FAITH WITHOUT CHARITY DESTROYS A Sermon by Rev. David C. Roth Preached in Chicago, Illinois, November 3, 1991

It seems at times impossible to change our lives. We get caught up in an addiction, a fear, or a destructive attitude like prejudice, and no matter what efforts we make to change, we still seem to fall back into our old patterns. What is wrong with us? The Lord promises us we will change if we follow His Word – if we learn His truths. Yes, learning truth is a big part of following the Lord, but you’ll notice He never says, “Just learn the truth and you will be fine.” It is easy to take the quote “The truth shall make you free” and assume that it will do just that. Dead wrong. We are missing the whole teaching which is, “If you abide in My Word, you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” If we abide in the truth then we will know it. It is as if the Lord is saying, “If you don’t live according to My teachings you really will not know what they mean”; they will not be truth to us.

The Lord has taught us in His Word by means of stories, often parables, but many times through historical narratives that teach a hidden message about the Lord’s heavenly kingdom. The story of the ark of the covenant being stolen by the Philistines and finally returned is a most graphic story which shows us what happens when we depend on faith alone or truth and knowledge alone to change our lives.

In the Word, whenever the Philistines are mentioned it is talking about faith alone, or a life devoid of charity and good works. In our story the Philistines were warring with the Children of Israel. In this case the Philistines were winning. In fact, they won a battle against Israel and then the warring parties returned to their respective camps. Israel represents the church, so at this point the church was losing to faith alone. In other words, people were turning their backs on a life of good, and thinking that a life of religion depended only on faith alone, or knowledge of the Word without applying it to their lives. When this happens, the church slowly gets destroyed.

To redeem themselves the Children of Israel brought the ark of the covenant which contained the ten commandments from Shiloh to their camp, thinking that this would make Jehovah’s influence stronger and so defeat the Philistines. Did it work? You would expect that having the Lord present would give the Israelites the power to conquer any enemies. This did actually cause the Philistines to be afraid, but they said among themselves, “Be strong and conduct yourselves like men that you do not becomes servants of the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Conduct yourselves like men and fight!” (I Samuel 4:9) When they did as they said, they defeated Israel and captured the ark.

It is interesting as we look at this as a metaphor for our spiritual lives. Israel, which represents the church in us or the good and truth within us based on how we receive the Lord, is defeated by the Philistines, which is that facade that faith alone or knowledge and intelligence without putting them to use will save us. When we turn from the Lord, as Israel did, then this belief has the ability to defeat us. It is easy to think that faith alone will change our lives. It is a real danger in the New Church to think that simply reading and meditating on the Word of the Lord in both the Sacred Scriptures and the Writings is a life of religion. But as the Writings say, “Religion is of life, and the life of religion is to do good.”

When we find that we are losing control of our lives, as the army of Israel was experiencing in their battles, then we immediately grab the nearest copy of the Writings and start to read, which is like thinking that bringing the ark into the camp will change everything. This means we think the solution is learning some more truth rather than living what we know. By doing this we are not breaking the bonds of faith alone; we lose the battle over our lives anyway, and eventually lose the Word itself, because truth that is not applied is dead and will be taken away from us, either on this earth or after death. This is what is represented by the armies of the Philistines defeating Israel and capturing the ark. We can have all the truth in the world, but unless we live it, it is of no power, just as Israel was powerless over the Philistines.

When the Philistines had possession of the ark, they set it in the house of Dagon, a Philistine idol. When they came to the house the next day the idol of Dagon had fallen on its face before the ark of God. So they set it on its feet again. The next morning when they had come in, Dagon was again fallen on its face before the ark, this time with its head and the palms of its hands broken off. This particular incident is very illustrative of the kind of power that faith alone really has – none. Dagon in this instance represents the religion of the Philistines, or the religion of a person in faith alone, that is, someone who places everything of religion in knowledge and facts.

