for Sunday, January 28, 2018
“The Lord neither shatters your illusions nor stifles your desires. Instead, He bends them towards truth and good.”
Emanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia 25
Love and Judgment
A Sermon By Rev. Mike Gladish
A Big Spiritual Dilemma
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ each year we are confronted with the age old problem of reconciling two apparently contradictory principles: love and judgment. “For God so loved the world,” we read, “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Yet Jesus Himself said “For judgment I have come into the world…” (John 9:39). “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).
What a curious fact. We normally think of God Himself as somehow requiring judgment, and Jesus as the loving Savior. But truth is the standard of judgment, and it does tend to condemn, since no one is perfect, indeed “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). So if Jesus came to teach the truth and to judge, how are we saved?
Most Christians say that we are saved by faith in the “fact” that He suffered and died on our behalf, offering Himself as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the whole human race (past, present and future). The idea is that in confronting the evils and falsities of the world He became a “lightning rod” for all the hatred of the world, and that by suffering on our behalf He relieved us of any need to suffer. In classic Christian theology this is called the “vicarious atonement.”
But this makes the love of God rather demanding, don’t you think? – that He should require a Divinely human sacrifice to move Him to pity and forgiveness? Indeed, it seems rather pagan, doesn’t it? One gets the sense of an angry, jealous God demanding payment for the sins of the world and being appeased only by the brutal murder of His own Son. What kind of love is this, and what kind of judgment?
What a contrast this is from all the talk we hear today about “unconditional love,” that is, love that requires nothing but accepts all
people without qualification. We hear it everywhere! “God loves me just as I am.” And it’s TRUE! But does He love the WAY we are? Note the Gospel is ALL about the need to change, beginning with the first words of Jesus’ public ministry, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).
So how can we understand God’s love? And how can we reconcile that love with what He does require?
Here’s a simple answer: God’s love is such that He wants to make us happy to eternity (True Christian Religion 43). You can’t ask for much more than that.
But in order to be happy we have to live in harmony and co-operation with the laws of order. Who could possibly imagine that God would love our misery or our mistakes, our selfishness or our stupidity? No, it is because He loves us that He wants us NOT to be miserable, selfish or stupid. And this love is unconditional, but it requires wisdom, or judgment to be effective.
So getting back to Christmas, we can think of it this way: – God in His Infinite love says to Himself, “My people are miserable, what can I do to make them happy?” And from His infinite wisdom He replies, “I must go down there and show them how to find happiness; I must not force them, but teach them, and show them, so that they have a choice and can turn their lives around.”
The Real Nature of Judgment, or Conditions for Salvation
There are two words in the Gospels for judgment. One refers to condemnation and the other to the concept of discernment, or prudence. The Lord in the Gospels clearly spoke of both, but when He taught He did not do so with any intention to condemn but rather “that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). And here’s the key: – not saved by His sacrificial death on the cross, but saved by the freedom that His teaching and a proper discernment of the truth provides (John 8:32) so that we can enjoy an orderly, fulfilling spiritual life.
And this freedom implies decisions, judgments that we must make. For example, there is no doubt that we should love all people, even as our heavenly Father loves all people, “making His sun to shine on the evil and on the good… sending rain on the just and on the unjust”
(Matthew 5:45), but we cannot love their evil or their falsity or their confusion or their grief. We cannot love it and we cannot confirm it or support it. Thus we cannot show our love for all people in the same way. Neither could the Lord, which is why He condemned the scribes and Pharisees even though presumably He loved them too.
And He said, “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). Note, “If he repents.” The same message is clear in the parable of the prodigal son: his father had compassion on him when he repented and came home (Luke 15:11-32). To do otherwise would be to support the disorder, and that is NOT truly loving. So we have the teaching that “Christian prudence demands that a person’s life should be carefully checked, and charity exercised accordingly” (New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 85).
But again, back to Christmas.
There is an appearance in the literal stories in the Gospels that God sent His Son as someone separate from Himself into the world, “that the world through Him [not the Father] might be saved.” But the truth is that God, being pure, unconditional love in its very essence, provided for the salvation of the world by clothing HIMSELF in the human form AS Jesus Christ so that He could teach the truth with love and so remove all the obstacles to a life of faith.
This is why, in perhaps the most famous Advent prophecy of all, we read, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given… and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Note, He is all of these in ONE person.
This is why Jesus Himself said, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30); “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
But how could the Infinite be contained in a finite body? And who looked after the rest of the universe while it was so contained? We might as well ask how the mind can look after the body while its thoughts are focused on one small thing. The fact is, the infinite is not contained or limited in any way, but it does manifest itself in a focused way in the love and wisdom of Christ.
The Dilemma Solved
So we see that the story of Christmas is not the story of God demanding any thing, least of all a human sacrifice. It is the story of love providing the wisdom necessary for us to take responsibility, to make good judgments, and to keep His commandments for our own sake, indeed, for our eternal welfare.
So it is the story of love and wisdom working together, as they always do, and working in this case in a human form for all to see and understand.
“I have come,” Jesus said, “as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). And “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
So, may this and “all your Christmases be bright” with the light of His love and wisdom!
“A person is entirely the same character as their love.”
Arcana Coelestia 6872
Behold! The Lamb Of God!
A Sermon by Rev. Dr. Reuben P. Bell
For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who
is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe
wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.
Christmas–the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ almost 2,000 years
ago, and celebrated (by no accident) at the darkest time of the year.
There are many themes woven into the Christmas story. But of all the
themes in the Biblical narratives, we return most often, it seems, to the
theme of light–to the primeval archetypes of darkness and light. Is there
a more basic metaphor in the human experience?
With almost gnostic precision, the Apostle John tells us of the
Lord of light, who came into the world to bring us everlasting life, and to
make us “children of God”:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. In Him
was life, and the life was the light of men, that was the true light
which gives light to every man who comes into the world. And the
Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His
glory, the glory as of the only
begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth [John 1:1-14].
The Lord was Divine truth incarnate, who said to us “I am the light
of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the
light of life.”
Our lesson from the Apocalypse Revealed has a lot to say about
light. It tells us that when we encounter images of light in the Word, we
are to think of Divine truth, streaming in from the spiritual sun of heaven.
Because light and truth are linked in use–they correspond–and the Lord
comes to us across discrete degrees of order from His abode above the
heavens by means of correspondence.
And truth? We know about truth in this church, if nothing else. We
love truth. The Writings for the New Church proclaim themselves to be
the Lord’s Second Advent by means of the internal sense of the Word–
Divine truths locked up for centuries–finally disclosed and taught in
those thirty volumes of doctrine… truths to lead us to the good of life.
And these truths are what make the New Church new. But what is truth?
Now this is an important question–not just an academic pursuit–
because if the Lord did come into the world as truth incarnate, we must
define this thing very closely. Why? To understand truth is to know more
about the Lord. And that is always good. Let’s see what the Writings can
tell us about truth:
All truth is from good, for it is the form of it, and all good is the
inmost being of truth. Good when it is formed, so as to appear to
the mind, in speech is called truth (Apocalypse Explained 136).
Truth is the form of good; that is, when good is formed so that it
can be intellectually perceived, then it is called truth (Arcana Coelestia
3049). In the Word the Lord is called Jehovah as to Divine good; for
Divine good is the very Divine. And the Lord is called the Son of God as
to Divine truth; for Divine truth proceeds from Divine good, as a son
from the Father, and also is said to be born (Arcana Coelestia 7499).
Divine good can in no way be and exist without Divine truth, nor
Divine truth without Divine good, but one in the other, mutually and
reciprocally…. The Divine good is the Father, and the Divine truth is the
Son (Arcana Coelestia 2803).
