The Lord’s Temptations

The Lord’s Temptations

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, April 1, 2010

O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)

The Lord’s last week on earth in the human was the culmination and focus of all the preparations, all the teaching, healing, and miracles, that had gone before. He entered Jerusalem, the Holy city, as a king on what has come to be known as Palm Sunday. He went into the temple and threw out the money changers who had made His house into a den of thieves. He then spent each day teaching in the city, retiring to the mount of Olives each night with His disciples to rest. This unrelenting pressure on the scribes and pharisees in Jerusalem, the very center of their own power, was more than they could bear. He wasn’t such a threat to them while He was teaching out in the country, but now He was teaching to large crowds in the capital every day. They had to meet this direct challenge to their authority.

The Lord, knowing that the situation was about to reach the breaking point, secluded Himself in the garden of Gethsemane with Peter, James, and John to prepare Himself for the final battle. At stake was nothing less than the eternal lives of every living soul who had ever been born in the earth, or who might ever have been born. On the one side was the Lord in His as yet infirm Human. On the other side was arrayed the Jewish Church, the whole of Hell, and even the whole of the angelic heavens.

And so, He prayed. We’re told that prayer is speech with God, a time when thought is directed towards internal, eternal things. When we genuinely pray, we draw our minds away from things of this world, and into the sphere of the spiritual world. The result is that we can actually leave the light and thought of this world and come more and more into the light and thought of the spiritual world as we open ourselves up to the life of the spirit. It is not of order that we should actually become conscious in the spiritual world as the result of prayer, but we can in fact borrow something of the sphere of that world which brings a sphere of peace and consolation into our life in this world. This is why the Lord prayed. He did not pray to the Father as another distinct person, but rather He turned to prayer as a way of lifting Himself above the finite, material limitations of His human body and mind so that He could more clearly perceive His inner Divine Soul. He was lifting Himself up out of the uncertainties and confusions of this world and receiving the strength He needed from perceiving His own Infinite love of the universal Human race. This restored Him. This strength of pure love prepared Him for the final battle.

At this time of year, as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the joy of Easter morning, we are necessarily drawn to consider the terrible events that preceded His resurrection. Sometimes we are filled with depression and guilt as we wonder how we ourselves would have reacted to the Lord had we lived in Jerusalem in those days. We wonder if we would have had the courage and insight to be a disciple, or if we would have shouted “Crucify Him!” with the mob. We wonder why the Lord, if He was truly the all-powerful God, allowed this to happen. Why couldn’t He have worked out some other, less painful way? Why couldn’t He have simply sent an army of angels to do battle with the devils and drive them back into hell where they belonged?

Human beings are born into the natural world for a very important reason: so that evils from the hereditary nature can show themselves, be recognized as evils and shunned. By this exercise of our freedom of choice in spiritual things we make for ourselves a character that is stored in the organics of the brain and forms a vessel for eternal, spiritual life.

The Lord had to come into the world and submit to the attacks of the hells for a similar reason: While He remained above the heavens, He was unapproachable, and the evils remained hidden, subtle, able to take away men’s freedom of choice in spiritual things, destroying men like a cancer deeply hidden in the body. The Lord took on a human in the world to make Himself approachable, to draw the hells out where they could be seen for what they truly were, where men could understand what they were and freely choose to turn away from them. Unless the Lord had sustained temptations, the whole human race from the time of the Most Ancient church would have perished in eternal death. (See AC 1676)

The Lord had to undergo temptation, real, painful temptation, the same kind of temptations that we ourselves go through during our life. The Lord’s temptations were very similar to our own in many ways, and yet they were also very different in some ways. One of the first and most important differences is that the Lord fought against the hells from His own power, while when we fight, it is actually the Lord who fights for us — our part is to choose to fight as of ourselves. The Lord fights the actual battles and changes our loves for us. All we have to do is hold true to the truth which we know.

