Christian Charity

Christian Charity

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 19, 2009

revcooper.ca

He who does not put out his money at usury, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved. (Psalm 15:5,6)

The practice of usury is referred to about twenty five times in the Old Testament, and in almost every reference, the letter of the Word tells us that we must not think of profit or recompense when we loan our money to others. There are several references that indicate that it is permissible to benefit from a loan when it is made to strangers, but it is quite clear from scripture that one must not make usurious loans to one’s own people.

At the same time, the investment of money for the sake of profit has been a cornerstone of civilization for at least as long as the scriptures have been read. In fact it is commonly believed that civilization first began to develop about the same time that farmers had developed their skills sufficiently that they were able to raise more food than they themselves could use, thus allowing them to support non-farming individuals with their excess food. A surplus of money or food, properly used, can bring benefits to many more people than to the investor only, for new enterprises can begin, new products discovered and made cheaply available to many, and the standard of living generally rises. 

It is also true that once there is wealth, it is possible to support great endeavours in the arts, in education, in religion. Just think what the General Church would have been without great wealth to support the dream of a system of education based entirely upon the principles of the Heavenly Doctrines. Think about the universities and museums throughout the world that would not exist without freewill contributions made from the profits of carefully invested money. 

It is simply not possible to imagine what our world would be like if we strictly followed the Mosaic Law’s injunctions against usury.[1] Even the world of nature itself tells us that investment of wealth is both prudent, and nature’s own way, for when we plant seed carelessly in stony ground or among thorns, we get no return. But when we prudently plant the seed in good ground, we receive an hundred fold in return.        Divine Law, that is, the Law promulgated on Mount Sinai by Jehovah God, and carried to the Jewish people by Moses, forbade them from charging interest when they loaned their money to others. The Divine Law went even further, and gave specific commands regarding the collateral that supported the loan. The Mosaic Law tells us that if a man borrowed money, and gave his outer garment as security against the loan, the individual who loaned him the money was not permitted to keep that cloak over night. He was permitted to hold it during the day, when it was warm enough to live without it, but at night, when the cloak was a necessary protection from the cold, the cloak had to be returned.

In the New Testament we read about the Lord driving moneychangers out of the temple, but we should note that it’s not that what they are doing is wrong, what’s wrong is that they are changing money and buying and selling in a place of worship and prayer. In both Matthew 25 and Luke 19 the Lord tells parables about how good servants invest wisely, and in each case the servant who didn’t even give the money that was entrusted to him to the “bankers” to earn “interest” were cast into outer darkness.

However, while these laws may have been created specifically for the Jewish people in that historical time, we know that they have since been nullified, made of no effect for our time and place. We no longer have to obey the letter of the whole of the Mosaic law. But then, if these laws are no longer of any effect, why have they been included in the Word? Why must we still read them? What is their use? AC 9211:2 says,

that law was binding on that nation then, but it is not binding on Christians, to whom the more internal things have been revealed by the Lord. Those who belong to the Church at the present day see this to be so, and this is why laws that have to do with charging interest are altogether different at the present day. Even so, the holiness of that law does not therefore come to an end, as though this part of the Word has been abrogated; for its holiness remains by virtue of the more internal things it holds within it. These more internal holy things continue to stir angels’ affections when this part of the Word is read. But let people beware of thinking that the laws of life such as are contained in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere throughout the Old Testament have been abrogated; for those laws have been firmly established in an inward as well as an outward form, because the two are inseparable.

The laws regarding usury are no longer needed as natural laws governing the external behaviour of men, and we need not strictly obey them in our daily life. There is nothing in itself wrong with investing money for the sake of a reasonable future profit. The Law of Usury may be cancelled in its external expression at this time, but it continues to be in force as to its spirit because it is from the Divine. Divine Law is not limited to its external manifestation. God gave Moses laws against usury because He wished to tell us many things about Christian Charity. 

Divine Law takes its outermost form in the Laws of Moses, but it takes its spirit and life from the will and the intention of the person who understands the internal spirit of Divine Law. In other words, while it is permissible for us to invest money for profit, the Lord put those laws in the Word – and left them there – to remind us that we need to carefully search out our intentions in regard to such business arrangements so that we are not acting in such a way as to harm others, or deprive them of their goods for our own benefit. By definition, then, a usurer is someone who does what is good only for the sake of self-advantage, who gives his money to others without regard for possible harm, or for anything but the potential profit for himself. The Lord Himself taught us in Luke, If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same (Luke 6:33).

But usury does not only pertain to money, but in fact, anyone who does anything for another for the sake of some future benefit or recompense is actually practising usury. To willingly loan your tools to another so that you may eventually build up such a credit that you may later borrow something important and valuable that you would not otherwise be able to borrow, is usury. To take someone out to a fancy dinner so that you can ask them to do something that you believe that they would not otherwise be willing to do from conscience, is usury. To invite someone into your home, or do a favour for them in the hope of obligating them to return the invitation or the favour, is usury.

Many speak of “Christian Charity,” and by it they mean charitable acts such as giving to the needy and poor, in doing good to the neighbour, to the country, and to the church for any cause, or for any result whatsoever. It is an act of “Christian Charity” to give old clothes to the needy, according to this way of thinking, even if the motive behind the action is no more than to clean out the closets and get rid of some old, worn out things that you no longer use. But with a moment’s reflection we can see that the quality of one’s charity can only be determined to be “Christian” or not by its intention. It is the goal, the intended result, that determines the real quality of everything that we do. 

If your purpose is to do something good for the sake of reputation, or acquire honour or profit, then the good which is done is not good, because it is done for the sake of self, and is therefore from self. But if the purpose is to do some good for the sake of another, the country, the church – the neighbour on any level – then the good which is done is genuinely good, for it is done for the sake of good itself. When something is done for the sake of good, it is the same as being done for the neighbour, and when something is done genuinely for the sake of the neighbour, it is done for the Lord, for He Himself taught, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did to Me” (MAT 25:40) (See AC 9210).

