How Spiritual Growth Makes You More You

Swedenborg Foundation

Are we all fundamentally one with the Divine? In our last post, we explored the idea that our sense of being separate from God is just an illusion—a necessary illusion, because without it we would never be able to live and grow as individuals here on earth. This idea has parallels in other religious traditions, especially Buddhism and Hinduism. But then Emanuel Swedenborg’s philosophy takes a sharp turn. Rather than arguing that our sense of individuality is something that disappears if we become enlightened, he writes that by growing closer to God, we become more and more distinctly ourselves.

createyourself

How does that work? It’s bound up in two key concepts from Swedenborg’s writings: love and freedom.

Love, he tells us, is a fundamental part of who we are. This is true on a number of levels; but for the purpose of spiritual growth, Swedenborg says that the types of things we love define everything about us. When we value other people and do what we can to help them and to care for those who need it, such actions are motivated by good kinds of love—love for the divine and love for our neighbor. When we put ourselves first and focus on increasing our personal wealth, fame, and influence no matter what the cost, such actions come from bad kinds of love—love of self and love of the world. (For more on this, see True Christianity §§394–396.)

As human beings, we’re a mix of different types of love, some selfish and some selfless. But Swedenborg also says that part of spiritual growth is making a conscious choice: either embrace and justify our questionable actions or reject temptations when they arise and work to become better people. The more we make those decisions, the more we move in one direction or the other, toward heaven or toward hell. Eventually, a ruling or dominant love emerges—the core value that drives all of our actions.

That’s where freedom comes in. As human beings, we have the free will to decide our path in life, and Swedenborg would add that no one could truly become either good or evil without the ability to choose between the two. But freedom isn’t just the path to determining what kind of people we are; it’s also the result of expressing our deepest convictions. If a person loves helping others, then volunteering in community service—like a soup kitchen or a park cleanup—feels like freedom. If a person loves making money, then being forced to do volunteer work feels like a burdensome obligation. Same actions, different loves, and a different sense of what it means to be either free or constrained.

To sum up the above, what we love is the core of our identity, and being able to do what we love gives us a sense of ultimate freedom. With that in mind, here’s what Swedenborg says about the way our identity changes (and doesn’t!) as we grow spiritually:

Now since anything we do freely seems to be our own because it comes from our love (acting from our love is acting freely, as already noted), it follows that union with the Lord makes us feel that we have freedom and therefore identity; and the closer our union with the Lord, the greater our freedom and our identity. The reason our identity seems clearer is that divine love by its very nature wants to give what it has to others, which means to us on earth and to angels. All spiritual love is like this; divine love most of all. (Divine Providence §43)

When our love is directed outward, toward doing good in the world, then that’s a heavenly love—the kind of love that draws us closer to God. Swedenborg would say that spiritual progress is about working toward an increasingly heavenly state of being in which we have a greater and greater love for all living beings. But he emphasizes that even though the love feels like it’s coming from inside us, it isn’t. It’s God’s love flowing through us.

If it’s true that what we love is bound up in our identity, or our sense of self, then allowing God’s love to flow through us unites us with the divine. We become a tiny reflection of God. When we then act according to that love, we experience it as total freedom, because we now have the ability to do what brings us the greatest possible joy. And being free to act exactly as we wish—to express our inner self—also gives us a greater sense of who we are. That’s how spiritual growth makes each of us more perfectly ourselves.

Swedenborg also describes an infinite variety in the types of love that people can possess, so that each good person makes the whole of heaven (and the communities of good people on earth) more beautiful:

Not the smallest difference exists that is not fitted into its exact place in the overall plan. In this way it can unite with all the other pieces in perfect concord to form a common whole, and the common whole can contribute to unity among the individual pieces. Thus everything combines for the happiness of the whole (rising from the individuals’ happiness) and for the individuals’ happiness (rising from the happiness of the whole). (Secrets of Heaven §684)

http://www.swedenborg.com/

What kind of love do you bring to the world?

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For more on the idea of self in spiritual growth, check out “The Infinite in You,” an episode of our weekly webcast Swedenborg and Life, or read a recap here.

Read more about God and the idea of self (or proprium in the Latin) in our blog post “Does God Have an Ego?” or get the big picture on Swedenborg’s techniques for spiritual growth in our free e-book download Regeneration: Spiritual Growth and How It Works.

Freedom or Free will

New Christian Bible StudyNew Christian Bible Study

By Mr. Joseph S. David

Freedom or Free Will

Free will is the quality that distinguishes humans from animals. Animals cannot be either good or evil = they are what they are – but humans can choose. The Lord protects this freedom of will to the extent that He allows evil, because only loves that are freely chosen can be appropriated to an individual. Because we are all free to choose to do what we believe is right in the Lord’s eyes, or choose to do what we want, we can be formed into an image of the love we choose. The image may be heavenly or hellish, it’s our choice. No animal has such a choice.

The Lord has always given mankind a choice. Adam had a choice in the garden of Eden, Noah had a choice to obey about the ark or not, Abram had a choice to travel to Canaan or not, and the children of Israel had choices galore.

They all had received revelation of one kind or another, culminating in the Word from Moses, the prophets and the Gospels – what we now call the Bible. (You will find short explanations of the Most Ancient Church, the Ancient and Israelitish churches elsewhere on this site.) The writings for the New Church are a continuation of the Lord’s revelation. The knowledge that they had, and that we have today, from those revelations opens up the ability to make good choices, or bad ones.

