What does it mean to ‘take up our cross daily’?

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Many biblical passages are sometimes cited to support the common idea that the image of the cross refers solely to Jesus’ death on the cross and that this event took away our sins.

In Matthew, an angel appears to Joseph and tells him he must name the baby in Mary’s womb Jesus “for He will save His people from their sins” (1:21). In John 1:29, John the Baptist sees Jesus and exclaims, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In John 3, Jesus likens Himself to the brass serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness which cured anyone who looked at it: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). He goes on to say, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (3:16). Some could interpret these and other passages to mean that Jesus took away our sins through His death on the cross.

Types of crosses

Take-up-our-cross-dailyBut in actuality, Scripture speaks of more than one type of cross. In Luke 9:22, Jesus tells His disciples what’s going to happen to Him at the end of His life: “The Son of Man must suffer many things,…and be killed, and be raised the third day.” Note that he says “killed,” not crucified. Jesus continues, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (9:23).

This interaction took place before Jesus’ death and resurrection. In this conversation, Jesus never told His disciples He was going to be crucified. Crucifixion was reserved for only the worst criminals. There is not a chance the disciples would believe that Jesus was going to be crucified. So what is this cross? Jesus invites us to follow Him in bearing it. He must not be referring to a physical cross, because the disciples had never seen him carrying one. And Jesus says we are to take up our cross daily. How many times can you be crucified physically? Not more than once. So what does it mean to take up our cross daily?

We must allow for two crosses: the physical cross that Jesus died on at the end of His life and some nonphysical “cross” that Jesus was already bearing every day when He made the statement in Luke, and which He invites us to bear as well.

How are we to bear our cross?

Paul says in Galatians, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another…. Those who practice [the works of the flesh] will not inherit the kingdom of God…. [While] those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:16, 17, 21, 24). This passage is talking about crucifixion not as a physical thing but as a spiritual thing, and not as something that Jesus alone went through, but something we have to go through if we are to follow Him. Bearing the cross is the pain of dealing with the burden of our lower nature and warring against its passions. We need Jesus, because we have no power against hell on our own. And yet we have to repent and cooperate in bringing our lower nature into order. That we can do daily.

Jesus’ death was not about redemption; rather, it was His life that redeemed us. Jesus makes this clear when He tells the Pharisees in Luke 13:32, “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.” The time when he was casting out demons (meaning conquering sin) and performing cures was “today and tomorrow,” meaning during His life; His death, meant by the “third day,” was not about casting out demons; that was a process through which He was perfected and became fully Divine.

In John, Jesus prays to the Father saying He has “finished the work” the Father gave Him to do (17:4). He’s not dead yet, and yet He says He’s finished His work. Redemption is the work that He had finished, that He accomplished during His life. His work of redemption was conquering the hells through bearing His spiritual cross. It was the inner work He did every day of His life. This work gave Jesus the power to take away the sins of the world. We draw on that power when we practice repentance. By a life of repentance we take up our cross daily and follow the Lord.


The Rev. Dr. Jonathan Rose is a minister in Bryn Athyn, PA. He is the series editor and a translator for the New Century Edition of the Theological Works of Emanuel Swedenborg. For more information: jsrose@digitalwave.com.

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A Heavy Cross or an Easy Yoke?

 

Yoke

Matt Walsh has a typically provocative post up on The Blaze entitled “If you find it easy to be a Christian, you probably aren’t one.” Is he right? There are certainly passages from the New Testament that would seem to suggest so. Jesus did say,

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

But there are other New Testament passages that seem to suggest the opposite, that the Christian life should be easy. Most notable are Jesus’ words in Matthew:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

So which is it? Is the Christian life a heavy cross or a light burden? The answer, of course, is both. But the “easiness” of a genuine Christian life is far different from the “easiness” of nominal Christianity, a Christianity that requires nothing from its adherents.

Freedom or Servitude?

Walsh argues that the biggest obstacle to genuine Christianity in America is not persecution, but temptation to sin. There are countless versions of Christianity (and other faiths) to choose from, and you’re bound to be able to find one that will excuse whatever sin you happen to be drawn to.

But isn’t it good to have options? Isn’t freedom part of the point of being a Christian? Walsh nicely sums up the difference between genuine freedom and false freedom:

That’s the easy faith. The tempting one. The faith that preaches a Christ who died so that we may be freed to sin, rather than freed from sin. A difference of only one word, but the gap between them is as wide as the gap between Heaven and Hell.

It’s a good point, and important to keep in mind. But it’s also important to remember that living a Christian life should lead to a sense of genuine freedom and relief even in this lifetime. There are millions of Christians who will attest to way that their faith brought them out of harmful lifestyles or addiction. But that kind of freedom happens as a result of a willing submission to the Lord’s Word. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). First we abide in His Word as disciples, then we know the truth, and only then are we made free.

Peace or a Sword?

That kind of freedom brings with it a great sense of peace. Jesus said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). But again, this kind of peace only comes about after a willing submission to the Lord’s Word – and that takes an act of will, a battle between our new man and our old man. It’s a fight. Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Paul exhorted the Ephesians to take up the whole armor of God in battle against the powers of evil:

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:14-17)

The Doctrine of the New Church puts this in terms of fighting against sin as if of ourselves while acknowledging that it the Lord Jesus Christ acting in us and through us. We need to know that it won’t feel like the Lord acting through us when we fight against the urge to tear someone else down. It’s only in retrospect that we realize that it was only by His grace that we were able to resist.

