Why Even Great Leaders Can Fall Into Scandal

How is this possible? How can these transgressions happen, especially when many such individuals often expound noble behavior? They clearly have a sense of right and wrong.

The problem is not civility or morality. It is one’s spirituality. Misconduct is not simply a “slip” or a temporary mental state of bad judgment. It is the rejection of the concept of sin.

Many dynamic individuals may understand that certain behavior is immoral and loudly condemn such behavior as going against the public good. But if these things are not seen as sins, they remain soldering in the heart and are merely kept hidden from the world for the sake of reputation.

This is why Scripture warns us to “clean the inside of the cup” (Matthew 23:26). If something is not viewed as a sin, the inside of the cup remains as it is.

What is not usually taken into account is that humans have an inner and an outer reality. Humans are both physical and spiritual beings. But these two realities of our life can be completely separated from each other. We can be outwardly good but inwardly challenged. This leads to hypocrisy.

This inner deceit has led to a faulty reasoning of modernity which has adopted the life-slogan and inner conviction that, “something is wrong only if you get caught.” But how is it that such individuals can do great things for humanity and gain our deepest respect and praise?

Great things can be, and indeed are, accomplished by those who do not inspect their inner reality. In fact, they are often more motivated to accomplish great things which can benefit others than those of a more humble animus. The reason is quite simple. Such individuals are inwardly driven by the powerful principle of self-love and have pride from the glory of their own self-intelligence. So, in order to succeed and gain proper recognition, they push themselves more than others to accomplish great things.

The Lord God often makes wise use of those who are intoxicated by the power of self-love. For instance, various ego-centered individuals have been quite successful in spreading the Holy Word throughout the world by their immoderate passion for quoting scripture and speaking about God from the pulpit.

The problem is that while such individuals can be of real value to others, they shoot themselves in the foot. The spiritual world (heaven and hell) consists of the inner realities of people. That can be either a comforting or scary thought.

It is wrong to think we screw up because “to be human is to err.” We get our humanness from God and increase it through following spiritual tenets and the Commandments. God is always focused on our inner realities.

Do you think the concepts of “sin” and “evil” have relevancy in our post-modern world, or are they simply archaic terms used by the unenlightened?

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Forgiving Trespasses

 

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

http://www.revcooper.ca/sermons/0015.htm

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (MAT 6:14, 15).

Our text for this morning is taken from the Sermon on the Mount; the verses that immediately follow the Lord’s Prayer. These words are extremely familiar to us as the responsive that follows the Lord’s Prayer in our services of worship: The minister says, “O Lord forgive us our trespasses,” and we respond, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Forgiveness is an extremely important topic, because we are all affected by it in so many ways, and in so many different aspects of our lives. We look at the course of our own lives and we pray to the Lord for His forgiveness. We examine our relationships with family and friends and we become painfully aware of things that we have done to anger or hurt the ones we love – and we long for their forgiveness. Perhaps we even look deeply enough to see things that we profoundly regret that we have done to ourselves or to others against our better judgement, things that cause us to grieve, to say, “I’ll never be able to forgive myself for that.” We need to forgive ourselves so that we can be at peace with ourselves and get on with the uses of life.

All these kinds of forgiveness – from the Lord, from others, and from ourselves – have one thing in common: that we have done something that has caused offence to others and for which we need to be forgiven. This is the forgiveness that is given the most attention in the Heavenly Doctrines, for it specifically regards our personal relationship with the Lord.

However, there is another side to forgiveness that is just as important to our spiritual welfare, and that is that we must be forgiving to others.

While the natural world is governed by the Lord, yet He permits evil men to act, so that the evil can be seen, and rejected. If He did not allow men to express their evils, they would forever remain in the will, and would corrupt the spirit from within. Therefore, in order that a person can be saved from his evils, the Lord allows him to act them out. That means that things do not always happen the way we think they should. People try to say one thing, and something else is heard. A friendly jest made in passing strikes deeply into an unsuspected emotional wound and causes extreme pain instead laughter.

We could go on at some length compiling a list of the ways in which we can offend people without intending it, or even knowing that it has happened, but the picture should be clear enough by now. Giving and receiving offences is a fact of life in the natural world. These offences lead us to feelings of anger, enmity and even hatred towards those with whom we live and work. Everyone can immediately see that feelings of anger, enmity, and revenge make it impossible to act in charity toward the neighbour, and since the life of religion is to do good, these angry feelings actually remove us from a life of religion. Forgiveness is the only salve for these painful emotional wounds.

The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church tell us that in the other world new spirits sometimes do or say what is wrong. Spirits who intend evil to another and then act on it are severely punished. However, good spirits, if they happen to speak something unkind or thoughtless, or do something that has been forbidden, are not punished, but pardoned and excused; for it was not their intention to do evil. The angels know that the evil actions were excited in them by the hells, so it is not judged to be their fault. The nature of their intention can be determined by whether or not the spirit has resisted the act on previous occasions, and, if he has failed in his resistance, by whether he was obviously grieved by his failure. (Remember that in the spiritual world no one is able to be hypocritical, their true nature shines forth from their face for all to read.) These are the signs that the angels use to judge a spirit’s intentions. We can use these same signs (resisting beforehand and grief if there is failure) ourselves in our everyday relationships with other unregenerate human beings (See AC 6559).

It has happened to every one of us that an unkind word, or an evil act has simply popped out before we could do anything about it. If it’s a minor thing, we can sometimes smooth it over with a quick and sincere apology. Since it has happened to all of us, we should then be able to recognize in the abstract that the same thing can, and does, happen to anyone – and when it does, it is no more their fault than it was when you did it.

As long as we are not personally involved we can stand aloof, be objective, and try to calm the angry parties down. We frequently excuse one person’s actions to another by saying, “yes, I heard what he said, but he didn’t mean it that way…”

This is even easier to see when we think of an adult trying to settle an argument between squabbling children. We find it so easy to tell the children to stop being angry at each other because the offences were not intended. We insist that they stop being so silly, that they make-up, and be friends.

It is much more difficult for us to be calm and objective about a situation where we are personally involved, because our built in defences are immediately called into play. Sometimes we think it is more important to find someone to blame than it is to solve the problem. The Lord created us with a strong love of self so that we could defend, care for, and educate ourselves. It was intended to be controlled by the rational adult mind and be fully subservient to the loves of the Lord and the neighbour. However, very few of us can say that our self-love is under our full rational control. Instead, it intrudes into our lives, blinding us to reasonable explanations, turning us away from peaceful solutions, and making us feel angry and vengeful instead.