Their idol Dagon was part man and part fish, kind of like a merman. The part like a man stands for intelligence, and the fish part below stands for knowledge. As is clear from what happens, intelligence and knowledge alone cannot stand up to a religion that is based on a life of good and charity. It is powerless. Before the ark of God the idol falls to its face. The second time it falls is even more significant. The head and the hands break off, which signifies the lack of real intelligence and power with faith alone. The head signifies intelligence and the hands, power. If we think that knowing a lot of things without putting them to use is going to help us, we are sadly mistaken. This illustrates that in reality we have no strength and no intelligence.

These incidents with Dagon make the Philistines realize that something is wrong with their having the ark in Ashdod, so they send it on to another city. Cities in the Word represent doctrine – in this case, false doctrines or false ideas which we possess: like the idea that lying helps our relationships with other people, or that drinking helps us to communicate more openly, so drinking is good. Just like the Philistines not giving the ark back to Israel but sending the ark to another city, we don’t give up on the faith-alone idea; we just try it out on new ideas we have (send the ark to new cities) rather than return the ark to Israel, which in effect would be starting to live a life of charity and good.

This only causes more problems for the Philistines, which to us means that we find ourselves beating our heads against the wall. When we refuse to actually change our lives and instead just try out more false ideas, or even fall back into the same destructive thought patterns, then the results become clear. In the story all the people of the cities which received the ark broke out with hemorrhoids or with the bubonic plague and the land was ravished by mice. When we don’t shun evils as sins, which a belief in faith alone doesn’t allow, then all of our evil inclinations run rampant and take control of our lives because we don’t do anything to stop them. Knowledge or intelligence alone will not do it. What are represented by these hemorrhoids which afflicted the people are the filthy loves, or natural loves which are separate from spiritual loves, which makes them unclean. They become like sores or boils on our spiritual persons. An obvious example would be the love for having sex. This is a beautiful love if it is coupled with a spiritual love that goes with marriage called conjugial love. But if this love is separate from the spiritual origin, then it becomes a filthy love and manifests itself as fornication and adultery instead of pure marriage love.

The mice which ravished the land of the Philistines represent the devastation or destruction of the church by falsification of truth. Fields and land usually represent truth, and mice have the ability to destroy a field of its crop; that is why the mice represent the falsification or wiping away of truth. This is what faith without charity or truth without good does. If truth has no foundation in good, then our false ideas can take it and twist it into what is false, which destroys the essence of truth.

This sounds like a pretty dismal picture for the Philistines. It makes you wonder why they didn’t send the ark back right away if every time they sent it to a city the people there would break out with painful sores and their land and fields would become ravished. But we know how difficult it is to let go of a false idea if it serves our purposes. We are basically stubborn when we latch onto false ideas. Why should we have to actually work on our lives by shunning evils and turning to good? That is hard work. Why not just believe in the Lord and declare our faith in Him and be saved, as so many millions of people in the world around us have done? Because we eventually see that our spiritual lives are not in peace; our bodies are covered with sores spiritually and we are in pain. And what we relied on for strength – the truth we know – is losing its power; it is literally being eaten away. It took the Philistines seven months to realize that they had better send the ark back to Israel. If we are lucky it will take us only seven months, but usually it takes many years of pain and struggle before we realize that a change is in order.

Actually the number seven here is very important. Seven represents what is full or complete. We often hear that an alcoholic, for example, must hit bottom before he or she realizes that there must be change. The signification of seven months is to point out that it does often take a complete or full state of despair or destruction to make us wake up and make an effort to change our lives – in this case, to realize that the only true path of religion is to shun evils as sins and to do good. This is a most important duality.

If we want to stop the pain and devastation in our lives we are going to have to make a change; this is what is represented by the Philistines sending the ark back to Israel. The Word of the Lord must be coupled with a life of good. Faith without charity is an empty, lifeless, and even painful existence. What the Philistines do next represents this change we must make.

