VII. The Origin of Evil

Creative Digital Camera“Man himself is the origin of evil: not that that origin was put into man from creation, but that he himself, by turning from God to himself, put it into himself.”—C.L. 444.

INQUIRER.—My knowledge of the New Church doctrines is limited; but I understand that your views on religious subjects are essentially different from those generally taught.

MISSIONARY.—The idea may be new to you, as it is to many, but the fact is that we have a system of doctrine which has been Divinely revealed for the spiritual enlightenment of the world, and thus for the salvation of the human race. That is, the genuine truths of the Divine Word are now made known by the revelation of its internal sense. And this we have in the Writings of the New Church.

I.—What do you mean by the genuine truths of the Word? The expression is new to me.

M.—We employ new terms to express distinctively new truths, and to convey definitely spiritual ideas, respecting religious subjects. By genuine truths we mean the spirit, or real import, of the Word, which is within the mere letter, as the soul is within the body. For the mere letter is no more the essential Word than the merely physical body is the actual man. Both of these, indeed, are only the outward form.

I.—There is a passage where the Lord Jesus Christ says: “The words that I speak unto you are spirit, and they are life” (John vi. 63). I suppose the terms spirit and life have reference to the spiritual sense?

M.—Yes; the Apostle Paul also emphatically declares that “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. iii. 6). It is by virtue of the spiritual sense of the Word that we obtain a knowledge of its genuine truths, and from these are derived the living, rational, definite ideas, which alone can make us really intelligent. The literal sense in itself, though also Divine, is full of contradictions, because these are mere appearances of truth.

I.—The Scriptures say that God is love, also that He is angry with the wicked every day. This is surely a contradiction, and it looks as if this must be an apparent truth; for God certainly cannot be infinite love and infinite wrath at the same time. The idea does not agree with the revealed truth of His immutability. Since God is love, and is also unchangeable— the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,—it seems to me that He must be love only, and that He cannot be angry with any one.

M.—Your remarks are in accordance with sound logic, and your conclusion is quite correct. That God is angry, that He manifests feelings of wrath or revenge, that He caused evil and created a hell, that He is arbitrary and cruel in the treatment of some of His creatures, that He casts the wicked into hell, and consigns His enemies to eternal torment in unquenchable fire, and a thousand other things, are all mere appearances of truth in the literal sense of the Scriptures.

I.—How, then, did evil originate? If God did not create hell, who did? And in what manner are the wicked punished, if God does not punish them?

M.—Ah! there you propound questions that require a great deal of time and consideration to answer properly. I fear it may not be possible for me to reply to them as fully as the importance of the subject demands. But we shall make as good use of the time at our disposal as we can.

I.—It is frequently much easier to ask questions than to answer them. But I want light on these dark problems; for it seems to me there is in the old systems of belief a fearful confusion of ideas concerning the points I have indicated.

M.—There is no doubt but that many of the theologians of the day are without any rational doctrine, to enable them satisfactorily to explain matters of this nature. There is great need for light. And He who is Himself the Light of the World desires that all His children should be brought from the darkness of ignorance to the light of intelligence and wisdom.

I.—That surely must be so.

M.—Let us now consider your questions, in the order in which you have put them. As to the first, respecting the. origin of evil, allow me to premise that God, our Creator, gives to man, His creature, the prerogative of thinking, of willing, and of acting in freedom. In the exercise of the faculties with which he is endowed, man has the ability to receive truth into his understanding, and at the same time good into his will, and thus to live according to Divine order. Or, he can do the reverse of this—think what is false, will what is evil, and also live contrary to Divine order. And to come into a life contrary to Divine order is to confirm the false and the evil, and thus wilfully to transgress the laws of God, and so to become wicked and perverse.

I.—Why did God not create man so that it was impossible for him to sin?

M.—Because He could not do so.

I.—Is that not, an unwarrantable assertion? Do you mean to say that anything is impossible with God? Surely there is no limit to His power.

M.—In the true sense of the word, there is no limit to the power of the Almighty. But it is impossible for the Lord to do anything that is contrary to His Divine order. The Lord is the God of heaven; and “order is heaven’s first law.” It is an absolute law of the Divine order that man should be a free agent. As a matter of fact, God could not create man, to be man in the true sense of the word, without endowing him with distinctively human faculties, and giving him the ability to exercise these faculties in freedom. Without free agency, man would be a sort of mechanical creature, and not really a human being.

I.—Very true; but how is man’s free agency related to the origin of evil?

M.—We shall see presently. And here let me assure you that our doctrine, fully considered, satisfactorily explains (to any one that can understand rational truth) the difficult problem as to the origin of evil.

I.—I am greatly pleased to learn that there is such a doctrine.

M.—In most ancient times, men, from the purely natural state to which they were created, passed by stages of development into the spiritual state; and thereafter by orderly progression they at length reached the celestial state. These things are described in the sublime symbolism of the first chapter of Genesis. Then, in times immemorial, the fall of man took place. The fall of man was a gradual degeneracy, continuing through many ages, and not a sudden transition from a good and holy to an evil and wicked state. The beginning of the fall originated in the desire, in the minds of the ancients, to understand things heavenly and Divine by means of the senses, that is, to prefer the evidence of the senses to revealed truth; or, as it may also be expressed, to believe the apparent truth from without rather than the real truth from within.

I.—What about the forbidden fruit? It has always seemed to me a queer thing that sin and death, disease, and all but universal misery, should be introduced into our world by the simple act of a person eating an apple.

M.—The account in Genesis is not to be taken literally, of course. It is purely symbolic language; and it is nonsense to imagine that physical, spiritual, and eternal death could come in consequence of eating any natural fruit. In fact, the literal interpretation of the Scripture in question quite defeats itself. We read: “Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” (Gen. ii. 16, 17). But he did not literally die in that day. For again we read: “And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died” (Gen. v. 5). The Scripture, therefore, has no reference to physical death, as the literalists suppose. It is exclusively spiritual death, the death of the soul, that is treated of.

I.—How do you define the term “spiritual death”?

M.—When man ceases to receive life from the Lord, who is the infinite Fountain of life, he is spiritually dead. A man may be alive as to his body, but nevertheless be dead as to his soul. Of himself, man is spiritually dead, because of the perversion of his life, which is, by inheritance, his natural state. For this reason man requires to be regenerated, or born anew. But to those who confirm themselves in evil, and will not permit themselves to be brought into a state of good, the Lord says: “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life” (John v. 40).

I.—Now I should like you to explain something of the spirit of the passages you have quoted from Genesis.

M.—We will try. In the first place, then, let us consider that we do not understand the words of our Lord in their literal sense, when, for example, He says: “Except ye eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, ye have no life in you” (John vi. 53). Nor does a consistent method of interpretation require us to take the Scripture literally, when we read in Genesis about eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For this, in like manner as the Lord’s words in John, has a spiritual sense. Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man, means to receive and to appropriate the Divine good and the Divine truth from the Lord, in order that we may have spiritual and eternal life.

I.—Quite different from the notion of transubstantiation, to which millions in the Christian world still adhere.

M.—Eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in the symbolic style of expressing ideas, signifies man’s ascribing life and all things of his being, to himself, instead of to the Lord. But from what is revealed to us in the Word and the Writings, we learn that for man to be truly human, he must freely acknowledge that he receives life and all things good and true,—all pure motives, heavenly aspirations, ennobling thoughts and affections,—only from the Divine. Of himself, man is nothing but evil, and prone to confirm himself in false notions of every kind. Whatever is of the genuine human character in him, is from above. It is written: “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven” (John iii. 27).

I.—All very true! And the ancient philosophers were therefore quite right when they said, that “in God we live, and move, and have our being.” It appears that in this respect they were really wiser than many of the learned of modern times, because these do not acknowledge this grand truth.

M.—It is the fundamental truth of the philosophy of human existence. God the Lord alone is self-existent, essential Life, Infinite, Divine, All-Good, All-Wise, Omnipotent, and Omniscient. Man, on the other hand, is a recipient of life, and of all human qualities, by influx from the Lord. The flowers and trees, the things of universal nature,—the countless forms of use and beauty, which adorn the bosom of the earth,—would immediately be dissipated, if the inflowing of the heat and light of the sun were to be withdrawn. The Lord is to the human soul, and to the forms in man recipient of life, what the sun is to the forms and substances of nature.

I.—Your comparisons seem to me quite legitimate, and they help to make the subject intelligible. But I must not interrupt you.

M.—We shall be able to understand this matter of the origin of evil more clearly, when we consider that both evil and falsity are the perversion of good and truth. That is to say, when men come into a state in which they were inclined to abuse their freedom, by thinking and willing, and hence acting, contrary to Divine order, then good and truth from the Lord (the essential principles which form the interiors of the human mind) were turned .into the opposite. Thus evil and falsity had their beginning in man.

I.—But how did men come into a state such as you describe?

M.—Because they permitted themselves to be deceived by the serpent. That is, they were not content to allow themselves to be led by the Lord; but came into a state in which they desired to be led by their own intelligence. They gave way to an inclination to love self and to depend upon their own prudence, instead of continuing to love the Lord supremely, and to trust implicitly in His Divine Providence. Their self-love then induced them to begin to believe nothing but what they could comprehend by means of the senses. This was the very origin of the degeneracy of the human race. And it continued to operate, until, in the fullness of time, the Lord Jesus Christ—who was “God manifest in the flesh”—said to the sensuous-minded Jews: “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matt. xxiii. 33).

