DOUBT: A Way to Faith

DOUBT: A Way to Faith

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, July 10, 2005

revcooper.ca


The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hand the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)

What would our reaction be if we had witnessed a close friend being brutally executed with our own eyes, and then just a few days later, when meeting with others who also knew him, we were greeted with the news that our friend was alive and well?

“I don’t believe it,” we would say. “I have to see this with my own eyes!” Our natural doubt and suspicion of anything that is outside of the ordinary would probably cause us to react just as Thomas did, and which caused him to be forever known as “Doubting Thomas.”

His expression of doubt, disturbing in its graphic quality, forcefully describes a state of deep religious doubt. Upon being suddenly faced with an idea that was beyond his ability to believe in his present state, Thomas declared that unless he was given sensible proof of the Lord’s resurrection, he would not believe.

Perhaps today, being separated from those events by almost 2,000 years, we would criticize Thomas for his outburst. Perhaps we feel that if we had been in his position ourselves, we would have been more receptive, more willing, more faithful. Perhaps we feel that doubt itself should have no part in our religious life, that doubt is a sign of weakness, of a failure of faith, of insufficient study, or of a lack of understanding. We may feel that to admit to any kind of doubt at all, let alone a doubt as powerful and fundamental as that which Thomas expressed, is a sign of spiritual ignorance and weakness. After all, the angels never have any doubts – or do they?

If we reflect on this for a moment, it can be readily seen that doubt about any new thing is universal and instinctive. We all hesitate before accepting information simply on face value, especially when it contradicts what we already believe to be true. How often have we heard the phrase, “But I’ve always thought that….” when we’re trying to tell someone about some interesting new discovery. A new idea might be accepted without hard evidence provided the source has a history of strict accuracy and integrity, and provided some kind of evidence is forthcoming. Think about little children, and the look on their faces when you tell them something: often their faces will mirror their feeling that they really want to believe you, but they are not sure whether or not they should; while at other times they might stubbornly deny what you say, no matter how carefully and patiently you explain it to them. Little children instinctively doubt everything, even when it is from the parents whom they love and trust.

This is even true of little children who are growing up in heaven, and are constantly in the presence of angels (whom one would presume to be trustworthy)! Swedenborg wrote that when he was visiting groups of children in heaven, he was surprised to find that,

The spirits with me could not refrain from inducing [the children] to talk. This desire is innate in spirits. But I noticed, each time, that the children resisted, unwilling to talk in this way. This refusal and resistance, which were accompanied by a kind of indignation, I have often perceived; and when an opportunity to talk was given them they would say nothing except that “It is not so.” I have been taught that little children are so tempted in order that they may get accustomed to resisting, and may begin to resist falsity and evil, and also that they may learn not to think, speak, and act, from another, and in consequence may learn to permit themselves to be led by no one but the Lord (HH 343).

Doubt, our instinctive questioning whether a thing is so or not, is not a weakness, or a failure of our faith. Doubt is a faculty given to each and every one of us by the Lord from birth so that we might be able to protect ourselves from what is false, so that we might be able to freely choose to believe what agrees with what we have already learned from the Lord through the Word. Doubt, like the loves of self and the world, was given to us as a protection and also as a means of becoming spiritual; and like the loves of self and the world, doubt can be misused and inverted and so lead the mind into confusion and error upon error (See AC1072:2).

When we are born, our minds are natural, that is, they focus on and use information from and about the world of nature, the things that we perceive through our five senses. However, the Lord has intended that from being natural we are to become rational and finally spiritual. The rational and spiritual degrees of the mind both rest upon the natural degree as a two story building rests upon its foundation.

Doubt plays and important part in becoming rational and then spiritual, for the rational degree of our mind is so named from the word “ratio.” A ratio is a mathematical expression of the comparison of two values. The rational mind is that part of the mind which is used to take two different truths and compare them, one to the other, imagine their implications, weigh their values, and finally accept one or the other (or some parts of both) as something true that can be lived. If everyone simply accepted every idea they heard without question, there would be no ratio of truths, and the rational could not be opened. It is doubt, the questioning, challenging part of our nature, that allows us to take a truth, and as it were turn it over every which way, examine it, test it, and finally confirm it and make it our own.

Doubt is a powerful tool in the Lord’s hands, for by means of its judicious use, the rational and spiritual degrees of the mind can be opened. However, not everyone wants to have a spiritual mind. Not everyone wants to be led by the Lord, and with these, doubt becomes a powerfully destructive force that infects the mind and even reaches out to try to infect others. We read from the Arcana Coelestia:

Spirits are clearly distinguished from one another as to whether they possess, or do not possess, faith that inheres in charity. Those who possess such faith do not engage in reasoning about the truths of faith. Instead they immediately declare them to be true, and also confirm them, so far as they are able, by means of sensory evidence, factual knowledge, and analytical arguments. But as soon as something obscure comes up which they do not perceive they lay it aside and never allow anything like that to lead them into doubt. They say that the things they are able to grasp are very few and that therefore to think that something is not true because they themselves do not grasp it would be madness. These people are those who are governed by charity. But those who do not possess faith inhering in charity have no other desire than to reason whether a thing is true and to know how it is so. They say that if they cannot know how it is so, they are unable to believe that it is so. From this attitude of mind alone they are instantly recognized as those who have no faith at all, and it is a sign not only that they entertain doubts about everything but also that at heart they are deniers. And even when they are informed as to how something is so they remain unmoved and raise all kinds of objections, and would never give up even if this went on for ever. Those who are thus unmoved pile up errors upon errors. These people, or such as they, are in the Word called ‘drunk from wine or strong drink’.

Herein lies the essential teaching regarding doubt, that when a man is in good, that is, when he is in the effort to live according to the things that he believes to be true from the Word, he is then in the faith of charity, and his doubts serve to confirm the truth for him. On the other hand, when a man is not in the faith of charity, that is, when he does not wish to live according to any truths, but to live from himself and for himself alone, then he is as it were spiritually drunk, for he cannot be rational, and he proclaims his doubt and disbelief to all. He will stubbornly hold to the smallest point, and never give up his view even when presented with overwhelming factual evidence to the contrary. Instead of attacking the facts presented, he will turn on the motives and character of his opponent. Such people make every effort to negate what does not favor themselves and their own particular view of the world, and so it is said that they are in the negative principle (See AC 6479).

