The God We Worship

The God We Worship
A Sermon by the Rev. Peter M. Buss, Jr.

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“Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient
for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you
have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the
Father’” (John 14:8-9).
Jesus and His disciples. If we look closely at the Lord’s
relationship with His disciples, one of the primary things He tried to do
for them was teach them who He was (and still is). He wanted them
to know that He was Divine. Through His miracles, His
transfiguration, His walking on the water, His raising of Lazarus from
the dead, and finally His own resurrection, He was working to get
them to understand that He was (as one teaching in the Writings for
the New Church puts it), “Infinite, Uncreate, Almighty, God and Lord,
altogether equal to the Father” (Doctrine of the Lord 55)-at least as
far as they could understand these things.

He has some success. Speaking for the disciples, Peter once
said: “We have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the
Son of the living God” (John 6:69; cf. Matthew 16:16). And after
Thomas saw that Jesus had indeed risen as He said, he professed
His faith by saying, “My Lord, and My God” (John 20:28).
There is but one God. And yet, when it comes right down to it,
even these disciples didn’t quite understand the central message
Jesus was trying to convey. They could not comprehend that He was
the one God of heaven and earth. They could believe that He was the
Son of God, but not God Himself, Jehovah came down on earth.

They are not to blame for their misunderstanding. After all they talked
with Jesus, ate with Him, traveled with Him-He was a Person to them.
They also heard Him talk about God His Father, as if He was talking
about someone else. So Jesus led them as far as He could in the
right direction-that He was the Son of the living God. Anything beyond
that was “wholly incomprehensible” to them (see Arcana Caelestia
6993:2). We have to remember that at the time of the Lord’s birth
there was extreme darkness in all the world about spiritual things.
Jesus brought about the dawning of a new church which would see
more clearly. And at such a dawning, there was a beginning of
understanding, a beginning of belief and worship, with many things
yet to be said and comprehended. As Jesus Himself said: “I still have
many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However,
when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all
truth” (John 16:12-13).

We now live in an era where that new truth is available. The
Lord has revealed the truth He promised to reveal. He has opened up
for us the Scriptures, and in them we may now see the truth about
Him-the truth He taught so long ago, and yet was not completely
understood. He wants us to be absolutely clear about things those
people were just beginning to understand. There are not two
Persons, or three in the God-head. There is one God, the Lord Jesus
Christ, and He is the one we are to believe in and worship. This is
why He was so blunt with Philip when he requested in innocence
(and perhaps even frustration): “Lord, show us the Father and it is
sufficient for us” (John 14:8).

As we read, He said to Philip: “Have I been with you so long,
and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has
seen the Father, so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you
not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in Me? Believe Me
that I am in the Father and the Father in Me” (John 14:9-11).
The central truth of the Word of God, the truth that Jesus tried
so hard to get people to believe while on earth is that there is but one
God. He is not only the Son of God, but the God of heaven and earth,
and one with the Father (see True Christian Religion 379). This is
what we are all called upon to believe.

The importance of a correct idea of God. There is a teaching in
the work of the Writings called True Christian Religion, a work
appropriately named for this topic, which describes how important it is
for us to understand who our God is: A correct idea of God is to the
congregation like the sanctuary and alter in a church, or like a crown
on the head and a scepter in the hand of a king, as he sits upon his
throne. From this hangs the whole body of theology, like a chain from
its anchor-point. If you are prepared to believe me, the idea everyone
has of God determines his place in the heavens (True Christian
Religion 163).

Why is it so important for us to have a correct idea about God?
Why is it that this one teaching-this one facet of belief will determine
our welfare to eternity? Why is it like the sanctuary and altar in a
church, or like the crown and scepter of a king? Why is it the most
important concept in all of religion? If I were to ask of all of you here
today, “How do you get to heaven?” I’d probably get responses such
as this: “Live a good life”, “Obey the Lord’s commandments”, “Shun
evils as sins against the Lord and then live a good life” or something
along those lines. And these would be correct answers.

But a correct idea and belief in the Lord is even more basic
than these statements. It is no accident that there are two great
commandments. The second one is: “You shall love your neighbor as
yourself” (Matthew 22:39). In general this is a command to live a
good life. But the first and great commandment in the Law is to love
the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our
mind (see Matthew 22:37-38). The reason for this is that we need to
know who is asking us to live a good life. For religion to make sense,
we have to know what kind of God the Lord is. Why is He asking us
to act in certain ways? If we don’t understand why He needs us to act
according to His commandments, what’s to convince us to do so
when the going gets tough, when temptation sets in and we feel like
doing something else? The truth about God is indeed the starting
point from which all the other facets of religion hang as links of a
chain from an anchor point.

Father/Son imagery. Now some people might raise a legitimate
complaint about the way the Lord has put His Word together. If it is so
important for us to know who the Lord is, and specifically to
acknowledge that He, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the one God of
heaven and earth, why didn’t He just say so? Why in the world would
He leave anything in His Word which would confuse us, or cause
many people to misunderstand this most central teaching? Why
would He speak to the Father as if to another? Why would He call
Himself the Son of God, and yet expect us to believe that He is more
than that?

We already discussed one reason: the people alive during His
life on earth could not believe anything further than that He was the
Son of God, and not God Himself. This is an important reason, for the
Lord always accommodates Himself to the understanding of the
people He is trying to lead. He is constantly trying to make Himself
accessible and knowable to the extent possible. And He did just that
for the people He taught and healed while He was on earth.
But, as you have probably already realized, there is a much
deeper and more profound reason for the way the gospels were put
together. There is a truth about the Lord our God which is played out
for us in the stories about Father and Son which we could not know
otherwise. There are three ideas I’d like to share with you today
which illustrate how the Father / Son imagery can help us, rather than
be a source of confusion.