Even here, though, there can be a kind of peace within the conflict, a peace in knowing that we are acting in the Lord. A passage from Arcana Coelestia puts it this way:

A person who is being regenerated first experiences a state of serenity, but as he moves on into the new life so he moves into a state that is not serene. For evils and falsities which he has taken into himself previously now emerge and show themselves, and these trouble him, so much so at length that he undergoes temptations and trials from the devil’s crew who try all the time to destroy his state of new life. But despite this a state of peace exists with him inmostly. …In all the conflicts he experiences he sees that state as the end in view…, and this is what enables him to overcome. (Arcana Coelestia §3696)

“Fear Not” or “Fear and Trembling”?

In his final point, Walsh stresses the need for continuous repentance. He writes,

“Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” St. Paul tells the Philippians. To which the modern Christian says, “Dude, chill.” I think we’re safer adopting St. Paul’s approach than that of the super chill psuedo-Christian. What reaction can we have but fear and trembling when we honestly confront the vileness of our sin? How many of us have even attempted such a confrontation?”

Genuine introspection can be a terrifying thing to do. I happen to be preaching on fear and courage next Sunday, and in the course of my research I came across this great passage from True Christian Religion, explaining why repentance was not widely practiced in the Protestant world:

The reason is that some are unwilling and some are afraid to repent, and lack of practice turns into a habit and leads to unwillingness, and eventually to acquiescence as the result of reasoning by the understanding. In some cases it leads to sorrow, fear and terror at the idea of repentance… [I spoke to some,] and they said that when they have it in mind to examine themselves, they are struck by fear and terror, as if they saw a monster beside their bed in the twilight.

It is genuinely frightening to start the work of self-examination and repentance. It’s hard to face the reality of what’s inside us. But it does get easier with practice. As with servitude that turns into freedom and the sword that turns into peace, this fear can be transformed into a kind of joy in repentance. Eventually, rebuke from God can be experienced as a blessing; the Lord says in Revelation 3:19, “Those whom I love I rebuke and chasten,” and the Psalmist writes, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).

This doesn’t mean the fear of finding sin in ourselves ever goes away, but I it is transformed. It’s here that I might part ways with Walsh. Walsh writes, “I’m not really convinced that it’s possible to feel too guilty for your sin or too afraid of the eternal fire, but I’m sure those who cross that line, wherever it is, are in far better shape than those who never approach it.” I agree to a point – we should never lose the horror at the evil we’re capable of, and that does start as a fear of going to hell. But as a person grows spiritually, that fear becomes less one of “the eternal fire,” and more a fear of being hellish – a fear of letting down the Lord, a fear of doing anything that will hurt others. It becomes a fear that is actually love at its heart. From Arcana Coelestia:

As regards the holy fear which is signified in the Word by “the fear of God,” be it known that this fear is love, but love such as is the love of little children toward their parents, of parents toward their children, of consorts toward each other, who fear to do anything which displeases, thus which in any way does injury to love. (Arcana Coelestia §8925)

The Race of Faith

So is the Christian life difficult or easy? It’s both. The best way of reconciling this seeming contradiction is through the metaphor of the Christian life as a race. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews put it:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1)

It is hard to run a race. It takes training, dedication, and perseverance. But if you talk to any long distance runner, they’ll tell you that at some point while they’re running, they get a second wind. (As it happens, the word for “wind” in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin is the same as the word for both “breath” and “spirit.” Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.) Runners push themselves to the point of exhaustion – muscles burning, breath difficult, sweat pouring out. And then – something changes, and they find that their body is almost running itself. They are “being run.” They still have to work at it, their muscles and breath are still straining – but they find that in some sense it has become easy.

To couch potatoes, all that might seem pointless. Sure, maybe running gets easy at some point, but it’s even easier to sit around and watch TV. Those people miss the reality that the easiness of a second wind is deep, fulfilling, and life-giving – the opposite of the bored ennui of laziness. But unless those couch dwellers decide to start moving themselves, they’ll never really get the difference.

It’s the same with couch Christians vs. marathon Christians. Being a couch Christian – a Christian in name only, who maybe said the sinner’s prayer once and puts up Christmas lights – feels easy, but it’s not authentic. Being a marathon Christian takes work – but even in that work there is a joy. Even before reaching the destination there are second winds and experiences of ease – experiences of a genuine peace that surpasses anything a couch Christian can imagine.

One final point, lest I come across as holier-than-thou. I try to be a marathon Christian, but sometimes I slow down and get out of shape. And every time that happens (as anyone who has stopped exercising will tell you), it’s hard to get started again. It takes effort to do the challenging work of introspection and continuous repentance. But it’s worth it. There is joy and peace and ease not just at the finish line, but in the running of the race itself.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Image copyright: balefire9 / 123RF Stock Photo

February 10, 2017 by 0 Comments

NEW BEGINNINGS

NEW BEGINNINGS
A Sermon by Rev. Brian W. Keith
Preached in Glenview, Illinois September 7, 1986

Life can seem terribly dreary. Familiar patterns are repeated over and over again. Ruts appear. Dishes keep getting dirty. Bills keep coming. The house always needs something done to it. And as we grow older, our bodies signal the rapid passing of time. Energy levels decline. Aches and pains come from nowhere. From being unthinkable, one’s own death is seen as a real possibility.

