The First State of Man After Death

The First State of Man After Death

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto – November 20, 2011

“Let (the wheat and the tares) grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:30)

While the Old Testament is essentially silent on the subject of the life to come, the Lord Himself taught many parables about heaven. He used simple terms familiar to the farmers, shepherds, and merchants of that time. He taught that life was the time of growth, but that all must eventually face the harvest. Then the good things would be put up in barns to be used, and the bad and useless things would be burned in the ovens. A simple concept for a simple people, but it met their needs. And in its simplicity, it re­minds us that each of us must also face the time of harvest, and find out whether we are the wheat that is put up in barns, or the tares that are to be burned.

            During the years following His life on earth the men of the church took those beautiful, simple ideas that Jesus taught and turned them into complex and confusing doctrines. The doctrines of men took away the peace and the comfort that Jesus had brought to earth, because the men of the church could derive more power and profit from fear than from comfort. But now the Lord has come again in the spiritual sense of the Word to open and reveal the secrets of heaven, to restore the sense of peace and comfort. Our subject for this sermon, and the two which will follow it, is the or­derly process that the Lord has provided for us to make our transition from this world to the next.

            We are all created for heaven, not this world. Just as the human body is prepared for life in the natural world by life in the mother’s womb, so the human soul is pre­pared for life in the spiritual world by a period of gestation in the natural world. Natural birth requires labor and pain, but once born no one wishes to return to the simple but unconscious life of the fetus. Spiritual birth also requires labor and pain, but once we have passed through the pro­cess and see for ourselves what spiritual life is like, we will have no desire to leave the reality of heaven to return to this world of illusion and fantasy.

            Before we go any further in this treat­ment we will take a moment to define sev­eral important terms while recognizing that they are not always used consistently.  One must always pay attention to context. First of all, we find that the most common usage of the term “spiritual world” is to describe the whole spiritual universe which includes heaven, the world of spirits, and hell. Occasionally, “spiritual world” is used to refer to heaven only, but it is usually obvious from the context.

            “The World of Spirits,” however, is a much more specific term. It is always used to refer to that part of the spiritual world which lies between heaven and hell and which is the place where all people go first when their natural bodies die. In character and appearance it is very much like this world.

            The word “spirit” is also a very general term. Its most general meaning is to refer to anyone living anywhere in the spiritual world. It is most frequently used to refer to someone who is still living in the world of spirits and has not yet chosen heaven or hell. A “good spirit” is someone who, if not already an angel in heaven, is nearly there. Similarly, an “evil spirit” is someone who, if not already in hell, has clearly shown his ruling love to be evil.

            Finally, an “angel” is a particular kind of spirit, specifically a spirit who has been through all the states of introduction and has chosen heaven. An angel is a person who, with their conjugial partner, has been completely prepared for and accepted into a heavenly soci­ety which will be their home to eternity.

            With these terms in mind, let us return to the consideration of what happens to a person whose natural body has died, and who is in the process of awakening into eternal, spiritual life. Just as a newborn baby in this world needs special care and attention, the same is true of the heaven-born spirit and so the same kind of angels that are present with infants are the ones who sit with the new spirit as he gently awakens. These angels hold him in a peaceful state and lead him to think about eternal things. Eventually, though, he  becomes aware of them and questions about what’s going on begin to form in his mind.  When they sense that this is happening, the celestial angels know that their work is done so they withdraw and make way for the angels from the spiritual heaven to draw near. They arrive as he awakens enough to open his eyes and begin to looks around.  They are there to answer questions about this new life. Eventually the new spirit becomes curious about his surroundings and wants to go out and explore so the spiritual angels move away to be replaced by angels from the natural heaven who show the new spirit around. Finally, when he is ready, they lead him to the world of spirits.

            Once the new spirit is fully conscious in the spiritual world and comfortable with his new surroundings and the way things work, the Lord then leads him through a process that gradually reveals the true nature of his character and then uses that information to prepare him to enter his eternal home.  This takes place in three stages.  The first is the state of externals.  Then comes the state of internals.  Finally, for those going to heaven, comes a period of instruction and preparation.  Like every good rule, this one too has exceptions.

      “There are some who are immediately after death taken up into heaven or cast into hell. …Those who have been so regenerated and prepared that they need simply to cast off natural impurities with the body are at once taken up by the angels into heaven. …Others are cast immediately into hell. …But all these are few in comparison with those who are retained in the world of spirits, and are there pre­pared in accordance with Divine order for heaven or for hell” (HH 491).

            As far as the new spirit is concerned, and as far as he can tell from the testimony of his senses, the World of Spirits is just like he previous life in the natural world. There are several reasons for this. One is that by creating a sphere so like the natural world, it reduces the shock to the new spirit and allows him to return to his own way of life, to return to his own genuine character. He would not be able to do this if he sensed that he was in an alien or artificial environ­ment. After all, we are all on our best beha­vior when away from home. Another reason is that the Lord wishes everyone to feel welcome, comfortable, and at peace. We all know how pleasant it is to find familiar things when we travel to far away places. The same principle applies in the World of Spirits. However, it is a different world. And, the new spirit does remember what he was told during his states of resuscitation and think about them from time to time. But soon the testimony of his senses distracts him from such thoughts, and he returns to a life according to the belief that he still lives in the natural world.

