THE IMPORTANCE OF JUSTICE
A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Ho. AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn September 20, 1987
“And the city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as its breadth” (Rev. 21:16).
The Holy City, New Jerusalem, was seen and described by John. It has been revealed in the Heavenly Doctrine that this vision is a prophecy of the establishment of the New Church on earth. The city represents the church as to its doctrine. The details that describe the city each have significance in describing its qualities. One of the remarkable features of the Holy City is that it is foursquare its length and breadth the same. “The city is laid out as a square,” we read. This squareness is said to signify the quality of justice. “`A quadrangle’ or `a square’ signifies what is just,” we are told, “because it has four sides, and the four sides look toward the four quarters, and to look equally toward the four quarters is to respect all things from justice … ” (AR 905). The subject of this sermon is the importance of justice, the importance of the New Jerusalem being “foursquare.”
If we reflect on it, we can see how the abstract quality of justice can be pictured in a physical form. Just action requires a balanced view of all sides of a question. A square has equal sides and looks in all directions. Therefore, it pictures a quality of mind that gives equal consideration to all viewpoints and balances them in making decisions. Another aspect of balance in just judgment is an equal ratio of truth and good. Length and breadth signify these. A square has length equal to breadth. This physical equality refers to the abstract balance of truth and good in everything of justice. It is obvious that justice in human relations and just judgments in life require a measure of both truth and good. Good alone, without the direction of truth, leads to errors of sentimentality and emotionalism. Truth alone, without the motivation of good or use, tends to be harsh and condemnatory, unwise. True justice requires both good and truth. This is pictured by the square where length and breadth are equal, signifying a balance of truth and good.
Because of this correspondence of abstract ideas to physical qualities, our expressions of speech sometimes reflect the fact. The Writings mention that the man who is just is said to be “square.” We speak of a “square shooter” in referring to someone we can trust to act from fairness. Sadly, it is a commentary on our time and society that the term “square” has become an expression of contempt. Now when someone is called “a square” it usually means that the person is not wise to the ways of the world, but is na‹vely honest and trusting. The Holy City is foursquare. Those who would be of this New Church must cultivate the quality of justice, even-handedness, and fair-mindedness. Would that we could all be called “square.”
In recent years we have witnessed, and many of us have been a part of, celebrations surrounding the formulation of the constitution of our country which took place 200 years ago. This document of governmental principles was drafted to provide for justice and liberty. Its principles have stood for two hundred years, a tribute to the men whose love of order and justice carried them to a successful conclusion. Interestingly, it was in the same summer of 1787 that the first public worship service of the New Church was held. Was it coincidence that the spirit of liberty was strong among men in an era when a final spiritual judgment brought on by the Lord’s second coming had taken place just 30 years before?
The Writings point out that the Last Judgment would not bring about great external changes on earth, as many have believed it would, but that it would provide for a new state of spiritual freedom, and that the people of the church would be in a “more free state of thinking on matters of faith” (LJ 73) as a result of it.
The framers of the United States Constitution were not New Churchmen, though some may have been influenced by the principles of the Heavenly Doctrine. Most were God-fearing men with a “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” They were men of reason who based their concepts and principles of order in human affairs on the foundation of belief in a God of reason and order. It was their specific intent to “establish justice” and “secure the blessings of liberty.” It was also in their minds to provide for freedom of religion, a right established in the first amendment to the Constitution.
Thus, in Providence an environment was created for the establishment and growth of the New Church in this country. As New Churchmen, we should be grateful for this Providence. It is also our responsibility as citizens of this country to promote the continuation of those principles of liberty and justice upon which our nation is founded, and to strive to preserve and obey the just laws which are so important to our country and our church.
If there is to be justice in a nation, justice must be exercised by its citizens. We must learn to subordinate our own will to the cause of justice, and recognize that true justice is a quality that is Divine in origin. We are told that those “who abstain from evils as sins and shun them because they are contrary to the Divine laws … have justice for their end, and they venerate, cherish, and love it as Divine. In justice they see God, as it were, because everything just, like everything good and true, is from God” (AE 976:3).