Emotionally we can feel trapped by what has gone before. Previous actions, mistakes, and evils close in on our minds. We can be haunted by what has happened. The depressing patterns of petty frustrations and useless arguments scar and desensitize us. We can become numbed wandering through the day trying not to feel anything.

Ezekiel had a vision addressed to such a lifeless and hopeless frame of mind. He saw a valley full of dried out bones. As he prophesied, the bones came together, flesh was put upon them, and breath entered them. From dry bones came a great army. And the Lord said to Ezekiel, “These bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, `Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ` … Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves'” (37:11-13).

Our bones are dry. Our hope is lost. How pitiful! And how false! Life is repetitive and dreary only if we choose to look at it that way. For all around us there is a renewal of life. New beginnings are taking place constantly.

Consider the natural world. Plants and animals are constantly reproducing, much more than this world could support. Every day the sun comes up anew. Each new year is ushered in with festivity. Even in the fall when the leaves turn and life seems to drain away, there is the promise of rebirth. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24).

Consider also some events in the life cycle. A child leaves home for school. A person leaves school for a job. Single life is given up for marriage. Children grow up and establish their own homes. Retirement comes. Each of these changes involves loss and gain a new beginning. Even death itself is growth. The Heavenly Doctrines show that when a person awakens in the other world, “at this point his life begins” (AC 186), and his entrance into his eternal heavenly home “marks a new beginning” in his life (AC 1273).

Even as natural life has changes new beginnings so spiritually there can be a constant renewal of life. Above our consciousness the Lord is gently guiding our thoughts and feelings. While we are unaware of it, He is inspiring new ways of looking at life, stimulating new feelings of warmth and concern (see AC 6645e). The Lord is working with our spirits so that we are renewed every moment of every day. The fact is, there are new beginnings in our lives all the time. The Lord is raising up our apparently dry bones, putting flesh upon them, and breathing life into them.

We can choose to feel trapped by the past or dulled by routines. Or we can look at what is happening as the opportunity for one of the many new beginnings in life. For the Lord does not control what happens to us. Yes, His Providence is overseeing all that happens, but that does not mean He is causing specific events to occur good or bad. In one sense He is not concerned for what happens; rather He is concerned with how we respond, for that determines what good He can then bring about. Retirement, for example, is not important, but how a person then uses his or her time is. The response can be gloomy, for the loss of co-workers, status, or income; or it can be of renewal more time for friends, family, church work, or others. A newness of life can be born in any situation any time, anywhere.

Our participation in renewal is critical. The Lord never forces us to grow. He never forces us to change our minds or actions. While He is always working, urging and pressing to influence us in heavenly ways, He will not change our outlook if we do not want Him to. We can remain in the trenches. We can look upon life as a deterioration of our physical and mental abilities. We can see the dark side of every event, pessimistically awaiting the next cruel blow of fate. We can cry about dry bones and hopelessness. But those dry bones can have flesh on them, breath in them.

Regardless of what has occurred in the past, new beginnings are possible if we are willing. They do not start outside of ourselves. They start with our thoughts and intentions (see AC 1317). We have the freedom to think about life in any way we wish. We can think negatively or positively. We can desire, intend, anything we wish. We can want what is good. We can want what is evil. We are not trapped by previous choices or patterns of behavior. We are trapped only by our fears and refusals to think and try.

Our attitude makes all the difference in how we view the world and how easy we make it for the Lord to renew us. From a negative, doubting viewpoint we see the world and ourselves through a warped lens. We reject or give up on the ideals the Lord has shown us in His Word. But if we attempt to trust in what He has said, if we will be positive, affirmative to Him, then wonders can be worked (see AC 3913:5). “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, `Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Our basic assumptions can never be proven. And if we assume, have faith, that the Lord speaks to us in His Word, and our lives will be improved if we listen, then a new beginning can occur. For regeneration is the new creation of life spiritual life. It begins when a person affirms the truth and intends to live according to it. This is the start of regeneration. It does not occur at any set time in life, nor does it happen only once. Each and every time we positively turn our minds to the Lord’s way, a new beginning occurs.

Such beginnings are like seedlings. They are planted in the soil of our lives. With watering, with light and warmth, they take root. As they grow, as we walk in the Lord’s way, the earth of our life is made more secure. The interlocking root systems stop the erosion of false ideas, evil desires. The more that take root the better, for the roots hinder the washing away of good by selfishness.

But for seedlings to grow strong they need weathering. The storms and bitter cold which could harm the trees actually serve to strengthen them. So in regeneration. Each new beginning of spiritual life will be challenged. Where honesty is growing, the harsh wind of theft will blow and try to destroy it. Where compassion is developing, cold disregard for others and apathy will also be present.

Spiritual struggles ensue. These raging storms are painful, as the new beginnings of spiritual life are threatened and buffeted. Yet, as we endure, as we resist the forces of hell, a greater strength is acquired. More spiritual life grows perhaps a clearer idea of His ways, a deeper appreciation of our need for the Lord’s presence, or a greater intensity of affection for His good (see AC 2272). Whatever is gained, our spirits are growing flesh upon dry bones, breath giving life. As the Lord promised: “I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight” (Isaiah 42:16).

