DANGERS TO THE CHURCH REPRESENTED IN REVELATION

DANGERS TO THE CHURCH REPRESENTED IN REVELATION

A Sermon by Rev Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, IllinoisMay 28, 1995

 

“Now when [the two witnesses] finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them” (Rev. 11:7).

The book of Revelation is special to the New Church. When understood in its internal sense it presents a vivid picture of why and how the New Church came into existence. It presents a picture of what we who aspire to be members of that church need to look to in what we care about, what we think and what we do. This sermon will focus on the evil loves and false ideas represented in the middle chapters of the book of Revelation that are a threat to the doctrines and life of the church.

The whole book of Revelation, when properly understood, helps us to see the Lord as a loving God who is reaching out to people, calling them to Him. It helps us to see the importance of understanding what is true and good. It helps us to see the nature of evil and its influence on religious people. And it helps us to see the way the Lord’s kingdom can be, in heaven and on earth.

Understanding the book of Revelation is not just a matter of knowing about a single event the Last Judgment. The spiritual dynamics of that event, which the New Church asserts has already occurred, have a direct counterpart in our daily lives. The better we understand how the Lord showed His loving care for all people through His role in the Last Judgment, the better we can see how He can care for and lead us.

In the book of Revelation there are descriptions of several horrible creatures a beast from the bottomless pit, the seven-headed dragon, a beast from the sea, one from the land, and finally a description of an evil woman riding a scarlet beast. These evil forms represent thoughts and motivations that are a particular threat to people who think of themselves as being part of the Lord’s church. Certainly there are dangerous evil moti- vations and false ideas that trouble the avowed non-believer or a functional non-believer; these are perhaps not as hard for the believer to recognize, but the images of evil in the book of Revelation represent a more subtle threat. They represent forces that can completely destroy the Lord’s church within a person’s life while the person himself thinks he is following God in what he does and doesn’t do.

Chapter 11 of the book of Revelation speaks of two witnesses who testify until they are killed by a beast from the bottomless pit. These two witnesses represent the essential ideas that are the foundation of the New Church. They are, firstly, that the Lord alone is God of heaven and earth, and that His Human is Divine; and secondly that people ought to live according to the principles of the Ten Commandments. These essentials are not just facts that a person stores in his memory. They need to be fundamental principles that affect how we look at our priorities and decisions, and how we see ourselves and others.

When we say the Lord’s prayer, we close with the words, “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever” (Matt. 6:13). These words are addressed to the one God of heaven and earth. They are addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ, our heavenly Father, creator, redeemer and savior. When we think of Him, we are called to see His infinite perfection, power, love and wisdom as being one with His Human. My understanding is that a key part of this Humanity is our recognition that He is personally present with us, aware of the tiniest details of our life, listening to our prayers, and guiding us in things large and small. We separate His Divine from His Human when we make the Lord a remote and impersonal God. We can also separate His Divine from His Human when we justify evil and destructive choices with the thought that the Lord understands why I’m doing this and won’t hold me accountable.

The second essential of the New Church is the idea that we are to live according to the principles of the Ten Commandments. This means more than following their most literal meaning. When we acknowledge that we are not to steal, it includes using deceit to obtain something that belongs to another. It includes not stealing a person’s good reputation by gossip or slander. It includes not taking credit for the work of others, and so on. On a still deeper level this commandment calls us not to take things that are rightly the Lord’s and claim them as our own. When we reflect more deeply on any of these commandments we can recognize that we are prone to break them consciously or unconsciously on many levels.

The two witnesses in Revelation chapter 11 were killed by a beast said to be from the bottomless pit. This beast, the dragon, and the beasts from the sea and land all represent one of the two major threats to the church. These beasts represent historically the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. The fundamental idea in this doctrine is that a person can be a true follower of God and obtain salvation and eternal life without having to obey the commandments or even consider what evil thoughts and deeds he has done and may do in the future.

Over and over again people have found something to substitute for the importance of obedience to the principles the Lord has set before us. The ancient Israelites made the rituals of worship most important. For example, they made ritual fasting an important way to gain God’s favor. In Isaiah 58 the Lord clearly tells the Israelites that this is not what He wants; instead He states: “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6,7).

Likewise, the ancient Israelite tended to focus on the ritual sacrifices made at the temple. Concerning these the Lord said in the book of Micah: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8).