So truth, according to this series, is the very nature of Divine good
Itself. Since good is of the will, and thus not immediately available or
even apparent to us fallen humans, it needs a form; a shape, a skin, an
external aspect, or something we can see. And that is just what truth is.
Who was born on Christmas day? Jesus Christ, the form of Divine good
itself, “was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Someone we can see.
Now if we can see Him, we can strive to imitate Him. And that is called
regeneration. That’s the whole idea of truth: every building project needs
a set of instructions.
So we have truth… loads of it-in the Word itself, and in the internal
sense of the Word, revealed in the Writings for the New Church. And
that’s wonderful. But you know, like everything else in this world, there
can be complications.
There are some other teachings about Divine truth, that reveal the
great power in it, and also tell us what happens when we forget that
good and truth are supposed to go together. Truths serve as weapons
of destruction in spiritual warfare, and they are necessary if we are to
overcome the falsities that the hells use against us in the great battle for
our souls (Arcana Coelestia 2686). And truth is powerful stuff. It has to
be. In its pure form–the light that flows into heaven from the sun there
that is the Lord Himself–it would burn us to ashes, if it weren’t
accommodated–filtered a bit–into a less potent form, that we can use
(Divine Love & Wisdom 110). This filtered form is the Word, and the
Writings, but BEWARE: there is great power in these as well. Like any
weapon, truth must be handled very carefully, and it must be used in a
proper and responsible way. And we must also remember that using
truths to overcome the hells and using truths in our daily activities–in
discussions and conversations and all our interactions–are two different
Truth, used alone, by itself–without the good that is supposed to
be there with it–can destroy the people around us by its ability to cut to
the heart–of their intentions, their expectations, and their motivations–
sometimes before they know what these really are. And it leaves no
room for negotiation–no room for improvement, or starting over. Truth
alone does not teach, or lead–it condemns, and it leaves no survivors.
The Arcana Coelestia tells us that “in the other life, truths separated
from goods appear as arrows” (Arcana Coelestia 2686:6). I guess they
Now as a weapon in the war against the hells, this is great,
because this battle is for life or death. But for daily use, around the
house, in our jobs–around people who are not our enemies, but just
plain old regenerators like ourselves, we must be very careful that we 1)
use truths only in the presence of good, and 2) use them very cautiously
even then. Pick your weapons carefully. Truth can kill.
There is a beautiful flowering plant native to Europe, with flowers
like little purple thimbles. From the dried leaves of this plant, called
Digitalis purpurea we get a powerful drug called digitalis, that can
restore a failing heart to normal for a considerable period of time. It
remains an important drug, to this day. But the dosage is interesting–
and kind of scary: as little as a tenth of a milligram per day. And if you
get too much? It will stop your heart.
Save a life, or stop one; all from the proper, careful use of a
powerful agent for good. Truth is like digitalis: it must be used wisely,
and with great care, with the good of the person always in mind. And
there we have the good that goes with the truth.
So what does all this have to do with Christmas? Well, we found
that the Lord came to us as “the light of the world,” and we found that
light signifies truth, so we made that connection: The Lord was Divine
truth, come into the world in human form; Divine good Itself, but
accommodated to our reception in the form of truth. (That is why He
called Himself the Son.)
And we learned that Divine good can in no way be and exist
without Divine truth, nor Divine truth without Divine good, but one in the
other, mutually and reciprocally… and you don’t want to try to use truth
by itself, because it’s just too dangerous. You’ve got to combine truth
with good when you are using it around the house.
What does this have to do with Christmas? The Lord is Divine
truth Itself–infinitely powerful; more powerful than you or I can imagine,
and He decided to visit this planet and bring that truth to bear on the evil
that was about to engulf its people. It was an urgent situation, that
demanded such a drastic remedy. And so Divine good descended into
this world in the form of all truth; Jehovah bowed the heavens, we read
in Psalm 18, and thick darkness was under His feet. He made darkness
His hiding place, darkness of waters, clouds of the heavens. At the
brightness before Him His clouds passed, with hailstones and coals of
fire. That’s powerful.
So how did Divine truth come to us? How did the “light of the
world” make His entry into this world of darkness? What did John the
Baptist say, when he saw Him coming; walking toward him at the
Behold! The lamb of God! Lamb??? All this power, in the form of
a man, and John calls Him a lamb? That’s right. And he knew just what
he was talking about. For there is born to you this day in the city of
David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you:
You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.
A baby, wrapped in a blanket. The power of the most high, wrapped up
in the innocence of an infant. Divine truth, yes, but wrapped up in all the
good that the Lord could muster in this world. Of course! Can you
imagine that much truth, by itself, alone, to work its work of destruction?
Short work, at that. Imagine! No freedom; no second chance; no
reformation or regeneration; no process; no covenant; no Savior; and
worst of all, no Friend of the human race. Just judgment: in or out that
day, and the job is done. The Lord did not choose that kind of mission
on this earth 2000 years ago. He came to bring us life, not death: I am
the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but
have the light of life. Judgment tempered with mercy. Truth conjoined to
good. That is the way the Lord Himself operates, to leave us the room
(the freedom) to bring our lives into order and to follow Him to His
kingdom in heaven.
And we must do the same. We have lots of truths. The Lord has
decided that we should receive them at this time in history: the doctrines
of the New Jerusalem, to open up the infinite truths of the Word. But we
must handle His truths gently and carefully with one another, as we use
them, to correct and lead, and reform, and teach, but never to cut, or
tear, or kill.
We must always serve up His truths with equal measures with
good, to our families, to our friends, to people at work, to the people we
meet, to people we don’t even like very much. Because truth applied as
a weapon is a weapon.. and you’ll be sorry if you use it that way.
But will this work? Will anyone buy the strength of your truth if it’s all
wrapped up in “love your neighbor as yourself?” Can you make an
argument or take a stand while “doing unto others as you would have
them do unto you?” Can you still be strong, using truth all wrapped up in
I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in
darkness, but have the light of life.
Of course you can! It worked on the shepherds. They came and
saw the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and they helped spread
the news. It worked on the “Wisemen” from the East: they believed. It
will work for you. And it will transform the people around you. This is the
magic of Christmas: love, come down from heaven, in the form of truth,
but “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” AMEN
Lessons: Isaiah 11:1-6, Luke 2:1-20, Apocalypse Revealed n. 796
Selection from True Christian Religion ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
As his entire body is from his mind, so in each thing that proceeds from man there is an internal and an external; in his every action there is the mind’s will, and in his every word the mind’s understanding, so also in his every sensation.
In every bird and beast, and even in every insect and worm, there is an internal and an external; and again in every tree, plant, and germ, and even in every stone and every particle of soil.
A few facts relating to the silk-worm, the bee, and dust, will suffice to make this clear. The internal of the silk-worm is that whereby its external is moved to weave its cocoon, and afterward to fly forth as a butterfly. The internal of the bee is that whereby its external is moved to suck honey from flowers, and to build its cells in wonderful forms. The internal of a particle of soil whereby its external is moved, is its endeavor to fecundate seed; it exhales from its little bosom something which introduces itself into the inmosts of the seed, and produces this effect; and this internal follows the growth of the seed even to new seed.
The same takes place in things of an opposite character, in which there is also an internal and an external; as in the spider, whose internal, whereby its external is moved, is the ability and consequent inclination to construct an ingenious web, at the center of which it lies in wait for the flies that fly into it, which it eats. It is the same with every noxious worm, every serpent, and every beast of the forest; as also with every impious, cunning, and treacherous man.
