In a rut? Is life a slog? Time for inner change.

in a rutAre you finding the going a bit hard these days? Dissatisfied with life without knowing why? In a rut?

“Where does discontent start? You are warm enough, but you shiver. You are fed, yet hunger gnaws you. You have been loved, but your yearning wanders in new fields” (John Steinbeck)

Reasons for feeling in a rut

The UK these days has a high pace of life, crowded driving conditions, and high cost of housing. Is this reason enough to be fed up and in a rut? Human existence of course is full of challenges and difficulties and this is normal. However some commentators point to what they see as materialist pressures of an acquisitive society resulting in both men and women spending more time in commuting to their jobs and working long hours, with a consequent squeezing of time available for relaxed living and quality home life. Such stressed people may be vulnerable to the growth of negative thinking about the unfairness of life and so on.

“People find themselves in a rut all the time. You’re in a complacent lifestyle where you work 9 to 5 and then you add a mortgage and kids. You feel trapped, but guess what, brother? You constructed that life. If you’re OK with it, there’s nothing wrong with that.” (Jeremy Renner)

You may not be able to easily alter the external circumstances of home and family life, parenthood, business, and social activity but you have an inkling that something needs to change within your soul but what it is and how to change you do not know.

Meaningful aims in life

Is it not the case that today in western culture adults are faced with a more uncertain future as concepts such as `marriage for life’ or a `job for life’ change, making it harder to achieve intimacy through marriage or identity through work? Is there not  also an increasing tendency for adults to delay commitment to an intimate relationship and to delay having children?

Arguably, healthy development in adulthood is characterised by our guiding and nurturing the next generation. Such a role has the potential to be deeply fulfilling. Of course, this may be done directly, in rearing one’s own offspring, or through a more generalised productivity and creativity. In pursuing such a role, adults will make personal sacrifices but problems arise for them when they do not receive an adequate degree of encouragement and appreciation. Sadly, when in a negative state, the ego demands even more recognition and thanks and fails to notice the happiness that a kind act generates.

According to spiritual theory there are ideas of conscience often hidden at the back of our mind that guide our lives, for example the values of patience, endurance, kindness or the principles of fairness, loyalty, truthfulness. These ideas are all about what one considers to be the important things of life.

Negative thinking when you are in a rut

The trouble is, when you are in a rut, negative thinking can take away the ability to believe in the importance and usefulness of, or interest in, doing any of the things that one is engaged in — whether it be sustaining the relationship with a partner with whom one has just had a row, caring for one’s yelling baby, or putting effort into supporting one’s colleagues at work who seem inadequate to do their job.

Sometimes we need to take our higher principles out into the daylight, give them a dusting down and keep them in sight as we grapple with the mundane and stressful side of things. Love is not always selfish. Doing things for others is not always a way of expiating guilt. Work is not just a means of earning a livelihood but is often something that produces what is good.

Giving thought to deeper issues

The amount of rational thought people can give to such deeper issues will differ according to their natural disposition and their situation in life. Is not the important thing whether the person deliberately shuts them out? Some individuals will be trying to control and deal with the day to day challenges of life in all its bewildering complexity without much  consideration of any higher values or principles. Instead they remain stuck in negative thinking — in a rut with their thoughts of resentment and pessimism.

As you seek to follow higher ideas, about how you should really respond to the difficulties you daily encounter, your old negative thoughts and ways are challenged – are you ready to leave them behind and move on? Or stay in a rut of your own making? I believe if you do respond positively, your growing enlightenment leads to great changes in relationships with others.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on12th October 2012CategoriesHealing emotions, Spiritual healingTags, , , , , , , , , ,, , , , ,, , , values,



Marriage in the Resurrection

A sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. MAT 22:30


Famous teaching, apparently about marriage, but it’s not.

It’s actually about the resurrection.

It’s about what you need to do to get ready for heaven,

It’s about what you can do during life in this world so that you will be ready for eternal life in heaven when your earthly body dies

It’s about living a life in this world that unites the will and the understanding (also known as regeneration) because this conjunction cannot be done once the spirit has left the physical body.

Further support is that the passages in the Writings that refer to these passages are all speaking about the reality of life after death, not marriage!

There are three main groups among the Jews who feel threatened by the ministry of Jesus.

The chief priest and the scribes are the establishment, the bureaucracy of the Jewish church. They set the rules and enforce them. The derive a great deal of power from this and they are interested in holding on to that power. Ultimately, it is the chief priest and the scribes who demand that Jesus be crucified.

A second group is the Pharisees. They are politically conservative. They believe in the life after death, and the rule of religious law. They challenge Jesus because He brings new, upsetting interpretations to the law, but they actually have very similar views. In his youth, when he was still known as “Saul” Paul was a Pharisee.

The Sadducees, on the other hand, represent a liberal, humanistic view of the Jewish church. They don’t believe in the life after death, and everyone knows it.

So, when they start asking Jesus about the resurrection we can safely assume that this question was not a legitimate attempt to understand His new doctrine, but instead it was intended to be ridiculous so that any answer to it would also be ridiculous. It was a highly contrived “what if” question designed to complicate and confuse rather than to clarify their understanding. Their purpose was to mock Jesus, not learn, and so the Lord’s answer doesn’t really speak about marriage either, He jumps right over it to addresses the real issue behind the question – the nature of life in this world and how it affects what happens to you when facing your personal resurrection and last judgment.

He does briefly touch on the subject of marriage, but in His answer He is speaking about marriage as those people at that time conceived of it.

Husband having all legal rights of property and ownership, while the wife has none.

The wife herself as property totally governed by the husband

(There is a doctrinal reason for that: In every human being there is a will, represented by the wife, and the understanding represented by the husband. In an unregenerate human, the will has to be kept in obedience to and under the control of the truths from the Word in the understanding. This is something that represents the state of the unregenerated mind, not something that recommends a particular social system.)

A wife “owned” by her husband and treated as property without the right to inherit or own property in her own right is simply not a “marriage.” And the Lord properly states that in heaven there is no such thing as marriage as these people in this time understand it.

In heaven, the marriage between marriage is an equal partnership between minds that compliment each other and form a one, a single angel.

There is another use of the word “marriage” here, the “marriage” of good and truth in every individual human mind.

Each of us is born with our will separate and distinct from our understanding.

Since our will is corrupted by hereditary evils, this is the only way it is possible for us to survive.

We can use our understanding (conscience, rationality) to govern our corrupt will.

We can refuse to do the things we want to do because we have learned from the Word that there is a better way.

When, from conscience and because the Lord asks it of us, we control our corrupt will and act according to God’s laws, He works in secret to take away the delight of evil and replace it with the love of the opposite good.

Over time, with the Lord’ help, we build a new will, and angelic will.

This new will is filled with the loves of good things, and these good loves can be conjoined – married – to the truths we have learned from the Word.

This essential work of self-examination, reformation, and regeneration has to take place in the world of nature, the choices have to be made when they can have an effect on the vessel we are building through our free choices in this world. It can’t be done after death.

Therefore the Lord said that “they are not married or given in marriage in heaven” because He was talking about the marriage of good and truth in the human mind that takes place only in the world of nature.

Why can’t it be done after death?

The 5 Senses feed the mind because they are the only way the mind can discover the world in which it lives.

The mind then makes choices based on the things that have come in through the senses, and each of these experiences and choices causes an organic change in the structure of the brain.

Influx is according to the receiving vessel.

This is the vessel that receives influx from heaven that makes you uniquely you.

It has to be made up of things that partake of the permanence of the natural world (time and space), but that also means that it all has to take place before you die.

No deathbed repentance.

No waiting until you see if heaven is what you really thought before you commit.

Finally, the Lord directs their attention to the much larger question of the resurrection.

Remember that it was asked by the Sadducees, of whom it is said that they do not believe in the resurrection.

His answer was, “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (text).

Failure to believe in the life after death is a much larger issue than a “what if” question about marriage.

The whole concept of eternal life was a new idea to most of those people

Some believed in Hades (Greek) or sheol (Hebrew), the shadowy afterlife.

Exemplified by the witch of Endor bringing Samuel back from the afterlife to talk to Saul.

A few believed in reincarnation.

Most knew nothing at all, and so believed in nothing at all.

Because most people knew so little, He had to begin by taking them small conceptual steps. He used simple logic. God said that He was the God if Isaac and Jacob.

If they were dead, if there was no life after death, how could He be their God?

