A Sermon by Candidate David C. Roth Preached in Baltimore, Maryland June 2, 1991

Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside … some fell on stony place … and some fell among thorns … But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matt. 13:3-8).

The people of the land of Canaan around 30 A.D. had a unique teacher in their midsta Divine teacher, Jesus Christ, God incarnate. He was the greatest teacher ever to grace the face of the earth. He alone was able to teach these very external-minded people the truth about life after death, about the kingdom of heaven. He taught them what heaven is like, and He did it in such a way that they could understand it. He accommodated the Divine truth to their modest understandings.

To some who heard, this parable was no more than an illustration of what happens when a farmer sows seed in good or in bad soil. To the others, who later heard the meaning of the parable explained by the Lord, it was seen as it was: an allegorical example of how the people of the church receive the Lord’s doctrinehow they receive His truths.

What they, and many even today, don’t realize is that every detail in the Lord’s teaching, and thus in His Word, is a key to a spiritual vision which can be unlocked and unfolded and so seen in each story. The parable of the sower does teach us about the kingdom of heaven. It teaches us how we must receive the Word of the Lord in order to enter into His heavenly kingdom. It also uncovers for us the kind of barriers we put up in our lives which prevent us from loving and living the truths of the Word which will bring healthy and happy relationships here on earth, and ultimately lead us to heaven.

The sower in our parable is the Lord, and the seed is the Word or truth. The ground in which the seed is sown is the mind and life of the individual, or the church in him or her. We are taught that the church is in each one of us according to how we receive the Lord and His Word. The integrity of the church is said to be according to two things: the soundness and purity of its doctrine, and the degree of charity within it. So it could be said that the four types of ground on which the seed fell in our parable are like various states of the church within us. We can then qualify these various states according to these two requisites.

However, in general these four states could be distinguished as three destructive states and one good state. The first three states, as they are represented in the parable, are not heavenly states; only the fourth state is a heavenly state. However, if we see ourselves in one of these prior three states, we can take heart in the fact that with some hard work on our ground (our attitude), we can break out of our destructive state and move on to a more fruitful one. Symbolically speaking, there is much that can be done to salvage a field which is hard, full of stones, or thorny. We can plow, remove the stones, or weed out the thorns, and then something can grow.

Let’s now consider each one of these kinds of ground to see how they reflect the types of attitudes, and ultimately the life, which we can have toward the Lord’s Word and toward our neighbor.

“And as he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them.”

The wayside is ground which is packed down very hard and is dry; it could even be said to be just rock with no soil at all (see AC 5096). There is no way that seed can take root on this type of ground. There is no capacity for the ground to receive the seed in its current state. The obvious result is that the birds of the air come and take the exposed seed away. If we don’t improve the soil, it is like trying to plant grass on a concrete slab. All we are doing is feeding the birds.

The hard rock or ground is said to be our persuasion or our firm, unwavering, or what might be called “bullheaded” set of false ideas. It is a set of confirmed false beliefs, and such falsity that has bound up and imprisoned our ability to think freely and to be open-minded. You can imagine a personmaybe yourself at some pointwho is convinced that his way to do a certain thing is the only way to do it, and that everybody else is wrong. This is an example of a false persuasion.

The Writings describe people living under a false persuasion as follows. “[Such people] are in the persuasion that falsity is truth and truth falsity. This persuasion is such that it takes away all freedom to think anything else, and consequently holds the very thoughts in bonds and as it were in prison” (AC 5096).

A person with this attitude has no time for truth; it is nothing to him. He has no concern for it. The truth of the Word cannot possibly take root in a person who does not care about the truth (see D. Life 90). Is this talking about us when we don’t make the time to worship the Lord or to read His Word? Or when we hear a truth and we reject it because it means having to change our opinion, or admit that we were wrong?

Until the falsity of this state is dispersed, the truth will be destroyed by our own hardened, misguided understanding, an understanding formed by our reasoning from sensory experience alone and so founded upon falsities. This is what is meant by the birds which come and devour the seed which is sown. Falsity will consume the truth in us unless we receive it with a willing heart, a heart which chooses to follow the Lord’s Word and not our own thinking and reasoning faculties. It is what happens to the truth we learn unless we examine ourselves, put away the false ideas, and then begin to live by the truth truth which leads to good.

If we want to depart from this destructive attitude, we must break the bonds of this state by shunning the love we have for our own false ideas and the evil love from which it springs. When this happens, we can then be set free to start thinking openly and honestly and so see clearly the path which leads toward a life of genuine good.

The second destructive state described in this parable is illustrated by the following: “Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up, they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away.” This section describes a person who does care for the truth but not for its own sake, which is not to care interiorly, and therefore the truth has no permanence and grants no conviction. This type of person loves truth outwardly, not inwardly. He or she loves truth for the sake of being able to appear intelligent and wise. He gathers in truths and hoards them for the sake of glorifying himself. “Look how smart I am, see how many degrees I hold, and observe how many books are on my shelf.” Truth is not learned for the sake of showing this person how to change his own life to better fit with the Lord’s plan. With him truths can still be called truths, but they are not truths taken for what they really are: ways to show how to live a good life. In this parable “earth” signifies good because it “receives truths as soil does seed,” and allows truth to take root and be of use. When truths have no root in good they are only temporary and superficial. They can look beautiful and make us look pious, but if we receive them for selfish reasons alone they will be of no real use to us when evil spirits rise up and attempt to destroy us and our truths. This is what is meant by the sun rising up and scorching the seedlings. If we remain in this state, then our spiritual life will look like nothing more than a sun-scorched desert rather than the oasis it can become. The Writings tell us that “the love of self lets man down into what is his own, and holds him there, for it looks continually to self, and man’s own is nothing but evil, and from evil comes every falsity” (AE 401:35). It is okay to love to learn truths and to want to be intelligent, so let’s thank the Lord that He has given us intelligence, but then humble ourselves to Him and pray that He show us how to utilize our knowledges to best serve our neighbor and the Lord.

We can never have a new will or desire for following the Lord implanted within us as long as we don’t attempt to put self-love where it belongs, that is, below service to others and below love to the Lord and His Divine uses. When we do this, we can then make the truths we learn our own, truths which the good of the new will would need in order to be born and to survive safely.

Our parable describes a third destructive state which is envisioned in the following: “And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them.” This verse describes the state of those who have let evils or bad habits take control of their lives. As the Lord’s unfolding of the parable to His followers described, “these are those who hear the word, and the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and they become unfruitful.” When we are in this state, we allow the desires of the flesh and the love for merely sensual and worldly delights to get in the way of truth when we hear it. Basically what we are doing is rejecting the truth because what we are currently doing feels good and we don’t want to give it up. We will allow no truth to lead us away from those things which we love most of all. As the Writings describe those in this state, “They reject the truth as soon as they hear it, and if they listen to it they stifle it . . . . As they deal thus with truths they do not know what good is, for truth and good act as one” (DP 278a:3).

When we are involved in an evil, because it is something we love and therefore brings us delight, it seems to us that we are in freedom. So when we hear anything that would lead us away from our mirage of freedom we reject it. Take for example an individual caught up in justifying his own behavior to cover his dishonest actions. “Yes, I changed some figures on my tax return, but I needed the money so that I could pay for my child’s orthodontic work. I can’t send the government money now or they will put me in jail. What’s $200 to a billion-dollar operation?” To this person truth seems like a set of handcuffs waiting to be secured firmly around his wrists, severely restricting his freedom. But this is only an illusion. The Lord teaches us very plainly that if we know the truth and abide in it, it will make us free. But as long as we insist on holding onto our own insane ideas of freedom, we do nothing but close ourselves off from the genuine delights and peace which accompany true freedomheavenly freedom. This freedom can come about only when we shun the evils of our life and live the truths of the Word. The means for us to do this is always available to us. Just as the sower casts his seed on all types of ground, so too does the Lord give His truth to all. As the Lord teaches in the gospel of Matthew, “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45). He does not withhold His truth from us no matter what state or destructive behavior we are involved in. But it is our own individual decision whether or not we will receive His truth and put it to use.

