A Sermon by Rev. Lawson M. Smith

Preached in Westville, South Africa February 25, 1996

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (Rev. 22:21).

This blessing is the very last thing said in the whole Bible. After everything else, the Lord raises His hands to bless us. The whole point of everything in the Word is that His grace may be with us all.

Let’s picture the Lord blessing the little girl who was baptized today. Each of us was this size once. We may each work toward regaining the simple, humble innocence of a little child. So this applies to us all.

What is the grace of the Lord that He wishes to be with her?

Grace is a seemingly effortless beauty of movement and form. We might picture a ballerina, or a beautiful building, or a kind and tactful manner in relating with other people. These kinds of grace correspond to truth, married to a good love.

Spiritually, grace means having a perception of what is orderly and right, coming from a love of doing the right things. Joseph, the son of Jacob, is a good example. He found grace in the eyes of his master because of his wise and faithful management of the affairs entrusted to him.

Concerning the Lord Himself we read, “And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (Luke 2:40).

The Lord wishes for this little girl that she may grow to be a graceful person, especially in having a love for and a sense of what is the right thing to do.

In the lesson, we read that in the spiritual sense, “grace” means being delighted with truth. Grace is the feeling of joy one has at the discovery or recognition of a truth that is so evidently and beautifully true that we can’t help but smile. Grace is the feeling of security that we are doing something according to conscience, with the Lord’s approval, or in His good graces.

“To those who are in [His] spiritual kingdom,” the Writings say, “the Lord grants that they may be in the affection for truth for truth’s sake. This Divine gift is what is called grace. As far as anyone is in this affection, he or she is in the Lord’s Divine grace, and there is no other grace given to a person, a spirit or an angel, than the grace of being affected by the truth because it is true.”

There is no other grace “since in that affection, they have heaven and all its blessedness.” When a person is in a state of grace spiritually at least in that state he or she doesn’t think of being paid or honored for his understanding of the truth, or of being “right.” And she doesn’t have to force herself to behave. She simply enjoys doing the right sort of things and avoiding wrong things.

When we have this kind of love for following the truth, we learn to act wisely. Acting wisely is the essence of graceful living. The Lord wishes such a free and graceful life for each of us. “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory. No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11) .

Another meaning of grace is forgiveness. To treat someone graciously is to overlook any faults and show the person favor. The Lord Himself is infinitely gracious, forgiving and kind, not withholding any good thing from those who will receive and use His gifts wisely.

The Lord wants His grace to be upon us in two ways. First, He wants us to receive His gracious kindness into ourselves. He leads us to forgive others, following His example. Such grace is at the heart of love toward the neighbor. Second, as we learn to act and speak more graciously to others, the Lord is able to show us grace and forgive us our sins. The Lord never holds anything against us. But we often hold things against ourselves. We cling to bad habits, we hold onto grudges against others, we nurse hurts done to us by circumstances and by others. The Lord wants us to give up our bad habits and let Him take them away. With them, He will take away both the guilt and also the interest or lust for such things, and replace them with an aversion to evil and a love of better ways.

So the Lord wishes for this little girl that she may learn to act with kindness and forgiveness toward others, and that she may be willing to be set free from her sins.

As parents, grandparents and friends, we can help the grace of the Lord be with her. First, we can set an example, as best we can, of acting gracefully, walking uprightly, and living so as to receive the Lord’s grace. Especially as children grow older, it is appropriate for parents to acknowledge their sins that affect their children, and to ask for forgiveness. Children can then see what self-examination and repentance are in real life. We parents need to think carefully and develop a lot of self-control to act with grace, kindness and truth toward our children.

At times various levels of rebuke and punishment are necessary. Human beings are born with inclinations to be selfish. The fact that we and our children have these inclinations is not our fault. We should know that they are going to say and do unkind, untrue things from time to time, just as we adults do. When they misbehave, we have an opportunity and a duty to help our children. We can show them what is appropriate and orderly, and why. We can help them learn to govern their natural inclinations, according to the Lord’s Word.

But in meting out punishment, we may let a spirit of revenge creep in. It clouds our judgment of what is fair, and limits our perception of a child s state. Correction is sometimes necessary, but we must try to let the spirit of the Lord’s grace be upon us. This requires regular self-examination and repentance. It is also a great opportunity for mutual discussion between husband and wife as to what is the wisest and most loving way to train a child, so that she may receive the Lord’s grace for herself when she has grown up.

