“One generation passeth away, and another generation
Cometh : but the earth abideth for ever.”—Ecclesiastes i. 4.Image result for the world

THE belief that the material universe is finally to be destroyed has been and still is almost universal in the Christian Church. Some have maintained that matter will be entirely annihilated ; others, that it will only be burnt up and reduced to its simple elements, and that out of these elements new heavens and a new earth will be formed, and that the new earth will be the eternal dwelling-place of the righteous. Their bodies are to be raised up from the earth, and their souls brought back and reinstated in them. The Lord is to come down from heaven and dwell with them and be their King. All traces of sin and imperfection will be destroyed in the general conflagration, and the whole earth will become an Eden, the garden of the Lord, and all those glowing prophecies concerning the peace and happiness of the righteous will be fulfilled.

About the time when this great change is to take place there has been much difference of opinion. There can be no reasonable doubt but the apostles expected it in their day, and Christians have been looking for it and predicting it every century since. Many of us can remember the excitement caused by Millerism. Many persons were so sure that they had discovered the year and the day when the end was to come that they had their ascension robes made, and, clad in them, they assembled on the appointed day, expecting that the Lord would come in the clouds of heaven, and that they would be caught up with Him in the air while the earth and the heavens were being consumed. Learned commentators and diligent students of prophecy postponed the end to 1866. It is quite safe to say now, however, that they were mistaken in the time, if not in the event itself.

There is another important point upon which there is an equally serious conflict of opinion. Some believe that the millennium—that is, a period of a thousand years in which the Lord is to reign personally upon the earth, and righteousness and peace are to prevail universally—will take place before the world is burnt up. Others believe that the world is to be consumed first and that the millennium will take place afterwards, and among those who entertain this opinion are many of the most learned divines in all branches of the church. There is a general assent to the doctrine that the earth, if not the material universe, is to be burnt up, and either annihilated or made over into a new one.

But the doctrines of the New Church teach directly the reverse of this. They declare that this earth and all the earths in the material universe were created to be the birthplace of intelligent spiritual beings, who commence their existence in a material body, and after a time discard it and pass on into the spiritual world, where they are to dwell forever. The earths are the seminaries of the heavens. The material universe was created from the spiritual universe, and bears the same relation to it that the body does to the soul, that the husk does to the corn, or the shell to the fruit. Every human being begins his existence upon some material earth, and sooner or later passes on into the spiritual world. Thus the work of creation is continually going on. New souls are continually being created and passing on to their eternal home. Generation after generation commences existence, passes across the stage of this life and on to eternity, and, as we believe, will continue to do so forever.

I invite your attention to the grounds for this belief. The doctrine is entirely in accordance with Scripture when correctly understood. There are some passages both in the Old and the New Testament which describe remarkable changes as taking place in the earth and the heavens. The sun is said to be darkened, the moon changed into blood, the stars to fall from the heavens, the foundations of the earth to be shaken, the heavens to be rolled together as a scroll, when, in the words of Peter, ” the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat ; the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burned up.” “The earth is utterly broken down,” cries Isaiah, “the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage ; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it.”

Now, it is simply impossible that all these particulars can be literally true. It is impossible that the stars should fall to the earth. The earth is a mere grain of sand compared with the stars. We can see that the sun might be darkened, but how impossible that the moon should be turned into blood ; or, if possible, what use could there be in it? In one place it is said that the earth shall be burned up, in another that it shall be removed like a cottage ; and again that ” every mountain and island shall be moved out of their places.” In one place it is said the nations are to be gathered together in the valley of Jehoshaphat. Sometimes this great consummation is represented as having taken place, and again as about to take place in some future time. The disciples asked the Lord, saying, ” Tell us, when shall these things be ? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world ?” And the Lord answered,” This generation shall not pass, till all these things befulfilled.” It is impossible to form any definite conclusion from attempts to interpret the Scripture literally. No human ingenuity, no grasp of intellectual power, can reconcile all this imagery and show its bearing upon one natural event. But, furthermore, the word translated ”world” in the phrase “the end of the world,” does not mean world in the sense of a material earth, and never did. A recent commentator says, “It is very remarkable that the word which means world in Greek is never used where what is supposed to be the end of the world is described.” The Greek word aion means an age or dispensation, or period of the church. In this sense we speak of past ages. We apply it to a special development of life and literature, as when we say the Elizabethan Age. The apostles, without any doubt, used the word aion in this sense.

Our Lord had just foretold the destruction of Jerusalem. He had just told the disciples that there should not be left one stone upon another of the temple that should not be thrown down ; and He had said, “Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Then they asked Him, “When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the age,—of the Jewish Church or Dispensation ?” They supposed He was going to establish a new age or kingdom in the place of the Jewish Church. The question is, therefore, natural and pertinent. . But if they meant the earth there seems to be no reason for such a question. There was nothing in the preceding conversation to lead to such a question. If our Lord’s answer also is carefully considered it will be found to have no special application to such a question, and commentators have had the greatest difficulty in reconciling many things in it with the idea that it refers to the end of the material world. Many things apply with great pertinence to the destruction of Jerusalem, but others do not. The apostles, without doubt, found their questions answered to their satisfaction. They believed that the end would come in their day, and we find them frequently referring to it in their epistles. ” The time is short.” “The day of the Lord is at hand.” They frequently speak of being ” in the last days,” ” in the last times,” “in the ends of the age.” That they did not fully understand what the change would be in all its breadth and detail is evident from their own language.

Before our Lord’s death and resurrection they supposed the Lord came to establish a political kingdom and restore Israel to their former power and splendor. Their views became more elevated after our Lord’s ascension ; they knew that His kingdom was a spiritual kingdom, but still they did not fully comprehend its nature, and probably expected that its establishment would be attended with many signs and portents, with many civil and physical commotions. There are evidences, however, that they did not understand the terms literally which speak of commotions and destruction. At the day of Pentecost, when the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance, some, mocking, said, ” These men are full of new wine.” But Peter said, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel, And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh ; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams : and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit ; and they shall prophesy : and I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath ; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke : the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.” (Acts ii. 16-20.) Thus Peter expressly declares that what they saw on the day of Pentecost was the fulfilment of this prophecy, and that it was ” in the last days.” Ought not this to be a key to the interpretation of all such language when used by the apostles, especially by Peter ?

In the interpretation of Scripture, if one part of a state ment is taken literally the whole ought to be. If it is said that the moon shall be turned into blood, we must accept that as a literal fact if we do the other part of the statement. We ought to believe that the stars will fall upon the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs when she is shaken of a mighty wind, if we believe the other part of the statement, that the heaven will depart as a scroll when it is rolled together, and that every mountain and island will be moved out of their places. (Rev. vi. 12-14.)

According to the same principle, if we accept a statement of Scripture as referring to a particular event in one part of the Bible, it is reasonable to accept every similar statement in every part of the Bible in the same sense. If this is done I do not hesitate to say that it is impossible to prove from the Bible that the material universe is ever to be destroyed by fire. Some fact will always be found which cannot be brought to harmonize with the others. The doctrine or theory does not explain all the facts, and, consequently, either the facts or the doctrine cannot be true.

Now let us apply the doctrine of the New Church and her method of interpreting the Scriptures to those passages which are supposed to refer to the end of the world. The doctrine is this : By the end of the world is meant the end or consummation of an age, or a complete cycle in the spiritual movements of humanity. The Jewish Church was one age, which came to an end when our Lord was upon the earth. The Christian Church was another age or distinct movement in the spiritual progress of humanity. The Jewish Church was purely natural, and the representative of a spiritual church. The Jews had no hopes or aspirations beyond this world. They believed that the Messiah was to be a temporal ruler, like David and Solomon, who was to exalt them to the pinnacle of earthly power. Jerusalem was not a heavenly but an earthly city, the capital of their own kingdom, which they expected would become the capital of the whole earth. This life and this world bounded all their hopes and fears. There may have been some men who caught glimpses of something beyond, but this pure naturalism was the essential element of the Jewish Dispensation. The Christian Dispensation took a distinct step in advance. It was a spiritual church. God was a spiritual being, and not a merely temporal king. Jerusalem was a church or a heavenly city. Righteousness did not consist in a scrupulous adherence to the ceremonial law, but in a life according to the commandments. The law reached the thoughts and intentions. But these truths the church received upon authority. The church has never had any rational knowledge of spiritual truth. All her doctrines are taught dogmatically, and are to be received by faith, as matters of belief, upon testimony.

