A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. RosePreached in Bryn Athyn August 25, 1996

“Ascribe ye strength to God” (Psalm 68:34).

By our life’s experience we know something about the limitations of human strength. We have learned something about our own personal strengths. We are aware of power in nature. It can be in overwhelming facts we learn about forces on the earth and in the universe. It can be in our personal experience of the power of lightning and the crash of thunder, the shaking of the earth and the quaking of mountains. We cannot but be aware of strength and power. And the Word invites us, with whatever limited knowledge or experience we have, to ascribe strength to God.

Our text is a very short phrase which harmonizes with a theme in so many of the Psalms – the theme of strength.

Psalm 27, verse 1: “The Lord is the strength of my life.” We can say those words, and as we say them in sincerity we are responding to the text, ascribing strength to God. Psalm 46 begins with these words: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.’ Another psalm says: “Honor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary” (96:6). Another says, “God is the strength of my heart” (73:26).

Let us consider for a moment the 29th Psalm. It ends with the words, “The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace” (29: 1 1). (This is familiar in the Holy Supper service, p. 57 of the Liturgy.) But notice the way this 29th Psalm begins: “Give unto the Lord, 0 you mighty ones; give unto the Lord glory and strength’ (29: 1). Can we give anything to the Lord? Can we give strength to the Lord? Can we give glory to the Lord? We can in the same sense of the text: “Ascribe ye strength to God” (Psalm 68:34).

Because this is something we can do, it is something we can also neglect to do or do too seldom. One could say that we came to church today to give glory and strength to God. In most of our services of worship we sing what is called the gloria. It comes from the first chapter of the book of Revelation beginning: “Glory and might be unto Him,” and ending with “the Almighty” (Liturgy, p. 17). And it is also rendered “Glory and power be to Him, for ever and ever. Amen.”

And when we kneel in prayer we say in keeping with the text, “Thine is the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

In some of the psalms we are made aware of the writer David. We are aware that the psalm was composed at a time of one of David’s experiences. In one of the psalms we picture David as a man growing old. In Psalm 71 we see David thinking of the span of his long life: “You are my trust from my youth. By You I have been upheld from my birth. You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb …. You are my strong refuge …. Do not cast me off in the time of old age. Do not forsake me when my strength fails” (v. 9). “I will go in the strength of the Lord God …. You have taught me from my youth …. Now also when I am old and grayheaded, 0 God, do not forsake me until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come” (v. 18). “I have been young and now am old” (37:25).

Perhaps we picture David with muscular arms as depicted by Michelangelo’s sculpture, as when he says, “He teaches my hands to make war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze” (18:34). Swedenborg beheld a strong arm in heaven emanating power.

There was once a scene on a battlefield. David encountered a giant Philistine armed with a bronze spear and wielding a formidable new sword. No, it is not the familiar story of the shepherd boy with sling and stones. For David in this scene is old and frail. As he encountered this giant, Ishbi-Benob, could he possibly look back to his triumph over Goliath? He had spoken the truth on that day so long before. “You come to me with a sword, with a spear and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts …. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand …. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands” (1 Sam. 17:4547). Did he look back on his fight with Goliath that day when as an old man he faced another giant? As he approached the battle with Goliath he had looked back to earlier experiences of God’s strength. “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37).

This battle as an old man is also a victory but of a different nature. The truth was the same in both battles, that all strength is from the Lord. But whereas in fighting Goliath he knew the exhilaration and flush of triumph, in the confrontation with Ishbi-Benob he probably left the battlefield gasping for breath and trembling from exertion. Perhaps he was half carried by his men from that encounter. Abishai had killed the giant, and David knew the emotions of someone who faced death but was saved by another (see 2 Samuel 21:15-17).

The Writings say that of ourselves we yield, but from the Lord we conquer. And although we come to a sense of our own powerlessness, there is an uplifting sense of the Lord’s power. This comes out vividly in the chapter near the end of the books of Samuel, the chapter in which David has to be rescued from the giant. It is the most extensive example of a psalm actually being incorporated within a story of David. (2 Samuel 22 is virtually the same as Psalm 18.) “Then David spoke to the Lord the words of this song … ‘The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer, the God of my strength; in Him will I trust'” (2 Sam 22:1-3). We will continue this as a conclusion to this sermon, but let us first note some teachings of the Writings.

There is a chapter in Heaven and Hell about the great power of the angels. Swedenborg witnessed the power of angels that goes beyond belief. They can chase away thousands of evil spirits. “Numbers are of no avail against the angels; neither are devices, cunning or combinations; for they see through them all and shatter them in a moment.” We are told that what we read in the Psalms is so true. “Bless the Lord, you His angels, most powerful in strength” (HH 229).

