Bearing Witness To Truth

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Bearing Witness To Truth A Palm Sunday Sermon by Rev Kurt H. Asplundh

“You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). When the Lord rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He was received as a king. A great multitude took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him. They cried out: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!” (John 12:13). It was a royal welcome. Not everyone was pleased. The chief priests and Pharisees hated the Lord. They cried out from the crowd while the multitude of disciples praised Him saying, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” He answered that the “stones would immediately cry out” if the people were silenced (Luke 9:38-40). The very rocks and stones of creation would bear witness to the sovereignty of the Lord. It was less than a week later that the Lord’s enemies would bring Him to the court of Pilate where this issue of kingship would be argued again. The chief priests and scribes had condemned the Lord before their own religious council with the charge of blasphemy in His claim that He was the Son of God. For this they wanted to put Him to death. Being a subject people, however, the Jews could not impose the death sentence. They needed the permission of the Roman governor, Pilate. Since the Romans had no interest in the religious laws of the Jews or their theological disputes, the Jews brought a different charge. Bringing the Lord to Pilate they said: “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King” (Luke 23:2). It was on this charge that Pilate questioned the Lord in the Praetorium. The question was: Did the Lord pose a threat to the authority of the Roman government? Was He seeking a following to overthrow those in power? Pilate needed to determine if the Lord was indeed the King of the Jews. In answer to Pilate’s question, “Are You the King of the Jews?” the Lord plainly said: “It is as you say” (Mark 15:2). But He added: “My kingdom is not of this world…. My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). This was a puzzling statement for the Roman administrator. What did Pilate know of other worlds? What kind of king could he be that had no temporal power? So he asked again, “Are you a king then?” The Lord answered: “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). What is the meaning of the Lord’s answer to Pilate? It is clear to us now. What He said was that truth is a king and that He Himself had come to present the truth to the mind of man. So He added: “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (Ibid.). Pilate was not a religious or philosophical man, but neither was he unintelligent. He understood from this testimony that the Lord’s purpose was to bear witness to a truth that would rule the minds of men. While he understood this, he was skeptical of it. The Word records his well known response. Pilate said: “What is truth?” (John 18:38) “What is truth?” The Heavenly Doctrine comments on this. From the question of Pilate “it is clear,” we are told, “that he understood that truth was called ‘king’ by the Lord… ” (Apocalypse Explained 31:3). What he doubted was whether truth was, indeed, king. His words pose the crucial question: “Is truth a king?” (Apocalypse Explained 27:4, Apocalypse Revealed 20) The rest of the account of the Lord’s trial is a sad confirmation of Pilate’s skeptical attitude about the power of truth. The truth did not rule the decisions that were soon to be made. Neither truth nor justice held sway in the tumultuous events that followed. From the moment Pilate appeared before the Lord’s accusers with the verdict: “I find no fault in Him at all,” hatreds, fears, angry emotions, and selfish ambitions took over. The rulers of the Jews did not want the truth from Pilate. They wanted their will. Time and again, they demonstrated the rejection of the rule of truth. This first happened in the matter of Barabbas. It was customary at their feast that one of the prisoners should be released. Pilate offered them “the King of the Jews” or Barabbas. As we know from exposition, this is a choice between the rule of truth or the rule of principles of murder and theft embodied by Barabbas. The crowd cried out vehemently: “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” “Not this Man!” What could be more clear? Later the Lord stood before the people wearing a crown of thorns and a purple robe after He had been whipped and mocked by the soldiers. “Behold the Man!” He said. He was inviting them to see how the truth had been violated, mocked and rejected. There was no remorse, no sense of loss. Impelled by another king, the spirit of self-love they had welcomed in their hearts, they cried out unmercifully, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Pilate asked: “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!” Imagine what that really means! The inner sense of what they shouted was that they were ruled by nothing but practical expediency. The Lord’s truth was of no importance to them. After the priests had cried out, spiritually denying the Lord, Pilate gave Him up to their will. He was crucified with two thieves at the place called Golgotha. The accusation affixed to the cross by Pilate read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). Even in His condemnation, the Jews objected: “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’” they said. Inwardly they were rejecting the Divine truth that should be king. Write “He said, I am the King of the Jews.'” But Pilate would not acquiesce to this. “What I have written, I have written” ( John 19:21, 22). And so the title stood in spite of their objection, the very truth of the matter is written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. It is not coincidental that the testaments which have borne witness to the Lord’s sovereign power also are written in these three sacred languages: the Old Testament in Hebrew, which declares the creative power of the one God of heaven and earth; the New Testament in Greek, which records His incarnation and redemption of the race; and the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem in Latin, which reveals the living Essence of His Divine Humanity. “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world,” the Lord declared, “that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). Let us ask ourselves on this Palm Sunday if we can be numbered among those who are “of the truth” who hear the Lord’s voice. Pilate was not among these. As he was a Gentile and knew nothing from the Word, he could not be taught that Divine truth is from the Lord or that the Lord Himself bore witness to Divine truth (see Apocalypse Explained 31:3). Pilate was not only skeptical of the power of truth but unaware that there was any source of authoritative truth. The Jews who wanted to crucify the Lord were not numbered among those who were of the truth. They had rejected the truth. We are told that “they desired a king who would exalt them over all in the whole earth. And as the Lord’s kingdom was not earthly but heavenly, they perverted everything that was said respecting Him in the Word, and mocked at what was foretold of Him. This is what was represented by their placing a crown of thorns upon His head, and smiting His head” (Apocalypse Explained 577:4). What of us? Are we “of the truth” and willing to hear the Lord’s voice? Do we welcome the King with joy and a willing heart? The greeting of the Lord with palms and Hosannas on that first Palm Sunday pictures a ready acceptance of the truth of the Word, an acknowledgment and confession of the Lord as our king. Is this our welcome or do we share the rejection of the Jews or the skepticism of Pilate, asking, “What is truth?” Is truth a king? Pilate recognized that the Lord was not a direct threat to the empire. Had He not said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews … ” (John 18:36)? What Pilate had not learned and did not know was the Lord’s teaching that the kingdom of God is within. “The kingdom of God does not come with observation,” He had said to the Pharisees; “nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20, 21). Here was a new concept to the Jews. Until now they had only an idea of kingdoms of this world, of nations and rulers and subjects under them. The Lord taught of a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom within us that is organized and developed by the spirit of truth. It is this “inner” kingdom that truth can rule. And when the spirit of man is ruled by truth, his actions in the world are also ruled by truth from within. By creation every man is free. He can be compelled outwardly and be forced to live according to certain laws, but he cannot be compelled to think or believe against his will. We choose the king of our inner life. And this is our real life. The convictions, the principles, the ideals we choose to live by, are the essentials of our true character. Is there power in these? The greatest power possible, far greater than the power of any dictator or outward force. The human spirit has proven indomitable. Tyranny’s rule is always short-lived. The desire for freedom that is deeply implanted in human hearts cannot be denied or forcibly suppressed. The issue is not whether we have spiritual freedom, but what spirit will rule within us. Will it be the spirit of Divine truth or the spirit of the world? Will we choose the Lord for our king or Caesar? The Lord has revealed Himself anew for the New Church, bearing witness to the truth as never before in the Heavenly Doctrine of the church. The Palm Sunday account is prophetic of a new and conscious reception of the Lord now possible for us. The New Church is named the New Jerusalem. While we have established organizations for the promotion of the Lord’s church among men, the New Jerusalem is really in the individual heart. How does the Lord enter this New Jerusalem? His approach to us is symbolically pictured in the New Testament. There He rode upon the colt of a donkey with garments and branches strewed before Him. Thus He physically entered that city. To us this signifies something that can take place again and again in our personal life: the subordination and guidance of our rational mind by the Lord’s teachings and the acknowledgment that Divine truths from the Word are the truths that should rule in our life. Palm Sunday takes place in the hidden kingdom of our spirit every time we are ready to receive the Lord. Let us pray for His promised coming. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you. He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). “You say rightly that I am a king …Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice!” (John 18:37). Amen. Lessons: John 18:28-40; 19:1-22; Apocalypse Explained 31:1, 3, 7.

Click to access BearingWitnesstoTruth.pdf


“Being able to provide arguments to support whatever you want is not intelligence; intelligence is being able to see that what is true is true.”

True Christian Religion 334

I Shall See Him, But Not Now

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, 11 December, 2005

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel. (GEN 3:15)

In the first chapters of Genesis, we learn the story of the earliest beginnings of the human race, for Adam and Eve are symbols that represent the qualities of the first beings who lived on earth and had immortal souls. The word “Adam” is a transliteration of the Hebrew “a-tham” which properly means “Man” or “Mankind.”

These most ancient people were different from us in several ways.

At first, they did not know evil. It could not have existed then, because the only things in the world at that time were there because God had created them, and God did not and could not have created evil. Because there was no evil in the world, those ancient people did not require any means to rise above their evil, so they were born with their will and understanding united as one.

If they heard something that was true, they immediately loved it and tried to do it. The very nature of their minds made it impossible for them to think one thing and do another.

Their choices were not between good and evil, as ours are, but between one good and another good – and therein lay the seeds of their destruction.

They were like the angels as to their minds and spirits, but they were like us as to their bodies. Some foods were more delicious than others, some sights more beautiful, some feelings more pleasant, and, enjoying those sensations, those people began to choose one good over another according to the sensual pleasure they would derive from it.

And in those circumstances, at that time, choosing a lesser good because it gave more personal pleasure was the same thing for them as choosing evil is for us, for it was turning away from God and towards self.

This is what is meant in the internal sense by the Woman being seduced by the serpent:

That this Most Ancient Church, represented by the woman, was overcome by the love of self, represented by the serpent.

As soon as this happened, the Lord foresaw that it must mean the end of the Most Ancient Church, for, as before said, those people had no means of rising above their evils because their will and understanding were united.

That church was doomed to suffocate in their own evils, represented by the Flood, and to give way to a new Church formed of a new kind of people, represented by Noah, whose will and understanding were separated so that they could desire to do evil, and yet know that they should not, and be able to refrain, to compel themselves to do what they knew to be right. (See AC2661:2, 4687:2)

The Lord also foresaw that the separation of the will and understanding by itself, although essential, would not be enough.

The Most Ancient Church had been in open communication with heaven, and so had been able to see God themselves – and still they had fallen away. He saw that this evil would, like a disease, have to run its full course before it could be defeated.

And He knew that He would have to meet it on its own terms in order to win the battle, that He would have to take on a physical human body and allow the evil to attack that body in the world before it could be brought under control.

And He knew that until that happened, the ultimate fate of the human race was in question.

Because the people of the Church represented by Noah would not have their will and understanding united, and therefore would not be able to be in open communication with heaven, the Lord provided a means for recording the doctrines of the church:

They were for the first time written down and so preserved for the Churches which were to follow.

In this way He sought to prepare men in the world for the great miracle of His birth on earth as Jesus Christ.

And the very first prophecy of His birth is found in God’s words to the serpent in Genesis 3:15, And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.

The evils of self love, represented by the serpent, would bruise the heel of Christ, they would cause the death of His physical body, but His spirit could not be harmed, and when Christ raised Himself from the dead by His own power, the head of the serpent was crushed, for it would never again have such power over men in the world.

The Lord never does anything without warning and preparation, and so, as the prophecies and documents of the Old Testament were written, the writers were inspired to include certain passages which told of the Messiah to come.

No one prophecy gave a complete picture, but rather each one added a little something to the others so that even in the literal sense a fairly clear picture of the Messiah and His mission was painted.

The second major prophecy of the Lord’s Coming is also in the book of Genesis, but this time in the later, historical portion. The prophecy is contained in the blessing that Jacob gave to his fourth son, Judah.

After comparing Judah to a lion, Jacob said, The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people (GEN 49:10).

Throughout the Word, Judah represents the celestial kingdom, or love to the Lord. Therefore, this prophecy tells us that sovereignty, represented by the sceptre, would rest with the angels of the celestial heaven until such time as the Lord came into the world to restore order and peace. The tranquillity that would result from the Lord’s Coming is represented by “Shiloh” because it is derived from the Hebrew word which means “peace” and “tranquillity.”

The sovereignty of the celestial kingdom refers to the fact that until the Lord came into the world Himself, and took on His own human body, He had to present Himself to men in the world by means of a representative, called the “Angel of Jehovah.”

The Divine Itself dwells above the highest heaven, and no created human can bear Its direct presence. And yet it was necessary that the Lord speak to men from time to time, to teach them, and to give them the prophecies that would prepare them for His Coming. So the Lord would use the spiritual body of a celestial angel, putting the angel’s mind and personality to sleep for a time, and then bring the man whom He wished to speak to into the spiritual world by opening the senses of his spiritual body. In this way man and God could meet on a middle ground without harm to either.

Because the Lord used the angels of the celestial heaven in this way from time to time, it was said that He ruled through the celestial heaven, the sceptre was in Judah – but only until Shiloh would come. Once the Lord had been born into the world, and had made His own human form Divine by the process of glorification, all that power that had previously passed through the celestial heaven was now taken up directly by the Lord Himself in His Divine Human.

We are told that the angels of the celestial heaven still have great sovereignty now, but only in so far as they, like all other people, are in the Lord’s Divine Human through love to Him. (See AC6371, 1069:4, 6362, 6373)

The next major prophecy of the Lord’s Coming is found in the 24th Chapter of the book of Numbers, and it is a part of one of the blessings that Balaam, a prophet who held the secrets of the Ancient Church, pronounced upon the children of Israel.

Balaam had been called by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse the children of Israel and to drive them out of his land. Balaam was only permitted to go to the king of Moab on the condition that he say only what the Lord put into his mouth.

And so on four separate occasions, commanded by Balak to curse the children of Israel, Balaam spoke instead the blessings commanded by the Lord, and in so doing, revealed more about the time, place, and nature of the Lord’s Coming.

He said, I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and batter the brow of Moab, and destroy all the sons of tumult (NUM 24:17).

The first part of the prophecy, I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near, reaffirms the previous prophecies, and tells us that the promise will be kept, but not here, and not now, as the time is not yet right.

However, the second part of the prophecy balances this by promising a sign that will be unmistakable, and will also reveal both the time and place of His Coming: A Star shall come out of Jacob.

This prophecy may have in fact been a fragment of a fuller prophecy to the Ancient Church which is now lost, for we read in the Arcana that such a prophecy existed from of old among the sons of the east, who were from Syria (AC3762:5), and we also know that Balaam was one of the ‘sons of the east’ that is, he came from Syria where there was a remnant of the Ancient Church (AC1675:5).

The wise men also were ‘sons of the east,’ and their knowledge of the Ancient Word and the science of correspondences made it possible for them to know where and when to look for the Star that led them to the Lord.

Isaiah was privileged to receive some of the most specific and detailed prophecies of the Lord’s life on earth.

His earliest prophecy of the Lord’s Coming was given to king Ahaz of Judah. The circumstances were that King Rezin of Assyria, and King Pekah of Israel had joined forces and were together attacking Ahaz in Jerusalem. Isaiah came to him in this time of extreme difficulty and brought the word of the Lord that the lands of his enemies would, in time, be forsaken by both their kings, and that the promised Messiah was still to come.

The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that in order that King Ahaz might be assured that his enemies would be defeated, he was told to ask for a sign, that is, proof so that he might be assured of the Lord’s help. The Lord especially wanted to protect Jerusalem because He wished to go there Himself when He came into the world for the sake of the things that would be represented by His visits, and therefore, in spite of the fact that Ahaz was an evil king, his capitol city Jerusalem was to be saved, and Isaiah gave him the miraculous sign that a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, whose name shall be God-with-us. (See AE706:15)

Finally, in one of the very latest prophecies of the Lord’s Coming, the prophet Micah tells us exactly where the Messiah would be born: But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting (MIC 5:2).

Bethlehem, a little village within the borders of Benjamin, was a good choice for the birthplace of the Lord for a number of geographic and political reasons.

The birthplace of Jacob and Rachel’s son Benjamin, and also King David, Bethlehem was conveniently near to Jerusalem.

The region itself was, from time to time, politically aligned with both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and for many years existed as a buffer zone between them.

Just as the child Benjamin was the pawn in the battle between his brothers Judah and Joseph, so the tribe of Benjamin became the buffer between Ephraim (the tribe descended from Joseph’s son) and Judah.

If you follow the history of Benjamin through the history of the Israelitish Church, you will see that tribe of Benjamin aligns itself sometimes with Israel, and at other times with Judah.

There is reason for this in the spiritual sense as well, for Judah represents those who are celestial, while Israel represents those who are spiritual.

Bethlehem itself represents the spiritual of the celestial within a new state. The reason the Lord was born there … was that He alone has been born a spiritual-celestial man. Everyone else has been born a natural man with the ability or capacity to become, through regeneration by the Lord, either celestial or spiritual.

The Lord was born a spiritual-celestial man to the end that He might make His Human Divine, doing so according to order from the lowest degree to the highest, and so would bring order to everything in the heavens and everything in the hells. For the spiritual of the celestial is an intermediate part between the natural or external man and the rational or internal man. (See AC4594)

In touching on these key prophecies of the Old Testament, we have tried to show that Lord foresaw from the very beginning that it would be necessary for Him to come into the world in a human form, and that from that time He began to prepare the way for that to happen in an orderly and timely fashion.

The various prophecies did not give such specific information that when the Lord was born there could be no doubt, for that would take away spiritual freedom. Rather, the prophecies provided confirmations so that the gospel writers, especially Matthew, could look back on these sayings of old, and in them see the careful preparation by the Lord, and so know that Jesus Christ was the Messiah as He said.

As we move into the Christmas season, let us reflect on the thousands of years of careful, orderly preparation made by the Lord for this event, and that it was all done for the sake of our spiritual lives.

And let us therefore prepare ourselves for the proper celebration of Christmas by thinking deeply about the effect of the Lord’s presence in our lives, and about what we can do to bring Him ever closer. AMEN.

First Lesson: GEN 3:1-15

(GEN 3:1-15) Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” {2} And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; {3} “but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’” {4} Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. {5} “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” {6} So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. {7} Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. {8} And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. {9} Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” {10} So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” {11} And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” {12} Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” {13} And the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” {14} So the LORD God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, You are cursed more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And you shall eat dust All the days of your life. {15} And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” Amen.