Another important difference is that the Lord was never tempted as to His loves, but only as to His wisdom. The Lord is frequently referred to in the New Testament as the “Son of God,” and also the “Son of man.” The internal sense of the Word tells us that whenever there is reference to the “Son of God” it has to do with the Divine Love, and reference to the “Son of man” has to do with the Divine truth. Whenever He is teaching, healing, or doing miracles, the reference is to the “Son of God.” Whenever the text speaks of suffering or temptation, it refers to the “Son of man.” We know that the Lord alternated between two states while He was in the world, the states of Glorification and humiliation. The “Son of God” is another name for the state of Glorification, and the “Son of man” is another name for the state of humiliation.

The “Son of God” could not be tempted, because it represents the Divine Love. The reason for this becomes clear if we ask ourselves what the Divine Love is, what the Lord’s ruling love is. The Lord’s ruling love is that there should be a heaven from the human race. This is the pure love which is the power behind the creation of the universe. This is too high, too fundamental a love to ever be approached or challenged by any lust from hell. The Lord’s loves, being pure, cannot be tempted. Ours can, and frequently are. (See AC 2813)

But the “Son of man” could be tempted, for it stands for an aspect of the Divine truth. The Writings tell us that it was not the Divine Truth itself that was tempted, for that, like the Divine Love itself, is above all temptation. What was tempted was “rational truth, such as the angels have, consisting in the appearances of truth” (AC 2814). The Heavenly Doctrines frequently point out that men in the world seldom possess real, rational, truth, for there are too many confusing elements in the natural world. Rather, what we have in the natural world is the appearance of truth — how truth appears in our minds. The Doctrines frequently speak of dawn as an example of an appearance of truth. We say that the sun “rises” in the morning, even though we know it is an appearance that is the result of the earth’s rotation. It is an appearance of truth that is firmly rooted in our minds, an example of a falsity that everyone accepts as truth, even though the truth is known.

The Lord, while in the human, must then have experienced appearances of truth, and He was tempted to accept them as truth. He may have thought that He should use His power to miraculously come down off the cross, thus convincing everyone that He was the Messiah. He may have been tempted to think that men would be better off after all if they did not have freedom and were all saved by pure grace. He may have been tempted in ten thousand ways that are above our understanding to do something other than bear the humiliation of the cross. We will never know the millionth part of it.

But we do know that He was tempted so severely that he sweated blood while He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. And we also know that He accepted the temptation because it was necessary, and it was in accord with the Divine Will that there be a heaven from the human race, a heaven of men who had freely chosen to be there.

One of the most difficult things for people to think about when considering the Lord’s temptations, is the idea that the Lord doubted His own ability to conquer in temptations. It seems to be a paradox that the All-Knowing God would not know the outcome of His own trials.

The clear teaching of the Heavenly Doctrines is that “every temptation is attended with some kind of despair (otherwise it is not a temptation) … He who is sure of victory is not in anxiety, and therefore is not in temptation. The Lord also … could not but be driven into states of despair” (AC 1787). These were the states of His humiliation, where He was drawn into the perceptions and feelings of the infirm human that was not yet completely glorified. The more closely His thought was focused on the things of this world, the more distant seemed Divine things, and so they became relatively clouded to Him. While in the depths of temptation, while fully in the state of the Son of man, He despaired, He doubted, He wondered if He was doing the right thing. He was never tempted as to whether He would order the heavens, establish a new spiritual church, and save men, for this was His ruling love. He only wondered what the best way to accomplish this end was. Even so, His temptations were more difficult than we can ever imagine, for temptations are as the loves are. The higher and more deeply held the love, the more difficult and painful the temptation. The Lord’s love was the salvation of the whole human race, and it was the sum of the affection of good and truth in its highest degree. Against these all the hells raged. But still the Lord conquered them by His own power. (See AC 1820:5)

He fought against the hells throughout His whole life on earth. Each time He fought, He won. The evil spirits find their greatest delight in destroying what is good, which is why they attack, tempt, and torment men. But when they perceive that a man is of such a character that he can resist them, then they flee away for the lusts of their lives are threatened. (See AC 1820:5)

Thus, by victory in temptation, the Lord achieved a strength, a confidence that He would continue to win. There was consolation in temptation as promised in the Word. Each of us can feel that consolation when we resist temptation and the hells flee away. This is why hell flees from the angels — because they have learned how to resist their temptations.

