A Sermon by Rev. Daniel W. Heinrichs
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida May 13, 1990

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7).

Our text occurs seven times in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation. It is the concluding exhortation of each of the messages to the seven churches. Indeed, the Lord frequently ended His instruction to the Jews by saying: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear … ” (Matt. 11:15, et alia). The fact that this phrase and similar admonitions occur frequently throughout both the Old and the New Testaments warrants our consideration of its purpose and meaning.

In the Arcana Coelestia we are told that “to hear” in the Word does not mean simply the physical act of hearing, but rather the reception of that which is heard, first in the memory, next in the understanding, then in the will, and finally in the life (AC 9311).

Two of the five senses, we are told, especially serve man in perfecting the mind: the sense of sight and the sense of hearing. These are also the primary senses involved in man’s reformation and regeneration, for they are formed to receive those things which contribute to this end. The things which enter the mind through the sense of sight enter the understanding and enlighten it. For this reason when “seeing” is mentioned in the Word and it is frequently mentioned it refers to the enlightenment of the understanding. However, the things which enter through the sense of hearing enter both the understanding and the will, and for this reason when “hearing” is mentioned in the Word it refers to perception and obedience (see AE 14).

That “seeing” refers to understanding and enlightenment, and “hearing” to perception and obedience, is evident from ordinary speech. When we want to know if something is understood we ask: “So you see what I mean?” And if it is understood the answer is given: “Yes, I see.” Also we say of a person endowed with an unusual intelligence that he or she is bright or brilliant. Or if a person is low in intelligence we say he or she is dull. “Dull,” “bright,” and “brilliant” are attributes of light, and thus of sight.

That “hearing” refers to perception and obedience is also clear from ordinary speech. When somebody has been explaining something to us which he considers important, and we get the message, we say: “I hear.” Or, when we are trying to exact obedience from a child in a certain matter, we end by saying: “Do you hear me?” And if the answer is “Yes,” we expect obedience from that child.

These expressions, we are told, flow down into human speech out of the spiritual world, where man’s spirit is, by correspondence. Furthermore, in the Grand Man of heaven, those who are in the province of the ear are in obedience from perception. This province is said to be the axis of heaven, that is, the whole of the heavens have direct relation to those who are in obedience from perception because the ruling perception of heaven is that if a thing is true it must be done (see AE 14; AR 87).

In communication between people the function of the ear is to receive the speech of another and convey it to the mind so that we can perceive what is in the mind of the other person. Thus “to hear” is to perceive. The function of hearing is to transfer what a person is speaking from his thought, into the thought of another, and from his thought to his will and from the will into deed. Therefore to hear also involves obedience. The circle of communication, then, is from the will into thought, and so into speech, and from speech through the ear into another’s thought and will (see AC 5017).

The most important of all communication is that which exists between the Lord and mankind. And the medium of this communication is the Word. The Lord’s ardent love for the eternal happiness of mankind descended into His thought and from His thought into words, which were communicated to those who were prepared by the Lord for the office of revelator, who wrote them down. For the circle of communication to be completed these words must be conveyed to the understanding of man and from the understanding to the will, and from the will into life. When the Lord’s love is received in a person’s will, conjunction between the Lord and that person takes place. It is not enough that the Lord’s wisdom contained in the Word be communicated to our understanding; this merely produces presence but not conjunction. This is the reason the Lord has established a church and instituted worship so that His Word may be heard, that there may be an appeal to the very will itself.

Thus in the church we have the written Word and the spoken Word. To develop our understanding we should read the Word and presentations on its Divine doctrine and reflect calmly and deeply on their meaning. In this way we will grow in spiritual intelligence. But if we wish to grow in wisdom also, we should hear the Word read and preached. In hearing there will be, or should be, an added appeal to the affection. Thus it should enter into our will and from that into our life where the will is terminated and made permanent.

In His wisdom the Lord has provided that the mind of man may be reached through both of these senses through “seeing” and “hearing.” The written Word is almost devoid of emotion except for the emotion which the words themselves convey. Thus the intellect is appealed to so that the mind can come to know, understand, and believe the truth which the Lord teaches, simply because it is true. The spoken Word is then added to appeal to both the intellect and the will. The ideas expressed by the words are received in the understanding but the tone of voice and the inflection affect the will, so that what is said may be received in the will and cause a person to do that which is heard. From this we may see that there is a use and a need for both kinds of communication, and we can see what our response to both should be.

We are taught in the Word that to hear the voice of the Lord means to obey what is proclaimed from the Word; and that they who do so become rational and spiritual, but that they who do not become sensual and corporeal. “Those become … sensual and corporeal,” we read, “who have … known the things of the spiritual world and have afterward rejected them, and have imbued themselves with principles of falsity contrary to truths; and as to life, have looked solely to worldly, bodily, and earthly things, and from this have believed that life ought to be enjoyed with every pleasure, saying: `What has man more while he lives? When we die we die!’ … If anyone by rational arguments sets them thinking at all about eternal life, they think that they shall fare no worse than others, and immediately relapse into the state of their former life.

“With such there is a closing of the passage for the light of heaven and its influx, and light of heaven in their natural becomes thick darkness, but the light of the world … becomes brightness, and the brightness is so much the more brilliant as the light of heaven is more darkened; hence it is that such see no otherwise than that the evils of their life are goods, and that consequently the falsities are truths. It is from this then that a person becomes sensuous and corporeal” (AC 6971).

In other words, if we do not obey what we hear from the Word, we degenerate. Instead of becoming rational and spiritual, we become sensual and corporeal our minds are darkened and our will vitiated.

Compare this state with that of the angels of the celestial heaven. The wisdom of the angels of the inmost heaven consists in wishing to be led by the Lord and not by themselves, in loving what is good and delighting in what is true. Because they love nothing so much as being led by the Lord, whatever they hear from the Lord, whether through the Word or by means of preaching, they do not store in the memory but instantly obey it, that is, will it and do it (see HH 278). “In that heaven, love to the Lord is willing and doing Divine truth” (HH 271).

In the teachings which have been presented, we see sharply contrasted the final lot of those who hear only with their ears and those who really hear with the ears, with their understanding and with their will. We should need little convincing as to which state is preferable. But we may well ask ourselves: “Where do we fit in this picture?”

To find the answer to this question we should ask ourselves more particular questions. To what extent have we allowed the truths we have heard to enter into and change our lives? What is our usual reaction to the truths we hear preached? Do they enter only as far as the external ear and then vanish beyond recall? Are we momentarily stirred but cannot remember several days later what it was that moved us? Or do we see and perceive an important truth a truth which, if lived, can change our lives and make us better men and women? Do we will that truth and determine within ourselves to obey it?

Speaking generally, the purpose of a sermon is to draw a particular truth from the Word, to put it into perspective by showing its relationship to other truths, to examine it from several different aspects so that its nature and quality may be perceived, and to indicate the application of that truth to life. A sermon is not preached merely to uplift and soothe, nor is it intended to upset or depress the congregation, and certainly it is not to weary them. The Word is studied and its truth presented with the hope that it may be received, perceived and obeyed.

In the Arcana Coelestia where it treats of the reading of the covenant by Moses to the Children of Israel, we are told that to “read in the ears of the people” signifies hearkening and obedience. For when anything is read, it is that it may be heard, perceived and obeyed (AC 9397).

In the passage from the Apocalypse Revealed which we read for a third lesson, we are assured that if we read the doctrine of the New Jerusalem with a desire to know that doctrine, if we hear the things which are taught from it, and if we live according to it, then we will be blessed. We will be, as to our spirits, in communion with the angels of heaven even while we live on earth (see AR 8).

What, then, should be our attitude and response to the reading of the Word and the preaching from it that we regularly hear in Sunday worship? The nature of our response is clearly indicated in the Word itself. We should say in our hearts with conviction and determination: “All that the Lord has spoken we will do and hear” (Exodus 24:7). Amen.

Lessons: Exodus 24:1-13; Rev. 1:1-3; 2:1-11; AR 8

Apocalypse Revealed 8

Verse 3. “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein” signifies the communion of those with the angels of heaven, who live according to the doctrine of the New Jerusalem. By “blessed” is here meant one who as to his spirit is in heaven; thus, one who, while he lives in the world, is in communion with the angels of heaven; for as to his spirit he is in heaven. By “the words of the prophecy” nothing else is meant than the doctrine of the New Jerusalem, for by “prophet” in the abstract sense is signified the doctrine of the church derived from the Word, thus here the doctrine of the New Church, which is the New Jerusalem; the same is signified by “prophecy.” By “reading, hearing, and keeping the things which are written therein” is signified to desire to know that doctrine, to attend to the things which are in it, and to do the things which are therein; in short, to live according to it. That they are not blessed who only read, hear and keep or retain in the memory the things which were seen by John is evident (n. 944). The reason why “a prophet” signifies the doctrine of the church from the Word, and “prophecy” the same, is that the Word was written through prophets, and in heaven a person is regarded according to that which belongs to his function and office. From this also is every man, spirit, and angel named there. Therefore, when a prophet is mentioned, because his function was to write and teach the Word, the Word is meant as to doctrine, or doctrine from the Word. Hence it is that the Lord, because He is the Word itself, was called the Prophet (Deut. 18:15-20; Matt. 13:57; 21:11; Luke 13:33). To show that by “prophet” is meant the doctrine of the church from the Word, some passages shall be adduced, from which this may be collected. In Matthew: “In the consummation of the age many false prophets shall rise up and shall seduce many. There shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and, if it were possible, they shall lead into error the elect” (Matthew 24:11,24).

“The consummation of the age” is the last time of the church, which is now, when there are not false prophets but falsities of doctrine. In the same: “He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a just man in the name of a just man shall receive a just man’s reward” (Matthew 10:41).

“To receive a prophet in the name of a prophet” is to receive the truth of doctrine because it is true; and “to receive a just man in the name of a just man” is to receive good for the sake of good; and “to receive a reward” is to be saved according to reception. It is evident that no one receives a reward, or is saved, because he receives a prophet and a just man in the name of such. Those words cannot be understood by anyone without a knowledge of what “a prophet” and “a just man” signify; nor can those which follow: “Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, shall not lose his reward.” By a “disciple” is meant charity, and at the same time faith from the Lord. In Joel: “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, so that your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 2:28). This is concerning the church which was to be established by the Lord, in which they would not prophesy but receive doctrine, which is to “prophesy.” In Matthew: “Jesus said, Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? but then will I confess unto them, I have not known you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22, 23).