1. Many names for one God. First, let us remember that when
we’re discussing the Lord, we’re discussing the Infinite. And, as one
teaching so eloquently points out: “The human mind, for all its
loftiness and superb analytical power, is finite, and there is no way of
rendering it anything but finite. Therefore it is incapable of seeing the
infinity of God as it is in itself, and so of seeing God (True Christian
Religion 28).

It goes on to say that we can see God in shadow-in other
words, as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. This is where the
various names of the Lord help us out tremendously. We cannot
know everything there is to know about God; indeed we would be
foolish to try. But the Lord has made it easier for us to know some
things. He has given us an ability to look at different facets of Him,
different Divine qualities that He possesses. And He labels each one
of these qualities with a different name for Himself. So we have
Jesus, which means “Savior,” and we have “Christ” which means
“King;” and Jehovah, which literally means “the One who Is, or
exists;” and “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” We also have
some of His activities categorized under different names: He is the
Creator and Redeemer, He is our Preserver and Comforter. All
of these things help us to look at one aspect of God at a time, to
understand it, and put it together with the other things we know about
Him, so that our faith in Him can develop.

The same is true of the three most dominant names for God,
which are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These also are different
aspects of the one God, highlighting certain of His Divine qualities, so
that we can come to understand our God more fully. So the first idea
about the imagery of the trinity is that, although it may seem like a
source of confusion for people, it is actually designed to help us
understand our God more fully.

2. The Trinity. The second idea which will help us see the value
in the imagery of the Trinity, is to see in concept how these three
make one. There is one teaching which is extremely helpful in this
regard. It goes like this: These three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are
the three essentials of a single God, which make one as soul, body
and activity do with a person (True Christian Religion 166).
The beauty of this teaching is that it makes so much sense. We
all have a soul-a life force within us. We all have a body. And these
two together make it possible for us to do things-to think and speak
and act, to walk, to express love, to reason, and to serve other
people. Working from this fundamental way in which we have been
created, we can come to realize that it works the same way for God,
for we are created in His image and in His likeness (see Genesis
1:26-27). That means that God has a soul, a body, and that He acts
by means of these two. The conclusion then is that “Father” is the
name which describes the Soul of the Lord, or His life-force-why He
acts, what He cares about, who He is at His core; “Son” is the name
of God which describes His body-the Human form we see in our Lord
Jesus Christ, showing forth or revealing to all who He is, and what He
wants for us; and “Holy Spirit” is the name given to what God doesthe
effect He has on us, the providence, enlightenment, comfort, and
eventual salvation He can bring to us.

3. The soul, body, and activity of God. With this construct of
soul, body and activity of the Lord, we turn to our third idea about the
Father / Son imagery of the gospels-specifically to one story where all
these ideas come together. The story is the one of Philip asking to be
shown the Father, to which Jesus responded, “He who has seen Me
has seen the Father.” Jesus began this teaching episode by saying to
His disciples: “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not
so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John
14:2).

We can now understand what He was really saying to them. If
we think about the “Father” as the soul or life-force of God, we can
see that His inmost desire is to bring us into heaven. What drives
God at His very core, and causes Him to do every single thing He
does, is love-a love for us, and a desire to make us happy from
Himself (see True Christian Religion 43). This is God in Himself: love
for all people, and that love is described by the name “Father.” What
better image could we be given of God’s love, than that of a Divine
Parent who cares for His children with infinite mercy?

And yet, Jesus says that He would prepare this place in heaven
for us; that He would return and lead us there. Further He explained
to the disciples (and to us), that we know how to get there: where He
goes, we know, and the way we know (see John 14:3-4). Thomas
reacted to this statement by saying: “Lord, we do not know where
You are going, and how can we know the way?” And Jesus replied: “I
am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but
by Me” (John 14:5-6).

These words describe Jesus Christ, who called Himself the Son
of God. “No one comes to the Father, except through Me.” “I am the
Way the Truth and the Life.” This is why Jesus came on earth in the
first place-to reveal to people through His actions and His teachings
what kind of God He is and what He expects from us. We have many
teachings about our Lord, and all of them help us to understand Himall
of them point to the fact that He is a God of love-a God who cares
for us with more compassion and mercy than any human being could
ever do. This is what Jesus Christ showed to us. This is the God
teaching us about Himself, showing us what His plans are for us, and
explaining why He asks us to act in certain ways. The Son teaches us
this, and through the Son, we see the love of the Father, or through
the body of our Lord, we see His soul. As a teaching in the work True
Christian Religion says:

“By means of the Human, Jehovah God brought Himself into
the world and made Himself visible to human eyes, and thus
accessible (True Christian Religion 188:6).

And once we realize that He is accessible, we can see that He
can make a difference in our lives: He can affect us. This is His
operation, which is described under the name of the Holy Spirit.
Conclusion. The beauty of these concept of our God is that they
makes Him believable. He has a singularity of focus: all His energy is
directed towards making us happy to eternity in heaven. Everything
He teaches leads us towards that goal. In everything He does, He
works to bring us closer to Him so that He can be a bigger part of our
lives. He wants us to understand that He, the Lord Jesus Christ, is
our one and only God. He wants us to understand the way He has
put the gospels together that we can see more about Him through the
Father/Son imagery than we could without it. By means of the stories
of Jesus Christ, living in this world, teaching people and healing them,
He offers us a real picture of the kind of God He is-not merely an
intercessor between us and God the Father, but God Himself who
has the ability to teach us and heal our lives. He is one with the
Father. This is the truth that Jesus was trying so hard to get His
disciples to understand. There is but one God, and we are to place
our lives in His hands. It is the first and great commandment,
expressed in this way: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is
One. You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all
your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
Amen.
The Lessons: Deuteronomy 6:1-9; John 14:1-11; True Christian
Religion 379

https://newchurch.org/

DAILY INSPIRATION

“Before a person can know what truth is, or be moved by good, the things that hinder and offer resistance must be removed.”