Our text tells us two essential truths about forgiveness. First it tells us that the Lord wills to forgive us for those things which we have done against His commandments, and secondly, it tells us that in order to receive the Lord’s forgiveness – which every one of us needs – we must first forgive those who have offended us. We may be able to see that we should forgive those who have offended us, but not know how. We might be able to say, “I forgive you” but find that the anger still burns within, the grudge is still carried. How can we forgive in such a way that we feel better for it ourselves? We must look to the Lord’s own example for our answer.

The Lord tells us that He can forgive any sin, except one: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven because it is in effect the denial that the Lord has the power to save. If a person denies that the Lord has the power to save him, or if he believes that he does not need to be saved, he will not ask for forgiveness. Since we know that the Lord preserves and protects our spiritual freedom above all else, it can be seen that the Lord will not forgive a man who does not wish to be forgiven, who does not ask for His help. The Lord can forgive any sin, He can help a person out of any trouble if only that person sincerely asks for His help. This is why blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven: it is not the Lord who refuses to forgive, but the man who refuses to seek the Lord’s help. The Lord will not enter a person’s life without an invitation.

We should try to adopt the Lord’s attitude, to learn from His example. We need to cultivate a forgiving attitude in ourselves, be willing to forgive any offence. This is, of course, extremely difficult to do at first, since our emotions become stirred so quickly – but it might be helpful to remember the arguing children and try to ask ourselves, when offences come, if we really believe that the other person intended to cause harm. And, if we believe that there was no intention of harm, what then were they trying to do? We may find that in most cases where we take offence that there never was any real offence to be forgiven!

In our third lesson, we read about three degrees of hatred. The first, signified by being “angry without cause,” is to have evil thoughts about another person, and could be exemplified by common gossip – telling stories that show people in an unflattering light. The second degree of hatred, signified by saying “Raca” is to intend evil for another, and could be exemplified by slander – telling what we know to be lies to harm the reputation of another. The third degree, signified by saying “Thou Fool” is the evil will, which would lead to harmful action towards another. In forgiveness, each of these three degrees of anger and hatred must be met by the appropriate degree of love and charity. We need to be prepared to counter evil thoughts with good thoughts, evil intentions with good intentions, and evil will with good will.

As we saw in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant in our first lesson, and as can also be seen in many other places in the New Testament, the Lord wants us to forgive others in the same way He will forgive us. And in the same way the Lord fails when a man chooses to refuse His forgiveness and join others like himself in hell, we too will sometimes fail in our relationships with other people. We may be willing to forgive, but they cannot bring themselves to ask for it. It is unfortunately true that there are people who, for one reason or another, act as if they either don’t care about the feelings of others, or else they seem to enjoy hurting their feelings. There is not much we can do about such people, for that is the path which they have freely chosen for themselves, except to hope that they may eventually see the light and change their lives.

There is not one of us who has gone through life without making a mistake, without doing something that causes pain and grief to another, pain that we certainly did not intend. We need to look at the deeds and words of others as we would have them look at ours. We need to try to look at the words and deeds of others in the same way that the angels look at the words and deeds of new spirits in the other life. We need to recognize that the feelings of anger, enmity, and hatred that we feel come from hell specifically so that they can destroy charity while at the same time appealing to our loves of self. We must be as aware of these feelings and shun them as we would adultery, theft, or murder – for they are just as dangerous to our spiritual life.

We must even judge ourselves honestly according to the actual intentions we had at the time, and not according to facts that only came to light after the action had already been taken. The Lord judges us only according to the intentions of our hearts, and forgives all those who ask for mercy, provided that they themselves have during their life in this world, conscientiously practised mercy and forgiveness.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (text). AMEN.

First Lesson: MAT 18:21-35

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” {22} Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. {23} “Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. {24} “And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. {25} “But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. {26} “The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ {27} “Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. {28} “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ {29} “So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ {30} “And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. {31} “So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. {32} “Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. {33} ‘Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ {34} “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. {35} “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Second Lesson: LUK 6:20-38

Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God. {21} Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh. {22} Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. {23} Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets. {24} “But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation. {25} Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep. {26} Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets. {27} “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, {28} “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. {29} “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. {30} “Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. {31} “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. {32} “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. {34} “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. {35} “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. {36} “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. {37} “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. {38} “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Third Lesson: AE 746f. [18]

That one who thinks ill of his neighbor without adequate cause, and turns himself away from the good of charity, will be punished lightly as to his soul, is signified by “Whosoever is angry with his brother without cause shall be liable to the judgment;” “to be angry,” signifies to think ill, for it is distinguished from “saying Raca,” and “saying Thou fool.” “Brother” means the neighbor, and also the good of charity, and “to be liable to the judgment” means to be examined and to be punished according to circumstances. That one who from wrong thought slanders the neighbor, and thus despises the good of charity as of little value, will be punished grievously, is signified by “whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be liable to the council,” for “to say Raca” signifies to slander the neighbor from evil thought, thus to hold the good of charity to be of little value. That one who hates the neighbor, that is, one who is altogether averse to the good of charity, is condemned to hell, is signified by “whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be liable to the hell of fire.” These three describe three degrees of hatred, the first is from evil thought, which is “to be angry,” the second is from consequent evil intention, which is “to say Raca,” and the third is from an evil will, which is “to say Thou fool.” All these are degrees of hatred against the good of charity, for hatred is the opposite of the good of charity. Amen.

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SOWING WILD OATS

SOWING WILD OATS
A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
Cataloged May 4, 1997

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery. ‘ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27,28).

The question I would like to address today is, Can you learn from the mistakes and experiences of others, or do you actually have to do evil yourself.?

Our parents taught us that there were some things that we must not do. But there were some things that we wanted to do anyhow. We tried not to do them, and for a long time we could resist, but eventually we grew older and became independent. We moved away from home, our parents’ influence grew less and less, the encouragement of our friends grew stronger, and we ended up doing them anyhow.

At first it was exciting! It was liberating, wonderful. Then all the wheels fell off and the consequences had to be paid. Then we first began to understand the pain and the hurt that our parents had struggled to protect us from.

Having learned the lesson for ourselves, having lived it, we tried to tell others, perhaps our own children, how they could avoid that pain, but they’re just like us – they don’t listen. Off they go to make the same mistakes that we made, to suffer the same pain that we suffered, and they just won’t listen. But they learn from their errors and want to pass their “new” knowledge on to others who also won’t listen, and so on.