Likewise, the Lord criticized the scribes and Pharisees for scrupulously contributing to the temple a tenth of the spices they used on their food, but forgetting things far more important. He said to them: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone” (Matt. 23:23).

In the medieval world there grew up a belief in penance that encouraged the idea that a person could sin and then, provided he or she lit enough candles, said enough prayers, went on a demanding pilgrimage, or gave enough money or land to the church, the sin would be wiped clean.

Partially in response to the excesses of this belief, the doctrine of salvation by faith alone was evolved. Through the ideas of that doctrine, people have come to believe that they can blamelessly steal, kill, and commit adultery, provided they claim faith that Christ died for their sins.

In all of these cases the key problem has been that people have made loving the neighbor a minor part of true religion. The dragon with seven heads represents a force that strongly seeks to destroy true religion with us as well. The evil spirits whose destructive force are represented by this dragon want more than anything to keep us from being concerned about working to serve the spiritual needs of the people around us. They want very much for us to be apathetic about reflecting on our own bad habits and how they hurt us and others. They want us to be convinced that we are just fine the way we are because we attend the right church or have a certain set of facts in our memory. They do not want us to be firmly committed to living as good and useful and kind and generous a life as we are capable of living.

Revelation chapter 13 describes this destructive force again by two beasts, one from the sea and one from the land. These two beasts represent the belief in salvation by faith alone with the laity and with the clergy. Note that the first beast seen, the one from the sea, represents this belief with the laity. When the people of a church long for an escape from a compelling morality and ask for it in open or subtle ways, they invite the opportunity of a corrupt clergy who will give them what they want. Certainly innocent people can be led astray by devious leaders, but the Writings repeatedly convey an idea of many people in the laity being led by a common-sense belief in the commandments and loving the neighbor. They are safe and actually have kept the clergy from openly stating certain ideas that enlightened common sense sees as insanity. Rather than being too worried that some leader will persuade us that a false idea is true, the Lord calls each of us to learn the doctrine of our church and then reflect in our own minds from what we know He has said as to its reliability and completeness. Does it really represent the life the Lord calls us to live?

The final image of evil that is introduced in Revelation chapter 17 is described in these words: “So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Rev. 17:3-5).

This evil woman represents the desire to control others through spiritual things. Protestant theologians, who have no idea of their relation to the dragon and previous beasts, have long asserted that this image represents Roman Catholicism. More properly it represents the single aspect of that church that sought power and control over the lives and decisions of all believers. This is a terrible evil. A key part of the true church is the spiritual freedom of each individual to act in freedom according to his or her best understanding of what is true. Yet over and over again believers have sought to control others and make them say and act in just one proper way. Often this can be done with righteous anger, but when it takes away understanding and freedom, it is not done in the Lord’s name. Needless to say, we can also fall prey to this evil. We can do so in our marriages, in raising our children, and with the people we interact with. We can be so convinced that we have the one right way that we are willing to force it on others. We are not to force our beliefs on others, but rather can appeal to their understanding and their higher motivations. When we do this we are cooperating with the Lord.

The evils of the book of Revelation are ones that can be a threat to each of us. They have sought and will continue to seek ways of hiding their true intent and being accepted by us as good and right. By ourselves we will not be able to see through their disguises and many permutations. But if we turn to the Lord in daily prayer, He will help us to see their attempts to influence us. He will be with us and protect us. As we act as though from ourselves to fight their influence on our lives, the Lord will be fighting within our efforts with His infinite power. If we turn to Him, victory is assured. Amen.

Lessons: Isaiah 58:3-9; Rev. 11:1-14; AR 500

 