When we do good for the sake of good, we are acting from the Lord Himself. At the same time, when we do what is true for the sake of the truth, we are also acting from the Lord Himself, for to do truth for the sake of truth is to do good, for truth becomes good when it passes from the understanding into the will, and from the will goes forth into action. To act in this way, to act from good for the sake of good, or to act from truth for the sake of truth is what “Christian Charity” really is.

But we must not fall into the “merit” trap, that is, begin to believe that if we feel good about something that we are doing for others that somehow what we are doing has lost its spiritual value. We must remember that the angels in heaven feel great delight when they do good, and they always try to do what is good from the Lord. Doing good is its own reward, and the delight of heaven flows in whenever we do genuine good from the Lord. 

The same is true of “Christian Charity.” Sometimes those who do good from “Christian Charity” as defined in its genuine sense, still are really thinking about how such deeds will affect their reputation among men, or may think that some honour may result from the deed, or even some kind of profit. However, these thoughts are not the reasons behind the actions, but reflections about the consequences after the fact. The rewards are not the reason, even though they are foreseen, and they bring delight.

The person who does good from genuine “Christian Charity” regards what is good and just as the essential and only thing, as being in the highest place. Afterwards, they think about the profit and honour that result from these things, but as things that are not at all essential, as being in the lowest place. When such people have in their view what is just and good, they are like brave soldiers who fight in battles for their country, and who have no regard for their own life, nor for their rank, or for their possessions in the world, for the importance of their use makes them all of relatively no account. On the other hand, those who have regard for themselves and the world in the first place are of such a character that they do not even see what is just and good, but only their own selfish desires.

The Word often refers to usury. Our natural interest in money may distract our attention from the real meaning of this law, the real warning that is directed to us:  we must be careful with how we invest the goods and truths given to us by the Lord, our time, our good works, our ideas. The Lord was speaking about money when He gave this law to the Jews, because at that time and in that place, that was all they could understand. But we must remember that the Word was written for all people and for all times, and it is the spirit of the Mosaic law that has been given by God to guide our lives today. The spirit of His law is not hidden. It can be easily found by anyone who seeks for it with genuine humility of spirit and willingness to be lead by the Lord. Do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be the sons of the Highest (LUK 6:35).   AMEN.


First Lesson:  Mat 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. {32} “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. {33} “And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. {34} “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: {35} ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; {36} ‘I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ {37} “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? {38} ‘When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? {39} ‘Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ {40} “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ {41} “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: {42} ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; {43} ‘I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ {44} “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ {45} “Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ {46} “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Amen.

Second Lesson:  AC 9211

9211. ‘You shall not charge him interest’ means that therefore it must not be done for the sake of gain to be acquired from it. This is clear from the meaning of ‘charging someone interest’ as doing good for the sake of gain

The more internal things within that law are that good done to the neighbour should come from the heart, and that people should believe that there is no merit at all in deeds which spring from self, only in deeds which spring from the Lord present with them. For only the Lord has earned merit, and only He is righteousness; and when a person believes this he does not attach any merit or reward at all to deeds springing from self but ascribes all good deeds to the Lord. And since the Lord in His Divine mercy is the real doer of that good the person ascribes everything to mercy alone. So it is also that one who is led by the Lord has no thought whatever of reward, and yet from the heart does good to the neighbour.

[2] These are the more internal things from which the law among the Israelite and Jewish nation about lending things at interest comes down. When therefore a person is acquainted with those more internal things that law comes to an end along with the others like it which were referred to as judgements. For the Israelite and Jewish nation was confined to the outward forms that represented internal things. Consequently that law was binding on that nation then, but it is not binding on Christians, to whom the more internal things have been revealed by the Lord. Those who belong to the Church at the present day see this to be so, and this is why laws that have to do with charging interest are altogether different at the present day.

Even so, the holiness of that law does not therefore come to an end, as though this part of the Word has been abrogated; for its holiness remains by virtue of the more internal things it holds within it. These more internal holy things continue to stir angels’ affections when this part of the Word is read.

But let people beware of thinking that the laws of life such as are contained in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere throughout the Old Testament have been abrogated; for those laws have been firmly established in an inward as well as an outward form, because the two are inseparable. Amen.


[1]The strict application of the scriptural rules against usury was the cause of an ironic situation in Europe of the Middle Ages. In both Christian and Islamic countries Jews were compelled to be the money changers, the bankers, so that good Christians and Moslems would not have to commit usury. The Jews were forced to commit the sin of usury and live in wretched ghettos, while yet controlling most of the investment money in Europe.

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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.

APPROPRIATING GOOD AND EVIL

APPROPRIATING GOOD AND EVIL

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, August 24, 2008

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If a man believed, as is the truth, that all good and truth are from the Lord and all evil and falsity from hell, he would not appropriate good to himself and consider it merited, nor evil to himself and make himself responsible for it. (DP 320)

It is a remarkable truth that everything of good and truth that enters our mind actually flows in from heaven, and that all falsities and evil lusts flow in from hell. It may feel to us as if these ideas and feelings originate in our own minds, but they do not. They flow in from others, outside of ourselves.

The idea that all the activity in our minds comes from others may be upsetting at first – but this concept is essential to our understanding of our own responsibility for the evils that we think about and do, and at the same time our understanding of our part in the good that we do.

If we try to step back from our own personal involvement in this issue, if we try to be objective, perhaps we can see that there really is only one life in the universe, and that is God. He created the universe and continually re-creates it by flowing into the ultimates of nature which have been created by Him to receive His life.