How often does this cycle repeat itself? Doesn’t it begin to seem that the only way people can really learn something is to experience it for themselves, to make the mistakes, and to suffer the consequences? We learn to tolerate all kinds of disorders in our children, our friends and ourselves, because we begin to believe that we can really learn about evil only through personal experience. Such a belief is one of those ideas that come from hell to allow us to justify our own evils to ourselves and to others. So we look away when young people stay out late drinking, carrying on. We hope that they will get into just enough trouble that they will learn from it without permanent harm. After all, everyone has to experience these things for himself or herself – at least that’s what we think. They’re just “sowing their wild oats.” Everyone does it. Unfortunately, such a view flies in the face of what the Word teaches.

If you had to learn everything for yourself by experience, what would be the purpose of having the Word in the first place? The Writings tell us that in heaven, those who have died as children need to be instructed about evil so that they can recognize it. But how can you teach about evil in heaven where there is no evil? The Writings tell us that spirits and angels learn about evil and its dangers through plays.

We read from Conjugial Love n. 17:5 – “Moreover, outside the city there are also theatrical performances by players, representing the varieties of honorableness and virtue characteristic of the moral life; and among them, for the sake of relationship, are also actors. Here one of the ten asked, ‘Why for the sake of relationship?’ They answered: ‘No one of the virtues with its display of honorableness and decorum can be presented in a living way except by things related thereto from the greatest of them to the least. But it is established by law that nothing of the opposite, which is called dishonorable or unseemly, shall be exhibited except figuratively and, as it were, remotely.”‘

This passage is teaching that the only way that good can be taught is by comparison to evil, and so the plays that are conducted in heaven and in the world of spirits are done in such a way as to show the relationship among various moral virtues. There are actors who pretend to be evil for the sake of teaching others the need to avoid evil. It’s not outward evil, it’s not horrible, but it’s clearly enough suggested that the difference is clearly seen. Those people who have grown up in heaven can see the play, can see evil being presented there, be horrified by it, and see that it touches a chord with the evil within themselves. In this way they recognize that there is evil within themselves and they’re horrified by that and they flee from it.

They learn about evil, they flee from it, without ever having to actually do it themselves. They learn simply by perceiving evil’s effect in someone else.

Do we really need to sow wild oats to experience real life for ourselves? The Word seems to say that we can read about it, that we can use our imagination, that there is a use in plays that suggest evil and explore its consequences without glorifying it, such as “Macbeth.”

There may even be a use in the kinds of movies that we see today that depict graphic violence, if the result is that by seeing it we are horrified and turn away from it. It is a problem, of course, that there are those who see these kinds of things, believe them to be good and are fascinated by them and attracted to them.

The text for this sermon is the section where the Lord taught that to lust in your heart after one not your spouse is the same as to actually commit the adultery, and in this way He was showing that it is possible to sin in your mind without sinning as to the body. If we can image a deed in our minds, we don’t have to actually do it. We can create a fantasy in which we’ve enjoyed the delights of evil and then (and this is the important step) look at the probable consequences as well as the delights. By thinking about what we picture ourselves doing in our fantasies we can learn to shun evils by observing them in the abstract within ourselves.

Remember what it said in TCR 535: “It is strange that anyone can find fault with another for his evil intentions, and say, ‘Do not do that because it is a sin,’ and yet find it difficult to say this to himself; but this is because the latter touches the will, but the former only the thought nearest to hearing……….

In each of us there is an aspect which we call the “parent” which treats others as if they are children. When we see someone about to do something wrong we want to warn him against it because we know from our own experience that it will cause hurt, and which one of us can stand silently by and watch someone that we care about be hurt? And yet at the same time we find it difficult to restrain ourselves. We look for ways to excuse our own evils, to make them acceptable and permissible. We change their names to make them sound nicer. We’re not “sinning”; we’re “sowing wild oats.” Now what does the Word say? “All who do good from religion avoid actual evils …” (TCR 535).

We’re also taught in another place that an evil once done by mistake can be removed fairly easily. That’s true, but if you do it a few times from intention it becomes firmly anchored in the will and becomes much more difficult to remove (see DP 112:3). The danger is that if we allow ourselves the right to experiment with evil, it will happen that we end up doing some of those evils many times from intention. In this way the hells lead us to do the very thing that will entrench the love of that particular evil in our lives while leading us to believe that we’re doing it for some good reason, that we are safe, that we are having harmless fun. We really have to avoid doing them at all – ever – to avoid the danger of having them become a permanent part of our character.

Consider the example used in the first lesson, the story of Joash and Elisha. The prophet, representing the Word and authority, asked Joash to do something. But Joash didn’t fully understand so he didn’t do it with enthusiasm; and after the fact, when he had struck only three times and realized that he was not going to be able to totally defeat Syria, he realized that his lack of enthusiasm was going to cost him.

We all feel that way about rules, because rules challenge our proprium, our love of self, our desire to do things our own way. We follow rules grudgingly, if we follow them at all, and sometimes that leads to painful results: teenage pregnancies, cars that are crashed while the drivers are intoxicated. We always think we know better, that we can beat the odds because we are so clever. But the Lord repeatedly teaches differently. He teaches us by illustrations in the Word so that we can learn about doing things without having to do them ourselves.

Think of the example of the good Samaritan: The story tells that a priest and a Levite passed by an injured man but it was a man from Samaria that showed mercy upon him, took him to an inn and paid for his medical treatment with his own money. The Lord wants us to see that these are both sides of our own characters. He wants us to imagine ourselves as a priest or a Levite walking by, realizing that that is the wrong thing to do, by imagining it and feeling the same thing we would feel if we went walking down the street and saw an injured man and just walked by. And then He wants us to imagine how we would feel if we were Samaritans walking by, picking the injured man up and helping him. By using the imaginative degree of our minds we can feel the same emotions and be enlightened to know what the Lord wants us to do. We don’t have to actually walk past an injured man to feel the selfishness and know that it is right to help.

Think of the story of the prodigal son: when we read this story we like to remember the parts about how the young man went into the city and lived the high life, because we would like to do that, and then when he had learned his lesson, he went home and was received by his father as if nothing had happened. He put a beautiful garment on him. He put gold rings on his fingers and we think to ourselves, “What a marvelous story! We can go off to the big city, we can waste ourselves and then come home and be forgiven and be treated as if nothing had ever happened!” But we forget that before the young man came to his senses he had to hit bottom. We forget the increasing desperation that he felt as his money began to run out and he realized that he had no prospects of getting more, that the friends he had made while he had money were leaving him behind. We forget the humiliation that he felt as his new friends turned away from him; and we forget the hunger, the desperate hunger that drove him to his hands and knees fighting the pigs for their swill.

