A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; He also has become my salvation. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst. (Isaiah 12:2,6)

Our text for today is taken from the twelfth chapter of book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is a prayer of thanksgiving, as well as a complete list of the things that we need to acknowledge in our life in order to genuinely benefit from the Lord’s Divine Providence. It is our intention to examine this chapter section by section so that perhaps we will be able to perceive the message of humble gratitude that was inspired by the Lord and hidden in the sense of the letter.

Each year we set aside one Sunday in the fall to celebrate the Harvest Festival and turn our attention to the many gifts given to us by the Lord during the normal course of the year. It is proper for us to put aside some time each year to get together with family, enjoy the bounty of the earth, and be thankful to the Lord for all the good things in our lives. It is right that we should do this because the busy nature of our pursuits in the natural world distract us from spiritual things. Our worldly concerns limit our vision of the spiritual blessings that fill every day of our lives, things we could easily see if we would only take the time to notice. It is good to take time off from the normal routine to pay attention to our spiritual blessings, and give thanks to the Lord who constantly provides them.

While we can easily see that we must give thanks to the Lord for His many natural gifts, we must remember to thank Him for the many spiritual gifts we receive from Him as well. For example, the fact that the Lord, and the Lord alone, has the power to raise all mankind to Himself in heaven, is cause for giving thanks. We can be certain that the Lord, through His Divine Providence, is continually drawing each one of us to Him if only we do not refuse Him. He not only has the power to do this, it is His ruling love. All other blessings that we enjoy flow from this, His ruling love of providing for our salvation.

We must remember that all conjunction with the Lord is reciprocal, that is, we must respond to His leading as of ourselves. The directions we must follow are given in every verse and sentence of the Word. It is through the Word that the Lord makes His advent to every one of us in the church. It is through the Word that the Lord instructs us in the way to eternal life, and because of this, Isaiah said, Sing unto the Lord, for He has done excellent things (Isaiah. 12:5).

The opening phrase of the chapter in Isaiah from which our text was taken says, and in that day, and it signifies the Lord’s advent, or coming (see Lord 4), for whenever the Word says, and in that day, it refers to the time when the Lord will come. In fact, the Lord’s coming is the subject of all the Prophets (see Lord 3). It follows then that we should rejoice and be glad because the Lord came into the world to execute a judgment, subdue the hells, establish a new church, order the heavens, and glorify His Human. That the Lord did this in time is a blessing, for by so doing He preserved spiritual freedom for all people everywhere. The real cause for joy is that He will come and be born in the heart and mind of any one who will invite Him in.

It may appear to us sometimes that the Lord is angry, but the truth is that the Lord is never angry. When we are in an evil state it appears to us that the Lord is angry with us in the same way that a child fears the anger of his parents. What the child sees as anger should be love in the form of zeal to preserve and protect order. Thus, the “anger” of the Lord is said to be “turned away” and that the Lord “comforts” because a person has seen his own disorder and turned away from it as if of himself, so restoring his state of peace and order. When a person puts himself in order, there then comes a state of blessing, peace and spiritual freedom from the Lord; and that brings a state of comfort. When that happens, we can, like Isaiah, say, Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He also has become my salvation (Isaiah 12:2).

The real strength that can carry a person through life in this world to the life of heaven comes from the Lord Jehovah alone. By our nature, we are lazy and always looking for an easier way. This has some natural benefits for it can lead to many material blessings. It is incredible how hard and long some people will work to create a device or process that will reduce work. When it comes to saving labor, people seem to have limitless energy and ideas. This is not wrong, for there could be no time for reflection and thought about the things of the Word unless the daily requirements of food and shelter could be taken care of with some time to spare. Indeed, civilization itself has its roots in the development of tools and processes that allowed the necessary work to be done by fewer people in less time, leaving room for specialization in art, literature, thought and religion.

In the same vein, men have put considerable thought into developing religious philosophies that describe an “easier” way into heaven. These fall into two general categories: works alone and faith alone. These doctrines may seem like blessings because they teach a simple, instantaneous way to the promise of heavenly bliss, but they are not blessings, for the short-cuts derived from man’s self-intelligence simply do not work. As it happens when a person is building something from a kit: it is far easier to do it right the first time, according to the instructions, than to have to go back and take it apart and repair your work after doing it incorrectly. The Word is our instruction book for salvation, the well from which we draw the living water with which to quench our thirst for spiritual truth. It is far better for us to read the instructions carefully and do it right the first time, for it is not likely that we will get a second chance to repair our work.