If they are aware of Him, and worship Him, they must therefore be alive.

Therefore, there must be life after death.

This simple logic, using statements of scripture that even the Sadducees had to accept, both answered those who would seek to mock and ridicule Him, and at the same time served to give a simple foundation idea about eternal life: that people live on after the death of the body.

After all, if you don’t believe that much, there’s no point in teaching the rest of the details, is there?

This famous passage has mislead people for a long time because the have failed to see that it’s not about marriage per se.

But it is telling them that the kind of marriage they had in those days would not be tolerated in heaven.

It is about the conjunction of good and truth in a sphere of freedom.

It’s also a warning to all of us. We do not know what the day and hour of our death will be. What a terrible thing to have spent a lifetime gaining the things of the world, and then lose your soul because you haven’t had time to pay attention to those things yet.

LUK 12:19 ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, [and] be merry.” ‘ 20 “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’”

First Lesson: GEN 38:6-11

Then Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. {7} But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD killed him. {8} And Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and marry her, and raise up an heir to your brother.” {9} But Onan knew that the heir would not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in to his brother’s wife, that he emitted on the ground, lest he should give an heir to his brother. {10} And the thing which he did displeased the LORD; therefore He killed him also. {11} Then Judah said to Tamar his daughter-in-law, “Remain a widow in your father’s house till my son Shelah is grown.” For he said, “Lest he also die like his brothers.” And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house. Amen.

Second Lesson: MAT 22:23-33

The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, {24} saying: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. {25} “Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. {26} “Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. {27} “Last of all the woman died also. {28} “Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.” {29} Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. {30} “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. {31} “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, {32} ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” {33} And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. Amen.

Third Lesson: CL 41:7

Spiritual marriage is meant by the Lord’s words, that after the resurrection they are not given in marriage.

In the Gospels we read the following: …But Jesus, answering, said to them, “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who shall be held worthy to attain the second age, and the resurrection from the dead, shall neither marry nor be given in marriage; nor can they die any more, for they are like the angels, and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. Moreover, that the dead rise again, even Moses showed in reference to the bush, when he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So, then, He is not God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.” (Luke 20:27-38; cf. Matthew 22:23-32, Mark 12:18-27)

The Lord taught two things by these words. First, that a person rises again after death. And secondly, that people are not given in marriage in heaven.

He taught that a person rises again after death by saying that God is not God of the dead but of the living, and that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still alive. So likewise in the parable about the rich man in hell and Lazarus in heaven (Luke 16:19-31).

[2] Secondly …The only kind of marriage meant here is spiritual marriage, and this clearly appears from the words that immediately follow, that they cannot die any more because they are like the angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.

By spiritual marriage, conjunction with the Lord is meant, and this is achieved on earth. And when it has been achieved on earth, it has also been achieved in heaven….

[3] To marry means to be conjoined with the Lord, and to go to a wedding means to be received into heaven by the Lord. This appears from the following references: The kingdom of heaven is like a man, a king, who arranged a wedding for his son, and sent out his servants (with invitations to a wedding). (Matthew 22:2,3, to verse 14) …Also from the book of Revelation: The time for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready…. Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. (Revelation 19:7,9) Amen.

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

The Will and Understanding Work Together Like the Heart and Lungs


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Washington – March 16, 1997

Desiring in my thought to learn about the marriages of the most ancients, I looked now at the husband, now at his wife, and in their faces I observed the unity, as it were, of their souls. So I said, “You two are one.” The man replied: “We are one; her life is in me and mine in her. We are two bodies but one soul. The union between us is like the union of the two tents in the breast which are called heart and lungs, she being my heart and I her lungs. But here, by heart we mean love and by lungs wisdom. Thus she is the love of my wisdom and I am the wisdom of her love. Therefore her love veils my wisdom from without, and my wisdom is in her love from within. Hence, as you said, the appearance in our faces of the unity of our souls” (CL 75:5).

Both in the church and in society at large, people today are struggling to answer the questions that they have about the proper relationship between what is truly masculine, and what is truly feminine. To cover our embarrassment for our confusion we even joke about men and women being from different planets. The Writings have clearly taught that in regard to this, as well as to every other subject, confusion sets in when we try to think from “person” to “essence”, that is, when we think about what we observe in others and what we ourselves like to do, and then try to come up with principles to support our behavior. The correct way is to attack the problem top down, by thinking from essential doctrines and then drawing conclusions about our behavior based on what we know to be true because it is from the Lord in the Word.

We all love to go to weddings, because as each young couple bravely steps forward to begin their exploration of the interior love between husband and wife that we call “love truly conjugial,” we are reminded of how different men and women are, and yet how wonderful it can be when they come together, each complimenting the other’s strengths and capabilities; how each longs for the other because of those things that are missing in each of them. We say that a married couple are actually one, one angel, because neither is truly complete without the other. The wife represents the will and the husband represents the understanding, the two elements that together make up the human mind. We often use this relationship of will and understanding to describe how a husband and wife should share their strengths and responsibilities in an ideal marriage. And yet, “will” and “understanding” are as abstract concepts as are “husband” and “wife.” As it is a principle of the Heavenly Doctrines to illustrate abstract and spiritual concepts with things that are tangible and familiar, we will examine what the doctrines have to say about the heart and lungs to illustrate the relationship between the will and understanding. This in turn should shed some light on the ideal relationship between husband and wife, and perhaps give us some guidance on how we should act while in this world to strengthen conjugial love within our own marriages, or, for those who are not as yet married, to prepare themselves for the conjugial relationship yet to come.

We are told that the whole of the mind relates to the will and understanding, and that the whole of the body relates to the heart and lungs in a similar way. If we reflect on the workings of our own minds, we will quickly agree that everything that happens in our minds has to do with either our thought processes, or our emotional processes: we either think, or feel, or both, but there is no other, third, activity of the mind. For the purposes of our discussion today, all those things that have to do with the process of thinking will be grouped under the heading “understanding” and everything from the emotional or affectional side of our being will be called “will.”

In relation to our body, we know that we are made up of billions of individual cells, and while we live, each of those cells, whether they be part of the brain, the heart itself, or merely a bone in a toe, must be bathed in blood continuously, for the blood carries food and oxygen to each cell, and carries away the waste products after the work is done. When the flow of blood to any part of the body is interrupted, that part of the body dies. The lungs are essential in this cycle for they provide the oxygen that the blood carries to every cell, and this is demonstrated by the fact that the heart has two cycles of flow – one to the lungs alone, and one to the rest of the body. Without the oxygen provided by the lungs, unconsciousness is but moments away, and death but a little longer.

Now since there is a correspondence between the will and understanding with the heart and the lungs, it therefore follows that there is a correspondence between all the things of the mind with all the things of the body. This also makes sense when we think of the way that the soul builds for itself a home in the natural world by using the substances and nourishment provided by the body of the mother to build a containant that perfectly corresponds to its own unique characteristics and needs. Just as the Creator Himself created the universe from firsts (Himself) to lasts (the stars and planets themselves) and then into intermediates (the eternal human mind), so the soul builds from firsts (itself) into lasts (the infant’s body) and then into intermediates (the mind and personality that eventually develop through education and experience). In presenting this teaching, the doctrines add a sad note that these things have not been seen and known widely in the world because “everything of religion, that is, everything called spiritual, has been banished from the sight of man by the dogma of the whole Christian world” (DLW 372:2).

Another way to perceive and understand the relationship between the will and understanding and heart and lungs is to think about the effect that different kinds of thought and speech have on our breathing, and vice versa. For example, we find that when we think silently, we breath silently. If we think deeply, we breath deeply. In general, we breath slowly or quickly, eagerly, gently, or intently, all according to how we are thinking, and also according to how strongly our affections are moved by our thoughts. Perhaps the clearest and most extreme example of the interrelationship of thought and breath is the observation that if we stop breathing we very quickly also stop thinking as we become unconscious.

When we think about how much we think about “love,” and what we “like,” and how we “feel,” and how important our feelings are to us, it is difficult for us to believe the truth that our loves and affections are entirely in the Lord’s hands; we are not able, by ourselves, to love (DLW 385:5), although we can think entirely on our own.