The essential characteristic of the first Christian age has been belief in spiritual truth and obedience to it ; but truth received upon authority and not rationally understood. A church or age comes to an end when the essential principle which distinguishes it from all others ceases to be a living principle. Thus the Jewish world or age came to an end when they made the Word of God of none effect by their tradition, and when their national life and civil polity and ceremonial worship at Jerusalem ceased. The first Christian age came to an end when its love for the truth had grown cold, and its belief in the truth which constituted the church had been destroyed. This, we believe, took place about a century ago. It would not be difficult to show by the testimony of the church herself that all real belief in her doctrines had perished. You can hardly find two men now who think alike upon any of the essential doctrines of the church. Even if they use the same words, they do not attach the same idea to them ; and multitudes repeat the creed without attaching any idea to it. It is not my purpose to prove this truth, but simply to state it for illustrating what we mean in the New Church by the end of the world, or the consummation of the age. You will perceive that it is not the end of an organization, of dogmas and outward forms, but of inward life. A tree may retain its form for many years after it is dead. Wood may preserve its existence for many centuries and be applied to many useful forms after its life has come to an end. So a church may retain its outward organization and teach its dogmas for many years after it is dead. Indeed, it is the distinguishing characteristic of a dead church that it is scrupulous in paying tithes of the mint, anise, and cummin of creeds and ceremonies, while it neglects the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.

Having stated what we understand by the end of the world or age, let us look at the terms in which that event is described in the Bible. The doctrines of the New Church teach us that the whole Bible is written according to the correspondence of natural with spiritual things. The sun represents the Lord ; its heat represents His love received and reciprocated by men. The moon represents the cool light of faith. The stars are bits of knowledge of heavenly things held in memory. The earth represents the church ; all things on the earth represent the truths or principles which constitute the church, and everything that occurs on the earth represents some form or activity of those truths and principles. Now let us apply this method of interpretation to some of the passages in the Word which relate to this subject. The darkening of the sun means the loss from the church of that love for the Lord and of that sense of the Lord’s love which are its very life.The withdrawal of the moon’s light means the gradual loss of all belief or faith in the truths of the church. Its being changed into blood denotes the destruction of all living quality in the faith of the church. It represents the loss of all charity or brotherly love. The falling of the stars from heaven denotes the entire dispersion and loss of all the knowledges of spiritual truth, by giving them a merely natural meaning. The spiritual mind is heaven compared with the natural mind. The kingdom of heaven is within us. When those truths which relate to the spiritual man are brought down and sensualized, when the church begins to lose the spirit and to think lightly of the life, and makes much of mere dogmas and ceremonies, which is the sign of a dying or dead church, then the stars fall from heaven upon the earth, even as a fig-tree, which denotes a development of merely natural good, casteth her untimely figs when she is shaken of a mighty wind.

When the light of Divine truth is darkened in the mind ; when the warmth of spiritual love grows cold, and all belief in spiritual truth is destroyed, and all true knowledge of its facts and doctrines is lost, then the heavens depart as a scroll when it is rolled together ; the spiritual mind becomes closed to all spiritual truth, and the end of the world draws near.

If we look at any particular church and note the changes that have taken place in her when she approached her end, we shall find that the changes which are said to take place in the earth represent them in every particular. Our Lord says that many will come in His name, claiming to be the Christ, and shall deceive many. This prediction means that many will claim to have the only message of Divine truth. How diverse the doctrines are we know, and how sharp the controversies and how bitter the persecutions which have arisen among their adherents. These are the wars and rumors of wars foretold by our Lord. The conflict of evil with evil and of falsity with falsity is described as nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom. Famines are caused by the lack of the bread of life, which is love to the Lord and the neighbor. The pestilences foretold are the moral and spiritual evils which corrupt the hearts and minds of men, and cause spiritual disease and death. The earthquakes are the commotions in the church, which shake it to its foundations and break it up into sects, as the earth’s crust is shaken and broken into fragments by natural earthquakes.

In this manner we might take every passage in the whole Bible which refers to the end of the world, and show the special meaning of every particular, and its entire harmony with this doctrine and its bearing upon it. All these terms are not given a special meaning to adapt them to this particular doctrine. But they have this meaning everywhere, in the whole Word. The sun, moon, stars, and earth always have essentially the same meaning. The earth always means the church or those principles which constitute it. All the wars, famines, and pestilences mentioned in the Scriptures signify and represent spiritual conflicts, in which evils and falsities contend among themselves or stand opposed to goodness and truth. And we are not compelled to remain in a general application alone. We can descend to the minutest particulars, even to the kind of weapons used in these conflicts, the people who carry on the wars, and the causes of defeat or victory. The farther this correspondence is carried, the clearer it becomes and the more universal its application becomes, so that the argument from the Word comes out in the clearest and fullest manner, satisfying every condition of humanity and every demand of the reason and every statement of Scripture. I have not attempted to do more than to give an outline of the argument and show the manner in which we read the sacred symbols to learn what the Word really teaches concerning the last days. I shall invite your attention now to some of the rational considerations which confirm the belief that the end of the world is a spiritual and not a natural event.

According to the doctrines of the New Church, the material universe was created to be the birthplace of endless generations of intelligent beings, who were to pass on into the spiritual world and make room for those who should come after them. It is the essential nature of love to create, to communicate itself as fully as possible to others. As the Lord’s love is infinite, this essential element of His being can never be exhausted. He must have the same reasons to-day for creating intelligent beings that He had for creating the first man ; and there must be the same reasons millions of years hence for creating new souls to become the recipients of the Divine love and blessedness that there are now. It must, therefore, be contrary to the essential nature of the Lord that He should ever cease to create.

It has been proved by modern astronomers that our sun with its attendant planets and the myriad visible stars are moving in vast orbits around some common centre. This orbit of our solar system is so vast that it could complete only a small part of a revolution in six thousand years. How absurd to suppose that a Being of infinite wisdom would create a universe and set its worlds revolving in their orbits, and then destroy them before they had completed one revolution ! A little child is not guilty of so great a folly who builds a house of cards and throws it down for the pleasure of seeing it fall. But again, the ratio between the smallest grain of sand and our earth is greater than the ratio between our earth and the whole of the material universe ; can any supposition be more absurd than that the Lord would destroy the whole material universe because some beings who dwell upon this grain of sand have broken His laws?

The act of a man who burned his barn to kill a rat was wise compared with such a destruction of the universe. You cannot find anything in the childish ignorance or fitful spite of men so absurd as this. How irrational, then, to call it by no worse a name, to attribute such folly to infinite love and wisdom ! Suppose the Lord has been disappointed and His purpose in some respects defeated by sin, is that any reason why He should complete the defeat of His ends by a universal destruction ? But it cannot be that He has been defeated or disappointed. Omniscience saw the end from the beginning, and infinite wisdom provided the best means. The Lord can make no mistakes. Sin has only served to bring out the manifestations of His love in larger measures and in a greater variety of forms. There is no more cause for the destruction of the universe than there was to prevent its creation in the first instance. There is the same reason for its continuance, and must forever be, that there was for its creation. The Divine nature as it is in itself, the end for which the universe was created, the whole order and method of the creation and human reason, all teach us in unequivocal terms that the material universe will never be destroyed until infinite love grows cold and infinite wisdom fails to provide the ways and means for carrying into effect the purposes of infinite love, and infinite power becomes exhausted ; and when that crisis comes there will be no God and no universe and no human beings. We infer, therefore, that the destruction of the natural universe is contrary to the Divine nature, to the purposes of the Lord as declared in the creation, and to human reason.