We can’t change our loves ourselves. We can’t flip back our skull and throw a switch in our brain that makes us love our neighbor – but the Lord can do something like that over time. And without even opening up our skull! But He won’t do that unless we want Him to. We show Him that we want it to happen by acting as if He’d already done it. If we force ourselves to act as if we love our neighbor even though we don’t feel it yet, we will one day realize that, all unknown to us, He has reached in and changed us a bit. We may have forced ourselves, but free will means that we are free to force ourselves – it’s our choice.

Some people may believe that they can’t change. Maybe they try for a little while and don’t notice anything, so they lose heart. This is a lifetime project. All during our life in the natural world the Lord keeps us in a state of equilibrium between the influences of heaven and hell, just so that our will can move us a little bit one way or the other, so that we can remain in control. This is our freedom.

The Lord wants everyone born to come to His heaven, it’s what we are born for, but we are all free to decide for ourselves if we will do so or not.

(References: True Christian Religion 475, 483, 498, 500)

http://newchristianbiblestudy.org/


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Finding Your Inner Freedom

Swedenborg Foundation

personalfreedom

Religious freedom has been popping up in the news quite a bit lately: The US Army considers whether to relax its regulations on dress and grooming to allow Sikhs—whose religious practices include men wearing turbans and growing beards—to serve in the military. A town in New Jersey debates whether to allow construction of a local mosque, as residents voice fears of a terrorist attack. And religious freedom has become a buzzword on the US campaign trail, as conservative voters protest laws that contradict their beliefs.

All of these debates center around the practice of religion: when, where, and how groups and individuals can put their religious convictions into action. Emanuel Swedenborg offers a different perspective: What if the real question isn’t how we practice religious freedom but how we practice spiritual freedom? And what’s the difference between the two?

First, though, it needs to be clear that all freedom is a matter of love, even to the point that love and freedom are the same thing. Since love is our life, freedom is also essential to our life. (Divine Providence §73:2)

Freedom is a characteristic of everything that belongs to love and everything that belongs to our will. Anyone can see this from the statement “I want to do this because I love it,” and the other way around, “because I love this I also want to do it.” (True Christianity §493)

When Swedenborg speaks in terms of freedom and love, he’s referring back to one of the core ideas of his philosophy: a person’s dominant or ruling love, which you could think of as the emotions, desires, or needs that drive us on a deep inner level. If we love ourselves or our reputation more than anything else, then we’re motivated by selfish love; if we put others first and if we love the divine (in whatever form that takes for us personally), then we’re motivated by positive, selfless love. When we’re doing what we love, Swedenborg says, we feel free.

In his writings, he talks about different levels of freedom that correspond to different levels of our inner being. We have earthly, or bodily, freedom in the sense that we can control our own actions. We can do whatever we want, except to the extent that laws, moral codes, or fear of social consequences hold us back. We have rational, or mental, freedom in that we can think whatever we want; we can reason through problems and decide what we think. We can also use our rationality to override our lower impulses—restrain ourselves from acting out of anger, for example, or giving in to temptation.

Our spiritual freedom, he says, works in a similar way. We can use our spiritual understanding not only to override our ego-driven urges but to untangle the mess of confusion that sometimes arises from overthinking a situation. The difference between spiritual freedom and mental or bodily freedom is that spiritual freedom comes from the Divine:

Spiritual freedom comes from a love for eternal life. The only people who arrive at this love and its pleasure are people who think that evils are sins and therefore do not want to do them, and who at the same time turn toward the Lord. The moment we do this, we are in spiritual freedom, because it is only from an inner or higher freedom that we can stop intending evils because they are sins and therefore not do them. This kind of freedom comes from an inner or higher love. (Divine Providence §73:6)

Swedenborg describes turning toward the Lord—regeneration, or spiritual rebirth—as a long and challenging process of personal growth. The end result is as much a freedom from the limits of the body and mind as it is a freedom to express divine love:

All the freedom we enjoy in earthly matters comes down from this higher freedom; and because freedom originates there, it has a share in all the free choices we make in earthly matters. From among our earthly options, the love that is dominant in us on the highest level selects everything that is well suited to itself. That higher freedom is present the way a spring is present in all the water that flows from it, or the way the fertility of a seed is present in each and every part of the tree that results from it—especially the fruit, in which the seed renews itself. (True Christianity §494)

From this perspective, spiritual freedom is a freedom without walls or limits. Even a person living in an oppressive regime or whose physical movements are restricted can live a full and beautiful life by first seeking out that source of divine love and then allowing that love to guide his or her life. And that love—that spiritual freedom—can be expressed through even the smallest actions, regardless of whether those actions are overtly religious. If everything that we do comes from divine love, then there’s no way to stop that love from flowing through the world.

What does spiritual freedom mean to you?

http://www.swedenborg.com/

For an in-depth look at spiritual freedom in Swedenborg’s writings, watch “Spiritual Freedom,” an episode of our weekly webcast Swedenborg and Life (or read the recap here).

For more on the idea of dominant love, see our blog post “How Spiritual Growth Makes You More You”; and there’s also more about divine guidance in the post “Led by the Lord? The Spiritual Questions to Ask Yourself.”

Regeneration: Spiritual Growth and How It Works is a collection of Swedenborg’s writings on spiritual growth that outlines both the process and the internal factors at work.

 

Three steps to salvation

The entire ministry of Jesus Christ on earth speaks of salvation. For example, the Bible teaches that He is the Truth, the Way and the Life (John 14:6), He comes with His reward and with His work (Is 40:10), and He comes to save the World (John 3:16). Many readers of the Bible can see that the Lord wants us to be “saved,” and to enjoy the salvation He offers. The question, though, is how does the Lord “save” us? Why is everyone not automatically “saved”?