Second Lesson: ISA 7:1-17

(Isa 7:1-17) Now it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to make war against it, but could not prevail against it. {2} And it was told to the house of David, saying, “Syria’s forces are deployed in Ephraim.” So his heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind. {3} Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-Jashub your son, at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller’s Field, {4} “and say to him: ‘Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah. {5} ‘Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah have plotted evil against you, saying, {6} “Let us go up against Judah and trouble it, and let us make a gap in its wall for ourselves, and set a king over them, the son of Tabel”; {7} ‘thus says the Lord GOD: “It shall not stand, Nor shall it come to pass. {8} For the head of Syria is Damascus, And the head of Damascus is Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken, So that it will not be a people. {9} The head of Ephraim is Samaria, And the head of Samaria is Remaliah’s son. If you will not believe, Surely you shall not be established.”’ “ {10} Moreover the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, {11} “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.” {12} But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!” {13} Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? {14} “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. {15} “Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. {16} “For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings. {17} “The LORD will bring the king of Assyria upon you and your people and your father’s house; days that have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah.” Amen.

Third Lesson: AE 422:20

AE 422d. [20] In ancient times there was a church in many kingdoms of Asia, as in the land of Canaan, in Syria and Assyria, in Arabia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Chaldea, in Tyre and Sidon, and elsewhere; but the church with them was a representative church, for in all the particulars of their worship, and in every one of their statutes, spiritual and celestial things, which are the internals of the church, were represented, and in the highest sense the Lord Himself was represented. These representatives in worship and statutes remained with many even to the Lord’s coming, and thence there was a knowledge of His coming; as can be seen from the predictions of Balaam, who was from Syria, and who prophesied of the Lord in these words:-


I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not nigh; there shall arise a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel (Num. xxiv. 17).

That this knowledge was afterwards preserved is evident from this, that certain wise men from the east, when the Lord was born saw a star from the east, which they followed, which is thus described in Matthew:-


In the days of Herod the king wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him; and lo, the star which they saw in the east went before them till it came and stood over where the young child was (ii. 1,2,9).

The star appeared to those from the east because the Lord is the east; and because they had knowledge respecting the Lord’s coming from representatives that were with them, the star appeared and went before them, first to Jerusalem, which represented the church itself in respect to doctrine and in respect to the word, and from there to the place where the infant Lord lay. Moreover, a “star” signifies the knowledges of good and truth, and in the highest sense the knowledge respecting the Lord. Amen.


Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

Filling the Vessels to the Brim


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, Sept. 16, 2007

Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. (John 2:7)

Changing the water to wine at the wedding feast in Cana is generally regarded as the Lord’s first miracle. Tradition holds that it was the wedding of the disciple Nathanael who had been called only a few days earlier.

A wedding feast was the closest thing to a vacation that people had in those days in Israel. There were no annual holidays, no 3 day weekends, only dawn to dusk labor in the fields or in the shops, broken only by religious observances on the Sabbath. It is not surprising then, that when given the opportunity to spend several days in celebration that such an opportunity was not wasted. The large supply of wine ran out before the planned end of the feast. This would have been a great embarrassment to the hosts and to the bride and groom, and marked an unfortunate beginning to their marriage. No one would want to be remembered for hosting the wedding feast where they ran out of wine!

When the wine began to run short it was a matter of some concern to the friends of the groom. Mary, who was also a guest at the feast, came to Jesus to tell Him that there was no more wine. This incident is a secondary theme to the story, for it clearly establishes the relationship between Mary and the adult Jesus. Everywhere in the New Testament where Mary is called the mother of Jesus, the words come from someone other than Jesus. He Himself always refers to her as “woman.”1

That Mary came to Jesus with the problem shows that by this early date in His public ministry, she had already seen enough to be convinced that He was the Messiah. Her comments show her faith in Him, her assumption that He would wish to do something about the problems, and that she believed He had the power to do it.

That He rebuffed her tells us a number of things about His relationship to her: First, He called her “woman,” which suggests that whole body of doctrine in which we learn that the Lord came on earth to glorify His human, and put off all those hereditary and environmental things He derived from Mary. Also, it tells us that He wanted to wait until the time was right in His view to perform the miracle.

Mary, thinking about the feelings of the host, wanted Jesus to do something before people found out that they had run short of wine. Jesus, however, knew that the miracle would mean nothing unless it were generally known. He had to wait for the right time, until His “hour had come” so that the miracle would draw attention to His power and support His claim to be the Son of God.

The Lord carefully chose the time and place of every one of His miracles so that they would have the maximum impact. The only reason for performing miracles was to draw attention to Himself, to show His Divine powers, and to confirm the belief that many had in His Divinity. For example, if He had come to earth to be a healer, why did He then heal relatively few people? And why was He unable to do miracles in Nazareth? The only explanation is that He only did miracles to attract attention to Himself and His teachings, and to confirm belief in those who already believed, or were strongly inclined to believe. At the same time, the record of the miracles in the Word contained within them spiritual things which can be discovered by applying the Science of Correspondences.

Throughout the Word, weddings represent the church, because a wedding is the celebration of the conjunction of a man and a woman. A man represents truth, and a woman good. When people know the truth from the Lord, and do it, they are conjoining good and truth, and they make up the Lord’s church on earth. So the fact that the setting for this miracle is a wedding tells us that the main subject is the church.

That the wedding took place in Cana of Galilee tells us that this miracle is really about the establishment of the church among the Gentiles, for Cana was far removed from Jerusalem, and was populated for the most part by non-Jews.

We learn that the Gentiles, those with whom the Lord was about to establish the Christian Church, did have an abundance of external truths about life which they had received from the writings and traditions of the Jewish Church, for these external truths are represented by the 2 or 3 firkins of water kept in the house in six water pots of stone.

The number six represents “all” or “everything”2 and since it is here associated with stone pots full of water, it represents all the external truths of the Word. And because the stone pots of water were there for the purpose of ritual washings, they especially represent the external truths of the Word as received by the Jewish Church, for the purification from sin through ritual washings was the characteristic of that Church. That is why every Jewish home at that time kept stone pots of water near the door so that when a guest entered, water could be drawn and his feet washed by his host as a sign of welcome.

Wine, like water, represents truth. However, because it comes from grapes, and has gone through the process of fermentation, it has changed into something quite different. Therefore, wine represents spiritual truths, the truths of the internal church, the truths which the Lord had come to earth to reveal and with which He would establish the Christian Church.

So we can see that in general, making the water into wine stands for the process whereby the Lord would take the truths of the external church, that is, the truths of the Old Testament so carefully preserved and revered by the Jewish Church, and would make them into the internal truths of the Christian Church which was being established by opening the internal things that had lain hidden within them throughout the generations of the Jewish Church.

When we read about the ruler of the feast, and his reaction to the wine that the Lord had provided, we are being given an insight into the process whereby the Lord builds a New church on the foundation provided by the Old. As said before, the wedding itself represents the church. The tradition of serving the best wine at first, then the poorer wine later when the guests are no longer so discriminating represents the fact that each of the four previous churches established by the Lord have, in the process of time, declined. Specifically, this represents the decline of the Jewish Church. However, when the time of a church is at an end, the Lord comes again with new truth so that those who truly love the Lord and wish to do His will are inspired, and enfilled with a new vision of the church and heaven. This is represented by the delicious wine that was saved until last.

We read in the text that the wedding guests were surprised by the delicious new wine, and that many were unable to accept that it had been provided miraculously by Jesus. At the end of every church, new truth is revealed. Those who accept the new truth and carry it forward into life become the “remnant” of the old church from whom the new is to be built. The Lord, in His first public miracle, is announcing His miraculous powers, and therefore His divinity, thereby attracting those of the former church who are prepared to accept the new. Scripture tells us that although not all at the feast believed in Him, the disciples were inspired by this miracle, and their faith in Him increased.

We can easily see the “big picture” of this miracle, how the Lord, in His first public miracle is, in the internal sense, announcing that He has come to fulfill the Old Testament, to reveal the moral and spiritual truths that are contained in the letter of the Mosaic law, and inviting those Gentiles and Jews who are genuinely interested in spiritual things to follow Him and help Him establish a new, more internal, church. But what do these passages tell us that we can take home with us today and use in some way to make our lives better?

A home represents the mind, and, like the Jewish home where the wedding feast was held, we keep a great deal of water around: 2 or 3 firkins; 20 or 30 gallons; about 100 liters — in other words, during the course of our lives, we accumulate a great deal of information about the world. Water represents natural truth, the kind of truth which has for its subject the world and things in it. These are all important things that we need to know in order to maintain our homes, and keep our bodies healthy and fit for uses, but there is far more to life than the natural world and its delights.

If we are to be properly prepared for life in heaven, the water has to be turned into wine; the natural truths have to be reordered and enfilled so that they support spiritual goals, so that they lead our thoughts and actions toward the Lord and heaven.

The way this happens is represented when the Lord commanded that the waterpots be filled with water, and the servants filled them to the brim (text). Waterpots, being vessels which receive water, represents the mind which receives truth. Filling the water pots is, therefore, an image of learning.

The Lord Himself commands us to learn, to fill our vessels. Whether or not that water is turned into wine with us depends entirely upon our response. Do we approach learning half-heartedly? Do we fill the pots with only enough water to satisfy the master, to avoid getting into trouble, or do we learn with enthusiasm and interest, do we fill our vessels to the brim?

It’s not a simple thing. Imagine what life would be like for people in Etobicoke if we had to depend on the Mimico (or the Humber) for all our water. Imagine the effort of filling six 100+ liter cisterns by carrying the water yourself. It’s quite a job.

In the New Church we believe that even the simple can be saved, that if a man only knows one truth, but lives according to it because he believes that is what the Lord wants him to do, that he will find his way to eternal happiness in heaven. However, while such a person may be saved because he is far less useful than someone who knows many truths, he is not fulfilling the capabilities given to him by the Lord. The truth of the matter is that charity is the real life of heaven, and charity is according to the quality and the quantity of truth with a person.3

If we are planning a trip to a place some distance away that we had never visited before, we would certainly prepare ourselves by reading brochures and articles about the destination, and we would want to talk to others who had been there and could offer little tips that would go beyond what was mentioned in the articles. The more we could learn about the country before we actually arrived, the more relaxed we will be, and the more enjoyment we will get out of our visit. Do not the exact same rules apply about our future trip to the Spiritual World, a trip every one of us is going to take sooner or later?

Every truth that we learn is first of all a natural truth. When a little child learns that in the Word water corresponds to truth, he does not understand the spiritual truth within. He learns it as a fact, a natural truth, something he stores away with all the other assorted things that he knows. Adults learn spiritual truths in the same way — as facts presented to their minds as spoken or written words; natural truths. They are filed away in the memory with all the other things that are learned during the course of a day. And if that is all that happens, they soon fade into oblivion, like the contents of last week’s newspaper, or the water in the stone pots beside the door that is periodically used up and replaced with fresh.

How then is the water turned to wine? How do the natural truths become spiritual truths? How do we turn our attention away from the short term pleasures of the natural world so that we can reach out for the things of real, lasting value, spiritual things? By living them. Only through experience, through temptation, through seeing that the principles of the church do work for us when they are consistently applied in our life do we finally come to the point where we really see what the truths mean, because we have lived them. Only then does true spiritual understanding come. Spiritual truth and enlightenment come to us through plain, good old-fashioned work, just like anything else of real, lasting value.

There is no magic involved, no short cuts. The Lord has given us each a vessel, a mind, and commanded that we fill it to the brim. That means learning to how read the Word with understanding (which is the main focus of our school and the Society doctrinal class), and continuing to read and study throughout life as our understanding increases through the experience of life in natural world. Then, having made the truth our own through life, spiritual light will shine on those truths we have acquired through great effort, and it will be seen that instead of ordinary water, miraculously, in its place is the most delicious new wine. Jesus said to them, “Fill the water pots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim (text). Amen.

Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson: 2KI 4:1-7

A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves.” {2} So Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” And she said, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house but a jar of oil.” {3} Then he said, “Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors; empty vessels; do not gather just a few. {4} “And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; then pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones.” {5} So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured it out. {6} Now it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another vessel.” So the oil ceased. {7} Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest.” Amen.

Second Lesson: JOH 2:1-12

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. {2} Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. {3} And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” {4} Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” {5} His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” {6} Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. {7} Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. {8} And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. {9} When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. {10} And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” {11} This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him. {12} After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days. Amen.

Third Lesson:

[2] The primary thing of the rational with man is truth, consequently it is the affection of truth, which makes it possible that man may be reformed, and so regenerated. This is effected by means of knowledges that are of truth, which are continually being implanted in good, that is, in charity, that so the man may receive the life of charity. It is on this account that the affection of truth in man is predominant in his rational. For it is the case with the life of charity (which is the heavenly life itself) that with those who are being reformed and regenerated it is continually being born and growing up and receiving increments, and this by means of truths therefore the more of truth there is insinuated, the more is the life of charity perfected; wherefore according to the quality and quantity of truth, so is the charity with a man.

[3] From all this it may in some measure be evident how the case is with man’s rational. In truth, however, there is no life, but in good. Truth is only a recipient of life, that is, of good. Truth is as the clothing or garment of good; therefore also truths are called in the Word “clothing,” and also “garments.” But when good constitutes the rational, truth disappears and becomes as if it were good. Good then shines through the truth, in the same way as takes place with the angels, for when they appear clothed, it is a brightness inducing the appearance of raiment, as was the case also when angels appeared before the prophets. AMEN

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.

1 See SD 5992, AC 2574:2, 2649:2, AE 205:e, Lord 35, TCR 102

2 See AR 610:2

3 See AC 2189:2


Motherhood: Preparation for Heaven

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!” {50} “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” (Mat 12:49-50)

The doctrine of the Sacred Scripture tells us, in explaining the meaning of the fourth commandment, that by honor thy … mother a spiritual angel understands the Church, but a celestial angel understands the Lord s Divine Wisdom. (SS 67)

If we add to this the teaching that all things in the universe have been created “from firsts to lasts and thence into intermediates” (which means that all things come from God as a source. His life flows out from Him as the heat and light from a sun. This influx is received in the lowest things of nature, and from them then arise more complex forms of life). From these teachings we can then draw the parallel teaching that the Divine Itself flows out from God.

It is received in the Celestial Kingdom as Divine Wisdom; it is received in the Spiritual Kingdom as the Lord s spiritual Church; and in the Natural kingdom, that is, the world, as motherhood. This is why everywhere in the Word mother corresponds to the Church.

As we read in the Third Lesson, the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church tell us that the earth … is the common mother … for it receives the seeds of all plants, opens them, carries them as in the womb, and then nourishes them, and brings them forth … and afterwards clothes and supports them.& That the earth is the common mother … is illustrated by this that the earth in the Word represents the Church; and that the Church is the common mother. (TCR 585)

After having been received in the natural kingdom as motherhood, that influx of life then returns to the intermediate degree, that is, children, born in the world of nature, are nurtured and taught and prepared for spiritual life which they then receive when their natural body is laid aside in death.

Focusing on the role of the church as a mother as a means of receiving those gifts

“Mother” properly = the affection of truth, which makes the Church in man. (AC 4257E), so we regard the church as our spiritual mother.



In the spiritual sense, by to honor … the mother is meant to reverence and love … the Church Infants and Angels in the Heavens know no other … mother; because there they are born anew from the Lord through the Church. TCR 306

That by mother, in the spiritual sense, is meant the Church, is because as a mother on earth feeds her children with natural food, so the Church feeds them with spiritual food; and therefore the Church is called mother in the Word. The New Jerusalem means the New Church which is being instaurated by the Lord at this day& This Church, and not a former one, is wife, and mother, in this sense. TCR 3062

The role of the church in regeneration is like that of a mother in birth



It is known that the soul of man commences in the ovum of the mother, and is afterwards perfected in her womb.& The like is the case when a man is born again. AC 35704

Nurturing, protecting, preparing for heaven

Angel mothers


As these female Angels … had loved all infants from a tenderness as it were maternal, they receive them as their own; and the infants also … love them as their own mothers. There are as many infants with each Angel as she longs for from spiritual storge. HH 332

Early child care by loving mothers prepares a person for spiritual life



The love of the children with the mother is as the heart … because the heart corresponds to love … and love from the will is with the mother.& With spiritual men there is conjugial conjunction … from justice, because the mother has gestated them in the womb, with pain has brought them forth, and afterwards with unwearied care suckles, nourishes, washes, dresses, and educates them. CL 284

It is an innate quality of women to care for children, even if not their own



It appears as if mothers had the love of infants from nourishing them in the womb from their own blood, and from the consequent appropriation of their own life, and thus from a sympathetic union; but still this is not the origin of that love; for if, unknown to the mother, another infant were to be substituted after birth … she would love it with equal tenderness.& CL 3932

Such care is not without its reward for mothers. There is communication with the heaven of innocences which brings its particular delights



That the communication and the derivative conjunction of innocences is especially effected through the touch is clearly seen from the pleasantness of carrying them in the arms, embracing and kissing them, especially with mothers, who are [delighted] by laying their mouths and faces upon their bosoms, and at the same time with the touch of the palms of their hands there; in general, by their sucking their breasts & and also by softly touching their naked bodies, and by the unwearied pains in washing and dressing them upon their knees. CL 3962

The Lord is the source of all good and truth

But the Lord does not act apart from means

His influx into to the world comes by means of the Church in the heavens

The Church is represented in the Word by the word “mother”

Which means that we can learn about how the church works in our lives by studying the ideals, responsibilities, and uses of motherhood


It can be hard to give thanks to the Lord. He is not with us in the natural world. His presence with us is a matter of faith.

It is not nearly so hard to remember the endless gifts that a mother gives.

As we think about our mothers, let us be reminded of our Mother the Church

As we think about the Church and the benefits that come to us through it, et us give thanks to the Lord.




It is good to give thanks to the LORD, And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, And Your faithfulness every night, On an instrument of ten strings, On the lute, And on the harp, With harmonious sound. For You, LORD, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands. (PSA 921-4)

1st Lesson: GEN 1715-21

Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. {16} “And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.”

{17} Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” {18} And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” {19} Then God said “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. {20} “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. {21} “But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.”

2nd Lesson: MAT 1246-50

While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. {47} Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” {48} But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” {49} And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! {50} “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”

3rd Lesson: TCR 585

It has been taught by many of the learned that the processes of plant growth & correspond to human prolification. I will, therefore, add something on this subject by way of appendix.

In trees and in all other [kinds of plants] there are not two sexes & but everything & is masculine. The earth alone, or the soil, is the common mother, and is thus as it were feminine, for it received the seeds of all fruits, opens them, carries them as it were in a womb, and then nourishes them and brings them forth, that is, ushers them into the light of day, and afterwards clothes and sustains them.

3) That no one may be astonished at the statement & let it be illustrated by something similar among bees. According to the observation of Swammerdam, reported in his Books of Nature, bees have only one common mother, from which the offspring of the entire hive is produced. As there is but one common mother for these little insects, why not the same for all plants?