The Lord wants us to remember both parts of the story. He wants each of us to be the brother who stayed behind, and when the other son came home, he learned from it. The brother who stayed behind suffered none of these things. All he had to deal with were some feelings of jealousy, and yet he learned the same lesson.

The same thing is true with the parable of the lost sheep which we read as part of the second lesson. It is likely that every child has felt lost for a few minutes, enough so that we all have a sense of the panic that is felt when one is well and truly lost.

Do we think that the Lord really wants us to get lost so that we can be found? What kind of shepherd would He be then? He is the Good Shepherd; that’s what He teaches in the Word. It is His job to make sure we do not get lost, but if we suffer from enough stubbornness or stupidity to get lost anyhow, then He will come looking for us. The lost sheep may be found, but then it becomes an example of foolishness that keeps the ninety and nine close to the shepherd where they belong. The Lord doesn’t want us to be lost sheep. He wants us to be one of the ninety and nine living happily and securely and peacefully within the flock.

TCR 535 says, “Since actual repentance, which is examining oneself, recognizing and acknowledging one’s sins, praying to the Lord and beginning a new life, is in the Reformed Christian world exceedingly difficult, … therefore an easier kind of repentance is here presented, which is that when anyone is giving thought to any evil and intending it, he shall say to himself, ‘Although I am thinking about this and intending it, I will not do it because it is a sin.’ By this means the temptation injected from hell is checked, and its further entrance prevented. ” Amen.

Lessons: 2 Kings 13:14-19, Luke 15: 1-10, TCR 535

True Christian Religion 535

THOSE ALSO REPENT WHO ALTHOUGH THEY DO NOT EXAMINE THEMSELVES, YET REFRAIN FROM EVILS BECAUSE THEY ARE SINS; AND THOSE WHO FROM RELIGION DO THE WORK OF CHARITY EXERCISE SUCH REPENTANCE.

Since actual repentance, which is examining oneself, recognizing and acknowledging one’s sins, praying to the Lord and beginning a new life, is in the Reformed Christian world exceedingly difficult for many reasons that will be given in the last section of this chapter, therefore an easier kind of repentance is here presented, which is that when anyone is giving thought to any evil and intending it, he shall say to himself, “Although I am thinking about this and intending it, I will not do it because it is a sin.” By this means the temptation injected from hell is checked, and its further entrance prevented. It is strange that anyone can find fault with another for his evil intentions, and say, “Do not do that because it is a sin,” and yet find it difficult to say this to himself, but this is because the latter touches the will, but the former only the thought nearest to hearing. Inquiry was made in the spiritual world as to who were capable of this [actual] repentance, and they were found to be as few as doves in a vast desert. Some said that they could repent in the easier way, but were not able to examine themselves and confess their sins before God. All who do good from religion avoid actual evils, but they very rarely reflect upon the interiors pertaining to the will, for they believe that they are not in evil because they are in good, and even that the good covers the evil. But, my friend, the first thing of charity is to shun evils. This is taught in the Word, the Decalogue, baptism, the holy supper and even by the reason; for how can anyone flee away from evils and banish them without some self- inspection? And how can good become good until it has been interiorly purified? I know that all pious men, and also all men of sound reason, will assent to this when they read it, and will see it as genuine truth, but still, that few will act accordingly.

FORGIVENESS

FORGIVENESS

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

Arcana Coelestia 9014:3

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

THE LOST SON

THE LOST SON

A Sermon by Rev. Ragnar BoyesenPreached in Freeport, Pennsylvania, in November 1985

 

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants”‘” (Luke 15:17-19).

The parable of the lost son is summarized in the simple spiritual fact of the loss of spiritual life through egotism. The parable shows us how we can return from being spiritually lost.

The love of pleasures and luxuries is here weighed against the love of parental authority. In itself there is no wrong in seeking pleasures and possessions because these are necessary and enriching as long as they are subjected to our will to serve the Lord. But as goals in themselves, the love of pleasures and possessions is destructive.

The man in the parable has two sons. In the internal sense of the Word the Lord is Himself Father for both the internal and the external churches, for the Christian Church and for the heathen church. The Christian Church is represented by the young son who deceives his father, while the heathen church is represented by the elder son who remains with his father. The parable of the lost son is the internal story of how the Lord lost the Christian Church, His internal church.

The two brothers in the parable are types for the external and internal in each of us. The spiritual man is supposed to affect and subject the external man to itself. But most often the external man is lost in self-service and in the world, trying to appear just in the eyes of others. The external man will do good, but from moral and ethical norms which do not have spiritual motives. This is the elder brother who continues his service in the house of his father, but who nevertheless is distant from him, because his father’s love and mercy are not received in his envy of the younger brother. The older son perceives himself as an unfree servant. The younger son does not feel unfree. He asks his father for his inheritance and travels to far countries, where his riches are squandered. This is the old story of the riches of charity which are lost when man believes that life belongs to himself, and desires to do good from himself.

The lost son has often, in Protestant tradition, been pictured as the poor wayward and misguided son who in actual fact is good but to be pitied. This sentimental interpretation has its counterpart in the view that the young man was the wasteful son. The parable could therefore be called the “wasteful son.” It is this meaning which is taken up in the Writings when they explain that the youngest son represents one who squanders his spiritual riches to no purpose (see AE 279). The waste consists in the individual knowing the spiritual norms the Lord has put on morals and ethics, and yet refusing to live according to these norms. The wastefulness consists in the existence of a knowledge which never is used because the will is lacking.

The older brother, who also represents the simple and obedient man of the Christian Church who in sincerity reads the Word in its literal meaning and lives according to it, cannot in the same way be charged with wastefulness because he does not know the internal meaning of the Word, and for that reason he cannot be expected to use that meaning in his life.

The man of the New Church, however, who knows what the Writings teach but who turns away from using his knowledges is in the highest degree to be likened to the lost son. The one who from an egotistical will tries to live within the New Church, and at the same time only concedes to fill his or her memory with truths, is counted as one of the rebels who have demanded their spiritual inheritance paid out in advance, and who are using it in spiritually luxurious living.

The spiritual inheritance is our knowledges of heaven, the love of the neighbor and love for the Lord. These are spiritual riches which we must guard with care and love, to be used wisely so that they will multiply. But he who keeps his truths to himself as his private property which he can do with as he pleases has that same lack of spiritual responsibility which characterized the wasteful son. Without our conscious struggle to search out the will of the Lord, we waste His riches in self- aggrandizement and illusory joys which are but false pleasures. How often have the tendencies of the world quietly sneaked into our minds while we uncritically have watched the so-called “other people” around us? Are we not often lacking self-critique? Are we not selfish and pleasure-seeking? How often do we not speak from our memory alone, from what we know, and not from what we actually feel and have reflected upon? We are afraid of the proprial feelings in others because we instinctively will want to guard our own proprium.

