“We must do things that are good – they belong to God and are from God.”
Emanuel Swedenborg, True Christian Religion 3:2
“We must do things that are good – they belong to God and are from God.”
Emanuel Swedenborg, True Christian Religion 3:2
The Lord God Jesus Christ
A Sermon by Rev. Grant R. Schnarr
Our idea of God is the most important concept we can have.
Our spiritual lives are based on this concept. Our spiritual destiny,
including our homes in the other world, are formed by our view of
God. Every aspect of our eternal life revolves around our
understanding and our relationship with our Maker.
Developing a true and working concept of God, though, can be
a challenge. We bring our own conceptions and misconceptions to
this image. Historically humans have perverted or destroyed the
picture of God over and over again, and used a twisted
understanding of God and His will to do many twisted things. The
Spanish Inquisition, Hitler, and others claimed to worship the Lord,
and performed hurtful deeds in the name of the Lord. People can
make up their own God to suit their own bias rather than worship the
Culture and times can be biased against a true picture of God.
For instance, God the judge might be popular at times, the punisher,
the warrior, or a remote and uncaring Ruler. Or the opposite kind of
God can be held up as an ideal: the ineffective, permissive, enabling,
anything goes God, weak and unable to lead or effect change in the
world. The discussion of gender in relation to God is a good example
of the struggle between cultural bias on every side of the issue and a
struggle to understand Revelation.
In the past history of the Christian church, truth has certainly
taken precedence over good. The Writings tell us that a faith alone
world developed, where good did not count for much, if anything. A
natural outcome was that the world became perceived as a male’s
world, and even as good was suppressed and put down as nothing,
so were women treated the same. In a faith alone culture, male
attributes have been held up as an ideal, and it can be argued that
even much of the feminist movement in the western world in the past
quarter century has made the mistake of joining that illusion rather
than dispersing it. This has caused deep wounds in many, not to be
taken lightly or overlooked as an oddity. When love, perception,
gentleness, nurturing are looked upon as second rate feelings, many
of them to be shunned, those who excel in these areas receive the
constant message that they are not good enough, that they do not
count. From a truth dominated culture a false concept of God is
created, a static God firmly entrenched in a groundwork of rules
seemingly unconnected to life. God becomes a judge whose favor
limits the variety of the human race to those few who hold the correct
set of ideas, and punishes those who do not. God can seem to
become a distant Father who is never home, or who arrives home on
Sundays to lecture and scold, only to disappear again Monday
morning. What would it be like to have nothing at all in common with
this God and be told that this is the true God and you must worship
Cultural bias not only affects our view of God, but our lives, and
the wounds caused by false doctrines presenting false gods are real.
And so it is that the Heavenly Doctrines come into the world to bring
back the balance between truth and good, to honor both sexes in
their own right, and to offer everyone with an open mind a visible
image of God in a Divinely Human form for what actually is the first
time in religious history. (Read True Christian Religion #787 and
following.) The Writings call upon society to rethink the entire picture
of religion, the entire concept of God. They present a radically
different concept where love and wisdom both reign in the Divine and
in life. The Writings say no to a truth alone world and firmly present
the marriage of truth and good in use as the essence of perfection
However, while acknowledging the wounds created by false
doctrines of the past, how do we form a true picture of the Lord,
which reflects all of humanity, without bias from past or present
cultures? How do we begin to heal the wounds that many have felt by
cultural misconceptions of God, and at the same time not create more
wounds by creating more misconceptions? We want to see God
through our own eyes, but how do we do this without creating God
with our own hands, in our own image?
Wounds heal over time, and there is no quick solution, but there
are answers to all of life’s questions that can help heal. The Writings
are called the leaves of the Tree of Life, for the healing of the nations.
Revelation from God is the source of healing, if one can approach it
and accept it. Revelation was given to guide us to an ever growing
understanding of the Lord. Revelation presents a picture of the Lord,
a living picture, and through this Window into eternity we can behold
the face of our Creator, and see our own face reflected therein.
What does Revelation teach us? More than we can learn in a lifetime.