Who does not see that they will not say that they have prophesied, but that they knew the doctrine of the church, and taught it? In the Apocalypse: “The time is come for judging the dead and for giving reward to the prophets” (Rev. 11:18); and in another place: “Exult, O heaven, and holy apostles and prophets, for God hath judged your judgment” (Rev. 18:20).

It is evident that a reward would not be given to the prophets alone, and that the apostles and prophets would not alone exult at the Last Judgment, but all who have received the truths of doctrine and have lived according to them. These, therefore, are meant by “apostles” and “prophets.” In Moses: “Jehovah said unto Moses, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh, and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet” (Exod. 7:1); “a god” here means the Divine truth as to reception from the Lord, in which sense the angels are also called gods, and by “prophet” is meant one who teaches and speaks it, therefore Aaron is there called a prophet. The same is signified by “prophet” in other places, as in Jer. 18:18; 23:15,16; 5:13; Isaiah 28:7; Micah 3:6; Jer. 8:10. In these passages, by “prophets” and “priests,” in the spiritual sense, are not meant prophets and priests, but the entire church, by “prophets,” the church as to the truth of doctrine, and by “priests” the church as to the good of life, both of which were destroyed; these things are so understood by the angels in heaven, while by men in the world they are understood according to the sense of the letter. That the prophets represented the state of the church as to doctrine, and that the Lord represented it as to the Word itself, may be seen in The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem concerning the Lord (n. 15-17).


A Sermon by Rev Derek P. Elphick
Preached in Boynton Beach, Florida
March 25, 1997

Perfection is defined in the dictionary as “the state, quality, or condition of being perfect.” In light of this definition, what do you consider to be perfect in your life? In a way this is a trick question. Who would want to claim complete perfection in any area of his life? An architect tries to come up with a brilliant design, a composer tries to create his masterpiece, and an artist tries to craft the perfect work of art, but they never achieve complete perfection, only something close to it. Most people would agree that working toward perfection, and participating in the process itself, is much more satisfying and rewarding than arriving at the finished product (see DP 178:1). As finite human beings we are capable of viewing only one part of life’s puzzle at a time, and perhaps it was this realization which prompted that wonderful line to pass between Emerson and Thoreau: “And what has become clearer to you since we last met?”

The desire for perfection comes from the Lord because His laws are perfect (see Psalm 19:7), His way is perfect (see 2 Sam. 22:31), and His works are perfect (see Deut. 32:4). And since the Lord is the only perfect Person, the desire to imitate that perfection can come only from Him. The Lord wishes to share the desire for perfection with everyone, and that is why He says in the Gospel of Matthew, “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect”(Matt. 5:48). In the Greek, the word for perfect is telios, which means whole or complete. The Lord wants our efforts to be whole and complete (see AC 6138). He does not expect perfect “results” from us, ever, and that is because only His works can be called perfect. Also, as one teaching in the New Church says, no point in time “ever exists when anyone is regenerate enough to be able to say, Now I am perfect’” (AC 894).

The desire for perfection is born in us at an early age. I look at my four-year-old son who has recently taken an interest in copying out the letters of the alphabet. He is not content with his letters unless they end up looking as good as the letters printed in his book. He will go through great pains to make sure that what he writes is exactly the same as what is in the book. If it’s anything less, it gets thrown out and he starts again. Why does he do this? He does it because he wants things to be orderly and right. Now, any adult who looks at his work will see that it’s far from perfect, and yet the adult can separate the effort from the product. We know the product is not perfect, and yet we praise the effort as being perfect.

We are told that few people actually realize that life in this world serves simply as an introduction for perfecting one’s life to eternity (see AC 9334:3). In fact, most of us need to be reminded that “a person can never be perfected” (AC 3200), and in the next life will be “perfected all the time” (AC 894). The concept makes sense and yet we have difficulty accepting it. There’s a part of us that wants to arrive at a final destination some day and simply stop. It’s true that good people in this world will go to heaven and “arrive” at their particular society, but they don’t stop. The angels never think of themselves as having “arrived” at anything, and object to this kind of labeling, getting “quite indignant if anyone attributes to them any wisdom or intelligence” (AC 4295). Life to them is a work in progress. The angels of heaven go through changes of state as we do, and in their “evening state” “love what is their own” (HH 158; cf. 155). If it weren’t for these changes of state, including the selfish ones, the angels, as well as ourselves, could never be perfected (see AC 935:2).

Do you remember at the beginning of the book Conjugial Love the visit to the Golden Age? There we are introduced to an angel couple from the highest heaven. The husband was asked if he was able to look upon any other woman than his wife. Notice what he said:

I can, but because my wife is united to my soul, the two of us look together, and then not a trace of lust can enter. For when I look at other men’s wives, I look at them through the eyes of my wife, who is the only one I am in love with. And because she as my wife can perceive all my inclinations, she acts as an intermediary and directs my thoughts, taking away anything discordant and at the same time inspiring a coldness and horror toward anything unchaste (CL 75:6).

The angel husband admitted that he wasn’t perfect. He was in love with one woman, his wife, and not a trace of lust for other women could enter their relationship. But he also hinted at the fact that there are times when “discordant” thoughts enter his mind. These thoughts obviously couldn’t damage the special union they had, but it indicates that there were still many things for him to work on in his marriage.

Now, by saying these things I don’t mean to suggest that there’s little difference between ourselves and angels, or that the angels haven’t really accomplished very much in their lifetime. The angels of heaven are good people. They don’t do bad things; we sometimes do (see AE 304a; AC 10134:4; HH 592). They don’t experience selfish states to the same degree, or for the same duration, as we do (see HH 158; AC 9334-9336). This is because angels, while on earth, made the repeated commitment in thought and deed to be led by the Lord. Now they enjoy the blessings of that life in heaven, but they’re not perfect. The teachings of the New Church say, ” . . . an unlimited number of states of evil and falsity exist with everyone” (AC 894). People on earth, as well as the angels in heaven, have self-interest lurking in their background, which is an “unavoidable” fact of life (AE 867:2). As a result, there’s no point in time in which anyone can say, “Now I am perfect.”

Even though we know we can’t be perfect, that doesn’t stop us from thinking we should be perfect! Where does that message come from? Do women get that message from movies and fashion ads featuring the “perfect” actresses and models which they can’t hope to match? Do men get it from relentless pressure to sell more, to earn more, and from a society that considers those that come in second best the losers? The organizers of the National Spelling Bee every year at the finals have to provide a “comfort room” where children who have spelled hundreds of words perfectly can go to cry, throw things and be comforted by their parents when they finally make a mistake. Yes, there certainly are societal pressures which demand complete perfection, but the cause is much deeper.

The evil spirits from hell encourage us to expect perfection and then knock us down when we don’t achieve it (see AC 5386). It’s one of their favorite tactics. They will trick us into thinking that we should get perfect results from others. How many times have we expected other people to treat us in just the right way, in ways we want, and when they don’t accomplish this impossible task, or match up to our expectations, we feel disappointed, hurt or angry? The hells will also trick us into thinking we can get quick and easy results during regeneration (see DP 278). How many times have you expected or wanted your spiritual landscape to be cleared and trimmed in a moment? Expecting a weed-free environment is totally understandable; it just doesn’t work that way. “If you want to be perfect,” the Lord said to the rich young ruler, “go, sell what you have and give to the poor” (Matt. 19:21). To “sell what you have” is to continue taking those small steps that leave our selfishness behind and put the Lord in front (see AE 934). Those seemingly insignificant steps, the ones that receive little fanfare or attention, accomplish more than we can possibly imagine!

To expect perfect results from ourselves, or from someone else, not only is unrealistic, but it can also harm our usefulness and sense of purpose. Several years ago, a minister in our church did a very important study on some misconceptions about marriage in the New Church (see New Church Life, July-November 1992). One misconception he talked about was a common New Church idea that a husband and wife will become “one” person. This idea is based upon Conjugial Love 42, which speaks of married couples appearing like one angel from a distance (although it should be pointed out that they became two distinct individuals when they came closer). The writer then refers his reader to another passage which says that no couple ever become conjoined into one, but are rather adjoined so as to be near and close to each other according to their love (see CL 158). He then makes this observation:

If partners are to become one, then they should also want and like the same things and think and feel alike most or all of the time. The unrealistic expectation of total togetherness has caused an enormous degree of doubt and guilt in New Church couples, particularly to wives who are often sensitive to the state of the marriage more than husbands (NCL, Rev. Mark Carlson, 1992, pp. 302-304).

To expect our married partner (or anyone else for that matter) to think and feel exactly as we think and feel is an unrealistic expectation. Total togetherness might seem like the “perfect relationship,” and yet, by definition, it must also mean that partners should not express disagreement over any issue if they really are “one” in their thoughts and affections. Sharing and honoring our differences in honest, open communication is the life-blood for any working relationship.

Our desire for perfection will never die. It cannot die. We may get discouraged or upset by the messy results or loose ends we find on our spiritual landscape. Our personal achievements may not always end up looking very pretty, or perfect, but that doesn’t matter to the Lord. We need to realize that life is not some kind of test in which one mistake wipes out all our previous efforts (see TCR 523). Remember, the Lord creates an angel out of all the sincere efforts a person makes in his or her entire adult life.

When the Lord called on His disciples to be perfect, He was speaking about what lay within their grasp. So many of the things we would like to be perfect are beyond our grasp, and as we have seen, it’s part of our human nature to pine after illusionary goals. We need to let go of the mistaken idea that our spiritual landscape can be cleared in a moment. We need to let go of the mistaken idea that the perfect marriage, or perfect relationship, is the one in which we become carbon copies of each other. To “be perfect” in the Lord’s eyes is to tackle the seemingly small, unimportant matters in our life (see AE 979:2; cf. AC 9336; AE 650:59; Life 97; Charity 41). It means changing one area of our life at a time (see TCR 530; CL 529). The results may not appear very dramatic or look very complete, but the effort will be perfect in what it achieves. The angels in heaven take these steps every day and gain the greatest satisfaction in making them because they know it’s the most perfect thing a person can do, in this life and in the life to come. Amen.