4) That the earth is a common mother may also be illustrated spiritually; and is so illustrated by the fact that in the Word “the Earth” signifies the church and the church is a common mother, and is so called in the Word.

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009


In the Midst of the Storm

Olivet Society

Church of the New Jerusalem

In the Midst of the Storm

July 25, 2010


First Lesson: 1KI 19:1-10

And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. {2} Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” {3} And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. {4} But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” {5} Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” {6} Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. {7} And the angel of the LORD came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” {8} So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God. {9} And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” {10} So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” Amen.

Second Lesson:  AC 2708:2

[2] In the Word ‘a wilderness’ can mean that which is sparsely inhabited and cultivated, or it can mean that which is totally uninhabited and uncultivated, and so is used in two senses. When it means that which is sparsely inhabited and cultivated, that is, where there are few dwellings, and where there are sheepfolds, pastures, and waters, it means that thing or those persons who, compared with others, have little life and light, as is the case with that which is spiritual or those who are spiritual in comparison with that which is celestial or those who are celestial. When however it means that which is totally uninhabited and uncultivated, that is, where there are no dwellings, sheepfolds, pastures, and waters, it means those who have undergone vastation as regards good and desolation as regards truth. Amen.


In the Midst of the Storm

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid. (MAT 14:27, MAR 6:50, JOH 6:20)

The description of Jesus walking across a stormy sea of Galilee to join His disciples in their boat is recorded in three of the four gospels. Each version is similar to the others in the main elements of the miracle. However, it is interesting that only Matthew mentions Peter’s attempt to walk on the water too.

There are three main elements common to each description given in the gospels:  First, that having achieved a great success with His teachings and the miracles of the loaves and fishes, it was necessary to escape from the crowds, whom, we are told in John, were going to “take Him by force to make Him king” (JOH 6:15). The disciples were sent off in a boat to cross the sea of Galilee, while Jesus Himself slipped away into the mountains to pray.

The second element is that once the disciples were in the midst of the sea that night, a dangerous storm began to blow. It does not seem from the scripture that they were in immediate danger of losing their lives, but they were in some distress. It says that they were “tossed by the waves” (MAT 14:24), and that they “strained at rowing” (MAR 6:48) because “a great wind was blowing” (JOH 6:18) and it “was against them” (MAR 6:48).

The third and final element of the story is during the “fourth watch” (MAT 14:25), that is, just before dawn, Jesus came to them, walking across the water. At first they were afraid, thinking Him a ghost — which is about as reasonable an explanation as could be expected under the circumstances – but when they recognized that it was Jesus they were no longer afraid. In fact, Peter wanted to try it himself, and at the Lord’s invitation walked part of the way to meet Him before his confidence faltered. When Jesus joined them in the boat, the “wind ceased” (MAT 14:32, MAR 6:51), and, according to John, “immediately the boat was at the land where they were going” (JOH 6:21).

On the level of the historical sense, these events serve to enrich the image we have of Jesus Christ and the way that people reacted to Him and His teachings. We are surprised that the people wanted to “take Him by force to make Him king” (JOH 6:15). We are interested to hear that faced with a crowd that was becoming unruly through its own enthusiasm for Him, He used the same technique that famous people today use to avoid the crowds — He sent the disciples off in the boat, attracting the crowds, while He Himself slipped off into the mountains.

When word of the events of that night was added to the list of miracles already achieved it would have attracted the attention of ever more people, people who might not otherwise have ever made the effort to seek out the Lord and listen to His teachings. And of course, to those who already suspected that He was more than just a teacher, that He was perhaps a prophet with as much power as the fabled Elijah, these events simply served to confirm their belief in His power, and prepared them to receive the things that were yet to come.

The Pharisees, and others like them, no doubt passed these events off as lies designed to mislead the people and weaken their own hold on the power to control them, leading them to hate the Lord even more, and to continue to develop their plans to destroy Him. Such men could not be convinced by any miracle, for their whole mind was turned toward defending and protecting their own particular view of life, and any truth could be twisted to that end so that they did not even believe the evidence of their own senses if it was contrary to their belief.

Even the most cursory examination of this story makes its symbolism evident:  The disciples leave the Lord and venture out to sea. They are faced with troubles which become more serious until they are frightened. The Lord returns, they are no longer frightened, the storm ends, and they arrive safely at their destination.

Such cycles occur frequently in our own lives. We get busy with the various activities of our lives and as it were forget the Lord. We face difficulties and temptations, and although we try very hard, we cannot make headway against them until we are frightened that we will fail. If we then turn to the Lord and invite Him into our lives by returning to order, the storm ends, the dawn breaks, and we begin a new cycle of life on a happy, optimistic note.

Clearly, since such an interpretation leads people to a life of order, and to have confidence that the Lord has the power to save them from life’s difficulties and lead them to a life of peace, it is therefore in harmony with God’s overall plan for the salvation of all men and is therefore a correct understanding of the lesson carried in the report of this event. This general understanding of the symbolic meaning of scripture can be brought into sharper focus by application of the Science of Correspondences revealed in the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem – and this is an important point about using correspondences to understand the true meaning of scripture – the application of correspondences to a particular story produces a meaning that is rarely different from the meaning that can be derived by anyone who is honestly trying to see how scripture applies in their own life. What the Science of Correspondences does is draw out those meanings in a systematic and detailed way, and serves to aid our understanding of passages that otherwise have no meaning to us at all, as those in the prophets.

The Writings do not add to the Word, but open it up in all its wonder, so that its Divine author can be seen ever more clearly. For example, we read in each of the three gospel accounts that the Lord sent the disciples off into the sea while He Himself went up into a mountain to pray (MAT 14:22,23; MAR 6:45,46; JOH 6:15-17). The Science of Correspondence tells us concerning these facts that in the Word there are two different kinds of wilderness, and they each mean different things. We use the word wilderness in several senses. To someone brought up in Paris, moving to any lesser city would be to live “in the wilderness.” It’s not really the wilderness, but relatively so, and we would understand that they did not mean it literally. On the other hand, there are places in the world that are utterly uncultivated and without inhabitants:  the great mountain ranges, the great deserts, the arctic wastes, and the seas. In the same way, when used in the Word, the word “wilderness” can mean either “the thing or those persons who, compared with others, have little life and light, as is the case with . . . those who are spiritual in comparison with . . . those who are celestial” (AC 2708) or it can mean “those who have undergone vastation as regards good and desolation as regards truth” (AC 2708). Therefore, the word “wilderness” used in the first sense, refers to those who are in a relative state of falsity and evil, but for whom we have every confidence that with work they probably can improve their spiritual state, while in the second sense it refers to those who are utterly without good or truth, and for whom there is little hope of reformation.

It can be seen that when the Lord went into the mountain to pray, it was a wilderness in the relative sense. It represented that He was entering a period of prayer, introspection and temptation. Because He was the Divine Being, it cannot be said that He was actually in a state of being without good or truth, but it can be said that He was relatively in a state of less good and truth.

The disciples, on the other hand, taking their boat out into the uninhabited and uncivilized sea of Galilee were actually entering the other kind of wilderness to represent the state of the Jewish Church:  that it was without good, that the truths of the Word, given by Moses and the prophets had been perverted and profaned, that the Jewish Church was at its end.

The Word also specifically uses the imagery of night and storm to show the spiritual states of the people of that time, people who sought to learn the truth and do what was right, but because they were so misled by the self-seeking leaders of their church, were unable to discern right from wrong. Specifically, we are told that “this was done in the ‘fourth watch’ to represent the first state of the church, when it is daybreak and morning is at hand, for then good begins to act through truth, and then the Lord comes” (AE 514).

We can see then that the disciples represent those people who, in any time and in any place, would like to know how to make their lives spiritually better, but simply don’t know where to turn for the answers they need. Such people are not scholars, or theologians, but they worry about their future, they worry about their children, and they want to do what is best for them.

The miracle of the Lord walking across the sea to the frightened, storm-tossed disciples, signifies His presence and love for even these, the most simple of people, those who know little but who are willing to hold to and obey those things they do know. Peter, the disciple who represents faith, represented the state of their faith when he tried to walk to the Lord. By itself, based on the limited knowledge then in their possession, that faith was not enough to support Peter, and he began to sink. But we must remember that the Lord quickly reached out His hand to support Peter and carry him back to the boat, saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (MAT 14:31) I believe He said these words to Peter gently, and with the affection of a father who is helping a beloved child try to do things that are as yet beyond his skill, patient in the knowledge that success will come with time, effort, and practice.

The meaning of this story is clear, no matter what level we study it on; whether the sense of the letter, the history of the church, the path of our own regeneration, or the Lord’s glorification:  Each of us, church, society, nation, or individual goes through cycles of light and darkness. There are times that we feel more powerful and effective than others, but it is the dark times, the sad times that worry us, that cause us to fear. Like the disciples, we struggle at our tasks, trying to make headway against the strong winds that try to drive us back. As we tire, we become aware of our own weaknesses, and we realize that by ourselves, without help, we will fail. The Lord cannot enter our lives without our invitation, and we are too full of the love of self and confidence in our own abilities to invite Him in when things are going well, and so, for the sake of our own spiritual lives, He allows the storms to blow, the waves the build, until we are once again aware of our own frailty. Once the true perspective is restored, once we can see ourselves as we really are, we are ready to accept the help that the Lord offers. And when we turn to the Lord, to the truths that He has given to guide our lives in the Word, the states that have been tormenting us are broken. The spiritual storm abates, and the sun comes out. When we bring ourselves into order, we are given a taste of heaven which is order itself. This pleasant state will continue as long as we continue in order.

It is not the Lord’s will that we face problems in this world. Problems come to us from hell, and as the consequence of our own free choices. He permits certain problems, however, because they can serve to improve our spiritual character. From time to time, He even allows a storm to brew so that we can learn that there comes a time when we must admit to ourselves that we are not all powerful, but that we need the Lord’s help to overcome problems that we cannot overcome by ourselves.

Let us not leave the subject thinking about the storms, rather let us remember that the Lord came to them, miraculously, at the time of their greatest need. He comforted their fears, calmed the storm, and brought them safely into port. And in so doing, He told all people for all time that He would do the same for them. But when (Peter) saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshipped Him, saying, “Truly, You are the Son of God.” (MAT 14:30-33) Amen.



The Promises of Baptism

The Promises of Baptism
A Sermon by James P. Cooper
Toronto, January 17, 2010

The sphere of the love of infants is a sphere of protection and support of those who cannot protect and support themselves. This sphere of innocence flows into infants, and through them into their parents and affects them. (CL 385)

A baptism is a wonderful thing, whether you are taking part, or just observing. We have all experienced the beautiful sphere that little children have around them, and that sphere seems to be multiplied and expanded when a young family comes before the Lord in the presence of their friends and family to take upon themselves the responsibility for their part in the spiritual growth and welfare of their child. That sphere is given by the Lord through the celestial angels who have been present with the child since conception. It is particularly received by the mother, who then (unconsciously) passes it on to her husband as part of her sphere of conjugial love.1 The result is that through the Lord’s auspices, the young parents are inspired to love and protect and nurture their little child in spite of the fact that from themselves they may find the whole business time consuming, inconvenient, and messy.

We are told that “from the Lord proceed two universal spheres for the preservation of the universe in the state created, of which the one is the sphere of procreating, and the other the sphere of protecting the things procreated. These two universal spheres make one with the sphere of conjugial love and the sphere of the love of infants.”2 God created the universe for the sole purpose that there should be a heaven from the human race. In order for that to happen and for it to continue to grow to eternity, there must be marriages on earth which produce children who are then taught by their parents and teachers how to grow up and marry and produce their own children who in turn can be taught the way to heaven. This is the purpose of human existence in the world of nature, and the Lord especially watches over and guides this part of our lives because it is so dear to Him.

It is of the Lord’s Divine Providence that each child is born into the world. From the moment of conception, the Lord watches over that new life, and from the moment of birth He is constantly guiding and gently leading that new human being to eternal life in heaven. And when, in his freedom, that new person makes a choice to turn away from what is good and true, still the Lord does all He can to lead to milder evils, and only permits those which can, at some time for somebody, be turned to good.

But even though everyone’s life is under the care and guidance of the Lord, especially little children, yet He has organized the world so that His government and leading of children is by means of their parents. The reason for this is that by co-operating with each other and the Lord in the uses of producing and preparing children to become useful adults in their own right, a husband and wife advance their own states of regeneration, and thus their states of conjugial love. It’s a common saying that you never really understand something until you try to teach it to someone else. That’s especially true when that someone else is a child you are trying to prepare for life in a dangerous and complicated world. We also find that the need to be a good example for the children helps us get rid of some of our bad habits and more external disorders.

The Heavenly Doctrines, when speaking about the various offices that men and women are each particularly suited for, teach that “the main office which confederates and consociates the souls and lives of two partners, and gathers them into a one, is their common concern in the education of their children.”3

From a purely natural point of view, it is obvious that mothers and fathers have different roles to play in the upbringing of their children. Generally, the majority of the care of little children falls to the mother, but as they grow older they require an ever widening variety of experiences and guidance, the father has more and more to contribute. While it may seem that the parents have widely different roles, yet their parts are brought together and made as one as they look to the Lord and consult with each other as to what is the wisest course to follow with a particular child, and through the mutual support that they provide for each other.

We know that it is a spiritual law that in heaven those who have similar loves live together in societies, because people are drawn to other people who love the same things. We see this illustrated in the natural world by the many kinds of clubs that are formed to provide for people who have similar loves to come together and enjoy what they share in common. Does it not follow then, that because a mother and father share a common love of their offspring, that that love, and the expression of it in the offices and duties of child rearing, should draw them ever closer together in their marriage? As it says in Conjugial Love, “It is also well known that these offices, regarded in their separation and in their conjunction, make one home.”4

While it is relatively easy to make promises to care for and guide a little child, we must remember that the later states are not always so sweet. Fortunately, the Lord has provided that we would have many pleasant memories of the child’s infancy to draw on when things become more complicated and difficult later on. What we need to remember in preparation for these states is that the promises made at baptism are principles for life, Divinely provided to guide and help throughout the time your children are with you.

The first of the five spiritual obligations that we incur by producing a child and having it baptized is that we must first and foremost seek enlightenment from the Word so we can be guided by the Lord in our part of the work. This has benefit for the child, the individual parent, and the marriage, for, as said before, you never really learn something until you try to teach it to someone else. Going to the Word to seek out the answers to your child’s questions forces you to do that which you knew you should do, but never found the time to do for yourself.

Every parent faces difficult questions about how best to handle different situations in their child’s life, and it is valuable to speak with other parents, and read articles that relate to the subject. However, we soon find that the more people we speak to, and the more articles we read, the more different answers we get to the same question. How do we determine what is right? How do we find our way through all these conflicting opinions? By looking to what the Lord has taught in the Word about the various states of life and the principles that apply. If we hold the Word as the standard, we will then be able to judge the value of the other sources of help that we have, and will be able to choose a wise course.

There is not time to do more than suggest the bare outline of the doctrine in the Word that serves to help parents understand and meet the spiritual and natural needs of their children, for there are series within series so that the more one studies the Word for guidance, the more one will find.

In the Old Testament, the early states of infancy and childhood, as the child moves from the pure innocence of the new-born into states where he is capable of wilful disobedience, are represented by the stories of the Ancient Word, the stories of Creation, the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, and the Tower of Babel.

As the child moves into the states where he is capable of wide movement and exploration, the early states of learning, his spiritual states and needs are described by the stories of Genesis and Exodus, particularly the giving of the Ten Commandments which must be obeyed without question or they will suffer dire consequences.

As they begin to go to school and become more and more self-confident and independent, they experience states which are described by the children of Israel establishing themselves in the land of Israel, and how they repeatedly cycle through states of disobedience, despair and punishment, and finally rescue when they turn back to the Lord who sends a Judge to guide them. The wise parent sees in these stories that it is impossible for a child to be happy all the time, that in fact the changes of state from happiness to despair are an important stage in the development of the independent and capable adult.

Eventually the child becomes a youth, and is no longer satisfied to accept orders from others, but feels the need to understand and perceive the justice and morality behind various decisions that affect his life. These are the states that are particularly addressed by the New Testament, especially in the parables which teach about heaven and the moral life which leads to it.

Finally, as the rational begins to awaken, and the young adult needs to see the spiritual truth behind the strict rules of the Old Testament and the spirit of morality in the New Testament, he can turn to the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church. The doctrines of the Church have sufficient depth that they will become a source of information and comfort throughout adult life.

The second obligation of parents is to do whatever they can to lead their children to the Lord, and by that is meant to teach children that the Lord is their Heavenly Father, and that He came to earth as Jesus Christ. It is extremely important that they learn many truths about the Lord, for we cannot love that which we do not know or understand.

The third obligation is to teach the Lord’s Prayer, for by so doing, the child is introduced into the basics of worship to the Lord:  through prayer they are taught that to humble self before God, through the words of the Lord’s prayer they are taught that there is a God, that He is One, that He alone is to be worshipped, that He is the source of all life, and that He punishes the guilty and rewards the good with eternal life. Through daily repetition of the Lord’s prayer with his parents, the child is brought into the sphere of worship and an acceptance of God which will serve to support him in times of physical and spiritual crisis throughout his life in this world.

The fourth obligation is to teach the Ten Commandments, that is, to give the child a reasonable structure of rules against which he may test himself and so learn right from wrong, and thus prepare himself to live and work in the community of men. As the child learns to keep the commandments for himself through self-discipline, he is learning to shun evils as sins, and thus is putting himself on the road to repentance, reformation, and regeneration. Also, by a thorough knowledge and understanding of the Ten Commandments, the child is given a standard by which he may judge his own and other’s behaviour throughout his life. If he knows the Ten Laws thoroughly, all he need do is ask himself, “Would the Lord want me to be doing this?” and his conscience will speak truly to him, leading him away from the paths of evil.

The fifth and final obligation is teach the child from the Word, by instruction and example. We must always remember the trust that parents are given when they receive children from the Lord. Children look to their parents as the final authority on all subjects. We read from Conjugial Love, “Everything which they receive they ascribe to their parents. They love their parents, their nurses, and their infant companions with whom they play in innocence. They suffer themselves to be led. They listen and obey”5 – unless the parents abuse their responsibility and fail to teach their children about the Lord, thinking that somehow they are “leaving them free to make their own choice.”

