Self-control – How to exercise it?

Many of us have developed at least one way of acting that can hurt ourselves, annoy others or damage relationships. Something is lacking self-control. Examples include over-eating, self-controluntidiness, nagging, and telling lies. If we keep doing these things they become ingrained in our behaviour and may seem impossible to change.

The Basics of Self-Control

Yet we weren’t born with these actions and what is learned can be unlearned. Gaining better self-control over our behaviour can be done but requires a conscious effort and persistence.

To stand any chance of gaining self-control we need to be completely clear about why we want to change. Often our family and friends are more aware of our problem behaviour than we ourselves. We may not always realise when, and to what extent, we are at fault.

It might help to find out from somebody else at what times and in what situations where we are going wrong. What harm am I doing? What is embarrassing, upsetting or irritating for me or for others?

Our Free Choice

It’s never too late to stop a bad habit. When we have dug ourselves into a hole, the best policy is to stop digging! After all no-one is compelled to be untidy, to nag, be argumentative, tell a lie or get drunk. It just seems that way at the time.

We need to be especially on guard at the times when we are most at risk of relapsing into our old ways. We have reached a choice between yielding to, or exercising self-control over undesirable impulses. Having a sense of freedom in choosing between alternative actions is a familiar experience. It confirms out ability to make real choices.

Many self-indulgent desires are represented in images we remember seeing in the mass media. Because we merely have some connection with them, we need not allow ourselves to become enslaved by them but are free to ignore them. Because these impulses are not entirely part of us we can disown them.

Temptation

For many moral issues call us to a deeper conflict. The tension is not just between indulging self and exercising self-control. Neither is it just about doing what is thought by others to be right or wrong. It is also about choosing to follow our inner conscience or not. When we try to have self-control over what is bad in our lives because it goes against our inner conscience, then temptation combat becomes inevitable.

Religion says to gain self-control we need the spiritual help of a higher power. Many alcoholics feel they have failed, despite doing all they can, to overcome the ‘demon drink’ and so many members of Alcoholics Anonymous surrender themselves to a higher power, many call God, believing that only with the strength of this force for good can they stay sober.

Having a belief that we are not fighting alone means a huge sense of confidence that the battle can be won. The problem drinker also has a part to play – it would be no good believing in a higher power without acting on that belief for example by resisting the temptation to buy alcohol at a shop or visit a drinking establishment.

The spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg makes an important distinction between on the one hand the notion of resisting bad impulses by our own efforts alone and on the other hand resisting them in God’s strength ‘as of ourselves’. In other words we need both God’s strength and our own effort to turn away from what is wrong about our living and instead embrace what would be right.

In line with this teaching he criticised the orthodox Christian doctrine of ‘justification by faith alone’ that gives the only emphasis on belief in God at the expense of our additional responsibility to gain control over our own behaviour.

Importance of Our Own Efforts

The bad news is that if we make no effort to resist our own demons, no attempt to stop pandering to our baser instincts at the expense of our higher impulses, then we have taken a backward step towards gaining any control over our faults. What is bad in us will have acquired power over what is good in us. On the other hand if we do try hard to take control over the selfish and greedy desires, in God’s strength, then the divine spirit can then give us a new direction. This means self-restraint as well as enlightenment and inner happiness to replace the illusion that we are enslaved to self-indulgence.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Preparing For Temptation

Preparing For Temptation

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

revcooper.ca


Now, therefore, send quickly and tell David, saying, “Do not spend this night in the plains of the wilderness, but speedily cross over, lest the king and all the people be swallowed up” (2SA 17:16).

Absalom was the favorite son of King David. He was tall. He was handsome. He was the apple of his father’s eye. While his father sat on the throne doing the actual work of bringing justice to the kingdom, Absalom stood in the gate of the city and greeted all the people who came to petition the king. He told each one just what he wanted to hear, that if he were king, he would surely decide in that one’s favor. More and more people began to succumb to this flattery and began to love Absalom more than they loved David.

Absalom seemed to have everything going his way, but he did have one glaring fault that led him into many disorders: he wanted to be king so badly that he could not patiently wait for his father to die or give him the throne. Absalom spent most of his adult life plotting to violently overthrow his father and rule in his place.

The amazing thing is that David knew of his son’s plans, he knew that Absalom was a constant threat to the stability of his kingdom and his own life, and yet he continued to turn his eyes away from Absalom’s wickedness, and play the fool to Absalom’s lies. His love for his son was not based upon respect, or on the good things that Absalom was able to accomplish among the people. Instead, his love was based on the mere fact that Absalom has arisen from his own body, and for that reason alone David protected him from the consequences of his behavior. If David had only acted as a responsible parent and brought Absalom under control, it would have saved both of them much misery in their lives.

As with every story in the Word when viewed from the perspective of the regenerative series, David, as the central figure, represents each of us as we try to regenerate. Absalom stands for the evils that we love even though we know that they are evil.

David’s uncritical love for his son represents our uncritical loves, all those conflicts between our will and our understanding where we know we should be doing one thing, but we want to do something else. David knew he should control Absalom, but he did not want to. He refused to restrain his son.

Returning for a moment to the literal story, we see that when Absalom believed that he had amassed a sufficiently broad base of popular support, he moved against his father. Absalom and his army rose up in the night and attacked Jerusalem. Their victory was quick, though it was not quite complete. David managed to flee into the country-side with a few of his advisers, servants, and family.

As David fled, he had time to speak to his close friend and loyal adviser, Hushai, and asked him to risk his life by staying and becoming an adviser to Absalom. David’s hope was that Hushai could confound the good counsel that Absalom would get from his other advisers, specially from such wise men as Ahithopel.

Hushai did as his king bid him. He presented himself to Absalom, who recognized him as a trusted friend of David’s. Absalom asked him to explain why he should not be executed for his treason against David. Hushai explained that he had always been an adviser to the king, and now there was a new king to advise. Hushai convinced Absalom that his loyalty lay with the throne, not with the individual who sat upon it. Absalom, a man who was not known for his humility and good sense, believed him, because the explanation pleased him. And so Hushai was in a position to protect David from within Absalom’s inner circle of advisers.

Absalom called his council together to discuss what to do next. Ahithopel correctly advised him that David was now alone in the wilderness, without food, tents, or weapons. He had no army, but only a few personal servants and members of the court. He told Absalom that if he were to strike forcefully and immediately, he could easily overwhelm David and ensure the future of his own kingdom.

Hushai (knowing that if Absalom did move swiftly, David was doomed), cautioned Absalom not to move too quickly. He reminded Absalom of David’s reputation as the slayer of “10 000 Philistines”, and told him that if he thought to fight against such a warrior as David was, he had better be thoroughly prepared. Absalom accepted the counsel of Hushai because he did still fear his father’s reputation as a warrior, and so he lost his opportunity to crush David while he was weak and unable to defend himself. As a direct result of the delay, David was able to gather a powerful army to himself and crush the rebellion, killing Absalom.