The Lord leads us through all the many byways of life, through the valleys up to the peaks. He would have each day be a new beginning for us, not in a dramatic sense, for we are not meant to have radical changes often. The new birth, or regeneration, is not a series of sudden changes in direction. Yes, it can begin with that when a person first realizes the importance of spiritual values, when a person experiences the grief of repentance. But rebirth is an evolving process. It is made up of many small beginnings.

The small beginnings of regeneration are a series of purifications the regular washing away of evils in the spirit, of saying, “No, I won’t do that because it is wrong.” And as the Heavenly Doctrines note, ” … such purification ought to go on all the time and so always to be taking place as if from a new beginning” (AC 2044).

“As if from a new beginning.” In one sense, each time we resist an evil, each time we intend on doing something good, it is a new beginning. Something new has started in our lives. But in another sense, every positive step is a continuation of what was begun before. It is a resurfacing of the seeds planted years before from parents, from teachers, from whatever good we had willingly done. The Lord keeps working with the good He has established in everyone’s life. While it may not be seen for a time, it is carefully preserved, awaiting the occasion to be seen again. Hellish choices and life styles shut it up, but it is still there. The Lord is very patient, always leading us so that the good we have might be protected, develop, and eventually blossom in the fruit of an angelic life.

What this means is that life is never pointless. While we will certainly go through times when we feel our life is dry or our lot hopeless, the Lord can put flesh on our bones, breath in our lungs. All our patterns which seem so fixed and limiting, all the painful baggage we carry from the past, need not defeat us. For every day the Lord is providing us with new beginnings small, almost imperceptible opportunities to renew our lives. If we are not utterly downcast, if we have not given up if we will be open and affirmative to what He has said then new life may grow. Seedlings are planted which, though they may not bear visible fruit until the next life, will give us strength, will renew our spirits. And the prophecy of Isaiah will come true for us: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not be faint” (40:31). Amen.

Lessons: Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 3:1-8; NJHD 173-182 (portions)

New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine 173-182 (portions)

173. He who does not receive spiritual life, that is, who is not begotten anew by the Lord, cannot come into heaven, which the Lord teaches in John: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except anyone be begotten again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (3:3).

174. A person is not born of his parents into spiritual life, but into natural life. Spiritual life consists in loving God above all things, and in loving his neighbor as himself, and this according to the precepts of faith, which the Lord has taught in the Word. But natural life consists in loving ourselves and the world more than the neighbor, yea, more than God Himself.

175. Everyone is born of his parents into the evils of the love of self and of the world.

176. [So] everyone continually inclines to, and lapses into, what he derives from heredity: hence he confirms with himself that evil, and also superadds more from himself. These evils are altogether contrary to spiritual life; they destroy it; wherefore, unless a person receives new life, which is spiritual life, from the Lord, thus unless he is conceived anew, is born anew, is educated anew, that is, is created anew, he is damned; for he wills nothing else, and thence thinks nothing else but what is of self and the world, in like manner as they do in hell.

179. Everyone has an internal man and an external man; the internal is what is called the spiritual man, and the external is what is called the natural man, and each is to be regenerated so that one may be regenerated. With one who is not regenerated, the external or natural rules, and the internal serves; but with one who is regenerated, the internal or spiritual rules, and the external serves. Whence it is manifest that the order of life is inverted with one from his birth, namely, that serves which ought to rule, and that rules which ought to serve. In order that a person may be saved, this order must be inverted; and this inversion can by no means exist except by regeneration from the Lord.

180. What it is for the internal man to rule and the external to serve, and vice versa, may be illustrated by this: If a person places all his good in pleasure, in gain, and in pride, and has delight in hatred and revenge, and inwardly in himself seeks for reasons which confirm them, then the external man rules and the internal serves. But when a person perceives good and delight in thinking and willing well, sincerely and justly, and in outwardly speaking and doing in like manner, then the internal man rules and the external serves.

181. The internal man is first regenerated by the Lord, and afterwards the external, and the latter by means of the former. For the internal man is regenerated by thinking those things which are of faith and charity, but the external by a life according to them. This is meant by the words of the Lord: “Unless anyone be begotten of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). “Water,” in the spiritual sense, is the truth of faith, and “the spirit” is a life according to it.

182. The person who is regenerated is, as to his internal, in heaven, and is an angel there with the angels, among whom he also comes after death; he is then able to live the life of heaven, to love the Lord, to love the neighbor, to understand truth, to relish good, and to perceive the happiness thence derived.

AMENDMENT OF LIFE

AMENDMENT OF LIFE
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida (cataloged 8/11/97)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: `Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place'” (Jeremiah 7:3).

The Word teaches that repentance is the first thing of the church in man. We read: “The communion called the church consists of all people in whom the church is, and the church enters into man when one is becoming regenerated, and everyone becomes regenerate by abstaining from the evils of sin, and shunning them as one would an infernal horde with torches in hand, endeavoring to overtake him and throw him upon a burning pile. There are many means by which man, as he progresses in his early years, is prepared for the church and introduced into it; but the means whereby the church is established in man are acts of repentance” (TCR 510, emphasis added).

