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…

REBIRTH

REBIRTH
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida, September 27, 1992

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again”‘ (John 3:5-7).

The purpose in creation is a heaven from the human race. We are born into this world in order that we may be prepared for eternal life in heaven. Since the fall of man in the days of the Most Ancient Church, represented in the Word by Adam’s and Eve’s fall from integrity, man is born with a tendency to evils which have been increased in a long line from parents, grandparents, and ancestors. We read: “Everyone who is born is born into all these inherited evils thus increased in succession” and consequently by nature he loves nothing but evil (AC5280:2).

This being the case, how can we be prepared for heavenly life? Heavenly life, by its very nature, can have nothing in common with a life of evil. The Lord, addressing Nicodemus, answered this question directly and simply, saying: “Unless one be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

“‘To be born,”‘ the Writings state, “is to be regenerated, because … spiritual birth is regeneration, which is also called rebirth … It is by one’s being born again, or regenerated, that man becomes man,” that is, truly human (AC 5160). This is the essential teaching of all Divine revelation. It is implied throughout the Old Testament. It is plainly stated in the New Testament, and it is thoroughly explained in the Writings. Our life on earth begins by natural birth. Our spiritual life begins by spiritual birth or regeneration.

It is commonly believed by many that people enter into heaven simply by the Lord’s admitting them. “But,” the Writings say, “he who holds this belief is much mistaken. For no one can be received into heaven who has not received heaven into himself, which is done by means of rebirth, or regeneration” (AC 5342:4). Heaven is not merely a place; it is a state of life. The state is the reality; the place is where those are who are in the state of heaven. Only those enter heaven who are in the state of heaven; these are people who have received heaven into themselves by rebirth, or regeneration.

The Writings declare that a person who is in good is being reborn every moment, from early infancy to the end of life on earth and thereafter to eternity. The processes by which this takes place are said to be both intricate and amazing, and it is these processes which are the subject of the internal, spiritual sense of the Word (see AC 5202:4).

Since the interiors of the Word have now been laid open to the sight of the understanding, we need no longer grope our way through life in obscurity and darkness. If we will regularly and conscientiously read the Word, especially the Writings, and make their light our light, we will be able to cooperate intelligently with the Lord in the process of regeneration. “No one can be regenerated except through the good of life conjoined with the truth of doctrine; from this one has spiritual life.”

Let us consider some of those teachings in the Word which throw light on this subject, so that, by a better understanding of these marvelous processes, we may willingly and intelligently enter into the process of regeneration and progress along the way that leads to heaven.

In infancy and childhood we are, as to our quality, completely sensuous. That is, our ideas and thoughts are formed entirely from impressions entering our minds through the five senses. The innocence of this state is not genuine but external, for true innocence is the product of wisdom. By this innocence, in which infants and children are kept, the Lord disposes into order those impressions which come in through the senses so that they may form a basis, or foundation, upon which the rational mind can be built in later life. The Writings state that without the influx of external innocence in this first age, rationality could never develop (see AC 5126:2).

From childhood to early youth, by instruction from parents and teachers and by individual study, the mind takes on a new quality. Not only are the ideas and thoughts received through the bodily senses, but abstract ideas are also received and partially comprehended. In this state of life, concepts of right and wrong can be appreciated. The obligations placed on us by the civil law are learned and understood. Thus a higher plane of the mind is formed, which is called in the Writings the “natural” to distinguish it from the lower plane, established in infancy and early childhood, called the sensuous (see AC 5126:2).

“From youth to early adulthood communication is opened between the natural and the rational by the learning of truths and goods of civil and moral life, and especially the truths and goods of spiritual life, through the hearing and reading of the Word” (AC 5126:2, emphasis added). When a young person lives according to the civil, moral and spiritual truths which have been learned, he becomes rational, that is, the rational plane is opened and established.

On the other hand, if one does not learn spiritual truths, or if one does not live according to them, the person does not become rational. Such a person merely stands on the threshold of rationality. The knowledges possessed by the person are a matter of memory only, not of insight, perception and life.

If then and in subsequent years the truths and goods of spiritual life are disregarded and denied, and the person lives contrary to them, then the rational is closed and also the natural which had previously been established. The person reverts to the plane of the sensuous. The person’s thoughts proceed from the same plane as that of the infant and child, despite the fact that the person may be of mature age and have a great fund of knowledge. “Nevertheless,” the Writings say, “of the Lord’s Divine providence, so much of communication still remains as to enable the person to understand goods and truths with some degree of understanding, yet not to make them one’s own unless he performs serious repentance and for a long while afterward struggles with falsities and evils” (ibid.).

If, however, a young person learns the truths of life – especially those of spiritual life – by instruction and study, and if the person lives the truths learned, then the rational mind is successively opened in the person. Since the activity of thought then originates in the rational, the person becomes more and more rational. When this state is reached, the natural degree is made subordinate to the rational, and the sensuous subordinate to the natural. “This takes place,” we read, “especially in youth up to adult age, and progressively to the last years of … life, and afterward in heaven to eternity” (AC 5126).

What is maturity, true maturity? Maturity is reached when the sensuous plane is subordinate to and serves the natural, and when the natural is subordinate to the rational and serves it. Maturity is not a matter of age; it is a matter of state. It is not reached until a person begins regeneration, until a person learns truths from the Word and lives them.

A sad note is sounded in the Writings. They say that few in the world progress to this stage. Many indeed learn truth from the Word and begin to be reformed. “But,” it is stated, “as soon as they come to the age of early adulthood they suffer themselves to be carried away by the world, and thus go over to the side of infernal spirits, by whom they are gradually so estranged from heaven that they scarcely believe any longer that there is a heaven” (AC 5280:4, emphasis added).

We are all born with the tendency to love self and the world more than the Lord and our neighbor. In the course of growing up we have all acted in accord with this natural tendency. Since we have confirmed some of these perverse tendencies by giving in to them and acting from them, we cannot be regenerated without combat and struggle. Why is this so?

When a regenerating person begins to live the truths which have been learned from the Word, and doctrine from it, one begins to recede from the evils of one’s former life. When this happens, the evil spirits who perceived their delight in the activity of this evil arouse and excite the evils one has done in previous states, and the false things one formerly thought. In this way they seek to maintain their influence over the person who is beginning to regenerate.

But the Lord never deserts us. The person is defended from within by the Lord through angels. They flow into the truths of doctrine which the person has acquired, and arouse, or bring to consciousness, those truths which can conquer the evils which have been awakened and stirred.

