THE AFFIRMATIVE AND THE NEGATIVE
A Sermon by A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida October 21, 1990
“And the people contended with Moses, and spoke, saying: `If only we had died when our brethren died before the Lord! Why have you brought up the congregation of the Lord into this wilderness that we and our animals should die here?” (Numbers 20:3,4).
Our text records one of the many instances of the Israelites’ adopting a negative attitude toward the leading of the Lord through His appointed leaders during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. In spite of the fact that they had frequently witnessed great miracles done by the Lord through them, such as the plagues in Egypt, and the dividing of the Red Sea, and had daily proof of His loving care in the manna given them from heaven each morning, they still persisted in doubting the power of the Lord and the wisdom of those chosen by Him to lead them.
As each hardship and inconvenience arose, they complained against the Lord and argued with Moses and Aaron. They were willing to accept these men as their leaders only as long as things were going well with them and were in accord with their wishes, but they had no steadfast confidence in the Lord’s promise of guidance and protection, nor in the judgment of Moses and Aaron the men appointed by the Lord to lead them out of bondage, to the land promised them by the Lord.
Their resentment at every hardship they suffered was so great that they forgot the cruelty of their slavery in Egypt, and mistakenly supposed that they would have been happier if they had remained there. Their attitude toward the leadership which the Lord had provided for them through Moses and Aaron was so negative that the Lord literally had to lead them with a “strong hand.” He had to perform open miracles continually in order that they might be persuaded to continue on their journey and not return to their former state of bondage.
It is obvious, if one stops to reflect, that no worthwhile achievement can ever be realized as long as a group of people adopts such a negative and distrustful attitude toward their leaders. If every apparent shortcoming or action or policy is called into question and criticized, then that unity which can lead to progress and achievement is lacking.
In the eyes of Israel everything that did not please them every hardship was the fault of Moses and Aaron. They kept asking themselves when things were not to their liking: “Why did we choose to follow them? Why did we accept their leadership? Things were better with us before they came into our lives.” “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? … Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, `Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:11,12).
As one reads the record of Israel in the wilderness, as recorded in the Scriptures, it becomes obvious that the difficulties that they encountered and the hardships they suffered were not the result of Moses’ and Aaron’s poor leadership, but rather their failure to follow the Lord wholeheartedly and to accept the leadership which the Lord provided. The history of Israel in the wilderness testifies to the fact that the success of any worthwhile endeavor can be achieved only where there is an affirmative attitude on the part of all toward the goal itself, and confidence in those whose responsibility it is to lead to that goal.
This is true spiritually as well as naturally. Our spiritual goal is heavenly life a life of charity and use. The Lord’s Divine Providence ever leads us toward this goal through the Word (Moses) and the teaching and leading of the priesthood (Aaron). If we wish to attain the goal of heavenly life, then we must trust in the Lord’s Divine Providence. We must believe in His Word and be obedient to its teachings. We must have confidence in the teaching and preaching from the Word, for these are the Divinely provided means leading to that goal. If we approach the means with a negative doubt, calling into question every teaching that does not agree with and harmonize with our preconceived ideas and proprial inclinations, we cannot reasonably expect to achieve the end in view a life of charity in the kingdom of the Lord.
It is important, therefore, that we approach the things pertaining to spiritual life with an affirmative attitude, with confidence that the Lord is actively guiding us along the way, and providing for us those circumstances and situations which will promote our happiness and success. If we approach our spiritual journey toward the heavenly Canaan in this spirit, then we are assured of reaching our destination, and we will experience ever-increasing delight in the way that leads to it.
The Writing tell us that there are two principles, one of which leads to all folly and insanity, and the other to all intelligence and wisdom. The former principle is to deny all things, or to say in one’s heart that we cannot believe before we are convinced by what we can grasp and feel. This principle leads to all folly and insanity, and is called the negative principle. The other principle is to affirm those things which are of doctrine from the Word, or to think and believe within oneself that they are true because the Lord has said them. This principle leads to all intelligence and wisdom and is called the affirmative principle (see AC 2568).
