A Sermon by Rev. Patrick A. Rose Preached in North Ohio May 3, 1992
“And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my man will love me” (Gen. 29:32).
Every day many babies are born into this world. It is a fairly common thing for all of us to hear that some couple we know has had a baby. Because birth is a common enough occurrence, there is a tendency to take the Lord’s creation of new human beings for granted. When we stop and think, though, we realize that the conception, formation and birth of an infant is an amazing miracle. And when the hand of God reaches down to create a human soul, and, from the substances of this world forms a living human body, it is indeed a miracle, a miracle that brings joy to the mother and father, “joy that a man is born into the world” (John 16:21). Such is the coming of a man into the world. Such is the miracle of birth. The miracle of birth, though, is to be followed by another miracle. After a baby is born, and after his mind has grown to the maturity of adulthood, there is to be another act of creation, another wonderful miracle, another birth. The man is to be reborn, or regenerated. The fact of the matter is that man, from birth, has a tendency, when left to himself, to fall into evils and falsities of every kind. This would seem to be a bitter and depressing truth, yet it is not, for we are taught in the Word that man is not left to himself. The Lord is with him, closer to him than he can ever know, and with his cooperation the Lord creates out of him a new person. He is given a new will and a new understanding, created for him by the Lord within his mind. He may have the same physical body as he did before, but within himself he is miraculously born again. He is regenerated.
This regeneration of man is the subject of the internal sense of what is recorded in the Old Testament concerning the life of Reuben. In general the twelve sons of Jacob represent twelve distinct stages in the rebirth of man, and Reuben, the first-born, represents the beginning of this miracle. “Reuben,” we are taught, “signifies faith, or, more specifically, faith in the understanding” (AC 3863:3, 3869:2). To put it another way, he represents the truth of doctrine which a man has learned (AC 3866). And the truth of doctrine, the Writings teach, is the first, the beginning, of regeneration (see AC 3866). This is because by himself a man does not even know what good is. If he is eventually to come to love and will what is good, he must first learn doctrine from the Word, doctrine which teaches him what is good (see AC 3863:1).
Now doctrine by itself does not, of course, make a man love what is good. A person is never regenerated simply by learning truths. Nevertheless, if the Lord is to regenerate man, man must cooperate with the Lord; and if man is to cooperate, he must see, that is, he must understand, how to cooperate. In other words, man is to have some mental vision of heaven before he can begin to walk the path that leads there. This sight or vision, this faith, is represented by Reuben, whose name is indeed derived from a Hebrew word which means “to see.”
It is in recognition of the importance of this faith in the understanding that we teach our children the truths of the New Church. Whereas it is true that those born with no knowledge of the Word can be saved, their spiritual obscurity is such that most of them must complete their preparation for heaven, complete their regeneration, in the other world. Our hope is that our children, in being given a clear and comprehensive vision of the truth, may later cooperate with the Lord and be regenerated while they still live here on earth. Only in this way can they come to constitute part of the Lord’s church specific, that part of the Lord’s universal church which provides a specific basis, a specific dwelling place, for what is of heaven upon this earth. It is our prayer that our children may come to perform this high use, and it is our solemn responsibility to provide them with the truths they need, the truths of the Lord’s Word.
A person who has been taught truths from the Word has been given a most precious gift. He has been provided the means by which the Lord can lead Him toward what is good. This is what is meant by the words of Leah at the time of Reuben’s birth. After Leah had given birth, she said: “Now, therefore, my man will love me.” “My man” refers to the truth, whereas “will love” refers to the good from that truth. For Leah the birth of Reuben was a way of winning Jacob’s love. So, too, faith in the understanding that knowledge of the truth which the man of the church is to have as he enters adult life is the means by which he can come into the good of truth, that is, into the good which results from living the truth (see AC 6427:1). So it is that faith in the understanding is that which initiates a man into doing what is good.
To begin with, his understanding of the truth is obscure. A person who is only just beginning his regeneration does not have a deep insight into the truth. His will or desire to do what is good is also feeble, for he finds little delight in doing the will of the Lord. Nevertheless, by means of those truths he has learned, and by means of the truths he continues to learn, he can in time come to really love and take delight in what is good. At the same time, he can begin to acquire a deep and clear understanding of the truth, an understanding which is possible only for those who live a good life.
This is what is represented by Reuben’s finding dudaim in the field (see AE 434:8). We are not told what the dudaim were. The word “dudaim” is generally translated simply as “mandrakes.” Whatever these dudaim were, though, we are told that they signify the heavenly marriage, that is, the conjunction between good and truth (see AC 3942, 3952).
To begin with, there is no conjunction between good and that understanding of truth which is represented by Reuben. Indeed, far from there being a conjunction, there seems to be a conflict. A man who only knows truth has no particular desire to do what is good. What he knows and what he does are often in conflict. And yet it is still through his knowledge of the truth that he can eventually come into what the Writings call the heavenly marriage: a state in which the truth he knows makes one with what he loves and lives.
But how can there be a connection between Reuben and the dudaim? That is, how can a mere understanding of truth lead a man to love what is good? Doesn’t a man, in the final analysis, do that which he loves rather than that which he knows?
Faith in the understanding, though, is not an empty, useless vision, with no influence over a man. Consider for a moment two incidents in the life of Reuben. When Joseph’s brethren were about to kill him, it was Reuben who told his brothers not to do so. “Let us not kill him,” Reuben said. “Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him” (Gen. 37:21,22). Reuben’s plan was to later retrieve Joseph from the pit and return him to Jacob. When he later returned to the pit and found that Joseph had disappeared, Reuben rent his clothes in grief. Reuben was, as it were, the conscience of his brothers. Later on, when an Egyptian official, who, unknown to them, happens to be Joseph, accuses them of being spies, Jacob’s sons think that their misfortune was some kind of punishment for mistreating their younger brother. Again Reuben speaks up: “Spoke I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and you would not hear?” (Gen. 42:22).