One of the wonderful things about the teachings of the New Church is that we now know being saved is not about following arbitrary rules or joining an exclusive club. Being “saved” means you come to want what the Lord wants. The Lord made us and we are capable of responding to the love that He is continually offering.

This does not happen all at once. Like building a home or a friendship, coming to love what the Lord loves is a process that takes time and effort. Many of us experience moments of insight and perhaps even profound happiness in our lives, but these moments are part of something greater and yet more subtle. Salvation is about the Lord making us into angels, slowly and quietly. The Lord knows us really well. He looks at us in our lives the way a loving parent watches his children. The love a mother feels for a newborn infant is one of the most tender and most powerful feelings, and every mother hopes her baby has a long, exciting and rewarding path through life—her baby has lots to see and do! The same is true when the Lord gazes upon us.

This process does require something of us. It does not happen by default; it is our choice to walk this path. Both in His Word and in the world around us, the Lord is continually showing us how to join Him in His heavenly kingdom. The Lord has a recipe of salvation: His truth, His love, and His work. We need to know what He wants, we need to decide to do it, and then we have to do it. This recipe is simple to follow, and each day is filled with opportunities to apply it in life. We can cooperate with the Lord in the thousand small moments of our day, whether we are answering the day’s e-mail, talking a friend through a tough time, or taking out the garbage.

To show us what He wants, the Lord gives us His Word. He wants us to love our neighbors and to love Him. He wants us not to steal, lie, and murder. He wants us to know that there is a way to be kind to every person we meet. He wants us to know that we don’t have to be evil or selfish. The Lord’s truth is the first ingredient, and it tells us how our happiness—and salvation—is achieved. The Lord’s love is the second ingredient. There is no more abundant resource in the entire universe. We are all alive because of His love, and we have to accept His love if we are going to be saved. Once we have an idea of what the Lord wants—no matter how small or basic—we have to align what we want with what He wants. This is how we accept the Lord’s love. While it may seem a daunting task to change what we want, the Lord makes this easy for us too. He does not demand that we magically change what we want—He only asks that we choose to do what He wants. The teachings of the New Church bring us the good news that we aren’t always responsible for our thoughts and feelings, but the Lord provides us with the power to choose what thoughts and feelings we nurture in our lives. We can choose to do what the Lord wants even when a part of us resists it; this is accepting the Lord’s love into our lives. A wonderful promise from the Lord is that if we decide to do His will, we will slowly come to enjoy doing His will.

The third ingredient to salvation is to put the first two (His truth and His love) together in action. If we think we know what the Lord wants, and decide to do it, all that is left is doing it. When we build a home, we must actually build something. When we build a friendship, we have to do more than think nice thoughts about our friend. We work at it. People are not saved by passing a multiple-choice test on what the Lord wants, and they are not saved by passionate pleas and praise. People are saved by the quiet, subtle, life-changing work of coming to love what the Lord loves. None of this can happen without the Lord’s cooperation. He is always ready to help in an instant—all He asks is that we try, and He will rush to our side.

But what about when we stumble? Can we make so many mistakes that we are hopeless? One of the comforting truths of the Word is that setbacks and failures are never the end of the story. We all stumble, we all make mistakes, and we are all human. Our loving Lord knows this too. When we are building a house, sometimes we make a mistake; we might even have to tear down a wall or two to fix the mistake. When we are building a friendship, we can say or do something that damages that friendship, but we can apologize and strive to make it right. With salvation, though, we are doing it with the Lord, and He never gives up and never withholds forgiveness.

The Lord does ask us to keep trying. Because His gift of salvation is a process, we can never truly say that we are done in this life. There is always more to learn, and we can always develop a deeper appreciation of His truth. We can always be kinder than we used to be and live the Lord’s love more than the day before. The more we learn and do, the more we love—which will let us learn and do even more.

We really shouldn’t worry about whether we are ‘saved’. There is no real ‘finish line’ to cross. Angels in heaven strive and work to be better people, just as we do on earth. They love their work, they strive to be better, and they live more and more in the Lord’s love to eternity. We will do the same thing after we die, so long as we have tried to live well according to the Lord’s Word. The Lord cares for two things more than our salvation: our freedom and our happiness.

The reason He wants us to be saved is because He knows that we will be happiest if we join Him in His heavenly kingdom. But He guards our freedom most carefully of all; without our freedom, without an ability to choose, we cannot come to love Him or be happy or be saved. From just His love He would save every person in the world, no matter what, but from His wisdom He knows this would not leave us in freedom. Instead, He gives us every tool in His Word, every moment in our lives, and every chance at forgiveness—all in the loving hope that we will choose happiness in the salvation He offers.

by Rev. Scott Frazier (from an article from New Church Connection magazine)

newchurch.org

Divine Source – How to think of it?

divineDo you feel your life is missing something? Are you interested in higher states of awareness? For example the awe and wonder you might have once felt when contemplating the world of nature. Or the sense of peace, contentment, and even joy that perhaps you had as an infant or you fleetingly glimpse in the ordinary life of work and home. Wherever you find these inspirations, the question remains what are their source? What is it that inspires? Many people intuitively feel there is a higher entity beyond themselves that is the divine source of such feelings. One that might be able to provide them with direction and purpose.

If you have this inkling, you may be interested in reconstructing the idea of ‘divine being’. Not with a view to paying homage to an angry controlling judge in the sky that has often come to be seen to do with sexism, racism, ecological exploitation, as well as the exercise of power over others. Instead you may be seeking to put your hope in a creative spirit beyond our ordinary consciousness. One that promotes equality, the natural world and freedom.