The Word Made Flesh
A Sermon by Rev Brian W. Keith
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we
beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full
of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Night; a time of quiet when the bustle of the day dies down; a
time of weariness when we make ready for a restful sleep; also a time
of darkness and cold; our vision is limited and we seek the warmth of
fires and homes.
Nighttime plays a prominent role in the birth of the Lord. It was
at night in a dream that the angel appeared to Joseph giving him
reasons to marry Mary. Later at night he warned him of the danger of
Herod, and eventually informed him that it was time to return to the
land of Israel. It was in the night that the Lord was born and the
shepherds found their way to the manger. And it was in the night that
the wise men saw the star in the east, and then had the star lead
them from Jerusalem to Bethlehem where it stood over the house
where the young Child lay.
The nighttime scenes surrounding the birth and early years of
the Lord’s life depict the shroud that had descended upon the world.
Their God, Jehovah, had not been seen nor heard from in hundreds
of years. They were lost and rudderless without Him. Other than
maintaining the ancient rituals, they had little sense of who He was
and how they were to live. Hearts were growing colder from the
confusion and distortion of everything good.
Even with the few descendants of the ancient churches, some
of whose knowledge resided with the wise men, there were but scant
glimmers of light. Perhaps those wise men alone among the ancients
saw the star. Certainly its light was not overpowering. So even with
the ancients there was but little understanding of who the Lord is.
What minimal truth remained was heavily shaded because all they
had ever seen of the Lord was a representative not the Divine in its
glory (see Doctrine Concerning the Sacred Scripture 99).
But our images and memories of the birth of the Lord are not
focused upon the darkened states. Rather we remember the
multitude of heavenly hosts shining upon the shepherds, the star
guiding the wise men, and the light of day in which Simeon lifted up
the infant Lord, blessed God, and Anna proclaimed His glory to all.
For the Lord’s coming is a coming with light and with life. “And the
Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory,
the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and
One of the wonders of Christmas is the fact that the Lord is
born with light in the midst of confused and dark states of life. When
we see little but gloom and hopelessness, He comes to us. He holds
us in His hands, nourishing an inner sense of hope that we might
endure and overcome. Then His full presence with us is in the light of
the morning, enabling us to recognize who He is and how we might
walk in His ways. This is why the morning with its light and warmth
corresponds to the Lord’s coming. (see Arcana Coelestia 22, 4240e;
Doctrine Concerning the Sacred Scripture 99)
For the Lord came as the light of the world. This is His glory.
We can see it shining upon us in the truth His advent brought. For
until the Lord took on a physical form as a tender infant, all the earlier
concepts of Him were vague at best. (see Doctrine Concerning the
Sacred Scripture 99)
All of the true ideas that had existed with the ancients about
marriage, life continuing past the veil of this world, and how His
providence guides us were only misty images of what they might be.
For all truth had been filtered through the heavens. Dependent upon
the finite grasp of the angels, the glory of the Lord had shone dimmer
and dimmer into this world, until at last the vision of Him was nearly
By His birth the Lord acquired a natural degree of life. As He
put it on and gradually made it Divine, the warmth of His love and the
light of His wisdom became immediately present with all. This is the
light of the new day the Lord’s coming heralded for mankind, a light
shining in the darkness, leading to the brilliance of day. We can
sense this when we reflect upon our awakening states not those
mornings which come after too little sleep, or when we are rudely
awakened by alarms and the bustle of hurriedly preparing to rush off
to work. But we feel it in the quiet mornings when we awake
refreshed and revived when we listen to the singing of the birds and
know the dazzling sunlight portends the warming of the earth. The
light has a special quality then. With clarity we see beauty in even the
simplest things around us. And we can sense the closeness of
heaven, the closeness of the Lord’s Advent as our spirits are lifted up
to the new day. (see Arcana Coelestia 7844:2)
As the Word made flesh, the glory of the Lord can bring us a
peacefulness unlike any other. Not a peace like the quiet of evening
when we are preparing to rest. Rather it is a peace of contentment
and confidence. As the Heavenly Doctrines note, this peace is “the
very Divine truth in heaven from the Lord which universally affects all
who are there and makes heaven to be heaven; for peace has in it
confidence in the Lord, that He directs all things and provides all
things, and that He leads to a good end. When a person is in this
state, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing, and no worry about
things to come disturbs him.” (Arcana Coelestia 8455) The glory of
the Lord’s Word shines upon us when we have such assurance that
He is in charge, carefully guiding every one of our steps.
This is the state of the angels. Their unpleasant memories of
this earth have been set aside. They have no desire to leap into the
future. Rather they fully enjoy the present, sensing all the goodness
that the Lord is giving them now. For they trust in Him, knowing that
He is leading and caring for them no matter what happens.
We may taste some of this angelic peace as we celebrate the
Lord’s advent or awaken in the morning. But we enter into it more and
more as we set aside the things of this world: worry about the future,
too great a focus on natural toys and conveniences, our selfish drives
and desires. To the extent that we can enjoy earthly delights without
making them all important, that we can serve others without always
thinking about what we will get out of it, so far peace can enter our
lives. It is then that we become convinced that the Lord’s light is the
true light and most of the problems and troubles we experience can
fall away. It is then that we can glimpse the Lord and experience His
peace, His Advent into our lives.
In one sense there is nothing startlingly new or different about
this idea. Indeed, it is so simple, so fundamental, that it hardly needs
to be said. So we are affected by the Word made flesh as the Divine
flows into some of the simple truths we already know. This is one of
the reasons the Lord was born on earth that the Divine goodness
might be joined with our common sense and simple ideas of Him that
we have. (see Arcana Coelestia 2554)
The Lord’s birth itself did not reveal any radical new information
that had not been available before. In fact there would be no real
instruction until thirty years later when the Lord began His public
ministry. But His birth signaled a beginning of salvation for all
because His presence, His love for us all, was proclaimed by His
coming down among us, filling us with His good.
For us now, the Christmas story reveals His glory, the brilliance
of His Divine Human in which we may know and love Him. The Divine
as it is in Itself is far beyond our comprehension and affection, even
as it was for the ancients. So the Lord was born that we might see
His nature and have it shed light on our lives, giving us the
confidence and trust that He is always with us, always leading us in
paths of peace.
The Lord then becomes flesh and dwells among us when even
our limited, simple ideas of truth can be filled with His presence,
showing us something of His love. For the Lord’s coming into our life
is not simply to make us feel good. Yes, the Lord would have us
experience states of happiness and joy regularly, and eventually in
heaven constantly. While He may be born in our states of darkness,
His full Advent is to us in light the truth of His Word which can fill our
minds. Every time we recognize a concept as Divine, as coming from
Him and leading our minds back to His love and mercy, His advent
has occurred. Then the Word is made flesh, living, for us. We are
touched by it, we are enlightened by it, and we are strengthened by it.
(see Arcana Coelestia 8792)
This is our sight of the Lord, His birth among us. It brings us
light, and it will bring us warmth. We can embrace this light, this new
vision of the Divine, and use it to recognize and follow His teachings.
(see True Christian Religion 774) Then the truth of peace will be ours.
So let this Christmas day affect us with the joys of morning. As
its light brings a new brightness to our day, as its warmth stirs a
renewed heat in our lives, let us feel the Lord’s closeness to us. His
birth on earth was the taking on of a natural form of life that we might
know Him, see Him, and love Him. As we put off an excessive focus
on the things of this world and upon our concerns, He can come
closer to us, bringing us the peace of dawn-a peace that has within it
complete confidence in His truth, in His guidance, a complete
confidence that a heaven shall be made from this human race.
