New Church Day

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper


Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. (MAR 8:22)

Our text for this morning is taken from the Gospel of Mark where is described one of the Lord s many miracles of healing. In this case, a blind man was healed. The blind man in this story is a symbol for those of us who are hurting, who are in real pain because of the mistakes we may have made because of our spiritual blindness.

In the Word, blindness generally represents the inability to see the truths of the Word. It s also important to recognize that there are different kinds of blindness there are those who are blind to spiritual truth because of their circumstances, that is, those who are ignorant of the truth through no fault of their own; and there are those who are blind because their loves of self and the world twist and pervert the truth until it is unrecognizable. They make themselves blind because they close their eyes to the truth. As the common saying goes, “there is none so blind as he who will not see.”

In either case, spiritual blindness leaves us without the means to judge the course of our lives. We cannot see if we are preparing ourselves adequately for heaven. We cannot see if the anger we feel is zeal to protect what is good, or hatred towards those who threaten our possessions and position in society. When we are spiritually blind, for whatever reason, we are in the same predicament as those people who entered the spiritual world during the Dark Ages and who are called in the book of Revelation the “souls under the altar” (REV69). As we read in our lesson, these are those who “were in external worship without internal, and who therefore lived an external moral life, although they were merely natural and not spiritual.” (AE 391)

The purpose of the Lord s Second Coming, as we know from the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church, was to shine the light of truth on these people, to give them the means to see truth for themselves, to decide freely, and for themselves, what kind of spiritual life they should lead. The so-called “Last Judgment” was a judgment by truth, truth which took away spiritual blindness and set those souls free. That light was provided to those in the spiritual world by means of the revelations given to Emanuel Swedenborg, and it was the completion of the last of those works, the True Christian Religion and the consequent establishment of the New Christian Church on June 19, 1770 that we are celebrating this weekend.

So we can see that spiritual truth from the Lord through the Word is the only means of curing spiritual blindness. We can see this further illustrated by what happened next So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. (MAR823)

Remember also that our text tells us that “they begged Him to touch Him.” It is important to note that although the Lord has the power to heal any spiritual disease, He will only do so if He is first approached, for nothing in man s life can be changed apart from his own freedom. If the Lord were to approach on His own initiative, there would be no freedom, so He presents Himself, informs us of His willingness to help, and then awaits our decision and His patience is Infinite.

To be led by the hand out of the town means that in choosing to approach the Lord for help, by recognizing our need for His help, we have already begun the steps to our recovery, for we have left Bethsaida, we have left the state of disorder or ignorance that caused the blindness and have taken the first positive steps towards choosing the truth and the light, and we begin to leave the states that have caused us our spiritual crisis.

The story tells us that the Lord then spit in the blind man s eyes. This is a powerful combination of images that leads us to see what the person going through these states might feel. On the one hand, water from the mouth of the Lord corresponds to truth, and our rational mind tells us that it should be a good thing to have truth directly from the mouth of the Lord applied to the eye, the organ that represents understanding but yet there is something repellent in the thought of anyone spitting in our eyes. It s humiliating, it s a terrible insult.

On the spiritual level, what could be more humiliating than suddenly awakening to the fact that the innocent little fantasies that we have cherished for so long and enjoyed so much actually constitute adultery because they are destructive of marriage? What could be more humbling than really understanding that the little “unofficial benefits” we have enjoyed at work are actually stealing. We could go on at some length in this vein, but the point should be clear that when we first recognize that we are in a state of disorder, we don t always see just how bad it really is. We tend to minimize the damage. But truth from the Lord is bright and powerful, and makes our errors glaring and to see ourselves as He sees us is humiliating.

The text continues, giving us the blind man s response. And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” (MAR824) It is a fact that those people who have had their sight surgically restored and see for the first time (or for the first time in many years) have a great deal of difficulty in sorting out the images they see. In their blindness, they have built up pictures of how things ought to look from the information they have received from their other senses. Things like perspective and shading completely baffle them for a time so that they must continue to use their seeing-eye dogs for some time after their sight is restored. This is the phenomena that the blind man is referring to when he says that men look like trees to him.

Again, the point of this story is not to tell us about how blind people gradually recover their sight, but to tell us about how, even when we have been touched by the Lord and the eyes of our understanding opened, we don t immediately come into pure understanding like that of the angels. The new truth has to be understood, assimilated, adapted to our own experience and character, and studied in the light of the other truths that we already know. It takes time to change a whole lifetime, in fact.

But we can have the courage and strength to carry on because we know that the Lord does not just touch us and then abandon us. Instead, He stays near, guiding our recovery, gradually showing us the way things ought to be. We read from Mark Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. (MAR825) Eventually, in time, we find spiritual peace, we come into new states of life where truths we never imagined are easily seen.

While we are in the state of blindness, of personal evils and selfishness, it hurts when we read the Word, because its light shows up our weaknesses. But it is not the purpose of the Word to cause pain, but to remove its cause. We examine ourselves in preparation for the Holy Supper, not so we can see how bad we are, but so that we can direct the Lord s healing power to where it is needed most.

In the Old Testament, the Lord established a basic covenant with the Jews He would protect them and be their God if, in return, they would simply obey certain external rules. When He came to earth in person, as described in the New Testament, that covenant was changed from an external obedience to an internal, moral response. He introduced the Holy Supper as the sign of an internal acknowledgment of our need to change our attitudes, not just our actions. And the Writings, the instrument of His second coming, serve to reestablish that covenant so that it is rational and spiritual in origin, but shows itself as moral and civil behavior.

We are free to respond to the Lord on any level we choose. If we wish or are able to do no more than to faithfully obey His commandments, because they are from Him, then we will find a wonderful, eternal home in the natural heaven. If, on the other hand, we delight in searching out the reasons behind His commandments, and seeking to obey them in spirit as well as their letter, then we will find our home in the spiritual heaven. But if our greatest delight is in serving the Lord and doing what is good, then our spiritual home will be with the celestial angels but the point is that choice is our depending on our response the Lord s invitation to enter into His covenant.

The sign of this covenant to the Ancient Church was the rainbow. In the Jewish Church, it was the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night over the ark of the covenant that was the constant reminder of the Lord s presence with them. For the Christian and New Christian churches, the sign of His covenant is in the two sacraments that are universal entrances to the church, baptism, and the Holy Supper.

We should take time to reflect on these things as we recognize the 330th anniversary of the founding of the New Heaven, and the sending forth of the twelve disciples throughout heaven to preach the gospel that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, and His kingdom shall be for ever and ever. (TCR 791) Pray that the Lord will touch you with His divine truth and cure your spiritual blindness. Do your part to enter into His covenant with a humble heart, and He will enlighten your mind and lead you into states of eternal peace. AMEN.

1st Lesson PSA 146

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! {2} While I live I will praise the LORD; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. {3} Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. {4} His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish. {5} Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the LORD his God, {6} Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that is in them; Who keeps truth forever, {7} Who executes justice for the oppressed, Who gives food to the hungry. The LORD gives freedom to the prisoners. {8} The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous. {9} The LORD watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked He turns upside down. {10} The LORD shall reign forever; Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD! Amen.

2nd Lesson MAR 822-26

Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. {23} So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. {24} And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” {25} Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. {26} Then He sent him away to his house, saying, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.” Amen.

3rd Lesson AE 391 (portions)

I saw under the altar, signifies those who were preserved under heaven. This is evident from the signification of “to see,” as being to make manifest (see above, n. 351); also from the signification of “altar” as being, in the nearest sense, worship from the good of love to the Lord; in a more interior sense, heaven and the church, which are in that love; and in the inmost sense, the Lord s Divine Human in relation to the Divine good of the Divine love.

