Jacob’s Ladder

Sermon: Jacob’s Ladder

I preached this sermon on Sunday, November 13, 2011 at the Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC.

Readings: Genesis 28:11-22; John 1:35-51Arcana Coelestia 3701

Throughout the Lord’s Word we find stories of competing brothers: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, and in the story for today, Esau and Jacob.  We did not read the earlier part of this story, but Esau and Jacob were twin brothers.  Esau was born first – but Jacob had sold him a pot of stew for his birthright, and tricked their father Isaac into blessing him rather than Esau.  When Jacob left for the land of Haran, he left for two reasons: to find a wife, and to flee from Esau, who had threatened to kill him.

Why are there all these stories of competing brothers in the Word?  For the Lord’s Word to truly be His Word, it has to be about spiritual things – even in those places that seem to simply be literal histories.  These competing brothers throughout the Word are a picture of two things that compete in our minds for priority: love and wisdom, charity and faith, good and truth.  Which is the most important?  In the earliest days of the Christian church, Christians knew the answer; the apostle Paul wrote, “And now abide faith, hope, love [or charity], these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:3).  The most important thing is love.  But it is not always as straightforward as this.  The goal is that all of us will act from love; but we are not born into acting from love – first, we have to learn truth, and live by it, and only gradually do we come to love doing that.

In this story, Esau specifically represents the love side of things on the natural level – the feelings, the pleasure, we get from love.  And Jacob represents the wisdom side of things on that same level – not the deeper wisdom, but simply knowledge of what is true.  Esau is born first – because love is really the more important thing.  But early on in a person’s development, that love is unfocused and mixed up with bad loves – a person can’t act based on his feelings alone.  So while a person develops, Jacob has the lead – that acting according to knowledges.  That’s what it means for Jacob to have stolen the birthright.

The story begins in a place called Beersheba.  The name Beersheba means both “seven wells” and “well of the promise.”  The deep wells of water there represent doctrines, the many teachings of the church.  Since Jacob represents knowledges, and he lived in Beersheba, he represents part of us that knows the doctrine of the church.  But at this point, that knowledge was not married to life.  It was simply knowledge.  Looked at from this spiritual sense, we can understand what it means that Esau, that love side of things, was getting frustrated with Jacob.  The same thing happens when we spend a lot of time learning things but not much time using it.  The will within us gets frustrated – we just want to start doing, not learning.  It’s a good impulse – but at first we can think it means we should stop learning altogether, that our knowledge is useless.  Esau wants to kill Jacob.  But rather than get rid of our knowledge, the right course is to see how we can live by it.

And so Jacob leaves his home, and sets out toward the land of Haran.  After a day’s journey, Jacob needs to rest, so he piled up rocks for a pillow.  This place where Jacob was, with those rocks he used for pillows, a place remote from Beersheba or doctrinal things, represents the Lord’s truth on the most external level.  This is the Lord’s truth as it exists in the stories of the Lord’s Word, such as this story itself of Jacob’s ladder.  When we are beginning the process of regeneration, even though we might have a lot of doctrinal knowledge, when we’re starting to look at how we ought to live, we have to start with the basics – the essential, literal teachings of the Word.

And Jacob lay down there and slept.  As he slept, he dreamed, and he saw a stairway stretched out before him, from the ground up to heaven.  And on that stairway he saw angels ascending going up to God and returning back down to earth.  The way this is described is a little unusual – we might expect the angels first to be described as coming down from God, then returning to Him.  But this vision is a vision of the process of regeneration, and it does take place in this way – first as an ascent, and then as a return.  It’s a process that takes place on a larger scale over the course of a person’s life, but it’s also a process that occurs again and again on a smaller scale throughout a person’s life to eternity.

Remember, that ground where Jacob lay represented the literal stories from the Lord’s Word – it represented the most external level of truth as it exists with a person, in those basic knowledges.  But from these knowledges, there is an ascent to God.  Arcana Coelestia gives an example (from AC 3690): the first thing a person learns about the Ten Commandments from the Word is the story of how they were given – how the Lord descended on Mount Sinai in smoke and fire, how Moses climbed up the mountain, how he returned to deliver them to the children of Israel at the bottom.  That story forms a foundation.  As a person grows older, he begins to see that those commandments were not just part of a story, that they were not just for the children of Israel, but that they are necessary for all society.  He begins to intentionally try to live by them; for example, he begins by honouring and obeying his parents in accordance with that law of the Ten Commandments.  But as he gets older, his understanding deepens – he realizes that truly following this commandment does not mean literally agreeing with everything his parents say, but honouring what is good in them.  As he goes further, he realizes that honouring this commandment means loving good and truth itself, and above all, loving the Lord as His father.  That is the ascent up that staircase, to the Lord at the top.