This is an interesting story of political intrigue and struggles between powerful men within a royal family, but there must be more to it than that, or it would not be a part of God’s Word. It must somehow address the problems of men that transcend time and place. If it is God’s Word, it must speak to each of us and help us in the daily struggle of our lives. When we think of David as standing for ourselves, and Absalom standing for our evil loves, this story tells us many things about fighting against the hells in states of temptation.

First, it tells us that although the hells (represented by Absalom) seem to be incredibly powerful, we must keep in mind that they are stupid, vain, and cowardly, and we can use these weaknesses to our advantage. We don’t have to fight against them when we are weak and unprepared. We can push them away until we are ready to fight, until we have chosen the time and place that puts us in the better position. The internal sense of the story tells us what these steps are in their order.

Starting from the point where we see that David stands for each one of us, and Absalom stands for some evil within us that we love like a son, we can see the first step in preparing to do battle with and defeat some evil love within us is to flee from it!

  • By ourselves, unprepared, we cannot stand and fight. If we try, we will be defeated.
  • A person who has a problem with alcohol will not beat it by spending a lot of time socializing with people who drink a lot.
  • A man who is tempted to commit adultery cannot defeat it by spending his time in the company of loose women.
  • The belief that we can conquer an evil by immersing ourselves in its sphere and then exercising self-control is a lie spread by the hells. They know that the more often we succumb, the more difficult it will be for us to ever rid ourselves of that evil, so they want us to fight them in such a way that we can be easily defeated, to get into the habit of succumbing in temptation.
  • So we must not let them control the time and place of the battle.
  • We must flee from the sphere of evil before we fight.

After David fled from Jerusalem into the wilderness, counsel was given to both Absalom and David. This tells us that the second step should be that, having fled the sphere of the evil, we must then take counsel.

  • We need to ask ourselves what is right.
  • We need to examine our lives for previous experiences that might be helpful.
  • We need to examine our thought and will for evidences of that evil’s power.
  • We need to spend time gathering information about ourselves and our enemy.
  • We need to read the Word for guidance, for only after we have full knowledge can we act with assurance and safety.

The third step is revealed when Hushai sends word to David that he should not delay, but should “speedily” cross over the Jordan and leave the wilderness. The wilderness represents a state of despair, hunger, loneliness, and temptation. Gilead, the land on the other side of the Jordan, was a good place, pleasant to live in, and represents the sensuous pleasures that delight the natural man.

  • This tells us that we are not to remain in the wilderness state of loneliness, temptation and despair, but that we are to get back to those things which are useful, delightful, and refreshing to us.
  • It is another lie from hell that tells us that somehow we should be full of woe and pain while preparing to fight in temptation.
  • The Lord doesn’t want us to feel sad or guilty ever, and certainly not just when we need our strength and clarity of mind to fight a powerful foe.
  • We need to get out of that wilderness state into another state where our bodies are rested and our minds refreshed so that we can go forth to fight with confidence and with vigor.
  • We are told that this should be done “speedily.” Once we make the decision to fight, we must not then put it off into some far distant future when we think we might be more ready. Again, procrastination is from hell, and is as effective as a full-scale frontal assault if it keeps us from shunning evils as sins.

The fourth step is to continue our self-examination, our searching for the truth of the matter. This is represented by the spies, Jonathan and Ahimaaz, who were sent to David by Hushai. We are told that Absalom’s men were looking for them, and they were forced to hide in a well in a courtyard, which was then covered with a cloth and ground grain.

A well in Israel in those days was usually a pit hollowed out of the underlying sandstone. Rainwater would be directed into the pit, and hoarded through the long dry season. This kind of well has a good representation, because it is used to store water, but the water becomes stale after several months, and while it is still useful for watering crops and livestock, it is not as pleasant to drink as running water from a mountain stream. Thus, such a well represents the very lowest sort of truths there are, very external and sensual. This is further represented by the fact that the well was in the courtyard of a house, for a courtyard also represents what is external or natural.

External truths from the Word are our sure ground when we are being attacked by the hells.

  • We remember the things that are simple, basic and strong.
  • We say the Lord’s prayer.
  • We sing our favorite hymns.
  • We may go and sit quietly in the church for a while. We read a favorite passage from the Word.
  • We do something kind for another person.
  • We use this time to gather our inner resources, to fall back on those things that are so sure in our minds that not even the most hellish attack can make us question them or abandon them.

We are told that Absalom’s men were not able to find the spies, which means in the spiritual sense that the hells cannot harm our remains of good and truth.

The fifth step again refers to crossing over into Gilead, and we are told that this is because as we prepare to fight, as we make decisions to do what the Word teaches, as we compel ourselves to fight against evil, the Lord gives us feelings of pleasure and delight. Perhaps we could think of this in terms of an army facing an important battle. How does the General prepare his troops?

  • Does he tell everyone how hard it is going to be, how dangerous?
  • Does he tell the soldiers that he believes they will loose, but they may as well give it a try anyhow?
  • Of course not. A successful General inspires in his men the confidence that they are powerful, competent, and ready. He wants them to feel good about themselves, and to feel that the task ahead is within their abilities.

The Lord cannot stand before us in person and give us a pep talk, but He can touch our hearts and our minds with the strength and courage we need, if we will invite Him to do so. This is what encamping in Gilead means.

And so in this story of Absalom’s revolt against David we learn five steps that we can take to prepare ourselves properly to fight against the hells in states of temptation so that when we fight with the Lord’s help, we will certainly win.

  • First, we must flee from the evil and get out of its sphere and its power.
  • Second, we must read the Word, borrowing its strength to fight to coming battle.
  • Third, we must shun feelings of despair and loneliness, we must not dwell on our evils, but turn our attention to useful activities. We cannot fight effectively when we are morose and depressed.
  • Fourth, we are to gather our inner resources, to reflect on the way the Lord has been with us and helped us in earlier battles, the way He has always been present in our lives.
  • Finally, we must encamp in Gilead. We are not to spend the night in the wilderness, but speedily cross over, lest we be swallowed up by the hells. We must go forth into the battle with the courage that comes from the confidence that the Lord will fight our battles for us, and He never loses. AMEN.

Lessons: 2 Samuel 17:15-29, Mark 10:35-45, TCR 596

True Christian Religion 596.

VII. WHEN THIS TAKES PLACE A CONFLICT ARISES BETWEEN THE INTERNAL AND THE EXTERNAL MAN, AND THEN THE ONE THAT CONQUERS RULES OVER THE OTHER.

596. A conflict then arises because the internal man is reformed by means of truths; and from truths he sees what is evil and false, which evil and falsity are still in the external or natural man; consequently disagreement first springs up between the new will, which is above, and the old will, which is below; and as the disagreement is between the two wills, it is also between their delights; for the flesh, it is well known, is opposed to the spirit and the spirit to the flesh, and the flesh with its lusts must be subdued before the spirit can act and man become new. After this disagreement of the two wills a conflict arises; and this is called spiritual temptation. This temptation or conflict does not take place between goods and evils, but between the truths of good and the falsities of evil For good cannot fight from itself but fights by means of truths; nor can evil fight from itself but by means of its falsities; just as the will cannot fight from itself but by means of the understanding where its truths reside.