Apocalypse Revealed

500. “The beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and shall overcome them, and kill them” signifies that they who are in the internals of the doctrine of faith alone will oppose them, and assault these two essentials of the New Church, and will reject them, and, as far as lies in their power, will cause others to reject them. By “the beast that cometh up out of the abyss” are meant they who came up out of the abyss and appeared like locusts (chap. 9:1-12). That these are they who are in the internals of the doctrine of faith alone may be seen in the explanation there given; by “making war” is signified to oppose and assault these two essentials of the church, as will be seen presently; by “overcoming and killing” them is signified to reject and extirpate them in themselves, and, as far as lies in their power, to cause others to do the same. The reason why they who are principled in the internals of the doctrine of faith alone will impugn and reject these two essentials is that they have confirmed themselves in two things diametrically opposite to them: first, that it is not the Lord but God the Father who is to be approached; and second, that a life according to the precepts of the Decalogue is not a spiritual life, but only a moral and civil life, and this they confirm lest any one believe that he can be saved by works, but only by their faith. All they who have had these dogmas impressed deeply on their minds in schools and academies do not recede from them afterwards. There are three reasons for this which hitherto have not been known: First, because they have entered, as to their spirit, into association with their like in the spiritual world where there are many satans who are delighted with nothing but falsities from which they cannot at all be separated but by rejecting those falsities; nor can this be done but by immediately approaching God the Savior, and beginning a Christian life according to the precepts of the Decalogue. The second reason is that they believe that re- mission of sins, and thus salvation, is given in a moment in the act of faith, and afterwards in the state or in the progression by the same act continued, preserved, and retained, from the Holy Spirit separate from the exercises of charity; and they who have once imbibed these doctrines afterwards make no account of sins before God, and so live in their uncleanness. And, because they know how to confirm such things subtly before the unlearned by falsifications of the Word, and before the learned by sophistry, it is here said that “the beast which came up from the abyss overcame and killed the two witnesses.” But this takes place only with those who love to follow their own inclinations, being borne along by the delights of their lusts. These think about salvation, cherish those lusts in their hearts, and embrace their faith with both hands, thinking that they may be saved by uttering certain words with a tone of confidence, and need not attend to anything of their life for the sake of God but only for the sake of the world. The third reason is that they who in youth had imbibed the internals of that faith which are called the mysteries of justification, on being afterwards promoted to an honored ministry, do not think in themselves concerning God and heaven, but concerning themselves and the world, retaining only the mysteries of their faith for the sake of reputation, that they may be honored as wise, and by reason of their wisdom be thought worthy of being rewarded with wealth. The reason why this is an effect of that faith is that there is nothing of religion in it. That this is so may be seen in the third relation above (n. 484). That by “wars” in the Word are signified spiritual wars, which are fightings against truth, and are effected by reasonings from falsities, is evident from these passages:

“Spirits of demons go forth to gather them to war in the great day of God eighty” (Rev.16:14).

“The dragon was angry against the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 12:17).

“It was given to the beat of the dragon to make war with the saints” (Rev. 13:7).

“Consecrate war against the daughter of Zion, and let us go up at noon” (Jer. 6: 4).

“Ye have not gone up into the breeches to stand in war in the day of Jehovah” (Ezek. 13:5).

“In Salem is the habitation of God and a dwelling in Zion, where He brake the fiery darts of the bow, and the battle” (Psalm 76:2, 3).

“Jehovah shall go forth as a mighty man; he shall stir up zeal like a man of war” (Isaiah 42:13; Psalm 24:8).

“In that day Jehovah shall be for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, who repel war from the gate” (Isaiah 28:5,6).

“Deliver me from the evil man, and preserve me from the man of violence; all the day they gather together for war; they have sharpened their tongue like serpents” (Psalm 140:1-3).

“Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall mislead many, and ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, see that ye be not troubled” (Matt. 24:5,6; Mark 13: 6,7; Luke 21:8,9).

The wars of the kings of the north, and of the south, and others, in Daniel (chapters 10., 11, 12), signify no other than spiritual wars; besides “the wars” mentioned in other places (as in Isaiah 2:3-5; 13:4; 21:14, 15; 31:4; Jeremiah 49:25,26; Hosea 2:18; Zechariah 10:5; 14:3; Psalms 27:3; 46:8,9). Since by “wars” in the Word are signified spiritual wars, therefore the ministry of the Levites was called “military service,” as appears from these things:

“It was commanded that the Levites should be numbered, to perform military service, to do work in the tent of the congregation” (Num. 4:23, 35, 39, 43, 47).

“This is the office of the Levites to perform military service in the ministry of the tent of the congregation; but from a son of fifty years be shall withdraw from the military service of the ministry, nor shall he minister any more” (Num. 8:24, 25).

See also above (n. 447), where it is confirmed from the Word that “armies” signify the goods and truths of the church, and, in the opposite sense, its evils and falsities.

SEEING IN THE LIGHT OF WISDOM

SEEING IN THE LIGHT OF WISDOM

A Sermon by Rev Eric H. CarswellPreached in Glenview, IllinoisMay 21, 1995

“So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals'” (Revelation 5:4-5).

