A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida, September 27, 1992
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again”‘ (John 3:5-7).
The purpose in creation is a heaven from the human race. We are born into this world in order that we may be prepared for eternal life in heaven. Since the fall of man in the days of the Most Ancient Church, represented in the Word by Adam’s and Eve’s fall from integrity, man is born with a tendency to evils which have been increased in a long line from parents, grandparents, and ancestors. We read: “Everyone who is born is born into all these inherited evils thus increased in succession” and consequently by nature he loves nothing but evil (AC5280:2).
This being the case, how can we be prepared for heavenly life? Heavenly life, by its very nature, can have nothing in common with a life of evil. The Lord, addressing Nicodemus, answered this question directly and simply, saying: “Unless one be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
“‘To be born,”‘ the Writings state, “is to be regenerated, because … spiritual birth is regeneration, which is also called rebirth … It is by one’s being born again, or regenerated, that man becomes man,” that is, truly human (AC 5160). This is the essential teaching of all Divine revelation. It is implied throughout the Old Testament. It is plainly stated in the New Testament, and it is thoroughly explained in the Writings. Our life on earth begins by natural birth. Our spiritual life begins by spiritual birth or regeneration.
It is commonly believed by many that people enter into heaven simply by the Lord’s admitting them. “But,” the Writings say, “he who holds this belief is much mistaken. For no one can be received into heaven who has not received heaven into himself, which is done by means of rebirth, or regeneration” (AC 5342:4). Heaven is not merely a place; it is a state of life. The state is the reality; the place is where those are who are in the state of heaven. Only those enter heaven who are in the state of heaven; these are people who have received heaven into themselves by rebirth, or regeneration.
The Writings declare that a person who is in good is being reborn every moment, from early infancy to the end of life on earth and thereafter to eternity. The processes by which this takes place are said to be both intricate and amazing, and it is these processes which are the subject of the internal, spiritual sense of the Word (see AC 5202:4).
Since the interiors of the Word have now been laid open to the sight of the understanding, we need no longer grope our way through life in obscurity and darkness. If we will regularly and conscientiously read the Word, especially the Writings, and make their light our light, we will be able to cooperate intelligently with the Lord in the process of regeneration. “No one can be regenerated except through the good of life conjoined with the truth of doctrine; from this one has spiritual life.”
Let us consider some of those teachings in the Word which throw light on this subject, so that, by a better understanding of these marvelous processes, we may willingly and intelligently enter into the process of regeneration and progress along the way that leads to heaven.
In infancy and childhood we are, as to our quality, completely sensuous. That is, our ideas and thoughts are formed entirely from impressions entering our minds through the five senses. The innocence of this state is not genuine but external, for true innocence is the product of wisdom. By this innocence, in which infants and children are kept, the Lord disposes into order those impressions which come in through the senses so that they may form a basis, or foundation, upon which the rational mind can be built in later life. The Writings state that without the influx of external innocence in this first age, rationality could never develop (see AC 5126:2).
From childhood to early youth, by instruction from parents and teachers and by individual study, the mind takes on a new quality. Not only are the ideas and thoughts received through the bodily senses, but abstract ideas are also received and partially comprehended. In this state of life, concepts of right and wrong can be appreciated. The obligations placed on us by the civil law are learned and understood. Thus a higher plane of the mind is formed, which is called in the Writings the “natural” to distinguish it from the lower plane, established in infancy and early childhood, called the sensuous (see AC 5126:2).
“From youth to early adulthood communication is opened between the natural and the rational by the learning of truths and goods of civil and moral life, and especially the truths and goods of spiritual life, through the hearing and reading of the Word” (AC 5126:2, emphasis added). When a young person lives according to the civil, moral and spiritual truths which have been learned, he becomes rational, that is, the rational plane is opened and established.
On the other hand, if one does not learn spiritual truths, or if one does not live according to them, the person does not become rational. Such a person merely stands on the threshold of rationality. The knowledges possessed by the person are a matter of memory only, not of insight, perception and life.
If then and in subsequent years the truths and goods of spiritual life are disregarded and denied, and the person lives contrary to them, then the rational is closed and also the natural which had previously been established. The person reverts to the plane of the sensuous. The person’s thoughts proceed from the same plane as that of the infant and child, despite the fact that the person may be of mature age and have a great fund of knowledge. “Nevertheless,” the Writings say, “of the Lord’s Divine providence, so much of communication still remains as to enable the person to understand goods and truths with some degree of understanding, yet not to make them one’s own unless he performs serious repentance and for a long while afterward struggles with falsities and evils” (ibid.).
If, however, a young person learns the truths of life – especially those of spiritual life – by instruction and study, and if the person lives the truths learned, then the rational mind is successively opened in the person. Since the activity of thought then originates in the rational, the person becomes more and more rational. When this state is reached, the natural degree is made subordinate to the rational, and the sensuous subordinate to the natural. “This takes place,” we read, “especially in youth up to adult age, and progressively to the last years of … life, and afterward in heaven to eternity” (AC 5126).
What is maturity, true maturity? Maturity is reached when the sensuous plane is subordinate to and serves the natural, and when the natural is subordinate to the rational and serves it. Maturity is not a matter of age; it is a matter of state. It is not reached until a person begins regeneration, until a person learns truths from the Word and lives them.
