THE LIFE WHICH LASTS FOREVER
A Sermon by Rev. Peter M. Buss, Jr.Preached in Mitchellville, Maryland March 26, 1995
Sometimes our thoughts about the spiritual world are closer than at other times. The reality of that world hits home when someone we know enters into it – into the life which lasts forever.
It is a comfort to know about the next life – that death is not the end but a new beginning; that the Lord brings each person to life again in His eternal kingdom – the spiritual world; that He awakens the body of the spirit so that we can continue life there. It really is a continuation of life: we continue to be the same people; we meet up with people we know, and what is particularly touching, husbands and wives who had been separated by death are reunited. It is a beautiful picture, and it can provide tremendous reassurance.
At the other end of the spectrum, I would like you to @ for a moment about a tiny baby, specifically about a time you held a baby in your arms. Maybe it was one of your own children, or a niece, or a grandchild. It’s a wonderful feeling to hold a tiny little person, so new to life, and realize the potential enclosed in that weak little body – the things he or she will do in life. How many of those babies have grown up? Many may be bigger than we are. We all began life as little infants; we all grew up. The reason for calling to mind such an event is that it reminds us of a journey that we are all on, beginning at birth and ending at death: a journey toward heaven.
In fact, the whole purpose of our life here on earth is to prepare for the other world – for the life which lasts forever. Of this preparation the Lord has lots to say. In the gospel of Matthew He said the following familiar words: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19- 21). We can see the call to rise above our worldly concerns and recognize the reality of eternal life.
There is a teaching which takes these words one step further by saying: “What more ought anyone to have at heart than his life which lasts forever?” (AC 794). It goes on to say, “Nothing is of greater importance to a person dm knowing what is true.’ We need to know the truth about the spiritual world, about the life which leads there, and about our responsibility to prepare ourselves for it.
Keeping the Spiritual World in Mind
Life is so short. My grandfather said to me once, from his advanced perspective: “You’ll wake up in a few days and realize that twenty-five years have passed.” There is amazing truth in these words. The Lord taught much the same thing in the Psalms: “As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:15,16). Life here on earth, no matter how important it is, is like grass or a flower of the field. The wind passes over it, and it is gone. Sooner or later it will be our turn to cross over to that world we know exists and experience it for ourselves.
How often do we reflect or picture ourselves dying and entering the spiritual world? It’s one thing to know about heaven and hell objectively, but quite another to picture ourselves there.
People don’t generally like to think of their mortality. After all, most of us have pressing concerns which occupy our minds – good concerns. Some of us have families we could not imagine being separated from. Many of us have jobs which absorb our energy and make us feel useful at the same time. We often think about the things we would like to do, trips we would like to take when we’ve retired or when our children are grown.
But even these concerns are temporary, or at best transitional when we think about eternal life. And so the Lord asks us to prepare for that life as we go about our present concerns. He asks this in the following words: “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do diem” (Psalm 103:17,18). Far more substantial is eternal life. Far more important is it to prepare for that life, by fearing or honoring the Lord, by keeping His covenant, and by obeying His commandments. When we keep these principles in mind, and the reality of the spiritual world, then we are much more likely to prepare for our eternal life instead of ignoring it.
Benefits of thinking about eternal life
But teachings like these are not just warnings or reminders. They describe a whole way of thinking, and an attitude about spiritual life which is very healthy. Keeping the reality of the spiritual world alive in our minds is a tremendous asset. I would like to mention three areas in which we can see the benefits.
1. It reminds us to value the good things in our lives. One way to see this is in our relationships. With an idea of eternal life, we know that some of our relationships will continue after death. Certainly if we know someone who has died, we can anticipate with joy the time when we will meet him or her again, and pick up where we left off.
In another way, we can value our current relationships more. The easiest way to see this is in the context of marriage. Most of us enter into marriage hoping that it will last forever – and it will if we work at it. If we hold onto that perspective of eternity, then we may value our spouse more, and not take him or her for granted. The importance of eternity in relation to marriage is emphasized in the Word. If the idea of eternity is taken away, angels feel flat and deeply depressed. The feeling that their relationship will not stop getting better and it will never end is essential. Otherwise why work at it? (see CL 216a).
Other things we may be reminded to value are the church, and the Word which the church has been given. The Word teaches us the life that leads to heaven, and the church supports us in living that life. With a keen sense of our mortality, we may feel called by the Lord to pay attention to these treasures which He has given us.
Another gift we can value is children. The Lord gives parents the privilege of preparing their children, or equipping them with the tools which will help them prepare themselves for heaven. The end of His creation is a heaven from the human race (see DP 27). It is a wonderful thing to realize that He allows us to participate in His system. It can inspire us to recognize our responsibility to do all we can for our children to help them on their way, not just for life in this world but for life in heaven to eternity.
2. When bad things happen. The second benefit of keeping the reality of the spiritual world in mind is that it gives us perspective when bad things happen. In the work 77ze Divine Providence the Lord teaches us a principle of His government: “The Divine Providence regards eternal things, and not temporal things except so far as they accord with eternal things” (heading to nos. 214220). The thrust of this chapter is to show that the Lord is constantly working for our eternal happiness. He does not ignore our present concerns, but if there is a choice, He will always choose our eternal happiness over our present happiness. For example, there are plenty of car accidents involving drunk drivers. In most cases innocent people get hurt through no fault of their own. Does that mean the Lord doesn’t care about these people? Of course not. But His eternal end is that all people may be free to go to heaven. He has to permit people to be selfish and cruel, and even allow them to cause others to suffer, if they are going to have the freedom to do the opposite: to turn to Him from freedom, to respond to His call and return the love He offers.