But all this progress is made when a person lives by what he knows, forcing himself to act according to his understanding of what is right.  And something else happens as he does this.  More and more, he starts to love following these commandments.  At some point there is a switch – instead doing good because he knows it’s right, he starts doing what is right because he feels the love and goodness in it.  This is the angels’ return back down to earth – when a person acts primarily from love, rather than truth, and brings love down to earth, putting it in practice.

And it’s important that the Lord is at the top there.  That is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Divinely Human God.  All of this stems from His love, as all the angels acknowledge.  From Him, a person goes through this process, in different areas of his life.  It is the Lord who changes our hearts, and gives us the love to do what is right.

We see the same process on a much smaller and more natural scale in the way we form habits, or break habits.  When we’re first trying to form a habit – say turning off the lights when we leave a room – it can be hard to do.  We forget, or we’re in a hurry, and we have to force ourselves to do it.  But gradually we do it enough that it becomes second nature.

Now picture the same thing on a more spiritual scale.  What if the habit you want to form is not tearing people down.  If you’re in that habit, it takes work at first.  It feels artificial because it IS artificial.  You have to make yourself do it.  But gradually, over time, the Lord changes that habit.  When that switch happens, when you reach the point where you no longer WANT to tear people down, where that feels unpleasant – that’s that point where those angels are coming back down the stairway.  It is summed up this way in Arcana Coelestia: “Act precedes; willing follows” (AC 4353).

But this is a gradual process.  We don’t climb up that stairway very quickly – we take one step at a time.  In our reading from the Writings this morning, we found an example of the very gradual steps the Lord leads us on, so gentle that we don’t even realize we’re ascending until we look back.  At first, early in our process of regeneration, we act mostly from love of self.  The Lord doesn’t destroy this love, but He gently modifies it.  We learn truths that don’t directly contradict that love, but that also lead us forward.  We learn that we do need to take care of ourselves – but that we also need to take care of others.  From these truths we gradually progress, until we get to the point where those truths about taking care of ourselves cease to be the highest truths, but instead become the lowest truths, with the love of the neighbour and love of the Lord as higher.  There is an inversion, that is, it is flipped around – the love of self is still there, but in the last place rather than the first.  The angels come down the stairway after ascending.

Another way to think about this is in terms of families.  Within our families, we have tendencies toward selfishness; but at the same time, we do want our siblings, and especially our kids and grandkids, to have the things they need to make them happy.  Even people who are mostly selfish tend to want good things for their kids.  And even that – wanting something for their kids – is a step up from only loving themselves.  From that step, a person can take the next step up – what will really make my kids happy?  It isn’t to give them everything they want, it’s to give them the things that will help them live fulfilling lives.  The next step up is a love for their use in society, and so on, until what we are really loving in our children is the Lord’s love for others in them.  Step by step, the Lord lifts us up the ladder in that particular area of our lives.  We reach the top and begin to come back down when our interactions with our families stem from this love for what is good for them and what is good in them.

When those new loves have been formed in us, we start to see even the lower things in the world and the Word in a new way.  We start to see things in the world in terms of the use they serve.  Those simple stories from the Lord’s Word touch us in ways they never had before, because we’ve experienced the depth within them.  They have life in them.  When we’re acting from love, we can see the way that the Lord is everywhere, even in the most external things, even in the everyday interactions we have with the people around us.  Everything is full of the Lord.

When Jacob wakes up, the Lord promises him that He will protect him and be with him and return him to this land, and would make him fruitful and multiply him.  In the internal sense, it’s a promise that when we have been regenerated, we see countless new truths in the Word and in the world around us, and begin to feel countless new affections even on that outermost level.  This is what is represented by that rock that Jacob set up and anointed with oil.  That rock represents those outermost truths, the truths in the literal sense of the Word, and the natural world.  And the oil on top represents the way that these become holy when we see them again from love.

Jacob calls that rock the house of God.  When we are able to see the world and the Word from love, we see it as the dwelling place of God.  When the people of the Most Ancient Church, who loved the Lord above all else, looked around them, they saw everything in creation as a representation of God.  Everything was alive to them. We can see this even now in the way a young child sees the world as alive, and in the delight a child takes in reading the Lord’s Word, which the Writings tell us gives the angels the greatest delight.

