Most of us have ideas about heaven. Whether it is a group of angel babies with big wings and harps, a singing choir of gorgeous voices, a delicious feast, or angels jumping on huge clouds in the sky, many of us find some way to imagine what “heaven” looks like and feels like.
Swedenborg’s descriptions of heaven and hell have fascinated people of all sorts for ages: he presents us with stories of a warm, peaceful heaven and a stricken, foul hell. Swedenborg describes heaven as a place where each angel finds a home according to the things they love the most, a home where they can find a useful purpose and work with other angels who love the same things. Swedenborg describes hell as an option that people choose by living a hellish existence on earth—if people consistently engage in hurtful, selfish, or hate-driven behavior while alive, they will not choose heaven after they die even if they have it right in front of their nose. They will instead choose to love themselves over what is good, and make an eternal life working toward getting more stuff and doing a better job of loving themselves.
Swedenborg has a lot of helpful hints for living a heavenly life on earth in his many books. However, wading through theology is no small task. If you’re just looking for a quick taste, here are three ways to get a little slice of heaven on earth today:
(Note: Below, we’re using pie as a metaphor for the delicious goodness we want to create within ourselves. To read about it in Swedenborg’s words, look into the resources at the end of this post.)
1. Find a Problem to Fix (AKA: Notice the Bad Stuff in the Batter)
If there is a bit of fluff in the batter, we must notice it and recognize it before it can be removed. This fluff stands for all the bad habits and the negative things in life. When we look at the batter and think to themselves, “That looks like a nasty bit of fluff. Maybe I should take it out . . .” and then consider ways to fix the problem, we’ve already started that process of change on a mental level. In life, this happens whenever we notice a bad habit and get ready to change it. Maybe one person notices that every time their friend has a good story to tell, they find themselves unconsciously racking their brain to think of a slightly better story to tell. When they notice that bad habit, they’re making the first step toward a little bit more happiness (Divine Providence #39). Stare at that fluff, and go on to step two.
2. Start to Fix the Problem (AKA: Remove the Fluff)
Staring at the bit of fluff in the batter won’t solve the problem. The problem will only be solved when we make a change, pick up the spoon, and take the fluff out of the batter. When we take bad things out of our lives, we leave room for good things to flow in and cover that space (Divine Providence #33). This step is a huge part of Swedenborg’s idea of repentance, which is the first step toward regeneration, or becoming a new, better person (True Christianity #510). To become better, people have to stop doing things they know are bad for them. Say goodbye to the fluff—on to step three.
3. Ask for Help (AKA: Fill in the Pie Crust)
In this step, Swedenborg writes that people should turn to the Lord for help. He says that God is able to fill in the cracks and let new good things flow into people’s lives as bad things leave, just as the pie filling flows into the pie crust. The happiness of eternal life begins with this step, and the next secret one, as we are able to love more easily and more wholly in life because we are less filled with bad things, and looking outside of ourselves for help (True Christianity #539).
Secret step #4: Repetition (AKA: Practice Making Pie Again and Again and Again and Agai . . .)
Actually, this process never ends. It starts over at the beginning every time we notice bad things about our lives. It continues as long as people are changing and growing and loving and making mistakes. As long as people continue to repeat this cycle, the bad things get removed and the good things flow in. It’s the never-ending process of life.
Go forth and eat a bite of that heavenly slice.
To read more about regeneration, Swedenborg’s description of the process of spiritual growth, take a look at his work True Christianity (especially chapters 9 and 10) or Secrets of Heaven volume 1 (the first chapter). You can also find a compilation of Swedenborg’s writings on the topic in Regeneration: Spiritual Growth and How It Works. All of these are available as free e-books in our bookstore.
References from this post:
Divine Providence #39: “Words cannot describe the varieties of heaven’s bliss, rapture, pleasure, and delight—the joys of heaven. . . . However, these joys enter into us only as we distance ourselves from compulsions to love what is evil and false, which distancing we do apparently with our own strength, but in fact from the Lord’s strength. These joys are actually joys of loving desires for what is good and true, and they are directly opposed to the compulsions to love what is evil and false.” back
Divine Providence #33: “Since the Lord flows into everyone’s life and flows through our life’s desires into our perceptions and thoughts (and not the reverse), as already noted, it follows that the closeness of our union with the Lord depends on the extent to which our love for evil and its desires—its compulsions—is dismissed. Further, since these compulsions have their home in the level of our being that deals with this world, and since anything we do that is rooted in that level feels as though it belongs to us, we need to dismiss the evils of this love with what seems to be our own strength. To the extent that we do this, the Lord draws near and unites us to himself.” back
True Christianity #510: “Before repentance, we stand outside regeneration [or spiritual rebirth]. In that condition, if any thought of eternal salvation somehow makes its way into us, we at first turn toward it but soon turn away. That thought does not penetrate us any farther than the outer areas where we have ideas; it then goes out into our spoken words and perhaps into a few gestures that go along with those words. When the thought of eternal salvation penetrates our will, however, then it is truly inside us. The will is the real self, because it is where our love dwells; our thoughts are outside us, unless they come from our will, in which case our will and our thought act as one, and together make us who we are. From these points it follows that in order for repentance to be genuine and effective within us, it has to be done both by our will and by our thinking that comes from our will. It cannot be done by thought alone. Therefore it has to be a matter of actions, and not of words alone.” back
True Christianity #539: “There are two duties that we are obliged to perform after we have examined ourselves: prayer and confession. The prayer is to be a request that [the Lord] have mercy on us, give us the power to resist the evils that we have repented of, and provide us an inclination and desire to do what is good, since ‘without him we cannot do anything’ (John 15:5). The confession is to be that we see, recognize, and admit to our evils and that we are discovering that we are miserable sinners.