Arcana Coelestia 18

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God Loves You

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meaning of life

God Loves You

 god loves you“Smile, God loves you” is an easy thing to say but if God loves us why does he allow us to suffer? How can we reconcile a God of Love with our everyday experience of the world in which we live?

To try and get some idea of how God loves us we could start by thinking about parents and their children. It is a very human thing for parents to try to love their children equally whatever their different characters and abilities and to seek the best for them as individuals whatever happens. Now parenthood is tough and however idealistically parents approach the bringing up of their children it is often the case that one child will think that mother or father loves their sister or brother more than them. And yet that is not what the parents really want or strive to achieve. And if children grow up and go in very different directions to those envisaged by their parents, truly loving parents will continue to love their children just the same.

Now God loves his children, you, me and everyone else, not with the imperfect love which we express in our lives, that has limits and conditions, but with an unconditional love that has no limits and no boundaries and is shared equally with all. And it is the nature of God’s love that it is given with the freedom for us to accept it, reject it or misuse it – there are no conditions in which God’s love is not given – it is unconditional.

In our human relationships we know how wonderful it is if our love for someone else is freely returned – not because they have to love us but because they want to love us. Paradoxically the more freedom we give to those whom we love the greater and stronger is the love that is returned. Force someone to love you and no real mutual love develops. Now offering to love someone and leaving them the freedom to respond or not is a high risk and potentially painful strategy – as most people find out at some stage in their lives when love is not returned.

And this, in a very human and finite way, is an image and likeness of how God loves us. He offers us love and gives us the freedom to say yes or no. God knows that if we return his love then a deep relationship can develop but if we are unable to respond to his love then he feels pain for what might have been.

One of the hardest things a parent has to do is to let their child make mistakes – despite realising the probable pain and suffering that will ensue. Children have to grow and develop and make their own way in the world and not feel they are being manipulated or directed by their parents. They will make the right decisions and the wrong decisions and yet the loving parent has to stand back and not intervene. They just offer advice to their child as to what they should do and then leave their child the freedom to make up their own mind.

And this is how God’s love works with us. God wants us to be happy and to be fulfilled. He wants us to respond to his love in freedom and he shows us how we should live. But because God values our freedom above all else he cannot intervene when he sees things going wrong. If he intervened in the greatest disasters that beset mankind surely he would also have to intervene in even the smallest personal problems in life and then where would we be – we would be like puppets being controlled by God in the play of life.

Bad things happen. God does not want them to happen. But God cannot intervene because of the freedom he gives us to choose to respond or not to his unconditional love. This is the nature of the God who loves you. God loves everyone equally but what we receive of his love depends on our openness to his love and our acknowledgement that all love comes from God. If we respond to his love we can feel loved, free and forgiven and we will then want to share God’s love with those around us.

The love of God is broad like beech and meadow,

wide as the wind, and an eternal home.

God leaves us free to seek him or reject him,

he gives us room to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’

Fred Kaan

Emanuel Swedenborg wrote in True Christian Religion:

There are three things which make up the essence of God’s love – loving others more than oneself, wishing to be one with them, and devoting oneself to their happiness.

It should be known that God is constantly present, continually striving and acting on a person, and touching his free will but never forcing it. For if God were to force a person’s free will, his dwelling in God would be destroyed, and he would be left only with God’s dwelling in him.

http://www.spiritualwisdom.org.uk/meaning-of-life.htm

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Chapter XI. Illustration of Passages.

 

 

 

THIS diagram illustrates many passages in the Writings of the Church, some of which we will consider briefly. In Apocalypse Explained, AE we read, –

“When the interior of man is purified from evils by his desisting from them and shunning them because they are sins, then that internal is opened. which is above the interior’ and which is called the spiritual internal, and which communicates with heaven. Hence it is that man is then intromitted into heaven and conjoined with the LORD. There are two internals in man, one beneath and the other above. The internal which is beneath is that in which man is and from which he thinks, while he lives in the world, for it is natural; this by way of distinction will be called the interior. But the internal which is above, is that into which man comes after death, when he comes into heaven. All the angels of heaven are in this internal, for it is spiritual. This internal is opened to the man who shuns evils as sins. but it is held shut to the man who does not shun evils as sins. This internal is held shut to the man who does not shun evils as sins, because the interior or the natural internal, before man is purified from sins, is hell; and as long as hell is there, heaven cannot be opened, but as soon as hell is removed, heaven is opened. But it should be known that the spiritual internal and heaven are so far opened to man, as the natural internal is purified from the hell which is there; and this is not effected at once, but by degrees successively.”- AE 940.

Observe that the spiritual internal in this passage is B with its three degrees and that the natural internal is C; B is called internal in distinction to the whole external, which is composed of C and D together. B is also called the spiritual internal in distinction to the natural internal C; C is called the lower internal in distinction to B the higher or spiritual internal.

C is called internal in distinction to its own external D (not mentioned in the passage) which is the extreme external of the natural mind and is a thin skin or covering to C, being just within the body and inclosing this natural internal C.