The book of Revelation is special to the New Church. When understood in its internal sense it presents a vivid picture of why and how the New Church came into existence. It presents a picture of what we who aspire to be members of that church need to look at, what we care about, what we think and what we do. This sermon will focus on the opening of the seven seals, the sounding of the seven trumpets and the pouring out of the seven plagues described in the middle chapters of the book of Revelation.

The whole book of Revelation, when properly understood, helps us to see the Lord as a loving God who is reaching out to people, calling them to Him. It helps us to see the importance of understanding what is true and good. It helps us to see the nature of evil and its influence on religious people. And it helps us to see the way the Lord’s kingdom can be, in heaven and on earth.

Understanding the book of Revelation is not a matter of knowing about a single event, the Last Judgment. The spiritual dynamics of that event, which the New Church asserts has already occurred, have a direct counterpart in our daily lives. The better we understand how the Lord showed His loving care for all people through His role in the Last Judgment, the better we can see how He can care for and lead us.

One of the great false ideas about God is that He is angry at people who do evil and punishes them. If the book of Revelation is read on a merely superficial basis, it seems to support this point of view. The opening of the seven seals, the sounding of the seven trumpets, and the pouring out of the seven plagues, obviously coming from God, are related to numerous disasters, and much destruction. It seems that God causes this destruction as a punishment for the wicked. This is not how God expresses His infinite love. Many people nevertheless act from the idea that it is justified to be angry at people who do bad things and that it is right and good to cause them loss and pain, real or psychological. For example, we know that certain kinds of gossip can tremendously harm a person’s reputation and ability to be useful, but there is a part of faulty human nature that sees “out-of-step” behavior as bad and wrong, thereby justifying our destructive discussion of it and sharing it far and wide. It’s a secret and indirect punishment for the person who has broken some principle of accepted behavior. If this kind of gossip is widespread it can poison at least a segment of a social group and produce an environment in which people do not feel safe or able to trust that they won’t be the next victims of general criticism, shared disapproval, and subtle social sanction.

The book of Revelation describes a condition in which many things are not what they seem. Many things which on the surface look good and useful are actually empty and lifeless, and because they don’t look this way they are evil and destructive. If we could accurately discriminate between fantasy and reality we would make better decisions. For example, how can a middle-aged man contemplate abandoning his wife, family and social connections to marry a much younger woman? He does so because he thinks he will find more happiness with her than with his whole previous life. Typically he is unhappy with his life and believes that the solution is a new relationship. He looks at his previous married life and sees dreariness and unfulfilling effort. He looks at his new relationship and sees freshness and excitement, something that is more spontaneous; here is a new woman that he wants to go out of his way for and who seems to appreciate him more. His adultery looks like heaven and his marriage looks like a dreary hell. He believes his new relationship will have none of the flaws of his present one. He is pursuing a fantasy. If he makes his decision on this fantasy he will be hurt and so will his wife, his children, and in a sense so will all the people whose lives interact with his. His opting out of his marriage vows will tend to further erode their sacred quality and binding nature, making it easier for others to be seduced by a similar fantasy.

Fantasy can also exist on a much smaller and more mundane level. Take for example a woman who is regularly late or who regularly fails to fulfill her commitments, and yet when she is called to account, she always has reasons or excuses as to why it isn’t her fault. It was someone else’s fault, or it was just bad luck, or some natural thing failed, like her alarm clock even though she set it properly. Rarely is anything her fault and consequently she takes little or no responsibility for remedying the situation or trying to change. She sees the problem as entirely outside of herself. Things just happen. When she looks at herself she sees a picture of blameless decisions and actions. She sees a fantasy, which if it remains unchanged, will cause herself and others inconvenience and harm. If she is going to change, her eyes need to be opened.

It is the Lord’s desire that we see what is real. By seeing reality, we can make better decisions. When we base our decisions on fantasies or misperceptions, we hurt ourselves and others.

The book of Revelation specifically describes a condition when reality had been twisted. This occurred in a place that is part of the life after death. After a person’s natural body ceases to live, the person’s spirit awakens with a new body in a place intermediate between heaven and hell. This place is called the world of spirits. Here as in this world, at least initially, good and evil people are all mixed together and can live side by side. When a person’s true nature shows itself and he or she is given a choice of good and true things or evil and false ones, there is a spontaneous and natural judgment separating that spirit from those who react differently. The saying “birds of a feather flock together” describes this separation. But this separation can take place only if reality is seen, only if the light of heaven shines into the world of spirits. The book of Revelation describes a time when that was not occurring. Instead the spirits of people who had chosen evil things as their primary goals kept their true quality hidden. They made it appear as though they were among those blessed by God and that they were already in heaven. They created a false world of cities, trees, rivers, and so forth all of them beautiful but in reality they were fantasies of evil and false things.