As long as the impulses of our egocentric will has its way with us, so long do we live in a foreign country.

Like the lost son, we have taken out our inheritance ahead of time when we know about the conditions of eternal life without doing anything about changing. We are wasteful as long as we believe that we have our thoughts and our feelings as our very own possession. As long as they are with us they are selfish thoughts and worldly expressions of will which draw our spiritual gifts down into the dust where they become foreign to us because they have become soiled. We are figuratively reduced to the pitiful status of a swine herdsman every time the needs of the body are allowed to claim all our attention at the expense of our spiritual needs. When the natural in us no longer serves us, but drives us as a taskmaster, we live from “the pods that the swine ate,” subjected in foreign service while our spirit goes hungry.

And here we reach the paradox in the parable. Just this spiritual hunger makes the natural life in us pale. Our natural life appears no longer to have any lasting attraction for us. We are instead apt to discover how meaningless life has become in this foreign service. When the natural man in us will accept the presence of disillusion and despair, we can be reached by a flow of reflection which can wake the conscience in us. Through temptations we are reminded of the blessings of our father’s house, those tender remains from childhood instruction which always will remind us to return to our true spiritual home. Through temptation we feel at first a general sense of bad conscience, the result of evil spirits flowing in to harm us. This is like the famine in the land which forces us to think, to reflect. If we “come to” ourselves, we shall remember that we cannot do anything that is truly good from ourselves, but that we will continue to stick fast in our tendencies to evil. If we could but come so far that we acknowledge that we are not good, that we have no spiritual rights whatsoever, then the Lord can save us from our feeling of evil. One who knows that he or she is not good at heart, but who desires to do good not from self but from the Lord, can be likened to the lost son who comes to himself in that foreign country.

The awakening consists of our realization that we are not only generally sinful, but that we have specific sins. When we gain a new knowledge of our states which convinces us that we have one arch weakness, we can be said to wake up spiritually. With a specific realization of a sin we can pray to the Lord to ask Him for that specific power which we will need to overcome our weakness. Through reflection and temptation we can wake up from our spiritual exile. Like the son we must also wish to return to our spiritual home.

Because only the Lord can remove evils, we have to demonstrate that we want Him to help us. We have to stand up and walk home. This is the same as removing those evils that keep us down. We have to take away those evil habits and thoughts that dominate our natural life. All cooperation with the Lord is initiated by man; otherwise he would not be a free spiritual being. When you and I break one of the commandments, we break all of them, because we deny that such a breach is a sin against God. Without the acknowledgment that an evil action is a sin, we will remain in that sin. The Lord cannot take away our sin without our cooperation (see TCR 523).

When knowledge changes from a joyless confirmation to true repentance, the spiritual life in man embarks on renewal. It is through the gift of freedom that man can discover that specific evil which has forced him into spiritual exile. Through reflection we can conclude and affirm: this evil is a sin. Like the lost son, we awaken from the dry desert states of egotism when we open up to remember those states of charity and joy from childhood. These memories light a new longing within our minds: “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants'” (Luke 15:17- 19).

Humility and that genuine acknowledgment of our own spiritual poverty can make us determine to reform, with the Lord’s help. Through self-examination we can find those weaknesses which protect our egotistical side of life. Through prayer for help, we turn our thoughts to our heavenly Father, which will motivate us to return to His house. If we dare to confess that we actually have that very specific weakness, that very one which hinders us from being conjoined with the Lord, then we will receive courage through our prayers. By confessing freely, we can be given the will to submission by the Lord. This is the will to start from the beginning, like a servant who is not worthy to be called a son. By a willing submission we are motivated to return to our Father’s house, to that new contact with heaven that will. inspire us and bring us onward in life. By a willing return to the Lord in the Word, we will find that the Lord can reveal to us our inmost intentions, our most secret thoughts. When we go to the Lord with the willingness to be led, to learn to obey, then a new life begins.

“But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). Joyfully the father of the lost son brings him into the house where he asks the servants to slaughter the fatted calf while he puts new clothes on his son — the best robe, a ring and shoes. “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:24).

The Lord sees us like a father even when we are far away from Him. The vigil of His Providence never leaves us. When we make that first confession: “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and against You, and am no more worthy to be called Your son,” then the Lord inflows with a new strength and hope in our mind.

Through the repentance of action are we capable of returning to our Father’s house, to the Lord as He is revealed in the Word. The new robe He clothes us with are new perceptions and new realizations from a love of truth which longs to see it work in our lives. The new ring, which is love in the internal man, is that love of conjunction which gladly accepts submission to the Lord. The new shoes are the new affections in the external man that make the external man serve the internal man because of our willingness to exercise self-compulsion (see AE 279).

The Lord will give us this new and heavenly love when we resist evil for the explicit reason that we wronged the Lord. No other motive is capable of bringing us back to the house of our spiritual Parent. “… a man who is in good not only acts aright from the will but also thinks aright from the understanding, and this not only before the world but also before himself when he is alone. Not so a man who is in evil …. For whatever anyone wills from love, he wills to do, he wills to think, he wills to understand, and he wills to speak …. To this is also to be added that when a man shuns what is evil as a sin, he is in the Lord, and the Lord then works everything” (Life 47, 48).

The first resistance to our states of egotistical life is the beginning of our heavenly life. First we lose our egotistical nature before we are given a heavenly willingness to serve. Having been a spiritual squanderer by letting the knowledges from the Lord remain inactive, we are turned through self-compulsion to serve Him and our fellow man. By this willing service we are given that new heavenly freedom which makes us part of that heavenly family of helpers who love nothing better than obeying the will of their Father while attending to the needs of their brothers and sisters. In joy the Lord comes to meet us: “For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” Amen.