This view of creation is quite different from the popular scientific theories of the day where it is believed that life arose spontaneously when the proper mix of chemicals happened to occur. Today, scientists dig deeper and deeper into the molecular structure of the cell in order to discover life, but can only be frustrated in their search, for they are looking at a structure created to receive and hold life, not life itself.

The belief that life can be found within the physical structure of natural things is quite old. It leapt to dominance with the invention of the microscope in the 17th Century. Emanuel Swedenborg was one of many scientists who believed that the microscope would be the tool to help them discover the soul within the fibbers of the body itself. We know that Swedenborg spent many years studying human anatomy in order to find the soul, and wrote a series of books detailing that search. The results of his search led him away from science to philosophy, and again, he wrote several important books documenting his search for the soul within the human mind. But the only thing he proved to himself is that the soul could not be found by philosophy either, and so finally from being a philosopher, he became a theologian. His eyes were opened to see the spiritual world, and he then experienced first-hand the influx of the Lord’s life through the heavens into each individual human being.

Swedenborg saw that the heavens had not been created merely as some kind of cosmic playground for favoured spirits, but that it had a specific use to men on earth. Just as the earth itself has a series of atmospheres that protect those on its surface from the full effects of the power of the sun, the heavens serve as spiritual atmospheres to protect us from the full power of God’s presence. The Divine life flows into the celestial heaven where it is received by the angels there, modified by them, and passed on to the spiritual heaven. There it is modified again and passed on to the natural heaven, and from there into the world of spirits. There, in the world of spirits, are those who have recently died and who have not yet made the choice between heaven and hell. The states of these spirits are most like our own, and therefore it is these spirits, both good and evil, that are most closely associated with us while we live in the world, and who serve to pass the Divine influx on to us. We sense this kind of inflowing life as the various ideas and feelings that pop into our minds during the day.

However, even though these ideas originate in the spiritual world, we still have the power to direct our mind in certain directions, to invite certain kinds of thoughts and the spirits associated with them. One way of understanding how this works is to think how a radio works. Our atmosphere is full of electro-magnetic pulses over a great range of frequency and power. Anyone who has ever played with a short-wave receiver has a feeling for how many different signals are available at any given time, and there are many other kinds of signals as well: FM, television, and microwave. But we do not hear them now, because we are not “tuned in,” we don’t have a radio. When you turn the radio on, you can then spin the tuning dial and hear all kinds of different programs, and you stop when you find something that appeals to you. Your mind works in a very similar way.

The spiritual world is broadcasting all kinds of thoughts all the time, both good and evil. This is why the Lord taught in the Sermon on the Mount, as read in our second lesson, that we had to be concerned not only with actual evils, but also with the thoughts that flow in and cause them. But the choices we have made, the kind of character we have developed makes us more susceptible to certain kinds of ideas, and to be completely deaf to others. A person who enjoys a warm, happy relationship with his wife simply doesn’t hear the lustful ideas that pass through. He is “tuned out” to them because they do not make a one with his affections.

On the one hand, our basic character effectively filters out a lot of the ideas, but still we are free to turn our minds to any that appeal to us, we can direct our thought and concentrate in a particular direction, or on a particular subject. In our analogy, it is like “fine-tuning.”

There is a common perception with people that evil ideas come from hell, and that good ideas come from the Lord through heaven. Who has not heard a story where the devil tempts some poor soul with the promise of some great achievement now in return for his soul later? And who has not seen the cartoons that represent our temptations by showing a little angel and a little devil, each sitting on a shoulder and whispering in the ear?

While we instinctively understand and agree with this illustration of the good and evil influences in our lives, hardly anyone actually uses these commonly known truths in their own lives! We act as if all the evil ideas that pop into our minds are our own – and because we think they are ours, we love them and try to think up all many of ways to defend them! We learn to weave truths and falsities together so as to make evil seem to be good.

This is exactly what the hells want us to think. They know that if we took one second to think rationally about where these ideas come from, we would know that they come from hell, and flee from them. We could easily fight temptation if we believed, truly believed, that our desire to do evil comes from hell, outside of ourselves. Think about how often we resist doing something just because it was somebody else’s idea. Again, think how often we can be convinced to do something if we can be tricked into thinking it was our own idea in the first place! As we read in the first lesson, that’s how Bathsheba and Nathan were able to make David reverse his own policy of letting his sons fight it out and come out in favour of Solomon as the next king, coincidentally saving the lives of Nathan and Bathsheba who were not loved by David’s other sons. If we think another person is forcing us to do something, we resist, even if it is something pleasant, because our freedom of choice is more precious to us than anything.

The Humanists will tell us that man is inherently good and therefore does not need to be saved. The Reformed Christian Church tells us that mankind since the fall is inherently evil and can only be saved by faith. The New Christian Church says that man, by birth, is neither. He is nothing other than the sum total of the choices he freely makes during the course of his adult life.

Neither good nor evil are ours from birth. We have a hereditary tendency to evil, but it is only an inclination to certain evils, not the actual evils themselves. The Lord has seen to it that our inclination to evil is exactly balanced by an equal inclination to do good through our remains of good and truth. Just as we are not compelled to act according to our hereditary tendencies to evil, neither are we compelled to act according to our hereditary goods, or remains. We are free to choose what we do and whom we shall be for ourselves.

Since our hereditary inclination to evil is from our parents, and our remains are the Lord’s things with us, we actually begin life with nothing of our own and so must choose those things that will be ours to eternity, goods and truths or evils and falsities, that are in accord with our affections and delights. As we read in the lesson, if we will only remember that all life is from the Lord, and that all these things flow in from Him, then we are free to pick what will be a part of our own spiritual character. Both evil and good are outside of us, and we can choose to bring them in by our own actions, that is, appropriate them.