The truth of the statement just quoted is amply illustrated by the story of Israel as it unfolds in the Old Testament. The Word was given to that nation a revelation of the Lord Himself, given to them through the prophets. In it He taught them how they ought to live in order to fulfill the covenant made with their forefathers. He gave them commandments of life containing things they were required to do, and things they were forbidden to do.

To all appearances they accepted this revelation. They regarded it as holy and were at great pains to protect it and preserve it. They were very strict in observing the rituals of worship which were laid down. Through their zealous adherence to their God, Jehovah, they made an impact on their neighbors far beyond their numerical size and strength, and their political importance. According to historians, it was their fanatical devotion to the worship of Jehovah that brought this numerically insignificant nation into prominence among their neighbors.

Despite their reputation for devotion and zeal, the Jewish Church never became a church in the true sense of the word. The Writings refer to it as a “representative of a church” (AC 2910:3). The reason given for this designation is that there was no internal charity within its worship. Therefore the Lord spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah, saying: “Do not trust in these lying words, saying: `The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these’… Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other Gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say: `We are delivered to do all these abominations’? `Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? `Behold I, even I, have seen it,’ says the Lord” (Jer. 7:9-11).

It is charity that makes a church to be a church. The quality of a church is according to the quality of the charity among those who constitute the church, just as it is the quality of a person’s loves which determines one’s character. Worship and instruction are means leading to the church and introducing man into it. But it is repentance, or amendment of life, which establishes it. Therefore the Lord said to Israel: “If you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor; if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever” (Jer. 7:5-7). In the Word the land of Canaan represents the church. To dwell in the land of Canaan means to have the church established within oneself.

While the doctrine of repentance is well known in the Christian Church both in the Old and New yet it is not a particularly appealing doctrine. People would rather focus their attention on the more positive aspects of religion: the acknowledgment of God, participation in public worship and the doing of good works. Repentance, or the shunning of evil, involves combat against our natural and instinctive loves; it is seemingly a battle against ourselves. We are naturally disinclined to resist our natural tendencies, for this calls for self-examination, a condemnation of self, and a struggle requiring self-control and self-discipline. Our inclination is to avoid this struggle is we can or, possibly, to postpone it to a later stage in life when we imagine spiritual trials will be less severe.

We may resort to rationalization in our attempts to avoid coming to grips with spiritual reality by asserting that religion is essentially a positive thing while repentance is negative. We may persuade ourselves that if we acknowledge the Lord, worship Him, and do good to the neighbor, then the Lord will forgive us for the evils we do. He will see that we are basically good.

To illustrate the prevalence of the tendency to rationalize on this issue, it is a matter of record that some prominent church leaders have advocated dropping the Ten Commandments from the church liturgy on the grounds that they are negative rather than positive, Judaic and not Christian. They are blamed for making religion unpopular with young people because they consist mainly of prohibitions. Some have even gone so far as to claim that some of the commandments of the Decalogue are no longer relevant, that they are a reflection of the moral standards of a bygone age.

In connection with this view of the Ten Commandments, we would note that the Lord was once approached and asked: “Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” The Lord replied: “Why do you call Me good? There is none good but one, and that is God; but if you will enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:16, 17, emphasis added).

In saying this the Lord Himself established the Ten Commandments as the basis of a spiritual and moral life for the Christian Church. It is interesting to observe that the man asked: “What good thing shall I do?” rather than: “What evils should I shun?” The young man’s saying this is confirmation of the fact that we are inherently disposed to believe that we merit salvation by the doing of good rather than by the shunning of evil. The Lord’s answer, however, dispels this illusion and establishes the fact that heavenly life is imparted to a person as a result of keeping the Lord’s commandments, for He went on to enumerate, in answer to a further question, what evils must be shunned. Jesus said: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness” (Matt. 19:18).

In certain states of life and at certain times, the doctrine of repentance may discourage and depress us and dampen our enthusiasm for the life of religion. But let us realize that it is nevertheless a rational necessity. Perhaps if we better understand why it is so necessary we may adopt an affirmative response to this doctrine, and thus embark willingly and wholeheartedly upon the road to eternal life through the gateway of repentance.

The key to understanding the necessity for repentance is contained in the Lord’s answer to the man who asked Him what good thing he could do to have eternal life. The Lord prefaced His answer with a remark which at first appears to be irrelevant, but which, in fact, is basic to a correct understanding of the matter. He said: “Why do you call Me good? There is none good but one, that is God.”

The man believed that man, of himself, can do good. He did not know that the person he was speaking to was God incarnate. He addressed him as “teacher.” The Lord, perceiving the man’s opinion of Him, pointed out that God alone is good. Goodness cannot rightly be predicated of man.

This is a fundamental truth: The Lord alone is good! We, of ourselves, can do nothing that is good. We can do good only from the Lord. In fact, since the fall of the Most Ancient Church, man of himself apart from the Lord can do nothing but evil. The fall of the human race from its original state of integrity came about as a result of man’s attributing to himself what he receives from God. That is, he ascribed wisdom, intelligence and goodness to himself instead of acknowledging that he receives these from the Lord. Thus the interiors of his mind were turned away from the Lord toward self. Human nature became perverted.

The Word teaches that man, by inheritance, tends toward evils of every kind. Every evil which is indulged in by a person is passed on to the next generation as a tendency, and so on successively generation after generation. The rampant moral disorders and violence that pervade modern society are stark confirmation of this truth.