This can be illustrated very simply: can any of us change our moods or our feelings just by thinking about them? Can we become happy or sad in an instant? Can any of us change our pulse by thinking about it? The beauty of this illustration is that it demonstrates the power of illustrating spiritual ideas through their correspondences to the natural world at the same time it demonstrates the point about the Lord’s control of our will, while the understanding remains our own. In a typical group of people, most people are happy to agree that we cannot change our moods by thinking about them, but there would be several in the same group who would challenge the assertion that we cannot change our pulse by thinking about it. The reason for this is that we have a deeper, more intuitive understanding of our own body, and we have observed many times that certain activities, such as heavy work or high excitement, cause our hearts to beat faster. So, when challenged to change our pulse by thought, some of us thought of things we could do that would change our pulse. We acknowledged that we could not do it directly by thought alone, and immediately thought of a way to get around that and achieve the same result.

So, by thinking about the relationship of the heart and lungs, we have learned something about the way to change our moods and our loves. We love evils, but we cannot change that by thinking about it, no matter how hard we try, because we do not have direct control over our loves. However, we do have indirect control. We know truths from the Word. We can choose to live them, even if we don’t want to. We can choose to do what we know is right even though we don’t want to; and when we do, the Lord then acts in secret ways to change our loves for us, to replace the love of evil with the love of the opposite good. When we are in a bad mood, we cannot change it by force of will. The only way to change our mood is to get up and do something useful for someone, and that makes us feel better.

By comparison we can see from the operation of the lungs how easily we control our thoughts, for our breathing is under both voluntary and involuntary control, voluntary for things like speech, singing, and swimming, and involuntary for continued life while we sleep, or at other times when we do not need to control the lungs for other purposes. Our thoughts are constant during our waking hours, but at any time we like we can direct them to any subject we can imagine. Our understanding is under our total control. In marriage, two individuals, each with their own will and understanding, begin the process of becoming one angel. While on earth, we begin the difficult process of letting the thoughts or feelings of another person have precedence over our own. We begin to put away our selfishness as we learn to be flexible, to give and take and find new solutions to problems. Gradually, through trial and error, through study of the Word and lucky guesses, and through a growing confidence that this is something that the Lord wants for us and is leading us towards through His eternal providence, a middle ground is found.

It is difficult for the husband to let go of some of his desires, and to be led by his wife’s affection and intuition, but as he does decide to let her lead in these areas, even though he may not like it, he will find it becomes easier with time. It is also very difficult for a wife to love her husband’s wisdom. In the first place, particularly with a young couple, the man may not have very much wisdom to love. If the wife sees this, and therefore decides that the teachings of doctrine do not apply to her marriage, she will have made a tragic decision that will cause great harm to her marriage. A wife is not so much to love a young husband’s wisdom, but to love his desire to become wise by from study and application of the Lord’s own truth. A wife has the ability to sense this affection for truth in her husband, and it is this that she is to love, respect, and encourage, even when there are as yet few truths within it.

This is difficult at first, because a marriage is first in time a relationship between two individual human beings, both of whom are deeply attached to their own thoughts and feelings. So often they make the mistake of trying to force the partner to change their loves through force of will. The husband tells the wife, “you shouldn’t feel that way,” and tries to convince her through rational argument that she should change her mood to suit him – without reflecting for a moment that he is as incapable of changing his moods and feelings as she is. The wife accuses her husband of being “unfeeling,” because he is unable to sense her moods and adapt to them as she does to his, because he is unable to tell when he is supposed to know that she means really “no” even though she said “yes.” These are just a a few of the normal day-to-day problems that arise as a man and woman struggle to adapt to each other’s different way of looking at the world.

The appearance is that men and women can’t work together because they are too different – but then we must remember the heart and lungs. They too are totally different in their physical structure, their appearance, the type of tissue they are made of, and in every other way imaginable, and yet we cannot imagine a whole, healthy body without both, and without them both working together in perfect harmony. Remember too that the Lord is in charge of the loves of both men and women, and that there is nothing we can do to change them directly – in ourselves or in others. But we can have an effect on them, we can change how and what we think and do, and when we change those things, when we choose to change our life, then the Lord will change our loves to match. So, if we deliberately choose to act with courtesy and respect towards our partner, even when we do not feel like it, the Lord will note our intention, and work in secret ways to reform and regenerate our will so that in time we will feel like acting in that way. We change our loves and feelings by changing our thoughts and actions; we become good by pretending to be good long enough that the pretense become the reality.

Perhaps, someday, if we take the time to study the Word with our partner, if we make the right decisions, and try very hard to be as courteous to our spouse as we are to our business associates or other friends, we will be like the couple that Swedenborg spoke to in heaven, and of whom he said, “And if you were to ask them what love truly conjugial is, I know they would answer that it is not love of the sex but love of one of the sex. This exists only when a young man sees the virgin provided by the Lord, and the virgin the young man, and both feel the conjugial to be enkindled in their hearts, and perceive, he that she is his, and she that he is hers; for when love meets love, it meets itself, and causes it to recognize itself and at once conjoins their souls and then their minds; and from there it enters into their bosoms, and after the nuptials still farther, and so becomes complete love; and from day to day this grows into conjunction until they are no more two but as though one” (CL 44:6). AMEN.

Lessons: GEN 6:1-8, JOH 13:1-17, DLW 381

3rd Lesson:

Divine Love and Wisdom 381

381. The heavens are divided into two kingdoms, one called celestial, the other spiritual; in the celestial kingdom love to the Lord reigns, and in the spiritual kingdom wisdom from that love. The kingdom where love reigns is called heaven’s cardiac kingdom, the one where wisdom reigns is called its pulmonic kingdom. Be it known, that the whole angelic heaven in its aggregate represents a single man, and before the Lord appears as a single man; consequently its heart makes one kingdom and its lungs another. For there is a general cardiac and pulmonic movement throughout heaven, and a particular movement therefrom in each angel. The general cardiac and pulmonic movement is from the Lord alone, because love and wisdom are from Him alone. For these two movements are in the sun where the Lord is and which is from the Lord, and from that in the angelic heavens and in the universe. Banish spaces and think of omnipresence, and you will be convinced that it is so. That the heavens are divided into two kingdoms, celestial and spiritual, see the work on Heaven and Hell (n. 20-28); and that the whole angelic heaven in the aggregate represents a single man (n. 59-67). Amen.

The Betrothal States in Marriage


The Betrothal States in Marriage
A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper
Toronto, January 10, 2010

For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5)

Marriage is the natural state of life for all men and women. Everyone in heaven is married, and remains married to eternity Marriage is the most important relationship we will establish in our lives. It is therefore in our own best interests to learn as much about marriage as possible.

When we look at marriage as a purely natural thing, a customary arrangement for the sake of sorting out the inheritance of offspring, it is very difficult to treat it seriously, to resist the temp-tations to break the marriage vows. If marriage is just a social contract, what harm can there be in a little adultery as long as it is kept quiet so no one is hurt? The low success rate of modern mar-riages is probably the result, at least in part, of the increasingly natural view of marriage as a temporary social contract between two adults that can be easily broken and new relationships arranged.

But marriage is not a purely natural thing:  it originates in God Himself God is Divine Love itself and Divine Wisdom itself From His Divine Love, God wanted to create a heaven from the hu-man race. From His Divine Wisdom, He conceived a plan to accomplish this goal. When the de-sire and the plan were conjoined and made one, the universe was created over a period of time, and in an orderly way. The creation of a heaven full of human beings is God’s greatest pleasure. This is the origin of marriage, for the wife represents the Divine Love, and the husband repre-sents the Divine Wisdom. When they come together in marriage and conjoin themselves, they can create new human beings for heaven. The pleasure of conceiving and rearing children is the greatest delight of human life, and it is a gift from God because it is a correspondence of the great delight He Himself felt in creating the universe.
Marriage seems a natural thing because it involves the fulfilment of so many natural desires. However, the doctrines of the New Church have revealed not only that it is a spiritual creation, but they have also revealed how we can prepare for marriage so that the spiritual things come before the natural things and so the marriage can continue to grow in wisdom and delight to eter-nity We prepare ourselves for a lovely, eternal, spiritual marriage with one through shunning evils as sins, looking to the Lord to provide a partner, and the states of betrothal.

We usually think of betrothal as a ritual that takes place after then engagement and a few weeks or months before a young couple gets married, and that is quite true as far as it goes. But the pur-pose of that ritual is to mark the bride and groom’s mutual belief and consent that they are going to enter into a spiritual marriage before they enter into the natural marriage.

