune of others? Do we ask ourselves “What’s in it for me?” before helping another person Do we seek the good of other who are outside our immediate family or circle of friends? These are the questions that we must constantly ask ourselves if we are to determine the course of our lives, and turn that course away from hell.

Then (Jesus) said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what advantage is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed?”9 AMEN.

 

Lesson: 2SA 13:1-17

After this Absalom the son of David had a lovely sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her. {2} Amnon was so distressed over his sister Tamar that he became sick; for she was a virgin. And it was improper for Amnon to do anything to her. {3} But Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab the son of Shimeah, David’s brother. Now Jonadab was a very crafty man. {4} And he said to him, “Why are you, the king’s son, becoming thinner day after day? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” {5} So Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill. And when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Please let my sister Tamar come and give me food, and prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat it from her hand.’” {6} Then Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill; and when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let Tamar my sister come and make a couple of cakes for me in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.” {7} And David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Now go to your brother Amnon’s house, and prepare food for him.” {8} So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house; and he was lying down. Then she took flour and kneaded it, made cakes in his sight, and baked the cakes. {9} And she took the pan and placed them out before him, but he refused to eat. Then Amnon said, “Have everyone go out from me.” And they all went out from him. {10} Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the bedroom, that I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the cakes which she had made, and brought them to Amnon her brother in the bedroom. {11} Now when she had brought them to him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” {12} And she answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me, for no such thing should be done in Israel. Do not do this disgraceful thing! {13} “And I, where could I take my shame? And as for you, you would be like one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.” {14} However, he would not heed her voice; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her. {15} Then Amnon hated her exceedingly, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Arise, be gone!” {16} So she said to him, “No, indeed! This evil of sending me away is worse than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. {17} Then he called his servant who attended him, and said, “Here !Put this woman out, away from me, and bolt the door behind her.” Amen.

Lesson: TCR 661:14

[14] At these words a like sphere appeared to me surrounding them, and a sense of something aromatic came from it, as I also told them, and I begged them to add something more to what they had said about the love of use. And they continued, “The dignities which we enjoy we indeed sought, but for the sole end of being more fully able to perform uses and to extend them more widely. Moreover, we are surrounded by honour, and we accept it not on our own account, but for the good of the society. For our brethren and companions there, who are of the common people, hardly know otherwise than that the honoris of our rank reside in us, and thus that the uses we perform are from us. But we feel otherwise; we feel that the honoris of our rank are outside of ourselves, and that they are like the garments with which we are clothed; while the uses we perform are from a love of uses that is within us from the Lord, and this love acquires its blessedness from a sharing with others by means of uses. And we know by experience that so far as we perform uses from a love of uses, that love increases, and with it the wisdom by which the sharing is effected; but so far as we retain the uses in ourselves, and do not share them, the blessedness perishes; and then use becomes like food retained in the stomach and not diffused throughout the body to nourish it and its various parts, but remains undigested and causes nausea. In a word all heaven is nothing but a containant of uses from things first to things last. What is use but the actual love of the neighbour? And what keeps the heavens together but this love?”

Having heard this, I asked, “How can anyone know whether he performs uses from love of self or from a love of uses? Every man, both good and bad, performs uses and performs them from some love. Suppose a society in the world consisting of devils only, and another consisting of angels only; and I am of the opinion that the devils in their society, moved by the fire of love of self and the splendour of their own glory, would perform as many uses as the angels in theirs. Who then can know from what love or from what origin uses proceed?”

To this the two angels replied, “Devils perform uses for the sake of themselves and their reputation, in order that they may be exalted to honours, or acquire wealth; but angels perform uses not for such reasons, but for the sake of the uses from love of uses. Man is unable to distinguish these two kinds of uses, but the Lord does. All who believe in the Lord and shun evils as sins, perform uses from the Lord; but all who do not believe in the Lord and do not shun evils as sins, perform uses from, themselves and for their own sake. This is the distinction between the uses performed by devils and those performed by angels.” Amen.

 

Copyright © 1982 – 2006 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 23, 2006

12SA13:1,3

22SA13:15

3TCR 400

4Luke 6:32-33

5TCR 400:3

6TCR 45

7TCR 661:14

8TCR 661

9Luke 9:23-25

Pillars of Cloud and Fire

Pillars of Cloud and Fire

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, February 9, 2009

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people. (Exodus 13:21,22)

The children of Israel entered Egypt as a small clan; Abraham’s grandson Jacob (whose name was changed to “Israel” by God) his twelve sons, their families and servants, and all their possessions. Literally they were the children of the man Israel, and altogether there were 70 people. They stayed in Egypt for 430 years, and when they left, there were 600,000 men on foot plus women and children. Truly, the Lord’s promise that they would become a great nation, and that Abraham’s descendants would become as numerous as the grains of sand by the sea was well on the way to coming true. The Lord was upholding His part of the covenant. It remained to be seen if the children of Israel would uphold theirs.

The covenant between the Lord and the children of Israel is a recurrent theme throughout the scriptures. The covenant, simply stated, was that as long as Abraham or his descendants obeyed the Lord’s commandments, the Lord would protect them from their enemies, help them in times of trouble, lead them to a land to be their own, and make them into a great nation.

Frequently, the stories of scripture revolve around various men doing things to remind themselves and God of the terms of the covenant. Frequently, a pillar would be set up to be a memorial, to show that the covenant had been confirmed at that time and in that place. The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that in the days of the Most Ancient church, stone pillars were placed to mark the boundaries between land holdings. In the absence of deeds and other written documents, such pillars served as a sign and a witness that the boundaries were in that particular place. Because of the importance of the use, the stones were highly regarded.

They knew that the stones represented holy truth which is the ultimate of order, and the eventually began to account the stones themselves as holy. They called them “pillars”, and because of this confusion, the pillars were eventually introduced into their worship (see AC 3727). At first the worship of the pillars was genuine, and so “pillars” in the Word represent the worship of the Lord from truths because pillars were stones, and a stone signifies truth. This is also why the Lord is sometimes called in the Word “the Stone of Israel” (see AC 10643:1). Later, when the Ancient church began to fall because it lost sight of what the objects of its worship represented and began to worship the objects themselves, many of the things of that church were turned into things like idolatry and magic. This is why “pillars” sometimes stand for idolatrous worship from falsities in the Word.

Such matters are not in the Word just to satisfy idle curiosity, for the worship of any church can become external and idolatrous when the man of the church regards himself and the things of the world as an end or goal, and the Divine things of the church only as the means to that natural goal. When this happens all the things of worship become nothing more than idols, because it is the external, worldly things that are really being worshiped, and this apart from anything internal (see AC 10643:2).

This tells us why the Lord chose to appear to the children of Israel during their escape from Egypt as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night: He wished to use the imagery of a pillar to show His relationship to His people; first as a boundary marker that said “these are My people” to all who saw it, and especially to reassure the terrified Jews themselves; and also as a constantly visible sign of His covenant with them that if they would only obey Him, He would take care of them and protect them in all ways.

We need to remember how timid and fearful those people must have been after their lifetime of slavery, their whole lives spent depending on others to make their decisions for them – and now they were suddenly being forced to go forth on their own into the unknown. It must have been unnerving. Perhaps they would have been reassured if they could have seen Moses and Aaron, but the camp was too big for that, so instead, the Lord provided a tangible sign of His presence with them that was simply too big for anyone to miss. Everyone in the mob that left Egypt could lift their eyes up above the dust and see the miracle of the pillar that was like a beacon to them, showing them their place in a featureless wilderness, a tangible sign of God’s presence and protection.

