The Final Victory Over Hell

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. (Mark 16:6)

Jesus Christ, as we know Him from the New Testament, was a very pleasant person. He was seldom angry, He was loyal to His friends, He was patient, He knew all kinds of amazing things, and was very good at teaching them in dozens of different ways. He might even remind us of that teacher who seemed to take a special interest in our progress at school, who knew how to reach us, and who also knew how to inspire us to make that extra effort and produce work that was above our usual standard. As a man of the world, as an example to others, the Lord has had a profound effect on the lives of millions of people who have come to know of Him through their study of the Word.

It is because the Lord presented Himself in such a way during His life in the world that we approach Easter with such mixed feelings; feelings of joy for the risen Lord and the battle won, mixed with feelings of sadness that it had to be done in this way.

It is much the same as the way people feel when a World War is over: The ecstatic delight that the horror is finally over, colored by the numbness and the sadness of all the needless tragedy that had gone before.

We have to face the fact that evil is a part of life in the natural world. We cannot wish it away. We have to face it squarely and deal with it according to the rules that the Lord has given us. There is only one way to savor the delight of victory, and that is to conquer in temptation.

We are gathered today to savor the delight of the Lord’s victory over hell, not only because He won the victory and we are on His “side,” but also because through His victory over hell He has brought an order into the spiritual world which means that forevermore, everyone’s battles against hell will be that much easier.

The battles that the Lord fought against hell during His time in the world could not be avoided, for it was His purpose and intent to face the hells in the natural world, the only arena where they could be permitted to approach closely enough to Him to actually have some effect. As we read in our lesson, it is a matter of the universal Christian faith that the Lord from eternity, who is Jehovah, came into the world to subjugate the hells and to glorify His Human; and without this no mortal could have been saved (Faith 34). In other words, it was the Lord’s Divine Purpose from the very beginning that this battle should be fought and won in the natural world, for only by so doing could the Lord bring the evils that men had introduced into the world under such bonds as to allow men to live in the world in spiritual freedom and eventually come to heaven.

In order to understand and appreciate this, we also have to have a correct understanding of who Jesus really was, and why it was necessary for Him to come into the world. The heavenly doctrines of the New Church give us five key thoughts to lead us into a true understanding of the real meaning of the miracle of Easter morning.

First, we are told that it is a universal of faith that God is one in Person and in Essence in whom there is a Trinity, and that the Lord is that God (Faith 35). This idea is basic to our whole understanding of the nature of God, for it is essential that we know that Jesus Christ, the Teacher who walked on earth and was crucified, was in fact the Jehovah God of the Old Testament. This is clearly what He Himself taught, and what was the faith of the Christian Church for over three hundred years, until the leaders of the Christian church invented the doctrine of the trinity of persons and voted to adopt it in order to end a long-standing doctrinal argument.

The second article of faith is that no mortal could have been saved unless the Lord had come into the world (Ibid.). Until the Lord revealed the spiritual history of the world through the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, no one could have known the full meaning of this statement, no one could have known the spiritual danger the human race faced.

The human race, originally created as celestial, pastoral people, had descended, through a series of cycles, to the point where, in spite of the fact that it had achieved the heights of thought and government established by the Greeks and Romans, it had in fact sunk to the very depths of spiritual deprivation. Men in those days could achieve great economic and political power, but they had turned entirely away from spiritual things. They had become so full of the natural world that they were no longer able to recognize spiritual truths when they arrived in the spiritual world after death. This meant that evil spirits were able to easily deceive them, and lead otherwise decent folks into a form of slavery in false heavens. This was only possible because those people entering the spiritual world from earth were so ignorant of spiritual things. It was getting so bad that unless the Lord had done something to inspire the world with some spiritual ideas and ideals, that the human race would have simply expired under the weight of its own love of the world because it would have no longer had any way of receiving spiritual life.

The third point is that as the Lord recognized this spiritual situation as it developed, He knew that He would eventually have to take on the natural degree which men loved so much, and present Himself to them before their natural eyes, and speak into their natural ears and so inspire them to think about and act from spiritual truths once again.

At the same time, by taking on the natural degree itself by taking on a physical body, the Lord deliberately put Himself in a position to receive the assaults of hell, and it is a universal of faith that He came into the world to remove hell from man; that He removed it by combats against it and by victories over it; and that He thus subjugated it, and reduced it to order and under obedience to Himself (Ibid.).

He removed hell from mankind by breaking its power over men. He broke its power by giving mankind another path to choose, by teaching them the way to heaven. He also broke their power by receiving one by one the temptation of each society of hell and resisting it, turning it away, and throwing it back into its proper place in hell. As a result of these battles, the so-called false heavens were destroyed, and those who had been held captive in them were set free to learn the truth (if they wished to) and to find their way to their eternal spiritual homes. The power of hell was broken, and the evil spirits no longer had the power to reach out and “possess” the mind of a man in the world or a new spirit in the spiritual world as they had once had. The power of hell was broken, it was now subject to the government of the Lord once again.

Perhaps it would be useful to mention that hell only got out of control in the first place because of the Lord’s intense desire that everything that we do be of our own free choice. Therefore, as long as it was still possible for those who wished to go to heaven to do so, the Lord allowed evil to grow and grow in the world because that was what the human race wanted for itself. It was only when the human race had brought itself to the point of total destruction that the Lord stepped in to restore spiritual order.

We can think of it in terms of an adult supervising a large group of children in a playground. A certain amount of quarreling is a normal part of the way that children interact with each other, and a wise adult allows a certain amount of disorder to go on so that the children can learn to deal with their own problems in their own ways. But if the quarreling becomes so extensive that the children cannot possibly control it, then it is necessary for the adult to step in, make some judgments, and restore order. The essential point of this illustration is that we understand that both letting the quarreling go on at first, and later stepping in, are actions representing the adult’s great love for the children, but that love is showing itself in different ways under different circumstances. And so the Lord’s great love for the human race shows itself to us in different ways under different circumstances.