There is no need to list our sins before the Lord and no need to beg that he forgive them. The reason we do not need to list our sins before the Lord is that we have searched them out within ourselves and saw them, and therefore they are present before the Lord because they are present before us. The Lord was leading us in our self-examination; he disclosed our sins; he inspired our grief and, along with it, the motivation to stop doing them and to begin a new life.
There are two reasons why we should not beg the Lord to forgive our sins. The first is that sins are not abolished, they are just relocated within us. They are laid aside when after repentance we stop doing them and start a new life. This is because there are countless yearnings that stick to each evil in a kind of cluster; these cannot be set aside in a moment, but they can be dealt with in stages as we allow ourselves to be reformed and regenerated.
The Lord’s kingdom is a kingdom of love. Love trumps faith, that is, love trumps Christian knowledge. The reason is that love is the spiritual means by which the Lord God forms an intimate relationship with each of us.
The knowledge of God or belief in God only makes God present with us. But love, which is faith put into action, is how the Lord enters into our very lives – not just nearby.
God seeks a dwelling place in our hearts. Love is how the Lord enters into a covenant with us.
When we love the neighbor as ourselves we apply the Golden Rule, whether we attend a church, a temple, a mosque, or a baseball game. True worship is true love.
The mercy of the Lord is Infinite and cannot be limited to any one country, race, or belief-system. This is contrary to Divine Love and mercy.
People who believe that those who do not share their belief system will perish in hell overlook the fact that religion involves being good – not being right.
Furthermore, how can Christians even claim to be “right” when disdain for others, greed, and adultery is so prevalent among its ranks? This is the horrible outcome of the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, which separates religion from how we actually behave in the world.
It is also the disastrous outcome of interpreting Scripture merely as a literal account of history, which describes God as being “pissed-off,” promoting wars between countries, allowing slavery, polygamy, and depicting women as second class citizens.
God is infinite love. We are made in God’s image not by having ten fingers and ten toes, but by having spiritual love.
It is only through sincere mutual love for each other that the world can be saved. Can the process of saving the world be different from the process of saving our souls?
This spiritual process of exalting love is open to all men and women on earth.
Otherwise, the Creator would be extremely inefficient in perfecting the heavenly kingdom and sharing eternal blessings.
Time would fail me to quote the passages in which he plainly declares that He came to reveal the Divine truth to men, to bring the Divine life down to them, and to open their eyes to see it. He says nothing about satisfaction, about the payment of debt. He is the good Shepherd, the great Physician, the perfect Teacher, the faithful Exemplar in every work. He did come to make an atonement, to make us at one with Him and the Father who dwells within Him. He assumed a human Nature because He could not come to man in any other way. He did what a just, wise, and loving father would do. If one of your children had wandered from home, had spent all his living, was sick and dying, would you not do all in your power to save him? Would you not spend time, money, labor; would you not provide yourself with all the instrumentalities in your power that were necessary to reach him? And do you suppose that infinite love, compared with which your love is not so much as a drop of water to ,the ocean, would refuse to be reconciled to His lost and dying children until he had received full compensation for their sin; until there had been measured to Him, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe,” or an exact equivalent? It cannot be. Reason, Scripture, the perceptions of justice and mercy which the Lord has given us, and the deep, spontaneous yearnings of our own hearts, declare it to be impossible. No, the Lord did not come into the world to satisfy the demands of an inflexible and arbitrary justice. He came rather to satisfy the demands of infinite love; not to pay a debt, but to reach the dying soul, to cleanse it from its impurities; to heal its diseases; to mould it into His own image and likeness, and fill it with His own peace and blessedness.
By Chauncey Giles
Father Son and Holy Spirit, Are the three essentials, of the one God, Like body soul, and operation in man.
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida May 18, 1991
“The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great mercy. The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145: 8, 9).
These are beautiful and comforting words. Furthermore, they express a fundamental truth of all genuine religion, namely, that the Lord is a God of infinite love and mercy. He is love itself infinite and all-embracing love. And because love, by its very nature, wills to make others happy from itself, therefore the Lord created people with the object of bestowing upon them the blessings of eternal happiness. The Lord, who is love itself, is also pure mercy toward the whole human race, the Writings teach; for He wills to save all and make them happy to eternity, and to bestow on them all that He has, thus, by the strong force of love to draw to heaven all who are willing to follow (AC 1735). Note that last sentence: He seeks by the strong force of love to draw to heaven all who are willing to follow Him.