So, while in His state of humiliation, the Divine within seemed distant and weak to the Lord, and He was in doubt as to how best to save the human race. But as He continually faced these temptations in increasingly greater degrees, He was also in continual victory! These victories then gave Him an inmost confidence and faith that because He was fighting for the salvation of the whole human race from pure love, He could not but conquer.

Was the Lord the Lord really in doubt? Yes and no. With the Son of man, while fully in the state of humiliation, there was an appearance of distance from the Divine that brought anxiety and despair over the best way to save the human race. His continual victories in temptation brought an inner strength, a confidence that He would continue to win as long has He fought. At the same time, the Son of God, the Lord in His state of glorification was one with the Divine and did not entertain any doubts at all but simply went forward with the task at hand with the power of pure love.

A temptation is an attack on a love. The severity of the temptation is directly related to the quality of the love that is being attacked. Therefore, we can form some idea of the severity of the Lord’s temptations by comparing our ruling love with His. By the same token, we can have some idea of the power with which He fought against hell for the sake of our eternal lives by comparing our love of the human race with His.

Actually, there is no ratio between the infinite and the finite, so there can be no real comparison, but it can serve to illustrate how great is His love for us, and the power that He can bring to bear on hell for the sake of our eternal lives. He conquered death and hell so that we no longer need be afraid of death. He did it by His own Divine and Infinite power, and He has offered to use His power to all those who simply ask for it by living a life according to His commandments and resisting the temptation to do what is evil. Every victory against hell allows the Lord to implant new loves in our new will, and draws us closer to Him. Every victory gives us new confidence to face the next fight. In the depths of temptation, if we turn to the Lord for strength, we will find consolation and hope, just as He prayed for strength in Gethsemane and then went forward with confidence and strength to the final battle. AMEN

Lessons: Gen. 22:1-15, Mat. 26:36-46, AC 2813-14

THE “RISK-FREE” SOCIETY

THE “RISK-FREE” SOCIETY
A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
Preached in Mitchellville, Maryland – Cataloged May 4, 1997

“Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it”‘ (Luke 9:23,24).

As civilization has advanced, as our knowledge of the world and how it works has been increased, the dangers of day-to- day life have decreased. In fact, the momentum toward reducing the dangers of daily life has pushed us so far that we are beginning to work toward a “risk-free” society. We insure our personal property so that if something is ruined or lost it can be replaced. We insure our lives so that even after a person dies he can continue to support his family. In recent years people have been able to insure such unusual things as a pianist’s fingers or a dancer’s legs. If we are careful to choose the right company and pay our premiums on time, we can insulate ourselves from almost any kind of natural disaster or loss.

Governments now concern themselves with such things as the content of food products, the use of cosmetics, and the conditions of the work place. They tightly regulate every aspect of daily life for the sake of protecting us from hidden dangers. On the one hand, so many substances have been named as carcinogens that such announcements are difficult to take seriously any more. On the other hand, some truly dangerous substances like asbestos have been identified and steps taken to remove them from our environment, and diseases such as smallpox have been entirely destroyed. Government programs have been developed to help farmers by developing and distributing pesticides and fertilizers, and by building great systems of dams and waterways in an attempt to control floods and irrigate deserts. In every case, whether successful or not, whether the side effects were worth the cost, the apparent intent has been to reduce risk to the general populace, to insulate us from the effects of things and ideas that are in the natural world, be they insects, drought, flood, storm, or our choice of food or even our selection of reading material.