To this we can only answer that the only free choice is a rational choice, and a rational choice can only be made when there are many truths to select from. The less truth a person has, the less free he is. And so, it is our moral and spiritual obligation to teach our children as much about the Lord and the Church as we can, and when we do not know the answer, teach our children that we are willing to go to the Word to search for it there. By so doing, we will be protecting their freedom of choice in spiritual things, and at the same time bringing ourselves closer to God.

Children are only loaned to us. From the moment they are born they begin learning things about the world around them, and the more they learn for themselves, the less they depend on their parents. This is in order, for in this way from being sensual, they become natural, then rational, and eventually spiritual and are prepared for a life in the Lord’s spiritual kingdom. So parents must understand from the very first that it is their job to prepare their children to leave the home and begin a new home on their own. However, the Lord has also provided that as children recede from their initial states of innocence, so does the parent’s love of the children.6

It is nevertheless useful for us to remember that by meeting the five obligations of baptism

to seek enlightenment,

to lead to the Lord,

to teach the Lord’s prayer,

to teach the Ten Commandments,

and to teach from the Word

we will promote the child’s happiness and eternal welfare both in this world, and in the world to come. And, at the same time, by working together and looking to the Lord for help we will be working through our own states of regeneration and developing our states of conjugial love.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is His reward. Like arrows from the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. Amen.

First Lesson:  PSA 127

Unless the LORD builds the house, They labour in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain. {2} It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so He gives His beloved sleep. {3} Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. {4} Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. {5} Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate. Amen.

Second Lesson:  LUK 18:9-23

Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: {10} “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. {11} “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. {12} ‘I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ {13} “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ {14} “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” {15} Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. {16} But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. {17} “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” {18} Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” {19} So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. {20} “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honour your father and your mother.'” {21} And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” {22} So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” {23} But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich. Amen.

Third Lesson:  CL 385

There are evidences which show that conjugial love and a love of little children which is called storgé are conjoined; and there are evidences as well which may induce a belief that they are not conjoined. For a love of little children is found in married partners who love each other from the heart, and it is found in partners who are discordant in heart; and also in partners who have separated, and sometimes tenderer and stronger in them than in others. But it can be seen from the origin from which it flows that a love of little children is still forever conjoined with conjugial love. Even though the origin varies in its recipients, still these loves remain undivided, just as any first end in the last end, which is the effect. The first end of conjugial love is the procreation of offspring, and the last end, which is the effect, is the offspring produced. The first end enters into the effect and exists in it as it was in its inception, and does not depart from it, as can be seen from a rational consideration of the progression of ends and causes in their series to effects. Amen.

The Use of Recreation

The Use of Recreation

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 27, 2008

Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring you a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts (Gen. 18:4,5)

Our text for today comes from the story in Genesis where the Lord appeared to Abraham and Sarah to confirm the covenant with them. Abraham had been called by Jehovah to travel to Canaan and beyond when he was a young man. Jehovah had shown him Canaan and promised that it would be the homeland of a great nation, and that his descendants would fill it. Abraham was then led to travel into Egypt, and other lands.

All the while he was becoming richer, he was also becoming older, but he had fathered no children. He must have wondered how the Lord would fulfil His promise of descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven as he and Sarah approached old age, childless.

Sarah, believing that she had passed the age of childbearing, gave Abraham her handmaiden, Hagar, so that she could obtain children through her. Ishmael was born to Hagar in Abraham’s 86th year. But the Lord had intended that the nation that He was to establish would come from Abraham and Sarah, and so in Abraham’s 99th year, the angel of the Lord came to visit Abraham in his camp.

Abraham invited Him to wash His feet, to rest, and to enjoy his hospitality. While Sarah was busy preparing a feast for them, The Angel told Abraham that Sarah was have a son. Sarah, overhearing, laughed at this prophecy, for she knew she had passed the age of childbearing. Thus, because she had laughed at the news, when their son was born, just as the Angel had promised, he was named “Isaac” which is Hebrew for “laughter.”

The covenant had been miraculously established. The Lord had shown His power and good faith. Now it was up to Abraham and his descendants to return that faith to the Lord by obeying the conditions of the covenant. And therein lies the story and the drama of the Jewish nation.

The reason for considering this text today is that it is an example of the importance of rest and recreation in our spiritual and natural lives. Abraham and Sarah had travelled many miles and had many adventures while following Jehovah. Through their experiences they had progressed from believing that Jehovah was one of the Chaldean idols, called “god Shaddai,” to believing that Jehovah was the most powerful of all the gods. More and more they had come to understand and accept the mission that they were called to perform, and on the way they had successively put off the false ideas and evil loves that they had originally had. In other words, we can see the steps of reformation and regeneration in the life and travels of Abraham and Sarah that culminated in the visit of the Angel and the subsequent feast in His honour.

This shows that rest and relaxation, feasts and entertainments, are an important part of our spiritual lives. We cannot be regenerated by the Lord without them, for they provide a balance and contrast that allows us to return to our occupations, uses, and spiritual growth with renewed vigour and enthusiasm.

The human mind does not just enjoy variety, but actually requires it to function properly. While we live in the natural world, we are primarily conscious in the rational degree of our mind. The word “rational” is from the root word “ratio” which means to compare one value to another. The rational mind functions by weighing one thought against another, by comparing their values, examining their differences. Without a variety of truths, the rational mind would first become bored, and eventually whither and die.

There is a similar situation in regard to vision. Although it is not a common experience among people who do not live in Arctic regions, it is true that people can become temporarily blind during white out conditions, when sky and land merge into an indistinguishable whiteness and the brain is no longer able to process information that is completely uniform. We need all kinds of visual cues to establish distance and scale, and if denied that information, the visual centres of the brain shut down. (This is different from the situation where one finds it hard to see when coming into the house after being out in very bright conditions for a while).

The brain works in a similar way to filter a steady noise out of the environment. Visitors often notice noises that long time residents no longer notice unless something calls their attention to it. They have become deaf to a noise that exists in their environment without variety.

The same kind of numbness can occur in the mind in every employment, no matter what it is. Even if the job itself requires quite a variety of activities, there is an affection the underlies every employment, and it strains the mind as it keeps it intent upon the subject of the work or study. If this affection and drive is not relaxed from time to time, the mind becomes dull, and the desire to work flags, as does the delight and satisfaction that is derived from the job. (See Charity 190)

Sometimes we allow ourselves to believe that our personal success, and the regard of others, depends on our being able to keep our “nose to the grindstone” and our “shoulder to the wheel” in spite of the minor inconveniences of the demands of our bodies to rest, to do something, anything, else. We feel guilty for every moment “stolen” from our work. The doctrines of the New Church make it quite clear that such guilt is misplaced, that in fact we are more useful to ourselves, to our families, and to our employers when we take appropriate opportunities to enjoy some variety in our life.

The recreations we choose correspond to the interior states of our affections and the physical needs of our bodies (See Charity 191). The interior quality of the various diversions varies according to the affection of charity that is in us that inspires those types of recreation (See Charity 192).

Provided that the affection of charity is within them, then virtually any form of recreation that stimulates the senses through variety, or a change of scene, serves the use of recreation. And, while involved in that recreation, the underlying love of use remains interiorly within the recreation. Without necessarily being conscious of it, the mind knows that this rest and recreation is actually serving the use that it resting from. While playing, the affection for the use of life is gradually renewed, and there is a sense that the time for play is done when the longing to return to the use signals that the state is complete. And the amazing thing that the Heavenly Doctrines reveal, is that those who love their use, and relax in order to return to their use invigorated are given an interior sense of pleasure in their relaxations that far exceeds the pleasure of one who seeks recreation and relaxation as an end in itself. (See Charity 193).

Having established the principles behind the use of recreation, the Heavenly Doctrines then go on to give a number of examples of the kinds of things that are good ways of giving the mind and body refreshment so that it can return to its primary uses refreshed. The following list is not meant to be all-inclusive, but merely to serve as examples of the kinds of things that refresh the mind. We are certainly free to add other, modern forms that abide to the principles set forth.

The first example given in the work on Charity is conversation with others on public, private, and economical affairs. We need look no further than the popularity of refreshments after church functions to see the truth in this.

The second category regards pleasures for the sense of sight, and includes such things as walks in cities in the sight of palaces and house, or in the country where trees, flowers, and animals can be observed. It also includes spectacles of various kinds which are representative of the moral virtues, and events where something of the Divine Providence shines forth. An exciting movie or play where good triumphs over evil is a form of recreation sanctioned by the doctrines, as is watching a sporting event, and seeing the fortunes of the teams as illustrations of the principles of the Divine Providence (See Charity 189).

The third category of recreation is things that give pleasure to the hearing such as various kinds of music which correspond to the affections and stir them, and also jokes and funny stories that exhilarate the mind — provided they are decorous (puns, stories that do not ridicule – the Latin word for laughter – individuals or groups)

The fourth category regards things that give pleasure to the other senses, such as banquets, feasts, and other entertainments. If the conversation at such a banquet regards many various domestic and civil subjects, but especially as these matters relate to the Church and its doctrines, and if the conversation proceeds with charity towards all, then the spiritual sphere is one of love to the Lord and the neighbour. It cheers the mind, and spreads a warm feeling of cordiality among the guests. Such was the sphere of the banquets and feasts among the early members of the Christian Church, and they were called “feasts of Charity” because the Lord was at their centre (See TCR 433).

Unfortunately, although it is the goal of our Church dinners, the doctrines tell us that such “feasts of Charity” are rare in our modern world, primarily because our interests and thus our conversations are seldom centred on the Lord. Instead, today the social conversations of friends has no other end in view than the pleasure of conversation itself, the intellectual exhilaration from the exchange of ideas, the expression of pent-up thoughts, and so forth (See TCR 434)

Other examples of good forms of recreation suggested by the doctrines are games played at home with dice, balls, and cards; dances at weddings and other festive gatherings; hobbies, or “labours of the hands” that give motion to the body, and divert the mind from the works of its calling; and finally the reading of books and newspapers (See Charity 189).

All the above has presupposed that the person enjoying the recreation is in charity, and does their work for the sake of the Lord and the use that it performs for others. The recreations of those who work only for the sake of their loves of self and the world refresh themselves differently. The doctrine of Charity teaches that, They rush into voluptuous pleasures, into drunkenness, luxury, whoredoms, into hatred, vindictiveness, and slander of the neighbour, if he does not do them honour. And if from time to time they are not raised to higher honoris, they come to loathe their employments, and give themselves up to leisure and become idlers; and after their departure from the world they become demons. (Charity 194)

The conclusion we must draw from these teachings is that sports and various other forms of recreation have been provided for our refreshment by the Lord, and like any other gift from the Lord, they are to be used wisely so that they are not abused. Sports and recreation are to be seen in their proper perspective:   When they are used to restore and invigorate the mind and body to prepare it to return to the use of life, they are in order and give great pleasure. They are not to be ends in themselves, but they are in order and delightful when they serve higher uses, allowing us to return to the use of our life refreshed and with renewed enthusiasm to serve the Lord and the neighbour each in our own unique way. AMEN

1st Lesson: GEN 18:1-8

Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. {2} So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, {3} and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favour in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. {4} “Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. {5} “And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.” They said, “Do as you have said.” {6} So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.” {7} And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. {8} So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate. Amen.

2nd Lesson: Mat 11:28-30

“Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. {29} “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. {30} “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Amen.

3rd Lesson: Charity 190 – 191

  1. These are diversions for everyone who is in office or employment. They may therefore be called the diversions of offices or employments. But really they are diversions of the affections from which one engages in his employment. There is an affection in every employment, and it strains the mind, and keeps it intent upon its work or study. This, if it be not relaxed, becomes dull, and its desire flags, as salt that has lost its savour, so that it has no pungency or relish; or as a bent bow, which, unless it be unbent, loses the power that it derives from its elasticity. Just so the mind, kept from day to day in the same ideas, without variety. So the eyes, when they look only at one object, or continually upon one colour. For, to look continually at a thing which is black, or continually at red or at white, destroys the sight. Thus, if one looks continually at the snow the sight is destroyed; but it is enlivened if he looks in succession or at the same time upon many colours. Every form delights by its varieties, as a garland of roses of different colours arranged in beautiful order. Hence it is that the rainbow is more charming than the light itself.
  2. When the mind has been continually upon the stretch, at its work, it aspires to rest; and when it rests it descends into the body, and seeks there its pleasures, correspondent to its mental operations, which the mind chooses, according to its interior state in the viscera of the body. The interior things of the body derive their pleasures chiefly from the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, delights which are in fact drawn from outward things, but yet insinuate themselves into the single parts of the body, which are called members and viscera. From hence and from no other source have they their delights and pleasures. The single fibres, and single tissues of fibres, the single capillary vessels, and thence the common vessels, and so all the viscera in common, derive their own delights; which a man then perceives, not singly but universally, as one common sensation. But just as is the mind within them, from the head, such are the delights, pure or impure, spiritual or natural, heavenly or infernal. For within, in every sensation of the body, is the love of his will, with its affections; and the understanding makes him to perceive their delights.

For the love of the will, with its affections, constitutes the life of every sensation; and the perception thence of the understanding produces the sensation. Hence come all delights and pleasures. For the body is a connected work, and one form. Sensation communicates itself, like a force applied to a chain with its single links; and as a form which has been wrought together from uninterrupted links. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2008 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

A Land For Which You Did Not Labour

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

Toronto, March 15, 2009

          I have given you a land for which you did not labour, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant. (JOS 24:13)

Our text for today is taken from the last chapter of the book of Joshua, and is a part of his final speech to the children of Israel when he was one hundred and ten years old and knew that he was about to die.

Joshua was born in Egypt while the children of Israel were still slaves. He had seen the Lord strike Egypt with the Ten Plagues and he had seen Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea. He had been one of the spies who went ahead into the land of Canaan and reported that it was a “land of milk and honey” (NUM 13:27). Joshua also reported that there were giants in the land, but he and Caleb were certain that they could be defeated with the Lord’s help. Unfortunately, the rest of the people were not so sure, and they rebelled, unable to trust in the Lord, and were condemned to wander in the wilderness until all those who had been born slaves in Egypt and thus who had a subservient, helpless mentality had died. Not one of those who had been slaves in Egypt would enter the Land of Canaan, except for Joshua and Caleb.

Joshua led the army in their very first battle against the Amalekites, the battle where the children of Israel would win only as long as Moses held his arms up. Joshua took the children who were born in the wilderness and trained them to be soldiers capable of the courage required to follow Jehovah into Canaan. Joshua was chosen to lead the children of Israel into Canaan upon the death of Moses, and because of his constant faith that it was Jehovah who fought their battles, they swept into Canaan and conquered the land, North and South, in a few years.

Finally, as an old man, near death, Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel together in Shechem, and there he reminded them of their history, how as a people they had begun when Jehovah had called Abram, the son of Terah, from Ur of the Chaldees. He reminded them that in the beginning, Abram and his family had worshipped idols, but how they had come to worship only Jehovah as they had seen so many different miracles that proved that He was almighty, and His power was everywhere. Joshua reminded them of all the times that the children of Israel had been in trouble, and Jehovah’s power had saved them. He also reminded them of all the times that they had turned away from Jehovah to worship other gods and how then the other nations had been able to defeat them easily. It should have been obvious to anyone that without Jehovah’s help they would have never been able to conquer the land, and without Jehovah’s help they would soon be driven out. Throughout his speech, Joshua’s emphasis was to remind that they had a covenant with Jehovah, that as long as they obeyed His commandments, and did not worship idols, He would be there to protect them from their enemies, and to help them keep the land of Canaan as their home.

The whole focus of Joshua’s speech was to draw attention to their dependence on Jehovah for everything, and in particular, to the fact that they had been given a beautiful, verdant homeland that they could have had no hope of winning without Jehovah fighting their battles for them. Joshua, speaking for Jehovah said, I have given you a land for which you did not labour, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant (text).

This is one of those verses of scripture that stands out because of its structure, and its symbolic message which applied literally to the children of Israel, and at the same time symbolically to people of all nations and all ages.

The doctrines of the New Church reveal that the whole of the Word, the Old and New Testaments, is a parable that has meaning on many levels. We read in Mark that, Without a parable He did not speak to them (4:34). These parables were then later explained to the disciples, revealing the meanings contained within them. But the disciples were simple fishermen, and although they could understand a deeper meaning to the parables, they could not see all the Divine meanings within. The Lord said, I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now (JOH 16:13), and told of a time when the Spirit of Truth would come to lead into all truth (Cf. JOH 16:14). It is our belief that by means of the Science of Correspondences, revealed through Emanuel Swedenborg, the Spirit of truth is revealed within the letter of the Word.

The Science of Correspondences gives us certain consistent rules which anyone can apply to passages from scripture to learn the spiritual truths which lead to eternal life which are contained within. For example, just as there is a trinity in the Divine Itself, there is a trinity in the Word. That trine is expressed in our text by the three rewards which are given by the Lord without labour on the part of the children of Israel:  food which they did not plant; cities which they did not build; and a land for which they did not labour.

In the Word, food represents the good that is from the Lord, while cities, because they are built of stones which represent truths, represent a religious doctrine. The land of Canaan itself represents heaven, the kingdom where all live to eternity performing uses for the Lord and one another. Thus it can be seen that there is a trinity of good, truth, and use in this passage.

There is also a duality in the Divine, the conjunction of the Divine Love with the Divine Wisdom. This too can be seen in our text:  The Lord has given us food to eat and a place to live. Olive groves and vineyards on the one hand, and a land with cities already built on the other. We see the duality of the Divine Good or Love, and the Divine Truth or Wisdom expressed here.

And again, each part has its own duality of good and truth:  The olive, because it produces an oil which is used for food, to cleanse, to light homes, and to anoint kings, represents the celestial kingdom, or love to the Lord, that is, those things that are good (See AC 2722, AE 617:13, 638:9). Vineyards produce wine, a drink, which represents the truth that we need to satisfy our “thirst” for knowledge. A vineyard in the Word represents the Spiritual Church, or the Church as to truth (See AC 2722, 9139).

A similar duality of good and truth is seen in the land with its cities. The land, because it nurtures and supports the growth of food, represents the feminine, the “mother” earth. Cities, because they are made of stone, and designed by man, represent the doctrines of the various churches, thus there is the duality of good and truth with the city of doctrine rising out of the good earth, showing us that a true Church has to be based on a life of good and charity toward the neighbour.

But the main thrust of the text is seen when these elements are viewed in the context of the whole. The history of the children of Israel begins when Abram is called by the Lord to follow Him. Abram, like his father Terah, worshipped idols, and thought God was one of his local gods, named Shaddai.