[2] Man is not sensible of that conflict except as in himself, and as remorse of conscience; and yet it is the Lord and the devil (that is, hell) that are fighting in man, and they are fighting for dominion over him, or to determine who shall possess him. The devil or hell attacks man and calls out his evils, while the Lord protects him and calls out his goods. Although that conflict takes place in the spiritual world, still it takes place in man between the truths of good and the falsities of evil that are in him; therefore man must fight wholly as if of himself, for he has the freedom of choice to act for the Lord, and also to act for the devil; he is for the Lord, if he abides in truths from good, and for the devil, if he abides in falsities from evil. From this it follows that whichever conquers, the internal man or the external, that one rules over the other; precisely like two hostile powers contending as to which shall be master of the other’s kingdom–the conqueror takes possession of the kingdom, and places all in it under obedience to himself. In this case, therefore, if the internal man conquers, he obtains dominion and subjugates all the evils of the external man, and regeneration then goes on; but if the external man conquers, he obtains the dominion, and dissipates all the goods of the internal man, and regeneration perishes.


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

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Good Friday Sermon: The Lord’s Temptations

Good Friday Sermon: The Lord’s Temptations

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I preached this sermon on Friday, April 6, 2012 at the Dawson Creek Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC.

Readings: Psalm 22; Luke 23:26-56; Arcana Coelestia 1812

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

Imagine. The Lord was being nailed to a cross, His flesh pierced by nails. He had done nothing wrong. He had never acted out of anything other than a desire to save people, to offer them the gift of eternal life. In return, He had been spat on and beaten and mocked. But on being crucified, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He had the power to call down fire from heaven to consume them; He could have easily come down from the cross; He could have condemned them eternally to hell. But He did not. He only said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

What was the Lord going through at that point? The account we read in Luke does not give us all the answers, but from other gospels we see signs that on the cross, the Lord was in great torment. In Matthew and Mark, it is recorded that He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” Those words echo Psalm 22, which we read this evening. It is a psalm of desolation – “My power is dried up as a potsherd; and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and You have set me on the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:15) On the cross, the Lord was experiencing intense temptation, pain, and almost complete despair, far beyond anything you or I have ever experienced. It was worse than the worst physical pain you’ve ever felt, worse than the worst emotional pain. And in that pain, the Lord said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

How could the Lord forgive even in that pain? Before we answer that, we also must ask: What was the source of that pain? The physical pain of the cross would have been excruciating – but many people have been crucified and died painful deaths. Would that be enough to compel the Lord Himself to feel abandoned by His Father, to feel separate from the Divine within Himself? It would not. There were many, many more things going on within Him. The Lord was experiencing temptation: combat against hell almost to the point of despair.

This is what was happening at the cross: the final and most painful temptation the Lord would undergo. But those temptations on the cross were not the only ones the Lord endured. From the time of His childhood, He underwent temptation by every part of hell. And the reason that He experienced those temptations His entire life was that from his childhood, in His soul He was love – and a temptation is an assault on someone’s love.

What does that mean, that a temptation is an assault on a love? Well, say a person loves the ideal of honesty. He strives for honesty in his life, and deep inside, he loves it. But that love is attacked whenever evil spirits stir up in him a desire to lie. The deeper part of him does not want that, and is under attack from that lower craving. Along with that desire to lie can come a hopelessness: “I’ll never be truly honest.” If the person did not love honesty, he wouldn’t experience temptation – he would not feel any pain over a desire to lie. A person only experiences a temptation because there is something good that they love, and evil spirits are trying to pervert and kill that love.

The Lord’s love was a love for the entire human race. It was a burning, pressing desire that everyone be freed from slavery to sin, to come into a heavenly freedom of love for one another. It was desire that everyone be given life – Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Lord in His heart had infinite love, infinite mercy. And so you can imagine how much the spirits of hell hated Him. You can imagine the force with which they would try to attack Him. This was their chance to destroy God, to destroy love itself. And so like wolves to red meat, they swarmed the Lord. For His whole life, the forces of hell attacked Him. That was the source of His temptations.

What was that temptation like? Those evil spirits were trying to destroy the Lord’s love for humanity, and they attacked Him in a thousand devious and hidden ways. Although the Lord had no actual sin, he inherited from his mother a tendency toward sin. And those evil spirits attacked Him through the inclinations toward evil that He had inherited from His mother. They poured into His lower self with their own feelings and thoughts of hatred, and made Him feel as if these were really a part of Him. They poured in thoughts of hopelessness and despair. They projected images of how easy it would have been to force everyone to believe – and in the end, at the crucifixion, to come down from the cross. Even the people present at the crucifixion were joining in the chorus of hellish voices: “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He be the Christ the chosen of God.” (Luke 23:35).

At least a part of that last temptation must have consisted in an aching desire to come down from the cross, to immediately in their presence prove that He was God. And not for His own sake, but for theirs. Because they did not know what they were doing. If He could show them – you are destroying your own souls! How much of His pain on the cross was this torment and grief for the sake of those very people who were nailing Him to that cross? And you can see here how the evil spirits work – they would take that good and pure love in the Lord and try to twist it, to try to make the Lord act from fear and despair over anyone accepting His love, to convince Him that His only hope lay in forcing people to believe – when in reality to do so would take away their freedom, destroying the very thing that made them human and capable of being joined to Him in love.

The Lord’s love was greater than anyone else’s ever – it was an infinite love. And so the temptations, the attacks on it, were more grievous by far than any temptations experienced by anyone else. The despair felt at the idea that His mission might fail – that the human race would not be redeemed – was a deeper despair than anyone else could have ever experienced or endured.

And yet the Lord endured it. The Lord chose to come into the world, to take on human flesh, knowing full well the pain that He would endure. He knew He would be put to death. And He knew that He would have to put to death parts of Himself – everything with the smallest inclination toward selfishness, every particle that tended toward evil and falsity. And it would be like dying – not just once, but every day of His life. He told His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) To live as He did, His disciples would have to take up their cross not once, but daily. Because that’s what He was doing. Every day, He was laying down His life – His own wants – for His friends.

And despite the attacks from hell, the temptations and the despair, the Lord knew He must succeed. Because as powerful as hell was and is, the Lord’s love is infinitely more powerful. And it was from this infinite love that He always fought. We read in Arcana Coelestia,

But in all His combats of temptations the Lord never fought from the love of self, or for Himself, but for all in the universe, consequently, not that He might become the greatest in heaven, for this is contrary to the Divine Love, and scarcely even that He might be the least; but only that all others might become something, and be saved. (AC 1812)

And so even on the cross, love was winning. Would He take revenge, lash out even a little? No. No words of hatred, but “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Those are words of defiance, a battle cry against the forces of hell. No! Even now, even at this, I will not hate. I will put hatred to death. Forgiveness will win. Love will win.