The idea held by some, that the earth will be remade, that the Lord will give to man a better body at the resurrection, and that the new earth, if it is a material one, will be a better earth than this, practically accuses the Lord of folly, of not doing the best for His children that He could, and that is to say that His love and wisdom are not perfect. If it is replied that man finds the earth very imperfect and is constantly improving it, the answer is that it is one of the perfections of the earth that man can improve it,—it is one of the conditions of life essential to his intellectual and spiritual development. If he had no occasion to call forth his faculties they would lie dormant. If he saw no room for improvement, or found it impossible to make improvement, he would have no stimulus of hope, and all motives to exertion beyond what was necessary to support life would be taken away. Man’s nature is self-adjusting to all the conditions of life. Infinite wisdom is embodied in the creation, and when men try to improve upon the methods of infinite wisdom they show their ignorance and folly.

But the doctrine that this earth or any part of the material universe is to be made over into a new world and become the future dwelling of man after the resurrection is materialism. This result cannot be avoided. Man’s body is not a spiritual body after all, and instead of going to heaven and dwelling in one of the mansions in His Father’s house according to the promise, he must remain forever in this world. He is not essentially a spiritual being, but an earthly one, and however perfect his condition may be as a material being, he can never hope to attain to the glory and blessedness of a purely spiritual life. But the whole theory that this world is to be the eternal home of the redeemed is contrary to the oftrepeated declarations and promises of the Word. ” My kingdom is not of this world,” the Lord says. ” I go to prepare a place for you ; and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” The whole tenor of our Lord’s teachings was directed to prepare men for life in another and spiritual world which is not to be created at some future time, but which was already in existence, and when the Lord spoke was the home of all those who had passed from earth.

When we understand the term ” world” as meaning not the natural ground but the world of human life ; especially when we give the Greek word which is translated ” world” its strict meaning of ” age” or ” dispensation,” how simple it all is ! Within historic times the world hasmore than once passed away and a new world has been created. The Europe which the Roman conquerors knew is gone. The America which Columbus found is passed away and a new America has come into being. And turning our thought to the spiritual states of men, of which the Bible always directly speaks, the world has been destroyed and a new world created as often as one system of religious truth has lost its vitality and its power over the lives of men and a new system has been raised up by the Lord. Not to go back to remote antiquity, the world was in comparatively recent times made new when the Christian Dispensation displaced the Jewish at the coming of the Lord ; and in our own day is taking place before our very eyes the destruction and new creation of the church which the Lord Himself predicted. And all the while our faithful planet keeps steadily on its way fulfilling the purpose for which the Lord created it, as a nursery of human beings, where they may awaken to consciousness and learn their first lessons of obedience to the Heavenly Father, then to pass on to His eternal home. As saith Ecclesiastes, ” One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh ; but the earth abideth for ever.”

Author: Chauncey Giles, From Progress in Spiritual Knowledge, 1895

Copyright © 2007-2013 A. J. Coriat All rights reserved.

Image result for the world

Bringing the Ark to Jerusalem

Sermon: Bringing the Ark to Jerusalem

I preached this sermon at the Carmel New Church in Kitchener, Ontario, on July 18, 2010.


A Sermon by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn

This morning we read the story of David taking the ark to Jerusalem, and the sad story of Uzzah touching the ark.  But the story actually begins long before our reading takes place, before David was king, before his predecessor Saul was king, when Samuel had just become the leader over Israel – decades before the story in our reading took place.  In those days, the ark was captured by the Philistines, but it brought curses on them, and so they returned it to the people of Israel.  The people of Israel took it and brought it to the house of Abinidab on the hill.  There the ark stayed for decades.  Samuel grew old while the ark was there.  Saul was anointed king, and then after him, David was anointed king, and all the while, the ark was in the care of Abinadab and his household.

It stayed there for seven even after David had become king, while he was ruling Israel from the city of Hebron.  It was not until David finally conquered Jerusalem in the seventh year of his reign that he called for them to bring the ark to Mount Zion, the site of Jerusalem, which was then called the city of David.

This story is a literal history of the movement of the ark.  But like all the stories in the Word, it contains an internal sense that is about our spiritual lives.  The progression of the ark represents our spiritual progression – our progression from being merely natural, to being spiritual, to finally being celestial.  The ark represents the Lord’s presence with us along the entire journey, and especially His Divine Truth, or His Word, because the ark contained the Ten Commandments, which are the heart of the Word.

In our story, the ark began in the home of Abinidab in Baale-Judah, in Gibeah, where it had been for decades.  This represents the most external things of the church in a person.  This is where we all begin.  Here we view the Ten Commandments mostly as rules to be obeyed.  This is where we spend our childhood, growing up and learning about the Lord.  We act according to a sense of obedience rather than charity or love.

As we follow the teachings of the commandments on a natural level, we begin to move.  The ark leaves the house of Abinidab towards the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite.  We progress from mere obedience toward acting from love toward our neighbour – from the natural to the spiritual.  The home of Obed-Edom represents the spiritual with us, when we are acting from charity toward the neighbour.  And the final destination is Mount Zion, which represents celestial love – acting not only from obedience, not only from charity toward the neighbour, but from a deep and abiding love for the Lord.

In this summary, it sounds like a simple progression.  But it’s not always as simple as that.  The journey was far from straightforward, and it contained both joy and heartbreak.  When the ark first left the house of Abinadab, it was placed on a new cart drawn by oxen, and driven by the sons of Abinadab, Uzzah and Ahio.  From the outset of the journey, there was music and rejoicing.  We read, “Then David and all the house of Israel played music before Jehovah on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals.”  The book Apocalypse Explained tells us that the playing on these instruments represents “the gladness and joy that result from the affection of truth and good from the Lord through the influx of Divine truth.”  They represent the gladness that comes along with enjoying the truth on a natural level and on a spiritual level.  From the very beginning of our journey, we experience satisfaction in learning truth from the letter of the Word, and as we progress, we experience the pleasure that comes from living by the Word and treating our neighbour with charity.  That is the music of the instruments that accompanies the ark.

When we start to follow the Word – when the ark starts to move – we usually notice that it just works for our lives.  Our interactions with other people start to become more pleasant.  Right from the beginning, there is pleasure and happiness associated with learning and doing the truth.  If there weren’t, it would be impossible to motivate ourselves to continue – the ark couldn’t move by itself.  The oxen that were pulling the ark represent natural good – that is, the pleasure and enjoyment that come from following the literal sense of the Word.  For example, if you decide to start being more honest – from the first day you start, there’s just a natural sense of peace from the fact that you don’t have to worry so much about thinking of lies.  Even though you’ve just started your journey, you already start to see some benefits.
At the beginning of the ark’s journey, everything went smoothly.  But after some time, something seemed to go wrong: the oxen that were drawing the ark stumbled.

Remember, the oxen represent that natural good.  At first, following the Word just seems to work, and it makes you happy.  But as time goes by, you might find that it’s not making you as happy as before.  Even though you were excited about reading the Word, and it gave you pleasure, now you’re starting to come across things that are hard to understand, or that are hard to accept.  It seems that the oxen are stumbling – something just seems wrong.

Recall what happens in the story.  At the threshing floor of Nachon, the oxen stumble, and the ark begins to slip.  Abinidab’s son Uzzah, who has been accompanying the ark, puts out his hand to touch it – and he is immediately struck down dead.  In the historical sense, this happened because Uzzah was breaking a commandment, that only a consecrated priest could touch the holy things.  But it’s also a picture of the way we can do ourselves harm by trying to “steady the ark” – trying to “fix” what the Word says if it doesn’t seem to match up with what we’d like it to say.

Think about Uzzah’s life.  He was the son of Abinadab, in whose house the ark had been stored for so many years.  He had grown up with the ark in his house.  And he and his brother were charged with taking care of it as it made its way from their home to its new home in Jerusalem.  He probably felt a special sense of closeness with it.  And all of this so far is good.  Uzzah, for the most part, seems to represent something good in us.  David wept for him when he died.  And Arcana Coelestia says that he represents, “the truth that ministers to good.”  He seems to represent our understanding of truth.  He represents something good – but he makes one mistake – he touched the ark and tried to steady it.  If we put ourselves in his place, it’s easy to understand why he would do so.  If the ark fell, he might have been embarrassed.  He was used to having it around – although he knew it was holy, it was also a familiar thing.  It seemed perfectly natural to try to steady it, to keep it from falling.