At first, we are all idolaters. We worship many different gods:  we worship ourselves, the world, money, status, position, sports, entertainment – the list of gods in our pantheon is quite extensive. Abram, Isaac, and Jacob were led by many miracles and visions to see that Jehovah, as they came to know Him, was a very powerful god. Unlike other gods, He had power everywhere. He could help them in Egypt, and in Canaan. In their pragmatic approach to life, they could see that it was to their advantage to follow Jehovah, for He had abundantly shown that He had real power.

We make the same kind of pragmatic decisions in our own lives, we try many different ways of living, and we tend towards the way that is most in harmony with our view of life. We begin to realize that we cannot live just for the pleasure of the moment, but that we have to learn to delay gratification for the sake of some later benefit. We choose the god that is the most powerful. In so doing, we have to make choices. We have to restrain ourselves, and it is difficult to stop doing things we love to do. Like the children of Israel, in order for us to enter the land we have to fight and overcome many enemies. In our lesson we read how the children of Israel fought against the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Moabites, the people of Jericho, the Canaanites, and others.

Each of these nations represent different hereditary evils, natural inclinations to do evil that we inherit from our parents. The number and variety of nations that had to be conquered reflects our own observation that life in the world is full of temptation and spiritual combats as we try to live according to the standards we have set for ourselves from the Word, while at the same time we are beset by the desire to do all many of selfish and worldly things.

If we were to attempt to fight these Canaanite nations, these hereditary evils from our own strength, we would certainly fail. However, that is not necessary. We have to fight them as if of ourselves. That means that we must make the decision to fight from our own free will, but that the actual strength, the power to drive hell away is a gift from the Lord. As He said through Joshua, then you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho. And the men of Jericho fought against you – also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I delivered them into your hand (JOS 24:11).

Fighting against evil as if from self can be explained by thinking of a huge machine, a machine so powerful that it can scoop up and lift a whole truck full of earth in one bite. Such a machine may itself be larger than many buildings, and require huge amounts of power to operate. But remember, deep inside that machine is the operator, a human who controls every powerful movement with a simple push or pull or twist on a hydraulic control. The operator has no power to dig on his own, but through his freewill choices, he makes the machine dig.

Just as the Lord promised, with no more effort than it takes to utter a prayer, we can literally move mountains!

In a manner of speaking, we have been given control over the most powerful force in the universe. The Lord Himself stands ready to fight hell for us, but only we ask Him to, only if we consciously and deliberately choose to do what we know from the Word to be right rather than what we feel from ourselves to be pleasant.

When our life in this world is done and we have, with the Lord’s help, conquered in temptation, we will enter heaven, the kingdom of eternal uses. Heaven is a place for which we did not labour. The Lord created and continually maintains heaven, and welcomes all who wish to live there. It is He who drives hell away from man. It is the Lord who labours to bring us to our reward, who labours from His love for us. The Lord is the source of all truth, and the truths from His Word are the building blocks with which we build the church within ourselves. And our spiritual hunger and thirst are satisfied by the goods and truths that He provides.

All these wonderful things have been promised to us. We can believe that promise because we have seen the miracles that the Lord did for the children of Israel in our minds when we read the Word. As He established His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so He offers to establish His covenant with us. If we will turn away from other gods, and follow His commandments, He will give us eternal life in the spiritual land of Canaan. We will quite literally live to eternity in a “land for which we did not labour.”  We make the choices, but the Lord does the work.  And He’s happy to do it for us, just as any parent is happy to help a child that is struggling to get started in life.

Joshua spoke to his people, and to us, for the Lord when he said, I have given you a land for which you did not labour, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and the olive groves which you did not plant.  Now, therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served…. Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (JOS 24:13-15). AMEN.

First Lesson:  JOS 24:1-15

Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God. {2} And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. {3} ‘Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac. {4} ‘To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave the mountains of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. {5} ‘Also I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt, according to what I did among them. Afterward I brought you out. {6} ‘Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. {7} ‘So they cried out to the LORD; and He put darkness between you and the Egyptians, brought the sea upon them, and covered them. And your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. Then you dwelt in the wilderness a long time. {8} ‘And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, who dwelt on the other side of the Jordan, and they fought with you. But I gave them into your hand, that you might possess their land, and I destroyed them from before you. {9} ‘Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose to make war against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you. {10} ‘But I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he continued to bless you. So I delivered you out of his hand. {11} ‘Then you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho. And the men of Jericho fought against you; also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I delivered them into your hand. {12} ‘I sent the hornet before you which drove them out from before you, also the two kings of the Amorites, but not with your sword or with your bow. {13} ‘I have given you a land for which you did not labour, and cities which you did not build, and you dwell in them; you eat of the vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant.’ {14} “Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! {15} “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Amen.

Second Lesson:  JOH 16:5-15

“But now I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ {6} “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. {7} “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. {8} “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement: {9} “of sin, because they do not believe in Me; {10} “of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; {11} “of judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged. {12} “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. {13} “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. {14} “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. {15} “All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you. Amen.

Third Lesson:  AC 620

‘The land’ is a term Word, and means the land where the Lord’s true Church is, such as the land of Canaan. ‘The land’ may also mean where the Church is not, such as the land of Egypt, and the lands of the heathen nations, and so stands for the nation which inhabits the land. And since it stands for the nation, it also stands for any such individual who is there. It is called ‘a land’, for example, the land of Canaan, on account of heavenly love, and ‘the lands of the heathen nations’ are so called on account of loves that are foul. It is called ‘ground’ however on account of the faith sown in it. For, as has been shown, a land includes the ground, and the ground includes the field, just as love includes faith, and faith includes the cognitions of faith that are sown in it. Here ‘the earth’ stands for the people among whom heavenly love and the Church perished utterly. It is from the subject that one may know what is attributed to it. Amen.

Copyright 2009, James P. Cooper
Page last update 15-March-2009

Evil’s Three Essentials


A Sermon by James P. Cooper

What advantage is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed? (Luke 9:25)

In the sermon two weeks ago, we learned about the three essential qualities of genuine love that is from the Lord: 1) That it is directed to others outside of self; 2) that it wishes to be conjoined with the ones loved to eternity; and 3) that it wishes to make others happy from itself.

While reflecting on these truths from the Word, it became apparent that a lot could be learned about evil by looking at the opposites of these three essential The more clearly we see and understand the true nature of evil, the easier it will be for us to discover it in ourselves and, with the Lord’s help, remove it.

Diabolical love is opposite to Divine Love, and is, in itself, hatred. We see this clearly illustrated in our lesson about Amnon, King David’s son who lusted after his half-sister: Did he love her? He said he did, but his actions say that everything he did was directed towards himself and his own needs. Did he wish to be conjoined with her? Physically, yes. But as soon as his own needs were satisfied, he ordered her thrown out. Did he wish to make her happy? Not at all. From start to finish, everything had been craftily planned to bring pleasure to himself and for himself only.

This is what evil does. It hides in the mind and disguises itself as love or longing, but as soon as it is expressed, as soon as it comes out into the open, it can be seen for what it is. Amnon apparently believed at first that he loved Tamar1, but once he had achieved his objective,

Amnon hated her exceedingly, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her.2

There are, from creation, three universal loves. They are the love of heaven, the love of the world, and the love of self. The Word is so full of condemnation for the loves of self and the world that we may have a hard time understanding the fact that they are loves that are given to man by the Lord from creation.

We are created with the love of self for the simple reason that without it, we would not eat, would not protect ourselves, and in general would very quickly die. If we had no love of the world, there would be no drive to learn or to build: there would be no civilization at all!

The loves of self and the world have been given to us for a reason. When they are subordinated to the love of the Lord and the love of the neighbour, they perfect a person It is only when they are out of order, when we put the loves of self and the world ahead of everything else that they pervert.

Real love, love that flows outward from the Lord, and is given to every human being as a gift, looks outward to others. But diabolical love is the opposite It is totally introverted, and although it may appear to look outward at times, the bottom line is that whatever is being done is being so that it will eventually bring some benefit to self. Self, and the glorification of self, underlies everything, and causes everything.

Evil is the opposite of love. The doctrines of the New Church frequently use warmth to illustrate the nature of love. The opposite of warmth is cold, and that in itself is a very revealing thing, for cold is not in itself a thing, but rather it is the absence of heat. A refrigerator does not make cold, it moves the heat out of the insulated box. Any device that cools does so by removing the heat. The same thing is true about light and darkness You cannot darken a room by turning on a “dark,” you darken a room by preventing light from entering Cold and dark are what you get when warmth and light are removed or prevented from entering The point of this is to say that evil is not really a thing, but rather describes the empty state of the person who has turned away from God and looks only to self. Hell is cold and dark, because those there have turned away from the light and warmth of the spiritual sun of heaven.

We know that genuine love looks outward to the good of others Evil continually strives to do anything that will benefit self at the expense of others, and so, evil itself is often called in the Heavenly Doctrines, “the love of self.”

The love of self is not merely the love of honour, glory, fame, and eminence, but also the love of meriting and seeking office, and so of ruling over others. The love of self is wishing well to oneself only and not to others except for the sake of self, not even to the church, one’s country, any human society, or to a fellow-citizen; it is also doing good to them only for the sake of one’s own reputation, honour, and glory. When such a person cannot feel and perceive something that adds to his sense of power or reputation, he says in his heart, “What does it matter Why should I do this? What will I gain by it?” – and if he cannot sense any gain at all, he leaves it undone.3

The second essential of true love is to wish to be conjoined with others, to actually become one with them, to give up something of your own personality and replace it with something from another. The husband in a conjugial marriage gives up the loves of his own will in order to make room for the loves and affections of his wife. The wife, for her part, is willingly led by her husband’s wisdom The angels of the highest heaven constantly acknowledge that their very life is from the Lord, freely giving away the feeling that life is from themselves, and the Lord is conjoined with them by means of that truth.

The love of ruling from self is from the deepest hell, because the love of ruling from the love of self is the same as ruling from what is one’s own, or the old will. Our hereditary nature is from birth evil itself, although we can, through regeneration, rise above it. The old will is therefore diametrically opposite to the Lord. Consequently, the more that a person follows that love, the more they turn away from the Lord and the church.

There are people who will look at their lives and say that they are not in the love of self because they care deeply for many people, and do many kind things for them.

But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. {33} “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.4

But the Doctrines add the warning that when someone loves only those who are in his own immediate family, but not others, it is merely an expanded form of the love of self.

The True Christian Religion teaches,

He who loves himself also loves those who belong to him who are especially his children and grandchildren, and in general all who make one with him, whom he calls his own. Loving these is loving himself .5

The third essential of genuine love is to make others happy. The prime example of this is the Lord’s creation of heaven as our eternal home as the expression of His love for us. We also see it in the gifts and gestures that are the obvious signs of love between married partners, parents and children, and friends.

By contrast, evil has no desire to make anyone else happy. In fact, those who are in the love of self actually hate others and try, in subtle or open ways, to cause unhappiness. At first, it may show itself in mild forms, but if it is indulged it develops into hatred, and persecution. If allowed to develop still father it becomes a burning for revenge, and the desire to see the other destroyed. We are told that eventually, such people love to be cruel to others.

Just as all the essentials of true love are united in genuine love towards the Lord and the neighbour, all the essentials of the loves of self and the world are focused in the opposite of the love of the Lord, that is, in the love of dominion. The love of self continually strives to rule over others, to control them, to bend them to its own particular will. It cannot stand to see that others have anything of value that gives them pleasure, but strives to possess the goods of all – as much to deprive them of their pleasure as to have them for himself.

These things are all illustrated in the story of Tamar and Amnon. In it we see his love of dominion illustrated in the way that he contrived to take away Tamar’s freedom of choice, and put her in a situation where through his physical strength and her fear he was able to take from her that which was to be preserved as a gift to her husband Then, once Amnon had taken away Tamar’s virginity, she no longer had anything of value or interest for him, and he exposed his inner hatred and cruelty by having her thrown out of his rooms.

When the love of self is fully developed, as it is with the devils in hell, it no longer concerns itself with the neighbour, but directs its attention to hatred of God Himself, accompanied with the desire to overthrow Him, and rule in His place.

Swedenborg describes in TCR 661 seeing hells in which all there thought they were kings, and they would struggle with each other to become the absolute ruler, the king of kings. Then he saw another hell, where all thought they were emperors, and fought with each other to be the emperor of emperors. Finally, he was shown a hell where all there thought they were gods. They, too, strove with each other to rule over that hell and become “god of gods.” This is why those who are in hell do not acknowledge the Lord, but rather acknowledge those spirits as gods those who surpass others in power. Therefore they acknowledge lower and higher, or lesser and greater gods, according to the extent of their power. And, as each one of them believes that he should rule over all others, that he should be the god of gods, every one in hell burns with hatred against his own god.

This “god,” for his part, burns with hatred against those who are under his control, treating them as no more than vile slaves, to be treated well only so long as they worship him. This evil spirit who thinks himself god rages with fire against all others, and also inwardly, or in his heart, against his own subjects.6

There is not one of us who does not know that the love of self is opposed to the love of the Lord, that the love of self seeks to have dominion over others, and to possess the goods of others. We also know that it lurks within each one of us from creation, hiding itself from us, and from others, because we fear that if it were to show itself we would loose our reputation among others, our honour in the world, or the means to earn our livelihood. We also know that if the love of self is kept in its proper order, in submission to the loves of the Lord and the neighbour, serving them, then it can assist us and perfect us in our life in this world.

The problem that we face while in this world, then, is how to identify the love of self within ourselves, and how to judge whether or not it is subjugated to the loves of the Lord and the neighbour, or whether it is in fact the ruling love of our lives. How can we know if we perform uses from the loves of self or the love of use? Every man, both good and bad, performs uses and performs them from some love.

Suppose a society in the world consisting of devils only, and another consisting of angels only; …the devils in their society, moved by the fire of love of self and the splendour of their own glory, would perform as many uses as the angels in theirs. Devils perform uses for the sake of themselves and their reputation, in order that they have honoris, or acquire wealth; but angels perform uses for the sake of the uses from love of uses.7

While we are yet in the world, we are unable to distinguish these two kinds of uses, but the Lord does.

All who believe in the Lord and shun evils as sins, perform uses from the Lord; but all who do not believe in the Lord and do not shun evils as sins, perform uses from themselves and for their own sake.8

If we wish to know about our own inner states, and the loves that rule in them, we must examine ourselves in our quiet moments, in the thoughts that we have when we are alone, daydreaming What kind of things do we think about? What is the nature of our fantasies Do we imagine ourselves helping others? Do we imagine ourselves having dominion over others? Do we feel delight in the misfortune of others? Do we ask ourselves “What’s in it for me?” before helping another person Do we seek the good of other who are outside our immediate family or circle of friends? These are the questions that we must constantly ask ourselves if we are to determine the course of our lives, and turn that course away from hell.

Then (Jesus) said to them all, “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. For what advantage is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed?”9 AMEN.


Lesson: 2SA 13:1-17

After this Absalom the son of David had a lovely sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her. {2} Amnon was so distressed over his sister Tamar that he became sick; for she was a virgin. And it was improper for Amnon to do anything to her. {3} But Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab the son of Shimeah, David’s brother. Now Jonadab was a very crafty man. {4} And he said to him, “Why are you, the king’s son, becoming thinner day after day? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” {5} So Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill. And when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Please let my sister Tamar come and give me food, and prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat it from her hand.’” {6} Then Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill; and when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let Tamar my sister come and make a couple of cakes for me in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.” {7} And David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Now go to your brother Amnon’s house, and prepare food for him.” {8} So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house; and he was lying down. Then she took flour and kneaded it, made cakes in his sight, and baked the cakes. {9} And she took the pan and placed them out before him, but he refused to eat. Then Amnon said, “Have everyone go out from me.” And they all went out from him. {10} Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the bedroom, that I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the cakes which she had made, and brought them to Amnon her brother in the bedroom. {11} Now when she had brought them to him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” {12} And she answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me, for no such thing should be done in Israel. Do not do this disgraceful thing! {13} “And I, where could I take my shame? And as for you, you would be like one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.” {14} However, he would not heed her voice; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her. {15} Then Amnon hated her exceedingly, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Arise, be gone!” {16} So she said to him, “No, indeed! This evil of sending me away is worse than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. {17} Then he called his servant who attended him, and said, “Here !Put this woman out, away from me, and bolt the door behind her.” Amen.

Lesson: TCR 661:14

[14] At these words a like sphere appeared to me surrounding them, and a sense of something aromatic came from it, as I also told them, and I begged them to add something more to what they had said about the love of use. And they continued, “The dignities which we enjoy we indeed sought, but for the sole end of being more fully able to perform uses and to extend them more widely. Moreover, we are surrounded by honour, and we accept it not on our own account, but for the good of the society. For our brethren and companions there, who are of the common people, hardly know otherwise than that the honoris of our rank reside in us, and thus that the uses we perform are from us. But we feel otherwise; we feel that the honoris of our rank are outside of ourselves, and that they are like the garments with which we are clothed; while the uses we perform are from a love of uses that is within us from the Lord, and this love acquires its blessedness from a sharing with others by means of uses. And we know by experience that so far as we perform uses from a love of uses, that love increases, and with it the wisdom by which the sharing is effected; but so far as we retain the uses in ourselves, and do not share them, the blessedness perishes; and then use becomes like food retained in the stomach and not diffused throughout the body to nourish it and its various parts, but remains undigested and causes nausea. In a word all heaven is nothing but a containant of uses from things first to things last. What is use but the actual love of the neighbour? And what keeps the heavens together but this love?”

Having heard this, I asked, “How can anyone know whether he performs uses from love of self or from a love of uses? Every man, both good and bad, performs uses and performs them from some love. Suppose a society in the world consisting of devils only, and another consisting of angels only; and I am of the opinion that the devils in their society, moved by the fire of love of self and the splendour of their own glory, would perform as many uses as the angels in theirs. Who then can know from what love or from what origin uses proceed?”

To this the two angels replied, “Devils perform uses for the sake of themselves and their reputation, in order that they may be exalted to honours, or acquire wealth; but angels perform uses not for such reasons, but for the sake of the uses from love of uses. Man is unable to distinguish these two kinds of uses, but the Lord does. All who believe in the Lord and shun evils as sins, perform uses from the Lord; but all who do not believe in the Lord and do not shun evils as sins, perform uses from, themselves and for their own sake. This is the distinction between the uses performed by devils and those performed by angels.” Amen.


Copyright © 1982 – 2006 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 23, 2006



3TCR 400

4Luke 6:32-33

5TCR 400:3

6TCR 45

7TCR 661:14

8TCR 661

9Luke 9:23-25

Love’s Three Essentials


A Sermon by James P. Cooper

The Essence of Love is to love others outside of itself, to desire to be one with them, and to make them happy from itself (TCR 43).