This image of the Lord’s presence with the children of Israel must also give us comfort, especially if we remember it when we are frightened and unsure of what the future will bring. The Lord has made a covenant with all people, that He will be with us and protect us from the spiritual dangers of life if we will only do our part, if we will only do our best to obey His commandments and to flee from evils. The sign of His presence was huge and obvious to the children of Israel. It is more subtle for us, but it is still there, as the internal sense of the Word reveals.

In our lesson we read how when the Egyptians were chasing the children of Israel, the cloud interposed itself between them and their enemies, and when it did so it brought darkness upon the Egyptians, but brought light to the children of Israel. Further, we learned that when Jehovah looked forth from it to the Egyptians, they were then drowned in the sea. The pillar stands for the Lord’s presence with men, as we have seen. The fact that in this passage the pillar stands between the Egyptians and the camp of Israel tells us that the Lord is present with those in evil and falsity as well as with those who are in good and truth (see AC 7989:2).

However, it also tells us that the Lord’s presence is different with the evil and the good, for the pillar brought darkness to the Egyptians and gave light to the Israelites, and this is because the pillar was heavenly light itself. Heavenly light is a thousand times brighter than the noonday light of the world, but the same light becomes thick darkness with the evil, even when they are in that light itself, and it becomes thicker darkness with them in proportion as the falsity of evil is denser with them. In other words, the Lord appears to everyone in a form consistent with that person’s own spiritual quality (see AC 8197).

The reason the pillar gave forth heavenly light was because it was in reality a society of angels assigned to this important use of leading and protecting the Israelites, similar to the heavenly society that appeared as a star in order to lead the Wise Men to the new born king (see AC 8192:3). The pillar itself was a sign of the Lord’s presence with the children of Israel, and it represented the Lord’s continuous presence with all those in His Kingdom on earth and in the heavens.

It is important that it appeared both as a cloud and as fire, for each is an important symbol that tells us something about the Lord’s relationship with each of us and all those in His church. When it appeared as a cloud, it represented His presence in the letter of the Word, for clouds are a symbol for the literal sense of scripture which is sometimes difficult to understand, and which, in comparison to the internal sense, is relatively clouded and obscure (see AC 8106:2).

That the pillar appear to be a pillar of fire in the night in the natural sense was to make His presence dramatically clear to them. In the internal sense, fire and especially the light from a fire represents the enlightenment that we receive from the Lord when we seriously apply our minds to a subject and bring ourselves into a state of order in relation to it.

An example of this could be the fact that one does not really appreciate or understand the order and delight of marriage until one has done the work of entering into an orderly marriage and shunning those things that are contrary to marriage. In general, once you have shunned an evil and come into the opposite good, you then see that evil in the light of heaven for the first time, and you rejoice that you have left it behind. You only truly understand good when you live your life according to it, when it is no longer an abstraction.

Finally, we are told that the pillar itself represents a prop or support of natural things, for the spiritual rests on the natural in the same sense that the ideas and doctrines of Christianity, which are spiritual things, all rest on the various passages of scripture in the Old and New Testaments, which are natural things (see AC 8106:4). Pillars especially stand for those things which support heaven and the church, which are the goods of love and the goods of faith from the Lord, that is to say, the things that we do in response to the things that we learn from the Word and the affections we have for those truths, the affections that we receive as gifts from the Lord. Someone who does many things to help others, and who had made an effort to learn many things about the doctrines of the church, someone who has worked hard to lead their life by God’s own principles is called a “pillar” of the church for this reason (see AC 9674). A pillar signifies those things which sustain the life of the church and make it firm, and the only thing that truly sustains the life of the Church is a life according to the Divine Truth of the Word (see AR 191).

So when we hear the stories of the Word that tell of the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness, led by a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night, we should feel reassured and comforted, for the Lord is telling us in the Word that He will always be with us, in our bad states and in our good times, ready to lead and help us when we approach through the Word. This is because a pillar stands for natural things which serve as a prop or base for spiritual things, the cloud stands for the sense of the letter of the Word, and the fire stands for enlightenment from the Lord.

When these elements are all brought together, the Lord’s message in the Word becomes clear: If our thinking is supported by truth from the Word, then we will be able to see from heavenly light! And with the sure knowledge of the Lord’s continual presence and protection, we will be able to face the challenges of the wilderness, of the uncertainties of life in this world, with confidence, for we are not alone. Amen.

First Lesson: EXO 13:17 – 14:31

Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, “Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.” {18} So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea. And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt. {21} And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. {22} He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people.

(EXO 14) … {19} And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. {20} So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night. {21} Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. {22} So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. {23} And the Egyptians pursued and went after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. {24} Now it came to pass, in the morning watch, that the LORD looked down upon the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud, and He troubled the army of the Egyptians. {25} And He took off their chariot wheels, so that they drove them with difficulty; and the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.” {26} Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen.” {27} And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and when the morning appeared, the sea returned to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it. So the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. {31} Thus Israel saw the great work which the LORD had done in Egypt; so the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD and His servant Moses. Amen.

Second Lesson: AC 8197:2

8197. [2] In regard to this circumstance, that the pillar brought darkness upon the Egyptians, and gave light to the sons of Israel, the case is as follows. The presence of the Lord, here signified by “the pillar,” is heavenly light itself, from which heaven has its light, and this light is a thousand times brighter than the noonday light of the world. But the same light becomes thick darkness with the evil: even if they are in the light itself, and it becomes thicker darkness in proportion as the falsity from evil is denser with them. The reason is that the truth Divine proceeding from the Lord appears before the eyes of the angels as light, but to those who are in falsities from evil it cannot appear as light, but as thick darkness, for falsity is opposite to truth and extinguishes truth. Hence it is that the pillar, which was the presence of the Lord, brought cloud and darkness on the Egyptians, because by “the Egyptians” are signified those who are in falsities from evil, and that it lighted up the night with the sons of Israel, because by “the sons of Israel” are signified those who are in truth from good. Amen.

 

– 3

Heaven and Man Conjoined

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, 22 August, 2004

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

Our text for this morning is well known. It begins with the words, “Jesus said,” which tells us that the Lord was speaking here as the Divine Truth itself, or the Word because that is what “Jesus” represents. He was saying that He, that is, the Divine Truth contained with the Word, is the means whereby there is a conjunction of heaven with the human race. Since this connection or conjunction between the spiritual and natural worlds is essential to the orderly flow of life and rationality from God into the world of men, we need to understand it better so that we can better carry out our duties and responsibilities as New Church men and women.

The basic premise from which we begin is that the good that is with a person is from God, and his evil is from hell. However, it is not possible for good to be from God, and evil to be from hell unless there us a conjunction between man and heaven and hell – how else would the get from the spiritual worlds into the natural world where we consciously exist?

The spiritual connection between God and man is maintained by what are called “associate” spirits, for it is their use to associate with people. Everyone has associate spirits. Everyone is conjoined with heaven through a series of good spirits and angels, and conjoined to hell through a like series of evil spirits and devils. The spirits who are closest to use while we are still in the world of nature are not angels or devils, but spirits recently from the world who are in still in the introductory state called “the world of spirits.” The law of spiritual association says that people associate with those who are of the same or very similar spiritual degree.

