LIFTING OUR THOUGHT TO ETERNITY

LIFTING OUR THOUGHT TO ETERNITY

A Sermon by Rev. Grant H. Odhner

Preached in Oak Arbor, Michigan March 17, 1991

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains … ” (Psalm 121:1).

Mountains have always inspired people with awe. Who has walked among mountains and not been aware, at some time, of his own insignificance?

Mountains give us a means of appreciating relative sizes and forces, distances and times. We feel small next to them. The creative efforts of human beings seem puny by contrast. We can dramatically alter many landscapes can level hills, redirect rivers, fill swamps, cover miles of green with pavement and skyscraper but mountains are remarkably resistant to human manipulation. They defy taming. There is also something timeless about them. They stand unchanged for ages. They silently proclaim a time before we were, and a time after we will be gone.

For those who believe in God, mountains have always provided not only a humbling perspective on humanity, but also an awesome perspective on the infinity and eternity of our Creator. Do mountains seem immense and unchanging to us? Yet, sang the Psalmist:

[Yehowah] looks at the earth and it trembles; He touches the hills and they smoke (Psalm 104:32, emphasis added).

The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord (Psalm 97:5).

Mountains indeed seem ancient to us. Yet the prophets declared:

He looked … and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills bowed. His ways are everlasting! (Hab. 3:6, emphasis added).

Before the mountains were brought forth or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God (Psalm 90:2).

The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from you (Isaiah 54:10).

Mountains and hills have been symbols through the ages of what is Divine, unchanging, eternal. In the Word they bring to our attention these qualities about the Lord, either by contrast, as in the passages we just read, or directly, as in our text:

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains from whence comes my help. My help is from the Lord, Who made the heavens and the earth (Psalm 121:1,2).

Here the mountains are the Lord. This Psalm is about the Lord’s perpetual watchfulness, guidance, protection. He is pictured as a watchman, who neither “slumbers nor sleeps” (vv. 3-5). He guards us constantly, by day and by night (v. 6). The Psalm ends:

The Lord shall preserve your going out and coming in, from this time forth, and even for evermore (v. 8).

“For evermore.” To eternity!

Our subject today is lifting our thought to the Lord, who is eternal life lifting “our eyes to the mountains.”

The Word tells us many things that we cannot know from mere sense experience, among them that our life is eternal. Our senses teach us that all things around us pass away. All living forms gradually grow old, their metabolism slows, they decompose. Even land formations and seas change and cease. Planets and suns grow cold or explode. Perhaps we can see that energy is conserved and conclude from experience that energy might be eternal. But this says nothing of individual human minds.

In our day-to-day lives we generally don’t sense life as eternal. We face the tasks at hand; we set goals that affect the foreseeable future next week, next month, in rare cases next year. For most of us life is busy and preoccupying. The needs of the body are relentless: food, clothing, shelter, sufficient comfort. The needs of the mind are ever with us too. More than ever before perhaps, we are aware of all sorts of things that we see as important for our proper maintenance and betterment. We have all sorts of goals and ambitions for our own mental well- being and for our children’s. This makes life very busy, and leaves little time for reflection on what is eternal.

When we ask the question, “What is eternal about our lives?,” we can think of “eternal” in two ways: we can think of it as a matter of what is timeless, or we can think of it as a matter of what is enduring through time, of what lasts.

Properly speaking, eternity is not a matter of time. It is not just an infinite amount of time. Eternity is as much this moment as it is a millenium (see TCR 31). The Lord, who is the eternal, has no beginning and no end; everything is present to Him, as the Psalmist suggested: “a thousand years in [His] sight are like yesterday when it is past” ( Psalm 90:4).

Time belongs to nature. We have time because physical matter defines distances, and movement across distances marks times. As the earth spins, it marks out regular periods of dark and light. As it moves around the sun, it marks our seasons and years.

Of course, the Lord does act in time. How else could He touch us and lead us? He is in all time, but apart from time, and in all space, apart from space (see TCR 31). He is not bounded by them or defined by them.

Certainly, for us eternity involves time. We have our beginning in time, we live in time, and we come to appreciate the Lord’s constancy and wisdom through time. It is impossible for us to envision the unbounded nature of the Divine without thinking of endless time (see TCR 31; AC 1382, 4204).

Still, we can all become aware that there is something beyond fixed time. It is a common observation that when we are engrossed in something, our sense of time vanishes. A minute can seem like an hour. We discover that what we thought had been an hour was actually two or three. The same is true when we are with someone we love for example, lost in conversation. Time becomes irrelevant! At that moment we have no other belief than that we will know and love that person two thousand years from now!

Our mind with its loves, affections, and thoughts is actually not in time; it too is “in time, apart from time.” We become so accustomed to disciplining our enjoyments and our thinking to a timetable that this can be hard to see, but it’s so. The mind knows no time! It grows and changes through time, but it always remains unbound by it. Our bodies grow old and wrinkles appear, our functions slow and become less vibrant, but our minds’ capacities for growth remain. Our capacity to love and empathize and understand what is important in life actually increases, provided we allow the Lord to regenerate us.

We have a common perception, especially about those whom we know well and love (e.g. spouses, children, friends), that they do not die with the body. The Lord implants in all people the perception that life is eternal. It’s not that He wishes to subtly persuade us to believe in the afterlife against our will. Rather, the perception simply results from the fact, which cannot be hidden, that unique human beings cannot die.

We are able, then, to sense that our life is eternal not with our physical senses but with our spiritual senses. The only requisite is that we have some idea, however scanty, about eternal life (which doubtless exists in every culture). And, of course, we must also reflect.

If we attend to our mental life, and withdraw our minds from the demands of the moment from bodily needs, from worldly cares, from concern about appointments and deadlines, from considerations of our age, the time of day, the time of year, our physical location then we can notice the timeless quality of our loves and thoughts, and of our deeper relationships with others. We can especially notice this when we reflect on what delights us, engages us, motivates us, sustains us. More particularly, we become aware of what is eternal, by lifting our thoughts to the things of heaven, lifting our “eyes unto the mountains.”

“Mountains” in the Word stand for heaven, as well as for the Lord. To be in heaven is to be in the Lord and in the eternal. In the spiritual world, when a newcomer looks toward some heaven and approaches, he sees mountains. The communities there actually appear to be in the mountains (see TCR 336; AE 405:5; e.g. CL 75:2,76,77).

Heaven is called “eternal life” in the Word. It is the place where one will live forever and not die. In a sense, life in heaven is no more eternal than life here. Angels’ lives are finite and limited, like ours. They are still bound by certain constraints of their world; they still change and grow and learn in finite steps that follow one after another. Day follows upon day with them as with us. There is a reality that appears just like our time (see HH 163; TCR 29).

An important difference is that in heaven life is not forced to take place within a fixed material universe, with its physical laws. There life unfolds according to the loves, strivings, and activities of the spirit. The laws in operation there are the laws of the mind. There time does not determine the course of the body’s changes; the state of mind does. The body stays as young and vibrant as the mental outlook. All things there are governed by considerations of states of mind.

For example, in heaven when an angel feels really inspired to serve the neighbor, it’s morning time, and he has a full day ahead of him. Time bows to his state of mind. He never has the frustration of feeling inspired at midnight when he can’t act on the inspiration. When an angel wishes to do something for another (the Lord willing), he never has the frustration of being fifty miles away; distance bows to his state of mind. When an angel begins to feel mentally tired and needs refreshment, it’s afternoon. (He can leave his active duties and find recreation.) When he begins to feel dull and in need of new inspiration, it’s evening. He is then in his home; he is removed from people (both spacially and mentally), where he can reflect on himself and rededicate himself to the Lord.

The spiritual world is this way in all respects: space and time follow mental states. All those in a given community experience a similar progression. The Lord gathers their states into a common flow and sequence that suits all.

So heaven is called “eternal life,” because there we will enjoy greater freedom from rigid, earthly time. Our bodies will never grow old and die. We will live a truly spiritual life, in which we can love and serve others more deeply and fully, in which we can enjoy a fuller sense of being in the Lord’s life and blessings. This is what He longs for.

It is vital that we think about eternal life! Our lives are filled with so many things. We can become so unmindful of what is important and lasting! We can forget to seek out that state of mind in which time is not a factor, in which the only thing that matters is our attitude and our goals, and what’s in our heart. These things alone are timeless; they alone have a lasting impact on our future. Reflecting that our life is eternal enables us to live for something larger than the moment. It enables us to live as spiritual and not worldly beings.