The final state to discuss is one of usefulness. We read, “But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” This verse describes the reason why the sower sowed the seed in the first place: to bear fruit. Why would a farmer spend all the time he does plowing, picking out rocks, adding fertilizer, planting, and weeding in his field if he was not expecting a crop? He wouldn’t. The Lord doesn’t give us truths without a reason, without the possibility of use. He gives us the truths in His Word because He knows that if we prepare our minds to receive them, they can bear fruits of good in our lives, and this will bring us real happiness, not some self-created illusion of joy based solely on what our nervous system feeds our brain.

The seed which fell on good ground is illustrative of what happens when we love the truths that are in the Lord’s Word and do them from Him. When we do this we are said to bear fruit (see D.Life 90). In this case “fruits” signify the doing of good from love or charity (see AR 934, AC 3310). The state represented by the good ground which bore fruit is distinguished into three states itself: a hundredfold, sixty, or thirty. This means that we can receive enough of the Lord’s Word to allow us to bear either a lot of fruit or just some. The important thing is that we are doing good, that we are bearing some fruit, any fruit, which can be of use. When this happens, we will be brought into closer contact with the angels of heaven, and they will give us more and more help and strength to work and to till the field of our mind. If we stop and think on which of the following would be easier to prepare, plant, and maintain an acre of ground by ourselves or do the same with as many willing helpers as were needed or desiredthe answer is quite clear. When we shun evils as sins and look to the Lord for help, He will most certainly send it in abundance.

But we will never reach this state unless we believe that the Lord’s Word is Divine truth and holds the answers for life change within it. Beginning with this belief and then gradually responding to the truth in the Word is what will break up the rocky crust of our minds and allow moisture to seep in to soften the soil, making our rational minds ready, ready to receive the seeds of truth which will soon sprout into the tiny seedlings which are the beginnings of a life of good. And in time, with more continued work on the ground of our mind, by pulling out the suffocatory evils and keeping the ground workable, we can enable these little seedlings of good to grow and become good for food, that is, genuine spiritual goods.

The truths of the Lord’s Word are of utmost importance to us. They will do so much for us if we let them. The Lord is the greatest teacher and has the best lessons ready for us, accommodated for each and every one of us no matter what state we are in. His parables teach us as well today as they did when He spoke them to His followers. So the question is, how are we going to choose to receive them? Will we reject them? Will we gather them in for mere appearance? Will we let our hereditary evils choke any good that may come from them?all ways which lead to spiritual starvation. Or will we open up our hearts and minds to them and feed on the produce of the spiritual goods which they can bear? The choice is ours. It is the Lord’s good pleasure that we inherit the kingdom, that is, that we go to heaven. As the Lord said to those who followed His Word in their lives, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt 25:34). Amen.

Lessons: Matt. 13:10-13, 31-35, 44-52; Luke 8:4-15; AC 5096

Arcana Coelestia 5096

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

They are such as not at all to admit truths but to reflect or strike them back again, and this with hardness according to the degree of the persuasion, especially when the falsity is from evil, or when evil has persuaded them. These are they who are meant in the Lord’s parable in Matthew: “Some seeds fell upon the hard way, and the birds came and devoured them” (13:4); the “seeds” are Divine truths; the “hard rock” is persuasion; the “birds” are principles of falsity. They who are such do not even know that they are in bonds or in prison, for they are affected with their own falsity, and love it for the sake of the evil from which it springs; hence they suppose that they are in freedom, for whatever is of the affection or love appears free. But they who are not in confirmed falsitythat is, in the persuasion of falsityeasily admit truths, and see and choose them, and are affected with them, and afterward see falsities as it were beneath themselves, and also see how they who are in the persuasion of falsity are bound. These are in so much freedom that in view and thought they can as it were range through the whole heaven to innumerable truths; but no one can be in this freedom unless he is in good, for from good, man is in heaven, and in heaven truths appear from good.



A Sermon by Rev Philip N. Odhner March 01, 1959

“I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink. When saw we thee…thirsty and gave thee drink? Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:35, 36, 40)

When the Lord on the cross saw that all things had been acomplished that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, He said, “I thirst.” (John 19:28) The Lord’s thirst was a Divine Spiritual thirst. It is a thirst for the Divine Truth and Divine Good in the Church, through which there may be the salvation of the Human Race. The Lord said, “I thirst,” when He knew that all things had been accomplished that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, that is, when He knew that all things of His glorification had been accomplished through which there was the Divine Human, in which the Divine was made accessible and conjoinable to men. In these words therefore we hear the longing of the Lord’s Divine Love that there might be those who would receive Him in His Divine Human, His longing for a genuine Church which would acknowledge Him, His longing for the reception by the Church of the Truth and Good of His Divine Human. This was His Divine end from the beginning of creation, for this He had striven with the human race in all the former ages and Churches, for this He had come into the world and assumed the Human and glorified it. And when He had done all things to make possible the conjunction of Himself with the Human Race, His Love longed for that conjunction, for the reception of His Divine Human life in the Church.

When the Lord said, “I thirst,” they gave Him vinegar to drink. And by this is signified, that the Church which came into being did not receive and acknowledge the Divine Human of the Lord, but had truth mixed with falsities, the truth of faith separated from love and charity. For this reason the Lord came again into the world to establish a New Church in which there could be the reception of the truth and good of His Divine Human. Will those who are called to the New Church feel His thirst and give Him drink?

In man, thirst signifies the affection of the true. And if this affection, in man, is genuine then there is in it that which corresponds with the Divine Spiritual thirst of the Lord. For there is in it the longing that the human of man might be reborn and saved, the longing that man’s human might be formed and opened to receive the Truth and Good of the Divine Human. If this is not present in the affection of the true, at first in a latent way, and then more and more openly, it is not a real affection of the true, and not a genuine spiritual thirst.

There are affections of the true which are not genuine. There are thirsts for knowledge and understanding which are not good but evil, which do not open the mind to the Lord but close it. Between these affections we must learn to discriminate, before we can know that real affection which is the neighbor who is to be loved. Most have the love of learning, the love of knowing, from which they daily acquire knowledge of many things, some of which are for natural uses, and most of which are for no other end than the delight of knowing them. This love can be of great use in filling the memory of man with things which are tools for his thinking. But it may exist without any affection of the true. And it is an easy prey to the love of honour, reputation, and gain.

The love of understanding, of reasoning, of coming to brilliant conclusions on the basis of what one knows, may also be mistaken for the affection of the truth, and thus as a genuine spiritual thirst. There are many obvious examples of those who have such a love of reasoning and yet have no love of truth at all. Where our difficulties in telling what is a real affection of the true commence, is with those who have a love of knowing and understanding the things of the Word and of the Doctrine of the Church. Because many love to think and talk about these holy things, it appears as if they are affected with them, when yet we know from the Word that many love to think about these holy things from a merely natural love without anything of sipritual love being in it. They who are in faith alone, or in faith separate from charity, have such an appearance of the affection of the true. They love to study, think and talk about the things of religion, but in such a way as to leave untouched their life’s love and its intentions and thoughts.

If you look into your own life you will observe that the things of your religion have as it were their own compartment in your mind. All the terms of theology have as it were a meaning in that compartment, but no meaning anywhere else. There are of course the common truths of moral and civil life which reach into other compartments of the life, but these are such as to be common with other churches and religions, so that there is, so to speak, no difference in the other compartments between a man of the Church and others in the world. And you will observe that you tend to think that this compartment of religion is the internal with yourself, and that the other compartments are your external, which are necessarily somehow made different from others by that internal. And when we speak of the affection of the true, our thought almost always applies this affection only to that separated religious compartment of the mind. If we want to know and understand the truths of theology, as existing in that compartment, then we think we are in the affection of the true.

