|In the New Church we whole-heartedly believe in the Holy Trinity. In fact, we are very interested in the “trinity” concept. But to us, a trinity does not consist of three similar things on the same level (which might be regarded as a “trio”), but a trinity consists of one thing on three different levels. For example, three houses in a terrace do not form a trinity, but one house with three stories is a trinity. (Noah’s Ark was like that; it had “lower, second and third stories.” [Genesis 6:16]) Three oranges do not make a trinity; but one orange does, if you consider its skin, its flesh, and its pips or seeds. Three people do not make a trinity; but one person does, if you consider his soul, his body, and his influence or outflowing life.
The Holy Trinity—False View
The old, false idea of God was that he was, is, and ever has been, a trinity of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, all existing side by side since before the creation of the universe. The theory is that at a certain point in time, one of these three persons, the Son, came into the world as a baby, grew up here to adult status, was crucified, was buried, and then ascended back to Heaven, to rejoin the Father and the Holy Ghost; after which everything was as it had been.
No “Son from Eternity”
The main error here is the supposition that the Son of God existed as a second person of the Holy Trinity since the beginning. We have already discussed this in Chapter 11, but let us recapitulate some reasons for disbelieving it.
(1) A son must have a mother, and there were no women available before the creation. Mary of Nazareth was the mother of Jesus, and she came comparatively late in the story.
(2) If the Son had been there from the beginning, surely he would have been mentioned in the Old Testament, which he isn’t! On the contrary, Jehovah declares in Isaiah: “I am God, and there is none else.” (Isaiah 45:21)
N.B.—The “Son of God” mentioned in Daniel 3:25 (A.V.) is a mistranslation that should read: “a son of the gods”— Nebuchadnezzar’s idea of a glorious spiritual being. It was, of course, an angel. (See Psalm 34:7)
(3) If the Son of God had been in existence from eternity, presumably an adult, how was it that he came into Mary’s womb as an embryo, then a fetus, and finally a sucking baby? Surely he would have arrived a full-grown man, knowing everything!
It is true that Jesus claimed to have been in existence since “before Abraham was.” (John 8:58.) He was not a created being, like other men. His soul was Jehovah himself, the great “I am.” That is why, when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am!” the Jews tried to stone him for blasphemy. He did not say, however, that he had been the Son of God prior to his birth in Bethlehem.
Let us make this point perfectly clear. In so far as Jesus was divine, he was God. Not the Son of God (which he was when mixed with Mary’s heredity) but simply God.
Three Essentials in One Person
We have seen that everyone is a trinity, consisting of three essentials in one person. You have a soul or spirit, a physical body, and an “influence” or sphere or outgoing personality by which others know you. There is also another kind of trinity involved in every project you undertake: love, wisdom, and power (or, in the terms of the old philosophers: end, cause, and effect.) Suppose you set out to mend an electric fuse. (1) There must be the love—the desire to have the fuse mended, which is in your heart, or will. This is the end in view. (2) You must have the wisdom—the know-how, which is in your head, or understanding. This is what causes the project to be undertaken. (3) Lastly, you must have the power, which resides in your hands. This produces the effect.
In the beginning, God was a trinity like this. At heart, he was just love. But love cannot exist alone, it needs others outside itself whom it can love and make happy. So love produced wisdom, which set to work to plan the creation of a finite universe full of creatures, including people. His wisdom was (as it were) the architect, the builder. “In the beginning was the Word; all things were made by him.” (John 1:1, 3) Finally, the divine wisdom sent out energy from the divine love to accomplish its plans, rather as an architect employs construction workers. This energy was the divine power. In Old Testament times, then, the holy trinity consisted of love, wisdom, and power, three essentials in one person, that person being Jehovah God.
The Word Became Flesh
When, later on, God wished to enter his universe as a man, he naturally came as the divine wisdom or Word, which had created the universe in the first place. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Now, in Bethlehem, for the first time, we have the Father-Son relationship within the Godhead. The divine love was the Father, and the divine wisdom was (as it were) the Son. And their outpouring energy was the Holy Spirit.
This Father-Son relationship lasted for only only 33 years, from the birth of Jesus until his resurrection from death. After the ascension, the Holy Trinity consisted of (1) the divine Inmost, (2) the divine Human, and (3) the outflowing divine life. These three essentials correspond to the heat, light, and radiation of the spiritual Sun in Heaven, which is the Lord as seen by the angels.