But, if this is so, people ask, how then can we account for all the misery and suffering we see all around us? If God is pure love and mercy, and if He has infinite wisdom and power, why then does He allow people to suffer in misery? Indeed, they argue, if the Lord is all-powerful He must be responsible for this suffering and misery Himself.
There is a strong appearance that this must be so. And, to add to the difficulty, there is a strong appearance in the letter of the Word to support this appearance. For in many places the Lord is said to punish, to tempt, to be angry, and to curse. In commenting on this appearance the Writings state: “The Lord never curses anyone. He is never angry with anyone, never leads anyone into temptation, never punishes anyone … for such things can never proceed from the fountain of mercy, peace and goodness” (AC 245).
The Lord, who is mercy and goodness itself, regards all people from mercy and never averts His face from anyone. It is man, when in evil, who turns away from the Lord. The Lord spoke of this, saying: “Your iniquities have separated you from your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue has muttered perversity” (Isaiah 59:2,3).
Even though we may turn away from the Lord and reject His love, still the Lord does not desert us. He is ever present, waiting to be received. He continually breathes into us His own life. And even though we may not respond, it nevertheless gives us the ability to think and reflect, and to discern whether a thing is good or evil, true of false (AC 714). In this way the Lord provides that even though a person rejects Him and closes the door of his mind upon Him, yet because he has the ability to distinguish between good and evil, and between what is true and false, he may at any time change his ways and admit the Lord into his life. This is what the Lord was speaking of when He said: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him and he with Me” (Rev. 3: 20).
The mercy of the Lord is perpetual with everyone, for the Lord wills to save all, whoever they are; but His mercy cannot be received until evils have been removed, for evils oppose and prevent the reception of the Lord’s mercy (see AC 8307). It is the truth in our minds which receives good, thus also mercy and peace. Where there is no truth in the mind because a person has rejected it, there can be no good, mercy or peace, because there is nothing there to receive it (AC 10579:8).
It is important that we realize that Divine mercy and Divine justice are inseparable, for justice is of truth and mercy is of love, and in the Lord these two are united. When a person rejects the Lord as to truth, that is, when he rejects the Divine truth of the Word, he simultaneously rejects the Divine mercy. Such are judged from the laws of justice and truth separated from love, not because the Lord withdraws His love, but because the person has rejected the Divine truth and with it His love and mercy. On the other hand, those who willingly receive Divine truth are judged from justice tempered with mercy because they have the vessels in themselves which receive it (see AC 5585:6).
The Lord wills that all people should enter into the happiness of heaven. This, in fact, is His Divine purpose in creation. But since heaven is within man according to the reception of good and truth from the Lord, therefore only those are received into heaven who have heaven within themselves. When those who are evil are punished, it is not because the Lord wills it, but because they have separated themselves from His Divine love. So the Writings say: “The Lord in no case sends anyone down into hell, but the person sends himself” (AC 2258).
The passage goes on to say that it is of mercy to those who are good that the evil are separated from them. If it were not so, those who are evil would do harm to the good, and would be continually attempting to destroy order. It is the same on earth. If breaches of civil and moral order were not punished, society would soon be infested with evils and disorder, and would eventually perish. For this reason, we are told, a judge shows greater love and mercy by punishing evils and those guilty of them than by exercising inappropriate clemency on their behalf (see AC 2258).
These teachings make it apparent that the Lord’s mercy is with everyone according to the person’s state. With those who are receptive to good and truth, the Lord’s mercy bestows peace and heavenly joy. With those who are evil, the Lord’s mercy bends the penalty of evil to the person’s eternal welfare. Thus, even with those who are evil, the Lord’s mercy is operative, but it takes a different form with them than with those who are good (see AC 587:2). Therefore the Lord says: “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten; be zealous therefore and repent” (Rev. 3:19). “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55: 7). In this passage we see the Lord reaching out to the evil with mercy, not condemnation, seeking their reformation and happiness.
Mercy, in its essence, is love. It is turned into mercy, or becomes mercy, when anyone in need of help or aid is regarded from love or charity. Mercy, therefore, is the effect of love toward those who are in need of aid or encouragement (AC 3063). We read: “All mercy is of love; for he who is in love or charity is also in mercy, and the love and charity in him become mercy when the neighbor is in need or misery, and he affords him help in that state” (AC 6180).
“All who are in charity are in mercy, or, in other words, all who love the neighbor are merciful to him … The good of charity has this within it because it descends from the Lord’s love toward the whole human race, which love is mercy because all the human race is settled in miseries” (AC 5132).
The subject of mercy is of vital importance to us. Firstly, a right understanding of the subject is essential for understanding the Lord and our relationship to Him. Secondly, it is essential to our dealings with the neighbor. For, as the Writings point out, all who are in misery are in need of mercy, and the whole human race is in misery to a greater or lesser extent.