Just as we are unaware of the spirits with us, they are unaware of us. If they were aware of us, they would wish to speak with us, and such a direct contact would be destructive.

One can understand that if spirits are to serve as a bridge between man and God why He would cause good spirits to be near us, but why is it necessary for Him to give us evil associate spirits? Each person has a heredity from his parents. That hereditary nature contains both evils and goods. That means that, like it or not, evil is a part of every one of us from birth, and our first life is from those evils. It’s ironic, but sweet little babies who let us feel the presence of angels among us are in fact purely selfish, completely motivated in all things by their love of self. Any time they are uncomfortable, hungry, or unhappy, they cry and demand attention with no regard for what important thing Mom might be trying to do at that moment. Our purpose, our reason for being in this world, is to start making choices that will invert that vessel, turn it around so that it receives influx from heaven instead of hell.

Since the vessel begins life inverted, there are only two choices: to forcibly turn the vessel, or to provide a way for life to inflow from below. To forcibly turn the vessel would destroy man’s spiritual freedom, so instead the Lord provides for his freedom by allowing life to flow into the inverted vessel up through hell by means of evil spirits in association with each of us. Of course, the good spirits are always present as well, looking for the slightest turning in their direction, the smallest opportunity to encourage and support the life of good.

Having both good and evil spirits associated with us is essential to our eventual reformation and regeneration, for we are held in our own life by the evil spirits, and withheld from it by the good spirits, and through the Lord’s government the two are kept in balance. The end result is that we can have a character that is made up of all kinds of loves, and still be in a state of freedom to choose among them.

Why does the Lord not just force the good upon us, forcibly turn the vessel towards heaven? Because it is a spiritual principle that nothing remains with anyone unless it is received with affection. It cuts both ways. If we could be forced to good by the Lord, we could also be forced to evil by hell. For the sake of our freedom, we cannot be forced by either.

The spirits who are nearest to us change as our states change. Good spirits are selected for us by the Lord, chosen according to our eternal needs and welfare, while we select our own associate evil spirits by summoning them up with our own evil affections. With those who cannot be saved, the Lord still works to turn them to milder evils, and chooses the spirits to associate with them on that basis. Thus it is that even while on earth, a good person is conjoined with heaven, and a bad person with hell. Good spirits in the world of spirits are in turn associated with spirits in the natural heaven; these with spirits in the spiritual heaven; and these with spirits in the celestial heaven. Thus, everyone is in communication with the Lord by means of the heavens. The same thing is true in hell by correspondence.

Everyone receives life from the Lord in two ways: mediately, and immediately. So far, we have been talking about mediate influx, that is, a flowing in of life from the Lord that comes to us by means of others, specifically by means of the angelic heavens and the world of spirits. But there is also another kind of influx from the Lord that flows directly into the soul of every human being that gives that soul eternal life that cannot ever be harmed. Since it flows directly from God to man, it is called “immediate,” or “without mediary.”

We are told that if humans were born into the good that is in accord with the order of heaven, there would not be a need for the Lord to govern with influx through the heavens. If we were in heavenly order, we could freely respond to the Lord on the basis of our reception of His life immediately. But, although this may one day be the case again, it is not the case now. Today, we are worn down by our evils, and the Lord uses the angels of heaven to help lift us up out of our own hells.

The associate spirits are not normally permitted to inflow with their own thoughts or memories, because if they did, it would cause confusion, for the person would not be able to distinguish between the things from the spirit and things that were actually a part of their own memories. On those rare occasions when it does happen, it gives rise to the deja vu experience when one has a vivid memory of something that could not have actually happened. Such experiences have given support to the belief in reincarnation.

But if thoughts and ideas do not inflow, then what does? Affections of good and truth flow in from heaven, while affections for evils and falsities flow in from hell. Everyone is subject to innumerable spiritual influences every moment as they flow in from the spiritual world, but we only notice those that are in tune with the state of our affections.

It is similar to the way radio works. The atmosphere of the earth is constantly filled with radio signals at all frequencies and from a thousand different sources – radio, television, radar, microwaves, cell phones. All these signals are present with us all the time, but we don’t notice them or get any information from them unless we have a device that is specifically designed to receive a particular band and tuned to a particular frequency. Then a signal is received. Similarly, we don’t receive the all the affections from the spiritual world at once, but only those we are “tuned in” to.

The fact that we receive affections and not thoughts is key to our spiritual freedom, for although our will is corrupt, the human mind has been designed to be able to rise above the will through truth from the Word in the understanding. This means that no matter what affections we may feel, no matter how evil or filthy, we can think with our rational minds and realize that such feelings are from hell, and then choose to turn our minds onto a healthier subject. When we use our minds to turn away from evil, we appropriate the opposite good. On the other hand, when we welcome and encourage certain filthy affections from hell, these evils are appropriated to us and also become a part of our eternal character.

The outward appearance is that the natural world is made up of a lot of things, most of which are quite different from one another. But that view changes when we begin to look more interiorly into things. Specifically we find that all the millions of different things in the natural world are made up of varying combinations of only 103 different elements. When we look even more interiorly, we find that those 103 elements themselves are made up of only 3 kinds of matter; and when we look farther, we discover that inmostly they are nothing but pure energy. Thus we can see that in the world of nature there is a direct connection between pure energy and the things of the world. There is nothing that exists that is not part of this system.

One might say that atomic energy is the first, the things of the natural world are the ultimates, and the elements and compounds are the intermediates. If so, it would be true to say that there is a connection between the first and the last by means of the intermediates; there is a connection between pure energy and natural objects through or by means of atoms. We can also see that if the chain is broken at any point, the whole thing falls apart, it would be disastrous for pure energy to flow into a natural object – it would cause an explosion.

This order of the natural world exists because it mirrors the order of the spiritual world, and demonstrates the spiritual fact that there is a connection of all things from first to last through the intermediates.

This connection means that mankind serves a most important function, for unlike angels, men have a spiritual mind living in a body of natural substances. Therefore, when life flows from the Lord as the source through the angelic heavens as intermediates and finally into men, it is able to come to rest in the ultimates of the world. The exterior degree of our minds, associated as it is with the ultimates of our body, actually serves as the foundation for heaven in the same way that blocks of stone and rough-poured concrete serve as foundations for the most beautiful and delicate buildings. You simply cannot have one without the other.

The connection and conjunction of heaven with the human race is such that one continues in existence from the other, and that the human race apart from heaven would be like a chain without a hook; and heaven without the human race would be like a house without a foundation” (HH 304)

 

 

But man has broken this connection through evil by turning his interiors away from heaven and towards the loves of self and the world. In so doing, he has so withdrawn from heavenly things that he cannot any more receive them, and so cannot serve as a true foundation. But heaven must have a foundation, so the Lord provided the Word instead. As said before, heaven must rest on the minds of men on earth in order for the Lord’s influx to reach down into the ultimates of the world and enliven them so that they can provide delight. Before the fall, men’s minds served this purpose, but when they turned to perverted truths, they instead formed the foundation for hell.