Lessons: Matt. 19:16-22; HH 158; AC 894

Heaven and Hell

158. I have been taught from heaven why there are such changes of state there. The angels said that there are many reasons first, the delight of life and of heaven, which they have from love and wisdom from the Lord, would gradually lose its value if they were in it continually, as happens with those that are in allurements and pleasures without variety. A second reason is that angels, as well as men, have what is their own (proprium), which is loving self; and all that are in heaven are withheld from what is their own, and so far as they are withheld from it by the Lord are in love and wisdom; but so far as they are not withheld, they are in the love of self; and because everyone loves what is his own and is drawn by it, they have changes of state or successive alternations. A third reason is that they are in this way perfected, for they thus become accustomed to being held in love to the Lord and withheld from love of self; also that by alternations between delight and lack of delight the perception and sense of good becomes more exquisite. The angels added that their changes of state are not caused by the Lord, since the Lord as a sun is unceasingly flowing in with heat and light, that is, with love and wisdom; but the cause is in themselves, in that they love what is their own, and this continually leads them away. This was illustrated by comparison with the sun of the world, that the cause of the changes of state of heat and cold and of light and shade, year by year and day by day, is not in that sun, since it stands unchanged, but the cause is in the earth.

Arcana Coelestia

894. . . . there is no definite period of time within which man’s regeneration is completed, so that he can say, “I am now perfect”; for there are illimitable states of evil and falsity with every man, not only simple states but also states in many ways compounded, which must be so far shaken off as no longer to appear, as said above. In some states the man may be said to be more perfect, but in very many others not so. Those who have been regenerated in the life of the body and have lived in faith in the Lord and in charity toward the neighbor are continually being perfected in the other life.


A Sermon by Rev. J. Clark Echols, Jr.
Preached in Denver, Colorado, on August 3, 1986

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”‘ (John 14:6).

Imagine yourself in a maze of corridors. There are many corners, and walking along, you quickly lose your sense of direction. You ask yourself, what is motivating me to walk at all? What gives me the ability to make the choices as to which hall to take, where to turn, where not to turn? Such a nightmare situation can leave only a sense of desperation, helplessness and even terror.

Now imagine a person living just before the Lord was born on earth. People lived such a nightmare in their spiritual lives. The hells could easily enter and confuse their thoughts about truth. Was hardly moving at all on the sabbath really helpful? Did the invisible, vengeful God really smell the odors of their sacrifices? Were blatantly dishonest fellow Jews nonetheless one’s neighbor over and above honest gentiles? The maze of regulations for the ancient Jew often led to confusion, doubt and an inner frustration.

And then Jesus came to the earth — God incarnate. Seeing what He did, believing what He said, had unbelievable effects. Confessing a belief in Him, and repenting and beginning a new life actually changed a person’s life. The maze was gone. It was as if a new light was in the heavens: not a light for the eyes, but a light for the mind that enlightened so many things that were then obviously true. And with the light came a warmth: not from the sun but from within, as if the heart could feel it rising from deep within.

The Lord’s redemption of all mankind has saved us from the anguish of the ancient Jews. But the turmoil and conflict still go on in our spirit. In fact, it was His redemption that makes possible our spiritual journey to heavenly happiness. For He opened men’s minds — all men’s minds, then and forever — to a new depth of understanding and feeling. A new light actually could reach into men’s minds. Our Creator’s love could be felt in a new way. Immanuel — God with us — walked the earth, and then rose from the tomb and established His Divine Human, whom we can all see with our mind’s eye, feel with our spiritual heart, and so know and truly love.

Our text proclaims that this redemption was the Lord’s sole objective in coming to earth. He, in Himself and by Himself alone, is the way, the truth and the life for us. We cannot come to know the Father — our Creator and Sustainer — except through His glorified Divine Human. “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Our text contains in a summary the whole process of our regeneration: to go the way of the Lord; to come to a true vision of that way by means of His truth; and thereby to receive His spiritual life.

The Lord called Himself the “way” because only His Human, established by His life on earth, can lead us to heaven. The Divine Human is a concept the finite human mind can fathom. He makes plain, before our sense as we read the New Testament, Jehovah the Father. The Divine Human communicates the Lord’s love and wisdom in a new way, reaching to our limited minds. This is how the Lord is the Word, for the Word is the principal means by which we come to know the Divine Human. It is our only source for our knowledge of the Lord and heavenly things, and the things of our own spirit.

To go the Lord’s way is to use the truth we discover. The Lord has done us a great favor in revealing Himself to us. It is up to us, however, to rely on His revelation of truth as a guide to our way. So we must find the doctrines that the Word teaches: the doctrine concerning the Lord, concerning true faith, concerning spiritual charity, and concerning the work we must do. Then, with an understanding of what the doctrines are — an understanding provided by the Lord, actually — we work to compel ourselves to obey them. Imagine again that maze of corridors. Any sense of desperation, all feeling of helplessness, will disappear when we realize that in our hands is a map — a detailed map setting forth the configuration of our spirit, the dead ends of selfishness, the darkened halls of falsity, the pitfalls of merely worldly advice. And the map, in a bold way, shows the right path, the path out to our promised land.

The Lord, then, has provided us with a revelation, and has given us the ability to use it. As with everything in His creation, there are levels of understanding, and practice is needed. The child begins with the literal sense of the Word alone. The rules are simple, almost black and white. As the child’s mind develops, however, he is able to make interpretations and see the fine lines. Indeed, the literal sense, as understood by adults, is very flexible. The adult is able to interpret it according to preconceived notions. We can even look for wanted results and explanations that will cover for our weaknesses and our sins. The letter of the Word, we are told, can even be twisted by an evil person to confirm whatever he wants to believe.

And so the adult must turn to the internal sense of the Word for guidance in obeying the literal sense, as we are commanded to do. It is as if our map was so good that the maze, even though very complex, becomes ordered. The internal sense will do nothing for us if we don’t see it and feel it guiding our spirit to a certain external way of living. But as we do that, we become less dependent upon the things of our senses. We become less susceptible to external things ruling our spirit. We learn better, with more clarity, just what the Word is teaching us. We learn that we can handle the things that happen to us in this early life from a new perspective. What is truly God’s order for our individual life can be discovered. This is what is meant by discovering the Lord in our life. For the light, warmth, order and delight we feel are all His in us. As the Writings say, the doctrine we draw from the literal sense of the Word by means of the internal sense becomes living, active in every smallest part of our life.

The purpose of doctrine, then, is to lead us to a vision of the Lord that will prompt us to change our ways. Thus, He is the way. We are not born with this vision; we must work to acquire it. While the Lord created us all for heaven, to reach the finish of the maze successfully, hereditary evil and the influences of the hells lead us into dead ends and inescapable pits.

There is one warning the Word gives us about doctrine. Doctrine is drawn from the Word by people who prayerfully are trying to apply the Word to their situation, their age. And so there must be some assurance that whether the doctrine has been developed by oneself or by the church for its members to apply, it is genuine. It must promote our sight of the Lord. It must give us a clear and rational vision of our Creator and Ruler. A false or confused doctrine will destroy our vision of God so necessary to our salvation. The doctrinal confusion in the Christian world today is an example of what happens when the genuine doctrine is not known. In an effort to explain the incarnation and glorification in a politically expedient way, the priest of the Christian Church separated the persons of Father and Son. They left behind the picture given in the New Testament, as well as the experiences and beliefs of the early church leaders. The literal sense says that the Son must lead to the Father. How can the doctrine of separate persons agree with this?

Doctrine is to be drawn from the letter in accordance with the internal sense. Doctrine is thus really spiritual. It is matter of our understanding, not simply the written Word. Look what happens spiritually to the people and life of the church when such a false doctrine is believed. With the Son and Father separated, the visible God is separated from the essential God. Thus the knowable, lovable God given to us through the Divine Human is destroyed. Without a rational and concrete concept of what and who God is, there is no tangible, real foundation of truth for civil and moral law, much less spiritual law. This lack of a clear standard of truth is behind all the confusion we see in the Christian world today. Even good people are in darkness; they have lost their way, and the doctrine of the church provides no guidance. Doctrine may be apparently drawn from the Word, but it is no longer true.

The Writings make clear the distinction between the Divine truth and doctrine drawn from the Word by men. It is the Divine truth that gives doctrine its power in us. This is why the Lord said He is the truth. Not only does He show us the way, but His truth in us is His power to cast out evil spirits from us, reform our minds, enlighten us as to the truth, and judge us as to evil. It is the Lord who saves us. Not only does He show us the way through the maze, but He established the original path.

Ever since the spiritual fall of mankind we have been adding paths, dead ends, quagmires and deep pits to the original straight and even way to heaven. Our evil has even made the road to hell look broad and smooth and the road to heaven narrow and rocky. To realize that we have the power to make the truth seem harsh, demanding, judgmental and condemning is to see that the Lord did not create it that way. The Lord’s Divine truth, His order, the means of the creation of all things, did not make life a maze. Merely worldly interests and desires are a very broad and easy road to follow. The only way to see it for what it is is to use the Word as our guide. And while we are, in a sense, cursed with this situation from our birth, it need not remain that way.

The Lord is the truth. His order, taught us in the literal and internal senses of the Word, defines the straight path to happiness forever. This must be simply an article of faith with us at first. But as we experience it, we will discover that the truth can give us an idea of what the Lord wants us to be. The whole purpose and end to which truth looks is the revealing of what is evil and what is good so that we can learn the distinction. To be in the truth is to be part of the Lord’s stream of Providence, always carrying us through the maze of conflicting ideas and desires. The truth’s work in our spirit is to order and mold us into vessels receptive of the Lord’s love. That is the truth’s real job, not to be a harsh taskmaster or source of guilt and condemnation. The Divine truth shows us the Lord’s love. It is the Son through whom we can come to see the Father: the Lord’s love and constant care for our spiritual progress.

This leads us to see why the Lord called Himself “the life.” Yet this proclamation runs right against all appearances. Don’t we have life? Are we not in control of our life? We never feel it coming into us from somewhere. However, we must ask, what is the source of this appearance, this feeling of ours? Is it to be trusted? In fact, the feeling that we have life in ourselves is manufactured by our senses. As science has shown us, our senses can be easily fooled. What is more important, our senses cannot see around the corners of life. They are blind to spiritual con-sequences of our actions. Their view of our life is full of fallacies and mere appearances.

The whole Word urges us to cast off all belief that we live from ourselves. Certainly the appearance is there: the Lord created the human that way! This is why we are totally free and able, of ourselves, to really choose whether we will love and follow the Lord or not. The Word further tells us — exhorts us — to believe that all life is from the Lord, and that we are totally dependent upon Him. Our benefit will be true freedom. No longer will selfishness, greed and external things enslave us; no longer will low self-esteem and guilt incapacitate us. The Lord is in us, and we have all in Him! The way becomes clear, the truth living, and His love a warmth deep within us. There is little we can know about how the Lord flows into us and gives us life. It is a miracle. Yet our faith in that miracle becomes a living faith when we live our lives in accordance with it. And then, because it is part of us, this hardest of all truths to believe will bless us in unforeseen and greatly delightful ways. That He gives us life means that we don’t have to save ourselves, a task we have found impossible. And it means that we have found the motivating force in our walk through the maze. We have found that the Lord gives us the ability to make the choices before us, to decide which way to turn. What a relief! What a burden off our shoulders! The fact that we have many hard choices to make in our life is no longer depressing. The Lord has provided for our eternal happiness. The choices, though difficult and sometimes painful, are for our progress, and are not Divinely provided roadblocks, dead ends or trap doors created for the sake of our frustration.