This combat between the angels and evil spirits with the person produces anxiety. The person does not realize one thousandth part of what is actually involved in the struggle, and yet the battle is being waged for the person’s eternal salvation. It is fought by the angels from the person. The weapons which the angels use to defend one against the attacks of evil are the truths of doctrine which the person possesses. We should, therefore, never underestimate the importance of knowing and understanding truth if we are to survive spiritual trials and combats.

When a person has overcome in these spiritual trials by strenuously resisting as of self the evils which seethed within, the person undergoes a gradual transformation. Little by little the interior organic forms of the mind are changed; they are reordered. As a result of this reorganization of the mind the person ceases to be a slave to natural passions and desires, as formerly was the case. One state has ended and a new one begun. We are told: “A new state begins in the one who is being regenerated when the order is changed, as takes place when interior things obtain dominion over exterior things, and the exterior things begin to serve the interior … With those who are being regenerated, this is observed from the fact that something within dissuades them from allowing sensuous delights and bodily or earthly pleasure to rule, and to draw over to their side the things of intellect to confirm them” (AC 5159).

This passage draws a remarkably clear distinction between a regenerating person and one who is not regenerating. A person who is regenerating is distinguished from one who is not regenerating by the fact that something within – a love for Divine truth – dissuades him from allowing bodily and worldly pleasures to rule, and from using one’s intellect and knowledge to justify and excuse selfish indulgence. Eternal things – the things of the spirit -come first with such a person, and the things of the world and of the body serve.

We might well ask ourselves: Is this the case with us? Whatever the answer, let us resolve that it shall be so! That is why we are here – to make choices: to choose to put the things of heaven above those temporal things of the world and the body! If this is our choice, the things of heaven will descend into the natural and impart their delight to the natural. They will no longer be in conflict but will work in harmony. The joys of heaven will be perceived externally. The delights of the body and of the world, because ordered from within, will enter into and penetrate the interiors of the mind, affecting them with joy and gladness. Thus heaven and the world will be conjoined in us, and from this conjunction will come the peace and blessedness that only those can experience who have been born of water and of the spirit. Amen.

Lessons: Mark 8:27-38, John 3:1-15, AC 1555:2,3

Arcana Coelestia 1555:2,3

Few, if any, know how man is brought to true wisdom. Intelligence is not wisdom, but leads to wisdom; for to understand what is true and good is not to be true and good, but to be wise is to be so. Wisdom is predicated only of the life – that the man is such. A man is introduced to wisdom or to life by means of knowing (scire et nosse), that is, by means of knowledges (scientiae et cognitiones). In every man there are two parts, the will and the understanding; the will is the primary part, the understanding is the secondary one. Man’s life after death is according to his will part, not according to his intellectual part. The will is being formed in man by the Lord from infancy to childhood, which is effected by means of the innocence that is insinuated, and by means of charity toward parents, nurses, and little children of a like age, and by means of many other things that man knows nothing of, and which are celestial. Unless these celestial things were first insinuated into a man while an infant and a child, he could by no means become a man. Thus is formed the first plane.

But as a man is not a man unless he is endowed also with understanding, will alone does not make the man, but understanding together with will; and understanding cannot be acquired except by means of knowledges and therefore he must, from his childhood, be gradually imbued with these. Thus is formed the second plane. When the intellectual part has been instructed in knowledges, especially in the knowledges of truth and good, then first can the man be regenerated; and when he is being regenerated, truths and goods are implanted by the Lord by means of knowledges in the celestial things with which he had been endowed by the Lord from infancy, so that his intellectual things make a one with his celestial things; and when the Lord has thus conjoined these, the man is endowed with charity, from which he begins to act, this charity being of conscience. In this way he for the first time receives new life, and this by degrees. The light of this life is called wisdom, which then takes the first place, and is set over the intelligence. Thus is formed the third plane. When a man has become like this during his bodily life, he is then in the other life being continually perfected. These considerations show what is the light of intelligence, and what the light of wisdom.

SELF-JUSTIFICATION

SELF-JUSTIFICATION
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Lake Helen, Florida, June 7, 1992

“And the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them: You are those who justify yourselves before me, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God'” ( Luke 16:14,15).

One of the most common weaknesses of mankind, yet one of the most deadly, is the tendency to justify one’s actions or behavior regardless of their nature. We are all guilty of doing this, and yet, sad to say, if this becomes a habit and becomes deeply entrenched by constant repetition, salvation becomes impossible until we overcome it. If we indulge this instinctive evil without restraint, we cannot even begin to regenerate, for we destroy for ourselves the means provided for our regeneration.

The Word teaches clearly and unequivocally that everything good and true comes from the Lord. He is the source of all spiritual and natural life. We are only vessels who receive these Divine gifts from Him. But we are not passive vessels. We are endowed with the ability to respond, as of ourselves, to the influx which we receive, both directly from the Lord into our souls and mediately through heaven into our minds. We can respond, according to order, by using our life, and the good and truth we receive from the Lord, for use; or we can respond by using these things for our own satisfaction, pleasure and advancement.

When we adopt the latter course we enter into a denial that we receive everything by influx, and we ascribe good and truth to ourselves. That is, we regard ourselves as the source of the truths we understand and speak and the goods that we do. Nevertheless, we are told by the Lord: “A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven” (John 3:26).

However, the Lord gives us these gifts of life, love and wisdom in such a way that we feel them to be our own so that we can enjoy their blessings. If we allow ourselves to be deceived by the appearance, we are inevitably led into evil. For since we do not acknowledge them as gifts from the Lord, we feel no responsibility for using the gifts for their intended purpose. Instead, we use them for the gratification of selfish loves, pleasures and ambitions.

The Writings declare: “So long as a person believes that he does all things from self, both goods and evils, so long goods do not affect him and evils adhere to him; but the moment that a person acknowledges and believes that goods flow in from the Lord and not from self, and that evils are from hell, then goods affect him and evils do not adhere to him, and, moreover, insofar as goods affect him, so far evils are removed, thus the person is purified and liberated from them” (AC 10219:3).

The evil of self-justification arises when a person ascribes all things to self. If we truly acknowledged that good and truth flow in from the Lord through heaven and evil and falsity from hell, we would neither claim merit for our goods and truths, nor would we seek to justify our evils. But when we ascribe the things we feel, think, do and say to self, then when evil is revealed in us, we automatically seek to justify ourselves and our actions, for if we acknowledge our evils to be evils then, because we attribute every thing to self, we must condemn ourselves.