It is a great mistake to think of that religious compartment as our internal. We can have a very highly developed religious compartment without having any effect on our life’s love and its intentions and thoughts. All that is in that compartment is merely abstract terms that have no meaning in life for us whatsoever. In fact, it may be said that our greatest danger, at this time in the Church, is that we may mistake such a developed religious compartment as our internal, and mistake the delights of knowing and understanding in that compartment as the affection of the true. Such an understanding must indeed be developed with us, but to regard it as an end in itself, to regard it as an internal life in itself, is a grievous error. If isolated in that compartment, the things of theology become like a kind of algebra. It becomes a thing of formulas, which we can manipulate as formulas, and even solve equations, and yet the letters or symbols in themselves mean nothing at all to us, nothing more than the x and y or a and b of an algebraic equation. So we can manipulate the terms celestial, spiritual, natural; and rational, natural, sensual; good and truth; good of truth and truth of good; falsity of evil and evil of falsity; and yet they may mean nothing to us more than x and y. How can we call such a separated theological compartment our internal? Does the existence of such a complex theological algebra elevate and make new our life in some mysterious way? Can we call the love of that theological reasoning and equationing the affection of truth? Is this the thirst that is the neighbor to be loved?

Everyone can clearly see that regeneration is not the manipulation of a set of terms, no matter how much those terms may seem to put on life by reason of their juxtaposition one to another. Regeneration is to be in the things, and in the order of the things, which the terms represent and signify. And the affection of the truth is the affection of seeing the things in life which are true, and it is not the affection of the terms which represent and signify those things. If we deceive ourselves into thinking that the terms are truths, then we will never come into an affection of truth. We will then never know that we do not have the truth, that the truth is not in us, and we will never thirst for it. It is a kind of spiritual drunkenness, and the thirst for that kind of term-truth is like the thirst of a drunkard. It is fantastic and purely imaginative. In it we think we see all kinds of things which we do not see at all. It is divorced from reality.

Just ask yourself what you actually see in yourself when you read or think or speak of some truth. Do you really see something, or is it merely a term? For example, you know many things about the spiritual world, about the laws of heaven and of hell. Do you really see these things in your life, so that you know what they are, or are they just terms which have no meaning in your life? We know that the marriage of conjugial love descends out of the marriage of the good and true. Do we see this good and true in our marriages, or is it all just a kind of vague shadowy terminology, which we acknowledge in the abstract and reject in the reality? The thirst for the true is the thirst to see the true in reality, to see the actual forms of the good of life. If we will cease getting drunk on the terms of religion, and lead the understanding to see the actual good and true, and the actual evil and false in our human things, we will receive a thirst for the true that will open our minds to receive the Divine True of the Lord. Pay attention to your own mind. Look at your loves. Examine them in your thought. Analyse them. See what they really are. See if you can see the truth of the Word there. If a man does this, he will find that he knows very little and that he understands hardly anything at all. And he will realize that in his human things he is in need, and lacks all things. Then can the thirst start with him, a longing for truth that will burn in him, and cause his mind to open and imbibe with love what is given to him from the Lord. So it is said in the Apaocalypse, “To him that is athirst will I give of the fountain of the water of life freely.” And by this is meant that to those who desire truth out of any spiritual use, there will be given to them all the truth that is conducive to that use. To desire truth out of spiritual use, is to desire it for the sake of that new human life which can receive the life of the Divine Human of the Lord.

Sometimes those, who wish to deride the usefulness of the Church, will ask, in a sarcastic manner, where the differences in the life of the Church and the life of the world can be seen. They will ask to be shown in so many words where the new plane of the life of the Church is. If this were asked out of the great longing for that life and that plane, if it were asked out of the desperate need of it, then it would indicate a real thirst for the true. But if it is asked in derision, then it is asked out of faith alone and out of a complacent satisfaction with the old life and the old human. All of us may at times feel that derision. But only they who are being regenerated feel the actual despair of seeing the truth in their life, and only these feel the thirst for it which may be satisfied from the fountain of the water of life.

The affection of the true is sometimes called in the Word the love of the true for the sake of the true. This could be mistaken to mean the love of knowing the true for the sake of knowing it, thus that the abstract true is an end in itself. But what is meant is, that that understanding of the true, which is given to us, if in an abstract compartment of the mind, is for the sake of seeing the actual truth in life.

It would be good for us if, at the end of each day, we should reflect as to whether or not we have come to see anything of actual truth in that day. Not just to have learned a new term, or to have learned to manipulate some term, but to have seen it in our own life, in such a way that we know what it is. If we did this, we would come to thirst, and many times we would experience a despair that we have seen nothing, and perhaps even been cast into doubt about what we had previously seen. And yet in this, we would come to understand in a real way, what it is that the Lord thirsts for in us, and our hearts would be prepared to receive His Truth. And then too we would begin to know the signs of this thirst in other men, and to love them fof it, knowing that they have with them an affection which is of the Lord. To see the true in the human things, in the life, is to see it in a form which does not appear immediately or directly to be of the Word. It is therefore likened to a thirsting and a giving to drink to others, to the least of the Lord’s brethren. And yet in so doing we would indeed be making possible that for which the Lord longs for out of His Divine Love.


Lessons: Exodus 17, John 19: 13-30, Apocalypse Revealed 889.

Apocalypse Revealed

889. I will give unto him that thirsteth of the fountain of the water of life freely, signifies that to those who desire truths from any spiritual use, the Lord will give from Himself through the Word all things that are conducive to that use. By “him that thirsteth,” is signified he who desires truth from any spiritual use, will be seen presently; by “the fountain of the water of life,” is signified the Lord and the Word (n. 384) ; by “giving freely,” is signified from the Lord, and not from man’s own intelligence. The reason why by “thirsting” is signified to desire for the sake of some spiritual use, is because there is given a thirst or desire for the knowledges of truth from the Word, from natural use, and also from spiritual use, from natural use with those who have learning for their end, and by learning, fame, honor, and gain, thus self and the world; but from spiritual use with those whose end is to serve the neighbor from love to him, to consult the god of their souls, and that of their own, thus on account of the Lord, the neighbor, and salvation; truth is given to these so far as it conduces to that use, “from the fountain of the water of life,” that is, from the Lord through the Word; to the rest truth is not given from thence; they read the Word, and every doctrinal truth therein they either do not see, or if they do see it they turn it into falsity, not so much in speech when it is uttered from the Word, but in the idea of their thought concerning it. That “to hunger” signifies to desire good, and “to thirst” to desire truth, may be seen (n. 323, 381).



A Sermon by Rev Grant H. Odhner
Preached in Rochester, Michigan
May 26, 1991

“Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6)

The Lord asks this question of us just as He did of some persons 2000 years ago. And unless we can answer “yes,” we cannot hope to know the deeper, richer life that the Lord promises. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt. 9:12). We cannot accept a greater sense of the Lord’s life unless we recognize the attitudes and priorities with ourselves that stand in the way. These are our sickness.

Our own sickness must be a reality for us, both if we are to be made well and if we are to understand this story. The Word’s stories hold secrets truths that remain secret to those who look with worldly eyes or with faithless eyes, or who look with self-sufficiency. If we are not in need we cannot see. When real truth is irrelevant to us, seeing it becomes a mere intellectual exercise.

All the stories of the Lord’s healings are parables about the healing of the mind. Spiritual sickness and health, damnation and salvation are all a matter of mind. It is our mind that senses life as good or bad. It is our mind that feels trust or distrust, mercy or contempt, patience or annoyance. It is our mind that is more or less limited. It is our mind that experiences the Lord and His salvation. The Word’s parables are about the mind and its changes. With this in mind, let us look at the parable before us.

It begins: “After this there was a feast of the Jews and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”

There were three feasts which the Law required the Jews to celebrate at the temple in Jerusalem. These feasts remembered the Lord’s deliverance from Egypt (Passover), His “planting” them in the land of Canaan and beginning to make them fruitful (Weeks = First Fruits), and His bringing them to full blessing there (Tabernacles = Ingathering). Viewed spiritually, these feasts were held to recognize the Lord’s role in liberating our minds, in planting seeds of truth in them, and finally His role in blessing our minds with the full fruits of His life (see AC 9296).

Jesus went up to Jerusalem to these feasts because He is the one who liberates, grows, and blesses our minds. This is the general subject here. That’s why the setting is one of these feasts.

“Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches.” The Sheep Gate was just north of the temple, on the northeast wall of the city. Perhaps it was through this gate that sheep were brought in on their way to the temple for sacrifices, or perhaps they were bought and sold there for use in sacrifices. A gate is an entryway, marking an approach. In a symbolic sense, the Sheep Gate pictures the opening of the mind toward spiritual life, and a desire to follow the Shepherd in this path.

But the main focus here is not the gate but the pool near it, called “Bethesda.” It was trapezoid-shaped, divided into two pools by a walkway across the middle. Stairs in each corner led down into the pool. It was said to have “five porches.” This refers to colonnades, one on each side and a fifth one over the walkway. What is this “pool” at the entryway to our spiritual life? It is symbolic of the reservoir of ideas in our memories, ideas of what is true that we have gathered from our experience, and especially from the Word.

In themselves, as they exist in our memories, these ideas have little life. They are only by the entryway to the real us. It is a surface part of us that gathers knowledge. The “five porches” mentioned call to mind the fingers of the hand, and the five senses. Our first perspective on the things that we learn is a sensory one; we are at first tied to the way things feel and appear. It is a higher part of us that lifts knowledge out of the memory where it is first lodged, and turns it over and sees it more deeply. Still, the pool of truths in our memory is called “Bethesda,” “House of Mercy,” because of the potential that it holds for opening our minds and leading us to the Lord. The Lord mercifully gives us ideas that can lead us, and He is constantly present, “brooding over the face of the waters,” waiting for the right time to send His angels to stir those ideas to life.

Now in the five porches around the pool there “lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, withered.” What does this say about our entryway to spiritual life? Our outer mind is clogged with impediments to communion with the Lord. We are “sick” with selfishness and its petty concerns; we are “blinded” with ignorance, prejudice, and our world-centered outlook; we are “lame” in our inability to progress; we are “withered” in our powerlessness and lack of energy for achieving something beyond ourselves.

All these sick ones in our story were “waiting for the moving of the water.” “For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had” (vv. 3,4).

This describes how the impediments to our spiritual life and progress are healed. When we are willing and ready to commit our lives to them, the true ideas in our memory are stirred by the Lord’s messengers, by His spirit; they come alive for us: they become insight and inspiration where before they were just knowledge. We recognize their truth. Our sickness is then seen from a new perspective; we gain a separation from it; we move beyond it (see AC 10083).

This healing does not happen completely all at once: it happens gradually, one sickness at a time (so to speak). Some of our sicknesses take a long time to heal. We may think we are ready and “waiting” for them to change, but the Lord knows our real readiness to see and accept and change.

We tend to spend a long time wanting change from one part of us but not another; we want change from our understanding and not yet from our will. In other words, we see intellectually that we are sick in some respect and that change is desirable, yet we are not ready emotionally to change. Part of us may grieve over the consequences of a bad habit (for example); we may see its tragic effects on our life, its perversity! At the same time, we cannot find the resolve to really accept a change in attitude and life-style. The fact is, consciously or unconsciously, we still feel attachment to the delights that are the source of our disfunction. For every spiritual sickness has its source in some delight that sustains it.

Only the one who stepped into the pool first was healed. The quickest and readiest person found relief. “Quickness” in spiritual terms is a product of our will. We feel quick and alive when our heart is involved. When we are acting mostly from our understanding, we are slow. There is more effort, less resolve; more self-compulsion is required. As a result, our responsiveness is somewhat dull and forced.

How painful and frustrating it is to see that we are sick and incapacitated, and yet not to find the quickness and resolve of will to change! Did we hurt someone for the thousandth time? Were we impatient again? Did we give in to some bitterness after all our intellectual resolves? Did we “fall” to the same old lust?

We see here the plight of the man who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. He was unable to get himself into the water quickly enough; as he said, “I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

Thirty-eight years is a long time. We can imagine the pitch of despair. Viewed symbolically, periods of time mark states of mind. An interval of time seems long or short to us, depending on our mental attitude. And just as slowness and quickness are a matter of how much our will is involved, so here, the longness of this time reinforces the fact that the will is resisting the healing even though the understanding wants it.

But there is more in this number. Like all numbers in the Word, “thirty-eight” has a symbolic meaning. This was the number of years it took for all the Israelites who had doubted the Lord’s power to die in the wilderness; this was necessary before the others could begin to enter the promised land (Deut. 2:14). Thirty-eight (literally “thirty and eight”) refers to a mental phase coming to fullness so that a new one can begin. “Thirty” means fullness of preparation and readiness. Joseph was thirty when he began to rule Egypt (see Gen. 41:46); David was thirty when he became king (see II Sam 5:4); Jesus was thirty when He began His ministry (see Luke 3:23). “Eight” means a new beginning. The eighth day is the first day after a complete week, the beginning of a new week. It was the day when a boy was circumcised and entered the covenant. It is often mentioned in the Law as a special day in purification ceremonies and festivals.

Thirty-eight is mentioned in our story because spiritual change does not happen without preparation and readiness. For a given change in mental outlook to become permanent, certain crucial experiences are necessary, certain knowledges must be acquired, certain realizations must come realizations born of aging, of encountering difficulties and frustrations, of failing, of experiencing various kinds of success and satisfaction. We must learn the value of things through experiencing highs and lows, presence and absence, good and evil. When we have acquired a sufficient store of these things and are ready to begin a new phase, we have achieved “thirty and eight.”

The Lord is constantly preparing us to be healed, constantly trying to make life better for us. But it is not until we are ready for Him that we see Him standing above us in our infirm condition, and hear His invitation: “Do you want to be made well?”

We may not be aware at first that the invitation is coming from the Lord. The man in our story wasn’t. Still, our response must be one of self-awareness. In other words, we must know our own powerlessness to save ourselves. (“I have no man . . . ” ” . . . while I am coming, another steps down before me.”) It is this realization of our powerlessness, especially, that is meant by “thirty.” Joseph and David both were given power at age thirty. Both represented the Lord, who proclaimed Himself the Messiah, the king, at the same age. “Thirty” means recognizing our own lack of power and giving all power to the Lord, letting Him rule. This recognition is what enables us to hear the Lord’s voice saying to us, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”

“Rise, take up your bed and walk.” People who lie in a bed are either asleep, weak, or sick. Those who rise and walk are awake and well. The Lord causes us to become spiritually awake, energetic, well, when we are ready. His “speaking” these words stands for the inflow of His love and truth, which stir us to new possibilities, new resolves, new power.

But more specifically, the Lord’s words symbolically describe the healing. “Rise” signals a raising of the mind to what lies above the self. We must look to the Lord, to a higher power, to goals in life that are larger than we are. And when the mind’s focus is raised, then the “bed” in which it has been resting is also raised. Our mental bed is the set of ideas that underlie our basic thinking and willing. These ideas are “taken up” when we rethink them or see them in a new way, out of a desire to respond to the Lord’s will. Finally the Lord said, “Walk.” To “walk” is to progress. Literally it is to actually change our location and direction. Spiritually it is to change our state of mind, our way of responding to life’s events, to the people around us, to insults, to frustrations, to our old negative mental dialogue.

And in what direction does the freed mind “walk”? Jesus later found the man who had accepted His healing in the temple. The temple, the Lord’s house, pictures His fuller presence, which is heaven. This is the goal of all healing: to dwell more closely in the Lord’s life and to have that life more fully in us. It was in the temple that the healed man found out who his Savior was. So with us, it is when we come into a greater sense of the Lord’s life that we can really know that He healed us. We feel gratitude and humility before Him. We have a clear sense of His mercy. We know that He has done it.

This realization is what is meant by the “Sabbath.” All the miracles of healing in our life are done on the Sabbath. They are done with the acknowledgment that the Lord alone works, the Lord alone creates and creates anew. It does appear that we are laboring from ourselves just as it appeared to the Jews that the healed man was laboring by carrying his bed. Indeed, we must labor as if all depended on us. Yet we can truly say, as the man in the story did, “He who made me well said to me, Take up your bed and walk.'” We labor by the Lord’s authority, recognizing that He is doing the work within us.