It is an absolute principle of the New Church that the Lord continually strives to protect and provide for man’s spiritual freedom. We feel this freedom while we are on earth in the fact that we can think and believe anything we wish. And, to a large extent, we are free to do whatever we want, except as we are restrained by our fears of the loss of our reputation among men, our honour, and our personal gain. We are even free to believe that we live from ourselves, although this belief is the source of most of our spiritual difficulties. We are even free to do evil from intention or by accident.

In reality, we are only vessels created to receive life from the Lord. The living vessel is flawed, and tends to evils of every kind. The Lord counteracts this by inflowing into the secret parts of our minds with affections for good and truth. Thus we live in a balance, an equilibrium between what is evil on the one hand and what is good on the other. We are even given the feeling that we live from ourselves so that we can feel the delights of life as our own.

Our character becomes the sum of the choices we make from an infinite array of ideas and feelings that flow in from the spiritual world, and which we can then make our own by living according to them. We are in control of our own lives only when we believe and live according to the truth that the ideas and feelings are not ours, but inflow from the spiritual world. We must not feel guilty for evil thoughts and feelings unless we invite them, encourage them, cherish them, and through intention and act make them our own.

If we could really believe that temptations of evil are from hell, that they are hell trying to pull us down by deception, to make us do what the devils want, it would be much easier to reject those temptations. But, if we persist in our belief that we live from ourselves, then the devils of hell can easily persuade us that evil is ours as well, that it is from our own personal loves, and will therefore delight us.

We become guilty of evil only when we believe that we live from ourselves, and that all our thoughts and ideas are our own. We could just as easily choose good if we would accept the truth that life is a gift from the Lord for us to freely use.

If a man believed, as is the truth, that all good and truth are from the Lord and all evil and falsity from hell, he would not appropriate good to himself and consider it merited, nor evil and make himself responsible for it (DP 320). AMEN.

First Lesson: 1KI 1:11-31

So Nathan spoke to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, saying, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king, and David our lord does not know it? {12} “Come, please, let me now give you advice, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. {13} “Go immediately to King David and say to him, ‘Did you not, my lord, O king, swear to your maidservant, saying, “Assuredly your son Solomon shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne”? Why then has Adonijah become king?’ {14} “Then, while you are still talking there with the king, I also will come in after you and confirm your words.” {15} So Bathsheba went into the chamber to the king. (Now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was serving the king.) {16} And Bathsheba bowed and did homage to the king. Then the king said, “What is your wish?” {17} Then she said to him, “My lord, you swore by the LORD your God to your maidservant, saying, ‘Assuredly Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne.’ {18} “So now, look! Adonijah has become king; and now, my lord the king, you do not know about it. {19} “He has sacrificed oxen and fattened cattle and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the sons of the king, Abiathar the priest, and Joab the commander of the army; but Solomon your servant he has not invited. {20} “And as for you, my lord, O king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, that you should tell them who will sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. {21} “Otherwise it will happen, when my lord the king rests with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon will be counted as offenders.” {22} And just then, while she was still talking with the king, Nathan the prophet also came in. {23} So they told the king, saying, “Here is Nathan the prophet.” And when he came in before the king, he bowed down before the king with his face to the ground. {24} And Nathan said, “My lord, O king, have you said, ‘Adonijah shall reign after me, and he shall sit on my throne’? {25} “For he has gone down today, and has sacrificed oxen and fattened cattle and sheep in abundance, and has invited all the king’s sons, and the commanders of the army, and Abiathar the priest; and look! They are eating and drinking before him; and they say, ‘Long live King Adonijah!’ {26} “But he has not invited me; me your servant; nor Zadok the priest, nor Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, nor your servant Solomon. {27} “Has this thing been done by my lord the king, and you have not told your servant who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?” {28} Then King David answered and said, “Call Bathsheba to me.” So she came into the king’s presence and stood before the king. {29} And the king took an oath and said, “As the LORD lives, who has redeemed my life from every distress, {30} “just as I swore to you by the LORD God of Israel, saying, ‘Assuredly Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he shall sit on my throne in my place,’ so I certainly will do this day.” {31} Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the earth, and paid homage to the king, and said, “Let my lord King David live forever!”

Second Lesson: Mat 5:21-30

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ {22} “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. {23} “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, {24} “leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. {25} “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. {26} “Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. {27} “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ {28} “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. {29} “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. {30} “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

Third Lesson: BE 69 (port.)

“Who cannot see, that every man has freedom to think about God, or not to think about Him, consequently that every man has the same freedom in spiritual things, as he has in civil and moral things. The Lord gives this freedom continually to all: wherefore man becomes guilty or not guilty as he thinks. … Man is capable of reforming and regenerating himself as of himself, provided he only acknowledge in his heart that his ability is from the Lord. Every man who does the work of repentance, is reformed and regenerated. … In a word, act of yourselves, and believe that it is from the Lord, for thus you will act as of yourselves. … Everyone, however, contracts guilt, who believes that he does of himself either good or evil; but not he who believes that he acts as of himself. For whatsoever a man believes that he does of himself, that he appropriates to himself; if he believes that he does good of himself, he appropriates to himself that good, and makes it his own, when nevertheless it is of God and from God; and if he believes that he does evil of himself, he also appropriates that evil to himself, and makes it his own, when yet it is of the devil and from the devil.”

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Helping Others is Good for You

The website inCharacter.org has an interview with Dr. Stephen G. Post, author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving, and president of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love. (Call me a cynic, but the name “Institute for Research on Unlimited Love” does not instil in me a lot of confidence; it sounds like a hippie farm or a horrific Orwellian government office.)  An excerpt:

IC: What about altruism and longevity?