Do these convictions and heartfelt beliefs end with the marriage ceremony? Why do young cou-ples give each other tokens and gifts at the time of betrothal except to mark this important spiri-tual step so it can be remembered for the rest of their lives? Why else do they continue to wear these tokens throughout their life except to remind them of the beautiful, tender first states of mutual love?

The betrothal ceremony marks the beginning of a lifelong effort to bring what is spiritual into marriage so that what is natural can serve its proper use and be in its proper place, supporting and upholding that which is spiritual and eternal, not to be an end in itself.

Let us now review the main states of betrothal so that they can be recognized, cherished, and re-newed.

The first state is that of consent, and it can be argued that when a couple in freedom, and from love, consents to be married, they are – from the spiritual point of view – already married because everything they think and do from that point forward will be to bring that consent into being, into a marriage. That’s why the Heavenly Doctrine goes to such lengths to encourage the young couple to approach that consent very carefully – not just from warm feelings of strong friendship, but knowledge, judgement, and love.

Once a young couple discover each other and fall in love, they begin to think seriously about marriage. The Doctrines tell us that a woman should consult her parents before she consents to marry her young man. The same thing is true for the young man, of course.

There are three reasons given for this:  parents should be consulted because they counsel from judgement, knowledge, and love. From judgement because they are more experienced. They have seen more of life, have themselves made the mistakes their children are inclined to and have already learned those lessons. From knowledge because they know their own children having guided their growth from infancy. From love, because true love wants to make the one who is loved happy.

Those early states of falling in love and planning a life together, and especially the first states of marriage, are full of delightful moments of incredible tenderness and joy. These states are not the result of the couples own spiritual states, but they are “borrowed” from the angels who are drawn near to their innocent and lovely states. The young couple has the opportunity to taste the happi-ness of heaven, long before they have gone through the journey that will earn it for them, so that they will have some sense of what awaits them, some faith that what they are working for is of lasting value and will bring them happiness beyond measure.

Conjugial love ascends and descends:  it ascends first from their minds toward their souls and the effort to conjunction there, and then it descends by influx into their body where it clothes itself with affections for and delights with the married partner. Conjugial love is of the same nature in its descent as it is in the height to which it has ascended If it is in its height (an orderly conjunction of souls) then it descends chaste (and delightful). If it does not ascend so high, but only to the lower parts of the mind, then it descends unchaste, for it picks up its character of the part of the mind in which it resides.

This shows the importance of betrothal, for by focusing the minds of the couple on spiritual prin-ciples of marriage, conjugial love can reach a greater height, and can descend from a more ele-vated and more pure position. If the young couple are only interested in making their sexual pleasures acceptable in the eyes of society, and indulge in them before their marriage, then they cannot expect a spiritual marriage to result as if by magic because they have participated in a church service.

With those who think about marriages from religion, the marriage of the spirit precedes, and that of the body follows. They are thus separated from the love of the sex in general and it is replaced with a tender love of one of the sex as they look to an eternal and everlasting union with one. Those who think only of marriage as a conjunction of bodies during life in the natural world will not be able to elevate themselves into a spiritual marriage because they do not even know that such a thing exists – so how can they work toward it?

Betrothal is not only a state for young lovers, but a state that can and should be enkindled in ma-ture marriages as well. The state of betrothal, the determination to have the spiritual marriage precede the natural marriage, is the spiritual force within a marriage, it represents the desire for an eternal spiritual marriage with one partner. All marriages have states of warmth and cold that fluctuate from time to time as the partners go through their individual trials and temptations in life. In the difficult times, there is value in remembering the promises made during courtship, there is value in remembering the hopes and dreams that made you fall in love with each other. By remembering those early states, by thinking about the tokens of your love for each other, by reading Conjugial Love again, together, you will find that your marriage could be revitalized You can talk about the things you have learned since you were married, and enjoy those “borrowed states” of heaven once again. Such reminders can carry you over the rough spots that naturally occur in every one’s life.

In the New Church, we know that marriage is more than a natural agreement, but the grind of daily life can make us forget our ideals, our spiritual goals. The point is to take time for each other and for the care and feeding of your marriage. Time and personal attention are they key to success in most areas of life, and marriage is no exception. The goal is to restore and uplift the desire for an eternal, spiritual marriage with one.

The conjugial union of one man with one wife is the precious jewel of human life and the reposi-tory of Christian religion. In a word, a person is a living soul as a result of that love (CL 457) AMEN.

First Lesson:  Genesis 29:1-20

(GEN 29:1-20) So Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the East. {2} And he looked, and saw a well in the field; and behold, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks. A large stone was on the well’s mouth. {3} Now all the flocks would be gathered there; and they would roll the stone from the well’s mouth, water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the well’s mouth. {4} And Jacob said to them, “My brethren, where are you from?” And they said, “We are from Haran.” {5} Then he said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” And they said, “We know him.” {6} So he said to them, “Is he well?” And they said, “He is well. And look, his daughter Rachel is coming with the sheep.” … {9} Now while he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. {10} And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. {11} Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept. {12} And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s relative and that he was Rebekah’s son. So she ran and told her father. … {20} So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her. Amen.

Second Lesson:  CL 71-72

71. No others can be in a state of truly conjugial love but those who receive it from the Lord – namely, those who go to Him directly and live the life of the church from Him – for the reason that this love, viewed in terms of its origin and correspondence, is celestial, spiritual, holy, pure and clean, more than any other love that is found in angels of heaven or people of the church. And these attributes of it cannot exist except in people who are joined to the Lord and brought by Him into association with angels of heaven…

72. Only those people come into truly conjugial love and only those can be in it who love the truths of the church and do the good things it teaches, for the reason that no others are accepted by the Lord. That is because people who love the truths of the church and do the good things it teaches are in a state of conjunction with the Lord, and consequently they can be kept in that love by Him….
The evident conclusion from this is that people are blessed with truly conjugial love not if they only know the truths of the church, but if they know them and do the good things it teaches.

Joseph, Mary’s Husband

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, December 23, 2007

Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her first-born Son. And he called His name JESUS. (Matthew 1:24,25)

Each year we joyfully return to the stories from the Word that tell of the Lord’s birth on earth, those passages which, more than any others, are able to awaken in us that very special “Christmas” feeling, that feeling of comfort and joy. Each year we are reminded of the prophecies and the miracles which prepared the way for the Lord’s birth, and we delight in thinking about His humble birth, protected and loved by two simple, gentle, God-fearing people, Mary and Joseph.

The Lord could not have come into the world to begin His Divine work of salvation and redemption without a form, a physical body to serve as a vessel to receive His inflowing Divine presence because the spiritual must flow into something natural as a vessel, especially formed to hold it. The physical body is the vessel and recipient of life in the natural world, and the spiritual body is the vessel and recipient of life in the spiritual world. There is no human life apart from the vessel which contains it. It was for this reason that the Lord formed a human body for Himself through the earthly agency of Mary.

We know from scripture that Mary was a woman set apart. Mary loved God with a Holy fear and willingly accepted the power of the Holy Spirit within her. If this were all she had done, we should still admire and respect her willingness to be led by the Lord in spite of her fears and uncertainties and even the potential danger to herself. But this was not all she did. For both Mary and Joseph, as it is for all parents, the birth of the child was only the beginning. Once the helpless child is born, it must be nurtured, fed, taught, protected and loved. A child cannot thrive unless he is raised in a home where he receives great quantities of love from both his parents. That night in Bethlehem was the beginning of a remarkable journey for Mary and Joseph.

One of the most important lessons of the Christmas story is learned when we realize that this is not simply an historical event, but that we can, by living our lives according to the laws set forth by the Lord in the Word, experience the Lord’s birth into our hearts many times, experience His birth each time that we shun an evil as a sin and the Lord implants the opposite good love into our hearts. If the Lord is to be born into our hearts, then in a sense, each of us must act as His parents, we must nurture and protect that new love that is born in our hearts as Mary and Joseph nurtured and protected the Lord for 12 years.

The marriage of a husband and wife is significative of the marriage of good and truth and also the oneness of the will and the understanding in a regenerating man or angel. Just as parents come together in marriage to produce children, so uses are created when our will and our understanding work together as one. If we can learn something about how Mary and Joseph served as the Lord’s parents in the world, perhaps we can learn something about how our own will and understanding function in the process by which the Lord regenerates us.

The Gospels say very little about Joseph. In order to learn about the part he played in these events, we cannot only study a few passages that directly speak of his part. Instead, we must study all the passages that directly or indirectly speak of his role, even those where what is not said is just as important as what is.

