A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; He also has become my salvation. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst. (Isaiah 12:2,6)
Our text for today is taken from the twelfth chapter of book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is a prayer of thanksgiving, as well as a complete list of the things that we need to acknowledge in our life in order to genuinely benefit from the Lord’s Divine Providence. It is our intention to examine this chapter section by section so that perhaps we will be able to perceive the message of humble gratitude that was inspired by the Lord and hidden in the sense of the letter.
Each year we set aside one Sunday in the fall to celebrate the Harvest Festival and turn our attention to the many gifts given to us by the Lord during the normal course of the year. It is proper for us to put aside some time each year to get together with family, enjoy the bounty of the earth, and be thankful to the Lord for all the good things in our lives. It is right that we should do this because the busy nature of our pursuits in the natural world distract us from spiritual things. Our worldly concerns limit our vision of the spiritual blessings that fill every day of our lives, things we could easily see if we would only take the time to notice. It is good to take time off from the normal routine to pay attention to our spiritual blessings, and give thanks to the Lord who constantly provides them.
While we can easily see that we must give thanks to the Lord for His many natural gifts, we must remember to thank Him for the many spiritual gifts we receive from Him as well. For example, the fact that the Lord, and the Lord alone, has the power to raise all mankind to Himself in heaven, is cause for giving thanks. We can be certain that the Lord, through His Divine Providence, is continually drawing each one of us to Him if only we do not refuse Him. He not only has the power to do this, it is His ruling love. All other blessings that we enjoy flow from this, His ruling love of providing for our salvation.
We must remember that all conjunction with the Lord is reciprocal, that is, we must respond to His leading as of ourselves. The directions we must follow are given in every verse and sentence of the Word. It is through the Word that the Lord makes His advent to every one of us in the church. It is through the Word that the Lord instructs us in the way to eternal life, and because of this, Isaiah said, Sing unto the Lord, for He has done excellent things (Isaiah. 12:5).
The opening phrase of the chapter in Isaiah from which our text was taken says, and in that day, and it signifies the Lord’s advent, or coming (see Lord 4), for whenever the Word says, and in that day, it refers to the time when the Lord will come. In fact, the Lord’s coming is the subject of all the Prophets (see Lord 3). It follows then that we should rejoice and be glad because the Lord came into the world to execute a judgment, subdue the hells, establish a new church, order the heavens, and glorify His Human. That the Lord did this in time is a blessing, for by so doing He preserved spiritual freedom for all people everywhere. The real cause for joy is that He will come and be born in the heart and mind of any one who will invite Him in.
It may appear to us sometimes that the Lord is angry, but the truth is that the Lord is never angry. When we are in an evil state it appears to us that the Lord is angry with us in the same way that a child fears the anger of his parents. What the child sees as anger should be love in the form of zeal to preserve and protect order. Thus, the “anger” of the Lord is said to be “turned away” and that the Lord “comforts” because a person has seen his own disorder and turned away from it as if of himself, so restoring his state of peace and order. When a person puts himself in order, there then comes a state of blessing, peace and spiritual freedom from the Lord; and that brings a state of comfort. When that happens, we can, like Isaiah, say, Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He also has become my salvation (Isaiah 12:2).
The real strength that can carry a person through life in this world to the life of heaven comes from the Lord Jehovah alone. By our nature, we are lazy and always looking for an easier way. This has some natural benefits for it can lead to many material blessings. It is incredible how hard and long some people will work to create a device or process that will reduce work. When it comes to saving labor, people seem to have limitless energy and ideas. This is not wrong, for there could be no time for reflection and thought about the things of the Word unless the daily requirements of food and shelter could be taken care of with some time to spare. Indeed, civilization itself has its roots in the development of tools and processes that allowed the necessary work to be done by fewer people in less time, leaving room for specialization in art, literature, thought and religion.