The second way we can help our children is to teach them the stories of the Word, and help them learn them with affection. Grace is delight in the truth. New Church schools are a wonderful supplement in this effort. But there’s no substitute for family worship at home.

A child s most respected and loved adults, the closest image of the Lord to her, are her parents. Her parents’ own love of the stories of the Word goes far deeper than what the school alone can provide. Their commitment to finding time for worship; the attention they focus on their children to help them learn these stories and their recitations; their conversations about life, in relation to the Lord these examples have real power with children, potentially lasting into eternal life.

In the promise of true marriage love, more than anywhere else, we see the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Parents can help their children believe in an eternal marriage and aim for it, asking the Lord for guidance and help.

We can help our children be respectful of marriage and things related to it. We can help our sons and daughters honor the opposite sex. Boys can learn to honor the beauty and grace with which the Lord has created women, the love that inspires men to look outside themselves, to pursue the truth and a life according to it no matter what.

A girl can love to be beautiful not just for her own sake but for others; to provide for a sphere of beauty and grace, a gentle sensitivity to human states and needs, which makes the soul and home of all human endeavors.

The Lord came into the world partly to show us how to be good parents. His goal was to make us free to choose whether or not we will receive His grace and truth. He taught with authority and clarity, perfectly accommodating to our states. He made it possible for us to find delight in the truth again, for He Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He showed that within the strong but sometimes harsh words of the Old Testament law is His spirit of grace and truth. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory … full of grace and truth … And out of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace” (John 1:14,16,17).

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” He came to us as the Bridegroom and Husband of the church. He became the visible God, whom we know and can respond to with love, as a bride to her bridegroom and as a wife to her husband.

As we look to Him together as husbands and wives, and as we provide this example for our children, the Lord will be able to bless us with marriages of grace and truth, of love truly conjugial, in which all His blessings are gathered together. So the sacrament of baptism, the sign of entrance into the Christian Church, is full of a wonderful promise: that we may come to know and acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ as our Redeemer and Savior, and follow Him; thus that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ may be with us all. Amen.

Lessons: Rev. 1:1-8, 22:12-21; AE 22 (part)

Apocalypse Explained 22 (part)

“Grace to you and peace” signifies the delight of truth and good. This is evident from the signification of “grace” as being the delight of truth (about which more presently); and from the signification of “peace” as being the delight of the good of innocence and love (on which see in the work Heaven and Hell, where the state of peace in heaven is treated of, n. 284-290). “Grace” means the delight of truth, because there are two things that proceed from the Lord, united in their origin but separated with those that receive them. For there are those that receive more of the Divine truth than the Divine good, and those that receive more of the Divine good than the Divine truth. Those that receive more of the Divine truth than the Divine good are in the Lord’s spiritual kingdom, and are therefore called spiritual; but those that receive more of the Divine good than the Divine truth are in the Lord’s celestial kingdom, and are therefore called celestial. (On these two kingdoms in heaven and in the church, see in the work Heaven and Hell, n. 20-25.) To those in the spiritual kingdom it is granted by the Lord to be in the affection of truth for the sake of truth; and this Divine is what is called grace; so far, therefore, as any one is in that affection is he in the Lord’s Divine grace; nor is there any other Divine grace with man, spirit, or angel than to be affected by truth because it is truth, since in that affection there is heaven and blessedness for them (see in The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine, n. 232, 236, 235; and Heaven and Hell, 395-414). Whether we say the affection of truth or the delight of truth it is the same; for there is no affection without delight.

This in particular is what is meant by “grace” in the Word; as in John: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt in us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth; of His fullness we all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (1:14,16,17).

It is said “grace and truth” because grace is the affection and the delight of truth. And in Luke, after the Lord had explained in the synagogue the prophesy of Isaiah respecting Himself, that is, the Divine truth, it is said: “All wondered at the words of grace proceeding out of His mouth” (4:22).

The Divine truths that the Lord spoke are called “words of grace proceeding out of His mouth” because they are acceptable, grateful, and delightful. In general, Divine grace is all that is given from the Lord; and as all that is so given has relation to faith and love, and faith is the affection of truth from good, this is meant in particular by Divine grace: for to be gifted with faith and love, or with the affection of truth from good, is to be gifted with heaven, thus with eternal blessedness.