Consider the picture offered in our text of looking toward the mountains. Mountains offer us perspective. We cannot appreciate distances apart from contrast. If we look at the sky and set our gaze, even at a hundred miles, we are struck with little awe, for (unless there are clouds or an airplane) there is nothing that gives us a sense of that great distance. That distance might as well be a mile as a hundred miles. But when we look up at a mountain, or out from a mountain, the case is different. Then the distance before us becomes meaningful. We can trace this distance with our eye tree by tree, over farm, river, town. We can feel this distance. Sometimes we can sense the space before us palpably as a tingling in our stomach!

Similarly, eternal things, the things of heaven, give us a spiritual perspective that we can’t otherwise have. Without reflecting on what is eternal, we have no means of seeing the relative importance and value of what we are loving, thinking, or doing right now. We have no way of seeing genuine progress, or detecting how far afield we are straying. In fact, without reflecting on eternal life we have no true freedom! because the sense that our life is eternal is what gives real significance to our choices (see DP 73:6f; TCR 498).

A moment’s reflection on eternal life can lift us from the tangled forests of our natural lives, and place us on a mountain from which we can survey what is below. We can find quiet above the pressures of the moment, above the desires of our old will. We can feel new breezes of life. We can experience the Lord His enduring presence, His everlasting love, His awesome power, His timeless peace.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains

From whence comes my help.

My help is from the Lord,

Who made the heaven and the earth.

Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 121; Luke 12:16-40; DP 59

Divine Providence 59

It has not been known before this that the Divine Providence in all its proceedings with a human being regards his eternal state. It can regard nothing else, because the Divine is Infinite and Eternal, and the Infinite and Eternal, that is, the Divine, is not in time, and hence all future things are present to Him. And because this is the nature of the Divine, it follows that the eternal is in all things that it does, in general and in particular. Those, however, who think from time and space have difficulty in perceiving this, not only because they love temporal things, but also because they think from what is present in the world and not from what is present in heaven, for this to them is as far away as the end of the earth. When, however, those who are in the Divine think from what is present, they think also from what is eternal, because they think from the Lord. They say to themselves, “What is that which is not eternal? Is not the temporal comparatively as nothing, and does it not also become nothing when it comes to an end? It is not so with what is eternal; that alone is, because its being (esse) has no end.” To think thus while thinking from what is present is to think at the same time from what is eternal; and when a person so thinks, and at the same time so lives, then the Divine Proceeding with him, that is, the Divine Providence, regards in all its progress the state of his eternal life in heaven, and leads him to that state. It will be seen in what follows that the Divine regards what is eternal in all people, the wicked as well as the good.

NEW BEGINNINGS

NEW BEGINNINGS
A Sermon by Rev. Brian W. Keith
Preached in Glenview, Illinois September 7, 1986

Life can seem terribly dreary. Familiar patterns are repeated over and over again. Ruts appear. Dishes keep getting dirty. Bills keep coming. The house always needs something done to it. And as we grow older, our bodies signal the rapid passing of time. Energy levels decline. Aches and pains come from nowhere. From being unthinkable, one’s own death is seen as a real possibility.

Emotionally we can feel trapped by what has gone before. Previous actions, mistakes, and evils close in on our minds. We can be haunted by what has happened. The depressing patterns of petty frustrations and useless arguments scar and desensitize us. We can become numbed wandering through the day trying not to feel anything.

Ezekiel had a vision addressed to such a lifeless and hopeless frame of mind. He saw a valley full of dried out bones. As he prophesied, the bones came together, flesh was put upon them, and breath entered them. From dry bones came a great army. And the Lord said to Ezekiel, “These bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, `Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ` … Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves'” (37:11-13).

Our bones are dry. Our hope is lost. How pitiful! And how false! Life is repetitive and dreary only if we choose to look at it that way. For all around us there is a renewal of life. New beginnings are taking place constantly.

Consider the natural world. Plants and animals are constantly reproducing, much more than this world could support. Every day the sun comes up anew. Each new year is ushered in with festivity. Even in the fall when the leaves turn and life seems to drain away, there is the promise of rebirth. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24).

Consider also some events in the life cycle. A child leaves home for school. A person leaves school for a job. Single life is given up for marriage. Children grow up and establish their own homes. Retirement comes. Each of these changes involves loss and gain a new beginning. Even death itself is growth. The Heavenly Doctrines show that when a person awakens in the other world, “at this point his life begins” (AC 186), and his entrance into his eternal heavenly home “marks a new beginning” in his life (AC 1273).

Even as natural life has changes new beginnings so spiritually there can be a constant renewal of life. Above our consciousness the Lord is gently guiding our thoughts and feelings. While we are unaware of it, He is inspiring new ways of looking at life, stimulating new feelings of warmth and concern (see AC 6645e). The Lord is working with our spirits so that we are renewed every moment of every day. The fact is, there are new beginnings in our lives all the time. The Lord is raising up our apparently dry bones, putting flesh upon them, and breathing life into them.

We can choose to feel trapped by the past or dulled by routines. Or we can look at what is happening as the opportunity for one of the many new beginnings in life. For the Lord does not control what happens to us. Yes, His Providence is overseeing all that happens, but that does not mean He is causing specific events to occur good or bad. In one sense He is not concerned for what happens; rather He is concerned with how we respond, for that determines what good He can then bring about. Retirement, for example, is not important, but how a person then uses his or her time is. The response can be gloomy, for the loss of co-workers, status, or income; or it can be of renewal more time for friends, family, church work, or others. A newness of life can be born in any situation any time, anywhere.

Our participation in renewal is critical. The Lord never forces us to grow. He never forces us to change our minds or actions. While He is always working, urging and pressing to influence us in heavenly ways, He will not change our outlook if we do not want Him to. We can remain in the trenches. We can look upon life as a deterioration of our physical and mental abilities. We can see the dark side of every event, pessimistically awaiting the next cruel blow of fate. We can cry about dry bones and hopelessness. But those dry bones can have flesh on them, breath in them.

Regardless of what has occurred in the past, new beginnings are possible if we are willing. They do not start outside of ourselves. They start with our thoughts and intentions (see AC 1317). We have the freedom to think about life in any way we wish. We can think negatively or positively. We can desire, intend, anything we wish. We can want what is good. We can want what is evil. We are not trapped by previous choices or patterns of behavior. We are trapped only by our fears and refusals to think and try.

Our attitude makes all the difference in how we view the world and how easy we make it for the Lord to renew us. From a negative, doubting viewpoint we see the world and ourselves through a warped lens. We reject or give up on the ideals the Lord has shown us in His Word. But if we attempt to trust in what He has said, if we will be positive, affirmative to Him, then wonders can be worked (see AC 3913:5). “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, `Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Our basic assumptions can never be proven. And if we assume, have faith, that the Lord speaks to us in His Word, and our lives will be improved if we listen, then a new beginning can occur. For regeneration is the new creation of life spiritual life. It begins when a person affirms the truth and intends to live according to it. This is the start of regeneration. It does not occur at any set time in life, nor does it happen only once. Each and every time we positively turn our minds to the Lord’s way, a new beginning occurs.

Such beginnings are like seedlings. They are planted in the soil of our lives. With watering, with light and warmth, they take root. As they grow, as we walk in the Lord’s way, the earth of our life is made more secure. The interlocking root systems stop the erosion of false ideas, evil desires. The more that take root the better, for the roots hinder the washing away of good by selfishness.

But for seedlings to grow strong they need weathering. The storms and bitter cold which could harm the trees actually serve to strengthen them. So in regeneration. Each new beginning of spiritual life will be challenged. Where honesty is growing, the harsh wind of theft will blow and try to destroy it. Where compassion is developing, cold disregard for others and apathy will also be present.

Spiritual struggles ensue. These raging storms are painful, as the new beginnings of spiritual life are threatened and buffeted. Yet, as we endure, as we resist the forces of hell, a greater strength is acquired. More spiritual life grows perhaps a clearer idea of His ways, a deeper appreciation of our need for the Lord’s presence, or a greater intensity of affection for His good (see AC 2272). Whatever is gained, our spirits are growing flesh upon dry bones, breath giving life. As the Lord promised: “I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight” (Isaiah 42:16).

The Lord leads us through all the many byways of life, through the valleys up to the peaks. He would have each day be a new beginning for us, not in a dramatic sense, for we are not meant to have radical changes often. The new birth, or regeneration, is not a series of sudden changes in direction. Yes, it can begin with that when a person first realizes the importance of spiritual values, when a person experiences the grief of repentance. But rebirth is an evolving process. It is made up of many small beginnings.

The small beginnings of regeneration are a series of purifications the regular washing away of evils in the spirit, of saying, “No, I won’t do that because it is wrong.” And as the Heavenly Doctrines note, ” … such purification ought to go on all the time and so always to be taking place as if from a new beginning” (AC 2044).