“Under the altar” signifies those who were preserved under heaven, because it is said that he “saw under the altar the souls of those slain because of the Word of God, and because of the testimony that they held,” and by these are meant those who were preserved under heaven until the Last Judgment; but as this is not yet known in the world, I will tell how it is.

…Before the Last Judgment took place there was a semblance of heaven which is meant by “the former heaven that passed away” (Rev. 211) and that this heaven consisted of those who were in external worship without internal, and who therefore lived an external moral life, although they were merely natural and not spiritual.

Those of whom this heaven consisted before the Last Judgment were seen in the spiritual world above the earth, also upon mountains, hills, and rocks, and therefore believed themselves to be in heaven; but those of whom this heaven consisted, because they were in an external moral life only and not at the same time in an internal spiritual life, were cast down; and when these had been cast down, all those who had been preserved by the Lord, and concealed here and there, for the most part in the lower earth, were elevated and transferred to these same places, that is, upon the mountains, hills, and rocks where the others had formerly been, and out of these a new heaven was formed.

These who had been preserved and then elevated were from those in the world who had lived a life of charity, and who were in the spiritual affection of truth. The elevation of these into the places of the others I have often witnessed. It is these who are meant by “the souls of those slain seen under the altar,” and because they were guarded by the Lord in the lower earth, and this earth is under heaven, so “I saw under the altar” signifies those who were preserved under heaven. Amen.


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Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

 

The Power and Use of Prayer

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper


Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:36)

There are literally hundreds of references to prayer in Scripture and in the Heavenly Doctrines. In the Old Testament, the Patriarchs, the Kings, and the Prophets all prayed to the Lord for inspiration, for help in time of trouble, and for the destruction of their enemies. The New Testament records many times when the Lord Himself prayed for help, when He told others to pray, and when He gave specific instructions on when and how to pray. The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church confirm these teachings and elaborate on the need to pray, teaching that after self-examination and the discovery of some evil within, the next step is to pray to the Lord for forgiveness and help in shunning that evil.

Looking at the evidence in the Word supporting the use and power of prayer, and the number of times the Lord commanded us to pray as an essential part of the process of regeneration, praying should be as natural to us as breathing is — and yet there is not a topic that causes more questions and embarrassment in the New Church as the question of how and when to pray, and for what. Our purpose for today is to see what the Word teaches on the subject so that our personal and private decisions about prayer can be made on the basis of the clear teachings of the Word.

All genuine worship of the Lord is founded on the proper use of prayer, for in speaking about the Temple in Jerusalem, the Lord said, “My house shall be called the house of prayer” (Matt. 21:22). But at the time He was actually on earth, the concept of prayer had been totally perverted, had become something purely selfish and material. He then taught us by comparison what proper prayer was, prayer suited for genuine worship to the Lord. He said, And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. … But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly (Matt. 6:5-7 Cf. Mark 12:40).

Praying to God in secret means that you must speak your heart honestly to your Heavenly Father. We are to speak with God from God, that is, to reach within ourselves to the point where we are speaking from our own true faith, our genuine principles, the things of good and truth, charity and faith, that are God’s with us. Prayer is an attempt to bring ourselves into harmony with God’s plans for our salvation, an opportunity for us to focus on the progress of our life from His perspective, rather than from our own, at least for a time.

When we turn to the Lord in prayer, when we focus on the celestial and spiritual things of His eternal kingdom, then something very much like an influx comes into our perceptions and thoughts that opens the interiors towards God. This happens differently with each person and from time to time because it is affected by the spiritual state at the time of the prayer, and it also varies according to the subject of the prayer. If we are praying from love and faith for heavenly things, then there may be something like a revelation which will be felt in the affections, a feeling of hope, a sense of comfort, a certain internal joy and confidence that all things are in the Lord’s hands and they will turn out well from the eternal perspective. These are the Lord’s gifts to those who pray sincerely from the heart for things that are of the Lord’s eternal, spiritual kingdom. (See AC 2535)

We must also remember that we are creatures of two worlds — the natural and the spiritual. Everything we do in this world has an effect on our spiritual state, and thus on the kinds of spirits who associate with us. One of the reasons for this is that the Lord uses the angelic heavens to modify and clothe His influx so that it will be softened enough to be received by men in the world, much as the earth’s atmosphere softens the power of the sun’s rays so that we are not harmed by them. As we change our spiritual states, we change our spiritual associations, and thus receive different kinds of influx. For example, we are told that saying the Lord’s Prayer from the heart creates a spiritual association with especially good, innocent spirits. Genuine, heartfelt prayers about heavenly things do have their effect on our spiritual states, bringing perceptions of comfort and hope, and bringing the association of like-minded spirits who support and encourage, and serve to bring the Lord’s inflowing life and love into our lives.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to think about when considering prayers, is the question why some prayers seem to be answered while others are not, for the Lord teaches in Matthew, And all things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive (Matt. 21:22). And in Mark, He says, Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them (Mark 11:24). God promises to answer our prayers, but it appears that He almost never does. What is wrong? Is it a function of the strength of our faith? Is it some kind of test? If we pray for something and we don’t get it, does that mean we don’t have sufficient strength of faith? No, it means that we are asking for the wrong things, and the Lord is answering our prayers by saying “no.”

The Lord will not answer prayers for things which He knows will serve to act against our own salvation. (See AC 8179:2,3) That means He will act in favor of prayers that are for, or agree with, the end of salvation. For example, the prayers of Zacharias for a son: The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son” (Luke 1:13). There is evidence also that prayer is helpful in certain kinds of illness, for when speaking about a demon that the disciples could not cast out, the Lord said, This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting (Matt. 17:21).

The Apocalypse Revealed says, It is a general thing in all Divine worship that a man should first will, desire and pray, and that the Lord should then answer, inform, and do; otherwise the man does not receive anything Divine. … Moreover in the Word very often it is read that the Lord answers when they call and cry, also, that He gives when they ask. Nevertheless the Lord gives them to ask, and what to ask, and the Lord therefore knows this beforehand, but still the Lord wills that a man should ask first, to the end that it may be as from himself, and thus be appropriated to him (AR 376).

We need to pray to the Lord for help in healing us of our spiritual diseases, for although we often use the phrase “as-of-self” in the church, it really has no meaning without prayer. The concept of as-of-self reformation has to do with the process of bringing our lives into the Lord’s order with His help. We do it as if we were doing it ourselves, as if we actually had the power to fight and conquer evil, but we must at the same time acknowledge that it is the Lord’s power that fights for us. How else can we ask for the Lord’s help in temptation except through prayer? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41, Cf. Mark 14:38). Who can doubt that if we sincerely ask for His help to conquer evils that He will not answer our prayers? Then He said to them, ‘Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation’ (Luke 22:46). But we cannot actually reform and regenerate without the Lord’s power, and we cannot use His power without asking Him. When we do, we are speaking to Him about the things of His kingdom, with the end of our own salvation in mind. The Lord always hears and responds to such prayers. It is only through prayer that we can ask for His forgiveness for our sins. Therefore, without humble prayer to God, we cannot be regenerated.

There are many prayers that He does not answer, specifically, those that are impossible because they are contrary to the Divine order. We read from the Brief Exposition, Suppose you should pray a thousand times at home and in temples, that God the Father, for the sake of His Son, would preserve you from the devil, and should not at the same time, from the freedom in which you are perpetually held by the Lord, keep yourself from evil, and so from the devil; you could not in this case be preserved even by legions of angels sent from the Lord; for the Lord cannot act contrary to His own Divine order, and His order is that man should examine himself, see his evils, resist them, and this as of himself, yet from the Lord.