This was the reason for His coming to touch our hearts and
enlighten our minds, that He might become the Word made flesh for
us eternally. Let us behold His glory, full of grace and truth.
Lessons: Luke 2:1-7; John 1:1-18; Arcana Coelestia 8455
“Knowing a lot makes no difference if we do not live by what we know.”
Arcana Coelestia 1100
Selection from Divine Providence ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
The Lord is the Word, and that all doctrine of the church must be drawn from the Word. Since, then, the Lord is the Word, it follows that the man who is taught from the Word is taught by the Lord alone. But as this is not easily comprehended, it shall be illustrated in the following order:
Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
13 General Influx
“He sendeth rain upon the just and the unjust.” Matthew 5: 45
“Life inflows.” This statement is a postulate which no one can refute. For life, wherever it manifests itself, cannot be proved to be inherent in any natural form or to be identical with it. The death of the body testifies to the truth that life is a gift, an “influx” from a realm beyond our sight. Life is a gift—a loan. Revelation assures us that for men it is a permanent loan which shall not be taken away from us. And the further truth is revealed that the life which unfolds its strange qualities in the tiny organisms, from lichens to men, which flourish so miraculously on the surface of the planets, is derived from the Lord God who is infinitely Man—infinite Love and infinite Wisdom.
The Lord governs the heavens and the galaxies of worlds by the modes of His influx—by laws according to which He gives of His life to all finite recipients, just so far as there is response and reciprocation. The Lord alone is Life. What appears as life with man is only reception—variable and limited states of reception. To receive is the esse of man’s life,313 His body is not his own, but is built for him out of the matters of the earth and the atmospheres. His soul is beyond his control and is eternally under the Lord’s care, being formed from higher spiritual substances as the Lord’s own abode with him.314 His mind is formed from lower spiritual substances, and into it are focussed knowledges and thoughts and spheres of affection from neighboring minds and spirits; for no man either wills or thinks from himself.
Man himself is but a state of reception, a state of response to the rich gifts of life which press in from within and from without—”good measure, pressed down and shaken together and running over.” Yet he is the focus, the ultimate upon which all the influxes of life are centered as upon their final object in and through which all the ends of creation are to be fulfilled.315 The faculty of reception is given to man by the Lord’s life acting both immediately and through diverse instrumentalities. The Lord inflows into the interiors of man, or into his rational thought and will, both immediately from Himself and mediately through heaven or the spiritual world. He also inflows into the exteriors of man’s natural, both immediately, and mediately through the spiritual world.316
The Lord’s immediate influx is not only into the will and thought of man “but also at the same time into many things which befall him”—thus ruling apparent accidents, chance and fortune; which (as was shown in a preceding chapter) are called “Providence in the ultimate of order, in which all things are relatively inconstant,” or wherein no order or necessary sequence can be discerned, but which are according to Divine foresight.317
The Lord’s mediate influx, or His mediate government of man’s mind and body is effected through the spiritual world— through the heavens and the hells. We have already stressed the teaching that all man’s states draw their causes from the spirits and angels who attend him. We are creatures of changing moods. But we are usually able, on reflection, to account for the states into which we have imperceptibly drifted, by tracing them to natural causes. To excuse our frailties or our impatience, we complain that we are tired, are unjustly treated, are bored or homesick, etc. We tend to blame our rebellious moods, our moral lapses, or our indulgence in self-pity upon deficient health or other natural circumstances.
Yet common experience tells us that the same apparent natural causes do not always produce the same moods but serve merely as an occasion favorable to their appearance. The Writings convert this vague perception into a clear doctrine which teaches that there would be no conscious life, no realized affections or distinct thought with man, except for the influx of spirits and angels; and that the real meanings which we attach to our sensations and experiences in this world are derived from the moods which spirits instil into us—moods of delight or aversion.
If we are to pursue the subject further, however, we must learn to distinguish between “particular influx” and “general influx”—between two types of influx, both mediated by the spiritual world, but affecting men in different ways.318
General Influx and Particular Influx
“There flows from the Lord through the spiritual world into the subjects of the natural world a general influx and also a particular influx—a general influx into those things which are in order, a particular influx into those which are not in order.”318 Animals are all born into the order of their creation and are ruled by a general influx, without the mediation of any spirits and angels; which is of course obvious, since animals existed before mankind. The first men were also created into the order of their lives. And before the Fall, men, like the animals, were no doubt born into similar instinctive grasp of the knowledge needed for their natural life; but they were also born with a faculty to develop a perception of spiritual wisdom which beasts cannot have. The primitive race would then have been governed, even as to their mind, by no other than a “general influx.”319
But differently from the beasts, man could change the original order of his life—although only with reference to his mental life. With the fall into sin, as hereditary evils began to multiply among men, man’s natural mind became utterly divorced from heaven. The sensual degree of that mind became by heredity so infected and perverted that the Writings declare that every tender babe now born is born in “a state of damnation!”320 For an infant feels anything as good if it favors self. This shocking truth implies first of all that man’s mind cannot any longer be governed by a general influx from heaven. The only general influx that it could receive would be a general influx from hell which would flood his unresisting understanding with fantasies of self-love. All his mental instincts would then be perverse beyond any possibility of change, and he would live like a ravening beast without any restraints of reason.321
It was therefore provided by the Lord that man’s will should be separated from his understanding so that the rational part of his mind could be built up in a certain independence of the native will. Although he might long for evil, he could then still learn about truth and good. He could see truths and reflect upon them, so that a new world could be created within him in which he becomes more or less detached from that which was natural and spontaneous to him from birth. He could then be governed in a new way under the Lord’s auspices—by “particular influx” or by limited influences through a succession of angels and spirits so counterpoised that man might be held in a freedom of choice. Two good spirits and two evil spirits thus become his attendants.
Each spirit could act upon him only by affections aroused one by one and presented as intentions and perceptions in his understanding. Good spirits could approach him through the “remains” of good and truth implanted since infancy; and evil spirits would excite the hidden states of his evil loves.
Under the regime of particular influx man is born into ignorance, not as a prey to his instincts. His responsibility is confined to the states which would be gradually aroused through knowledge and experience. His native will is mere self-love, with animal appetites capable of incredible ferocity. But man does not normally realize the character of these dormant loves, for they are mercifully covered over with apparent goods. The hereditary will is covered over, closed and reserved, lest it should overwhelm the mind with irresistible waves of passion. This is the salvation provided for the “spiritual” race on our earth, and is signified by Noah’s retreat into the ark, the lowest mansion of which was shut up.322
Through particular influx man becomes aware of his evil potentialities by their gradual admission into consciousness, as intentions; which is permitted only so far as the understanding is equipped to analyze, to recognize, and to challenge them. Man has no power to change the general state of his natural mind by any sudden exertion of free choice. But he has the power to act from his understanding and judge as to particular states when they come forth one by one. He cannot shun all his evil tendencies, but he can resist them one by one as they appear while he is in free and rational states. By placing man under the rule of particular influx, the Lord as it were permits man to break the bundle of sticks one by one.