            His natural life continues into his spir­itual life. The death of the natural body is merely a transition from one mode of life to another. The doctrine testifies that one of the most important features of this state is that of meeting with friends and family that have gone on before. We are told that a new spirit is immediately recognized by his friends, both by his face and by the sphere of his life, and this introduces one of the more unusual aspects of heavenly life to the new spirit. Time and space seem to be as they were in his former life, but yet they are somehow changed. Specifically, whenever he thinks about anyone who is also in the spiritual world, that person be­comes present as if he had been sent for, or called. So, as he thinks in turn about each of his friends from the world that have died, they appear before him! The doctrines tell us that these meetings are joyful for both parties.

            These meetings are especially mean­ingful for husbands and wives. They meet, congratulate each other, and resume their life together. The length of time they re­main together depends on the state of their marriage. If they were friends and partners in the world, they continue so to eternity. If, however, they cannot find delight with each other, they eventually separate, each going to their own place in the spiritual world. Even so, they are not allowed to separate during this first state, for it is only a state of exteriors, and the exteriors are only an ap­pearance. It would be a tragedy if people who were internally suited to each other separated because of merely external prob­lems when those very external character­istics are about to be shed in favor of new externals which correspond to their true in­terior qualities. So, even if there is anger, hatred, or even actual combat, couples re­main together throughout the state of ex­teriors.

            Another characteristic of this state is that new spirits are surprised to find them­selves in a body. For most people in the world, the only source of information about heaven and hell is what they have read from the Word, or what they have been taught in church. A careful study of the Old Testament will reveal that there is virtually no teaching about the nature of the spiritual world (other than that strange passage where the witch of En-Dor raises Samuel’s spirit at Saul’s request). And while there are quite a few parables about heaven in the New Testament, most of them are limited to presenting the idea that there is a life after death where the good are rewarded and the evil punished in unspecified ways. So, as they become aware of the reality of the spiritual world, they become eager to know more about heaven and hell.

            At first they converse with their friends about it, then they are taken from place to place and shown around. Swedenborg reports that many of the people in his time were indignant at how poorly they had been prepared for eternal life through their own ignorance and the lack of instruction from the church.  The big question that soon comes to each of them is whether or not they are worthy to enter heaven.

Most arrive believing that they are worthy of heav­en because they lived a moral life in the world – at least in externals. However, they don’t realize that both the good and the evil can live a civil and moral life. In the first state, where people are still allowed to present themselves as they wish to be seen, it is hard to tell the good spirits from those that are evil because all kinds of people are capable of living a moral life in the world:  All people, no matter how black their hearts, are able to live under governments and subject themselves to the requirements of civil law. The good and the evil can acquire a reputation for honesty and justice, they both can receive favor and be raised to honors, and they can both acquire great wealth, so none of these things can be used to judge between the good and the evil during their first state in the World of Spirits.

There is a way that they can be distin­guished, though.  People who are evil at heart are eager to talk about external things about people and events, but pay little attention at all when the topic turns to internal or spiritual things.  They are willing to listen to conversations about the goods and truths of the church, but it is obvious that they do not enjoy it.

A second way of determining the dif­ference between good and evil spirits is that when left to themselves they turn themselves to face specific directions in the World of Spirits and follow the paths that lead in those directions. By observing their paths it is possible to know the kind of love that leads them. (See HH 496)

This first state of man after death con­tinues with some for days, with some for months, and with some for a year; but seldom with anyone beyond a year; for a shorter or longer time with each one differently in accordance with the agreement or disagreement of his interiors with his exteriors (HH 498).

In conclusion, we can say that the first state of a new spirit in the world of spirits is one of introduction and welcome. It is provided so that each person who enters the spiritual world will have a chance to get their bearings, and become accustomed to the fact that they are no longer in their natural body and that they have awakened into eternal life. They are kept in surroundings that are as familiar as possible, and encouraged to wander around and learn all that they desire for as long as they need. But eventually the spirit is ready to move on, he feels a desire to find his true spiritual home. When this hap­pens, he is ready to enter into the next state, the state of his interiors.

This second state will be the subject of the next sermon in this series, which will be delivered next Sunday.


First Lesson:  Mat 13:24-30, 36-43

Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; {25} “but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. {26} “But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. {27} “So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ {28} “He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ {29} “But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. {30} ‘Let both grow to­gether until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gath­er together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’ “

{36} Then Jesus sent the multi­tude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” {37} He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. {38} “The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. {39} “The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. {40} “Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. {41} “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, {42} “and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. {43} “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! Amen.

Second Lesson: HH 491.


There are three states that man passes through after death before he enters either heaven or hell. The first state is the state of his exteriors, the second state the state of his interiors, and the third his state of pre­paration. These states man passes through in the world of spirits. There are some, however, that do not pass through them; but immediately after death are either taken up into heaven or cast into hell. Those that are immediately taken up into heaven are those that have been regenerated in the world and thereby prepared for heaven. Those that have been so regenerated and prepared that they need simply to cast off natural impurities with the body are at once taken up by the angels into heaven. I have seen them so taken up soon after the hour of death. On the other hand, those that have been inwardly wicked while maintaining an outward appearance of goodness, and have thus filled up the measure of their wickedness by artifices, using goodness as a means of deceiving-these are at once cast into hell, I have seen some such cast into hell immediately after death, one of the most deceitful with his head downward and feet upward, and others in other ways. There are some that immediately after death are cast into caverns and are thus separated from those that are in the world of spirits, and are taken out from these and put back again by turns. They are such as have dealt wickedly with the neighbor under civil pretenses. But all these are few in comparison with those that are retained in the world of spirits, and are there prepared in accordance with Divine order for heaven or for hell. Amen.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arcana Coelestia 9286

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

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