We also find that He will not listen to prayers that seek gain for self, or harm to enemies. The prayers of those who seek evil to others cannot be heard, for their selfish thought and will close Heaven to them, and in heaven, prayers are listened to solely according to the end or purpose of the prayer. If the end is contrary to eternal salvation, it is not heard. (See AC 4227:4, 8179:2,3 SD 1820)

It’s clear that we must pray for the Lord’s help in times of temptation, we must pray for His strength to conquer evils for us, but that we must not pray for selfish or worldly things. But what about praying for the sake of others whom we love, and for whom we have genuine, loving concern? Do our prayers help others who are troubled?

The Lord prayed for others. Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray (Matt. 19:13), and He taught that we, too, should pray for those in spiritual difficulty: But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matt. 5:43, Cf. Luke 6:28).

Perhaps the problem comes when we feel presumptuous in praying for others, for we feel we are somehow intruding into God’s territory, telling Him His business. We know that the Lord, in His Infinite Wisdom already knows about it, for He cares for the sparrow and the Lily of the Field. Of course He was already doing everything that was possible in the sight of the Divine Providence and for the sake of that person’s eternal salvation. What more could we possibly add with our insignificant prayers?

Once again, we must remind ourselves that the Lord governs and rules the whole universe by means of influx through the angelic heaven. When a person is in trouble in this world, the Lord’s help flows down to him through the Celestial Heaven, the Spiritual Heaven, the Natural Heaven, and the World of Spirits and in this way is prepared to be received by an unregenerate human in the world of nature. Who can count how many individual spirits are involved in carrying the Lord’s love to that troubled person?

Let’s think of an illustration from this world. If we pass by and see 20 men pulling on a rope to pull another person up out of a pit, would we not stop to lend a hand? Our assistance may make up only a tiny proportion of the overall effort, but it has reduced the effort required of the others, we have made some tangible contribution to helping the one in the pit. Also, our help has not changed anyone’s mind, it has not deprived anyone of their freedom. We have simply added our own small contribution to an already established and organized rescue effort.

I believe this is analogous to what happens when we pray for someone who is in spiritual need. The Lord already knows of their need. The angelic heavens are already there, helping. By our prayer, we lend a hand, we add our sphere to those already gathered so that love and wisdom can flow in through us (imperceptibly, and just a little bit) to the one in need. And we help them by our prayers as surely as we helped the person out of the pit by pulling on the rope — and we are not interfering with God’s plans in any way.

Prayer for others has the additional benefit of turning our minds away from the selfishness and worldliness of our own lives and turning us towards the needs and concerns of others, that is, to true charity. Prayer for others also puts us in the habit of thinking of the needs of others, if not before our own needs, at least as our own. Prayer puts us in tune with the spiritual world, it brings us into the flow of the Divine Providence, if we pray for spiritual and eternal things, and if we believe what the Lord Himself says: Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. AMEN.

Lessons: Matthew 6:1-8, Luke 21:29-38, BE 52:1-2

Brief Exposition 52: This is testified by experience. How many are there at this day, who live according to the commandments of the Decalogue, and other precepts of the Lord, from religion? And how many are there at this day, who desire to look their own evils in the face, and to perform actual repentance, and thus enter upon the worship of the life? And who among those that cultivate piety, perform any other repentance than oral and oratorical, confessing themselves to be sinners, and praying, according to the doctrine of the church, that God the Father, for the sake of His Son, who suffered upon the cross for their sins, took away their damnation, and atoned for them with His blood, would mercifully forgive their transgressions, that so they might be presented without spot or blemish before the throne of His judgment? Who does not see, that this worship is of the lungs only, and not of the heart, consequently that it is external worship, and not internal? for he prays for the remission of sins, when yet he does not know one sin with himself; and if be did know of any, he would cover it over with favor and indulgence, or with a faith that is to purify and absolve him, without any works of his But this is comparatively like a servant going to his master with his face and clothes defiled with soot and filth, and saying, Sir, wash me. Would not his master say to him, Thou foolish servant, what is it thou sayest? See! there is water, soap, and a towel, hast thou not hands, and ability to use them? wash thyself. Thus also the Lord God will say, The means of purification are from Me, and from Me also thou hast will and power, wherefore use these My gifts and talents, as thy own, and thou shalt be purified.

Take another example by way of illustration. Suppose you should pray a thousand times at home and in temples, that God the Father, for the sake of His Son, would preserve you from the devil, and should not at the same time, from the freedom in which you are perpetually held by the Lord, keep yourself from evil, and so from the devil; you could not in this case be preserved even by legions of angels sent from the Lord; for the Lord cannot act contrary to His own Divine order, and His order is that man should examine himself, see his evils, resist them, and this as of himself, yet from the Lord. This does not indeed at this day appear to be the Gospel, nevertheless it is the Gospel, for the Gospel is salvation.

The Word Made Flesh

The Word Made Flesh

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

Toronto, December 9, 2012

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1,14)

Each of the four evangelists treats the story of the Lord’s birth on earth in a very different manner. Matthew, himself a Jew, gives us a genealogy linking Jesus to Abraham, Joseph’s perspective on the miracle, and the visit of the Wise Men. Mark, author of the shortest and most direct gospel, leaves out the story of the Lord’s birth altogether and begins with the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan. There is evidence that although Luke was not himself a disciple, he did know Mary very well, and we should not be surprised that his gospel presents the story primarily from her point of view. From Luke we learn about the birth of John, the Annunciation, the Lord’s birth in Bethlehem, the adoration of the shepherds, and His presentation in the temple.

John’s gospel is much more philosophical and theological, and tells the story of the Lord’s incarnation completely in just a few words. It is an intellectual and doctrinal presentation, and does little to stir the affections, and yet it is worth our study and reflection.

The very first thing John writes, the leading idea of his gospel, is that the very first thing that existed, and the thing from which all other things have life, is the Word. He said with profound simplicity, In the beginning was the Word (text). There should be an immediate recognition of the similarity between that phrase and the very first idea in the Word, the leading idea of the whole of scripture, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). John is consciously directing us to identify the “Word” with God the Creator. The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church support this view, and expand on it; and in doing so, develop our understanding of the Word and its function in our lives.

The Doctrines tell us that many people believe that truth is only something that someone in authority says, or a description of something in the natural world that can be demonstrated to others. Some have even come to believe that truth is “relative,” that what is true for one person is not necessarily true for another, and have therefore come to believe that truth is what is acceptable to other men at a given time and under certain circumstances.

A recent article about religious faith in America today made it very clear that a significant number of Christians believe that when the letter of the Word conflicts with what people wish to believe, then the Word must be changed or it will cease to be “relevant.”

People have struggled with God’s laws since the beginning of time. People have always wanted to interpret them to favor their own activities, and to limit the activities of their enemies, but today we are seeing the acceptance of the idea that people’s opinions are of a higher authority than the Lord’s Word Itself.

This is a very limited and incorrect view. Truth is not objective. If we took a vote, and every single person on the planet voted that, based on their own observations, the earth was flat, it would not make it so. A thing that is true is true whether people believe it to be true or not.

Further, truth is not just ideas, or words, but truth is something that has power. Truth is the system of order that holds things together. The power of truth can do great good, and when misdirected it can do great harm. In the Word, truth is represented by stones, and every way that stones are used in the Word shows something about truth. There are precious gems, there are simple altars, there are great cities, and there are people executed by stoning. We can use truth to build things to honor God, to honor man, or to destroy. It is our choice because truth has real power in our lives!