It was Reuben who attempted to stop his brethren from sinning against Joseph in the first place, and it was Reuben who later reminded them of their sin when they were accused of being spies in Egypt. In these incidents is represented the function of the truths a man has learned. The truths a man knows make him aware that he should not commit evil. And if he does commit evil, these same truths then make him aware of why he is unhappy. In short, the truths which a man knows discourage him from doing evil, and cause him anxiety if he has committed evil (see AC 5472). This is something we have all experienced. Have not all of us at times wanted to do something we knew to be wrong? And yet, have we not nevertheless refrained from committing that evil because we know it is wrong? Again, have we not at other times actually gone ahead and committed an evil, only to feel miserable later because we know we have done wrong?
This is the use, this is the power, of faith in the understanding. How, though, can mere understanding, mere knowledge, have power against hereditary tendencies toward evil? It cannot. The fact of the matter is that faith in the understanding is not merely an intellectual thing. If it were, it would have no power. Faith in the understanding, which a person brought up in the church should have as he enters adult life, is by no means merely intellectual. The truths we learn in childhood and in youth are learned with affection. The adult has remains remnants of these affectional states: states of innocence, of charity, of mutual love. These things remain from childhood, and they are protected by the Lord. By themselves they will not save a man. And yet it is this affectional element which gives power to the truth he knows, a power which encourages him to live according to the truth, to obey the truth.
It is when a man obeys the truth that he is beginning to move along the path of regeneration represented by Jacob’s twelve sons. He comes into that state represented by Simeon. Simeon is said to represent a state of obedience, a state when faith enters the will.
And so Reuben is followed by Simeon. Faith in the understanding can lead to obedience, to faith within the will of man. This is the power of a knowledge of the truth, that power mentioned in the blessing which Jacob would later pronounce upon Reuben: “Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power” (Gen. 49:3). Those who have an understanding of the truth have a most precious gift from the Lord. In itself it is only the first stage of regeneration. By itself it will not save us. But since it is by means of this that the Lord can create within us a new man, the truth we know is therefore holy. Just as marriage, which can lead to the birth of an infant, is holy, so too faith in the understanding, because it can lead to the rebirth of man, is also holy. We therefore must take care lest we profane the truth we have been given. Reuben, in one shameful episode, went in to his father’s concubine (Gen. 35:22). This represents profanation. It represents the profanation we commit when we believe the truths of the church but refuse to live according to them (see AC 4601:2). When this happens, both truth and evil become part of our minds. Truth and evil are mixed together to some extent, and this mixing is profane. It is not as severe as the profanation which occurs when good and evil are mixed, which is when we have actually started to love good and then revert to what is evil. But still it is profane. It is profane not to live the truth we know and believe. This is why Reuben was not only blessed by Jacob, but also cursed: “Unstable as water, you shall not excel because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it: he went up to my couch” (Gen. 49:4). Those who have and who believe the truths of the church must be careful. What they have is precious something that should not be misused or ignored. To reject the truth we have come to believe to reject it by failing to live it leads us into a state of degeneration. But if we live according to the truth, if we live according to it to the best of our ability, then a miracle can begin to happen. As we compel ourselves to live according to the Lord’s truth, a new character arises within our minds. The Lord, who created us, now re-creates us. He gives us a new will, and a new understanding a will or desire to do what is good, and a new understanding or insight into the meaning of truth. We are reborn. We are regenerated.
This is why we are given the truths of the church. These truths have power. They are the beginning of our strength. They are the means of salvation. Amen.
Lessons: Genesis 29:30-32; 30:14-17; 35:19-22; 37:17-22; 37:29-30; 49:1-4; AC 3863:1,3
Arcana Coelestia 3863:1,3
For she said, Because Jehovah hath seen. That in the supreme sense this signifies foresight, in the internal sense faith, in the interior sense understanding, and in the external sense sight, in the present case faith from the Lord, is evident from the signification of “seeing,” concerning which in what follows. From what has been said above, it may be seen that the twelve tribes, named from the twelve sons of Jacob, signified all things of truth and good, or of faith and love, thus all things of the church, and that each tribe signified some universal; thus the twelve tribes signified the twelve universals which comprehend and include within them all things whatsoever that belong to the church, and in the universal sense, all things that belong to the Lord’s kingdom. The universal which “Reuben” signifies is faith. The reason why faith is the first universal is that when man is being regenerated or becoming a church, he must first learn and become imbued with the things of faith, that is, of spiritual truth; for he is introduced by means of the doctrine of faith, or of truth. For man is of such a nature that of himself he does not know what heavenly good is but must learn it from doctrine, which is called the doctrine of faith. Every doctrine of faith regards life as the end, and therefore good, for good is life.
As the subject treated of in this chapter, and in those which precede, is the regeneration of the natural, and here its first state, which is that of introduction by means of truth to good, therefore the first son of Jacob, or Reuben, was named from “Jehovah seeing,” which in the internal sense signifies faith from the Lord. Regarded in itself, faith is a faith in the understanding and a faith in the will; to know and understand the truth which is of faith is called faith in the understanding; but to will the truth which is of faith is called faith in the will. Faith in the understanding is that which is signified by “Reuben”; but faith in the will is what is signified by “Simeon.” That faith in the understanding, or the understanding of truth, precedes faith in the will, or the willing of truth, must be evident to everyone; for when anything is unknown to man (such as heavenly good), he must first know that it exists, and understand what it is, before he can will it.