The fourth doctrinal point is that the Lord came into the world to glorify His Human. This is very important because unless we remember this point we can get a very negative feeling about Easter, that all the Lord did was to come to repair the mistakes that we had made.

In fact, from the very beginning, the Lord had foreseen the need to have a Human through which He could communicate with the church on earth. Until He had His own human, when the Lord wished to speak to men on earth, He had to “borrow” the spiritual body of an angel. The angel would seem to himself to go to sleep, and the Lord would flow in and appear in the angel’s form. Then, when their spiritual eyes were opened, Jehovah God could present Himself to men in the world. This is the way that He spoke to Moses and the prophets.

But the Lord wished to have direct communication instead of through representatives, and so He waited until the human race had reached the natural degree, and then He took on that degree to present Himself before men in the world directly. Having taken on the natural plane, that is, a physical body, the Lord then proceeded to incorporate it into the Divine Itself in such a way that all that was evil or corrupt was put off and rejected, but that which could be purified was made Divine. The result was that He rose, unlike any other man, with that which with man rots in the grave. The Lord had acquired for Himself a spiritual body through which He could communicate with men. He no longer needed to have an intermediary angel to do this work for Him. Swedenborg was with some people who had known the Lord in the world when He appeared in the sun of heaven. They testified that the face that they saw there was that of man they had known in the world.

The fifth and final point is that all of this means nothing if we don’t use it in our daily lives, in our day-to-day dealings with others, for the universal of the Christian faith on man’s part is that he should believe on the Lord. For by believing on Him conjunction with Him is effected and this is the means of salvation. To believe on Him is to trust that He will save: and because no one can have such trust but he who lives a good life, therefore, this also is meant by believing on Him (Ibid.). In the simplest possible terms, if we say we believe something, but we do not live according to it, then we don’t really believe it.

Of course, that is the real purpose of His resurrection; that by maintaining a state of spiritual order and equilibrium He creates a sphere in which each of us is free to do what we think is best. He has fought with the hells and brought them under control so that they cannot infest our minds unless we specifically invite them to. He has taught us by word and example what kind of life we ought to live. He has provided us with every tool and opportunity that we might need. And then He patiently waits, as a friend, to see what we will do. Let us resolve, then, to live according to His principles, to be kind towards one another, to think about other people’s feelings before we act or speak, to do everything we can to use the things which He has taken such great care to provide for us. AMEN.

 

1st Lesson:  Mark 15:25-47

Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. {26} And the inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS. {27} With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. {28} So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” {29} And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha !You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, {30} “save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” {31} Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. {32} “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him. {33} Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. {34} And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” {35} Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, “Look, He is calling for Elijah!” {36} Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down.” {37} And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. {38} Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. {39} So 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!” {40} There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, {41} who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem. {42} Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, {43} Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent council member, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, coming and taking courage, went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. {44} Pilate marveled that He was already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him if He had been dead for some time. {45} So when he found out from the centurion, he granted the body to Joseph. {46} Then he bought fine linen, took Him down, and wrapped Him in the linen. And he laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. {47} And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses observed where He was laid. Amen.

2nd Lesson:  Mark 16:1-8

Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. {2} Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. {3} And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” {4} But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away; for it was very large. {5} And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. {6} But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. {7} “But go, tell His disciples; and Peter; that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” {8} So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Amen.

3rd Lesson: Doctrine of Faith 34

  1. The Christian Faith in its universal idea or form is this: The Lord from eternity, who is Jehovah, came into the world to subdue the bells, and to glorify His Human; and without this no mortal could have been saved; and they are saved who believe in Him.
  2. It is said “in the universal idea or form” because this is what is universal of the Faith, and what is universal of the Faith is that which must be in all things of it both in general and in particular. It is a Universal of the Faith that God is One in Person and in Essence, in whom is the Trinity, and that the Lord is that God. It is a Universal of the Faith that no mortal could have been saved unless the Lord had come into the world. It is a Universal of the Faith that He came into the world in order to remove hell from man, and He removed it combats against it and by victories over it; thus He subdued it, and reduced it into order and under obedience to Himself. It is also a Universal of the Faith that He came into the world in order to glorify the Human which He took upon Him in the world, that is, in order to unite it to the all-originating Divine (Divino a Quo); thus to eternity does He hold in order and under obedience to Himself hell subjugated by Himself. And inasmuch as neither of these mighty works could have been accomplished except by means of temptations even to the utter most of them, which was the passion of the cross, He therefore underwent this uttermost temptation. These are the Universals of the Christian Faith concerning the Lord. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2008 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

The Influence of Hell in Our Lives

The Influence of Hell in Our Lives

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper


If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. Even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me (PSA 139:8,10)

It is much nicer to talk about heaven. It’s something we can look forward to; it’s something that’s pleasant. But we do have to acknowledge that evil greatly affects our daily life, and that the source of all evil is hell. We all have evil thoughts. We all have fantasies about what we would do if we were no longer under our present restraints and obligations. We all feel guilty about these thoughts because we are led to believe they are our own, when yet they are fleeting thoughts that originate in hell.

Divine Providence 320 teaches: If man believed, as is the truth, that all good and truth originate from the Lord, and all evil and falsity from hell, he would not appropriate good to himself and account it meritorious, nor would he appropriate evil to himself and account himself responsible for it.

If we can learn something about hell and the way it operates, we can then become more objective about evil; we can stand back and say “that is rubbish from hell and I don’t wish to have anything to do with it” and find that it goes away and torments us no longer. We can become free, genuinely, spiritually free to do and think as we choose.