Truth has power in our lives because it and good are the principles of all things in both the spiritual and natural worlds, and they are the means by which the universe was created and by which it is preserved. These two are the all in all of everything (TCR 224:1).

The Human Race, and everything else in the universe, was made by Divine Truth. This is true because all things in man are from the understanding and the will, the understanding being the receptacle of Divine Truth, and the will that of Divine Good. Consequently the human mind, which, like everything in the created universe, consists of those two principles, is nothing but a form of Divine Truth and Divine Good, spiritually and naturally organized: the human brain is itself such a form. (See TCR 224:2) The Apocalypse Explained puts it this way:

The Lord is called “the Word” because the Word signifies Divine truth; He is also called “the Light” because Divine truth is the light in the heavens; He is also called “the Life,” because everything that lives, lives from that life; from that also angels have intelligence and wisdom, in which their life consists. (AE 196:1)

The Life itself that proceeds from the Lord and fills heaven and the world, is the life of His love, and in heaven this appears as light, and because this light is life it enlightens the minds of angels, and enables them to understand and be wise. From this it is that the Lord calls Himself not only “the Life” but also “the Light.” The light which is life from the Lord in heaven is there called Divine truth, because it shines in the minds of those who are there, and thence shines before their eyes. (AE 186:11)

As all things of the Word both in general and in particular treat of the Lord; and as the Word, being the Divine truth, is the Lord, it is evident why it is said, And the Word was made flesh. (See Lord 2) As the Lord prepared Himself to be born on earth, the Divine Truth itself passed through every degree of heaven, clothing itself with forms to make it suitable and acceptable in the world of men. As it passed through the celestial heaven, the Divine Truth was accommodated to the celestial understanding. As it passed through the Spiritual and Natural heavens, it was accommodated to those levels of understanding, and when the infant Jesus Christ was born into this world, the Divine Good and Truth were clothed and accommodated in such a way as to be received and understood in this world. Therefore, when John talks about the Word becoming flesh, he is referring to the process whereby the Divine Truth Itself as it exists above the heavens accommodated and prepared itself for reception in the natural world. John was not only speaking of the fulfillment of the literal prophecies of the Old Testament – although that too was accomplished. (See TCR 85:2)

The Heavenly Doctrines also give us the reason why He chose to take on the mortal human body in the world, why He wished to be subject to the ills and temptations of this world: He did it this way in order to bring the hells into order. This can be illustrated by thinking about an adult who is looking after a room full of little children. We can imagine the adult in one room while the children play in another. At first, all is peaceful. Then a little squabble breaks out which the adult stops by calling out to the children. Soon another squabble breaks out, and hoping that they will bring themselves into order if given the chance, he asks one of the older children to sort it out, and that too works for a while, but eventually things get so out of hand that he must go into the room himself and bring it back into order. The Lord wanted us to keep ourselves in order so He first sent the Word to teach us the right way to behave, and later sent the prophets to warn us, but evils multiplied upon evils until He had to come Himself in such a form as the hells could attack so that He could bring the whole of the spiritual and natural worlds back into a state of order. (See AC 10182:4)

What is so surprising is that although the Lord’s coming has been predicted and looked for for generations, when He finally did arrive, He was not understood or received by “His own”, the Jewish Church. John puts it this way: And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. (John1:5,10,11)

“Light” is Divine truth, and “darkness” the falsities in which those are who are not in the light, (AE 151:4) and especially the falsities of those within the church. (AC 1839:7) The Lord’s doctrines were the light to show all people in all ages the way to lift themselves up out of their misery and frustration, to bring meaning and eternal delights to life in this world – but when these people were offered the choice of repentance and salvation, they instead elected to remain in the delights of their own chosen evils.

For all the sophistication and knowledge of the modern world available to us today, for all our scientific accomplishments, for all our studies of economics and the lessons of history, many people remain in seeming ignorance of the principles of life which will bring them eternal satisfaction. Some people, knowing these principles, reject them. The Heavenly Doctrines tell us about such people that because the Word is from the Lord, and the Lord is in the Word, it follows that those who reject the truths of the Word are at the same time rejecting the Lord, because the Lord and the Word form a unity that cannot be broken. For the same reasons, those who reject either the Word or the Lord also reject the Church itself, for the Church exists from the Lord by means of the truths of the Word. Finally, those who reject the Church from such principles, shut themselves out of heaven, because the most important function of the Church is to introduce men to heaven by showing them how to a life of mere civil obedience into a life of moral and spiritual value. (See TCR 384)

In the final analysis, John’s philosophical presentation of the manner of the Lord’s birth on earth, the concept that the Word must become Flesh, tells us that the Spiritual knowledges that are given to us from the Word must become “flesh”, that is, they must be applied to our lives in the natural world. The Divine truth which is from the Lord is continually flowing in with man, and forms his understanding, and without this continual influx of the truth Divine that proceeds from the Lord a man can perceive and understand nothing whatever. For the Divine truth that proceeds from the Lord is the light which lights up the mind of man, and makes the internal sight, which is the understanding. But those who receive the Lord’s truths are those who are in the good of life; and those who do not receive truth from the Lord are those who are in evil of life. However, it is important to note that both those who are in the good of life and those who are in the evil of life have the capacity of perceiving, understanding, and receiving truth insofar as they desist from evil.

This is an essential point that must be understood. Every angel in heaven, every man in the world, and every devil in hell has the intellectual capacity to understand and receive the spiritual truths presented in the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church. It is the persistence in evil that clouds man’s understanding. No one can think clearly about spiritual things when he is trying to find a way to make evil allowable in the context of his own life. The Divine Truth, a continuous gift from the Lord, is only received and appropriated to man in the proportion that he shuns evils as sins. (See AC9399:1,3)

Nothing else constitutes spiritual life with man but the knowledges of truth and good from the Word applied to life; and they are applied to life when man holds them as the laws of his life, for he then looks to the Lord in everything, and with such the Lord is present, and gives intelligence and wisdom and affection for them and delight in them. For the Lord is in His truths with man, since every truth proceeds from the Lord, and what proceeds from the Lord that is His, even so that it is He; therefore the Lord says: – The Word was with God, and God was the Word. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. That was the true light, that lights every man. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1:1,4,9,14). (AE 196:1) AMEN.


First Lesson: JOH 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. {2} He was in the beginning with God. {3} All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. {4} In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. {5} And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. {6} There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. {7} This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. {8} He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. {9} That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. {10} He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. {11} He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. {12} But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: {13} who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. {14} And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. {15} John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’” {16} And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. {17} For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. {18} No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. Amen.