John, the narrator of the book, describes seeing a scroll sealed with seven seals and weeping because no one could open it. This scroll represents how the Word of God had been so twisted and obscured by human invention that its fundamental truth was hidden. Historically, traditional Christian explanations of God as three persons, and subsequent explanations of salvation based on earning heaven by attending the right church and doing the right things, or salvation entirely by an intellectual faith apart from what a person cares about, thinks and does, had so clouded the fundamental messages of obedience to God, and love and service to the neighbor that they were lost.

The opening of the seven seals by the Lord represents the initial step necessary for genuine truth to be seen once again. The Word of the Lord needs to be present in our minds and understood before we can possibly see through the fantasies that our own unenlightened eyes would show us. The horses and riders seen as the first four seals are opened describe the progressive loss of true understanding and concern for what is good that can occur in a person’s life or the life of a church. The fifth seal was opened and John described seeing a vision of souls at the foot of an altar mourning their state. These souls represent people who were good but unable to recognize the fantasy of evil. In our own lives they are like the good motives and concerns that can get linked to evil ones and false ideas. Until they can see their proper place they are stuck where they are and change would destroy them. For example, righteous and angry punishment is often connected to something true or good. If the destructiveness of the anger is pointed out to the person, he can respond, “So are you saying I just should not care about the bad thing she was doing?” It seems there is no choice but either to be destructively angry or to decide there is no problem. But this is not reality. The Lord preserved the souls under the altar until the real truth could be seen and their goodness could be preserved. This is also the meaning behind the sealing of the 144,000. It represents a preservation of goodness that is initially too weak and obscure to remain unmixed and untainted by evil and false ideas. Children and teens often show this faulty mixture in their attitudes and decisions. They can simultaneously mix high ideals and short-term, self-centered, natural thinking, such as in their unwillingness to tell the truth if it will get a friend into trouble. Attacking the flaw can sometimes seem to them to attack the ideal of friendship and loyalty.

The sounding of the seven trumpets represents an exploration and opening up of what is real. As the light of truth once again shone forth in the world of spirits, the fantasy that had been accepted as reality was revealed to be quite different. The Lord wants each of us to see through similar fantasies within our own lives. We tend to excuse and even value goals, habits of thought and actions that can be terribly destructive to our own long-term happiness and can be terribly hurtful to others. This destructive life that seems so natural is what the Lord referred to when He said, “He who saves his life shall lose it and he who loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).

The pouring out of the seven plagues represents that the evil fled out of the world of spirits and found their proper place in hell. Genuine evil cannot take the presence of goodness and truth. It wants either to control it, destroy it or get away from it. The Lord didn’t have to cast anyone into hell. He just needed to have something of His love and wisdom draw near to the evil in the world of spirits, and they could not stand to remain in its presence. The Lord hadn’t done it earlier because the good who had been mixed with the evil would have been hurt also.

In our own lives, when we see things as they really are, decisions are easy. When we see and acknowledge that a course of thought or action will hurt us and others, it isn’t hard to turn from it. Evil has its greatest power by appearing to be different from what it really is. It wants to seem beneficial or at least harmless. When seen for its true nature, this fantasy falls away.

May we pray for the light of truth in our own lives. May we seek a knowledge of the Lord’s Word and not just a collection of facts that can be used for intellectual discussion, but a living set of ideas that we use in daily life. May the Word be an open book for us. May we use it to reflect on our thoughts and intentions. May we use it to examine the courses of action that we contemplate. May the light of truth reveal the fantasies of evil that we may with strength and conviction turn from them and to the Lord and the life of heaven. Amen.

Lessons: Revelation 6:1-11, Apocalypse Revealed 320-322


Apocalypse Revealed 320-322

Verse 8.”And I saw, and behold, a pale horse” signifies the understanding of the Word destroyed both as to good and as to truth. “A horse” signifies the understanding of the Word (n. 298), and “pale” signifies no vitality. In the Word this want of vitality is predicated of those who are not in goods of life from truths of doctrine; for the Word, in the sense of the letter, is not understood without doctrine, and doctrine is not perceived without a life according to it; the reason is that a life according to doctrine which is from the Word opens the spiritual mind when light flows into it from heaven and enlightens and gives to perceive. That this is the case he does not know who knows truths of doctrine and yet does not live according to them. The reason why “the fourth animal” showed “a pale horse” was that that animal was like “a flying eagle,” and by it was signified the Divine truth of the Word as to knowledges and understanding therefrom (n. 244).Therefore he showed that with those who were now seen there were no knowledges of good and truth from the Word, nor any understanding of them, and such in the spiritual world appear pale, like those who are without life.