“As if from a new beginning.” In one sense, each time we resist an evil, each time we intend on doing something good, it is a new beginning. Something new has started in our lives. But in another sense, every positive step is a continuation of what was begun before. It is a resurfacing of the seeds planted years before from parents, from teachers, from whatever good we had willingly done. The Lord keeps working with the good He has established in everyone’s life. While it may not be seen for a time, it is carefully preserved, awaiting the occasion to be seen again. Hellish choices and life styles shut it up, but it is still there. The Lord is very patient, always leading us so that the good we have might be protected, develop, and eventually blossom in the fruit of an angelic life.

What this means is that life is never pointless. While we will certainly go through times when we feel our life is dry or our lot hopeless, the Lord can put flesh on our bones, breath in our lungs. All our patterns which seem so fixed and limiting, all the painful baggage we carry from the past, need not defeat us. For every day the Lord is providing us with new beginnings small, almost imperceptible opportunities to renew our lives. If we are not utterly downcast, if we have not given up if we will be open and affirmative to what He has said then new life may grow. Seedlings are planted which, though they may not bear visible fruit until the next life, will give us strength, will renew our spirits. And the prophecy of Isaiah will come true for us: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not be faint” (40:31). Amen.

Lessons: Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 3:1-8; NJHD 173-182 (portions)

New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine 173-182 (portions)

173. He who does not receive spiritual life, that is, who is not begotten anew by the Lord, cannot come into heaven, which the Lord teaches in John: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except anyone be begotten again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (3:3).

174. A person is not born of his parents into spiritual life, but into natural life. Spiritual life consists in loving God above all things, and in loving his neighbor as himself, and this according to the precepts of faith, which the Lord has taught in the Word. But natural life consists in loving ourselves and the world more than the neighbor, yea, more than God Himself.

175. Everyone is born of his parents into the evils of the love of self and of the world.

176. [So] everyone continually inclines to, and lapses into, what he derives from heredity: hence he confirms with himself that evil, and also superadds more from himself. These evils are altogether contrary to spiritual life; they destroy it; wherefore, unless a person receives new life, which is spiritual life, from the Lord, thus unless he is conceived anew, is born anew, is educated anew, that is, is created anew, he is damned; for he wills nothing else, and thence thinks nothing else but what is of self and the world, in like manner as they do in hell.

179. Everyone has an internal man and an external man; the internal is what is called the spiritual man, and the external is what is called the natural man, and each is to be regenerated so that one may be regenerated. With one who is not regenerated, the external or natural rules, and the internal serves; but with one who is regenerated, the internal or spiritual rules, and the external serves. Whence it is manifest that the order of life is inverted with one from his birth, namely, that serves which ought to rule, and that rules which ought to serve. In order that a person may be saved, this order must be inverted; and this inversion can by no means exist except by regeneration from the Lord.

180. What it is for the internal man to rule and the external to serve, and vice versa, may be illustrated by this: If a person places all his good in pleasure, in gain, and in pride, and has delight in hatred and revenge, and inwardly in himself seeks for reasons which confirm them, then the external man rules and the internal serves. But when a person perceives good and delight in thinking and willing well, sincerely and justly, and in outwardly speaking and doing in like manner, then the internal man rules and the external serves.

181. The internal man is first regenerated by the Lord, and afterwards the external, and the latter by means of the former. For the internal man is regenerated by thinking those things which are of faith and charity, but the external by a life according to them. This is meant by the words of the Lord: “Unless anyone be begotten of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). “Water,” in the spiritual sense, is the truth of faith, and “the spirit” is a life according to it.

182. The person who is regenerated is, as to his internal, in heaven, and is an angel there with the angels, among whom he also comes after death; he is then able to live the life of heaven, to love the Lord, to love the neighbor, to understand truth, to relish good, and to perceive the happiness thence derived.

THE NARROW WAY AND THE BROAD WAY

THE NARROW WAY AND THE BROAD WAY
A Sermon by Rev. Willard L. D. Heinrichs
Preached in Bryn Athyn on December 28, 1986

“Enter in at the strait gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there be who go in by it. Because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leads to life, and few there be who find it.” (Matt. 7:13, 14).

In the lives of all of us there are events or changes in our circumstances, some external, some internal, which bring us to a crossroad. The tenor of our existence is sufficiently disturbed that the Lord may move us to pause and look back over the days and years that have come before. In such a looking back, countless things that we have done may pass before the eyes of our mind. We are reminded of the thoughts, impressions and delights that were associated with those activities. Perhaps we try to recapture some of the intentions or motivations which generated the acts and colored everything associated with them. In short, we try to recall not only the natural but also the mental and spiritual paths or ways in which we have been walking heretofore. If we are concerned about our regeneration, and so our salvation, we try to discover what the quality of our way has been. Have we been travelling in the narrow way that leads to life and the delight of heaven, or have we been proceeding down the broad road that tends toward damnation and the unhappiness of hell?

The internal progressions of our life are often spoken of in the Word as ways, paths, roads and so forth because, we are told, “the thoughts of a person which proceed from intention or will are represented in the other life by ways; ways are also presented there to appearance altogether according to one’s thoughts from intention; so it is that spirits are known as to their quality, and the quality of their thoughts, from their respective ways” (HH 534).

In fact, in order to assist the angels in the exploration of the character of spirits for purposes of judgment, various more general paths or ways are sometimes represented in the spiritual world in a most living manner. These people, newly awakened in the spiritual world, are then invited to declare their choice of the way which most pleases them. Each person, according to the inclination of his mind, natural or spiritual, chooses, and thereby exposes his quality in that state.

To assist us in the exploration of the quality of our own minds here and now, some of these representations are recorded several times in the Heavenly Doctrine. On one occasion, for example, Swedenborg was given to see a broad way and a narrow way such as are described in the gospels — a broad way which led to hell and a narrow way which led to heaven. The broad way was planted with trees, flowers, and the like, that in outward form appeared beautiful and delightful, but unseen snakes and serpents of various kinds were hidden there or were creeping over it (see SD 4216). The narrow way did not seem to be so much adorned with trees and flowers, “but appeared [cheerless and] sad … [obscure and] dark; and yet there were in it angel infants most beautifully clothed, in delightful paradises and flower gardens, which the spirits did not see. They were then asked which way they wished to go. They said, the broad way. Then suddenly their eyes were opened, and in the broad way they saw the serpents, but in the narrow way the angels. They were then again asked which way they wished to go, whereupon they remained silent, and so far as their sight was opened, they said that they wished to go the narrow way; and so far as their sight was closed, that they wished to go the broad way” (AC 3477, SD 4214- 4216).

Although the spiritual meaning of this representation is nowhere specifically uncovered in its details, what person can miss the challenge that is implied in this memorable spiritual experience which is so obviously associated with the urgent exhortation of the Lord in the words of our text? Surely we are called upon to investigate the meaning of this representation and apply it to our own thought and life, now while we are still conscious in this world. What is meant by the broad way leading to hell and the narrow to heaven? From where did those trees and flowers come, beautiful in outward form, which adorned the way to hell? Why did the spirits at first not see the snakes and serpents in that way? What is meant by the narrow way and its initial cheerless and dark appearance? Why at first were the beautifully adorned angel infants in their paradises not seen? What opened the eyes of the spirits to see the two ways as they really are, such that a right choice and wise choice could be made?

These are only a few of the questions that could be asked in seeking to understand what is involved in this striking representation of the message of our text.

As we have noted earlier, the spiritual progress of our minds, the ways in which we mentally walk, are determined by the thoughts which spring from the intentions of our will or from what we love. These thoughts then lead us to the kind of life, good or evil, which will agree with and fulfill our intentions and loves. If our intentions are good, and we have been properly instructed from the Word, we will think what is true, and all the truths that are in our thought will form as it were a path, a way leading us to express or do what is good and heavenly. If our intentions — our willing — is evil, we will ignore or pervert the truth, we will think falsely regarding ourselves and others, and all our fallacious thoughts and reasoning will form a path or way leading us to do what is evil and destructive.

Now the Writings reveal to us the fact that when we come to adult life, before we seriously begin the life of repentance and regeneration, the dominant state of our mind and life tends to evil, whether we wish to admit it or not. In one form or another, love of ourselves, or perhaps an obsessive love of the world — our natural will — rules the natural mind. From this we intend many apparently good things for ourselves and, all too often, many not so good harmful things for others. We try to be noticed and appreciated by others; we strive for positions of influence or power, regardless of whether or not we are deserving. We want a goodly share of the world’s riches whether or not we have earned them. We, perhaps unconsciously, yearn for unending earthly and bodily pleasures quite apart from their legitimate use. At times we are prepared to do almost anything to avoid discomfort, loneliness and other temporary unpleasantness to ourselves. Consciously or unconsciously, the false thoughts that spring from one or another of these self- serving intentions may occupy almost the whole of our attention most of the time. They enter into and qualify almost every concern and activity of our life, so broad are they in their extension. So the selfish and worldly way to hell is described so often in the Word as “broad.”