We see from this that the tendency to justify one’s faults, errors and evils springs from the false and mistaken idea that we live of ourselves and therefore are not accountable to God for the way we live.

All evil allures and deceives the mind, for all evil arises from, and seeks to satisfy, the loves of self and the world. “These loves,” we read, “like the unseen currents of a river, continually draw the thought and will of man away from the Lord to self, and away from heaven to the world, thus away from … truths and goods to falsities and evils” (AC 9348). Because of this, when a person is in evils of life, he seeks falsities which are in agreement with his evil, and finds truths distasteful, for they are not in harmony with a love of evil. We have this teaching: “Evil of life is attended with its own falsity, which falsity lies hidden in the person who is in evil of life, and sometimes the person is not aware that it is in him; but as soon as he hears or thinks truth, then this falsity comes forth, and if it cannot deny the truth outright, it seeks to explain it in favor of its own evil, and thus falsifies the truth” (AC 8094).

When we love evil, this affection continually inflows into the rational faculty, and a kind of fallacious light pours in from the fire of the affections of evil, and causes us to see falsities as truths. “That every principle whatever,” the Writings say “… when once taken up, can be confirmed by innumerable things, and be presented in the outward form as if it were truth itself, may be known to everyone. Hence come heresies, from which, when once confirmed, the person never recedes. Yet from a false principle nothing but falsities can flow; and even if truths are interlarded among them, they become truths falsified when used to confirm a false principle because they are contaminated by its essence” (AC 2385:3).

“A person who is in evil as to life is in the falsity of that evil, and does not believe the truth however well he knows it. He sometimes supposes that he believes, but he is mistaken. That he does not believe will be granted him to know in the other life when his perceiving is reduced into agreement with his willing. Then the person will disown, hold in aversion, and reject the truth, and will acknowledge as truth that which is contrary, that is, falsity” (AC 7950:3).

This may all seem a bit abstract, and yet it has a very practical bearing on life. The tendency to justify one’s evils exhibits itself very early in life. The little child when caught doing something which he is forbidden to do learns very quickly to make excuses for himself. It does not take a child long to learn that if he can make it appear as though his motives were good, he may be pardoned. Or he tries to make it appear that he was forced against his will, by circumstances, to do it. With children and young people these excuses are usually transparent. But as we grow older, if we habitually justify everything we do, we develop this art to a fine point of subtlety, so that at length we may even begin to deceive ourselves.

Truth exposes evil. It is like a spotlight shining into a dark room. When our eyes are accustomed to the dark we cannot bear the light, so we either close our eyes and turn our backs, or we blot out the light, or perhaps we direct the beam elsewhere so that its light does not shine on us. That is, when one of our faults or evils is exposed by the light of truth, we tend to close our mind to it, refusing to see its application to ourselves, or we may try to extinguish it by denying it, or else we may try to show that it does not apply to us, and direct the light of truth toward others.

The Writings tell us that the difficulty of resisting evils increases so far as we do them from delight. For in the same measure we become accustomed to them until we no longer see them, and at length love them and from the delight of love excuse them and confirm them by every kind of fallacy, and declare them to be allowable and good. “This is the fate,” the Writings state, “of those who in early youth plunge into evils without restraint, and also reject Divine things from the heart” (HH 533).

The tendency to justify our faults, errors and evils is one which we must be watchful for. As we grow up, certain things become habitual and customary, and therefore delight is associated with them. We tend to think that whatever is customary or widely practiced is good. What we often fail to realize is that humanity and society, like ourselves, are unregenerate and therefore motivated by selfish loves and worldly pleasures, and therefore many customary ways of living and acting which we love are actually evil. Whatever springs from evil is evil.

It is not enough to acknowledge that we love evil generally, for such an acknowledgment does not change our life. If we do not acknowledge specific evils we continue to delight in them and confirm ourselves in them (see AC 8390). Of those who do this it is said in Jeremiah: “Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods … and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say: We are delivered to do all these abominations’? … Therefore I will do to this house, which is called by My name, in which you trust … as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of My sight … The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger. Do they provoke Me to anger?’ says the Lord. Do they not provoke themselves to the shame of their own faces?'” (Jeremiah 7:8-10,14,15,18,19)

This passage from the Scripture makes it clear that the acknowledgment of the Lord without living according to His Divine truth is not enough. To do this is to stand in the house called by His name, and make cakes to other gods to the shame of our own faces. The Writings say: “He who wills good does good; but he who does not do good, however he may say that he wills good, still does not will it when he does not do it” (AC 3934:7). I want to focus on this statement for a moment on some of its implications.

Good in many places in the Writings is defined as use. This means that if we really love a use, we will be willing to perform it when opportunity is granted. If we are not willing to perform it, we do not really love it, no matter how we may seek to justify our refusal. Love is the life of man. What we really love we seek and find the opportunity to do.

The performance of uses, especially those uses for which we receive no monetary reward, seems opposed to our happiness and well-being. It seems to deprive us of the opportunity of enjoying pleasures. So when we are called upon to perform uses which we think will interfere with pleasure, we seek to justify our refusal. We do this in various ways. We may hide behind a facade of humility, or we may turn the spotlight on somebody else whom we claim would be more suitable, or we may belittle the use itself and thus destroy it in an effort to justify our unwillingness to do it.

Use is good. The neglect of uses in favor of self and worldly gain and pleasure is evil. “That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” We would recall the teaching that evil which a person has justified by reason and confirmed by life cannot be removed to eternity unless the person repents of it in the world (see AC 4172). For in the process of justifying evils man destroys his rational faculty and thus his essential humanity (see AC 4156e). When a truth is presented which makes us uncomfortable, we must guard lest we close our mind to it, for, the Writings say: “Nothing … is of more importance to man than to know what is true” (AC 794). “To think from the truth is the truly human principle” (DP 321:5; cf. TCR 354:3).

If we would be inhabitants of the Lord’s kingdom, both here and hereafter, we must be willing to acknowledge His truth as our sole guide in life. We must be willing, at all times, to acknowledge our faults, errors and evils, and strenuously resist the temptation to justify them. If we do not, we end up either rejecting or profaning Divine truth. This is the sin against the Holy Spirit which cannot be forgiven in this world or in the world to come. We must keep our minds open to the shining light of truth. We must have the intellectual honesty to recognize evils in ourselves and disorders in our lives and in society. We must have the courage to acknowledge them, and the resolution, strength, fortitude and determination to rectify them. Amen.