The heaven that is kept shut and cannot be opened till the natural internal C is purified from evil, is the spiritual internal B.

Concerning the purification of the natural man “by degrees successively” mentioned in this passage, see Diagrams XXII, XXIII, XXIV.

For an illustration of the state of the degrees in the man or spirit in whom “the spiritual internal is held shut” by the prevalence of evil or hell in the natural internal, see Diagram XXV.

Another passage is in True Christian Religion, TCR 593. The natural man here considered as two-fold consists of C and D together. The internal natural man is C, and the thin external, covering it as with a skin, is D. The higher or spiritual internal B is not mentioned in this passage but is implied as the spiritual man above the natural man.

Through this internal B the power by which the natural internal C is regenerated descends from the LORD, whose sacred and especial abode is in the inmost A above the spiritual internal,

Read Doctrine of Life 86; (also HH 497-8, 501, 502 ; LJ 56, 69), where “the externals” in which man is said to be while in the world are in the plane D the external part of the natural mind. In these he remains till the time of judgment, in the world of spirits.

The “interiors” in these numbers are the interiors of the natural mind C. With the good, “the internals” there mentioned include some one or more of the planes of B.

“The devout external” of the wicked, mentioned in Last judgment, 56, proceeded from “the thin skin” of semblances of good and truth just within the body and in the plane of D; “their profane, internal” was in the degree of C. In Last Judgment, 69, the closed interiors” and “the interiors of the evil to be unveiled” are in C. The “seeming heavens,” mentioned in Continuation of Last Judgment, 9, were from the external part of the natural man D; the hells within those seeming heavens, were in C.

From these examples the reader can locate any like “externals and internals” mentioned in Last Judgment or elsewhere in the Writings. A marked example occurs in Arcana Coelestia AC 7046. Here the evil “interiors” are not in the spiritual mind at all but wholly in the internal of the natural mind C. The spiritual internal B, in such cases is closed and almost wholly inoperative. See also Arcana Coelestia AC 6914 where the “bonds” which held the “interiors” in check are in D, the interiors themselves in C.

With this diagram read Divine Providence 100 to 128. The “interiors” or “internals” that are defiled with evil and falsity and must be cleansed that man may be saved, are in the internal of the natural mind here marked C. In C also is the interior will of the Jew, which is adverse to the Christian Religion as mentioned in True Christian Religion TCR 521; his internal mind B being closed, shrunken, and inoperative, like the body affected with marasmus.

In C are the “interiors” mentioned in the last sentence of Arcana Coelestia AC 3489 and in the first of Heave and Hell 553; Apocalypse Explained, AE 939.

The “internal above the interior” (AE 940) is the spiritual mind B; while the “interior” is C.

“Mere natural good,” the “good done before evils are shunned as sins,” “mere external sanctity and piety,” “good done from self and not from the LORD,” and hereditary natural good “from evil parents” (AC 3469), all have place in the external degree D. These things are inwardly evil, the evil originating in the internal degree C. The “inside of the cup and platter,” (Matt. xxiii, 25) is C, the “outside” is D.

Chapter IX. The Mind in Three Degrees. – Another View.

 

AMONG the passages illustrated by this diagram is the following from Angelic Wisdom concerning the Divine Love and concerning the Divine Wisdom,

“There are three degrees of altitude in every man from birth, and they may be opened successively; and so far as they are opened man is in the LORD and the LORD in him….”These three degrees of altitude are named natural, spiritual and celestial. When man is born he first comes into the natural degree, and this grows in him by continuity according to knowledges and according to the understanding acquired by them to the highest of understanding which is called the rational. Yet the second degree which is called spiritual is not hereby opened. The spiritual is opened by the love of uses from intellectuals, but by the spiritual love of uses, which love is love toward the neighbor. This degree likewise may grow by degrees of continuity to its highest, and it grows by the cognitions of truth and good, or by spiritual truths. Yet the third degree which is called celestial is not opened by these, but by the celestial love of use, which love is love to the LORD, and love to the LORD is nothing else than committing to life the precepts of the Word.

“.. When man puts off the natural degree, which he does when he dies, he comes into the degree which was opened in him in the world; into the spiritual, he in whom the spiritual degree was opened; into the celestial, he in whom the celestial degree was opened.”- DLW 236, 237, 238.

The degrees of altitude, celestial, spiritual and natural, mentioned in the passage above, are B C D. During life in the world D includes the natural body as well as the natural mind.

The degrees described in paragraph 256 of the same work, higher than the natural, are also two, as in the above extract. In the light of these statements consider the diagram. The two higher degrees are here equivalent to the whole spiritual mind, – B answering to the celestial kingdom, C to the spiritual. Below the spiritual mind is the natural D, called also the external, sometimes the lowest degree, including the material body during life in the world.

This diagram illustrates also True Christian Religion, 239. The statement in this number as in the extract above that the natural degree of the regenerate is put off by death, although involving the rejection of the material body, yet chiefly means the closure of the natural mind with an elevation of the consciousness into the spiritual or into the celestial of the internal mind, according to the degree of regeneration attained.

Elevation after death above the natural into any one of the higher degrees and thus into heaven can be predicated only of the regenerate; the unregenerate remain in the natural degree.

This diagram represents the internal mind in two planes, celestial and spiritual, the one including all that answers to the celestial kingdom of heaven, the other to the spiritual kingdom.

 

Preparing the Way of the Lord

Sermon: Preparing the Way of the Lord

I preached this sermon in Dawson Creek, BC on November 21, 2010.