We will now place these trinities together, side by side, and we think you will see how similar they are. In fact, they are really the same, under different names! God’s nature has not essentially changed, and we are in his image and likeness.
The Holy Ghost
Nobody seems to know why the Holy Ghost should be addressed as “him,” and called a “person.” The word “ghost” simply means spirit, breath or wind, and suggests “outflowing life or activity.” At the baptism of Jesus (Luke 3:2) the holy spirit entered him from Jehovah and was seen as a dove; only after receiving it was he enabled to do his redemptive work. He later promised his disciples that, when he was glorified, or united completed with his Father, this same holy spirit would overflow from him into them, as the comforter. (John 14:26 and 7:39) Thus, immediately after the resurrection, Jesus “breathed” on them in the upper room, and said: “Receive ye the holy ghost.” (John 20:22) A few weeks later, at Pentecost, the same holy spirit came down in full force upon all who believed in him—”as tongues of fire and a rushing mighty wind.” (Acts 2:2-4) Since then, the holy spirit was, and still is, the powerful stream of life that flows into men’s hearts and minds from the glorified Lord Jesus Christ; i.e., from the Divine-Human. Those who receive it are said to be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
THE PRODIGAL SON
A Sermon by Rev. Thomas L. Kline
Preached in Bryn Athyn November 8, 1992
“This my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24).
Jesus said that a man had two sons. The younger son went to his father and demanded his inheritance. It says he went to a far-off country, and there he wasted all that he had with riotous living. A famine arose in the land, and the young man had nothing to eat. And so he hired himself out to go into the fields to feed the swine. He was so hungry that he would have eaten the food of the pigs. But suddenly, he came to himself. He said to himself, “I will go to my father and ask him for forgiveness, and I will become as a hired servant to him.” We can picture the young man coming back after a long journey. Will his father forgive him? Will his father be angry with him?
His father is waiting for him! His father sees him at a distance, runs to him, and embraces him. The father has compassion on his son. And at the end of this story, we hear those words of the father to the older brother: “It is right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”
There is something in each of us that is touched by the power of this parable. This is because it is a story of hope. We might have a friend or relative that seems to turn from the Lord. We might have a friend that for a time seems lost, spiritually wounded, a person in a time of spiritual crisis. And the everlasting message of this parable is that there is a way back. The Lord gives us a path to restore our souls no matter how hopeless the situation.
The father figure in this parable is so important. It is a picture of the Lord Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ as our heavenly Father. And what we see is a picture of the Divine love. When the young man returns, we don’t see the father demanding payment or retribution for the son’s sins. We don’t see anything that suggests the traditional dogmas of Divine atonement or punishment for sin. No, those old-fashioned, traditional ideas of God are not based on Scripture. In this parable we see only forgiveness after the long journey of repentance and reformation. The father celebrates his son’s return. The Lord rejoices when we come back to our spiritual home.
There is a message in this parable for a church congregation. The reason why Jesus even told this parable was that the church leaders of that time came to Him complaining that He was spending too much time with sinners. The scribes and Pharisees were murmuring because Jesus was associating with sinners, drunkards, and tax collectors. And the Lord’s answer was simple: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” This is why He had come to bring sinners to repentance, and to restore their lives.
And so we ask the question of ourselves: What is the purpose of our church? What is the purpose of this congregation? Certainly the church is for the worship of the Lord. Certainly it is for the proclaiming of the Lord’s Word. It is for the life of charity and service. But the church also exists for something else.
In the book of Revelation, the New Church is said to be the “healing of the nations.” The leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations. It is a vision of the church as a hospital, the church as a place for spiritual healing, the church as a place where the sick and wounded come. There is a battle going on in the world today. It is a great battle between heaven and hell. And, as in any battle, there will be casualties: our sons and daughters, our friends and neighbors, our family. And the church is the place for those who are hurting, those who at times have failed, those who are dying spiritually, to come and receive support in the road that leads back to a restoration. It is a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Divine physician.
But there is a more interior meaning to this story. It is a level of meaning opened by the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem. This story of the prodigal son is the personal story of our rebirth and regeneration. It is the story of the Lord’s healing our troubled heart. And in this story, we find, step by step, the journey that we take as the Lord leads us on the path to heaven.