Now although our will and its intentions before regeneration are as just described, and the broad way they form in our thoughts is of such a hell-bent quality, the evil person does not recognize it, nor do we in our unregenerate states realize the truth. Why? Because the trees and flowers along this way appear beautiful and delightful. It appears to be the way to travel if we would achieve ultimate happiness for ourselves.

In order to achieve self-serving and worldly goals, the mind drinks in knowledge of all kinds, knowledge of what will gratify the longings of the senses, scientific knowledge, knowledge of worldly affairs and of people, philosophical, and even moral and spiritual, knowledges. When these knowledges can be turned to some selfish and worldly advantage, they are of keen interest to the person. As beautiful trees along a lane or path, they stand as markers along the way to his goal. Moreover, while possessed of such knowledge and while working out his goals, a person develops a certain prudence or intelligence, which seems to himself to be wisdom itself, as to how one should live or conduct oneself if one would be successful. So there are also flowers along the broad way.

So infatuated may we become with our store of knowledge and our supposed intelligence and wisdom that while we are in the broad way we just cannot see the true quality of these things or what lies hidden at their roots. We do not realize that our trees have become like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden, the fruit of which, when eaten, brings nothing but spiritual death. We do not realize that all that passes for intelligence and wisdom is nothing but false reasoning, that there are snakes and serpents of all kinds crawling over our mental path and hidden beside it. Our true character is hidden from us because, in our opinions, judgments and conclusions, we insist on putting more confidence in the experience of our senses than in revealed Divine truth. We will not believe or trust what we cannot see and feel right now. We continue to confirm the supposed validity of our reasonings by our own past sensual experience, sociological and psychological theories, and whatever of human philosophy that seems applicable. We refuse to acknowledge that at the root of all these actions and reasonings there may be evils of every kind, all arising from self-love or from too strong a love of the world, evils which are frequently infected with the poison of malice, cunning, and deceit. We do not see the snakes and serpents of all kinds, some deadly poisonous, that pass over our path and lie hidden beneath those outwardly beautiful trees and flowers along our way. As in the days of Eden, the serpent in us can be more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God has made.

When we so consider what the quality of our life may be before regeneration, it is not surprising that in the Word the way to heaven is described as narrow. But in describing this spiritual path as narrow, the Lord in His Word assures us that this does not mean that it is difficult. It appears narrow at first because, we are told, “few find it.” In everyone that comes to adult life there are what are called “remains.” These are states of heavenly affection and innocence deeply imprinted on the interiors of the natural mind which remain with us from the experience of our infancy and childhood. These tender human states are preserved or treasured up in us by the Lord for use in adult life in our spiritual rebirth or regeneration. As we are growing toward adult life, any good intentions or motivations we may have spring forth from them. But before repentance has initiated genuine spiritual life, there is scant opportunity for these states of gentle love, remaining from childhood, to be properly activated, so engrossed are we in pursuing the intentions of our natural will. As a result, our good intentions to obey the Lord and to serve the neighbor in a beneficial way have only, at best, been able to fashion from the Divine truths known to us a rather primitive and narrow way leading to the good and useful life of heaven. Only a few genuinely good intentions may have found their way into the good of daily life.

Moreover, when we have managed to deliberately carry a good intention into its proper expression in life, generally we have done so only with considerable effort. Perhaps we have had to restrain contrary powerful loves, forego some advantage to ourselves, or temporarily forsake some bodily or worldly pleasure. Such a course of action, such a way of life, which requires that we must compel ourselves to keep the commandments of God, does not seem to lead to a happy life. Such a way of self-denial appears cheerless and sad, obscure and dark — a path to be avoided.

And we would surely avoid it and choose the broad way if it were not for the fact that, as with the spirits observed by Swedenborg, our eyes can be opened if we allow them to be. The Lord has provided that while we yet live in this world and are still in the process of choosing our path of life, many times a great and wondrous rock will be seen by the way — the Divine knowledge of the Word, and the Divinely Human God it reveals. (We may see that stone which the builders rejected which has become the head of the corner.) Should we pause to notice this rock, which at first may be in shadow, if we repeatedly read and investigate the truths of the Word, especially as they are presented in the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, an amazing thing will happen. As Divinely provided from the fall of the first church on this earth, our understanding will be raised up into the light of heaven and temporarily separated from the influence of our natural will. The eyes of our mind will be opened. From hundreds of passages describing the life of the Lord, the life of man’s spirit, the life of heaven and hell, the life of true marriage, we will be given to see our own life in true perspective. We will see the foolishness of the false reasonings that we have used to justify our selfish and worldly strivings. We will recognize the many evils from which they have sprung. We will realize that our broad way, variously called in the Writings “the way of one’s own prudence” (DP 197:2), “the way of self-intelligence” (CL 354), and “the way of folly” (Div. Wis. I:5), can only lead to damnation and hell. At the same time the narrow way, the way of Divine truth, the way of the Lord, will be seen in a new light, the light of heaven. Sadness and darkness will begin to melt away. Instead, as it were, angel infants beautifully adorned will appear in delightful paradises and flower gardens. That is, we will sense something of that delicious innocence and peace which can come to those who humbly acknowledge Divine truth, the Divine Humanity of the Lord, who, instead of pursuing the way of their own intelligence, bow before the will of God as expressed in a life according to His commandments. We will appreciate the orderly magnificence of the internal truths of the Word which adorn like paradises the way to heaven. The spiritual intelligence which is begotten of a life according to the Word will seem like most delightful flower gardens of a quality never perceived on earth.

This is the prospect that awaits all those who pause to notice the Rock which stands beside the road of our life in this world, who allow the Divine truth of the Word to open the eyes of the mind to spiritual realities,( who allow that stone which the builders rejected to become the head of their corner). But just to pause once, or even a few times, is not sufficient to ensure that we will henceforward walk in the narrow way rather than in the broad way. In the memorable relation we should note what is said concerning the spirits that “so far as their sight was opened, they said that they wished to go the narrow way; and so far as their sight was closed, that they wished to go the broad way.” It is the same with us. Especially in the early states of regeneration the powerful urgings of the natural will close the eyes of our spirit and prompt us to seek again the recognition of self as opposed to others, the acquiring of earthly riches at the expense of others, the satisfaction of bodily desires apart from use and order. Pride in our own prudence and supposed intelligence will strive to overwhelm a beginning acknowledgment of the Lord and the angelic innocence and intelligence it values. We will find ourselves treading again among unseen deadly serpents the broad path that leads to spiritual death.

But the Lord will not forsake us. Repeatedly — if possible, daily — He will show us His Rock — His Word. Let us not fail, just as often, to notice that Rock — turn to His Word and find in it again our narrow way, the Lord’s way — indeed the Lord Himself who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

In time as we begin to progress upward along the narrow way, there is the promise that it will no longer be so narrow. And even in our spiritual relapses it will no longer appear so cheerless and obscure. The broad way progressively will be closed. Its attractions will lose their allure as we feel, in an ever more living manner, the infant-like innocence and peace of the regenerate, and as we reflect more deeply in the light of the spiritual intelligence and wisdom it fosters.

This is the challenge and promise which is presented to us in our text. Let us therefore resolve that whenever we perceive that the Lord has brought us to a new crossroad, or a new period of our life, that we will give heed to the Rock of Divine truth in the Word, and strive “to enter in at the strait gate, and to tread the narrow way that leads at last to a life of eternal use and joy. Amen.

Lessons: Jer. 17:5-14, Matt. 7:13-20, John 14:1-6, SD 5798

Spiritual Diary 5798

The Way-Which Leads to Heaven Is the Same Way, As Far As the Cornerstone, [As That Which Leads to Hell]

I conversed with angels respecting the fact that it is believed that it is difficult to tread the way to heaven, because so many things must be done and all lusts forsaken, besides many things more. Wherefore, as occurs in the spiritual world, the matter was shown by means of a road, which signifies truth which leads. A road appeared at the right where both the good and the evil trod. It was the same road, but when they reached to a certain distance, there was a great stone, in shadow, which the good saw but not the evil. From that stone, which is called the cornerstone, a road led to one side and another to the opposite. The evil went on the opposite side, which was behind and sloped downward, but the good went the other way, which inclined upward. The latter led to heaven, the former to hell. That stone signified the Lord and His Divine Human. The evil did not acknowledge it; the good did acknowledge. It appeared that the evil fell upon it, because the stone was in shadow. Hence was shown that the moral life which both evil and good lead is the same, but from a different source; the evil do it from an infernal source, the good from a spiritual source. The evil who travelled it were those who led a moral life like the moral life of the good. … They who fell upon the stone said that when they fell, they lay as if dazed. When they got up, they said that they did goods as much as the others — they were permitted to enumerate some of these — and that, therefore, they were equally entitled to enter heaven. But they were merely goods of civil life in external form, for the interiors, which were of the thought and of the love, were opened, and they were vile, and also defamatory about God, especially about the Lord. They angrily declared, also, that they were not able to do good of themselves; how, then, could they travel the way leading to heaven? But they were told that it was within their power not to think evils about God and about the Lord, and thus to shun such things as are against the Word and against the doctrine of their faith; and when they shun evils of thought from the Lord, good affection and consequent thought inflows, and thus they are brought into good by the Lord…

ESTABLISHING A MATURE, RATIONAL FAITH

ESTABLISHING A MATURE, RATIONAL FAITH
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida March 8, 1992

“And Jacob awoke out of his sleep, and he said: ‘Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it … This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven (Genesis 28:16,17).