Second Lesson: AC 4180:5

[5] It being the Divine Human, and not the Divine itself, from which Divine Truth proceeds, it is the Divine Human therefore which is meant here by ‘the Dread of Isaac’. For as has been stated, it is Divine Truth which strikes fear into someone, not Divine Good. That it is the Lord’s Divine Human, and not the Divine itself, from which Divine Truth proceeds is an arcanum that has not been disclosed up to now. The implications of the arcanum are as follows: Before the Lord came into the world the Divine itself flowed into the whole of heaven; and because heaven at that time consisted for the most part of those who were celestial, that is, who were governed by the good of love, that influx of God’s Almighty power furnished the light which shone in the heavens, and with that light wisdom and intelligence. But when the human race departed from the good of love and charity it was no longer possible for that light to be provided by way of heaven, nor consequently for the wisdom and intelligence to come through to the human race. For this reason, so that the human race might be saved, the Lord out of necessity came into the world and made Divine the Human within Himself in order that as to that Divine Human He might become Divine Light, and in so doing might bring light to the whole of heaven and to the whole world. He had been from eternity Light itself, for the Divine itself passing through the heavens was the source of that Light. And it was the Divine itself which took on the Human and made this Human Divine; and once that Human had been made Divine He was then able to bring light not only to the celestial heaven itself but also to the spiritual heaven, and to the human race too, which received and receives Divine Truth within good, that is, within love to Him and within charity towards the neighbor, as is evident in John,

As many as received Him, to them He gave power to be sons of God, to those believing in His name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12, 13. Amen.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper


When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, (they) took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!’ (John 12:12-13)

For two thousand years, the prophets had promised the children of Israel that the Messiah would come to save them. Jehovah had established a covenant with Abraham that if he and his family would worship Jehovah, then Jehovah would make him the father of a great nation. The Historical books of the Old Testament tell the story of how Jehovah fulfilled His promise to Abraham; how through Isaac, Jacob and Jacob’s twelve sons they became a great nation; and how through Moses and Joshua He gave them their own land to rule. Under David they reached their spiritual height, and under Solomon they achieved their greatest wealth.

The Prophetic books of the Old Testament describe how easily the children of Israel fell into disobedience, how they continually turned away from Jehovah to worship idols, and how He allowed the other nations to punish them for their sins. And when they were being punished, when they were in slavery to the nations, Jehovah sent prophets to give them a message of hope. He promised a savior, a Messiah to come to lift them up once again, to save them from their oppression, to return them to the days of power and glory like those when David and Solomon ruled.

The dream of the coming of the Messiah burned in the heart of every true son and daughter of Abraham, for it meant freedom from their oppressors, and the righting of ancient wrongs. The coming of the Messiah meant (as they understood it) that they would finally be restored to their rightful position as rulers over the nations of the world, fulfilling the original promise made to Abraham and reaffirmed so many times to his descendants.

And then, at a time in history when what was left of the Jewish nation was chafing under the total control of the rich, powerful, and idolatrous Romans, there began to be rumors of a particularly powerful prophet. We must remember that even though Israel is a very small nation (even smaller than Delaware), news still traveled very slowly in those days. Very few people living at the time of the Lord’s ministry would have known very much about Him at first. Of course, this was part of the reason He spent three years traveling around Israel, so that as many people as possible could hear His teachings for themselves. He spoke as a prophet. He did miracles, healed the sick, raised the dead.

The name “Christ” itself meant “the Anointed One,” “the King,” “the Messiah.” What else were a simple, uninformed, and enslaved people to think except that the Lord had come to use His great power to drive the Romans out and become the ruler of the New Kingdom of Israel. What else could all those parables about the heavenly kingdom be but a promise of the kind of life they would expect when the Messiah was king? After all, nothing in the Old Testament or in Jewish tradition had prepared them for the idea of a life after death, so for them there could be no other idea of a kingdom for the Messiah than an earthly one. Both the Gospels and the Heavenly Doctrines tell us that even the disciples themselves didn’t really begin to understand the nature of the Lord’s Divinity until He appeared to them after the Resurrection and the concept of a life after death began to dawn in them (See AC2553).

So why did the Lord let them continue to believe in a false idea? Why didn’t He tell them in plain words who He was and what He was about? Because they simply would not have believed Him if He had told them about heaven in plain words. It would be like trying to explain a nuclear power station to a 5 year old child. You might be able to do it using only the few simple words in the child’s vocabulary, but the idea would not get through, there would not be a foundation of concepts to build on.

During His earthly ministry, the Lord was laying the foundation for all those who were to come after. Everything He did in the world was for the sake of the correspondence. He rode into Jerusalem that day so many years ago not because He wanted those people to believe that He was going to be their earthly king, but so that we would know that He was to be our spiritual king. He was doing things so that we could use internal sense to understand His mission and life on earth more deeply and more fully than even His own disciples did.

Remembering that everything He did was for the sake of the spiritual sense and so that all people might know about His Divinity and His Heavenly Kingdom, let us look at some of the things He did on that Palm Sunday to teach us about Himself and Heaven.

Our text tells us that when the multitude saw the Lord approaching Jerusalem, they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!’ (text). “Hosanna” means “save, we pray thee!”, and it only occurs 5 times in scripture, all in conjunction with Palm Sunday. The Heavenly Doctrines teach that “the children’s crying ‘Hosanna to the son of David’ was to represent that only innocence acknowledges and receives the Lord, that is, they in whom there is innocence” (AC52364). So by derivation, Hosanna means the acknowledgment and reception of the Lord by those who are innocent through repentance and amendment of life.

Even though many people thought of Him as a teacher (or Rabbi) or as a prophet, yet, as He approached the city, they all called Him “Lord.” Among the hidden causes of their calling Jehovah “the Lord,” were the following

If at that time it had been said that the Lord was the Jehovah so often named in the Old testament, men would not have accepted it, for they would not have believed it. . Also the Lord did not become Jehovah as to the Human also until He had completely united the Divine Essence to the Human Essence, and the Human to the Divine. The full unition was only accomplished after the last temptation, which was that of the cross. He is called “Christ” as the Messiah, the Anointed, King; and “Lord” as Jehovah; “Christ” in respect to truth, and “Lord” in respect to good. Many who have not studied the Word closely believe that Jesus was called “Lord” by His disciples and others out of common reverence. But this is not the case He is called “Lord” for the sake of the internal sense known to the angles, for when they called Him “Lord” it signified the acknowledgment that He was actually Jehovah Himself. (SeeAC29216)

The Lord was willing to be tempted, even to the passion of the cross, because He was The Prophet; and prophets formerly signified the doctrine of the church from the Word, and therefore they represented the state of the Church by various means, even by some that were unjust, hard, and also vile, which were enjoined upon them by God. But because the Lord was the Word itself, He, as The Prophet, represented, by the passion of the cross, how the Jewish Church profaned the Word (TCR 129).

By the disciples putting their garments on the ass and her colt, was represented that truths in the whole complex were submitted to the Lord as the Highest Judge and King; for the disciples represented the church of the Lord in respect to its truths and goods, and their garments represented the truths themselves. . The same thing was represented by the multitude putting their garments in the way, and also branches of palm trees. The reason why they put them in the way was that by “a way” is signified the truth whereby the man of the church is led. The reason why they put branches of trees, was that trees signified the perceptions and also the knowledges of truth and good, consequently “the branches” signify the truths themselves. This was done according to a customary rite; for when the highest judges and kings rode in their solemn procession, the princes of the people then put their garments on the asses and mules, and the people themselves put their garments on the way, or in their place the branches of trees; for the judicial function in heaven is the Divine truth from the Divine good, and the regal one is the Divine truth (AC92126)

As we can see, everything the Lord did while He was in the world was done for many reasons on many levels. He did things for the sakes of those who were with Him in the world, those who believed that He was the promised earthly Messiah, to lead them to a new understanding of their world. He did them also for the sake of what the gospels would record and what those who came after the disciples would be able to learn from the record, knowing, as they did, that He was not just a man or a prophet in the usual sense. Those who were to form the Christian Church would be able to build from a knowledge and a confidence that there was a life after death. These men could look back on all the things that Jesus taught, and seeing them from the totally new perspective of the resurrection, build the first coherent doctrine concerning spiritual life as a reward for obedience to God’s laws in this world.