I.—You said the language about those things in Genesis is symbolic. I suppose, then, we are not to understand that a serpent ever actually talked with a woman, and persuaded her to eat fruit?

M.—It is certain that no serpent ever literally talked. Nor did the knowledge of good and evil ever literally grow on a tree. The serpent is mentioned in the Word to represent the sensual principle in man, that is, all things which belong to his senses. To be a full and perfect man, one requires the sensual principle also. But this must be made subordinate. The higher principles of human nature should rule in man, and not those of his lower nature. To allow the sensuous propensities to become predominant, is the beguilement of the serpent.

I.—I now begin to get some light upon the subject. And it is gratifying, for I have been in the dark quite long enough.

M.—Let me endeavour to make it still more plain. When men, in most ancient times, began to feel inclined to think that they were wise and good from themselves, and so gradually ceased to be willing to acknowledge that they could only be really wise and good from the Lord, then they did that which is meant by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The celestial man—the man of the celestial Church—so long as he remained in a state of integrity, delighted to acknowledge that the Lord is All in all; that He every instant imparts life and the power to think and act; and that in His infinite mercy He will confer upon His children the joys of angelic life to all eternity. But it is evident that man fell from a state of innocence and purity; that a gradual degeneracy ensued; that men in the process of the ages became wicked, hard-hearted, and cruel; “earthly, sensual, and devilish.”

I.—No one can deny that such has been the outcome. And it is lamentable to think of the state of the Christian world to-day. The effects of the degeneration of the race are, in one form or another, constantly brought under our notice. There are shams, frauds, and deceptions of all sorts. There is a vast deal of disregard for the rights of one’s fellow-man. The Golden Rule is at this day at a fearful discount, although it is the only rule of life and conduct by which we can practise the principles of true religion. Men are careless as to what they believe, and equally so as to how they live. Large numbers in Christendom have become, or are becoming, sceptics, scoffers, rationalists, and atheists. In fact, when one reads so much about the evil doings of people as we read nowadays, it sometimes actually makes one feel ashamed of human nature. But I do not wish to change the subject. Please go on with your explanations.

M.—I was about to say something in reply to your question as to who created hell. Evil and false principles, in the aggregate, constitute hell. The angels receive the Divine good and the Divine truth from the lord, and of these the heavens are formed. But evil spirits, who are devils and satans, in the very act of reception, turn good and truth into the opposite, and of these the hells are composed. We know that reception is according to the character or quality of the recipient.

I.—It evidently could not be otherwise.

M.—We have illustrations of this in nature. Look at the difference existing in the forms of the vegetable and animal kingdoms. The wheat and the tares come up together. The rose and the thorn may grow side by side. The fruit-tree and the poison-producing plant flourish in the same soil. The same physical conditions surround the wolf and the lamb. The owl and the dove breathe the same atmosphere. All these things are developed, and live by virtue of the influences of the heat and light of the sun. But the forms, receiving these influences, being essentially different, the effects produced are various accordingly. The wheat gives us bread for our nourishment; the tares are useless weeds. The bloom and fragrance of the rose delight our senses of sight and smell; but there is nothing very attractive about the thorn. The luscious fruit gratifies our taste, and promotes good health; but the poisonous will destroy the body altogether. The wolf and the lamb are as opposite in their dispositions as they can be; and so are the owl and the dove.

I.—The Lord says: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matt. x. 16). By the sheep are evidently meant the good, and by wolves the evil.

M.—I have not quite finished the point of my illustration. I was about to add, that the Divine love and the Divine wisdom proceed from the Lord as the sun of heaven, for the benefit of all, irrespective of state. That He is no respecter of persons is plainly stated in the Scriptures; and is also meant when it is declared that “He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. v. 45). Love and wisdom, received by an angel, make him a form of heaven; but the same influences are with a devil turned into the opposite, and he becomes a form of hell. The angel is in pure, genuine, heavenly delight; and the evil spirit is in his own impure, sensual, infernal delight, agreeable to his state.

I.—I should like to hear an explanation of the difference between devils and satans.

M.—The devils are those in whom evil predominates, and who from evils are in falsities. The satans are those in whom falsity predominates, and who from falsities are in evils. The Lord said: “One of you is a devil,” because the one referred to, namely, Judas Iscariot, was under the influences of evil to such a degree that he finally betrayed the Lord (John vi. 70). And the Lord on one occasion called Peter, Satan, because that disciple objected to the Lord’s passing through those things which were necessary for Him to fully glorify His human, and to finish the work of redemption (Matt. xvi. 23).

I.—Your view seems to militate against the idea of a personal devil. How about His Satanic Majesty?

M.—There is no personal devil, in the sense of one big devil, or evil deity, who has supreme power in the internal regions, and rules there, as many have imagined. It is written: “I am the First, and I am the Last, and beside me there is no God” (Isa. xliv. 6). By devil and satan are respectively meant all evil and falsity in the aggregate. In the Apocalypse, for example, we read of “the dragon, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world” (xii. 9).

I.—I must now remind you of the question concerning the punishment of the wicked.

M.—The Lord says of those who confirm themselves in evil and in falsity, and make infernal loves the chief delight of their lives: “These shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Matt. xxv. 46). This expresses the truth of the matter. The wicked go away from the Lord. They turn their back upon heaven, with all its shining splendours, its glories, and its unspeakable felicities, and of their own free choice go down into the regions of eternal darkness and spiritual death. They have perverted the order of their life, have become forms of evil, and hence are like owls that cannot endure the light of the sun.They cannot abide in the presence of the beneficent Lord of heaven. And thus we read in the Apocalypse, that they hide themselves in dens, and say to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Matt. vi. 15, 16).

I.—The Lord, then, is not responsible for the sufferings of the wicked?

M.—Certainly not. The Lord desires all to be happy, in time and throughout eternity. And all who come unto Him that they may have life truly human, shall be blessed for evermore. But the Lord cannot compel any one to do right, to live a good life, and go to heaven; because this would be contrary to the Divine law of human free agency. It is sad to think that it should be so; but it is the insane delight of the wicked to violate the laws of Divine order, which have been ordained of God for the direction and guidance, the well-being and spiritual prosperity, of His children. And by the wilful violation of these beneficent laws, without which the universe could not exist for a moment, the evil bring punishment upon themselves; and this as inevitably as effects succeed causes. Let us remember that there is absolutely nothing arbitrary about the Lord’s dealings with His creatures. He is just in all His ways. He doeth all things well. He is, most truly, our Father in the heavens. We, His children, may confidently trust in Him, and in all circumstances of life look up to Him; for His Divine hand will lead us, and His Divine Providence will protect us, that no evil may do us harm. The Lord, whom alone we ought to acknowledge and worship, is pure Love Itself, infinite and unchanging. And it is a genuine truth, expressed in the letter of the Divine Word, where we read: “The Lord is good unto all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Ps. cxlv. 9).

The Essential Uses of New Church Education

The Essential Uses of New Church Education

(New Church Education, Part 3)

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

“All instruction is simply an opening of the way; and as the way is opened … there … flow in … rational things … [and into these spiritual and celestial things]” (AC 1495)

The Lord alone teaches and leads mankind. The Lord created the human mind. He opens it to spiritual and celestial things from within. He depends on knowledges acquired in the world to be the foundation for this work, and the best foundation is made from truths from the Word. The Lord can work with any kind of knowledge at all, but the human mind is designed by the Lord Himself to be built upon a foundation of truth from the Word. New Church Education is a formal system of learning that tries to cooperate with the Lord’s plan as it is revealed in the Word through our whole life in this world.

In the first sermon of this series, we spoke of how New Church education begins in the home as the newly married couple begin to establish their home routine, their habits, and their attitudes towards each other, towards life, and towards the Lord. It is extremely important that they establish a home that is physically, mentally, and spiritually clean and orderly. A New Church home should provide an environment which preserves the innocent states of the children, that fulfills the promises made at the time of baptism, and that teaches reverence to the Lord through family worship and regular attendance at church.

In the second sermon of this series, we focused our attention on formal New Church Education. We spoke of how we look to the Lord’s own example in the Word for teaching methods, and how the New Church school system was intended to be an extension of the ideal New Church home so that the school and the home could form a cooperative effort to educate children in a peaceful, orderly sphere where there could be the freedom to talk about the Lord and morality without fear of embarrassment. Finally, it was shown how the main focus of religious education in New Church schools is to teach the children how to read the Lord’s Word for themselves with understanding; for it is the threefold Word that is the center and heart of New Church education, and only those who know what the Word teaches can be truly, spiritually, free.

It is useful for us to remember that New Church education is not just something we do from tradition, or because we wish to be exclusive, but that our whole purpose is to raise our children in the sphere of the church, and it is our purpose because these principles of education and child care are taught in the doctrines of the church.

In fact, the principle of New Church education was the rallying cry around which the General Church was formed. Although Richard deCharms was the first leader to teach the importance of the doctrine of New Church education, he was unable to bring those formative ideas into concrete forms. His pioneering work was then taken up by Bishop Benade, who was both a great student of the Writings and a charismatic leader of men. Bishop Benade was the kind of man who was able to take a simple, basic concept and develop it into a structure and a plan that would work, in part because he had the force of character to get things done.

A group of ministers of the Convention Church in the United States were led by Bishop Benade to see that the Writings of the New Church clearly taught the need for New Church education, and that the Writings themselves were the Word. As these views were not held by the majority of the members of Convention, Benade and his followers left Convention and formed their own church organization.