There are many teachings of the Writings that show the importance of acting from justice. We turn now to some of these.
First, we should know that a love of justice and equity is a basis for salvation. There is a conscience in acting justly that is a resting place for angelic and Divine influx. Human conscience is two-fold: interior and exterior. We are told that interior conscience is of spiritual good and truth, but exterior conscience is of “justice and equity” (AC 6207). While few in the world today have an interior conscience, that is, act from spiritual good or truth, many, we are told, act from a conscience of justice and equity. It is these “many” who can be led, perhaps after death, to an interior angelic conscience and become angels of heaven. “They who have a conscience of what is good,” we are told, “have also a conscience of what is just; but they who have only a conscience of what is just, have the capacity of receiving a conscience of what is good … ” (AC 9119). The Lord rules those who “have not yet been regenerated, but who can be regenerated” by means of a conscience of what is just and equitable (AC 4167:2).
A life of justice, then, can be an important basis for spiritual life. If a person has no true religion and no conscience about spiritual things, he may yet be saved by his acknowledgment of civil and moral laws of justice and his obedience to them.
We must beware, though, of believing that everyone who lives a life of justice in externals does so from a genuine love of natural laws of order. The following teaching demonstrates this. “A thousand men may act alike,” we are told, “that is, may do like deeds, so alike in outward form as to be almost undistinguishable, and yet each one regarded in itself be different … For example, when one acts honestly and justly with a companion, one person may do it for the purpose of appearing to be honest and just out of regard to himself and his own honor, another out of regard to the world and gain, a third out of regard to reward and merit, a fourth out of regard to friendship, a fifth from fear of the law and the loss of reputation or employment, a sixth that he may draw someone to his own side, even when he is in the wrong, a seventh that he may deceive, and others from other motives. In all these instances, although the deeds are good in appearance since it is a good thing to act honestly and justly with a companion, they are nevertheless evil, because they are done not out of regard to honesty and justice and for the love of these, but out of regard to a love of self and the world … ” (HH 472).
Although there is the possibility of these abuses of a person’s acting according to law and justice simply for his own ends, these abuses do not do away with the uses that result from living in justice from a love of justice. How else can spiritual goods and truths find expression in our lives?
Even children seem to have a quick sense of what is just and fair. Though many disillusionments lie ahead for us as we pass through life, we need to cherish a love of just action and fair play. The human spirit can respond to these ideals and be stirred to form its conscience based on them. It is taught that “one person excels another in the capacity to understand and perceive what is honorable in moral life, what is just in civil life, and what is good in spiritual life. The cause of this,” we are told, “consists in the elevation of the thought to the things that pertain to heaven, whereby the thought is withdrawn from the external things of sense … They who are able to think above the things of sense, provided the things in the memory have been set in order, possess a greater capacity than others to understand and perceive, and this according to the degree in which they view things from what is interior” (AC 6598).
A deeper sense of justice comes from an elevation of thought. Our perspective is greater on the affairs of civil and natural life as we view these from above. It is said that “those who have acted honestly and justly from regard to Divine laws … are conjoined to the angels of heaven, from whom wisdom is communicated to them” (HH 530). This wisdom from the angels is not a dictate, not a conscious formula, but a sense of proportion and perspective that comes from seeing life in deeper dimensions.
As we think of justice, let us ask ourselves these questions: Am I willing to forego my own comfort or advantage to see that justice is done? Do I insist that my children act according to civil and moral laws? Would I participate in an action or activity that unjustly curtails the freedom of others? When faced with a decision, do I have the patience to look at all sides of the issue, and courage to give equal consideration to viewpoints different from my own? Are my conclusions influenced by a racial, political or economic bias? With these and many other straightforward questions we can evaluate our own fair- mindedness. We can determine if our own life is “foursquare.”
The altars of Israel were foursquare, just as the city New Jerusalem was of equal length and breadth. This signifies that our life and our worship will be just when we approach the Lord and His justice and seek to make it our own. It is the wise person, both in natural and spiritual matters, who turns to the Lord to find enlightenment and perspective. How grateful we are that many God-fearing men could be numbered among the founders of our nation, and that the love of justice burned in their hearts. May this love burn also in our hearts as we seek to forward the life of the New Jerusalem. Let it be said of us: “We have a strong city; God will appoint salvation for walls and bulwarks. Open the gates that the righteous nation which keeps the truth may enter in” (Isaiah 26:1,2). Amen.