We read the words of the 22nd Psalm, beginning with, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Lord cried out with those words, showing that this psalm spoke of His own thoughts on the cross. But the psalm does not end with despair. And the psalm does not end only with hope for the psalmist. The second half of the psalm promises hope for the world: “They shall remember and return unto Jehovah, all the ends of the earth; and all the families of the nations shall worship before Thy face” (Psalm 22:27) And the Lord’s hope and comfort was not that He Himself would be saved, but that the world would be redeemed. That people would be free to choose His love. And that many, many people would choose that love.

And that comfort sustained Him. On the cross, it seemed as if He had lost. It seemed to His disciples as if evil had succeeded in defeating justice. It seemed that hatred and force had triumphed over love. Maybe hell thought it had won. But it was wrong. They had not destroyed love. It was not love that had been nailed to the cross. Jesus had offered up everything that was merely human, everything that had inherited a tendency toward sin – but it was not simply dying. Jesus was not destroying the physical world, or His physical body. He was destroying everything that was merely human in Himself – but He was replacing it with something else. He was making His human divine, even down to the level of his flesh and bones. He was truly and fully becoming incarnate – the Word of God made flesh. And the story of Good Friday is only a prelude to the greatest miracle of all time – the Lord rose again with His whole body, completely Divine, and completely human.

The Lord laid down His life for His friends. He laid down His life for you and me. He laid down His life so that He could take it up again, and draw all people to Himself. And in defeating hell in His flesh, and becoming Divine on every level of creation, He gained power over hell to eternity. And if the Lord underwent that for us – how can we then turn our backs on Him? If He wept and suffered from pure love, so that we could be saved, wanting nothing for Himself – how can we reject that salvation? It matters. There are times when we hold our own lives cheaply – but the Lord never does. His love is great enough that He would undergo all of those things even if it would save only one person.

He underwent those temptations that He could be present in our spirits, and fight against hell for each one of us. We have no power against hell. We are slaves to sin. But He can save us. How does He save us? By defeating hell with us, and giving us a new spirit. And we allow Him to give us that new spirit by acting in love and obedience to Him. We too must take up our cross daily and follow Him. We have to act as if from ourselves to fight against sin, so that He can replace our selfishness with love. And in doing this, we always have to look to Him, praying for His help, acknowledging that despite the appearance, it is truly He alone who is fighting for us, not we ourselves. And if we want to be conformed to His image, we must strive to fight not from a desire to be great, but from a desire to become servants. We too must fight with all our hearts to say of everyone who has hurt us: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And if we do this, if every day we take up our cross and follow Him – willingly putting to death our own sinful desires – then in Him, we can die to sin, and in Him, we will be raised to life – not the fleshly, temporary life of self-love, but the eternal life of His love – a love for the entire human race, and a love for the source of that love, our Lord Jesus Christ, the One God and Saviour of heaven and earth. Amem

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KEEPING IN A STATE OF HOPE

KEEPING IN A STATE OF HOPE

A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose    Preached in Bryn Athyn October 8, 1995   It is written in the Psalms,

“Why are you cast down, 0 my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him” (42:5, 11). And again in the Psalms: “But I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more” (71:14).

The Writings speak of “a bright state of hope” (AC 8165). Our lesson this morning says that the angels endeavor to “keep the person in a state of hope” (AC 2338). “If he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative.”

A valuable truth about life is that we should live in the present, and many of us consciously try to do that. But this is a sermon about hope. And hope, you may say, has to do with the future. Hope may be related to the future, but it is something you feel in the present. It is a present experience. Yes, try to live in the present, but live with hope.

Hope is both something of the rational mind and something of the heart. The book Divine Providence says that it is reason’s delight to contemplate a coming effect not in the present but in the future. And then it is said, “This is the source of what is called hope” (DP 178). We find pleasure in contemplating, anticipating, and thinking of particular things to come. We like to have things we are looking forward to.

Hope as expressed in the psalm is also something that flows in and warms us. It is a heart gift. The Writings speak of three things that come to a person who is praying or has prayed: “hope, consolation, and a certain inward joy” (AC 2535). When we are assaulted by evil spirits, we are told that an answer from the Divine flows in. This scarcely comes to the perception otherwise than as “hope and the resulting comfort” (AC 8159).

The Hebrew word for hope in the Psalm is yachal. In a couple of contexts yachal is rendered “trust.” For example, in the book of Job: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (13:5). It is also translated to “wait.” “Mine eyes fail while I wait for my God” (69:3). Hope is a waiting with good expectation, like one who in the darkness watches for the morning, like one who enters a new enterprise or a new year of work with good anticipation. I will hope continually. “My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness and Your salvation all the day long” (Psalm 71:15).

When we speak, we know we should speak in terms of hope. We are asked how a sick friend is doing. “Well, we hope he will soon be feeling better.” And if the condition is deteriorating, we hope he will be given strength. And if he dies, we hope that his passing will be understood by us, and of course we hope for his welfare in the world to come. Yes, we hope and hope and hope.

Is this realistic? Is it psychologically sound? Does it square reasonably with the actuality of human life? If the Lord is all-powerful, it is realistic. If the Lord sees and knows and cares, it is realistic. He is all-powerful. He sees and knows all things, and His love is ardent and everlasting. To an extent we know this. “They know that for those who trust in the Divine, all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and that whatever befalls them in time is still conducive thereto.” “They are in the stream of Providence who put their trust in the Divine and attribute all things to Him” (AC 8478).

“Let Thy mercy, 0 Lord, be upon us according as we hope in Thee” (Psalm 33:22). Why are you cast down? Hope in God. The gift of hope makes life’s other gifts sparkle. Hope makes the good things of life enjoyable, and it makes adversities bearable. It makes the disappointments and apparent failures endurable. We have hope. And we note that hope is ranked with the two elements of charity and faith. Now abide these three: “faith, hope and charity” (I Cor. 13:13). Love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things (v. 7).

The early Christians knew this well. The Christians who first endured in the city of Rome received word from the Apostle saying, “The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? … I am persuaded that neither … principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35,38,39).

Perhaps we appreciate hope especially in contrast to its absence. If you don’t have any hope, your plight is grievous. It is the state of despair. Every temptation we experience is attended, the Writings say, with some kind of despair (see AC 1787). It is a diminishing of hope. And in despair, particulars that might otherwise cheer us hold no joy for us. On the other hand, when we have hope it seems to have many particular facets. We have hopes for country, community and family, hopes for the church and hopes for specific uses. We look upon other people, and our love for them has specific hopes. The things they need are present with us when we are praying.

There is something special about our hopes for children, whether our own children or others. Because their life stretches out before them, we look on them with hope. We have hope for their success, overcoming their problems, healing their woes. When children are very young our hopes for them are often much better than their own hopes for themselves.

That helps us appreciate the Lord’s view of our hopes. It helps us when we pray that the Lord’s will be done rather than our own. For His will for us is better than our own.

In one place the Writings speak of “the hope of becoming an angel” (HH 517:2). What a hope for us of finding a life in which what we do is useful for others and makes a difference for good.