Lessons: I Sam. 15:1-23, Jer. 7:1,2,8-28, AC 5096

Arcana Coelestia 5096

“Who were bound in the prison house.” That this signifies which were among falsities is evident from the signification of “being bound in a prison house” as being to be among falsities (n. 4958, 5037, 5038, 5085). They who are in falsities, and still more they who are in evils, are said to be “bound” and in “prison” not that they are in any bond, but for the reason that they are not in freedom, for those who are not in freedom are interiorly bound. For they who have confirmed themselves in falsity are no longer in any freedom to choose and receive truth; and they who have much confirmed themselves therein are not even in freedom to see truth, still less to acknowledge and believe it; for they are in the persuasion that falsity is truth, and truth falsity. This persuasion is such that it takes away all freedom to think anything else, and consequently holds the very thought in bonds and as it were in prison. This has become evident to me from much experience with those in the other life who have been in persuasion of falsity through confirmations in themselves.

They are such as not at all to admit truths, but to reflect or strike them back again, and this with hardness according to the degree of the persuasion, especially when the falsity is from evil, or when evil has persuaded them. These are they who are meant in the Lord’s parable in Matthew: “Some seeds fell upon the hard way, and the birds came and devoured them” (Matthew 13:4);

the “seeds” are Divine truths; the “hard rock” is persuasion; the “birds” are principles of falsity. They who are such do not even know that they are in bonds or in prison, for they are affected with their own falsity, and love it for the sake of the evil from which it springs; hence they suppose that they are in freedom, for whatever is of the affection or love appears free. But they who are not in confirmed falsity that is, in the persuasion of falsity easily admit truths, and see and choose them and are affected with them, and afterward see falsities as it were beneath themselves, and also see how they who are in the persuasion of falsity are bound. These are in so much freedom that in view and thought they can as it were range through the whole heaven to innumerable truths; but no one can be in this freedom unless he is in good; for from good, man is in heaven, and in heaven truths appear from good.

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.

THE GLORIFICATION OF THE LORD’S NATURAL AND RATIONAL

THE GLORIFICATION OF THE LORD’S NATURAL AND RATIONAL
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida, March 24, 1991

“And the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road” (Matthew 21:6- 8).

Throughout the Christian world the celebration of Palm Sunday is properly regarded as a Christian festival. For it was on this day that the Lord was recognized and proclaimed by a great multitude to be the long-awaited Messiah. This is obvious from the welcome they accorded Him as He made His way toward Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Spreading their garments and palm branches in His path, they cried: “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matt. 21:9). “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest!’ (Luke 19:3 8).

For centuries the Jews had awaited this glorious day. They, the chosen people of the Lord, had suffered humiliation and defeat at the hands of each of the neighboring nations in succession. First the Assyrians subjugated them, then the Babylonians, next the Persians, then the Greeks, and finally the Romans. They waited and prayed for the day when the Messiah would come and conquer their enemies and release them from their chafing bondage.

Many of those present on this occasion knew who it was who was declaring Himself King — that this was Jesus of Nazareth, the teacher from Galilee. They knew of the many miracles which He had done, especially the raising of Lazarus, who had been dead for four days. They had wondered whether or not He was the Messiah. Some said He was Elijah or Jeremiah returned to earth, or one of the prophets (see Matt. 16:14).

Now, by riding into Jerusalem on a “donkey, and a colt, the foal of a donkey” – traditional symbols of royalty – He was proclaiming Himself the promised Messiah, the Savior of Israel. Great throngs, therefore, came to greet Him. Shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and paving the road with their garments and palm branches, they ushered Him into Jerusalem. Now, at last, their dreams would become a reality. Their nation would be restored to its former glory, the glory it enjoyed under Kings David and Solomon. They would become the rulers instead of the ruled. This was what was in their minds as the Lord made His triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. But their great expectations were short-lived. For Jesus made His way to the temple instead of the palace. They had not yet realized that the kingdom He came to establish was not of this world. But when He went daily to the temple to teach instead of seizing the reins of power, their hopes of national supremacy were shattered, and with bitterness and scorn they rejected Him.

As He hung from the cross, less than a week after His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, those who passed by railed at Him “wagging their heads, and saying: ‘Ah, you who destroys the temple, and builds it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross.’ Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. Let Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ And they who were crucified with Him reviled Him” (Mark 15:29-32).

The events which led up to the culmination of the Lord’s life on earth had profound historical significance. Had these things not transpired, it is safe to say that the course of history would have been greatly altered. But, although this is true, it should be born in mind that the acts and events of the Lord’s life have more than historical significance.

Everything that the Lord did, every word that He spoke, every event related to His life had eternal significance. The Writings teach that whatever the Lord did, and whatever He spoke, while He was in the world represented and signified Divine and heavenly things (see AE 405:24). In considering these events, therefore, we should try to see their spiritual meaning and import – their internal and eternal significance.

The Lord came on earth to redeem and save mankind. This was necessary because the human race had completely alienated itself from God. They had closed the way to heaven by rejecting the means which God had provided for their salvation and eternal happiness. In former times the Lord had instructed and led mankind through the prophets whom He had inspired with His Word. But the prophets had been stoned and their message rejected.

If the human race was to be saved from complete and eternal destruction, a new means of approach had to be established – a more direct approach. To accomplish this end, God Himself descended to earth, clothing His Divine soul in a human body derived from the virgin Mary. In this assumed human were all the hereditary characteristics of the human race. The devils of hell were able to approach the Lord through these hereditary tendencies and tempt Him. As He overcame in these temptations, the Lord successively subjugated the hells, and so restored spiritual freedom to people on earth (see AC 1676:3, 1690:6).

But the Lord did more than assume a human body by birth into the world. He put on the human mind, and this in the same way as any other person. Not only did He acquire from Mary hereditary tendencies to evil through which the hells could assault Him, but He also acquired the human affection of truth. And by means of this affection, He acquired knowledges of truth.

In the Arcana Coelestia we read: “In His childhood the Lord was instructed as are other men …. The external mind is corporeal and sensuous, nor does it receive anything celestial and spiritual unless knowledges are implanted in it, as in ground” (AC 1461). “Knowledges are the things that open the way for seeing celestial and spiritual things; by means of knowledge the way is opened for the internal mind to advance toward the external, in which latter are the receiving vessels, which are as many as are the knowledges of good and truth; into these knowledges, as into their vessels, do celestial things inflow” (AC 1458:5).