This teaching makes it clear that our whole life, both here and hereafter, depends upon the principle from which we begin, and on our attitude toward life and its various problems. It is pertinent that we inquire into these things with ourselves. What is our basic attitude toward life? Do we tend to approach things with a negative, doubting attitude? Or do we approach things positively, with trust in the Divine Providence? As we focus our minds on these things, we should bear in mind the great importance of formative childhood states when the tender vessels of the mind are soft and pliable. The attitude which a child gradually develops toward parents, teachers, the Word and the church are the formative force in later attitudes in adult life.
From angelic remains every infant and small child begins with a completely affirmative attitude toward parents, and it is the responsibility of parents and later, teachers to foster and preserve this innocent trust and confidence of the child. As the child grows older and develops a greater independence of thought, his affirmative should be gradually bent away from the person of his parents and teachers to the office or use of the person, and ultimately to the Lord and the truth of His Word, which are the origin of all uses and the source of all authority.
This formative period has a profound effect upon a person’s development. We read: “Man is in a varying state, and thus in the world of spirits up to adult age; afterward, he is, as to his soul, either in heaven or hell, since his mind is then constant and rarely changed, although this does occur with some” (SD 5167).
The force of this passage is that when a person reaches adulthood, his basic character and attitude toward life has been established and is unlikely to be radically changed in later life, although it is admitted that this is possible. This surely indicates that we must make a serious effort during a child’s formative years to instill and establish an affirmative attitude toward the Lord, His Word and the church, an attitude which, if properly established, we can reasonably hope will remain throughout life.
The principles and attitudes that we as individuals have are essentially those which have been instilled in us by our parents and teachers, but they have yet to be made our own. Upon reaching adulthood a person either develops and enters interiorly into the good attitudes of childhood, so that they become part of his character, or rejects them and allows a spirit of self-centeredness and self-confidence to determine his general attitude and approach to life.
In early adult life there is a strong appearance that a person’s deepest thoughts and principles are the result of his own study, investigation and experience. A person regards them as rational conclusions based upon his experience and reflections upon it. Actually, however, within and guiding the person’s reasoning are the affections of his life’s love. And these affections, unknown to the person, turn his thoughts to favor that which is in agreement with them. Thus it is the affections of man’s love which are gradually developing within him an affirmative or negative attitude toward the authority of Divine truth.
We read: “Those who are in doubt before they deny are they who incline to a life of evil; and when this life carries them away, then insofar as they think of the matters in question, they deny them. But those who are in doubt before they affirm are they who incline to a life of good; and when they allow themselves to be bent to this by the Lord, then insofar as they think about these things, they affirm” (AC 2568, emphasis added).
A person whose affections are centered in self becomes, in time, interiorly arrogant. Such a person tends to think, in whatever situation, that his perceptions and views of things are right, and he is intolerant of those who see things differently. In this state it is very difficult for the person to see what is true, either in the Word or as manifested in life’s situations; for this requires humility and a willingness to be taught and led, which, in such a state, the person does not possess. This is especially the case in regard to those truths which disclose the person’s evils.
But when there is an effort in the will to place the neighbor’s good on the same plane as one’s own, that is, when there is an inclination to a life of charity and good will toward the neighbor, then there is a ready disposition to see and understand truth, even when it is contrary to one’s previous conception of things. It is this affection the affection of charity which makes it possible for one to confirm with oneself an affirmative attitude toward all that the Lord reveals, and which enables a person to see the truth in ever-increasing light, and to be willing to follow it into a life of charity toward his fellow men.
Let us hope that such a sound foundation has been laid during the early years of our lives. And let us always strive to adopt an affirmative attitude toward the truth of the Word and the leading of the Lord through His church Moses and Aaron for these are the Divinely provided means by which the Lord leads us away from slavery to our selfish loves, and the fallacious appearances engendered by them, represented by Israel’s slavery in Egypt. It is through persistent effort throughout life that the Lord can instill such an affirmation of truth that we willingly follow the Lord even when the way is difficult and things are not as we conceived that they should be in our former states of ignorance and self-centeredness.