But following this emphatic paragraph about great power we have the following: “It must be known, however, that the angels have no power whatever of themselves, but that all their power is from the Lord; and that they are powers only so far as they acknowledge this. Whoever among them believes that he has power of himself instantly becomes so weak as not to be able to resist even a single evil spirit. For this reason angels ascribe no merit whatever to themselves, and are averse to all praise and glory on account of anything they do, ascribing it to the Lord” (HH 230).

It is an angelic truth repeated in the Writings that strength is to be ascribed to God, and that we are strong or weak depending on our doing that ascribing, according to the text, “Ascribe ye strength to God.”

This angelic truth has found its way into human affairs and has been the way of uplifting for countless thousands who seemed hopeless. We refer to the 12-step programs. It began with alcoholics anonymous. The twelve steps actually mention alcohol only very little. There is an emphasis on power, an acknowledgment that one does not have power. There is a turning to a higher power. It is an ascribing of strength to God. This has led to several successful 12-step programs.

The Writings give the striking teaching that if we come through temptation with a sense of our own credit, the feeling that we merit the victory because of our own strength, we are going to have to endure similar or worse temptations until we are reduced to the sanity of mind in believing we have merited nothing (see AC 2273).

People who have a close experience with their own lack of power are testimonials to a fundamental truth. The same is true of people who have known paralyzing illness or those whose bodies have grown old and feeble and yet who have found a higher strength. This is in accord with the words of Scripture: “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall. But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:29-31).

There is a saying in the Writings about what one may think of in beholding the sky. “When he sees the immensity of the heavens, he does not think of their immensity but of the immeasurable and infinite power of the Lord” (AC 1807). Sometimes we behold the sky and see the grandeur of great clouds. Sometimes either with telescope or naked eye we look at the stars and try to take in the vastness of it all.

We behold the power of the Lord in His Word, as in the Psalm: “Blessed is the man whose strength is in You …. They go from strength to strength’ (84:5,7). And we take strength in the words of David when he has been delivered from the giant. “Then David spoke to the Lord the words of this song….. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer, the God of my strength; in Him will I trust …. He delivered me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me; for they were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity'” (v. 18).

“He is a shield to all who trust in Him. For who is God except the Lord? And who is a rock except our God? God is my strength and power, and He makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer, and sets me on high places. He teaches my hands to war so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your gentleness has made me great” (v. 32-36).

‘You have armed me with strength for the battle” (v. 40). “You have delivered me from the violent man. Therefore I will give thanks to You, 0 Lord, among the Gentiles, and sing praises to Your name” (v. 50).

And sing praises to His name. Can each of us say with conviction, “I am weak but Thou art mighty”? Can each of us sing with sure belief, “I am weak but Thou art mighty; hold me with Thy powerful hand …. Strong deliverer, strong deliverer, be Thou still my strength and shield”? Amen.

Lessons: 2 Samuel 21,22; John 10: 14-30, AC 4932, 6344:4,5

Arcana Coelestia 4932, 6344:4,5

4932. They in the Grand Man who correspond to the hands and arms, and also to the shoulders, are those who have power by the truth of faith from good. For those who are in the truth of faith from good are in the power of the Lord because they attribute all power to Him and none to themselves; and the more they attribute none to themselves – not with the lips but with the heart – the more they are in power. From this the angels are called potencies and powers.

6344. Scarcely anyone in this world can know what is the nature of the power that is in truth from good; but it is known to those who are in the other life, thus by revelation thence. They who are in truth from good, that is, in faith from charity, are in power through truth from good. In this power are all the angels, and from this the angels are called in the Word “powers”; for they are in the power of restraining evil spirits, one angel being able to restrain a thousand all at once. They exercise their power chiefly when with man, in defending him at times against many hells, and this in a thousand and a thousand ways.

They have this power by means of the truth that is of faith from the good that is of charity; but as they have their faith from the Lord, it is the Lord alone who is the power in them.


A Sermon by Rev. Thomas L. Kline
Preached in Bryn Athyn March 21, 1993

“Then David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him … But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (I Samuel 30:6).

Our subject this morning is “Inner Strength,” finding inner strength and peace in the Lord, and then tapping that inner strength so that we can overcome the battles and challenges we face in our lives. Our text is taken from the first book of Samuel, and it is the story of David, King David of the Old Testament, fighting against the Amalekites. This was one of the lowest points in David’s life. It was a time of great despair, almost unthinkable despair. David was fighting against the Amalekites, and during the battle, David and his men had built a small city where he and his soldiers would live. There they also brought their wives and children to live with them.