Let’s just look at the steps of regeneration outlined in this story.
Number one is permission, what the Writings of the New Church call the “doctrine of permission.” In this story the father allows his son to leave and go to a distant land. It almost seems that the father willingly gives his son all of his inheritance knowing that this will lead to grief and pain for the son. And how can this be? Why would a loving father do this?
The Writings of the New Church say that this permission to leave is a picture of the magnitude of the Lord’s love and wisdom in our lives. The Lord loves us so much that He will even allow us to turn from Him at times if this is what we truly choose. He will allow us to turn from Him and even experience the consequences, the pain and suffering of that turning away. And this is said to be of His permission, not of His will.
He grieves when we turn and suffer the consequences of evil. The pain of evil is not the Lord’s punishment; no, the Lord weeps for us. And still, in His love He allows this because in His infinite wisdom He foresees that sometimes it is only through the process of the journey that we can finally choose what is good, fight for what is good, and make what is good our own. So number one: the Lord permits us to leave.
And step number two: If we do choose to turn from Him, He is not passive. If we do choose to turn from Him, He protects and guides us every step of the way. He is with us on the perilous journey.
We have a beautiful teaching in the Writings of the New Church that during times of temptation and despair it seems as if the Lord has left us, whereas in fact He is closer than ever. The Lord is closest to us in times of temptation.
In this parable it seems that once the son left home and went to the distant land, his father was out of the picture. It seems that his father just stayed home and worried. It is important to realize that this is written from the viewpoint of the son: When we turn from God it seems as if He is distant from us; that’s how it feels to us.
But from the Lord’s perspective, He never leaves us. If we could re-write this parable from the Lord’s viewpoint, the father would be with that son in that distant land, actively protecting, guiding and leading.
How does the Lord protect us when we are in the distant land? First is the famine. The Lord allows us to hunger in the distant land. He allows us to hunger for righteousness. The Lord will never let us be completely satisfied with evil. No, something inside of us will hunger for a life that is higher. And it is this hunger that finally causes us to turn back to the Lord. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
Another thing He does when we are in the distant land: He withholds us from further evils. In the parable, it says the son was almost to the point where he was about to eat the food of the pigs, but he didn’t eat it. A person who has been in a state of disorder will often say, “Yes, I was in terrible disorder, but somehow there was something preventing me from going all the way down to hell. Something was holding me back.” The Lord’s hand is there protecting us from the hells even when we are in active evil.
A third thing He does when we are in the distant land: The Lord causes us to remember our home; He lets us remember our spiritual home. In the story the son remembered his father’s house. We hear the words, “I will arise and go to my father.” It’s a memory of heaven. The Writings of the New church speak about heavenly memories that stay with us always. Memories of heaven that remain with us sometimes we call these “heavenly remains.” No matter where we are in life, we all have a memory of heaven (sometimes from our earliest childhood) stored up in the interior parts of our minds. And that memory of heaven tempers and bends our life back to our spiritual home, when we are in the height of temptation and despair.
But then we come to the climax of the story, the turning point, and it is the turning point in our lives. The story says that the young man was in the field, far from his home, hungry. The young man, when he was at his lowest moment of despair, came to his senses. One translation says, “He came to himself.” It is the beginning of true repentance. For the first time we find him thinking the words, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.”
The young man suddenly sees his life in a new way. It is as if his eyes are opened. It is interesting that the Writings of the New Church use the word “inversion” when they talk about this change. When it seems as if things can’t get any worse, suddenly we come to this turning point; we come to this moment of change, and our lives are totally inverted. Everything is changed from top to bottom. The love of self that used to be at the top is now at the bottom, and in its place is a love of the Lord and the neighbor. We hear the words, “I will go and serve my father; I will hire myself to him; I will be as servant to him,” and we begin to lay down our lives. Jesus said, “He that shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
And we find that there is a road back home. That’s the young man journeying back home, retracing every step that He had taken. The Writings of the New Church call this “reformation.” And notice the power of that word: the Lord literally “re-forms” us. He makes us anew.
And then there is a time of rejoicing. Here are some of the internal meanings revealed in the Writings of the New Church: The ring the father put on his son’s finger pictures “internal conjunction.” The robe pictures “truths of our faith and trust in God.” The sandals picture our life changed even to the most “down-to-earth” parts. And the fatted calf pictures our life of charity.