And this joy that is provided to the angels when a child or a sincere person reads the Word, or when we see the Lord in the things of this world, is the other lesson of this story of Jacob’s dream.  That stairway stretched all the way up into heaven – but it also touched the earth.   Heaven could not exist without a foundation on earth.  And as human beings, living in this world, we have an opportunity that even the angels do not have – we can be a link between the outermost things of the Lord’s creation and the Lord himself.  Arcana Coelestia puts it this way: “Man has been so created that the Divine things of the Lord may descend through him down to the last things of nature, and from the last things of nature may ascend to Him” (AC 3702). We allow this to happen when we use the things the Lord has created in service toward others.  When we do something mundane – bake food for a loved one – we are taking things from the animal, vegetable, mineral kingdom, and using them in service to something higher, to love.  In the same way, if we see a beautiful garden, and from that reflect on the beauty of the Lord’s truth, we are connecting something in this world with the Lord himself – we are helping form the base of that stairway.  Without heaven, this world is lifeless; without this world, heaven would have no foundation.

And this is the house of God.  The Lord lives with us even here.  When He was in the world, the Lord made His humanity completely Divine – even down to the physical level.  The Lord is present in this plane.  A lot of the time we don’t notice the His presence in the world around us.  But He is here, as Jacob discovered.  The Lord was in that place – that place where a person sees the way that even the literal stories in the Word, even the physical stuff of this world, can be a home for the Lord.  And we can see this after the angels with us have drawn us step by step up that stairway, and when we have turned around to bring back the Lord’s love into the world.  As Jacob said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

http://www.patheos.com/community/goodandtruth

THE VALUE OF WORK

THE VALUE OF WORK (Labor Day)
A Sermon by Rev. Brian W. Keith
Preached in Glenview, Illinois September 4, 1988

“Everyone who has been faithful, sincere and just in his employment and work in the world is received in heaven by the angels … ” (Divine Wisdom XI:4).

This quote, taken from the Heavenly Doctrines, is useful to reflect upon this Labor Day weekend, when we recognize and give honor to all whose hard work and effort make up the backbone and strength of this country. A day of parades, family cookouts, and rest are how we celebrate the occasion. While this is a secular and not a religious holiday, there are spiritual implications to our employments. For our work, be it caring for children, running a business, or blue or white collar employment, has a significant impact upon who we are and what we become.

An emphasis found throughout the Scriptures is the importance, the value, of work. In the creation story we are told that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Even in the very beginning the Lord expected people on earth to work, to take care of things. Then in the fundamental principles governing life, the Ten Commandments, the Lord says, “six days you shall labor and do all your work.” Yes, one day is for the Lord, but the others are for our work (see TCR 301). And when the Lord sent out the seventy to proclaim the Gospel to all, He told them not to take much money or garments, “for the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7). He expected that they would be rewarded. “A tree is known by its fruit” (Matt 12:33).

It is not hard to see how valuable work is in our lives. Vacations are delightful, but where would we be without work? When we are forced to be idle due to extended illness or unemployment, how do we feel? Is it not frustrating? And how often does it lead to depression? For the feeling of being useless, of having no meaning, can rob us of our self-esteem, can destroy our desire to do anything. This is why retirement can be a challenge to many. People who had been accustomed to hard work suddenly find themselves without any need to get up in the morning. Until a sense of usefulness is discovered in other ways, retirement can seem like a pointless waste.

The hellishness of being without any use in life can be seen both in the faces of the long-term unemployed who seem to have surrendered, and in the excessively rich. Now wealth has nothing whatsoever to do with whether one gets to heaven or not. But people who had led useless lives here because of their wealth not wealth they earned through their own labors, but usually inherited, which enabled them to avoid all useful employment find little happiness in the spiritual world. For they had spent their days finding new and more exciting ways to amuse themselves, usually in destructive ways. They cared only for themselves, and looked down on others who labored hard (see SD 2501). While some may complain that they have to work to earn a living, it is actually a blessing of Providence that we need to find jobs and are not tempted through wealth to be useless.

Being able to work, to find gainful employment outside the home, or devote one’s attention to rearing a family and taking care of a home, is a vital way the Lord has provided for us to learn to be useful. For what value would our lives have if we sat around waiting to be entertained? We can talk and talk about what we believe, about what ought to be done, but if we do not do it, what is the point? Genuine charity, genuine love for others, exists in what we do for others. And our jobs, when we perform them justly and fairly, become our life of charity (see AC 8253e).