Unfortunately, while Benade’s character was of the kind that is well suited to bringing revolutionary new ideas into light, at the same time it was poorly suited to working with people and managing the structures once they were in place. His forcefulness and self-assurance were essential to the founding of the Academy movement, yet they also made it impossible for him to govern that church when it was established and at peace. In order to survive, the Academy had to move away from its founding father, and reorganized as the General Church under the leadership of Bishop W.F. Pendleton a little more than 100 years ago.

New Church education was the principle, the concept, the goal that these men spent their entire adult lives fighting for, because, they argued, New Church education was essential to the establishment and continuation of the Lord’s New Church on earth.

The argument for New Church education that they presented followed these lines of reasoning: The Lord commanded every member of His church to help spread the “good news” or the “evangel.” However, as the farmer does not scatter his seed randomly, but rather first prepares a field to receive it, so those who wish to help the Lord grow the New Church should direct their attention towards those people who, like the freshly plowed and prepared field, are most likely to receive that seed in their heart. It was felt that the most fruitful field of evangelization is with the children of New Church parents.

There are several reasons for this belief. First of all, the Writings teach that few from the Old Church will receive the New Church, and 200 years of observation and experience confirm these teachings. Where New Church bodies have rejected the principle of New Church education, few of the children have become members when they became adults with the inevitable result that the church membership declines.

On the other hand, we believe that it is reasonable to hope that children will become adult members if we cooperate with the Lord in His endeavor to build His church. We do this by acknowledging the Lord in His Second Coming, both for ourselves and for our children. We cooperate by seeing and protecting the distinctiveness of the New Church, by preserving and following the laws of order in marriage, by keeping the sphere of the church in the home, and by providing New Church schools. In this way children are kept in the sphere of the church, in the home, in the school, and in their social life, until they reach adult age.

The leaders of the early church were working from a heartfelt resolve to provide for the future of the church through doctrinal study which would lead to a clearer understanding of the doctrines, and the number of people needed to support and perform the uses of the Lord’s Church on earth.

More than a hundred years of observation and experience tells us that more than half of the students who attend New Church Schools will eventually join the New Church as adults, which is a rate of success several orders of magnitude greater than any other form of evangelization.

Throughout all the points that have been made so far, there is the underlying theme that after all, first and foremost, the General Church is a church, and as a church it has certain goals and priorities.

There are many ways that we could describe the various uses of a church, and there could be considerable difference of opinion as to how to rank them because while the church on earth comes from the Lord through the Word, it is organized and governed by people, and the form that the church on earth takes is dependent upon their wisdom. However, we believe that there would be general agreement on the following goals of the church on earth because they are based on what the Writings call the “two essentials” of the church: acknowledgment of the Lord Jesus Christ, and a life of charity towards the neighbor.

The first and most important goal of the church is to help people get to heaven. After all, the Lord created the universe solely for the purpose of providing a means for getting a heaven from the human race. We are also taught that the Lord’s own ruling love is for the salvation of the human race, and that the ruling love of the priests of the Lord’s church should be the love of saving souls. From these points it should be obvious that the most important use of the Church is to assist people in making the necessary changes in their lives in order to prepare them for a life in heaven.

The second use or goal of the church is to help people live useful lives on earth, that is, to help them order their lives in such a way (by helping them to remove the sins that would prevent them from being able to function in society) so as to be able to at first support themselves, then a family, and finally be able to contribute in some way to the welfare of society as a whole.

Now, having laid out certain goals or priorities of the Church, and having established that the early leaders of the Academy movement within the New Church felt that New Church education was an essential, we must then ask ourselves to what extent does New Church education support and uphold the goals and priorities of the New Church?

If we want to understand the essential nature of anything, whether it be an artifact from some ancient people, a complex modern machine, or an organization of people, we must think of it in terms of the use it is intended to serve, for in no other way can we form a true concept of what, in essence, the thing is. Therefore, if we want to understand the true nature of New Church education, we must think about it not from external appearances (such as number of pupils, sports offered, convenient location), but we must judge it according to how well it serves the uses it was intended to serve. For us to be able to make that judgment, we must first understand what the essential uses of New Church Education are.

We can generalize, and say that the uses of New Church education are essentially the same as the uses of the General Church, but adapted to meet the special needs of the young.

The first use of the church is to help people get to heaven; the first love of parents is for their children to get to heaven; the first objective of New Church education is to introduce each child into a true idea of God as He presents Himself in the truths of the Word, because by so teaching the child, he is being given the tools that he needs to find his way to heaven.

The second use of the church is to help people to live useful lives on earth; the fondest wish of parents is that their children will grow up to marry well and live productive useful lives; the second objective of New Church Education is the formation of a conscience in the understanding. This is important because only through the formation of the conscience can there be a foundation from which to make life’s decisions in the correct way.

No one has the truth from birth. The mind is a blank slate, so to speak, when born, and the process of life in this world is for the purpose of filling that mind with various truths which can then be loved and lived. New Church education seeks to assist the parents and the church in filling the child’s mind with truths from the Word in a form appropriate to his age and state, so that a conscience of what is true and good can begin to be formed. It is obvious that a person with a conscience formed from truths from the Word will live a more complete, more useful, and happier life than the person whose mind is filled supermarket philosophies, and flexible ethics.

The point of this is to show that the church, the home, and the school all want exactly the same things for the child, and are trying to achieve these ends by similar means, each according to their own skills and abilities.

These are our goals in New Church Education. They may seem high and difficult, but they are not impossible.

Thought about the effect on spiritual life is behind every decision that is made, every change or modification of the curriculum. Every step is planned, from the first day of First Grade through graduation to teach children about the Lord from the Word in a sphere designed to affect him, and make him feel good about being useful and kind to others, and where he can feel safe to speak to other children about his faith in the Lord.

But the school can only be as effective as the support from the home allows. When the home and the school are working from the same guiding principles, and trying to accomplish the same spiritual ends, then it is extremely likely that the ideal of New Church Education can be reached. On the other hand, if the values in the home are completely different from those of the school; if external things such as material possessions and wealth, or hobbies, or recreational activities are the leading things in the home (or the school), then the ideals of New Church education cannot be achieved. It is really a question of what one values, what one really wants in the long run, for one’s children.

It is the responsibility of every member of the General Church, not just the parents of the children in the school, to make some contribution to New Church education, for by supporting the school, you are upholding the essential uses of the church; and when you help the Church, you are helping the Lord establish His kingdom in this world and in the next.


Lessons: 1 Kings 21:1-16, Matthew 6:19-33, AC 1495

Striving for Eternal Goals


Striving for Eternal Goals

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

Then they brought young children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16

Let us recall the image of the Lord as described in the first lesson and repeated in our text, the image of the Lord surrounded by the little children. The Lord had been teaching the crowds as was His custom. According to the account in Mark, He was at that time in the region known as Judea on the other side of the Jordan. He had been teaching the Pharisees His new doctrines concerning marriage, that man and woman had been created to become one, and that once joined in marriage, should not be separated by any human act. And as He argued with the Pharisees, the people from the surrounding towns and villages heard that He had come, and they began to gather ‘round. We can imagine that they were somewhat excited by the news of His presence, and brought the children to see the famous teacher.

Remember that the Lord was already famous for healing the sick and other miracles. These simple people believed that His touch could bring good health or good fortune to their children, so they began to press in around Him, pushing their children towards Him. Like parents in any time and any place, they wanted their children to have the best, were eager for their children to receive something that might give them an advantage, something to help them do well in their lives.

The disciples were not only students and ministers of the Lord, they were also His bodyguards. They saw that this session of instruction and argument with the Pharisees was rapidly being turned into something else – possibly a riot! So they rebuked the people, and began to send the children away. There must have been much shouting and argument, because the parents really wanted their children to be touched by the Lord. Eventually there was enough noise and commotion that the Lord turned away from the subject of His discussion with the Pharisees and used this opportunity to give a different lesson to the crowd. He taught them that His words are not just for adults, but for every one of every age.

He also used this opportunity to teach the gathered crowds that the delightful states that we perceive when babies and little children are with us are states of heaven, of innocence, of willingness to be led by the Lord. We find children delightful because, like angels, children want to learn about the Lord, they want to follow His teachings, they wish to be affirmative towards things that are from the Lord in the Word. The Lord taught us that we need to be like little children, innocent, curious, affirmative, and charitable if we are to come into His heavenly kingdom.

The Lord taught us in many ways and in many places that children are His gift to us, and we have certain responsibilities toward the children under our care. New Church Education in its most general sense is the care and education of children according to means and forms set forth in the threefold Word.

Many people identify New Church Education with such things as

                  1. schools, or
                  2. personal growth, or
                  3. learning, or
                  4. a school that begins the day with morning worship, or
                  5. a school that adds religion classes to its regular curriculum, or perhaps
                  6. a school that has all of these things and also teaches its regular courses with a distinctive philosophy.

New Church Education is involved in all of these things, and is also much more than these things.

New Church Education begins with young men and women as they begin the process of finding a married partner who will share the same faith and ideals as they themselves hold. Once they are married, they begin their life’s work of compromise and growth that makes the home. It is here that the seeds of New Church Education are sown, as a young couple consciously, idealistically, looks forward to having, raising, and educating their own children. What goals do they set for themselves? What do they consider to be the most important things for their children? What part will the Lord and His church play in their lives?