And one day disaster struck. One day, after returning from the battle, David and his men found their city ravaged by the Amalekites. The city had been burnt with fire, and all the women and children had been taken captive. It says that David and his men lifted up their voices and wept. And then, to make matters worse, the men of David’s army began to turn against David. They turned against their leader in their grief. They spoke of stoning David because of the loss of their families.

So here was David; he had despair over the loss of his family and now his own life was in jeopardy. And what did David do at that moment? And here we have that key sentence for this morning: “David went and strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” David strengthened himself in the Lord.

David could have gone out immediately; he could have gathered his army to retrieve his women and children; he could have gone out in anger and fought against the Amalekites. But David took another path, an inner path. David stopped everything that he was doing, and took that moment to be with the Lord.

It was a time of distress, and the real strength to overcome that distress came from within. That inner strength then allowed David to go forth and fight the battles that lay before him. He went forth, and it says at the end of the story, “He recovered all.” He brought back the women and children and he utterly defeated the Amalekites.

What would be the most precious gift you could ever receive? If you could have any one thing, any one wish to be granted; if you could change anything about your life, what would you wish for? It is interesting that when people really think about this, often the answer given is, “I would wish for inner peace. Just give me the inner peace and strength to deal with those things I face out there in my life.” Because the fact is, there are always going to be issues that we face out there in the external place of our lives. There are always going to be strife, distress, challenges, and hurdles. We can’t change all those life situations out there, but what we can change is what is within us to gather the strength here in our hearts to rise above those life situations, and to be able meet those challenges out there with love, wisdom, compassion, and spiritual strength.

For the parent to deal calmly, compassionately, and wisely with his children or teenagers, what parent doesn’t wish for that wisdom? For the boss to be wise, understanding, fair in dealing with his employers; for us to be truly caring in human relationships; for us to be able to have strength in times of tragedy, inner strength and inner peace are the source of it all.

King Solomon, when he was asked by the Lord for any one gift, chose wisdom. He could have had riches, wealth, fame and power, but he chose wisdom. And because he chose wisdom, it says that every other gift was given to him as well.

Inner peace and strength in the Lord, our message this morning: the potential for this inner strength and peace is there is each of our lives. There is a chamber of your mind, an inner chamber, where you can go and strengthen yourself in the Lord your God. And there you can gather strength to meet those challenges that stand out there in life.

I want to list some teachings given in the Writings of the New Church, teachings about what is called our “interior man” your interior man, and we all have one, that inner region of your minds where the Lord dwells.

Teaching number one: “The internal man is the gate or entrance of the Lord into man” (AC 1940). We have a choice. We have a choice to open that interior degree of our minds to God and let His life inflow, or we can keep that interior degree of our mind closed, to keep it downward to the world. It reminds us of the words of Jesus, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).

Here is a second passage from the Writings that has to do with inner strength during battle and temptation. We read, “When a man perceives anything fighting and conquering [for him], he may know that it is from the influx of the Lord through the internal man” (AC 978). You find things working in your life; you find yourself making progress, and where is that strength coming from? It is from the Lord, flowing down from within.

The third teaching has to do with our relationship to our neighbor. Think of a time when you are dealing with a difficult person. Every time you talk to that person you find negative emotions rising. No matter what you do, you find that person can “pull your strings” or “push your buttons.” You find yourself coming down to his level; you become defensive; you find anger. But picture a time (and this happens to all of us) when you are talking to that difficult person and you find that you can rise above your negative feelings. Even when they are wrong or “off the wall,” you find that you can be there for them with compassion and understanding. What one of us wouldn’t wish for that degree of understanding? Listen to this passage from the Writings: “When a person thinks well concerning the neighbor, wants to perform kind offices for the neighbor, and when he feels that he pities the neighbor who is in calamity and still more the neighbor who is in error, then he may know that he has the internal things in him through which the Lord operates” (AC 1102.3).

And here we are not just talking about skills, not just some fancy listening technique, but it is a time we are truly there for that person. It genuinely comes from the heart. That’s inner strength that comes from the Lord.

A fourth teaching: We might think that going within to gather inner strength is a kind of fleeing from our problems, but listen to this passage. It says that inner strength filters down into the external events of our lives. “When the interiors have been formed in heaven, then the things which are there inflow into the exteriors which are from the world and form them to correspondence, that is, that they may act as one with them” (HH 351).

The exterior things of life begin to act as one; they begin to change our life down here. One passage from the Writings uses the word “harmony” in describing the relation between the internal and external man.