PREPARING THE WAY FOR THE LORD

A Sermon by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people in the remission of their sins.” (Luke 1:76-77)

When John the Baptist was born, his father Zacharias prophesied that the child would “go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.”  In every gospel, John is said to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.”  Three months before the Lord was born into the world, John was born to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth; and before the Lord began his ministry, John went before Him to prepare His way.  The children of Israel had to be prepared before they could accept the Lord – and in the same way, we have to prepare ourselves for the Lord to be born into our hearts, as He was born into the world at His first advent.

The angel Gabriel told Zacharias that John would go before the Lord in the “spirit and power of Elijah.”  Elijah was the greatest prophet of Israel, and like all the prophets, he represented the Lord’s Word – he told the people what the Lord’s will was.  John, too, was a prophet, and so he also represented the Word.  Like Elijah, John clothed himself in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist.  The people of Israel would have recognized this clothing as the sign of a prophet: Elijah had worn similar clothing, and the book of Zechariah speaks of false prophets who wore garments of hair to deceive people into thinking they were true prophets.  In all of these cases, the garment of hair represents the power of the literal sense of the Word.  Thus, John represented the Word, and especially the literal sense of the Word.

But why did John have to come as a representative of the Word, when the Lord, who was the Word itself made flesh, was about to come?  One of the primary reasons that John had to come before the Lord was that if he had not come, the children of Israel would not have been able to withstand the presence of the Lord Himself among them.  In the prophecy we read from Malachi this morning, the Lord said that one would come “to turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”  The angel Gabriel revealed to Zacharias that John was the one who would fulfill this prophecy.  And if John had not come, the children of Israel would literally have been cursed – diseases would have broken out – when the Lord came to them.

The book True Christian Religion says,

John made ready the way [of the Lord] by baptism, and by announcing the coming of the Lord.  Without such preparation all on earth would have been smitten with a curse and would have perished. (TCR 698)

The passage we read from True Christian Religion this morning explains how John’s preparation kept the people from being cursed – it associated them with angels from heaven who could protect them from the evil spirits who would kill them.  Whenever the Lord draws close to a person, the evil spirits are stirred up in reaction – and so when the Lord came into the world, the evil spirits who were present with people at that time were stirred up.  Their power at that time was so great that if the people had not been first prepared, the evil spirits could literally have killed them.  But when a person is baptized, the symbolic act actually brings a person into connection with certain angels – and John’s baptism brought people into connection with angels who could protect them against the forces of hell.

But it was not just John’s baptism that served to prepare the way of the Lord.  When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias in the temple, he told him that his son would “turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  John would teach the people to turn away from evil.  And so besides baptism, the primary way that John prepared people was by preaching repentance.  The waters of baptisms represented a washing away of sin; but our evil habits and desires are not actually washed away by the water of baptism.  The deeper way that we prepare for the Lord is shunning evils as sins.

A passage in the book True Christian Religion says, “Repentance is the first thing of the church in a person.” (TCR 510)  What is repentance?  Repentance is more than simply feeling bad about the things we have done wrong.  Another passage in True Christian Religion says, “The question therefore is, How ought a person to repent? And the reply is, Actually; that is to say, he must examine himself, recognize and acknowledge his sins, pray to the Lord, and begin a new life.” (TCR 530)  Repentance means not only feeling sorry, but also making a commitment to change our lives.

So John’s primary teaching was a teaching of repentance, and the first step we take in our spiritual lives is to flee from evils as sins, or in other words, to shun them.  There was a very specific purpose behind John’s teaching of repentance.  Several times the gospels tell us that John was preaching repentance for the remission of sins.  Often this is translated as, “the forgiveness of sins”; but the word used actually means a “taking away” of sin.  When we fight against our inclinations toward hurting other people, toward selfishness, we gradually create new habits of serving others, of kindness.  Our desire to do harmful things lessens.  That’s what it means to have our sins “remitted” or “taken away.”

Now, the word “repentance” can sound very weighty.  The idea of battling against evils can sound intimidating.  But what we are talking about is a very down to earth, everyday thing.  John was not asking impossible things of the people.  When the tax collectors asked him what they should do, he simply told them not to collect more than they were due.  When the soldiers asked him what they should do, he told them that they should not intimidate anyone or accuse them falsely, and that they should be content with their wages.  Repenting of evils means looking for the everyday things that we might do that are contrary to the Lord’s commandments – tearing people down behind their backs, for example.  We can get into habits of hurting other people in little ways – sometimes just in the way we talk to someone who has done something that frustrates us.  Repentance means noticing that we do those things, praying to the Lord to help us stop, and making a conscious effort to break those habits.  When those evil habits are broken, that is the remission of sins.

And in the remission of sins, we get a glimpse of heaven.  We’re able to feel love and peace in ways that we were not able to before.  In our reading from Luke this morning, we read Zacharias’s prophecy – and in this prophecy, Zacharias declared that John would “give knowledge of salvation to [the Lord’s] people in the remission of their sins.”  In being freed from their sins, the people that John baptized would taste the Lord’s salvation – they would know salvation, not just in the sense of knowing about it, but in the sense of experiencing it.  In the same way, when the Lord puts our sins off to the sides, we experience a taste of salvation.  That is the effect of repentance.