As noted in our opening quotation, during childhood and youth we are prepared for entering into the church or for regeneration. Through instruction and worship we learn what is good and true, and what is evil and false. We learn to distinguish between them. But though we know what is good, that does not mean that we will it. Intellectually we may prefer good to evil because we see the consequences of each. But instinctively we desire evil because it appeals to our hereditary nature.

Good and evil are opposites. They cannot be together. They mutually repel each other. Evils must, therefore, be put away or shunned in order that good, which we from reason prefer, may be received. In establishing this point we would quote this vivid and picturesque passage from the True Christian Religion. The question is asked: “Who can introduce sheep and kids and lambs into fields or woods where there are all kinds of wild beasts? Who can make a garden out of a piece of ground that is overgrown with thorns, briars and nettles before he has rooted out those noxious weeds? Who can establish a mode of administering justice according to judicial practices in a city held by hostile forces … before he has expelled those forces? It is the same with evils in man. They are like wild beasts, like thorns and briars, and like hostile forces; and the church can no more have a common abode with evils than a man can dwell in a cage where there are tigers and leopards, or sleep in a bed with poisonous herbs strewed upon it and stuffed into the pillows” (TCR 511).

The life which leads to heaven begins with repentance, or amendment of life. There is no other way. As long as we refuse to shun evils as sins, or avoid doing so, we cannot do good that is really good. No matter how active we are in performing uses to others, no matter how diligently we worship the Lord, we are not doing good, for this apparent good is tainted by evils at the source. The Lord said that a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit (see Matt. 7:17,18). Pure water cannot be drawn from a polluted river.

Let us take to heart these words of the Lord, uttered from Divine mercy, for our benefit: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil; learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the oppressor! Defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:16-18). Amen.

Lessons: Luke 15:1,11-32, Jeremiah 7:1-11, AC 8387-8391

Arcana Coelestia 8387-8391

He who wishes to be saved must confess his sins and do repentance.

To confess sins is to become thoroughly acquainted with evils, to see them in oneself, to acknowledge them, to regard oneself as guilty, and to condemn oneself on account of them. When this is done before God, it is to confess sins.

To do repentance is, after one has thus confessed his sins and from a humble heart has made supplication for their forgiveness, to desist from them and to lead a new life according to the commands of faith.

He who merely acknowledges that he is a sinner like all others, and who regards himself as guilty of all evils, and does not examine himself that is, see his sins does indeed make confession, but not the confession of repentance, for he lives afterward as he had done before.

He who leads a life of faith does repentance daily; for he reflects upon the evils that are in him, acknowledges them, guards himself against them, and supplicates the Lord for aid. For from himself man is continually falling, but is continually being raised up by the Lord. He falls from himself when he thinks what is evil with desire; and he is raised up by the Lord when he resists evil, and consequently does not do it. Such is the state with all who are in good; but they who are in evil are continually falling, and also are continually being uplifted by the Lord; but this to prevent them from falling into the most grievous hell of all, whither from themselves they incline with all their might: thus uplifting them into a milder hell.

FORGIVENESS

FORGIVENESS

A Sermon by Rev. Frederick M. ChapinPreached in Phoenix, Arizona July 29, 1990

 

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12).

The words of our text are familiar to nearly every member of the New Church. For the Lord’s Prayer is recited in nearly all formal gatherings, and the words “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” is a plea central to the Lord’s Prayer. Now in order to appreciate this prayer and every plea that it contains, it is important to note that it is contained in the Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew. The Sermon on the Mount sets the tone for the rest of the New Testament; it is providentially set at the beginning of it, which provides for us the basis to read and study the Word in the New Testament. This famous sermon is full of wonderful teachings concerning what a life of charity is and how we may receive it.

One of the essentials of charity that we are to practice, that is taught in both the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer, is forgiveness. Indeed, our text showed that as we pray to the Lord to forgive our sins or debts, we at the same time must be willing to forgive others who may have hurt us in some way. Now the word “debts” in the Greek has the idea to be under obligation, or to be bound. It is our evils which we choose to delight in that bind us or make us spiritual slaves. Therefore, as we pray to the Lord to release us from our debts or bonds, we should at the same time be willing to release others from their bonds toward us. We should never seek retribution on another who has offended us with the idea of revenge or to get even. Rather, we should try to help the wrongdoer to enter into a higher state of love and wisdom. For after the Lord’s Prayer the Lord said, “If you forgive men their trespasses [which means errors or transgressions], your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14,15). Therefore, the Lord teaches us that we are forgiven by the Lord only to the degree that we are willing to forgive others.

We can see the vital importance of forgiving others in the powerful parable of the unforgiving servant (see Matt. 18:21-35). Peter asked the Lord how often he should forgive his brother (expecting a definite number). In answer the Lord told a parable of a servant who owed his master ten thousand talents. A talent weighed about ninety-four pounds. From this we can see the enormous debt this servant owed his master. In fact, he probably could not pay it off within his lifetime. Nevertheless, the master was prepared to mercifully wipe the debt clean so that the servant would owe him nothing. But when the servant departed, he immediately demanded that another servant pay his debt of one hundred denarii, which probably could have been paid in three months’ time. But the servant wanted the money immediately, and he threw his fellow servant into prison. Of course, when the master heard of this, he was very angry and demanded payment of the original debt of ten thousand talents from the unforgiving servant. From this we can see the powerful lesson for us that the Lord is ever willing to forgive far more in us than what we are called to forgive in others. However, it is only by our forgiving others that the Lord can forgive our myriads of evils.