“And his name that sat upon him was Death, and hell followed with him” signifies the extinction of spiritual life, and thence damnation. By “death” is here signified spiritual death, which is the extinction of spiritual life; and by “hell” is signified damnation, which follows that death. Every man indeed has from creation, and therefore from birth, spiritual life, but that life is extinguished when he denies God, the holiness of the Word, and eternal life; it is extinguished in the will but remains in the understanding, or rather in the faculty of understanding. By this man is distinguished from beasts. As “death” signifies the extinction of spiritual life, and “hell” damnation thence, therefore “death and hell” in some passages are named together, as in these: “I will redeem them from the hand of hell; I will liberate them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O hell, I will be thy destruction” (Hosea 13:14).

“The cords of death encompassed me; the cords of hell encompassed me; the snares of death prevented me” (Psalm 18:4, 5; 116:3).

“Like sheep they are laid in hell; death shall feed on them; hell is their habitation, but God will redeem my soul from the hand of hell” (Psalm. 49:14, 15).

“I have the keys of hell and death” (Rev. 1:18).

“And power was given them over the fourth part of the earth to kill” signifies the destruction of all the good of the church. Since by “death” is meant the extinction of man’s spiritual life, and by “hell” damnation, it follows that “to kill” here means to destroy the life of man’s soul; the life of the soul is spiritual life; “a fourth part of the earth” signifies all the good of the church; “the earth” is the church (n. 285). That “a fourth part” is all good cannot be known by anyone unless he knows what numbers in the Word signify. The numbers “two” and “four” in the Word are predicated of goods and signify them; and the numbers “three” and “six” are predicated of truths and signify them; thus “a fourth part,” or simply “a fourth” signifies all good, and “a third part” or simply “a third” signifies all truth; therefore “to kill a fourth part of the earth” here signifies to destroy all the good of the church. That “power was not given to him that sat upon the pale horse to kill a fourth part of the habitable earth” is evident. Besides, “four” in the Word signifies the conjunction of good and truth. That “four” has these significations may indeed be confirmed from the Word, as by “the four animals or cherubim” (Ezekiel 1, 3, 10; Rev. 4), by “the four chariots between the two mountains of brass” (Zechariah 6), by “the four horns” (Zechariah 1:18), and by “the four horns of the altar” (Exodus 27:1-8; Rev. 9:13), by “the four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth” (Rev. 7:1; Matthew 24:31), as also by “visiting the iniquity upon the thirds and fourths” (Numbers 14:18), and in other places by “the third and fourth generation.” By these and by many other passages in the Word, I say, it can be confirmed that “four” is predicated of goods and signifies them, and also the conjunction of good and truth; but since this would not appear without a prolix explanation of these passages, it is sufficient to mention that nothing else is meant in heaven by “four” and by “a fourth part.”

YOUR BOOK OF LIFE

YOUR BOOK OF LIFE

by Rev. Eric H. Carswell

“And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (Rev. 20:12).


For many Christians the book of Revelation has little clear meaning. Most people probably consider it to be ignorable. Those who try to understand it find it challenging. Fundamentalists see it as a prediction of a cataclysmic finale to the story of human life on this earth, and countless people have wondered when this finale would occur. Many words have been written trying to link past and present events with the images of destruction spoken of in Revelation to try to see when the second coming will take place. Its immanent arrival has been confidently predicted innumerable times over the last two thousand years.

The misunderstanding that surrounds this book is to be expected. None but the Lord Himself could reveal its true meaning. Human intelligence could spend five times the nearly two millennium that it has already had to try to interpret the book of Revelation and would still not find its true meaning. It is a fundamental truth of the New Church that the book of Revelation as well as the other books of the Old and New Testaments speak on a far deeper level than is seen merely in the literal sense. The book of Revelation does not primarily predict natural historical events any more than did the prophecies of the Lord’s first coming in the Old Testament.