He also did all these things for the sake of the internal sense which was written for the angels in heaven, and for those men who have the science of correspondences. By entering Jerusalem as a king, He showed all men for all time who seek to truly understand Him that He was not just an influential man, not just a prophet, but actually God with us!

What is our part in this? It is for us to see that Jerusalem, because it is a city, represents our mind. That the Lord is approaching Jerusalem stands for the fact that the Lord is constantly approaching us through His influx, constantly reaching out to us. It remains for us to decide how we are going to respond to His approach. Will we lay palms in the way? Will we put our garments in the path? To do this is to say that we will submit the material and natural pleasures of our lives to His Divine rule. Will we receive Him with joy and gladness? Will we accept Him as our God and King? Will we accept Him for a time, but when the hard times come and He doesn’t respond to our prayers as we think He should, will we turn on Him and shout for His crucifixion?

The Lord has done His part by offering Himself to us as the king of our lives. Now it is up to us to decide if we are willing to give up our natural, worldly values and happiness and replace them with the eternal values and eternal happiness that will come if we receive the Lord as our king. He is making this offer to each of us, today, this moment. Each of us must search our hearts and minds for the answer. It is up to us. No one will make these decisions for us. These few days before the sacrament of the Holy Supper on Good Friday would be a good time to reflect deeply and honestly about how we receive the Lord in our own lives, and how His presence with us is shown by the things we do to our fellow men. When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, (they) took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!’ (John 1212-13) AMEN.

1st Lesson Psa 11819-26

Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the LORD. {20} This is the gate of the LORD, Through which the righteous shall enter. {21} I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation. {22} The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. {23} This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. {24} This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. {25} Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity. {26} Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD. Amen.

2nd Lesson John 1212-19

The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, {13} took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out “Hosanna !’Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!” {14} Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written {15} “Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey’s colt.” {16} His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him. {17} Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. {18} For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. {19} The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!” Amen.

3rd Lesson AC 29216

Among the hidden reasons why people called Jehovah the Lord were the following If when the Lord was in the world they had been told that He was the Jehovah mentioned so many times in the Old Testament, . they would not have accepted it because they would not have believed it. And there is the further reason that as regards the Human the Lord did not become Jehovah until He had in every respect united the Divine Essence to the Human Essence, and the Human Essence to the Divine Essence. . These became fully united after the final temptation, which was that of the Cross; and it was for this reason that after the Resurrection the disciples always called Him Lord, . and Thomas said, My Lord and my God. (John 2028)

And as the Lord was the Jehovah mentioned so many times in the Old Testament, therefore He also told the disciples, You call Me Master and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If therefore I your Lord and Master have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (John 1313, 14, 16)

These words mean that He was Jehovah God, for in this instance He is called ‘Lord’ as regards good, but ‘Master’ as regards truth. That the Lord was Jehovah is also meant by the angel’s words to the shepherds, To you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 211)

‘Christ’ is used instead of ‘Messiah’, ‘Anointed One’, and ‘King’, ‘the Lord, instead of ‘Jehovah’ – ‘Christ’ having regard to truth, ‘the Lord’ to good. Anyone who does not examine the Word carefully cannot know this, for he believes that our Savior was called Lord because this was an everyday expression that was used to offer respect to Him, as to others, when in reality He was so called by virtue of His being Jehovah. Amen.

The Centurion’s Confession

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper


Now when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” MAR. 15:39

It is usual on Easter morning to focus on a text that speaks of the joy of discovery when the disciples and others came to the tomb and found that the Lord was not there as He said He would not be. We might think of this as the fully developed dawn of the Christian church: that beautiful moment when the truth of His ministry first dawned in the minds of His disciples. But today, instead of the full dawn, we would instead focus on the “morning star” of the Christian church (TCR 379:e), the most fundamental and basic thing that the Lord taught while in the world, that idea first recognized and expressed by the Centurion who witnessed the crucifixion, that Jesus Christ was not a man, but He was the Son of God. Without this most fundamental and basic doctrine there is no Christian faith.

Each of the gospels tells the story of the Lord’s life on earth in a slightly different way, in much the same manner as several witnesses to an event will each remember the things that particularly stood out for them, but not necessarily exactly the same things as the others saw. However, we must also remember that the authors of the gospels were inspired to choose to write the way they did so that each gospel contains in its internal sense the story of the Lord’s life for a different spiritual state, or from a different spiritual point of view. Let us then briefly review the main historical events as recorded in Mark.

After His trial, Jesus was brought to Golgatha, or the place of the skull, a hill outside the gates of Jerusalem. There He was offered wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He refused it. He did this, we are told, because wine mixed with myrrh represented the truth from the Word mixed with falsities of evil. This represented the spiritual state of the Jewish Church and was not acceptable to Him, and He represented His rejection of the Jewish Church by not drinking it. They stripped Him, crucified Him, and cast lots for His garments. A sign was placed over Him, saying, “The King of the Jews.” Each gospel reports that two robbers were crucified with Him. John says nothing more about them. Luke says that one robber reviled Him, while the other spoke well of Him, and the Lord promised that he would be with Him in paradise that same day. Both Matthew and Mark report that both the robbers reviled Him.

All the gospels record that there was darkness over the earth from the 6th hour to the 9th. In Mark, it is reported that at about the 9th hour of the day, He cried out, saying, “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34) Obviously, the end was near, and someone filled a sponge with vinegar, lifted it up to Him with a hyssop reed, and He drank from it. We are told that He accepted this drink because it represented the falsity of the Gentiles, in which there is something useful and good, that is, false ideas from ignorance held for the sake of good to the neighbor. This kind of falsity can be accepted by the Lord because it looks to the good of others as an end. The hyssop represents that the false idease are cleansed by good intentions. The Lord is able to replace such falsity with genuine truth from the Word without difficulty. This is why the Lord accepted the vinegar on the sponge.

After this final symbolic act, the Lord cried with a loud voice and breathed His last. The gospels record that at that moment the veil of the temple in Jerusalem split from top to bottom, and that there were earthquakes. It was at this point that the Centurion is recorded in Luke as saying that there was no doubt that this was a “righteous man”, while in both Matthew and Mark he is recorded as proclaiming Jesus Christ as “the Son of God”. And although there was darkness over the land, the gentile centurion saw the “morning star.”

The first principle of faith in the Lord is the acknowledgment that He is the Son of God. We know this because it is repeatedly taught by Him in the Word of the New Testament, and it was repeatedly taught because unless men had first acknowledged that He was the Son of God, and thus God from God, the work that He and His disciples set out to do would have been in vain. (See TCR 342)

The Heavenly Doctrines define the Son of God by saying that “there is no Son from eternity; but that the Lord is from eternity…. The Human conceived of God, and born of the virgin Mary, is what is called the Son of God” (Lord 19). They further explain that Jehovah Himself “put on the Divine Human, from which He called Himself the ‘Son of Man,’ and also the ‘Son of God’; and by the ‘Son of Man’ He signified the truth itself, and by the ‘Son of God’ the good itself which belonged to His Human essence when made Divine” (AC 2159:2)

Here reference has been made to both the “Son of Man” and the “Son of God.” Jesus used both terms to describe Himself many times in the Word. Names signify qualities, and these names were used to describe the different qualities of the Lord that were dominant at various times and in various states.

