MERCY

MERCY
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

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

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

[2] 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.

[3] 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).

[5] 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.

FORGIVENESS

FORGIVENESS

A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn October 23, 1994

The subject of this sermon is the Divine example of forgiveness. The text is the Lord’s well known statement:

 

“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

These were the Lord’s words as they crucified Him. They are an expression of the Divine love for the human race a love so deep that it never faltered, even in the moment of its supreme rejection. It did not ask, “How often? Seven times?” But forgave “until seventy times seven,” and even to the end.

This moving incident of forgiveness does not stand alone in Scripture. It is prefigured by an incident that took place in the days of Jacob and his sons. We refer to Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers. In their jealousy, the older sons of Jacob had plotted against Joseph and sold him into slavery in Egypt. Staining his garment with the blood of a goat, the brothers brought it to Jacob as evidence of the fate of Joseph, and Jacob concluded that he was dead.

But Joseph was not dead. By a kind of figurative resurrection he rose to supreme power in the land of Egypt, and when famine struck, Joseph stood as a savior to the people. The brothers by whose hand he was betrayed come to beg bread, and Joseph forgave them.

Two incidents of forgiveness one in the book of Genesis, another in the Gospels both expressing the same eternal truth about the Divine love. The Writings declare that the Lord came to fulfill the Law. This means not only that the prophecies about the Messiah to come were fulfilled by His birth, but more than that, in every respect the Lord lived up to the eternal truths expressed in the Word. So, in the instance of His crucifixion and the Lord’s words of forgiveness which he said then, we have the Lord’s expression of Divine forgiveness prefigured in the Joseph story. The entire Old Testament is a veiled preview of the Lord’s life on earth. The Heavenly Doctrine for the New Church specifically teaches that “how the Lord was received when He came into the world, and how He was tempted and then became Lord of heaven and earth … is described by the story of Joseph” (AE 448:16).

There are parallels even in the literal accounts. Joseph’s coat of many colors which his brothers stripped from him reminds us of the Lord’s garments divided among those that crucified Him. Garments are said to signify the appearances of truth in the Word, or truth in the natural degree (see AC 4733). As such they can be twisted to confirm any belief. Without the light of the internal sense, natural truths can be used to confirm any idea. So the blood on Joseph’s coat was used to convince his father that Joseph was dead. Again, in Egypt, Joseph had escaped the seductive grasp of the wife of Potiphar only by slipping from his garment the garment later brought as evidence against him. The human heredity the Lord took on from Mary was the outer garment of His life which He had to lay aside to become Divinely Human. Joseph was lowered into a pit to be left for dead. The Lord was put in a tomb. Joseph rose from obscurity in an Egyptian prison to become a ruler in Egypt. The Lord rose from the tomb to become ruler of heaven and earth.

It is by a revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word, however, that the full harmony of the Scriptures may be seen. In the account of Joseph’s reconciliation the full implication of the Lord’s words of forgiveness on the cross may be known. Here we learn that the Divine love is the essential and unchanging essence of God. This unfailingly extends forgiveness to all. More clearly expressed in the Joseph story, however, is the requirement of the Divine wisdom. Embodied in this account is the truth about repentance on our part if we are to be forgiven.

“Heaven is not granted from mercy apart from means,” we are taught, “but in accordance with the life” (HH 54, footnote 1). “Sins are not forgiven through repentance of the mouth, but through repentance of the life … Sins adhere to the man however much he may suppose that they have been forgiven,” the doctrine states, “nor are they removed from him except through a life according to the commands of faith. So far as he lives according to these commands, so far his sins are removed; and so far as they are removed, so far they have been forgiven” (AC 8393).

So it was that before Joseph’s reconciliation with the brothers who high-handedly sold him into slavery, we read of their remorse and change of heart. When Joseph, still unknown to them, threatens to keep Benjamin in Egypt while sending the others back, Judah offers his life instead. The same Judah who suggested the selling of Joseph for gain is willing to guarantee Benjamin’s release. This is a remarkable life-change. Think of it. The man who put the blood-soaked coat of Joseph into his father’s hands, allowing him to think his son was dead, now says, “How shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?” (Gen. 44:34) There is a new sensitivity and a deep concern for others that has been born in Judah and his brothers. This allows the reconciliation to take place. The love that Joseph has yearned to express now has a place to be received. So Joseph sent away all his Egyptian servants, revealed his identity to his astounded brothers, embraced Benjamin and wept for joy. “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

We find the true theme of forgiveness in many places in the Word, but a false conception of it pervades the minds of many in the Christian world. The doctrine for the New Church has been given to restore an understanding of the true nature of the Divine love.