The Writings certainly confirm this teaching that we must seek to forgive if we are to have genuine charity in us. For they beautifully define forgiveness as “not to regard anyone from evil but from good” (AC 7697). Thus the Writings urge us not to concentrate on the bad things or the weaknesses of others, but to look for their good points. Even if it seems as if we can see no good in the person, we are still reminded that the Lord is with everyone, striving for his salvation. Therefore, we can still be of help to him by doing what we can to put him in situations where the Lord can stir up his remains. If we look at others in this way, then it will be a great deal easier to tolerate their flaws and forgive their errors or wrongdoings.

But can we really look for the good in others while we remain in our hereditary or actual evils? Can we look beyond the disorders of another and look at him as one who is infinitely loved by the Lord and might be saved, while we have hatred, contempt, and selfishness in our hearts? Can we truly love our enemies while we seek to do good only to those who honor us? The Writings emphatically say no! For they clearly teach that we can truly forgive only when our internals are opened to the Lord (see AC 6561). The only way we can have a spirit of forgiveness is from the Lord. For what is from ourselves is entirely incapable of genuine forgiveness. It can come only when we are willing to allow the Lord’s love and wisdom to enter into our internals and therefrom into our externals. Only if we shun evils as sins against God can the Lord replace our evil and selfish loves with the genuine love of charity and forgiveness. Let us always be careful not to believe that the ability to look for the good in others is from ourselves. It is only from the Lord’s inflowing into us, and is received only in the measure that its hellish opposite is shunned by us.

However, when we seek to apply the spirit of forgiveness in our everyday lives, must we ignore or excuse the evils of others? Should we pretend the evils are not there as we look for the person’s good? Certainly not! We must fight the evils that are both within and outside of us, but we should approach the person with a spirit of reconciliation. We should urge and help our brother to put away his evil practices, yet without interfering with his internal freedom. The Lord certainly did not ignore the deceit and hypocrisy of the Pharisees while He was on the earth, yet He loved them and desired that they would change their ways so that they could find eternal happiness and peace. So too must we be willing to stand up firmly against the evils of others. But let us judge the evils, not the person. Let us desire that the evils will be put away, but not the man with them. If we have this love and attitude in our hearts and minds, then we can have sympathy toward evil men and not hate them. For angels have sympathy even toward those who are in hell (see CL 415).

Nevertheless, the spirit of forgiveness is not fully ultimated until there is a reciprocal (see AC 9014:2,3). This applies both in our relationship with the Lord and with others. It applies in our relationship with the Lord in that the Lord is willing to forgive all of our evils. He never desires that we suffer because of our evils. However, His mercy and forgiveness are not manifested or perceived in us until we repent. Until we shun evils as sins against the Lord and obey His Word in our daily lives, the Lord will always appear to be a God of wrath and judgment. But in reality He punishes no one; we punish ourselves by choosing to turn away from the Lord. We refuse to allow His forgiveness to be effective in us.

It is the same in our relationship with others. We may have the spirit of forgiveness toward another and truly desire that he genuinely be happy. But if he does not affirmatively respond to our love from the Lord, then we may appear to him to be angry and harsh. For example, a child may do something wrong for which the parent will punish him. Hopefully the parent has already forgiven him in his heart, but outwardly he may appear to be angry toward the child. It is similar with the Lord’s love and forgiveness. It will not be made effective and made known to us until we affirmatively respond to His Word. And it is the same with our dealings with others in that we may not be regarded as a forgiving person until they provide the reciprocal by turning away from evil and turning toward the Lord.

However, must we be constantly in the company of the evil to demonstrate a forgiving spirit? The answer is no! For the Lord taught in the New Testament that if one refuses to be reconciled with us, then we may externally regard him as an adversary (see Matt. 18:17). As long as the man continues in his evil ways, we must disassociate ourselves from his evil acts. This does not mean that we are to be unconcerned about his spiritual welfare, but it does mean that we are not able to be as close to him as if he had changed his ways. This is both for his sake (by not encouraging or excusing his evils) and for our sake (by not being influenced to indulge his evils). Nevertheless, the Lord also taught that we are to agree with our adversary quickly (see Matt. 5:24). We should always be ready to forgive so that once our adversary does mend his ways, we will be able to receive him with open arms.

Not only should we want reconciliation, we should also strive to be reconciled to our brother. For we cannot be in a true state of charity until we take some action to try to clear up the ill feelings we may have toward another. If this means that we must go through the difficult process of apologizing to another, or accepting his apology, we should still pursue it, so that the obstacles to a genuine state of charity and friendship are removed. For the act of forgiving is really an act of purifying (see AC 8393, 10042:5). When we repent and so accept the Lord’s forgiveness in our hearts, He mercifully removes our evils to the outermost regions of our spirit and replaces them with good loves. Likewise, when we forgive another for an evil act and he repents, our relationship is also purified by removing or forgetting that evil and no longer making our brother responsible for it. And just as the Lord forgives us and forgets our shortcomings and disorders over and over again without number, so too must we be willing to forgive our brother’s shortcomings over and over again, without number (see Matt. 18:22). Once again, this does not mean that we need to be naive toward evil, but we should never reach a state where we are unwilling to take another back if there is sincere repentance. Instead, we should be continually ready, when there is repentance, to receive back into the fold a brother who has gone astray.