In the same vein, men have put considerable thought into developing religious philosophies that describe an “easier” way into heaven. These fall into two general categories: works alone and faith alone. These doctrines may seem like blessings because they teach a simple, instantaneous way to the promise of heavenly bliss, but they are not blessings, for the short-cuts derived from man’s self-intelligence simply do not work. As it happens when a person is building something from a kit: it is far easier to do it right the first time, according to the instructions, than to have to go back and take it apart and repair your work after doing it incorrectly. The Word is our instruction book for salvation, the well from which we draw the living water with which to quench our thirst for spiritual truth. It is far better for us to read the instructions carefully and do it right the first time, for it is not likely that we will get a second chance to repair our work.
Anyone of us, whatever we may wish to do, can know the truth from the Word, and so can drink from the well of living water. But that truth is not living in us until and unless we make it a part of our as-of-self life. To be conjoined with the Lord requires not only spiritual knowledge from the Word, but also the love that binds that knowledge to the will. This becomes our own when we hold ourselves in order according to the truth that we have from the Word, because it is from the Word. This is our salvation, our conjunction with the Lord. When this happens, we are ready to call upon the Lord.
And in that day you will say: Praise the Lord, call upon His name; declare His deeds among the peoples, makes mention that His name is exalted (Isaiah 12:4). When the Word speaks of the “name” of the Lord, it does not actually refer to His name, but instead it represents and stands for everything that has to do with our worship of Him, and because He is worshipped in accordance with the doctrine in a church, by His “name” is understood everything of doctrine, and in the universal sense, everything of religion (see AR 81, AC 2009:3). To call upon the name of the Lord, then, is to ask Him to teach the way of life that leads to heaven, that is, the doctrine of the church, or everything of religion. We should give thanks to Him because He has provided such a doctrine that is accommodated so perfectly to our understanding that we can each approach him in our own way, according to our own loves and abilities.
Sing to the Lord, for He has done excellent things; this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst (Isaiah 12:5,6). This passage also reminds us of the blessing of the Lord’s advent, because the form that the Divine Truth itself took on in the world, and is now glorified, was that of the Divine Human (see Lord 40). That He is seen in the midst is also important, for ‘In the midst’ signifies in the inmost, out of which the things that are around, or are outside, draw their essence… (AR 44, see also AE 313:4) The Lord in His glorified Human is the source of life for the church. Without Him as its center, a church has no life. Without Him as our center, we are without spiritual life. On the other hand, that the central faith of the New Christian Church is in the Lord in His Divine Human is cause for giving thanks. The promise of eternal life in return for living our lives according to this faith is cause for joy because of the awe-inspiring power of it, the potential for happiness that this knowledge and life can bring, the incredible mercy and Providence of the Lord who designed the universe to work in just this way. And yet at the same time, the sight of such a grand plan for human happiness, the way that the Lord’s love for each individual person and at the same time for all of mankind that shines so brightly, can draw us up short when we see ourselves reflected in that true light. We do not always act according to our knowledge of the Lord’s will. This can bring on a feeling that we do not deserve the rewards that He has promised, that we will never be able to earn them. In other words, when we acknowledge our own base nature, as we must from time to time, we are humbled before the Lord. This humiliation, when seen in the proper light, is also a blessing, for it is the confession that the Lord Alone can save mankind through His own power.
Confession is a state that is of the heart or will of a person, and shows itself only in a state of humiliation–if at the same time there is the affection of good (see AE 326:3). Before we can truly follow the Lord, we have to become convinced that His is the only way. In order to learn this as-of-ourselves, it is necessary for us to attempt to guide our own lives from self-intelligence first, and see that it does not work. Until we have been convinced by our own personal experience of the matter, until we are convinced by bitter experience of life, we will not accept the Lord’s way. Key to this is the affection of good that leads us through these times of trial and temptation. If we are really trying to reach out for eternal, spiritual ends, and if we allow ourselves to be led by the affection of good that is given to us from birth by the Lord, then the Lord will protect us in our struggles, and prevent us from going too far astray, or causing genuine spiritual harm to ourselves. Then, when we are really ready to listen to the Lord, ready to listen because we have come to realize how powerless we are by ourselves, when we are humiliated, He will hear our cry and pick us up, and lead us to the well of living, spiritual waters.