The Lord referred to Himself as the Son of God when the main subject was of Good; when He was teaching, healing, or leading the disciples; thus when He was feeling the power of Jehovah within Him. He referred to Himself as the Son of God when He was in a state of Glorification, or unity with the Divine. When He was in this state He was expressing the Divine Love of God towards the human race, and since the Divine Love is pure and above any fault, the Lord was never tempted or tested as the Son of God. He could never be tempted as to His love, for His ruling love is the salvation, that is bringing into heaven, of the universal human race.

On the other hand, when He refers to Himself as the Son of Man, it reflects those states where truth was dominant, where falsity and indecision in the human from Mary could enter in, where He could be tempted as to how He must go about expressing His love for the human race. The love itself could not be tempted, but there were options, different paths that could have been taken, and the Lord agonized over these. These were the times when He prayed to the Father as if to another, when He felt the burden He had taken upon Himself, when He felt unequal to the task of saving the human race while at the same time preserving their freedom of choice in spiritual things.

When the Lord allowed the Human from Mary to die, when He refused to come down off the cross, as the hells, His enemies, His friends and even the angels of heaven all implored Him to do, when He let go of the human body, He won. His love of the Human race was conjoined with His Divine plan for their salvation. The hells were forced back into order. He could no longer be tempted or tested in any way for His victory was complete. He was no longer the Son of Man, because truly he was fully the Son of God, one with Jehovah.

We might ask ourselves why, at the moment of the Lord’s final victory, it was a gentile, a Roman soldier who proclaimed the truth that the Lord had in fact won the battle, who expressed the fundamental truth for all Christianity, that Jesus Christ was not a man, not the Son of Man any longer, but that He was truly the Son of God?

For our answer, we must look to the internal sense of the Word for only in the Word will we find the answer this question. First, consider the other place where a centurion is mentioned in the Word, the centurion who asked the Lord to cure his sick child, but who told the Lord that it was not necessary for Him to travel to his home, that it was enough for Him to merely say the word, and it would be done. That centurion was used to giving orders to those in his command, and having them done immediately. It was his simple belief that the Lord commanded the spiritual world in the same way, that His physical presence was not needed to heal the boy: all He need do was say the word. The officer’s faith was well founded, and the boy was healed.

Centurions, being Roman officers, were not Jews, and therefore by definition they were gentiles. We are taught that except for a small faithful remnant from the former church, the Lord always raises up a new church among the gentiles; those who have not been blinded by the false doctrines and corrupted by evils. And so, the centurion of our text then stands for all those people who want to believe in the Lord, but for one reason or another have not yet found Him.

A centurion has this representation in the Word because he is a commander over a hundred men, and the Latin root of “centurion” means “one hundred.” If we look at the Abraham series in the Old Testament, we can see that many important things happened to Abraham in his 100th year. These things represent in the internal sense the “unition of the Human of the Lord with the Divine and of the Divine with the Human” (AC 2213). In other places, one hundred represents “a full state of unition” (AC 2636). And finally, one hundred is ten times ten, and since ten represent remains, or those affectional states that remain with everyone from earliest infancy to eternity, one hundred represents a fullness of remains.

This further teaches us that all gentiles, all those who seek to do good no matter what their doctrinal background, can reach out and accept the doctrine of the Lord’s Divine Humanity, that in fact the Lord has provided each one of us from birth with the ability to receive this doctrine with joy.

It was often said by the Lord, when the sick were healed, that they should “have faith,” and it would be done unto them “according to their faith”. The reason for this is that the most important thing of all is to acknowledge that the Lord is the Savior of the world. Without this basic, fundamental idea, no one can receive anything of good and truth from heaven. The reason why you cannot receive any good and truth from the Lord if you don’t believe He is the Savior of the world, is that you won’t ask for it. Why would you ask Him for help if you did not believe that He could help? This is why, when the Lord came into the world and healed the sick that He questioned them about their faith before He healed them. Only those were healed who believed that He was the Son of God who was to come into the world, and that He had the power to heal and save. This “acknowledgment of the Lord is the first of all things of spiritual life, and the most essential thing of the church, because without it no one can receive from heaven anything of the truth of faith and the good of love” (AC 10083:5).

The Centurion, a gentile, not blinded by the falsities of the Jewish church, was the first to understand the true meaning of the Lord’s crucifixion. He knew that Jesus had healed the sick. He knew that Jesus had cast out demons. He had heard of all the signs and miracles that He had performed in the course of His ministry. He, like many others had suspected that Jesus would have miraculously saved Himself–perhaps he and many others had come to the crucifixion hoping to see just such a miracle. But when Jesus passively allowed these things to be done to Him and awaited death, it caused the Centurion to wonder, to think to himself, “What man would let this happen to Himself?” And by asking that question he opened himself up to the truth that this was not a man. Jesus Christ was willing to die because it was true that His kingdom was not of this world. Like a morning star, that bright beacon of light on the horizon that foretells the coming dawn, the Centurion gave voice to the first characteristic mark of faith: that the Lord is the Son of the Living God, and on this faith all else of heaven and the church rests. So on this Easter morning, as we think of the joyful discovery of the empty tomb, as we think of the Lord in His Glorified Human ruling as King of the heavens today, let us not let our faith be distracted by complicated doctrines, but remember this simple truth that was first seen by the Roman Centurion: “truly, this Man was the Son of God” (text).

Lessons: PSA 22; MAR 15:33-39, 16:1-8; AC 2405e

a3 2405e. As in the proper sense the “morning” signifies the Lord, His advent, and thus the approach of His kingdom, it is evident what it signifies besides, namely, the rise of a new church (for this is the Lord’s kingdom on earth), and this both in general and in particular, and even in the least particular; in general, when any church on the globe is being raised up anew; in particular, when a man is being regenerated, and being made new (for then the Lord’s kingdom is arising in him, and he is becoming a church); and in the least particular, whenever the good of love and faith is working in him; for in this consists the advent of the Lord. Hence the Lord’s resurrection on the third day in the morning involves all these things (even in the particular and the least particular) in regard to His rising again in the minds of the regenerate every day, and even every moment.

Visions of the Lord

 

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

                                                                                      revcooper.ca

But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (MAT 17:7-8)

In our lesson from the Divine Love and Wisdom we read how important it is for a person to have the correct idea of God, that each of us will find our home in heaven according to the idea of God which is confirmed and made manifest by our attitudes and actions towards each other. Our idea of God, how we visualize Him, how we regard Him, how we respond to His teachings, is unique in each of us, and becomes a part of our very character and being. We are taught that in all the heavens there is no other idea of God than that He is a Man (DLW 11), and that this is so because heaven as a whole and in regard to its least detail is in the human form. The thought of every angel proceeds according to the form of heaven, and when the Lord looks down on heaven it appears to Him in the form of a Grand Man because each of the societies there has functions that correspond to the various organs of the human body. Thus we can say that heaven itself is in the human form, and so it is impossible for any angel to think of God in any other way than as a Man.

Since heaven itself is in the form of a Man, and all the angels think of God as a Man, if we wish to be conjoined with the angels as to our thoughts while in this world, and as to our lives when we pass into the next, we must therefore learn to think in the same way that they do. If we believe that God is a “universal creative force,” or “nature,” or something else non-human, we have not aligned our thoughts with the angels in heaven, but instead we have begun to think as do the devils in hell.