All people, therefore, are in need of mercy. The following teaching shows clearly that this subject has very practical implications in regard to how we live our lives. We read: “Those who are in no charity think nothing but evil of the neighbor, and say nothing but evil; if they say anything good it is for their own sake … whereas those who are in charity think nothing but good of their neighbor and speak only well of him, and this not for their own sake but from the Lord … The former are like the evil spirits, the latter like the angels … The evil spirits excite nothing but what is evil and false in the person and condemn … but the angels excite nothing but what is good and true, and excuse what is evil and false” (AC 1088, emphasis added).
This is a teaching we would do well to reflect on. “Those who are in charity think nothing but good of their neighbor and speak only well of him” (ibid.). How do we measure up to this standard? We do not have to examine ourselves very deeply or extensively to realize that we fall far short of this mark. But we need not despair.
In our daily lives we are continually in contact with people who are in need of help and encouragement. The angels who are with us will enable us to see the good in these people. They will arouse within us a desire to think well of them and speak well of them. On the other hand, the evil spirits who are also with us will cause us to see their faults, and will arouse in us the inclination to think evil of them and to speak ill of them in the presence of others.
It is not difficult to be merciful. We need only choose between the inclination aroused in us by the angels, or that aroused in us by the evil spirits. The choice is ours. True, the choice is somewhat complicated by the fact that by the time we have reached adult age, we have more than likely chosen the latter course so often that it has become, in some measure, habitual. Another complicating factor is the prevalence of malicious gossip. It is so common in the world today that we become inured to it to the point that we are often not consciously aware that we are engaging in it.
We need to realize that we have some effect on every one that we come in contact with. The impact that we have on them is for good or for ill. There is no such thing as neutrality in human relations. In our contacts with others we promote their happiness, well-being and usefulness or detract from them.
When a person’s reputation is destroyed through willful gossip, those who engage in it are guilty of spiritual murder. By the same token, if they do it through negligence they are guilty of spiritual manslaughter; for in either case the victim is deprived of his or her good name, and of opportunities of performing those uses wherein their spiritual life consists. Surely such behavior is devoid of mercy!
Let us keep clearly in mind the teaching that “with those in whom good reigns, there is nothing which they do not turn into good and excuse … Whoever is led by the Lord, with such everything is turned into good” (SD 1705). Angels, and people who are interiorly of the church, excuse those in whom they see evil (AC 6655).
We must learn to distinguish between evil and the person. We must strive against evil and condemn it. But we must not condemn people. If a person is interiorly evil, the truth will condemn him. Our duty is to give aid and encouragement to those who are in need of our help. This may, occasionally, take the form of reprimand and punishment; but with the punishment there should be mercy and forgiveness, and a desire for the person’s repentance and reformation.
The Writings teach that “when a person feels or perceives that he has good thoughts concerning the Lord, and that he has good thoughts concerning the neighbor, and desires to perform kind offices for another, not for the sake of gain or honor for self, and when he feels that he has pity for any one who is in trouble, and still more for one who is in error … then that person may know … that he has internal things in him through which the Lord is working” (AC 1102: 3).
Those who have lived mercifully on earth from the heart live in the greatest happiness in the other life (SD 2420). This is according to an unerring spiritual law that influx is according to efflux. That is, we receive as much of mercy, peace and love from the Lord, as we give, as of ourselves, to others. “Be merciful therefore, as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6: 36). Amen.
Lessons: Psalm 103; Luke 18:9-14, 35-43; HH 522, 523
Heaven and Hell 522, 523
But first let us consider what the Divine mercy is. The Divine mercy is pure mercy toward the whole human race, to save it; and it is also unceasing toward every man, and is never withdrawn from anyone, so that everyone is saved who can be saved. And yet no one can be saved except by Divine means, which means the Lord reveals in the Word. The Divine means are what are called Divine truths, which teach how man must live in order to be saved. By these truths the Lord leads man to heaven, and by them He implants in man the life of heaven. This the Lord does for all. But the life of heaven can be implanted in no one unless he abstains from evil, for evil obstructs. So far, therefore, as man abstains from evil he is led by the Lord out of pure mercy by His Divine means, and this from infancy to the end of his life in the world and afterwards to eternity. This is what is meant by the Divine mercy. And from this it is evident that the mercy of the Lord is pure mercy, but not apart from means, that is, it does not look to saving all out of mere good pleasure, however they may have lived.
The Lord never does anything contrary to order, because He Himself is order. The Divine truth that goes forth from the Lord is what constitutes order; and Divine truths are the laws of order. It is in accord with these laws that the Lord leads man. Consequently to save man by mercy apart from means would be contrary to Divine order, and what is contrary to Divine order is contrary to the Divine. Divine order is heaven in man, and man has perverted this in himself by a life contrary to the laws of order, which are Divine truths. Into this order man is brought back by the Lord out of pure mercy by means of the laws of order; and so far as he is brought back into this order he receives heaven in himself; and he that receives heaven in himself enters heaven. This again makes evident that the Lord’s Divine mercy is pure mercy, and not mercy apart from means.