The Lord only leads; He does not drag. He waits for us to ask, and even then, He bends us towards heaven, never breaking our affections. He leads us according to the distinctly different combination of loves that each of us has. We do not have the power or knowledge to do this for ourselves, so we need to confess our need of Him to the Lord, for He alone has that power, and then He will be with us, and from that knowledge, our spirits will begin to sing.
‘And they were singing…’ signifies an acknowledgment and glorification of the Lord because He Only is the Judge, Redeemer, and Savior, thus the God of heaven and earth (AR 279). We have many things to be thankful for: friends, family, and the Church. But most of all we have the knowledge that the Lord is waiting patiently to be invited into our hearts and minds when we are ready for Him, and He will then lead us to eternal life, conjoined with Him.
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; He also has become my salvation. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst. (text) AMEN.
Lessons: Isaiah 12, John 4:5-26, Lord 3
DLORD 3. Briefly stated, the subjects concerning the Lord that are treated of in all the Prophets of the Old Testament, from Isaiah to Malachi, both in general and in particular, are these:–
i. The Lord came into the world in the fullness of times,
which was when He was no longer known by the Jews, and when, consequently, there was nothing of the church left; and unless He had then come into the world and revealed Himself, mankind would have perished in eternal death. As He Himself says in John: “Except ye believe that I am, ye shall die in your sins” (viii. 24).
ii. The Lord came into the world to execute a Last Judgment, and thereby to subdue the existing dominance of the hells; which was effected by means of combats (that is, temptations) admitted into his maternal human, and the attendant continual victories; for unless the hells had been subjugated no man could have been saved.
iii. The Lord came into the world in order to glorify His
Human, that is, unite it to the Divine which was in Him from conception.
iv. The Lord came into the world in order to set up a new
church which should acknowledge Him as the Redeemer and Saviour, and be redeemed and saved through love to Him and faith in Him. v. He at the same time reduced heaven into order, so that it made a one with the church.
vi. The passion of the cross was the last combat or
temptation, by means of which He completely conquered the hells and fully glorified His Human.
ISAIAH NAKED AND BAREFOOT
A Sermon by Rev. Martin PrykePreached in Bryn Athyn on May 3, 1987
“At the same time spake the Lord by Isaiah the son of Amos, saying, Go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot” (Isaiah 20:2).
The prophet Isaiah served in the kingdom of Judah in the eighth century B.C — a time when the northern kingdom, Israel, had been taken captive by the Assyrians to be settled among the people in the north. This left Judah alone, directly on the path between the two great powers: Assyria in the north and Egypt in the south. Their position was an impossible one, for they were not themselves powerful enough to face either of these nations and yet stood between them as each sought to attack the other. Their only hope was to play off Egypt against Assyria and Assyria against Egypt. At the time of the prophecy of our text, the greatest danger was from Assyria in the north, and it was Judah’s great hope that Egypt would protect them, if only for their own sake.
Assyria sent a force to attack the Philistinian city of Ashdod, stretching themselves along the coastal route toward Egypt. This was close indeed to Judah, and they dreaded the consequences, looking desperately to Egypt and Ethiopia to come to their aid. It was Isaiah’s lot to show them that this hope was not to be fulfilled, that Assyria would, in this instance, conquer. “The king of Assyria [shall] lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt” (Isaiah 20:4).
It is interesting to note that in this case, as in other cases, Isaiah was commanded not only to speak words of prophecy but also to enact them — to declare them before the people in a dramatic form. It was not enough for him to say that the king of Assyria would take the Egyptians and Ethiopians away captive, naked and barefoot, but he was to demonstrate the prophecy by himself loosing the sackcloth from his loins and putting off the shoes from his feet, to go naked and barefoot for three years. This form of instruction by dramatic presentations was used on occasion by other prophets. These were a living revelation to the people who beheld them, and they must have been a powerful means of instruction to those who recognized that they were not the peculiarities of eccentric individuals, but were deliberate acts of revelation, messages from God.