POST: A remarkable fact is that giving, even in later years, can delay death. The impact of giving is just as significant as not smoking and avoiding obesity. A 2005 study conducted by Alex Harris and Carl Thoresen of Stanford University found that frequent volunteering is strongly linked to later mortality. Called the Longitudinal Study on Aging, it followed more than 7,500 older people for six years. Volunteering was a powerful protector of mental and physical health. Another study, a 1992 survey of older people by Neal Krause of the University of Michigan found that helping others lowers depression. Krause found that, for older men, ten years of volunteering can dramatically slash mortality rates. Another researcher, Doug Oman and his colleagues did a study involving 2,025 older residents of California and found that those who volunteered had a 44 percent reduction in mortality-and those who volunteered for two or more organizations had an astonishing 63 percent lower mortality rate than non-volunteers. If you are an older adult, I have one recommendation: volunteer!

I like that research like this is being done.  As with any study like this you have to be careful not to mistake correlation with causation, but I would guess that these studies at least attempted to control for this, and I would guess that there is SOME element of volunteerism actually causing longer life.  Serving others – performing a use for society – gives a person purpose and a drive to keep living.

Studies like this – and like the marriage study I blogged about a few months ago – have helped me understand a passage from Conjugial Love that confused me the first time I read it.  Conjugial Love n. 130 says,

In brief summary, [wisdom of life] is this: to flee evils because they are harmful to the soul, harmful to the civil state, and harmful to the body, and to do good things because they are of benefit to the soul, to the civil state, and to the body.

The soul and the civil state made sense – the body, not so much.  But more and more research confirms this: things like anger and deceit are harmful to the body, whereas things like doing good are beneficial to the body.  Research like this contributes directly to “wisdom of life” in that it shows just how evil is bad for the body and good is good for it.

That said, it seems like there must be a point where over-volunteering becomes a health risk, rather than a benefit.  I’ve talked to several people who have had doctors tell them that for the sake of their health, they have to stop doing so much.  And I think over-volunteering is often tied with the falsity that we have to do enough good works to merit heaven (Swedenborg has a great description of people in the spiritual world who fell into this fallacy in Arcana Coelestia n. 1110).  I’d like to see research into where that healthy balance is and how people can find it.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/swd/ac/index.htm (Arcana Coelestia)

(http://www.sacred-texts.com/swd/cjl/index.htm (Conjugial love)

Feeding the 5,000

Sermon: Feeding the 5,000

This is the audio from the sermon I gave yesterday, Sunday, January 30, 2011, at the Olivet New Church in Toronto.  The lessons are Exodus 16:1-5,13-15, 31; Mark 6:31-44; and Arcana Coelestia 5405.  Although if I had to do it again, I think I’d change the Heavenly Doctrine lesson to Divine Providence 133:

The effect, however, of miracles on the good and on the wicked is different. The good do not desire miracles, but they believe those recorded in the Word; and if they hear anything concerning a miracle they give it their attention only as an argument of no great weight that confirms their faith; for their thoughts are derived from the Word, consequently from the Lord, and not from the miracle. It is otherwise with the wicked. They may indeed he driven and compelled to a faith by miracle’, and even to worship and to piety, but only for a short time. For their evils are shut in, and the lusts of their evils and the delights springing from these lusts continually act upon their external of worship and piety; and in order that their evils may emerge from their confinement and break forth, they reflect upon the miracle and at length call it an amusing artifice or a natural phenomenon, and so return to their evils. Now he who after worship returns to his evils profanes the truth and good of worship; and the lot after death of those who commit profanation is the worst of all. These are they who are meant by the Lord’s words in Matt. xii. 43, 44, 45, whose last state is worse than their first. Moreover, if miracles were to be wrought with those who do not believe from the miracles in the Word, they would be performed continually, and in view of all such persons. From these considerations it may be evident why miracles are not wrought at this day.

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SETTLE IN YOUR HEARTS

SETTLE IN YOUR HEARTS

A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose

Preached in Bryn Athyn June 25, 1995

“Settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist” (Luke 21:14,15).

The Lord said these things to followers who were later persecuted and brought before councils. Their accusers thought by confronting them they could weaken the cause of Christianity. But it turned out differently. Those confrontations became opportunities for the strengthening and growth of Christianity.

The boldness and eloquence of the disciples, although they were just fishermen, was nothing short of astonishing. Of one outspoken disciple it is said, “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke” (Acts 6: 10). In the 4th chapter of Acts we read of two disciples who were confronted: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marvelled” (Acts 4:13). (King James Version says “unlearned and ignorant men.”) They had a boldness and assurance, and their answers were powerful.

They were somehow triumphant even when they were beaten and imprisoned, and in some cases put to death (see Luke 21:16). We will mention one example of that in a moment.

The text applies of course to us and, we might say, in a much less dramatic fashion. We will not likely be brought before courts and kings nor openly challenged and assailed by enemies.

But we do stand to be attacked by the enemies of our spiritual life. And the more we learn about the assaults of evil spirits on followers of the Lord, the more do we see that it too is dramatic and momentous. Falsities from hell itself assail the person who is being tempted, and the Writings say that to every falsity the hells inject, there is an answer from the Divine.

What we experience in temptation is anxiety, discouragement even to despair. We do not know that evil spirits from hell are fighting against us, nor do we know that the Lord is fighting for us, and the answers from the Divine to the false accusations and undermining thoughts do not come clearly to our consciousness. Here is what the Writings say: “As regards temptations … the hells fight against man, and the Lord for man; to every falsity the hells inject, there is an answer from the Divine …. The answer from the Divine flows into the internal or spiritual man … and in such a manner that it scarcely comes to the perception otherwise than as hope and consequent consolation, in which there are nevertheless innumerable things of which the man is ignorant” (AC 8159:3). (In that answer which we feel only as hope and comfort there are countless blessings that the person has no knowledge of” – new translation.)