Truth from the Word is infinite, but we can take a few principles and
apply them to this issue, to begin to build a healthy and genuine
concept of God. First, the Heavenly Doctrines teach us to look to our
Maker from essence to person, and not from person to essence. This
is an important teaching to help us approach our Maker.
“Everyone who thinks of God from person only,” the Writings
say, “and not essence is thinking materially. For instance, a person
who thinks of the neighbor from the form only and not the quality is
Think of God from essence, and from that of His person, and do
not think of His person and from that of His essence. For to think of
His essence from person is to think materially of the essence also;
but to think of His person from essence is to think spiritually of His
person” (Apocalypse Revealed 611:7).
Thinking of God from person to essence is not helpful to us.
Looking at the Lord’s material body from a corporeal point of view,
and translating that into the essence of God, is not helpful. In modern
terms, getting hung up on the physical form of the Lord while He was
on earth, and allowing the physical form of the Lord to dictate how we
think of the essence is not helpful. An example of this would be
statements that say the essence of God is male or female. That is
thinking of God from person to essence. God is the I AM, while the
origin of gender, God in essence is above gender. To attribute
qualities of creation to the uncreated is like calling the Potter clay.
But that does not mean that all attributes of what we call humanity are
not from the Divine. Of course they are, and that is why every human
being, whether white, yellow, black, male, female, disadvantaged,
disabled or healthy and whole can approach and be conjoined with
But this is accomplished by approaching the Lord from essence
to person. Through a recognition of the all-encompassing God, the all
loving, all wise, ever creating, ever nurturing Force, from whom all
people and things come, we look to the Divine Human. We see these
infinite and Divine qualities in the Lord Jesus Christ. When we do this,
we allow the invisible to be visible, as the Writings say, in the air or on
the sea, with His arms opened inviting you into His embrace (True
Christian Religion 787). This is how conjunction with God takes place,
through the visible, tangible, lovable, approachable Lord Jesus Christ,
as revealed in His Word.
But we are to worship Him as the Lord as Jesus Christ and no
other. To worship Divine attributes by any other name is to make God
invisible. The Writings tell us, “In respect of His Divine Human the
Lord is the Mediator, and no one can come to the Divine Being itself
within the Lord, called the Father, except though the Son, that is, the
Divine Human… Thus the Lord as to His Divine Human is the actual
joining together. And if people cannot do this in thought how can they
be joined to the Divine itself in love.” (Arcana Coelestia 6804:4)
The Writings go on to say, “He was pleased to take upon Himself
human form, and this to allow people to approach Him … It is this
Human which is called the Son of God, and this it is which mediates…
This is why the Son of God, meaning the Human of God…is called
the Savior, and on earth Jesus, which means salvation.” (True
Christian Religion 135:4)
And so the Lord said, “I am the way the truth, and the Life. No
one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me,
you would have known the Father also; and from now on you know
Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:6-7)
The invisible soul of God is at once revealed and made
manifest in His own Humanity, now revealed in His Word, and
proclaimed to us in the Heavenly Doctrines as the Lord God Jesus
Christ. Can we see the essence of God within His person? Can we
allow God to be both Divine and Human? The image of the Divine
Human is a blessing to those who long to understand and be
conjoined with the Lord. A newcomer of the church once said, “When
I was young I heard about God, the great and powerful Almighty. He
clapped His hands, the thunders roared. He batted His eyes, the
lightening flashed. Boom! God? God scared me. But when I read in
the Writings that this gentle shepherd named Jesus, who Himself
called a lamb, who held the children, healed the sick, and taught so
many loving things, that this man was God, well, that did for me.” The
question might be asked,
“What does it do for you?”
