A Sermon by Rev. Douglas Taylor
Preached in Bryn Athyn November 1975

“Three times you shall keep feast to Me in the year: You shall keep the feast of unleavened bread … none shall appear before Me empty, and the feast of the harvest of the first fruits of works, which you have sown in the field, and the feast of ingathering, which is at the end of the year, when you have gathered in your works out of the field “(Exodus 23:14- 16).

This law, repeated in similar words in other places in the Divine Word, is included in the Heavenly Doctrine among those that “may serve a use if one pleases” (AC 9349:4). In the passage where this is Divinely stated, the laws given in the book of Exodus are classified into three groups: those that must still be observed in their literal sense, those that may be observed if we wish and if a use is served by them, and those that were merely representative laws and are now set aside, since the age of representatives has passed. The laws about thanksgiving are therefore not mandatory or binding upon the New Church. We are free to observe them or not, according to the use that is seen in them. It is because there does seem to be a use in ceremonially giving thanks unto the Lord that we continue to celebrate the Feast of Harvest Thanksgiving, even in urban and industrial areas, where the “harvest” is not from “the field” but takes other forms.

These laws concerning offerings and thanksgiving are a very striking instance of thanks being commanded by the Lord. They seem to be the very opposite of free-will offerings. In fact, there seems to be no place at all for any spontaneous giving, but only compelled giving.

Yet the Lord does not demand thanks for His own sake, so that He may have glory from us. How can human beings add to the Divine glory? How can we think that the Lord of love and wisdom would wish to receive honor and glory at the hands of human beings, that He would want to make us submit and bow himself down before Him just for the sake of tasting some Divine delight in our submission and gratitude? To think that the Lord commands these things for His own sake is almost blasphemous, so contrary is it to the real Divine essence.

No, the Lord does not command thanksgiving, offerings, and external worship for His own sake, but for our sake. It is so that we will come into a state of humble acknowledgment of the Lord, and of our own unworthiness compared with the Lord’s Divine goodness, and may thus come into a state in which we may receive all the more fully from the Lord, and be all the more blessed. It is for our sake that the Lord commands thanksgiving, not His own.

He commands it because from His Divine wisdom he knows the heart of man, that it is necessary for us to make a beginning with a rather formal giving of thanks; that without this ceremonial thanksgiving we will never advance to a spontaneous expression of genuine gratitude for all the Lord’s wonderful works to the children of men. He knows that we must first do from duty what we may later do from delight.

When, in obedience to the Lord’s command, we pause to count our blessings, even on the natural plane alone, we find the task quite beyond us. Church people, believing in the Divine Providence of the Lord, can be entirely overawed as they contemplate all that the Lord has provided in the way of natural good things, and feel like exclaiming with the psalmist: “O that men would praise the Lord for His mercy, and for His wonderful works to the children of men” (Psalm 107:8). “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of your riches” (Psalm 104:24).

There can be no doubt in the mind of people of the church but that the Lord is the Creator of these natural gifts, for, as we read in the doctrine, “those who confirm themselves in favor of the Divine give attention to the wonders that are displayed in the production both of plants and animals. In the production of plants, how out of a little seed cast into the ground there goes forth a root, and by means of the root a stem, and branches, leaves, flowers, and fruits in succession, even to new seeds, just as if the seed knew the order of succession, or the process by which it is to renew itself. Can any reasonable person think that the sun, which is nothing but fire, has this knowledge, or that it is able to empower its heat and light to bring about these results, or is able to fashion these wonderful things in plants, and to contemplate use? Any man of elevated reason who sees and weighs these things cannot think otherwise than that they come from Him who has infinite reason, that is, from God. Those who acknowledge the Divine also see and think this, but those who do not acknowledge the Divine do not see or think this because they do not wish to” (DLW 350).

The Lord, then, is the Creator of every good natural gift; indeed, He is the Sower of life itself. So we should give thanks to the Lord from a grateful heart for all these things.