Understood merely literally, the Old Testament prophecies appeared to promise a great and everlasting kingdom of the Messiah in which the Jewish people would have great prominence. Those alive at the time of the first coming who expected Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom were confused and bewildered by the way He lived His life in this world. Some probably lost faith when the Old Testament prophecies were not fulfilled by Jesus as they expected them to be. Likewise, many Christians have been confused and bewildered by the apparent lack of literal fulfillment of the prophecies of the book of Revelation. Some have lost faith, giving up on the prophecies of a last judgment and a second coming as having any meaning.

The traditional Christian interpretation of the last judgment has several features that differ quite strongly from the one presented by the Heavenly Doctrines for the New Church. The traditional view of all people waiting in the grave till the sounding of the great trumpet is one of those differences. The Writings for the New Church teach that life after death begins for each individual shortly after his natural life has ended. Another is that the crucial judgment of a person’s life does not take place by some objective individual apart from the person himself. A third is that life after death is not primarily a reward or punishment for our deeds in this world. There are many, many other differences. Many of them arise from a fundamental misunderstanding of the book of Revelation. Traditional Christianity has viewed the book of Revelation as speaking of earthly events that will some day take place in this world, while the books revealed for the New Church would have us recognize the images of that book as being spiritual realities, much of which has already occurred in the spiritual world.

The reality that the book of Revelation speaks of is that of a great judgment that has already occurred in the spiritual world. To understand what this book speaks of, a person must know a number of things about how judgment takes place after death. In the normal order of the life after death, both the good and evil seek the company of like-minded individuals with all being prepared over a period of time for their eternal home either in heaven or hell. From a mixture of good and evil, just as exists in this world, the different people separate themselves, with the evil seeking hell and the good, heaven. The evil do not desire to be in heaven because they cannot stand to be around those who are genuinely good. They rapidly lose their power to lead others astray, because the light of genuine truth existing in the spiritual world shows them for what they really are. This is a brief description of how the normal process of judgment occurs after each person’s death.

This process is absolutely dependent on the light of truth existing in that intermediate area between heaven and hell which is called the world of spirits. When the truth revealed to mankind ceased to provide the necessary basis for that light, disorder occurred in that intermediate world. The normal process of judgment could not go on. Rather than having hidden evil revealed, they could continue to hide. Rather than having the evil find their proper places in hell, they continued to dwell in the world of spirits and there they established a false life for themselves. It was false in that the true reality of their lives was hidden and they surrounded themselves with things that also did not reflect their true qualities. Their cities, gardens, rivers, even their sun, moon and stars were not from the Lord but from themselves and their own evil. As long as the light of truth did not shine in that world they could maintain the illusion of a false heaven. The images of great destruction recorded in the book of Revelation really did occur in the world of spirits when the light of truth once again shone in that world and the normal process of judgment could once again be reestablished.

Why is it important what a person thinks of the book of Revelation? The Lord has revealed all that He has for us in the world because He wants us to live as happy and as productive lives as we can, both now in our relatively brief natural life and also in our life after death continuing to eternity. Some of the wrong ideas that one can get from the book of Revelation could cause a person to spiritually stumble and fall. Some of them make for a sadder and more self-centered life than the Lord wishes for us.

Nearly everyone has seen the cartoon image of the man walking around in sackcloth through the busy streets of a city carrying a sign that announces that the end of the world is coming. His message is that we should turn our lives from our daily concerns. While it is very important that we recognize that each day gives us precious opportunities to serve the Lord, these opportunities will not be best fulfilled if we withdraw from the world, nor will they be best fulfilled if we cling desperately to each minute as our last, nor if we throw everything aside and live for the moment. The Lord does not want us to wait with bated breath for his arrival, thinking only of our own concerns and needs. He wants us to serve those around us. He wants us to live full, useful lives. Too great a fear of the end of natural life can lead to an impoverished approach to each day.

An important concept presented by the Writings about life after death is that the essential quality of our natural life will continue to eternity as our spiritual character. The lesson read today spoke of the judgment that win take place after death, and uses the image of a book of life that will be read. What is this book of life? One of the most horrible of all Christian heresies is that everyone’s spiritual destiny has been predestined from the beginning of time-written as in a book of who will go to heaven and who will not. Part of the reason this is horrible is because of the quality it ascribes to God. What kind of God would create some people to be inevitably damned to eternity just to satisfy some arbitrary balance? If God did not create each and every individual with the possibility of going to heaven, He would be more cruel than the worst individual could be in this world. Concerning this idea of predestination the book The Divine Providence makes the following observation:

It is cruel to believe that the Lord, who is Love itself and Mercy itself, suffers such a vast multitude of men to be born for hell, or that so many myriads of myriads are born damned and doomed, that is, are born devils and satans; and that He does not from His Divine Wisdom provide that they who live well and acknowledge God should not be cast into eternal fire and torment. The Lord is ever the Creator and Savior of all; and He alone leads all, and desires the death of no one. (DP 330).