We should all be stirred by the doctrinal knowledge that the Lord’s purpose is a heaven from the human race, and that our life is related to that purpose. The elderly who seem to have lost much in terms of worldly hopes should in particular know the benefit of the hope that is from the Lord. It is part of our identity, our destiny.

An angel is not always in an intense state of joy. Swedenborg was given to observe at close hand a whole spectrum of angelic states, states compared to the time of day, morning, noon, and evening. He was allowed to talk to angels when zest for life was at its lowest. And it is remarkable that in that state they spoke about hope. “But they said that they hoped to return soon to their former state, and thus into heaven again, as it were” (HH 160).

We know something similar to this. We converse with each other about our disappointments, and we can do so with a smile. We are even able to say to each other, “I have been very depressed lately. I have been feeling so low.” But we can say even that cheerfully, because we have hope.

There is a beautiful passage in Conjugial Love that says, “When the partners tenderly love each other, they think of their covenant as being eternal and have no thought whatever concerning its end by death; and if they do think of this, they grieve; yet, at the thought of its continuance after death, they are revived by hope” (CL 216). They are revived or strengthened by hope.

The mention of conjugial love may remind us of our wondering on the grand scale about the future of true love in this world. So much comes to our attention that can make us regard the human race in a declining plight. Once an angel spoke of the way the precious gift of conjugial love has declined. But note his final words: “Yet, I am nourished by the hope that this love will be resuscitated by the God of heaven, who is the Lord; for its resuscitation is possible” (CL 78). “I am sustained by the hope that the God of heaven, who is the Lord, will revive this love, because it is possible for it to be revived.”

Let us be willing that the Lord shall cheer us with His gift of hope. Remember the phrase “but still, if he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative” (AC 2338). “I will hope continually. And I will praise You yet, more and more.” Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 43, 130, Luke 10, AC 2338, 6144, 8165


Arcana Coelestia

2338. Temptations are attended with doubt in regard to the Lord’s presence and mercy, and also in regard to salvation. The evil spirits who are then with the man and induce the temptation strongly inspire negation, but the good spirits and angels from the Lord in every possible way dispel this state of doubt, and keep the man in a state of hope, and at last confirm him in what is affirmative. The result is that a man who is in temptation hangs between what is negative and what is affirmative. One who yields in temptation remains in a state of doubt, and falls into what is negative; but one who overcomes is indeed in doubt, but still, if he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative.

6144. … There are many reasons why despair is the last of desolation and of temptation (n. 5279, 5280), of which only these following may be adduced. Despair causes those who feel it to acknowledge in an effectual and feeling manner that there is nothing of truth and good from themselves, and that from themselves they are condemned, but that they are delivered from condemnation by the Lord, and that salvation flows in by means of truth and good. Despair also causes them to feel the happiness of life which is from the Lord; for when they come out of that state, they are like those who have been condemned to death and are set free from prison. Moreover, by means of desolations and temptations, states contrary to heavenly life are felt, the result of which is the implantation of a sense and perception of the satisfaction and happiness of heavenly life; for a sense and perception of what is satisfying and happy is impossible without comparison with the opposites. To the end therefore that full comparisons may be made, desolations and temptations are brought to their utmost, that is, to despair.

8165. … Those who are in despair, which is the last of temptation. … are as it were on the slope, or are as it were sinking down toward hell. But at this time such thought does no harm whatever, nor do the angels pay any attention to it, for every man’s power is limited, and when the temptation arrives at the furthest limit of his power, the man cannot sustain anything more but sinks down. But then, when he is on the downhill course, he is raised by the Lord and thus liberated from despair; and is then for the most part brought into a clear state of hope and of the consequent consolation, and also into good fortune …

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FIGHTING SPIRITUAL BATTLES

FIGHTING SPIRITUAL BATTLES
A Sermon by Rev. Thomas L. Kline
Preached in Bryn Athyn July 7, 1994

“Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil” (Luke 4:1,2).

Why do bad things happen? Why do bad things happen in our lives? One person recently made the comment that when he looked at the lives of all his friends, it seemed as if every person was dealing with some big problem or issue in his or her life, now or in the recent past. The problem could have been disease, a death in the family, marital difficulties, or emotional distress. But it seemed to him as if everyone had some big issue to deal with.

Another person made a rather cynical comment. That person worried, not about the people who had big problems in their lives, but about those who hadn’t yet faced a major crisis. The concern was that those who still believed that life was peaceful and free of problems would soon have that innocence taken away.

Not all of us face a crisis. And for some of us, the issues that we deal with in life are open and public; for others, the issues we deal with are more private and personal.

But back to the question: Why do bad things happen? One recent best seller was titled, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? And another best seller began with the sentence, “Life is difficult.”

Sometimes when a bad thing happens, we can explain it by reasoning that bad things are a necessary part of our spiritual journey. When bad things happen, it is part of that “refiner’s fire” that makes us into a stronger person. When a bad thing happens, there is a lesson to be learned, a victory to be won. And this is why the life that leads to heaven not only involves joy and comfort, but also involves pain and the anxiety of spiritual temptation. Spiritual temptation is part of our spiritual growth.

But sometimes things happen in people’s lives that are so bad that this explanation doesn’t seem to work. One person said over the tragic death of a loved one, “If there is some lesson that I am supposed to learn by something as tragic as this, I’d rather not learn it.” There are events of true tragic proportion: the untimely death of a loved one, terrible and painful disease, emotional disturbance and depression, the dissolving of a marriage, abuse, hunger and famine. If we come to believe that somehow the Lord allows or even causes these to happen so that we can learn some important lesson about life, we end up with a pretty terrible idea about God. One person made the comment about such an idea: “God is a bad teacher if He uses tragedy as His lesson plan.”

And so there is one other very important truth given to us in the doctrines of the New Church that helps us to understand tragedy: Bad things, terrible tragedies, are permitted by the Lord, not just so we can learn something new about life; they often happen simply because we are in the midst of a great war between heaven and hell. We happen to live on the battleground of a great war, and that war is taking place right now. It is a spiritual war between heaven and hell. It is the very war the Lord came on earth to fight. And sometimes we, or our friends and loved ones, are innocent victims of that terrible battle.

Imagine a physical war where a bombshell goes off near us, and we suffer pain and anguish, not because of anything we did, but because there is a battle going on and a bombshell went off. The same happens on a spiritual level. The hells do inflict pain and disorder upon us, and we suffer.

Think of a little child who has a painful disease. The disease itself, the pain and suffering, come from hell. That suffering is a physical manifestation of the hatred, anger, and vengeance of hell. And that little child has a painful and disabling disease not because the child was sinful, not because his parents sinned, not because there is some lesson to be learned (although there might be a lesson that is learned), but that child has a terrible disease because the hells are indeed powerful and they wish nothing more than to cause pain and disease and suffering. All bad things physical, mental and spiritual are a result of this great battle between heaven and hell.