A final thought on our text, the Lord’s question: “Do you want to be made well?” What greater testimony to the Lord’s love is there than this: that He allows us the freedom to make His salvation our own? He accomplishes it, but not without our full involvement! The Lord does not tell us that we must be made well. In His infinite wisdom and mercy He asks, “Do you want to be made well?” He asks so that the choice may be ours. It is left to us to respond to His invitation: “Rise; take up your bed and walk.” Amen.

Lessons: Isaiah 55; John 5:1-15; AC 2694:1-3

Arcana Caelestia

2694:1-3. “Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the child where he is.” This signifies the hope of help . . . . In the verses which precede, the state of desolation . . . is treated of.

Those who are being reformed are reduced into ignorance of truth, or desolation, even to grief and despair, and then for the first time they have comfort and help from the Lord. This is unknown at this day, for the reason that few are reformed. Those who are such that they can be reformed are brought into this state, if not in the life of the body, nevertheless in the other life, where this state is well known, and is called vastation or desolation . . . .

Those who are in such vastation or desolation are reduced even to despair. And when they are in this state they then receive comfort and help from the Lord, and are at length taken away into heaven. There they are instructed anew, as it were, among the angels in the goods and truths of faith. The reason for this vastation and desolation is chiefly that the persuasive [light] which they have conceived from their self (proprium) may be broken (see n. 2682); and also that they may receive a perception of good and truth. They cannot receive this perception until the persuasive [light] which is from their self has been softened, as it were. This softening is brought about by the state of anxiety and grief even to despair.

What is good, nay, what is blessed and happy, no one can perceive with an exquisite sense unless he has been in a state of what is not good, not blessed, and not happy. From this he acquires a sphere of perception, and this in the degree in which he has been in the opposite state. The sphere of perception and the extension of its limits arise from the realizing of contrasts. These are causes of vastation or desolation, besides many others.

But take examples for illustration. If it is proved to those who ascribe all things to their own prudence and little or nothing to Divine Providence, by thousands of reasons that the Divine Providence is universal, and this because it is in the most minute particulars, and that not even a hair falls from the head (that is, nothing happens however small) which is not foreseen and provided accordingly, nevertheless their state of thought about their own prudence is not changed by it, except at the very moment when they find themselves convinced by the reasons. Nay, if the same thing were attested to them by living experiences, just at the moment when they see the experiences, or are in them, they may confess that it is so. But after the lapse of a few moments they return to their former state of opinion. Such things have some momentary effect upon the thought but not upon the affection. And unless the affection is broken, the thought remains in its own state. For the thought has its belief and its life from the affection. But when anxiety and grief are induced upon them by the fact of their own helplessness, and this even to despair, the opinion they are persuaded of is broken, and their state is changed. And then they can be led into the belief that they can do nothing of themselves, but that all power, prudence, intelligence, and wisdom are from the Lord.


A Sermon by Rev. Thomas L. Kline
Preached in Bryn Athyn November 8, 1992

“This my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24).

Jesus said that a man had two sons. The younger son went to his father and demanded his inheritance. It says he went to a far-off country, and there he wasted all that he had with riotous living. A famine arose in the land, and the young man had nothing to eat. And so he hired himself out to go into the fields to feed the swine. He was so hungry that he would have eaten the food of the pigs. But suddenly, he came to himself. He said to himself, “I will go to my father and ask him for forgiveness, and I will become as a hired servant to him.” We can picture the young man coming back after a long journey. Will his father forgive him? Will his father be angry with him?

His father is waiting for him! His father sees him at a distance, runs to him, and embraces him. The father has compassion on his son. And at the end of this story, we hear those words of the father to the older brother: “It is right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”

There is something in each of us that is touched by the power of this parable. This is because it is a story of hope. We might have a friend or relative that seems to turn from the Lord. We might have a friend that for a time seems lost, spiritually wounded, a person in a time of spiritual crisis. And the everlasting message of this parable is that there is a way back. The Lord gives us a path to restore our souls no matter how hopeless the situation.

The father figure in this parable is so important. It is a picture of the Lord Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ as our heavenly Father. And what we see is a picture of the Divine love. When the young man returns, we don’t see the father demanding payment or retribution for the son’s sins. We don’t see anything that suggests the traditional dogmas of Divine atonement or punishment for sin. No, those old-fashioned, traditional ideas of God are not based on Scripture. In this parable we see only forgiveness after the long journey of repentance and reformation. The father celebrates his son’s return. The Lord rejoices when we come back to our spiritual home.

There is a message in this parable for a church congregation. The reason why Jesus even told this parable was that the church leaders of that time came to Him complaining that He was spending too much time with sinners. The scribes and Pharisees were murmuring because Jesus was associating with sinners, drunkards, and tax collectors. And the Lord’s answer was simple: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” This is why He had come to bring sinners to repentance, and to restore their lives.

And so we ask the question of ourselves: What is the purpose of our church? What is the purpose of this congregation? Certainly the church is for the worship of the Lord. Certainly it is for the proclaiming of the Lord’s Word. It is for the life of charity and service. But the church also exists for something else.

In the book of Revelation, the New Church is said to be the “healing of the nations.” The leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations. It is a vision of the church as a hospital, the church as a place for spiritual healing, the church as a place where the sick and wounded come. There is a battle going on in the world today. It is a great battle between heaven and hell. And, as in any battle, there will be casualties: our sons and daughters, our friends and neighbors, our family. And the church is the place for those who are hurting, those who at times have failed, those who are dying spiritually, to come and receive support in the road that leads back to a restoration. It is a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Divine physician.

But there is a more interior meaning to this story. It is a level of meaning opened by the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem. This story of the prodigal son is the personal story of our rebirth and regeneration. It is the story of the Lord’s healing our troubled heart. And in this story, we find, step by step, the journey that we take as the Lord leads us on the path to heaven.

Let’s just look at the steps of regeneration outlined in this story.

Number one is permission, what the Writings of the New Church call the “doctrine of permission.” In this story the father allows his son to leave and go to a distant land. It almost seems that the father willingly gives his son all of his inheritance knowing that this will lead to grief and pain for the son. And how can this be? Why would a loving father do this?

The Writings of the New Church say that this permission to leave is a picture of the magnitude of the Lord’s love and wisdom in our lives. The Lord loves us so much that He will even allow us to turn from Him at times if this is what we truly choose. He will allow us to turn from Him and even experience the consequences, the pain and suffering of that turning away. And this is said to be of His permission, not of His will.

He grieves when we turn and suffer the consequences of evil. The pain of evil is not the Lord’s punishment; no, the Lord weeps for us. And still, in His love He allows this because in His infinite wisdom He foresees that sometimes it is only through the process of the journey that we can finally choose what is good, fight for what is good, and make what is good our own. So number one: the Lord permits us to leave.

And step number two: If we do choose to turn from Him, He is not passive. If we do choose to turn from Him, He protects and guides us every step of the way. He is with us on the perilous journey.

We have a beautiful teaching in the Writings of the New Church that during times of temptation and despair it seems as if the Lord has left us, whereas in fact He is closer than ever. The Lord is closest to us in times of temptation.

In this parable it seems that once the son left home and went to the distant land, his father was out of the picture. It seems that his father just stayed home and worried. It is important to realize that this is written from the viewpoint of the son: When we turn from God it seems as if He is distant from us; that’s how it feels to us.

But from the Lord’s perspective, He never leaves us. If we could re-write this parable from the Lord’s viewpoint, the father would be with that son in that distant land, actively protecting, guiding and leading.

How does the Lord protect us when we are in the distant land? First is the famine. The Lord allows us to hunger in the distant land. He allows us to hunger for righteousness. The Lord will never let us be completely satisfied with evil. No, something inside of us will hunger for a life that is higher. And it is this hunger that finally causes us to turn back to the Lord. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

Another thing He does when we are in the distant land: He withholds us from further evils. In the parable, it says the son was almost to the point where he was about to eat the food of the pigs, but he didn’t eat it. A person who has been in a state of disorder will often say, “Yes, I was in terrible disorder, but somehow there was something preventing me from going all the way down to hell. Something was holding me back.” The Lord’s hand is there protecting us from the hells even when we are in active evil.