The home that they build, the attitudes that they develop, their hopes and dreams for their own future and the future of their children yet to be born, will all have a profound effect on the environment in that home, and the Writings are quite clear that the environment in which children are raised has a powerful effect on their spiritual growth. So profound is the effect that if parents are selfish and worldly, they can actually “shut the doors of heaven” for their own children. And the Writings reveal the sad fact that this is not an unusual or exceptional thing, but that it is the result of the present spiritual state of the world. We read in the Arcana, The present quality of the men of the Christian Church was exhibited to my view by means of representations. … There appeared children who were being combed by their mothers so cruelly that the blood ran down; by which was represented that such is the bringing up of little children at this day (AC 2125).

While we aren’t told specifically what this scene represents, we can work out a reliable message. We know that hair represents external matters, or external truths. Combing the hair signifies putting these external things into order, so this brutal scene, revealed to us to show the state of the quality of men in the world tells us that there is an excessive or obsessive concern for external things, to the point of causing real harm to the child. What are these external things that cause this tension and cruelty today?

                  1. Having the right signs of material success,
                  2. the right clothes,
                  3. the best grades,
                  4. the right school
                  5. to be a top achiever in sports.

We are being told by the Lord in the Word that our obsession with external signs of success and material possessions can cause serious spiritual harm to our children!

All parents know that however many gifts you may give a child, they always want something more, something else. Natural gifts are like natural water: no matter how much you drink, you will soon be thirsty again. As Jesus said in John, Chapter 4, Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13,14) Wise parents do not lead their children to seek natural water, but they lead them to seek living water, to search out those things that are of eternal value.

This is a serious responsibility, and parents need help to accomplish it. This is why the New Church has developed its school system: to assist the parents in keeping the promises made at baptism to instruct children in the moral virtues, and in the spiritual truths of the church. The school does not take on these responsibilities in place of the parents, but serves as an extension of the home to assist the parents in their responsibility. The primary responsibility for the education and care of children rests with the parents, to whom the children were given by the Lord.

Recall for a moment our second lesson, where education in heaven is compared with education on earth, and the example is given of boys being incited to fight by their parents. We are told that by extinguishing the natural states of mutual love and innocence by inciting them to compete so fiercely amongst each other that they were actually fighting, they initiate the children into hatred and revenge. This shuts them out of heaven, for heaven is a place of mutual love – those who delight in revenge and hatred cannot live there. We are given the warning: Let parents therefore who wish well to their children beware of such things (AC 2309).

And who among us does not wish well to our children? Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:9-11) New Church Education is the philosophy, the means, by which parents can provide the environment at home and in school which will nurture and protect those states of innocence and mutual charity that children are endowed with from birth – and are the keys that open the gates of heaven.

New Church Education begins in the home and continues throughout life. It begins with parents who provide a home that is physically, mentally, and spiritually clean and fit for children. The signs of a healthy environment are parents who teach and consistently encourage prayer, family worship, and regular attendance at church and Sunday School; who at home speak about the world and life with confidence in the Lord and His Divine Providence, who speak to their children about the Lord’s influence in their lives frequently and without embarrassment.

Again, the Heavenly Doctrines tell us what it is that the Lord wants us to do for our children. We read from the Arcana, From infancy until childhood, and sometimes till early manhood, by instruction from his parents and teachers a man is imbued with goods and truth; for he then learns them with avidity, and believes them in simplicity (AC 5135). If we do our part by bringing the Lord and the Word into the daily life of our home, the children will do their part by learning to Love the Lord and trust in His guidance. They will be preparing themselves each day for life in heaven, for everything that happens to us, from the day of our birth onwards, has an effect on our spiritual life.

The child’s education should centre around a number of specific spiritual ideas which he is pre-disposed to eagerly learn and believe. They are the following:

                  1. That there is a God, and that He is one.
                  2. He has created all things;
                  3. That He rewards those who do well, and punishes those who do evil;
                  4. That there is a life after death, in which the evil go to hell and the good to heaven, thus that there is a hell and a heaven, and that the life after death is eternal;
                  5. That he ought to pray daily, and this with humility;
                  6. That the Sabbath day is to be kept holy;
                  7. That parents are to be honoured;
                  8. That no one must commit adultery, murder, or theft
                  9. And other like things.

These things man imbibes and is imbued with from early childhood; when he begins to think from himself and to lead himself, if he confirms such things in himself, and adds to them things which are still more interior, and lives according to them, then it is well with him (AC 5135).

The Lord has not asked all parents to become theologians, nor has He asked them to give up all worldly pleasures. There is nothing that is very difficult in this list of things to teach our children, for it is essentially a restatement of the Ten Commandments with instruction about eternal life added to it. Anyone can, if they wish, create a home environment based on the Ten Commandments, teach children to say the Lord’s prayer each day, to take them to church each Sunday, and to regularly read to them from the Word. At stake is nothing less than the eternal welfare of our children.

This, then, is the real purpose of New Church Education: not to provide a an exclusive private school within which to hide from certain unpleasant aspects of life in the world, but to prepare children for a rewarding life in the world, followed by eternal life in heaven.

New Church Education is a life-long process that begins before the child is born, and reaches its maturity when that child grows up and begins to prepare for his own children. It is not difficult to do, but it is extremely important. What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to you children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Mt. 7:9-11) Amen.

Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson: MAR 10:1-16

Then He arose from there and came to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan. And multitudes gathered to Him again, and as He was accustomed, He taught them again. {2} The Pharisees came and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him. {3} And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” {4} They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.” {5} And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. {6} “But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ {7} ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, {8} ‘and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. {9} “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” {10} In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter. {11} So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. {12} “And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” {13} Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. {14} But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. {15} “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” {16} And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them. Amen.

Second Lesson: Arcana Coelestia 2309

From what has been adduced we can see what is the nature of the education of little children in heaven, namely, that by means of the intelligence of truth and the wisdom of good they are introduced into the angelic life, which is love to the Lord, and mutual love, in which loves there is innocence. But how contrary is the education of little children on earth, with many, has been evidenced from this one example. I was in the street of a great city, and saw little boys fighting with one another. A crowd gathered and looked on with much pleasure; and I was informed that the parents themselves urge on their little boys to such fights. The good spirits and angels who saw these things through my eyes were so averse to them that I perceived their horror, especially at the fact that the parents incite them to such things saying that thus in their earliest age they extinguish all the mutual love and all the innocence which little children receive from the Lord, and initiate them into hatred and revenge; consequently that they deliberately shut out their children from heaven, where there is nothing but mutual love. Let parents therefore who wish well to their children beware of such things. Amen.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.

Attending to the Inner Voice

Attending to the Inner Voice

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, March 8, 2009

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

It’s obvious that each of us in this room today has made either a conscious or unconscious decision to come to church today. The topic of today’s sermon deals with the reasons behind a person’s decision to come to church, and attempts to answer why people feel a need to come to church, and to discover what it is in the human makeup that draws us together to contemplate the Divine influence in the course of our lives.

Many of us come to church without much thought about it. It’s what we always do on Sunday. Attendance at church is for many a tradition, a habit, something that is done as naturally as walking. It’s probably safe to say that the angels themselves have just such a habit, and it gives them great delight to freely express it. After all, is not the process of regeneration a matter of getting rid of bad habits and acquiring good habits with the Lord’s help?

But there are others of us, who, for one reason or another, have never acquired the habit of regular church attendance, and so must make a conscious choice to attend church each time. It is necessary to speak in broad generalities here, for there are as many specific reasons as there are individuals making the choices and of course each individual makes that choice each week after balancing many different options, but several general areas that are worth thinking about can be identified.

The first area to consider is that of the very nature of our church services. Our services are designed to attempt to balance two uses: worship of the Lord; and instruction from His Word. The worship includes elements of both humility and praise, the prayers while kneeling representing humility and supplication, and songs while standing to represent praise and adoration. The instruction includes both reading directly from the Word, and an explanation of the reading’s context, meaning and application to life. In other words, our church services have been carefully designed to serve many needs in ways as appropriate as possible. However, the area of instruction in general, and the sermon in particular have, over time, taken on a greater importance than the worship aspect. Perhaps this is because the sermon take more time than any other single element in the service. Perhaps since the priest spends a far greater time preparing the sermon than any other part of the service it takes on a pre-eminent status in the priest’s mind, and so subconsciously affects his attitudes which then eventually find their way to the congregation.

Because of our emphasis on reading the Word, and the sermon as the most important parts of church, and perhaps because of our traditional emphasis on education as a special use of the New Church, many people choose to come to church to hear the sermon’s message, to be instructed. We come to church hoping to hear something from the Word that will help us out in the trial and tribulations of our daily lives. We hope that we will hear something that will help us solve our problems. Fortunately, that hope and desire is satisfied often enough that we come back. Obviously, very few people would continue coming to a church week after week if they were never satisfied with the instruction they received. So, it’s safe to say that one major reason that people come to church is to learn things that will help them live more satisfying lives.

But the sceptic asks, “Why do you go to church for that, when there are so many self-help books and special interest clubs available?” Indeed. Why do we need to come to church for these things. Why is church felt to be so special? If people choose to come to church to learn things, why not have a doctrinal class format? Why not put up a screen and show overheads? Why not have homework and written exercises and tests? Because that’s not the only reason we come to church. We also come to satisfy some of our emotional needs.