Thus it was that the Lord, while in the world, acquired knowledges by the ordinary way. In this way He successively put on the human mind. His nature, therefore, was composite or twofold. From within, or as to His soul, He was Divine, infinite, perfect. But from without, through birth, and by means of instruction, He put on a human mind which was finite and imperfect.

Throughout His life in this world this assumed human – the mind put on through instruction – had to be successively purified and freed from its finite, human limitations and imperfections. The human had to be glorified or made perfect and one with the indwelling Divine. The human had to be made Divine. This is what the Lord meant when He said: “O Father, glorify Me with Your Own Self, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). His prayer was that the human which He assumed by birth into the world and through instruction from without would be fully subordinated to, and made correspondent with, His indwelling Divine soul.

The subject of the subordination of the exterior rational to the interior and Divine degrees of the Lord is contained interiorly in the story of Ishmael’s conception and birth, and Hagar’s humbling herself under the hand of her mistress Sarai. Abram and Sarai represent the two interior and Divine degrees of life in the Lord – the Divine celestial and the Divine spiritual. But they were barren. These two degrees cannot produce the rational degree of the mind (that degree which distinguishes man from beast, and is therefore truly human), which the Lord came on earth to acquire and make Divine. But Sarai had an Egyptian handmaid named Hagar -who represents the affection of exterior truth, or the affection of knowledges. By the Divine life flowing into this natural affection -represented by the conjunction of Abram with Hagar – knowledges were acquired, and the rational degree, represented by Ishmael, was conceived and born.

But Hagar then despised her mistress – the affection of exterior truth wanted to exalt itself. Therefore the angel told Hagar that she was to return to her mistress Sarai, and humble herself under her hand. The human rational which the Lord acquired had to be made submissive and subordinate to the Divine life within (see AC 1895-1904).

This subordination of the natural to the Divine is what was represented by the Lord’s riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on a donkey and a colt, the foal of a donkey. The Writings tell us that whenever female donkeys are mentioned in the Word, the natural affection of truth is signified (see AC 2781:5, 5741:2). We are also told that a donkey’s colt represents rational truth, because rational truth is as a son to the affection of natural truth, because that affection conceives and brings it forth (ibid.). We read: “… to ‘ride upon a donkey’ was a sign that the natural was made subordinate; and to ‘ride upon a colt the son of a donkey’ was a sign that the rational was made subordinate” (AC 2781:8, emphasis added).

We see from this that the Lord’s riding into Jerusalem upon a donkey and a colt, the foal of a donkey, was representative of the state of His glorification. Both the natural and the rational, which He had put on while in the world, had been made subordinate to and one with the Divine. The two lower degrees were now glorified. This was the interior reason why there was rejoicing and singing. The glorification of the Lord’s human was almost complete; all that remained was the glorification of the sensuous and corporeal degrees, represented by the cleansing of the temple and the final temptation on the cross. There was, therefore, rejoicing in the heavens on this account, as the Lord made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

This heavenly rejoicing is conveyed by the words: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38). This is also why the Lord said to those Pharisees who told Him to rebuke the multitude for their joy and praise: “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40).

As we approach the Easter festival, let us bear in mind the fact that within all the events recorded in the literal story of the Lord’s last days on earth, there is an internal, spiritual meaning, a meaning which, when seen, elevates our minds to the contemplation of the Lord’s Divine Humanity.

While we may be deeply affected by the literal story, we will realize that the things there related were representative, ultimate acts through which the greatest of all miracles was effected. God was made man, and man was made God. Thus it became Him “to fulfill all righteousness” (see AE lesson). Amen.

Lessons: Genesis 16:1-12,15,16; Matt. 21:1-17; AE 31:7

Apocalypse Explained

31:7. As it is known from these things what is meant by a “king” in the Word, I will add to the above: Why the Lord, when He entered Jerusalem, sat upon the foal of an ass, and the people then proclaimed Him king, and also strewed their garments in the way (see Matt. 21:1-8, Mark 11: 1-11, Luke 19:28-40, John 12:14- 16).

This is predicted in Zechariah: “Exult, 0 daughter of Zion; shout, 0 daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy king cometh unto thee, just and having salvation, riding upon an ass, and upon the foal of an ass” (9:9; Matt. 21:5; John 12:15). The reason was that to sit upon an ass and the foal of an ass was the distinctive mark of the highest judge and of a king, as can be seen from the following passages: ‘My heart is toward the lawgivers of Israel, you who ride upon white asses” (Judges 5:9,10). “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, till Shiloh come, who shall bind his ass’s foal to the vine, and the son of his she-ass to the noble vine” (Gen. 49:10,11).

As sitting on an ass and the foal of an ass was such a distinctive mark, judges rode upon white she-asses (Judges 5:9, 10); and their sons upon asses’ colts (Judges 10:4, 12:14); and the king himself when crowned, upon a she-mule (I Kings 1:33); and his sons upon mules (II Samuel 13:29).

One who does not know the signification of “horse,’ “mule,” and “the foal of an ass” in a representative sense will suppose that the Lord’s riding upon the foal of an ass was significative of misery and humiliation. But it signified royal magnificence; for this reason the people then proclaimed the Lord king, and strewed their garments upon the way. This was done when He went to Jerusalem because by “Jerusalem” is signified the church.

HAPPINESS

HAPPINESS
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida, March 10, 1991

“Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146: 5).

Happiness! What is happiness? People throughout the world are searching for it, yet few find it. Why? The answer is that few people know what it is, and still fewer know how it can be attained. Usually, when we desire something we know what it is that we want, and if we have a strong enough desire for it we discover the means of acquiring it. But happiness that which people desire above all else they find the greatest difficulty in achieving. They pursue it in a thousand ways, and the more furious their pursuit, the more it eludes them.

The truth is that as long as people set happiness before them as a goal, whether in the guise of wealth, fame or security, they will not attain it. Happiness has nothing to do with objects or places, space or time. People often think: “If I only had a house of my own I would be happy.” Or, “If only I earned double my salary I would be happy.” Or again, “If I could live in such and such a place I would be happy.” The attainment of such objectives cannot bring happiness. It may bring momentary pleasure or delight, but they do not lead to lasting satisfaction and happiness. It is not the place nor the condition but the state of mind alone that can make anyone happy or miserable. And it is in this that so many people err, and it is on this account that there is so much dissatisfaction and unhappiness in the world.