In order to make a new foundation for heaven, the Lord sent the Word by means of the various prophets, and the Word was written in such a way that it seemed to be a history of the Jewish people, but yet every word contained spiritual truth within it. The result was that an evil man could read the Word, seeing nothing eternal or spiritual in it, but at the same time the spirits associated with him would be hearing the internal sense which teaches of nothing but the Lord and His kingdom. In this way, the Word serves as a foundation of truth even in the minds of evil men.

And it reaches even those outside of the church, but through the church where the Word is read and understood. The church specific stands as a beacon, radiating light from the Word. The light is received with varying intensity depending on the distance from the source, but all men on earth are connected with the influx of heaven by the church where the Word is read and understood. Without this light, men would loose their rationality

There are scholars who criticize and belittle the literature of the Bible because they say it is all written in common dialects, that in the Hebrew or Greek, the language is common, vulgar. They seem to believe that the Word of God should be written in difficult, lofty words. But what if it were? Would it not then be a book for the educated only? Is it not intended to be a book for all people? That is the reason why it was written in the spoken Hebrew of the day, not in classical Chaldean, that is why the New Testament was written in Koine Greek, and that is why Swedenborg’s Latin is some of the most flowing, easy to read Latin ever written – because God wanted everyone to understand what it said. He never intends that language should get in the way of meaning and understanding. The angels say that although the style of the Word seems simple in the sense of the letter, it is such that nothing can ever be compared with it in excellence, since Divine Wisdom lies concealed not only in the meaning as a whole, but also in each word; and that in heaven, this wisdom shines forth (see HH 310).

Without the Word, there would be no light of heaven with the men of earth, nor would there be any conjunction of heaven with them. There is conjunction only so far as the light of heaven is present with man. The light of heaven is only present so far as Divine Truth is with them, revealed by means of reading the Word from doctrine. This truth, that our very life depends on the conjunction of heaven with mankind by means of the Word, is for the most part unknown in the world. Those men who do know of the internal sense, and while reading the Word think in accordance with such truths as they know, they will come into interior wisdom, and be even more closely conjoined with heaven because they would be entering into ideas like those of the angels.

So, how important is regular study of the Old and New Testaments in the light of the spiritual sense now revealed? Only that it forms the foundation of heaven itself, is our connection to the Lord, and is the means whereby all people may come into interior wisdom.

Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock (MAT 7:24,25). AMEN.


First Lesson: Mat 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. {2} “Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. {3} “And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, {4} “and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. {5} “Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. {6} “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ {7} “They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ {8} “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ {9} “And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. {10} “But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. {11} “And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, {12} “saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ {13} “But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? {14} ‘Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. {15} ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ {16} “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” Amen.

Second Lesson: Heaven and Hell 302.

I have talked with angels about the conjunction of heaven with the human race, saying that while the man of the church declares that all good is from God, and that angels are with man, yet few believe that angels are conjoined to man, still less that they are in his thought and affection. The angels replied that they knew that such a belief and such a mode of speaking still exist in the world, and especially, to their surprise, within the church, where the Word is present to teach men about heaven and its conjunction with man; nevertheless, there is such a conjunction that man is unable to think the least thing unless spirits are associated with him, and on this his spiritual life depends. They said that the cause of ignorance in this matter is man’s belief that he lives from himself, and that he has no connection with the First Being (Esse) of life; together with his not knowing that this connection exists by means of the heavens; and yet if that connection were broken man would instantly fall dead. If man only believed, as is really true, that all good is from the Lord and all evil from hell, he would neither make the good in him a matter of merit nor would evil be imputed to him; for he would then look to the Lord in all the good he thinks and does, and all the evil that flows in would be cast down to hell from which it comes. But because man does not believe that anything flows into him either from heaven or from hell, and therefore supposes that all things that he thinks and wills are in himself and therefore from himself, he appropriates the evil to himself, and the good that flows in he defiles with merit. Amen.

The Lord’s Heredities

 

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Washington – March 30, 1997

When Jesus … saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26, 27)