THE LORD IS MERCY ITSELF
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida, April 14, 1991
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (Psalm 103:1-4).
“Restore us, O God of our salvation, and cause Your anger toward us to cease. Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations?” (Psalm 85:4,5).
What is the true nature and quality of God? Is He a God of infinite love and mercy, as taught in our first text a God who forgives all our iniquities, heals all our diseases, redeems us from destruction and crowns us with lovingkindness? Or is He a God of anger, wrath and vengeance as implied in our second text a God who never forgets our backslidings and punishes us for them? Or is the Lord, like mortal men, subject to both of these feelings and emotions? Is He moved by love and mercy at certain times and by anger and wrath at others? The answer to the latter two questions is an unqualified NO! Our first text presents the Lord as He really is, while our second text presents Him as He appears to the wayward, self-led person.
The Writings declare: “The Lord is love itself, to which no other attributes are fitting than those of pure love, thus of pure mercy toward the whole human race, which [love] is such that it wills to save all and make them happy to eternity, and to bestow on them all that it has, thus out of pure mercy to draw to heaven all who are willing to follow … by the strong force of love” (AC 1735). They further state that “the Lord never curses anyone. He is never angry with anyone, never leads anyone into temptation, never punishes anyone … for such things can never proceed from the Fountain of mercy, peace, and goodness” (AC 245).
The Lord, who is mercy and goodness itself, regards all people from mercy and never turns away His face from anyone. It is we, when in evil and disorder, who turn our faces away from the Lord. This is what the Lord was speaking of in Isaiah, when He said: “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you” (59:2).
Even though we may turn away from the Lord and reject His love, still the Lord does not desert us. He is ever present waiting to be received. He continually breathes into us His own life. And even though we may not respond to it according to order, it nevertheless gives us the ability to think and reflect, and to discern whether a thing is good or evil, true or false (AC 714). Thus the Lord provides that, even though we may reject Him and close the door of our minds to Him, yet we retain the ability to distinguish between good and evil, truth and falsity, so that we may, at any time, change our ways and admit the Lord into our life. The Lord spoke of this saying: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).
The mercy of the Lord is perpetual with everyone, for the Lord wills to save all people, whoever they are; but His mercy cannot be received until evils are removed, for it is evils which oppose and prevent the reception of the Lord’s mercy (see AC 8307). While the Lord’s love and mercy go out to everyone, a person must have that in himself which is receptive to love and mercy; and that which receives love and mercy is truth. Where there is no truth, there can be no good, mercy or peace because there is nothing to receive them (see AC 10579:8).
Divine love and Divine wisdom are inseparable, for in the Lord these two are one. And since mercy is of love and justice is of wisdom, therefore these two are also inseparable. Therefore, when a person rejects the Lord as to truth, that is, when a person rejects Divine truth or the Word, he rejects the Divine mercy also, for, as said before, he has nothing to receive it. And since Divine truth is the Divine order according to which all creation operates, therefore those who reject Divine truth are judged from the laws of justice and truth separated from love, not because the Lord withdraws His love, for it is always joined with Divine truth, but because man has rejected His love and mercy along with the Divine truth. On the other hand, those who willingly receive Divine truth are judged from justice tempered with mercy because they have the vessels in themselves which receive it (see AC 5585:6).
The Lord wills that everyone should enter into the happiness of heaven. This, in fact, is His purpose in creation. But since heaven is within man according to one’s reception of good and truth from the Lord, therefore only those are received into heaven who have heaven within themselves. When the evil are punished, it is not because the Lord wills it, but because such people have separated themselves from the Divine love. So we are told in the Writings: “The Lord in no case sends anyone down into hell, but man sends himself” (AC 2258).
Looking at this question of Divine mercy from another point of view, we should bear in mind that it is of mercy to the good that the evil are separated from them. For if they were not, the evil would do harm to the good, and would be continually attempting to destroy order, for this endeavor is inherent in all evil. The same thing is true on earth. If breaches of civil and moral order were not punished, and the offenders removed from society, society would soon be infected with evils and disorders, and would eventually perish. For this reason, we are told, a judge shows greater love and mercy by punishing evils and those guilty of them than by exercising inappropriate clemency on their behalf (ibid.).
These teachings make it clear that the Lord’s mercy is with everyone according to the person’s state. With those who are receptive to good and truth, the Lord’s mercy bestows peace and heavenly joy. With the evil, who undergo punishment as a result of their breaches of Divine order, the Lord’s mercy bends the penalty of evil to the person’s eternal welfare. Thus, even with the evil the Lord’s mercy is operative, but it takes another form with them than with the good (see AC 587:2). The Lord says: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19). “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).