We said that we are often innocent victims residing on this great spiritual battleground. This thought can make us feel kind of helpless. And this is why, rather than saying that we are “innocent victims” living on a great spiritual battleground, it is more accurate to say that we are actually “soldiers” who are called by the Lord to be part of the battle. We are soldiers who live on a large battleground, and we are called to fight in the name of the Lord. And this is one of the most important concepts we need to know about our lives, because it gives us a vision of hope and purpose.

We are in the middle of a great war. (Just look around you and within you.) We are soldiers who are part of this great battle between heaven and hell. Even that little child is a soldier, called into the army of the Lord.

When a bad thing happens terrible disease, a terrible death are we just to remain passive? Are we helpless? How can we fight if the terrible thing has already happened? If a little child dies, how can we be victorious over the hells that caused that death?

And here is another key : We fight the spiritual battle as an individual, but the consequences of our victory, no matter how slight, are global. When we, as individuals, fight a spiritual battle against the hells, we help countless millions throughout this world and the spiritual world who are affected by those same hells. When we are spiritually victorious over a particular hell, we lessen the power of that hell, not just for ourselves but for everyone. When tragedy happens take for example, the untimely death of a loved one we can still fight against those very hells that caused the death. And we do this by continuing on our personal spiritual journey of shunning evils as sins against God, by living the Word of God, by not giving up hope. In this battle we fight for all. And when we fight, we fight for all in the Lord’s kingdom now and in future generations.

Why can’t our life be free from pain, suffering, and the anguish of temptation? Why can’t life just be easy and enjoyable?

It is interesting to ask these questions about the Lord’s life. Why couldn’t the Lord’s life, when He was on the earth, just be peaceful? Why did He have to suffer continual temptations, as the Writings say, temptations from the beginning of His life to the very end? Why did He have to begin His ministry by being tempted by the devil for forty days in the wilderness? Why did He have to suffer the awful pain and anguish of the passion on the cross? Why couldn’t His life have been one of simple peace and joy?

When we ask these questions about the Lord’s life, the answer is obvious: He didn’t come here to have a life of peace and joy; He came here with a mission to be accomplished. He came here to fight against the hells. He came to fight for generations of men, women and children, generations yet unborn. He came to fight for all of us. There was a purpose to His life, a purpose greater than Himself.

And the same is true for us. We are here for our own regeneration, and we are here for a cause (a battle, if you will) greater than ourselves. And sometimes this battle will involve pain, hardship and temptation.

What one of us would not willingly go forth in the face of danger if it meant that we could spiritually benefit the global sphere of the whole earth? (It is interesting that some passages in the Writings suggest that just one person is all that is needed to effect the conjunction between this earth and all the heavens.)

Now this doesn’t mean that our lives are going to be plagued with tragedy every moment. No, there is a lot of joy, happiness, and peace in life. Jesus says that our yoke is easy and our burden is light. But we do need to keep in mind why we are here. We need to have more of a “war-time” mentality than a “peace-time” mentality on the spiritual level. And if we see why we are here, we can know why there is often a lot of pain and suffering in our lives and with those around us. A spiritual battleground is not a very peaceful place. If anything, the Lord gives us an oasis from the battle from time to time, time off from the battle, but the battle is our main purpose in life. In this context, it is useful to think of some of the teachings in the Writings about spiritual temptation.

First of all, we are told that a spiritual temptation is said to be an attack by the hells on some good love that we have. If you have some new, good love in your life, expect it to be attacked by the hells. And if you say to yourself, “Why, every time I have some new love in my heart, it is challenged,” you are not seeing the purpose of why you are here. There is a battle going; expect spiritual temptations.

Another teaching of the Writings: Are our temptations going to get easier or more difficult as we get older? The answer: they are probably going to get more severe. And if your reasoning is, “You mean I am going to have to fight greater battles as I get older? How can this be fair? Why fight now?” If that is your response, then you have missed the point of why you are here. There is a battle going on. You are called to be a spiritual soldier. As you grow stronger, more experienced, the Lord will give you greater challenges, greater battles to fight, because strong experienced soldiers are needed in some of the battles. The Lord is preparing you for great things.

Still another teaching: Spiritual temptations cause utmost despair and anguish. There is no such thing as an easy spiritual temptation. Sometimes you feel that you are going to “lose it” during a spiritual temptation. And again, if the response of your mind is, “Why do I have to have really bad temptations? Why can’t they be easy?” then you have missed the point of why you are here.

When Jesus began His ministry, He was baptized of John in the Jordan River. And then He went into the wilderness and was tempted by the devil for forty days. He hungered. He hungered so much that He was tempted by the devil to make bread out of the stones. And His hunger was deep within Him. He hungered for the salvation of the whole human race.

The devil took Him up to the pinnacle of the temple, and asked Him to throw Himself down. He was tempted to doubt His own power to save the human race.

And finally, the devil took Him up to a great and high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world. All this would be given to Him if He would just bow down and worship the devil.

And after all these temptations, it says that the devil left Him “for a time.” The temptations were to continue. They were to continue even to the passion of the cross. And by His victory over temptation, our redemption was effected.

Let us use His victory as strength in our lives so that we may face the challenges that lie before us with courage and strength. Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 91; Luke 4:1-15; AC 6829, 1690

Arcana Coelestia 6829

When a person is in temptation, he is beset round about by falsities and evils which impede the influx of light from the Divine, that is, the influx of truth and good, and then the person is as it were in darkness. Darkness in the other life is nothing else than this besetment by falsities, for these take away the light from the man who is in temptation, and thus the perception of consolation by truths. But when the person emerges from temptation, then the light appears with its spiritual heat, that is, truth with its good, and from this he has gladness after anxiety. This is the morning which in the other life follows the night.

Arcana Coelestia 1690:3

All temptation is an assault upon the love in which the person is, and the temptation is in the same degree as is the love. If the love is not assaulted, there is no temptation. To destroy anyone’s love is to destroy his very life; for the love is the life. The Lord’s life was love toward the whole human race, and was indeed so great, and of such a quality, as to be nothing but pure love. Against this, His life, continual temptations were admitted, as before said, from His earliest childhood to His last hour in the world. The love which was the Lord’s veriest life is signified by His “hungering,” and by the devil’s saying, “If Thou art the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread,” and by Jesus answering that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:5-8; Matt. 4:2-4).

SAMSON–REGENERATION

SAMSON–REGENERATION
A Sermon by Rt. Rev. Louis B. King
Preached in Bryn Athyn on November 16, 1986

“Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness” (Judges 14:14).

Samson’s riddle which he put forth to his Philistine companions on the eve of his marriage to the Philistine woman of Timnath contains in summary the whole spiritual meaning of his dramatic life as it relates to a person’s regeneration. Interiorly it illustrates how the ferocious attacks of evil and falsity can be met and rent asunder by the power of Divine truth entrusted by the Lord to our care and for our regeneration. A transformation is effected. In place of temptation there comes perception, or meat for the soul, and from the very strength of evil that would have destroyed us there is charity or sweetness of life anew.