Knowing this principle of the Lord’s government – that He looks out for our eternal welfare over our short-term happiness – helps to give us perspective. When bad things happen to us and to everyone else we can see that the Lord still cares.
Our job from day one of our lives to the end is to cooperate with the Lord – to let Him prepare us for heaven. His system is set up for that goal, always emphasizing the eternal over the temporary.
3. Men evil delights tempt us. The last benefit I want to mention comes in the form of a negative. It might be easier to see the benefit of having an eternal perspective by seeing what it’s like not to have one.
When people fail to @ about or care about eternal life, they are actually “laying up for themselves treasures on earth.” Such a person is carried away by heR. They are led to think about themselves, and occupy their minds with what will make them happy now, in this world.
We know that all people are born with evil hereditary tendencies. What that means is that all people feel pleasure sometimes when they shouldn’t – an insane hellish pleasure, but pleasure nonetheless. The hells can use these delights to be tremendously persuasive. They use our pleasures to lure us.
Sometimes they don’t have to try very hard, because the delights arising from putting ourselves first are so powerful. There is a teaching in Heaven and Hell which says that hellish pleasures are felt more forcefully than heavenly ones in this world (n. 401). If we think about it, that’s true. It feels good to drink too much. It gives us a feeling of power to make ourselves look good at the expense of someone else. There is satisfaction in having the biggest house and the best clothes to wear. Our senses are so alive, and the worldly pleasures which arise from them are strong.
But heavenly delights are much less forceful in this world. They are there, but internal. Heaven and Hell calls them “a blessedness that is hardly perceptible, because it is hidden away in the interiors” (40 1). Of course it feels nice to do good things. There is satisfaction in doing our job well. The trouble is, it often feels like hard work while we are doing it. The rewards are secondary, and we have to pay attention to them. They’re there, but less forceful in this world.
Fortunately things change in the next life. Selfishness is rewarded not with pleasure but with punishment or frustration, while charity brings delight itself. But while we are in this world, we need to be aware. The hells are much less persuasive when we are paying attention. When we get caught up in acquiring stuff in the world and being well off, it is important to remember the Lord’s words: “I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? … But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you’ (Matthew 6:25,33). The truth is, heavenly happiness is the only real happiness. “A person who is led by the Lord is in freedom itself, and thus in delight and bliss itself (AC 6325). Other states which the Lord promises are states of peace, blessedness and happiness – all of which improve to eternity.
Reminding ourselves of the reality of the spiritual world can help us forego some of those transitory pleasures offered to us by hell.
So we return to the teachings we began with. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” the Lord says (Matt. 6:20). In other words, He asks that we keep the spiritual world in mind as we go about our lives, for then our hearts will be there also.
He also asks us to remember that our days are numbered: “As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:15,16).
Finally He asks that we remember our spiritual responsibility to prepare for His kingdom and obey its laws. For we “ought to know what the laws of the kingdom are so that we can live happily to eternity” (Spiritual Experiences 2331).
If we cooperate, then we can be assured of happiness, for “the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them” (Psalm 103:17,18).
So “what more ought anyone to have at heart dm his life which lasts forever?” (AC 794). “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” (AC 8939:3). Amen.
Readings from the Word: Matt. 6:19-34; AC 794; Psalm 103:1-19
Arcana Coelestia 794
“And the waters were strengthened very exceedingly upon the earth.” That this signifies that persuasions of falsity thus increased is evident from what has been said and shown just above about “waters,” namely, that the waters of a flood, or inundations, signify falsities. Here, because falsities or persuasions of what was false were still more increased, it is said that the “waters were strengthened very exceedingly,” which in the original language is the superlative. Falsities are principles and persuasions of what is false, and that these had increased immensely among the antediluvians is evident from all that has been said before concerning diem. Persuasions immensely increase when men mingle truths with cupidities, or make them favor the loves of self and of the world; for then in a thousand ways they pervert them and force them into agreement. For who that has imbibed or framed for himself a false principle does not confirm it by much that he has learned, and even from the Word? Is there any heresy that does not thus lay hold of things to confirm it? and even force, and in divers ways explain and distort, things that are not in agreement, so that they may not disagree?
For example, he who adopts the principle that faith alone is saving without the goods of charity; can he not weave a whole system of doctrine out of the Word? and this without in the least caring for, or considering, or even seeing, what the Lord says, that “the tree is known by its fruit,” and that “every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire” (Matt. 3: 10; 7:16-20; 12:33). What is more pleasing than to live after the flesh and yet be saved if only one knows what is true, though he does nothing of good? Every cupidity that a person favors forms the life of his will, and every principle or persuasion of falsity forms the life of his understanding. These lives make one when the truths or doctrinals of faith are immersed in cupidities. Every person thus forms for himself as it were a soul, and such after death does his life become. Nothing therefore is of more importance to a person than to know what is true. When he knows what is true, and knows it so well that it cannot be perverted, then it cannot be so much immersed in cupidities and have such deadly effect. What should a person have more at heart than his life to eternity? If in the life of the body he destroys his soul, does he not destroy it to eternity?