Anyone of us, whatever we may wish to do, can know the truth from the Word, and so can drink from the well of living water. But that truth is not living in us until and unless we make it a part of our as-of-self life. To be conjoined with the Lord requires not only spiritual knowledge from the Word, but also the love that binds that knowledge to the will. This becomes our own when we hold ourselves in order according to the truth that we have from the Word, because it is from the Word. This is our salvation, our conjunction with the Lord. When this happens, we are ready to call upon the Lord.

And in that day you will say: Praise the Lord, call upon His name; declare His deeds among the peoples, makes mention that His name is exalted (Isaiah 12:4). When the Word speaks of the “name” of the Lord, it does not actually refer to His name, but instead it represents and stands for everything that has to do with our worship of Him, and because He is worshipped in accordance with the doctrine in a church, by His “name” is understood everything of doctrine, and in the universal sense, everything of religion (see AR 81, AC 2009:3). To call upon the name of the Lord, then, is to ask Him to teach the way of life that leads to heaven, that is, the doctrine of the church, or everything of religion. We should give thanks to Him because He has provided such a doctrine that is accommodated so perfectly to our understanding that we can each approach him in our own way, according to our own loves and abilities.

Sing to the Lord, for He has done excellent things; this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst (Isaiah 12:5,6). This passage also reminds us of the blessing of the Lord’s advent, because the form that the Divine Truth itself took on in the world, and is now glorified, was that of the Divine Human (see Lord 40). That He is seen in the midst is also important, for ‘In the midst’ signifies in the inmost, out of which the things that are around, or are outside, draw their essence… (AR 44, see also AE 313:4) The Lord in His glorified Human is the source of life for the church. Without Him as its center, a church has no life. Without Him as our center, we are without spiritual life. On the other hand, that the central faith of the New Christian Church is in the Lord in His Divine Human is cause for giving thanks. The promise of eternal life in return for living our lives according to this faith is cause for joy because of the awe-inspiring power of it, the potential for happiness that this knowledge and life can bring, the incredible mercy and Providence of the Lord who designed the universe to work in just this way. And yet at the same time, the sight of such a grand plan for human happiness, the way that the Lord’s love for each individual person and at the same time for all of mankind that shines so brightly, can draw us up short when we see ourselves reflected in that true light. We do not always act according to our knowledge of the Lord’s will. This can bring on a feeling that we do not deserve the rewards that He has promised, that we will never be able to earn them. In other words, when we acknowledge our own base nature, as we must from time to time, we are humbled before the Lord. This humiliation, when seen in the proper light, is also a blessing, for it is the confession that the Lord Alone can save mankind through His own power.

Confession is a state that is of the heart or will of a person, and shows itself only in a state of humiliation–if at the same time there is the affection of good (see AE 326:3). Before we can truly follow the Lord, we have to become convinced that His is the only way. In order to learn this as-of-ourselves, it is necessary for us to attempt to guide our own lives from self-intelligence first, and see that it does not work. Until we have been convinced by our own personal experience of the matter, until we are convinced by bitter experience of life, we will not accept the Lord’s way. Key to this is the affection of good that leads us through these times of trial and temptation. If we are really trying to reach out for eternal, spiritual ends, and if we allow ourselves to be led by the affection of good that is given to us from birth by the Lord, then the Lord will protect us in our struggles, and prevent us from going too far astray, or causing genuine spiritual harm to ourselves. Then, when we are really ready to listen to the Lord, ready to listen because we have come to realize how powerless we are by ourselves, when we are humiliated, He will hear our cry and pick us up, and lead us to the well of living, spiritual waters.

The Lord only leads; He does not drag. He waits for us to ask, and even then, He bends us towards heaven, never breaking our affections. He leads us according to the distinctly different combination of loves that each of us has. We do not have the power or knowledge to do this for ourselves, so we need to confess our need of Him to the Lord, for He alone has that power, and then He will be with us, and from that knowledge, our spirits will begin to sing.

‘And they were singing…’ signifies an acknowledgment and glorification of the Lord because He Only is the Judge, Redeemer, and Savior, thus the God of heaven and earth (AR 279). We have many things to be thankful for: friends, family, and the Church. But most of all we have the knowledge that the Lord is waiting patiently to be invited into our hearts and minds when we are ready for Him, and He will then lead us to eternal life, conjoined with Him.

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; He also has become my salvation. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst. (text) AMEN.