But a question arises: if John was baptizing for the remission of sins, why did the Lord need to come after him?  Why did those who were baptized by John need to be baptized again into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ?  The passage we read from True Christian Religion this morning answers this question.  That passage said, “The baptism of John represented the cleansing of the external man; while the baptism of Christians at the present day represents the cleansing of the internal man, which is regeneration.”  The same passage goes on to say that those who were baptized by John became internal people when they received the faith of Christ.  This is important for us to keep in mind – John, who represents the Word, prepares the way for the Lord – but the end in view, the purpose of it all, is that the Lord may be born into our lives with His love and His wisdom.

When we first start to repent of the sins we see in ourselves, it is often for worldly, external reasons.  We don’t want people to think badly of us; we want to get along with people; we’re afraid that we’ll get in trouble if we do not.  This is good, and it is important for our development.  The book Heaven and Hell says, “For everyone from his childhood is initiated into a moral and civil life, and learns what it is by living in the world. Moreover, everyone, whether evil or good, lives that life; for who does not wish to be called honest, and who does not wish to be called just” (HH 530). Living a life in accordance with the laws of morality – rejecting the evils of stealing, murder, theft, dishonesty – begins as an external thing.  But this external life prepares us to receive spiritual life.  The passage in Heaven and Hell continues:

The spiritual person ought to live in a similar manner, and can do so as easily as the natural person, with this difference only, that the spiritual person believes in the Divine, and acts honestly and justly, not solely because to so act is in accord with civil and moral laws, but also because it is in accord with Divine laws.

The difference between an external repentance and an internal one is that one comes from external things – from fear, from desire for reputation – but the other comes from a desire to follow the Lord, to live in accordance with Divine laws.

As we saw before, John represented the literal sense of the Word.  The repentance of John was a repentance in following the literal sense of the Word.  This kind of repentance is a step beyond repenting simply for worldly reasons – but even this kind of repentance is relatively external when we first begin to do it.  We follow the literal commandments of the Word because we are afraid of going to hell, or because we want to earn heaven as a reward.  John asked the people who came to be baptized, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”  It was in some ways baptism for a repentance that came from fear, which is an external thing.

This is not to say that simply obeying the literal sense of the Word is a bad thing.  Not at all.  In fact, it is absolutely necessary – John had to precede the Lord.  But we should always keep in mind the purpose of repentance – we’re repenting so that the Lord can be born into our lives.

When we follow the literal sense of the Word partially for external reasons, it is like we are undergoing the baptism of John.  But when we do this, a wonderful thing happens.  When we are striving to put away evil and to do good, we are able to recognize the Lord when He comes into our lives.  The gospel of John says, “He who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”  Those who do the truth are able to embrace the Lord when they see Him.  When Mary came to visit her cousin Elizabeth, the babe leaped in Elizabeth’s womb.  John’s leaping in the womb represents the joy that comes when a person who is living by the truth feels goodness and love flowing into them and recognizes that this is from the Lord.  Something in John leaped for joy at the presence of the Lord in Mary’s womb.  When we are living by the basic external truths of the Word, which John represents, and suddenly we feel the Lord in our lives or in His word in a much deeper way, there is a feeling of joy.  We realize that the external actions are there to contain something internal.

And what is that internal thing that they contain?  The passage we read from True Christian Religion said that those who repented according to John’s words were not able to become internal until they received faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  In the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, God shows us who He is.  If we do not know the Lord, we feel as if our will to repent comes from ourselves.  We take credit for resisting the evils in our lives, and we can look down on other people.

But when we acknowledge the Lord, the case is entirely different.  We begin to recognize that none of the power we have to resist evil comes from ourselves – we can’t do it on our own.  When we know the Lord, we know that He is an infinitely loving, Human God who wants nothing more than to conjoin people to Himself in heaven to give them happiness.  We know that he gives us the opportunity to be vessels for that love for the human race.  We know that he gives us the will to resist evils not so that we can feel superior, but because evils are impediments to His love acting in us and through us.

True Christian Religion says, “A person should shun evils as sins, and fight against them as if of himself. If anyone shuns evils for any other reason than because they are sins, he is not shunning them, but merely ensuring that they are not visible to the eyes of the world.”  To shun evils as sins means to shun them because they destroy our ability to act from the Lord.  And as we shun evil loves, good loves replace them.  That’s why Zacharias prophesied that John would give knowledge of salvation in or by the remission of sins.  In the remission or taking away of sins by external resistance, we make a way for the Lord to flow in.  John’s preaching of repentance opened people up to loving the Lord when they saw Him.  Just as John told people that the Lord was the Christ, our efforts towards shunning evil allow us to see that the Lord Jesus Christ is God.  When we see the Lord, we rejoice – because in Him we see God Himself, the source of all our love, as a real person, a Divine Human God.  With His aid, we are able to come into true love for our neighbor – out of darkness and into light.  “The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.”

Amen

Lessons: Malachi 4; Luke 1:68-80; TCR 689-690

TCR 689. The way was prepared [for Jehovah the Lord to descend into the world and accomplish redemption] by the baptism of John, because by means of that baptism … people were introduced into the future church of the Lord, and in heaven were inserted among those who were there looking for and longing for the Messiah; and they were thus guarded by angels, that devils from hell might not break forth and destroy them. … From all this it is clear that unless a way had been made ready for Jehovah when He was descending into the world, by means of baptism, the effect of which in heaven was to close up the hells and guard the Jews against total destruction [they would all have been struck by a curse and perished].

TCR 690. As to the baptism of John; it represented this cleansing of the external man; while the baptism of Christians at the present day represents the cleansing of the internal man, which is regeneration. It is therefore written that John baptized with water, but that the Lord baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and therefore John’s baptism is called the baptism of repentance. The Jews who were baptized were merely external men, and without faith in Christ the external man cannot become internal. Those who were baptized with the baptism of John, became internal men when they received the faith in Christ, and were then baptized in the name of Jesus.