The Heavenly doctrines tell us why we hunger for more than just instruction when they teach that a person is more than just his intellect, that his mind is both will and understanding. The affectional part needs to be stimulated and fed too. However, it is more subtle in getting its message across. Unlike the intellectual side, the affectional side of us cannot directly communicate ideas, so instead it supplies the desire, the inclination to worship, and the intellectual provides the reason (which of course it couches in its own rational terms). So we feel an urge to worship (from the affectional side of the mind), and the intellectual side provides the reason, which is to go and learn something.

This is illustrated by the way we act on vacation. We take our children to some historical spot and then lecture them about the important events that happened at that spot, or we go to the zoo and we cannot resist instructing the children in the various things that we have learned about the animals. The affectional side of us just wanted to have a family outing to someplace new and interesting, and perhaps to enjoy looking at the animals or scenery, but the intellectual side is embarrassed at such a blatant waste of time, so it has to provide some rational reason for such otherwise frivolous behaviour, so we make a holiday trip into an “educational experience” for the children so that we won’t be caught just having fun as a family. We need to remember that the affectional and intellectual sides of us are partners, that there is value in play for the sake of play, in doing something together for no other reason than to share a pleasant experience.

This should remind us of the memorable relations where we see the angel wives gently but powerfully leading their husbands by merely a look or a gesture, but the husbands were unable to communicate in the same way and instead gave lengthy explanations of what they were doing. This should illustrate the idea that going to church is like a marriage. Worship is the “wife”, and instruction the “husband,” that is, the affectional side of a church service is as essential to the churchgoer as a wife is essential to a marriage!

Our affectional side, our will, speaks in our mind without words. It acts as an “inner voice” that does not argue, does not fight, but when we begin to choose to do the wrong things, it makes us uneasy. At the same time, it allows us to feel good when we are doing the right thing. Indeed, it has been said that the reason people attend church is to “attend to the inner voice.” The interesting thing is that this “inner voice” has a common message to all people, a message that gently draws them to worship in some way. The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that the Lord Himself flows into the mind of everyone, from the beginning of his life to eternity, with the message that there is a God, and that He is one. (See TCR 8) The Lord Himself is that inner voice, gently, quietly, calling us to Himself. There are many places in scripture where the word “voice” is used, and we are taught that when it is the voice of Jehovah, it represents a “revelation” from God (See AC 219), and at other times, it represents the “thought and affection, which are the interior things of the voice” (AC 10455).

We are also taught that doctrine, that is, how we understand how the Word applies in our lives, is formed by reading the letter of the Word from doctrine. The teaching about the universal influx shows how this is possible. The Lord flows into the interior degrees of the mind of every individual from the first moment of life with this central doctrine: that there is a God and that He is one. Every human being shares this heritage and gift from God. What he does with it afterwards is a matter of his own free choice – but every one of us begins with this doctrinal basis “built in.” Everything we learn after that is learned in the light of this first truth, particularly the things that we learn from the letter of the Word. Can’t we see this from the way that little children speak of the Lord with confidence and joy? They are predisposed to receive the Word with gladness.

As we grow older, we learn many things, most of which are not from the Word. We learn about cruelty, hatred, and greed, and as we see others exhibit these evils we become cynical, sceptical and suspicious. The “inner voice” cannot be stilled, but it becomes much harder to hear amidst the noise of a mind fully involved in the things of the world. But it is there, quietly, gently feeding its message of hope and peace into the turmoil of the active mind. So we come to church to attend to the needs of the “inner voice” as well as to learn strategies for coping with life, but we cannot properly care for the needs of the “inner voice” until we are aware of it, and come to know its needs, to be sure to make our visit to church worshipful. We can improve the quality of our worship by first recognizing its importance as the feeding of the affectional side of our minds, and so preparing ourselves for genuine worship.

Two specific ways to prepare ourselves for worship are firstly to leave personal cares at home when we come to church, and secondly to examine the thoughts we have while in church from time to time to avoid allowing our minds to wander into thoughts about ongoing projects in the house, or things yet to do at work, or whatever. It is very important that the mind be focused on the Lord and the things of His kingdom if genuine worship is to take place. Further, there must be an opening of the way if instruction about the Lord is to enter, the walls of resistance have to be lowered. This cannot be done automatically, but we must consciously choose to open ourselves to worship and instruction, for the hells do not want this to happen and will inflow with all manner of distracting thoughts if they perceive that we are beginning to genuinely worship and learn about the Lord.

Another thing that we can do to make the worship experience more meaningful is to be careful of the temptation to think about how other people ought to be hearing this instruction, or how other people might be responding in a good or bad way to the subject. For the worship experience to be effective we need to be thinking about how these things apply to our own life. Ours is the only life that can by changed by what we learn, by what we decide to do.

Our rational minds tell us that we should worship the Lord because we have read the Word, and we have found that if we live according to the 10 Commandments that our life is more satisfying than when we do not, therefore we can believe that the Word is from the Lord and is true: it is true because we perceive that to live according to it is good. The Word tells us in many places that we should worship the Lord, so we have duly set up churches and other places of worship where we go to fulfil this instruction addressed to our rational mind, and this is as it should be. However, we need to remember that the affectional side of our life needs nourishment too, it needs to humble itself before the God of Love, to join with friends and family to sing praise to Him who gives life to all, to rest in the warmth of His love, to be simply and profoundly grateful to Him who Created us, and who sustains us with His love every moment of our lives. AMEN.

First Lesson: John 15:1-17

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. {2} “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. {3} “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. {4} “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. {5} “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. {6} “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. {7} “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. {8} “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. {9} “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. {10} “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. {11} “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. {12} “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. {13} “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. {14} “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. {15} “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. {16} “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. {17} “These things I command you, that you love one another.

Second Lesson: True Christian Religion 8.

There is a universal influx from God into the souls of men of the truth that there is a God, and that He is one. That there is an influx from God into man is evident from the universal confession that all good that is in itself good, and that exists in man and is done by him, is from God; in like manner every thing of charity and every thing of faith; for we read:- A man can take nothing except it be given him from heaven (John iii. 27); and Jesus said:- Without Me ye are unable to do anything (John xv. 5); that is, anything that pertains to charity and faith. This influx is into the souls of men because the soul is the inmost and highest part of man, and the influx from God enters into that, and descends therefrom into the things that are below, and vivifies them in accordance with reception. The truths that are to constitute belief flow in, it is true, through the hearing, and are thus implanted in the mind, that is, below the soul. But by means of such truths man is simply made ready to receive the influx from God through the soul; and such as this preparation is, such is the reception, and such the transformation of natural faith into spiritual faith.

[2] There is such an influx from God into the souls of men of the truth that God is one, because everything Divine, regarded most generally as well as most particularly, is God. And as the entire Divine coheres as one, it cannot fail to inspire in man the idea of one God; and this idea is strengthened daily as man is elevated by God into the light of heaven. For the angels in their light cannot force themselves to utter the word Gods. Even their speech closes at the end of every sentence in a oneness of cadence; and there is no other cause of this than the influx into their souls of the truth that God is one.

Copyright General Church of the New Jerusalem, 2009

Page last modified March 8, 2009

 Bible Meanings Home

Forgiving Trespasses


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (MAT 6:14, 15).

Our text for this morning is taken from the Sermon on the Mount; the verses that immediately follow the Lord’s Prayer. These words are extremely familiar to us as the responsive that follows the Lord’s Prayer in our services of worship: The minister says, “O Lord forgive us our trespasses,” and we respond, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Forgiveness is an extremely important topic, because we are all affected by it in so many ways, and in so many different aspects of our lives. We look at the course of our own lives and we pray to the Lord for His forgiveness. We examine our relationships with family and friends and we become painfully aware of things that we have done to anger or hurt the ones we love – and we long for their forgiveness. Perhaps we even look deeply enough to see things that we profoundly regret that we have done to ourselves or to others against our better judgement, things that cause us to grieve, to say, “I’ll never be able to forgive myself for that.” We need to forgive ourselves so that we can be at peace with ourselves and get on with the uses of life.

All these kinds of forgiveness – from the Lord, from others, and from ourselves – have one thing in common: that we have done something that has caused offence to others and for which we need to be forgiven. This is the forgiveness that is given the most attention in the Heavenly Doctrines, for it specifically regards our personal relationship with the Lord.

However, there is another side to forgiveness that is just as important to our spiritual welfare, and that is that we must be forgiving to others.

While the natural world is governed by the Lord, yet He permits evil men to act, so that the evil can be seen, and rejected. If He did not allow men to express their evils, they would forever remain in the will, and would corrupt the spirit from within. Therefore, in order that a person can be saved from his evils, the Lord allows him to act them out. That means that things do not always happen the way we think they should. People try to say one thing, and something else is heard. A friendly jest made in passing strikes deeply into an unsuspected emotional wound and causes extreme pain instead laughter.

We could go on at some length compiling a list of the ways in which we can offend people without intending it, or even knowing that it has happened, but the picture should be clear enough by now. Giving and receiving offences is a fact of life in the natural world. These offences lead us to feelings of anger, enmity and even hatred towards those with whom we live and work. Everyone can immediately see that feelings of anger, enmity, and revenge make it impossible to act in charity toward the neighbour, and since the life of religion is to do good, these angry feelings actually remove us from a life of religion. Forgiveness is the only salve for these painful emotional wounds.