Lessons: Luke 15:11-32, TCR 510

 


True Christian Religion

510 The communion called the church consists of all men in whom the church is, and the church enters into man when he is becoming regenerate, and everyone becomes regenerate by abstaining from the evils of sin and shunning them as one would an infernal horde with torches in hand, endeavoring to overtake him and throw him upon a burning pile. There are many means by which man, as he progresses in his early years, is prepared for the church and introduced into it; but the means whereby the church is established in man are acts of repentance. Acts of repentance are all such things as cause man not to will and consequently not to commit evils, which are sins against God; for until this takes place, man stands outside of regeneration, and if any thought respecting eternal salvation should then creep into his mind, he turns toward it, but immediately turns away from it, for it enters the man no further than into the ideas of his thought, and from that goes forth into the words of his speech, and also, it may be, into some gestures conformable to speech. But when such thought enters the will, it is in the man, for the will is the man himself, because in it his love resides, while thought is outside of the man, except when it proceeds from his will, and then will and thought act as one, and both together constitute the man. From this it follows that for repentance to be repentance, and to be effective in man, it must be a repentance of the will and from that of the thought, and not of the thought only; therefore that it should be actual repentance, and not merely verbal. That repentance is the first thing of the church is very evident from the Word. John the Baptist, who was sent beforehand to prepare men for the church which the Lord was about to establish, when he baptized, preached at the same time repentance; and therefore his baptism was called the baptism of repentance, for the reason that baptism signified spiritual washing, which is a cleansing from sin. This John did in Jordan because Jordan signified introduction into the church, for it was the first boundary of the land of Canaan where the church was. The Lord Himself also preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins, teaching thereby that repentance is the first thing of the church, and so far as man repents, his sins are put away, and so far as they are put away, they are forgiven. And still further, the Lord commanded His twelve apostles, and also the seventy whom He sent forth, to preach repentance. From all this it is clear that the first thing of the church is repentance.

FORGIVENESS

FORGIVENESS

A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn October 23, 1994

The subject of this sermon is the Divine example of forgiveness. The text is the Lord’s well known statement:

 

“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

These were the Lord’s words as they crucified Him. They are an expression of the Divine love for the human race a love so deep that it never faltered, even in the moment of its supreme rejection. It did not ask, “How often? Seven times?” But forgave “until seventy times seven,” and even to the end.

This moving incident of forgiveness does not stand alone in Scripture. It is prefigured by an incident that took place in the days of Jacob and his sons. We refer to Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers. In their jealousy, the older sons of Jacob had plotted against Joseph and sold him into slavery in Egypt. Staining his garment with the blood of a goat, the brothers brought it to Jacob as evidence of the fate of Joseph, and Jacob concluded that he was dead.

But Joseph was not dead. By a kind of figurative resurrection he rose to supreme power in the land of Egypt, and when famine struck, Joseph stood as a savior to the people. The brothers by whose hand he was betrayed come to beg bread, and Joseph forgave them.

Two incidents of forgiveness one in the book of Genesis, another in the Gospels both expressing the same eternal truth about the Divine love. The Writings declare that the Lord came to fulfill the Law. This means not only that the prophecies about the Messiah to come were fulfilled by His birth, but more than that, in every respect the Lord lived up to the eternal truths expressed in the Word. So, in the instance of His crucifixion and the Lord’s words of forgiveness which he said then, we have the Lord’s expression of Divine forgiveness prefigured in the Joseph story. The entire Old Testament is a veiled preview of the Lord’s life on earth. The Heavenly Doctrine for the New Church specifically teaches that “how the Lord was received when He came into the world, and how He was tempted and then became Lord of heaven and earth … is described by the story of Joseph” (AE 448:16).

There are parallels even in the literal accounts. Joseph’s coat of many colors which his brothers stripped from him reminds us of the Lord’s garments divided among those that crucified Him. Garments are said to signify the appearances of truth in the Word, or truth in the natural degree (see AC 4733). As such they can be twisted to confirm any belief. Without the light of the internal sense, natural truths can be used to confirm any idea. So the blood on Joseph’s coat was used to convince his father that Joseph was dead. Again, in Egypt, Joseph had escaped the seductive grasp of the wife of Potiphar only by slipping from his garment the garment later brought as evidence against him. The human heredity the Lord took on from Mary was the outer garment of His life which He had to lay aside to become Divinely Human. Joseph was lowered into a pit to be left for dead. The Lord was put in a tomb. Joseph rose from obscurity in an Egyptian prison to become a ruler in Egypt. The Lord rose from the tomb to become ruler of heaven and earth.

It is by a revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word, however, that the full harmony of the Scriptures may be seen. In the account of Joseph’s reconciliation the full implication of the Lord’s words of forgiveness on the cross may be known. Here we learn that the Divine love is the essential and unchanging essence of God. This unfailingly extends forgiveness to all. More clearly expressed in the Joseph story, however, is the requirement of the Divine wisdom. Embodied in this account is the truth about repentance on our part if we are to be forgiven.

“Heaven is not granted from mercy apart from means,” we are taught, “but in accordance with the life” (HH 54, footnote 1). “Sins are not forgiven through repentance of the mouth, but through repentance of the life … Sins adhere to the man however much he may suppose that they have been forgiven,” the doctrine states, “nor are they removed from him except through a life according to the commands of faith. So far as he lives according to these commands, so far his sins are removed; and so far as they are removed, so far they have been forgiven” (AC 8393).

So it was that before Joseph’s reconciliation with the brothers who high-handedly sold him into slavery, we read of their remorse and change of heart. When Joseph, still unknown to them, threatens to keep Benjamin in Egypt while sending the others back, Judah offers his life instead. The same Judah who suggested the selling of Joseph for gain is willing to guarantee Benjamin’s release. This is a remarkable life-change. Think of it. The man who put the blood-soaked coat of Joseph into his father’s hands, allowing him to think his son was dead, now says, “How shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me, lest perhaps I see the evil that would come upon my father?” (Gen. 44:34) There is a new sensitivity and a deep concern for others that has been born in Judah and his brothers. This allows the reconciliation to take place. The love that Joseph has yearned to express now has a place to be received. So Joseph sent away all his Egyptian servants, revealed his identity to his astounded brothers, embraced Benjamin and wept for joy. “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

We find the true theme of forgiveness in many places in the Word, but a false conception of it pervades the minds of many in the Christian world. The doctrine for the New Church has been given to restore an understanding of the true nature of the Divine love.

“The Lord forgives everyone his sins, because He is mercy itself,” the doctrine teaches. “Nevertheless they are not thereby forgiven unless the man performs serious repentance, and desists from evils, and afterward lives a life of faith and charity, and this even to the end of his life. When this is done, the man receives from the Lord spiritual life, which is called new life. When from this new life the man views the evils of his former life and turns away from them and regards them with horror, then for the first time are the evils forgiven, for then the man is held in truths and goods by the Lord, and is withheld from evils. From this it is plain what is the forgiveness of sins, and that it cannot be granted within an hour, nor within a year” (AC 9014:3).