Lessons: Isaiah 12, John 4:5-26, Lord 3

DLORD 3. Briefly stated, the subjects concerning the Lord that are treated of in all the Prophets of the Old Testament, from Isaiah to Malachi, both in general and in particular, are these:–

i. The Lord came into the world in the fullness of times,

which was when He was no longer known by the Jews, and when, consequently, there was nothing of the church left; and unless He had then come into the world and revealed Himself, mankind would have perished in eternal death. As He Himself says in John: “Except ye believe that I am, ye shall die in your sins” (viii. 24).

ii. The Lord came into the world to execute a Last Judgment, and thereby to subdue the existing dominance of the hells; which was effected by means of combats (that is, temptations) admitted into his maternal human, and the attendant continual victories; for unless the hells had been subjugated no man could have been saved.

iii. The Lord came into the world in order to glorify His

Human, that is, unite it to the Divine which was in Him from conception.

iv. The Lord came into the world in order to set up a new

church which should acknowledge Him as the Redeemer and Saviour, and be redeemed and saved through love to Him and faith in Him. v. He at the same time reduced heaven into order, so that it made a one with the church.

vi. The passion of the cross was the last combat or

temptation, by means of which He completely conquered the hells and fully glorified His Human.


BLESSING (A Thanksgiving Sermon)
A Sermon by Rev. Lawson M. Smith
Preached in Mitchellville, Maryland, October 27, 1978

“Bless the Lord, 0 my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:2).

In ancient times, when something wonderful happened, it was customary to say, “Blessed be the Lord” in grateful recognition that the Lord is Blessing Itself and the source of all blessings with everyone (see AC 1096, 2486). People spoke in this way to ascribe all good to the Lord and take no credit for themselves. Also, they wanted to speak from the Divine, or from the Lord’s point of view, and not from themselves (see AE 465). Instead of saying, perhaps, “O Lord, I am so grateful for Your great blessings,” they would simply say, “Blessed be the Lord,” or as in Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord, 0 my soul.” In this way they gave thanks and at the same time prayed that the Lord would continue to bless them, or that they would rightly receive the blessings which the Lord offers (see AC 1096, AR 289).

We receive the Lord’s blessing when we acknowledge from a grateful heart that “the Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9), rather than feeling that we deserve the blessings we have and that we bless ourselves by our works. “A man can receive nothing unless it is given him from heaven,” neither the bread that satisfies his mouth nor the love that makes his life. When we believe this universal truth and turn to the Lord for all His benefits, then the Lord blesses us with contentment in our lot whatever it may be in worldly terms, and fills our natural blessings with the eternal blessings of heaven. At the harvest time of the year and at the harvest time of each day when we sit down to eat together with our families, it is good for us to say, “Bless the Lord, 0 my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (text).

What are the Lord’s benefits that we should not forget? “Blessing,” we read, “involves each and all things which are from the Lord, both good and true, thus celestial, spiritual, natural, worldly and bodily things” (AC 1422:1). We give thanks for the food we eat, for our nice things, for the favor and love of our families, our friends and our neighbors. We are grateful to the Lord for the order, freedom, and prosperity of our country. But for these external things to be a blessing we must also receive the Lord’s celestial and spiritual blessings within them, the affection of good or of being useful and the affection of truth. Of all the Lord’s blessings toward us, the most important are the ability to be useful to other people, and the Word, where He teaches us how.

To be useful is to communicate to others the goods and truths, the blessings and happiness, that we have received from the Lord. This sharing is an image of the Lord’s Divine love, which loves to bless others from itself. “The essence of love is to will to communicate all its good to another” (CL 335:2). The fulfillment of the Divine love is seen in the eternal life received by the angels, which is blessedness,, happiness and felicity without end. This the Lord gives to those who receive His love into themselves, namely, the love of being useful to other people (see TCR 43).

So our eternal happiness comes from the ability to bless others as if from ourselves. Everyone who is in the life of heaven “from inmost affection communicates his own blessedness and happiness to others,” we read, “and it is his blessedness and happiness that he is able to communicate it; and as the universal heaven is of this nature, each angel is a center of blessings and happiness to all, and all together are so to each one” (AC 2872 — emphasis added).

This communication with others is by means of uses (see CL 266:3). When parents teach their children the goods and truths, the ways of life and the ideals that have blessed their own lives in the hope that their children may be happy to eternity, the communication of the use is obvious. But there is a communication of goods and truths whenever anyone from religion acts justly, sincerely, and faithfully in his office or employment, or with anyone with whom he has any dealings (see TCR 423-4). He serves his neighbors, he contributes to the common good, and others draw inspiration from the Lord through his example.

