ESTABLISHING A MATURE, RATIONAL FAITH
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida March 8, 1992
“And Jacob awoke out of his sleep, and he said: ‘Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it … This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven (Genesis 28:16,17).
Jacob’s awakening from sleep describes man’s emergence from a state of obscurity into a state of spiritual light. It is the dawn of a new spiritual day wherein the person clearly perceives, for the first time, the Lord’s living presence in His Word. “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” These words express the wonder of a person who has been reading the Word, either from habit or self-compulsion, and suddenly awakens to a realization of its inmost Divine quality: “This is none other than the house of God.” These words express the person’s realization that the Lord is fully present in the Word – it is His dwelling place. In the Word a person may come to know God, and through its truths be conjoined with Him. Therefore the words follow “this is the gate of heaven.” The Divine truths of revelation truly are the gateway to heaven.
People, unlike animals, are born entirely without knowledge. Animals. when born, know instinctively what is good for them. They are born with the knowledge required to satisfy their desires. Human beings, on the other hand, are completely ignorant at birth. People have innate loves or desires, but they do not have the knowledge necessary to satisfy them. The state of man’s mind at birth is described in the book of Genesis as being “without form, and void” (Gen. 1:2).
At first glance this may seem strange. Why should man – the highest order of creation – begin life lower than a brute animal? On the surface there may even appear to be something of unfairness in this circumstance. However, when we consider the purpose for which we were created, then the reason for this becomes more clear. We are created to live to eternity as angels of heaven. As angels we can be continually perfected in love and wisdom to all eternity.
The life of animals is circumscribed. They are born with certain desires and the requisite knowledge to satisfy them. They need and desire nothing more. We, on the other hand, are born without knowledge. But we are born with an innate love of knowledge and the capacity to receive and assimilate knowledge indefinitely. We are created with such a nature that we may be continually perfected in love and wisdom to all eternity. In this way the delight of living may also increase to eternity.
Due to the fact that we are not born into the order of our lives, nor into any knowledge, we need to be instructed. On the physical plane we must be taught what is good for us and what is harmful. By example and precept we must be taught to distinguish between good and evil. We have to be introduced into a knowledge of the Lord and a belief in Him as our Heavenly Father – our God.
But, as we well know, there is a great diversity of opinion on these matters. On the physical plane, for example, there are those who think that certain foods are good and healthful, while others believe them to be harmful. Many people have their own pet theories on how to cure a particular illness; and although many of the theories are contradictory, each person believes that the one he believes in is right.
As to what is good and what is evil, there is even greater diversity of opinion. Physical pleasures such as sports or dancing and recreations such as card playing are regarded by some people to be immoral. Others believe that these are useful recreations when properly controlled and subordinated. Some people regard profanity as a legitimate form of expression while others regard it as evil. Many people accept the Ten Commandments as being a reliable, God-given standard as to what is good and what is evil. Others regard them as irrelevant – an outmoded standard of a bygone age.
In regard to God, there are those who categorically deny His existence. Others say that there is a God but that God is a creative force – He is not a Man. Others, again, believe in a God who is one as to substance but tri-personal in form.
These examples serve to illustrate the fact that the faith of every child is, to a great extent, the product of the opinions of parents, teachers, and friends, and of one’s own experience. During infancy and childhood a person’s belief, or faith, is the faith of one’s parents entirely. As one advances to youth, the person’s faith is affected by, and combined with, the faith of one’s teachers and friends and those whom one idolizes. We see from this that there are different kinds of faith.
The Writings speak of the following: “(1) Infantile faith, adolescent faith, adult faith. (2) Faith in genuine truth and faith in appearances of truth. (3) Faith of the memory, faith of reason, faith of light. (4) Natural faith, spiritual faith, celestial faith. (5) Living faith and faith founded on miracle. (6) Free faith and forced faith” (TCR 344).
The faith of infancy is a blind, unquestioning faith. The infant believes everything it is told. Because its mind is only beginning to be formed, the young child cannot distinguish between reality and appearance. The child’s faith, of necessity, is a faith in appearances of truth. In infancy and childhood there is no real choice as to what will be believed; faith is therefore, at this stage, to a degree a forced faith.
But as the child advances into adolescence, the quality of one’s faith changes. Because the adolescent is dependent on parents and is compelled, for example, to go to school, faith is, to that degree, still forced. But because the youth has acquired a background of individual experience from which judgments are made, faith, in this state of life, also partakes of freedom.
The faith of the adolescent is a faith of the memory. By this time a person has acquired much knowledge. The adolescent is a veritable storehouse of information. The rational faculty is just beginning to open, and so there is very little of the element of reason in one’s faith at this stage of development. Because the rational faculty is as yet largely undeveloped, appearances of truth are accepted for genuine truths. For until the rational faculty is more fully developed, the sight of the understanding cannot penetrate appearances. The faith of the adolescent is best characterized as traditional or historical faith. Although one may question parents and teachers and dispute their judgment, nevertheless the things the person calls into question are relatively few compared to those which one accepts unquestioningly. There is also an element of the miraculous in the faith of adolescence. The youth is given to hero worship; at this stage one is easily impressed by the unusual and spectacular, and this also colors one’s faith. Because regeneration does not begin until maturity, adolescent faith is purely natural in character.