To have regular work establishes a pattern, a structure, for our lives. As the Heavenly Doctrines note, “the love of use and devotion to use holds the mind together lest it melt away and, wandering about, absorb all the lusts which flow in from the body and world through the senses with their allurements, whereby the truths of religion and the truths of morality with their goods are scattered to all the winds” (CL 16:3). Put simply, having to work keeps us out of trouble. It occupies our time; it keeps us busy.

More than that, working is a means the Lord utilizes to teach us to be useful (see Faith 25). Providence oversees the process of growing up and finding work that all might be productive. For initially each child has a delight in learning. In the course of education most students discover subjects or skills that draw their attention. After graduation, their delights lead them to find work in these areas. As novices, though, they are not particularly capable (who would trust a first-year doctor with complicated brain surgery, or an untried mechanic with an engine overhaul?). There is much more to learn. More information and experience is required. But as that is gained, as there is some mastery of the business at hand, then that initial delight is renewed. An affection for the work grows, which is an affection for being useful. From work, people are able to learn how to help others how to be productive how to do something useful for others.

This is especially seen in the story of Jacob. Jacob had to flee his home after he had stolen the birthright and blessing from his older brother Esau, who rightfully deserved them. Without land, without herds, he had nothing; he was nothing. Then he saw the beautiful Rachel, the woman he desired for a wife. Laban agreed to the marriage and to Jacob’s offer to work for him for seven years for Rachel. “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed but a few days to him because of the love he had for her” (Gen. 29:20). Unfortunately for Jacob, after the seven years he found himself married to Leah, the older sister. But after agreeing to another seven years of labor, he was permitted to marry Rachel also. Then, in need of flocks and herds, he agreed to work for Laban another seven years that he might acquire some. Thus, at the end of over twenty years of work, Jacob returned home a wealthy man.

What happened in those years? In addition to acquiring a family and wealth, the work was the means the Lord used to change Jacob, to mature him. For when he finally returned home he submitted himself before his older brother, recognizing his seniority. This could not have happened unless he had grown through the work unless he had developed a new set of priorities.

As Jacob learned to be useful, we do also. Often with selfish goals at first, as we put effort into our jobs, as we learn to be more productive, the Lord can change our attitudes, can gradually shift the emphasis away from reward to a joy in doing something good for others. This is the delight in being useful. It is a heavenly quality. It is actually being of service to the Lord.

In the book of Revelation, letters are written to seven churches. To the church in the city of Ephesus praise is given for “your works, your labor, your patience … and you persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and not become weary” (2:2,3). Spiritually, laboring for the Lord means striving with zeal to do what is right, to speak what is true (see AE 102). This is done in all our works as we attempt to act fairly with others, to provide goods and services which will benefit them.

It also means that all uses are ultimately derived from the Lord. As we perform to the best of our abilities in our jobs, we are serving the Lord, doing His work. For all uses have their life, their value, because they are part of the Lord’s way of helping people. The Lord enables people to participate in His Providence. He operates through human efforts to bring about heavenly ends. So He is present in every single aspect of useful interactions between people, guiding them so that spiritual life may grow.

What this means is that there is no meaningless labor on this earth. Each job, from the most poorly paid menial work to the most exalted executive position, contributes to the Lord’s purpose in creation. He will use every facet of our labor, of our efforts to do our jobs well, to further in some way a heaven from the human race. Although in a materialistic culture we tend to measure our worth by what we are paid, that is not how the Lord looks at us. Rather than look at how highly or lowly esteemed our position is, the Lord sees in each of us how fair we are trying to be, how dedicated we are to doing our jobs well. This determines our quality, the worth of our labors.

What job we do is then not as important as our approach to it. Is it simply a way to earn money to buy more things? Or is it a way to be of service? There are many who, though poor and perhaps seen as less productive members of society, develop heavenly qualities because they “are content with their lot, and are careful and diligent in their work, who love labor better than idleness, and act sincerely and faithfully, and at the same time live a Christian life” (HH 364).

While many jobs are relatively unrewarding in this world, our attitude toward them can make them better or worse. If we focus on the money earned, the prestige acquired, or rapid advancement possibilities, we are likely to become dissatisfied. But if we focus upon the use we are doing, then almost any job can have its delights, its sense of reward. If our love is for being useful, then we will search for better ways to do it perhaps changing jobs or seeking higher positions but these will be but means, not the end itself.

For through our work we can participate in the Lord’s Providence, we can learn to care for others, and can have heaven created within us. This is why the Heavenly Doctrines teach that “everyone who has been faithful, sincere and just in his employment and work in the world is received in heaven by the angels.” Not that just by working hard we somehow buy our way into heaven, but that through our labors, our service to the Lord, the truths of religion can come to life.