The truth of these teachings concerning the Lord’s mercy is evident when we reflect upon the relationship of wise and loving parents with their children. When the children act according to order, they perceive and feel the love which their parents have for them, and they experience states of happiness, confidence, peace and security. However, when they depart from orderly behavior, they are no longer receptive to their parents’ love, but come under the rule of truth. If the parents are wise they do not punish in and from anger but from love, which expresses itself as zeal, but the child does not perceive the love. Temporarily the child is estranged from his parents and therefore mistakes the zeal for anger. It is because of this appearance that the Lord is alternately pictured as a God of love and mercy, and a God of wrath and anger, particularly in the Word of the Old Testament.
While we recognize the truth of the matter from doctrine and the application of logic, we too are inclined to be deceived by the appearance. There are occasions when we are apt to regard the Lord as a hard taskmaster. When we read something in the Word, or hear teaching from the Word, which makes us aware of our evils and shortcomings, we are often inclined to think that the Lord requires more of us than can be reasonably expected. It even appears that He has put stumbling blocks in our way. The truth then seems hard and cold it seems to rebuke us, and we unconsciously attribute something of harshness, or even of anger, to the Lord.
To many people the life of religion seems to be a stern, restrictive discipline instead of a source of inspiration and delight. And for this reason they are inclined to absent themselves from the church and from participating in its functions. They do not want discipline. Furthermore, they do not wish to be made aware of their shortcomings, for it destroys their equanimity and enjoyment of life.
The fact is, however, that the Lord, from infinite love, reveals Himself in the Word and established His church to teach the Word for the sake of human happiness. The Lord seeks to lead mankind to true and lasting happiness through the teaching of the Word in the church. In its essence, the church is not a human institution; it is a product of Divine love. In the family of man the Lord is our Father and the church our spiritual mother. The Lord’s love, directly and through the church, reaches out to us and, like children, we should respond affirmatively to that love. If we do not feel the love which goes forth from our spiritual parents, if we do not experience the states of happiness, peace and security which attend that love, it is because of a state of disorder within ourselves. The love is there, but we may not receive it; we may be aware only of the truth, which seems hard, cold and stern.
We know that this need not be. We are rational beings, and we can see, if we are willing, that this is merely an appearance an appearance caused by our own lack of receptivity. Recognizing this, we should not regard the Lord’s commandments as hard laws which seek to deprive us of the delight of living. Nor should we regard the church as a demanding institution which seeks to confine and restrict us. The Lord seeks our real happiness, and through His church seeks to promote our real, eternal welfare. We are able to see, if we elevate our thought above the senses, that if we will freely walk in the way of truth the path of life we will feel the warmth and reassurance of Divine love.
In this state of elevation we will look upon the Lord and His church as “the source of all our blessings.” We will acknowledge that “before His gifts earth’s richest boons grow dim,” that “resting in Him, His peace and joy possessing, all things are ours, for we have all in Him” (Hymn 30, Liturgy). Amen.
Lessons: Psalm 103:1-13, Luke 15:11-32, HH 522, 523
Heaven and Hell
522. But first let us consider what the Divine mercy is. The Divine mercy is pure mercy toward the whole human race, to save it; and it is also unceasing toward every man, and is never withdrawn from anyone, so that every one is saved who can he saved. And yet no one can be saved except by Divine means, which means the Lord reveals in the Word. The Divine means are what are called Divine truths, which teach how man must live in order to be saved. By these truths the Lord leads man to heaven, and by them He implants in man the life of heaven. This the Lord does for all. But the life of heaven can be implanted in no one unless he abstains from evil, for evil obstructs. So far, therefore, as man abstains from evil he is led by the Lord out of pure mercy by His Divine means, and this from infancy to the end of his life in the world and afterwards to eternity. This is what is meant by the Divine mercy. And from this it is evident that the mercy of the Lord is pure mercy but not apart from means, that is, it does not look to saving all out of mere good pleasure however they may have lived.
523. The Lord never does anything contrary to order, because He Himself is Order. The Divine truth that goes forth from the Lord is what constitutes order, and Divine truths are the laws of order. It is in accord with these laws that the Lord leads man. Consequently, to save man by mercy apart from means would be contrary to Divine order, and what is contrary to Divine order is contrary to the Divine. Divine order is heaven in man, and man has perverted this in himself by a life contrary to the laws of order, which are Divine truths. Into this order man is brought back by the Lord out of pure mercy by means of the laws of order; and so far as he is brought back into this order he receives heaven in himself; and he that receives heaven in himself enters heaven. This again makes evident that the Lord’s Divine mercy is pure mercy and not mercy apart from means.
EFFECTIVE HOPE AND EVERLASTING TRUST
A Sermon by Rev. J. Clark Echols, Jr.
Preached in Denver, Colorado, on June 26, 1983
“Wait silently for God alone, for hope is from Him … Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him…” (Psalm 62:5, 8).
For what should we hope? In what should we trust? Obviously we should hope for salvation, and trust in God. And notice that we all have this hope now, and that leads us to trust in the Lord, even though hope applies to future things – what we would like later – and trust applies to the present – we want to trust the Lord now. We know this is true because as the Lord fulfills our hopes, we gain trust in Him.