A third thing He does when we are in the distant land: The Lord causes us to remember our home; He lets us remember our spiritual home. In the story the son remembered his father’s house. We hear the words, “I will arise and go to my father.” It’s a memory of heaven. The Writings of the New church speak about heavenly memories that stay with us always. Memories of heaven that remain with us sometimes we call these “heavenly remains.” No matter where we are in life, we all have a memory of heaven (sometimes from our earliest childhood) stored up in the interior parts of our minds. And that memory of heaven tempers and bends our life back to our spiritual home, when we are in the height of temptation and despair.

But then we come to the climax of the story, the turning point, and it is the turning point in our lives. The story says that the young man was in the field, far from his home, hungry. The young man, when he was at his lowest moment of despair, came to his senses. One translation says, “He came to himself.” It is the beginning of true repentance. For the first time we find him thinking the words, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.”

The young man suddenly sees his life in a new way. It is as if his eyes are opened. It is interesting that the Writings of the New Church use the word “inversion” when they talk about this change. When it seems as if things can’t get any worse, suddenly we come to this turning point; we come to this moment of change, and our lives are totally inverted. Everything is changed from top to bottom. The love of self that used to be at the top is now at the bottom, and in its place is a love of the Lord and the neighbor. We hear the words, “I will go and serve my father; I will hire myself to him; I will be as servant to him,” and we begin to lay down our lives. Jesus said, “He that shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

And we find that there is a road back home. That’s the young man journeying back home, retracing every step that He had taken. The Writings of the New Church call this “reformation.” And notice the power of that word: the Lord literally “re-forms” us. He makes us anew.

And then there is a time of rejoicing. Here are some of the internal meanings revealed in the Writings of the New Church: The ring the father put on his son’s finger pictures “internal conjunction.” The robe pictures “truths of our faith and trust in God.” The sandals picture our life changed even to the most “down-to-earth” parts. And the fatted calf pictures our life of charity.

So this entire 15th chapter of the gospel of Luke deals with the subject of lost things and the Lord’s rejoicing over what is lost being found again. Let us take these wonderful teachings and apply them to our lives. Let us reach out with hope and forgiveness to those who are hurting, supporting them on the Divine path of restoration. Let us express this love of the Lord Himself as He comes to restore our own lives toward heaven, realizing that in His sight we are all in need of the Divine healing. This is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Divine physician, and tells His everlasting message of hope: “It is right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 84, Luke 15, TCR 394-5

True Christian Religion 394, 395


These three loves must first be considered for the reason that these three are the universal and fundamental of all loves, and that charity has something in common with each of them. For the love of heaven means both love to the Lord and love toward the neighbor; and as each of these looks to use as its end, the love of heaven may be called the love of uses. The love of the world is not merely a love of wealth and possessions, but is also a love of all that the world affords, and of all that delights the bodily senses, as beauty delights the eye, harmony the ear, fragrance the nostrils, delicacies the tongue, softness the skin; also becoming dress, convenient houses, and society, thus all the enjoyments arising from these and many other objects. The love of self is not merely the love of honor, glory, fame, and eminence, but also the love of meriting and seeking office, and so of ruling over others. Charity has something in common with each of these three loves because viewed in itself charity is the love of uses; for charity wishes to do good to the neighbor, and good and use are the same, and from these loves everyone looks to uses as his end, the love of heaven looking to spiritual uses, the love of the world to natural uses, which may be called civil, and the love of self to corporeal uses, which may also be called domestic uses, that have regard to oneself and one’s own.

… That these three loves are rightly subordinated when the love of heaven forms the head, the love of the world the breast and abdomen, and the love of self the feet and their soles. As repeatedly stated above, the human mind is divided into three regions. From the highest region man looks to God, from the second or middle region to the world, and from the third or lowest to himself. The mind being such, it can be raised and can raise itself upward, because to God and to heaven; it can be extended and can extend itself to the sides in all directions, because into the world and its nature; and it can be let downward and let itself downward, because to earth and to hell. In these respects the bodily vision emulates the mind’s vision; it also can look upward, round about, and downward.

[2] The human mind is like a house of three stories which communicate by stairs, in the highest of which angels from heaven dwell, in the middle men in the world, and in the lowest one, genii. The man in whom these three loves are rightly subordinated can ascend and descend in this house at his pleasure; and when he ascends to the highest story, he is in company with angels as an angel; and when he descends from that to the middle story he is in company with men as an angel man; and when from this he descends still further, he is in company with genii as a man of the world, instructing, reproving, and subduing them.

[3] In the man in whom these three loves are rightly subordinated, they are also coordinated thus: The highest love, which is the love of heaven, is inwardly in the second, which is the love of the world, and through this in the third or lowest, which is the love of self; and the love that is within directs at its will that which is without. So when the love of heaven is inwardly in the love of the world and through this in the love of self, man from the God of heaven performs uses in each. In their operation these three loves are like will, understanding, and action; the will flows into the understanding, and there provides itself with the means whereby it produces action.


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

“Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country” (Matthew 21:33).

The Lord, while on earth, customarily presented His teaching in the form of parables. The characters, situations and imagery in the parables were selected to appeal to His audience. They were things with which the people He was addressing were well acquainted. They were able to draw conclusions and make judgments concerning the conduct of the characters in the parables because they were familiar with the situations presented in the parable from living experience. By means of the parable they were led to see that the same judgment which they rendered, in regard to the people in the parable, applied to a situation in which they were personally involved but which they had not recognized, or else refused to acknowledge.

The parables which the Lord spoke during His last week on earth were especially directed against the corrupt leaders of the Jewish Church. By means of His parables, He enabled the simple to see the state of the church and the quality of its leadership. In this way the Lord set free those who had been in simple good but who had been blind to the corruption of the church and its leaders. Having been freed, they could then be formed into the nucleus of the new church which the Lord came on earth to establish the Christian Church. Simultaneously, the leaders of the church were induced to pronounce a judgment on themselves.

The parable of the vineyard and the wicked vinedressers is clearly a case in point. The Jews were thoroughly familiar with the setting which the Lord outlined. The growing of grapes and the making of wine was one of the chief industries of that region. According to the parable, a landowner planted a vineyard. Around it he planted a hedge to protect it from wild animals or anyone bent on destruction. He built a winepress to process the fruit of the vineyard, and a tower for a watchman to warn of approaching danger. When everything was fully established, he hired vinedressers to work it and care for it in his absence.

But, because the owner of the vineyard was not present, the vinedressers began to think of the vineyard as their own. Because they worked it and cared for it, they credited its success to their own endeavors and thought of it as their own. So when the owner sent servants to receive the fruit, they beat some, killed others and stoned yet others. When the son of the owner came to collect, they killed him, confident that now the vineyard would be theirs.

The Lord then showed them that the church which had been established with their forefathers was the vineyard, and they, the leaders of the church, were the vinedressers in the parable. The prophets who had been periodically sent to turn them from their evil ways, ending with John the Baptist, were the servants in the parable who had been beaten, stoned, and killed. In the light of this parable, the righteous among the Jews were able to see the true quality of the church and its leaders, and so were freed from their domination. At the same time the wicked leaders were induced to pronounce a judgment on themselves.

Let us realize that the Lord’s parables, being Divine, are timeless. They are not limited in their application to specific times and circumstances. They are universal. Certainly, the fact that this parable was included in the New Testament the revelation to the Christian Church is a clear indication that it was given to serve as a warning to that church not to fall into the same grievous error.

It is a matter of spiritual history, revealed in the Word of the Second Advent, that despite this warning, that church did, like the one preceding it, fall away from the true worship of the Lord. The love of rule springing from the love of self perverted the leaders; the loves of the world its riches and its pleasures corrupted the people, and the church failed.

First the sole divinity of the Lord was called into question and finally denied. Thus the cornerstone of the Christian Church was rejected. The saving power of God was claimed by fallible men the priesthood of the church. The sole and absolute authority of the Divine Word was denied; the church’s interpretation of the Word called the living Word was acknowledged in its stead. Man-made doctrines superseded the Word as the source of the church’s inspiration, faith and life. They made the commandments of God of no effect through their traditions. Once again the vinedressers tried to seize control of the vineyard. So the Lord had to come again to establish a church which would render to Him the fruits of the vineyard in season.