A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose Preached in Bryn Athyn November 6, 1994

The book of Revelation begins with the salutation of John: “Grace be unto you … ” and it ends with the blessing: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”

There is a saying in True Christian Religion that warns us lest we make the Divine grace of no account. The word “grace” has become so associated in religious circles with arbitrary election and associated ideas that we might shy away from thinking of grace. The same might be applied to faith. It can be associated with notions of “faith alone.” But we should not undervalue faith. Nor should we undervalue the beautiful gift of grace. The hymn that begins “O praise ye the Lord” says in the final verse, “O tell of His might, O sing of His grace, whose robe is the light, whose canopy is space” (p. 439).

“The Lord will give grace and glory. No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). The frame of mind that belittles grace or the kind of feeling that belittles grace is a feeling of self-merit, a feeling that we deserve everything we have, that we have earned it.

Here is the way the passage in TCR begins: “It is harmful to ascribe merit to works which are done for the sake of salvation, for in this lie concealed many evils of which one is unaware. These hidden evils are: a denial of God’s influx and operation with us; trust in one’s own power in matters concerning salvation; faith in oneself and not in God; self-justification; trust in salvation by one’s own strength; making of no account the Divine grace and mercy; rejection of reformation and regeneration by Divine means” (TCR 439).

If you asked an angel of the highest heaven a celestial angel how he came to be in heaven, what might the answer be? Would it be: “I put in a lot of hard work, and I made the right decisions, and I deserve to be here.” Or would it rather be, “I am here of the Lord’s mercy.” If you asked an angel of a lower heaven, or asked a spiritual angel, the emphasis would be on grace. All angels are averse to praise or credit for themselves, and they are in the acknowledgment that all good is from the Lord. The celestial speak of mercy and the spiritual of grace (see AC 981).

When the Writings say that the celestial speak of mercy and the spiritual of grace, they say that this comes from the difference in the humility (see AC 598, 5929). Those who are in deep humility think of the Lord’s mercy, and those less humble speak of His grace. And those who are not humble think rather of their own strength and their own credit.

Where do we fit in, we who are neither celestial nor spiritual angels? Let us start with an example of a person who died and went to the other world. It is a short striking story and happens to be the first time “grace” is mentioned in the Writings. Grace is mentioned more often than is usually realized, both in the Writings and in the Sacred Scripture. The reason this is not realized is that different English words are used. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word that is translated “grace” is also frequently translated as “favor.” In our lesson from Genesis 33 we twice have the phrase “find favor in your sight.” We also have the phrase “God has dealt graciously” (v. 11). The fifth Psalm ends with the saying, “For You, O Lord, will bless the righteous; with favor You will surround him as with a shield.” This could also be surrounded with “grace” as with a shield.

In the New Testament we have the same situation with the Greek word charis. It is translated “grace” for example “grace be unto you” and “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” It is also translated “favor.”

In the Writings the Latin word gratia is sometimes translated as “kindness.” If you look up “kindness” in the Swedenborg Concordance, you will be told to turn to the word “grace.” And “kindness” has been the familiar rendering of the little story early in the Arcana Caelestia when the word “grace” is first used.

It is a story that is deservedly well known, because it is the only full example of someone who virtually went directly to heaven after he died. Generally speaking the interval between awakening to life after death and going either to heaven or hell is considerable, often lasting for years. But there are exceptional cases of being “elevated to heaven immediately after death” (AC 317).

In this case, described in n. 318 of Arcana Caelestia, a man who died first realized that he was in the other life. And then it struck him that he owned nothing. He had no house or possessions, and anxiety came upon him, as he did not know what he would do. One might be reminded of the story in our lesson from Genesis 32 and 33. Jacob first crossed the Jordan owning nothing except the staff that was in his hand. Years later he was a man with a large family and many possessions, and he said, “I am not worthy of all the mercies … You have shown Your servant” (33:10). “God has dealt graciously with me … I have enough” (33:11).

We are told in this Arcana story that the man was left for a time in his state of anxiety “that his thoughts might take their wonted direction.” And while he was in this state of anxiety he was brought into association with some celestial spirits from the province of the heart. They lovingly provided him with anything he might need. To quote: “They showed him every attention that he could desire.”

Then he was left to himself, and his reaction was the key. The thoughts that came to him were to the effect: “How can I repay such great kindness?” It is translated “so much kindness,” and we may render it tantam gratia, “so much grace.” That reaction to the Divine grace was the sign of his charity and faith, and “he was therefore at once taken up into heaven” (AC 318).