So this entire 15th chapter of the gospel of Luke deals with the subject of lost things and the Lord’s rejoicing over what is lost being found again. Let us take these wonderful teachings and apply them to our lives. Let us reach out with hope and forgiveness to those who are hurting, supporting them on the Divine path of restoration. Let us express this love of the Lord Himself as He comes to restore our own lives toward heaven, realizing that in His sight we are all in need of the Divine healing. This is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Divine physician, and tells His everlasting message of hope: “It is right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” Amen.
Lessons: Psalm 84, Luke 15, TCR 394-5
True Christian Religion 394, 395
THERE ARE THREE UNIVERSAL LOVES THE LOVE OF HEAVEN, THE LOVE OF THE WORLD, AND THE LOVE OF SELF.
These three loves must first be considered for the reason that these three are the universal and fundamental of all loves, and that charity has something in common with each of them. For the love of heaven means both love to the Lord and love toward the neighbor; and as each of these looks to use as its end, the love of heaven may be called the love of uses. The love of the world is not merely a love of wealth and possessions, but is also a love of all that the world affords, and of all that delights the bodily senses, as beauty delights the eye, harmony the ear, fragrance the nostrils, delicacies the tongue, softness the skin; also becoming dress, convenient houses, and society, thus all the enjoyments arising from these and many other objects. The love of self is not merely the love of honor, glory, fame, and eminence, but also the love of meriting and seeking office, and so of ruling over others. Charity has something in common with each of these three loves because viewed in itself charity is the love of uses; for charity wishes to do good to the neighbor, and good and use are the same, and from these loves everyone looks to uses as his end, the love of heaven looking to spiritual uses, the love of the world to natural uses, which may be called civil, and the love of self to corporeal uses, which may also be called domestic uses, that have regard to oneself and one’s own.
… That these three loves are rightly subordinated when the love of heaven forms the head, the love of the world the breast and abdomen, and the love of self the feet and their soles. As repeatedly stated above, the human mind is divided into three regions. From the highest region man looks to God, from the second or middle region to the world, and from the third or lowest to himself. The mind being such, it can be raised and can raise itself upward, because to God and to heaven; it can be extended and can extend itself to the sides in all directions, because into the world and its nature; and it can be let downward and let itself downward, because to earth and to hell. In these respects the bodily vision emulates the mind’s vision; it also can look upward, round about, and downward.
 The human mind is like a house of three stories which communicate by stairs, in the highest of which angels from heaven dwell, in the middle men in the world, and in the lowest one, genii. The man in whom these three loves are rightly subordinated can ascend and descend in this house at his pleasure; and when he ascends to the highest story, he is in company with angels as an angel; and when he descends from that to the middle story he is in company with men as an angel man; and when from this he descends still further, he is in company with genii as a man of the world, instructing, reproving, and subduing them.
 In the man in whom these three loves are rightly subordinated, they are also coordinated thus: The highest love, which is the love of heaven, is inwardly in the second, which is the love of the world, and through this in the third or lowest, which is the love of self; and the love that is within directs at its will that which is without. So when the love of heaven is inwardly in the love of the world and through this in the love of self, man from the God of heaven performs uses in each. In their operation these three loves are like will, understanding, and action; the will flows into the understanding, and there provides itself with the means whereby it produces action.
A Sermon by Rev Frederick M ChapinSeptember 4, 1994
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgement, but has passed from death into life. (Jn 5:24)
The Lord, while He was on the earth, quite often was asked to give a convincing demonstration that He was the Christ. This was especially requested by His enemies. They figured that if the Lord was truly the Messiah, He could perform some act that would remove all doubt as to Who He was.
The Writings teach numerous times that external miracles, by themselves, do not produce a genuine belief in the Lord. At best, they may produce a temporary obedience that fades away in time. Eventually, the person will find some explanation for the act. The desire to indulge in sensual loves is so strong that the person will have to find some justification to continue in them. External signs do not form a true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is why the Lord never honored their requests that He give convincing proof that He was the Messiah.
However, the Lord did speak of where they could find the evidence that He was the Son of God. On one occasion, He said that no sign would be given except for the sign of Jonah. The Writings explain that this refers to the Lord’s resurrection from death. The Lord’s resurrection could be a convincing sign of His Divinity. Today, we can have demonstrations of the Lord’s infinite power when we call to mind our deliverance from seemingly hopeless situations. Perhaps some habit or addiction that we have more control over can serve as evidence that the Lord does exist and He is active within our personal lives. The sign of the Prophet Jonah is still applicable today.