The Philistines sent the ark back to Israel, but they did not send it alone. They built a new cart out of wood and placed the ark in it and hitched it up to two milk cows which had never been yoked. In the cart with the ark they placed five golden tumors and five golden mice. These were a trespass offering to the Lord. How did they know to send these articles in the cart? Because the lords of the Philistines knew about correspondences, they knew to send the ark back in order to appease Jehovah. All of the things they did were very significative, as you will see, especially for New Church faith aloners.

The new cart which they built represents the kind of doctrine that must be used to begin our change. It represents doctrinal things of memory-knowledge, which are doctrinal things from the literal sense of the Word. But since it is a new cart it signifies new doctrine that is untainted by our previous false beliefs or our own interpretation of the Word. The reason the ark was to be set in this cart was that “The ark represents heaven, which stands and rests upon the doctrinal things of memory-knowledges” (AC 5945). Genuine truths and stories from the literal sense of the Word must be our foundation for spiritual life, for as said, all of heaven rests upon it. This is a strong message for us in the church: if we do not study the Old and New Testaments but put all of our time into the Writings, we are missing our foundation. The whole of the Word teaches from start to finish that the Lord is to be acknowledged and that man must shun evils and live well. This is what is contained in the ark; this is the doctrine we see represented by the ark in the new cart.

The five golden tumors which are to go in the ark represent our natural loves purified and made good. Why are they in the cart with the ark? Because the only way to purify these loves is through living the truths of the decalogue, that which is represented by the cart and the ark in it. The same holds true for the golden mice. Also put into the ark, they represent the end of the devastation and destruction of the church with us, or the end of the falsification of truth, which ends only by means of doing good. Gold signifies good. It may seem odd that they made golden tumors and mice rather than something beautiful to appease the Lord. But gold is gold and good is good no matter what form or shape it takes. Externals don’t make the difference; internals do. It is our motive and reason for doing good, not how wonderful the act of good was. We read, “The external is estimated from the internal, and not the reverse” TCR 595).

What is it that is going to get this offering and the ark back to Israel? In other words, where are we going to get the power to move this heavy cart of good intentions on the road to a life of good? By remains, of course. The cows in this story represent good natural affections. They have never been yoked because to be yoked would have meant that they were defiled by falsities. But we know that the Lord stores up within us, free from defilement by our natural heredity, remains which are affections for what is good and true. It is in times like these that the Lord stirs our remains and empowers us to move that cart, or to get going on our new life.

To me the most interesting and true part of this whole picture is the lowing of the cows on the way up the road. The path to regeneration and change is not without pain. It is not easy to leave our old habits and our love for doing what we know is wrong, no matter how well we know what’s right. It is our love, our very life, but if we want to live to eternity, that old life must be given up. The old man must die before the new man can be born. The cows’ lowing on the way up the road represents “the difficult conversion of the lusts of evil of the natural man into good affections” (DP 326). We can imagine ourselves on the path to recovery or change and whining and complaining about giving up our old ways, but the remains which the Lord has given us will pull us through. You will note in the story that the cows headed straight for the road to Beth Shemesh, and once on the road they did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.

Once we get on the path of life the Lord will hold us there. We may whine and complain along the way, but we know we have to give up what we used to consider happiness and joy in exchange for the true joy and peace that awaits us when we follow the Lord. As Divine Providence states, “Man is admitted interiorly into the truths of faith only so far as he can be kept in them right up to the end of his life.”

This is a very illustrative and graphic story of the danger of faith alone, but it also paints a beautiful picture giving hope that we can change our lives; we can depart from destructive habits and attitudes, but it will take work. We will have some pain, and probably complain, as illustrated by the lowing of the cows, but the Lord will guide our path until we have made it back to Israel where we can find some peace and happiness from a new life – a life of charity and good will to each other, the life of heaven. Amen.