What about ourselves? Do we feel that we are objects of the Lord’s grace? Do we feel we are recipients of His mercy? The question is not whether the Lord has been merciful to us, for He certainly has. The question is not whether the Lord has been gracious to us, for He most certainly has. The question is whether we have any realization or acknowledgment that this is true.

What if you are asked whether you feel lucky or fortunate? Those words are not ideal, because they might be used with the idea of some random fortune. Better to say, Do we feel blessed? Our feelings vary in this. They vary through different stages of our life. They vary from week to week. They vary in the states of a single day.

Suppose you were to be asked, Has the Lord been kind to you? Has He favored you? Has He granted you grace? And suppose you were to answer in the affirmative and say some words about the Lord’s grace. You can say the words, and sometimes they are hardly more than words, whereas at other times you might have deep feeling about it. A passage about this in the Arcana ends by saying that anyone can know this about himself by observing his state when “he uses the expression `the grace of the Lord'” (AC 981).

Can you control the degree of sincerity you have in this respect? If you are a cocky and self-assured person you might say you cannot transform yourself. But circumstances can set the stage for a peeling away of some of our veneer, and room can be made for a more full feeling.

What, for example, is the classic phrase when you see another person far less fortunate than yourself? “There but for the grace of God go I.” You might for a few minutes observe someone on television losing his home in a flood or fire. You might see someone bereaved or handicapped or suffering. And you might have experiences in life in which you really sense the experience of someone less fortunate, so much so that you are so thankful for what you have, be it your health or whatever.

Do you have a husband or wife, a loving relationship? If so, how did that come about? Was it the result of your intelligence or effort? Do you take the credit for conjugial love? The Writings tell us that love is a deliberate gift of the Lord, a gift into which He has gathered delights from first to last.

There are intervals in life when we do deliberately put ourselves into a state of appreciation. They can be anniversaries or even birthdays in which a train of thinking sets the stage for a state of appreciation, a state which you might be able to express in words and you might not.

The Holy Supper has something of this characteristic. It is not merely that you take the bread and the wine, but what is your acknowledgment as you do so? If you have not honestly looked at your life, you might not feel that you have any need of repentance. As you take bread and wine, do you have a sense that every good feeling your heart has known and every truth your mind has enjoyed is a gift of the Lord alone?

When we speak of the Lord’s mercy and grace, the important question is the humility that is involved. Part of the path we follow involves states of temptation that are so humbling. They are states in which we feel wretched, sometimes sensing a despair that we can ever be saved. The lessons we learn in those states are precious.

One passage on them ends: After despair “they can be led into a true confession, not only that all good is from the Lord, but also that all things are of His mercy; and at last into humiliation of heart before the Lord, which is not possible without self-knowledge; and when they are in that state even to despair they then first receive comfort and help from the Lord” (AC 2994).

We have spoken of a man who died and went straight to heaven in confession of the great grace that he received. Let us conclude with another individual who died and in the world of spirits showed no concept of the Lord’s loving Providence. “Afterwards the same spirit was reduced into the state of his infancy, and the Lord showed the angels what his quality had been at that time, and also what was the then foreseen quality of his future life, and that every detail of his life had been led by the Lord, and that he would have plunged into the most atrocious hell if there had been even the least cessation of the continual providence of the Lord” (AC 6484).

There are many things of the Lord’s mercy and grace in our past lives that we do not even know about. And fortunately there are things that we can know about, acknowledge and rejoice in. Of His fullness have we all received “and grace for grace” (John 1:16). Amen.

Lessons: Genesis 32, 33; TCR 439, 440; AE 22; DP 330

True Christian Religion 439

To ascribe merit to works that are done for the sake of salvation is harmful because evils lie concealed in so doing of which the doer is wholly ignorant. There also lies hidden in it a denial of God’s influx and operation in man; also a confidence in one’s own power in matters of salvation; faith in oneself and not in God; self-justification; salvation by one’s own abilities; a reducing of Divine grace and mercy to nought; a rejection of reformation and regeneration by Divine means; especially a limitation of the merit and righteousness of the Lord God the Savior, which such claim for themselves; together with a continual looking for reward, which they regard as the first and last end; a submersion and extinction of love to the Lord and love toward the neighbor; a total ignorance and lack of perception of the delight of heavenly love as being without merit, and a sense only of self-love. For those who put rewards in the first place and salvation in the second, and who value salvation for the sake of the reward, invert order and immerse the interior desires of the mind in what is their own, and defile them in the body with the evils of the flesh …