The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church tell us that in the other world new spirits sometimes do or say what is wrong. Spirits who intend evil to another and then act on it are severely punished. However, good spirits, if they happen to speak something unkind or thoughtless, or do something that has been forbidden, are not punished, but pardoned and excused; for it was not their intention to do evil. The angels know that the evil actions were excited in them by the hells, so it is not judged to be their fault. The nature of their intention can be determined by whether or not the spirit has resisted the act on previous occasions, and, if he has failed in his resistance, by whether he was obviously grieved by his failure. (Remember that in the spiritual world no one is able to be hypocritical, their true nature shines forth from their face for all to read.) These are the signs that the angels use to judge a spirit’s intentions. We can use these same signs (resisting beforehand and grief if there is failure) ourselves in our everyday relationships with other unregenerate human beings (See AC 6559).

It has happened to every one of us that an unkind word, or an evil act has simply popped out before we could do anything about it. If it’s a minor thing, we can sometimes smooth it over with a quick and sincere apology. Since it has happened to all of us, we should then be able to recognize in the abstract that the same thing can, and does, happen to anyone – and when it does, it is no more their fault than it was when you did it.

As long as we are not personally involved we can stand aloof, be objective, and try to calm the angry parties down. We frequently excuse one person’s actions to another by saying, “yes, I heard what he said, but he didn’t mean it that way…”

This is even easier to see when we think of an adult trying to settle an argument between squabbling children. We find it so easy to tell the children to stop being angry at each other because the offences were not intended. We insist that they stop being so silly, that they make-up, and be friends.

It is much more difficult for us to be calm and objective about a situation where we are personally involved, because our built in defences are immediately called into play. Sometimes we think it is more important to find someone to blame than it is to solve the problem. The Lord created us with a strong love of self so that we could defend, care for, and educate ourselves. It was intended to be controlled by the rational adult mind and be fully subservient to the loves of the Lord and the neighbour. However, very few of us can say that our self-love is under our full rational control. Instead, it intrudes into our lives, blinding us to reasonable explanations, turning us away from peaceful solutions, and making us feel angry and vengeful instead.

Our text tells us two essential truths about forgiveness. First it tells us that the Lord wills to forgive us for those things which we have done against His commandments, and secondly, it tells us that in order to receive the Lord’s forgiveness – which every one of us needs – we must first forgive those who have offended us. We may be able to see that we should forgive those who have offended us, but not know how. We might be able to say, “I forgive you” but find that the anger still burns within, the grudge is still carried. How can we forgive in such a way that we feel better for it ourselves? We must look to the Lord’s own example for our answer.

The Lord tells us that He can forgive any sin, except one: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven because it is in effect the denial that the Lord has the power to save. If a person denies that the Lord has the power to save him, or if he believes that he does not need to be saved, he will not ask for forgiveness. Since we know that the Lord preserves and protects our spiritual freedom above all else, it can be seen that the Lord will not forgive a man who does not wish to be forgiven, who does not ask for His help. The Lord can forgive any sin, He can help a person out of any trouble if only that person sincerely asks for His help. This is why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven: it is not the Lord who refuses to forgive, but the man who refuses to seek the Lord’s help. The Lord will not enter a person’s life without an invitation.

We should try to adopt the Lord’s attitude, to learn from His example. We need to cultivate a forgiving attitude in ourselves, be willing to forgive any offence. This is, of course, extremely difficult to do at first, since our emotions become stirred so quickly – but it might be helpful to remember the arguing children and try to ask ourselves, when offences come, if we really believe that the other person intended to cause harm. And, if we believe that there was no intention of harm, what then were they trying to do? We may find that in most cases where we take offence that there never was any real offence to be forgiven!

In our third lesson, we read about three degrees of hatred. The first, signified by being “angry without cause,” is to have evil thoughts about another person, and could be exemplified by common gossip – telling stories that show people in an unflattering light. The second degree of hatred, signified by saying “Raca” is to intend evil for another, and could be exemplified by slander – telling what we know to be lies to harm the reputation of another. The third degree, signified by saying “Thou Fool” is the evil will, which would lead to harmful action towards another. In forgiveness, each of these three degrees of anger and hatred must be met by the appropriate degree of love and charity. We need to be prepared to counter evil thoughts with good thoughts, evil intentions with good intentions, and evil will with good will.

As we saw in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in our first lesson, and as can also be seen in many other places in the New Testament, the Lord wants us to forgive others in the same way He will forgive us. And in the same way the Lord fails when a man chooses to refuse His forgiveness and join others like himself in hell, we too will sometimes fail in our relationships with other people. We may be willing to forgive, but they cannot bring themselves to ask for it. It is unfortunately true that there are people who, for one reason or another, act as if they either don’t care about the feelings of others, or else they seem to enjoy hurting their feelings. There is not much we can do about such people, for that is the path which they have freely chosen for themselves, except to hope that they may eventually see the light and change their lives.

There is not one of us who has gone through life without making a mistake, without doing something that causes pain and grief to another, pain that we certainly did not intend. We need to look at the deeds and words of others as we would have them look at ours. We need to try to look at the words and deeds of others in the same way that the angels look at the words and deeds of new spirits in the other life. We need to recognize that the feelings of anger, enmity, and hatred that we feel come from hell specifically so that they can destroy charity while at the same time appealing to our loves of self. We must be as aware of these feelings and shun them as we would adultery, theft, or murder – for they are just as dangerous to our spiritual life.

We must even judge ourselves honestly according to the actual intentions we had at the time, and not according to facts that only came to light after the action had already been taken. The Lord judges us only according to the intentions of our hearts, and forgives all those who ask for mercy, provided that they themselves have during their life in this world, conscientiously practised mercy and forgiveness.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (text). AMEN.

First Lesson: MAT 18:21-35

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” {22} Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. {23} “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. {24} “And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. {25} “But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. {26} “The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ {27} “Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. {28} “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ {29} “So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ {30} “And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. {31} “So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. {32} “Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. {33} ‘Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ {34} “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. {35} “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Second Lesson: LUK 6:20-38

Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God. {21} Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh. {22} Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. {23} Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets. {24} “But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation. {25} Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep. {26} Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets. {27} “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, {28} “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. {29} “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. {30} “Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. {31} “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. {32} “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. {33} “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. {34} “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. {35} “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. {36} “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. {37} “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. {38} “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Third Lesson: AE 746f. [18]

That one who thinks ill of his neighbor without adequate cause, and turns himself away from the good of charity, will be punished lightly as to his soul, is signified by “Whosoever is angry with his brother without cause shall be liable to the judgment;” “to be angry,” signifies to think ill, for it is distinguished from “saying Raca,” and “saying Thou fool.” “Brother” means the neighbor, and also the good of charity, and “to be liable to the judgment” means to be examined and to be punished according to circumstances. That one who from wrong thought slanders the neighbor, and thus despises the good of charity as of little value, will be punished grievously, is signified by “whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be liable to the council,” for “to say Raca” signifies to slander the neighbor from evil thought, thus to hold the good of charity to be of little value. That one who hates the neighbor, that is, one who is altogether averse to the good of charity, is condemned to hell, is signified by “whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be liable to the hell of fire.” These three describe three degrees of hatred, the first is from evil thought, which is “to be angry,” the second is from consequent evil intention, which is “to say Raca,” and the third is from an evil will, which is “to say Thou fool.” All these are degrees of hatred against the good of charity, for hatred is the opposite of the good of charity. Amen.

 Bible Meanings Home

The Tree of Life

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

“On either side of the river is a Tree of Life bearing twelve fruits, each month yielding its own fruit.” (Rev. 22:2)

In the Word, the Tree of Life is mentioned in two places the story of the Garden Eden in Genesis, and in the description of the descent of the Holy City New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation.

As we read in our lessons, the Tree of Life stood in the center of the garden of Eden representing our perception or inmost feeling that life is from the Lord. This perception that all life is from the Lord and not, as it sometimes appears, from ourselves, is the most important of all the perceptions that the Lord gives to us to help guide our lives. For this reason the Tree of Life is described as being in the midst of the garden. Man and his wife were permitted to eat of the Tree of Life, and every other tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The Tree of Life represents the perception that life is from the Lord, but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents the perception that life is from oneself. Therefore, to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents our desire to feel and believe that life is our own, and not at all from the Lord.

The desire to feel life as one s own was the cause of the fall of mankind, and since the fall it is the heritage of all of us to be born full of the desires to do all manner of selfish and thoughtless things, and convinced of the falsity that life is our own. When people remain in this conviction and manner of life, they move the Tree of Life to the outskirts of the garden, and put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden in its place, which is to destroy the Lord s created order. In a sense, it could be said that the whole of the Word between the second chapter of Genesis and the final chapter of Revelation describes the Lord s attempt to lead fallen man back into the order of the garden of Eden, that is, to move the Tree of Life back to the center of the Garden.

In the book of Revelation, the Tree of Life stands as a central representative in the establishment of the New Church. Our text is from the final chapter, and describes what the Holy city New Jerusalem would be like after its descent from heaven like a bride adorned for her husband, after the establishment of the New Church in the world. The Word uses the imagery of the Tree of Life to help us understand our own creation into this world as living beings in the Creation story, and concludes by using the imagery of the Tree of Life to help us understand the purpose of the Lord s New Church, that all people should eat of the Tree of Life, that is, should be conjoined with the Lord in heaven.