We have all seen examples of this negative principle, and examples of its opposite, the affirmative principle. Sometimes we see them in the same person at different times. An example of the negative principle might be the student who continually challenges the teacher, picking on minute points, and who seems more interested in finding fault than in finding out. On the other hand, we have all known people who greet each new day and each new situation with delight and interest. They see everything as a new opportunity to learn and grow. Their questions are designed to increase their own understanding of the subject, not to contradict the opinions of others. We feel delight and enthusiasm just being around such a person. Each of us is capable of having the negative or the affirmative principle become the dominant influence in our lives. We need to be able to see which one is dominant in ourselves right now, and do our best to keep becoming more and more affirmative about the Lord’s truth. This is done by shunning evils as sins and living according to the Lord’s commandments.

Doubt also plays an important role in temptation, and thus in our regeneration, for we are taught that,

He who is in temptation is in doubt concerning the end in view. The end in view is the love, against which the evil spirits … fight, and thereby put the end in doubt; and the greater the love is, the more do they put it in doubt. If the end which is love were not put in doubt, and indeed in despair, there would be no temptation (AC 1820).

Without doubt, there would be no temptation, for if a person did not feel in his heart and believe in his mind that it was possible for him to fail in temptation, if his loves were not being challenged, if there was no doubt concerning the eventual outcome, there would be no point in the temptation. If he could not lose, he would not feel the need to fight, he would not feel the need to call upon the Lord for help. In short, temptation would be reduced from being the means whereby one puts off evil and acquires new loves to being a annoyance without spiritual benefit. Only when doubt and despair are present with the man can the Lord flow into his mind with hope, comfort, and peace, for then the man recognizes his need for the Lord, and is finally ready to put himself aside and receive the gift of new loves from the Lord (See AC 5044).

Doubt has a similar function in the confirmation of truth, in that the Lord has given to man the faculty of doubt so that he would be selective about the things he allowed to enter his mind. Everyone begins with “historical” faith. By historical faith is meant that faith, or system of thought and belief, that one gets from one’s family, environment, and culture, without having actually confirmed any point for one’s self from doctrine or life. It is our first form of faith, and it is borrowed from those around us. Since this faith is borrowed, it is necessary for us to build up a faith of our own for ourselves as soon as the rational degree of the mind begins to open.

It is remarkable to note that even in heaven, it is of order that doubt is introduced by the Lord so that the angels will not simply accept what they hear. It is a law of heaven that whenever angels are taught something, they are soon also taught the opposite so that they must examine both ideas, compare them to what they know from the Word and from their own experience with life, apply the laws of the spiritual world, and finally when they see the truth itself, they make it their own (AC7298:2). It is of order that all truths, even those presented to angels in heaven are to be of life, not merely accepted by faith alone.

This essential doctrine is illustrated in the rituals of the New Church. The rite of Confirmation was created specifically to celebrate and support a state of affirmative doubt, a young mind taking to itself the responsibility of looking at the world with new eyes, guided by the Lord alone, and so beginning the lifelong journey of regeneration, of recreating the mind into heavenly order.

The design of a New Church chancel also illustrates how important this is in the daily life of the church. On the one side there is the lectern, where, except for the occasional sentence of introduction, everything presented is directly from the Word itself. On the other side is the pulpit where what is presented is drawn from the Word but subject to human limitation and understanding, and where every idea presented by the minister must be affirmatively doubted because it reflects a human understanding and experience of the Divine.

The Lord’s own disciple Thomas doubted His resurrection (Text), and the Lord was willing that Thomas actually explore His wounds if that was what was needed. This can illustrate for us how important doubt is in our spiritual development, what a powerful tool it is if it is used properly. The proper use of doubt comes from the attitude with which we use it, and the measure of our lives.

If we choose to be in evil, and delight in negative states, if we seek to destroy or deny anything that does not favor our lusts, then doubt becomes a dangerous weapon in our hands.

If, on the other hand, we are questioning, comparing, learning, and growing in intelligence and wisdom, daily seeing new applications of the teaching of the Lord in His Word, then our doubt will be like that of the angels, confirming that what is from the Divine is true, and that to live according to the truth is good. Then we can, like Thomas, stand before the Lord and we will be able to see His Divine Humanity with our own eyes, and, like Thomas, we will be moved to say, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) AMEN.


The subject of today’s sermon is the importance and usefulness of doubt. In the first lesson, used for the children’s talk, we saw how the power of evil caused Aaron and Moses to doubt their mission to Pharaoh.

In our second lesson we read how the disciples themselves doubted the Lord’s resurrection:

Second Lesson: JOH 20:19-31

(John 20:19-31) Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” {20} When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. {21} So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” {22} And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. {23} “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” {24} Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. {25} The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” {26} And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” {27} Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” {28} And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” {29} Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” {30} And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; {31} but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. Amen.

And finally, our third lesson from the Arcana gives the reason why Pharaoh’s magicians were permitted to challenge Moses and Aaron and cause doubt among the children of Israel.

Third Lesson: AC 7298:2

[2] It is according to the laws of order that no one ought to be persuaded about truth in a moment, that is to say, that truth should be so confirmed in a moment as to leave no doubt whatever about it; because the truth which is so impressed becomes persuasive truth, and is devoid of any extension, and also of any yielding quality. Such truth is represented in the other life as hard, and as such that it does not admit good into it so as to become applicable. Hence it is that as soon as in the other life any truth is presented before good spirits by a manifest experience, there is soon afterward presented something opposite which causes doubt. In this way it is given them to think about it, and to consider whether it be so, and to collect reasons, and thus to bring that truth into their minds rationally. By this there is effected an extension in the spiritual sight in respect to that truth, even to its opposites; and thence it sees and perceives in the understanding all the quality of the truth, and thence can admit influx from heaven according to the states of the objects, for truths receive various forms according to the circumstances.

This is the reason why the magicians were allowed to do as Aaron did; for thereby doubt was excited among the sons of Israel about the miracle, whether it was Divine and thus an opportunity was given them of thinking and considering whether it was Divine, and of finally confirming themselves that it was so. Amen.


Copyright © 1982 – 2006 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
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Comfort and Hope

Comfort and Hope

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, April 25, 2010

http://www.sacred-texts.com/swd/ac/index.htm

“I cry out to You; Save me, and I will keep Your testimonies. I rise before the dawning of the morning, And cry for help; I hope in Your Word.” (PSA 119:146,147)

We all have hopes for the future. We all look forward to that day when things will be better for us. This is a natural tendency, and we strengthen it by frequent exercise. For example, children ask their parents for favors, and are told, “Maybe later,” and so are encouraged to behave in the hope of some future reward. “I hope Father Christmas will bring me a train,” the child says. “I hope I will get a wagon for my birthday!”

As adults we continue to hope for rewards for our good behavior. The employer replaces the parent, holding out offers of job advancement, or improved salary in return for some new behavior. We hope that we can please the boss and receive the reward.