It is clear that the people of our day are trying very hard to eliminate risks and dangers from modern life. This is well and good. We are trying to make life less dangerous, more pleasant. We are living longer and better than any people before in the history of mankind. What, if anything, is wrong with that? Only that this kind of attitude toward life puts our eternal soul at risk.

It is only natural for such a trend to continue into more and more diverse areas of life until we find ourselves exchanging a reduced risk of injury for reduced personal freedoms. We need to remember that it is a spiritual principle that the freedom to make only the “approved” choice is not freedom at all. We must be free to take risks and make terrible mistakes in order to be truly free.

The problem is that as natural risks are removed, as we are able to live relatively without care, our spiritual attitudes tend to follow our natural attitudes. When we can take a wonder drug to cure our pneumonia, we expect to find equally fast and powerful tools with which to fight our evils, and if our efforts do not meet with immediate results, we give up using that tool and look for a new product, a new spiritual tool that will give the quick results that we desire.

The root cause of this attitude is the doctrine of faith alone and its related doctrine of works alone. Both the doctrine of faith alone and the doctrine of works alone have within them similar assumptions: that admission to paradise (or heaven) is a matter of grace because no human could possibly deserve it, having been born in sin; and that grace is obtained from God through a single, specific act, either faith that Jesus Christ died for the remission of sins, or receiving forgiveness for sins from the church and taking part in the communion. Neither the faith-alone nor the works-alone position requires any amendment of life! However, as we all know, reasonable members of all churches believe that it is not enough only to have faith, and that they must show the signs of their faith by living a good life, or that they must be true to their confession and actually go and commit that sin no more.

Even though it is not necessarily the doctrinal teaching of their own church, the Lord has provided that every person who seeks to follow Him will, from conscience, seek to live in obedience to His laws, and interpret the doctrines of his own church in such a way as to permit this. And yet we must be aware that the doctrine of faith alone is extremely appealing when we consider the choices. According to the doctrine of faith alone, if we seek to live in paradise with God we can achieve it through no more than a simple statement of faith. According to the doctrine of works alone we can earn paradise simply by being forgiven of sins by a priest and taking communion. Our third choice is to read the Word, examine our lives in comparison to what the Lord there teaches, repent of our sins, fight the combats of temptation as if from ourselves, and begin a new life – and this over and over again throughout life in the world. When you are surrounded by a culture where everything is done quickly, where waiting itself is a sin, where credit is available so you need never save for something you want, where everything is focused on instant gratification, which choice are you going to make?

By analogy it seems that many people are looking for a kind of spiritual “magic armor, and by this I mean some kind of formula or church doctrine that will allow them to continue to live their lives pretty much as they want, and still allow them to commit some sins, to be able to have a “spiritual accident” without getting hurt. A recent study showed that as cars are made safer and safer through ABS brakes and air bags, people are driving faster and less carefully, so the accident and injury rates remain the same.

Does the doctrine of salvation by faith alone actually encourage people to sin by removing the consequences of their sin? The Arcana puts it this way: “They who are not being regenerated say absolutely that faith is in the first place, because in this way they can live as they desire and still say that they have hope of salvation” (AC 6269:2).

What does the Word teach about the risk, the cost of the life, that leads to spiritual happiness? The Word treats of this in several different ways: for example, through the Lord’s own example by His life in the world. He challenged the scribes and Pharisees in the synagogues and temples, the basis of their strength. He traveled with and stayed with publicans and sinners because those were the people who needed Him the most. He took on a human body in order to fight the hells on their own terms by allowing them to attack Him. He suffered grievous temptations at the hands of the hells, all for the sake of our eternal welfare.

The Lord taught us concerning the cost of following Him in Luke: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23,24).

The life that we must lose is our selfish life, the life of the old will, the life that lives in the delights of hereditary evils, selfishness, and falsity. This is what must die so that the life of the new will given by the Lord can take its place and live – the new will which is the foundation of angelic life.