  1. One of the most powerful human relationships is that between a mother and her child.
    1. The fact that the child is made of his mother’s own flesh, and that she has felt him growing and moving inside her body for many months before birth creates a bond between them that cannot really be understood by those who are not mothers.
    2. It must have been very difficult for Mary to be the mother of Jesus Christ because of the unusual circumstances of His birth, and because of the unusual way that He went through His infancy, childhood, and youth.
    3. We know very little about her husband Joseph, only what is revealed in the scriptures relating to the circumstances of the Lord’s birth, and that he took his family to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 years of age. There are no references to him after that. It possible that he died sometime before the Lord began His public ministry, which would mean that Mary was the Lord’s responsibility as the oldest son.
    4. However, we do know from scripture that as the Lord entered into the work of His ministry, He drew farther and farther away from His family.
      1. Each of the gospels records an incident early on where His family approached while He was teaching, and when the disciples tried to get people to make way for His family, He announced to the gathering that His only family were those who followed His commandments, that He had put away His earthly familial relationships.
      2. This was confirmed and illustrated by the incident depicted in our text: Mary approaching Jesus on the cross, and His giving her over to the care of John, finally severing all ties with Mary.
      3. We also note that nowhere in scripture does Jesus ever refer to Mary as “mother.” Rather, He always refers to her as “woman.”
      4. At first, this may seem like a difficult or cruel thing, but we must remember that Mary had known that Jesus was to be unlike any other man from the very first. She had seen many strange and wonderful things, and pondered them in her heart. She was not unprepared.
      5. We also have to remember that this, like every other thing that the Lord did while in the world, was done for the sake of the correspondence, for the sake of what the angelic heaven would perceive from it.
        1. The perception of the angels was that the Lord had finally completed the process of glorifying His human by putting off the things from Mary through victories in temptations against the hells. The things that had to be put away were hereditary evils that He received from His mother. He spent His life on earth fighting these evils, and His victory over them is what we are celebrating today.
  2. The Lord had hereditary tendencies to evil in the external man from His mother, and as a necessary consequence of this evil, He also had hereditary falsity, for falsity is born of evil once a person has some knowledges of truth that can be perverted and turned into falsity by the evil.
    1. It may be surprising to think that the Lord had hereditary evil, but it must be so, for no human can possibly be born of another human being without deriving something of heredity from the parents.
      1. The seed from the father is an offshoot of the soul that partakes of the father’s spiritual state at the time of production.
      2. The child growing in the mother derives all building materials and nourishment from the mother’s system, and her diet during the pregnancy has a profound effect on the well-being of the child.
      3. These things are widely known. Is it so difficult to see that there are spiritual effects passed on as well?
    2. Each individual receives two kinds of heredities, one from the father, and a different kind from the mother. The heredity from the father is more internal, and remains to eternity because it is associated with the soul itself and cannot possibly be removed without destroying the soul which carries it.
    3. The Lord did not have this kind of “permanent” hereditary evil because He was born with Jehovah as his Father and the source of His soul. Therefore He was without paternal hereditary evil.
      1. The hereditary evil from the mother is of the external man because it is associated with the things of the body which are provided by the mother when the soul builds for itself a home within her body. Because this heredity is associated with the physical things of the body (and also many of the attitudes of the mind), it can be put off when the body and natural degrees of the mind are put off. Once an evil arising from maternal heredity is shunned, and the opposite love in place through regeneration, then the evil is gone forever.
  3. The Lord could not have been attacked by the hells, fought them, defeated them, and put them back into their proper places unless He had hereditary tendencies to evil from His mother.
    1. The reason is that nothing can flow into a human mind from the spiritual world unless there is something there to receive it. We say that “Influx is according to the receiving vessel.” All of us exist in a vast and varied spiritual environment. The ideas that seem to “pop” into our heads come from the spiritual world. But for every idea we get, there are millions that we did not receive, because they were not in tune with our character, with our interest. We did not have the appropriate affections to receive them.
    2. We get ideas that are contrary to order because we have in our heredity the necessary affections to receive that influx from hell.
    3. We get good, kind, and generous ideas from the Lord through heaven because we have also hereditary tendencies to good from our parents, and we have “remains” of good and truth from the Lord Himself.
    4. The point is, just as you cannot listen to the radio signals that are everywhere present unless you have a radio receiver, the Lord could not receive the temptations and attacks from the hells unless He had something in Himself to receive that influx. He could not have such things from the Divine Itself, so it had to come from Mary.
    5. The Lord underwent temptations a thousand times more terrible than any man can ever endure; He endured them alone, and overcame evil, the devil, and hell, by His own power. The fact that while in the Garden of Gethsemene He sweated blood is recorded to show the extreme degree of His temptation, that the battle going on within His mind itself threatened to kill the body.
      1. Blood represents Holy Truth proceeding from the Lord. Letting His blood was another way to represent what the Jewish Church had done to the truth from the Word, for blood corresponds to truth, and letting the blood of an innocent man represents violence done to that charity and faith, thus to the holy truth proceeding from the Lord.
      2. References to blood in the Word, and particularly to letting blood in murder, signify the violence that was done to the Word by the Jews, in that they would not acknowledge anything of internal and heavenly truth that was contained within its letter. Because they did not acknowledge the Word, they did not later acknowledge the Lord when He came on earth to fulfill the prophecies of the Word.
      3. If they had really accepted the Word, as they said they did, they would have had to accept the Lord. That they did not accept Him shows the true nature of their use of the Word – that they used it for their own purposes, and not for the sake of governing their lives by means of spiritual truth.
      4. The complete rejection of truth Divine which was from the Lord, and which was the Lord, is meant by these words in Matthew: Pilate washed his hands before the people, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just man; see ye to it. And all the people answered, His blood be on us, and on our children (xxvii. 24,25).
      5. But we also miss the point if we take this part of scripture literally and come away feeling angry about the crimes of those long dead Jews. Rather, we must remember that those Jews represent active states of the rejection of the Word in our own lives – here, now, today. We reject the Lord whenever we say to ourselves that one of His commandments applies to another, but not to ourselves.
  4. As unhappy and unfortunate as it may seem to us, it was absolutely necessary for the Lord to be born with hereditary tendencies to evil, to confront them, and conquer them, because without them, He could not have been approached by the hells, and could not then have defeated them. Therefore, it was absolutely essential to the whole Divine plan that He be born with some evil adhering from the mother, and because from the mother, evil that could be put entirely away through the combats of temptations and the victories over them.
    1. Some admit the necessity of the Lord having evils in order to overcome in temptation, but they believe that He received those evils from the human race, that He took evils away from people and put them on Himself.
    2. We must ask ourselves how that could be possible. How can one person actually take evil from another to himself? It may be possible to lie, and to take the blame and punishment for another’s evil, for whatever reason, but the evil itself still remains with the individual who committed it.
    3. Being the Divine, the Lord was not susceptible to evil in the way we are. He could not be mislead into sin. He would not commit a sin from deliberate forethought. He could not receive evil and temptation in any other way than heredity from the mother.
      1. Therefore, in order that He might conquer evil by His own power, unlike any man, He was willing to be born as other men, with a natural body, a mind that required education and training, and with hereditary tendencies to evils of every kind associated with the natural body and mind.
      2. It would have missed the whole point for Him to be born without hereditary evil. If all the Lord wanted to do was to make a Human form for Himself, He could have done so in any number of different ways, as He had done in the past whenever He wanted to appear to men.
      3. But for His advent, face-to-face communication was not the goal. He came to meet, battle, and defeat evil on its own ground, the desires and affections of the natural body in the natural world.
    4. The heredity that the Lord received from His father was entirely good, since it was from Jehovah Himself. On the other hand, His maternal heredity, like our own, had many elements in it.
      1. Some of the things were good, innocent things.
      2. Some of them were bodily characteristics and features, and these things were progressively made Divine during His life in the world so that on Easter morning He arose with “that which with man rots in the grave,” a miracle that was essential for the sake of demonstrating His Divinity, for after all, every man rises as to his spirit. Only God can make a body one with the Divine and take it with Him.
      3. There were many other things that He received from his mother: evil tendencies, falsities that were the results of attempting to use truths to justify those evils, an infinity of like things.
        1. It was these things that were inherited from His mother that were entirely put off through victories in temptations while in the world. As these were conquered, they were entirely removed.
        2. Every evil tendency refused put another society of hell back into order until, finally, they were all in place, and back under their proper government.
        3. As each hell was conquered, the human race became more free until full freedom in spiritual things was restored.
        4. Our freedom of choice in spiritual things is a direct result of His conquering in temptation. This is a good reason for us to gather to celebrate His victory over the hells.
  5. So let us lift up our minds, and think no more of the sadness of the crucifixion.
    1. We know that it was foreseen by the Lord.
    2. We know that it was necessary.
    3. We can see that what appeared to be a defeat was in fact the ultimate victory over hell, the salvation of the human race.
    4. Let us no longer think about the crucified Lord, but instead about The Lord Jesus Christ, the one God of Heaven and earth, reigning from His heavenly throne.
      1. To help us think of Him in this way, we can recall the words that the angel spoke to those who came looking for Him in the tomb so many years ago: Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said (MAT 28:5,6). Amen.

    Lessons: MAR 16:1-11; JOH 19:25-20:18; AC 1573:3,4

    3rd Lesson: AC 1573

    [3] Its being said that there was with the Lord hereditary evil from the mother may cause surprise, but as it is here so plainly declared, and as the Lord is treated of in the internal sense, it cannot be doubted that so it was. For no human being can possibly be born of another human being without thence deriving evil. But the hereditary evil derived from the father is one thing, and that from the mother is another. The hereditary evil from the father is more internal, and remains to eternity, for it cannot possibly be eradicated; but the Lord had not such evil, because He was born of Jehovah the Father, and thus as to internals was Divine or Jehovah. But the hereditary evil from the mother is of the external man; this did exist with the Lord, and it is called “the Canaanite in the land;” and the falsity from this is “the Perizzite.” Thus was the Lord born as are other men, and had infirmities as have other men. [4] That He derived hereditary evil from the mother is clearly evident from the fact that He underwent temptations; no one can possibly be tempted who has no evil; it is the evil in a man which tempts, and through which he is tempted. That the Lord was tempted, and that he underwent temptations a thousandfold more grievous than any man can ever endure; and that He endured them alone, and overcame evil, or the devil and all hell, by His own power, is also evident. Amen.