We must ask ourselves if we carry this natural attitude over into our relationship with the Lord? Do we believe that if we can figure out how to please Him, He will let us into heaven? Do we believe that if we fail to please Him He will send us to hell? Is this our relationship to our Heavenly Father? If so, it is an immature view of God and and immature view of our hope for a better future.

Our thinking may be immature concerning comfort, too. A child’s whole existence is focused on his own comfort. A child has no idea of anyone else’s needs, and makes loud and insistent demands. A child can sometimes be so determined that he cannot stop his crying for something long enough to allow his parents to get it for him! He seeks his own comfort without regard for the needs of others.

If this behavior continues into adolescence and then adult life it may take on a different form, but the search for comfort may remain essentially a selfish endeavor. A selfish, immature person is willing to give of himself to others only because he wants something of value in return.

The question is, if these are the immature, natural views of comfort and hope, what are the mature, spiritual views? How should the adult mind understand comfort and hope? Comfort and hope are states given by the Lord to replace our states of anxiety and grief as we begin to conquer in spiritual temptations. It is most important to note that there is no genuine comfort or hope apart from victory in temptation.

The Heavenly Doctrines give two examples of this, describing two kinds of false ideas, and the spiritual results of each kind of life. First, the Heavenly Doctrines speak of those “who ascribe all things to their own prudence and little or nothing to Divine Providence” (See AC 2694:3). We are taught that they may be shown in a thousand different ways that the Divine Providence governs the universe down to the most minute particulars, and they may even from time to time perceive this truth in their own life by living experiences. However, as quickly as the memory of the event fades, so fades their conviction, and they return to their former belief in their own prudence. This change is temporary because it was a change in the thought only, not accompanied with a change in the affection. An opinion cannot be changed as long as the person who holds it still loves it. The affection for the opinion must change before the opinion itself can change, and the affections are only changed through temptation. In states of anxiety and grief that come from spiritual temptations, strong opinions can be broken, for then it may be seen that all power, prudence, intelligence and wisdom are from the Lord. At the same time we acknowledge that are nothing, and need His Guidance and help. (See Ibid.)

The second example regards those who believe that they have been justified, or saved by grace. Again, people who firmly believe this may be shown a thousand logical reasons why this can’t be, and yet they will not be moved an inch, because only the thought has been touched, not the more important ruling affection. We love many different things and our contradictory affections enable us to hold contradictory beliefs. As long as we believe they are our very own beliefs, and we have affection for them, our view cannot be changed. Is it not true that the best way to convince another person to do something is to lead him to propose the project himself? The best salesman is the one who is able to convince the customer that it is the customer’s own idea to buy. It is the affection or love that must be changed, and this can be done only by the Lord during states of temptation, for it is only by temptations that we can be reduced from our belief in our own guiltlessness to the state from which we can perceive the hell in ourselves, “and this to such a degree as to despair of ever being saved, then for the first time that persuasive (belief) is broken, and with it (our) pride, and (our) contempt of others in comparison (to ourselves), and also the arrogance that (we) are the only ones who are saved” (See AC 2694:4).

This teaching from the Heavenly Doctrines should well establish that we need the deep despair in temptation in order to break the persuasive light from our own self-intelligence, so that we will recognize our need for the Lord. Then, as soon as we do realize this, and ask for the Lord’s help, states of comfort and hope are given by the Lord. From the depths of anxiety and grief, we can be led by the Lord into the heartfelt realization that not only is all good from the Lord, but also all things in the universe, from greatests to leasts, are under His direct, loving care: are of His Mercy. Finally, when we see our own character clearly, we are humbled in heart. We not only think but also know and acknowledge with both heart and mind that without the Lord we are nothing at all.

And then comes a miracle. From this depth of despair, from this feeling of helplessness and unworthiness, when we turn to the Lord for help, the Lord flows in with comfort, and hope, and even delight. The purpose of temptation is to conjoin good and truth in our natural degree, to build a new will in the elevated understanding, a new will full of good from the Lord. When good and truth are conjoined in us through combats of temptation, we feel delight because the conjunction is a correspondence with the heavenly marriage of good and truth, and also with the Divine Love Itself and Divine Wisdom Itself conjoined in the Lord. This conjunction and union in the Lord is the source of all delight. Thus, when we have resisted an evil in ourselves, and hung on to our conviction that what we are doing is commanded by the Lord for the sake of our eternal life, the evil is removed, good from the Lord flows in, and the state of temptation ends as states of comfort and hope begin.

“…When a man is in temptation, he is as it were in hunger for good, and in thirst for truth; and therefore when he emerges he draws in good as a hungry man devours food, and receives truth as a thirsty man imbibes drink. Moreover when light from the Divine appears, falsities and evils are removed, and when these are removed, the way is opened for truth and good to penetrate more interiorly” (AC 6829). We are seldom really hungry or thirsty, so this example from the doctrines does not have much power for us unless we pause to reflect. It does not seem that by “thirst” the passage intends that we think of a mild sensation of dryness in the mouth, but rather the kind of thirst that comes after long, hard physical labor on a hot summer’s day–or perhaps after making a long hike across a desert water. When you then come in and find a cooler of cool, clear water, words are unable to express the feeling of quenching that thirst. It is as if you have lost your life, and then found it again. You can’t seem get enough. It is not just your mouth that welcomes the water, but your whole body rejoices in it. It is much the same when we come out of the states of temptation, our thirst for truth is not merely a casual thing, a kind of increased interest in intellectual things, but our whole mind and body call out for it, demand it–and find it.

“…Temptations are attended with doubt in regard to the Lord’s presence and mercy, and also in regard to salvation. The evil spirits who are then with the man and induce the temptation strongly inspire negation, but the good spirits and angels from the Lord in every possible way dispel this state of doubt, and keep the man in a state of hope, and at last confirm in him what is affirmative. One who yields in temptation remains in a state of doubt, and falls into what is negative; but one who overcomes is indeed in doubt, but still, if he suffers himself to be cheered by hope, he stands fast in what is affirmative” (AC 2338). It is important to note how we are to become steadfast in the affirmative principle, so necessary for success in temptation: We must allow ourselves to be cheered by hope, we must believe in the feeling that the Lord gives us in our states of temptation that there is a place for us in heaven, and that it is possible to throw off the impediments of this world with the Lord’s help. If we will allow ourselves to have this hope, then we will see the end and use in temptation, and will not be destroyed by the effort. We are given hope from the Lord so that we may see our way out of the spiritual disasters we experience even while we are in the depths of them, if we have confidence that the Lord has the power to save, that He is the Redeemer.