But in doing so, he put his faith in his own abilities, rather than trusting that the Lord’s Word could take care of itself.  And we can find ourselves in a very similar position.  We have the Lord’s Word with us always.  We know that it is holy and true.  And yet there are times when we “put out our hand to steady it” – and in doing so we put our faith in ourselves, rather than in the Word.

Remember, when the oxen stumble, it is a time when the Word suddenly seems to stop being so enjoyable, or it seems to have something wrong – it’s about to fall over.  Maybe it makes a statement about the difference between men and women that makes us cringe a little.  Maybe it says something about love-of-self that seems to contradict what psychology says.  And in cases like that, we might be tempted to put out our hands to steady it.  We might say, “Oh, it doesn’t really mean that.”  We’re a little embarrassed for it – we don’t want other people to know what it says, and we’re quick to explain it away.  And we can explain away things that don’t seem to be working in our lives.  We’ve decided to stop lying, for instance, and we’re finding that telling the truth, while rewarding at first, is just getting us into trouble.  We might tell ourselves, “Well, there must be some exceptions – the Word can’t really mean we’re supposed to be honest all the time.”

This tendency comes from a fundamental error.  When we live with the Word for a long time – and especially for us in the New Church, when we are familiar with a revelation that is unknown to most people – we can start to feel like it belongs to us.  If there is something a little off-putting about it, we feel embarrassed about it, because we feel like we’re somehow responsible for it – that it is a reflection of us, rather than the other way around.  This may have been a little how Uzzah felt – remember, the ark had been in his family’s possession for years and years and years.  The Writings tell us that Uzzah reaching out with his hand represents trying to approach the Word from our own power, what is our own, from our proprium – which is closely related to a sense of ownership.

We usually talk about a sense of ownership as a positive thing when it comes to religion.  And it’s true that we have to have a sense that our religion is our own rather than someone else’s.  But we belong to the Lord – the Lord does not belong to us.  We have discovered the Writings, and they have touched us, and they speak to us – but they do not belong to us, any more than the ark belonged to Uzzah.  And we cannot “steady” them – we cannot try to “fix” what they say – without doing ourselves serious harm.  The end of the book of Revelation forbids anyone to add or take away anything from the words of that book – it is specifically talking about the book of Revelation, but the truth applies to the entire Word.

We cannot change the Word to make it more palatable.  But this does not mean that Uzzah does not have his place.  We need to have an understanding of truth to carry the ark, to lead us in following the Lord.  And sometimes this understanding of truth does involve resolving seeming contradictions in the Word.  Some people have accused the Writings of doing precisely what is forbidden in the story of Uzzah and at the end of Revelation, of denying the hard truths in the literal sense of the Word.  For example, the Writings say that the Lord is never angry – despite clear statements to the contrary in the Old Testament.  Are the Writings just trying to “steady the ark,” to make an unpleasant truth more palatable?  Now, the Writings are a new revelation, so their interpretation of the Old and New Testaments is not really the same as a person doing it on his own.  They are not a human hand but a Divine hand touching the ark.

But the Writings indicate that even without a new revelation, the Christian church could have known that God was never angry.  How would coming to this conclusion be different from reaching out to touch the ark?  The big difference is that the conclusion that God is never angry is itself drawn from the Word, rather than from a person’s own intelligence, or from a desire to “fit in” with the cultural mores.  A person needs to use their understanding and enlightenment to see the governing truths in the Word, and to see other statements as appearances of truth.  So, for example, the truth is clearly expressed in the Old and New Testament that the Lord loves the world; that the Lord does not desire the death of anyone; and in short, that God is love.  A person can use reason to say, “Anger as I know it contains hatred within it; and so when it says God is angry, it must mean a different kind of anger from human anger – a kind of anger that is completely free from a desire to hurt anyone.”   This kind of thinking is permitted, because it is from the Word, and not from one’s own power.

But it’s easier, when we come across a difficult teaching in the Word, to start from the assumption that it’s wrong, and try to make it fit what we already believe – rather than allowing it to change what we believe.  When we start to do that – to guide ourselves from our own intelligence, rather than from the Word – we seriously harm something inside of ourselves.  Uzzah represents our understanding of truth.  And as soon as we believe that we are able to know truth of ourselves without the Word, we die.  When Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden, the Lord forbade them to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil – and told them that if they ate of it, they would die.  Why would He forbid them from eating of a tree of knowledge?  Isn’t knowledge good?  The reason is that tree did not really represent knowledge – it represented the attitude that a person has knowledge and wisdom from himself, that he can figure things out on his own, without needing the Word. And it’s this kind of attitude that leads to death.  And it’s this kind of attitude that leads us to try to “steady the ark” – to say to ourselves, however subtly, “Well, the Word doesn’t really know what it’s talking about here – it’s not going to work to do it that way, so I’ll do it my own way.”  If we follow that path, we put ourselves above the Word.

It’s easy to do.  And that’s scary.  How do we know when we’re “correcting the Word” from our own intelligence versus re-examining it from the Lord?  There’s not an easy solution.  It involves a lot of prayer, a lot of self-examination and reflection, and above all honesty with oneself.

David was frightened by the power of the ark after it killed Uzzah, and he stopped its journey.  When we are reminded what is at stake in religion – that it is eternal life or an eternity in hell – religion can be so frightening that we stop in our tracks.  It seems too big for us.  It can make us afraid to even go to the Word – it’s too painful, or it would be too painful, to honestly look at all the ways we ignore what it says.  It is no wonder that David no longer wanted the ark to come to him.

But while the ark is with Obed-Edom, it does not curse him.  It blesses him!  And this encourages David.  In the same way, we can call to mind that the Word is NOT there to condemn us.  The Lord said He did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world from its sins.  And so we can continue on our spiritual journey.  It takes a lot of courage – when we believe all the things the Word says about heaven and hell, about the possibility of backsliding – it can be scary.  But when we remember that it is there to give us life, and give it to us more abundantly, we can set out again.  We can rededicate ourselves to our mission, and continue to try bring the Word into our lives.  David went before the ark dancing and shouting.  The Word can give us greater joy than anything else in the world.  We may still carry fear, but our fear is transformed into a holy fear – not a fear that we will be condemned, but a fear of doing any harm to the things that are of the Lord.  We can follow the ark, and let it lead us, and trust that it will bring us further and further into heaven – that is, further and further into charity toward our neighbour and love toward the Lord. “So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of Jehovah with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet.”


Lessons: 2 Samuel 6:1-15; Revelation 22:12-19; Arcana Coelestia 8944

AC 8944. It is believed in the world that a person is able to know from the light of nature, thus without revelation, many things that belong to religion; as that there is a God, that He is to be worshipped, and also that He is to be loved, likewise that a person will live after death, and many other things that depend upon these; and yet these things being such as are from self-intelligence. But I have been instructed by much experience that of himself, and without revelation, a person knows nothing whatever about Divine things, and about the things that belong to heavenly and spiritual life. For a person is born into the evils of the love of self and of the world, which are of such a nature that they shut out the influx from the heavens, and open influx from the hells; thus such as make a person blind, and incline him to deny that there is a Divine, that there is a heaven and a hell, and that there is a life after death. This is very manifest from the learned in the world, who by means of knowledges have carried the light of their nature above the light of others; for it is known that these deny the Divine, and acknowledge nature in place of the Divine, more than others; and also that when they speak from the heart, and not from doctrine, they deny the life after death, likewise heaven and hell, consequently all things of faith, which they call bonds for the common people. From this it is plain what is the quality of the light of nature without revelation. It has also been shown that many who have written upon natural theology, and from the light of their nature have skillfully confirmed those things which belonged to the doctrine of their church, in the other life at heart deny these same things more than others do; and also deny the Word itself, which they attempt utterly to destroy; for in the other life hearts speak. It has also been shown that the same can receive nothing of influx out of heaven, but only from the hells. Hence it was plain what is the quality of the light of nature without revelation; consequently what is the quality of that which comes from a person’s own intelligence.

Coleman’s Blog | The thoughts and reflections of a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister


A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida January 31, 1993

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak from Himself, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12-14).