The Lord’s Temptations

The Lord’s Temptations

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, April 1, 2010

O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)

The Lord’s last week on earth in the human was the culmination and focus of all the preparations, all the teaching, healing, and miracles, that had gone before. He entered Jerusalem, the Holy city, as a king on what has come to be known as Palm Sunday. He went into the temple and threw out the money changers who had made His house into a den of thieves. He then spent each day teaching in the city, retiring to the mount of Olives each night with His disciples to rest. This unrelenting pressure on the scribes and pharisees in Jerusalem, the very center of their own power, was more than they could bear. He wasn’t such a threat to them while He was teaching out in the country, but now He was teaching to large crowds in the capital every day. They had to meet this direct challenge to their authority.

The Lord, knowing that the situation was about to reach the breaking point, secluded Himself in the garden of Gethsemane with Peter, James, and John to prepare Himself for the final battle. At stake was nothing less than the eternal lives of every living soul who had ever been born in the earth, or who might ever have been born. On the one side was the Lord in His as yet infirm Human. On the other side was arrayed the Jewish Church, the whole of Hell, and even the whole of the angelic heavens.

And so, He prayed. We’re told that prayer is speech with God, a time when thought is directed towards internal, eternal things. When we genuinely pray, we draw our minds away from things of this world, and into the sphere of the spiritual world. The result is that we can actually leave the light and thought of this world and come more and more into the light and thought of the spiritual world as we open ourselves up to the life of the spirit. It is not of order that we should actually become conscious in the spiritual world as the result of prayer, but we can in fact borrow something of the sphere of that world which brings a sphere of peace and consolation into our life in this world. This is why the Lord prayed. He did not pray to the Father as another distinct person, but rather He turned to prayer as a way of lifting Himself above the finite, material limitations of His human body and mind so that He could more clearly perceive His inner Divine Soul. He was lifting Himself up out of the uncertainties and confusions of this world and receiving the strength He needed from perceiving His own Infinite love of the universal Human race. This restored Him. This strength of pure love prepared Him for the final battle.

At this time of year, as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the joy of Easter morning, we are necessarily drawn to consider the terrible events that preceded His resurrection. Sometimes we are filled with depression and guilt as we wonder how we ourselves would have reacted to the Lord had we lived in Jerusalem in those days. We wonder if we would have had the courage and insight to be a disciple, or if we would have shouted “Crucify Him!” with the mob. We wonder why the Lord, if He was truly the all-powerful God, allowed this to happen. Why couldn’t He have worked out some other, less painful way? Why couldn’t He have simply sent an army of angels to do battle with the devils and drive them back into hell where they belonged?

Human beings are born into the natural world for a very important reason: so that evils from the hereditary nature can show themselves, be recognized as evils and shunned. By this exercise of our freedom of choice in spiritual things we make for ourselves a character that is stored in the organics of the brain and forms a vessel for eternal, spiritual life.

The Lord had to come into the world and submit to the attacks of the hells for a similar reason: While He remained above the heavens, He was unapproachable, and the evils remained hidden, subtle, able to take away men’s freedom of choice in spiritual things, destroying men like a cancer deeply hidden in the body. The Lord took on a human in the world to make Himself approachable, to draw the hells out where they could be seen for what they truly were, where men could understand what they were and freely choose to turn away from them. Unless the Lord had sustained temptations, the whole human race from the time of the Most Ancient church would have perished in eternal death. (See AC 1676)

The Lord had to undergo temptation, real, painful temptation, the same kind of temptations that we ourselves go through during our life. The Lord’s temptations were very similar to our own in many ways, and yet they were also very different in some ways. One of the first and most important differences is that the Lord fought against the hells from His own power, while when we fight, it is actually the Lord who fights for us — our part is to choose to fight as of ourselves. The Lord fights the actual battles and changes our loves for us. All we have to do is hold true to the truth which we know.

Another important difference is that the Lord was never tempted as to His loves, but only as to His wisdom. The Lord is frequently referred to in the New Testament as the “Son of God,” and also the “Son of man.” The internal sense of the Word tells us that whenever there is reference to the “Son of God” it has to do with the Divine Love, and reference to the “Son of man” has to do with the Divine truth. Whenever He is teaching, healing, or doing miracles, the reference is to the “Son of God.” Whenever the text speaks of suffering or temptation, it refers to the “Son of man.” We know that the Lord alternated between two states while He was in the world, the states of Glorification and humiliation. The “Son of God” is another name for the state of Glorification, and the “Son of man” is another name for the state of humiliation.

The “Son of God” could not be tempted, because it represents the Divine Love. The reason for this becomes clear if we ask ourselves what the Divine Love is, what the Lord’s ruling love is. The Lord’s ruling love is that there should be a heaven from the human race. This is the pure love which is the power behind the creation of the universe. This is too high, too fundamental a love to ever be approached or challenged by any lust from hell. The Lord’s loves, being pure, cannot be tempted. Ours can, and frequently are. (See AC 2813)

But the “Son of man” could be tempted, for it stands for an aspect of the Divine truth. The Writings tell us that it was not the Divine Truth itself that was tempted, for that, like the Divine Love itself, is above all temptation. What was tempted was “rational truth, such as the angels have, consisting in the appearances of truth” (AC 2814). The Heavenly Doctrines frequently point out that men in the world seldom possess real, rational, truth, for there are too many confusing elements in the natural world. Rather, what we have in the natural world is the appearance of truth — how truth appears in our minds. The Doctrines frequently speak of dawn as an example of an appearance of truth. We say that the sun “rises” in the morning, even though we know it is an appearance that is the result of the earth’s rotation. It is an appearance of truth that is firmly rooted in our minds, an example of a falsity that everyone accepts as truth, even though the truth is known.

The Lord, while in the human, must then have experienced appearances of truth, and He was tempted to accept them as truth. He may have thought that He should use His power to miraculously come down off the cross, thus convincing everyone that He was the Messiah. He may have been tempted to think that men would be better off after all if they did not have freedom and were all saved by pure grace. He may have been tempted in ten thousand ways that are above our understanding to do something other than bear the humiliation of the cross. We will never know the millionth part of it.

But we do know that He was tempted so severely that he sweated blood while He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. And we also know that He accepted the temptation because it was necessary, and it was in accord with the Divine Will that there be a heaven from the human race, a heaven of men who had freely chosen to be there.

One of the most difficult things for people to think about when considering the Lord’s temptations, is the idea that the Lord doubted His own ability to conquer in temptations. It seems to be a paradox that the All-Knowing God would not know the outcome of His own trials.

The clear teaching of the Heavenly Doctrines is that “every temptation is attended with some kind of despair (otherwise it is not a temptation) … He who is sure of victory is not in anxiety, and therefore is not in temptation. The Lord also … could not but be driven into states of despair” (AC 1787). These were the states of His humiliation, where He was drawn into the perceptions and feelings of the infirm human that was not yet completely glorified. The more closely His thought was focused on the things of this world, the more distant seemed Divine things, and so they became relatively clouded to Him. While in the depths of temptation, while fully in the state of the Son of man, He despaired, He doubted, He wondered if He was doing the right thing. He was never tempted as to whether He would order the heavens, establish a new spiritual church, and save men, for this was His ruling love. He only wondered what the best way to accomplish this end was. Even so, His temptations were more difficult than we can ever imagine, for temptations are as the loves are. The higher and more deeply held the love, the more difficult and painful the temptation. The Lord’s love was the salvation of the whole human race, and it was the sum of the affection of good and truth in its highest degree. Against these all the hells raged. But still the Lord conquered them by His own power. (See AC 1820:5)

He fought against the hells throughout His whole life on earth. Each time He fought, He won. The evil spirits find their greatest delight in destroying what is good, which is why they attack, tempt, and torment men. But when they perceive that a man is of such a character that he can resist them, then they flee away for the lusts of their lives are threatened. (See AC 1820:5)

Thus, by victory in temptation, the Lord achieved a strength, a confidence that He would continue to win. There was consolation in temptation as promised in the Word. Each of us can feel that consolation when we resist temptation and the hells flee away. This is why hell flees from the angels — because they have learned how to resist their temptations.