Our goal of seeing our way through the confusing, conflicting choices we have to make is reached when the way, the truth and the life are established in our minds. The Lord will dwell in us. When we acknowledge the doctrines of the Word as the rules for our life, the Divine truth is revealed to us and we come to know our God. He is then visible before us, directing our steps to heaven. When we love the Lord, when we wish to do His truth, He can come into us with spiritual life, opening our minds to an ever-deepening understanding of Him and love for Him. Then the Lord is our way, our truth, and our life. Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 25, John 14:1-20, AC 2531:21 3

Arcana Coelestia 2531:21 3

That it may be further known how the case is with the doctrine. of faith as being spiritual from a celestial origin, be it known that it is Divine truth from Divine good, and thus wholly Divine. What is Divine is incomprehensible because above all understanding, even the angelic; but still this Divine, which in itself is incomprehensible, can flow in through the Lord’s Divine Human into man’s rational; and when it flows into his rational, it is there received according to the truths which are therein, thus variously, and not with one as with another. Insofar, therefore, as the truths with a man are more genuine, so far the Divine which flows in is received more perfectly, and so far the man’s understanding is enlightened.

In the Lord’s Word are truths themselves, but in its literal sense are truths which are accommodated to the apprehension of those who are in external worship; whereas in its internal sense are truths accommodated to those who are internal men; that is, to those who are angelic as to doctrine and at the same time as to life. Their rational is enlightened therefrom to such a degree that their enlightenment is compared to the brightness of the stars and the sun (Dan. 12:3, Matt. 13:43). Hence it is plain how important it is that interior truths be known and received. These truths may indeed be known, but by no means received, except by those who have love to the Lord or faith in Him; for as the Lord is the Divine good, so He is the Divine truth; consequently He is doctrine itself, since whatever is in the doctrine of true faith looks to the Lord, and looks also to the heavenly kingdom and the church, and to all things of the heavenly kingdom and the church. But all these are His, and are the intermediate ends through which the last end, that is, the Lord, is regarded.


A Sermon by Rev. J. Clark Echols, Jr.
Preached in Denver, Colorado, on June 26, 1983

“Wait silently for God alone, for hope is from Him … Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him…” (Psalm 62:5, 8).

For what should we hope? In what should we trust? Obviously we should hope for salvation, and trust in God. And notice that we all have this hope now, and that leads us to trust in the Lord, even though hope applies to future things – what we would like later – and trust applies to the present – we want to trust the Lord now. We know this is true because as the Lord fulfills our hopes, we gain trust in Him.

Hope is commonly defined as a desire that we expect to be fulfilled. And trust is commonly said to be a confidence in someone or something. If this is so, why are so many hopeful people disappointed and hurt? And where is the evidence that our faith brings protection if we trust in it? And a final question: The Psalmist says that the Lord is “good to all and His tender mercies are over all His works” (145:9). What kind of mercy is it to let people’s dreams be destroyed by, say, a violent storm? What kind of mercy allows faithful, trusting people to suffer, not to mention allowing the innocent to starve, the young to die needlessly, the old to languish. There are answers to these questions in the Word, where we find that the hopes that are dashed and the trust that fails are not the hope and trust that are God-given. That is what the Word shows us: that genuine hope and trust are given to us by the Lord, not made up or manufactured by us.

What we are to do is to live according to the dictates of the Word at the same time as we are in the hope and trust that the Lord will save us. We are supposed to acknowledge that we do nothing good of ourselves at the same time as we feel assured by the hope that the Lord will grant us an understanding of truth from which we can live a good life. We are supposed to acknowledge that we bear the responsibility of the choice between good and evil at the same time as we trust that the Lord will lead us to do only that which is good and believe only that which is true.

Genuine hope is not simply the desire to have our expectations fulfilled. It is not a vague wish that things will go as we would like them to. That wish could be based on an evil desire; or we could be ignorant of what is best for us; it could go against what the Lord would have us hope for. When this kind of hopefulness is denied, it quickly fades, and we simply replace it with a new wish. It is a weak and temporary kind of hope. Genuine hope looks to what is eternal, so it never fades. It is given to us by the Lord, so it is most powerful. At the foundation of genuine hope for salvation is the promise the Lord has made that He will come to us and that He is in the constant endeavor to save us. That is His work. And we feel His work in us as a perception and assurance that the Lord helps us in our times of deepest despair – during combats of temptation.

We are not always conscious of it, but the Lord is very near us in states of spiritual struggle. If we continue to hope and trust in Him, and turn to Him, He can temper our despair with the hope of deliverance. Without Him there is no deliverer, no hope. He gives us hope in the realization that the purpose of temptation is that we will be saved and will receive heavenly happiness. Therefore, the hope we feel is His power working within us. Genuine hope is the Lord’s answer as He flows into us with the power of His glorified Divine Human. In so casting evil out of our minds, the Lord fulfills our hopes and earns our trust.

The danger in temptation, of course, is that we will lose hope and fail to trust. We do not readily feel the Lord’s help. In fact, we are most aware of the spiritual pain brought about by the hard choice before us. This mental, spiritual pain rules our thought, and anguish is our primary feeling. Yet in all this the Lord still maintains our ability to choose – that is His constant gift. It is His continual presence, in whatever state we are, that makes our freedom possible. We must make the choice – He cannot do that for us. Yet He does give us something of a perception of His presence. This perception is the hope He gives us, the hope He establishes. And it brings us consolation that our salvation is being wrought in us.

Now, the Lord wants to give us His hope, and He wants us to learn to trust Him. His Divine mercy will grant them to us when we have in us the vessels to receive them. These vessels are His truths, confirmed in our daily life. And so it is in His Word that we find the fulfillment of our hopes and the foundation for our trust. This hope continues with us to the farthest limits of despair; it is a hope that is not merely a desire for something we want; rather, it looks to our salvation and eternal welfare. In this hope we have a firm answer to doubt, despair, fear and death, for it is not limited by what we have or what we don’t have, or by the grave, but looks beyond it. It is not man- made, but applied to us by the Divine mercy of the Lord Himself.

Such genuine hope establishes real trust. Our hope for salvation, our hope for our future, establishes a trust in the Lord – that He is helping right now on our journey to heaven.

Consider for a moment trusting in the Lord to lead us to everlasting peace, joy and fulfillment. That has to be the greatest trust we can have. It is not simply confidence that our desires will be granted. It isn’t simply faith. if we believe that our faith alone saves us, our trust will be limited, and often too weak to stand up in times of natural or spiritual trial. When faith is not used in life, it is not saving; when it is, it becomes charity, which does save. We all must beware of the false sense of security merely having the faith can give us. If our trust in the Lord consisted merely in having faith in our memory, then all we would have to do is await salvation from the Lord, with our hands hanging down. This inaction does not reflect trust. In fact, such apathetic irresponsibility is what has led to the starvation, death and injustice that happens to the innocent and faithful that we wrongly ascribe to the Lord’s inaction.

Genuine trust in the Lord leads us to act from our faith. We trust that the Lord will guide our steps as we strive consciously to follow His path to heaven. Real trust is a faith that originates from charity in our will, from the sincere desire to do what is good. When we live according to the truths the Lord has shown us, then we are really placing our trust in Him. The ultimate of trust is to stake our eternal happiness on the truthfulness of what He says.

As we hope in the Lord, we uphold our responsibility to flee from evils and do goods, and we are given a lasting trust. This trust stays with us even in the midst of temptation. Like genuine hope, real trust is a force from within whereby we are able to resist evil. And notice the cycle here: as we become aware in ourselves of a willingness to submit ourselves to the Lord, even in temptation, He brings us victory and a perception of the security we have in Him. As we apply this perception of truth to our lives, He then inflows into our will with even more power, increasing our trust in Him. Therefore, every time we actually, with conviction, submit ourselves to our trust in the Lord, He comes with more and more power to cast evil out of our minds, to enlighten us, and to fill us with joy.

This trust endures throughout all the trials and tribulations of life on earth. We are taught that “for those who trust in the Divine, all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and whatever befalls them in time is still conducive” to that eternal state (AC 8478). Such people do not blame the Lord for their temporal woes. They have the greatest confidence that the Lord will, if they let Him, use everything that happens to further their reformation and regeneration. These have genuine trust in the Lord.

Hope and trust in the Lord are not so hard to attain in this life. Actually, mere obedience to the Lord’s laws, the ten commandments, requires trust in the Lord, and implies our hope for salvation through obedience. Beyond this obedience it is our responsibility to come to see that we have hope and trust solely because the Lord’s Divine mercy affects them in us, and because they are the Lord’s to give us (see AC 30). The Divine mercy is applied freely to all, and is always effective for those who abstain from evil. The Lord’s mercy is of His Divine love which is constantly striving to lift us up if we allow Him to. Thus, the Lord grants His mercy not according to the doctrine we know, but according to the doctrine we live, that is, the charity we are practicing.

The Word teaches, then, that all real hope and trust are from the Lord, and are given to us from within. If our hope is in our salvation, then whatever we hope for will be granted. If we have trust in the truth we see working in our lives, we will always feel secure. The Lord has made this promise, and desires to give us these gifts. As we respond to His promise with a life of fleeing from evils and doing goods, out of the pure mercy of His Divine love the Lord will grant us eternal happiness. So hope and trust are gifts greatly to be desired.

As it is written in the 27th Psalm: “Though an army should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple” (v. 3, 4). Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 62, AC 8478

Arcana Coelestia 8478

[2] As in this verse [Exodus 16:191 and the following verses in the internal sense care for the morrow is treated of, and as this care is not only forbidden but is also condemned (that it is forbidden is signified by that they were not to make a residue of the manna till the morning, and that it is condemned is signified by that the worm was bred in the residue, and it stank), he who looks at the subject no more deeply than from the sense of the letter may believe that all care for the morrow is to be cast aside, and thus that the necessaries of life are to be awaited daily from heaven; but he who looks at the subject more deeply than from the letter, as for instance he who looks at it from the internal sense, is able to know what is meant by "care for the morrow." It does not mean the care of procuring for one's self food and raiment, and even resources for the time to come; for it is not contrary to order for anyone to be provident for himself and his own. But those have care for the morrow who are not content with their lot; who do not trust in the Divine but in themselves; and who have regard for only worldly and earthly things, and not for heavenly things. With such there universally reigns solicitude about things to come, and a desire to possess all things and to dominate over all, which is kindled and grows according to the additions thus made, and finally does so beyond all measure. They grieve if they do not obtain the objects of their desire, and feel anguish at the loss of them; and they have no consolation because of the anger they feel against the Divine, which they reject together with everything of faith, and curse themselves. Such are they who have care for the morrow.