There are in the New Testament two markedly different sets of prophecies of the Lord’s second advent. In Matthew, Luke and Revelation, it is prophesied that the Son of Man will appear in the clouds of heaven. For example, we read in Matthew: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the one end of heaven to the other … Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled” (Matt. 24:29-31, 34). This and similar prophecies have been understood to mean that when the Lord makes His second coming, the visible earth will be destroyed or, at the very least, suffer terrible calamities. Then the Lord will appear visibly, to the natural eyes, in the clouds.

But there are other prophecies, notably in the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of the gospel of John. These teach that the Lord’s Second Advent will be in a new revelation of Divine truth. So we have apparently contradictory prophecies.

A careful examination of the prophecies of the Second Advent, and a thoughtful analysis of how the Lord fulfilled the prophecies of the First Advent, and why the Jews rejected their Messiah, will be of great benefit to those who are still waiting for the Second Advent. Although the Lord comes as He prophesies in the Word, still He may not come as people expect Him to. He tells us: “Watch, therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming … Therefore, you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him” (Matt. 24:42,44).

Most Jews, and especially the leaders, were familiar with the prophecies of the Lord’s First Advent. Indeed, many of them had detailed knowledge of them yet few received Him, despite the fact that the Lord fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets. Was He not born in Bethlehem, of the house of David? Was He not born of a virgin? Did not John the Baptist go before Him to prepare the way? Was He not called up out of Egypt? Was He not despised and rejected of men, and hated without cause? Did He not ride as a king into Jerusalem? Was He not led as a lamb to the slaughter and opened not His mouth?

Anyone who studies the life of the Lord and compares it without prejudice to the Old Testament prophecies can see that the Lord actually became the Word made flesh. When the mind is affirmative to this concept, the more one studies the Scriptures, the more obvious this becomes. But this is not the only evidence that exists to support belief in the Lord’s First Advent. The Lord did not leave people to infer that He was the promised Messiah. He openly stated it a number of times.

In reply to the woman of Samaria, who said that she knew that when the Messiah came, He would tell all things, He said: “I who speak to you am He” (John 4:26). When He was teaching in Nazareth, He said, after reading from the prophets concerning the advent: “This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). He identified Himself to the scribes and Pharisees as the infinite and eternal God, saying: “Most assuredly I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am” (John 8:58). And He said to His disciples: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father”(John 14:9).

It is a characteristic of all Divine revelation that it does not compel belief. It offers convincing confirmation of its authenticity to all who humbly and affirmatively seek, but it does not compel belief, lest people profane that which they have acknowledged as true. Therefore, the Jews were free to accept the evidence that Christ was the promised Messiah, or to reject Him.

Because the Jews of that day were so steeped in externalism, they refused to lift up their minds to see the internal fulfillment of the Scripture. They accused the Lord of destroying the Law and the Prophets, but He said: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). And He taught them saying: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not murder,’ and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matt 5:21, 22). He did not negate the commandment against murder, but gave them a deeper concept of the commandment. He showed that it is not only evil acts that we must shun, but evil thoughts and intentions.

Any Jew who was willing could have seen that this teaching did not destroy the Law, but rather made it more full by revealing some of its deeper implications. Indeed, many of them did see this. But the majority of them, blinded by the natural loves of national ambition or personal power, or their own preconceived ideas of how the Messiah would come, rejected Him. For a brief time on Palm Sunday, when the Lord entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, He was hailed by the throng as the promised Messiah. But when they found that His kingdom was not of this world, that He had not come to release them from the Roman yoke but from the bondage of hell, they cried out: “Crucify Him!”

The knowledge of how the prophecies of the Lord’s First Advent were fulfilled can be very useful to those who are sincerely looking and waiting for the Second Advent. On examining these prophecies one thing becomes apparent. Some prophecies were literally fulfilled while others were fulfilled spiritually. For example, it was prophesied that: “He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths. For out of Zion the Law shall go forth, the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Micah 4:2). This prophecy was literally fulfilled. The Lord did teach people His ways, and His Word went out from Jerusalem. It is recorded that they were astonished at His doctrine because He taught as one having authority and not as the scribes.

But it was also prophesied: “Behold, He is coming … Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasant to the Lord, as in days of old, as in former years” (Malachi 3:1, 4). “At that time Jerusalem shall be called the Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem; they shall walk no more after the stubbornness of their evil heart” (Jer. 3:17). These prophecies were not literally fulfilled. When the Lord was on earth He told them that their offerings were not acceptable to Him, nor were all nations gathered to Jerusalem when He was on earth. These prophecies, which appealed to the external nature and ambitions of the Jews, were fulfilled not literally but spiritually. The worship of love and faith represented by the meat offering was pleasing to the Lord, and also all those who were in truth, represented by the nations, were gathered to the church which the Lord established, represented by Jerusalem.

In connection with the fulfillment of prophecy, it is of interest to note that three particular prophecies of the Lord’s First Advent in the Old Testament were not literally fulfilled. In Joel we read: “The sun and moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining” (2:10). And in Daniel: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven … to Him was given dominion, and glory, and a kingdom” (7:13, 14). And in Isaiah: “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind” (65:17).

These prophecies are almost identical to prophecies in the New Testament which refer to the Second Advent. We read in Matthew: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven … and they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (24:29, 30). And in Revelation: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and there was no more sea” (Rev. 21:1).

The question arises: If these prophecies were not literally fulfilled at the time of the First Advent, can we reasonably expect them to be literally fulfilled at the time of the Second Advent? Are not these among the prophecies which were spiritually fulfilled? It should be noted that the prophecy in Matthew ends with these words: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled” (24:34). It is a matter of history that these things did not, in fact, happen before the passing of that generation. This is a plain indication that the prophecy has a deeper meaning a spiritual fulfillment.

The spiritual meaning of this prophecy is expounded in the Writings. There we are told that these words must be understood spiritually, not naturally. The sun being darkened means that at the consummation of the age the end of the church love to the Lord will be obliterated. The moon being darkened means that faith in Him will perish. The stars falling from heaven means that knowledges from the Word concerning the Lord will fall from the higher regions of the mind and be debased. The Son of Man appearing in the clouds of heaven means His new appearance in the Word the clouds referring to its literal sense, and the glory to its spiritual sense (see HH 1).

When we examine and reflect on these prophecies in this light we see that they were spiritually fulfilled. When the Lord came into the world, had not love to Him and faith in Him perished, and had not the knowledges concerning Him from the Word been debased? Jesus said: “You have made the commandment of God of no effect by your traditions” (Matt. 15:6). The stars had fallen from heaven.

Is this not true of today? Once again, in accord with the prophecy, love to the Lord and faith in Him have been blotted out, and knowledge of Him from the Word has been debased. We must therefore look for the sign of the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, that is, the inner meaning of the Word, its glory, to be revealed shining forth from the Word as the clouds of the literal sense are dispersed.

The Lord prophesied to His disciples that He would come as the Spirit of Truth. He said: “I will pray the Father and He will give you another Comforter that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive … I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you” (John 14:16-18). Here He identified Himself as the Spirit of Truth, or Spiritual Truth.

Those who look for an external coming of the Lord like the Jews who looked for an earthly king will look in vain. The Word had already been made flesh. To repeat this miracle would be useless. The Lord while on earth glorified His Human for all time. What was, and is, needed is a deeper understanding of what was involved in the First Advent, and of the meaning of the Scriptures. The Lord, knowing this, said: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of Truth has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak from Himself, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12-14).

This prophecy is literally fulfilled by the Lord in His Second Advent, as a new revelation of spiritual-rational truth. In the Writings of the Second Advent we are taught plainly of the Father. We are told of things to come the spiritual world, where people come after their departure from this world, is described in considerable detail. They do not speak of the human agency through which they were given, Emanuel Swedenborg, but they testify to the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ, according to the words: “When the Comforter comes … the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (John 15:26). They glorify the Lord. The doctrine of how the Lord glorified His human while on earth is fully explained to the rational understanding. The truth concerning the Lord is no longer given in proverbs, but we are told plainly of the Father (John 16:25). All things concerning the Lord are now brought to our remembrance in clear light.

The rational truths of the Second Advent could not have been given to the disciples, or to the primitive Christian Church. They were beyond their comprehension they could not bear them then. How could those people, who could not understand even the elementary laws of nature and of the human body, comprehend the laws of the spiritual world and of the human mind or spirit? Just as every person must progress from an understanding of simple external things to complex and more interior things, so did the human race.