The image of the Lord Jesus Christ as it appears in the Gospels
and as it is explained in the Heavenly Doctrines, is given to the
human race to bring conjunction with the Divine, the true Divine, and
with that — healing. Although it is no doubt difficult for some, because
of real abuse of false doctrines in the past, to approach this image as
presented in the Word will bring healing. This image when viewed
from essence to person can be in filled with a variety of descriptions
from the Word, which represent every aspect of humanity. Jesus
does bless the children, heal the sick, feed thousands of hungry
mouths, cries for His people, and calls each of us to arms of love and
compassion. He says,
“Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will
give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) He cries out to a church that has
gone astray in faith alone, He says, and listen to His words,
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and
stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your
children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but
you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say
to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who
comes in the name of the Lord.” (Matt. 23:37-39 )
Can we say these words? Can we see our Lord and Savior as
all encompassing, containing the source of all that is human and
Divine? And can we worship Him as He has revealed Himself in His
own Word? Then we will truly be able to see Him, and say with full
hearts, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
What is the essential message of the New Church? Is the
message of the New Church that God is inaccessible to some people,
for no fault of their own? Is the message that if you have a hard time
picturing God that you should give up and go somewhere else? The
answer is NO! Is the message of the New Church that anything
goes? You can make up your own God here, in any fashion you
choose? The answer is NO! The message of the New Church is clear
in the Writings, preached by the lips of the apostles themselves, and
held as a hope for all people everywhere, from whatever background
or origin, so that they may be conjoined with their Creator. This
message is for everyone, to be in filled by every individual in a way
that she or he must, in order to see and feel what it means to them.
The message is that the Lord God Jesus Christ Reigns, and His
Kingdom shall be forever and ever. Blessed are they who come to the
marriage supper of the Lamb (True Christian Religion 791). The Lord
promises us, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me
to give to everyone according to their work” (Rev. 22:12). May
ourresponse be with open hearts and minds, and with joyful lips,
“Even so,come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)
Lessons: Isaiah 42:1-9; John 14:1-11; Arcana Coelestia 8705
“Love wants to love and it wants to be loved.”
True Christian Religion 99
The God We Worship
A Sermon by the Rev. Peter M. Buss, Jr.
“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
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
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
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
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).
The Lessons: Deuteronomy 6:1-9; John 14:1-11; True Christian
“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
“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’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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 …
THE PRODIGAL SON
A Sermon by Rev. Thomas L. Kline
Preached in Bryn Athyn November 8, 1992
“This my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24).
Jesus said that a man had two sons. The younger son went to his father and demanded his inheritance. It says he went to a far-off country, and there he wasted all that he had with riotous living. A famine arose in the land, and the young man had nothing to eat. And so he hired himself out to go into the fields to feed the swine. He was so hungry that he would have eaten the food of the pigs. But suddenly, he came to himself. He said to himself, “I will go to my father and ask him for forgiveness, and I will become as a hired servant to him.” We can picture the young man coming back after a long journey. Will his father forgive him? Will his father be angry with him?
His father is waiting for him! His father sees him at a distance, runs to him, and embraces him. The father has compassion on his son. And at the end of this story, we hear those words of the father to the older brother: “It is right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”
There is something in each of us that is touched by the power of this parable. This is because it is a story of hope. We might have a friend or relative that seems to turn from the Lord. We might have a friend that for a time seems lost, spiritually wounded, a person in a time of spiritual crisis. And the everlasting message of this parable is that there is a way back. The Lord gives us a path to restore our souls no matter how hopeless the situation.
The father figure in this parable is so important. It is a picture of the Lord Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ as our heavenly Father. And what we see is a picture of the Divine love. When the young man returns, we don’t see the father demanding payment or retribution for the son’s sins. We don’t see anything that suggests the traditional dogmas of Divine atonement or punishment for sin. No, those old-fashioned, traditional ideas of God are not based on Scripture. In this parable we see only forgiveness after the long journey of repentance and reformation. The father celebrates his son’s return. The Lord rejoices when we come back to our spiritual home.
There is a message in this parable for a church congregation. The reason why Jesus even told this parable was that the church leaders of that time came to Him complaining that He was spending too much time with sinners. The scribes and Pharisees were murmuring because Jesus was associating with sinners, drunkards, and tax collectors. And the Lord’s answer was simple: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” This is why He had come to bring sinners to repentance, and to restore their lives.
And so we ask the question of ourselves: What is the purpose of our church? What is the purpose of this congregation? Certainly the church is for the worship of the Lord. Certainly it is for the proclaiming of the Lord’s Word. It is for the life of charity and service. But the church also exists for something else.