One more thing needs to be clarified: In the New Church, we often speak of “hell” in much the same way that others speak of “the Devil.” However, the Heavenly Doctrines tell us that the basis for the belief in some one individual who presides over the hells is because the Devil, Satan, and Lucifer are mentioned by name in the Word, and those references have been understood only in the sense of the letter. When understood in the internal sense, it can be seen that these are names which signify different qualities or attributes of hell.

The idea of one ruling devil is also based on the idea that is held in some Christian Churches that heaven is a place where God and the angels dwell, angels being His messengers, spiritual beings created in heaven to serve Him, and have never lived upon the earth. There is the belief that some of these angels rebelled and were cast down into hell, and these fallen “sons of light” became the devils.

There cannot be one devil who rules the hells, because all who are in hell, like all those in heaven, are from the human race. Just as there is a logical inconsistency in having more than one all-powerful God, there an even greater problem with having two Gods, one of whom has fallen and become evil and the leader of evil beings. Therefore, there is no devil as a distinct individual, although we may speak of the common effort of all those in hell as “the devil” in the same way that we can refer to a joint effort by many individuals in this country as something done by “Canada.”

Keeping these first principles in mind, let us see what else we can learn about hell that will help us to keep free of its insidious influence in our lives.

Everyone knows that the Lord is the King of Heaven. And because Heaven and Hell are opposites that balance once another, the ruler of one must be the ruler of both. This is because from the action and reaction there is an equilibrium which gives permanence to all things. It should also be obvious that there must be a supreme, all powerful governor who can restrain the violence, uprisings, and insanities which would erupt from hell, destroy the equilibrium, and bring down everything else with it. Therefore, although it sounds strange at first, it should be clear that the Lord must be the governor of both heaven and hell.

The equilibrium or balance that is maintained between the power of heaven and hell on our lives in the world of nature is extremely important, for when two things mutually act against each other, since there is equal power on either side, neither has any effect, and both can be acted upon by a third force which then acts without opposition.

This is a simple idea that can be illustrated by springs, or the game of tug of war. But when we are thinking about true spiritual equilibrium we must beware falling into the idea that heaven and hell are balanced because they are of the same strength. The strengths of heaven and hell are not equal. There is far greater strength on the part of heaven, but it is held in restraint. Hell rushes in as far as it is able, to the absolute limit of its power, with the intent of drawing a person into its own sphere. It acts on and stimulates the evil tendencies of our hereditary nature, making us believe that these loves and desires are from ourselves, and not from hell.

Heaven, for its part, wants nothing more than for us to act in genuine freedom of choice. Therefore, although there is infinite power for good in heaven, its power is carefully moderated so that it balances the evil influences, preventing us from being overpowered by them. From superior power and practised restraint, the power of heaven leaves us free to choose our own course, to do what is right from our own decision to act according to the truth that we have from the Lord.

As an illustration, we might think of a young father playfully wrestling with his little boy. The little boy attacks furiously, at the limit of his strength and skill, and the father easily controls and directs that energy so that there is no harm through his far superior strength and skill.

Yes, there is an effective equilibrium in our spiritual lives, but that is because of the infinitely greater power of heaven exercised out of love and concern for our eternal well-being. The purpose and effect on our spiritual lives is to allow us, through our puny and feeble efforts, to co-operate with heaven and lift ourselves up and out of the sphere of hell – and stay out of it!

Hell reaches out to stimulate evil loves and hereditary tendencies to evils of every kind in such a way as to make us think that these ideas and desires are our own. It hides itself, tries to keep its true nature unseen, but the sphere of hell is like a perpetual effort to destroy all that is good and true, combined with anger and a kind of fury at not being able to do so.

The spirits of hell are particularly in the desire to destroy the Divine of the Lord, (that is, to make Jesus Christ no longer Divine and authoritative, but to make Him to be just a man. Just as the acknowledgement of His divinity is the one pearl that forms each of the twelve gates of the Holy City New Jerusalem, the wish to destroy or hide His divinity is the one clod of dirt that guards the entrances to hell.)

The hells wish to destroy the Divinity of the Lord, because that is the source of all that is good and true, therefore the source of all the things that frustrate them and bring them pain because they oppose the loves of self and the world.

A sphere of good and truth proceeds from the Lord out of heaven to restrain and balance the spheres of hell. It is from the Lord alone as a source, although it appears to be from the angels of heaven, and this because it is through them as a means. While they serve the Lord’s uses, they happily and completely acknowledge that the power for what they do comes from the Lord alone and not anything from themselves.

Heaven watches, like a gentle parent, and stimulates the good loves and delightful feelings that we have gotten through the experience of being loved and well-treated by others while in the world. And while in that state, the two forces balance each other out, allowing, as before said, a third force to act as if alone: That third force is the free will of each individual.

When we, in our freedom, make choices, we are the third force acting on our spiritual state. When we choose what is good, the net effect is to add to the forces of heaven, thus moving our spiritual state out of equilibrium toward heaven – and that’s good. Our continual effort and goal should be to co-operate with heaven against hell to push the marker off centre and toward heaven as far as we can, and hold it there as long as we can! Then we will have moved our normal state out of equilibrium into the state of heaven through our own efforts! Truly, this is what the Lord wants for us!

It has already been said that the Lord rules and governs the hells. The Heavenly Doctrines reveal how He does this both in general, and in particular: In general the hells are ruled by a general outflow of Divine good and truth from heaven which counters the flows of evil and falsity flowing forth from hell. The hells are governed in particular by an outflow from each heaven and from each society of heaven which serves to balance their counterparts. There are also angels who look into the hells and restrain insanities and disturbances there. They moderate these insanities and disturbances by their very presence, for the evil spirits fear the power of heaven, and fear is the most effective tool for governing the hells.