Jacob’s awakening from sleep describes man’s emergence from a state of obscurity into a state of spiritual light. It is the dawn of a new spiritual day wherein the person clearly perceives, for the first time, the Lord’s living presence in His Word. “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” These words express the wonder of a person who has been reading the Word, either from habit or self-compulsion, and suddenly awakens to a realization of its inmost Divine quality: “This is none other than the house of God.” These words express the person’s realization that the Lord is fully present in the Word – it is His dwelling place. In the Word a person may come to know God, and through its truths be conjoined with Him. Therefore the words follow “this is the gate of heaven.” The Divine truths of revelation truly are the gateway to heaven.

People, unlike animals, are born entirely without knowledge. Animals. when born, know instinctively what is good for them. They are born with the knowledge required to satisfy their desires. Human beings, on the other hand, are completely ignorant at birth. People have innate loves or desires, but they do not have the knowledge necessary to satisfy them. The state of man’s mind at birth is described in the book of Genesis as being “without form, and void” (Gen. 1:2).

At first glance this may seem strange. Why should man – the highest order of creation – begin life lower than a brute animal? On the surface there may even appear to be something of unfairness in this circumstance. However, when we consider the purpose for which we were created, then the reason for this becomes more clear. We are created to live to eternity as angels of heaven. As angels we can be continually perfected in love and wisdom to all eternity.

The life of animals is circumscribed. They are born with certain desires and the requisite knowledge to satisfy them. They need and desire nothing more. We, on the other hand, are born without knowledge. But we are born with an innate love of knowledge and the capacity to receive and assimilate knowledge indefinitely. We are created with such a nature that we may be continually perfected in love and wisdom to all eternity. In this way the delight of living may also increase to eternity.

Due to the fact that we are not born into the order of our lives, nor into any knowledge, we need to be instructed. On the physical plane we must be taught what is good for us and what is harmful. By example and precept we must be taught to distinguish between good and evil. We have to be introduced into a knowledge of the Lord and a belief in Him as our Heavenly Father – our God.

But, as we well know, there is a great diversity of opinion on these matters. On the physical plane, for example, there are those who think that certain foods are good and healthful, while others believe them to be harmful. Many people have their own pet theories on how to cure a particular illness; and although many of the theories are contradictory, each person believes that the one he believes in is right.

As to what is good and what is evil, there is even greater diversity of opinion. Physical pleasures such as sports or dancing and recreations such as card playing are regarded by some people to be immoral. Others believe that these are useful recreations when properly controlled and subordinated. Some people regard profanity as a legitimate form of expression while others regard it as evil. Many people accept the Ten Commandments as being a reliable, God-given standard as to what is good and what is evil. Others regard them as irrelevant – an outmoded standard of a bygone age.

In regard to God, there are those who categorically deny His existence. Others say that there is a God but that God is a creative force – He is not a Man. Others, again, believe in a God who is one as to substance but tri-personal in form.

These examples serve to illustrate the fact that the faith of every child is, to a great extent, the product of the opinions of parents, teachers, and friends, and of one’s own experience. During infancy and childhood a person’s belief, or faith, is the faith of one’s parents entirely. As one advances to youth, the person’s faith is affected by, and combined with, the faith of one’s teachers and friends and those whom one idolizes. We see from this that there are different kinds of faith.

The Writings speak of the following: “(1) Infantile faith, adolescent faith, adult faith. (2) Faith in genuine truth and faith in appearances of truth. (3) Faith of the memory, faith of reason, faith of light. (4) Natural faith, spiritual faith, celestial faith. (5) Living faith and faith founded on miracle. (6) Free faith and forced faith” (TCR 344).

The faith of infancy is a blind, unquestioning faith. The infant believes everything it is told. Because its mind is only beginning to be formed, the young child cannot distinguish between reality and appearance. The child’s faith, of necessity, is a faith in appearances of truth. In infancy and childhood there is no real choice as to what will be believed; faith is therefore, at this stage, to a degree a forced faith.

But as the child advances into adolescence, the quality of one’s faith changes. Because the adolescent is dependent on parents and is compelled, for example, to go to school, faith is, to that degree, still forced. But because the youth has acquired a background of individual experience from which judgments are made, faith, in this state of life, also partakes of freedom.

The faith of the adolescent is a faith of the memory. By this time a person has acquired much knowledge. The adolescent is a veritable storehouse of information. The rational faculty is just beginning to open, and so there is very little of the element of reason in one’s faith at this stage of development. Because the rational faculty is as yet largely undeveloped, appearances of truth are accepted for genuine truths. For until the rational faculty is more fully developed, the sight of the understanding cannot penetrate appearances. The faith of the adolescent is best characterized as traditional or historical faith. Although one may question parents and teachers and dispute their judgment, nevertheless the things the person calls into question are relatively few compared to those which one accepts unquestioningly. There is also an element of the miraculous in the faith of adolescence. The youth is given to hero worship; at this stage one is easily impressed by the unusual and spectacular, and this also colors one’s faith. Because regeneration does not begin until maturity, adolescent faith is purely natural in character.

When a person passes from adolescence into adult life, one’s faith should take on a new quality. As an adult, the person is no longer subject to parents. The young adult decides what will be believed and what will not. The person’s faith becomes a free faith. Since the rational faculty is more fully developed, the person is capable, if he makes the effort, of penetrating appearances and seeing genuine truths. The young adult’s faith should no longer be traditional, but should be a faith of reason and insight. As an adult, one should accept responsibility for one’s own loves, thoughts, and actions. A person should, therefore, begin to examine one’s life – one’s thoughts, intentions, and deeds – and shun those things which he sees to be evil as sins against God. As one does this, faith, from being faith of memory, becomes a living faith; from natural it becomes spiritual. And if the person advances in the life of regeneration until one is motivated in all one does by a genuine love for the Lord and the neighbor, then faith becomes celestial.

Every thinking person comes eventually to the point where he recognizes that two things which are mutually contradictory cannot both be true. If the person is given at all to reflection, he sees that in one’s traditional beliefs there are many such contradictions, and the person is faced with the problem of what to reject as false and what to accept as true. In view of the fact that there is such a diversity of opinion of a contrary nature in regard to the things of faith, one may wonder if it is possible to acquire a genuine, rational, adult faith.

The Lord assures us in the Writings of the New Church that such a faith is possible for all who sincerely seek. Such a faith is not inborn, nor is it transferred from one person to another. It can be acquired only by a person who is searching for truth – a person who is not content to found one’s life on the shifting sands of human opinion but who is looking for a rock upon which to build spiritual faith – one’s spiritual home.

It is of such a person that our text treats in the internal sense. Jacob was on his way to Padan-aram. When the sun set, he stopped at a certain place to spend the night. While there he had the remarkable vision of a staircase ascending toward heaven, its base on earth and the Lord at the top, with angels ascending and descending on it. It was then that the Lord renewed the promise which He had made to Abraham and Isaac, to give them the land of Canaan for an inheritance.

The Writings tell us that Jacob represents the person who is instructed in natural truths (see AC 3305). When he had this vision, he was on his way to Padan-aram. Padan-aram signifies knowledges of truth. We see from these teachings that the person who is instructed in natural knowledges, represented by Jacob, who is on his way to Padan-aram (searching for truths of faith) is given the Divine promise of an indefinite increase in the truths of faith. The Lord said to Jacob: “Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all of the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 28:14).

When the Lord had made this promise, then Jacob awoke and said: “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it … This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” These words express the wonder and conviction of a person who has found the truth after a diligent search – the truth that the Lord is livingly present in His Word as Divine truth.