If we seek our own ends, we will lose spiritual life in heaven. If instead we look outward toward the Lord and the neighbor, we are giving up our selfish life for the sake of the Lord, and so we will be saved. This is difficult, for we love all the things that are ours, and do not wish to give any of them up. This is our burden; this is the cross which He asks us to bear daily.

Temptations are the most common form of risk for us, while at the same time they are the best way for us to express our spiritual freedom. A temptation is not actually a temptation unless there is doubt concerning the end – unless your spiritual life is at risk. In order for you to really fight as from yourself it is absolutely necessary that you genuinely believe and feel that you can fail unless you fight with all your strength and ask the Lord for help. This is the ultimate expression of free will in spiritual things, where you decide for yourself what you are going to be, how you are going to live, what you are going to believe. You risk being wrong in your beliefs, failing in your temptation. But unless there was that risk of failure, the temptation would not be real; it would be nothing but a meaningless act required by a capricious God.

We cannot be free to choose to do good and go to heaven without also being free to choose evil and hell, to be free to fail. A risk-free life is insipid and dead, a refusal to live as God intended, as a spiritually free individual experiencing repeated victories, choosing his own spiritual character.

The New Church has a lot going for it. Our doctrinal position is rational and consistent with Scripture and the Ten Commandments. We have knowledges about the spiritual world that make it a real and desirable place. Our teachings about marriage are beautiful and uplifting. On the other hand, it is a hard church to belong to because it requires a lot of reading of what can be difficult material. It does not tell anyone how to live his life but requires that everyone apply the doctrines from the Word for himself according to his own understanding and conscience. The New Church requires that each one go through the steps of self-examination, repentance, and reformation in order to be regenerated by the Lord. The New Church requires that we work for our place in heaven, and offers no guarantees.

The subtle danger of the doctrine of faith alone is that it encourages us to continue in our old, evil ways even while we are convinced that we have been made new by grace. The irony is that the idea of the “risk-free” society is in fact the greatest risk that we face to our spiritual life, for it makes us think that we do not need the Lord’s help. Why should we seek repentance when we don’t need it? How can we be helped by the Lord if we don’t think we need it and won’t ask for it? If there were no possibility of failure, no risk, there could be no freedom to choose heaven, for whenever there is true freedom of choice, there must also be the freedom to make the wrong choice.

Think of David, a young man, facing Goliath, the Philistine giant, armed with nothing other than a shepherd’s sling and five smooth stones. Think of the risk he took. And yet we know that it was no risk at all, because the Lord was fighting for (and with) him. Nothing of value is gained without risk, without some cost, especially things that are really valuable, spiritual life itself. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Amen.

Lessons: I Samuel 17 (portions), Luke 14:25-33, AC 8164-8165

Arcana Caelestia 8164, 8165

There are spiritual temptations and there are natural temptations. Spiritual temptations belong to the internal man, but natural ones to the external man. Spiritual temptations sometimes arise without natural temptations, sometimes with them. Natural temptations exist when a man suffers as to the body, as to honors, as to wealth, in a word, as to the natural life, as is the case in diseases, misfortunes, persecutions, punishments, and the like. The anxieties which then arise are what are meant by “natural temptations.” But these temptations effect nothing whatever toward man’s spiritual life; neither can they be called temptations, but griefs, for they arise from the wounding of the natural life, which is that of the love of self and of the world.

But spiritual temptations belong to the internal man, and assault his spiritual life. In this case the anxieties are not on account of any loss of natural life, but on account of the loss of faith and charity, and consequently of salvation. These temptations are frequently induced by means of natural temptations, for if when a man is in these – that is, in disease, grief, the loss of wealth or honor, and the like – he begins to think about the Lord’s aid, His providence, the state of the evil in that they glory and exult when the good suffer and undergo various griefs and various losses, then spiritual temptation is conjoined with natural temptation.

Moreover those who are in despair, which is the last of temptation, think such things, and then they 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 person’s power is limited, and when the temptation arrives at the furthest limit of his power, the person 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.