The universe came into being from a conscious, spiritual source, but that conscious spiritual source is not necessarily similar to how our cultural interpretations describe their “god.” (Emanuel Kuntzelman, spiritual writer)

Can any rational ideas help towards finding this divine source in personal spiritual experience? How can we think of a mystical origin of all that is good?

The divine not a controlling deity

There is plenty of suffering in the world. Hunger, homelessness, murder, theft etc. People ask if there really were a God, then why does He allow this? Why does He permit human beings to greedily take more than their fair share of resources, to kill and steal.

But I would ask whether this is the kind of deity we really want? One who imposes social justice in everything and prevents all crime? I would suggest that if human freedom to behave badly, even wickedly, were taken away from us by a such an absolute degree of supernatural control, then the inner freedom inherent in our human nature would be destroyed.

An alternative view of our divine source

In other words I am arguing that a divine source of love is one that wants our deeper happiness. A good spiritual state can only come in the long run when we freely choose to act in humane ways. Even if this means that we might bring suffering upon ourselves in the meantime.

I would suggest one way forward in our thinking is to imagine a real presence of love and wisdom quietly acting in the world. Not controlling what is going on but nevertheless compensating to some degree for what is negative and bad. This divine image is very different from the god figure who determines all that happens that some dogmatic religious people arrogantly tell us to believe in.

People sometimes ask if there really is some spiritual reality beyond ourselves, why cannot it be obvious to all? But I would say that not being subject to proof shows its non-controlling nature. We have the freedom to believe as we wish; to follow one path or another.

In my opinion, the divine Source offers the gift of liberation from all within our minds that causes us unhappiness of heart. The gift of our inner freedom is precious.

The divine not a condemning deity

According to Christianity, mankind deserves to be punished but Jesus gets punished for us.  Unlike the traditional Christian doctrine, my understanding of our divine Source is not one that  wants to see painful suffering as atonement. You cannot conceive of compassionate love as condemning. Love wants the best for someone, not the worst.

The Divine seen as a Sun

In a state of vision, the mystical philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg reports inwardly seeing, what he thought of as, the divine Source. It appeared as a sun shining on the populace of heaven with the heat of love and the light of wisdom. He says it is the origin of all spiritual and natural things such as our natural sun which shines on the earth.

The divine not a trinity of individuals

One biblical idea is that of a tri-personal god. Taken literally, this seems to be a godhead of three male divine persons in one God, called Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Many think this has no rational logic to it. Clear thinking people thus understandably reject it.

However, if we consider these three figures as metaphors for three aspects of the divine, then arguably the picture becomes more acceptable. I’m thinking of divinity with the three-some nature of humanity. We each have a heart of feeling, a head of understanding and hands for action. Thus we can conceive of a divine heart of love, divine head of wisdom and divine hands of power doing what is loving and wise through the agency of us human beings.  Can we not inwardly experienced these as three aspects of the one divine source called the Christ-within? Or you might prefer the term ‘Christ-consciousness’. This, I feel, is the divine source beyond me, who is also present within me. I know this presence as my inner teacher, my inner comforter, my inner inspiration.

Conclusions

I think those who reject the Christian religion are throwing out the dirty bath water. They rightly, get rid of the old dogmas that even many good church-goers only pay lip service to these days. But are the non-religious also throwing out the baby with the bath water?  The innocent baby that I believe reveals the beautiful idea of divine love and wisdom that lies hidden behind the universe. The secret presence within my soul I can learn to better experience and follow.

Copyright 2017 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Equilibrium: The Balance Of The Worlds

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Equilibrium: The Balance Of The Worlds

                                                                              revcooper.ca 

(Spiritual Freedom) is given to man with his life as if it were his; and this is done that man may be reformed and saved; for without freedom there can be no reformation or salvation. (Heaven and Hell 597)

The Lord created the world so that there would be a heaven from the human race. He created both the spiritual and natural worlds so that people might be able to receive His life and live to eternity in heaven; and He created the universe in such a way that each person could be a vessel receiving His life and at the same time be separate from Him. This separation makes it possible for His love to be received, and then returned. To further provide for people to be able to freely return His love, He provides a spiritual environment which is kept in perfect balance or equilibrium. Our purpose today is to see the operation of this equilibrium provides a fundamental order for our spiritual lives, and makes it possible for us to make the changes necessary to prepare ourselves for heaven.

The most important function of equilibrium, or what is the same, spiritual freedom, is to make it possible for a person to express his own will, to act as if of himself, to freely enter into the joys of heaven if he wishes to – or even the freedom to embrace the insanity and filth of hell – all according to what he himself freely chooses.

Equilibrium is essential because, as to our spirits, we live between two powerful forces. On the one hand, all of hell is striving to pull us down. On the other hand, the angels of heaven are constantly working to draw us up into heaven. Both the angels and the devils are anxious that we should join them, and they would prevent our free expression of our will if they could and if it would bring us closer! Fortunately for us, the Lord holds our spiritual freedom to be the most important thing in His government, and He protects it every moment. He constantly acts to keep the spiritual forces around us in perfect dynamic balance so that we are free to act as we ourselves wish to act.

The key word in this idea is “dynamic.” We sometimes think of a balance or equilibrium as something that remains static, completely still. We may think of a scale with the pointer steady, or a sheet of financial figures that all adds up the way it’s supposed to. However, real equilibrium is achieved through the constant activity of action and reaction (See HH 589, 593). With those who are good, the activity is from within with the hells reacting to it. With those who are evil, the activity again comes from within, but the balance is achieved by the reaction of heaven.