As the psalmist said, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you” (128:1,2). We eat the labor of our hands as the rewards of use are manifest in our lives. From a love of serving others we devote ourselves to our work. We seek ways to help. We grow in our delight in being useful, in bringing others happiness. And we are blessed with a happiness that the angels know, a happiness which can exist only where there is love for one another, even as the Lord has loved us. Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 128, Luke 10:1-12, AC 7038

Arcana Coelestia 7038

“That they may serve Me.” That this signifies elevation into heaven in order to perform uses therefrom is evident from the signification of “serving Jehovah,” or the Lord, as being to perform uses; and as this is said of those of the spiritual church who have been saved by the coming of the Lord, and who before His coming were in the lower earth and were afterward elevated into heaven (n. 6854, 6914), and thereby came into a state of performing uses, therefore by “that they may serve Me” is signified elevation into heaven in order to perform uses therefrom. That “to serve the Lord” denotes to perform uses is because true worship consists in the performance of uses, thus in the exercises of charity. He who believes that serving the Lord consists solely in frequenting a place of worship, in hearing preaching there, and in praying, and that this is sufficient, is much mistaken. The very worship of the Lord consists in performing uses; and during man’s life in the world, uses consist in everyone’s discharging aright his duty in his station, thus from the heart being of service to his country, to societies, and to the neighbor, in dealing sincerely with his fellow, and in performing kind offices with prudence in accordance with each person’s character. These uses are chiefly the works of charity, and are those whereby the Lord is chiefly worshiped. Frequenting a place of worship, hearing sermons, and saying prayers are also necessary; but without the above uses they avail nothing, because they are not of the life but teach what the life must be. The angels in heaven have all happiness from uses and according to uses, so that to them uses are heaven.

That happiness is from Divine order according to uses can be seen from the things in man which correspond to those which are in the Grand Man, as those from the external senses, namely, from sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch, which as has been shown at the end of many chapters are correspondent. These senses therefore have delights exactly in accordance with the uses which they perform; the most delightful is the sense of conjugial love, on account of its greatest use, because from this comes the propagation of the human race, and from the human race, heaven; the delight of taste follows next because it serves for the nourishment and thereby for the health of the body, in accordance with which is the sound action of the mind; the delight of smell is less, because it merely serves for recreation, and thus also for health; the delight of hearing and that of sight are in the last place, because they merely take up those things which will be of service to uses, and wait upon the intellectual part and not so much the will part.

From these and other like facts it becomes plain that it is uses according to which happiness is given in heaven by the Lord, and that it is uses through which the Lord is mainly worshiped. From this it is that John lay on the Lord’s breast at table, and that the Lord loved him more than the rest; but this was not for his own sake but because he represented the exercises of charity, that is, uses. John represented these (n. 2135a, 2760, 3934).

ESTABLISHING A MATURE, RATIONAL FAITH

ESTABLISHING A MATURE, RATIONAL FAITH
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida March 8, 1992

“And Jacob awoke out of his sleep, and he said: ‘Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it … This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven (Genesis 28:16,17).

Jacob’s awakening from sleep describes man’s emergence from a state of obscurity into a state of spiritual light. It is the dawn of a new spiritual day wherein the person clearly perceives, for the first time, the Lord’s living presence in His Word. “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” These words express the wonder of a person who has been reading the Word, either from habit or self-compulsion, and suddenly awakens to a realization of its inmost Divine quality: “This is none other than the house of God.” These words express the person’s realization that the Lord is fully present in the Word – it is His dwelling place. In the Word a person may come to know God, and through its truths be conjoined with Him. Therefore the words follow “this is the gate of heaven.” The Divine truths of revelation truly are the gateway to heaven.

People, unlike animals, are born entirely without knowledge. Animals. when born, know instinctively what is good for them. They are born with the knowledge required to satisfy their desires. Human beings, on the other hand, are completely ignorant at birth. People have innate loves or desires, but they do not have the knowledge necessary to satisfy them. The state of man’s mind at birth is described in the book of Genesis as being “without form, and void” (Gen. 1:2).

At first glance this may seem strange. Why should man – the highest order of creation – begin life lower than a brute animal? On the surface there may even appear to be something of unfairness in this circumstance. However, when we consider the purpose for which we were created, then the reason for this becomes more clear. We are created to live to eternity as angels of heaven. As angels we can be continually perfected in love and wisdom to all eternity.