Everyone in hell is governed and controlled by means of their fears. Some are ruled by fears implanted in them while in the world, and are still with them. But such fears are not sufficient, and they gradually subside as the memory of the world fades, and they are then replaced by the fears of punishment. In hell, the fear of punishment is the most effective means of deterring the evil from their activities. This is because in hell, the punishment is directly related to the evil desired, and is derived from it.

The punishments of hell are wonderfully varied, and cause tremendous fear and respect from the evil spirits themselves. The punishments are lighter or more severe according to the severity of the evils. They are administered by other evil spirits, who derive pleasure from it. These spirits are in turn controlled by other spirits who protect and ensure that the punishment does not go too far.

But what does “too far” mean when it comes to the eternal punishments of hell? First, hell is eternal, not the punishments. When evil spirits keep themselves in a state of relative order, they are not punished. They are fed, clothed, given shelter, and have simple tasks to do. It is only when their evil lusts well up and break forth that they are punished, that is, only when they are in a state of disorder. When such a state breaks forth, the punishment is as harsh and immediate as is necessary to counter the rush of evil. But – and this is essential for our understanding of how to effectively punish in this world – the moment the spirit brings himself back under self-control and into a state of order, the punishment ends. Evil spirits are never punished when they are in a state of external order, and if they get out of order, the punishment ends the moment their state of disorder is broken. Even in hell, there is nothing of revenge in punishment. It is simply a tool used to restore order when necessary.

If fear is the most effective means of governing the hells, how can we take advantage of that fact in our own lives to control and defeat the effects of evil spirits? By bringing into our lives the one thing that the evil spirits fear the most: the light of heaven; the truth of the Word. When the light of heaven shines on an evil spirit, it reveals him as he truly is, a deformed and pitiful creature. It shows his gifts to be shoddy imitations, it shows his powers to be imaginary, like the beasts that dwell in the nursery shadows. The light of the Word shows them for what they really are, and shows us the way to what is of genuine eternal value.

When we are faced with evil, when we feel the delights of evil within us, we must shine the light of truth on them, drive them back into the caves and holes where they belong, for we know that we are spiritually free, responsible only for what we freely choose to do, and not any passing thoughts. We cannot be harmed by hell unless we want it, for we are under the Lord’s own protection. As the psalmist himself said, I will glorify Your name forevermore. For great is Your mercy toward me, and You have delivered my soul from the depths of hell. Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 139:1-12, Matthew 12:22-30, HH 543


First Lesson:

(Psa 139:1-12) O LORD, You have searched me and known me. {2} You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. {3} You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. {4} For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether. {5} You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. {6} Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it. {7} Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? {8} If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. {9} If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, {10} Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. {11} If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” Even the night shall be light about me; {12} Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You. Amen.

Second Lesson: Mat 12:22-30

Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. {23} And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” {24} Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” {25} But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. {26} “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? {27} “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. {28} “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. {29} “Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. {30} “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. Amen.

Third Lesson: Heaven and Hell 543.

How the hells are ruled by the Lord shall be briefly explained. In general the hells are ruled by a general outflow from the heavens of Divine good and Divine truth whereby the general endeavour flowing forth from the hells is checked and restrained; also by a particular outflow from each heaven and from each society of heaven. The hells are ruled in particular by means of the angels, to whom it is granted to look into the hells and to restrain insanities and disturbances there; and sometimes angels are sent to them who moderate these insanities and disturbances by their presence. But in general all in the hells are ruled by means of their fears. Some are ruled by fears implanted in the world and still inherent in them; but as these fears are not sufficient, and gradually subside, they are ruled by fears of punishments; and it is especially by these that they are deterred from doing evil. The punishments in hell are manifold, lighter or more severe in accordance with the evils. For the most part the more wicked, who excel in cunning and in artifices, and who are able to hold the rest in subjection and servitude by means of punishments and consequent terror, are set over them; but these governors dare not pass beyond the limits prescribed to them. It must be understood that the sole means of restraining the violence and fury of those who are in the hells is the fear of punishment. There is no other way. Amen.


Copyright © 1982 – 2006 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

The New Understanding of Predestination

 

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, MD – June 29, 2003


And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:29)

Our text is taken from a portion of the Gospel of Luke where the Lord was instructing the leaders of the Jewish church about who was entitled to enter His “new” kingdom that was “not of this world.” In order to understand why the Lord said things the way He did, we first have to understand the context in which they were given. The Jews had a heartfelt belief that they were the chosen people, that they had been personally chosen by God to receive special blessings, and that no other people in the world had the right to those blessings. Certainly the Old Testament records that Jehovah frequently reminded them that if they wanted to be His chosen people, they had to keep up their part of the covenant, and the Old Testament also records their regular departure from His ways.

When we look back at this historical period from the context of the Christian era where life after the death of the body in a heavenly paradise is assumed, it is interesting to note that very few of the Jews thought that their special blessing from God would be a reward in heaven. At that time belief in the life after death was not common, even in the Jewish Church. Some people believed in a place called Sheol (related to the Greek concept of Hades), others believed in reincarnation, while the rest believed there was nothing at all after the death of the body.

Their understanding of their covenant with Jehovah was that they would possess the land of Canaan in perpetuity in return for the performance of certain sacrifices and rituals at the temple. So they performed their rituals and lived in contempt of their gentile neighbors.