“The Lord forgives everyone his sins, because He is mercy itself,” the doctrine teaches. “Nevertheless they are not thereby forgiven unless the man performs serious repentance, and desists from evils, and afterward lives a life of faith and charity, and this even to the end of his life. When this is done, the man receives from the Lord spiritual life, which is called new life. When from this new life the man views the evils of his former life and turns away from them and regards them with horror, then for the first time are the evils forgiven, for then the man is held in truths and goods by the Lord, and is withheld from evils. From this it is plain what is the forgiveness of sins, and that it cannot be granted within an hour, nor within a year” (AC 9014:3).

The brothers of Joseph who came to Egypt received harsh treatment at first. They attributed this to their crime against Joseph. “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us” (Gen. 42:21, emphasis added). They were convinced that their distresses were a direct consequence of their sin. This is typical. How often do we feel we are reaping the harvest of our wrongs? A child may believe that his parents do not love him any more because of his mistakes and bad behavior. Their punishments seem to come from anger.

Sometimes it appears to us that the Lord punishes us or causes us to suffer for wrongdoing. In fact, in the days of Israel, it was thought that every sickness, calamity or tragedy was God’s retribution for sin. So when a man born blind was brought to the Lord, the question of the people was about who committed the sin that caused his blindness.

A common belief in the Christian world is that God was angered by Adam’s original sin against Him at the time of the fall, and that as a result we all are condemned and suffer consequences. It is the Lord Jesus, seen as a separate Person, who is able to save us. He is forgiving and merciful, and pleads with the Father. He has given His life as a sacrifice for ours to satisfy His Father’s anger. Was not this the purpose in His words at the time of crucifixion: “Father, forgive them … “? So it would seem. Yet, if this be so, we must assume that there is a Divine being who must be persuaded to forgive humankind, and who remains angry and vengeful against fallen people unless He is satisfied in some way.

Nothing could be further from the Divine nature. God’s unchanging purpose in creation is to form a heaven from the human race, an eternal kingdom where He may draw all people to Himself to bless and favor them. The Divine love goes forth constantly, unchanging, always seeking to bring about human happiness. If people, in their freedom, fail to respond to the invitation to open the door and to invite Him in, it is surely a grief to the Lord, but no cause to rouse His anger or elicit punishment.

Evil bears the seeds of inevitable sadness, calamity and tragedy. Human evil is the cause of all suffering and unhappiness. God does not will or cause these results. They are not prescribed or meted out by Him, paying us back for disobedience. Rather, these results are a cause of His grief for us. Far from being a provocation, such circumstances are a stimulus to Him to seek new means for our salvation.

Analogy could be made with the human body and its soul. The soul is like the god of the body, always seeking to keep the body in its healthiest possible condition. If we abuse or strain the body, health problems may result. The problems are our own doing, for the soul’s constant effort is to return the body to a healthy state. Its effort is always positive. So is the Divine effort.

Returning to the account of Joseph in Egypt, we see how he treated his brothers. He “acted a stranger to them and spoke roughly to them” (Gen. 42:7). He called them spies, imprisoned them, kept a hostage; yet he gave them the food they needed, restored their money and sent them home. And when he heard them speaking of their guilt and perceived their repentance, he wept for joy. While there was outward rejection, an inward love longed for reconciliation. It was for the same reason the Lord wept for Jerusalem on the day of His triumphal entry (see Luke 19:41).

Why did Joseph treat the brothers harshly? Not to cause suffering. He wanted no revenge for what they had done to him. He sought only reconciliation. He had forgiven them already.

Joseph’s goal was to be reunited with his father. The separation had come about in the first place by the jealousy of the older brothers. Out of envy they had thought to dispose of him, to send him away never to be seen again. But could forgiveness be extended if their envy remained? If Joseph had tried to reunite with his brothers prematurely, they would have rejected him again. This was the reason he waited to see what was in their minds. He had to wait until they were ready for the reunion which he always had wanted. Therefore, when Judah showed evidence of his change of heart and of his repentance, Joseph could no longer refrain from making himself known and embracing them. What he had willed was, at last, a practical possibility. Without further hesitation or reserve, he frankly forgave them. “Do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5). The evil had been turned to good. The circumstances which had arisen as a result of the evil of the brothers actually had become the means whereby that evil could be broken.

It would not be correct to say that the men had been punished enough and now could be restored to friendship. Rather, we would say that through free repentance and an opportunity to change their lives, they had come into a new and receptive state of mind. As soon as this condition existed, Joseph embraced them.

The same thing is true of our relationship with the Lord. We separate ourselves from Him by our own self-will. In the consequences that follow, brought about by our choices, the Lord works to restore conjunction with us. It may appear that these consequences are punishments by the angry God. They are not. And the most remarkable thing is that the Lord is able to turn them to good. While He does not will that we suffer the consequences of our own folly and indeed weeps for us, it is through these consequences that He provides opportunities for us to change the very state that precipitated them.