GOD OF THE VALLEYS

GOD OF THE VALLEYS
A Sermon by Rev. Lawson M. Smith
Cataloged May 4, 1997

“And there came a man of God, and spoke to the King of Israel, and said, Thus says the Lord: Because the Syrians have said, 77ie Lord is God of the mountains, but He is not God of the valleys, therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (I Kings 20:28).

The Syrians’ insolent claim that the Lord was God of the mountains but not God of the valleys represents a false persuasion that the hells often inject into our minds. This persuasion is the feeling that we cannot reform our external life. Either we don’t see how the Writings apply to actual life, and religion seems to be something only for Sunday thoughts and good intentions, or when we do see the application, we don’t seem to have willpower to live up to it. We go right on making the same mistakes, slipping back into the same selfish habits. Then the hells can insert the thought that externals aren’t very important anyway as long as we mean well and our heart is in the right place. So we acknowledge that the Lord is God of the mountains, with authority over the higher parts of our minds, but we do not acknowledge Him to be God of the valleys, with the power to reform our lower, day-to-day thoughts, feelings and habits.

By the New Church doctrine of life, the Lord leads us to cut down and destroy the influence of these falsities, represented by the Syrian armies. The Writings show that we have to fight them first in the internal man, spiritually “in the mountains,” and then in the external man, meant by the “valleys and plains.”

To see the difference between the internal and the external man or mind, we are taught to think of the private thoughts we have when alone, as compared with the more superficial thought that guides what we say and do in public. In the private thought of the internal man, we form our philosophy of life and our intentions. Here is where we can see what we really think about things we’ve done and said, and why we did them, apart from any public pressure. In our private thoughts we can see ourselves as we really are.

Some people never look into their private thoughts, either because they are simple people or because they are afraid and unused to taking a good look at themselves. The Writings say that for such people it is enough for them just to think, when an evil inclination comes along, “I shouldn’t do that because it is against the Divine commandment,” and then not do it (HH 533, TCR 535-7). But most of us are able to explore ourselves and more fully cooperate with the Lord in our regeneration.

Our private thoughts are the mountains and hills of our mind’s geography. The true function of this part of our mind is to see how the spiritual things of heaven ought to govern the natural things of the world in our lives, while the lower part of our mind manages the day-to-day things themselves. The internal man is like a master, and the external man his faithful servant, who runs the household according to his master’s directions. The internal man is where the Lord forms a conscience in us, by which He leads us, according to our knowledge of the Word. So the Psalm says, “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains, from whence comes my help” (1 2 1: 1).

The first step in regeneration is an act of the understanding. It is the reformation of the internal man. This is to see and acknowledge for ourselves that evil is evil, and good is good, and to think that good ought to be chosen over evil (see TCR 587). Our natural will from birth is inclined to evils of all kinds, loving ourselves and the world more than the Lord and the neighbor. But the Lord enables us to raise our understanding into the light of heaven, so that we can see what we ought to will and do to be happy and content in this world, and to be blessed to eternity. From parents and teachers, sermons, books and conversations, and especially from our own reading and reflections on the Word, we learn how to be civil, moral, and spiritual. The first step is to come to understand what good and evil are, and to make up our minds to shun evil and do good. This determination forms a conscience in the internal man, the beginning of a new will (see TCR 588).

So the first battle is fought in the mountains. Although the Lord is not merely a God of the mountains, and in the spiritual sense the war cannot end there, still our intentions have to be reformed first, and then by means of them our external lives can be reformed too. If we avoid an evil simply to look good in the eyes of the world, without ever taking an honest look at it ourselves and recognizing that it is evil in the Lord’s eyes and shunning it as a sin, we are merely hiding it from other people. It is still there in our intentions, and it comes out openly after death, when the social and civil pressure is off. The Lord cannot remove the love of the evil from us when we never reject it, or admit that it’s wrong. We become like an egg that is rotten on the inside but encased in a fine, white shell. Or we are like the Israelites farming the plains and valleys as a conquered, subservient nation, while the Syrians held the capital city and demanded tribute. This is why it is important at the times when we are examining ourselves, such as before the Holy Supper, to take an honest look at our intentions as well as what we’ve actually done, and try to imagine what we would do if no one would ever find out (see TCR 591-5).

The young princes of the provinces led the army of the Israelites into the first battle. Princes in the Word represent the primary truths that govern our lives, which can bring comfort in temptation. Such truths give strength to our affections for the truth and for doing what is right (see AC 5044). For example, we know that the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Writings are the Lord’s Word, the Divine doctrine of life. We know that we have to look to the Lord and shun the evils listed in the Ten Commandments as sins against Him. We know that we ought to do our daily work at home or on the job sincerely, justly and faithfully, for the good of others. If we keep hold of these basic laws of life, we will usually be able to fight through the clouds of confusion and see our way. “So these young princes of the provinces came out of the city with the army which followed them. And each one killed his man; so the Syrians fled; and Israel pursued them; and Benhadad, the King of Syria, escaped on a horse with the cavalry” (I Kings 20:19,20).