This was not what was intended, and God sent many prophets to tell them in various ways that their sacrifices and rituals were meaningless if they continued to live in sin. But they ignored the warnings, for they believed they were the “chosen people” and somehow the rules applied to them differently. And so, the Lord came on earth to tell them that they should not be so sure of themselves, that they were in for a big surprise. He told them that “His kingdom was not of this world,” but that He was king of some kind of otherworldly paradise where their forefathers now lived. He told them that there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth when they entered the kingdom of heaven and saw Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob only briefly before they themselves were thrust out as unacceptable because they had failed to put away their evils.

That a Jew would be unacceptable to Jehovah was a concept too radical for them to accept! After all, they were the chosen people! And then Jesus said something that proved to them that they must reject Him as their Messiah: He actually said that people from all kingdoms could enter His otherworldly kingdom, people from the north, south, east, and west – people who were not Jews. No wonder they were angry with Him; He taught that Gentiles and Samaritans could enter the kingdom of heaven, while the Jews would be thrust out. Jesus made no friends among the Jews with such teachings.

Christianity owes much to the Jewish Church. We share the Word of God as written by Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament. The concept of “church” where people gather to listen to experts explain the meaning of Scripture was developed by the Jews during their captivity in Babylon. Since they no longer had access to the temple in Jerusalem they had to do something to take the place of sacrifices. The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, Christianity has also inherited some bad things from the Jewish Church, and prime among them is the concept of the “chosen people,” the idea that heaven is closed to all but a handful of specially chosen people who have received some sign from God, and that God Himself excludes all others from His spiritual kingdom based only on their lack of membership in a particular national or religious group!

This false idea exists under many names and in all churches, and we need to be wary of it because it is not taught anywhere in the Word. What the Lord does teach, however, is that heaven is open to all people and those will find their home there who earn it through the good of life. In the gospel of Matthew He teaches, he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good (Mat. 5:45), and If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father in heaven give good things to those that ask Him? (Matte. 7:11, cf. Luke 11:13) And further, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it (Matte. 21:43).

The Lord was trying to establish a bridge for the Christian Church. He was trying to take the limited and mostly false ideas of the Jewish Church and enfill them with new truths so that they could be of some use to the people of the Christian Church that was about to be established. He taught over and over again that the kingdom of heaven was not for the Jews alone, but it was a gift from a loving and personal God for all those who followed the Mosaic law in both its letter and its spirit. He was trying to teach the truth that all men, of all races and of all nationalities, have been created for heaven, and that only those who deliberately turn away from God do not live there to eternity in blessedness and peace.

Because all people have been created to live to eternity in heaven we say that they are “destined” to heaven, and because this was planned by the Creator from the beginning of time, and certainly far before the individual human’s life began, it is correctly said that every human being is “predestined” for heaven.

Unfortunately, this New Church definition of predestination is not the one commonly used in the world. The traditional doctrine of predestination evolved in the Christian church over a period of many years. Its roots lie in the Jewish concept of the “chosen” people, and it achieved its full growth and flower when combined with the doctrine of the Trinity as invented at the council of Nicea and the question of how if man was totally evil, how could he do anything towards his own salvation?

By dividing God into three persons, the early Christian church laid the foundation for the idea that God the Creator became angry with people when it turned out that they weren’t perfect, withdrew from them, and condemned everyone to hell. Jesus Christ tries to mediate between the angry Jehovah and His created beings, and by allowing Himself to die on the cross, Jesus is sometimes successful in reversing the condemnation of some people. Once that idea was in place, the inevitable question was what would determine whether an individual human being would chosen for heaven, or allowed to continue into hell. The answer was the doctrine of predestination.

In its worst form, called “double” predestination, the doctrine asserts that Jehovah God has selected certain people who will join Him in heaven, no matter how they live their life. Everyone else goes to hell, no matter how they live their life. Every person is nothing but evil, nothing he can do or say can change God’s mind, so the only possible explanation for some people going to heaven and others to hell is that it is the result of God’s own choice. Nothing else has any effect whatsoever.

Not surprisingly, not all Christians could hold to this doctrine. They were unwilling to say that God sent people to hell, so the doctrine was modified to what is now called “single” predestination. In this version of the doctrine, all people are still totally evil and unable to effect anything towards their own salvation and will certainly go to hell. But some are selected by God for salvation, not as a reward for any act or good deed, but just because He wants to. The rest continue on their way to hell.

This doctrine is preferred by many because it delicately avoids actually saying that God actually sends people to hell for no reason other than to punish them for Adam and Eve’s original sin. It just says that He chooses to save some from hell, while allowing the rest to go to hell through His inaction. Those who hold to this doctrine assert that no one may know for certain if they have been chosen for heaven while in the natural world, but that there are indications called the “signs of faith.” They believe that, in general, those who are predestined or “chosen” live a better, more favored life while in this world – although they still hold to the view that even the vilest criminal will go to heaven if he has been chosen, no matter what his life has been.

The Writings of the New Church call the traditional Christian doctrine a “a cruel heresy” because the Lord is the Creator and Savior of all men. How can anyone think that He would will the death or damnation of anyone? It is cruel to think that the vast majority of nations and peoples under His Divine Providence could be callously handed over to the devil even though they were innocent of any sin (See DP 330:8).

We say that God, by definition, is omnipotent, that He has all power and is able to do all things from Himself. His will and His understanding, that is, His love and His power are united, and since He wills nothing but good, therefore He cannot do anything but good. How then can anyone think or believe that He could condemn, curse, or send anyone into hell? How can anyone who understands anything about the loving nature of God the Creator believe that He can send anyone to eternal death? The fact is that He “cannot turn Himself away from any man, nor even look upon him with a stern countenance.” Such things are contrary to His essence. (See TCR 56)

If such views are contrary to His very nature and essence, then what views of the eternal salvation of the human race are consistent with the qualities of God the Creator? God created the universe for one purpose: that there might be a heaven from the human race. That is the only purpose of creation that makes sense. No sane human being creates things for the purpose of hating and destroying them. No sane God would do that either. Since the purpose of creation was for men to be conjoined with God in heaven, we must then say that all people are “predestined” to heaven (See AC 6488), and our concern becomes how some are able to turn away from heaven in spite of the Lord’s efforts to lead them into heaven.