[3] Very different is the case with those who trust in the Divine. These, notwithstanding they have care for the morrow, still have it not, because they do not think of the morrow with solicitude, still less with anxiety. Unruffled is their spirit whether they obtain the objects of their desire or not; and they do not grieve over the loss of them, being content with their lot. If they become rich, they do not set their hearts on riches; if they are raised to honors, they do not regard themselves as more worthy than others; if they become poor, they are not made sad; if their circumstances are mean, they are not dejected. They know that for those who trust in the Divine all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and that whatever befalls them in time is still conducive thereto.

[41 Be it known that the Divine Providence is universal, that is, in things the most minute, and that they who are in the stream of Providence are all the time carried along toward everything that is happy, whatever may be the appearance of the means; and that those are in the stream of Providence who put their trust in the Divine and attribute all things to Him; and that those are not in the stream of Providence who trust in themselves alone and attribute all things to themselves, because they are in the opposite, for they take away providence from the Divine and claim it for themselves. Be it known also that insofar as anyone is in the stream of Providence, so far he is in a state of peace; also that insofar as anyone is in a state of peace from the good of faith, so far he is in the Divine Providence. These alone know and believe that the Divine Providence of the Lord is in everything both in general and in particular, nay, is in the most minute things of all, and that the Divine Providence regards what is eternal (n. 6491).

[5] But they who are in the opposite are scarcely willing to hear Providence mentioned, for they ascribe everything to their own sagacity; and what they do not ascribe to this they ascribe to fortune or chance: some to fate, which they do not educe from the Divine but from nature. They call those simple who do not attribute all things to themselves or to nature. From all this again it can be seen what is the quality of those who have care for the morrow, and what the quality of those who have no care for the morrow.


A Sermon by Rev. Andrew M. T. Dibb
Cataloged May 4, 1997

I am often asked why things happen: why are there husbands who abuse their wives, and parents who abuse their children? Why are there wars in which millions are killed, hurt, maimed, starved, and deprived of essential human rights? Why are animals hurt, abandoned and abused? Why do people inflict terrible things on others?

And why, in counterpoint to the horrors of the world, are there people like Mother Theresa and countless other people who dedicate their lives so that others may prosper – people to bind the wounds of others and bring order from disorder?

In order to fully answer these questions, let’s look at three different scenarios:

1. The first is the well known story of King David, who, seeing Bathsheba, lusted for her. First he seduced her, and then, when she found herself pregnant, he engineered to have her husband, Uriah the Hittite, slain in battle.

2. In the second scenario we are shown two men who went into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, the other a tax-collector. When the Pharisee began to pray, he lifted his eyes up to heaven and said: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” (Luke 18: 11). “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:12).

3. In the third scenario we see the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane, also praying. As He prayed, He was in agony, and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. The words of His prayer are poignant: “Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

These three scenarios contain a vital key to understanding why people react differently and as a result either inflict terrible harm on others or do good. It also helps us to see the vast middle ground between the two. As we examine these teachings more closely, it is useful for us to see where we personally fit into this scale of things, for each one of us impacts the world in one way or another, either good or evil.

Human behavior is regulated by many things: in this world we have constitutions, laws, police and courts to keep us in order. On a far greater scale, however, we find the laws of the Lord’s Divine Providence governing our lives. These laws were made by the Lord Himself, and they regulate human behavior on an inner level.

The first and most important of these laws is that all people should act in freedom according to their reason. Civil governments may restrict our freedom to act in certain ways, but they can never restrict our desire to act, nor can civil governments ever cause us to think or feel in specific ways, even though they may try.

The Lord created each one of us to be in full control over our thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we surrender that control to another, but if we do, still we do so of our own free will and accord. We could resist if we wanted to.

Freedom in spiritual things is the most precious gift the Lord has given us; no matter what our circumstances are, we are still free to establish a relationship with the Lord. Either we can turn to Him and invite Him into our lives, or we can reject Him. No matter what we do, our relationship with the Lord is determined by freedom.

Spiritual freedom is what makes us people; animals have no such freedom. They cannot turn against their instinct. Their lives are pre-determined for them. Thus we could say that their relationship with the Lord is pre-determined by the Lord Himself.

Because we have freedom in spiritual things, we can, within the constraints of the world around us, behave in any way we see fit. Thus we see three distinct types of behavior in our three scenarios:

1 . King David exercised his freedom when he decided to act on the lowest things with a person: he saw Bathsheba, lusted after her, committed adultery and murder. No one forced him to do these things; he chose, in his own freedom, to follow the lusts of his heart along whatever paths they would lead. In the story there is no evidence that he ever applied spiritual brakes, saying: “This is wrong; I shouldn’t do this.’

The kind of freedom David exercised is called natural freedom, and this is the lowest kind of spiritual freedom. We act according to natural freedom when we simply do what we want and forget the pain we cause other people.

Left to themselves, people who never apply spiritual brakes will always rush into evil. Think of the evils that exist in the world, and let us ask ourselves: “Would these evils exist if people stopped to think of what they are doing? if they submitted themselves to a higher authority than just their feelings?” The answer is no; evil would not exist in its open form. We see the terrible abuses in the world around us, on both a grand and a pathetically small scale. An abused child is the result of an adult who never checks him- or herself. Wars are caused by leaders consumed by greed, or ideology, or fear, and who give in to their instinct.

In many ways we share this lowest freedom with animals – and truly a person who always only does what he or she wants to do is little better than an animal.

2. The example of David contrasts sharply with the example of the Pharisee in the temple. His prayer was one of thanks that he was not like other men. He did not do bad things, and certainly did good things.

This example illustrates the second level of our spiritual freedom: the freedom to put on an external facade of goodness, not actually being good inside. Exercising this freedom is both useful and dangerous.

It is useful as far as maintaining order is concerned. The Pharisee did not lie, cheat and steal. He lived an ostensibly good and useful life, and so contributed to society. But his behavior was dangerous in that while giving the impression of being good, he still was not actually good. He had not learned spiritual qualities or values, like charity and humility. His baser instincts boiled just below the surface; they erupted into pride and arrogance.

The Writings call this second kind of freedom rational freedom, because it arises in our intellect and is carried into practice. A person like this Pharisee who exercises this freedom deliberately chooses to behave in socially approved ways for the sake of his own advantage. We could say that a person like this has a veneer of civility, but that veneer gets awfully thin sometimes.

3 . The third example of spiritual freedom is the Lord Himself: He exercised a spiritual freedom when He was willing to suffer and undergo torment for other people. There was a part of the Lord that really wanted to give up, to do what came naturally. He could so easily have avoided the cross. The thief crucified next to Him actually tempted Him to save Himself from the cross. But that would not have been good for the human race – it would have removed our freedom, and so He resisted it.

At the same time the Lord could have exercised a rational freedom: He could have organized it that His pain and suffering on the cross were merely a stage effect. But that would have been wrong as well. When He prayed in Gethsemane His agony was real – His sweat was like great drops of blood. And when He was on the cross and cried out, His pain was real. It was no stage effect.

The Lord chose to exercise the most important type of freedom available to the human race: spiritual freedom. This is the freedom to act against our basic instincts; it is the freedom to act against a mere sham of a life. It is the freedom to control our negative thoughts and feelings and bring them into spiritual order.

If only all people did this, the horrors of this world would cease to exist. Think of what would have happened if David had chosen to exercise true spiritual freedom rather than just indulging his lusts; he would not have corrupted Bathsheba by committing adultery with her. He would not have murdered Uriah the Hittite, and implicated his general, Joab, in the crime. There would have been no baby born out of adultery, who suffered a lingering illness that finally killed him. David’s life and the life of those around him would have been so different.

And what would have happened if the Pharisee had chosen to extend his good acts from merely a form of behavior into actually cleaning the inside of his cup? Surely his prayer in the temple would have been different. He could have offered up his attempts at a spiritual life as a gift to God rather than as a boast. He could have extended his hand in love and friendship to the tax collector praying with him. But instead he chose to put his faith in external things and to close the doors of his mind to the Lord. In the next world his good deeds would not have done him any good, because his selfish loves would continue to dominate him.

Each of us has the freedom to will, think and act as we wish – that is how the Lord made us. But the consequences of our actions often extend far beyond our immediate environment. It is our own choice if we want to give in to our basest desires, but others will get hurt because of it. Do we really want that? At the same time, we can just maintain a facade of goodness. But that takes a great deal of energy to live a double life. Is it not easier, then, to actually exercise true spiritual freedom – to turn to the Lord, asking His guidance in any situation, and then acting according to our best understanding of what should be done?

As we exercise true spiritual freedom, we will notice a change in our lives: we will stop worrying about getting caught for our actions; we will stop worrying about what others think of us. Instead we will feel the peace of mind knowing that by choosing to follow the Lord, our lives are in His hands.

There is no need for the abuses of this world. There is, on the other hand, a great need for those who do good to reach out to others to help, those who do good and stand up for spiritual values. Let us be these people. Amen.

Lesson: I Kings 11, selections; Luke 18:10-14; Luke 22:39-46


A Sermon by Rev Andrew M. T. Dibb
Preached in South Africa July 15, 1996

Our text this morning are those immortal words spoken by the Lord to Martha, sister of Lazarus:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live”‘ (John 11:25).

Death is a subject best confronted when it is not present, for then the mind is able to think about it with a quietude, and so examine it from many angles. It is a certainty that each one of us will die, and each one of us will be affected by the death of other people. Our belief in a life after death defines to a great degree how we respond to death.

To believe in the Lord is also to believe in a life after death. These two beliefs go hand in hand. In one sense we can say that by believing in a life after death we are also believing in the power and omnipotence of the Lord – His power because He can undo that which no one else can undo: death; His omnipotence, because the Lord releases each and every person from the bonds of death.

There is an old saying that no one can get out of this world alive! We must all die, and, sad as that eventuality may seem at the time, the only way we can make sense of it is by believing the Lord’s words that those who believe in Him can never die. In the Word the Lord shows His power over death. He raised Lazarus from the tomb even though he had been dead for four days.