The Lord spoke of other confirmations that can validate His statement that He is the Son of God. We read, in our first lesson, that the Lord was asked to produce a sign that would completely convince the skeptical that He was the Messiah. The Lord responded with four various proofs that could also give persuasion that He has Divine authority and power. The four proofs are John the Baptist, the works the Lord did, the Father Himself, and the Law of Moses.
We today need evidence that we are making the right decisions that will make our lives truly productive and meaningful. We need to know where to look to make sure that we are performing uses that can help bring heavenly loves to the earth. The response that the Lord gave to the Pharisees can be our criteria to analyze our spiritual choices to insure they are consistent with heavenly principles. We need the assurance that we are allowing the Lord to form His Church upon the earth.
The first reference was to John the Baptist, when the Lord said, “You have sent to John, and he has bore witness to the truth.” (Jn 5:33) John the Baptist was regarded as a man of strong character. He even had a significant amount of respect among many of the people. While John was alive, he was admired for his character and for a time, people accepted and responded to his message. The Lord referred to his character as “a burning and shinning light”, and He referred to John’s temporary popularity as people “rejoicing in his light for a season”.
John the Baptist illustrates the letter of the Word. The Word can direct us, by revealing truths, whereby the Lord can be seen as being active in our lives. However, the Word must not only be known, it must be loved. Before we can see the presence of the Lord through the Word, we must have an affection for what the Word teaches us. This affection must sincerely love truth, regardless of the changes it requires. We learn wisdom from the Word in an external way, but a conviction in applying the knowledges of truth must come from within. Only from a reception of the Lord can we affirmatively respond to the teachings of truth. John specifically represents those who build up a knowledge of what the Word teaches and who loves what the Word teaches. This love is absolutely essential, if the instruction we receive from the Word is to permanently remain in our lives.
Also, there must be the confession that the Word has absolute authority to reveal the truths of life to us. We can not pick out what we like and disregard the teachings that we may find uncomfortable. There must be the fundamental acknowledgment that the Word is from the Lord, that it is holy, and that we must comply completely with its teachings. This honest affirmation is what the Lord referred to when He said that He does not receive testimony from any man. It is not from our own intelligence that enables us to recognize what is true. It is the Lord’s activity within us that makes it possible to know truths and to affirmatively respond to them.
The Writings would probably be more widely accepted and received if people could pick out what they wanted to accept. However, if we regard them as a Divine revelation, we must dedicate ourselves to accept them in their entirety. We must be willing to be instructed from the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Writings so our lives can change for the better.
The Lord then made reference to His works as giving evidence of being the Son of God. He made this reference when He said, “But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish-the very works that I do-bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.” (Jn 5:36) The miracles that the Lord performed did give credence that He was sent from God. The miracles compelled the people to hear His message.
The works that we do can also give evidence of the power of the Lord. They can be a testimony that the Lord is active in our lives. A life of use can give us the wonderful opportunity to experience and sense the Lord’s power in subduing what is evil and making what is good alive and prosperous. When we notice the wonderful things that we can do, they can provide the assurance that the Lord can make our lives worthwhile and meaningful.
The Lord then referred to the Father giving evidence of Who He is. The Lord said, “And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form.” (Jn 37) This is the Divine love that comes from the Lord and inspires us to worship Him and to live a life of charity. The Lord told His enemies that had they known the Father, they would have known that He was sent from Him. In other words, they would have known that His ministry was a revelation of Divine truth. Likewise, when we are motivated by the Divine love that comes from the Lord, we will have the tangible proof of His existence. When we receive the Lord’s love, we are aware of the Lord’s operation within us.
When we notice that we love others who have hurt us, this can be a strong indication that the Lord is present within us. If we are able to love our enemies, that can be a sign the Lord is instilling new loves into us.
Finally, the Lord said that Moses would judge them. He said, “Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you-Moses, in whom you trust.” (Jn 5:45) The Lord referred in this statement that they would be judged according to what they knew to be true. Everyone there believed that what Moses wrote was true. The Lord stated that if they had a true belief in what Moses wrote, that belief would lead them to a recognition of the truth of the Lord’s ministry. If they would have had a humble love towards Jehovah, they would have embraced the Lord’s revelation of a more interior truth.