To be of use from the Lord is what is meant in the Word by bringing forth fruit. The ability to be fruitful from the Lord is the fruitfulness that we celebrate with Thanksgiving. For the love of good and truth and the uses that we perform from them are the heavenly and spiritual blessings which make all the rest of our life to be a blessing.

When the word “blessing” occurs in the Word, it signifies in the inmost sense “eternity”; in the internal sense, the happiness of eternal life; and in the external sense, the delight of the affections (see AC 3938:1). The delights of worldly and bodily affections are blessings when they contribute to our eternal happiness. The blessing of eternal life is the only real blessing because it is eternal and is conjoined with every kind of happiness, and is the very esse, the being or reality of blessing. “For what really is unless it is eternal? Everything else ceases to be” (AC 1096:1). “For the wind passes over it and it is gone; and its place shall remember it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear Him…” (Psalm 103:16-7). We are inclined to think of our place in society and our material welfare as the most real blessings. But the Writings say, “Honors and wealth are blessings and they are curses …. Dignities and riches were blessings in the world with those who are in heaven, while they were curses with those who are now in hell … [T]hey are blessings with those who do not set their heart on them…. Not to set the heart on them is to love uses and not oneself in them. … When dignities and honors are blessings, they are spiritual and eternal, but when they are curses they are temporal and fleeting. … Honors and wealth that are curses in comparison with those that are blessings are as nothing compared to everything, or as that which in itself has no existence compared with that which has existence” (DP 217). So the Lord said, “What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

We can perhaps best illustrate that eternal life is the essence of blessing by the example of marriage, for all the blessings of life from the Lord are gathered into conjugial love (see CL 68:2). Those who are in truly conjugial love look to the eternal in marriage because there is eternity in that love, from the fact that the love with the wife and the wisdom with the husband increase to eternity. In this increase of progression the married partners enter more and more deeply into the blessings of heaven which their wisdom and its love store up within them. Husbands and wives, united as wisdom and its love, think and breathe what is eternal, and on eternity their happiness is founded (see CL 216a, 321). All true blessings are eternal.

So the psalm of our text is addressed to the “soul” and to all that is “within us.” The blessedness of the heavenly and eternal affections is a blessing of the soul or spirit itself, which lives to eternity. The affections of good and truth flow in by an inward way, and penetrate down toward the body so far as the delights of natural and sensual loves do not stand in the way. “This blessedness does not exist at all with those who are in the delight of the love of self and of the world, for these loves are entirely opposite” (AC 6408:1).

So the first of the Lord’s benefits of which the psalm reminds us is that the Lord forgives our iniquities and heals our diseases (Psalm 103, verse 3). This is the first blessing because falsities and evils have to be removed before the Lord can crown us with His lovingkindness and tender mercies (verse 4). If we have our hearts set on the honors of the world and its riches rather than on the uses we can perform for other people, we do not see the Lord’s blessings as blessings at all, and we turn away from them. Inwardly we do not even believe that our life and sustenance is from Him.

Everyone begins in this kind of life. But the Lord does not deal with us according to our sins nor reward us according to our iniquities, for as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who learn to fear Him (verses 10, 11). He redeems us from the “pit” of selfishness. The Lord does this Himself out of pure mercy, not from any righteousness of ours, though we have to fight against evils as if of ourselves. By regeneration the Lord gradually removes the loves of self and the world, until they are so far removed that in heaven they never trouble us to eternity. “As far as the east is from the west so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (verse 12).

When a man’s bodily and worldly delights have been reduced to obedience so that he no longer seeks them as an end in themselves but as a use which serves heavenly delight, then the angels can be with him in both his heavenly and his worldly delights. But then his delights become blessedness, and finally happiness in the other life (see AC 3928:1). For example, the Writings point out that the first love of marriage partakes of the love of the opposite sex, a love belonging to the body and from it to the spirit. This love does not conjoin a husband and wife, nor endure, as a love of the spirit does. But spiritual love is gradually insinuated into the souls and minds of the married partners together with friendship and confidence. This takes place as each of them approaches the Lord and shuns the evils of selfishness as sins against Him, and as hurtful to their partner and to their marriage. When spiritual friendship and confidence conjoin themselves to the first love of marriage, it becomes conjugial. We read, “this opens the breasts and breathes into them the sweetnesses of love, doing this more and more deeply as friendship and confidence adjoin themselves to the primitive love, and the love enters into them and they into it” (CL 162).