If we are to reform our lives, we must first be free to choose to make changes in the way we live. The Lord provides our spiritual freedom by allowing us to associate, as to our spirits, with spirits from hell who love the same evil things we love. These evils spirits serve the use of serving as a conduit for that evil to come to us from hell, thus giving it life and reality in this world. We are also associated with spirits from heaven who serve to stir the good loves within us. They too serve as conduits, directing the influx of good from the Lord into our lives, giving our heavenly delights life. In order to keep us in freedom and balance, the Lord does not allow us to associate directly with angels and devils for their states are too different from ours. Instead, our closest spiritual associates are those who have recently entered the spiritual world and are still mostly in the sphere of the natural world. We still have much in common with such spirits, and they can associate comfortably with us. These associate spirits are in turn watched over by more experienced spirits, and so on, until it reaches to the Lord Himself on the one hand, or to the depth of hell on the other. This connection of one life and one state to another is what the Writings call “mediate” influx, for it flows into each man from the Lord by means of other spirits. (See HH 599-600)

Writing in the Arcana Coelestia, Swedenborg tells how he personally felt and perceived the sphere of spiritual freedom. For many years I have observed the general sphere of the influxes around me. It consisted on the one hand of a continual endeavor by the Lord to do good; by these endeavors opposite to each other I have been constantly kept in equilibrium. Such endeavors and consequent equilibrium are with every one; from this all have freedom to turn withersoever they please; but the equilibrium varies in accordance with the good or evil that reigns with the man. (AC 6477)

And in the work Heaven and Hell, he further teaches: The hells have no power on their own. Life and activity, even for the hells, is nothing but a gift from the Lord to which a person is free to respond in any way he chooses. The reason that spirits who communicate with hell are also adjoined to man is that man is born into evils of every kind, consequently his first life can only be from them. Therefore, unless spirits of a nature like his own were adjoined to man he could not live, nor indeed could he be withdrawn from his evils and reformed. He is therefore held in his own life by means of evil spirits and withheld from it by means of good spirits, and by the two kept in equilibrium. Being in equilibrium, he is in his freedom, and can be drawn away from evils and turned towards good, and good can also be implanted in him, which would not be possible at all if he were not in freedom. Freedom is not possible to man unless spirits from hell act on one side and spirits from heaven on the other, and man is in between.… (HH 293)

The Heavenly Doctrines here teach an amazing doctrine of mercy. Because of his corrupt native (or hereditary) will, a person could not live in the natural world if he were only in the association of good spirits. There would be nothing to communicate with the delights of his own spiritual life, nothing to stir his native will, nothing to arouse his reactive life, nothing to enable him to enjoy conscious life in his initial corrupt state, and as a result, he would not even be conscious! (See AC 2886,2887) Therefore, the Lord provides that evil spirits be adjoined to man so there can be a means of conjunction between the person in the world and his life inflowing in through the heavens. If he could not be adjoined to spirits who had a will similar to his own, he could not receive the influx of life through the world of spirits, and thus would not have conscious thought. If a person cannot have conscious thought, it is obvious that neither can he repent, reform, or be regenerated. Thus, without this connection with the spiritual world, we could not be prepared to enter heaven.

The Lord uses evil spirits to enliven a person’s own life, and yet still protects his freedom by using good spirits so that He Himself can subtly inflow and gently withhold the person from the lusts of his own evils.

The angels, on the one hand, seek to fight for a person against his evils. But, because they love his freedom, they hold themselves back until they are invited to help. On the other hand the devils want nothing more than to drive the person from his own body so that they can enter it and so return to the delights of the natural world (See SD 2656, D. Min. 4693, AC 4793). Obviously, as it is the devil’s intent to enslave, a person’s freedom is not highly regarded by them. The Lord, however, oversees the whole process, so that neither the hells get too strong, nor the angels too enthusiastic, and that these two forces are kept in perfect balance. Thus, any activity of a person’s will is able to move towards heaven or hell according to his own freely chosen reasons and delights.

The way spirits are adjoined to a person reflects the very nature of mankind itself. Within each of us are two conflicting, or balancing, elements: the one is our corrupt native will, the other element is a special gift from the Lord called “remains.” Remains are all those things that are good and true which are secretly implanted by the Lord in a person’s mind from the first moment of life, and which remain with him throughout his life as a kind of connection with heaven (See AC 8, 19, 561, 1906). These two elements, remains and the native hereditary evils, correspond to heaven and hell. Our conscious life exists in the place between these, and therefore corresponds to the World of Spirits. The Lord alone controls remains in order to keep them in perfect balance with the strength of the native will.

As a person matures, the kind of spirits associated with him must change. We sense this when we feel the wonderful sphere of a little newborn baby. We are actually feeling the presence of the angels who are with the baby. Little children also have their appeal, but it is a different kind of sphere, and not as strongly felt. This happens because the sphere of heaven has withdrawn as the child’s own personality and character has grown. The same process continues throughout life, only it is not so easily felt in young people and adults. The spiritual reason for this is that the mind, which is the medium of conjunction to the spiritual world, has itself changed. In infancy, the mind is sensual, interested in receiving and organizing sense impressions of the world around it as it becomes aware. In childhood, the mind opens up into the area called memory-knowledges, and from there it matures to the level of youth where there are the beginnings of rational thought. As the mind goes through this process of opening, it enters into a series of new states which correspond to new affections and therefore attract different kinds of spirits (AE 739:2,3). As these changes take place, the Lord oversees the operation, and adjoins spirits to each person in such a way that he is kept in a dynamic balance between the forces of good from heaven and the forces of evil from hell. The Lord also does this in such a way that each person is kept completely unaware of the spiritual activity surrounding him and providing a sphere in which he may exercise his freedom of choice in spiritual things.