Therefore, if we do not strive to develop a spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness, how can we find delight in being of use to others? Will we not despise them if they stand in the way of what we want? How can we be willing to forgive another and take him back if we inwardly hold him in contempt? It is only by allowing the Lord to change our lives that we are able to forgive. It is only by the Lord that we can look for the good in another and not concentrate or delight in his evils. Unless we are first willing to love our neighbor and forgive his faults, and be willing to take him back after genuine repentance, the Lord cannot make known His love toward us and forgive us our sins.

Instead, let us follow the wonderful examples of forgiveness that the Lord gave us while He was on the earth. Let us respond to a brother who has done wrong but who desires to return to us as the Lord said to a woman taken in adultery. “I do not condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Let us always look to the Lord to implant in us a love for the eternal welfare of those who do not wish to come back. Let us pray for them as the Lord prayed for those who crucified Him when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And when the Lord removes our hatred and our delight in revenge and gives us a genuine love of forgiving others, and the wisdom to recognize when we should forgive and in what manner, then we can have the confidence and joy that the Lord is forgiving our sins and preparing us for His kingdom. It is while we are in this state that we can pray with sincerity, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Amen.

 


Lessons: Genesis 50:15-21; Matt. 18:21-35; AC 9014:3

Arcana Coelestia 9014:3

It is believed by many within the church that the forgiveness of sins is the wiping out and washing away thereof, as of filth by water; and that after forgiveness they go on their way clean and pure. Such an opinion prevails especially with those who ascribe everything of salvation to faith alone. But be it known that the case with the forgiveness of sins is quite different. The Lord forgives everyone his sins, because He is mercy itself. Nevertheless, they are not thereby forgiven unless the man performs serious repentance, and desists from evils, and afterward lives a life of faith and charity, and this even to the end of his life. When this is done, the man receives from the Lord spiritual life, which is called new life. When from this new life the man views the evils of his former life and turns away from them and regards them with horror, then for the first time are the evils forgiven, for then the man is held in truths and goods by the Lord, and is withheld from evils. From this it is plain what is the forgiveness of sins, and that it cannot be granted within an hour, nor within a year. That this is so the church knows, for it is said to those who come to the Holy Supper that their sins are forgiven if they begin a new life by abstaining from evils and abhorring them.

REPENTANCE, REFORMATION, AND REGENERATION

REPENTANCE, REFORMATION, AND REGENERATION

Repentance

He who would be saved must confess his sins, and do the work of repentance.

To confess sins is to recognize evils; to see them within himself; to acknowledge them; to make himself guilty and condemn himself on account of them. This when it is done before God is the confession of sins.

To do the work of repentance is, after he has thus confessed his sins, and from an humble heart has made supplication for remission, to desist from them and lead a new life according to the precepts of faith.

He who only acknowledges generally that he is a sinner, and makes himself guilty of all evils, and does not explore himself, that is see his own sins, makes confession, but not the confession of repentance; for he afterwards lives as before.

He who lives the life of faith daily does the work of repentance; for he reflects upon the evils that are within him, and acknowledges them, guards himself against them, and supplicates the Lord for aid. For of himself man is continually lapsing; but is continually raised up by the Lord. Of himself he lapses when he thinks to will evil; and is raised up by the Lord when he resists evil, and therefore does not do it. Such is the state of all who are in good. But they who are in evil lapse continually, and also are continually elevated by the Lord; but it is lest they fall into the hell of all the basest evils, whither of themselves they tend with all their effort, and to restrain them to a milder hell.

The work of repentance which is done in a state of freedom avails, but that which is done in a state of compulsion is of no avail. A state of compulsion is a state of sickness, a state of dejection of mind on account of misfortunes; a state of imminent death; in a word, every state of fear which takes away the use of sound reason. He who is evil, and promises repentance and also does good in a state of compulsion, when he comes into a state of freedom returns into his former life of evil. It is different with a good man; these states to him are states of temptation, in which he conquers.

Repentance of the mouth and not of the life is not repentance; sins are not remitted by repentance of the mouth, but by repentance of the life. Sins are’ remitted to man continually by the Lord, for He is mercy itself; but the sins adhere to the man howsoever he supposes they are remitted, nor are they removed from him but by a life according to the precepts of faith. So far as he lives according to these precepts his sins are removed, and in so far as they are removed they are remitted. For man is withheld by the Lord from evil, and is held in good; and he can be withheld from evil in the other life in so far as he had resisted evil in the life of the body; and he can then be held in good in so far as he had done good from affection in the life of the body. From this it may be seen what the remission of sins is, and from whence it is. He who believes that sins are remitted in any other way is much deceived.

After a man has examined himself, and acknowledged his sins, and done the work of repentance, he must remain constant in good to the end of life. And if afterwards he relapses to the former life of evil and embraces it, he commits profanation; for then he conjoins evil with good; and therefore his latter state is worse than the first, according to the Lord’s words: “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, but doth not find; then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, and findeth it empty, and swept, and garnished for himself, then he goeth away and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first” (Matt. xii. 43-45). (AC 8387-8394)