But in everything that the Lord does He looks to what is eternal. He never fails to see the eternal in the temporal, the infinite in the finite. All the natural good things that He gives are not meant to be ends in themselves. They are meant to serve eternal uses; they are but the means to eternal ends. We have to learn also to see from Him the infinite and the eternal in the finite and the temporal.

The Lord’s gifts that last for ever His spiritual provisions are even more precious than His natural provisions (if for no other reason than that they do last forever). But besides that, they are the ends for which the natural good things are only means. The supreme gift, of course, is the life that belongs to heaven, eternal life the happiness enjoyed unceasingly as themselves. Above all else, we should give thanks to the Lord because He leads us into a heavenly state and saves us from a hell of misery. Hence the reason given in the Word for thanksgiving: “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy is forever” (Psalm 106:1). Because His Divine love is goodness itself, He has made us; because His mercy is forever, He continually redeems us from hell and leads us to heaven. For these Divine gifts we should be profoundly grateful. For these blessings we should give thanks unto the Lord.

The feasts commanded in the Word represent that conjunction with the Lord that gradually deepens as we are led by Him to a heavenly state of mind. The gathering together of the people on the appointed feast days is a picture of the heavenly gathering together or convocation. Something of heaven can be seen in such gatherings in obedience to the will of the Lord. That is why they were commanded in the Jewish Church, which was a representative church.

There were three feasts commanded: the feast of unleavened bread, the feast of first-fruits, and the feast of ingathering. The feast of unleavened bread was a reminder of the Lord’s deliverance of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, in particular of the time when the plague upon the first-born passed over the Israelites and did them no harm. This was also known as the Feast of the Passover. The second feast was for giving thanks for the first fruits of the harvest, the first sign that the planting had been successful. The third one, the feast of ingathering, was held at “the going out” or the “end” of the year, when there was a completion of the harvest, and all the fruits of the field had been gathered in.

In the spiritual sense, as referring to our rebirth or regeneration by the Lord, these three feasts represent three universal stages in the process whereby we are brought into a heavenly state, a state of perpetual thanksgiving to the Lord.

The feast of unleavened bread in memory of deliverance from Egypt represents the first state, that is, deliverance from the falsities springing from evil, meant by Egypt. After we have begun to be instructed in the truths of the Word, there arises severe conflict in our minds, caused by the falsities that cling to our inherited will, which in itself is evil. We are quite content to be in slavery or bondage to the loves of self and the world, and are quite willing to believe only the things we see with our own eyes, and nothing else. We are full of doubts and wonderings. This state continues until (in the Lord’s strength) we succeed to some extent in bringing the truths of the Word into our daily life by sheer self-compulsion and from a sense of duty. We obey the Lord with a heavy heart because we feel we have to, not because we freely want to.

This is a vary arduous, undelightful state, pictured also by the later wanderings of the sons of Israel in the wilderness, when they hungered and thirsted, complained and rebelled. But by dutiful obedience to Divine commands, there is deliverance from the ever-present falsities and doubts, and we begin to have a stronger faith in the Divine truth revealed in the Word. This is the first state of regeneration, represented by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, or the Passover.

The second universal state of regeneration is one in which we are affected by the truth as a result of making it our own. The truth moves us, moves us into action. We have some delight in doing it. Doing it begins to become second nature to us. We begin to think not just about the truth but from it. We use the truth to fight evils our own freely acknowledged evils. The truth is in us fighting. The first fruits of the planting are beginning to appear. The truth that affects us is being planted in our minds in such a way that it will remain there. It is implanted in the good affections of love toward the neighbor, which are beginning to appear. This is represented by the feast of first-fruits, “the first-fruits of your works,” as it is called in the text.