Even if a man is of such a nature that he delights in doing evil, and deliberately chooses to do that which he knows to be evil, the Lord adjoins good spirits who, although not in his immediate presence yet, moderate that love in him, to hold him in some kind of order, and in some kind of proper thought while he yet lives in the world so that if possible he might be withheld from plunging into the deepest hell. He is still completely free to choose hell if he desires it, but he is let down into it gently, so that at any time before his actual entry into the spiritual world, it is still possible that he may see the truth, choose to obey it, and begin his life anew. (See AC 868, 929, 3318:5, 9333:2) Until a person leaves the natural world, it is always possible for him to turn away from falsity and towards truth. He can always begin to amend his life when he chooses to live the truth for himself, when he chooses to flee from evils as sins against the Lord. That is what spiritual freedom is – the ability to turn away from the loves of self and the world and turn towards the Lord by means of the truth from the Word. This can happen at any time during our life in the natural world because the Lord has provided spiritual equilibrium for us.

It is the Lord alone who maintains the balance between the forces of good and the forces of evil, for He alone has the power to do it, and He alone is without a proprium that is wholly evil and turned to hell – so nothing selfish can creep into His motives and affect His Mercy and Justice as it would if mere humans were making these decisions.

A spiritual equilibrium in its essence is freedom because it is an equilibrium between good and evil, and between truth and falsity, and these are spiritual. Therefore to be able to will either what is good or what is evil and to think either what is true or what is false, and to choose one in preference to the other, is (spiritual freedom). This freedom is given to every man by the Lord, and is never taken away; in fact, by virtue of its origin it is not man’s but the Lord’s, since it is from the Lord. Nevertheless, it is given to man with his life as if it were his; and this is done that man may be reformed and saved; for without freedom there can be no reformation or salvation.… (HH 597) AMEN.

1st Lesson: GEN 12:1-9

Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. {2} I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. {3} I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” {4} So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. {5} Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. {6} Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. {7} Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. {8} And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. {9} So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South. Amen.

2nd Lesson: MAR 6:45-51

Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away. {46} And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray. {47} Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land. {48} Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by. {49} And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; {50} for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” {51} Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. Amen.

3rd Lesson: DLW 68

68. Regarding the elevation of a person’s interior elements which are those of his mind, the following, too, must be known.

Everything created by God has present within it a reaction, life alone being capable of action, and the reaction is occasioned by the action of life. This reaction appears as though it were a property of the thing created because it occurs when the thing is acted upon. Thus the reaction in a person appears as though it were his, because he has no other sensation than that life is his, when in fact the person is only a recipient of life.

It is because of this that a person prompted by his evil heredity reacts against God. However, to the extent that he believes all his life to be from God, and that all goodness of life is owing to the action of God, and all evil of life to the reaction of man, to that extent his reaction becomes one of action, and the person acts in concert with God as though of himself.

The equilibrium of all things is owing to a simultaneous action and reaction, and everything must be in equilibrium.

This much has been said to keep people from believing that they ascend to God of themselves rather than from the Lord. Amen.

SELF COMPULSION

SELF COMPULSION

A Sermon by the Rev. James P Cooper

revcooper.ca

And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. (REV 21:6,7)

The text this morning is taken from the 21st chapter of the Book of Revelation, and encompasses the whole of the doctrine of man’s freedom of choice in spiritual things. The Lord provides spiritual truths in super abundance for anyone to take their fill. That is, the Fountain of the Water of Life, from which He gives freely and those who then use those truths from that fountain to overcome their sins, are promised that they will inherit blessings and will be conjoined with their Heavenly Father.

There are two things that are brought out in this text that we will focus on today. The issue of freedom of choice in spiritual things and the issue of cooperation with the Divine Providence and with the Lord in our own regeneration.

As the text so clearly states, He who overcomes shall inherit all things. Notice how that is phrased: He who overcomes. Notice especially what it does not say. It does not say “he for whom I shall overcome.” The work and the effort of regeneration are ours , not the Lord’s. He who overcomes shall inherit. So this in turn leads us to consider the fourth law of the Divine Providence as was read in our lesson.

According to the list of the laws given at the end of the Apocalypse Explained, the fourth law is That the understanding and the will ought not to be in the least compelled by another since all compulsion takes away freedom, but that man ought to compel himself, for to compel oneself is to act from freedom (AE 1136).

When we think about freedom and compulsion we may think that they are mutually contradictory. How can you be free if you are compelled? Isn’t it true that you must either be free or compelled – but not both at once? It is also true that the desire to be free from restraint or compulsion from another is innate because freedom is the most precious gift that the Lord gives all people, after life itself. We all enjoy the sense that what we are doing is our own decision and from our own freedom.

Everyone has been given the ability to think about both truths and falsities and everyone has been given the ability to want to do both good and evil things. It sometimes appears to us that we can do these things simultaneously and that there is nothing that another person can do to take that ability away. Certainly the Lord will never take it away, for our freedom is that which gives us the capability of becoming unique individuals as we make our choices in life, and our freedom is the means by which we can reform our lives and eventually be regenerated by the Lord.