“I cry out with my whole heart; Hear me, O Lord! I will keep Your Statutes. I cry out to You; Save me and I will keep Your testimonies. I rise before the dawning of the morning and cry for help; I hope in Your Word” (Psalm 119:145-147). AMEN.

LESSONS:

Psalm 119:145-152

Matthew 11:20-30

AC 4572:2; AC 2338


Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified November 06, 2005

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Preparing the Way of the Lord

Sermon: Preparing the Way of the Lord

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

PREPARING THE WAY FOR THE LORD

A Sermon by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn

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

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

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

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

The book True Christian Religion says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

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

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

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

Feeding the 5,000

Sermon: Feeding the 5,000

This is the audio from the sermon I gave yesterday, Sunday, January 30, 2011, at the Olivet New Church in Toronto.  The lessons are Exodus 16:1-5,13-15, 31; Mark 6:31-44; and Arcana Coelestia 5405.  Although if I had to do it again, I think I’d change the Heavenly Doctrine lesson to Divine Providence 133:

The effect, however, of miracles on the good and on the wicked is different. The good do not desire miracles, but they believe those recorded in the Word; and if they hear anything concerning a miracle they give it their attention only as an argument of no great weight that confirms their faith; for their thoughts are derived from the Word, consequently from the Lord, and not from the miracle. It is otherwise with the wicked. They may indeed he driven and compelled to a faith by miracle’, and even to worship and to piety, but only for a short time. For their evils are shut in, and the lusts of their evils and the delights springing from these lusts continually act upon their external of worship and piety; and in order that their evils may emerge from their confinement and break forth, they reflect upon the miracle and at length call it an amusing artifice or a natural phenomenon, and so return to their evils. Now he who after worship returns to his evils profanes the truth and good of worship; and the lot after death of those who commit profanation is the worst of all. These are they who are meant by the Lord’s words in Matt. xii. 43, 44, 45, whose last state is worse than their first. Moreover, if miracles were to be wrought with those who do not believe from the miracles in the Word, they would be performed continually, and in view of all such persons. From these considerations it may be evident why miracles are not wrought at this day.

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DIVINE ORDER

DIVINE ORDER
A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida, July 12, 1992

“Order my steps in Your Word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me” (Psalm 119:113).

Our text is a prayer, a prayer to the Lord, a prayer that He order our life according to the truth of His Word and thereby free us from the domination of evil loves and wayward thoughts. It is a prayer that the Lord reform and regenerate us. Implicit in this prayer is the acknowledgment that the power to change is from the Lord and not in ourselves.

“Order my steps in Your Word!” In effect, we are asking the Lord to introduce order into our lives. When we speak of order, what do we have in mind? What is order? Order may be defined as the Divine laws which govern the universe. In thinking of the universe, we should beware lest we limit our thought to the material plane the created natural universe of suns and planets, solar systems and galaxies; we should have in mind the created universe on every plane, both spiritual and natural from the inmost heaven right down to the earth we live on.

On every plane, from the inmost to the outmost, the Lord governs all things according to Divine laws of order according to His Word. If we wish to live in the happy state for which the Lord created us, if we yearn to be free from the dominion of evil loves, then we must learn the laws of order from the Word and live according to them. The truth of this becomes very evident if we consider first the realm of the natural universe.

There was a time and not so very long ago when very little was known of the laws which govern the natural environment in which we live. Superstition was rife. The earth was thought to be flat; it was believed that the sun rose above and sank below its edge. Then people began to study the stars and their movements, and the science of astronomy was born. Methodical observations were made and carefully checked. The accumulated data were analyzed and conclusions drawn. Postulates were made and methodically tested. From these studies a new concept of the natural universe opened up which had far-reaching consequences; among other things it led to improved navigation. This in turn led to the systematic exploration of our globe. This resulted in tremendous changes in the way of life for people on our planet.

The quality of natural life has benefitted in innumerable ways from the development of such sciences as chemistry, physics, agronomy, horticulture, and animal husbandry, not to mention mechanics, electronics, and aerodynamics. Through the development of these sciences, a much fuller and more efficient use has been made of the earth’s resources. We may say that through the discovery of the Divine laws of order on the plane of nature, and by ordering our steps according to these laws, tremendous advancement has been made on the natural plane of life.

Admittedly, many erroneous conclusions were drawn as well as mistakes made in application. Many people abused the knowledge derived from these studies and exploited the environment for selfish ends. While this is true, it does not negate the fact that great progress has been made through the discovery of these Divine, natural laws of order.

Consider also those sciences which are more closely related to human beings: the sciences of biology, anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Since the development of these sciences it is now generally recognized that there are definite laws which govern physical and mental growth. From a study of these laws, and by acting in harmony with them, significant advances have been made in the field of education and the detection and treatment of mental disorders. By ordering our steps according to these Divine natural laws, the potential for human development and achievement has been greatly increased, with a corresponding deepening and extension of man’s potential for being of use to his fellow human beings and to society.

The progress we have been speaking of has been the result of people studying, discovering and learning natural laws, and ordering their steps according to those laws. They have been able to make this progress because the operations of these laws are observable. But man is not merely a natural being we are also spiritual, and there are Divine laws which govern the growth and development of our spirits. These laws are above human consciousness. We cannot discover them by natural observation, analysis, and induction. These spiritual laws are revealed by the Lord in what we call Divine revelation, or the Word.

Only when these laws are known and understood, and as man’s steps are ordered in them, can we expect to see a development of man’s full potential. Much that is wrong in the world today results from our failure to recognize, or refusal to acknowledge, this truth. Great efforts have been made in recent years to improve the human condition. The extension of educational opportunities and the improvement in educational facilities have been undertaken on a grand scale. Extensive social welfare schemes have been devised and implemented.

Unfortunately, the philosophical underpinning of most of these efforts has been an erroneous belief and assumption that man is intrinsically good, and that the evils which beset human society are due to ignorance, an imperfect environment, and corrupt human institutions. While certain benefits have resulted from these efforts, they have also created a host of other problems. The real ills of human society have not been cured; nor will they ever be through such efforts alone.

There is a teaching in the Word which reveals the reason for this. The teaching is striking for its directness and simplicity. It states: “In the other life everything is possible that is in conformity with order. The Divine truth which proceeds from the Lord is what makes order and is order itself. Consequently, as everything that is according to Divine truth is according to order, it is possible; and as everything that is contrary to Divine truth is contrary to order, it is impossible” (AC 8700, emphasis added).