The life of animals is circumscribed. They are born with certain desires and the requisite knowledge to satisfy them. They need and desire nothing more. We, on the other hand, are born without knowledge. But we are born with an innate love of knowledge and the capacity to receive and assimilate knowledge indefinitely. We are created with such a nature that we may be continually perfected in love and wisdom to all eternity. In this way the delight of living may also increase to eternity.

Due to the fact that we are not born into the order of our lives, nor into any knowledge, we need to be instructed. On the physical plane we must be taught what is good for us and what is harmful. By example and precept we must be taught to distinguish between good and evil. We have to be introduced into a knowledge of the Lord and a belief in Him as our Heavenly Father – our God.

But, as we well know, there is a great diversity of opinion on these matters. On the physical plane, for example, there are those who think that certain foods are good and healthful, while others believe them to be harmful. Many people have their own pet theories on how to cure a particular illness; and although many of the theories are contradictory, each person believes that the one he believes in is right.

As to what is good and what is evil, there is even greater diversity of opinion. Physical pleasures such as sports or dancing and recreations such as card playing are regarded by some people to be immoral. Others believe that these are useful recreations when properly controlled and subordinated. Some people regard profanity as a legitimate form of expression while others regard it as evil. Many people accept the Ten Commandments as being a reliable, God-given standard as to what is good and what is evil. Others regard them as irrelevant – an outmoded standard of a bygone age.

In regard to God, there are those who categorically deny His existence. Others say that there is a God but that God is a creative force – He is not a Man. Others, again, believe in a God who is one as to substance but tri-personal in form.

These examples serve to illustrate the fact that the faith of every child is, to a great extent, the product of the opinions of parents, teachers, and friends, and of one’s own experience. During infancy and childhood a person’s belief, or faith, is the faith of one’s parents entirely. As one advances to youth, the person’s faith is affected by, and combined with, the faith of one’s teachers and friends and those whom one idolizes. We see from this that there are different kinds of faith.

The Writings speak of the following: “(1) Infantile faith, adolescent faith, adult faith. (2) Faith in genuine truth and faith in appearances of truth. (3) Faith of the memory, faith of reason, faith of light. (4) Natural faith, spiritual faith, celestial faith. (5) Living faith and faith founded on miracle. (6) Free faith and forced faith” (TCR 344).

The faith of infancy is a blind, unquestioning faith. The infant believes everything it is told. Because its mind is only beginning to be formed, the young child cannot distinguish between reality and appearance. The child’s faith, of necessity, is a faith in appearances of truth. In infancy and childhood there is no real choice as to what will be believed; faith is therefore, at this stage, to a degree a forced faith.

But as the child advances into adolescence, the quality of one’s faith changes. Because the adolescent is dependent on parents and is compelled, for example, to go to school, faith is, to that degree, still forced. But because the youth has acquired a background of individual experience from which judgments are made, faith, in this state of life, also partakes of freedom.

The faith of the adolescent is a faith of the memory. By this time a person has acquired much knowledge. The adolescent is a veritable storehouse of information. The rational faculty is just beginning to open, and so there is very little of the element of reason in one’s faith at this stage of development. Because the rational faculty is as yet largely undeveloped, appearances of truth are accepted for genuine truths. For until the rational faculty is more fully developed, the sight of the understanding cannot penetrate appearances. The faith of the adolescent is best characterized as traditional or historical faith. Although one may question parents and teachers and dispute their judgment, nevertheless the things the person calls into question are relatively few compared to those which one accepts unquestioningly. There is also an element of the miraculous in the faith of adolescence. The youth is given to hero worship; at this stage one is easily impressed by the unusual and spectacular, and this also colors one’s faith. Because regeneration does not begin until maturity, adolescent faith is purely natural in character.

When a person passes from adolescence into adult life, one’s faith should take on a new quality. As an adult, the person is no longer subject to parents. The young adult decides what will be believed and what will not. The person’s faith becomes a free faith. Since the rational faculty is more fully developed, the person is capable, if he makes the effort, of penetrating appearances and seeing genuine truths. The young adult’s faith should no longer be traditional, but should be a faith of reason and insight. As an adult, one should accept responsibility for one’s own loves, thoughts, and actions. A person should, therefore, begin to examine one’s life – one’s thoughts, intentions, and deeds – and shun those things which he sees to be evil as sins against God. As one does this, faith, from being faith of memory, becomes a living faith; from natural it becomes spiritual. And if the person advances in the life of regeneration until one is motivated in all one does by a genuine love for the Lord and the neighbor, then faith becomes celestial.

