A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida February 9, 1992
“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
The Lord claimed to be the promised Messiah. The leaders of the Jews the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees disputed His claim. We would note that those who denied His claim and rejected Him based their case on an erroneous interpretation of the Scriptures. They claimed repeatedly that His teaching was contrary to the law given through Moses. Time and again the Lord showed them that His doctrine was not contrary to the law, but its fulfillment gave it deeper meaning a spiritual meaning to the law. But because the Lord refused to be bound by the rigid, self- serving interpretations which the scribes and Pharisees placed on the law, they branded Him an imposter, and continually attempted to discredit Him.
Because their minds were so warped by their sensualism they totally failed to see the true nature of the Lord’s teaching. What were their primary concerns? Ceremonial washings, the observance of feast days and sacrificial offerings. They were utterly blind to the weightier matters of the law: judgment and mercy (see Matt. 23: 23). Therefore the Lord advised them: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (text).
The Lord has revealed that everyone during infancy and childhood is sensuous. One’s thoughts during that period of development are formed solely from bodily and worldly sensations entering through the five senses (see AC 5126:2, 5497). These physical sensations are stored up and form a physical plane in the mind called the corporeal memory, or the memory of material ideas. As the child grows up and begins to reflect on the things in this plane of the memory and forms conclusions from them, a reorganization takes place and a new plane is established called the natural memory, or the memory of immaterial ideas. If one matures and cultivates the rational faculty, he then reflects on the things in this plane of the mind and so is able to perceive the truth which is in that which has been learned (see AC 5497).
The things of sense are one thing, knowledges in the memory another, and truths another. They are formed successively, the higher from the lower. These planes of the mind are distinct in their formation and they remain distinct. A person can be thinking at one time in one plane and at another time in another (see AC 5774:2). Thought from the lowest plane is called sensual thought, from the middle plane, natural thought, and from the third plane, rational thought. There are thus three distinct degrees or types of thought: sensual, natural and rational. Every thought that we have emanates from one of these planes and derives its quality from it.
Like the Jews referred to in our text, all of us are prone to think from the lowest or sensual plane of our minds. Since it is the first plane formed it requires no effort of the will or intellect to think in this manner; it is, as it were, spontaneous. Yet if we are to perceive and understand truth we must rise above both sensual and natural thought to rational and spiritual thought.
Truth is above nature. Because it is from God, it is in its essence spiritual. In its descent from God the Divine truth is successively clothed, or finited, and in this manner creation took place. That creation took place by a successive finition of Divine truth is clear from the first chapter of John’s gospel. There God is identified with the Word, or Divine truth, and it is declared that the world is made by Him, that is, by the Word or Divine truth proceeding from Him. Thus the objects of nature are appearances of truth on the material plane. The laws of nature which govern the objects are appearances of truth on the plane of nature and are thus called natural appearances of truth.
With this in mind we can see that when we think from the two planes of the mind based on, and formed from, the realms of matter and nature, we are not thinking from truth, but from appearances of truth sensual and natural appearances of truth. Such thought tends to obscure and obliterate a perception of spiritual truth. It drags the mind down.
The Writings state: “Unless man’s thought can be elevated above sensuous things so that these are seen as below him, he cannot understand any interior thing in the Word, still less such things as are of heaven … for sensuous things absorb and suffocate them” (AC 5089:2). For this reason, we are told, those who abound in worldly learning alone have greater difficulty than the simple in understanding spiritual truths, for their minds are immersed in material concepts to such a degree that the mind cannot be elevated to perceive spiritual realities (ibid.).
To illustrate the truth of this, Swedenborg relates the following experience: “It has sometimes happened that I was earnestly thinking about worldly things, and about such things that give great concern to most persons, namely, about possessions, the acquisition of riches, about pleasures, and the like. At these times I noticed that I was sinking down into what is sensuous, and that in proportion as my thought was immersed in such things, I was removed from the company of angels. By this means it was also made plain to me that they who are deeply immersed in such cares cannot have association with those who are in the other life. For when such thoughts possess the whole of the mind, they carry the lower mind downward, and are like weights which drag it down; and when they are regarded as the end, they remove the man from heaven, to which he cannot be elevated except by means of the good of love and of faith. This was made still more manifest to me from the fact that once when I was led through the abodes of heaven, and was at the same time in a spiritual idea, it happened that I suddenly began to sink into thought about worldly things, and then all that spiritual idea was dissipated and became nothing” (AC 6210).
That reliance on, or trust in, sensual appearances obscures truth is apparent even on the natural plane. The record of history bears witness to this fact. Basing their conclusions on the evidence of the senses, people believed for centuries that the world was flat. Until very recent times matter was believed to be solid. These are appearances which, on the evidence of the senses, are very convincing. However, when the mind is elevated to the realm of causes to a consideration of immaterial ideas and the operation of laws then these appearances are seen to be fallacious, and as a hindrance to a true understanding of the natural world in which we live.
If there must be an elevation of thought in order to rightly understand the truth behind, or within, natural phenomena, how much more must this be the case if we are to understand the truth about spiritual things. For this reason the Writings continually urge us to raise our minds above the senses and think spiritually if we wish to understand spiritual truths. In the words of our text we are not to “judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment”(John 7:24). That is, we are not to think from the appearance of the senses but from revealed Divine truth, for judgment is predicated of Divine truth and the thought derived from it (see AC 9857).