So the army of Israel was victorious; but the prophet warned that with the return of the year, the king of Syria would come up against Israel again. The return of the year signifies the return of a similar state, for evils are not conquered all at once but over a lifetime. The second battle was in the plains or valleys. The reformation of the lower mind is harder and takes longer than the reformation of the inner or higher mind (see AC 3469, NJHD 186:7). It’s one thing to face up to the truth that, from religion, we ought to change the way we think and act, and another to actually change, “For what is nearer to the world and to the body,” we read, “cannot easily be compelled to yield obedience to the internal man, except over a considerable length of time, and through many new states into which a man must be introduced. These states are states of self-acknowledgment, and of the acknowledgment of the Lord, namely of one’s own misery, and of the Lord’s mercy, thus of humiliation by temptation combat” (AC 3469).

The stiffened resistance of the will of the natural man, once it comes down to making an actual change, seems to be represented by the Syrians’ taking the ineffectual kings away, and replacing them with military captains, commanders. The war begins again in earnest. We can picture how much more effective the vast numbers of Syrian horses, chariots and infantry would be down on the lowland plains and broad valleys instead of up among the hills. Horses and chariots in the negative sense represent the arguments and reasonings of a false understanding of the Word – excuses and justifications of evils. Our natural minds are full of so-called facts, full of the illusions of the senses. These facts can seem very real and compelling. Any fact or reasoning that favors the appetites of our love of self and our world we are inclined to call true (see AC 3321).

So the Syrians came up, “… and the sons of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of kids; but the Syrians filled the countryside” (I Kings 20:27). The Writings teach that the evils which we are allowed to see in ourselves are like the tip of an iceberg, being connected with myriads of other lusts. It is not possible to change one thing in our character without affecting countless other things at the same time. The Lord seldom lets us glimpse the overwhelming odds against us, except to some extent in temptations. He then lets us see the real picture so that we may know from the heart that only the Lord can save us. The Lord sends word: “I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (text).

All that the Lord asks us to do in the fighting is to pick out one or two problems and work on them. The two flocks of kids represent innocence in the external man, such as when we compel ourselves not to do or meditate evils because the Lord has asked us not to. If we compel ourselves to remove some of the few evils that we see in our conscious life, the Lord can drive out the huge host of evils in the internal man, mostly unseen. Then at the same time, the Lord removes the desires and delights of evils from our conscious life. But He can do it only with our cooperation, when we fight against evils that we are aware of as if of ourselves, because otherwise we defend and protect them and don’t want the Lord to remove them (see DP 100- 128, the second law). Our good intentions have to conquer our natural inclinations, and descend into actual life, or they die, like a bird flying over a vast poisonous swamp, finding no safe place to come down and rest (see TCR 600).

The Syrians, like many other peoples in the ancient world, did not acknowledge one omnipotent God who ruled all things Himself, but thought of the many gods of the nations as local deities, whose power was limited to a certain area. We should not let ourselves slip into a similar feeling about the Lord, that He has power to help us and authority to direct our ways only in “the religious part of our lives.” Our whole lives can be and should be led by the Lord, by the ideals we see from His Word.

The process of reformation and regeneration alternates between the internal and the external man. We get a sight of how we can improve our lives, and then we work to live up to it; and as we do, the Lord lets us see something more of the ideal. We don’t need to have a complete understanding before we start, nor a spotless life. The important thing is to be willing to face up to those few things we see clearly, and to be willing to look for a few things more. So when the Israelites bravely went out … they killed a hundred thousand foot soldiers of the Syrians in one day,” because the Lord was fighting with them. When we look the evils with us in the face, and make the effort to resist them, the Lord always gives us victory and peace in the end. He gives us control of our external habits and thoughts, as well as of our intentions. The Lord becomes for us God of the valleys and God of the mountains. Amen.

Lessons: I Kings 20:1-30, John 13:1-17, TCR 587, 591 (headings only), 596

True Christian Religion 596

WHEN THIS TAKES PLACE A CONFLICT ARISES BETWEEN THE INTERNAL AND THE EXTERNAL MAN, AND THEN THE ONE THAT CONQUERS RULES OVER THE OTHER.

A conflict then arises because the internal man is reformed by means of truths; and from truths he sees what is evil and false, which evil and falsity are still in the external or natural man; consequently disagreement first springs up between the new will, which is above, and the old will, which is below; and as the disagreement is between the two wills, it is also between their delights; for the flesh, it is well known, is opposed to the spirit and the spirit to the flesh, and the flesh with its lusts must be subdued before the spirit can act and man become new. After this disagreement of the two wills a conflict arises; and this is called spiritual temptation. This temptation or conflict does not take place between goods and evils, but between the truths of good and the falsities of evil. For good cannot fight from itself but fights by means of truths; nor can evil fight from itself but by means of its falsities, just as the will cannot fight from itself but by means of the understanding where its truths reside.

Man is not sensible of that conflict except as in himself, and as remorse of conscience; and yet it is the Lord and the devil (that is, hell) that are fighting in man, and they are fighting for dominion over him, or to determine who shall possess him. The devil or hell attacks man and calls out his evils, while the Lord protects him and calls out his goods. Although that conflict takes place in the spiritual world, still it takes place in man between the truths of good and the falsities of evil that are in him; therefore man must fight wholly as if of himself, for he has the freedom of choice to act for the Lord, and also to act for the devil; he is for the Lord if he abides in truths from good, and for the devil if he abides in falsities from evil. From this it follows that whichever conquers, the internal man or the external, that one rules over the other, precisely like two hostile powers contending as to which shall be master of the other’s kingdom – the conqueror takes possession of the kingdom, and places all in it under obedience to himself. In this case, therefore, if the internal man conquers, he obtains dominion and subjugates all the evils of the external man, and regeneration then goes on; but if the external man conquers, he obtains the dominion, and dissipates all the goods of the internal man, and regeneration perishes.

THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

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 …