As we have said, the truth of the Lord’s Word is timeless. This parable is also intended to serve as a warning to the New Church which the Lord is now establishing. The selfish, worldly loves and ambitions which caused the two former churches to betray their trust are the common heredity of all mankind. It would be a grievous error for us to look on this parable merely as a matter of history. Rather we must, periodically, examine the New Church in its light both the organized church and the church as it exists in each one of us individually. Because the Lord has revealed the internal sense of the Word given us new light from heaven this is now possible as it never was before.

We have seen that the vineyard is the church: historically, the Jewish Church, but in the spiritual sense, apart from time, it means the church where the Word is, by which the Lord is known (see AE 992:7; AR 650). Thus, at the present day, the New Church is the Lord’s vineyard. The hedge around the vineyard is the exterior truths which are easily apparent in the literal sense of the Word, which serves to protect the church from false ideas, philosophies, ideologies and disorders, which come from outside the church (see AE 922:7); for example: humanism, situation ethics and the social gospel.

By the tower in the vineyard is meant the interior truths of the Word which serve for the conservation and protection of the things of the church interior truths which look to heavenly life (see AC 4599:2, 1306:3; AE 922:7).

The hedge has reference to exterior truths because it was round about the outside of the vineyard, and its purpose was to prevent invasion of the vineyard from those without who would do it harm. The tower refers to interior truths looking to heavenly life and the conservation and protection of the church because the tower was within the vineyard and it ascended upward. Thus it directs the eyes upward toward heaven. But it was a watchtower. From its height anything amiss, either within or outside the vineyard could be observed and the alarm sounded. In this connection I would commend to your attention the series of articles in New Church Life on common misconceptions, in the New Church, concerning conjugial love.

The winepress stands for the things that belong to worship (see AC 1306:3), those pertaining to formal worship and also to internal worship, which is of the life the goods of charity and spiritual good (see AR 651; AE 922:7). When one is in spiritual good, that person is in genuine worship the worship of life. Such a person is given a perception of truth from the good in which he is. This truth serves to sustain and refresh the human spirit, just as the product of the winepress refreshes and restores the spirits and bodies of people.

The landowner who planted the vineyard is, of course, the Lord. It is he who establishes the church and provides it with all that is necessary for its growth, protection and maintenance. But the vineyard must have workers vinedressers to care for it, in order that what has been established may bear fruit: the good of life which comes from love to the Lord and charity to the neighbor, expressed in a life of use (see AR 934).

When a church is first established, the presence of the Lord is keenly felt by those with whom the church is being established. This is true with individuals as well and with organizations of the church. They are vitally aware that the church is the Lord’s. They have been outside the church where the goods and truths of the church were lacking, along with the protection it affords against what is false and evil. But, as time passes, it is as if the Lord has withdrawn from the church the owner goes to a far country. The Lord is as it were withdrawn into heaven and the church is left with the vinedressers.

There is a tendency, with those born within the church, to think of the church as “their” church. Instead of laboring for the Lord the owner of the vineyard they labor for the church as “their” church. The goods which they do the fruits which they produce they tend to think of as theirs, not the Lord’s. The Lord is aware of this human tendency, so he sends his servants to remind them that the vineyard and the fruits thereof are the Lord’s. By the servants are meant those who teach truths, and, in a sense abstract from person, the truths of doctrine taught in the church (see AE 122:3).

We are the vinedressers of the Lord’s vineyard! The Writings teach that the “wicked” vinedressers of the parable are those within the church who have destroyed interior goods and truths, although outwardly they appear to have them (AC 4314: 2-5). They are those who acknowledge the church as being important; they serve it, but as theirs. They do not interiorly assent to those truths from the Word which conflict with their life or their ideas.

When truths are taught which conflict with their loves or the ideas which they hold, they reason against them, twisting them so as to make them appear false, or they reject them some they beat, some they stone, and others they kill. They develop hostile feelings toward teachings from the Word as well as toward those who do the teaching (AC 9256). They want to prevent from being taught those truths which make them uncomfortable. It’s their church and they have a right to control and influence what is being taught in the church.

This attitude inevitably arises when people think of the church as “theirs” and not the Lord’s. They do not interiorly acknowledge that the truths of the Word are the sole authority as to what is to be believed and thought, and as to what should be done, and how one conducts one’s life. If this rejection is carried to the point where the Word itself is repudiated – not just specific teachings one doesn’t like – then the Son Himself is killed, and the church perishes in that individual.

Reluctant as we may be to admit it, all of us have been guilty, at one time or another, of trying to explain away a teaching of the Word or interpret it in such a way that we do not have to give up some pre-conceived idea or opinion which we hold, or make a change in the way we are living. We have rejected truths which would convict us of false thinking or evil doing.

For example, last week we preached a sermon on the importance, yea necessity, of regularly reading the Lord’s Word in order to be directly led and taught by the Lord. What was your reaction? “That’s an overstatement of the case.” Or, “The Lord leaves us in freedom to do what we want.” Or, “Reading the Word is, of course, good, who can deny it, but we can get to heaven without it.” Or, “That is the truth!” And if the latter was your reaction, has it changed anything in your life, that is, if a change was indicated? Examples could be multiplied, but every one of us, if we examine our hearts, knows of specific instances in our own lives when we have either not accepted a truth or have not acted upon it. But this is true: if the church is to survive in us individually and survive as an organization; if we are to remain vinedressers of the vineyard, true to our trust then we must interiorly acknowledge that the church is the Lord’s, and that we do not have the right to formulate its doctrines, policies and practices on the basis of human intelligence and worldly experience. These must come from the Lord of the vineyard directly from the teaching of His Word.

There should be, in the church as a whole and in each one of us individually, an unconditional acceptance of the Word as the only authority as to what we believe, how we are to live, and how the church is to be governed. The Writings make the powerful statement that the people of the church “should acknowledge the Word, and found the church upon it” (AR 749). The Lord has established His vineyard and called us to dress it and keep it. Let us fulfill the responsibility given us and live up to the trust placed in us. Amen.

Lessons: Deut. 8:1-3, 10-20; Matt. 2:33-46; AE 922:7

Apocalypse Explained 922:7

In Matthew: “A man, a householder, planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it, and digged a wine-press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husband-men, who slew the servants sent to them, and finally the son” (21:33). The “vineyard” which the householder planted signifies the church that was instituted with the sons of Jacob; the “hedge” which he set about it signifies protection from the falsities of evil, which are from hell; “and digged a wine-press in it” signifies that it had spiritual good; “and built a tower” signifies interior truths from that good which looked to heaven; “and let it out to husbandmen” signifies to that people; “they slew the servants that were sent to them” signifies that they slew the prophets; “and finally the son” signifies the Lord.


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

“Whoever hears these sayings of Mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on a rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. Now everyone who hears these sayings of Mine and does not do them shall be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house,- and it fell. And great was its fall” (Matthew 7:24-27).

In His well known Sermon on the Mount, the Lord proclaimed a new gospel – a new, comprehensive doctrine of life. In this new doctrine which the Lord expounded He emphasized the idea that true religion is not merely the observance of formal rituals and customs, but is rather a way of life according to recognized and acknowledged principles. He began by pronouncing a blessing on the humble, the merciful, the pure, the lovers of peace, and the faithful. He pointed out that anger and hatred are to be shunned because they are the cause of murder. He entreated people not to judge others harshly, but to be compassionate and forgiving. He taught that the evil of adultery is to be shunned in will, thought and intention, not just in act. He warned against vain and useless oaths. He tried to lead people to distinguish between the person and the evil done by the person, urging them to love and promote the person’s welfare, but not the person’s evil. He preached against making a pretentious show of religion, saying that true worship comes from the heart. He exhorted people to strive for eternal riches, and not to be unduly concerned about worldly things, promising the protection, providence and guidance of God for all who place their trust in Him. He warned against profanation and the ridicule of holy things. He pointed out that a tree is known by its fruits. If it bears no fruit, it is to be cut down, thus providing us with a standard of judgment as it relates to the conduct of human beings: we are to judge according to use.