We have life and we have spiritual freedom from the Lord. We have hereditary tendencies to evils of every kind from our parents, and we have natural inclinations from our natural bodies. All these things, brought together, make up the vessel that is an individual human being on earth. We may freely choose from a tremendous variety of things on every level that are good or true. Think for a moment about the celestial angel. His freedom is expressed in his choices of ways to show his love to the Lord. The spiritual angel expresses his freedom in his choice of the truths that he learns so that he may act in charity toward others. The angel of the natural heaven chooses among his various duties and uses and does them with good cheer because he is serving the Lord.

If, while living in the world of nature, we choose only from natural inclinations of the body without looking any higher, the result is the drive for absolute freedom from constraint or law. Such freedom from constraint or from law is called “license,” and license is encouraged in us by the hells, because they want us to focus on the things of the world. The more we focus on the things of the world, the less time we will spend trying to understand or get spiritual things. The result is that the purely natural person believes freedom is to be free to do whatever he wants without regard for the freedoms or rights of others.

The situation in the natural world demands that there be laws for the sake of an orderly society, but there are two very different kinds of laws in the world. The first is the kind of law that people make to govern their own behavior in society, and a simple example of that would be traffic laws. It doesn’t really matter whether we drive on the left hand side or the right hand side of the road, there is nothing spiritual in that decision, we don’t need to search the Word for guidance. What is really important is that we all do it the same way. Such laws are easily broken because there is nothing inherent in them to keep them from being broken. They are nothing more than an expression of society’s consensus of how things ought to work at a particular time and place.

The other kind of law is the description of the observed behavior of things and systems. We sometimes call it “Science.” For example, the law of gravity is a description of an order or a power that binds the things of the universe together in an orderly and predictable way. The law of gravity cannot be broken, it can only be applied.

Sometimes people will say in casual conversation that an airplane is a device that “defies the law of gravity.” But when we reflect on it for a moment, it can be easily seen that a device that flies through the air doesn’t defy any physical laws, but that its flight depends on the constant an unchanging nature of the law of gravity and other physical laws to operate safely.

Both kinds of laws have this in common, that they describe how things work. Either they describe the relationships of objects and forces in the physical universe (such as the law of gravity), or they are descriptions of how individuals ought to behave in society, such as the traffic laws.

When we think about the laws of the Divine Providence we must be careful to distinguish between which kind of laws they are. The laws of the Divine Providence are not restrictions on the Divine, which leads to people asking the absurd question “Can the Lord make a rock that is too heavy for Him to lift?” That’s a trick question, a play of words designed to confuse and to detract from the idea. Instead, the laws of the Divine Providence are descriptions of the principles by which He operates. It’s not paradoxical to speak about laws of order or laws of providence for these laws do not in any way restrict God. These laws exist to teach us how we can understand the principles from which and through which He acts in our lives. Thus the Lord can have laws of providence and still be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent because the laws are from Him and simply describe to us the way in which He governs His created Universe.

If we can see that the Lord can operate according to laws and still be entirely free, can we not also see that the laws that come from within ourselves do not restrict our own freedom, for they are simply the forms through which our will presents itself to the outside world? On the other hand, when laws come from outside, from another person or agency, and they are opposed to what we ourselves believe and feel, when they are opposed to what we want to do, when we feel that we are being compelled by another, we immediately rebel because we feel that we are no longer in freedom.

We see this all the time in our relationships with others. The minute we sense that someone is trying to force us to do something, we immediately set up our defenses. On the other hand we know from many different experiences that if we want to get someone else to do something for us we cannot simply issue a command but instead we try to find a way to introduce the idea to the other person so that it appears that it was his idea in the first place. If we can do that, he is then likely to happily go along with it.

True freedom is heavenly freedom as the angels have it. The freedom of angels is the action of their wills, their desires that are within themselves, upon the various truths that they have in their understandings from the Word. The will then selects those truths, those areas of wisdom that are appropriate to itself, and they are then free to act according to their loves through the wisdom that they have. What compels them to do this is their own will and the delight that they feel from doing what is good from the Lord. Thus their compulsion is from within, from their own will and they can do whatever they want to do. An angel’s freedom is complete because he only wants to do what is good and thus is totally free to express any love that he feels.

Unfortunately we can’t have that kind of freedom while we are yet on earth. We each have this freedom within us as a potential, from creation, but its nature is determined by the nature of our will. Each of us is born with a will that delights in expressing a mixture of hereditary tendencies to evil, affections of good and truth, and loves that we have made our own through choice and practice.

While our minds remain free to contemplate good and evil, truth and falsity, we are restrained from acting according to our every passing desire by a fear of punishment, and because of breaking the laws of human society, we are totally free to think about things while we are in this world but we do not have license to act totally according to our will because it’s mixed, because its full of evil, because we will then do harm to others.

We are taught through the doctrines that what makes a person is his loves, and before regeneration the loves that make up our character are not unified, they are not one, but are made up of literally thousands of competing desires and affections, both good and evil. Therefore during temptation the various loves fight one against another for dominance within us. When one love wins, the other opposite love must necessarily have lost. Since the delight of our life was in the losing love as well, we feel that the freedom and delight that we had from that love are gone. We feel that our very life and freedom are in question. And yet, at that very moment we have overcome some evil, we feel that we are actually the most free because we are choosing for ourselves to do what we know to be right according to the Word.

It’s important to note that we have to first shun evil before we can do good because to have good we have to make room for it, we have to move the opposing evil, otherwise they mix themselves in our minds. A thief who steals a particular object but still plans other thefts has not rejected his love of evil by doing the opposite good, for he still believes that stealing is right for him. An adulterer is not reformed by spending time at home with his family while in his mind he plans the next seduction. Both the thief and the adulterer must see the evil that lies behind their actions, search it out, see it for what it is and then flee from it as if from hell. They must see that what they have been doing is wrong and shun it before the opposite good can have any spiritual effect.