We are shown in the Writings that the Lord, while in the world, who called Himself a prophet and was indeed the greatest of all prophets, similarly taught by act or example. We know that He suffered Himself to be abused, even to scourging and crucifixion, so that He might teach the people, for then and for all times. In these things was represented the treatment of the Word by the Jews (see Lord 15) and in them was portrayed the attack of all evil against the Divine Truth of the Word and against the Divine Himself. We wonder why it was necessary that the Lord undergo such sufferings. The answer is that it was essential that mankind see in the clearest, the most ultimate, the most unanswerable, manner possible the nature of the hells. During His whole life the hells attacked the Lord, seeking to frustrate His work of redemption. This attack was ultimated at the end in the days of the betrayal, trial and crucifixion; and this was done so that there might be no doubt concerning the state of the church which was then at its end, not any doubt concerning the nature of evil which does indeed inmostly seek the destruction of the Lord Himself.
Because of these things it is said that the Lord bore our iniquities, and this is certainly true, for He did suffer at the hands of the evil of mankind, and He was attacked by the hells even to the cruel physical attacks of the passion. He bore out iniquities indeed! But this term has been given a false meaning by those who believed that Christ the Son has atoned for the sin of all believers. To such the reference to the Lord bearing our sins, which we read in our lesson (Isaiah 53), means that He has accepted the punishment for the sins which believers now commit, and that by this vicarious atonement (or indirect satisfaction of the penalty), we are saved from the consequences of our evil loves and need pay no price.
In the same way the words “Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) have been given an incorrect interpretation, when the truth meant by this expression is that the Lord has set us free from the power of the hells, having redeemed us by His victories over them. No sin is actually taken away from a man until, truly repenting, he shuns it as a sin against God. Then alone can the Lord remove it and insinuate a new love of good.
The prophecy of this part of Isaiah foretells not simply the worldly devastation of Judah and the conflicts of the surrounding nations, but also the vastation of the church, showing the states through which all churches go at the time of their decline. The spiritual sense given in the Writings is especially applied to the closing states of the Christian Church, but these states are likewise individual, and so they are the states of all men in whom the church dies.
In the twentieth chapter, with which we are now concerned, the matter dealt with is the state of truth at such a time, and it treats of those who make a false religion for themselves by perverting the teaching of the Word. This is evident in the fact that Isaiah himself enacted the prophecy — for a prophet represents the doctrine of the church. He is the Lord’s teacher of men, and so signifies all teaching or doctrine. That the prophet was to go naked for three years represented that in this state of spiritual decline there is an absence of any genuine truth, for there is no longer any love of good, which is the very life of truth. By this we mean that truths are meaningless and are ineffective with us unless we love good — for it is the love of good which makes it possible really to see truth and to put it to use. Without this love of good we are, in effect, stripped of genuine truth.
Garments signify truths — as garments clothe the body, so truths clothe good. Nakedness is, then, an absence of such truth, which reveals the filthy loves of the degenerate man. Here it is not the innocent nakedness of the celestial whose minds are centered in good rather than truth. We can understand this nature of the nakedness of fallen man when we think about how the perverse reasonings, the self-justifications and twistings of the Word which an evil man uses reflect and show the nature of his evil loves. These do not usually appear to the world, for he hides them to protect his reputation and his worldly welfare; but within his own heart and in the secret places of his own meditation these things are clear, and are recognizable to the man if he is willing to see them.
These false reasonings are indeed our downfall, for as long as a man recognizes and does not justify his evils, there is hope of his redemption; but once he denies their nature and confirms them as being allowable, his way is set toward hell, and repentance becomes increasingly difficult. Such false reasonings are represented by Assyria, the enemy of Judah which is the church.
Assyria is the perverted rational which favors the delights of the natural loves by denying God and attributing all things to nature. The natural loves of man favor such an idea because an acknowledgment of God carries with it human responsibilities which involve the subjugation of the natural man to spiritual principles. But “the fool hath said in his heart, There is no god,” (Psalm 14:1) and by ascribing all things to nature, he relieves himself of the responsibility of conforming to a law higher than himself and so he sets himself free to follow a life which is directed only by his own intelligence, and to himself and his own loves.