The Heavenly Doctrine describes this second state, represented by the second annual feast, as one in which “truth is being implanted in good.” The good affections come primarily from the remains of good received from the Lord by means of angelic influences during infancy and childhood. To these are added any moral goods, or moral virtues, that we have acquired in adolescence, and also everything good that was in our obedience from duty to the Lord’s commands. Because the truth is moving or affecting us more deeply, it is the more deeply implanted. We begin to possess it. This stage is also meant in the Word by the process of occupying the land, which the Israelites achieved under Joshua, who, incidentally, represents “truth fighting.”

The third and final feast commanded the feast of ingathering at the end of the year represents the fullness of regeneration, when there is a veritable harvest of good things: good affections, good will, feelings of charity, expressed in a harvest of good works, genuine good works which can properly be offered back to the Lord from whom they came forth. The great rejoicing that was always part of this feast of feasts was but a natural expression of the spiritual and heavenly joy that comes with the completion of the stages of regeneration, when we really do acknowledge the Lord, thanking Him from the heart for the good things of regeneration. It is not that we are at all conscious that we have completed the journey to the heavenly state, that we have come into full possession of the Heavenly Canaan; rather it is just that we feel permanently thankful to the Lord. We have a true and deep acknowledgment of the persistent teaching of the Word that everything good and true comes from Him. This has become a delightful matter of belief with us something we see and acknowledge from insight. Consequently, our whole life is ruled by charity our words and our deeds. Love toward the neighbor shines forth in all we do and say and think and feel. It is a state of perpetual thanksgiving one in which the opportunity to give thanks to the Lord with the mouth is eagerly embraced because there is thanksgiving in the heart also. This is the gift to give back to the Lord a true testification that the good of charity has indeed been received. It was to this kind of gift that the Lord referred when He commanded: “None shall appear before Me empty,” that is, without a gift. The natural fruits of the field that were offered in the ceremony of thanksgiving correspond to spiritual gifts the reception of good affections from the Lord and if there is genuine thanksgiving from the heart, they represent them.

It is manifestly true that when this third state of regeneration has been reached, the thanksgiving is complete and full and perpetual. That is why the number “three” is mentioned explicitly because, wherever it is used in the Word, “three” signifies what is complete.

But we can give thanks to the Lord even if we feel that we are only in the first state of regeneration being delivered from falsities and wandering in the wilderness of temptation. Even if, in our spiritual life, we do not yet eat of unleavened bread, if the good we do is tainted with impurities, we may still give thanks to the Lord for whatever knowledge of the truth we have, and whatever deliverance from falsities He has granted us. And let us remember too that the first state reigns throughout, and that there can be something of genuine thanksgiving even in the beginning.

If we have reached the feast of first-fruits if the truth is affecting us more deeply now so that it is being implanted in good our thanks to the Lord can be even more interior. For He is the Sower who goes forth to sow, and it is from His strength alone that we prepare the ground. If we are fighting from the Lord’s truth to possess the land, we may still sing songs of glad thanksgiving unto the Lord, “for His mercy is forever.”

But if we have reached the feast of ingathering, when the good things of charity begin to shine forth, we thank the Lord from a full heart persistently, perpetually, and spontaneously. We know then from within that the Lord has been the Redeemer and Savior and Regenerator in each stage of liberation from damnation and of regeneration, or entrance into heaven.

The ceremonial giving of fruit-offerings in the Jewish Church was meant to represent this acknowledgment of the Lord from the heart, this acknowledgment that the fruits of the field and the fruits of charity that they represent have alike been given by the Lord and should be returned to Him with glad thanksgiving. Amen.