We know that Joseph was of the house and lineage of David, for the Gospel of Matthew opens with a genealogy that begins with Abraham, traces the path through David the king and finally to Joseph, the husband of Mary. (See Mt. 1:1-16) Each of the names in the genealogy represents a state or a quality of the Divine, and the whole genealogy represents the process that the Lord went through as He prepared Himself to take on the Human form. He had to “bow the heavens” first, that is, He had to descend through the whole of the spiritual world, taking on spiritual forms as He passed through each degree of heaven, preparing Himself to be accommodated to men on earth, shielding His Glory so it would not overwhelm them. The genealogy is extremely important in the spiritual sense, for it describes in detail how the Lord descended from above the heaven to a state acceptable to men in the world. It is also important in the natural sense, for it linked Jesus Christ to the royal throne of David through His foster father, thus fulfilling the many prophesies that the Messiah would have the right to the throne and kingdom of David.

Perhaps the most important issue regarding Joseph is whether or not he was the natural father of Jesus Christ. This is an issue that must be addressed for several reasons. First, if Joseph was the father of Jesus Christ, then, since the soul is from the father, Jesus Christ could not have been God. Secondly, it must be addressed because scholars have created a sphere of doubt by pointing out certain ambiguities in the translation of several words. Therefore we need to go beyond scripture’s simple assertion that Mary was a “virgin” so that the doubts raised by some can be dispelled by the truth of the Word itself.

It’s true that the Greek word which we translate as “virgin” can also be correctly translated “young woman” and those who would deny the virgin birth assert that this is the correct translation. Further, the tradition of “espousal” or engagement as practiced at that time, according to some historians, may have allowed the couple to live together as husband and wife before the formal marriage. Again, those who would deny the virgin birth call attention to these possibilities, and so it’s important that we meet their challenge by seeing the whole doctrine in its proper context.

We note that in the opening genealogy in 41 of the 42 generations, it is said that the father “begot” the son. But, in Joseph’s case, we are told that, “…Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ” (Mt. 1:16). The change in wording is obviously intended to call attention to the fact that Matthew clearly believes, and wants us to believe, that Joseph was not the father of Jesus and shows his belief by his careful wording.

Further, we are specifically told in Matthew that Mary found herself with child “before they came together” (Mt. 1:18). Here too, we gain additional insight into what kind of man Joseph was. When he found that Mary was with child, he wanted to divorce her.

Children were an essential part of marriage in those days, eagerly sought. If Mary and Joseph had in fact been living together as man and wife, then they would have hoped for a child and rejoiced in her pregnancy. That he wanted to divorce her shows that he knew the child simply could not be his because they had not yet come together. Instead it must prove adultery in Mary.

From Joseph’s great sorrow we learn something else about him – that he was a kind, compassionate man. He believed his beloved Mary was carrying the child of another man. The Mosaic law was quite specific and harsh. A woman caught in adultery was to be executed by stoning. But Joseph wanted to divorce her privately, to break the betrothal without punishing Mary. Considering the customs and attitude of that time and place, this can only show his kind and compassionate character, and his great love for her.

A thoughtful man, Joseph wondered about all these things that were happening to him, and while he searched for the answer to his problem, for some indication of what the right thing to do was, an angel appeared to him. The angel reassured him, telling him what he most needed to know – that Mary still loved him, and had not committed adultery. He certainly did not comprehend all the implications of what he had been told, but the angelic vision calmed his fears. His love for Mary made him eager to believe and accept the angelic message. And when he awoke, the vision over, he took Mary to be his wife, “and did not know her till she had brought forth her first-born Son” (text).

We can apply the lessons of this story to our own lives, using our knowledges of correspondences. Our will is the wife represented by Mary, and our understanding the husband represented by Joseph. The goods and truths that we try to produce during our lives are our spiritual offspring. These spiritual offspring, the goods that we do to others, appear to be our own children, as Jesus appeared to be the son of Joseph and Mary, but just as we need to see that Jehovah, not Joseph, was the father of Jesus Christ, we need to acknowledge the truth that all good is from the Lord, and therefore we really cannot do any good or truth from ourselves, but only as if of ourselves.

When we are working on a project, or formulating a plan, our will and understanding are not yet “married” but they are looking together towards a goal, and so they can be said to be “engaged.” Then, just as Joseph found Mary with the child of another, we enter states of temptation. We discover that what we are doing is not really from ourselves. We find that we are not the source of our own power but that we must depend on the Lord. If we turn to the Word in our states of temptation and humility, as Joseph listened to the angelic messenger in the midst of his temptation, we will discover the Lord as the real source of all good and truth. We will come to an understanding and inner peace with God’s order so that we can find our betrothed, and marry her, that is, so that we can bring our understanding into a marriage with our will. This cannot happen unless we acknowledge that this cannot be done apart from the Lord’s help. When this is acknowledged, then the miracle of the birth of a new love in our will takes place. If we follow the leading of the angel, that is, if read the Word with innocence and love, then this process of betrothal, marriage, and birth will be repeated throughout our lives, and the special joy of Christmas will be felt eternally.

(Mat 1:24-25) Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, {25} and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS. Amen.

First Lesson: (Mat 1:18-25)

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. {19} Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. {20} But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. {21} “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” {22} So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: {23} “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” {24} Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, {25} and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.

Second Lesson: AE 852:3

That when the Lord mentioned the Father He meant the Divine in Himself, and thus Himself, can be seen from many passages in the Word of both Testaments; but I will here quote a few from the Word of the Gospels, from which it can be seen that by “the Father” the Lord meant the Divine in Himself, which was in Him as the soul is in the body; and that when He mentioned the Father and Himself as two He meant Himself by both, for the soul and the body are one, the soul belonging to its body, and the body to its soul. That the Divine which is called “the Father” was the Divine Itself of the Lord from which His Human existed, and from which it was made Divine, is clearly evident from His conception from the Divine Itself. In Matthew:

The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy bride, for that which is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit. And Joseph knew her not until she had brought forth her firstborn Son (1:20, 25).

And in Luke:

The angel said to Mary, Behold, thou shalt conceive in the womb and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High. But Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, since I know not a man? And the angel answered and said, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee; therefore that Holy Thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God (1:31, 32, 34, 35).

From this it is evident that the Lord from conception is Jehovah God; and to be Jehovah God from conception is to be so as to the life itself, which is called the soul from the Father, from which the body has life. From this it is clearly evident that it is the Lord’s Human that is called the Son of God, for it is said “the Holy Thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

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The Lesser Evil

Sermon: The Lesser Evil

I preached this sermon on October 30, 2011 at the Dawson Creek Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC.

Readings: Genesis 22:1-14; Matthew 19:3-12; Arcana Coelestia 1241


A Sermon by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn

“Moses, because of your hard​heartedness, permitted you to send away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:8)

Does the Lord’s law ever change?  It can seem that the obvious answer would be no.  The Lord Himself said, “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than one little​ ​horn of the Law to fall” (Luke 16:17).  And yet, in some senses it seems like the law did change.  When the Lord came into the world, he abolished sacrifices.  He did away with the ceremonially laws of the Jewish faith.  And in the passage we read from the Gospels this morning, He did away with the Jewish laws that permitted a husband to divorce his wife for reasons other than her adultery.  He did change the law, it seems.

But the law that the Lord abolished at that time was not the true law.  It represented the true law, and it contained the true law within it.  That’s why Jesus could say that nothing would fall away from the law, that he did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it – even though He seemingly DID do away with the law.  He was not adding something new – He was revealing what had been inherent in the law all along.  That’s why He said, “From the beginning” it was not so that divorce was permitted – because from the beginning, the original law, was that “a man should leave His father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two should become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

So what was the purpose of the old law?  The primary purpose of all the laws of the Jewish faith were to represent spiritual things – as Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians, all the sacrifices and feasts were a “shadow” of Christ who was going to come (Colossians 2:17).  But if they would be fulfilled and changed into spiritual laws at the time of the Lord’s coming, why were the children of Israel not simply given those spiritual laws in the first place?  The Lord gave answered that question in his teaching about divorce: “because of the hardness of their hearts.”  The Writings tell us that if God had revealed these deeper laws about marriage to the people at that time, they would have completely rejected Him.  And so He offered them the lesser of two evils – instead of having them completely reject the truth, which would condemn them to a deeper hell, He permitted them to marry multiple wives, to put away their wives for less important things.