It is a Divine truth that man is a spiritual being. It is also a Divine truth that since the fall of the Most Ancient Church, man, by heredity, tends toward evil. It is a Divine truth that we must be reformed and regenerated if we are to experience true, lasting peace and happiness. To ignore these truths, to act apart from them, is to act contrary to order. That which is contrary to order is impossible! It is, therefore, impossible to cure the ills of society without reference to these and other Divine truths. Conversely, when the Divine truth is known and acknowledged, and when man’s steps are ordered in the Word, then such improvement and the perfection of society are possible, for “everything is possible that is in conformity with order” (AC 8700).

The same thing is true of us individually. Presumably we are all desirous of attaining a state of deep happiness, inmost contentment and peace of mind. We also desire the same for the children entrusted to our care. And this is possible. It is possible if our steps are ordered in the Word. It is therefore fitting that we should pray to the Lord: “Order my steps in Your Word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me” (Text).

As we said in the beginning, implicit in this prayer is the acknowledgment that the power to do this is from the Lord and not in ourselves that we need His help and guidance. But this does not mean that there is nothing we can do to help. The end cannot be achieved without man’s cooperation. Otherwise, we would not appropriate the results to ourselves. And the cooperation required of us is this: that we act as of ourselves to achieve the desired end with the acknowledgment that the Lord alone does it.

To this end the Lord has given the Word to us. In the Word the Lord tells us what is evil and what is good. He tells us what evils are to be shunned, why they are to be shunned, and how they are to be shunned. He tells us what goods are to be done, why they should be done, and how they should be done.

As we order our thoughts, our speech and our deeds in conformity with these teachings, the Lord, from within, orders our inmost loves and affections in a corresponding manner. As we shun evils in the externals of thought, speech and act, the Lord removes the lusts which gave rise to them. As we think, speak, and act with self-compelled consideration and charity for others in accordance with the teaching of the Word, the Lord implants within us a love of doing the same, together with a living perception of how the love should be expressed. As we order our steps in the Lord’s Word, He orders our lives therein.

In the new revelation which the Lord has given us the Word of the Second Advent the Divine laws of order are set forth as fully and completely as is possible in words of human language.

We live in a terribly confused and troubled world. We are not untouched by this trouble and confusion. But let us realize that we can escape from this disordered state. There is a haven of happiness, peace and hope for us. It lies in going to the Word, learning there the Divine laws of order, and ordering our steps therein. As we do this, so will the Lord lead us forth from the dominion of iniquity into the happiness and peace of the heavenly state. Amen.

Lessons: Numbers 9:15-23; Psalm 119:129-144; DP 125, 126

Divine Providence 125, 126

These angelic truths are stated here in order that it may be understood how the Divine Providence of the Lord operates to unite man to Himself and Himself to man. This operation does not act upon any particular of man separately but upon all things at the same time, and is effected from the inmost of man and from his ultimates at the same time. The inmost of man is his life’s love, his ultimates are what reside in the external of his thought, and intermediates are what reside in the internal of his thought. It has been shown in the foregoing numbers what the nature of these is in a wicked man; and from these considerations it is again made clear that the Lord cannot act from inmost things and ultimates at the same time except together with man, for in ultimates, man and the Lord are together. Therefore as man acts in ultimates which are matters of his choice, because they are within the scope of his freedom, so the Lord acts from his inmost things and in the things ranging in series to his ultimates. What the inmost things of man contain and what is present in the series from the inmost things to the ultimates are totally unknown to man; and man is therefore quite unaware of how the Lord operates and what He accomplishes there; but as those things are linked together as one with the ultimates, man need not know more than that he should shun evils as sins and look to the Lord. In this and in no other way can his life’s love, which by birth is infernal, be removed by the Lord and a heavenly life’s love be implanted in its place.

When the Lord has implanted a heavenly life’s love in place of the infernal one, then there are implanted affections of good and truth in place of the lusts of evil and falsity; and in place of the delights of the lusts of evil and falsity there are implanted the delights of the affections of good; and in place of the evils of infernal love there are implanted the goods of heavenly love. Then also instead of cunning there is implanted prudence, and instead of thoughts of malice there are implanted thoughts of wisdom. Thus man is born again and becomes a new man. The kinds of good that take the place of evils may be seen in The Doctrine of Life for the New Jerusalem (nos. 67-73, 74-79, 80-86, 87-91); also, that so far as a man shuns and turns away from evils as sins he loves the truths of wisdom (Life n. 32-41); and so far he has faith and is spiritual (Life n. 42-52).

GAINING MEANING FROM THE WORD

GAINING MEANING FROM THE WORD

A Sermon by Rev. Peter M. Buss, Jr.Preached in Washington, D.C. February 12, 1995

 

“Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:20).

It is amazing how the Lord presents His truth to us in the Old Testament. There are such powerful, worldly images. We see a mass of Israelites camped in the plain before Mount Sinai. We hear the Lord command Moses to prepare the people for one of the biggest events in their history, when He would show Himself to them and reveal the core of their Law: the Ten Commandments. There is the sound of a loud trumpet. The Lord Himself descends in a thick ball of smoke, fire and cloud, which emits thunderings and lightnings of such magnitude that the whole mountain quakes. Then the Lord calls Moses up to Himself, and we see Moses walking up that mountain into the midst of the blackness to meet with God.

What do we gain from this imagery? On the surface we see that the Lord makes a revelation to His people. He ensures that the church has His Word, which teaches people who He is and what He requires of them. We also see from the dramatic elements of this particular revelation that revelations are major events; the people of the church need to pay attention to them and remember them.

We hear many things about how the Israelites of this time were external people. The Lord called them stiffnecked (in Exodus 32:9) and stubborn (in Judges 2:19) people, who played the harlot (Hosea 4:12) with Him at every chance. Because of this character they needed powerful reminders to obey. And that’s why this revelation took place in such a dramatic fashion.

But what is great to realize is that we have an amazing asset because of these external people. We can see spiritual ideas played out for us by means of their actions. The Lord commanded them to do things: perform sacrifices, cleanse themselves by washing their clothes or staying away from unclean foods, walk around cities, etc. These things represent the ways we obey the Lord – what our spiritual duties are. There is a message within the scene. Today’s message is about gaining spiritual meaning from the Word.

Symbols Opening up the Internal Meaning

Mount Sinai in this story is a symbol for heaven (see AC 805:2). This makes sense if we think of it as the location of a revelation. In the Word the Lord teaches us how to live so that we may get to heaven.

The people of Israel represent the people of the church. In other words, they represent you and me, or people who are trying to live according to the Lord’s revelation (see AC 8805:3). Moses symbolizes that part in us which can ascend into heaven to see spiritual truths (see AC 8805:4). It is called our understanding. Moses is the middle man who relays information from the Lord to the Israelites. The Lord commands him directly, which parallels our ability to understand the Lord’s will or to see how we need to live in order to go to heaven. Then Moses in turn commands the people. This represents our thought processes, instructing us, so to speak, to act according to what has been learned. Finally the Lord or Jehovah in that smoky mass on Mount Sinai represents His truth accommodated to our understanding, or put into a form that we can comprehend and use (see AC 8760:2).