In the book of Revelation, the New Church is said to be the “healing of the nations.” The leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations. It is a vision of the church as a hospital, the church as a place for spiritual healing, the church as a place where the sick and wounded come. There is a battle going on in the world today. It is a great battle between heaven and hell. And, as in any battle, there will be casualties: our sons and daughters, our friends and neighbors, our family. And the church is the place for those who are hurting, those who at times have failed, those who are dying spiritually, to come and receive support in the road that leads back to a restoration. It is a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Divine physician.
But there is a more interior meaning to this story. It is a level of meaning opened by the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem. This story of the prodigal son is the personal story of our rebirth and regeneration. It is the story of the Lord’s healing our troubled heart. And in this story, we find, step by step, the journey that we take as the Lord leads us on the path to heaven.
Let’s just look at the steps of regeneration outlined in this story.
Number one is permission, what the Writings of the New Church call the “doctrine of permission.” In this story the father allows his son to leave and go to a distant land. It almost seems that the father willingly gives his son all of his inheritance knowing that this will lead to grief and pain for the son. And how can this be? Why would a loving father do this?
The Writings of the New Church say that this permission to leave is a picture of the magnitude of the Lord’s love and wisdom in our lives. The Lord loves us so much that He will even allow us to turn from Him at times if this is what we truly choose. He will allow us to turn from Him and even experience the consequences, the pain and suffering of that turning away. And this is said to be of His permission, not of His will.
He grieves when we turn and suffer the consequences of evil. The pain of evil is not the Lord’s punishment; no, the Lord weeps for us. And still, in His love He allows this because in His infinite wisdom He foresees that sometimes it is only through the process of the journey that we can finally choose what is good, fight for what is good, and make what is good our own. So number one: the Lord permits us to leave.
And step number two: If we do choose to turn from Him, He is not passive. If we do choose to turn from Him, He protects and guides us every step of the way. He is with us on the perilous journey.
We have a beautiful teaching in the Writings of the New Church that during times of temptation and despair it seems as if the Lord has left us, whereas in fact He is closer than ever. The Lord is closest to us in times of temptation.
In this parable it seems that once the son left home and went to the distant land, his father was out of the picture. It seems that his father just stayed home and worried. It is important to realize that this is written from the viewpoint of the son: When we turn from God it seems as if He is distant from us; that’s how it feels to us.
But from the Lord’s perspective, He never leaves us. If we could re-write this parable from the Lord’s viewpoint, the father would be with that son in that distant land, actively protecting, guiding and leading.
How does the Lord protect us when we are in the distant land? First is the famine. The Lord allows us to hunger in the distant land. He allows us to hunger for righteousness. The Lord will never let us be completely satisfied with evil. No, something inside of us will hunger for a life that is higher. And it is this hunger that finally causes us to turn back to the Lord. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
Another thing He does when we are in the distant land: He withholds us from further evils. In the parable, it says the son was almost to the point where he was about to eat the food of the pigs, but he didn’t eat it. A person who has been in a state of disorder will often say, “Yes, I was in terrible disorder, but somehow there was something preventing me from going all the way down to hell. Something was holding me back.” The Lord’s hand is there protecting us from the hells even when we are in active evil.
A third thing He does when we are in the distant land: The Lord causes us to remember our home; He lets us remember our spiritual home. In the story the son remembered his father’s house. We hear the words, “I will arise and go to my father.” It’s a memory of heaven. The Writings of the New church speak about heavenly memories that stay with us always. Memories of heaven that remain with us sometimes we call these “heavenly remains.” No matter where we are in life, we all have a memory of heaven (sometimes from our earliest childhood) stored up in the interior parts of our minds. And that memory of heaven tempers and bends our life back to our spiritual home, when we are in the height of temptation and despair.
But then we come to the climax of the story, the turning point, and it is the turning point in our lives. The story says that the young man was in the field, far from his home, hungry. The young man, when he was at his lowest moment of despair, came to his senses. One translation says, “He came to himself.” It is the beginning of true repentance. For the first time we find him thinking the words, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.”