The same thing is true with sacrifices.  The Lord has no desire for sacrifice, as he says in Hosea: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings,” (Hosea 6:6).  Among the people of the Most Ancient Church, the earliest worshippers of God, represented by Adam and Eve, the idea of slaughtering an animal as an act of worship would have seemed profane.  But the Lord permitted animal sacrifice to prevent a much greater evil: the evil of human sacrifice, which was common in the people around them at the time, and which they fell into whenever they turned away from the Lord.  We see this permission of animal sacrifice play out on a smaller scale in the story of Abraham.  Now, in the internal sense of this story, the willingness to sacrifice Isaac represents a good thing – a willingness in the Lord to give up all that was merely human within Himself, and to make His rational mind holy.  But in the literal sense, it would have been a terrible thing for Abraham to sacrifice his son.  And so in place of his son, he was permitted to sacrifice instead a ram.

Again, the Lord permits a lesser evil to avoid a greater one.  And the truth is, all around us, all the time, the Lord is permitting lesser evils for the sake of avoiding greater evils.  We can sometimes have a tendency to paint all evils with the same brush, to look at an evil and think only about how bad it is, without realizing that there may have been worse alternatives.  There is a value in seeing the different degrees within evil, that there are lighter and more serious evils.  Today we’re going to talk about three uses in distinguishing between these degrees of evil.  First of all, it helps us understand why the Lord permits evil at all.  Second of all, it helps us make decisions in seemingly impossible situations, where we feel that all we can choose is the lesser of two evils.  And finally, it helps us to refrain from judging the spiritual state of the people around us whom we see committing evil.

The first use in distinguishing between lesser and greater evils is that it helps us understand why the Lord permits what He does permit.  With all the evil we see in the world around us, it may seem that the God does nothing to prevent evil.  The truth is, He is constantly preventing evil, and leading toward greater and greater good.  The book Divine Providence says, “The withdrawal of a wicked person from evil is effected by the Lord in a thousand ways that are most secret” (DP 295).  Although the Lord leaves each person in freedom, He works with that freedom and subtly modifies it.  For example, he inspires people who desire nothing more than their own power to act in ways that benefit society – from that person’s point of view, they are still acting on a lust for power, but the restraints of society keep that from breaking out, and keep the person in some order.  And if He is not able to lift a person into heaven, He at least continually prevents them from plunging themselves into a deeper hell, which is where all of us would go if left to ourselves.

In general, the Lord permits any evil for the sake of His ultimate purpose – the salvation of every person.  The Lord permits people to act on their evil because if it were bottled up inside them, and they were forced to act in good, no one could be saved.  The lesser evil is to allow people to act on their evil inclinations.  Even terrible evils are sometimes allowed so that their true nature can be seen, which is better than them remaining hidden within people’s hearts.  The Lord did not will the horrors of the holocause – but without them, maybe the human race would never have realized the poisonous, murderous intent at the heart of all racism.  Perhaps He permitted that atrocity so that evil could be seen clearly for what it was.  Perhaps it was a lesser evil than for the human race to continually live in continuous hatred of other races.

In all the workings of His providence, the Lord desires that people may live.  The Lord cannot force people to do good, because they would then not be human – they would simply be extensions of the Lord, and not capable of being joined to Him and blessed as separate beings, which is the Lord’s goal in creation.  To be truly happy, people must choose good.  And so it is a lesser evil to allow people to act in freedom.

Besides keeping people in freedom, the Lord in His providence does all that He can to prevent a person from profaning what is good and true.  A person profanes goodness and truth if he for a time acknowledges, loves, and lives by what is good – and then afterwards completely rejects it.  This is much more harmful than if a person never accepts the truth in the first place, and for this reason, the Lord never allows a person into any more goodness and truth than they are capable of being kept in to the end of their lives.  It was to prevent profanation that the Lord did not give the children of Israel the true commandments on marriage – He knew that there nature was such that they would embrace this at first as Divine, but then afterwards reject the teaching, and reject Him altogether.  He gave permission for a lesser evil to prevent a greater one.

The final reason the Lord permits lesser evils is that a person must gradually progress from the evil inclinations that he is born into.  If they were removed all at once, the person would in fact fall down dead – because early on in a person’s path of regeneration, most of his motivation comes from selfishness and a love of worldly things.  If those motivations were taken away, he would simply have no motivation at all, no life.  And so the Lord gradually leads a person from greater evils to lesser evils, and then on from lesser evils to true good.  This is why the children of Israel were told that their enemies in the land of Canaan would not all be driven out at once, but little by little (see Exodus 23:30).

And this leads us into the next reason we mentioned for learning about lesser and greater degrees of evil: to help us make decisions in our own lives.  Because there are times in our lives when it seems that we have to choose between the lesser of two evils.  And this really will be the case sometimes – the Lord cannot rid of us our evils immediately.  What matters is that we are moving in the right direction.

One of the fundamental choices we often have to make has to do with our motivations.  At the beginning of our regeneration, as just mentioned, most of our motives are selfish.  And the fact is, at first we cannot help but think of merit and reward for doing good.  We cannot help but think that the good we do comes from ourselves.  There’s a story in Genesis about the time when Joseph had become a great leader in Egypt, and his brothers came asking for food, not recognizing them.  When Joseph sent them back to their father with food, he had his servants place a silver cup in his youngest brother Benjamin’s bag of grain – and when they returned, he accused Benjamin of stealing it!  This can seem like an odd story, but in the internal sense, it is about the fact that at first, we cannot help stealing from the Lord, in the sense of taking credit for things that really belong to Him.

But this means we have a choice: we can either do good which has some sense of merit in it, or we can hang down our hands and wait for the Lord to flow in, and do nothing at all.  Both of these choices have evil in them – but the first choice is a lesser evil than the second.  Now, this does not mean that we should rest content with the fact that we are doing evil – we should continually strive to truly acknowledge the Lord as the source.  But we do not have to feel bad that at first we are still in an evil.  What matters is that we are progressing toward goodness.  A passage from the book Doctrine of Life, says, “Let people even once in a week, or twice in a month, resist the evils they are inclined to, and they will perceive a change” (Life 97).  It is better to catch ourselves even twice in a month doing some particular evil, and to stop ourselves, then to think we have to be perfect and immediately give up on the task as impossible.  What matters is our progress.

But how do we know what the lesser evil is?  It is not always easy.  The only way to truly know is to search the Word, to continually try to understand.  The book Conjugial Love, for example, says that a young man at first often does not see the difference between having sex with an unmarried woman and with a married woman – when the truth is that the evil of adultery is a much graver evil than the evil of fornication (see CL 486).  Similarly, the same book says, if a young man truly cannot restrain himself from having sex, it is a lesser evil for him to restrict himself to one, than to sleep with many women from a lust for variety, or to fall into the even worse evils of adultery or rape (see CL 459).  It is especially in the laws around sexuality that we find teachings on the importance of distinguishing between lesser and greater degrees of evil.

Sometimes there really are cases where we have to choose between a lesser or greater evil.  And the determining factor is the goal, or motivation – what are we working towards, what are we progressing towards?  If a person truly sees a state of goodness – for example, true marriage love – as the goal, then what matters most is that he is taking steps in that direction.  But there are also time, of course, when it seems that we have a choice between two evils, and the reality is, we could choose neither.  For example, in treating of those permissions around sexuality, the Writings say, “What has been said, however, is not for those who can restrain the heat of their lust, nor for those who can enter into marriage as soon as they attain to manhood” (CL 459).  Those permissions are there for people who truly cannot restrain themselves without harmful effects – and yet it is all too easy to use permissions to lesser evils as an excuse, when we really could reject evil altogether.

There is no easy answer within ourselves to whether we are using the teachings on permission as an excuse, or truly as a lesser evil.  In times when we seem to have to make that choice, it is useful to take a step back and pray to the Lord for wisdom to see if there are other choices.  We can do simple things like write down all the options we have, trying to see if we’ve missed any.  And the Word itself can help us see more options than there seem to be at first.  For example, in the case of certain kinds of dysfunctional marriage – for example, if one partner is an alcoholic – it may seem like the only options are to live in that dysfunction, or to divorce.  But the Writings say that in these cases, where there has not been adultery, the best option is not necessarily to stay together, and definitely not to get a divorce, but to be separated – to still be technically married, to not start new relationships outside of the marriage, but to live separately from each other, perhaps even with court-ordered limits.  That is the better choice in a situation where none of the choices are very good.  We need to study the Word to see what truly is a lesser evil – since we often are wrong about which is the greater and lesser evil.  And we need to pray to the Lord for help resisting evil, to pray for a sight of the goal, which is goodness – and to pray for the strength to be honest with ourselves.