Hope is commonly defined as a desire that we expect to be fulfilled. And trust is commonly said to be a confidence in someone or something. If this is so, why are so many hopeful people disappointed and hurt? And where is the evidence that our faith brings protection if we trust in it? And a final question: The Psalmist says that the Lord is “good to all and His tender mercies are over all His works” (145:9). What kind of mercy is it to let people’s dreams be destroyed by, say, a violent storm? What kind of mercy allows faithful, trusting people to suffer, not to mention allowing the innocent to starve, the young to die needlessly, the old to languish. There are answers to these questions in the Word, where we find that the hopes that are dashed and the trust that fails are not the hope and trust that are God-given. That is what the Word shows us: that genuine hope and trust are given to us by the Lord, not made up or manufactured by us.
What we are to do is to live according to the dictates of the Word at the same time as we are in the hope and trust that the Lord will save us. We are supposed to acknowledge that we do nothing good of ourselves at the same time as we feel assured by the hope that the Lord will grant us an understanding of truth from which we can live a good life. We are supposed to acknowledge that we bear the responsibility of the choice between good and evil at the same time as we trust that the Lord will lead us to do only that which is good and believe only that which is true.
Genuine hope is not simply the desire to have our expectations fulfilled. It is not a vague wish that things will go as we would like them to. That wish could be based on an evil desire; or we could be ignorant of what is best for us; it could go against what the Lord would have us hope for. When this kind of hopefulness is denied, it quickly fades, and we simply replace it with a new wish. It is a weak and temporary kind of hope. Genuine hope looks to what is eternal, so it never fades. It is given to us by the Lord, so it is most powerful. At the foundation of genuine hope for salvation is the promise the Lord has made that He will come to us and that He is in the constant endeavor to save us. That is His work. And we feel His work in us as a perception and assurance that the Lord helps us in our times of deepest despair – during combats of temptation.
We are not always conscious of it, but the Lord is very near us in states of spiritual struggle. If we continue to hope and trust in Him, and turn to Him, He can temper our despair with the hope of deliverance. Without Him there is no deliverer, no hope. He gives us hope in the realization that the purpose of temptation is that we will be saved and will receive heavenly happiness. Therefore, the hope we feel is His power working within us. Genuine hope is the Lord’s answer as He flows into us with the power of His glorified Divine Human. In so casting evil out of our minds, the Lord fulfills our hopes and earns our trust.
The danger in temptation, of course, is that we will lose hope and fail to trust. We do not readily feel the Lord’s help. In fact, we are most aware of the spiritual pain brought about by the hard choice before us. This mental, spiritual pain rules our thought, and anguish is our primary feeling. Yet in all this the Lord still maintains our ability to choose – that is His constant gift. It is His continual presence, in whatever state we are, that makes our freedom possible. We must make the choice – He cannot do that for us. Yet He does give us something of a perception of His presence. This perception is the hope He gives us, the hope He establishes. And it brings us consolation that our salvation is being wrought in us.
Now, the Lord wants to give us His hope, and He wants us to learn to trust Him. His Divine mercy will grant them to us when we have in us the vessels to receive them. These vessels are His truths, confirmed in our daily life. And so it is in His Word that we find the fulfillment of our hopes and the foundation for our trust. This hope continues with us to the farthest limits of despair; it is a hope that is not merely a desire for something we want; rather, it looks to our salvation and eternal welfare. In this hope we have a firm answer to doubt, despair, fear and death, for it is not limited by what we have or what we don’t have, or by the grave, but looks beyond it. It is not man- made, but applied to us by the Divine mercy of the Lord Himself.
Such genuine hope establishes real trust. Our hope for salvation, our hope for our future, establishes a trust in the Lord – that He is helping right now on our journey to heaven.
Consider for a moment trusting in the Lord to lead us to everlasting peace, joy and fulfillment. That has to be the greatest trust we can have. It is not simply confidence that our desires will be granted. It isn’t simply faith. if we believe that our faith alone saves us, our trust will be limited, and often too weak to stand up in times of natural or spiritual trial. When faith is not used in life, it is not saving; when it is, it becomes charity, which does save. We all must beware of the false sense of security merely having the faith can give us. If our trust in the Lord consisted merely in having faith in our memory, then all we would have to do is await salvation from the Lord, with our hands hanging down. This inaction does not reflect trust. In fact, such apathetic irresponsibility is what has led to the starvation, death and injustice that happens to the innocent and faithful that we wrongly ascribe to the Lord’s inaction.
Genuine trust in the Lord leads us to act from our faith. We trust that the Lord will guide our steps as we strive consciously to follow His path to heaven. Real trust is a faith that originates from charity in our will, from the sincere desire to do what is good. When we live according to the truths the Lord has shown us, then we are really placing our trust in Him. The ultimate of trust is to stake our eternal happiness on the truthfulness of what He says.