Here is the context of the words of the text: “… they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. … [N]ot a hair of your head shall be lost. In your patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:12-19).

The very first Christian to die for his beliefs found that the confrontation was indeed an occasion for testimony. He was falsely accused and brought before a council to answer. His eloquent speech takes up the whole of the 7th chapter of the book of Acts. It is said, “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. … [T]hey cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord and they cast them out of the city and stoned him” (Acts 7:54,57).

That speech which so affected them had begun thus: “… brethren … listen: the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham” and he told the story through Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Solomon, and when he was finished he gazed up into heaven and saw the glory of God. And as they rained stones on him he said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’ and ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this he fell asleep” (Acts 7:2,59,60). It is said that those who looked at him “saw his face as the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

A radiant peace surrounded him. The Lord had promised that nothing would harm them. They were at peace even in death.

“Settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer.” Think deliberately about the future, and think of how not to think of the future. In one of the Lord’s parables a man is called foolish because he did not think ahead intelligently. “Foolish one, tonight your soul will be required of you, and then whose will those things be which you have provided?”

Oh, he had thought and meditated within himself about the future. But what was the level of his thinking? To quote the Gospel: “And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do? … I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater … And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years …” (Luke 12:17-21).

He could look down the road years ahead. He could figure out what he was going to do, and what he was going to say, and God called him a fool. How does our future look to us? How much strength and endurance do you have for what lies in store for you? Can you handle what is yet to come? Do you have the wit? Will you have the wit to respond to what may come to pass?

We live in the illusion that our strength, our intelligence, our very life is from ourselves. How big is our reservoir of energy or endurance or prudence? Since it seems that life is our own, we think in terms of calling on our reserves. Once the disciples set off in a boat on a journey with the Lord. And it had slipped their mind that they should have stored some provision. To quote from the Gospel of Mark, “Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat” (8:14). That was what was on their mind, and the Lord said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? … do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up? How is it that you do not understand?”

He got them to answer the question, and He could ask them on a much later occasion, “When I sent you without money bag, sack and sandals, did you lack anything? So they answered, Nothing” (Luke 22:35). Think of the uncertain times of youth that you have passed through. You made it through your teens. Has the Lord kept you safe thus far? Has He provided?

It is too bad that some people have concluded that it is virtuous not to make provision for the future. It’s understandable. The Lord has given us the message that He will provide. Seek the kingdom of God, and these things will be added to you. But the Writings say this does not mean we should not provide ourselves with food, clothing, “and even resources for the time to come; for it is not contrary to order for anyone to be provident for himself and his own.” The new translation speaks of “resources for the future; for it is not contrary to order to make provision for oneself and one’s dependents” (J. Elliott’s translation).

But there is the matter of putting trust in the Divine. Notice the verb tribuo, something you do. It is translated to “attribute” or to “ascribe.” See how it is used in this teaching about charity in a person engaged in business. “He thinks of the morrow, and yet does not think of it. He thinks of what should be done on the morrow, and how it should be done; and yet does not think of the morrow, because he ascribes the future to the Divine Providence and not to his own prudence.” And then it adds, “Even his prudence he ascribes to the Divine Providence” (Charity 167).

Does that fortunate person who ascribes the future to the Divine just do this at one point in life? Or is it not something to be done deliberately through the progressing stages of life?

Settle it in your hearts. Deliberately ascribe the future to the Lord’s Providence, and do so, if you can, until you can feel a sense of relief as if someone had removed a false burden from you.

Do not think of this merely as “either/or,” as if to say, either you trust in Divine Providence or you do not. It can be a quantitative thing. Some attribute a little bit to the Divine Providence and a lot to themselves (see AC 2694:2). The Writings use the phrase “the more”: the more they ascribe, the stronger or wiser they are (see AC 4932). In our lives we gradually come to ascribe more to the Lord and less to ourselves (see TCR 610 and 105).

The disciples were to learn that peace, the wonderful prize of peace, is to be found in the Lord Himself. He said, “These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world” (Luke 16e). En to cosmo thlipsin exete alla tharsete – In the world you will have affliction, trouble, but take heart. Have courage. I have defeated. I have conquered. I have overcome the world.

Our picture of the future can become less a matter of speculation and worry and more and more a picture of the Lord as one in whom to confide and one who grants peace. Peace has in it confidence in the Lord that He will provide, and that He leads to a good end. “When someone is in this faith, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing and no solicitude about future things disquiets him” (AC 8455).

We sometimes say that the future looks dark. And the unknown is a kind of darkness. But when we ascribe the future to the Lord, we may say at any time in history or at any stage of our life, that the future has light in it, being in the hands of Him who is the light of the world.

Settle it in your hearts anew today. Ascribe the future to the Lord. And He will give you what to think and do, and He will give you peace. Amen.

Lessons: Matt. 10:16-31, DP 179, AC 2493


Divine Providence 179

As a foreknowledge of future events destroys the human itself, which is to act from freedom according to reason, therefore it is not granted to anyone to know the future; but everyone is permitted to form conclusions concerning future events from the reason; hence reason with all that pertains to it enters into man’s life. It is on this account that a man does not know his lot after death, or know of any event before he is involved in it. For if he knew this, he would no longer think from his interior self how he should act or how he should live in order to meet the event, but he would only think from his exterior self that he was meeting it. Now this state closes the interiors of his mind in which the two faculties of his life, liberty and rationality, especially reside. A longing to know the future is innate with most people, but this longing derives its origin from the love of evil. It is therefore taken away from those who believe in the Divine Providence, and there is given them a trust that the Lord is disposing their lot. Consequently they do not desire to know it beforehand lest they should in any way set themselves against the Divine Providence. This the Lord teaches by many passages in Luke (12:14-48).