We read from the work The Last Judgment that,

The Gentiles, especially the Africans, who acknowledge and worship one God, the Creator of the universe, have … the idea that He is a Man, and declare that no one can have any other idea of God. When they learn that there are many who cherish an idea of God as something cloud like in the midst of things, they ask where such persons are; and on being told that they are among Christians, they declare it to be impossible.… I heard a certain elder from the Christians say that no one can have an idea of a Human Divine; and I saw him taken about to various Gentile nations, and successively to such as were more and more interior, and from them to their heavens, and finally to the Christian heaven; and everywhere their interior perception concerning God was communicated to him, and he observed that they had no other idea of God than that He is a man, which is the same as the idea of a Human Divine. (LJ 74)

The Lord loves us, and we are to love Him in return, for the joy of heaven depends on this reciprocal conjunction, but the nature of love is such that for there to be genuine love (and not just some kind of affection or fondness) the one loved has to be able to return the love in a like manner. In other words, humans can only truly love other human beings. Can anyone love a force? Does it even make sense for you to say that you love gravity? Does your feeling about gravity make the slightest difference in its operation in your life? Of course not, and for this reason, we must have an idea of God as a Man, not as some cosmic, mysterious force.

It’s not even enough to think of Him in some kind of general way. We cannot love all of mankind, but we can love individual human beings. We cannot love individuals whom we have never met or spoken to. There has to be individual specific knowledge before there can be genuine reciprocal love. It is not enough to believe in some undefined “supreme being.” We are told that we must get specific knowledge of God as Man from the Word, and come to know Him as He reveals Himself there – and then we can begin to learn to love Him.

The Lord reveals His human to us gradually in the Word. Each revelation was carefully designed to be appropriate to the spiritual states of the men who were to see it. He had to show Himself to the men of the Most Ancient Church in a way quite different from His revelation to the prophets of Israel, to His disciples, or to Emanuel Swedenborg, because each of these were able to receive Him and understand Him in a different way. We are able to see the complete picture, for we can see Him in all of His revelations.

Today, we will look at several of these revelations or visions of the Lord so that we can see how the Lord shows Himself to us in such a way that our understanding of Him as God-Man can begin in our minds and grow throughout eternity. We will select some passages from the Old and New Testaments that will serve to illustrate the way we are to develop our picture of the Visible God even as our understanding of Him grows.

The first instance were the Word pictures God as Man is in Genesis. Adam and Eve are in the garden, have been tempted to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and have succumbed. We read:

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” (GEN 3:7-9)

Who among us has not taken a walk in the garden in the cool of the day? What a distinctly human view of God the Creator is presented here: the father finding out the naughty children. True, their punishment is harsh, but no one who reads this passage can fail to see that they did the only thing that they were specifically forbidden to do. God has presented Himself to us here in a distinctly human way, although with a sharp edge of stern justice. A “universal life-force” does not walk in the garden in the cool of the day.

The Lord revealed Himself to Moses first in a bush that burned without being consumed, and later when He gave the law to Moses on Sinai, we are told that there was flame on the top of the mountain, and the cloud descended halfway down it. Also the Lord signified His presence in the camp of Israel by a continual cloud over the tabernacle during the day, and flame of fire by night. These symbols of the Divine presence were apparently as much as could be received by the Jewish Church during the age of the patriarchs. The Lord would occasionally speak to the prophets, or appear in a night vision, but such revelations did nothing to develop the idea of His Divine Humanity with them. Instead, He taught of His Humanity by prophecy that looked forward to the time that He would come in person as the shepherd of Israel.

The Psalms contain many different images of the Lord as a warrior, as a king, but the most memorable image of the Lord given to us in the Psalms is that of the Lord as The Shepherd:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever. (PSA 23)

This Psalm may well be the most well-known and most beloved part of the Old Testament precisely because of the beautiful picture that it paints of the Lord, and because it leads us to love this image of Him because it is what we need to have a proper human picture of Him, so that we can begin to love Him as a person whom we know, and who has personal human qualities which we admire.

This theme of the Lord as the gentle shepherd is continued in the New Testament because the Lord wanted to present Himself to the people in such a way that they would understand His relationship to them, and since the great majority of people in those days worked in the fields, it should not be surprising that the Lord used this image to describe His relationship to His people.

The Lord compared Himself to the good shepherd as a symbol of His spiritual mission. The wolf which attacks the sheep is hell, and the Lord teaches that He will fight even to the death of the physical body for the sake of His people. We can see in hindsight that He was predicting His own death by crucifixion in the following passages, even while he was teaching the people about His great compassion for them. He taught:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But he who is a hireling and not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (JOH 10:11-16)

Not only did He lay down His life for His sheep, He has shown us that His compassion and love extends beyond the bounds of the Jewish Church to encompass all people in all nations who love Him and keep His commandments. In His spiritual kingdom, there is indeed only one flock, and one shepherd. In heaven, the trivial differences that divide the nations of the world drop away as useless and the true spiritual bonds within serve to unite all peoples in uses which serve the Lord and His kingdom.

Our final vision of the Lord comes from the Gospel according to Matthew; the Transfiguration:

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, brought them up on a high mountain by themselves, And was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (MAT 17:1-8)

There are several important representative elements to note here. Peter represents faith. James represents charity, and John represents the works that are the product of charity and faith in the man of the church. Also, the Lord was seen by them in the presence of Moses and Elijah. Moses was a symbol of the Law itself, and Elijah was loved as the greatest of the prophets, and so, by their presence, the Lord was graphically displaying to the three disciples His own relationship to the Word. Moses and Elijah are the Law and the Prophets — the Old Testament — and Jesus Himself stands for the New Testament.

The Lord gave the Word to us for the sake of our salvation. In it, He gave us many different visions of Himself so that we could see Him in our mind’s eye as a Man, the Divine Human, and come to know Him and thus love Him. We may first think of Him as our heavenly father, or as a shepherd, or as Jesus Christ. But if we desire it, and if we bring faith, charity, and works (Peter, James, and John) into our lives, then whatever image we have of the Lord will be transfigured before our eyes, and we will see the Lord as he really is — God-Man in His Divine Human — first with our minds as our understanding opens, and later with our spiritual eyes when we achieve our heavenly home. Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, brought them up on a high mountain by themselves, And was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. (MAT 17:1,2) AMEN.

Lessons: EXO 33:7-11, REV 1:9-18, DLW 12, 13

1st Lesson: Exo 33:7-11

Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the LORD went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp. {8} So it was, whenever Moses went out to the tabernacle, that all the people rose, and each man stood at his tent door and watched Moses until he had gone into the tabernacle. {9} And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. {10} All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door. {11} So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. Amen.

2nd Lesson: Rev 1:9-18

I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. {10} I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, {11} saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.” {12} Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, {13} and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. {14} His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; {15} His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; {16} He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. {17} And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. {18} “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. Amen.

3rd Lesson: DLW 12, 13

12. The common people in Christendom have an idea that God is a Man, because God in the Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity is called a “Person.” But those who are more learned than the common people pronounce God to be invisible; and this for the reason that they cannot comprehend how God, as a Man, could have created heaven and earth, and then fill the universe with His presence, and many things besides, which cannot enter the understanding so long as the truth that the Divine is not in space is ignored. Those, however, who go to the Lord alone think of a Human Divine, thus of God as a Man.

13. How important it is to have a correct idea of God can be known from the truth that the idea of God constitutes the inmost of thought with all who have religion, for all things of religion and all things of worship look to God. And since God, universally and in particular, is in all things of religion and of worship, without a proper idea of God no communication with the heavens is possible. From this it is that in the spiritual world every nation has its place allotted in accordance with its idea of God as a Man; for in this idea, and in no other, is the idea of the Lord. That man’s state of life after death is according to the idea of God in which he has become confirmed, is manifest from the opposite of this, namely, that the denial of God, and, in the Christian world, the denial of the Divinity of the Lord, constitutes hell. Amen.

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