Lessons: I Samuel 5,6; AE 211

Apocalypse Explained 211 They who are in faith alone and in no charity know not that they are in falsities, because they believe themselves to be in truths, when yet out of the false principle, which is that faith alone saves, falsities flow in a continual series; for a principle draws all things to its own side, since they must be connected with it; and this is the cause of their great ignorance in regard to the things of heaven and the church. That they who are in faith alone are so ignorant is clear from this, that they do not know what celestial love is, which is love to the Lord; what spiritual love is, which is charity toward the neighbor; what the neighbor is, what good is, what the conjunction of good and truth is, what spiritual life is, what spiritual affection is, what conscience is, what freedom of choice is, what regeneration is, what spiritual temptation is, what baptism and the holy supper are, and why they are commanded, what the spiritual sense of the Word is, what heaven and hell are, and that both of them are from the human race; and as to many other things. From this their ignorance, falsities flow whenever these subjects are thought about, since they are unable to think, as was said above, from any illustration or to have any internal sight respecting anything spiritual.



A Sermon by Rev. Grant H. OdhnerPreached in Rochester, Michigan October 31, 1993

What is it that makes us remember a friend and pick up the phone to call the person? What stirs us to overcome our inertia and find the words to support someone, or set him or her at ease, or lift his burden? As we go about our daily jobs, what makes us responsive to the real uses at hand, the real human needs of the people we serve, the real needs of the people with whom we work? What is it that gets us to notice that our thinking has become self-serving or unfair or indulgent, and to resist?

It’s remarkable how we can go through the motions of our lives, interacting with people, doing our tasks, accomplishing things, and yet not be spiritually awake. We can have a set of principles that we hold that is quite developed. We can be very knowledgable and able to talk about faith issues. We can show dedication to our church by our attendance and involvement in a church group. And yet at the same time we can be amazingly unmoved by real love and charity. So all of a sudden, sitting in church, we may reflect that we can’t remember the last time we thought about anyone else with any feeling of caring; or we can’t remember the last time we did something unselfishly, apart from our habitual routine of courtesies and social responsibilities. We have all experienced this, haven’t we?

There are spiritual forces that set in at times, that have this effect on us, that deaden our faith, even while leaving it outwardly intact. The Philistines, the enemies featured in our story from Samuel today, stand for this kind of spiritual force.

In the stories of the Old Testament the Israelites’ enemies represent our spiritual enemies. The symbolism here is not arbitrary. The nations around Canaan were all different. Their spiritual meaning rests in their various characteristics as people, in the physical characteristics of their lands, and in the roles that they played in the drama of Israel’s history.

The Philistines were the nation that lived in the lowlands, along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea (the Great Sea, as it was then called). They enjoyed the “abundance of the sea.” It offered them fish, and the flat land along it gave them some easily cultivated farmland. And trade brought not just material goods but also knowledge, technology, and culture to their land.

The Philistines picture a part of our minds that is spiritually “cultivated” and “wealthy” rich in know-how, skill, opportunity. They represent a developed faith, a developed understanding of what’s true, a knowledge of what the Lord requires, a knowledge of how one should live in the world. Obviously this kind of faith is a good thing. That’s why the Philistines’ territory was given by Yehowah to Abraham and his descendants: it was regarded as part of the promised land (which represents a state of heaven).

But the Philistines as enemies of the Israelites represent a developed faith that is empty, soulless, deprived of its essence, which is love and charity. They represent a state of mind in which we continue to go through the motions of a good life, but are not living for others but for ourself and for worldly things. We may find religion convenient, even a source of pride, comfort and delight. We may enjoy certain rituals or the intellectual challenge of discussing and reflecting on religious issues. But we are not really responsive to religion. Religion seems alive and well, but in reality it has become oppressed and powerless in us. True religion has been driven up into the hills of our minds and kept there. We draw wealth from it (as the Philistines drew taxes from the Israelites), but our religion is not in charge of us, not directing our life; it merely serves.