The Lord sees our evils, and it is His constant effort and intent to bend our evils to good. Therefore He governs the world so that nothing is tolerated unless He can turn it to good somewhere, sometime. For example, Joseph’s brothers were permitted to beat him and sell him as a slave into Egypt so that Joseph would be in a position to rise to power in Egypt and be able to save tens of thousands of lives with his program of stockpiling food in preparation for the coming famine. When Jacob died, and his brothers feared that Joseph would then take revenge upon them for their crimes against him, he said, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive (Gen. 50:20). The Lord constantly seeks to turn the evil to good, and if that cannot be done in freedom, then He still seeks to turn the evil to a lesser evil, because He seeks what is best for everyone. (See AC 6489)

Sound reason dictates that all people are predestined to heaven and none to hell, for all people are born in God’s image. God’s image in them consists in their ability to understand truth and to do good. The ability to understand truth comes from the Divine wisdom, and the ability to do good from the Divine love. This ability, which is God’s image, remains in any sane person and is never removed. (See DP 322)

In simple terms, we can summarize the means of salvation in this:

that evils are to be shunned because they are contrary to the Decalogue and that it be acknowledged that God exists.

Everyone can do both if he does not love evils, for the Lord is constantly flowing into his will with power for shunning evils and into his understanding with power to think about God.

Therefore it can be seen that the Lord provides a knowledge of the means by which anyone can be saved, and the power to shun evils if he wants to be saved.

It follows then that all are predestined to heaven and no one to hell. (DP 329)

The Lord is the heavenly Father of all human beings and they are His spiritual children. Therefore He says: Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven (Mt. 23:9), and further, If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father in heaven give good things to those that ask Him? (Matte. 7:11, cf. Luke 11:13) The Lord cannot act other than as a parent on earth does with his children, only infinitely more loving because His divine love is infinite. Further, He cannot condemn anyone to hell or withdraw from them, because all life is from Him, and if He were to withdraw, spiritual life would end. However, it appears that He withdraws from the evil, although the fact is that it is the evil man who withdraws from Him while the Lord yet continues to lead him from love. (See DP 330:1)

In conclusion we can see that the origins of the traditional doctrine of predestination are in the Jewish concept of a “chosen” people, the doctrine of man’s complete sinfulness and lack of power in spiritual things, and the concept of the trinity incorporating the concept of Jehovah being the Creator who is angry with the failures of His creation and wishing to destroy them all, while the Son strives to convince Him to allow a few into heaven. But we have also seen that nothing in the Word supports such a view, for the Lord tells us that He is our heavenly Father, and we His children. He created heaven so that we could be with Him to eternity, and He has given us the tools and the strength to prepare ourselves for heaven, and we have seen that He wants all men who love Him, no matter what their religion or nationality, to be conjoined with him to eternity.

This is the true meaning of the covenant that He made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that all those who obey Him and shun evils as sins, will receive His eternal blessing. Hopefully, we have seen that the true doctrine of predestination, the predestination of all men to heaven, is one that is supported by the teaching of the Word and sound reason. We can have confidence in the Lord’s plan to bring all those who keep His commandments and love Him, to eternal life in heaven, for He Himself said, Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. AMEN.


First Lesson: Luke 13:22-30

And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. {23} Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them, {24} “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. {25} “When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ {26} “then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ {27} “But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ {28} “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. {29} “They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. {30} “And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.”

Second Lesson: TCR 664

Once I looked toward the right in the spiritual world, and observed some of the elect conversing together. I approached them and said, “I saw you at a distance, and there was round about you a sphere of heavenly light, whereby I knew that you belonged to those who in the Word are called ‘the elect;’ therefore I drew near that I might hear what heavenly subject you were talking about.”

They replied, “Why do you call us the elect?”

I answered, “Because in the world, where I am in the body, they have no other idea than that ‘the elect’ in the Word means those who are elected and predestined to heaven by God either before or after they are born, and that to such alone faith is given as a token of their election, and that the rest are held as reprobates, and are left to themselves, to go to hell whichever way they please. And yet I know that no election takes place before birth, nor after birth, but that all are elected and predestined to heaven, because all are called; also that after their death the Lord elects those who have lived well and believed aright; and this takes place after they have been examined. That this is so it has been granted me to learn by much observation. And because I saw that your heads were encircled by a sphere of heavenly light, I had a perception that you belonged to the elect who are preparing for heaven.”

To this they replied, “You are telling things never before heard. Who does not know that there is no man born who is not called to heaven, and that from them after death those are elected who have believed in the Lord and have lived according to His commandments; and that to acknowledge any other election is to accuse the Lord Himself not only of being impotent to save, but also of injustice?”

Defeating Midian

 

 

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Then the Lord said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand.” (Judges 7:7)

The children of Israel were led by Moses out of their Egyptian slavery, across the wilderness, and to the borders of the promised land. When Moses died, leadership was passed to Joshua. Joshua served the Lord by commanding the children of Israel in the conquest of the land of Canaan and its division to the various tribes. When Joshua died, no one was chosen to replace him as the one leader of Israel. Instead, for the next several hundred years, they were loosely governed by a series of “judges,” people who were called by the Lord to serve in particular ways during difficult times, when the Lord sent enemies to punish them for their evil. When they cried to the Lord for mercy and forgiveness, He would raise up a judge for them. Gideon was the fifth of the judges raised up by the Lord to save Israel from its enemies.