We also are judged according to what we know to be true. If we simply strive to comply with what we believe is right, that effort will make the Lord visible before us. Whatever we may believe to be true, if we live according to it, the Lord will inflow into it, enliven it, whereby we can have an awareness of His operation in our lives.
When we seek evidence or assurance that we are making the right decisions, that does not necessarily mean that there is a lack of faith or trust in the Lord. We need to know what to examine to be able to come to an awareness of the Lord’s presence and operation. In this section from the Gospel of John, the Lord gives four areas that we are to examine, if we are to have the ability to see the Lord’s effect upon His creation. First, we must have a knowledge of what the Word teaches, and within this knowledge, there must be an affection for what is true so we are willing to make the necessary changes in our lives. We must examine our works, to insure that they are intended to promote good to the world around us. We must take note of our loves, attitudes, and motivations. We must strive to have our acts of charity come from a sincere heart that the Lord’s will be done. And finally, we must simply live according to what we do know as being true. If these four principles are active within us, we will have a tangible awareness of the Lord’s presence in our lives and the assurance that He is the one God of heaven and earth. And we can have a fuller understanding in these wonderful words of the Lord, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” (Jn 5:25)
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.
Imputation not known in the Apostolic Church
The faith imputative of the merit of Christ was not known in the Apostolic church, which preceded; and is nowhere meant in the Word. The church which preceded the Nicene council is called the Apostolic church. That it was a great church, and extended into the three parts of the globe, Asia, Africa, and Europe, is evident from the fact that the Emperor Constantine the Great was a Christian, and a zealot for religion; and from his dominion over not only the region afterwards divided into the many kingdoms of Europe, but also over the neighbouring regions out of Europe. Wherefore, as was said before, he convoked the bishops of Asia, Africa, and Europe at his palace at Nice, a city of Bithynia, that he might banish from his empire the scandalous dogma of Arius. This was done of the Lord’s Divine Providence; since if the Divinity of the Lord is denied. the Christian church dies, and becomes as a sepulchre inscribed with the epitaph—”Here lies.” The church that existed before that time is called Apostolic; and the eminent writers of that church are called the Fathers, and the true Christians at their side, brethren. That this church did not acknowledge three Divine Persons, nor therefore a Son of God from eternity, but only the Son of God born in time, is evident from the creed which from their church is called Apostolic, where we read these words: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary… believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic church; the communion of saints.” From which it is plain, that they acknowledged no, other Son of God than the one conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary, and by no means any Son of God’ born from eternity. This creed, like the two others, has been acknowledged as genuinely Catholic, by the whole Christian church to this day…. That in that primeval time all in the then Christian world acknowledged that the. Lord Jesus Christ was God, to whom was given all power in heaven and on earth, and power over all flesh, according to His very words (Matt. xxviii. 18; John xvii. 2), and that they believed in Him, according to His command from God the Father (John iii. 15, 16, 36; vi. 40; xi. 25, 26), is also very manifest from the convocation of all the bishops by the Emperor Constantine the Great, for the purpose of convicting and condemning, from the sacred Scriptures, Arius and his followers, who denied the Divinity of the Lord the Saviour born of the virgin Mary. This indeed was done; but in avoiding the wolf they fell upon a lion; or, as it is said in the proverb, eager to avoid Charybdis, they fell upon Scylla,—by inventing a Son of God from eternity, who descended and assumed the Human; believing that they should thus vindicate and restore Divinity to the Lord. Not knowing that God Himself the Creator of the universe descended, that He might become the Redeemer, and thus the Creator anew,—according to these plain declarations in the Old Testament; Isaiah xxv. 9; xl. 3, 5, 10, 11; 14; xliv. 6, 24; xlvii. 4; xlviii. 17; xlix. 7, 26; lx. 16; lxiii. 16; Jer. 1. 34; Hos. xiii. 4; Psa. xix. 14. To these add John i. 14. (TCR n. 636, 637)
That no faith imputative of the merit of Christ is meant in the Word, clearly appears from the fact that that faith was not known in the church until after the Nicene council introduced the three Divine Persons from eternity; and when this faith had been introduced and pervaded the whole Christian world, every other faith was cast into the shade. (ibid. n. 639)