Love is the most common thing in the world.

We’d love to go on vacation. We’d love to have something nice for lunch. When we admire another’s clothes, we say we love the way they are dressed. We love our friends, we love our children, and our spouses. We love the truth when we hear it, and we try to love God.

Love is the most common thing in the world. So why is it so hard to find? We might think that because we use the word “love” so freely, that it would be easy to say what love is, that it would be easy for us to tell our children how they can tell the difference between infatuation and true, eternal conjugial love. One might expect that we should all be able to tell one another about our love for God in very precise terms. But even though love is the most common thing in the world, even though it is the very substance of the universe itself, and our eternal lives as well, we really know very little about love from ourselves.

We are fortunate, however, that the Lord has revealed certain simple, profound truths about the nature of Love Itself that go a long way in helping to explain some of the more frustrating mysteries of life with other people in the world. Specifically, all true love has three essential qualities: it looks outside of itself; it desires conjunction with the one loved; and it wishes to make them happy (or render the other blessed) from itself (See TCR 43)

The most important thing we must remember if we are to understand the true nature of genuine love is that it is not, as we generally suppose, our own. Our loves for things and other people do not arise within ourselves, even though it may feel that way. Our love is a gift from the Lord, like life itself. So, if we are to understand love as it is in our own lives, we must first understand something of love as it is from its Divine source.

The Divine Love and the Divine Wisdom make one in God. This can be illustrated by sunlight which has both heat and light which cannot be separated Therefore, just as there are three essentials of Divine Love, the same three essentials apply to the Divine Wisdom, with this difference: Love wills things, Wisdom brings them into effect. The Lord willed to have beings outside of Himself to Love. His Divine Wisdom responded by creating the universe in which people could live and have eternal life. One in end and purpose, the Divine Love and Wisdom differ in their effect upon the objects of the world and the souls of men.

The Love and Wisdom of God, united as one, go forth as the heat and light of the Spiritual Sun, and are represented in the world of nature as the light and heat of the star at the centre of our solar system. Just as sunlight falls upon and effects the beautiful flower and decomposing matters alike, so the Divine Love and Wisdom fall upon and enliven all people in the world, the angels of heaven, and the devils of the deepest hell.

The influx of the Divine is the same to all, but it is received differently according to how each person has shaped his life and prepared his mind and soul to receive Love and Wisdom from the Lord. In this context, we sometimes refer to the human mind as a vessel, a thing especially created to receive the inflowing Divine Love and Wisdom. It is helpful to actually picture a vessel, a simple cup, that represents man’s response to the Divine.

An evil person’s vessel is a shabby thing, and turned upside down. It has been shaped by him to receive the Divine Life only after it has flowed into the devils of hell, and been turned into something unholy, unwholesome, and barely containing anything of life.

Most of us, who are still struggling along in the throws of temptation and failure, with moments of generosity and decisions from principle, have a very small, simple, poorly made vessel, seeming to lie on its side. Life from the Lord showers down upon it, but most runs off, just a little remaining within. At the same time, the influx of hell splashes up from below, and some of that enters our vessel and remains as well.

But the vessel of the celestial angel is like a beautiful crystal goblet, full to the brim with Divine Life and joy, with rainbows of colour reflecting off its many facets. (See TCR 43)

The life that inflows from the Lord is the Lord’s gift, the same to each and every person. The nature of the vessel that receives it, however, is our own responsibility. We build it from the truths we learn from the Word, and we turn it toward heaven or towards hell according to the choices we make during the course of our lives in this world.

Some of our loves are from hell, and some from heaven. We know we have to shun those from self and hell, but we find that both good and evil loves give us pleasure! How then are we to know which is which? How can we make the right choices that will build a beautiful vessel, and keep it steadily directed to receive the Lord’s love flowing down through heaven? We identify heavenly and hellish loves by comparing them to the standards of behaviour established by the Word, and examining them in the light of the three essential qualities of love.

The first essential of true love, love that is from the Lord, is that it looks to others outside of self. We see this illustrated in God’s love towards the whole Human race. The sphere of the Divine Love towards mankind is universal, that is, it goes forth to every human being, every living thing in the created universe — for that was the very purpose of creation: that there be things that could receive that love. This is the reason why God created the spiritual and natural universe: Heaven, and the church on earth. His love goes out to all, and, as said before, is received by all, to each according to the vessel that he has built by his own free choices made from the light of truth from the Word.

Human Beings were created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore the love that they are capable of is a reflection, an image of the Divine Love. It, too, has the three essential qualities. It is illustrated by the love that parents feel towards their children, for it inspires them with tender love towards their children, who are outside of themselves. Parents desire to be with their children, and to make them happy from themselves.

All parents, whether they are interiorly good or evil, love their children in this way. In fact, we can see the same kind of behaviour in many kinds of animals and birds, for it is a universal law which has its source in the very being and nature of the Creator Himself. The universal nature of this love also shows itself in our relationships with casual friends when we entertain. We invite them into our home, we take great care to provide delightful food and conversation, we make every effort to make our friends feel loved and welcome. Even if we do not know them well, still, common courtesy causes us to simulate that love. (See TCR 44)

The second essential quality of genuine love is the desire to be conjoined with the one loved, to be one with them. The Lord, being Divine, cannot actually be conjoined with us, for as human beings, even though we are immortal, still we have a beginning in time, and are therefore finite. However, as vessels of life, we are full of goods and truths that are from God. The Lord conjoins Himself with these things which are from Him but in us. Thus we find that the more truth we learn, and the more good we do as a result of that truth, the more closely adjoined we are to God, the more we give of ourselves, the more closely we feel His presence in our daily lives.

Because we have been created in the image and likeness of God, we know that we can learn about the nature and course of our own lives from analogy with what we know about the Divine Itself. In this particular case, we can learn how we should relate to other people in the world. We must conjoin ourselves with the good that is in them from the Lord. We need to look beyond physical appearance and a pleasing personality to the character that lies within. We need to look for the wisdom that comes from a life of charity guided by the Word. We need to love that which is genuinely good in the other, and we can only see that from the truths revealed in the Word.

It too often happens that we make friends with someone – and perhaps even fall in love with someone – simply because we feel good in their presence. We need to carefully examine the nature of these feelings, for too often we conjoin ourselves with that which may please us for the reason that it gives reality and expression to our evil loves. Such a relationship, if it does survive, is destined to lead the parties into the life of hell.

On the other hand, there are as many opportunities for conjunction with what is good as there are goods from the Divine — in other words, an infinite variety! And prime among the delights of heaven which are freely given to the Lord for our pleasure are the delights of marriage.

As was said before, the Lord created the universe by uniting His Divine Love (which desired to reach to others, conjoin Itself with them, and make them happy), with His Divine Wisdom (which knew how to bring this love into effect). The result of this conjunction of Divine Good and Divine Truth was the creation of the visible (and invisible) universe.

In marriage, the husband and wife represent the Divine Truth and Good, and the Lord has arranged it so that when they come together with the intention of creating new life outside of themselves they find their greatest delight, a delight that mirrors the delight that God Himself had in creating the world, and continues to enjoy as new life comes into existence, and as new angels find their way to the uses and delights of eternal life in heaven.

The third essential quality of love is the desire to make others happy from self. True love, love that flows in from the Divine, is focused outside of oneself, and is designed and intended from its very beginnings to bring blessedness and pleasure to others. We see this particularly in the Lord’s loving provision of eternal life in heaven for those who wish it. What greater gift could the Creator give to those whom He had created? And again, we can use this as a basis for judging the love in ourselves: does it look to others, or is it primarily for the sake of self? This may be difficult to judge truly, however, because the very nature of love itself is that when one humbly and honestly gives to another, the delight of heaven flows in, and we feel that delight.

We must be careful not to think that if we ourselves feel good when doing good, that somehow our gift to others is diminished. Rather, we should welcome it as a sign from the Lord that our gift is genuinely selfless and heavenly.

Sometimes we face the puzzle of how to deal with our desire to go to heaven. We know that if we desire to go to heaven, we must turn away from the love of self, yet we want to go to heaven because we will be happy there — so if we want to be happy, it is a selfish love, and we will not be worthy. So, we try to be sad in order to merit heaven — but again, we are being selfish Around and around the problem goes in our minds, seemingly without solution.

The Lord never wanted it to be difficult for us to go to heaven. Heaven is designed specifically for us. He has given us all the tools we need to prepare ourselves for eternal life there. All we need to do is relax, and follow the simple instructions: Learn what good and evil are from the Word. Flee from evil when we see it. Turn away from the loves of self and the world. Look for and assist the good that is from the Lord in others. Do all these things simply because the Lord has asked it of you. Allow yourself to enjoy the delights He gives to those who are doing His work in the world, when we are giving of ourselves to others.

We can use what we know about love’s three essentials to help us sort out the good loves from the bad in our own life. When we need to know if our feelings for a person or thing are good loves from heaven, or selfish loves from hell, we can apply the rules. If we are honest with ourselves in answering the questions, we can know the true nature of our feelings.

We should ask ourselves if the thing we love is outside of ourselves?

Are we looking outward to the Lord, to Heaven, to usefulness to others, or is this love self-centred?

Will it bring happiness to others, or only to ourselves?

We should ask ourselves if we wish to be conjoined to this person or thing to eternity.

Do we really wish to be one with it, and for it to be one with us?

And finally, do we wish to make the loved one happy from ourselves, or is the association designed only to bring pleasure to ourselves?

There are many things in life that give pleasure to both parties even when done selfishly, but through self-examination and honesty, the true nature of our loves can be revealed. And if they are revealed, and the proper actions taken, our lives can be saved a lot of unhappiness.

The principles of life have been given to us by the Lord for our use, to help us sort out the good from the evil in the context of our own life. If we heed the Word of the Lord, if we judge others, and ourselves, against the Divine standards revealed in the Word, we will not be deceived. Amen.

First Lesson: LUK 7:36-50

Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. {37} And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, {38} and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. {39} Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” {40} And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.” {41} “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. {42} “And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” {43} Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” {44} Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. {45} “You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. {46} “You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. {47} “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” {48} Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” {49} And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” {50} Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” Amen.

Second Lesson: TCR 43


There are two things which make up the essence of God – love and wisdom; but there are three which make up the essence of His love – loving others than oneself, wishing to be one with them, and devoting oneself to their happiness. The same three make up the essence of His wisdom, because, as I have shown above, love and wisdom are one in God. It is love which wills these things, wisdom that puts them into effect. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2006 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modifiedSeptember 27, 2009

Reward Is According To Works


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to each one according to his work. (REV 22:12)

We like to mark the end of a significant or pleasing event by making some kind of remark, or commentary that draws all the different elements together, that gives us sense that the event is complete.  When a guest minister visits our Society, when a graduating class gets ready to leave for school in another city, when the calendar year comes to an end, we like to gather together to hear some final words to mark the end of an important part of our lives, to get some kind of summary or extract that will help us to remember what’s essential.

When the Lord was on the earth, He foresaw the events of His life, He knew when it would be time to sum it up, and close it off.  And when the church was trying to assemble the various documents that would become the New Testament, it was His pleasure to lead His church to put the book of Revelation at the end.  And so, in the concluding verses of the book of Revelation, we find the Lord’s own closing remarks to us; the summary of His work in the world, the things that are most important for us to remember if we are to love and worship Him and follow His teachings.  In the closing verses of Revelation, He makes four very simple points to show us the way to live happily in this world and the next.

Reward is According to Works

The first is when He says, And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. (REV 22:12)
By His “reward” can be meant nothing else than eternal life in heaven, and it is according to His order that He gives it to people according to their work, according to way they lived their lives, according to how well they have loved and served their neighbor, rendering unto him good works.  Remember how He taught, Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me. (Matt. 25:40) We have been put into the natural world for the sake of practicing our love to the Lord on those around us.

Let’s look at another, longer passage to put the idea in its own context:  Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. {3} “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, {4} “that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. {5} “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites.  For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. {6} “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (MAT 6:2-6)

Or this passage:

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. (Luke 6:35)

Can there be any doubt that the “reward” that the Lord is talking about is eternal life in heaven?

Keep the Commandments and Enter the City

And then, in case we did not understand it clearly the first time He told us, He says it again: Blessed are they who do His commandments, because those who keep His commandments will have power in the tree of life and they will be able to enter … into the city, the Holy City New Jerusalem, which is a symbol for heaven itself. (See Rev. 22:14)

The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church teach so many times and in so many places that there cannot be any confusion about what commandments are meant – none other than the Ten Commandments given to us by Jehovah through Moses on Mount Sinai, those same commandments which form the moral basis for the laws of every civilized nation in the world.  The Lord says that those who keep the Ten Commandments, who honor their parents, do not lie, steal, or commit adultery, and who love the Lord and keep the Sabbath will be blessed.  They will have power in the tree of life, and they will enter the Holy City New Jerusalem.

The Unworthy are Outside the Church

But the Lord knows that we are stiff-necked and stubborn.   Our rational minds, designed so carefully to make careful, wise judgments about the truth, can also twist the truth, turn it around and around until it appears to be something entirely new and changed.  We have the power of self-justification, and we can, by changing the name of evil, actually convince ourselves (and sometimes others) that evil is not evil, but good.

We don’t talk about someone committing adultery, instead they are just having an “affair.”  It sounds so much nicer, so much less evil.  We don’t gossip, but instead share “constructive criticisms.”  We don’t lie, we just put a favorable “spin” on the truth.  The list is actually quite lengthy, but the principle has been established:  One common way of avoiding our evils is to change their names.  Then we can pretend to ourselves that we are shunning our evils but still keep them around to enjoy, too.

But although we may be able to fool ourselves and others, we can’t fool the Lord. He knows what evil is, and He won’t tolerate it in His kingdom.  Those who are evil, He calls “dogs,” and “sorcerers” and “adulterers” and “murderers” and “idolaters” and “whoever loves and practices a lie.” (See Rev. 22:15) Such people are specifically denied entrance into the Holy City.

The Spirit and the Bride Say “Come!”

But even though we are evil – for we are all evil to some degree – we should not give up hope, because the Lord has given us the means to change our lives, He has given us the promise that no matter how evil we may have been, no matter what terrible things we may have done, if we will only turn away from the evil, if we will only begin to keep the commandments, we will find ourselves once again on the path to heaven.

Isaiah says it this way, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.  If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat of the good of the land.” (1:18-19)

We have been created with our will separated from our understanding.  We have the ability to do what we know we should, even if we do not want to do it.  The truth from the Word can, if we desire it, overpower all the lusts of evil that rise up in our hearts.  The Lord only requires that we do the best we can to do what we know, from the Word, that we should.  His part is that He will then work in secret ways to change our loves, gently, quietly, so that what was once very difficult, becomes less and less so, until finally we don’t notice it at all because it takes no effort.  Then one day we may suddenly discover that we in fact love to do what we used to have to compel ourselves to do.  This is how, with the Lord’s help, we can rid ourselves of our evils through the application of the truth from the Word in our lives.  And, believe it or not, the Lord tells us that it’s not even that hard to do.  Hear the following from Heaven and Hell:

That it is not so difficult to live the life of heaven as some believe, is now clear from this, that when anything presents itself to a man that he knows to be dishonest and unjust, but to which his mind is borne, it is simply necessary for him to think that it ought not to be done because it is opposed to the Divine precepts.  If a man accustoms himself so to think, and from so doing establishes a habit of so thinking, he is gradually conjoined to heaven; and so far as he is conjoined to heaven the higher regions of his mind are opened; and so far as these are opened he sees whatever is dishonest and unjust, and so far as he sees these evils they can be dispersed, for no evil can be dispersed until it is seen.  Into this state man is able to enter because of his freedom, for is not any one able from his freedom so to think?  And when he has made a beginning, the Lord performs all the good deeds with him, and causes him not only to see the evils to be evils, but also to refrain from willing them, and finally to turn away from them.  This is meant by the Lord’s words, My yoke is easy and My burden is light.  Matt. xi. 30. (HH 533)

It is our choice.  The invitation is clear, and open to all.  The spirit, the Divine truth, and the bride, the Divine good, together invite us to heaven.  The Lord cannot, and will not compel us to do anything that we do not ourselves want to do.  It is our choice alone.  But, if we want living water, water that once we drink of it we will not be thirsty again for it is spiritual truth, we need only come to the Lord in the Word in humility and obedience, for the Lord said, My reward is with Me, to give to each one according to his work. (Rev. 22:12) AMEN.

First Lesson:  (JER 7:1-11) The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, {2} “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah who enter in at these gates to worship the LORD!'” {3} 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. {4} “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.’ {5} “For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, {6} “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, {7} “then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. {8} “Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. {9} “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, {10} “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’? {11} “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.  Amen.

Second Lesson:  REV 22:8-21 Now I, John, saw and heard these things.  And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. {9} Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that.  For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book.  Worship God.” {10} And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. {11} “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.” {12} “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. {13} “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” {14} Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. {15} But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. {16} “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches.  I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” {17} And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”  And let him who hears say, “Come!”  And let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. {18} For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; {19} and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. {20} He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”  Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! {21} The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.

Third Lesson:  HH 521 NO ONE ENTERS HEAVEN BY MERCY APART FROM MEANS. Those that have not been instructed about heaven and the way to heaven, and about the life of heaven in man, suppose that being received into heaven is a mere matter of mercy, and is granted to those that have faith, and for whom the Lord intercedes; thus that it is an admission from mere favor; consequently that all men without exception might be saved if the Lord so pleased, and some even believe that all in hell might be so saved.  But those who so think know nothing about man, that he is just such as his life is, and that his life is such as his love is, both in respect to the interiors pertaining to his will and understanding and in respect to the exteriors pertaining to his body; also that his bodily form is merely the external form in which the interiors exhibit themselves in effect; consequently that one’s love is the whole man.  Nor do they know that the body lives not from itself, but from its spirit, and that a man’s spirit is his essential affection, and his spiritual body is nothing else than his affection in human form, and in such a form it appears after death.  So long as man remains ignorant of all this he may be induced to believe that salvation involves nothing but the Divine good pleasure, which is called mercy and grace. Amen.

Copyright General Church of the New Jerusalem, 1982 – 2008
Author, Rev. James P. Cooper, M. Div.
Page last modified October 21, 2008

The Last Judgment and Second Coming, Part 4

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

“The LORD reigns; The world also is firmly established, It shall not be moved; He shall judge the peoples righteously.” For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with His truth. (Psalm 96:10, 13)

Yesterday was the 223rd Anniversary of an event which marked the end of the previous spiritual age and the beginning of the New Christian Church. This event constitutes the promised Second Coming, and the completion of the final or “Last” judgment on the Christian Church.