The young man suddenly sees his life in a new way. It is as if his eyes are opened. It is interesting that the Writings of the New Church use the word “inversion” when they talk about this change. When it seems as if things can’t get any worse, suddenly we come to this turning point; we come to this moment of change, and our lives are totally inverted. Everything is changed from top to bottom. The love of self that used to be at the top is now at the bottom, and in its place is a love of the Lord and the neighbor. We hear the words, “I will go and serve my father; I will hire myself to him; I will be as servant to him,” and we begin to lay down our lives. Jesus said, “He that shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.”
And we find that there is a road back home. That’s the young man journeying back home, retracing every step that He had taken. The Writings of the New Church call this “reformation.” And notice the power of that word: the Lord literally “re-forms” us. He makes us anew.
And then there is a time of rejoicing. Here are some of the internal meanings revealed in the Writings of the New Church: The ring the father put on his son’s finger pictures “internal conjunction.” The robe pictures “truths of our faith and trust in God.” The sandals picture our life changed even to the most “down-to-earth” parts. And the fatted calf pictures our life of charity.
So this entire 15th chapter of the gospel of Luke deals with the subject of lost things and the Lord’s rejoicing over what is lost being found again. Let us take these wonderful teachings and apply them to our lives. Let us reach out with hope and forgiveness to those who are hurting, supporting them on the Divine path of restoration. Let us express this love of the Lord Himself as He comes to restore our own lives toward heaven, realizing that in His sight we are all in need of the Divine healing. This is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Divine physician, and tells His everlasting message of hope: “It is right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” Amen.
Lessons: Psalm 84, Luke 15, TCR 394-5
True Christian Religion 394, 395
THERE ARE THREE UNIVERSAL LOVES THE LOVE OF HEAVEN, THE LOVE OF THE WORLD, AND THE LOVE OF SELF.
These three loves must first be considered for the reason that these three are the universal and fundamental of all loves, and that charity has something in common with each of them. For the love of heaven means both love to the Lord and love toward the neighbor; and as each of these looks to use as its end, the love of heaven may be called the love of uses. The love of the world is not merely a love of wealth and possessions, but is also a love of all that the world affords, and of all that delights the bodily senses, as beauty delights the eye, harmony the ear, fragrance the nostrils, delicacies the tongue, softness the skin; also becoming dress, convenient houses, and society, thus all the enjoyments arising from these and many other objects. The love of self is not merely the love of honor, glory, fame, and eminence, but also the love of meriting and seeking office, and so of ruling over others. Charity has something in common with each of these three loves because viewed in itself charity is the love of uses; for charity wishes to do good to the neighbor, and good and use are the same, and from these loves everyone looks to uses as his end, the love of heaven looking to spiritual uses, the love of the world to natural uses, which may be called civil, and the love of self to corporeal uses, which may also be called domestic uses, that have regard to oneself and one’s own.
… That these three loves are rightly subordinated when the love of heaven forms the head, the love of the world the breast and abdomen, and the love of self the feet and their soles. As repeatedly stated above, the human mind is divided into three regions. From the highest region man looks to God, from the second or middle region to the world, and from the third or lowest to himself. The mind being such, it can be raised and can raise itself upward, because to God and to heaven; it can be extended and can extend itself to the sides in all directions, because into the world and its nature; and it can be let downward and let itself downward, because to earth and to hell. In these respects the bodily vision emulates the mind’s vision; it also can look upward, round about, and downward.
 The human mind is like a house of three stories which communicate by stairs, in the highest of which angels from heaven dwell, in the middle men in the world, and in the lowest one, genii. The man in whom these three loves are rightly subordinated can ascend and descend in this house at his pleasure; and when he ascends to the highest story, he is in company with angels as an angel; and when he descends from that to the middle story he is in company with men as an angel man; and when from this he descends still further, he is in company with genii as a man of the world, instructing, reproving, and subduing them.
 In the man in whom these three loves are rightly subordinated, they are also coordinated thus: The highest love, which is the love of heaven, is inwardly in the second, which is the love of the world, and through this in the third or lowest, which is the love of self; and the love that is within directs at its will that which is without. So when the love of heaven is inwardly in the love of the world and through this in the love of self, man from the God of heaven performs uses in each. In their operation these three loves are like will, understanding, and action; the will flows into the understanding, and there provides itself with the means whereby it produces action.