When a person passes from adolescence into adult life, one’s faith should take on a new quality. As an adult, the person is no longer subject to parents. The young adult decides what will be believed and what will not. The person’s faith becomes a free faith. Since the rational faculty is more fully developed, the person is capable, if he makes the effort, of penetrating appearances and seeing genuine truths. The young adult’s faith should no longer be traditional, but should be a faith of reason and insight. As an adult, one should accept responsibility for one’s own loves, thoughts, and actions. A person should, therefore, begin to examine one’s life – one’s thoughts, intentions, and deeds – and shun those things which he sees to be evil as sins against God. As one does this, faith, from being faith of memory, becomes a living faith; from natural it becomes spiritual. And if the person advances in the life of regeneration until one is motivated in all one does by a genuine love for the Lord and the neighbor, then faith becomes celestial.
Every thinking person comes eventually to the point where he recognizes that two things which are mutually contradictory cannot both be true. If the person is given at all to reflection, he sees that in one’s traditional beliefs there are many such contradictions, and the person is faced with the problem of what to reject as false and what to accept as true. In view of the fact that there is such a diversity of opinion of a contrary nature in regard to the things of faith, one may wonder if it is possible to acquire a genuine, rational, adult faith.
The Lord assures us in the Writings of the New Church that such a faith is possible for all who sincerely seek. Such a faith is not inborn, nor is it transferred from one person to another. It can be acquired only by a person who is searching for truth – a person who is not content to found one’s life on the shifting sands of human opinion but who is looking for a rock upon which to build spiritual faith – one’s spiritual home.
It is of such a person that our text treats in the internal sense. Jacob was on his way to Padan-aram. When the sun set, he stopped at a certain place to spend the night. While there he had the remarkable vision of a staircase ascending toward heaven, its base on earth and the Lord at the top, with angels ascending and descending on it. It was then that the Lord renewed the promise which He had made to Abraham and Isaac, to give them the land of Canaan for an inheritance.
The Writings tell us that Jacob represents the person who is instructed in natural truths (see AC 3305). When he had this vision, he was on his way to Padan-aram. Padan-aram signifies knowledges of truth. We see from these teachings that the person who is instructed in natural knowledges, represented by Jacob, who is on his way to Padan-aram (searching for truths of faith) is given the Divine promise of an indefinite increase in the truths of faith. The Lord said to Jacob: “Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all of the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 28:14).
When the Lord had made this promise, then Jacob awoke and said: “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it … This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” These words express the wonder and conviction of a person who has found the truth after a diligent search – the truth that the Lord is livingly present in His Word as Divine truth.
We cannot come to this conviction unless we go directly to the Word for ourselves seeking instruction directly from the mouth of the Lord. We may have been raised with the stories of the Word and taught about God. We may hear preachings regularly, but we cannot come to this state of conviction until we go directly to the source of truth itself. When we read the Word with a genuine desire to learn the truth; when we realize the inadequacy of our borrowed and traditional faith; when we are no longer satisfied with appearances of truth but seek genuine truth, then the Lord will enlighten our understanding and we will see, with clarity and conviction, the truths for which we have been searching. This rational, adult faith is said to exist in a person when one has spiritual sight, or when one’s understanding has been enlightened, when there is in the mind a harmony of truths, when there is interior conviction, and when an acknowledgment of the Lord’s Divinity is inscribed on one’s mind (see TCR 344). These are the signs of a genuine, rational, adult faith.
Such a faith is the characteristic of all who are truly of the Lord’s New Church. This enlightenment and this clear conviction are the reward promised to all who humbly and sincerely approach the Lord directly in His Word, and read it under His auspices (see TCR 165). Amen.
Lessons: Genesis 28:1-5, 10-19; AR 224
Apocalypse Revealed 224
To this I will add this relation. I saw an assembly of spirits, all upon their knees, praying to God to send angels to them that they might converse with them face to face and open to them the thoughts of their hearts. And when they arose, there appeared three angels in fine linen standing before them, and they said, “The Lord Jesus Christ has heard your prayers, and has therefore sent us to you; open unto us the thoughts of your hearts.” And they answered, “We have been told by our priests that in matters of a theological nature the understanding avails nothing, but only faith, and that in such things intellectual faith is of no service to anyone because it is derived from man. We are Englishmen, and have heard many things from our sacred ministry which we believed; but when we have conversed with others, who also called themselves the Reformed, and with others who called themselves the Roman Catholics, and likewise with sectaries, they all appeared to us learned, and yet in many things one did not agree with another, and still they all said, ‘Believe us’; and some of them, ‘We are God’s ministers, and know.’ But as we know that the Divine truths, which are called truths of faith and which appertain to the church, are not derived to anyone from his native soil, nor by inheritance, but out of heaven from God; and as these show the way to heaven, and enter into the life together with the good of charity, and so lead to eternal life, we became anxious, and prayed to God upon our knees.”