In general Samson represents the letter of the Word and its supreme power over evil and falsity. He takes on this representation because of his long, uncut hair. Hair is the last and ultimate outgrowth of the external skin, and as such it is the final termination of the life of the body. Similarly, the letter of the Word is the ultimate or outmost termination of all degrees of revealed truth. The Word exists, and has from the beginning, because the Lord wills that men be saved. Salvation, because it is an eternal reception of the Lord’s love, is possible only where a state of conjunction exists; and conjunction is possible because the Lord has accommodated His infinite love and wisdom so that they may be received by finite man as if his own. In the Word, which is the only medium of conjunction between God and man, we actually find the whole of the Divine so accommodated that it may be received by finite minds (see AE 918:11; AC 1461, 1489, 1496, 1542, 1661).

There are many degrees whereby truth is accommodated, as many as there are planes of human life. The celestial angels receive the Lord’s revelation in its highest form — in celestial or inmost appearances of truth. To the spiritual angels these forms of truth are further accommodated by grosser forms and thus adapted to their spiritual state. Again, natural angels receive a further adaptation of the truth. The form of their revelation consists of appearances of truth adapted to their natural state. Yet within these natural appearances dwells the spiritual sense; and within this is the celestial, and inmostly is the Divine of the Lord, which is the very essence of the Word itself.

As Divine truth descends through the heavens, it is successively clothed with forms which adapt or accommodate it for reception by angels and men, so that all may be conjoined to the Lord by an eternal reception of His Divine love.

The final resting place or outmost termination of the Word is in the literal statements of the three testaments, particularly the Old and New Testaments, wherein Divine truth is accommodated for reception by natural and sensual men on earth. In the literal sense of the Word, Divine truth is in its fullness and power not because of the literal form itself, but because into it are gathered all degrees of revelation. Power is in the ultimate but not from it. When a little child reads the Word with affection, the whole of the heavens benefit — each angel receives and delights in the particular sense directed to his state. Yet the child knows nothing of this. He is unaware that myriads of angels worship the Lord when he reads the Word, communicating to him as much of their affection as he can receive.

This conjunction with the Lord through the heavens not only applies to little children but to all men on earth who will read the Word with affection and humility. The Word of God has power in man’s life not because of its literal form, but because of the angels who depend on man’s reading of it for their perception, and who share with man the power of their love to the Lord.

The communion of angels and men is a very real thing. All our loves and affections come from the spiritual world, either through heaven or hell, depending upon the thoughts we entertain and rationally confirm. Thought brings presence or association, and continued association communicates affection, which in time conjoins or makes one. To entertain selfish and worldly thoughts is to associate with evil spirits who love such things and who desire nothing more than to share and thus insinuate with us their love of evil. Continued association with such spirits will bring about an eternal communion or sharing of their love, which will result in our damnation.

But the Word of God is given so that man may enter into a communion with angels and thereby, that is, through the heavens, be conjoined to the Lord. When we read the Word in a state of holiness, and our thoughts and rational judgments are guided by its truth, then we summon the inhabitants of heaven, and according to our state, receive the power of their affection by which we are conjoined to the Lord.

Samson, judge and mightiest hero of Israel, pictures most powerfully the office of Divine truth in man’s life. In the spiritual sense Samson can be likened to the Word in one whom the Lord is regenerating, his abundant hair and source of strength likened to the growing concept of truth in the natural mind. The Philistines are his enemies. They represent the power of faith alone — truths loved for the sake of self and the world rather than for the sake of good. They would make Samson their servant — they would induce the man who is being regenerated to delight merely in knowledges of truth, rejecting all applications to life. Philistines in the New Church are those who indeed possess the Writings but who remain in the seductive loves of the proprium. Their faith becomes an intellectual pastime. Serviceable though it may be for a time, such a spirit of historic or persuasive faith eventually must be destroyed by man, he himself taking the initiative.

Thus Samson, early in life, went down to Philistia and fell in love with a daughter of that land, symbolizing the conjunction of truth with an external affection in the natural mind — an affection which, because of its proprial nature, obscures truth rather than enlightening it (see AC 4855). Any truth learned that does not look to good is in danger of being perverted and becoming falsity. Nevertheless, this first affection with which truth can be conjoined in the natural mind is indeed of an external and somewhat selfish quality, but without it — without an affection of learning for the sake of one’s own honor, reputation and gain — man would never acquire the doctrines that he will one day love for their own sake — that is, for the sake of the good of life. So the first good produced by truth is called mediate good.

When Samson first entered the land of the Philistines to covenant with them for the bride he was to take, a young lion attacked him. So when Divine truth first enters the natural mind, the power of evil and falsity is aroused. Like a mighty lion they roar their hatred and contempt against the Divine. The power of truth when separated from good is thus turned against the Lord. Recall the Lord’s temptations in the wilderness, how the devil quoted Scripture to induce the Lord to obey him. With patience and strength, however, the Lord Himself used the letter of the Word to devastate and to make impotent the devil’s attack; so Samson rent the lion as if it were a lamb, demonstrating the power of truth rightly used, and its effortless destruction of evil wherever and if there is genuine faith in the Lord.

In time a swarm of bees built their nest in the carcass of the lion and filled it with wild honey. Discovering this, on a subsequent journey to Timnath to celebrate the nuptials of his forthcoming wedding, Samson tasted its sweetness and was refreshed. At the wedding feast he posed a riddle to his Philistine companions concerning this unusual condition of which he alone knew. “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness” (Judges 14:14). The dead lion no longer possessed its terrible power. The devourer or destroyer of spiritual life, the eater representing evil and falsity in the natural mind, was put to death. This is accomplished in man by the shunning of evils as sins; for when man compels himself to shun evils because they are sins against the Lord, a miraculous change takes place called regeneration. The influx of hell is exchanged for the influx of heaven. The quality of one’s mental strength is changed from the ravenous to the peaceful, which is meat for the soul. The power of the mind is also redirected from selfishness to charity. When good affections express themselves in external act, the strength of man’s character becomes sweet and spiritually palatable. Honey, therefore, represents a new state of charity or mutual love (see AE 611:18). “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness” (Judges 14:14).

Regeneration does not destroy man’s natural mind, nor does it deprive him of anything that causes him to be a man. It merely takes away evil by changing or bending the quality of his affections from evil to good. “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings before My eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well” (Isaiah 1:16, 19).

When we are engaged in the battles of temptation, it seems to us that if we give up our natural desires we will lose everything that makes life worthwhile. But when we lay down our evil tendencies we find that we have not really lost anything. Our affections remain, but they have been cleansed, purified, sweetened, by the heavenly spirit of charity. Our natural affections, which prior to regeneration were strong against our salvation, when purified, become the new sweetness of regenerate life. But this sweetness cannot be ours until we allow the Samson of Divine truth to enter into us and slay the lion of proprial passion. Temptations are attacks upon our good loves by forces of evil. The Lord permits evils — softens conceit, provides an optional route to happiness.