This is the last in a series of four sermons that have considered the Last Judgment and the Second Coming as spiritual events which took place, as prophesied by the prophets of the Old and New Testament, in the spiritual world. The Lord said that His kingdom was “not of this world” (John 18:36), and the disciples themselves made the mistake of expecting the Messiah to rule an earthly kingdom, although it is quite clear that He tried very hard to teach them the truth about His spiritual kingdom. They were just not yet ready to hear it (See John 16:12). Is it possible that the Christian Church has not been ready to hear the truth about the spiritual nature of the Second Coming as well, because they have been, like the disciples, clinging to their pre-conceived ideas in the face of the evidence before them?

In this series we have also seen that there has been a series of churches in the history of mankind, and each one has ended with a “last” judgment. In each case a new church has been established from the few remaining good within the old.

The first was called the “Most Ancient Church.” It is described in the Word by the stories of Creation, and Adam and Eve. The final judgment on that Church is described by the Flood story. The next Church, called the “Ancient Church,” was described by Noah and his sons, the survivors of the Flood. The fall and final judgment of the Ancient Church is described by the story of the Tower of Babel. The third Church to be established by God was the Israelitish Church. It is documented in the historical books of the Old Testament beginning with Abraham His Divine command to leave his home and journey into Canaan, and its fall is predicted in the prophetical books. We date the beginning of its fall when the Ten Tribes were carried off and dispersed by the Assyrians. Its final judgment took place when the Lord Himself came to that Church to restore it and uplift it, and instead of receiving Him, they crucified Him. And the Christian Church was formed and established from the few among the Jewish Church who believed in Him and His teachings.

The final judgment on the Christian Church was predicted in the New Testament, especially in the 24th Chapter of Matthew, and in the whole of the book of Revelation. The Lord foresaw that the love of dominion, represented by the great whore of Babylon, and the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, represented by the dragon, would in time pull down and destroy the Christian Church, unless new spiritual truths were revealed to it to lift it up out of the things of the world. These new spiritual truths had been hidden within the sense of the letter of the Old and New Testaments from the very beginning, and all that remained was to reveal the science of correspondences to open the spiritual sense of the Word.

The history of the Christian Church is full of schism and heresy, argument and conflict. It began when the Church leaders could not resolve their differences in the doctrine of the divinity of Jesus Christ and they proposed the doctrine of a trinity of persons in order achieve a compromise. We have no wish to dwell on the disorders that followed, except to say that those disorders were simply the visible effect of their turning away from the divinity of Jesus Christ.

As the doctrines of the Christian Church became more complicated, the Church taught that it was not proper for people to read the Word for themselves, but that it had to be explained to them by the priests, and eventually the church services themselves were held in languages foreign to the congregation. This was done to enhance the sense of holiness and mystery. The end effect was that although Jesus Christ had come to earth specifically to show Himself to men, and to teach them directly, the Church intruded itself between God and mankind, and made it much more difficult for men to genuinely know and love God.

The inevitable result was that many people–good, well-intentioned people–were so confused about spiritual things that they really couldn’t tell right from wrong. When such people died and went into the World of Spirits, the place of introduction that lies intermediate between Heaven and Hell, they were vulnerable to evil spirits. Some of the more clever evil spirits could convince the newcomers that they were angels, and because there was so little spiritual knowledge, the poor newcomers were tricked into believing they were in heaven when they were not.

We might wonder how the Lord could allow such a thing to happen. The Lord permitted this disorder because by so doing, He preserved the freedom of choice in spiritual things for all of mankind. He was overseeing the situation, making sure that nothing bad happened to the poor, ignorant spirits. It was no worse a life for them than they had had on earth, but He could not just come in and take them away and put them into heaven because they themselves were not yet ready for the life of heaven.

So how are spirits in the World of Spirits to get ready for heaven? By opening the book of life, that is, comparing the course of their life in the world against the standard laid down by God in the Word, particularly the Ten Commandments. But it is not the things done that are examined, but rather the motives behind what was done. Did a man give money to charity to salve his conscience so that he could continue to commit some evil, or did he give the money for the sake of the uses it could perform for others? As the Lord told Samuel when he was searching among the sons of Jesse for the king to follow Saul, and as the Lord kept turning down the handsome, strong young men, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1Samuel16:7)

By the middle of the Seventeenth Century two things had happened that would have a significant effect on the situation in the spiritual world. First, the Christian Church had become so fragmented by the Reformation that it no longer had a coherent doctrine and was therefore no longer able to serve as a true church. And second, the realm of philosophy and science had finally developed the “scientific method” and as a result there were people in the world who were intellectually prepared to carefully and rationally consider the new truths that the Lord wished to reveal about and through the Word.

Emanuel Swedenborg was such a man, a contemporary of Sir Isaac Newton, a man trained in the best scientific tradition of the day, a man renowned among the other great minds of a great age of thought. Influenced by the studies and discoveries of his contemporaries, Swedenborg turned the focus of his scientific career to the search for the human soul, because he, like so many others of that day, believed that the newly discovered power of scientific method and deductive thought could dissect the human body and discover the soul within. It was the arrogance of the age that they thought that they could bring the very human soul itself into the realm of simple science. It was also a sign of the heady power that freedom of thought brought to the great minds of the day, once they were free to explore and examine every aspect of the world of nature without the fear of censure and punishment from the church.

Swedenborg was fascinated by the invention of the microscope because he, like many others, believed that through microscopic examination of human tissue, he would be to find the soul. He spent many years studying human anatomy in great detail, striving to bring all the power of the mind to bear on the problem of understanding the nature of life, and the unique characteristics of human life. He wrote many important books about his discoveries which did much to advance the science of Anatomy.

Through his study, from being an anatomist, he became a philosopher as his mind reached beyond the structures he could see through a microscope, and struggled to understand of the very structure of matter itself. It was during this period that he wrote the Principia, a work which signaled the beginning of his realization that human reason by itself could only go so far in the search for the soul, and God. He saw that pure thought, no matter how competently aided by clever devices, could not penetrate into the spiritual realm. And so, still searching for the soul, he turned away from philosophy to the Sacred Scripture.

His preparation was nearly finished. His mind had as complete an understanding of the world of nature as was available in that day. He was the master of all the known sciences. He had learned all that he could from philosophy and from science. And he was wise enough, and humble enough, to know that he knew nothing. It was at this point that the Lord appeared to Swedenborg to call him to take part in an exploration unlike any that a man had undertaken, the exploration of the spiritual world for the sake of describing it to the world of men.

But the wonderful thing was that the spiritual world that he was introduced to was in fact at the peak of its own disorder. Evil spirits had built “false heavens” in the world of spirits where they held the simple and ignorant spirits captive. The Revelation about to take place was to have two related uses, one in each of the Lord’s kingdoms.

Swedenborg was inspired by the Lord while he studied the letter of the Old and New Testaments. He was given a new scientific method of understanding the hidden meaning of the Word, a science of correspondences, which suddenly made the difficult and contradictory passages fall into a beautiful and sensible system that sang in every verse of the wonder of God, His gentleness, and His mercy.

Swedenborg was, like John, commanded to write the things that were being revealed to him. This was the first part of his calling, to reveal these new truths and this new science to the world of men, the Lord’s Natural kingdom. He obediently wrote, and copied, and prepared, and published his works at his own expense, anonymously. Gradually, they became known in the world, and men who truly and humbly sought to understand the relationship of God and man found enlightenment and hope in these works.

At the same time, however, Swedenborg was serving a similar use in the spiritual world. As his inspired study of the Sacred Scripture progressed, he was also, under the Lord’s constant protection and care, being taught about the wonders of heaven by having the senses of his spiritual body opened so that he could consciously walk and talk with spirits in the spiritual world while he was yet living and working among men in the natural world.

Why was this permitted? Because in this way, the Lord was not only introducing new truths into the world of men, but Swedenborg himself, while visiting among the spirits, was speaking with them, telling them about the new things that he had learned through his study of the Word. Swedenborg was not only bringing the truths of the new Revelation into the world through his books, but he was also introducing them into the confused state of the spiritual world.

The result was electrifying. Imagine what it would be like if we were trapped in a huge warehouse without windows or lights, with a thousand other people. Very soon we would begin to relate to one another entirely by touch, and by the sound of the voice. We would join up with others based entirely on what they said, and how convincingly they said it. And we can also imagine that being unable to see the faces of our companions, we might be fooled into doing things we might not otherwise do if we were not impaired.

Now imagine what would happen if suddenly the lights were turned on, and the doors thrown open. What a revelation it would be to suddenly see the face of those you had befriended. Once you could see the faces of your companions clearly, you might be horrified at your mistake, and wish to run away.

This is the effect that the truths revealed by the Lord through Swedenborg had on the spiritual world. Suddenly, the light dawned. The evil, who had been masquerading as angels, were seen for what they were. They saw themselves in the light of heaven, and were unable to bear it, and cast themselves down into hell. The simple good finally realized their error and fled. The Last Judgment had begun, all brought about by the simple revelation of a true understanding of what the Lord taught in the Word.

And so today we come together to celebrate the fact that the Lord has seen fit to come again in the spiritual sense of the Word, to give us the Bride the Holy City New Jerusalem to help us on our journey to heaven, to thank Him who gave us life for also showing us the way to eternal life. He holds out His hand, and invites us to take it and follow him. All He asks is that we look to Him for guidance, and that we love our neighbor by doing good to him. The invitation is His; the choice is ours. And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. (Rev. 22:17)


Lessons: Psalm 96, Rev. 22:6-17, TCR 786, 787

Page last modified January 20, 1998

The Last Judgment and Second Coming, Part 3

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

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)

This is the third in a series of four sermons on the subject of the Last Judgment and the Second Coming of the Lord. In the first two sermons it was shown how the Second Coming is a spiritual event, not something to happen in the natural world; and it was shown that there are actually two different kinds of “Last Judgment” referred to in the New Testament.

One is the personal kind which happens as each individual’s natural body dies and he enters the spiritual world. There, his essential character is revealed, and he chooses to join others like himself in either heaven or hell.

The other is the historical “Last Judgment,” a spiritual event, predicted in the New Testament, in which Jesus Christ returns “in the clouds of heaven” to finish the work begun when He was in the world, to reveal the spiritual truths which the disciples were as yet unable to bear.

The prophecies of the New Testament show that the Second Coming will not be in the world, but rather in the spiritual sense of the Word.

This is because whenever Jesus spoke of His return, He said that He would be coming in the “clouds” of heaven, and the clouds of heaven represent the literal sense of the Word. So when He said He would be seen in the “clouds of heaven” He was saying that we would see Him in the letter of the Old and New Testament when our understanding was opened by His revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word.

There have been four previous churches in the world, corresponding to the ages of man. A true church has two essential qualities, represented by the two witnesses of the book of Revelation (Rev. 11). They are the knowledge and acknowledgment of the Lord Jesus Christ as the one God of heaven and earth, and a life of good according to the commandments set forth in the Word.

The Christian Church fell and required a “last” judgment as predicted in the New Testament when it fell away from these two essentials.

This happened when the doctrine of the Trinity was invented to settle a doctrinal argument between church factions, a doctrine which breaks the One God into three mysterious persons.

The second essential of the church was lost when the doctrine of salvation by faith alone was revived in the 15th century, made a cornerstone of the Christian faith, and subsequently received by many Christians.

Thus “Mystery” and “Magic” replaced the doctrines that had been revealed to mankind by God Himself within the very church that was supposed to keep His Name and Word alive and present with mankind.

The Age of Reason in the Western world was an outward sign that the human race was approaching a level of maturity where they were finally ready for the Lord to reveal the spiritual sense of the Word, for Him to come in the “clouds of heaven.”

It was also a time when there was no longer any possibility of reviving the Christian Church because it had so thoroughly denied the two essentials of the church, the Doctrine of the Lord, and the Doctrine of Life.

At a time when people were becoming aware of the liberating effect of scientific truth, when the were beginning to understand and appreciate Rationality and Liberty, the church was offering mystery and magic. The scene was set for the Lord to send a rational revelation to the human race.

The key to being human, the thing that truly sets us apart from the animals, is the rational degree of the mind.

The word “rational” comes from the root word “ratio” which is a mathematical term for the comparison of one value to another.

Humans make choices by imagining the result of different courses of action, and weighing the expected results against each other–establishing their ratio. Sometimes we act instinctively, sometimes emotionally, and sometimes we coldly overrule our instincts and emotions and choose a course of pain and self-sacrifice for the sake of some long-term goal. That is what human life is all about.

But in order for the rational degree of the mind to work properly, in order for it to make correct choices, it must have truth to work with.

If the rational degree relies entirely on the evidence of the senses, it will be fooled. That is why the Word is so important, because, like the certified weight set used on an official scale, the truths of the Word provide a sure and constant reference point for the rational degree to test other ideas against.

The Lord had to come again to reveal new truths by opening the spiritual sense of the Word because the Christian Church had fallen away from the qualities which had made it a true church.

It no longer taught the truth about God, nor did it any longer lead men to lead a good life according to the Ten Commandments.

Men in the world were confused, and when they died and entered the spiritual world they were still unable to distinguish between truth and falsity, right and wrong. Their personal day of judgment had to be delayed until they knew sufficient truth from the Word to exercise the power of their rational minds. That truth was to be revealed and presented to them when the Lord made His Second Coming.

Until that time should arrive, those who entered the spiritual world too confused to make their choice between heaven and hell were kept apart in a special section of the spiritual world called the “lower earth.” These are the people whom the book of Revelation refers to as the “souls under the altar” (Rev. 6:9).

When adults supervise children, they do not immediately punish every slight infraction of order. Instead, they wait and watch to see if the child can restore himself to order and self-control. If not, a warning is given, but punishment is withheld until it is clear that there is no longer any self-control, that intervention is essential to restore order and freedom.

The same thing is true for the Lord’s supervision of the Church. He leads, suggests, and supports the church, encouraging it to grow in the right direction. When it deviates, He warns. But He waits until there is no longer any chance of self-discipline before He initiates a judgment. (See AC 1311)

That point is reached when there is no longer any true faith in the church because there is no charity. (See LJ 33)

The Lord made His Second Coming into the spiritual world rather than into the natural world for two reasons:

first, it was in the spiritual world where the people were who desperately needed revealed truth to enable them to find their spiritual homes (See LJ 28),

and because everything that happens in the spiritual world has its effects in the natural world, for the spiritual world is the cause of the natural world.

Emanuel Swedenborg played a part in this by being the means through which the revelations made in the spiritual world were published and spread abroad in the natural world.

Swedenborg says, “It has been granted me to see with my own eyes that the last judgment has now been accomplished; that the evil have been cast into the hells, and the good elevated into heaven; and thus that all things have been reduced to order, and the spiritual equilibrium between good and evil, or between heaven and hell, has thereby been restored” (LJ 45).

He also revealed that the Last Judgment, nor any of the other judgments before it, did not affect the whole spiritual world. Those who had already entered heaven as angels did not need to be judged, nor did those who were already devils in hell. It did not affect those who arrived from the world already knowing the difference between right and wrong.

The last judgment was only on those people who had come into the spiritual world after the Lord’s time and who had so little spiritual truth that they could not tell right from wrong, and so were unable to find their true spiritual home. These people were those who had lived in the world according to a holy external form, and who followed civil and moral laws only because they feared the loss of reputation, honor, and gain.

Such people knew, and could even teach, the doctrinals of the church, but in the secret places of their hearts, they did not live according to them. They were like the cups and platters that Jesus spoke about, clean on the outside, but filthy on the inside (MAT 23:25,26; LUK 11:39,40). Such people go through the motions and do uses only for the sake of their own pleasure, and not for the sake of being useful to others.

It is a law of the spiritual world that people with similar affections and delights associate together, and so it was that all these confused spirits from the Christian Church came together, and could maintain the illusion that they were in heaven.

But the purpose of the Last Judgment was to reveal spiritual truth to these spirits so that they could judge themselves in the light of heaven.

When the light of heaven shined on them, they could for the first time truly see the nature of their internal loves.

Those who were inwardly good, and who had always tried to live the best they could according to the truth that they had, viewed their companions with horror, and fled from them into the company of the angels whom they inwardly resembled.

Those who had lived a life of outward order, but nursed all manner of hatred and falsity within themselves also fled to be with those like themselves in hell.

In a court of law, the purpose is to hear enough witnesses until the truth is known.

Then the truth itself decides, not the court. It was the truth that caused the judgment, and each individual judged himself against the Divine truth.

The Last Judgment, and the Second Coming have already taken place, although in an unexpected way.

But then when the Lord was born, He was expected to be born in a palace, and become a great military leader who would throw off the Roman yoke. He surprised everyone by establishing a spiritual kingdom instead of an earthly one.

His Second Coming was to His already established spiritual kingdom, again, not as human observers expected or wished.

The Last Judgment is accomplished, and yet there continue to be wars, and rumors of wars, and this is because the Word was not referring to the situation in the natural world, but to the things to which they correspond in the Lord’s spiritual kingdom.

But the Second Coming has had its effect in the world. Beginning with the American and the French Revolutions in the 18th Century, there has been a general trend toward better education for more people, and a higher regard for individual freedom of thought and choice.

We can also see that in general the great wars of the Western world prior to the last judgment had to do with kings fighting with each other to extend their dominion or protect their borders. After the last judgment, the wars have been over issues relating to personal freedom.

The so-called Hundred Years War between England and France, for example, was several generations of French and English kings squabbling about who would control certain lands in Western France.

But the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the American Civil War, were all about ideals, and a conflict between the way people viewed the world and their need for personal freedom.

The Second World War may have been begun over border disputes, but to the hundreds of thousands of American soldiers who fought in that war, they were not fighting to restore the French borders, but for “Mom and Apple pie,” a charming way of defining an entire way of life. The war was in Europe and Asia, but it was seen that it threatened a whole way of life, and so people who were not directly involved or threatened, risked their lives to defend their idea of how life should be for all people.

I suspect that the English peasants who were conscripted to take part in an invasion of France in 1300 felt a little differently about their task.

However, the biggest changes are to be seen in the state of the church, which, although it will continue very much the same in outward appearance, there will be changes in the internal form of the church.

The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church say, “To outward appearance there will be divided churches as before; their doctrines will be taught as before; and likewise the religions among the gentiles. But the man of the church will hereafter be in a more free state of thinking on matters of faith, that is on the spiritual things that relate to heaven, because spiritual liberty has been restored” (LJ 74).

When the Lord was in the world, He showed us that His kingdom was not of this world, but instead it was a spiritual kingdom.