By placing man’s disordered mind under particular influx, the Lord did not abrogate the general influx of heaven wherever such influx could be received. General influx still rules all things which are in order, and thus governs those things in body and soul which man does not control. Man has no command over his inmost soul nor over the secret operations within his body. Particular spirits attend man and rest upon his ideas and stir his various emotions, thus affecting his thought and will. But no individual spirits are appointed over that in man’s life over which he has no real direction. He is free to think, to decide what to do, and to initiate an action. But the will flows into act spontaneously, and thought flows into speech by natural processes according to an order which man does not understand because it occurs by general influx in an instinctive manner. It is done by order itself, and neither man or spirit has any part in it.323 After spending many laborious years trying to understand the subject, Swedenborg concluded that “it is better simply to know” that the will inflows and moves the body than to attempt to trace the operations in their intricate fluxions through the fibres from brain to muscles.324 The order itself is as it were implanted in nerves and muscles. Other bodily functions, like the growth of the embryo during gestation, are performed without man’s real assistance. Similarly, one tastes food and swallows it; but this being done, the digestive canal acts without the help of man in converting the food into blood.
On reflection we may see that man’s own part in life is very small, and it is sometimes said that “Nature” carries out the processes of growth, digestion, etc., with an instinctive intelligence immeasurably wiser than man’s own. But nature has no intelligence. It is the Creator Himself who inflows with life immediately into the human soul—the inmost of the spirit—and operates these miracles. The soul, which is above the ken or control of both angels and men, is created in the image and likeness of God and bears within it the cause, pattern and conatus by which the body is formed and maintained.325
The body, as to its essential form, is therefore also under the Creator’s direct rule, so that man cannot by any mental resolve make a single hair white or black. For it is under a general influx, not needing the mediation of any particular spirit.326
Yet the medium through which the human body is created and maintained by general influx is “the Grand Man, which corresponds in all its minute details to human bodies.”327 “Bodily things are exempt from the particular influx of spirits and angels,” lest men should suffer bodily obsessions.328 But the ordinate flow of the will and the thought into bodily acts is “by means of a general influx according to the correspondences of the Grand Man.”329 The human form of the body is indeed modified by parental and environmental factors, through angels, spirits and men. But this modification is comparatively slight and superficial. For “what is effected through mediate influx … is relatively very little.”330 The image of the whole of the Grand Man dominates every society of heaven, and the more general societies correspond to the organs and viscera of the body, and so regard each other mutually and make a one.331
It is a new truth revealed in the Writings that there is a general influx from each general society of heaven into the corresponding part of the human body.332 Such an influx is necessary to maintain the uses of these organs. Without it, not the smallest part of the body could have any life. We read that “spirits are appointed to every member of speech and every member of action; but these spirits do not know it.”
In fact, they are apparently not appointed as individual spirits, but as societies acting by general influx.333
From all these things the universal law may be seen that from the Lord through the spiritual world there flows a general influx into those things which are of order, and a particular influx into what is not in spontaneous order, and that man’s mind, being now in a contrary order, could not subsist without spirits adjoined to him who agree with his life.334 With the people of the most ancient church the affections, such as joy, fear, reverence or shame, were involuntarily expressed in their faces “by a general natural influx.”335 Animals, whether mild or ferocious, are governed by general influx. Indeed, nature, in whole and in part, is so governed.
But general influx has an even wider range. It may be compared with the pressure of the atmosphere which holds all things in their order. The sphere of Divine good, like an atmosphere, infills the universal heaven and encompasses, guards and preserves it. Inmostly it acts even upon the hells, although it is not openly received there and can rule only as Divine truth.336 Unless order was so imposed both in heaven and in hell, the end of creation could never be fulfilled, for even particular influx through spirits would not be possible. No freedom can exist except on the basis of order; without order there can be no clear distinctions, and thus no choice.337
Swedenborg sensed this general influx as a stream of general affections—an invisible stream of providential guidance which overrules all the conflicting endeavors of spirits and men and unifies them into forms of uses through laws of spiritual necessities. It is like an atmospheric current which holds everything in freedom, yet always within bounds. He likens the sweep of this river of heaven to the general motions of the heart and the lungs which dominate the body yet leave its parts in freedom even to the point of contrariety. He saw in it a picture of the Divine mercy.338
Spheres of Universal Loves
All life would perish unless there proceeded from the Lord certain universal spheres which fill each world, the spiritual and the natural, and sustain it.339 One of these Divine spheres looks to the preservation of the universe by means of the procreation of successive generations, and with men this makes one with the sphere of conjugial love. By a general influx it operates the miracle of propagation in all forms of life—from the simplest fern to the most perfect tree and from the unicellular protozoa to the highest mammalian structure. This sphere causes the cells to multiply and the sexes to unite from a spontaneous impulse.
With men, this sphere descends also through the celestial heaven as a free gift of conjugial love which with its ineffable delight comes to lovers everywhere as a temporary loan, by a general influx. But the feeling of selfless surrender which is instilled by this sphere cannot long remain pure, but vanishes like the manna in the desert, leaving life bleak and meaningless unless the minds of the partners are opened, by their own choice and effort, to the particular influx of celestial angels. For these inspire a resistance to evils as sins against God, and a love of the truth which alone can knit the lives of lovers more and more closely into a union of common uses— uses which make marriage the nursery of the human race and the seminary of heaven.
The second universal influx is the Divine sphere which looks to the preservation of what has been procreated. Even in the ultimates of nature we see a distant reflection of this influx in that gems are found in matrices and seeds in husks. Animals have protective coloration and by instinct build nests for their young, which they feed and defend from an inborn love called “storge.” Such a natural love of offspring is implanted in all creation. It gives the birds and beasts a herding instinct that impels an animal to give up its life for the preservation of its kind; in an unwitting resemblance to mutual love.340 Ferocious beasts and evil parents have this love as part of their love of self. How otherwise could life in its many forms be propagated generation after generation ?
A reason why the young of every species are so protected is that a sphere of innocence inflows into the helpless progeny and thence affects parents. With men, the love of procreating and the love of infants can become spiritual loves when the final end regarded is to enrich heaven with as many angels as there are descendants and when the offspring are loved for their moral virtues and their spiritual intelligence.341 Natural loves are provided as free gifts by the Lord’s general influx, to sustain His creation. But spiritual loves can be received only through the man’s own selection of associate spirits, or by particular influx.
General influx is described in the Arcana as “a continuous endeavor from the Lord through the whole heaven into everything pertaining to the life of man.”342 It presses continually for the maintenance of external order and connection and health, so far as man’s freedom will allow it. Evil spirits also are brought into order, within “generals” which govern their particular forms of spiritual rebellion.343 Indeed, there are no hells which are not opposites or perversions of some general good of heaven. And upon these opposites a certain general form of order is externally superimposed, by general influx.
How the general influx of heaven as a whole—all its provinces and societies—maintains order, is seen illustrated in human society. For in a city or commonwealth “every use derives its life from the general” or from the community. Each use depends on the common good (Char., chap. vi). And the uses spring from the natural loves which are implanted in all men. All rewards of use, all wealth, all knowledge, conies to each man from the community, which is therefore likened to a lake from which each man derives his necessities, utilities, and delights; even as the organs of the body derive their nourishment from the common bloodstream. Because of a general influx into the “common good” there can be order in society in spite of the prevalence of evil and selfishness among individuals. There is a general influx of the whole into all the parts, holding them in form. The social instinct comes from a general influx, like the herding instinct with animals. Particular influx through specific spirits who are ever changing, makes for individuality and freedom for both the evil and the good. But general influx protects the state as a whole and causes the common good to be regarded. It causes a nation to unify in face of common dangers, to harbor common ideals and common delusions and to be moved by prejudices and passions peculiar to itself.