The Lord had these things to reveal, but they could not, at that time, receive them, according to His Words: “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)

Although the Writings fulfill all the prophecies of the Second Advent, we are not left to come to this conclusion of ourselves. Just as the Lord openly declared who He was when He came to earth the first time in the flesh, so does He now the second time, when He has come as the Spirit of Truth. He declares in one of the books of the New Word: “This immediate revelation is the advent of the Lord” (Athanasian Creed). Also on two volumes were written: “This book is the advent of the Lord, written by command” (autographed by Swedenborg on the flyleaf of Summary Exposition).

Now is fulfilled the Lord’s promise: “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you … At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:18, 20). Amen.

Lessons: Matt. 24:29-42; John 16:1-15, 25; TCR 777, 779

True Christian Religion 777, 779

777. That the Lord is the Word can be clearly seen from the following in John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. And the Word was made flesh” (John 1:1, 4). “The Word” means here Divine truth because Divine truth among Christians is from no other source than the Word, which is the fountain from which all churches bearing the name of Christ draw living waters in their fullness; and yet a church accepting the Word in its natural sense is, as it were, in a cloud, but one accepting it in its spiritual and celestial senses is in glory and power. That there are three senses in the Word, a natural, a spiritual, and a celestial, one within the other, has been shown in the chapter on the Sacred Scripture, and in the chapter on the Decalogue or Catechism. From all this it is clear that “the Word” in John means Divine truth. John also bears testimony to this in his first Epistle: “We know that the Son of God hath come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ” (v. 20). This is why the Lord so frequently said, “Verily I say unto you,” verily [amen] in the Hebrew language meaning truth. (That He is “the Amen” see Rev. 3:14, and “the Truth,” John 14:6.) Moreover, when the learned men of the present day are asked what they understand by “the Word” in John 1:1, they say that it means the Word in its pre-eminence; yet what is the Word in its pre-eminence but Divine truth? From all this it is evident that the Lord is now to appear in the Word. He is not to appear in Person, because since He ascended into heaven He is in His glorified Human, and in this He cannot appear to any man unless the eyes of his spirit are first opened; and this cannot be done in anyone who is in evils and consequent falsities, thus not in any of the goats whom He sets on His left hand. Therefore, when He showed Himself to His disciples, He first opened their eyes, for it is written: “And their eyes were opened, and they knew Him and He vanished out of their sight” (Luke 24:31). The same took place with the women who were at the sepulchre after the resurrection, and in consequence they also saw angels sitting in the sepulchre and talking with them, and angels cannot be seen with the material eye. Neither did the apostles before the resurrection see the Lord in His glorified Human with their bodily eyes, but in spirit, which seems, after one is awakened from it, like the state of sleep. This is evident from the Lord’s transfiguration before Peter, James, and John, for it is said that they were heavy with sleep (Luke 9:32). It is idle, therefore, to believe that the Lord will appear in the clouds of heaven in Person; but He is to appear in the Word, which is from Him and therefore is Himself.


Since the Lord cannot manifest Himself in Person, as shown just above, and nevertheless has foretold that He was to come and establish a new church, which is the New Jerusalem, it follows that He will do this by means of a man, who is able not only to receive these doctrines in his understanding but also to publish them by the press. That the Lord manifested Himself before me, His servant, and sent me to this office, that He afterward opened the eyes of my spirit and thus introduced me into the spiritual world and granted me to see the heavens and the hells, and to talk with angels and spirits, and this now continuously for several years, I affirm in truth; as also that from the first day of that call I have not received anything whatever pertaining to the doctrines of that church from any angel, but from the Lord alone while I have read the Word.


A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida, March 24, 1991

“And the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road” (Matthew 21:6- 8).

Throughout the Christian world the celebration of Palm Sunday is properly regarded as a Christian festival. For it was on this day that the Lord was recognized and proclaimed by a great multitude to be the long-awaited Messiah. This is obvious from the welcome they accorded Him as He made His way toward Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Spreading their garments and palm branches in His path, they cried: “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matt. 21:9). “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest!’ (Luke 19:3 8).

For centuries the Jews had awaited this glorious day. They, the chosen people of the Lord, had suffered humiliation and defeat at the hands of each of the neighboring nations in succession. First the Assyrians subjugated them, then the Babylonians, next the Persians, then the Greeks, and finally the Romans. They waited and prayed for the day when the Messiah would come and conquer their enemies and release them from their chafing bondage.

Many of those present on this occasion knew who it was who was declaring Himself King — that this was Jesus of Nazareth, the teacher from Galilee. They knew of the many miracles which He had done, especially the raising of Lazarus, who had been dead for four days. They had wondered whether or not He was the Messiah. Some said He was Elijah or Jeremiah returned to earth, or one of the prophets (see Matt. 16:14).

Now, by riding into Jerusalem on a “donkey, and a colt, the foal of a donkey” – traditional symbols of royalty – He was proclaiming Himself the promised Messiah, the Savior of Israel. Great throngs, therefore, came to greet Him. Shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and paving the road with their garments and palm branches, they ushered Him into Jerusalem. Now, at last, their dreams would become a reality. Their nation would be restored to its former glory, the glory it enjoyed under Kings David and Solomon. They would become the rulers instead of the ruled. This was what was in their minds as the Lord made His triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. But their great expectations were short-lived. For Jesus made His way to the temple instead of the palace. They had not yet realized that the kingdom He came to establish was not of this world. But when He went daily to the temple to teach instead of seizing the reins of power, their hopes of national supremacy were shattered, and with bitterness and scorn they rejected Him.

As He hung from the cross, less than a week after His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, those who passed by railed at Him “wagging their heads, and saying: ‘Ah, you who destroys the temple, and builds it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross.’ Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ And they who were crucified with Him reviled Him” (Mark 15:29-32).

The events which led up to the culmination of the Lord’s life on earth had profound historical significance. Had these things not transpired, it is safe to say that the course of history would have been greatly altered. But, although this is true, it should be born in mind that the acts and events of the Lord’s life have more than historical significance.

Everything that the Lord did, every word that He spoke, every event related to His life had eternal significance. The Writings teach that whatever the Lord did, and whatever He spoke, while He was in the world represented and signified Divine and heavenly things (see AE 405:24). In considering these events, therefore, we should try to see their spiritual meaning and import – their internal and eternal significance.

The Lord came on earth to redeem and save mankind. This was necessary because the human race had completely alienated itself from God. They had closed the way to heaven by rejecting the means which God had provided for their salvation and eternal happiness. In former times the Lord had instructed and led mankind through the prophets whom He had inspired with His Word. But the prophets had been stoned and their message rejected.

If the human race was to be saved from complete and eternal destruction, a new means of approach had to be established – a more direct approach. To accomplish this end, God Himself descended to earth, clothing His Divine soul in a human body derived from the virgin Mary. In this assumed human were all the hereditary characteristics of the human race. The devils of hell were able to approach the Lord through these hereditary tendencies and tempt Him. As He overcame in these temptations, the Lord successively subjugated the hells, and so restored spiritual freedom to people on earth (see AC 1676:3, 1690:6).

But the Lord did more than assume a human body by birth into the world. He put on the human mind, and this in the same way as any other person. Not only did He acquire from Mary hereditary tendencies to evil through which the hells could assault Him, but He also acquired the human affection of truth. And by means of this affection, He acquired knowledges of truth.

In the Arcana Coelestia we read: “In His childhood the Lord was instructed as are other men …. The external mind is corporeal and sensuous, nor does it receive anything celestial and spiritual unless knowledges are implanted in it, as in ground” (AC 1461). “Knowledges are the things that open the way for seeing celestial and spiritual things; by means of knowledge the way is opened for the internal mind to advance toward the external, in which latter are the receiving vessels, which are as many as are the knowledges of good and truth; into these knowledges, as into their vessels, do celestial things inflow” (AC 1458:5).

Thus it was that the Lord, while in the world, acquired knowledges by the ordinary way. In this way He successively put on the human mind. His nature, therefore, was composite or twofold. From within, or as to His soul, He was Divine, infinite, perfect. But from without, through birth, and by means of instruction, He put on a human mind which was finite and imperfect.