The particular story we are interested in today has to do with the Midianites. The Midianites were a large tribe that lived far to the south of the land of Israel, but they, together with their allies the Amalekites, found that it was far easier to travel into the fertile valleys of Israel at harvest time and simply take whatever they wanted than to go to all the effort of growing it themselves. We are told in the Word that for seven years the Midianites came up into Israel to steal the produce of the land and the flocks. There were so many of them that the people feared to do anything more than hide in the caves and rocks of the mountains.

Gideon was afraid of the Midianites too. When we first meet him he is threshing his wheat in a winepress in order to hide it from the Midianites. Far from being a natural leader, Gideon says of himself that his family is “weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15). He appears to be a reluctant hero, for when the angel appears to him to ask him to be the next judge, Gideon asks for a number of miracles to prove that he really is the Lord’s choice.

The Lord has chosen Gideon to be His instrument because he was not already a great leader. The Lord wanted to remind Israel of His power to save, and if the children of Israel were to drive off the Midianites with a great leader and a large army, they were certain to claim the victory for themselves. Instead, the Lord was preparing a great miracle.

First, Gideon called to himself an army. Thirty two thousand soldiers responded to his call. Gideon told everyone who was afraid to go home. Twenty two thousand men went home. The Lord said that the remaining ten thousand were still too many, so He set a test for them: while they were marching to the battle, they crossed a stream. Most of the soldiers stopped to drink and cool off, grateful for the opportunity to rest, but a few of them were so eager to fight Midian that they ran right through the stream, only scooping water up with their hands. These three hundred were acceptable to the Lord, while all the rest were sent home. Surely, the only way this small band could win against Midian was if the Lord was to use them to perform a miracle.

Even after he is convinced that the Lord is with them, we find repeated evidence of Israel’s and Gideon’s fear: When the Lord commanded him to knock down his father’s altar to Baal, “because he feared his father’s household and the men of the city too much to do it by day, he did it by night” (Judges 6:27). When given the chance, twenty two thousand men of Israel went home rather than face Midian in the Lord’s army (Judges 7:3). Later, Gideon had gathered his three hundred men in the hills above the Midianites, and the Lord assured him that he would win. The Lord said to him, “But if you are afraid to go down (to fight), go down into the camp with Purah your servant” (Judges 7:10), and indeed, Gideon immediately took Purah, proving his fear, and went to spy in the camp. Only after he had heard the interpretation of the dream was Gideon prepared to attack the Midianites.

But attack he did. Again, it was under the cover of darkness, and it was a surprise attack, but facing an enemy that was as numerous as the “sand upon the seashore” (Judges 7:12) with three hundred men armed only with trumpets and clay pitchers with torches inside was not something to be undertaken lightly. Gideon and his men surrounded the camp, blew their trumpets and smashed their pitchers, exposing the torches inside. The Midianites were terrified by the sudden noise and light in the middle of the night, and especially so because of their dreams and fears of retribution by Israel and Jehovah. In their fear and confusion, they drew their swords and began killing one another as they fled in panic. One hundred and twenty thousand Midianites and Amalekites fell (Judges 8:10) without Gideon or his men drawing a sword.

The Writings tell us that, in general, the various Canaanite tribes that were in the land of Canaan during Old Testament times represent our hereditary evils. Sometimes, when we reflect on our spiritual state, and we become aware of our many states of evil, it may seem to us that we are completely surrounded by our evils. They seem “as numerous as locusts“, and “as the sand by the seashore in multitude” (Judges 7:12). Like the children of Israel, it seems to us that no matter what good we try to do, still those evils remain, taking away the delight of any small good deed we may accomplish. From time to time we come into states of spiritual temptation where it seems that our tendencies to evils are so numerous that they will soon overwhelm us, and we feel that we wish we could run away from them and hide. We fear our evils because others might see them. We fear our evils because they are painful to fight. We fear our evils because we cannot think well of ourselves when we know they are there lurking in the background. We fear to fight our evils because we are afraid that we might fail. We fear to shun them because the hells flow in and whisper in our ears and help think of all kinds of reasons why it is not the right time to fight them yet. We fear to fight them because we do not wish to loose the little pleasures our evils give us.

How often has it happened in the history of nations that a general has been in a commanding position, with superior manpower, weapons, and supplies, but has refused to move in spite of orders to do so because he was convinced in his own mind that he faced an unbeatable foe? There are many examples, and when we read of such a situation, do we not say to ourselves, “That fool! If he would just move forward with confidence the battle would be quickly won!”

My friends, each of us is in just such a position. Our army is made up of all the angels of heaven who stand ready to fight evil for us at our smallest request. Our enemies are the hells, who cannot stand the sphere of heaven, and will flee in panic at the thought of their approach. But the army of heaven will not move against our evils until we overcome our own fears and command them to do so.

Unless we do something about our evils, we will go to hell. We cannot save ourselves by our own power, for by ourselves we have no power over hell. The only one who can save us from our own evils is the Lord. These things are all well known. What is important about the story of Gideon’s fight against Midian is that it reveals, in the internal sense, how the Lord can save us. He saves us by means of the 300 soldiers who did not stop to drink, but instead lapped the water like dogs.

The Midianites represent a state of falsity caused by the failure to do what is good to the neighbor (See AC 8815). This is a general state of evil of life and the falsities that are needed to justify doing evil that is the natural state of man. As said before, it can seem an overwhelming task to fight such an evil — if you take it on by yourself. The internal sense reveals how the Lord will help us in this battle. The Writings tell us that those who lapped the water represent those who, from some natural affection, seek to know the truth (See AE 455). We can then say that the Lord saves us from the falsity and the evil of life that are ours by heredity, by giving us a natural affection (through remains) to eagerly seek truth.