General influx maintains cooperative order. But it does not reform the spirit of man. Only by the repentance and regeneration of its citizens can the spiritual state of a nation be changed for the better. Order and legislation can never regenerate society. They merely facilitate the mutual uses of the people. And by this they furnish a neutral plane in which both good and evil men seek their individual ends. It is a common plane for many individual states and particular attitudes, a plane of automatic procedures which cannot be essentially changed or upset by any single person. Yet there might arise a state of disorder, a break-down of civic responsibility and national consciousness on the part of individuals, a state in which the means for the proper performance of uses are lacking and the sphere of general influx can no longer operate. Such a condition brings disease and sometimes death to the commonwealth. This principle has a tremendously important bearing on national and social issues. Totalitarian government while man is evil means a surrender of that particular influx which gives freedom to repent.
Habit and General Influx
It is the Lord who rules our spirit-associations in correspondence with our states and needs. Yet man can select the spirits who rule him. Doctrine states that there is no physical influx—no influx from men to spirits or from this world into the spiritual world. We can therefore not alter the character of the spirits who are with us. They do indeed adopt our natural memory and along with it our beliefs and ideas; and they are held in these ideas as long as they are with us. But we cannot transfer to them the changes of heart which we may experience. If we from free choice shun an evil, the spirits who induced that evil are simply compelled to retire, and are separated.
Students of the Spiritual Diary have marked with surprise that the world of spirits seemed to show no effect of the strong sphere of spiritual interest and exaltation which is apparently present among Christians on the occasions of festival seasons such as Christmas and Easter. To judge from Swedenborg’s entries on such days, the spiritual world was utterly unaffected by the holiday moods of men. Yet we seem to feel a stronger sphere from the spiritual world on such days; as we also do at church gatherings and at the death of a friend. Such is the relation of the two worlds that what we do on earth—our direction and concentration of thought and affection—does no more than invite an influx from such spirits and angels as are already in the loves and thoughts which we on earth wish to entertain. They enjoy the internal sense of the things which we then read about in the Word, for in such ultimates they find their delight. And we may be allowed to hope that the spirits of evil do at least retreat somewhat when the spirit of Christmas or Easter seizes hold of men.
What men do—their habits and their reflections—invites the corresponding types of spirits. This is indeed how habits are formed. For usually a habit is of the mind before it is of the body. Our states of mind mould our habits; which is the same thing as to say that we make our own habits quite freely, by repeating the same decision again and again, thus acting in the same way under similar circumstances. We thus become less and less conscious of our habit. It becomes “second nature,” and thus almost automatic. We add it to our life, and the control of it is as it were elevated into our subconscious memory. We give up controlling the habit. It controls us.344
Viewed from the spiritual world, the establishment of a certain habit actually means that we have placed ourselves under the rule of a special kind of spirits who delight in that routine. We no longer bother to spend any thought upon it. The question whether it is right or wrong no longer comes up. This is for us a great saving of mental labor and even of physical energy. Human life would be most arduous, if not impossible, if whatever a man learned to do would have to be reasoned out again whenever he wished to repeat it. Man could then never acquire skill or facility in anything. No matter how often he had convinced himself of some truth, he would still have recurrent doubts until he worked it all out in his mind again. Under such conditions there could be no progress. Therefore we are allowed to relegate what we have once approved to the interior or subconscious memory; or what is the same, to the spontaneous working of an accepted influx from the spiritual world. And when after death we enter that world, the roads we will see and wish to travel will correspond in general to the habits of thought which we have established in this world.345
When we exercise our freedom of thought in the course of our earthly life we are, from time to time, making decisions as to what particular spirits we desire to receive; for choice has to do with “particular influx.” As long as we are in the life of the body there will be repeated opportunities for such choice. Yet it seems likely, that when we are being carried along in a confirmed habit, which has established an unconscious plane of order or second nature, individual spirits are not so much in question as whole groups of spirits—a selected group of societies through whom life is channelled into our minds.
A man must therefore take thought and explore his habits of mind and body, before they are confirmed beyond the point of no return. In our habits we can recognize the workings of our self-love, our lack of consideration and charity, our impiety, brutality, conceit, or vanity. Our habits will reveal to us our ruling loves, our besetting sins and temptations. External habits which are in themselves good may because of their obsession over us indicate that we place overmuch value on external things.
We can imagine an evil man, a slave to his passions, without restraints or shame, who by his habits has abandoned himself to the general influx from an infernal society. His love has been fixed to the degree that he no longer desires to exercise his freedom of choice, but has surrendered to evil openly and irrevocably, so that his rational mind no longer resists. His spirit is immersed into the hell of his delight. Particular influx is then renounced, and a general influx from hell takes over the government of his mind.
Yet if this be true of an evil man, it must also be true that a regenerating man—after his work of reformation, with its cultivation of good habits, has been completed—will thereafter be upheld in the spontaneous sphere of a more general influx from heaven.
General States and General Influx
A man has freedom and choice in the particular states of his life. But general states are outside of his control. It is from a “general influx” that infants grow up in an unvarying order of development, year by year. Common ages imply common states, with only slight variations. In later life there is very much more differentiation between individuals of the same ages, because as to particular states, self-chosen, men are quite unlike each other in thought and affection.
Even so, there are general or common states among adults. Those in the same use or profession are also in a common state. We often speak of the illustration of a man’s use, a peculiar attitude, light, inspiration, or wisdom, which dignifies an office. The Writings indicate that this is based on general influx, which is given where there is the order of some use. This general influx is not based on man’s regeneration, but on his devotion to the use. An unregenerate man is of course constantly tending to break down the order of his use through dishonesty or indolence and is thus in danger of losing his professional illustration. But a faithful worker—although moved by selfish interests—is externally associated with societies of that use in the other world, and is restrained by their general influx from injuring his use.
That this is so is clear from the appointed rite of priestly ordination. The use of the priesthood being essential to the welfare of mankind, the entrance into this use must be orderly, and is solemnly marked by the laying on of hands (which represents the communication of the powers of illustration) and by “the promise of the Holy Spirit.” In effect the candidate accepts the order and responsibility which open him to a general influx from societies of the priestly use in the other world. But his own personal and inward repentance and regeneration can alone open his heart to the reception of the Holy Spirit. Such internal reception must come by way of particular influx.
With respect to the general environment in which man’s spirit is, order requires that the spirits normally around a man should be those of his own religious persuasion. Without this order—which implies also a general influx to maintain it— there could be no true freedom or normal progress, but man would become an easy prey to fickle states of doubt and spiritual indecision.
Generals come first, particulars come later. We know that as an infant grows up, he enters first into concepts of most general truths and that particulars are later given to infill them. The generals of childish thought are such that they may be accepted from natural affections which are full of hereditary evils as yet hidden. It is not to be doubted that these basic orders of generals from natural experience and from the natural sense of the Word, are maintained by general influxes from the other world. And even with adults, the literal sense of the Scriptures is delightful because the things therein can be explained to favor their own states and opinions, until these generals are qualified by an understanding of particulars and these by a perception of singulars.346
It is the same with generals of doctrine which are taught in the church. These call forth a general influx—which is very vital for preserving the church. If generals of doctrine are denied or contradicted or called into question, the general influx of heaven fails to hold the thought of the church together, and a temptation arises, the outcome of which depends on the individual choice and illustration of each man of the church; for the battle must be decided in the field of particular influx. The prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” is a prayer for the continuance of general influx whereby men are held in a general sphere of faith and charity, the protecting sphere of heaven and of the church as a whole. We are not to seek temptation, nor introduce temptation to others. Yet it is true that general influx by itself cannot at this day preserve the church. Advance can only come if there is individual study of the doctrine and an interior entrance into truths. Generals of doctrine are protective, and must be maintained as basic. But they may easily become lightly and thoughtlessly accepted—intoned as empty ritual and vain repetition.