Samson’s relationship with the Philistines became a series of contests, successively severe. With each encounter his great strength proved victorious, that is, until he fell in love with the Philistine woman Delilah, who represents the subtlest of our affections of truth, which in fact is an evil affection — to use truth to confirm the opposite, that we can save ourselves. It utilizes our inmost inclinations to justify selfishness and obstruct the process of self examination. That man is the unknowing victim of these cupidities is seen in the fact that Delilah and her Philistine cohorts attacked Samson and cut his hair while he slept. Then his strength departed and his eyes were bored out and he was imprisoned and made to grind corn.

So it is with man in his last and inmost temptations of regenerate life. It appears to him that truth has been taken away and with it the very power to do good. He despairs of his state; his doubts overwhelm him; his spiritual eyes are blind to perceptions he once enjoyed; he feels himself to be the servant of sin. The Lord, he believes, has abandoned him. All purpose has gone out of his life.

In his deep despair, when forces of evil are confident of their victory and would sport with their victim, the man of the church begins to feel, once again, the near presence of the Lord. The strength of truth slowly returns as be gropes in his blindness for the way that leads to its right application. A little child leads him — remains of innocence implanted long ago direct the regenerating man to the very house of his enemies — to the temple of Dagon, hypocrisy and conceit. There in the midst of his unseen foes he receives the full force of their mockery and contempt for truth. His hands, still guided by the innocence of remains, take hold of the two central supports of evil — the loves of self and the world (hatred of others and the desire to possess all means of domination, persuasion that he lives from self and controls his destiny). Lifting his head in prayerful acknowledgment of the Lord as the source of all good and truth, he bows himself with all the might that God effects through the as-of-self. “O Lord God, strengthen me just this once.”

With the destruction of the temple, the “persuasive of self-life” is broken. Samson and the lords of the Philistines lie buried beneath the rubble. Indeed, “the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life” (Judges 16:30). But the angels know not what we mean by death and burial. When such is mentioned in the Word, they think of resurrection — of the beginning of life eternal. To lay down one’s natural life while destroying his spiritual enemies is really to take up eternal life in the service of the Lord. “Whosoever shall lose his life for My sake shall find it.” May it be said of all those who seek the overthrow of the proprium through the medium of the Lord’s Word, “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.”

Lessons: Judges chapters 13-16 (portions), AE 1086

Apocalypse Explained 1086:6

The power of the Word in the sense of its letter is the power itself of opening heaven, by virtue whereof communication and conjunction with the Lord is effected and also the power of fighting against falsities and thus overcoming the hells. A man who is in genuine truths from the literal sense of the Word can cast down and dissipate all the diabolical crew and all of their arts in which they place their power and these are innumerable. Man can do this in a moment by only a look and effort of the will. In brief, the spiritual world is the world in which there is power, and there is nothing, nothing that can resist the power of genuine truth when it is confirmed from the literal sense of the Word.

Regeneration is effected by combats in Temptation

Regeneration is effected by combats in Temptation

They who have not been instructed concerning the regeneration of man think that man can be regenerated without temptation; and some that he is regenerated when he has undergone one temptation. But it is to be known that no one is regenerated without temptation; and that many temptations succeed, one after another. The reason is that regeneration is effected for an end; in order that the life of the old man may die, and the new life which is heavenly be insinuated. It is evident therefore that there must certainly be a conflict; for the life of the old man resists and determines not to be extinguished; and the life of the new man can only enter where the life of the old is extinct. It is plain then that there is a conflict on both sides; and an ardent conflict, because it is for life. Whoever thinks from an enlightened rational, may see and perceive from this that a man cannot be regenerated without combat, that is without spiritual temptations; and further, that he is not regenerated by one temptation, but by many. For there are very many kinds of evil which formed the delight of his former life, that is of the old life. These evils cannot all be subdued at once and together; for they cleave tenaciously, since they have been inrooted in the parents for many ages back, and are therefore innate in man, and are confirmed by actual evils from himself from infancy. All these evils are diametrically opposite to the celestial good that is to be insinuated, and which is to constitute the new life. (AC n. 8403)

Combat may be waged even from Truth not genuine

While man is being regenerated he is let into contests against falsities, and is then kept by the. Lord in truth,—but in that truth which he had persuaded himself was truth; and from that truth he fights against falsity. He can fight even from truth not genuine if only it be such that it can be conjoined by any means with good; and it is conjoined with good by innocence, for innocence is the medium of conjunction. Hence it is that men can be regenerated within the church from any doctrine whatever; but they before others who are in genuine truths. (AC n. 6765)

The Use of Temptations

It should be known that with those who are regenerated a turning is effected; namely, that by truth they are led to good, and afterwards from good they are led to truth. When this turning takes place, or when the state is changed and becomes inverse to the prior state, there is mourning; for then they are let into temptation, by which those things that are their own are weakened and enfeebled, and good is insinuated, and with the good a new will, and with this a new freedom, thus a new proprium. (AC n. 5773)

They are evil spirits which excite evils and falsities; and unless they are excited, man scarcely cognizes that there are evils and falsities; but they are then made manifest. And the longer the temptation combats continue, the more manifest do they become, until at length evils and falsities are regarded with horror. (ibid. n. 1740)

He who is in the combats of temptation, and conquers, acquires to himself more and more power over evil spirits, or over the diabolical crew, till at length they dare not assail him; but as often as he obtains a victory so often the Lord reduces to order the goods and truths by which he combated, and so often purifies them and in proportion as they are purified the celestial things of love are insinuated into the exterior man, and it becomes correspondent. (ibid. n. 1717)

The Lord permits the infernals in the other life to lead the good into temptation, consequently to infuse evils and falsities; which they also do with all their might for when they are doing this they are in their life, and in the delight of life. But then the Lord Himself immediately, and mediately through the angels, is present with those who are in temptation, and resists, by refuting the falsities of the infernal spirits, and by dissipating their evil; thence come refreshment, hope, and victory. Thus the truths of faith and the goods of charity, with those who are in the truths of good, are more inwardly implanted and more strongly confirmed; this is the means whereby spiritual life is bestowed….

The infernal spirits to whom it is permitted thus to tease the good intend nothing but evil; for they desire with all their power to draw them down from heaven, and plunge them into hell. For to destroy any one as to his soul, thus to eternity, is the very delight of their life. But not the least is permitted them by the Lord but for the end that good may come out of it, namely, that truth and good may be formed and strengthened with those who are in temptation. In the whole spiritual world the end that proceeds from the Lord reigns, which is, that nothing at all, not even the least thing, shall exist except that good may come from it. Therefore the Lord’s kingdom is called a kingdom of ends and uses. (ibid. n. 6574)

I have talked with spirits about the changes in the state of man’s life, in that it is inconstant, and is borne upwards and downwards, namely, towards heaven and towards hell. But they who suffer themselves to be regenerated are carried continually upwards, and thus always into more interior heavenly societies. An extension of sphere into those societies is given by the Lord to those who are regenerated,—principally by temptations, in which there is resistance to evils and falsities; for then the Lord by means of the angels fights against evils and falsities. And so man is introduced into the societies of those angels who are more interior. And into whatever societies he has once been introduced, there he remains; and thence also he receives a more extended and more elevated faculty of perception. (ibid. n. 6611)