A sad note is sounded in the Writings. They say that few in the world progress to this stage. Many indeed learn truth from the Word and begin to be reformed. “But,” it is stated, “as soon as they come to the age of early adulthood they suffer themselves to be carried away by the world, and thus go over to the side of infernal spirits, by whom they are gradually so estranged from heaven that they scarcely believe any longer that there is a heaven” (AC 5280:4, emphasis added).
We are all born with the tendency to love self and the world more than the Lord and our neighbor. In the course of growing up we have all acted in accord with this natural tendency. Since we have confirmed some of these perverse tendencies by giving in to them and acting from them, we cannot be regenerated without combat and struggle. Why is this so?
When a regenerating person begins to live the truths which have been learned from the Word, and doctrine from it, one begins to recede from the evils of one’s former life. When this happens, the evil spirits who perceived their delight in the activity of this evil arouse and excite the evils one has done in previous states, and the false things one formerly thought. In this way they seek to maintain their influence over the person who is beginning to regenerate.
But the Lord never deserts us. The person is defended from within by the Lord through angels. They flow into the truths of doctrine which the person has acquired, and arouse, or bring to consciousness, those truths which can conquer the evils which have been awakened and stirred.
This combat between the angels and evil spirits with the person produces anxiety. The person does not realize one thousandth part of what is actually involved in the struggle, and yet the battle is being waged for the person’s eternal salvation. It is fought by the angels from the person. The weapons which the angels use to defend one against the attacks of evil are the truths of doctrine which the person possesses. We should, therefore, never underestimate the importance of knowing and understanding truth if we are to survive spiritual trials and combats.
When a person has overcome in these spiritual trials by strenuously resisting as of self the evils which seethed within, the person undergoes a gradual transformation. Little by little the interior organic forms of the mind are changed; they are reordered. As a result of this reorganization of the mind the person ceases to be a slave to natural passions and desires, as formerly was the case. One state has ended and a new one begun. We are told: “A new state begins in the one who is being regenerated when the order is changed, as takes place when interior things obtain dominion over exterior things, and the exterior things begin to serve the interior … With those who are being regenerated, this is observed from the fact that something within dissuades them from allowing sensuous delights and bodily or earthly pleasure to rule, and to draw over to their side the things of intellect to confirm them” (AC 5159).
This passage draws a remarkably clear distinction between a regenerating person and one who is not regenerating. A person who is regenerating is distinguished from one who is not regenerating by the fact that something within – a love for Divine truth – dissuades him from allowing bodily and worldly pleasures to rule, and from using one’s intellect and knowledge to justify and excuse selfish indulgence. Eternal things – the things of the spirit -come first with such a person, and the things of the world and of the body serve.
We might well ask ourselves: Is this the case with us? Whatever the answer, let us resolve that it shall be so! That is why we are here – to make choices: to choose to put the things of heaven above those temporal things of the world and the body! If this is our choice, the things of heaven will descend into the natural and impart their delight to the natural. They will no longer be in conflict but will work in harmony. The joys of heaven will be perceived externally. The delights of the body and of the world, because ordered from within, will enter into and penetrate the interiors of the mind, affecting them with joy and gladness. Thus heaven and the world will be conjoined in us, and from this conjunction will come the peace and blessedness that only those can experience who have been born of water and of the spirit. Amen.
Lessons: Mark 8:27-38, John 3:1-15, AC 1555:2,3
Arcana Coelestia 1555:2,3
Few, if any, know how man is brought to true wisdom. Intelligence is not wisdom, but leads to wisdom; for to understand what is true and good is not to be true and good, but to be wise is to be so. Wisdom is predicated only of the life – that the man is such. A man is introduced to wisdom or to life by means of knowing (scire et nosse), that is, by means of knowledges (scientiae et cognitiones). In every man there are two parts, the will and the understanding; the will is the primary part, the understanding is the secondary one. Man’s life after death is according to his will part, not according to his intellectual part. The will is being formed in man by the Lord from infancy to childhood, which is effected by means of the innocence that is insinuated, and by means of charity toward parents, nurses, and little children of a like age, and by means of many other things that man knows nothing of, and which are celestial. Unless these celestial things were first insinuated into a man while an infant and a child, he could by no means become a man. Thus is formed the first plane.
But as a man is not a man unless he is endowed also with understanding, will alone does not make the man, but understanding together with will; and understanding cannot be acquired except by means of knowledges and therefore he must, from his childhood, be gradually imbued with these. Thus is formed the second plane. When the intellectual part has been instructed in knowledges, especially in the knowledges of truth and good, then first can the man be regenerated; and when he is being regenerated, truths and goods are implanted by the Lord by means of knowledges in the celestial things with which he had been endowed by the Lord from infancy, so that his intellectual things make a one with his celestial things; and when the Lord has thus conjoined these, the man is endowed with charity, from which he begins to act, this charity being of conscience. In this way he for the first time receives new life, and this by degrees. The light of this life is called wisdom, which then takes the first place, and is set over the intelligence. Thus is formed the third plane. When a man has become like this during his bodily life, he is then in the other life being continually perfected. These considerations show what is the light of intelligence, and what the light of wisdom.