The Invitation to the New Church—a work which records the results, in past churches, of relying on the momentum of a merely historical faith—therefore contains the following statement: “Unless the present little work be added to the preceding one [the True Christian Religion], the church cannot be healed. For it would be a merely palliative cure. . . . The doctrine of the New Church indeed furnishes the medicine, but only exteriorly” (Inv. 25). The little work referred to was therefore added; for it contained certain particulars of utmost importance for the establishment and survival of the church.
General Influx into the Mind
The body is held by the Lord under general influx, as an instrument for man’s mind. The externals of human society are also held in order by general influx. But the mind is attended by particular spirits, good and evil, which grant to men freedom of choice in matters of thought and will. Yet even within the mind general influx dominates. It is only in the thin conscious fringes of the mind that man’s own choice is actually operating. In the unplumbed depths of the mind and in the surrounding spiritual world general influxes order all things, and endow man with the power of reasoning, analysis, and logic. General influx must flow into the minds of all men. Thus it is mentioned that “there is a universal influx” into the souls of all men predisposing them to perceive “that there is a God and that He is one.”347 No man is taught by influx; but the gyre and flux imposed upon the mind are especially attuned to accept such truths. There is also a general influx out of heaven as a whole which disposes the minds of men to think of God in terms of the human form, but variously according to their states of perception and provided that there is something of order in the mind by the shunning of evils as sins. The perception of immortality is also mentioned as universal.343 Such general concepts are indeed said to be “implanted” in the mind, or to be “intuitive.” But what is meant is that they come from a general influx.
Indeed, our faculty of thinking could not operate unless certain “generals” were so implanted in our minds that we are not aware of them. Animals, of course, are wholly led by a connate disposition and order which automatically responds to specific general influxes of their predestined natural affections. It is from an ordering by general influx that both men and animals instinctively learn to judge distances and without reflection learn to avoid objects. And man learns to order all that he knows into general categories, arranging his knowledge into series and orders according to general qualities, classing particular ideas under general heads, and thus marking out limits and protective bounds within his thoughts.349
But, finally, general influx is also responsible for that gift which is common with the simple but often lacking among those of the learned who cannot think from general principles. This is “common sense”—thought that is not the product of learned arguments or preconceived logical formulas, but comes from seeing truth in its own light. Common perception is the great preservative of mankind.350 It can in a moment explode the most elaborate structure of fallacy. It spans our practical difficulties. It cuts the Gordian knot of seemingly hopeless dilemmas. It nullifies theological doubts. As a fresh breeze it clears the smoke clouds from the scene of our intellectual battles; and remains usually the sole victor. And upon it rest the blessings of heaven. Yet common sense—alone— cannot regenerate or even reform. It can but preserve the remnants of order in the mind.
Whatever comes from general influx depends on a remnant of order, on the health of the body or the mind. Where evil steps in or disease enters this order is disturbed, and heaven reluctantly withdraws her protective wings somewhat, with the distressing result that individual spirits of hell begin to inflow.
The full text of this book is now online, at http://www.beginningtheisticscience.com/book/index.html
Selection from Doctrine of Faith ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
Bearing Witness To Truth A Palm Sunday Sermon by Rev Kurt H. Asplundh
“You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). When the Lord rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He was received as a king. A great multitude took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him. They cried out: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!” (John 12:13). It was a royal welcome. Not everyone was pleased. The chief priests and Pharisees hated the Lord. They cried out from the crowd while the multitude of disciples praised Him saying, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” He answered that the “stones would immediately cry out” if the people were silenced (Luke 9:38-40). The very rocks and stones of creation would bear witness to the sovereignty of the Lord. It was less than a week later that the Lord’s enemies would bring Him to the court of Pilate where this issue of kingship would be argued again. The chief priests and scribes had condemned the Lord before their own religious council with the charge of blasphemy in His claim that He was the Son of God. For this they wanted to put Him to death. Being a subject people, however, the Jews could not impose the death sentence. They needed the permission of the Roman governor, Pilate. Since the Romans had no interest in the religious laws of the Jews or their theological disputes, the Jews brought a different charge. Bringing the Lord to Pilate they said: “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King” (Luke 23:2). It was on this charge that Pilate questioned the Lord in the Praetorium. The question was: Did the Lord pose a threat to the authority of the Roman government? Was He seeking a following to overthrow those in power? Pilate needed to determine if the Lord was indeed the King of the Jews. In answer to Pilate’s question, “Are You the King of the Jews?” the Lord plainly said: “It is as you say” (Mark 15:2). But He added: “My kingdom is not of this world…. My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). This was a puzzling statement for the Roman administrator. What did Pilate know of other worlds? What kind of king could he be that had no temporal power? So he asked again, “Are you a king then?” The Lord answered: “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). What is the meaning of the Lord’s answer to Pilate? It is clear to us now. What He said was that truth is a king and that He Himself had come to present the truth to the mind of man. So He added: “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (Ibid.). Pilate was not a religious or philosophical man, but neither was he unintelligent. He understood from this testimony that the Lord’s purpose was to bear witness to a truth that would rule the minds of men. While he understood this, he was skeptical of it. The Word records his well known response. Pilate said: “What is truth?” (John 18:38) “What is truth?” The Heavenly Doctrine comments on this. From the question of Pilate “it is clear,” we are told, “that he understood that truth was called ‘king’ by the Lord… ” (Apocalypse Explained 31:3). What he doubted was whether truth was, indeed, king. His words pose the crucial question: “Is truth a king?” (Apocalypse Explained 27:4, Apocalypse Revealed 20) The rest of the account of the Lord’s trial is a sad confirmation of Pilate’s skeptical attitude about the power of truth. The truth did not rule the decisions that were soon to be made. Neither truth nor justice held sway in the tumultuous events that followed. From the moment Pilate appeared before the Lord’s accusers with the verdict: “I find no fault in Him at all,” hatreds, fears, angry emotions, and selfish ambitions took over. The rulers of the Jews did not want the truth from Pilate. They wanted their will. Time and again, they demonstrated the rejection of the rule of truth. This first happened in the matter of Barabbas. It was customary at their feast that one of the prisoners should be released. Pilate offered them “the King of the Jews” or Barabbas. As we know from exposition, this is a choice between the rule of truth or the rule of principles of murder and theft embodied by Barabbas. The crowd cried out vehemently: “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” “Not this Man!” What could be more clear? Later the Lord stood before the people wearing a crown of thorns and a purple robe after He had been whipped and mocked by the soldiers. “Behold the Man!” He said. He was inviting them to see how the truth had been violated, mocked and rejected. There was no remorse, no sense of loss. Impelled by another king, the spirit of self-love they had welcomed in their hearts, they cried out unmercifully, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Pilate asked: “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!” Imagine what that really means! The inner sense of what they shouted was that they were ruled by nothing but practical expediency. The Lord’s truth was of no importance to them. After the priests had cried out, spiritually denying the Lord, Pilate gave Him up to their will. He was crucified with two thieves at the place called Golgotha. The accusation affixed to the cross by Pilate read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). Even in His condemnation, the Jews objected: “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’” they said. Inwardly they were rejecting the Divine truth that should be king. Write “He said, I am the King of the Jews.'” But Pilate would not acquiesce to this. “What I have written, I have written” ( John 19:21, 22). And so the title stood in spite of their objection, the very truth of the matter is written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. It is not coincidental that the testaments which have borne witness to the Lord’s sovereign power also are written in these three sacred languages: the Old Testament in Hebrew, which declares the creative power of the one God of heaven and earth; the New Testament in Greek, which records His incarnation and redemption of the