We have said that people in ancient times regarded every calamity as a Divine punishment for their sin. While we may now understand that this was superstition on their part, we ourselves are not far from falling into superstitions of a similar kind. Often we falsely blame ourselves for things that happen. But it is not because of our secret sins that tragedy strikes. While it is true that we can harm ourselves and others by failing to carry out our responsibilities or by allowing self-love to blaze out of control, most of the things that happen in our life have no direct relation to our behavior, evil or good. An accident or illness is not God’s punishment for our evil. Nor is an unexpected benefit God’s reward for our good deeds. The punishment for evils is the consequence of disorder, just as the reward for good is the consequence of being in order. The Lord never wills punishment. Yet if we put ourselves outside of the laws of order, we are open to unhappiness, frustration, and harm. When we have thrown aside the protection of Divine order, the hells can attack and afflict us.

Then the Lord seeks but one thing our return to order. That is when His mercy burns with a desire, appealing to us in our fallen state, hopeful that we may be raised up again. No state of our life is beyond the reach of the Divine forgiveness. Nothing we can do as a sin against God will turn Him against us. If we make our bed in hell, He is even there.

What worse injustice and repudiation could there be than the Lord’s crucifixion? Yet at that very moment the Lord reaffirmed His inmost love: “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” He did not strike them dead with fire or lightning. He did not cause them to suffer disease or to go childless. He did not curse them with eternal damnation. Instead, He held out a hope for them all. And by His resurrection from the tomb on the third day, He used the death by which He had died to turn the hearts of many through the centuries to acknowledge and worship Him, our savior, Jesus Christ.

This supreme example of forgiveness should be the model for our life. Our love for others should be constant. Love for the neighbor is not to be withheld when the neighbor sins against us. The Lord taught, “Love your enemies.” We should not bear grudges or subtly punish those who offend us. We may not harbor hatred or desire revenge against those who wrong us. Again, the Lord has taught to forgive not just seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

But our mercy and love is to be exercised with wisdom and prudence, not indiscriminately. The doctrine of the church teaches that ” … genuine charity consists in acting prudently, and to the end that good may come thereby” (NJHD 100).

The Lord has given the example that we should live according to the spirit of the Divine law.

The beauty of forgiveness is to be found in many accounts of Scripture. We remember the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), the Lord’s forgiveness of the woman who washed His feet with her tears (Luke 7:44), and His admonition to forgive our brothers up to seventy times seven. This is the true spirit of the Divine love. It is the spirit of love we should seek to cultivate that we may become the image and likeness of our God. Amen.

 


Lessons: Gen. 45:1-8, 12-15; Luke 7:36-47, 50; AC 9443-9452

Arcana Coelestia 9443-9452

The forgiveness of sins shall now be spoken of. The sins done by a man are rooted in his very life, and make it; and therefore no one is liberated from them unless he receives new life from the Lord, which is effected by means of regeneration.

The Lord continually flows into man with the good of love and the truths of faith; but these are variously received, being received in one way by one person and in a different way by another; by those who have been regenerated they are received well, but by those who do not suffer themselves to be regenerated they are received ill.

Those who have been regenerated are continually kept by the Lord in the good of faith and of love, and are then withheld from evils and falsities. And those who do not suffer themselves to be regenerated by the Lord are also withheld from evil and kept in good, for good and truth continually flow in from the Lord with every man; but the infernal loves in which they are, namely, the loves of self and of the world, stand in the way, and turn the influx of good into evil, and that of truth into falsity.

From all this it is evident what the forgiveness of sins is. To be able to be kept by the Lord in the good of love and the truths of faith, and to be withheld from evils and falsities, is the forgiveness of sins. And to shun evil and falsity, and to feel aversion for them, is then repentance. But these are possible only with those who, through regeneration, have received new life from the Lord, because these things belong to the new life.

The signs that sins have been forgiven are the following: Delight is felt in worshiping God for the sake of God, in being of service to the neighbor for the sake of the neighbor, thus in doing good for the sake of good, and in believing truth for the sake of truth. There is an unwillingness to merit by anything that belongs to charity and faith. Evils, such as enmities, hatreds, revenges, unmercifulness, adulteries in a word, all things that are against God and against the neighbor are shunned and are held in aversion.

But the signs that sins have not been forgiven are the following: God is not worshiped for the sake of God, and the neighbor is not served for the sake of the neighbor; thus good is not done and truth is not spoken for the sake of good and truth, but for the sake of self and the world. There is a desire to merit by our deeds; others are despised in comparison with ourselves; delight is felt in evils, such as enmities, hatred, revenge, cruelty, adulteries; and the holy things of the church are held in contempt, and are at heart denied.

The Lord regenerates a man from Divine mercy. This is done from his infancy down to the last of his life in the world, and afterward to eternity. Thus it is from Divine mercy that the Lord withdraws a man from evils and falsities, and leads him to the truths of faith and goods of love, and afterward keeps him in these. And after this, in Divine mercy He raises him to Himself in heaven and makes him happy. All this is what is meant by the forgiveness of sins from mercy.