Lessons: Isaiah 26:1-15; Rev. 21:9-16; AE 976:2 or AC 4167
Apocalypse Explained 976:2
Take judges for an example: All who make justice venal [capable of being obtained for money] by loving the function of judging for the sake of gain from judgments, and not for the sake of uses to their country, are thieves, and their judgments are thefts. It is similar if they judge according to friendships and favors, for friendships and favors are also profits and gains. When these are the end and judgments are the means, all things that they do are evil, and are what are meant in the Word by “evil works” and “not doing judgment and justice, perverting the right of the poor, of the needy, of the fatherless, of the widow, and of the innocent.” Yea, even if they do justice and yet regard profit as the end they indeed do a good work but to them it is not good; for justice, which is Divine, is to them a means, and such gain is the end; and that which is made the end is everything, while that which is made the means is nothing except so far as it is serviceable to the end. Consequently, after death such judges continue to love what is unjust as well as what is just, and are condemned to hell as thieves. I speak this from what I have seen. These are such as do not abstain from evils because they are sins, but only because they fear the punishments of the civil law and the loss of reputation, honor, and office, and thus of gain.
Arcana Coelestia 4167
“Set it here before my brethren and thy brethren, and let them judge between us two.” That this signifies that there be judgment from what is just and equitable is evident from the signification of “brethren” as being goods (see n. 2360, 3803, 3815, 4121). It follows that “my brethren and thy brethren” denote what is just and equitable, and it is manifest that “let them judge between us two” denotes judgment. That “my brethren and thy brethren” denote what is just and equitable is because the subject here treated of is the natural; for in the natural that is properly called what is just and fair which in the spiritual is called what is good and true. There are in man two planes upon which are founded the celestial and spiritual things which are from the Lord. The one plane is interior, and the other exterior. The planes themselves are nothing else than conscience. Without these planes (that is, without conscience) nothing celestial and spiritual from the Lord can possibly be fixed, for it would flow through like water through a sieve. For this reason they who are without such a plane (that is, without conscience) do not know what conscience is; nay, they do not believe that there is anything spiritual and celestial.
The interior plane or interior conscience is where are good and truth in the genuine sense, for the good and truth that inflow from the Lord actuate this conscience. But the exterior plane is the exterior conscience, and is where there is what is just and equitable in the proper sense; for that which is just and equitable of both a moral and a civil kind, which likewise flows in, actuates it. There is also an outermost plane, which likewise appears as conscience, but is not conscience, namely, the doing of what is just and equitable for the sake of self and the world, that is, for the sake of one’s own honor or fame, and for the sake of the world’s wealth and possessions, and also for fear of the law. These three planes are what rule man, that is, they are the means through which the Lord rules him. By means of the interior plane (that is, by means of a conscience of spiritual good and truth) the Lord rules those who have been regenerated. By means of the exterior plane (or by means of a conscience of what is just and equitable, that is to say, by means of a conscience of what is good and true of both a moral and a civic kind) the Lord rules those who have not yet been regenerated, but who can be regenerated, and also are being regenerated, if not in the life of the body, yet in the other life. But by means of the outermost plane, which appears like conscience and yet is not conscience, the Lord rules all the rest, even the evil; for without this government these would rush into all wicked and insane things, and do so rush when they are without the restraints of this plane. All those who do not suffer themselves to be ruled by means of these planes either are insane, or are punished according to the laws.
With the regenerate these three planes act as a one, for the one flows into the other, and an interior one disposes an exterior one. The first plane, or conscience of spiritual good and truth, is in man’s rational, but the second plane, or conscience of moral and civic good and truth (that is, of what is just and equitable) is in man’s natural. From this it is now manifest what the justice and equity are which are signified by the “brethren,” namely, justice by “my brethren,” and equity by “thy brethren”; for they are called justice and equity because the subject is the natural man, of which these are properly predicated.