Reflect for a moment on that miracle: Jesus was summoned to Bethany because Lazarus was ill. When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

These words are significant. Instead of going there immediately, He waited, until it was too late – Lazarus had died and been buried. But the Lord said that the sickness was for the sake of the “xxx glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Thus the Lord allowed Lazarus to die in order to demonstrate His power over death. He raised Lazarus back to natural life to illustrate how people are raised into spiritual life. He is, as He said later to the Sadducees, the God of the living, not the God of the dead. Later in the gospel of John the Lord said to Pilate: “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; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36).

At another time He said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” These Biblical passages show clearly that the Lord’s kingdom cannot be found on the physical plane; it is a kingdom of spirit, existing within us. In the doctrines of the New Church we are taught that the Lord created each one of us to become citizens of His kingdom; each of us is destined to heaven or, should we so choose it, to hell.

Death, then, is a natural conclusion to our life in this world, and it introduces us into spiritual life. The only reason it seems that our bodies live is because the spirit lives within them. Our spirit is what thinks and feels, the part of us that moves us to act. This spirit draws its life from the Lord, and because it does that it can never die. Only the body which houses the spirit in this world dies, for our bodies are made of matter, with no life of their own. At death the body is left behind, and the spirit is resurrected into a new life.

Many theories have evolved over the thousands of years that people have contemplated death. In ancient times the after-life was believed to be a sort of gray underworld; the Greeks called it Hades, the Jews Sheol. Very little was known about it. In Christian times the theorizing has continued: some believe that people stay in the grave until the last judgment when they will be raised again, physically on this earth. Few believe in any sort of spiritual resurrection. Yet this is what the Lord teaches in the Word.

in Hosea we read: “Come and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up” (Hosea 6: 1). “After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight” (Hosea 6:2).

The Lord Himself, when asked for a sign of His power, referred to the sign of Jonah, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). This sign came true when the Lord, crucified on Good Friday, was resurrected on Easter Sunday. It was not, however, until the Lord called His servant Emanuel Swedenborg to experience the spiritual world and write his experiences down that the Lord fully revealed the spiritual world to the human race. Swedenborg’s experience sets aside the theories of the past. What we are shown in the doctrines is a marvelous view of the life to come.

Death, we are told, is a continuation of life, not physical but spiritual. The process of dying can be compared to leaving one room and entering into another. At times it has been compared to a worm’s wrapping itself into a cocoon. When it emerges it is no longer a worm but a butterfly, beautiful and free.

For many people, in spite of the assurances given about death, the subject still contains things that bring about fear: fear of the unknown, fear of separation from loved ones, fear of punishment. The doctrines show us that these fears are unfounded. The spiritual world is the Lord’s kingdom; it is like moving to another country. Because the Lord is merciful, He cushions the transition as much as possible.

Swedenborg was allowed to experience the process of waking up in the spiritual world, and shows us that it is both a gentle and a pleasant experience. A person who has recently died is put into the care of angels, who gradually awaken him or her. By about the third day after dying the person is fully awake and ready to begin a new life.

People in the other life are often amazed by what they see: firstly people are struck by the similarity between the spiritual world and the natural, this to such a degree that the spirit “… imagines that he is still in the world, indeed that he is still within his physical body, insomuch that when he is told he is a spirit he is absolutely dumbfounded. He is dumbfounded because, for one thing, he is still in every way a person as regards sensations, desires, and thoughts, and for another, he did not during his lifetime believe in the existence of the spirit, or …that the spirit could possibly be such as his experience now proves” (AC 320).

The second amazing thing about the next world is that people are still people – newcomers there discover that they still have a body; they still have sensations similar to those in this world. The only difference between their spiritual and natural bodies is that the spiritual body is more alive, more in tune with them than before.

So the spirit begins life in the next world conscious of the external similarities of the two worlds. But there are some major differences as well: the spiritual world is a world of the mind, thus it is affected by the mind of the spirit. One sees the reality of this in the impact of thought on the people there: think of a person and that person appears before one. In this way the new spirit comes into contact with those who have died before him or her.

But the impact of the mind goes far beyond simply contact with friends and relatives; it actually determines what the spirit’s immediate environment will be like. In this world our external environment is only slightly affected by our moods, loves and hates. For example, a person who loves wide outdoor spaces may feel claustrophobic in a forest. The environment then elicits a response from a person. But in the next world it is the other way around: the person’s feelings and thoughts elicit a response from the environment. Thus a person who loves wide-open spaces will find him- or herself in such places.

Mostly, however, our thoughts and feelings determine whether our spiritual environment is good or evil. An evil person, one who chooses selfishly and whose only concern is self, will find his or her environment reflects this selfishness: it may be hard, dry, barren, cruel, hostile; in other words, it will have all the qualities of selfishness depicted in the landscape. Interestingly, such a person will find those kinds of surroundings attractive, will enjoy them. This is the major difference between heaven and hell: heaven is a reflection of the love for good with a person, while hell reflects the opposite.

The reason spirits feel so at home in their spiritual environment is that that environment is the result of our life in this world. Our natural life is a preparation for spiritual life – the thoughts, feelings, attitudes and habits we form and foster are all part of the mental world in which we live. A gloomy person may see life as depressing, sad or dull. In time that outlook becomes so habitual that the person can’t see life from any other vantage. In the next life, those thoughts and feelings become real, and the person no longer wishes to even begin to change-

The message given to us, therefore, is to really consider death – our deaths. Picture ourselves moving into another world where our innermost thoughts and feelings become the reality of our lives. What would that be like to eternity? Fortunately, while we are in this world we are given the opportunity to readjust ourselves, to repent and reform, so that our inner reality becomes more heavenly, more balanced, and happier.

The spiritual world, when we are not immediately affected by death, seems a long way off. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, our final home in heaven or hell hardly seems to be very important. But it is important. The spiritual world is not something “out there.” It is within us. When we die, we will effectively cross from one room into another. Our consciousness will be interrupted for a mere three days – less time than sleep therapy!

If we believe in the Lord, then we must also believe in the life after death, and that belief must have more of an impact on our lives than simply feeling comforted at a funeral. The Lord has given us this information for a greater reason than mere curiosity – He has given it to us for use so that we may learn to put aside selfish and hellish things, and instead turn to Him as the source of life for a spiritual resurrection – even while we are still alive in this world.

If we turn to Him, then we can take to heart His words to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” Amen.

Lesson: John 11:1-44


A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
Cataloged May 4. 1997

“And the men of Israel were distressed that day, for Saul had placed the people under oath, saying, ‘Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.’ So none of the people tasted food. But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath; therefore he stretched out the end of the rod that was in his hand and dipped it in a honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes were opened” (Isaiah,14:24,27).

Today we are going to consider the story of two men, father and son; one is a king and the other a prince. Historically each is a brave and capable fighter, and each delighted in serving the Lord by fighting and killing the enemies of the Children of Israel. Each of them disobeys a command and does what is evil, but one of them is forgiven, the other is not. Our challenge for today is to study the story of these two men so that we can see the difference in their behavior and then apply these truths to our own relationship with the Lord and see if we deserve to be forgiven. We can also apply these truths to our relationships with others and learn when to forgive them as well.

Saul became the King of Israel when the people rejected the Lord’s leadership through judges and prophets and demanded a king instead so that they could be like all the other nations around them. The Lord accepted their rejection of Him, and gave them the king they wanted. The people were delighted with Saul. He was tall, good looking, a great warrior -everything they wanted in a king. He ruled them well for many years, and fought many great battles against the Philistines. When his son Jonathan was old enough he joined the army and soon became something of a hero himself. The Scriptures record how he, accompanied only by his armor bearer, attacked a Philistine garrison of twenty men and killed them all, a feat he was able to accomplish because he had received a sign that the Lord was with him. This little victory struck terror in the hearts of the Philistines, which, we are told, was then amplified by an earthquake sent by the Lord.

Saul, seeing that the Philistines were in confusion and fear, attacked. Filled with the desire to totally destroy his enemy, Saul commanded that no one would be permitted to rest from the killing for any reason, even to eat bread. He says “bread,” but by it means all food of any kind (see NJHD 218, AC 2165). He wanted complete and utter vengeance upon his enemies.

During the course of the day’s battle, Jonathan and his men found themselves in an area where there were many honeycombs, and being quite hungry, Jonathan ate some, not knowing of his father’s order. The men with him had heard it, though, and they did not eat. It was then that they told him about the order. But Jonathan already knew something was wrong, for we are told by the internal sense of the words that “his eyes were opened,” which means that he had an inner sense that what he had just done was evil: “he saw what he knew not” (AC 212). “Jonathan’s eyes were opened by tasting the honey” because “honey” corresponds to natural good and its delight, and this good gives life experience, a kind of enlightenment or “sixth sense” from which Jonathan knew that he had done evil (AE 619:8). However, in spite of the fact that he suddenly knew that he had done something wrong, he still criticized the order to the other men, saying that the soldiers would have been able to do a much better job fighting if they had taken a little time to refresh themselves.

The battle ends as night falls, and Saul, flushed with his day’s victory, seeks counsel from the Lord about how to proceed the next day. But because the Lord does not answer, Saul immediately knows that something is wrong, that someone has committed some evil that has caused Jehovah to withdraw. Saul is both enraged and afraid, for he knows that his success in war has been due to the Lord’s constant presence with the army. He knows that he must find and punish the evil-doer or the Philistines will return and destroy them. In order to find the evil-doer, Saul draws lots. He puts the whole of the army on one side, and Jonathan and himself on the other. The lot shows that the guilty party is either Jonathan or Saul. He then draws lots with his son, and discovers that Jonathan is the one who must be put to death because he has broken the king’s law.

Something very unusual happens next: the army and people intercede on Jonathan’s behalf. They believe that since it is obvious that the Lord is with Jonathan, as shown by what he did to the Philistine garrison, it would be wrong for him to be put to death, and the implication is that if Saul were to follow through on his threat, the people would cease following him, and perhaps even overthrow him as king. The Scripture does not give the details, but it is clear that Jonathan was pardoned by Saul under intense pressure from the elders of the people and the army.

It is important to note that no one questioned the fact that Jonathan had committed a crime. He had broken the king’s law and deserved to be punished. What the people introduced was an element of mercy based on their judgment of Jonathan’s intent, and so properly demanded that the punishment be moderated to fit the intent. Our sympathies properly lie with Jonathan, and we are satisfied that justice has been done when he escapes the death penalty.