The end of creation, we are told, is that people may live in happiness to eternity. This is the end of the Divine love (see Canons, Lord VII, 10a). The nature of love is that it desires to give of its own to others and thus make them happy. God therefore created mankind as the object of His love, that is, He created mankind so that He could communicate His love to them and make them happy to eternity. Since this is the Divine end and purpose in creation, it follows that happiness can be attained only by the reception of the Divine love. The angels, who enjoy happiness so great that it cannot be described, perceive that all happiness comes from the Lord (see AC 32:2).

Happiness, therefore, flows in from the Lord into the human soul. But the delights of the soul are imperceptible, for the soul that inmost receptacle of life from the Lord is above man’s consciousness. As the love descends, it becomes more and more perceptible. The delight of the soul is felt in the mind as happiness, in the sensual degree of the mind as delight, and in the body itself as pleasure. Internal happiness the happiness of heaven consists of all of these, but not from the last alone, for it is transitory, and when sought as an end in itself, inevitably leads to unhappiness (see CL 16:2).

The fact is, while people live in this world, they cannot experience heavenly happiness in its fullness, not even if they are regenerating. But they can experience a general delight which we call happiness. The reason for this is that while we live in the world we are greatly concerned with worldly cares and anxieties, and these prevent heavenly happiness, which is deep within us, from fully manifesting itself. For when this happiness descends, it becomes mingled with natural cares and anxieties which reside in the lowest planes of our mind, and thus it becomes a relatively obscure delight, but still it is a delight within which there is real happiness (see AC 3938:7).

It is a law of order, inherent in creation, that perfection increases toward interiors and decreases toward exteriors. For confirmation of this principle, consider, if you will, the structure of the brain and the nervous system relative to the structure of the skeletal system of the body and the muscles, or the structure of the atom as compared to that of a molecule. It is because of the operation of this law that we cannot experience heavenly happiness fully while we live in this world, for we live on a lower or more external plane of consciousness.

Nevertheless, there are three successive planes or degrees of the natural mind: the rational, imaginative, and sensual; and as we advance from the sensual through the imaginative to the rational, our perception of happiness may increase. Therefore the Writings say that intelligence, wisdom, love, and the resulting happiness are what constitute angelic perfection (see HH 34). It is from this principle also that the delights and pleasures that arise from worldly possessions, or the indulgence of sensual appetites, give only momentary satisfaction (see AC 7007:2, 6481).

In self-love and the indulgence of the bodily appetites there is something delightful and exhilarating which so affects man’s mind that one supposes such pleasures and delights are happiness itself. But happiness that depends on self-satisfaction cannot last, for concealed within self-love is hatred against all who do not contribute toward one’s own supposed happiness. Such hatred may not be consciously perceived as such, but it ultimates itself as bitterness, envy, jealousy, discontent and cynicism, which are diametrically opposed to happiness. Also, hatred, when manifested in its extreme forms, leads to revenge, deceit and cruelty, which are destructive of all happiness (see AC 1594).

We would also note the teaching that true and lasting happiness is not spontaneously received, for happiness cannot be exquisitely perceived unless one has experienced unhappiness, and one’s perception of happiness is according to the degree in which he has been in the opposite state. The perception of the contrast between happiness and unhappiness extends one’s limit or capacity for experiencing happiness (see AC 2694:2). Here is eloquent testimony to the mercy of the Lord. He turns what is negative in life to our eternal advantage if we permit Him to.

It is a fact that the Divine Providence of the Lord directs all things. All who are in the stream of Providence, who are those who trust in the Lord and attribute all good to Him, are carried at all times toward happiness whatever may be the temporary appearance; and because they inwardly trust in the Lord they have peace.

Those who do not trust in the Lord ascribe everything to human intelligence and ingenuity, and what they do not ascribe to these, they ascribe to chance, fate or fortune. Those who trust in chance, fate or fortune, or in their own cleverness, can never be sure of anything; hence they have no peace, contentment or happiness, but are restless, discontented and unhappy (see AC 8478:4).

The Lord loves all people, and from love wills good to them. As the Lord does goods, which are uses, mediately through angels and people on earth, therefore, to those who perform uses faithfully He gives a love of use and its reward, which is happiness (see CL 7:5). The Writings state that “angelic happiness is in use, from use, and according to use” (AC 548). Happiness is the fruit of love and service. It never comes and never can come by making it an end. It is because so many people fail to understand this reality that there are so many frustrated and unhappy people in the world.

There can be no happiness in idleness, nor in social interaction only, nor even in being loved, if these are indulged in for the sake of one’s own enjoyment. Such a life does not have use as an end, and is therefore not receptive of love and happiness (see SD 3617). Happiness comes from use. It consists in activity. It is a running stream and not a stagnant pond. There is a certain latent vein within the human heart which draws the mind on to do something. By activity the mind tranquilizes and satisfies itself. This satisfaction and tranquility produce a state of mind receptive of a love of use from the Lord. With the reception of this love comes heavenly happiness (see CL 6e).

Use, in the most ultimate form, is the faithful, sincere and diligent performance of the work of one’s employment. When a person loves use and expresses that love in earnest activity, the mind is kept from dissipating its energies and powers by wandering about drinking in lusts that flow in through the body. A preoccupation with sensual pleasures and purely natural delights scatters the truths of religion and principles of morality. On the other hand, earnest activity of the mind in the performance of the uses of one’s employment binds truths together, and thrusts aside illusions, falsities, and vain imaginations (see CL 16:3).

The happiness of angels arises from the fact that they earnestly desire and delight in the happiness of others. The happiness of heaven consists in the fact that all the angels communicate their happiness to others, for they desire the happiness of others more than their own. Those who seek only their own happiness, since they communicate no happiness from themselves to others, automatically exclude themselves from heaven because their sphere is contrary to the sphere of heaven (see SD 4593). Happiness comes as a twin; all who would enjoy it must share it with others.

The perfection of heaven consists in the fact that every angel is different from all others, and the happiness which flows in from the Lord is received by each according to his or her form; thus it is changed according to the quality of the angel who receives it. Since all angels desire above all things to communicate their happiness to others, the happiness of heaven increases as the number of angels increases.

Happiness may be compared to an electric current. In the case of electricity, the current proceeds from a generator as its source, and is conveyed through wires to ground. When the current is broken by turning off a switch, the electric current does not produce any effect. The fact that it does not produce any effect does not mean it is not present in the wire; it merely means it has ceased to flow. When we turn on the switch, we complete the circuit and then the desired effect is produced.