Lessons: Exodus 23:14-19, Luke 17:11-18, AC 9286

Arcana Coelestia 9286

Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto Me in the year. That this signifies the persistent worship of the Lord and thanksgiving on account of liberation from damnation is evident from the signification of “keeping a feast” as being the worship of the Lord from a glad mind on account of liberation from damnation (see n. 7093), and from the signification of “three times in the year” as being a full state even to the end; for “three” signifies what is full from beginning to end (n. 2788, 4495, 7715, 9198), and a “year” signifies an entire period (n. 2906, 7839, 8070), here therefore a full and complete liberation. For by “the feast of unleavened things” is signified purification from falsities; by “the feast of harvest” the implanting of truth in good; and by “the feast of in gathering” the implanting of good thence derived, thus full liberation from damnation; for when a person has been purified from falsities, and afterward brought into good by means of truths, and finally when he is in good, he is then in heaven with the Lord, and consequently is then fully liberated.

The successive steps of liberation from damnation are circumstanced like the successive steps of regeneration, because regeneration is liberation from hell and introduction into heaven by the Lord; for the person who is being regenerated is first purified from falsities, then the truths of faith are implanted with him in the good of charity, and lastly this good itself is implanted, and when this is done the person has been regenerated, and is then in heaven with the Lord. Wherefore by “the three feasts in the year” was also signified the worship of the Lord and thanksgiving on account of regeneration. As these feasts were instituted for the perpetual remembrance of these things, therefore it is said the “persistent” worship and thanksgiving, for the chief things of worship are to continually endure. The things which continually endure are those which are inscribed not only on the memory, but also on the life itself, and they are then said to reign universally with the person (n. 5949, 6159, 6571, 8853-8858, 8865).


A Sermon by Rev Frederick M Chapin
December 28c, 1995

Farmers love their fields and their vineyards, because of their produce; and love the fruits of them because they are blessings, and render thanks to the Lord, and so look to the Lord continually. (Doct. of Charity 169)

Thanksgiving is a special day of giving thanks to the Lord for all the blessings He has bestowed upon us. It is a day where we try to lay aside all our problems and anxieties, and focus our attention on the benefits the Lord has given to each one of us. True, some of us may be going through times of hardship which may make it difficult to approach the Lord with a fully thankful heart. The Lord understands. But even in these difficult times, if we try to concentrate on the good things the Lord has provided for us, it may help in easing our despair and lightening the burden. Therefore, this is a day in which everyone can celebrate in giving thanks to the Lord. (Deut. 16:16-17)

There are certainly many ways we celebrate our thankfulness. One of the ways we celebrate is what we are doing right now. By coming to this place of worship and taking part in this service, we are acknowledging the Lord’s love toward us, and we are thanking Him for His constant desire to make us happy from Himself to eternity. Others of us will attend or watch parades which can put us in a festive spirit. But the one tradition which nearly all of us take part in is getting together with our families and enjoying each one’s company over a large meal. As we see the tremendous quantity of food which the women spend many hours in preparing, it can give us a visual reminder that the Lord has indeed blessed us in so many ways.

However, not only does a large meal serve as a reminder of the Lord’s benefits, it also serves as a culmination of the efforts of many people in making the food possible. A Thanksgiving dinner can serve as a symbol of the rewards which come if a man is faithful and dedicated in his efforts. Before a harvest comes, a farmer must work the ground, plant the seeds, and till the soil, before the seed will bear fruit. If the farmer performs his tasks faithfully, the harvest will come in, and he can gather the fruits or rewards of his labor. This meaning is somewhat lost today because most of us do not have to grow our own food. However, the Thanksgiving dinner can still remind us that if we perform our responsibilities, we will reap the rewards and satisfactions.