Throughout His life in this world this assumed human – the mind put on through instruction – had to be successively purified and freed from its finite, human limitations and imperfections. The human had to be glorified or made perfect and one with the indwelling Divine. The human had to be made Divine. This is what the Lord meant when He said: “O Father, glorify Me with Your Own Self, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). His prayer was that the human which He assumed by birth into the world and through instruction from without would be fully subordinated to, and made correspondent with, His indwelling Divine soul.

The subject of the subordination of the exterior rational to the interior and Divine degrees of the Lord is contained interiorly in the story of Ishmael’s conception and birth, and Hagar’s humbling herself under the hand of her mistress Sarai. Abram and Sarai represent the two interior and Divine degrees of life in the Lord – the Divine celestial and the Divine spiritual. But they were barren. These two degrees cannot produce the rational degree of the mind (that degree which distinguishes man from beast, and is therefore truly human), which the Lord came on earth to acquire and make Divine. But Sarai had an Egyptian handmaid named Hagar -who represents the affection of exterior truth, or the affection of knowledges. By the Divine life flowing into this natural affection -represented by the conjunction of Abram with Hagar – knowledges were acquired, and the rational degree, represented by Ishmael, was conceived and born.

But Hagar then despised her mistress – the affection of exterior truth wanted to exalt itself. Therefore the angel told Hagar that she was to return to her mistress Sarai, and humble herself under her hand. The human rational which the Lord acquired had to be made submissive and subordinate to the Divine life within (see AC 1895-1904).

This subordination of the natural to the Divine is what was represented by the Lord’s riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on a donkey and a colt, the foal of a donkey. The Writings tell us that whenever female donkeys are mentioned in the Word, the natural affection of truth is signified (see AC 2781:5, 5741:2). We are also told that a donkey’s colt represents rational truth, because rational truth is as a son to the affection of natural truth, because that affection conceives and brings it forth (ibid.). We read: “… to ‘ride upon a donkey’ was a sign that the natural was made subordinate; and to ‘ride upon a colt the son of a donkey’ was a sign that the rational was made subordinate” (AC 2781:8, emphasis added).

We see from this that the Lord’s riding into Jerusalem upon a donkey and a colt, the foal of a donkey, was representative of the state of His glorification. Both the natural and the rational, which He had put on while in the world, had been made subordinate to and one with the Divine. The two lower degrees were now glorified. This was the interior reason why there was rejoicing and singing. The glorification of the Lord’s human was almost complete; all that remained was the glorification of the sensuous and corporeal degrees, represented by the cleansing of the temple and the final temptation on the cross. There was, therefore, rejoicing in the heavens on this account, as the Lord made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

This heavenly rejoicing is conveyed by the words: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38). This is also why the Lord said to those Pharisees who told Him to rebuke the multitude for their joy and praise: “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40).

As we approach the Easter festival, let us bear in mind the fact that within all the events recorded in the literal story of the Lord’s last days on earth, there is an internal, spiritual meaning, a meaning which, when seen, elevates our minds to the contemplation of the Lord’s Divine Humanity.

While we may be deeply affected by the literal story, we will realize that the things there related were representative, ultimate acts through which the greatest of all miracles was effected. God was made man, and man was made God. Thus it became Him “to fulfill all righteousness” (see AE lesson). Amen.

Lessons: Genesis 16:1-12,15,16; Matt. 21:1-17; AE 31:7

Apocalypse Explained

31:7. As it is known from these things what is meant by a “king” in the Word, I will add to the above: Why the Lord, when He entered Jerusalem, sat upon the foal of an ass, and the people then proclaimed Him king, and also strewed their garments in the way (see Matt. 21:1-8, Mark 11: 1-11, Luke 19:28-40, John 12:14- 16).

This is predicted in Zechariah: “Exult, 0 daughter of Zion; shout, 0 daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy king cometh unto thee, just and having salvation, riding upon an ass, and upon the foal of an ass” (9:9; Matt. 21:5; John 12:15). The reason was that to sit upon an ass and the foal of an ass was the distinctive mark of the highest judge and of a king, as can be seen from the following passages: ‘My heart is toward the lawgivers of Israel, you who ride upon white asses” (Judges 5:9,10). “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, till Shiloh come, who shall bind his ass’s foal to the vine, and the son of his she-ass to the noble vine” (Gen. 49:10,11).

As sitting on an ass and the foal of an ass was such a distinctive mark, judges rode upon white she-asses (Judges 5:9, 10); and their sons upon asses’ colts (Judges 10:4, 12:14); and the king himself when crowned, upon a she-mule (I Kings 1:33); and his sons upon mules (II Samuel 13:29).

One who does not know the signification of “horse,’ “mule,” and “the foal of an ass” in a representative sense will suppose that the Lord’s riding upon the foal of an ass was significative of misery and humiliation. But it signified royal magnificence; for this reason the people then proclaimed the Lord king, and strewed their garments upon the way. This was done when He went to Jerusalem because by “Jerusalem” is signified the church.


A Sermon by Rev James P. Cooper
March 3, 1996
Preached in Mitchellville, Maryland March 3, 1996

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1).

Of the one hundred fifty psalms collected in the Old Testament, only 73 are actually attributed to David. Some of them, such as the 137th, which we read together as the psalter, were written much later in Jewish history, and deal with events unimagined during the height of David’s kingdom.

David ruled a united kingdom of Israel in about 1000 B.C., and was followed by his son Solomon. Solomon built the kingdom to its greatest physical extent, reputation, and wealth, but his willingness to worship the variety of idols introduced by his hundreds of wives and concubines introduced a fatal flaw into the kingdom, and upon his death it fractured into the independent and warring kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

About 250 years after Solomon, in 721 B.C., the Assyrians came and conquered Israel, carrying away everyone living in the northern kingdom. These ten tribes are now lost to history, as there is no further record of them as a distinct people. There are many theories, but it appears most likely that they were simply absorbed into other Asian populations through intermarriage.

The southern kingdom of Judah struggled along against increasing pressure from the more powerful nations in the region for another 135 years until in 586 B.C. the Babylonians came into Judah to punish them for supporting Egypt against them in a war. All those who were educated, or successful businessmen, or political leaders were taken to Babylon where they were kept captive for some years. The prophet Daniel was one of those carried into Babylon, and the familiar stories of the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and Daniel in the lion’s den all come from that period and that experience.

We recall that the reason the Jews were the “chosen people” was their fascination with and dedication to their external forms of worship. The covenant established with Jehovah said that if they would worship Jehovah only and keep to the rituals defined in the laws of Moses, they would be rich and happy. They had no desire to take it any farther than that because they loved their rituals and because they loved them and protected them, the scriptures which later became the Old Testament were safely preserved with them.

But the law said that the only true worship could take place in Jerusalem, and those who loved the laws and rituals of their church suffered terribly because they could not fulfill that part of the law. The covenant with Jehovah had also promised that they would have their own nation, and now their land was filled with Babylonian settlers and uneducated Jews, too worthless even to be captured by the Babylonians, and who were willing to marry Canaanites (these unfortunates were later known as “Samaritans” and were completely shunned by any good and proper Jew).

And so the unnamed psalmist sang a song that has touched the hearts of captive peoples the world over, telling us how it felt to be homesick, to be among strangers speaking a strange language, to be forced to dance and sing and pretend to be happy to please those who had stolen your goods and killed your family. It is not surprising, then, that the last verses should celebrate revenge in the extreme, to the point of delighting in the thought of murdering the children of your enemies.

Many people have seen this psalm to be symbolic, representing not just the plight of the Jews in Babylon, but the plight of all captive peoples everywhere. The African slaves in the United States turned this psalm into a lovely hymn that they sang in their churches and (ironically) to entertain their owners. There are many other examples of captive or displaced peoples who have read this psalm or sung that hymn and felt that it spoke directly to their hearts.

Although we recognize the psalm as symbolic, yet it contains very natural, troubling images of the destruction of innocent children, apparently sanctioning revenge. We must take it beyond simple symbolism in order to get to the real message that concerns our life today.