The brothers of Joseph who came to Egypt received harsh treatment at first. They attributed this to their crime against Joseph. “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us” (Gen. 42:21, emphasis added). They were convinced that their distresses were a direct consequence of their sin. This is typical. How often do we feel we are reaping the harvest of our wrongs? A child may believe that his parents do not love him any more because of his mistakes and bad behavior. Their punishments seem to come from anger.

Sometimes it appears to us that the Lord punishes us or causes us to suffer for wrongdoing. In fact, in the days of Israel, it was thought that every sickness, calamity or tragedy was God’s retribution for sin. So when a man born blind was brought to the Lord, the question of the people was about who committed the sin that caused his blindness.

A common belief in the Christian world is that God was angered by Adam’s original sin against Him at the time of the fall, and that as a result we all are condemned and suffer consequences. It is the Lord Jesus, seen as a separate Person, who is able to save us. He is forgiving and merciful, and pleads with the Father. He has given His life as a sacrifice for ours to satisfy His Father’s anger. Was not this the purpose in His words at the time of crucifixion: “Father, forgive them … “? So it would seem. Yet, if this be so, we must assume that there is a Divine being who must be persuaded to forgive humankind, and who remains angry and vengeful against fallen people unless He is satisfied in some way.

Nothing could be further from the Divine nature. God’s unchanging purpose in creation is to form a heaven from the human race, an eternal kingdom where He may draw all people to Himself to bless and favor them. The Divine love goes forth constantly, unchanging, always seeking to bring about human happiness. If people, in their freedom, fail to respond to the invitation to open the door and to invite Him in, it is surely a grief to the Lord, but no cause to rouse His anger or elicit punishment.

Evil bears the seeds of inevitable sadness, calamity and tragedy. Human evil is the cause of all suffering and unhappiness. God does not will or cause these results. They are not prescribed or meted out by Him, paying us back for disobedience. Rather, these results are a cause of His grief for us. Far from being a provocation, such circumstances are a stimulus to Him to seek new means for our salvation.

Analogy could be made with the human body and its soul. The soul is like the god of the body, always seeking to keep the body in its healthiest possible condition. If we abuse or strain the body, health problems may result. The problems are our own doing, for the soul’s constant effort is to return the body to a healthy state. Its effort is always positive. So is the Divine effort.

Returning to the account of Joseph in Egypt, we see how he treated his brothers. He “acted a stranger to them and spoke roughly to them” (Gen. 42:7). He called them spies, imprisoned them, kept a hostage; yet he gave them the food they needed, restored their money and sent them home. And when he heard them speaking of their guilt and perceived their repentance, he wept for joy. While there was outward rejection, an inward love longed for reconciliation. It was for the same reason the Lord wept for Jerusalem on the day of His triumphal entry (see Luke 19:41).

Why did Joseph treat the brothers harshly? Not to cause suffering. He wanted no revenge for what they had done to him. He sought only reconciliation. He had forgiven them already.

Joseph’s goal was to be reunited with his father. The separation had come about in the first place by the jealousy of the older brothers. Out of envy they had thought to dispose of him, to send him away never to be seen again. But could forgiveness be extended if their envy remained? If Joseph had tried to reunite with his brothers prematurely, they would have rejected him again. This was the reason he waited to see what was in their minds. He had to wait until they were ready for the reunion which he always had wanted. Therefore, when Judah showed evidence of his change of heart and of his repentance, Joseph could no longer refrain from making himself known and embracing them. What he had willed was, at last, a practical possibility. Without further hesitation or reserve, he frankly forgave them. “Do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5). The evil had been turned to good. The circumstances which had arisen as a result of the evil of the brothers actually had become the means whereby that evil could be broken.

It would not be correct to say that the men had been punished enough and now could be restored to friendship. Rather, we would say that through free repentance and an opportunity to change their lives, they had come into a new and receptive state of mind. As soon as this condition existed, Joseph embraced them.

The same thing is true of our relationship with the Lord. We separate ourselves from Him by our own self-will. In the consequences that follow, brought about by our choices, the Lord works to restore conjunction with us. It may appear that these consequences are punishments by the angry God. They are not. And the most remarkable thing is that the Lord is able to turn them to good. While He does not will that we suffer the consequences of our own folly and indeed weeps for us, it is through these consequences that He provides opportunities for us to change the very state that precipitated them.

We have said that people in ancient times regarded every calamity as a Divine punishment for their sin. While we may now understand that this was superstition on their part, we ourselves are not far from falling into superstitions of a similar kind. Often we falsely blame ourselves for things that happen. But it is not because of our secret sins that tragedy strikes. While it is true that we can harm ourselves and others by failing to carry out our responsibilities or by allowing self-love to blaze out of control, most of the things that happen in our life have no direct relation to our behavior, evil or good. An accident or illness is not God’s punishment for our evil. Nor is an unexpected benefit God’s reward for our good deeds. The punishment for evils is the consequence of disorder, just as the reward for good is the consequence of being in order. The Lord never wills punishment. Yet if we put ourselves outside of the laws of order, we are open to unhappiness, frustration, and harm. When we have thrown aside the protection of Divine order, the hells can attack and afflict us.

Then the Lord seeks but one thing our return to order. That is when His mercy burns with a desire, appealing to us in our fallen state, hopeful that we may be raised up again. No state of our life is beyond the reach of the Divine forgiveness. Nothing we can do as a sin against God will turn Him against us. If we make our bed in hell, He is even there.

What worse injustice and repudiation could there be than the Lord’s crucifixion? Yet at that very moment the Lord reaffirmed His inmost love: “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” He did not strike them dead with fire or lightning. He did not cause them to suffer disease or to go childless. He did not curse them with eternal damnation. Instead, He held out a hope for them all. And by His resurrection from the tomb on the third day, He used the death by which He had died to turn the hearts of many through the centuries to acknowledge and worship Him, our savior, Jesus Christ.

This supreme example of forgiveness should be the model for our life. Our love for others should be constant. Love for the neighbor is not to be withheld when the neighbor sins against us. The Lord taught, “Love your enemies.” We should not bear grudges or subtly punish those who offend us. We may not harbor hatred or desire revenge against those who wrong us. Again, the Lord has taught to forgive not just seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

But our mercy and love is to be exercised with wisdom and prudence, not indiscriminately. The doctrine of the church teaches that ” … genuine charity consists in acting prudently, and to the end that good may come thereby” (NJHD 100).

The Lord has given the example that we should live according to the spirit of the Divine law.

The beauty of forgiveness is to be found in many accounts of Scripture. We remember the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), the Lord’s forgiveness of the woman who washed His feet with her tears (Luke 7:44), and His admonition to forgive our brothers up to seventy times seven. This is the true spirit of the Divine love. It is the spirit of love we should seek to cultivate that we may become the image and likeness of our God. Amen.