If we put all these things together, we have the formula for a revelation. But it is not a revelation that the Lord makes to the church as a whole. Instead this is a revelation He makes to each one of us – a personal revelation about how His truths will work to make our lives better. As we read in Arcana Caelestia: “By revelation here in the internal sense is not meant revelation such as was made to the Israelitish people … but such a revelation … as is made … inwardly in a person” (AC 8780:2). This is not some mystical vision, but rather an understanding of what the Lord wants us to do, based on the teachings in His Word. We see the relevance of the Word to our personal situations, much as we read a poem and see a message in it which far surpasses the words.

The Lord Descending onto Mount Sinai: Accommodation and Enlightenment

The first aspect of this personal revelation is the Lord’s accommodation. Again this means that He puts His truths into a form that we can understand. It is a manifestation of His love, since He offers us a means of conjunction with Him. We see Him descending and making Himself available. And we hear Him call Moses up to Himself. By means of the Word we too can talk with God.

If we look at the actual forms of the Word, we can see that the Lord presents Himself in very different ways. The Old Testament is different from the New Testament, and b6th are different from the Writings for the New Church. But in all these forms, there is always the need for this more personal communication which our story represents.

In the Old Testament the Lord presents Himself as a wrathful and commanding source of power. He threatens punishment, and He scares people with awesome displays of might. It is easy to see that we need to look beyond these images to see the God we worship – the loving Heavenly Father who would never get angry with us. The truths in the Old Testament are heavily veiled over – the Lord’s glory and majesty are clothed in the dense cloud on Mount Sinai.

In the New Testament the Lord presents Himself differently. In contrast to the cloud of smoke and fire, we see a Man, Jesus Christ, who performs miracles and teaches heavenly parables. All of a sudden God is a warm and friendly figure rather than a Divine disciplinarian. But still, we have to see through the appearance that He is the Son of God and not God Himself. His parables also require interpretation. It was only to a select few of His disciples that He revealed internal things, and then only sometimes. But most of the gospel is in imagery: the kingdom of heaven is likened to a mustard seed, or a plant growing in the ground. We need a personal revelation” to see the relevance of these analogies to our relationship with God.

In the revelation of the Lord’s Second Coming, the Writings for the New Church, He promised to reveal Himself clearly. We can think of the image of the Lord in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (see Revelation 1:9-17). The disciple John heard Him saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 1: 1 1), which we can think of as the Lord saying, “I am the one God of heaven and earth.” This appearance of the Lord impressed John so much that he “fell at His feet as dead” (Rev. 1: 17).

In the Writings for the New Church we do see a clear picture of the Lord and a detailed path to heaven. But even then we need enlightenment to see how to respond to what is revealed there. Anyone who has spent time reading the Writings will realize that sometimes it’s heavy going. It’s not that the path to heaven is complicated – it’s quite simple. But there are so many details about how to follow this simple path.

There is a teaching in the work ne Divine Providence, which says: “The Lord admits a person interiorly into the truths of wisdom and at the same time into the goods of love only so far as he can be kept in them tight to the end of his life” (232, emphasis added; cf. AC 8794).

Even the clearest of truths in the Word are protected. We can think about the many things we have struggled to understand in the Word. Maybe it’s some aspect of the Lord’s Providence, or about how good evil spirits are at tempting us, or about one of the ten commandments and what it really means. These concepts may not sink in until the twentieth or thirtieth time we’ve heard them. It’s only when we have prepared fully that suddenly it makes sense. It’s like a breakthrough.

Researchers say that a child learning to speak has to hear each new word five hundred times before he or she can recognize it, and another five hundred times before she can repeat it. I think a similar thing is true of the Word: only when we are ready to listen – when we’ve been saturated with the truth or when we’ve tried hard to understand some aspect of our regeneration – does the Lord switch on the light. This light is the personal or inward revelation pictured in this story.

Sanctification of the People: Our Preparation

One way to ensure that we get this revelation is to prepare for it. We have to approach the Word in the right way. Moses gave the Israelites detailed instructions on how to ready themselves for the Lord: they were to wash their clothes, take measures to purify themselves, listen for the sound of the trumpet, and when they heard it, approach the boundaries of the mountain. These arrangements represent bringing our minds into order (see AC 8788). We can receive enlightenment or hear the Lord talking to us only if we are willing to listen.

One teaching describes the correct approach to the Word as “an affection for truth from goodness” (AC 8780:2). “An affection for truth” means that we desire to learn from the Word – to hear our Lord speaking to us by means of it. “From goodness” means we recognize that the Word has authority – it has power to make our lives better, and to lead us toward a good life. The people of Israel prepared for the Lord, and so we need to read the Word with the correct attitude. Moses Going up to Receive Instruction

If we approach the Word with this attitude, the Lord can make a personal revelation to us. We now reach the climax of the story as told in these words: “Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:20).

Going up the mountain means using the Word to ascend into heaven – to see how the Lord wants us to live so that we may go there one day. That’s exactly what we are trying to do here in this world – prepare ourselves with the Lord’s help so that we can live to eternity in heaven.

Few people in the Word spoke face to face with God. It could be argued that Moses was the most privileged man in the Bible. Certainly we see a beautiful picture of union with the Lord. The Lord approaches and accommodates Himself, and Moses responds by walking up the slopes.

Just one of the truths the Lord has revealed about heaven will help illustrate this climax. At certain times the Lord appears to angels in heaven as a Person and speaks with them directly (see HH 121). In The Aqueduct Papers by Brian Kingslake the fictional angel “Aqueduct” has this wonderful experience, and this is what he says about it: “Once -something happened which was so wonderful I hardly dare speak of it. I was walking along by the bank of a river with one of my brothers, engaged in deep conversation, when a Stranger joined us. In burning words He opened for us a whole new world of thought and vision. And when, almost swooning with excess of joy, we perceived who He was, He vanished away, leaving behind Him a lambent glow, an ineffable perfume, and a sound of celestial music. As we gazed rapturously around us, we saw that the countryside was covered, as far as the eye could see, with glistening flowers of all the colors of the rainbow – and so was my heart” (p. 2 1, Christopher Publishing House, Massachusetts, 1970).