The leading image in this psalm is that of Babylon, both as the nation which has caused the captives their misery and as the geographic location of their imprisonment. Babylon was an immensely powerful empire in those days, dominating the whole of the Fertile Crescent from its capital near where the Tigris and Euphrates (the “rivers of Babylon”) entered the Persian Gulf.

We know from the stories in the book of Daniel that the kingdom of Babylon was completely dominated by their loves of self and the world, that even though they were externally very successful, their system was completely corrupt because its internal fires were driven by the lust of dominion over others. We need to be reminded only of how easily King Nebuchadnezzar was led to believe himself a god, how he would kill anyone who did not worship him, to see how close to the surface this quality was.

Because the real Babylonian nation had that quality, it was therefore chosen as the symbol for those qualities in the church and in the man of the church when John was shown the visions that became the book of Revelation, and has now come to stand as a symbol for that quality in any organization or individual.

We are all, from time to time, held captive by the rivers of Babylon. We all find ourselves in states where either we choose to ignore certain teachings of the Word, or else we deliberately twist their meaning so that they do not seem to apply to our own particular situation at least to us. And we do this in order to control a situation, to force others to do what we want them to do, or to gain some material advantage.

Babylon stands for being “dominated by the loves of self and the world,” while the rivers of Babylon represent “false reasoning” (AE 518:38). From time to time we “sit down by the rivers of Babylon” when we allow ourselves to be overcome by our natural, hereditary desires. And when that happens, when we allow ourselves into such a state of temptation and trial, the Lord moves even closer to us than usual. He stirs our conscience, our remains of good and truth, and in many other subtle, inner ways, sounds alarms that cause us to look up, look outside of ourselves, and understand where we are spiritually.

And seeing ourselves in Babylon, we weep when we remember Zion. We regret that we have allowed ourselves to come into such a state, and we wish we could go back to having things the way they were. But we have to acknowledge that the situation is one of our own making, that we cannot go back; we can only go forward.

Historically, the Jews had a covenant with Jehovah. He would protect them, cause them to prosper, and protect them in their own land as long as they obeyed Him. Their captivity in Babylon was not an accident but the direct result of their own disobedience. As our lesson from the Apocalypse Explained points out, as the Jews profaned the things of their worship, they gradually became “Babylonian” as to their internal worship, and so were physically moved away from Israel to Babylon in order to represent the fallen state of their internal worship. It was only because the Lord needed certain representatives in order to fulfill the prophecies of His birth and life that He allowed them to return to Judah and rebuild the temple. Once He had come and been rejected by the Jews, Jerusalem and the temple were once again destroyed, and the Jews themselves were scattered (see AE 1029:16,17).

The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that the first six verses of this Psalm 137 are a “lamentation by those in falsities from ignorance, because they don’t have the Word” (PP), but we need to be quite clear that we are not talking about the ignorance of innocence, but the ignorance that is the result of deliberately putting the truths of the Word aside in favor of things that support what we selfishly want to do. The resulting lamentation or unhappiness is the result of being able to see from the context of our downfallen state how things used to be when we were in order.

We do not need to dwell any further on this state of spiritual captivity to selfishness and worldliness, for it is all too familiar to all of us. What we need to do is to see if the internal sense of this psalm shows us the way out of our captivity.

Verses 5 and 6 of the psalm remember Jerusalem in the following words: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.” In this context, “Jerusalem” does not refer to the physical city Jerusalem, but rather “the church” (see AR 880, TCR 782:5), and so stands for the Lord’s promise that even with those people who have turned away from His truth and found themselves in the spiritual states represented by Babylon, still there is hope; still the church can be formed with them; it is still possible for them to be happy to eternity in heaven (see PP).

The psalm tells us how we can come out of our captive state and return to a life of happiness and usefulness. It says, “O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, happy shall he be who repays you as you have served us! Happy shall he be who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock” (Psalm 137:8,9).

When good and truth are brought together in the heavenly marriage, uses are the result, and these and the delights that come from uses are represented by babies in the Word. But, according to the laws of correspondence, everything has its opposite correspondence as well, and when evils and falsities are conjoined, wickedness and the delight one feels in the commission of some secret evil are the result. In the context of this psalm, the “babies” that are to be destroyed are nothing more than the lies that we first tell ourselves, and then tell others, to justify the evils that we do (see AE 411:27).

The Holy City New Jerusalem is an often used image of the Lord’s church and His heavenly kingdom. In our states of unhappiness in this world, we long for the rest and comfort we hope to find with the Lord some day. We long to be free of the confusion and difficulties of life in the natural world with its temptations, disease, and insecurity. We want to go to our true, spiritual home where we can be safe and happy.

But we are captives we are not free to go home until we have broken the bonds that hold us in slavery in Babylon. If we truly wish to be free, we must search out the truths from the Word and honestly compare our lives to them. With the Lord’s help through our conscience, we should easily see falsities springing from our love of evils. We must then act courageously and decisively, and smash those lies from hell against the rock of truth.

The historical Babylon was the capital of an empire of incredible wealth and power, but because of its internal corruption, it was quickly replaced by others. Our lesson from the book of Revelation speaks of a symbolic Babylon, and gives long lists of the precious and luxurious items to be found in her, the entertainments and delights that the kings of the earth found there, and concludes with these words: “Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with good and precious stones and pearls! For in one hour such great riches came to nothing” (Rev. 18:16,17).

The most dangerous lie of all is the one that makes us believe that the things of this world are lasting or satisfying in themselves, for at the hour of our death they will all come to nothing. This lie that makes us cling to material possessions and the life of the body must be broken upon the truth, the truth that it is in our own long-term best interests to set our priorities correctly, to learn to put spiritual things first in our lives.

Remember the parable of the rich man and his barns full of grain. He was a very successful farmer, normally something to admire, but all he did with the wealth he produced was to store it up in barns. When the barns became full, he tore them down and built even bigger barns to hold his wealth. And what did the Lord say to him? “God said to him, Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'” (Luke 12:20).

The things of the world are the wealth and power that attract us to Babylon in the first place, but it is the lies that we tell ourselves to excuse our behavior that are the bonds that enslave us. The Lord asks us to break these bonds that hold us in Babylon, to set ourselves free so that we can return from Babylon to live eternally in freedom in the heavenly land of Canaan wherein is the Holy City, the New Jerusalem! As the Lord Himself said at the conclusion of His discussion of the relative value of earthly and spiritual treasures in Matthew, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 137, Rev. 18:1-17, AE 1029:16, 17

Apocalypse Explained

1029:16,17. When, therefore, the sons of Israel wholly departed from the statutes which were representative of the spiritual things of the church, through which they had communication with heaven, they were all given into the hands of the King of Assyria; for there was no longer with them any representative church and consequently no communication with heaven.

The same thing happened to the Jews. When they had adulterated and profaned all the statutes, judgments, and laws that represented good and truth of faith, to the extent that there was no longer any thing of good and truth left, and when their church thus became Babylon, then not only their kings and princes and the whole people, but also all the treasures of the house of Jehovah, and afterwards all its golden vessels, were given into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon; and moreover the temple itself was burned.

Their transgressions were:

That they filled Jerusalem with innocent blood (2 Kings 24:4);

That they offered incense unto Baal, poured out drink-offerings unto other gods, set abominations in the house of Jehovah, built high places to Baal in the valley of Hinnom, delivered up their sons and daughters to Molech (Jeremiah 32:29-35).

All these signify the profanation of the holy things of the church. Such profanation is signified also by “Babylon.” That the land, therefore, which signified the church might no longer be profaned by them, and also that Babylon might thus fully put on its representation, it was said to them by Jeremiah that they should surrender themselves voluntarily into the hands of the King of Babylon, and those who did not surrender themselves but remained in the land should die by the sword, famine, and pestilence (Jeremiah 25:1-11).

But since the Lord was to be born in that nation and make Himself manifest where the church then was and where His Word was, so that nation after a captivity of seventy years was brought back from Babylon and the temple was rebuilt. And yet no other church remained with them except a church like that called Babylon, as can be seen from many things which the Lord Himself said about that nation, and from the way they received Him; and for this reason Jerusalem was again destroyed, and the temple burnt with fire.