Happiness, like a current, proceeds from the Lord and is received in the interiors of every person. When a person performs uses for others from a desire to make them happy, then the current flows down from the interiors of the mind into the realm of consciousness, and then it is communicated to others. As the current of happiness passes through the plane of man’s consciousness, it is perceived variously as joy, delight, contentment, peace and happiness.

However, if one does not perform uses for others from a sincere desire to make them happy, but instead seeks one’s own happiness, then the current is stopped up in the interior and subconscious realms of the mind. The current is switched off and cannot be consciously perceived.

If we seek happiness for its own sake, we will not find it. But if we seek to be of use, if we love duty and faithfully perform it for the benefit of others, then happiness will follow as the shadow comes with sunshine.

If we would be truly happy in this world, and lastingly happy in the world to come this is what the Lord wills for us and created us for we must first of all acknowledge the Lord as the source of life, love and all happiness. Secondly, we must trust in His merciful providence, which ever bears us toward eternal happiness; and thirdly, we must perform uses for our fellow human beings from a genuine desire for their happiness. “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God.” Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 146, John 13:1-17, AC 454 and 549

Arcana Coelestia

454. Some think that heaven consists in a life of ease in which they are served by others; but they are told that there is no possible happiness in being at rest as a means of happiness, for so everyone would wish to have the happiness of others made tributory to his own happiness; and when everyone wished this, no one would have happiness. Such a life would not be an active life, but an idle one in which they would grow torpid, and yet they might know that there is no happiness except in an active life. Angelic life consists in use and in the goods of charity; for the angels know no greater happiness than in teaching and instructing the spirits that arrive from the world; in being of service to men, controlling the evil spirits about them lest they pass the proper bounds, and inspiring the men with good; and in raising up the dead to the life of eternity, and then, if the souls are such as to render it possible, introducing them into heaven. From all this they perceive more happiness than can possibly be described. Thus are they images of the Lord; thus do they love the neighbor more than themselves; and for this reason heaven is heaven. So that angelic happiness is in use, from use, and according to use, that is, it is according to the goods of love and of charity. When those who have the idea that heavenly joy consists in living at ease, idly breathing in eternal joy, have heard these things, they are given to perceive, in order to shame them, what such a life really is, and they perceive that it is a most sad one, that it is destructive of all joy, and that after a short time they would loathe and nauseate it.

549. The angelic state is such that everyone communicates his own bliss and happiness to others. For in the other life there is a most exquisite communication and perception of all the affections and thoughts, so that each person communicates his joy to all, and all to each, so that each one is as it were the center of all. This is the heavenly form. And therefore the more there are who constitute the Lord’s kingdom, the greater is the happiness, for it increases in proportion to the numbers, and this is why heavenly happiness is unutterable. There is this communication of all with each and of each with all when everyone loves others more than himself. But if anyone wishes better for himself than for others, the love of self reigns, which communicates nothing to others from itself except the idea of self, which is very foul, and when this is perceived, the person is at once banished and rejected.

THE “RISK-FREE” SOCIETY

THE “RISK-FREE” SOCIETY
A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
Preached in Mitchellville, Maryland – Cataloged May 4, 1997

“Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it”‘ (Luke 9:23,24).

As civilization has advanced, as our knowledge of the world and how it works has been increased, the dangers of day-to- day life have decreased. In fact, the momentum toward reducing the dangers of daily life has pushed us so far that we are beginning to work toward a “risk-free” society. We insure our personal property so that if something is ruined or lost it can be replaced. We insure our lives so that even after a person dies he can continue to support his family. In recent years people have been able to insure such unusual things as a pianist’s fingers or a dancer’s legs. If we are careful to choose the right company and pay our premiums on time, we can insulate ourselves from almost any kind of natural disaster or loss.

Governments now concern themselves with such things as the content of food products, the use of cosmetics, and the conditions of the work place. They tightly regulate every aspect of daily life for the sake of protecting us from hidden dangers. On the one hand, so many substances have been named as carcinogens that such announcements are difficult to take seriously any more. On the other hand, some truly dangerous substances like asbestos have been identified and steps taken to remove them from our environment, and diseases such as smallpox have been entirely destroyed. Government programs have been developed to help farmers by developing and distributing pesticides and fertilizers, and by building great systems of dams and waterways in an attempt to control floods and irrigate deserts. In every case, whether successful or not, whether the side effects were worth the cost, the apparent intent has been to reduce risk to the general populace, to insulate us from the effects of things and ideas that are in the natural world, be they insects, drought, flood, storm, or our choice of food or even our selection of reading material.

It is clear that the people of our day are trying very hard to eliminate risks and dangers from modern life. This is well and good. We are trying to make life less dangerous, more pleasant. We are living longer and better than any people before in the history of mankind. What, if anything, is wrong with that? Only that this kind of attitude toward life puts our eternal soul at risk.

It is only natural for such a trend to continue into more and more diverse areas of life until we find ourselves exchanging a reduced risk of injury for reduced personal freedoms. We need to remember that it is a spiritual principle that the freedom to make only the “approved” choice is not freedom at all. We must be free to take risks and make terrible mistakes in order to be truly free.

The problem is that as natural risks are removed, as we are able to live relatively without care, our spiritual attitudes tend to follow our natural attitudes. When we can take a wonder drug to cure our pneumonia, we expect to find equally fast and powerful tools with which to fight our evils, and if our efforts do not meet with immediate results, we give up using that tool and look for a new product, a new spiritual tool that will give the quick results that we desire.

The root cause of this attitude is the doctrine of faith alone and its related doctrine of works alone. Both the doctrine of faith alone and the doctrine of works alone have within them similar assumptions: that admission to paradise (or heaven) is a matter of grace because no human could possibly deserve it, having been born in sin; and that grace is obtained from God through a single, specific act, either faith that Jesus Christ died for the remission of sins, or receiving forgiveness for sins from the church and taking part in the communion. Neither the faith-alone nor the works-alone position requires any amendment of life! However, as we all know, reasonable members of all churches believe that it is not enough only to have faith, and that they must show the signs of their faith by living a good life, or that they must be true to their confession and actually go and commit that sin no more.