Therefore, we should not be surprised to learn that His Second Coming would also be a spiritual event. It was made necessary because the confusion introduced by the doctrines of the trinity and faith alone had made it impossible for some people to find their way into heaven.

The Lord therefore revealed new truths, spiritual truths that were contained within the letter of the Word of the Old and New Testament, which acted light a spiritual floodlight to lead the simple out of their states of confusion.

It also served to show the internal ugliness of the evil spirits who had sought to mislead the simple good.

As we reflect on how this shows the real power of truth, we should think about the power that the truth from the Word can have in our own lives. How much better, how much more satisfying will our natural lives be if we allow God’s own truth to show us the way to an orderly life and to an eternity of peace in heaven?

Next, in the fourth and final sermon of this series, we will see how all these events in the spiritual and natural history of the church lead up to the call of Emanuel Swedenborg and also the effect that the doctrines revealed by the Lord through him had on the spiritual world.


Page last modified January 20, 1988

The Last Judgment and Second Coming, Part 2

The Last Judgment and Second Coming, Part 2

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Matthew 16:26)

As we approach June 19th, the anniversary of the founding of the New Church, we begin to realize that we are in the odd position of celebrating the completion of an event that the majority of Christians are still waiting for. In this, the second in a series of four sermons, we will try to clarify the teachings of the New Church regarding the Second Coming and the Last Judgment.

In the first sermon, it was shown how the Word speaks about two different kinds of “Last Judgment,” a personal judgment that takes place when each individual human being dies. Each one then enters the spiritual world and goes through the process of shedding those things that do not agree with their ruling love until everything about their character is harmonious, at which time they find their home either in heaven or in hell.

The other kind of “Last Judgment” is the historical kind, and which refers not to the end of the world, but to the end of one church and the beginning of another. For example the stories of the Flood and the Tower of Babel in Genesis are the stories of the Last Judgments on the Most Ancient and Ancient Churches. The coming of Jesus Christ into the world was itself a final judgment on the Jewish church.

In last week’s sermon we also saw how the Old Testament predicted the coming of Jesus Christ. It was necessary that He come in person into the world because the Israelitish Church refused to see the spiritual sense contained within the literal sense of the Word, and because they refused to see anything spiritual in their worship of Jehovah, but regarded it as only a contract for His protection in return for their obedience.

Eventually they began to see and use the laws of Moses as a tool to gain power over men. For example, the law about observing the Sabbath was turned into a formula for how many steps could be taken without paying a fine to the temple. That is why Jesus said that they had made the laws of Moses of “no effect.”

The ultimate symbol of their rejection of the Word and its holiness was they way they treated Jesus by turning against Him and crucifying Him.

Just as the of the Old Testament prepared the way for His coming in person, the New Testament prepares the way for His return in the spirit of truth, His return to reveal the things that could not be revealed to the disciples because they were not yet ready for them.

While the Lord was on earth, He could foresee that there would be problems in the Christian Church, divisions over the nature of His divinity, and the love of dominion. He knew that in order for the Christian Church to be truly established, He would have to come again to finish the revelation He began while on the earth.

The doctrines of the New Church tell us that there are two essential doctrines that are present in all true churches, churches that provide for the conjunction of God with man.

They are: the knowledge and acknowledgment that Jesus Christ is the One God of Heaven and earth, and that the life of religion is to do good according to the truth from the Word.

Any group that acknowledges Jesus Christ as God, and which reads the Word for guidance in their daily life, is the Lord’s true Church. It has nothing to do with the name of the organization, nor with its historical roots, for names mean nothing–it is the life that each individual leads that means everything.

There are hundreds of passages in the Old and New Testaments that teach about the nature of the judgment to come. Many of them specifically say that each will be rewarded according to their works, their acts of charity in this world. Not a single one says that anyone will be rewarded for their faith alone.

When Jesus was specifically asked by the rich young man what he should do to earn eternal life, Jesus said that he had to do four things:

  • Obey the 10 Commandments,
  • turn away from the love of the world,
  • do good to others,
  • and to do all those things for the Lord’s sake.

Faith only enters into it in the fourth point. The young man, and by analogy each of us, was to obey the other commandments not because they were to our benefit, not for selfish reasons, but because the Lord asks it of us.

We might ask ourselves what it meant to the disciples to be “Christian.” From the evidence of the gospels, and the letters which they wrote to one another as they struggled to find forms appropriate to these new teachings, it is apparent that they believed that to be a Christian was to follow the teachings and example of Christ. The early Christian Church, when it was in its integrity, did exactly that. There may have been great diversity in how they applied their faith to life, but they all agreed in the two essentials of the church: that Jesus Christ was God, and that in order to serve God, they were to obey His commandments.

If the Christian Church had held to those two principles, and its members had lived in charity with each other, then there might not have been a judgment on that church; it might have happened that the Lord would have sent the truths that He could not reveal to the disciples, the revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word, to the Christian Church, giving it a gift of new life on a higher spiritual level, but it was not to be.

One of the most persistent doctrinal issues in the short history of the New Church has been the issue of whether the spiritual truths revealed through Emanuel Swedenborg were to be the foundation of a new church, or whether they were to enlighten and revitalize the old.

The early readers of Swedenborg argued that since there is nothing in the whole of the Writings that speaks directly of the earthly form of the New Church, and the fact that Swedenborg himself was a member of the Lutheran Church until his death, that there was no reason for there to be a distinct and separate New Church organization. Rather, they argued, it was intended that ministers in many different denominations would use the new revelation in their instruction from many diverse pulpits. In this way the doctrines of the New Church would “permeate” the Christian world.

Others argued that since the doctrines taught spiritual principles that implied an earthly organization, it was only for us to apply them to our own states and needs. Further, they said, it was clear that since the Christian Church had divided God into three, and insisted that faith without works was saving, that the heart of the Christian Church was corrupt, and an entirely new organization was required.

Two hundred years later, the General Church of the New Jerusalem stands as the strongest branch of the New Church, in part because of its position of supporting a distinct church structure. But there yet remain a small number of ministers of other, non-New Church denominations who preach sermons written through study of the Writings.

A church does not fall suddenly, but over a period of time.

For example, the beginning of the Judgment on the Jewish Church was marked by the capture and dispersion of the 10 tribes of Israel. The end of the judgment was marked by they way Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews driven out of the Holy land during the first century, to live among the “gentiles” in Europe and Asia until the twentieth century.

In a similar way the judgment on the Christian Church took a long time. It began when it failed the test of its first great doctrinal crisis.

From the very beginnings of the Christian Church, since they had seen the miracles and watched Jesus ascend into heaven, it had been an article of faith that Jesus Christ was God Incarnate, that He was Jehovah in the flesh, walking on earth among men. He Himself had said, “He who has seen me, has seen the Father” (John 14:9-5) But, some three hundred years later, there arose some leaders in the Christian Church who doubted, who taught that Jesus was not God, but rather a prophet, a man who carried God’s word like Moses, or Elijah. The Church leaders met in Nicea to discuss this key doctrinal issue.

After several years of argument, neither side was able to wholly convince and quiet the other, and so they decided that for the sake of peace in the Church that they would compromise. They voted to divide God into three parts. That way those who denied the divinity of Jesus could still say that He was not the Father, while those who supported His divinity could say that He was one of the three persons in God. And because it made no sense, they invented the concept of the Divine Mystery.

Speaking very generally, we can view all of history as a series of attempts by God to draw near and show Himself to mankind, and mankind’s subsequent attempts to cloud the issue, to put a great deal of doctrinal and theoretical distance between themselves and God.

What could have been more clear than to have God Himself walking on earth and teaching the people about Himself and heaven? Yet three hundred years later men had pushed Him away with a doctrine that no one could understand, and made a virtue of its mystery.

Once the doctrine of the trinity of persons had poisoned the heart of the Christian Church, the rest of the fall became inevitable.

The doctrine of the Church was contradictory to the evidence of scripture, so the scripture was withheld from the people on the pretext that it was too holy and too important to be trusted to their uneducated minds. And mankind entered what are now known as the “Dark Ages” because there was no intellectual light in the Western World.

The Church had turned to seeking its own natural and material ends, and it found it much easier to control an ignorant membership. They forgot the words of the Lord, “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

The Lord asked this hypothetical question of His followers to warn them against them temptations that befall the leaders of every church because He knew that religion, in the hand of a charismatic leader, could be a more powerful force than any army. And the leader of such a force, if he were morally weak, could easily be overcome with his desire to use it to gain worldly wealth and power for himself.

The greatest conflicts in history have been caused by this very failure on the part of the leaders of the various religious groups. Certainly some of the men who led armies to the Holy Land during the Crusades did so out of a sense of duty to preserve Christian relics from desecration by heathens, but at the same time many were drawn to the Holy Land to capture the wealth of Asia, and many were younger sons of European landholders whose holdings could no longer be divided to heirs and remain productive. And what better way to do it than by a war sanctioned by God!

Eventually there came an age of enlightenment. Men began to think and to study for themselves. They came to question the doctrines of the church, to challenge dogma with reason. History shows a gradual opening up of men’s minds beginning in the fifteenth century. First the Church in England broke away from the government of the Pope in Rome. Then others began to think and to question. Luther, Calvin, and Wesley made their contribution.

As refreshing as all this was, it was still men’s ideas substituting for Christ’s own teachings. In their own way, each of the doctrines developed during the Reformation is reasonable. The real problem is that they are the works of men, and they contradict the clear teachings of Christ in the New Testament. When brought together, they create a body of thought that leads to confusion in doctrinal things.

The Church became the means to natural wealth and power. By controlling the heart, the body and the purse went along as well. We see this yet today among some of the so-called Christian churches.

It was this confusion, based on ignorance and false doctrines, that allowed the hells to infest and invade the spiritual world, requiring the last judgment. Since falsity was the cause, revealed truth was the only solution. The situation in the natural world was simply a reflection of the state of the spiritual world.

Now that we have looked at the scriptural references and the natural history of the church that led up to the Last Judgment, next week, the next sermon in this series will deal with the conditions in the spiritual world that caused the confusion and disorder in the natural world that have been our subject today, and we will also see how the completion of the Last Judgment in 1770 has had an observable effect on world events.


Lessons: Isaiah 5:1-7, Matthew 16:21-28, TCR 762, 764:1

Page last modified January 20, 1998

The Last Judgment and Second Coming, Part 1

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Our God shall come, and shall not keep silent; A fire shall devour before Him, and it shall be very tempestuous all around Him. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people. (Psalm 50:3,4)

Each year we celebrate the 19th of June because Emanuel Swedenborg tells us in the work called The True Christian Religion that on that day in the year 1770 the Last Judgment was completed. (See TCR 791)

As that event marked the end of the previous spiritual era, we then date the beginning of the New Church from that date as well. To those of us who have been brought up in the Church, there is nothing very remarkable in that, but to those who are new to the Church it can seem very strange that we are about to celebrate the 225th anniversary of an event that most of the rest of the Christian world expects to happen in the future.

So as to promote a clearer understanding of this important and unique doctrine of the New Church, we will now begin a series of four sermons on the New Church doctrine of the Second Coming.

This, the first, will focus on the scriptural prophecies.

The second will deal with the fulfillment of the prophecy in the natural world,

the third will examine how the prophecies were also fulfilled in the spiritual world.

The fourth will show how it was revealed truth that effected the Last Judgment.

The Word refers to two different kinds of “Last Judgment”:

The personal judgment and the historical judgment

The final phase of every person’s life when he dies is his own “Last Judgment.” After death everyone rises again into the next life and appears for judgment. But that judgment is not a pronouncement from on high, but a gradual revelation of each person’s true interior nature by allowing it to come out as external restraints and inhibitions are gradually withdrawn.

In Scripture, the “Last Judgment” is sometimes also called the “end of the age.” Some have translated this as the “end of the world,” which carries a more dramatic meaning than was intended. As will be shortly shown from scripture passages, the Last Judgment is not the end of the world, but the end of one state of the spiritual church, and the beginning of a new era, or state.

In fact, there have already been several “last” judgments on the church.

The Most Ancient Church’s judgment was the Flood

The Ancient Church’s judgment was the tower of Babel

The Israelitish Church’s judgment was the crucifixion and resurrection

The birth of Jesus Christ, and their rejection of Him, was the final or last judgment on the Israelitish Church. This final judgment of the Jewish Church was the main topic of the Old Testament prophets.

Just as the final judgment on the Jewish Church was prophesied in the Old Testament, so what we usually call the Last Judgment on the Christian Church was also prophesied in the New Testament, especially in the 24th Chapter of Matthew and in the whole of the book of Revelation.

While the Lord was on earth and establishing the Christian Church, He could see that the combined effects of the doctrine of the Trinity invented in 325 at the Council of Nicea, and the doctrine of salvation by faith alone (introduced as a formal doctrine of the Christian Church by Martin Luther in the 16th century), would eventually destroy the Christian church which He had established. So He predicted its final judgment, and eventual return as the spirit of truth to establish a New Christian Church.

Let us take a moment and look at some Old Testament prophecies that speak of the final judgment that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, was coming to make on the Jewish Church:

In the 18th chapter of Genesis, as Abraham argues for the cities of Sodom and Gommorah which Jehovah is about to destroy because of their wickedness, he calls God the Judge of all the earth, and therefore, all the people in it. He says, “Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25)

But if God was recognized as the judge of the earth, He was seen as an angry, vengeful God by David, the Psalmist: “You shall make them as a fiery oven in the time of Your anger; The LORD shall swallow them up in His wrath, And the fire shall devour them. Their offspring You shall destroy from the earth, And their descendants from among the sons of men. For they intended evil against You; They devised a plot which they are not able to perform.” (Psalm 21:9-11)

The prophets could not tell exactly when God was coming to make this judgment, but one thing was abundantly clear, that God would reward the good, and the evil would be severely punished:

“For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the LORD, They shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; Indeed, you will look diligently for his place, But it shall be no more.” (Psalm 37:9,10)

“For the LORD loves justice, And does not forsake His saints; They are preserved forever, but the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off.” (Psalm 37:28)

Warned so often in such clear language, there was little excuse for the evils to continue unless they truly were the intention of the heart.

The prophecies were clear.

The king was coming, and He was coming to judge all people, judge them against the standard of His truth:

“For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth.” (Psalm 96:13)

“For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, and the peoples with equity.” (Psalm 98:9)

And the king did come, although not in the way that was expected. Rather than angry and vengeful, the king came with gentleness and compassion; healing, forgiving, and teaching.

Jesus Christ came to bring the truth to a world that thirsted for it.

Once He taught the truth, it was then up to the hearers to decide what to do with it. Should they hearken and change their lives? Should they scoff, and return to their old ways? The choice was theirs.

Jesus brought truth, and the Jewish Church judged itself against the rock of truth, and was found wanting. The way they treated Jesus Christ corresponded to the way they had been treating the truths of the Word for generations. Given one last chance, they failed the test, and the Christian Church was established to take their place.

As the Lord was establishing the Christian Church, He could see elements in it that would eventually lead to its failure, particularly the arguments over the nature of His own divinity, and the question of salvation by faith alone.

Before we make any assumptions, or leap to any conclusions, let us first see what He Himself taught about the matter in the New Testament.

It is interesting that in about half the references to the “end of the age” in the gospels actually refer to the personal Last Judgment referred to above. (Mt. 13:39, 13:49) They are a part of the body of parables where the Lord was teaching about the kingdom of heaven by comparing it to common occupations of those days such as farming and fishing. “The kingdom of heaven is like a harvest” or “a dragnet” He said, teaching that life in this world eventually ends for everyone, when the course of your life will be judged. It was the “end of the age,” meaning the end of the state of life in the natural world for those individuals.

However, when He was on the Mt. of Olives with His disciples, they came to him “privately” asking for Him to tell them when the judgment would come, and what would the signs of His coming and the end of the age be. (See Mt. 24:3 ff.) His answer, telling of the tribulation of the age, of earthquakes and famine, of the sun and moon and stars falling to earth before the Son of Man is seen coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, is very similar to the visions recorded by John in the book of Revelation.

This is an important point in understanding the nature of the Last Judgment: Jesus predicted certain events would be the sign which John later Himself saw in his visions of the spiritual world. Jesus predicted certain things; John later saw them in the spiritual world. The obvious conclusion is that the judgment that Jesus taught about was to take place in the spiritual world, not in the natural world!

When seen as a spiritual event, suddenly the whole nature of the Last Judgment and the Second Coming takes on a new aspect.

How could the Sun and the stars “fall to earth” when in fact they each are a million times bigger than the earth? But if the last judgment is a spiritual event, then the Sun, moon, and stars are seen as symbols, false ideas that have been replaced, pushed out by truths from the Lord.

If the Last Judgment is a spiritual event, then each person can enter spiritual life when they die, as Jesus Himself taught, and do not have to wait “until the last day” as some churches teach.

It is also interesting that in over one hundred and twenty collected passages that speak about the Last Judgment or the end of the age, not one of them said that anyone would be judged or found worthy on the basis of their faith. On the other hand, there were quite a few that said “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” (Mt. 16:27, Rev. 20:12, 22:12)

The descriptions of the Second Coming are consistent throughout the New Testament in that they usually say that the Son of God will return either with or in the clouds of heaven. (Mt. 24:30, 26:64, Mk. 14:62, Lk. 21;27, Act. 1:9, 1:11, Rev. 1:7)

As we have said before, if we understand that the Last Judgment and Second Coming are spiritual events, they can be seen from a spiritual sense, understood through the symbols that are used.

“Clouds” are often used in the Word to represent the literal sense of the Word.

For example, the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle where the ark containing the Ten Commandments was kept, was continually filled with clouds. The Jews understood this to mean the Divine presence with them, as it was related to the pillar of cloud which stood over the tabernacle by day. The holy of holies in Solomon’s temple was also filled with cloud.

The reason for this is that cloud obscures the vision, and the Israelitish Church saw the Word obscurely, they were blinded to the moral and spiritual things within by their strict adherence to the letter of the law. And so, in the New Testament, clouds were used as a symbol of that strict adherence to the letter of scripture.

The Lord taught that He would return in the “clouds of heaven” because He was teaching that once people became aware of the moral and spiritual sense within the Word, they could see the Lord in it. In other words, He was not coming in person, but in the Word as people began to really understand and see the wonderful Divine truths which it contained–they would literally see the Lord in the Word, or figuratively, in the “clouds of heaven.”

In the second sermon of this series, we will be looking at some events and ideas in the Christian Church as it developed that fulfilled the prophecies of the New Testament, and led to the actual events of the Second Coming.


Page last modified January 20, 1998