Our attention now turns to Saul, and the quality of his disobedience. Some time after the incident just mentioned, Samuel commanded Saul to attack and utterly destroy the Amalekites, specifically ordering him to destroy men, women, children, and animals. In the sense of the letter, this was commanded because the Amalekites had cruelly ambushed the Children of Israel when they were first struggling in the desert after leaving Egypt. In the spiritual sense, the Lord commanded the complete and utter destruction of this Canaanite tribe because it represented interior evils of the will.

In the subsequent battle, Saul makes some changes in the orders. He captures Agag, king of the Amalekites, instead of killing him. He slaughters the women and children, but keeps the animals as spoil. And then, when Samuel comes to confront him with his disobedience, he repeatedly lies, first telling Samuel that he had obeyed the Lord completely, and then when Samuel called his attention to all the animals in the camp, Saul claimed that the animals had been kept “for sacrifice” to the Lord. Finally Saul tries to blame others for the crime, saying that the people made him do it, but he was never able to see or admit his own guilt.

Samuel responds to Saul with the words that served to condemn not only Saul’s action but the actions of all those who believed that the life of religion consisted in merely following the rituals of the Jewish Church and yet harbored all kinds of evil loves in their hearts; Samuel said to Saul, “to obey is better than to sacrifice, to hearken better than the fat of rams” (Isaiah 15:22), and as Samuel turned to leave, Saul fell on his face on the ground, and grabbed at the hem of his garment, imploring him not to leave him. In so doing he tore the prophet’s garment, and was further told that “the Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel away from you today” (Isaiah 15:28), and it had been given to another who would be more worthy. As a final gesture of displeasure with Saul’s response to the Divine leading, Samuel took a sword and killed Agag, the Amalekite king, himself.

Both Saul and Jonathan disobeyed. Jonathan disobeyed the king; Saul disobeyed the Lord. Jonathan disobeyed through ignorance and without an evil intent, and was forgiven. Saul disobeyed knowingly, deliberately, and then lied to Samuel about it, trying to put the blame on others. He was not forgiven, but instead lost his kingdom for himself and his family forever.

The story of these two men, their evils, and their subsequent forgiveness revolves around the distinction between what is evil and what is a sin. Jonathan’s experience illustrates what evil is. It is always evil to break a commandment, even if you don’t know about it, or even if you were trying to do something good. If something is forbidden by God, it is evil to do it – but it is not necessarily a sin. An evil act becomes a sin only when the person knows that it is evil and deliberately goes about it anyhow, planning ways to hide it from others, or to make it appear that others have done it. This is what Saul did.

A little child may take something that belongs to another. That is wrong; it is an evil. But we all instinctively and immediately recognize that he cannot be blamed for it, because he does not know any better. In other words, the act itself may have been evil, but because the little child could not have intended harm we forgive him; the child is free from sin in the matter.

Sin is a matter of the will, and a person cannot be blamed for an evil until he is of an age where he can and does act solely from his own will. The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that such a state begins “about the twentieth year,” (AC 10225:5) although it is obvious from the context and from common sense that it is the spiritual state of the person, not the number of birthdays, that is the essential here.

The way we distinguish between evils and sins is by judging, as best we can, as to the thought, intent, and will of the person who is in disorder, whether it be another or ourselves.

Jonathan acted thoughtlessly, then had a pang of conscience. His first reaction was to belittle the command, say it was not really important, but he knew that he had done wrong and would have to pay for it. Our immediate reaction when we do something wrong is to try to justify it, and that’s normal. It often happens that even as we hear ourselves arguing and protesting about something, we can feel ourselves internally recognizing the truth of the very things we are denying. Even though we are fighting for the right to do something, we have already decided in our hearts that we know that it is wrong, and will not ever do it again. In the eyes of the Lord, what really counts is what happens in the long run. Do we try to make our mistakes and our evils appear to be good, or do we honestly admit when we are wrong and try to amend our lives?

When people die and enter the world of spirits, they soon find that the spiritual world is so much like the natural world that they forget that they are spirits, and soon slip back into the old, familiar ways of life. In other words, while they are in the state of their exterior life, they return to the same mistakes and habits they were subject to while in the world. The big difference is that the angels who are in charge of keeping order in the world of spirits are unlike judges in the natural world, for the spirits can see into the interiors of the mind, and so immediately know what the intention behind the act is. When spirits commit evils in the world of spirits from ignorance, from thoughtlessness, or in the course of trying to do something nice, they are excused and forgiven. It is the intention behind the act that counts.

Saul’s evil, on the other hand, was evil of the will, evil deliberately and consciously done in the full knowledge that it is evil. This is sin, pure and simple, and as it contaminates the will itself, it destroys spiritual life and cannot be removed except with great difficulty through the most grievous of temptations. The reason it is so difficult to remove is that by its very nature it is difficult to discover because it hides itself in falsity, in self-justification, in lies. It makes every attempt to appear as good – the mass-murderer who believes that he is doing the world a service by removing certain people from it; the adulterer who believes he is doing his wife and marriage a favor by taking his perversions elsewhere; the thief who believes that he can put the money to better use than its proper owner – but when such things are seen in the light of truth, we see how insane sin really is.

We all commit evils all the time – knowingly and not – but they are not sins, and we are not responsible for them unless we knew they were evil at the time, and consciously chose to do them from will. This is the Lord’s mercy toward us. He judges according to the heart, not according to the act, for who of us could stand against the judgment of Divine Truth alone untempered by the mercy of the Divine Love?

But there is something that we must do to earn this mercy. We must first be in charity: we must treat others as we wish to be treated; that is, if we wish others to assume our good intentions, we must also assume their good intentions toward us. After all, which of us actually plans to say or do something unkind to another? But how often do we assume that something said to us was intended to be unkind? We must recognize that most things that offend and annoy were not intended that way at all, but were thoughtless or accidental. If we wish the Lord to forgive and excuse us for our thoughtlessness and accidental evils, then we must also forgive others who offend us, for the Lord said, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14,15). But if we wish the Lord to forgive us for our sins, we must search our hearts in the light of His Divine truth, discover the sin that is there, and flee from it as if from hell itself. Amen.

Lessons: 14:24-30, 15:13-19, Matt. 6:1-8, AC 6559

Arcana Coelestia 6559

How the case is with returning evil, or with penalties, in the spiritual world, must be told, because from this the internal sense of these words is plain. If evil spirits do any evil in the world of spirits beyond what they have imbued themselves with by their life in the world, punishers are instantly at hand and chastise them in exact accordance with the degree in which they pass these limits; for it is a law in the other life that no one must become worse than he had been in this world.

They who are being punished cannot tell how these chastisers know that the evil is beyond what they had imbued themselves with, but they are informed that there is such an order in the other life that the very evil is attended with its penalty, so that the evil of the deed is wholly conjoined with the evil of the penalty, that is to say, its penalty is in the evil itself; and therefore that it is according to order for the avengers to be instantly at hand.

This is what happens when evil spirits do evil in the world of spirits; but in their own hell they chastise one another according to the evil which they had by act imbued themselves with in this world; for this evil they bring with them into the other life.

But as regards good spirits, if perchance they speak or do evil, they are not punished but pardoned, and also excused; for their end is not to speak or do evil, and they know that such things are excited in them by hell, so that they have not come to pass by their fault; and the same is also observed from their resistance, and afterward from their grief.


A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
Preached in Mitchellville, Maryland – Cataloged May 4, 1997

“Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it”‘ (Luke 9:23,24).

As civilization has advanced, as our knowledge of the world and how it works has been increased, the dangers of day-to- day life have decreased. In fact, the momentum toward reducing the dangers of daily life has pushed us so far that we are beginning to work toward a “risk-free” society. We insure our personal property so that if something is ruined or lost it can be replaced. We insure our lives so that even after a person dies he can continue to support his family. In recent years people have been able to insure such unusual things as a pianist’s fingers or a dancer’s legs. If we are careful to choose the right company and pay our premiums on time, we can insulate ourselves from almost any kind of natural disaster or loss.

Governments now concern themselves with such things as the content of food products, the use of cosmetics, and the conditions of the work place. They tightly regulate every aspect of daily life for the sake of protecting us from hidden dangers. On the one hand, so many substances have been named as carcinogens that such announcements are difficult to take seriously any more. On the other hand, some truly dangerous substances like asbestos have been identified and steps taken to remove them from our environment, and diseases such as smallpox have been entirely destroyed. Government programs have been developed to help farmers by developing and distributing pesticides and fertilizers, and by building great systems of dams and waterways in an attempt to control floods and irrigate deserts. In every case, whether successful or not, whether the side effects were worth the cost, the apparent intent has been to reduce risk to the general populace, to insulate us from the effects of things and ideas that are in the natural world, be they insects, drought, flood, storm, or our choice of food or even our selection of reading material.

It is clear that the people of our day are trying very hard to eliminate risks and dangers from modern life. This is well and good. We are trying to make life less dangerous, more pleasant. We are living longer and better than any people before in the history of mankind. What, if anything, is wrong with that? Only that this kind of attitude toward life puts our eternal soul at risk.

It is only natural for such a trend to continue into more and more diverse areas of life until we find ourselves exchanging a reduced risk of injury for reduced personal freedoms. We need to remember that it is a spiritual principle that the freedom to make only the “approved” choice is not freedom at all. We must be free to take risks and make terrible mistakes in order to be truly free.

The problem is that as natural risks are removed, as we are able to live relatively without care, our spiritual attitudes tend to follow our natural attitudes. When we can take a wonder drug to cure our pneumonia, we expect to find equally fast and powerful tools with which to fight our evils, and if our efforts do not meet with immediate results, we give up using that tool and look for a new product, a new spiritual tool that will give the quick results that we desire.

The root cause of this attitude is the doctrine of faith alone and its related doctrine of works alone. Both the doctrine of faith alone and the doctrine of works alone have within them similar assumptions: that admission to paradise (or heaven) is a matter of grace because no human could possibly deserve it, having been born in sin; and that grace is obtained from God through a single, specific act, either faith that Jesus Christ died for the remission of sins, or receiving forgiveness for sins from the church and taking part in the communion. Neither the faith-alone nor the works-alone position requires any amendment of life! However, as we all know, reasonable members of all churches believe that it is not enough only to have faith, and that they must show the signs of their faith by living a good life, or that they must be true to their confession and actually go and commit that sin no more.