This is the type of miracle the Lord offers to everyone by means of His Word. Each one of us has a chance to meet with the Lord our Creator. He is always available and waiting to teach us things that will make sense to us, which we know will make a difference in our outlook and choices. We can open His Word and feel a warmth which can come only from the Lord Himself – an excitement and connection which will remain with us. All people have the ability to gain meaning from the Word if only they approach it with a desire to hear what the Lord has to teach – from an affection for the truth from goodness. The Lord has descended onto Mount Sinai. He asks us to prepare ourselves to receive Divine instruction from Him. He calls to us from the midst of that mountain to come up to Him. It is a manifestation of His love, which shines through the pages of the Word, and desires our obedience only because it will make us happier. In this story of a revelation to the Israelites, we are Moses of whom it is said: “Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:20). Amen.

Lessons: Exodus 19:3-25; AC 8780:2

 


Arcana Caelestia 8780:2

By revelation here in the internal sense is not meant revelation such as was made to the Israelitish people from Mount Sinai, namely, that the Lord spoke in a loud voice and the people standing around heard; but such a revelation is meant as is not made with a loud voice but inwardly in man. This revelation is made by the enlightening of the internal sight, which is of the understanding when a man who is in the affection of truth from good is reading the Word. This enlightening is then effected by the light of heaven, which is from the Lord as the sun there. By this light the understanding is enlightened no otherwise than is the external sight, which is of the eye, by the light which is from the sun of the world. When the understanding is enlightened by that Divine light, it then perceives that to be true which is true; it acknowledges it inwardly in itself, and as it were sees it. Such is the revelation of those who are in the affection of truth from good when they are reading the Word.

ELIJAH SUSTAINED AT ZAREPHATH

ELIJAH SUSTAINED AT ZAREPHATH

A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Ho. AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn January 26, 1992

 

“And Elijah said to [the widow] … ‘Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son'” (I Kings 17:13).

Two striking personalities are involved in a struggle in this part of the Word. One is Elijah, the prophet; the other is Ahab, King of Israel.

Elijah was the prototype of the zealous prophets, a fearsome man of God whose dramatic confrontations with Ahab angered and troubled the king.

Ahab earned the condemnations heaped on him by Elijah. This powerful king, we are told, “did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (I Kings 16:33). Following in the footsteps of Jeroboam, first to rule over the divided kingdom, Ahab served and worshipped Baal. He had built altars and temples and maintained 450 prophets of Baal in his kingdom. He was urged on in his pagan idolatry by Jezebel, his wife.

So Elijah was sent by the Lord to confront the king, prophesying drought and famine: “There shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word,” he said (I Kings 17: 1). Thus began a three-and-a-half-year drought in Israel.

The conflict between Elijah and Ahab signifies the conflict between truth and evil. Ahab saw Elijah as his bitter enemy, for truth is ever the enemy of evil. Jezebel, too, representing especially the love of evil, held hatred for the prophet who challenged her idolatrous worship. The king and queen represent the harsh rule of the natural man, the selfish and worldly desires that grip us and lead our way of life. Elijah the prophet represents the leading of the Word of the Lord and its truths.

Whenever we allow the undisciplined loves and reasonings of the natural man to dominate our life, we are allowing a Jezebel and an Ahab to rule us. As a result, there will be spiritual drought and famine for us. While Ahab ruled, there was no rain.

“Rain” in the Word signifies “the inflowing Divine,” especially the influx of “Divine truth out of heaven” (AE 644:5). Drought is the deprivation of this. When truth fails, goods of life wither and die. Inevitably, drought is followed by famine. In life, failure to receive truth results in a lack of good.

The state of our life pictured in this account is an unregenerate state, a lack of spiritual good and truth. These qualities cannot enter our mind because of the opposition there. The Lord wills to bless us to nourish us with good, to instruct us with truth but we prevent it. The prophecy is fulfilled: “There shall not be dew nor rain these years … “

The Lord sends the prophet to touch our lives. For us today it is His truth revealed in the Word. This truth comes first as a warning to counter the comfortable false attitudes we hold and the evils we enjoy. Like the words of outspoken Elijah, the truth at first seems harsh and confrontive. The warning is that no spiritual good or truth can be received while we remain in evil and falsity. This general warning actually applies to each of us in a specific way. For one the prophecy may be: “You will not know the spiritual blessings of peace or contentment until you overcome selfish ambition.” For another: “Your marriage will be empty until you shun wandering lusts.” For yet another: “Your life will be unhappy drudgery as long as you remain lazy and indolent.”

Evil has many forms, having its own particular form in each of us. The Word, however, speaks to our personal states. Whatever the evil that grips us, the Divine principle is the same: until the evil that rules is exposed and shunned, the blessings of heaven cannot be received.

As soon as our way of life is challenged we take offense. That is, the evil spirits influencing our life cause us to react negatively to the judgment. This is portrayed in Jezebel’s fury against Elijah.

Another common reaction is pictured in Ahab’s response when he saw Elijah. The drought had continued three and a half years, and by this time had caused great hardship. The king cried out accusingly: “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” (I Kings 18:17). Ahab blamed the drought on the prophet. Don’t we often do the same, looking for some outside cause of our unhappiness? Elijah replied: “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and have followed the Baals” (I Kings 18:18).

When we have broken a Divine law and suffer the consequences, we should not be angry with the law but with ourselves for having disobeyed. The Lord’s laws look only to our eternal welfare and happiness. He never condemns or punishes. We judge ourselves by defying His law. It is of the mercy of the Lord that He has given the Word. Through it we can know our faults and seek to overcome them, cooperating with the Lord.

During the drought, Elijah withdrew first to the brook Cherith, a small brook near the Jordan from which he could drink. When the brook failed, Elijah went beyond the borders of Israel to Zarephath in Sidon. The Lord sent him there to a widow who would provide for him. When Elijah found this woman, she was gathering sticks at the gate of her city. She was preparing to cook a last meal for herself and her son, for she had but a handful of flour and a little oil left. The famine had spread to this country as well.

He asked her first for a cup of water. As she was going to get it, he called for her to bring him a morsel of bread too. She then explained her plight, that she and her son faced starvation. Surprisingly, Elijah did not retract his request. In spite of her lack, he still asked that she first make him a small cake before making her own. “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son” (I Kings 17:13).

She could not know that a miracle would take place if she fulfilled the prophet’s request. For when she went to make the cakes for herself and her son, there was enough flour and oil. And ever after that day, even to the end of the famine, whenever she went to the bin for flour or the jar for oil, she was not disappointed. There was always enough for the next meal.