Even though it is not necessarily the doctrinal teaching of their own church, the Lord has provided that every person who seeks to follow Him will, from conscience, seek to live in obedience to His laws, and interpret the doctrines of his own church in such a way as to permit this. And yet we must be aware that the doctrine of faith alone is extremely appealing when we consider the choices. According to the doctrine of faith alone, if we seek to live in paradise with God we can achieve it through no more than a simple statement of faith. According to the doctrine of works alone we can earn paradise simply by being forgiven of sins by a priest and taking communion. Our third choice is to read the Word, examine our lives in comparison to what the Lord there teaches, repent of our sins, fight the combats of temptation as if from ourselves, and begin a new life – and this over and over again throughout life in the world. When you are surrounded by a culture where everything is done quickly, where waiting itself is a sin, where credit is available so you need never save for something you want, where everything is focused on instant gratification, which choice are you going to make?

By analogy it seems that many people are looking for a kind of spiritual “magic armor, and by this I mean some kind of formula or church doctrine that will allow them to continue to live their lives pretty much as they want, and still allow them to commit some sins, to be able to have a “spiritual accident” without getting hurt. A recent study showed that as cars are made safer and safer through ABS brakes and air bags, people are driving faster and less carefully, so the accident and injury rates remain the same.

Does the doctrine of salvation by faith alone actually encourage people to sin by removing the consequences of their sin? The Arcana puts it this way: “They who are not being regenerated say absolutely that faith is in the first place, because in this way they can live as they desire and still say that they have hope of salvation” (AC 6269:2).

What does the Word teach about the risk, the cost of the life, that leads to spiritual happiness? The Word treats of this in several different ways: for example, through the Lord’s own example by His life in the world. He challenged the scribes and Pharisees in the synagogues and temples, the basis of their strength. He traveled with and stayed with publicans and sinners because those were the people who needed Him the most. He took on a human body in order to fight the hells on their own terms by allowing them to attack Him. He suffered grievous temptations at the hands of the hells, all for the sake of our eternal welfare.

The Lord taught us concerning the cost of following Him in Luke: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23,24).

The life that we must lose is our selfish life, the life of the old will, the life that lives in the delights of hereditary evils, selfishness, and falsity. This is what must die so that the life of the new will given by the Lord can take its place and live – the new will which is the foundation of angelic life.

If we seek our own ends, we will lose spiritual life in heaven. If instead we look outward toward the Lord and the neighbor, we are giving up our selfish life for the sake of the Lord, and so we will be saved. This is difficult, for we love all the things that are ours, and do not wish to give any of them up. This is our burden; this is the cross which He asks us to bear daily.

Temptations are the most common form of risk for us, while at the same time they are the best way for us to express our spiritual freedom. A temptation is not actually a temptation unless there is doubt concerning the end – unless your spiritual life is at risk. In order for you to really fight as from yourself it is absolutely necessary that you genuinely believe and feel that you can fail unless you fight with all your strength and ask the Lord for help. This is the ultimate expression of free will in spiritual things, where you decide for yourself what you are going to be, how you are going to live, what you are going to believe. You risk being wrong in your beliefs, failing in your temptation. But unless there was that risk of failure, the temptation would not be real; it would be nothing but a meaningless act required by a capricious God.

We cannot be free to choose to do good and go to heaven without also being free to choose evil and hell, to be free to fail. A risk-free life is insipid and dead, a refusal to live as God intended, as a spiritually free individual experiencing repeated victories, choosing his own spiritual character.

The New Church has a lot going for it. Our doctrinal position is rational and consistent with Scripture and the Ten Commandments. We have knowledges about the spiritual world that make it a real and desirable place. Our teachings about marriage are beautiful and uplifting. On the other hand, it is a hard church to belong to because it requires a lot of reading of what can be difficult material. It does not tell anyone how to live his life but requires that everyone apply the doctrines from the Word for himself according to his own understanding and conscience. The New Church requires that each one go through the steps of self-examination, repentance, and reformation in order to be regenerated by the Lord. The New Church requires that we work for our place in heaven, and offers no guarantees.

The subtle danger of the doctrine of faith alone is that it encourages us to continue in our old, evil ways even while we are convinced that we have been made new by grace. The irony is that the idea of the “risk-free” society is in fact the greatest risk that we face to our spiritual life, for it makes us think that we do not need the Lord’s help. Why should we seek repentance when we don’t need it? How can we be helped by the Lord if we don’t think we need it and won’t ask for it? If there were no possibility of failure, no risk, there could be no freedom to choose heaven, for whenever there is true freedom of choice, there must also be the freedom to make the wrong choice.

Think of David, a young man, facing Goliath, the Philistine giant, armed with nothing other than a shepherd’s sling and five smooth stones. Think of the risk he took. And yet we know that it was no risk at all, because the Lord was fighting for (and with) him. Nothing of value is gained without risk, without some cost, especially things that are really valuable, spiritual life itself. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Amen.

Lessons: I Samuel 17 (portions), Luke 14:25-33, AC 8164-8165

Arcana Caelestia 8164, 8165

There are spiritual temptations and there are natural temptations. Spiritual temptations belong to the internal man, but natural ones to the external man. Spiritual temptations sometimes arise without natural temptations, sometimes with them. Natural temptations exist when a man suffers as to the body, as to honors, as to wealth, in a word, as to the natural life, as is the case in diseases, misfortunes, persecutions, punishments, and the like. The anxieties which then arise are what are meant by “natural temptations.” But these temptations effect nothing whatever toward man’s spiritual life; neither can they be called temptations, but griefs, for they arise from the wounding of the natural life, which is that of the love of self and of the world.

But spiritual temptations belong to the internal man, and assault his spiritual life. In this case the anxieties are not on account of any loss of natural life, but on account of the loss of faith and charity, and consequently of salvation. These temptations are frequently induced by means of natural temptations, for if when a man is in these – that is, in disease, grief, the loss of wealth or honor, and the like – he begins to think about the Lord’s aid, His providence, the state of the evil in that they glory and exult when the good suffer and undergo various griefs and various losses, then spiritual temptation is conjoined with natural temptation.

Moreover those who are in despair, which is the last of temptation, think such things, and then they are as it were on the slope, or are as it were sinking down toward hell. But at this time such thought does no harm whatever, nor do the angels pay any attention to it, for every person’s power is limited, and when the temptation arrives at the furthest limit of his power, the person cannot sustain anything more but sinks down. But then, when he is on the downhill course, he is raised by the Lord and thus liberated from despair, and is then for the most part brought into a clear state of hope and of the consequent consolation, and also into good fortune.