Scripture often uses a tree to represent a man, or the quality of a man. For example, in the ninth chapter of Judges, Jotham s parable uses the olive tree, the fig tree, the grape vine, and the bramble to tell us of Abimelech s evils, and what kind of king he will be. (JDG. 97 ff.) The first Psalm compares a righteous man to a tree planted by rivers of water, and that brings forth good fruit in its season. (PSA. 13) In Matthew and Luke the Lord taught His disciples that as a good tree must produce good fruit, and a corrupt tree must produce useless fruit, so in this way you may judge men by their fruits. (Mat. 717, Luke 643)

The Tree of Life represents that most important perception that all life is a gift from the Lord. We are taught in the Heavenly Doctrines that this is not something that every man immediately perceives. We are taught that the celestial man, or an angel of the highest heaven, “acknowledges, because he perceives that all things, both in general and in particular are the Lord s.” (AC 122)

The spiritual man, or angel of the middle heaven, is not so perceptive. The feeling of life from the Lord is somewhat removed from the activity of his own life. He does, however, read the Word, and believe what he learns there, so he too can acknowledge that life is from the Lord, although he does so only “with the mouth, because he has learned it from the Word.” (Ibid.)

The worldly, corporeal man, or angel of the lowest heaven, while he may live in obedience to the precepts of the Word, does not much care for such things. He “neither acknowledges nor admits” that life is from the Lord, and “whatever he has he calls his own, and imagines that were he to lose it, he would altogether perish.” (AC 123, Cf. AC 141)

A tree is truly a beautiful representative of our relationship to the Divine Creator. Our natural world is full of trees in seemingly infinite variety. Trees, and their products, have sheltered, protected, healed, and nourished people from the beginning of time. At the same time trees have caused people to wonder at their beauty as they change from day to day, season to season, year to year. The gardens of heaven are filled with beautiful trees, put there by the Lord as the angels minds turn towards the perceptions about the life they receive from the Lord.

In the Worship and Love of God, a little work of devotional literature written soon after his call, Swedenborg wondered if perhaps the first men were literally born from a “Tree of Life”, a tree caused by the Lord to produce special fruits which could be miraculously infilled with human life. We may smile at this poetic idea at first, but upon reflection, there is much that commends such a creation. The vegetable kingdom is the kingdom of uses, and what higher use could there be than to provide the first forms to receive human life? Is it any greater miracle for eternal human life to be implanted in a form created by the vegetable kingdom than for it to be implanted in a form produced by the animal kingdom?

Everything about a tree represents some aspect of our life the branches serve to carry the food produced in the leaves to be stored for use in the trunk, and in this function they represent how truths are introduced into the mind through our senses; when we think of a tree s leaves blowing and playing in the wind, we are reminded of the way that various ideas flow into our mind, turning this way and that as we decide what to do with them, and so represent rational truths, knowledges that we reason about, comparing one to another, and turning them over in our minds. And when all the trees systems work together they produce fruit. The fruits of the tree represent the things that we do in the world.

Even the changes that trees go through during the seasons of the year represent the changes of each of our states as we pass through life. Imagine a stark winter scene the black silhouette of a single, leafless tree in a field of wind-driven, drifting snow. Is this not a very powerful symbol of a our relationship to the Lord while in the depths of temptation? From the tree s point of view, the warmth and light from the life-giving sun are simply not present. Whatever life and warmth there had been before seems to be forever lost. This illustrates how a we feel in the depths of spiritual combat. In the same way that we draw comfort and hope from our remains, that is, from the affections of good and truth secretly stored up deep in our minds by the Lord while we are fighting our spiritual battles, so a seemingly lifeless tree draws life from the sap stored deep in its roots. As soon as the state is ready, as surely as a tree begins to produce new flowers, leaves, branches and fruit, when we ask for the Lord s help as we fight the combats of temptation, we will begin to feel that there may be hope; that the state of temptation may end; that there is, after all, reason to live.

Just as we know that the leafless tree in winter is not dead, even though it appears to be dead, so also we can be certain that the Lord never leaves us in our times of trial and doubt. As the tree s sap draws inward for the winter, so our perception of the Lord s life and presence is drawn deep into our minds where it is protected during the winter storms of our temptations. It resides there in safety, until, at the Lord s bidding, it begins to have its effect in more outward ways. We look across the valley, and see the branches tipped with a hint of red. We become aware that spring is returning, and begin to notice that green flowering things are appearing all over the land. So too the person who has fought side by side with the Lord in temptation begins to feel the warmth and light of the Lord s life within him; and the more he acknowledges that this feeling of life is from the Lord, the more the Lord give to him the feeling that it is his own, to do with as he likes.

We are taught that the general sphere of heaven is that of perpetual springtime; and what better represents the state of joy that comes to men and angels when they have brought themselves into a state of order and have vanquished some evil in their lives? Their minds are clear, their muscles strong, and they are ready to do the Lord s work in any way that might present itself. Imagine an apple or peach orchard in full bloom, making a fragrant promise of the delicious fruit to come; and compare that to image of the leafless tree in the wind-swept field. Does this not powerfully represent the difference between what we are in and of ourselves, and what we can be when we accept the Lord s leading?

Our text tells us that the Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem was bearing “twelve fruits, each month yielding its own fruit.” (text) The Heavenly Doctrines teach that this means that the “Lord produces goods with the man in accordance with every state of truth with him.” (AR 935) It is obvious that people change as they go through their lives. They acquire new knowledges, new experiences, new wisdom. If they are seeking to follow the Lord, they will be continually trying to apply these new truths to their lives. The important point brought out here is that although we know that all good is from the Lord, for He alone is the Tree of Life, the source of all things, yet He does good in us according to own state of truth, or faith. If we know that the Lord alone lives and acts, and also know that He freely gives us the feeling of life as our own, and the freedom to choose our own path, then we act as if from ourselves in accordance with heavenly order.

In the same way that the seasons pass through their yearly cycle in the world, so men pass through their own seasons of doubt, temptation, rejoicing, and usefulness. We are given the memory of spring and summer to sustain us through the fall and winter of our lives. Each time we pass through such a cycle, we are changed for better and can produce new and better uses. These uses or fruits are the twelve fruits of the Tree of Life. By the image of each month yielding its own fruit we are to understand our progression through life to eternity, continually learning, revising, perfecting, and doing, all at the Lord s bidding, with the Lord s help.

The inmost of the doctrine and life of the Church is the Divine Love of the Lord, represented by the Tree of Life. This Divine Love is the source of all the good that a person does apparently as from himself. (See AR 931, ref. to 222) When anyone approaches the Lord directly, that is, approaches the Lord in His Divine Human as revealed in the Word, and out of love for Him flees from evils as sins, then, because he has the two essentials of the New Church, he will be conjoined with the Lord; he will eat of the Tree of Life.

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have power in the Tree of Life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” (Rev. 2214) AMEN.

1st Lesson GEN. 24-9

This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, {5} before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; {6} but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground. {7} And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. {8} The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. {9} And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Amen.

2nd Lesson Rev 221-5

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. {2} In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. {3} And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. {4} They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. {5} There shall be no night there They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever. {12} “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. {13} “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” {14} Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have power in the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. Amen.

3rd Lesson AR 933

From these things collected into one sense, it follows that by “in the midst of the street and of the river, on this side and on that, was the tree of life bearing twelve fruits,” is signified that in the inmosts of the truths of doctrine and of life in the New Church is the Lord in His Divine love, from Whom all the goods which a man does apparently as of himself flow forth.

[2] This takes place with those who go to the Lord immediately, and shun evils because they are sins; thus who will be in the Lord s New Church, which is the New Jerusalem. For they who do not go immediately to the Lord cannot be conjoined to Him, and thus neither to the Father, and hence cannot be in the love which is from the Divine; for the looking to Him conjoins, not a mere intellectual looking, but an intellectual looking from the affection of the will; and affection of the will is not given, unless man keeps His commandments; wherefore the Lord says

He that does My commandments, he it is that loves me; and I will come unto him, and make an abode with him (John 1421-24).

Opening Prayer

O Lord Jesus Christ, You are our Father, You are our God. You are the rock of our salvation. All life and love are from You, and whoever seeks to live his life according to belief in You shall live to eternity. Your kingdom is over all, and Your mercy endures forever. Amen.

Closing Prayer

O Lord, our heavenly Father Jesus Christ, everywhere we look today we will see the trees which You have created and given to us as symbols of Your eternal presence with us. Some are dormant, some are flowering, and some are forming seeds and fruits to prepare for another generation. O Lord, let these beautiful, useful trees remind us of Your presence with us during the different states of our lives, and wonderful variety of life You have created and given to us to hold and feel as our own. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem  .

Page constructed by James P. Cooper

Page last modified September 27, 2009  

The Woman Clothed with the Sun

The Woman Clothed with the Sun

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

And a great sign was seen in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And being with child, she cried, travailing and pained to bring forth (Rev. 12:1,2)

Of all the books of the Word, the book of Revelation is the least well understood. Laymen and scholars find the imagery and visions difficult to interpret into a meaningful message. Most non-New Church scholars and theologians simply say that the Revelation of John must be symbolic on some level, but they admit that they do not have the key to unlock that symbolism. Consequently the book of Revelation is revered by many simply because it has been included in the Bible, but it remains a mystery to those in the traditional Christian dogma.

The science of correspondences, revealed by the Lord to the world through the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, provides the key to unlock the symbols of the book of Revelation, showing it to be a clear prophecy of the time and manner and establishment of the New Christian Church. Our text, the vision of the Woman clothed in the sun, is from the twelfth chapter and teaches how the New Christian Church was established at first in the heavens at the time of the last judgment, and how it showed the Lord’s Divine Love for all people and His plan to regenerate them.