One of the characteristics of the kind of faith that the Philistines respresent is that it’s “barbless”; it has no “sharp edge” to it. The Philistines during this period controlled the blacksmiths in Canaan and made sure that the Israelites’ iron tools couldn’t be forged and sharpened into weapons (see I Sam 13:19ff). This pictures a mental state in which religious truths are in our minds, but we don’t allow them to have any impact on our life. We don’t allow them to chasten us. We don’t allow them to stop us from indulging our selfish pleasures. This is why the Philistines were often called “the uncircumcised.” Circumcision stands for the willingness to let truth remove from us the selfish element in our pleasures, in our lives (a process that can be painful!).

In our story the force that is opposing the Philisitines is led by David. David, the newly anointed warrior king, represents spiritual truth that is empowered by unselfish love (olive oil, used to anoint, stands for heavenly love). This kind of truth is living and responsive to the Lord. It seeks to have an impact on us; it seeks to extend its influence into every corner of our life, just as David’s efforts eventually widened Israel’s sphere of influence to include all the territory promised by Yehowah to Abraham.

The dead faith represented by the Philistines finds quite a contrast in David. David is so full of zeal and idealism, so full of eagerness, so careful to consult the Lord! Shortly before today’s episode, David returned to his home town to find that the Amalekites had raided it and carried away captive all his wives, children and worldly belongings. David stopped to ask the Lord, “Shall I pursue?” (I Sam. 30:8) After Saul died, he asked the Lord, “Shall I go up to any of the cities of Judah? … Where shall I go up?” (II Sam 2:1) And as we read today, when the Philistines came up to fight, he asked, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will You deliver them into my hand?” (II Sam 5:19)

David’s repeated inquiring of the Lord through the ephod pictures a responsiveness to the Lord. It pictures an attitude of prayerful turning to the Lord through His Word, since the Word is especially where we can find Him. (The ephod stands for the Word.)

Our lives are continually changing. We learn and grow every minute. Our circumstances change. Our needs change. We come under new mental influences. We can’t just store up knowledge from the Word and expect it to help us in time of need. We need “bread” daily. And no amount of food stocked in the pantry can do away with our need to actively seek out and choose this or that item and prepare it to satisfy our needs. Going to the Word and prayer are the best ways to “access” spiritual food, to gain spiritual energy and inspiration to meet our changing needs.

I have noticed that when I just rely on my memory of what’s true, that truth can sometimes seem lifeless, inadequate, powerless. But when I see it fresh in the Lord’s Word, when I approach that truth in a prayerful way, it comes to life, it seems different, it answers me differently. In our story this morning the Philistines came up to the valley of Rephaim twice to wipe out David. The circumstances seemed the same, but each time David inquired of the Lord. It was a good thing he did, because the Lord told him he needed to do something different the second time. Part of our responsiveness to the Lord needs to be going to Him in His Word to be fed and led, each “day.”

But our responsiveness must be more than this. We can’t be consulting our Bibles every other moment to get the light we need in our daily lives. We must rely on our conscience. Conscience is the Lord speaking to us from within through our feelings and perceptions, joined with a remembrance of truth. Our conscience is kept alive and healthy by our going to the Word, but it is “accessed” on a daily basis by prayer, or (more generally) by an attitude of openness to the Lord’s input and leading. In our story the Lord’s working through conscience is pictured in the wind passing through the upper leaves of the Bechaim trees. David had to listen for that sound. And when he heard it, he was to gird himself and act. The Lord told David, “When you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the Bechaim trees, then you shall stir yourself. For then the Lord will go out before you … ” (II Sam. 5:24).

Human beings are often compared with trees in the Word (” … for he shall be like a tree, planted by the waters … “). The different parts of a tree mirror the different aspects of the human mind. For example, the seed from which a tree grows is like the love of a person’s life that strives to make something of itself. From this primitive urge, love gathers to itself knowledge and experience. Like a growing tree it strives to develop all the means that are necessary to its bearing fruit: branches, twigs, buds, leaves, flowers, fruit.