How Temptations are excited by Evil Spirits

How Temptations are excited by Evil Spirits

Scarcely any one in the Christian world at this day knows whence temptations arise. He who undergoes them believes no otherwise than that they are torments arising from the evils which are interiorly within man, and which render him first unquiet, then anxious, and finally torment him; and he is not at all aware that they are effected by evil spirits who are with him. He is unaware of this fact because he does not believe that he is in fellowship with spirits while he lives in the world, and scarcely that there is any spirit with him; when yet as to his interiors man is continually in the society of spirits and angels. As regards temptations, they take place when a man is in the process of regeneration; for no one can be regenerated unless he also undergoes temptations. And they then arise through evil spirits who are about him; for man is then let into the state of evil in which he is,—that is, in which that which constitutes his very proprium is,—and when he comes into this state evil or infernal spirits encompass him; and when they apperceive that he is interiorly protected by angels the evil spirits excite the falsities which he had thought, and the evils that he had done; but the angels from within defend him. It is this combat which is perceived in man as temptation; but so obscurely that he scarcely knows but that it is merely an anxiety. For man, especially one who believes nothing about influx, is in a state entirely unenlightened, and scarcely apperceives a thousandth part of the things concerning which the evil spirits and angels contend; and yet at that time a contest is being waged concerning the man, and concerning his eternal salvation; and it is waged from the man, that is, from the things and concerning the things that are in the man. That this is the case it has been given me most certainly to know. I have heard the combat; I have perceived the influx; I have seen the spirits and the angels; and then and afterwards have talked with them even on that subject. Temptations, as was said, arise chiefly when a man is becoming spiritual; for then he spiritually apprehends the truths of doctrine. The man is often ignorant of this, and yet the angels with him see the spiritual things in his natural; for his interiors are then open towards heaven. And hence it is that the man who is regenerated, after his life in the world is among the angels, and there both sees and perceives the spiritual things which before appeared to him as natural. When therefore a man is such he can be defended by angels in temptation, when assaulted by evil spirits; for the angels have then a plane in which they may operate, for they flow in into the spiritual in him, and through the spiritual into the natural (AC n. 5036)

As few know the nature of temptations, it may here be briefly explained: Evil spirits never make assault against anything but what a man loves; and they assail it the more violently in proportion as he loves it more ardently. Evil genii are those who assail what has relation to the affection for good, and evil spirits are those who assail what has relation to the affection for truth. As soon as they observe the least thing that a man loves, or perceive as it were by the smell what is delightful and dear to him, they assail and endeavour to destroy it. They thus endeavour to destroy the whole man; for his life consists in his loves. Nothing is more delightful to them than thus to destroy man; nor do they ever desist, were it even to eternity, unless repelled by the Lord. Those that are malignant and cunning insinuate themselves into the very loves, by flattering them; and so they lead man into them, and presently when they have thus drawn him in they try to destroy the loves, and so to kill the man; and this in a thousand ways which are incomprehensible. Nor do they combat merely by reasoning against goods and truths. Such combats are nothing. For if defeated a thousand times they still persist; since such subtle reasonings against goods and truths can never be wanting. But they pervert goods and truths, and enkindle a sort of fire of lust and persuasion, so that the man does not know but that he is in such lust and persuasion; and these at the same time they inflame with a delight which they snatch from the man’s delight from another source, and thus most deceitfully they infect and infest; and this so artfully, by hasting from one thing to another, that if the Lord did not bring help, the man could by no means know but that it is so. In like manner they act against the affections for truth which form man’s conscience. As soon as they perceive anything whatever of conscience, they form to themselves an affection out of the falsities and infirmities in man, and by this affection they overshadow the light of truth, and so pervert it, or induce anxiety and torment him. Besides which, they tenaciously keep the thought on one thing, and so fill it with fantasies, and then at the same time clandestinely involve lusts into the fantasies. Together with innumerable other artifices, which can by no means be described to the apprehension. (ibid. n. 1820)