race; and the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem in Latin, which reveals the living Essence of His Divine Humanity. “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world,” the Lord declared, “that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37). Let us ask ourselves on this Palm Sunday if we can be numbered among those who are “of the truth” who hear the Lord’s voice. Pilate was not among these. As he was a Gentile and knew nothing from the Word, he could not be taught that Divine truth is from the Lord or that the Lord Himself bore witness to Divine truth (see Apocalypse Explained 31:3). Pilate was not only skeptical of the power of truth but unaware that there was any source of authoritative truth. The Jews who wanted to crucify the Lord were not numbered among those who were of the truth. They had rejected the truth. We are told that “they desired a king who would exalt them over all in the whole earth. And as the Lord’s kingdom was not earthly but heavenly, they perverted everything that was said respecting Him in the Word, and mocked at what was foretold of Him. This is what was represented by their placing a crown of thorns upon His head, and smiting His head” (Apocalypse Explained 577:4). What of us? Are we “of the truth” and willing to hear the Lord’s voice? Do we welcome the King with joy and a willing heart? The greeting of the Lord with palms and Hosannas on that first Palm Sunday pictures a ready acceptance of the truth of the Word, an acknowledgment and confession of the Lord as our king. Is this our welcome or do we share the rejection of the Jews or the skepticism of Pilate, asking, “What is truth?” Is truth a king? Pilate recognized that the Lord was not a direct threat to the empire. Had He not said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews … ” (John 18:36)? What Pilate had not learned and did not know was the Lord’s teaching that the kingdom of God is within. “The kingdom of God does not come with observation,” He had said to the Pharisees; “nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20, 21). Here was a new concept to the Jews. Until now they had only an idea of kingdoms of this world, of nations and rulers and subjects under them. The Lord taught of a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom within us that is organized and developed by the spirit of truth. It is this “inner” kingdom that truth can rule. And when the spirit of man is ruled by truth, his actions in the world are also ruled by truth from within. By creation every man is free. He can be compelled outwardly and be forced to live according to certain laws, but he cannot be compelled to think or believe against his will. We choose the king of our inner life. And this is our real life. The convictions, the principles, the ideals we choose to live by, are the essentials of our true character. Is there power in these? The greatest power possible, far greater than the power of any dictator or outward force. The human spirit has proven indomitable. Tyranny’s rule is always short-lived. The desire for freedom that is deeply implanted in human hearts cannot be denied or forcibly suppressed. The issue is not whether we have spiritual freedom, but what spirit will rule within us. Will it be the spirit of Divine truth or the spirit of the world? Will we choose the Lord for our king or Caesar? The Lord has revealed Himself anew for the New Church, bearing witness to the truth as never before in the Heavenly Doctrine of the church. The Palm Sunday account is prophetic of a new and conscious reception of the Lord now possible for us. The New Church is named the New Jerusalem. While we have established organizations for the promotion of the Lord’s church among men, the New Jerusalem is really in the individual heart. How does the Lord enter this New Jerusalem? His approach to us is symbolically pictured in the New Testament. There He rode upon the colt of a donkey with garments and branches strewed before Him. Thus He physically entered that city. To us this signifies something that can take place again and again in our personal life: the subordination and guidance of our rational mind by the Lord’s teachings and the acknowledgment that Divine truths from the Word are the truths that should rule in our life. Palm Sunday takes place in the hidden kingdom of our spirit every time we are ready to receive the Lord. Let us pray for His promised coming. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you. He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). “You say rightly that I am a king …Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice!” (John 18:37). Amen. Lessons: John 18:28-40; 19:1-22; Apocalypse Explained 31:1, 3, 7.
THE SCIENCE OF CORRESPONDENCE
THE NEW AGE AND ITS MESSENGER
by Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889)
The writings of that most remarkable man of modern ecclesiastical history, Emanuel Swedenborg, have taken a deep hold upon my mind, and affected my whole inner life. He who comes to the perusal of them with an unprejudiced mind, with a sincere desire to learn the truth for the sake of truth—who loves truth for its own divine self—will not fail to find in them principles of great value. He will find there a true spiritual philosophy. He who loves truth for its own sake, and who incorporates it immediately into the life, is in that moral condition which renders the mind of man receptive of enlightenment from the Lord, the infinite fountain of all light. There are some minds peculiarly fitted to receive truths of a certain class, as those relating to some one of the sciences. But a soul in the moral attitude referred to above, drinks in spontaneously all spiritual truth. ” He that doeth truth, cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” (Jno. iii. 21.) ” If any man,” says our Saviour, ” will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (Mat. vii. 17.)…
There is the belief of the Church that a brighter age and a better dispensation would have its birth in the future. This hope has shone the brighter when the moral darkness has been the most profound. It has seemed reasonable to some that there will be three grand dispensations of the Church, corresponding to the three manifestations of the one God to the world, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. There has been the dispensation of the Father. This comprehends the whole period before the incarnation. In the Old Testament how little is said of the Son. Christ is there (for every sentence of the older Scriptures is Messianic, and not here and there a passage), but he is there veiled beneath sensuous symbols. It is an age of obscurity. We have had the age of the Son or the Logos—the intellectual age, the dispensation of faith. This has continued until the present. The next, which we doubt not has had its birth, will be the age of the Holy Spirit, when Christ will come as the Comforter, the Paraclete, to impart a new and higher life to the souls of men. In the first the sensuous predominates, in the second, the intellect; the third will be the dispensation of love. Love and its intuitions will predominate in the glorious Church of the future. This better dispensation has been generally denominated the Millennial Age. A moment’s reflection, however, will convince any one that its proper and Scriptural designation is the New Jerusalem, which term marks the last and most perfect stage in the development of the Church on earth. It is admitted that in the symbolic language of prophecy, Jerusalem signifies the Church. A New Jerusalem, then, can mean nothing but a New Church, or a new and better dispensation of grace. If there is to be a new dispensation, it is self-evident that it must have a beginning somewhere. If the New Jerusalem is to come down from God out of heaven, there is some one to whom it must first come. This Divine influence or effluence from God through the heavens into the Church on earth—which is signified by the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven—must find its first receptacle in some mind fitted to receive it, and to be the centre of its diffusion abroad. Look back upon the history of the Church in all the past ages, and you find that every dispensation of grace has had its rise, and small mustard-seed beginning, in some one individual. So it manifestly must be in the New Jerusalem stage of the Church’s progress. That Immanuel Swedenborg, servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, was the instrument of Providence in ushering in a new and better age of the Church, seems to me clear. I think there is found in his invaluable spiritual writings the germ of a new and higher dispensation. No one who is at all observant of the signs of the times cam doubt that he is to have at least a most important influence in shaping the theology and the life of the future church. I will give some reasons for this belief, which, it is hoped, will be satisfactory to some sincere inquirers after truth, and who are conscious of wants and spiritual yearnings, that the prevailing religions, with their literature, fail to supply. This work is given to the world for the reason given by another for a different work. ” It is one of our nobler human instincts, that we cannot feel within us the glory and the power of a real conviction, without earnestly striving to make that conviction pass into other minds.” (Comte’s Philosophy of the Sciences, by G. H. Lewes, p. 1.)
Author: Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889)
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Discovering inner health and transformation
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be
greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career
it is a real possession in the
changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you
to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit
to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham,
drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.”
Posted on8th April 2013
From Arcana Coelestia ~ Emanuel Swedenborg
Jesus Lives! – The Lord God Jesus Christ: Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of Heaven and Earth