The Writings expound the meaning of this miracle of the flour and oil that did not fail. Spiritually it teaches how the Lord sustains us through times of temptation when our evils and falsities of life are to be met and overcome. Consider some of the correspondences involved. From the Writings we learn that “the famine … represented the vastation of truth in the church; the widow in Zarephath represented those outside the church who desire truth; the cake which she was to make for him first represented the good of love to the Lord … whom, out of the little she had, she was to love above herself and her son … Elijah represents the Word, by means of which such things are done … ” (AC 4844:12).

By “Sidon,” we are taught, are signified “exterior knowledges of spiritual things.” Is it not true that when our understanding of truth is obscured by other interests and we lack enlightenment from the Word, as signified by the drying up of the brooks and rivers of the land, that we are left with only the shell of understanding? We may know about spiritual things but fail to see their application or inner force. This state of mind is represented by the widow a woman without a husband. What is the significance of this?

The Writings teach that a woman in a true marriage loves the wisdom of her husband, and that he is created with the particular love of acquiring intelligence or wisdom. The wife loves that wisdom of his and longs to conjoin herself with it. She longs to turn that truth to good ends, to clothe her love with his wisdom.

The widow’s longing is unfulfilled because she has no man to provide that truth. She lacks the means for carrying out her will.

All of this relates to the signification of the widow to whom Elijah was sent. By “a widow” is signified “one who is in good and longs for truth” (AC 9198:7). This woman to whom the prophet was sent signifies those who are in a simple desire for good or charity without the wisdom to carry it out. They may have exterior knowledges of spiritual things, but no real insights by which they can make them come alive.

The widow represents each one of us, man or woman, when we are in this state. Our spiritual life is starving. Hereditary evils represented by Ahab and Jezebel rule our natural life. We are suffering famine but have become resigned to die.

Into this desperate plight the Lord sends Elijah the Word. How different the role of Elijah with this widow is from that which he played in the presence of Ahab. In the one case, Elijah represents the truth exposing and judging what is evil; in the other case, he represents the truth leading and bringing new life. What Elijah represents in this story is the same as what the truth of the Word represents in our life. It has a dual function: to expose, confront, and warn us of evil; and to instruct, lead and nourish a new life.

When Elijah found the woman, she was gathering sticks. These pieces of wood signify what the Writings call “the good of merit.” The good of merit is a motivation in our life. It is acting from a desire for reward. Many may devote their lives to good works for the sake of reward or recognition. This is common. Acting for the sake of reward is an obvious motivation with children. Nor should we entirely dismiss the value of such efforts. The good of merit, however, is not the genuine good of the church. We must acquire a deeper and more altruistic motivation. Genuine good is from a love of serving the Lord and our neighbor without thought of reward. We do not easily make the transition from a selfish to an unselfish motivation.

Notice that the woman did not hesitate to fetch the prophet a little water in a cup. Because she was willing to do this representing her desire to be instructed in truth he then asked her for bread. At this she hesitated, torn by a difficult decision. There was only enough flour and oil to make one last cake. Her choice seemed to be between this prophet and herself and her son. It seemed impossible that she could feed him first without depriving herself of the last food she had.

So it seems to us at every crossroad of life. We face a difficult decision. Yes, we are willing to consider the truth of the Word. We can learn its teachings and think about its applications. This is like getting the cup of water, and it does not require us to change anything about our life. But when we are asked for bread and it seems as though there is not enough to go around, we are facing a different question. It makes a difference for us.

It was at this point in the incident, while the woman hesitated, that Elijah spoke encouraging words: “Do not fear … For thus says the Lord God of Israel: `The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth'” (I Kings 17:13f). This was both a command and a promise. She should make the prophet’s cake first. If she did, she would not lack what she needed for herself and her son.

The cake which the woman first was to make for Elijah signifies an attitude of mind and heart that should be first: a willingness to love the Lord above ourselves, to serve others before ourselves. We are called upon by the Lord to subordinate self-love and the desire to find reward. It is more important to love what is of use and to act accordingly in our life. Doctrine teaches that true charity is loving uses. If we are willing to give of ourselves, hoping for nothing again, we open a pathway of heavenly influx. The Lord said to “do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great … Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over … ” (Luke 6:35,38).

If we can act according to the Lord’s great commandments loving Him with all our heart and soul, and our neighbor as ourself we are assured spiritual food. When we share what little of truth and good we know and appreciate, we never deprive ourselves of these staples of spiritual life. In this, spiritual treasures differ from material treasures. We can take a truth, apply it and teach it, using it in many ways, and it remains with us indeed it is strengthened within us by its very use. On the other hand, if we seek to hide it away selfishly, we will soon lose it.

The same is true of our life’s loves. If we share them, they grow and are confirmed in us. If we hoard them, they will wither and die. So it was that the widow was enriched by an unending supply of flour and oil as soon as she was willing to give Elijah his cake first. By this is signified the spiritual miracle that takes place with everyone who seeks first the kingdom of God and His justice. All the necessary things of life will be added.

What will be our response to the teachings of the Lord? Will we have the spirit of Ahab and Jezebel offended by His truths, bitter that He has caused our troubles? Or will we seek Him in the spirit of the widow of Zarephath from a longing for truth and with a willingess to apply His truth? In this spirit, we can overcome the forces of evil that trouble our life and cause us pain and suffering.

The Lord said: “Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you truly, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow” (Luke 4:24-26). Amen.

 


Lesson: I Kings 17:1-16; Luke 4:16-32; AC 9198:7,8

Arcana Coelestia 9198:7,8

Obedience, and the longing of good for truth, are described by her [a widow woman] giving water to the prophet at his bidding, and afterward by her first making a cake for him out of her own little supply, and then for herself and her son; and that thereby she was enriched with the good of truth is signified by “the barrel of meal not being consumed, and the cruse of oil failing not”; for in the internal sense “water” denotes truth (n. 2702, 3058, 3424, 4976, 5668, 8568); “meal,” truth from good (n. 2177); “oil,” the good of love (n. 886, 4582, 4638); and “a cake” made of these, truth conjoined with its good (n. 7978). From all this it is clear that “a widow” denotes one who is in good and longs for truth. Good and its longing for truth is described by the charity toward the prophet, which was greater than toward herself and her son. “The prophet,” as before shown, denotes the doctrine of truth.

From all this it is evident what is the nature of the Word, namely, that it conceals within itself the secret things of heaven, which are not apparent in the letter, when yet in every word which the Lord Himself spoke when He was in the world, and which He had before spoken through the prophets, there are things heavenly and wholly Divine, and raised above the sense of the letter; and this not only in each word, but also in each syllable of the words, nay, in every point of each syllable. But who believes that this is so? Nevertheless it is a certain fact, of which I have received full and unquestionable proof, concerning which of the Lord’s Divine mercy elsewhere.