That this is a law of the Divine Providence may be confirmed by many things from the spiritual world. Most persons when they enter that world after death desire to know their lot. They are told that if they have lived well their lot is in heaven, and if they have lived wickedly it is in hell. But as all, even the wicked, fear hell, they ask what they should do and what they should believe to enter heaven. They are told that they may do and believe as they will, but that they should know that in hell, good is not done and truth is not believed, but only in heaven. To each one the answer is: “Seek out what is good and what is true; then think the truth and do the good, if you are able.” So in the spiritual world as in the natural world all are left to act from freedom according to reason; but as they have acted in this world so do they act in the spiritual world. His own life awaits everyone and consequently his own lot, for the lot pertains to the life.

Arcana Coelestia 2493

1 have spoken with the angels concerning the memory of things past, and the consequent anxiety regarding things to come; and I have been instructed that the more interior and perfect the angels are, the less do they care for past things, and the less do they think of things to come; and also that from this comes their happiness. They say that the Lord gives them every moment what to think, and this with blessedness and happiness; and that they are thus free from cares and anxieties. Also, that this was meant in the internal sense by the manna being received daily from heaven; and by the daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer; and likewise by the instruction not to be solicitous about what they should eat and drink, and wherewithal they should be clothed. But although the angels do not care for past things, and are not solicitous about things to come, they nevertheless have the most perfect recollection of past things, and the most perfect mental view of things to come; because in all their present there are both the past and the future. Thus they have a more perfect memory than can ever be thought of or expressed.

NEW BEGINNINGS

NEW BEGINNINGS
A Sermon by Rev. Brian W. Keith
Preached in Glenview, Illinois September 7, 1986

Life can seem terribly dreary. Familiar patterns are repeated over and over again. Ruts appear. Dishes keep getting dirty. Bills keep coming. The house always needs something done to it. And as we grow older, our bodies signal the rapid passing of time. Energy levels decline. Aches and pains come from nowhere. From being unthinkable, one’s own death is seen as a real possibility.

Emotionally we can feel trapped by what has gone before. Previous actions, mistakes, and evils close in on our minds. We can be haunted by what has happened. The depressing patterns of petty frustrations and useless arguments scar and desensitize us. We can become numbed wandering through the day trying not to feel anything.

Ezekiel had a vision addressed to such a lifeless and hopeless frame of mind. He saw a valley full of dried out bones. As he prophesied, the bones came together, flesh was put upon them, and breath entered them. From dry bones came a great army. And the Lord said to Ezekiel, “These bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, `Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ` … Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves'” (37:11-13).

Our bones are dry. Our hope is lost. How pitiful! And how false! Life is repetitive and dreary only if we choose to look at it that way. For all around us there is a renewal of life. New beginnings are taking place constantly.

Consider the natural world. Plants and animals are constantly reproducing, much more than this world could support. Every day the sun comes up anew. Each new year is ushered in with festivity. Even in the fall when the leaves turn and life seems to drain away, there is the promise of rebirth. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24).

Consider also some events in the life cycle. A child leaves home for school. A person leaves school for a job. Single life is given up for marriage. Children grow up and establish their own homes. Retirement comes. Each of these changes involves loss and gain a new beginning. Even death itself is growth. The Heavenly Doctrines show that when a person awakens in the other world, “at this point his life begins” (AC 186), and his entrance into his eternal heavenly home “marks a new beginning” in his life (AC 1273).

Even as natural life has changes new beginnings so spiritually there can be a constant renewal of life. Above our consciousness the Lord is gently guiding our thoughts and feelings. While we are unaware of it, He is inspiring new ways of looking at life, stimulating new feelings of warmth and concern (see AC 6645e). The Lord is working with our spirits so that we are renewed every moment of every day. The fact is, there are new beginnings in our lives all the time. The Lord is raising up our apparently dry bones, putting flesh upon them, and breathing life into them.

We can choose to feel trapped by the past or dulled by routines. Or we can look at what is happening as the opportunity for one of the many new beginnings in life. For the Lord does not control what happens to us. Yes, His Providence is overseeing all that happens, but that does not mean He is causing specific events to occur good or bad. In one sense He is not concerned for what happens; rather He is concerned with how we respond, for that determines what good He can then bring about. Retirement, for example, is not important, but how a person then uses his or her time is. The response can be gloomy, for the loss of co-workers, status, or income; or it can be of renewal more time for friends, family, church work, or others. A newness of life can be born in any situation any time, anywhere.

Our participation in renewal is critical. The Lord never forces us to grow. He never forces us to change our minds or actions. While He is always working, urging and pressing to influence us in heavenly ways, He will not change our outlook if we do not want Him to. We can remain in the trenches. We can look upon life as a deterioration of our physical and mental abilities. We can see the dark side of every event, pessimistically awaiting the next cruel blow of fate. We can cry about dry bones and hopelessness. But those dry bones can have flesh on them, breath in them.

Regardless of what has occurred in the past, new beginnings are possible if we are willing. They do not start outside of ourselves. They start with our thoughts and intentions (see AC 1317). We have the freedom to think about life in any way we wish. We can think negatively or positively. We can desire, intend, anything we wish. We can want what is good. We can want what is evil. We are not trapped by previous choices or patterns of behavior. We are trapped only by our fears and refusals to think and try.

Our attitude makes all the difference in how we view the world and how easy we make it for the Lord to renew us. From a negative, doubting viewpoint we see the world and ourselves through a warped lens. We reject or give up on the ideals the Lord has shown us in His Word. But if we attempt to trust in what He has said, if we will be positive, affirmative to Him, then wonders can be worked (see AC 3913:5). “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, `Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Our basic assumptions can never be proven. And if we assume, have faith, that the Lord speaks to us in His Word, and our lives will be improved if we listen, then a new beginning can occur. For regeneration is the new creation of life spiritual life. It begins when a person affirms the truth and intends to live according to it. This is the start of regeneration. It does not occur at any set time in life, nor does it happen only once. Each and every time we positively turn our minds to the Lord’s way, a new beginning occurs.