Celebration by a feast is a tradition that has been done for many centuries. In fact, we can see feast of joy in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, Abraham made a feast when the three visitors came to him. (Gen. 18:6-8) And in the New Testament we see in the Lord’s parable that when the prodigal son returned to home, his father made a feast to celebrate his son’s return. However, the most extensive treatment of feasts is seen in the laws given to Moses during the Exodus from Egypt. For the Lord commanded Israel that when they occupied the Land of Canaan, they were to observe many feasts throughout the year. In these, there were three major feasts they were to keep: The Feast of Unleavened Bread, The Feast of the Harvest, and The Feast of Ingathering. Each one of these feasts had a special message to the Israelites and also, unbeknown to them, each carried with them internal representations concerning the regeneration of man.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread was the first feast the Israelites were to observe. They were to perform it for seven days, starting with the day after the Passover. They were strictly commanded to eat only unleavened bread during these seven days. Clearly, this feast was to serve as a reminder of the Lord delivering Israel from the Land of Egypt. Internally, this feast was a representation of the first step toward man’s regeneration or salvation, namely, when he is purified from falsities. When we make a true commitment to obey the Lord’s Word, the Lord is able to deliver us from the infernal spirits who insinuate falsities into us. These falsities hinder the doing of good acts and delighting in them. But when the Lord delivers and protects us from the evil spirits who infest us with falsities, then we are free to receive good from the Lord into our daily lives, and are able to take pleasure in them.

This leads us to the next state, which is the implanting of truth in this commitment. The state here talked of, is represented by the next feast called the Feast of Harvest. This feast was to be observed when the first crops, usually wheat, were harvested. Before the Jews could eat anything of their new yield, they first had to bring a bundle of wheat to a priest, who would use it as a wave offering to the Lord. Then they were to feast on the things of their first harvest. This feast would serve as a means for Israel to ask the Lord for His blessing on the remaining crops for the rest of the year. The Feast of Harvest is a wonderful representation of our state after we are determined to obey the Lord. For when the evil spirits are gone, with their falsities, the Lord is able to enlighten us with truths whereby this commitment is able to perform uses that are true acts of charity. Just as the Children of Israel were to ask the Lord for His blessing, so to must we continually look to Him for the truths which can direct our lives toward good.

When the good that results form the truths in the Word are firmly established in our lives, then we enter into the third and most joyful feast: the Feast of Ingathering. this feast gave the Jews their biggest cause for celebration. In fact, the Feast of Ingathering is the closest feast to our form of Thanksgiving we celebrate today. At the end of the year, when all the fruits of the land were harvested, the Jews were to hold a major feast to celebrate their yield. The feast would last for seven days, during which they would eat all the types of food they harvested. Just as this was Israel’s most joyful celebration, so too does this represent our most delightful state when we are in a fully regenerate state. When our delights spring from the goods that are in accord with the Lord’s Word, we enter into the heavenly joys, peace, and security that comes with a full state of regeneration. When we enter into this state, we are in the full enjoyments of the Lord’s gifts to us. It is then that we are in the highest degree of happiness and fulfillment that we are capable of receiving.

When a feast is given, it can form a most powerful illustration of the appropriation of heavenly goods and truths in us. For eating signifies appropriation, or having goods and truths attributed to ourselves. Also, a feast serves as a picture of the conjunction of the Lord’s action and our affirmative reaction to it. These two desires makes our regeneration possible. For the ingredients of a feast come from the fruits of the land. These fruits were made possible by the Lord’s infinite power and providence. However, the crops of the field do spring from the ground automatically. A farmer must put forth a great deal of work before the earth will yield the fruit that will be useful. It is the same with our own individual states. The Lord is constantly with us striving to make us conjoined with Him. However, this conjunction does not come about until we put forth the effort in putting away the evils we see in our external thoughts and deeds. When we shun evils and desire to do good, the Lord is able to lead us where we can enjoy the spiritual fruits of our labors. Therefore, a thanksgiving feast can nourish our natural bodies whereby we will feel a satisfaction and contentment. And as a thanksgiving dinner can do this for our natural bodies, our spiritual lives will find contentment and satisfaction in the goods and truths from the Lord if we allow them to fully enter into us. Then our spiritual fasting will be changed into a spiritual feast, and we will truly understand the words of the prophet Zechariah to the Jewish captives in Babylon, “The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be joy and gladness and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah. Therefore, love truth and peace.” (Zech. 8;19) AMEN