Every thinking person comes eventually to the point where he recognizes that two things which are mutually contradictory cannot both be true. If the person is given at all to reflection, he sees that in one’s traditional beliefs there are many such contradictions, and the person is faced with the problem of what to reject as false and what to accept as true. In view of the fact that there is such a diversity of opinion of a contrary nature in regard to the things of faith, one may wonder if it is possible to acquire a genuine, rational, adult faith.

The Lord assures us in the Writings of the New Church that such a faith is possible for all who sincerely seek. Such a faith is not inborn, nor is it transferred from one person to another. It can be acquired only by a person who is searching for truth – a person who is not content to found one’s life on the shifting sands of human opinion but who is looking for a rock upon which to build spiritual faith – one’s spiritual home.

It is of such a person that our text treats in the internal sense. Jacob was on his way to Padan-aram. When the sun set, he stopped at a certain place to spend the night. While there he had the remarkable vision of a staircase ascending toward heaven, its base on earth and the Lord at the top, with angels ascending and descending on it. It was then that the Lord renewed the promise which He had made to Abraham and Isaac, to give them the land of Canaan for an inheritance.

The Writings tell us that Jacob represents the person who is instructed in natural truths (see AC 3305). When he had this vision, he was on his way to Padan-aram. Padan-aram signifies knowledges of truth. We see from these teachings that the person who is instructed in natural knowledges, represented by Jacob, who is on his way to Padan-aram (searching for truths of faith) is given the Divine promise of an indefinite increase in the truths of faith. The Lord said to Jacob: “Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all of the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 28:14).

When the Lord had made this promise, then Jacob awoke and said: “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it … This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” These words express the wonder and conviction of a person who has found the truth after a diligent search – the truth that the Lord is livingly present in His Word as Divine truth.

We cannot come to this conviction unless we go directly to the Word for ourselves seeking instruction directly from the mouth of the Lord. We may have been raised with the stories of the Word and taught about God. We may hear preachings regularly, but we cannot come to this state of conviction until we go directly to the source of truth itself. When we read the Word with a genuine desire to learn the truth; when we realize the inadequacy of our borrowed and traditional faith; when we are no longer satisfied with appearances of truth but seek genuine truth, then the Lord will enlighten our understanding and we will see, with clarity and conviction, the truths for which we have been searching. This rational, adult faith is said to exist in a person when one has spiritual sight, or when one’s understanding has been enlightened, when there is in the mind a harmony of truths, when there is interior conviction, and when an acknowledgment of the Lord’s Divinity is inscribed on one’s mind (see TCR 344). These are the signs of a genuine, rational, adult faith.

Such a faith is the characteristic of all who are truly of the Lord’s New Church. This enlightenment and this clear conviction are the reward promised to all who humbly and sincerely approach the Lord directly in His Word, and read it under His auspices (see TCR 165). Amen.

Lessons: Genesis 28:1-5, 10-19; AR 224

Apocalypse Revealed 224

To this I will add this relation. I saw an assembly of spirits, all upon their knees, praying to God to send angels to them that they might converse with them face to face and open to them the thoughts of their hearts. And when they arose, there appeared three angels in fine linen standing before them, and they said, “The Lord Jesus Christ has heard your prayers, and has therefore sent us to you; open unto us the thoughts of your hearts.” And they answered, “We have been told by our priests that in matters of a theological nature the understanding avails nothing, but only faith, and that in such things intellectual faith is of no service to anyone because it is derived from man. We are Englishmen, and have heard many things from our sacred ministry which we believed; but when we have conversed with others, who also called themselves the Reformed, and with others who called themselves the Roman Catholics, and likewise with sectaries, they all appeared to us learned, and yet in many things one did not agree with another, and still they all said, ‘Believe us’; and some of them, ‘We are God’s ministers, and know.’ But as we know that the Divine truths, which are called truths of faith and which appertain to the church, are not derived to anyone from his native soil, nor by inheritance, but out of heaven from God; and as these show the way to heaven, and enter into the life together with the good of charity, and so lead to eternal life, we became anxious, and prayed to God upon our knees.”