When a man does a good deed the Lord gives him a love of doing that good. When a man does an evil deed he confirms and appropriates to himself the delight in doing that evil. A man must first sun the evil before doing good so that there will be room for the good love, so that the evil will be removed and the good love can take its place. If this does not happen then good and evil become mixed in his mind and then they can only be separated by a long and painful vastation after death.

We are told that man’s conscience begins as a gift from the Lord. His freedom and his heavenly proprium are also gifts from the Lord, everything in man is first borrowed from the Lord and then made his own or appropriated to his own through his use of it in freedom of choice. While man in and of himself may be nothing but a vessel of life, he is not nothing, by using the things which the Lord gives him throughout life and in the combats of temptation, he forms the vessel that is the essential individual, stripped of all gifts. By borrowing freedom and using it he forms the unique vessel that can receive and react in a unique way to the influx of life that flows in from the Lord.

The Arcana teaches that it is a universal law that all that which is good and true is inseminated in freedom, for otherwise the ground cannot possibly receive and cherish that which is good, and in fact there is no ground in which the seed can grow (See AC 1937:e).

We read further in the Divine Providence that the internal of thought cannot be forced by any fear; it can be compelled by love and the fear of failing to love. In the true sense, fear of God is nothing else. To be compelled by love and by the fear of failing in it is self-compulsion . . . and is not contrary to freedom and rationality (See DP 136:e).

According to the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church, self-compulsion, which is essential to regeneration and to our own sense of personal freedom, is nothing other than acting according to our own will. If the will has been made new by the Lord through as-from-self conquests in temptation, then it feels wonderful to compel oneself. If one does not really want to do truth, but knows that he should, and thus tries, he can still feel delight in the attempt, because the Lord implants the appropriate affections in him. If he only acts according to the law because of fear, or to hide his evils from others, he burns with his lusts, and chafes under the slavery to his own evil which is called “hellish freedom.”

We close by reading from the Arcana number 1937: In all freedom there is man’s life, because there is his love. Whatever a man does from love appears to him free. But in this freedom, when a man is compelling himself to resist what is evil and false, and to do what is good, there is heavenly love, which the Lord then insinuates, and through which He creates the man’s (heavenly) proprium (AC 1937:6). AMEN.

1st Lesson: REV 21:1-8

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. {2} Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. {3} And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. {4} “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” {5} Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” {6} And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. {7} “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. {8} “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Amen.

2nd Lesson: AE 1136:2-10

The laws of order which are called the laws of Divine Providence are the following:

(1) Man does not feel and perceive and thus know otherwise than that life is in him, that is, that he thinks and wills from himself, and thus speaks and acts from himself; and yet he may acknowledge and believe that the truths that he thinks and speaks and the goods that he wills and does are from God, thus as if they were from himself;

(2) Man does what he does from freedom according to reason, and yet he may acknowledge and believe that the very freedom that he has is from God; and the same is true of his very reason, viewed in itself, which is called rationality.

(3) To think and speak truth and to will and do good from freedom according to reason is not from oneself but from God; and to think and to speak falsity and to will and do evil from freedom is not from oneself but from hell; and yet in such a way that while the falsity and evil are from hell, the freedom itself, regarded in itself, and the ability itself to think, will, speak, and do, regarded in itself, are from God.

(4) Man’s understanding and will must not be compelled by another in the least, since all compulsion by another takes away freedom, but man himself should compel himself, for to compel oneself is to act from freedom.

(5) From sense and perception man does not know in himself how good and truth flow in from God and how evil and falsity flow in from hell; nor does he see how the Divine Providence operates in favor of good against evil; if he did he could not act from freedom according to reason as if from himself; it is sufficient for him to know and acknowledge this from the Word and from the doctrine of the church.

(6) Man is not reformed by external means but by internal means; by external means miracles and visions, also fears and punishments are meant; by internal means truths and goods from the Word and from the doctrine of the church and looking to the Lord are meant; for these means enter by an internal way, and remove the evils and falsities that have their seat within, while external means enter by an external way and do not remove evils and falsities but shut them in. Nevertheless, man may be further reformed by external means when he has previously been reformed by internal means; but a man that has not been reformed is merely withheld by external means, which are fears and punishments, from speaking and doing the evils and falsities that he thinks and that he wills.

(7) Man is let into truths of faith and goods of love by God only so far as he can be kept in them until the end of life; for it is better that he should continue to be evil than that he should be good and afterwards evil, for he thus becomes profane. This is the chief reason why evil is permitted.

(8) God continually withdraws man from evils so far as man is willing from freedom to be withdrawn. So far as man can be withdrawn from evil God leads him to good and thus to heaven. But so far as man cannot be withdrawn from evils God cannot lead him to good and thus to heaven; for so far as man has been withdrawn from evils so far he from God does good that is in itself good, but so far as he has not been withdrawn from evils so far he from himself does good that has evil within it.

(9) God does not teach man truths either from Himself or through angels immediately; but He teaches by means of the Word, preaching, reading, and conversation and communication with others, and thus by thoughts with himself about these things. Man is then enlightened in the measure of his affection of truth from use. Otherwise man could not act as from himself.

(10) Man from his own prudence has led himself to eminence and opulence, when these lead him astray; for by the Divine providence man is led only to such things as do not lead astray and as are serviceable to eternal life; for all things of the Divine providence with man look to what is eternal, since the life which is God, from which man is man, is eternal life. Amen.

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