And this brings us to our final purpose in looking at these different degrees of evil.  Within ourselves, we can be honest about whether or not we are truly fighting evil with all our hearts, whether we are giving into an evil because it will prevent a lesser evil, or giving into it simply because we want to.  But we cannot make the same judgment when looking at others.  When we see others around us doing evil, we ought to judge their actions as evil – the Lord said, “Judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).  We ought to do what we can to prevent them, for the sake of the people they may be hurting, and for their own sake.  But we cannot judge their hearts, because we do not know their motivation.  We do not know if they are choosing the lesser of two evils.

In the book Conjugial Love, Emanuel Swedenborg describes seeing several people living similarly, in ways that could be considered bad – dressing finely, eating well, making off-color jokes.  And yet the angels said that for some of the people these were sins, and others were not.  For those who had good as their end, motivation, and goal, these actions were not sinful; whereas for those who had evil as their end, these actions were considered sins.  The motivation made the difference (Conjugial Love 527).

We cannot make spiritual judgments because we cannot know another person’s motivation.  Now, again, we should not use this as an excuse for our own evils – Swedenborg talked to evil spirits who justified their own adultery by saying, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”  But it can help us to acknowledge how it could possibly be that someone who is externally in evil could still be looking and moving in the right direction.

Evil and good are diametrically opposed.  Good does not decrease until it becomes evil – evil is a twisting of good.  And it is important to keep the two separate, to carefully distinguish between good and evil.  But it is also important to distinguish between the different degrees of evil.  Realizing that there are lesser evils helps us see the mercy in the Lord’s providence, in continually leading to lesser evil.  It helps us to make hard decisions, in choosing between two bad alternatives.  And it helps us to see others who are in evil as still capable of making progress toward good.  And in all this, good is the goal.  Heaven is the goal.  And a return to the Lord’s original, eternal law, the law of love and wisdom, is the goal.  “Moses, because of your hardheartedness, permitted [this] – but from the beginning it was not so.”


MARRIAGE WITHIN THE CHURCH A Sermon by Rev Douglas M. Taylor

April 25, 1997

“Neither shalt thou make marriage with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son” (Deut. 7:3).

Moses, the Divinely appointed leader and governor of the Hebrew nation, was speaking in the name of the Lord when he relayed this Divine commandment to the assembled congregation just prior to their entry into the promised land. In the name of the Lord he was warning them of the grave danger to which they would expose themselves if they were to intermarry with the idolatrous nations round about them in the land “the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” These nations worshiped various idols, so we can readily understand the reason given for not intermarrying with them, namely, “for they will turn away thy son from following Me, that they may serve other gods; so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly” (Deut. 7:4).

There was no hope of these nations’ coming to the worship of the one God, Jehovah. They were utterly and irrevocably devoted to the worship of strange gods and idols. Therefore the Lord commanded through Moses that there was to be absolutely no inter-marriage with them. If once marriages with the idolatrous nations that would surround them on all sides when they entered into the land were allowed to begin, grave national and spiritual consequences would surely ensue, and, worst of all, would grow.

The national consequence of intermarriage was quite obvious. If it became the general rule, the nation would soon disappear. It would lose its independent identity; it would be swallowed up by the surrounding nations. In a later period in the history of the nation, this is exactly what did happen. What are now known as the ten lost tribes of Israel were apparently swallowed up by intermarriage with the surrounding nations when carried into captivity by the Assyrians. This is also what happened to those left behind in Israel at the time of the captivity in Babylon. They intermarried with neighboring peoples and produced the very confused people known as the Samaritans, who were universally despised by the pure Jews. The pure Jews were those who, in marked contrast, refused to intermarry with their Babylonian captors, who in face of considerable hardship and external pressure remained loyal to the Lord and His commandments, including the one set forth in our text. They obeyed and they survived.

And the church survived with them. The spiritual consequences followed inevitably from the national consequences. For, as the Lord said repeatedly to the Hebrews through Moses: “Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God; the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deut. 6; see also 14:2, Ex. 19:6). It would never have done for the Israelitish or Jewish nation to have disappeared before the Christian Church could be set up, because the representative of a church would have vanished, causing the vital link between heaven and earth to be sundered.

But despite the very definite prohibition of marriages between the people of the representative church and those who were in idolatrous and heathen worship, they were by no means forbidden to intermarry with the nations who accepted their worship, and who, after being initiated into it, acknowledged Jehovah. This truth is vitally important to know and understand if we are to achieve a balanced view of this matter of marriage within the church. The Jews were never forbidden to intermarry with those who, after instruction, could receive their worship. Dedicated idolaters could never do that, but strangers who sojourned or dwelt with them could. They were called “strangers” or “sojourners.” The law concerning them reads: “And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land . . . . One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you” (Exodus 12:48,49).

The acid test, you see, was whether or not they could come into their doctrine and worship wholeheartedly. If they could, marriage with them was not forbidden; if they could not, it was forbidden in the clearest and strongest terms.

It was only to be expected that the Christian Church in its early integrity observed this law. Some of the stronger denominations still remain faithful to it. Their authority for this stand lies in the passages referred to in the Old Testament, to which they have added this very forthright utterance of Paul in his second letter to the members of the church in Corinth: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” (II Corinthians 6, 7)

The same Divine law is given in the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, but it is there amplified and explained so that we may understand why it is forbidden to marry those who are devoted to other gods than the one, only God, the Lord Jesus Christ in His glorified, Divine Human.

Before considering those teachings, let us recall something we already know and believe, so that it will be in the forefront of our minds: that is, that this is in very truth a Divine law. It is the voice of the Lord that says, “Neither shalt thou make marriages with them” (text). It was not Moses who thought it up, though he spoke it; it was not the Levites, who served the use of the priesthood in that church, who decided on this law and decreed and proclaimed it from themselves, though many generations of them have since upheld it; it was not the congregation of the church as a whole that decided to impose this law upon itself like some kind of regulation. It was the Lord, in His love and wisdom, who commanded this commanded it, not merely recommended it commanded it from His eternal wish to give the human race, in general and individually, the greatest happiness possible.

So with the New Church. It is not Swedenborg who thought up the deeper explanation of this law, though he delivered it from the Lord; it is not any individual priest or bishop who thought this a useful requirement to introduce into the church organization; it is not even the united voice of the Council of the Clergy that decreed this law, although every member of the priesthood worthy of his sacred trust and use proclaims it from the Lord as clearly and as conscientiously as he can; nor is it the voice of the whole assembly of the church that says it from itself. It is the Lord alone, from His love and wisdom, who says it. He says it for the sake of establishing the New Church, meant by the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation establishing it in the individual and in the world at large. He says it for the sake of our greater and more lasting happiness.

Our obedience to this concept of marriage within the church is, therefore, obedience to the voice of the Lord; it is a willingness to be led by Him. It is innocence which is the essence of heavenly joy and heavenly peace (see HH 288).

Because the Lord has said these things, it is the duty of the priesthood to teach them. In general, it is the sacred duty, use and function of the priesthood to teach the truth and so lead to the good of life (see NJHD 314, 315). This means all the truth that the Lord has revealed; there can be no willful withholding of the Lord’s Word, no hiding His Divine Light under a bushel. The Word must be preached with a view to goodness of life.

Still, priests must not compel anyone (see NJHD 318). There must be a free and rational acceptance of what the Lord says should be done. In the Word, the priest is compared to a watchman, as in these verses in Ezekiel: “So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from Me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it, and if he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity, but thou hast delivered thy soul” (Ezekiel 33:7-9).

Those who are priests, then, have a sacred duty to teach the Word with all its warnings; those who are laymen of the church likewise have a sacred duty to hearken to the Word of the Lord. In this spirit of willingness to be led by the Lord, let us look into the further explanation that the Lord has provided for the New Church.

In the explanation of the internal sense of our text we find this teaching: “That the Israelites were not to contract marriages with the daughters of the Canaanites also had regard to the spiritual laws that good and falsity, and evil and truth, are not to be joined together, for from that comes profanation” (AC 3024:7).