In the beginning we have to act from self-compulsion, from the knowledge of the Lord’s commandments and the fear of the Lord. We think of the promise of His blessings mainly in terms of natural delights. We act from knowledge of truth and obedience, which is not a truly blessed state (see AC 3203:2). “After death,” we read, “man has blessedness not from truth but from the good which is in truth. Hence he is the more blessed and happy in proportion to the amount of good in the truth” (AC 2434). In the psalm the “mouth” signifies our thought, knowledge, and obedience to truth. When we obey, gradually the Lord infills our obedience with delight in what is good for its own sake (see AC 2434). This is what is meant by the words “The Lord satisfies your mouth with good.” The Lord infills our obedience with innocence, the willingness to obey so that our spiritual childhood (or youth) is renewed (see AC 5236:5) but now in intelligence and wisdom. This intelligence is represented by the eagle (see AR 244, AE 281:4). “The Lord satisfies your mouth with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (verse 5).

The Lord executes justice and judgment for all who realize that they are oppressed and turn to Him for help (verse 6). Without Divine revelation we would know nothing of the life after death, nor of the Lord our God and His eternal purpose in creating us (see SS 116). We would not realize that we can rise above natural self-love to the love of use, to the love of serving the Lord and the neighbor. But in the Word the Lord shows us that we are created for eternal life, a life higher than the mere pursuit of worldly and bodily pleasure. The Lord has made known His ways to Moses, who represents the Word, and through the Word He reveals His acts to the sons of Israel, the people of the church (verse 7). We read, “Wherefore let him who would be eternally happy know and believe that he will live after death. Let him think of this and keep it in mind, for it is the truth. Let him also know and believe that the Word is the only doctrine which teaches how a man must live in the world in order to be happy to eternity” (AC 8939e). Thus the Word, and the ability to be of use now and forever are the greatest of the Lord’s blessings. “Bless the Lord, 0 my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (text). Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 103, 145, AC 8939

Arcana Coelestia

8939 I will come unto thee and I will bless thee. That this signifies the presence of the Divine then, and influx, is evident from the signification of “coming into” anyone, when it is said by Jehovah, as being presence, thus also their flowing in, for faith and charity flow in from the Lord with man. These things are “a blessing” in the internal sense for they are what render man blessed and happy to eternity. During man’s life in the world the things which he calls blessings are those which render him blessed and happy in time, such as riches and honors. But the things which are meant in the internal sense of the Word are not temporal things but eternal things compared with which temporal things are of no account. For there is no ratio between what is temporal and what is eternal, not even if the time be extended to thousands or myriads of years, for these have an end but that which is eternal has no end. Wherefore that which is eternal is, for that which is without end is, because it has being from the Divine, which is infinite, and the infinite as to time is the eternal. But that which is temporal relatively is not, because when it is ended it is no more. Hence also it is plain that “blessing” in the spiritual sense is that which has within it being from the Divine, thus the things of eternal life, consequently those which are of charity and faith.

That worldly blessing is nothing in comparison with heavenly blessing, which is eternal, the Lord thus teaches in Matthew: “What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul?” (16:26). But the man who is in worldly and earthly things does not apprehend this saying, for worldly and earthly things suffocate it and cause him not even to believe that there is an eternal life. And yet I can asseverate that as soon as a man dies he is in the other life and lives as a spirit among spirits, and that he then appears to himself and to others in that life in all respects like a man in the world, endowed with every sense internal and external; consequently that the death of the body is only the casting off of such things as had served for use and service in the world; and moreover, that death itself is a continuation of life but in another world, which is invisible to the eyes of the earthly body yet is there seen in a light exceeding a thousand times the midday light of the world.

As I know this from the living experience of so many years, which is still continued, I solemnly declare it. I still speak, and I have spoken, with almost all whom I had known in the world and who are dead, with some after two or three days from their decease. Very many of them were exceedingly indignant that they had not believed at all in a life which was to continue after death. I have spoken with them not merely for a day but for months and years; and it has also been given me to see their states of life in succession, or in progress, either to hell or to heaven. Wherefore let him who wishes to be eternally happy know and believe that he will live after death. Let him think of this and keep it in mind, for it is the truth. Let him also know and believe that the Word is the only doctrine which teaches how a man must live in the world in order to be happy to eternity.