We are privileged, as was no former church, with a revelation in which spiritual truths in abundance are laid open to the sight of the understanding in clear rational language. As a church and as individuals associated with that church, we have the opportunity, if we will, to think spiritually.
What do we mean by thinking spiritually? Many people associate the word “spiritual” with what is vague and incomprehensible. This is not the kind of thought which we have in mind. The Writings apply the term “spiritual” to that which is living and eternal, to that which is real and substantial though not material. To think “spiritually,” therefore, is to think from that which is real, living, substantial and eternal; that is, from Divinely revealed truth.
We would note here an important distinction one that is frequently overlooked. It is one thing to think about spiritual truth and quite another to think from it. All of us do the former when we listen to sermons or doctrinal classes and read the Lord’s Word. This is not spiritual thought. We do not wish to belittle it, for it is a very important means. The fact is, we cannot arrive at the end except through the means. We must first learn the truth before we can think from it. All too often we go no further.
Because of our hereditary nature, there is a strong tendency for us to think of religion and life as being two separate, distinct things. On Sundays, and on other occasions when we are engaged in worship, we focus our attention on spiritual matters. When this is over, we tend to recede from thought about spiritual things. In our day-to-day living we are apt to allow ourselves to a great extent to be predominantly influenced by the attitudes and thought of the world around us.
We might ask ourselves: How many of the decisions we make are arrived at after a careful consideration of Divinely revealed principles of truth? Some might suggest that this is carrying religion too far! If we think like this, then we too are thinking from worldly appearances.
All religion is of life. That is, the truths of religion are applicable to all phases of life. Indeed they were given for no other purpose than that they may be applied to our lives every aspect of our lives. In the minds of some the question may arise: “How can we be expected to know what truths or principles apply to a given situation?” The answer to this question is simple: If we seek to be enlightened by regular reading of the Lord’s Word, and avail ourselves of all the means provided by Him for our instruction, both public and private, we will learn those truths which apply directly to our lives. And if we pray to the Lord, He will enlighten us to see those truths we need to know in order to live well.
The truths revealed by the Lord in the Writings especially should be the principles from which we think about all things. As New Church people we should always be willing to examine the attitudes and opinions we hold to see if they are in agreement with the principles of truth which the Lord has revealed. And let us remember: a thing is not true or right merely because many people believe it, nor is it true and right because we have always believed it. It is true and right only if it is in agreement with what the Lord teaches. We would also note that because of our hereditary nature, we are inclined to favor those ideas which are in agreement with our own ideas, ideas which further our own selfish interests. It is therefore of great importance that we always be willing to re-examine our thoughts and attitudes.
The truths which the Lord reveals should, little by little, become the fabric of our thought. When we approach the problems of daily living, we should ask ourselves questions such as these: In what way does the thing I am considering contribute to the Lord’s end in creation? How does the doctrine of use apply to the situation under consideration? What relation has this problem to the degrees of the neighbor? Does the course of action I am considering come under the laws of Divine providence or under the laws of permission? What laws of Divine providence are applicable to the problem I am wrestling with?
If we are serious about living the life that leads to heaven we will seek to formulate our opinions, thoughts and attitudes from the truths of Divine revelation. We will cultivate the habit and practice of thinking from spiritual principles about all things. We are told that when what is spiritual reigns in a person, it affects and as it were tinges all that the person thinks, wills and does, and causes the thoughts and the actions of one’s will to partake of the spiritual, until at last these become spiritual in him (see AC 5639:2).
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper” (Psalm 1:1-3). Amen.
Lessons: I Samuel 16:1-13, John 7:14-31, DLW 248, 249
Divine Love and Wisdom 248, 249
UNLESS THE HIGHER DEGREE WHICH IS THE SPIRITUAL IS OPENED IN MAN, HE BECOMES NATURAL AND SENSUAL.
It was shown above that there are three degrees of the human mind, called natural, spiritual, and celestial, and that these degrees may be opened successively in man; also that the natural degree is first opened; afterwards, if man flees from evil as sins and looks to the Lord, the spiritual degree is opened; and lastly, the celestial. Since these degrees are opened successively according to man’s life, it follows that the two higher degrees may remain unopened, and man then continues in the natural degree, which is the outmost. Moreover, it is known in the world that there is a natural and a spiritual man, or an external and an internal man; but it is not known that a natural man becomes spiritual by the opening of some higher degree in him, and that such opening is effected by a spiritual life, which is a life conformed to the Divine precepts; and that without a life conformed to these man remains natural.
There are three kinds of natural men; the first consists of those who know nothing of the Divine precepts; the second, of those who know that there are such precepts but give no thought to a life according to them; and the third, of those who despise and deny these precepts. In respect to the first class, which consist of those who know nothing of the Divine precepts, since they cannot be taught by themselves they must needs remain natural. Every man is taught respecting the Divine precepts, not by immediate revelations but by others who know them from religion, on which subject see The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem Concerning the Sacred Scriptures (n. 114-118). Those of the second class, who know that there are Divine precepts but give no thought to a life according to them, also remain natural, and care about no other concerns than those of the world and the body. These after death become mere menials and servants, according to the uses which they are able to perform for those who are spiritual; for the natural man is menial and servant, and the spiritual man is a master and lord. Those of the third class, who despise and deny the Divine precepts, not only remain natural but also become sensual in the measure of their contempt and denial. Sensual men are the lowest natural men, who are incapable of thinking above the appearances and fallacies of the bodily senses. After death they are in hell.