Whatever refers in the sense of the letter to marriage and conjugial love refers in the internal sense to spiritual conjunction, that is, to the heavenly marriage of truth and good, and good and truth. The reason is that conjugial love derives its origin from this marriage of truth and good, and good and truth (see AC 4434). So it is further explained: “If good were conjoined with any other truth than its own it would not subsist at all, but would be rent asunder and so would perish. In the spiritual church the wife represents good and the man represents truth . . . and . . . they not only represent, but also in all their activities correspond to them” (ibid., section 9). In other words: the state of the marriage depends on the good that is with the wife, and the truth (the moral wisdom, the truth in act) with the husband. But if they are discordant if the good and truth do not agree there will be an interior coldness in the marriage.

In the work Conjugial Love, which satisfies the human longing for a spiritual kind of marriage love by setting forth the truths, the Divine doctrine concerning love truly conjugial, there is a whole chapter on the causes of coldness and consequent separations in marriage. We learn that there are external causes and internal causes of this coldness. The external causes, which need not concern us here, are various natural differences (such as differences of education and upbringing, etc.). But the internal causes are all from religion. This is because conjugial love is according to the state of the church (see CL 130). Four different causes of an interior coldness between married partners are enumerated (see CL 238-244).

These are: (1) the rejection of religion by both partners; (2) that one has religion and not the other; (3) that one is of one religion and the other of another; (4) that there is falsity of religion.

The first and the last of these causes do not seem to apply as directly as the second and third; that is, an absence of religion in one of the partners, and a difference of religion between them. Let us see, then, what is said about these two.

As to an absence of religion in one of the partners, this causes an interior coldness because their souls do not agree. In the case of the one who has no religion, it is closed against the reception of conjugial love, while in the case of the other the soul is open. “Hence in the soul there can be no cohabitation,” we read (CL 241). “This coldness is not dissipated except by the reception of a religion that agrees with that of the other, if this be true” (ibid.).

In the case where one is of one religion and the other of another, the interior coldness arises from the fact that “with them, good cannot be conjoined with its correspondent truth. For a wife is the good of the husband’s truth and he is the truth of the wife’s good . . . . Hence from the two souls there cannot come to be one soul; consequently the fountain of that love is closed” (CL 242). The same passage goes on to give an experience of Swedenborg that shows, perhaps more clearly than any passage from the Heavenly Doctrine so far brought forward, why the Lord in His mercy has forbidden marriage outside the church: “I [Swedenborg] was once wandering through the streets of a great city seeking a place of lodging; and I entered a house where dwelt married partners who were of different religions. While I was ignorant of the fact, the angels spoke to me and said, We cannot stay with you in this house, because the married partners are in discordant religion.’ They perceived this from the internal disunion of their souls” (ibid.).

From all this we can appreciate that the statement in our lesson from the Arcana Coelestia is no exaggeration: “Marriages on earth between those who are of different religions are accounted in heaven as heinous, and still more so marriages between those who are of the church and those who are outside the church” (AC 8998).

The Lord’s wise and loving reasons for making this prohibition ought now to be manifest. He wants to give us the greatest happiness not just a partial, incomplete happiness. He wants each individual to enjoy a marriage of love truly conjugial. He wants to give us complete happiness. In love truly conjugial there is the greatest happiness. It is the good from which all other goods are derived.

This applies to the individual marriage within the church. But it also has a most profound bearing on the future growth of the church (the Lord’s kingdom) on earth. The church as an organization exists for the sake of extending the Lord’s kingdom, extending both widely and deeply the realm where the Lord is King, encouraging the reception of the good and truth that make His kingdom. In the light of that, let us consider this most heartening and inspiring teaching, again from the work Conjugial Love: “The offspring born of two who are in love truly conjugial derive from their parents the conjugial of good and truth, from which they have an inclination and a faculty, if a son for perceiving the things that are of wisdom, and if a daughter for loving what wisdom teaches” (CL 202). What a wonderful prospect this opens up for the real growth of the Lord’s kingdom, for a deepening reception of those qualities that make heaven and the church! What a hope this raises for the deeper reception of the Heavenly Doctrine in heart and life as well as mind! Can we not see here the great use performed by marriage within the church, in that it increases the possibility of marriages of love truly conjugial, with the consequent improvement in the hereditary inclinations of the offspring of those marriages? Can we not see here the surest way to rectify the perverse and twisted inclinations that have been handed down through the ages in a great accumulation of tendencies to evil? Can we not see what a boon the Heavenly Doctrine is to the whole human race if only it is accepted and practiced, beginning with ourselves?

Obviously marriages outside the church to those who are completely devoted to some other god or some other end that they love above all else destroys or at least delays the fulfilment of that beautiful hope. Such marriages may indeed enjoy conjunctions of the lower mind, but they do not conjoin souls. Consequently, those in them, we read, “know nothing of the loveliness and joyousness, still less of the felicity and blessedness, of love truly conjugial” (CL 244).

Besides this, they create practical problems for the individual marriage and for the church organization. In the individual marriage, at the best there is perforce a lack of sharing in the inmost things, the most precious of all and this can only make the heart ache. At the worst, there are disagreements, resentments, and even a striving for dominion. Moreover, the risk is increased that the children will be lost to the church and the Lord’s kingdom.

What, then, shall we do about this Divine teaching?

One thing is certain: We cannot ignore it, or neglect it, or try to get around it. We cannot do these things without grave spiritual danger and harm to the church in ourselves and in the world.

In the first place, we must continue to instruct the people of the church, especially our young people, in what is involved in marriage in the New Church. We must continue to hold out the ideal presented by the Lord in the Writings as something that is not just desirable but actually attainable in the Lord’s strength. We must make it possible to see how neglect of this commandment is not a little matter.

Second, we must encourage those of marriageable age to seek their partners within the church; or, if this is not possible, encourage them to choose only those who are “sojourners,” not idolaters, that is, those who can be instructed and can come to accept the New Church doctrine and worship and so acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ. In their efforts to interest their future partner in the doctrine, let them remember that the New Church partner has far more strength than he or she realizes for the Lord is in the true things of faith.

Third, let us strive to find those in the community who are “sojourners” those who are willing to be instructed, so that we may enlarge the choice available to our young people.

Fourth, let us continue our efforts to have as many of our young people as possible attend the Academy of the New Church through college age, where in addition to becoming educated under the auspices of the church, they will also find themselves in the company of many who are the offspring of parents who have been striving after love truly conjugial, young people who are most likely to have inherited an inclination to perceive and love the things of wisdom.

Fifth, we must help and encourage those who married before they knew about what the Lord wishes in the matter, and who have found that their partner does not share their religion. We must encourage them to interest their partner in the Heavenly Doctrine, so that their souls also may be conjoined. The more clearly we visualize the ideal that the Lord places before us for our greatest happiness, the more willing will we be to try, and the more persistent will our efforts become.

In summary, then: the Lord teaches that marriage within the church is not only the ideal that we must all strive to make real, but it is also the greatest blessing and the surest way of having the Lord’s kingdom come on earth. Consequently, marriage to one who is quite unwilling to be instructed, one who is devoted absolutely to some other god, necessarily an imaginary god, is forbidden by the Lord for the sake or our happiness, both temporal and eternal. But marriage with one who is willing to receive the teaching and worship of the church is not forbidden. Amen.

Lessons: Deuteronomy 7:1-6, Revelation 22:12-17, AC 8998

Arcana Coelestia

8998. In regard to this, the case is that those who have been born within the church, and from infancy have been imbued with the principles of the truth of the church, ought not to contract marriages with those who are outside of the church, and have thus been imbued with such things as are not of the church. The reason is that there is no conjunction between them in the spiritual world, for everyone in that world is in consociation according to his good and the truth thence derived: and as there is no conjunction between such in the spiritual world, neither ought there to be any conjunction on earth. For regarded in themselves marriages are conjunctions of dispositions and of minds, the spiritual life of which is from the truths and goods of faith and charity. On this account, moreover, marriages on earth between those who are of a different religion are accounted in heaven as heinous, and still more so marriages between those who are outside of the church. This also was the reason why the Jewish and Israelitish nation was forbidden to commit whoredom with them.

This appears still more evidently from the origin of conjugial love, which is from the marriage of good and truth. When conjugial love descends from this source, it is heaven itself in man. This is destroyed when two consorts are of unlike heart from unlike faith.