Another reason why predestination is such a horrible idea is because of the spiritual apathy that it can arouse. If our spiritual fate is already predetermined, why bother trying to do anything about it? A person could become a complete fatalist, accepting everything that happened to him as inevitable. He would never try to work to make his life better or improve the lot of others, because all things would be accepted as being the way God intended them to be.

While very few people today would subscribe to an idea of absolute predestination by God, all of us are susceptible to the apathy that says we ourselves are fixed and unchanging or that those whom we have to deal with are the way they are due to an unchangeable nature. In some states of mind it is all too easy just to accept things as they are rather than use our best insight to try to improve them.

A person’s book of life is not something that is set before he has lived his life in this world. A person’s book of life is the sum total quality that he has gathered to his life by his choices in this world. It is the record of what he has thought and cared about each day of his life. It is not just a fist of good and bad deeds. We know quite well that actions seen by others in the world may have little relationship to the inner thoughts and motives behind them.

When we leave this world, we will have established what is more important to us than anything else. We will have accepted a ruling love that has worked to orchestrate all the other affections of our mind and from these all our thoughts and deeds. It is this ruling love that determines our eternal home after death. It is our book of life. Its pages are being recorded each day we spend in this world. Everything that we have thought, intended, spoken and done in the world is recorded there.

Swedenborg tells us of some people who after death still tried to pretend. As we learn of the basic rules in the Old Testament, the role of forgiveness in the New Testament, and comprehend why this is good in the explanations of the Writings, then we can re-direct our thinking and grow to be more in harmony with the Lord’s ways.

This is why He speaks to us in His Word. This is why He has revealed truths that can touch and stimulate every area of our minds. And this is the Lord’s second coming in truth. His Spirit of truth leads to all truth as our minds are opened to the wonders of His Word, and as we let that light shine our way. From the essence of love within the Lord that causes Him to speak to us, the Word in its threefold form would lead us back to that love. This is the male child that came from the woman clothed with the sun. This is the Heavenly Doctrine given us by the Lord. This is the Lord with us as we see and do His words. Amen.

Lessons: Revelation 12:1-6, 13-17, AE 724:1,2

Presented in Pittsburgh June 12, 1988


Apocalypse Explained 724:1, 2

And she brought forth a son, a male, signifies the doctrine of truth for the New Church that is called the New Jerusalem. This is evident from the signification of “son” as meaning truth, and of “a son, a male,’ as meaning the genuine truth of the church, consequently also its doctrine, for the truth of the church from the Word is its doctrine since doctrine contains the truths that are for the church. But the genuine doctrine of the church is the doctrine of good, thus the doctrine of life, which is of love to the Lord and of charity toward the neighbor; but yet it is the doctrine of truth, since doctrine teaches life, love, and charity, and so far as it teaches it is truth; for when a man knows and understands what good is, what life is, what love is, and what charity is, he knows and understands these things as truths, since he knows and understands what good is, how he ought to live, and what love and charity are, and of what quality a man is who is in the life of love and charity; and as long as these are matters of knowledge and understanding they are nothing but truths and thus doctrines; but as soon as they pass over from knowledge and from the understanding into the will, and thus into act, they are no longer truths but goods; for interiorly man wills nothing but what he loves, and that which he loves is to him good. From this it can be seen that every doctrine of the church is a doctrine of truth, and that the truth of doctrine becomes good and comes to be of love and charity when from doctrine it passes into life.

This doctrine that is here signified by ‘the son, a male’ is especially the doctrine of love to the Lord and of charity toward the neighbor, thus the doctrine of the good of life, which nevertheless is still the doctrine of truth. That the doctrine of the good of love, and thus of life, is here signified by “the son, a male’ can be seen from this, that ‘the woman’ who brought forth the son was seen “arrayed with the sun, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars,’ and ‘the sun” signifies love to the Lord, and “the crown of twelve stars’ signifies the knowledges of good and truth, and from such a woman and mother nothing else is begotten except what pertains to love and good, thus the doctrine respecting these.