When life does not unfold as we would have it, when our perceptions of truth differ from the way in which the Lord is apparently leading us, the spirit of negative doubt tends to raise its head. Like the Children of Israel in the wilderness, we are apt to chide with the Lord (Moses and Aaron), query the teaching of the Word and the leading of the church, and ask why following the truth should lead us into states of conflict and deprivation of joy. Confidence in the Lord’s leading is weak at such times, because our loves have not been made firm by a life of obedience to Divine law. When life’s situations confront us that are not to our liking, we are apt to rebel; we are tempted to depart from a spirit of affirmation to one of negative doubt.
We need to renew continually our hope and trust in the Lord’s Providence and leading. If we do not, then we, like the Children of Israel, are in danger of losing our spiritual heritage the happiness that comes from a life of charity toward the neighbor. We read: “The evil spirits who are with people during temptation and induce it, strongly inspire negation, but the good spirits and angels from the Lord in every possible way dispel this state of doubt, and keep the person in a state of hope, and at last confirm him in what is affirmative” (AC 2338).
If our hope is fixed in the Lord with confidence that He can and will lead us, then our faith in Him is so confirmed and interiorly implanted in our lives that the attacks of the hells, seeking to inspire negative doubt, cannot shake it. Just as the Lord miraculously gave His people water out of the rock, so may we have confidence that He will ever give us understanding and strength from the rock of Divine truth, that we may enter into the security and blessings of heavenly life.
“Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation” (Psalm 25:4,5). Amen.
Lessons: Numbers 20:1-11, Matt. 8:1-13, AC 2689:3,4
Arcana Coelestia 2689:3,4
That it may be known who those are that can be kept by the Lord in the affection of good and truth, and thus be reformed and become spiritual, and who those are that cannot, we will briefly state that during childhood, while being for the first time imbued with goods and truths, everyone is kept by the Lord in the affirmative idea that what he is told and taught by his parents and masters is true. With those who can become spiritual, this affirmative is confirmed by means of knowledges (scientifica et cognitiones); for whatever they afterwards learn that has an affinity with it insinuates itself into this affirmative and corroborates it, and this more and more, even to affection. These are they who become spiritual in accordance with the essence of the truth in which they have faith, and who conquer in temptations. But it is otherwise with those who cannot become spiritual. Although during their childhood these are in the affirmative, yet in the age that follows they admit doubts, and thus trench upon the affirmative of good and truth; and when they come to adult age, they admit negatives, even to the affection of falsity. If these should be brought into temptations, they would wholly yield; and on this account they are exempted from them.
But the real cause of their admitting doubts, and afterwards negatives, is to be found in their life of evil. They who are in a life of evil cannot possibly do otherwise; for as before said, the life of everyone is his affection or love; and such as is the affection or love, such is the thought. The affection of evil and the thought of truth never conjoin themselves together. With those in whom there is an appearance of this conjunction, there is really no such conjunction, but only the thought of truth without the affection of it; and therefore with such persons truth is not truth but only something of sound, or of the mouth, from which the heart is absent. Such truth even the worst can know, and sometimes better than others. With some also there is found a persuasion of truth, of such a nature that no one can know but that it is genuine; and yet it is not so if there is no life of good: it is an affection of the love of self or of the world, which induces such a persuasion that they defend it even with the vehemence of apparent zeal; nay, they will even go so far as to condemn those who do not receive it or believe in the same way. But this truth is of such a quality as is the principle with each person from which it starts, being strong in proportion as the love of self or of the world is strong. It indeed attaches itself to evil, but does not conjoin itself with it, and is therefore extirpated in the other life. Very different is it with those who are in the life of good. With these, truth itself has its own ground and heart, and has its life from the Lord.