As we hope in the Lord, we uphold our responsibility to flee from evils and do goods, and we are given a lasting trust. This trust stays with us even in the midst of temptation. Like genuine hope, real trust is a force from within whereby we are able to resist evil. And notice the cycle here: as we become aware in ourselves of a willingness to submit ourselves to the Lord, even in temptation, He brings us victory and a perception of the security we have in Him. As we apply this perception of truth to our lives, He then inflows into our will with even more power, increasing our trust in Him. Therefore, every time we actually, with conviction, submit ourselves to our trust in the Lord, He comes with more and more power to cast evil out of our minds, to enlighten us, and to fill us with joy.
This trust endures throughout all the trials and tribulations of life on earth. We are taught that “for those who trust in the Divine, all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and whatever befalls them in time is still conducive” to that eternal state (AC 8478). Such people do not blame the Lord for their temporal woes. They have the greatest confidence that the Lord will, if they let Him, use everything that happens to further their reformation and regeneration. These have genuine trust in the Lord.
Hope and trust in the Lord are not so hard to attain in this life. Actually, mere obedience to the Lord’s laws, the ten commandments, requires trust in the Lord, and implies our hope for salvation through obedience. Beyond this obedience it is our responsibility to come to see that we have hope and trust solely because the Lord’s Divine mercy affects them in us, and because they are the Lord’s to give us (see AC 30). The Divine mercy is applied freely to all, and is always effective for those who abstain from evil. The Lord’s mercy is of His Divine love which is constantly striving to lift us up if we allow Him to. Thus, the Lord grants His mercy not according to the doctrine we know, but according to the doctrine we live, that is, the charity we are practicing.
The Word teaches, then, that all real hope and trust are from the Lord, and are given to us from within. If our hope is in our salvation, then whatever we hope for will be granted. If we have trust in the truth we see working in our lives, we will always feel secure. The Lord has made this promise, and desires to give us these gifts. As we respond to His promise with a life of fleeing from evils and doing goods, out of the pure mercy of His Divine love the Lord will grant us eternal happiness. So hope and trust are gifts greatly to be desired.
As it is written in the 27th Psalm: “Though an army should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple” (v. 3, 4). Amen.
Lessons: Psalm 62, AC 8478
Arcana Coelestia 8478
 As in this verse [Exodus 16:191 and the following verses in the internal sense care for the morrow is treated of, and as this care is not only forbidden but is also condemned (that it is forbidden is signified by that they were not to make a residue of the manna till the morning, and that it is condemned is signified by that the worm was bred in the residue, and it stank), he who looks at the subject no more deeply than from the sense of the letter may believe that all care for the morrow is to be cast aside, and thus that the necessaries of life are to be awaited daily from heaven; but he who looks at the subject more deeply than from the letter, as for instance he who looks at it from the internal sense, is able to know what is meant by “care for the morrow.” It does not mean the care of procuring for one’s self food and raiment, and even resources for the time to come; for it is not contrary to order for anyone to be provident for himself and his own. But those have care for the morrow who are not content with their lot; who do not trust in the Divine but in themselves; and who have regard for only worldly and earthly things, and not for heavenly things. With such there universally reigns solicitude about things to come, and a desire to possess all things and to dominate over all, which is kindled and grows according to the additions thus made, and finally does so beyond all measure. They grieve if they do not obtain the objects of their desire, and feel anguish at the loss of them; and they have no consolation because of the anger they feel against the Divine, which they reject together with everything of faith, and curse themselves. Such are they who have care for the morrow.
 Very different is the case with those who trust in the Divine. These, notwithstanding they have care for the morrow, still have it not, because they do not think of the morrow with solicitude, still less with anxiety. Unruffled is their spirit whether they obtain the objects of their desire or not; and they do not grieve over the loss of them, being content with their lot. If they become rich, they do not set their hearts on riches; if they are raised to honors, they do not regard themselves as more worthy than others; if they become poor, they are not made sad; if their circumstances are mean, they are not dejected. They know that for those who trust in the Divine all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and that whatever befalls them in time is still conducive thereto.
[41 Be it known that the Divine Providence is universal, that is, in things the most minute, and that they who are in the stream of Providence are all the time carried along toward everything that is happy, whatever may be the appearance of the means; and that those are in the stream of Providence who put their trust in the Divine and attribute all things to Him; and that those are not in the stream of Providence who trust in themselves alone and attribute all things to themselves, because they are in the opposite, for they take away providence from the Divine and claim it for themselves. Be it known also that insofar as anyone is in the stream of Providence, so far he is in a state of peace; also that insofar as anyone is in a state of peace from the good of faith, so far he is in the Divine Providence. These alone know and believe that the Divine Providence of the Lord is in everything both in general and in particular, nay, is in the most minute things of all, and that the Divine Providence regards what is eternal (n. 6491).
 But they who are in the opposite are scarcely willing to hear Providence mentioned, for they ascribe everything to their own sagacity; and what they do not ascribe to this they ascribe to fortune or chance: some to fate, which they do not educe from the Divine but from nature. They call those simple who do not attribute all things to themselves or to nature. From all this again it can be seen what is the quality of those who have care for the morrow, and what the quality of those who have no care for the morrow.