Then the angels answered, “Read the Word, and believe in the Lord, and you will see the truths which should constitute your faith and life; for all in the Christian world draw their doctrinals from the Word as from the only fountain.” But two of the company said, “We have read but did not understand.” And the angels replied, “You did not approach the Lord, and you have also confirmed yourselves in falsities”; and the angels said further, “What is faith without light, and what signifies thinking without understanding? this is not human; even magpies and ravens can learn to speak without understanding. We can affirm to you that every man whose soul desires it is capable of seeing the truths of the Word in the light; there does not exist an animal that does not know the food proper to its life when it sees it, and man is a rational and spiritual animal who sees the food of his life, not that of his body but of his soul, which is the truth of faith, provided indeed he hungers after it and seeks it from the Lord; whatsoever is not received also in the understanding is not fixed in the memory in reality, but only verbally; therefore, when we have looked down out of heaven into the world, we have not seen anything but have only heard sounds, that are for the most part dissonant. But we will enumerate some things which the learned among the clergy have removed from the understanding, not knowing that there are two ways to the understanding, one from the world and the other from heaven, and that the Lord withdraws the understanding from the world when He enlightens it; but if the understanding be closed by religion, the way into it from heaven is closed, and then man sees no more in the Word than a blind person. We have seen many such fall into pits, out of which they have never risen again.

Examples must serve for illustration: Are you not able to understand what charity is and what faith is; that charity consists in doing well by your neighbor, and that faith consists in thinking well of God and of the essentials of the church, and therefore that he who does well and thinks well, that is, who lives well and believes well, is saved?” They replied that they understood these things. The angels said further, “Do you not understand that repentance from sins is to be performed in order that man may be saved, and that, unless a man actually repents, he abides in the sins into which he was born, and that the work of repentance consists in not willing evils because they are against God, and in examining himself once or twice a year, in seeing his evils, in confessing them before the Lord, imploring assistance, desisting from them, and leading a new life, and as far as he does this and believes in the Lord, so far his sins are remitted?”

Then some of the company replied, “This we understand, and thence also what remission of sins is.” And then they solicited the angels to give them further information, and especially concerning God, the immortality of the soul, regeneration and baptism. To this the angels replied, “We will not say anything but what you can understand; otherwise our discourse will fall like rain upon sand, and upon seeds therein, which although watered from heaven, still wither and perish.” Concerning God they said, “All who come into heaven have their place allotted them there, and thence eternal joy, according to their idea of God, because this idea reigns universally in every particular of worship. The idea of an invisible God is not determined to anyone, nor does it terminate in any, therefore it ceases and perishes. The idea of God as Spirit, when a spirit is believed to be like ether or wind, is an empty idea; but the idea of God as Man is a just idea, for God is the Divine love and the Divine wisdom, with every quality belonging thereto, and the subject of these is man and not ether or wind. The idea of God in heaven is the idea of the Lord. He is the God of heaven and earth, as He Himself taught. Let your idea of God be like unto ours, and we shall be consociated together.” On saying these words, their faces became resplendent. Concerning the immortality of the soul, they said, “Man lives to eternity, because he can be conjoined with God by love and faith, this indeed is possible with every one. That this possibility constitutes the immortality of the soul you may understand if you think of it a little more deeply.” Concerning regeneration: “Who does not see that everyone is at liberty to think of God or not to think of Him, provided he be instructed that there is a God; so that every one has liberty in spiritual things, equally as in things civil and moral; the Lord gives this liberty to all continually; for which reason he becomes guilty if he does not think of God. Man is man from this ability but a beast is a beast from not having this ability; therefore man can reform and regenerate himself as from himself provided he acknowledges in heart that it is from the Lord. Everyone who does the work of repentance and believes in the Lord is reformed and regenerated. Man must do both as from himself, but this as from himself is from the Lord. It is true that man cannot contribute anything thereto, no not in the least, nevertheless you were not created statues, but you were created men, that you might do that from the Lord as from yourselves. This is the only reciprocal of love and faith, that it is altogether the Lord’s will that it should be done by man unto Him. In a word, do it from yourselves and believe that you do it from the Lord, thus do it as from yourselves.”

But then the Englishmen inquired whether to act as from oneself is a faculty implanted in man from creation. The angel answered, “It is not implanted, because to act from Himself is the Lord’s alone, but it is communicated continually, that is, adjoined continually, and then so far as man does good and believes what is true as from himself, so far he is an angel of heaven; but so far as he does evil and thence believes what is false, which is done also as from himself, so far he is an angel of hell. That this also is as from himself surprises you, but still you see that it is so when you pray that you may be preserved from the devil lest he should seduce you and enter into you as he did into Judas, fill you with all iniquity, and destroy you, soul and body. But everyone incurs guilt who believes that he acts from himself, whether it be good or whether it be evil; but he does not incur guilt who believes that he acts as from himself …”