We cannot come to this conviction unless we go directly to the Word for ourselves seeking instruction directly from the mouth of the Lord. We may have been raised with the stories of the Word and taught about God. We may hear preachings regularly, but we cannot come to this state of conviction until we go directly to the source of truth itself. When we read the Word with a genuine desire to learn the truth; when we realize the inadequacy of our borrowed and traditional faith; when we are no longer satisfied with appearances of truth but seek genuine truth, then the Lord will enlighten our understanding and we will see, with clarity and conviction, the truths for which we have been searching. This rational, adult faith is said to exist in a person when one has spiritual sight, or when one’s understanding has been enlightened, when there is in the mind a harmony of truths, when there is interior conviction, and when an acknowledgment of the Lord’s Divinity is inscribed on one’s mind (see TCR 344). These are the signs of a genuine, rational, adult faith.

Such a faith is the characteristic of all who are truly of the Lord’s New Church. This enlightenment and this clear conviction are the reward promised to all who humbly and sincerely approach the Lord directly in His Word, and read it under His auspices (see TCR 165). Amen.

Lessons: Genesis 28:1-5, 10-19; AR 224

Apocalypse Revealed 224

To this I will add this relation. I saw an assembly of spirits, all upon their knees, praying to God to send angels to them that they might converse with them face to face and open to them the thoughts of their hearts. And when they arose, there appeared three angels in fine linen standing before them, and they said, “The Lord Jesus Christ has heard your prayers, and has therefore sent us to you; open unto us the thoughts of your hearts.” And they answered, “We have been told by our priests that in matters of a theological nature the understanding avails nothing, but only faith, and that in such things intellectual faith is of no service to anyone because it is derived from man. We are Englishmen, and have heard many things from our sacred ministry which we believed; but when we have conversed with others, who also called themselves the Reformed, and with others who called themselves the Roman Catholics, and likewise with sectaries, they all appeared to us learned, and yet in many things one did not agree with another, and still they all said, ‘Believe us’; and some of them, ‘We are God’s ministers, and know.’ But as we know that the Divine truths, which are called truths of faith and which appertain to the church, are not derived to anyone from his native soil, nor by inheritance, but out of heaven from God; and as these show the way to heaven, and enter into the life together with the good of charity, and so lead to eternal life, we became anxious, and prayed to God upon our knees.”

Then the angels answered, “Read the Word, and believe in the Lord, and you will see the truths which should constitute your faith and life; for all in the Christian world draw their doctrinals from the Word as from the only fountain.” But two of the company said, “We have read but did not understand.” And the angels replied, “You did not approach the Lord, and you have also confirmed yourselves in falsities”; and the angels said further, “What is faith without light, and what signifies thinking without understanding? this is not human; even magpies and ravens can learn to speak without understanding. We can affirm to you that every man whose soul desires it is capable of seeing the truths of the Word in the light; there does not exist an animal that does not know the food proper to its life when it sees it, and man is a rational and spiritual animal who sees the food of his life, not that of his body but of his soul, which is the truth of faith, provided indeed he hungers after it and seeks it from the Lord; whatsoever is not received also in the understanding is not fixed in the memory in reality, but only verbally; therefore, when we have looked down out of heaven into the world, we have not seen anything but have only heard sounds, that are for the most part dissonant. But we will enumerate some things which the learned among the clergy have removed from the understanding, not knowing that there are two ways to the understanding, one from the world and the other from heaven, and that the Lord withdraws the understanding from the world when He enlightens it; but if the understanding be closed by religion, the way into it from heaven is closed, and then man sees no more in the Word than a blind person. We have seen many such fall into pits, out of which they have never risen again.

Examples must serve for illustration: Are you not able to understand what charity is and what faith is; that charity consists in doing well by your neighbor, and that faith consists in thinking well of God and of the essentials of the church, and therefore that he who does well and thinks well, that is, who lives well and believes well, is saved?” They replied that they understood these things. The angels said further, “Do you not understand that repentance from sins is to be performed in order that man may be saved, and that, unless a man actually repents, he abides in the sins into which he was born, and that the work of repentance consists in not willing evils because they are against God, and in examining himself once or twice a year, in seeing his evils, in confessing them before the Lord, imploring assistance, desisting from them, and leading a new life, and as far as he does this and believes in the Lord, so far his sins are remitted?”

Then some of the company replied, “This we understand, and thence also what remission of sins is.” And then they solicited the angels to give them further information, and especially concerning God, the immortality of the soul, regeneration and baptism. To this the angels replied, “We will not say anything but what you can understand; otherwise our discourse will fall like rain upon sand, and upon seeds therein, which although watered from heaven, still wither and perish.” Concerning God they said, “All who come into heaven have their place allotted them there, and thence eternal joy, according to their idea of God, because this idea reigns universally in every particular of worship. The idea of an invisible God is not determined to anyone, nor does it terminate in any, therefore it ceases and perishes. The idea of God as Spirit, when a spirit is believed to be like ether or wind, is an empty idea; but the idea of God as Man is a just idea, for God is the Divine love and the Divine wisdom, with every quality belonging thereto, and the subject of these is man and not ether or wind. The idea of God in heaven is the idea of the Lord. He is the God of heaven and earth, as He Himself taught. Let your idea of God be like unto ours, and we shall be consociated together.” On saying these words, their faces became resplendent. Concerning the immortality of the soul, they said, “Man lives to eternity, because he can be conjoined with God by love and faith, this indeed is possible with every one. That this possibility constitutes the immortality of the soul you may understand if you think of it a little more deeply.” Concerning regeneration: “Who does not see that everyone is at liberty to think of God or not to think of Him, provided he be instructed that there is a God; so that every one has liberty in spiritual things, equally as in things civil and moral; the Lord gives this liberty to all continually; for which reason he becomes guilty if he does not think of God. Man is man from this ability but a beast is a beast from not having this ability; therefore man can reform and regenerate himself as from himself provided he acknowledges in heart that it is from the Lord. Everyone who does the work of repentance and believes in the Lord is reformed and regenerated. Man must do both as from himself, but this as from himself is from the Lord. It is true that man cannot contribute anything thereto, no not in the least, nevertheless you were not created statues, but you were created men, that you might do that from the Lord as from yourselves. This is the only reciprocal of love and faith, that it is altogether the Lord’s will that it should be done by man unto Him. In a word, do it from yourselves and believe that you do it from the Lord, thus do it as from yourselves.”

But then the Englishmen inquired whether to act as from oneself is a faculty implanted in man from creation. The angel answered, “It is not implanted, because to act from Himself is the Lord’s alone, but it is communicated continually, that is, adjoined continually, and then so far as man does good and believes what is true as from himself, so far he is an angel of heaven; but so far as he does evil and thence believes what is false, which is done also as from himself, so far he is an angel of hell. That this also is as from himself surprises you, but still you see that it is so when you pray that you may be preserved from the devil lest he should seduce you and enter into you as he did into Judas, fill you with all iniquity, and destroy you, soul and body. But everyone incurs guilt who believes that he acts from himself, whether it be good or whether it be evil; but he does not incur guilt who believes that he acts as from himself …”

THINKING SPIRITUALLY

THINKING SPIRITUALLY
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida February 9, 1992

“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

The Lord claimed to be the promised Messiah. The leaders of the Jews the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees disputed His claim. We would note that those who denied His claim and rejected Him based their case on an erroneous interpretation of the Scriptures. They claimed repeatedly that His teaching was contrary to the law given through Moses. Time and again the Lord showed them that His doctrine was not contrary to the law, but its fulfillment gave it deeper meaning a spiritual meaning to the law. But because the Lord refused to be bound by the rigid, self- serving interpretations which the scribes and Pharisees placed on the law, they branded Him an imposter, and continually attempted to discredit Him.

Because their minds were so warped by their sensualism they totally failed to see the true nature of the Lord’s teaching. What were their primary concerns? Ceremonial washings, the observance of feast days and sacrificial offerings. They were utterly blind to the weightier matters of the law: judgment and mercy (see Matt. 23: 23). Therefore the Lord advised them: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (text).

The Lord has revealed that everyone during infancy and childhood is sensuous. One’s thoughts during that period of development are formed solely from bodily and worldly sensations entering through the five senses (see AC 5126:2, 5497). These physical sensations are stored up and form a physical plane in the mind called the corporeal memory, or the memory of material ideas. As the child grows up and begins to reflect on the things in this plane of the memory and forms conclusions from them, a reorganization takes place and a new plane is established called the natural memory, or the memory of immaterial ideas. If one matures and cultivates the rational faculty, he then reflects on the things in this plane of the mind and so is able to perceive the truth which is in that which has been learned (see AC 5497).