So, while in His state of humiliation, the Divine within seemed distant and weak to the Lord, and He was in doubt as to how best to save the human race. But as He continually faced these temptations in increasingly greater degrees, He was also in continual victory! These victories then gave Him an inmost confidence and faith that because He was fighting for the salvation of the whole human race from pure love, He could not but conquer.

Was the Lord the Lord really in doubt? Yes and no. With the Son of man, while fully in the state of humiliation, there was an appearance of distance from the Divine that brought anxiety and despair over the best way to save the human race. His continual victories in temptation brought an inner strength, a confidence that He would continue to win as long has He fought. At the same time, the Son of God, the Lord in His state of glorification was one with the Divine and did not entertain any doubts at all but simply went forward with the task at hand with the power of pure love.

A temptation is an attack on a love. The severity of the temptation is directly related to the quality of the love that is being attacked. Therefore, we can form some idea of the severity of the Lord’s temptations by comparing our ruling love with His. By the same token, we can have some idea of the power with which He fought against hell for the sake of our eternal lives by comparing our love of the human race with His.

Actually, there is no ratio between the infinite and the finite, so there can be no real comparison, but it can serve to illustrate how great is His love for us, and the power that He can bring to bear on hell for the sake of our eternal lives. He conquered death and hell so that we no longer need be afraid of death. He did it by His own Divine and Infinite power, and He has offered to use His power to all those who simply ask for it by living a life according to His commandments and resisting the temptation to do what is evil. Every victory against hell allows the Lord to implant new loves in our new will, and draws us closer to Him. Every victory gives us new confidence to face the next fight. In the depths of temptation, if we turn to the Lord for strength, we will find consolation and hope, just as He prayed for strength in Gethsemane and then went forward with confidence and strength to the final battle. AMEN

Lessons: Gen. 22:1-15, Mat. 26:36-46, AC 2813-14

Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, November 7, 2004

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the king of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to abase (Daniel 4:37).

God promised Abraham that if he and his descendants would follow God and obey Him, then they would be as the stars in the heavens, or as the grains of sand on the beach, and that they would have dominion over all the land of Canaan. If they would only be obedient, they could be His chosen people.

They were, however, unable to follow God. The Old Testament lists the children of Israel’s numerous failures to obey, their punishments at the hand of their enemies, and their cries to the Lord for help. From the long view of history, we can see that the general trend was a steady descent from the close relationship that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had with Jehovah to the dispersion and loss of the 10 tribes of Israel, and the Babylonian captivity of Judah.

Our purpose today is to trace this descent of the human spirit from its beginnings to its end in order to see what it is that destroys a man’s spiritual life, and then, by studying what happened to Nebuchadnezzar, to see how we can rise up from our lowly states, and receive the King of Heaven into our lives.

There is a central concept that we need to have very clearly in mind before proceeding, and that is the representation of “Babylon” or “Babel.” First, as far as the internal sense is concerned, there is no difference between the words “Babel” and “Babylon.” “Babel” is simply the Latin, and “Babylon” the Greek form for the same Hebrew word. So, throughout the Word, wherever they occur, they stand for the same idea. The idea that Babylon represents is the love of dominating others from the love of self.

This evil is a constant threat to every church. We know that it was this evil love that destroyed the Ancient Church, for in Genesis it is told how men built the tower of Babel to reach unto heaven itself. They sought dominion over other men’s lives, then over their thought, and finally it mounted up so far that it became the love of dominating the holy things of heaven (See AR717).

The church becomes Babylon when charity and faith cease, and in their place the love of self reigns. This is why the Lord permitted King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to capture the people of Judah and take them to Babylon, for it represented the final state of the Jewish church as to its internals before the Lord came into the world to bring it to its end and establish a new church in its place.

For today, we shall focus particularly on three events which occurred during the Jewish captivity in Babylon. In these three events, we can see both the destruction of a church from the love of self, and the ascent out of the love of self through successive states of self-examination, repentance, and reformation.

The first event is Nebuchadrezzar’s dream as recorded in Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar dreamed and saw huge statue. Its head was of fine gold, the chest and arms of silver, the belly and thighs of bronze, the legs of iron, and the feet partly of iron and partly of clay. And while he watched, a stone was cut out of a rock without hands which struck the image in the feet, and destroyed it.

Nebuchadrezzar’s dream describes four churches: The golden head was the Most Ancient Church which ended with the flood. The silver chest and arms stands for the Ancient Church in Asia and Africa which perished by idolatries. The belly and thighs of bronze stand for the Israelitish church which perished by the profanation of the Word, signified by their crucifixion of Him who was the Word. The legs and feet of iron and clay are the Christian Church which was ended at the council of Nicea and consummated when the Lord made His second coming in the Heavenly Doctrine (See P.P., TCR 760, AC 1551).

But perhaps most important is the stone which destroyed the statue, for it signifies that when a church is in its last state, when heavenly love has been replaced by the love of self, and when the Word is used to confirm falsity and evil, it is no longer really a living church and is no longer able to see the truth in the Word. This happened to the Jewish Church and is happening with many people today, with those who cannot see that there is anything internal in the Word, and who would not receive it even if they could see it (See AC 9406).

The second event is the story of Daniel’s three friends who refused to worship the golden idol set up by Nebuchadnezzar, and who were thrown into the fiery furnace, and were protected by the Son of God.

Nebuchadnezzar stands for those in a church who love and worship themselves, not God. Such people want anyone who does not agree with them to burn in hell. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego represent those who wish to remain true to the Lord. When Nebuchadnezzar tries to kill them, they are protected by the Lord, and Nebuchadnezzar is forced to acknowledge His power (See P.P.).

The third event was Nebuchadrezzar’s second dream. He saw a tree of such height that it reached the heavens, but an angel came down from heaven and cut it down, leaving only the stump and roots bound by a strap of iron. Nebuchadnezzar saw himself grazing like an animal, until an angel proclaimed that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men.

The great tree is another representative of the desire to dominate by means of the things of religion. When the angel cut it down, it meant that such evil would be cut down in its season, it would not be allowed to prosper.

The stump bound with iron means that the Word, which is the foundation of every true church, would yet remain with them.

That Nebuchadnezzar would graze like an animal shows that such men are so stupid in respect to the truths and goods of the church as to no longer appear as men, for when seen from heaven they appear to be no more than beasts.

Finally, we are told that after Daniel interpreted this dream for Nebuchadnezzar, the king did in fact go insane for a time, and was not permitted to return to his kingdom until his pride had been broken.

Three times Nebuchadnezzar defied God, and three times he was humbled. It is our thesis that Nebuchadnezzar stands for that love in every man which wants to rule over others, and is willing to use the holy things of the Word to accomplish this evil end. In each example already mentioned, we have seen that Nebuchadnezzar has suffered successively harsher and harsher punishments. This is a descending series, showing how in the course of our lives, as we journey down the path of regeneration, we fight deeper and deeper evils. Ironically, the better we get, the more we regenerate, the deeper evils we are able to find within ourselves because we are better equipped to look deeper!