Having clearly and powerfully expounded the fundamental principles of His new doctrine, the Lord concluded His sermon with a vivid description of the two possible responses his hearers could have to His teachings, and the consequences of each. He said: “Whoever hears these sayings of Mine and does them I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. Now everyone who hears these sayings of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it fell. And great was its fall” (Matt. 7:24-27, emphasis added).

The basic difference between the wise and the foolish men hinges on one simple verb, the verb to “do.” This is the key word of our text. The purpose of all Divine teaching is that people may do it. Hearing it is a means to this end. What can be clearer than this? And yet there are millions of people in the Christian world today, both clergy and laity, who stoutly maintain that it is not the doing of the law that results in salvation, but faith separated from doing.

But in this parable the Lord separates people into two categories: (a) those who hear the Divine law and do what it teaches; and (b) those who hear and do not do it. The words themselves leave no room for doubt about the matter. But the circumstances in which they were uttered emphasizes this teaching. They are the concluding words of a new and comprehensive doctrine, a doctrine of life for the church which the Lord came on earth to establish. The Lord concluded His discourse with this vivid and dramatic parable to draw attention to the absolute necessity of doing that which He teaches.

This is not the only instance where this teaching occurs in the Scriptures. It does not stand alone! The prophet Jeremiah gave dramatic utterance to the same truth saying: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel … I did not speak to your fathers … concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying: ‘Obey My voice and I will be your God and you shall be My people. And >I>walk in all the ways that I have commanded you that it may be well with you.’ Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in the counsels and the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward … So you shall say to them, ‘This is a nation that does not obey the voice of the Lord their God nor receive correction. Truth has perished and has been cut off from their mouth. Cut off your hair and cast it away, and take up a lamentation on the desolate heights; for the Lord has rejected and forsaken the generation of His wrath”‘ (Jer. 7:21-29, emphasis added).

This quotation eloquently testifies to the truth that the choice between heaven and hell, life and death, depends on whether we do what the Lord teaches or do not do it, whether we obey Him or do not.

A more detailed consideration of our text will lead us to see the deeper significance of the Lord’s teaching in this parable. The Lord likened those who hear and do His Word to a wise man who built his house on the rock. Everyone, while on earth, builds the house in which he will live to eternity. The materials he uses are truths, or knowledges of truth, from the Word – that is, if he is going to have his home in heaven. But the stability of the house depends on the foundation upon which he builds. A wise man builds on the rock. In the Word a “rock” is the symbol of Divine truth, and, in the highest sense, of the Lord Himself, for He is the Divine truth itself – the stone which the builders rejected, but which, in the New Church, is to become the head of the corner. The “rock” that the wise man builds his house on is the acknowledgment of the Lord’s Divine Humanity – the acknowledgment that Jesus Christ is God, the one and only God of heaven and earth. Jesus declared, after His resurrection: “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18).

That this acknowledgment is the rock foundation of true Christianity is clear from the sixteenth chapter of Matthew. The Lord asked His disciples: “‘Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ And they said, ‘Some say that You are John the Baptist; some Elijah, and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’ He said to them: ‘But who do you say I am?’ And Simon Peter answered and said: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”‘ (Matt. 16:13-16).

We would note that the Greek word PETROS is used in this passage, both for “Peter” and for “rock.’ This makes the meaning of the Lord’s words clearer. The faith which Peter expressed and represents – a faith in the Lord’s Divine Humanity – is the rock upon which the Lord would build His church, and it is the rock upon which a wise man builds his spiritual house.

We read in Apocalypse Explained: ” The ‘rock’ upon which that house is founded signifies the Lord as to the Divine truth, or Divine truth received by the soul and the heart, that is, by faith and love; in other words, by the understanding and the will” (AE 644:24, emphasis added). The human mind consists of two parts or faculties, the will and the understanding. Neither of these alone makes the person. The character or essence of a person is according to the will or love. The person’s form or quality is according to the understanding. Although these two faculties are closely related and together should make one, nevertheless the will is the dominant of the two – “Love is the life of man” (DLW 1). When these two faculties are founded upon the Divine truth, the foundation of the mind is firm and strong, able to resist and withstand the assaults of evil desires and false thoughts.

These are what are meant by the inundating rains mentioned in our text. Water, in the Word, is usually a symbol of truth, as when the Lord spoke to the woman of Samaria about the life-giving water which He provides; if a person drinks of it, he shall never die. But it also has the opposite correspondence when it is mentioned as to its destructive potential, as in the case of the flood of Noah, and also the drowning of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. In such instances water and rain refer to falsities which inundate the mind of a person who loves evil. The floods refer to the temptations that arise as a result of the deluge of falsities – temptations in which the person overcomes or is overcome. The winds refer to subtle but powerful reasonings from falsity in favor of our latent evils.

Everyone, in the course of life, is exposed to the storms of life; that is, we undergo temptations on various planes of life: physical or mental, natural or spiritual, external or internal. If one’s house is founded on the rock; if one’s religion is based on the acknowledgment of the Lord Jesus Christ as the one and only God; if the person knows, understands and believes Divine truths and does them, then that person will survive the storms and tempests of life, and the “gates of hell shall not prevail against” him.

We are told that “‘sand’ signifies Divine truth received only in the memory, and somewhat … in the thought, and this in a scattered and disconnected way, because intermixed with falsities” (AE 644:24). Love, we know, is a bond; it is a strong uniting force that draws and welds together. When the truths of the Word are done, they are implanted in love, and love draws them together and welds them into one – they become firm and strong like rock. But when truths are learned, even understood, but are not done, then they are not implanted in the will or in the love. They are not drawn together and welded into one. They remain fragmentary; they get mixed with false ideas and lose their properties of cohesion. They become loose and shifting like sand.

A house, or a mind, which is built on such a foundation cannot withstand the trials and tempests of life. When false principles and ideas attack it, the loose and disconnected truths begin to separate and move. When strong temptations arise -when floods assail -they are washed away. And when the powerful winds of human reasoning, emanating from self-interest and expediency, beat on the house it falls, for it is founded on sand.

The sole purpose of Divine revelation, or of Divine truth, is that people do it; that they establish their principles, values and their character upon it. Hearing the truth and reflecting on it with a view to understanding it is essential, for we can do only that which we know and understand. But that is only a means to an end. Truth is given to us that we may live according to it – live it day by day in the course of our lives.

There are three things that make one: affection, thought and deed. When the affections of our will are from the Lord and the thoughts of our understanding are from the Word, and these are ultimated or expressed in speech and act, then our spiritual house – our eternal abode – will stand firm and strong, and the fury of the hells will not prevail against it for it is founded upon “the rock” – the rock of Divine truth, known, understood, loved and lived. Amen.

Lessons: Jer. 7:21-29, Matt. 7:15-29, AC 9282

Arcana Coelestia 9282

“And all that I have said unto you ye shall keep.” That this signifies that the commandments, the judgments, and the statutes are to be done is evident from the signification of “all that Jehovah had said unto them” as being all things of the life, of worship, and of the civil state; for the things of life were called “commandments,” those of worship were called “statutes,” and those of the civil state were called “judgments” (n. 8972); and from the signification of “keeping” or serving as being to do, for by doing them they are observed. As the laws of life, of worship, and of the civil state, are not anything with a man so long as they are in his understanding only, but become something with him when they are in the will, therefore it is said in the Word throughout that they must be “done”; for doing is of the will, but knowing, understanding, acknowledging, and believing are of the understanding. These latter, however, have no being with man until they become of the will, nor do they come forth with him until they become of the understanding from the will; for the being of man is to will, and the coming forth is to acknowledge and believe therefrom. The things which have no such being and coming forth with a man are not appropriated to him but stand without, and are not as yet received into the house; and therefore they do not contribute anything to the eternal life of the man; for unless such things have been made of the life, they are dissipated in the other life, those only remaining which are of the heart, that is, of the will and from this of the understanding. This being so, it is said in the Word throughout that the commandments and the statutes must be “done,” as in uses: “Ye shall do My judgments and keep My statutes to walk therein. Ye shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man do, he shall live by them” (Lev. 17:4, 5; Matt. 5:20; 5:24-27; 16:27; John 3:21).