The things of sense are one thing, knowledges in the memory another, and truths another. They are formed successively, the higher from the lower. These planes of the mind are distinct in their formation and they remain distinct. A person can be thinking at one time in one plane and at another time in another (see AC 5774:2). Thought from the lowest plane is called sensual thought, from the middle plane, natural thought, and from the third plane, rational thought. There are thus three distinct degrees or types of thought: sensual, natural and rational. Every thought that we have emanates from one of these planes and derives its quality from it.

Like the Jews referred to in our text, all of us are prone to think from the lowest or sensual plane of our minds. Since it is the first plane formed it requires no effort of the will or intellect to think in this manner; it is, as it were, spontaneous. Yet if we are to perceive and understand truth we must rise above both sensual and natural thought to rational and spiritual thought.

Truth is above nature. Because it is from God, it is in its essence spiritual. In its descent from God the Divine truth is successively clothed, or finited, and in this manner creation took place. That creation took place by a successive finition of Divine truth is clear from the first chapter of John’s gospel. There God is identified with the Word, or Divine truth, and it is declared that the world is made by Him, that is, by the Word or Divine truth proceeding from Him. Thus the objects of nature are appearances of truth on the material plane. The laws of nature which govern the objects are appearances of truth on the plane of nature and are thus called natural appearances of truth.

With this in mind we can see that when we think from the two planes of the mind based on, and formed from, the realms of matter and nature, we are not thinking from truth, but from appearances of truth sensual and natural appearances of truth. Such thought tends to obscure and obliterate a perception of spiritual truth. It drags the mind down.

The Writings state: “Unless man’s thought can be elevated above sensuous things so that these are seen as below him, he cannot understand any interior thing in the Word, still less such things as are of heaven … for sensuous things absorb and suffocate them” (AC 5089:2). For this reason, we are told, those who abound in worldly learning alone have greater difficulty than the simple in understanding spiritual truths, for their minds are immersed in material concepts to such a degree that the mind cannot be elevated to perceive spiritual realities (ibid.).

To illustrate the truth of this, Swedenborg relates the following experience: “It has sometimes happened that I was earnestly thinking about worldly things, and about such things that give great concern to most persons, namely, about possessions, the acquisition of riches, about pleasures, and the like. At these times I noticed that I was sinking down into what is sensuous, and that in proportion as my thought was immersed in such things, I was removed from the company of angels. By this means it was also made plain to me that they who are deeply immersed in such cares cannot have association with those who are in the other life. For when such thoughts possess the whole of the mind, they carry the lower mind downward, and are like weights which drag it down; and when they are regarded as the end, they remove the man from heaven, to which he cannot be elevated except by means of the good of love and of faith. This was made still more manifest to me from the fact that once when I was led through the abodes of heaven, and was at the same time in a spiritual idea, it happened that I suddenly began to sink into thought about worldly things, and then all that spiritual idea was dissipated and became nothing” (AC 6210).

That reliance on, or trust in, sensual appearances obscures truth is apparent even on the natural plane. The record of history bears witness to this fact. Basing their conclusions on the evidence of the senses, people believed for centuries that the world was flat. Until very recent times matter was believed to be solid. These are appearances which, on the evidence of the senses, are very convincing. However, when the mind is elevated to the realm of causes to a consideration of immaterial ideas and the operation of laws then these appearances are seen to be fallacious, and as a hindrance to a true understanding of the natural world in which we live.

If there must be an elevation of thought in order to rightly understand the truth behind, or within, natural phenomena, how much more must this be the case if we are to understand the truth about spiritual things. For this reason the Writings continually urge us to raise our minds above the senses and think spiritually if we wish to understand spiritual truths. In the words of our text we are not to “judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment”(John 7:24). That is, we are not to think from the appearance of the senses but from revealed Divine truth, for judgment is predicated of Divine truth and the thought derived from it (see AC 9857).

We are privileged, as was no former church, with a revelation in which spiritual truths in abundance are laid open to the sight of the understanding in clear rational language. As a church and as individuals associated with that church, we have the opportunity, if we will, to think spiritually.

What do we mean by thinking spiritually? Many people associate the word “spiritual” with what is vague and incomprehensible. This is not the kind of thought which we have in mind. The Writings apply the term “spiritual” to that which is living and eternal, to that which is real and substantial though not material. To think “spiritually,” therefore, is to think from that which is real, living, substantial and eternal; that is, from Divinely revealed truth.

We would note here an important distinction one that is frequently overlooked. It is one thing to think about spiritual truth and quite another to think from it. All of us do the former when we listen to sermons or doctrinal classes and read the Lord’s Word. This is not spiritual thought. We do not wish to belittle it, for it is a very important means. The fact is, we cannot arrive at the end except through the means. We must first learn the truth before we can think from it. All too often we go no further.

Because of our hereditary nature, there is a strong tendency for us to think of religion and life as being two separate, distinct things. On Sundays, and on other occasions when we are engaged in worship, we focus our attention on spiritual matters. When this is over, we tend to recede from thought about spiritual things. In our day-to-day living we are apt to allow ourselves to a great extent to be predominantly influenced by the attitudes and thought of the world around us.

We might ask ourselves: How many of the decisions we make are arrived at after a careful consideration of Divinely revealed principles of truth? Some might suggest that this is carrying religion too far! If we think like this, then we too are thinking from worldly appearances.

All religion is of life. That is, the truths of religion are applicable to all phases of life. Indeed they were given for no other purpose than that they may be applied to our lives every aspect of our lives. In the minds of some the question may arise: “How can we be expected to know what truths or principles apply to a given situation?” The answer to this question is simple: If we seek to be enlightened by regular reading of the Lord’s Word, and avail ourselves of all the means provided by Him for our instruction, both public and private, we will learn those truths which apply directly to our lives. And if we pray to the Lord, He will enlighten us to see those truths we need to know in order to live well.

The truths revealed by the Lord in the Writings especially should be the principles from which we think about all things. As New Church people we should always be willing to examine the attitudes and opinions we hold to see if they are in agreement with the principles of truth which the Lord has revealed. And let us remember: a thing is not true or right merely because many people believe it, nor is it true and right because we have always believed it. It is true and right only if it is in agreement with what the Lord teaches. We would also note that because of our hereditary nature, we are inclined to favor those ideas which are in agreement with our own ideas, ideas which further our own selfish interests. It is therefore of great importance that we always be willing to re-examine our thoughts and attitudes.

The truths which the Lord reveals should, little by little, become the fabric of our thought. When we approach the problems of daily living, we should ask ourselves questions such as these: In what way does the thing I am considering contribute to the Lord’s end in creation? How does the doctrine of use apply to the situation under consideration? What relation has this problem to the degrees of the neighbor? Does the course of action I am considering come under the laws of Divine providence or under the laws of permission? What laws of Divine providence are applicable to the problem I am wrestling with?

If we are serious about living the life that leads to heaven we will seek to formulate our opinions, thoughts and attitudes from the truths of Divine revelation. We will cultivate the habit and practice of thinking from spiritual principles about all things. We are told that when what is spiritual reigns in a person, it affects and as it were tinges all that the person thinks, wills and does, and causes the thoughts and the actions of one’s will to partake of the spiritual, until at last these become spiritual in him (see AC 5639:2).

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper” (Psalm 1:1-3). Amen.

Lessons: I Samuel 16:1-13, John 7:14-31, DLW 248, 249

Divine Love and Wisdom 248, 249

UNLESS THE HIGHER DEGREE WHICH IS THE SPIRITUAL IS OPENED IN MAN, HE BECOMES NATURAL AND SENSUAL.

It was shown above that there are three degrees of the human mind, called natural, spiritual, and celestial, and that these degrees may be opened successively in man; also that the natural degree is first opened; afterwards, if man flees from evil as sins and looks to the Lord, the spiritual degree is opened; and lastly, the celestial. Since these degrees are opened successively according to man’s life, it follows that the two higher degrees may remain unopened, and man then continues in the natural degree, which is the outmost. Moreover, it is known in the world that there is a natural and a spiritual man, or an external and an internal man; but it is not known that a natural man becomes spiritual by the opening of some higher degree in him, and that such opening is effected by a spiritual life, which is a life conformed to the Divine precepts; and that without a life conformed to these man remains natural.

There are three kinds of natural men; the first consists of those who know nothing of the Divine precepts; the second, of those who know that there are such precepts but give no thought to a life according to them; and the third, of those who despise and deny these precepts. In respect to the first class, which consist of those who know nothing of the Divine precepts, since they cannot be taught by themselves they must needs remain natural. Every man is taught respecting the Divine precepts, not by immediate revelations but by others who know them from religion, on which subject see The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem Concerning the Sacred Scriptures (n. 114-118). Those of the second class, who know that there are Divine precepts but give no thought to a life according to them, also remain natural, and care about no other concerns than those of the world and the body. These after death become mere menials and servants, according to the uses which they are able to perform for those who are spiritual; for the natural man is menial and servant, and the spiritual man is a master and lord. Those of the third class, who despise and deny the Divine precepts, not only remain natural but also become sensual in the measure of their contempt and denial. Sensual men are the lowest natural men, who are incapable of thinking above the appearances and fallacies of the bodily senses. After death they are in hell.