 


Lessons: Gen. 45:1-8, 12-15; Luke 7:36-47, 50; AC 9443-9452

Arcana Coelestia 9443-9452

The forgiveness of sins shall now be spoken of. The sins done by a man are rooted in his very life, and make it; and therefore no one is liberated from them unless he receives new life from the Lord, which is effected by means of regeneration.

The Lord continually flows into man with the good of love and the truths of faith; but these are variously received, being received in one way by one person and in a different way by another; by those who have been regenerated they are received well, but by those who do not suffer themselves to be regenerated they are received ill.

Those who have been regenerated are continually kept by the Lord in the good of faith and of love, and are then withheld from evils and falsities. And those who do not suffer themselves to be regenerated by the Lord are also withheld from evil and kept in good, for good and truth continually flow in from the Lord with every man; but the infernal loves in which they are, namely, the loves of self and of the world, stand in the way, and turn the influx of good into evil, and that of truth into falsity.

From all this it is evident what the forgiveness of sins is. To be able to be kept by the Lord in the good of love and the truths of faith, and to be withheld from evils and falsities, is the forgiveness of sins. And to shun evil and falsity, and to feel aversion for them, is then repentance. But these are possible only with those who, through regeneration, have received new life from the Lord, because these things belong to the new life.

The signs that sins have been forgiven are the following: Delight is felt in worshiping God for the sake of God, in being of service to the neighbor for the sake of the neighbor, thus in doing good for the sake of good, and in believing truth for the sake of truth. There is an unwillingness to merit by anything that belongs to charity and faith. Evils, such as enmities, hatreds, revenges, unmercifulness, adulteries in a word, all things that are against God and against the neighbor are shunned and are held in aversion.

But the signs that sins have not been forgiven are the following: God is not worshiped for the sake of God, and the neighbor is not served for the sake of the neighbor; thus good is not done and truth is not spoken for the sake of good and truth, but for the sake of self and the world. There is a desire to merit by our deeds; others are despised in comparison with ourselves; delight is felt in evils, such as enmities, hatred, revenge, cruelty, adulteries; and the holy things of the church are held in contempt, and are at heart denied.

The Lord regenerates a man from Divine mercy. This is done from his infancy down to the last of his life in the world, and afterward to eternity. Thus it is from Divine mercy that the Lord withdraws a man from evils and falsities, and leads him to the truths of faith and goods of love, and afterward keeps him in these. And after this, in Divine mercy He raises him to Himself in heaven and makes him happy. All this is what is meant by the forgiveness of sins from mercy.

A Sign of Reformation and Non-Reformation

A Sign of Reformation and Non-Reformation

The Lord continually flows into man with good, and into good with truth; and man either receives it or does not receive it. If he receives it, it is well with him; but if he does not receive it, it is ill with him. If when he does not receive he feels something of anxiety, there is hope that he may be reformed; but if lie does not feel anything of anxiety, the hope vanishes. For with every man there are two spirits from hell, and two angels from heaven for, because man is born into sin, he can in nowise live unless on the one hand he communicates with hell, and on the other with heaven; all his life is therefrom. When a man is grown up, and begins to govern himself from himself,—that is, when he appears to himself to will and to act from his own judgment, and to think and form conclusions concerning matters of faith from his own understanding,—if then he betakes himself to evils the two spirits from hell approach, and the two angels from heaven withdraw a little; and if he turns himself to good, the two angels from heaven draw near, and the two spirits from hell are removed. When therefore a man betakes himself to evils, as is the case with most in youth, if any anxiety is felt when he reflects upon the wrong he has done, it is a sign that he will still receive influx through the angels from heaven, and also a sign that he will afterwards suffer himself to be reformed; but if nothing of anxiety is felt when he reflects upon the wrong he has done, it is a sign that he is no longer willing to receive influx through the angels from heaven, and a sign also that he will not afterwards suffer himself to be reformed. (AC n. 5470)

The Course of Regeneration and of Progress to True Wisdom

Few, if any, know how man is brought to true wisdom. Intelligence is not wisdom, but leads to wisdom; for to understand what is true and good is not to be true and good, but to be wise is so. Wisdom is predicated only of the life, and means that such is the character of the man. He is introduced to wisdom or life by knowing and cognizing [truth] or by knowledges and cognitions.[By the terms scire and noscere (or nosse) and cognoscere, the author throughout his writings expresses an important distinction in the process of the acquisition of truth, which it is difficult to convey by words in common use in our language, without circumlocution. By scire (to know), and the corresponding scientia (knowledge), he refers to the mere outward acquisition of knowledge, or knowledge as facts or truths in the outer memory, acquired by means of the senses,—whether from the Word, or from the world and nature. By noscere and cognoscere (to become acquainted with), and the corresponding cognitio, he designates the higher and more interior and real knowledge that is attained when these facts or truths are taken up and actually seen in the light of reason. For the expression of this idea the words cognize and cognition are warranted,—if any warrant is needed for a necessary term,—by the usage of some of the recent speculative philosophers. Knowledges may be considered as the means or materials of cognitions.] Every man has two parts, the will and the under  standing; the will is the primary and the understanding the secondary part. Man’s life after death is according to his will-part, not according to his intellectual. The will in man is formed by the Lord from infancy to childhood. It is done by insinuating innocence and love towards parents, nurses, and children of like age, and by many other things which are celestial that man is ignorant of. If these celestial things were not first insinuated into man, while he is an infant and child, he could by no means become a man. Thus the first plane is formed. But as man is not man unless he is also endowed with understanding (for the will alone does not constitute man, but understanding with the will) and as understanding cannot be acquired except by means of knowledges and cognitions, therefore from the period of childhood by degrees lie is filled with these. Thus a second plane is formed. When the intellectual part is furnished with knowledges and cognitions, especially with cognitions of truth and good, then the man is first capable of being regenerated. And while he is being regenerated, truths and goods from the Lord are implanted by means of cognitions in the celestial things with which he was gifted by the Lord from infancy, so that his intellectual attainments form one with his celestial. When the Lord has so conjoined them he is gifted with charity, and begins to act from it, which is as a principle of conscience. He thus first receives new life, and this by degrees. The light of this new life is called wisdom, which then takes the first place, and is exalted above intelligence. Thus a third plane is formed. When a man has become such in the life of the body, he is continually perfected in the other life. From this it may be seen what the light of intelligence is, and what the light of wisdom. (AC n. 1555)