Then the angels answered, “Read the Word, and believe in the Lord, and you will see the truths which should constitute your faith and life; for all in the Christian world draw their doctrinals from the Word as from the only fountain.” But two of the company said, “We have read but did not understand.” And the angels replied, “You did not approach the Lord, and you have also confirmed yourselves in falsities”; and the angels said further, “What is faith without light, and what signifies thinking without understanding? this is not human; even magpies and ravens can learn to speak without understanding. We can affirm to you that every man whose soul desires it is capable of seeing the truths of the Word in the light; there does not exist an animal that does not know the food proper to its life when it sees it, and man is a rational and spiritual animal who sees the food of his life, not that of his body but of his soul, which is the truth of faith, provided indeed he hungers after it and seeks it from the Lord; whatsoever is not received also in the understanding is not fixed in the memory in reality, but only verbally; therefore, when we have looked down out of heaven into the world, we have not seen anything but have only heard sounds, that are for the most part dissonant. But we will enumerate some things which the learned among the clergy have removed from the understanding, not knowing that there are two ways to the understanding, one from the world and the other from heaven, and that the Lord withdraws the understanding from the world when He enlightens it; but if the understanding be closed by religion, the way into it from heaven is closed, and then man sees no more in the Word than a blind person. We have seen many such fall into pits, out of which they have never risen again.
Examples must serve for illustration: Are you not able to understand what charity is and what faith is; that charity consists in doing well by your neighbor, and that faith consists in thinking well of God and of the essentials of the church, and therefore that he who does well and thinks well, that is, who lives well and believes well, is saved?” They replied that they understood these things. The angels said further, “Do you not understand that repentance from sins is to be performed in order that man may be saved, and that, unless a man actually repents, he abides in the sins into which he was born, and that the work of repentance consists in not willing evils because they are against God, and in examining himself once or twice a year, in seeing his evils, in confessing them before the Lord, imploring assistance, desisting from them, and leading a new life, and as far as he does this and believes in the Lord, so far his sins are remitted?”
Then some of the company replied, “This we understand, and thence also what remission of sins is.” And then they solicited the angels to give them further information, and especially concerning God, the immortality of the soul, regeneration and baptism. To this the angels replied, “We will not say anything but what you can understand; otherwise our discourse will fall like rain upon sand, and upon seeds therein, which although watered from heaven, still wither and perish.” Concerning God they said, “All who come into heaven have their place allotted them there, and thence eternal joy, according to their idea of God, because this idea reigns universally in every particular of worship. The idea of an invisible God is not determined to anyone, nor does it terminate in any, therefore it ceases and perishes. The idea of God as Spirit, when a spirit is believed to be like ether or wind, is an empty idea; but the idea of God as Man is a just idea, for God is the Divine love and the Divine wisdom, with every quality belonging thereto, and the subject of these is man and not ether or wind. The idea of God in heaven is the idea of the Lord. He is the God of heaven and earth, as He Himself taught. Let your idea of God be like unto ours, and we shall be consociated together.” On saying these words, their faces became resplendent. Concerning the immortality of the soul, they said, “Man lives to eternity, because he can be conjoined with God by love and faith, this indeed is possible with every one. That this possibility constitutes the immortality of the soul you may understand if you think of it a little more deeply.” Concerning regeneration: “Who does not see that everyone is at liberty to think of God or not to think of Him, provided he be instructed that there is a God; so that every one has liberty in spiritual things, equally as in things civil and moral; the Lord gives this liberty to all continually; for which reason he becomes guilty if he does not think of God. Man is man from this ability but a beast is a beast from not having this ability; therefore man can reform and regenerate himself as from himself provided he acknowledges in heart that it is from the Lord. Everyone who does the work of repentance and believes in the Lord is reformed and regenerated. Man must do both as from himself, but this as from himself is from the Lord. It is true that man cannot contribute anything thereto, no not in the least, nevertheless you were not created statues, but you were created men, that you might do that from the Lord as from yourselves. This is the only reciprocal of love and faith, that it is altogether the Lord’s will that it should be done by man unto Him. In a word, do it from yourselves and believe that you do it from the Lord, thus do it as from yourselves.”
But then the Englishmen inquired whether to act as from oneself is a faculty implanted in man from creation. The angel answered, “It is not implanted, because to act from Himself is the Lord’s alone, but it is communicated continually, that is, adjoined continually, and then so far as man does good and believes what is true as from himself, so far he is an angel of heaven; but so far as he does evil and thence believes what is false, which is done also as from himself, so far he is an angel of hell. That this also is as from himself surprises you, but still you see that it is so when you pray that you may be preserved from the devil lest he should seduce you and enter into you as he did into Judas, fill you with all iniquity, and destroy you, soul and body. But everyone incurs guilt who believes that he acts from himself, whether it be good or whether it be evil; but he does not incur guilt who believes that he acts as from himself …”