Such beginnings are like seedlings. They are planted in the soil of our lives. With watering, with light and warmth, they take root. As they grow, as we walk in the Lord’s way, the earth of our life is made more secure. The interlocking root systems stop the erosion of false ideas, evil desires. The more that take root the better, for the roots hinder the washing away of good by selfishness.

But for seedlings to grow strong they need weathering. The storms and bitter cold which could harm the trees actually serve to strengthen them. So in regeneration. Each new beginning of spiritual life will be challenged. Where honesty is growing, the harsh wind of theft will blow and try to destroy it. Where compassion is developing, cold disregard for others and apathy will also be present.

Spiritual struggles ensue. These raging storms are painful, as the new beginnings of spiritual life are threatened and buffeted. Yet, as we endure, as we resist the forces of hell, a greater strength is acquired. More spiritual life grows perhaps a clearer idea of His ways, a deeper appreciation of our need for the Lord’s presence, or a greater intensity of affection for His good (see AC 2272). Whatever is gained, our spirits are growing flesh upon dry bones, breath giving life. As the Lord promised: “I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight” (Isaiah 42:16).

The Lord leads us through all the many byways of life, through the valleys up to the peaks. He would have each day be a new beginning for us, not in a dramatic sense, for we are not meant to have radical changes often. The new birth, or regeneration, is not a series of sudden changes in direction. Yes, it can begin with that when a person first realizes the importance of spiritual values, when a person experiences the grief of repentance. But rebirth is an evolving process. It is made up of many small beginnings.

The small beginnings of regeneration are a series of purifications the regular washing away of evils in the spirit, of saying, “No, I won’t do that because it is wrong.” And as the Heavenly Doctrines note, ” … such purification ought to go on all the time and so always to be taking place as if from a new beginning” (AC 2044).

“As if from a new beginning.” In one sense, each time we resist an evil, each time we intend on doing something good, it is a new beginning. Something new has started in our lives. But in another sense, every positive step is a continuation of what was begun before. It is a resurfacing of the seeds planted years before from parents, from teachers, from whatever good we had willingly done. The Lord keeps working with the good He has established in everyone’s life. While it may not be seen for a time, it is carefully preserved, awaiting the occasion to be seen again. Hellish choices and life styles shut it up, but it is still there. The Lord is very patient, always leading us so that the good we have might be protected, develop, and eventually blossom in the fruit of an angelic life.

What this means is that life is never pointless. While we will certainly go through times when we feel our life is dry or our lot hopeless, the Lord can put flesh on our bones, breath in our lungs. All our patterns which seem so fixed and limiting, all the painful baggage we carry from the past, need not defeat us. For every day the Lord is providing us with new beginnings small, almost imperceptible opportunities to renew our lives. If we are not utterly downcast, if we have not given up if we will be open and affirmative to what He has said then new life may grow. Seedlings are planted which, though they may not bear visible fruit until the next life, will give us strength, will renew our spirits. And the prophecy of Isaiah will come true for us: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not be faint” (40:31). Amen.

Lessons: Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 3:1-8; NJHD 173-182 (portions)

New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine 173-182 (portions)

173. He who does not receive spiritual life, that is, who is not begotten anew by the Lord, cannot come into heaven, which the Lord teaches in John: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except anyone be begotten again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (3:3).

174. A person is not born of his parents into spiritual life, but into natural life. Spiritual life consists in loving God above all things, and in loving his neighbor as himself, and this according to the precepts of faith, which the Lord has taught in the Word. But natural life consists in loving ourselves and the world more than the neighbor, yea, more than God Himself.

175. Everyone is born of his parents into the evils of the love of self and of the world.

176. [So] everyone continually inclines to, and lapses into, what he derives from heredity: hence he confirms with himself that evil, and also superadds more from himself. These evils are altogether contrary to spiritual life; they destroy it; wherefore, unless a person receives new life, which is spiritual life, from the Lord, thus unless he is conceived anew, is born anew, is educated anew, that is, is created anew, he is damned; for he wills nothing else, and thence thinks nothing else but what is of self and the world, in like manner as they do in hell.

179. Everyone has an internal man and an external man; the internal is what is called the spiritual man, and the external is what is called the natural man, and each is to be regenerated so that one may be regenerated. With one who is not regenerated, the external or natural rules, and the internal serves; but with one who is regenerated, the internal or spiritual rules, and the external serves. Whence it is manifest that the order of life is inverted with one from his birth, namely, that serves which ought to rule, and that rules which ought to serve. In order that a person may be saved, this order must be inverted; and this inversion can by no means exist except by regeneration from the Lord.

180. What it is for the internal man to rule and the external to serve, and vice versa, may be illustrated by this: If a person places all his good in pleasure, in gain, and in pride, and has delight in hatred and revenge, and inwardly in himself seeks for reasons which confirm them, then the external man rules and the internal serves. But when a person perceives good and delight in thinking and willing well, sincerely and justly, and in outwardly speaking and doing in like manner, then the internal man rules and the external serves.

181. The internal man is first regenerated by the Lord, and afterwards the external, and the latter by means of the former. For the internal man is regenerated by thinking those things which are of faith and charity, but the external by a life according to them. This is meant by the words of the Lord: “Unless anyone be begotten of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). “Water,” in the spiritual sense, is the truth of faith, and “the spirit” is a life according to it.

182. The person who is regenerated is, as to his internal, in heaven, and is an angel there with the angels, among whom he also comes after death; he is then able to live the life of heaven, to love the Lord, to love the neighbor, to understand truth, to relish good, and to perceive the happiness thence derived.