From this we can see what the “tops of the Bechaim trees” refer to. This is where the Lord’s sign would appear. At the top or crown of a tree we find the smaller branches, the tender, flexible, growing ends. This is the part of the tree where we see seasonal changes most dramatically. Here buds form, and shoots and flowers blossom. Here fresh new leaves appear, and later the fruits become noticeable. Here also insect and bird life flourish.

This dynamic part of the tree refers, symbolically, to our natural mind: the center of all our conscious mental activity while we are in this world, which is at the same time surrounded by spiritual influences of all kinds. Here we are constantly sensing, learning, growing. Here is where we bring what we know to bear on the tasks before us. Here we consider, plan, become aware of our intentions, and begin to carry them out. Especially, this is where the principles of the Word can come to light, and where we can experience insight, hope, new possibilities, inspiration, renewal of purpose.

We actually entertain many levels of thinking here: some noble, some base, some lively and beautiful (like some birds), and some noxious and dangerous (like others). Our higher thoughts all appear to us in our conscious natural mind. But we don’t notice the higher thoughts and feelings unless we are sensitive to them.

David was told to wait and listen for the sound of a going (or marching) in the tops of the trees.

The Lord’s working in our lives is often depicted as wind or spirit (the same word in ancient languages). This working is called the Holy Spirit. This “wind” is a subtle thing. It does not intrude on us very noticeably even though it is present and working. The Lord loves our freedom. And this freedom consists in the fact that we appear to live from ourselves and think from ourselves. And we choose among the spiritual influences that surround us.

In a way, choice is the only thing that we have that is our own. The Lord is the force within our choice, but He cannot choose for us. He cannot make us listen for His presence or respond to His presence with us. He can teach us ideas, but He cannot reach us through knowledge alone. Knowing does not make us responsive; it cannot deliver us from our spiritual enemies; it cannot make us spiritual people. We must choose to watch and to listen and to act on what we hear, to hearken to what the Spirit says to us each day. In this way only do we allow the Lord to enter our life more fully. In this way only can He fight our battles, and free us, and bless us with His Divine life.

“Let it be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the Bechaim trees, then you shall stir yourself. For then the Lord will go out before you … ” (II Samuel 5:24). Amen.

Lessons: II Samuel 5:17-25; Luke 12:35-48; AC 6466-6467, 6469

Arcana Caelestia 6466-6467, 6469

At the end of the preceding chapters it was shown that each life with a human being, namely, the life of his thought and the life of his will, flows in from heaven, and this through the angels and spirits who are with him. But by flowing in from heaven is meant that it flows in by means of heaven from the Lord, for the all of life with the angels is from the Lord, which they themselves unanimously confess, being also in the perception that it is so. And since the all of life with the angels is from the Lord, the all of life with man is also from the Lord. For man is directed by means of angels and spirits in particular, and by means of heaven in general by the Lord.

From this it is evident that no person has life from himself, and therefore neither can he think and will from himself, for the life of a person consists in thinking and willing. For there is one only life, namely, that of the Lord, which flows into all, but is variously received, and this according to the quality which a person has induced on his soul by his life in the world. Hence with the evil, goods and truths are turned into evils and falsities; but with the good, goods are received as goods, and truths as truths. This may be compared to the light which flows into objects from the sun, which is diversely modified and variegated in the objects in accordance with the form of their parts, and hence is turned into colors either sorrowful or gladsome, thus in accordance with the quality. In a similar way, while a human being lives in this world he induces on the purest substances that belong to his interior person a quality, according to which the Lord’s life is received. Be it known that the life from the Lord is the life of love toward the universal human race.

It has also been given me to perceive by influx the sweetness which the angels perceive from the fact that they do not think and will from themselves but from the Lord. From this they have tranquillity, peace, and happiness. And when angels have inflowed so that I perceived it, the presence of the Lord has been plainly observed, a sign that they are in the Lord’s life. This it has been given to know from much experience. Once also when I was thinking of the influx of life from the Lord, and was revolving some doubts, it flowed in from heaven that no attention should be paid to thousands of objections and reasonings from fallacies.