One last teaching: the interior man is who you are for eternity. “Therefore, such as a man is as to his interiors, such he remains to eternity” (HH 501).

I want to end with a statement about prayer, the power of prayer. Prayer is vital to this subject of inner strength. In our story we saw that David strengthened himself in the Lord. But the question remains: how did he do this? How did David strengthen Himself in the Lord? Here was David in terrible distress, and it says that David went to the priest and commanded that the ephod be brought to him. In the tabernacle, the high priest would put the ephod over his heart and enquire of the Lord how he should lead the people. And we are told that the Lord would answer the high priest by the flashing of the stones in the ephod. The ephod pictures prayer. The ephod pictures our talking to God.

We can picture David holding the ephod in his hand, and it says that he “inquired of the Lord what he should do.” And the Lord gave him an answer at that moment. While David held onto the ephod, the Lord told him to pursue the Amalekites, and the Lord gave him the assurance that he would overtake the enemy and “without fail recover all who had been lost.”

How do we strengthen ourselves in the Lord our God? Through prayer, or what the Writings call speech with God. We go into that closet of our mind, we shut the door, we pray to our Father in secret, and our Father who will reward is openly.

And this is important: we strengthen ourselves through prayer, both before and during times of need. Before times of need that’s our daily prayer and meditation. Daily, even when things are going well in our lives, we go to that inner chamber of our minds and talk with God so we can build up inner strength before we need it daily prayer so that we can be accustomed to opening that inner door and feeling the inner strength that is there, and then when tragedy strikes, or when challenges face us, to pray that moment as well, as did David, so that we can tap that strength to meet the challenges that stand before us.

Let us read the story again from scripture: “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. And David said to Abiathar the priest, `Please bring the ephod here to me.’ So David inquired of the Lord saying, `Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I over take them?’ And the Lord answered him, `Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all.”

The potential for this inner strength and peace is there in each of our lives. There is a region of your mind where we can go and find peace and strength in the Lord our God. It is a strength that we can tap so that we can overcome the battles and challenges we face in our life. And with His help, you will find peace in your God. Amen.

Lessons: I Samuel 30:1-19; Matt. 6:1-24; AC 2535; HH 351:2

Arcana Coelestia 2535

“He shall pray for thee. “That this signifies that it will thus be revealed is evident from the signification of “praying.” Prayer, regarded in itself, is speech with God, and some internal view at the time of the matters of the prayer, to which there answers something like an influx into the perception or thought of the mind, so that there is a certain opening of the man’s interiors toward God, but this with a difference according to the person’s state, and according to the essence of the subject of the prayer. If the person prays from love and faith, and for only heavenly and spiritual things, there then comes forth in the prayer something like a revelation (which is manifested in the affection of him that prays) as to hope, consolation, or a certain inward joy. It is from this that to “pray” signifies in the internal sense to be revealed. Still more is this the case here where praying is predicated of a prophet, by whom is meant the Lord, whose prayer was nothing else than internal speech with the Divine, and at the same time revelation. That there was revelation is evident in Luke: “It came to pass when Jesus was baptized and prayed, that the heaven was opened” (Luke 3:21). In the same: “It came to pass that He took Peter, James, and John, and went up into the mountain to pray, and as He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered and His raiment became white and glistening (Luke 9:28, 29). In John: “When He prayed, saying, `Father glorify Thy name,’ then came there a voice from heaven: `I have both glorified, and will glorify again’ (John 12:27, 28), where it is plain that the Lord’s “praying” was speech with the Divine, and revelation at the same time.

Heaven and Hell 351:2

True intelligence and wisdom is seeing and perceiving what is true and good, and thereby what is false and evil, and clearly distinguishing between them, and this from an interior intuition and perception. With every person there are interior faculties and exterior faculties, interior faculties belonging to the internal or spiritual man, and exterior faculties belonging to the exterior or natural man. Accordingly as man’s interiors are formed and made one with his exteriors, the person sees and perceives. His interiors can be formed only in heaven; his exteriors are formed in the world. When his interiors have been formed in heaven, the things they contain flow into his exteriors which are from the world and so form them that they correspond with, that is, act as one with, his interiors; and when this is done, the person sees and perceives from what is interior. The interiors can be formed only in one way, namely, by man’s looking to the Divine and to heaven, since, as has been said, the interiors are formed in heaven; and man looks to the Divine when he believes in the Divine, and believes that all truth and good and consequently all intelligence and wisdom are from the Divine; and man believes in the Divine when he is willing to be led by the Divine. In this way and none other are the interiors of man opened.