If this was all that we saw, it would be rather discouraging, so it is absolutely essential that we also see that there is an ascending series as well. Each time Nebuchadnezzar fights God and looses, he issues a proclamation stating his discoveries about God. If we look at these decrees, we shall see that even as a man descends into the depths of temptation and despair, he opens up for himself the opportunity of a deeper and more complete appreciation and understanding of God.

The love of self reigns universally in hell – it is the first love in the heart of every devil. It begins innocently enough as an instinct for self-preservation, but if left unchecked can eventually turn a man’s life into hell itself. We all know that purpose of life in this world is to learn truth and live it, so that the Lord can give us a new angelic will. But those who are in the love of self do not get a new will in the enlightened understanding, but instead get a “Voluntary” of evil loves below the will, a new hellish will suitable for a life in hell (See AC 9296:3)!

We are not talking about childish selfishness and pettiness here. The evil of the love of self represented by Babylon and its king is a fully developed adult evil. It begins as selfishness, a “me-first” attitude where others are simply ignored in regard to one’s own needs and desires. It then develops into a pride in one’s own accomplishments accompanied with a derision of the works of others. As the love of self grows, it turns into contempt for others who are less clever than self, and finally a hatred for anyone or anything that would dare to contradict the desires and needs of self. Eventually other humans fall so far below contempt that they are not even noticed, and the love of self focuses all its hatred on the Lord, the only One who remains to challenge the supremacy of self. In this way the love of self grows until it becomes the hatred of the Lord, and the burning passion to pull Him down and replace Him with self.

The love of self is not just an inconvenience, a character flaw. It is the heart and life of hell itself! And if we are to enter into the life of heaven, this must be removed from us first. But how?

Purification from the loves of self and the world are only effected by means of the truths of faith (See AC 9088:2). Any evil must be seen before it can be shunned, and only the truth from the Lord in the Word gives us the light to see our evils. So, Nebuchadnezzar, who as king of Babylon represents the evil of the love of dominion from the love of self was given the dream of the statue, and after Daniel reveals and explains the dream, Nebuchadnezzar says, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret” (Dan. 2:47). The first step has taken place. Nebuchadnezzar has had a message from God, he has had the secret revealed to him by the prophet.

The Lord speaks to each of us, too, if we will only listen. He speaks to us, warns us, leads us away from our follies through the letter of the Word. As Nebuchadnezzar did not seek Jehovah until he had a disturbing dream, it is also true that many people go for many years without feeling any particular need or hunger to search the Word for answers. It is as if God diminishes in importance until He is just one of many things in our lives – until some disturbing event happens that we cannot otherwise explain away. We then as it were rediscover the Word, and rediscover God. Suddenly, He is no longer just one of many ideas and philosophies competing for our attention, but He moves once again to the fore. He becomes “God of gods.”

After Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego miraculously survive being thrown into the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar says, “Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this” (Dan. 3:29).

As we begin to live the truth we have rediscovered, we also discover that our lives begin to change, that we feel better about ourselves, that we feel better about others. As we repent of our evil ways, we finally begin to get the idea that the Lord has real power to change our lives, that when we do things His way, they go easier, and things are generally more pleasant. We realize that no philosophy of man can provide genuine happiness in life, that only the Lord’s Word can really change our lives for the better. We see that “no other God can deliver (or save) like this” (Dan. 3:29).

But no evil can be removed from a man except by means of temptation even to despair, for only when our pride is broken, when we are truly humbled before God, will we finally realize that of ourselves we are nothing, and that He is everything and all power. This is the confession of the angels, and from it comes all eternal happiness. In proportion as it is acknowledged that nothing of good and truth is from self, the love of self departs (See AC 10227:2). In the world of spirits, those who are being prepared for heaven are let down into their true nature so that they can see and feel what they are in and of themselves without the Lord’s uplifting power, and they are horrified. So too with Nebuchadnezzar. He was the most powerful king on earth, and yet he was humbled so that he ate grass like the cattle, dug for roots with his fingernails, and his hair became matted and filthy. And finally, after he recovers his sanity as a totally humbled and convinced man, he said, “I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. …I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the king of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways are justice and those who walk in pride He is able to abase” (text).

From himself, man thinks and wills evil and rushes into hell (See AC 1321). The love of self reigns when man does all things for the sake of himself and his own family (See AC 7367). The only way out of the loves of self and the world are by shunning evils, for only when a man admits God into his life and asks for His help can be begin to leave his own little hell. Only God can uplift a man out of hell, and even He can only do this when He is invited to. And that is the point. The Lord wills that everyone become an angel of heaven. He is constantly providing opportunities for each of us to turn towards Him and ask for His help. If we are willing to search the Word for truth, to shun evils as sins, we, like Nebuchadnezzar, will find that the Lord is “God of gods,” that He can save us, and that His “works are truth, and His ways are justice, and those who walk in pride He is able to abase” (text). AMEN.


First Lesson: DAN 4:28-37

(Dan 4:28-37) All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. {29} At the end of the twelve months he was walking about the royal palace of Babylon. {30} The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” {31} While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! {32} And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.” {33} That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar; he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws. {34} And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. {35} All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?” {36} At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me. {37} Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down. Amen.

Second Lesson: AC 7367 – 7372

7367. The love of self reigns with a man, that is, be is in the love of self, when in what he thinks and does, he does not regard his neighbor, thus not the public, still less the Lord, but only himself and those who belong to him; consequently when he does all things for the sake of himself and those who belong to him; and if for the sake of the public and his neighbor, it is merely for the sake of the appearance.

7368. It is said “for the sake of himself and those who belong to him,” because he together with these, and these together with him, make a one; just as when any one does anything for the sake of his wife, of his children, grandchildren, sons-in-law, or daughters-in-law, he does it for the sake of himself, because they are his. In like manner one who does anything for the sake of relatives and of friends who favor his love and thereby conjoin themselves with him; for by such conjunction they make one with hi, n, that is, regard themselves in him, and him in themselves.

7369. In so far as a man is in the love of self, so far he removes himself from the love of the neighbor; consequently in so far as a man is in the love of self, so far he removes himself from heaven, for in heaven there is the love of the neighbor. From this it also follows that in so far as man is in the love of self, so far he is in hell, for in hell there is the love of self.

7370. That man is in the love of self who despises his neighbor in comparison with himself, who regards him as his enemy f he does not favor and reverence him; he is still more in the love of self who therefore hates and persecutes his neighbor; and he still more who therefore burns with revenge against him and desires his destruction. Such persons at last love to rage against their neighbor; and the same, if they are also adulterers, become cruel.

7371. The delight which these men perceive in such things is the delight of the love of self. This delight in a man is infernal delight. Everything that is according to love is delightful; and therefore the quality of the love can be known from the delight.

7372 From what has now been described (n. 7370), as a test, it is known who are in the love of self. It matters not how they appear in the outward form, whether pretentious or unassuming; for such they are in the interior man; and the interior man is at this day hidden by most people, and the exterior is trained to make a show of love of the public and the neighbor, thus for contrary things; and this also for the sake of self and for the sake of the world. Amen.


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