Such false reasoning holds all other thought captive, just as the king of Assyria led “away the Egyptians as prisoners and the Ethiopians as captives, young and old, naked and barefoot.” The Egyptians are the scientifics which a man receives through his bodily senses. They are the facts of sensual experience, and include, let it be noted, the scientifics of the Word, which are the superficial knowledges of it stored in man’s memory. The Ethiopians, on the other hand, are the fallacies of the senses (see AE 240:3), which are the appearances of truth into which we are first introduced. These two — scientifics and fallacies of the senses become completely subservient to a perverted rational, which twists them and turns them to its own ends.
False reasonings will destroy those things represented by Egypt and Ethiopia. Their state in such captivity is indeed a state of nakedness, for no genuine truth is left with them. That this was to happen to the young and the old (or boys and old men) signifies that all innocence and wisdom perish as a consequence (see AE 532:3), and consideration will show how this is the case. The innocence of childhood is provided in order that it may remain with a man (even if deeply hidden) as states of affection for what is good and true, and so serve as a basis for regeneration, but if a man deliberately falsifies all that is good and true, these states of innocence will perish in him. Equally the wisdom of old age into which all regenerate men will come (a state of union between good and truth, love and wisdom) cannot be entered into. The young and old will go naked and barefoot.
That we remain clothed in truth should be our constant prayer and endeavor, for by it we are protected from the cruelty of a winter world about us. Yet we will not have such protective clothing unless we seek it in the Word, but, more than that, unless once received, it is preserved in its integrity. No truth must be twisted and distorted for the sake of our own selfish ends. It is not to be tampered with or treated lightly. It is a precious gift to be kept as the unhewn rock of God against which we fear to raise up our graving tool lest what is from us shall destroy what is from the Lord. Amen.
Lessons: Isaiah 20:1-6, 53:1-9, Doctrine of the Lord 15 and 17 (parts)
Doctrine of the Lord
15. (parts) Some persons within the church believe that by the passion of the cross the Lord took away sins and made satisfaction to the Father, and so effected redemption; and some, that He transferred to Himself, bore, and cast into the depths of the sea (that is, into hell) the sins of those who have faith in Him. They confirm themselves in these notions by the words of John concerning Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world” (John 1:29); and by the Lord’s words in Isaiah: “He hath borne our diseases and carried our sorrows: He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and by His wound has health been given us…” Both these passages speak of the Lord’s temptations and passion; and by His taking away sins and diseases, and by the iniquities of all being made to fall on Him, is meant the like as by His bearing sorrows and iniquities.
Therefore it shall first be stated what is meant by bearing iniquities, and afterwards what by taking them away. To bear iniquities means to endure grievous temptations; and also to suffer the Jews to treat Him as they had treated the Word, which they did because He was the Word. For the church as it then existed among the Jews was utterly devastated, and it was devastated by their having perverted all things of the Word so that there was not any truth remaining; and therefore they did not acknowledge the Lord. This was meant and signified by all things of the Lord’s passion. The prophets were treated in a similar way because they represented the Lord in respect to the Word, and derivatively in respect to the church, and the Lord was the Prophet.
17. Something shall now be said of what is meant by taking away sins. To take away sins means the same as to redeem man and to save him; for the Lord came into the world to render salvation possible to man. Without His advent no mortal could have been reformed and regenerated, and so saved. But this became possible after the Lord had deprived the devil (that is, hell) of all his power and had glorified His Human, – that is, had united it to the Divine of His Father. If these things had not been done, no man would have been capable of permanently receiving any Divine truth, still less any Divine good; for the devil, whose power was previously the stronger, would have plucked it out of his heart.
From what has been said it is evident that the Lord did not take away sins by the passion of the cross, but that He takes them away, that is, removes them, in those who believe in Him by living according to His commandments, as He also teaches in Matthew: “Think not that I am come to loosen the law and the prophets. Whosoever shall loosen the least of these commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of the heavens; but whosoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens” (5:17, 19).
Who cannot see from reason alone, provided he is in some enlightenment, that sins cannot be taken away from a man except by actual repentance, which consists in his seeing his sins, imploring the Lord’s help, and desisting from them? To see, believe and teach otherwise is not from the Word nor from sound reason, but from cupidity and a depraved will, which are proper to man, and from this comes the debasement of his intelligence.