Affirmative and Negative States of Mind

Affirmative and Negative States of Mind

There are two principles, one of which leads to all folly and madness, the other to all intelligence and wisdom. The former principle is to deny all things, or to say in one’s heart that he cannot believe them, until he is convinced by what he can com­prehend or be sensible of this principle is what leads to all folly and madness, and may be called the negative principle.

The other principle is to affirm the things which are of doctrine from the Word, or to think and believe within one’s self that they are true, because the Lord has said it; this principle is what leads to all intelligence and wisdom, and may be called the affirmative principle. Those who think from the negative principle, the more they take counsel of matters of reason, of knowledge, and of philosophy, the more they plunge themselves into darkness, until at length they come to deny all things. The reason is that from things inferior no one comprehends things superior, that is things spiritual and celestial,—still less things Divine, because they transcend all understanding; and besides, everything is then involved in negatives from the beginning. But on the contrary they who think from the affirmative principle may confirm themselves in things spiritual and celestial by whatever rational considerations, by whatever matters of knowledge, yea, and of philosophy, they are able; for all such things were given them for confirmation, and afford them a fuller idea of a subject. Moreover there are some who are in doubt before they deny; and others who are in doubt before they affirm. They who are in doubt before they deny are those that incline to a life of evil, and in so far as this life carries them away, as often as they think of things spiritual and celestial they deny. But they who are in doubt before they affirm are those that incline to a life of good, and in so far as they suffer them­selves to be turned to this life by the Lord, as often as they think of these things they affirm them. (AC n. 2568)

But let this be illustrated by examples: According to the doctrine of the Word, the first and principal thing of doctrine is love to the Lord and charity towards the neighbour. They who are in the affirmative in respect to this, may enter into whatever considerations of reason and knowledge, yea, and of sense they please, every one according to his gift, his knowledge, and his experience; indeed the more they enter the more they are confirmed, for universal nature is full of confirmation. But they who deny this first and chief matter of doctrine, and wish first to be convinced that it is so by matters of knowledge and of reason, never suffer themselves to be convinced, because they deny it in heart, and continually insist on some other principle which they believe essential; at length, by confirmations of their own principle, they so blind themselves that they cannot even know what is love to the Lord and what is love towards the neighbour. And because they confirm themselves in things contrary to them, they at length confirm themselves also in the belief that there is no other love attended with delight but the love of self and of the world; and this to such a degree that, if not in doctrine yet in life, they embrace infernal love instead of heavenly love. Take also another example: it is one of the primary points of the doctrine of faith that all good is from the Lord, and all evil from man or from self. They who are in the affirmative respect­ing this may confirm themselves by many considerations both of reason and knowledge; as that no good can flow into man from any other source than from Good itself, that is from the fountain of good and therefore from the Lord; and that there can be no beginning of good from elsewhere they may illustrate to themselves by what is truly good in themselves, in others, in the community, yea, in the created universe. But those who are in the negative principle confirm themselves in the contrary con­clusion by all things that ever come under their consideration; insomuch that at length they do not know what is good, but dispute with each other as to what is the highest good,—in profound ignorance of the truth that celestial and spiritual good, which is from the Lord, is that good; by which every lower good is vivified, and that from this delight is truly delightful. Some even conceive that good cannot be from any other source than themselves. Again, take for example the truth that they who are in love to the Lord and in charity towards the neighbour can receive the truths of doctrine, and have faith from the Word, and not those that are in the life of self-love and of the love of the world; or what is the same, that they who are in good can believe, but not those who are in evil. They who are in the affirmative principle can confirm this by innumerable evidences both of reason and of knowledge; of reason by the consideration that truth and good agree together, but not truth and evil; and that as in evil so also from evil everything is false, and that if in some there be yet truth, it is upon the lips and not in the heart; of knowledge, by many things, as that truths shun evils, and that evils spew out truths. But they who are in the negative principle confirm themselves in the belief that every one, of whatever character, even though he live in continual hatred, in the delights of revenge, and in deceits, is capable of believing like others; and this until they entirely reject from doctrine the good of life, which being rejected they believe nothing. To make it still more plain, take another example, re­specting the Word. They who are in the affirmative, that the Word was so written that it has an internal sense, which does not appear in the letter, may confirm themselves by many rational considerations; as that by the Word man has connection with heaven; that there are correspondences of natural things with spiritual, and that these latter do not so much appear; that the ideas of interior thought are entirely different from material ideas which fall into expressions of speech; that during his abode in the world man may also be in heaven (inasmuch as he was born to live in both), by means of the Word which is for both; that with some a certain Divine light flows in into their intellectual operations and into their affections while the Word is being read; that it was necessary that something which de­scended from heaven should be written, and that in its origin it could not be such as it is in the letter; that nothing can be holy but by virtue of a holiness which is within. They may also confirm themselves by things known; as that in old time men were in representatives, and that the writings of the ancient church were of such a character; that therefore the writings of many even among the Gentiles w ere also of a similar character; and that for this reason the style was venerated in the churches as holy, and among the Gentiles as learned; several books may likewise be mentioned (as instances of this kind of writing). But they who are in the negative principle, if they do not deny all this, yet do not believe it; and they persuade themselves that the Word is such as it is in the letter, appearing indeed worldly, but yet that it is spiritual,—but where the spiritual is concealed does not concern them, though for manifold reasons they are willing to assert it,—and this they can confirm by many arguments. In order that this subject may be presented even to the appre­hension of the simple, it may be expedient to illustrate it scientifically by the following example. They who are in the affirmative in respect to the truth that sight is not of the eye but is of the spirit, which by the eye as by an organ of its body sees things that are in the world, may confirm themselves by many things; as from speech, in that when it is heard it reports itself to a cer­tain interior sight and is transmuted into it,—which could not be the case if there did not exist an interior sight or vision; also that whatever is thought of is seen by an interior sight, by some more clearly, by others more obscurely; moreover that things of the imagination present themselves in a manner not unlike the objects of sight; and further, that unless the spirit which is in the body saw that which the eye as an organ takes in, the spirit in the other life could see nothing; when yet it must needs be that it will there see numberless astonishing things which the eye of the body can never see. They may likewise reflect on dreams, especially those of the Prophets, in which many things were equally well seen and yet not by the eyes; lastly, if they have a taste for philosophical contemplations, they may confirm themselves by the consideration that exterior things cannot enter into interior; as things compound cannot enter into things simple, so the things of the body cannot enter into those which are of the spirit, but the reverse;—besides very many other considera­tions; till at length they are persuaded that sight belongs to the spirit, and not to the eye except from the spirit. But they who are in the negative either call these things all natural, or fantasies; and when they are told that a spirit exercises and enjoys a more perfect sight than a man does in the body, they ridicule and make light of it,—believing that they shall live in darkness when they are deprived of the sight of the eye; when exactly the contrary is true, that they will then be in light. From these examples it may be seen what it is to enter from truths into reasonings and knowledges, and what to enter from reasonings and knowledges into truths; namely, that the former is according to order, but the latter contrary to order; and that when it is done according to order man is enlightened, but when contrary to order he is made blind. It is clear then of how much concern it is that truths should be known and believed; for by truths man is enlightened, while by falsities he is blinded. By truths an immense and almost unbounded plain is opened to the rational faculty; but by falsities almost none comparatively, although it appears otherwise. Hence the angels have so great wisdom, because they are in truths; for truth is the very light of heaven…. Those who have blinded themselves by their unwillingness to believe anything that they do not comprehend by the senses, in the other life are readily distinguished from other spirits by this,—that concerning everything that relates to faith they reason whether it be so; and though it be shown them a thousand and a thousand times that it is so, they still raise negative doubts against every confirming proof; and this they would do to eternity, They are consequently blinded to such a degree that they have not common sense; that is, they cannot comprehend what is good and true. And yet every one of them supposes that he is wise beyond all in the universe; placing their wisdom in this,—the conceit that they are able to make null that which is Divine, and deduce it from the natural. Many who have been accounted wise in the world are of this character beyond others; for in proportion as any one excels in the gift of talent and in knowledge, if at the same time he is in the negative principle, he is more insane than others; but in proportion as he excels in the gift of talent and in knowledge, and is in the affirmative principle, he is capable of becoming more wise than others. To cultivate the rational by knowledge is in nowise forbidden; but it is forbidden to fortify one’s self against the truths of faith, which are of the Word. (AC n. 2588)