Truth is the only thing which will save us. Jesus Christ, speaking in the Divine Human and therefore representing the Divine Truth, said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father, except by Me.” (John 14:6) Truth is the way. No one comes to the Father except by learning, believing, and living Divine Truth from the Word. We cannot be saved by doing good only. Anyone can do good, and do it from any motive. We cannot change our spiritual make-up by ourselves just by doing what is right. The Lord alone can build the new will. All our loves are in the domain of the Lord alone.

The illustration of this important fact used by the Writings themselves is that of the heart and lungs. The heart represents the will. We cannot change our heart rate by thinking about it; it is not subject to voluntary control. However, we can change our heart rate indirectly by going for a run, or resting quietly in bed. This illustrates how we can cooperate in the process by which the Lord regenerates us. Since we cannot change our moods or loves by our will, we must therefore be able to change them with another means. The Divinely provided means is for us to know the truth, to examine our lives by that truth, and to shun those things that are evil. If we do this, then the Lord can flow into our minds in secret ways, remove the evils, and replace them with the opposite goods.

Gideon was terribly afraid of the Midianites because they came into his land and stole his things. His life was dominated by the fear of loosing his things. One of the main causes for fear in the world today is the fear of loosing our things, our possessions, our pleasures. If we focus entirely on the material pleasures of this world, we are doomed to despair, for we know that in death we will loose everything of this world. If we are to destroy fear, we must change our focus from the material world to the spiritual world. We must seek to earn eternal gifts. We must turn to the truth in the Word for guidance. Then, when we act like Gideon, in harmony with the Lord, we can conquer the Midianites. The fear that we had of loosing our possessions can be transferred to our enemies, who, when faced with our confident attack flee in confusion.

When we feel disgusted with ourselves for our worldliness, when we find ourselves worrying about our things, our possessions, when we fear that we will not be found worthy to enter heaven, we need to remember how Gideon defeated Midian without even drawing a sword, and we need to remember what the Lord Himself said: Do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:29-32). AMEN.

Lessons: Judges 7; AE 734:13

First Lesson: JDG 7

Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the well of Harod, so that the camp of the Midianites was on the north side of them by the hill of Moreh in the valley. {2} And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ {3} “Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.’ ” And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained. {4} But the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. Then it will be, that of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ the same shall go with you; and of whomever I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ the same shall not go.” {5} So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “Everyone who laps from the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set apart by himself; likewise everyone who gets down on his knees to drink.” {6} And the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men; but all the rest of the people got down on their knees to drink water. {7} Then the LORD said to Gideon, “By the three hundred men who lapped I will save you, and deliver the Midianites into your hand. Let all the other people go, every man to his place.” {8} So the people took provisions and their trumpets in their hands. And he sent away all the rest of Israel, every man to his tent, and retained those three hundred men. Now the camp of Midian was below him in the valley. {9} It happened on the same night that the LORD said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have delivered it into your hand. {10} “But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, {11} “and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outpost of the armed men who were in the camp. {12} Now the Midianites and Amalekites, all the people of the East, were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude. {13} And when Gideon had come, there was a man telling a dream to his companion. He said, “I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed.” {14} Then his companion answered and said, “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.” {15} And so it was, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, that he worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel, and said, “Arise, for the LORD has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand.” {16} Then he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet into every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and torches inside the pitchers. {17} And he said to them, “Look at me and do likewise; watch, and when I come to the edge of the camp you shall do as I do: {18} “When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets on every side of the whole camp, and say, ‘The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!'” {19} So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just as they had posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands. {20} Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers; they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing; and they cried, “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!” {21} And every man stood in his place all around the camp; and the whole army ran and cried out and fled. {22} When the three hundred blew the trumpets, the LORD set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole camp; and the army fled to Beth Acacia, toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel Meholah, by Tabbath. {23} And the men of Israel gathered together from Naphtali, Asher, and all Manasseh, and pursued the Midianites. {24} Then Gideon sent messengers throughout all the mountains of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites, and seize from them the watering places as far as Beth Barah and the Jordan.” Then all the men of Ephraim gathered together and seized the watering places as far as Beth Barah and the Jordan. {25} And they captured two princes of the Midianites, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. They pursued Midian and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon on the other side of the Jordan. Amen.

Second Lesson: AE 734:13

[13] From this it can be concluded what these statutes signify in the spiritual sense, namely, that the men of the church, that is, the men in whom the church is, who are signified by “the sons of Israel going out to the war,” are the ones to fight against enemies, which are the hells, and not those who have not yet become men of the church or men in whom the church is; therefore it is said that those “that have built houses and have not yet dedicated them,” also those “that have planted vineyards and have not yet gathered the fruits of them,” also those “that have betrothed wives and have not yet taken them,” shall not go out to the war, for all these signify those in whom the church has not yet been implanted, thus who have not yet become men of the church; and it is said that such “should go and return to their house, lest they should die in the war,” which means that such will not prevail over their enemies, but their enemies over them, since those only prevail over spiritual enemies who are in truths from good, or in whom truth is conjoined to good. It is also said, “lest another man dedicate the house,” “gather the fruit of the vineyard,” and “take the wife,” which signifies lest falsities and evils conjoin themselves with good, or truth of another kind with the affection of good; for “another man” signifies falsity, and also other truth, thus truth that is not concordant. That “the fearful and soft of heart” should also return home signified such as were not yet in the truths and goods of the church and thereby in confidence in the Lord, for such fear the evil, and also cause others to fear them, which is signified by “lest they cause the heart of their brethren to melt.” These then are the interior reasons, or reasons from the spiritual world, why these things were commanded. Amen.