In school we were taught that it is not correct to begin a sentence with the word “and,” and we were also taught that the Bible is an example of excellent English writing – yet many sentences, paragraphs and even chapters begin with the word “and” as does the twelfth chapter of Revelation. There is a spiritual reason for this: the science of correspondences tells us that when a chapter begins with a conjoining word such as “and” it signifies a continuation of the general sense of the previous chapter. Here the previous chapter was the vision of the two witnesses. The two witnesses (olive trees and lampstands) represent the two essentials of a true church, the knowledge and acknowledgment of the Lord, and a life according to His commandments. That these two are essential is shown by the last thing said in the twelfth chapter which refers to the seed of the woman clothed in the sun, that they should keep the commandments and have the testimony of Jesus Christ, that is, to know the Lord, and live according to His commandments (See REV 12:17). Our text must be understood in the light of this leading idea contained within it in its internal sense: that the church is established by the Lord, by means of men who acknowledge Him and live according to His commandments.

The image of the Woman clothed with the Sun is a familiar one to us, for it is often used in illustrations of our church literature – but the usual illustration of a beautiful, radiant young woman with the moon under her feet and a crown of stars, while delightful, is not complete. The woman John saw in his vision was great with child, in the final stages of labor. Her face may have expressed both pain and joy: the pain that comes from the ending of one state of life and the joy that comes with the beginning of another.

This woman seen by John in the spiritual world represents the New Church. The church is represented by a woman, because the church is the bride and wife of the Lord. As a bride is in the affection of the wisdom of her husband and loves him because of that wisdom, so the church looks to conjunction with the Lord, for, like a bride, it wants to be one with the Wisdom that is from the Lord.

The Lord appears in the spiritual world as the Sun of Heaven to represent the power and life-giving nature of His Divine Love and Divine Wisdom. The woman who represents the church is seen with that power and life from the Lord radiating to men through her as if from a sun. She is clothed with the sun for two reasons: Because the Lord’s life flows into man through the church in the heavens, also, when men in the church know the truths from the Word and live according to them they are in love to the Lord, which love is signified by the light and heat of the sun. Thus, the radiant power of the woman comes from the reciprocal conjunction of men with the Lord. Man receives good and truth from the Lord through the church, and then as if of himself chooses to make it his own, thus returning that love to the Lord. This reciprocal conjunction is the life of heaven from which all delights and blessings flow.

The moon, representing the faith of the New Church, was seen under her feet, because at the time of John’s vision, and even at the time Swedenborg was visiting the spiritual world, the New church in the heavens had not yet been conjoined to the church on earth. The conjunction of the New Church in the heavens and the church on earth was the Lord’s purpose, and the revelation of the internal sense of the Word through Swedenborg was the means to that goal.

However, that was not the end, but a beginning. The Lord has, through His second coming, given us the tools to establish the church on earth if we sincerely desire it and work for it. Our text warns us that establishing the church on earth will not be easy: she travailed and pained to bring forth (text). The Writings tell us that this means the church on earth will not be easily received at first, especially by those who are in faith alone (AR 531).

Because we are living in a world where the traditional Christian churches have very powerful influence, it is tempting to use this teaching to excuse our small rate of growth, to apply this teaching only to others, those outside the church; to say that the New Church would grow if it weren’t for the appeal of the doctrine of faith alone. We do this in part because we believe that things would be easier for us if the New Church were larger, for then there would be more resources for us to draw on; We could proudly tell our friends and business acquaintances that we belonged to the New Church (and they would have heard of it), and many other natural reasons. But what is the true reason for us to work for the growth of the church on earth? The true reason is that “the church in the heavens cannot subsist, except there be also a church on earth, which is in concordant love and wisdom” (AR 533).

This is the spiritual reason for working for the growth of the church, the fact that the church in the heavens and the church on earth are related as the spirit and body of a person. Just as no person can come into the spiritual world without having first lived in the natural world, the church in heaven cannot exist without the church in the world as its foundation. This means that the growth of the church on earth, both in numbers of members and in the quality of spiritual life, greatly affects the growth and eventual development of the church in the heavens. The heavenly church cannot be built beyond the foundation laid for it upon the earth. The church on earth and the church in the heavens are more intimately related that we can imagine, for they correspond to each other, and both are founded upon the reception of the Word by man and angel. Thus, it is absolutely necessary that there be a church somewhere in the world, where the Word is, and where by it the Lord is known (AR 533).

The purpose of creation is that there shall be a heaven from the human race. The Lord has provided all the things needed to achieve that goal: the Word, the church in the heavens, the church on earth, freedom of choice in spiritual things, and spiritual equilibrium. All that remains is for each of us to exercise our freedom of choice, to allow the Lord’s Divine Providence to lead us by means of the church on earth to the church in the heavens.

However, since each of us is truly free, falsity and evil have a pull on our hearts and minds equal to that of good and truth. Every one of us must make hard choices and turn away from the pull of hereditary tendencies to evils. To do this requires real power. The power to turn away from evil and falsity does not come from within ourselves, although it may at times seem this way. It comes from the Lord through the church and is represented by the “male child which shall rule the nations with a rod of iron” (REV 12:5). This child represents the doctrine of the church – not the words and ideas presented in the Word, but the ideas after they have been received in the mind and confirmed by a life according to them (See AR 148).

Truth must have power to remove falsity from the natural mind of a person, to turn him away from self-intelligence which leads toward hell. Truth has the power to turn him back toward the Word of the Lord which leads toward heaven. The doctrine rules with a rod of iron because iron represents truths in the natural degree (AE 176:4), and it is that degree which contains both truth and falsity mixed, acquired by the senses. The interior degrees of the mind cannot receive falsity for they are protected by the Lord for use by the truly spiritual person, an angel. So it is there, in the natural degree, that truth and falsity wage their battle. On the one hand are all the ideas that favor the loves of self and the world, and on the other hand are the ideas from the Word and preaching from it that a person has believed and lived.

The ideas from the Word that are of the person’s life itself, because he has lived them and thus appropriated them, are represented by the male child, for they are the person’s doctrine. It rules his mind with a rod of iron because that represents the power of doctrine to remove the falsity in the natural degree of the mind when a person chooses to remove it and asks for the Lord’s help in doing so. The resulting battle is felt as suffering and conflict, and is called “temptation.”

Our text calls to mind the battle that the Lord waged against the hells in order to complete the final judgment on the hells, and restore order to the spiritual world, thus establishing the New Church. We remember that its establishment was witnessed by Swedenborg in 1770 at the conclusion of the Last Judgment in the spiritual world. We might think about how far the church has come in its 213 years, and reflect on how far it has yet to go. We take pleasure in its successes and strengths, we hope and pray for its future growth among people in the world, wondering how we can best serve the Lord’s goals in furthering the church on earth.

But, at the same time, we must remember that the church must be in the mind and heart of each individual member before it can really be said to be established. Each of us is a little world, either a heaven or a hell. There must be a judgment in each of our minds, so that our own spiritual world can be reordered, and so that each of us may become a church, a true church, knowing the Lord as He is revealed in His Word, and living according to His commandments.

When each individual strives to become a true church, then the church on earth will surely grow in both numbers and quality, and the church in the heavens may then have a sure and excellent foundation to eternity. And there was war in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not, neither was their place found anymore in heaven. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of God. (REV 12:7.8.10) AMEN.


First Lesson:

(Gen 3:1-13) Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” {2} And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; {3} “but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'” {4} Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. {5} “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” {6} So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. {7} Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. {8} And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. {9} Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” {10} So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” {11} And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” {12} Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” {13} And the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Amen.

Second Lesson: Rev 12

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. {2} Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. {3} And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. {4} His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. {5} She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. {6} Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days. {7} And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, {8} but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. {9} So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. {10} Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. {11} “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death. {12} “Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.” {13} Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. {14} But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. {15} So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. {16} But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. {17} And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Third Lesson: TCR 773, 774

The Lord’s coming is for the purpose of forming a new heaven of those who have believed in Him, and for the purpose of establishing a new church of those who shall hereafter believe in Him, inasmuch as these two are the ends for which He came. The very end for which the universe was created was no other than the formation from men of an angelic heaven, where all who believe in God shall live forever in eternal blessedness; for the Divine love which is in God and essentially is God, can intend nothing else, and the Divine wisdom which is also in God and is God, can effect nothing else.

TCR 774. The Lord’s presence is unceasing with every man, both the evil and the good, for without His presence no man lives; but His Coming is only to those who receive Him, who are such as believe on Him and keep His commandments. The Lord’s unceasing presence causes man to become rational, and gives him the ability to become spiritual.

This is effected by the light that goes forth from the Lord as the sun in the spiritual world, and that man receives in his understanding; that light is truth, and by means of it man has rationality. But the Lord’s coming is to him who joins heat with that light, that is, love with truth; for the heat that goes forth from that same sun is love to God and love toward the neighbor. The mere presence of the Lord, and the consequent enlightenment of the understanding, may be likened to presence of solar light in the world; unless this light is joined with heat all things on earth become desolate.

But the coming of the Lord may be likened to the coming of heat, which takes place in spring; because heat then joins itself with light, the earth is softened, and seeds sprout and bring forth fruit. Such is the parallelism between the spiritual things which are the environment of man’s spirit, and the natural things which are the environment of his body. Amen.

True Christian Religion

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