Even though it is not necessarily the doctrinal teaching of their own church, the Lord has provided that every person who seeks to follow Him will, from conscience, seek to live in obedience to His laws, and interpret the doctrines of his own church in such a way as to permit this. And yet we must be aware that the doctrine of faith alone is extremely appealing when we consider the choices. According to the doctrine of faith alone, if we seek to live in paradise with God we can achieve it through no more than a simple statement of faith. According to the doctrine of works alone we can earn paradise simply by being forgiven of sins by a priest and taking communion. Our third choice is to read the Word, examine our lives in comparison to what the Lord there teaches, repent of our sins, fight the combats of temptation as if from ourselves, and begin a new life – and this over and over again throughout life in the world. When you are surrounded by a culture where everything is done quickly, where waiting itself is a sin, where credit is available so you need never save for something you want, where everything is focused on instant gratification, which choice are you going to make?

By analogy it seems that many people are looking for a kind of spiritual “magic armor, and by this I mean some kind of formula or church doctrine that will allow them to continue to live their lives pretty much as they want, and still allow them to commit some sins, to be able to have a “spiritual accident” without getting hurt. A recent study showed that as cars are made safer and safer through ABS brakes and air bags, people are driving faster and less carefully, so the accident and injury rates remain the same.

Does the doctrine of salvation by faith alone actually encourage people to sin by removing the consequences of their sin? The Arcana puts it this way: “They who are not being regenerated say absolutely that faith is in the first place, because in this way they can live as they desire and still say that they have hope of salvation” (AC 6269:2).

What does the Word teach about the risk, the cost of the life, that leads to spiritual happiness? The Word treats of this in several different ways: for example, through the Lord’s own example by His life in the world. He challenged the scribes and Pharisees in the synagogues and temples, the basis of their strength. He traveled with and stayed with publicans and sinners because those were the people who needed Him the most. He took on a human body in order to fight the hells on their own terms by allowing them to attack Him. He suffered grievous temptations at the hands of the hells, all for the sake of our eternal welfare.

The Lord taught us concerning the cost of following Him in Luke: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23,24).

The life that we must lose is our selfish life, the life of the old will, the life that lives in the delights of hereditary evils, selfishness, and falsity. This is what must die so that the life of the new will given by the Lord can take its place and live – the new will which is the foundation of angelic life.

If we seek our own ends, we will lose spiritual life in heaven. If instead we look outward toward the Lord and the neighbor, we are giving up our selfish life for the sake of the Lord, and so we will be saved. This is difficult, for we love all the things that are ours, and do not wish to give any of them up. This is our burden; this is the cross which He asks us to bear daily.

Temptations are the most common form of risk for us, while at the same time they are the best way for us to express our spiritual freedom. A temptation is not actually a temptation unless there is doubt concerning the end – unless your spiritual life is at risk. In order for you to really fight as from yourself it is absolutely necessary that you genuinely believe and feel that you can fail unless you fight with all your strength and ask the Lord for help. This is the ultimate expression of free will in spiritual things, where you decide for yourself what you are going to be, how you are going to live, what you are going to believe. You risk being wrong in your beliefs, failing in your temptation. But unless there was that risk of failure, the temptation would not be real; it would be nothing but a meaningless act required by a capricious God.

We cannot be free to choose to do good and go to heaven without also being free to choose evil and hell, to be free to fail. A risk-free life is insipid and dead, a refusal to live as God intended, as a spiritually free individual experiencing repeated victories, choosing his own spiritual character.

The New Church has a lot going for it. Our doctrinal position is rational and consistent with Scripture and the Ten Commandments. We have knowledges about the spiritual world that make it a real and desirable place. Our teachings about marriage are beautiful and uplifting. On the other hand, it is a hard church to belong to because it requires a lot of reading of what can be difficult material. It does not tell anyone how to live his life but requires that everyone apply the doctrines from the Word for himself according to his own understanding and conscience. The New Church requires that each one go through the steps of self-examination, repentance, and reformation in order to be regenerated by the Lord. The New Church requires that we work for our place in heaven, and offers no guarantees.

The subtle danger of the doctrine of faith alone is that it encourages us to continue in our old, evil ways even while we are convinced that we have been made new by grace. The irony is that the idea of the “risk-free” society is in fact the greatest risk that we face to our spiritual life, for it makes us think that we do not need the Lord’s help. Why should we seek repentance when we don’t need it? How can we be helped by the Lord if we don’t think we need it and won’t ask for it? If there were no possibility of failure, no risk, there could be no freedom to choose heaven, for whenever there is true freedom of choice, there must also be the freedom to make the wrong choice.

Think of David, a young man, facing Goliath, the Philistine giant, armed with nothing other than a shepherd’s sling and five smooth stones. Think of the risk he took. And yet we know that it was no risk at all, because the Lord was fighting for (and with) him. Nothing of value is gained without risk, without some cost, especially things that are really valuable, spiritual life itself. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Amen.

Lessons: I Samuel 17 (portions), Luke 14:25-33, AC 8164-8165

Arcana Caelestia 8164, 8165

There are spiritual temptations and there are natural temptations. Spiritual temptations belong to the internal man, but natural ones to the external man. Spiritual temptations sometimes arise without natural temptations, sometimes with them. Natural temptations exist when a man suffers as to the body, as to honors, as to wealth, in a word, as to the natural life, as is the case in diseases, misfortunes, persecutions, punishments, and the like. The anxieties which then arise are what are meant by “natural temptations.” But these temptations effect nothing whatever toward man’s spiritual life; neither can they be called temptations, but griefs, for they arise from the wounding of the natural life, which is that of the love of self and of the world.

But spiritual temptations belong to the internal man, and assault his spiritual life. In this case the anxieties are not on account of any loss of natural life, but on account of the loss of faith and charity, and consequently of salvation. These temptations are frequently induced by means of natural temptations, for if when a man is in these – that is, in disease, grief, the loss of wealth or honor, and the like – he begins to think about the Lord’s aid, His providence, the state of the evil in that they glory and exult when the good suffer and undergo various griefs and various losses, then spiritual temptation is conjoined with natural temptation.

Moreover those who are in despair, which is the last of temptation, think such things, and then they are as it were on the slope, or are as it were sinking down toward hell. But at this time such thought does no harm whatever, nor do the angels pay any attention to it, for every person’s power is limited, and when the temptation arrives at the furthest limit of his power, the person cannot sustain anything more but sinks down. But then, when he is on the downhill course, he is raised by the Lord and thus liberated from despair, and is then for the most part brought into a clear state of hope and of the consequent consolation, and also into good fortune.


A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
Cataloged May 4, 1997

The other disciples therefore said to Thomas,

“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 actually watched a close friend being brutally executed, 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 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 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. 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; 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 true even 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 choose freely 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 AC 1072:2).

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 an important part in our 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 he 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.

… those who are not in the faith of charity desire merely to reason whether a thing be so, and to know how it is, saying that unless they can know how it is, they cannot believe it to be so. From this alone they are known at once as being in no faith, a mark of which is that they not only doubt concerning all things, but also deny in their hearts; and when they are instructed how the case is, they still cling to their disbelief and start all kinds of objections, and never acquiesce were it to eternity. Those who thus persist in their contumacy heap errors upon errors. These, or such as these, are they who are called in the Word “drunken with wine or strong drink” (AC 1072:2).

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 (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 question the point. 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 plays an important role in temptation, 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 man 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 man puts off evil and acquires new loves to being an 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 (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 oneself 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 (AC 7298:2). 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.

The Lord’s own disciple Thomas doubted His resurrection (see 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 see His Divine Humanity, and say, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) Amen.

Lessons: Exodus 7:1-13; John 20:19-31; AC 7298:2

Arcana Coelestia 7298:2

Be it further known that 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.


A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
Cataloged May 4, 1997

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery. ‘ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27,28).

The question I would like to address today is, Can you learn from the mistakes and experiences of others, or do you actually have to do evil yourself.?

Our parents taught us that there were some things that we must not do. But there were some things that we wanted to do anyhow. We tried not to do them, and for a long time we could resist, but eventually we grew older and became independent. We moved away from home, our parents’ influence grew less and less, the encouragement of our friends grew stronger, and we ended up doing them anyhow.

At first it was exciting! It was liberating, wonderful. Then all the wheels fell off and the consequences had to be paid. Then we first began to understand the pain and the hurt that our parents had struggled to protect us from.

Having learned the lesson for ourselves, having lived it, we tried to tell others, perhaps our own children, how they could avoid that pain, but they’re just like us – they don’t listen. Off they go to make the same mistakes that we made, to suffer the same pain that we suffered, and they just won’t listen. But they learn from their errors and want to pass their “new” knowledge on to others who also won’t listen, and so on.

How often does this cycle repeat itself? Doesn’t it begin to seem that the only way people can really learn something is to experience it for themselves, to make the mistakes, and to suffer the consequences? We learn to tolerate all kinds of disorders in our children, our friends and ourselves, because we begin to believe that we can really learn about evil only through personal experience. Such a belief is one of those ideas that come from hell to allow us to justify our own evils to ourselves and to others. So we look away when young people stay out late drinking, carrying on. We hope that they will get into just enough trouble that they will learn from it without permanent harm. After all, everyone has to experience these things for himself or herself – at least that’s what we think. They’re just “sowing their wild oats.” Everyone does it. Unfortunately, such a view flies in the face of what the Word teaches.

If you had to learn everything for yourself by experience, what would be the purpose of having the Word in the first place? The Writings tell us that in heaven, those who have died as children need to be instructed about evil so that they can recognize it. But how can you teach about evil in heaven where there is no evil? The Writings tell us that spirits and angels learn about evil and its dangers through plays.

We read from Conjugial Love n. 17:5 – “Moreover, outside the city there are also theatrical performances by players, representing the varieties of honorableness and virtue characteristic of the moral life; and among them, for the sake of relationship, are also actors. Here one of the ten asked, ‘Why for the sake of relationship?’ They answered: ‘No one of the virtues with its display of honorableness and decorum can be presented in a living way except by things related thereto from the greatest of them to the least. But it is established by law that nothing of the opposite, which is called dishonorable or unseemly, shall be exhibited except figuratively and, as it were, remotely.”‘

This passage is teaching that the only way that good can be taught is by comparison to evil, and so the plays that are conducted in heaven and in the world of spirits are done in such a way as to show the relationship among various moral virtues. There are actors who pretend to be evil for the sake of teaching others the need to avoid evil. It’s not outward evil, it’s not horrible, but it’s clearly enough suggested that the difference is clearly seen. Those people who have grown up in heaven can see the play, can see evil being presented there, be horrified by it, and see that it touches a chord with the evil within themselves. In this way they recognize that there is evil within themselves and they’re horrified by that and they flee from it.

They learn about evil, they flee from it, without ever having to actually do it themselves. They learn simply by perceiving evil’s effect in someone else.

Do we really need to sow wild oats to experience real life for ourselves? The Word seems to say that we can read about it, that we can use our imagination, that there is a use in plays that suggest evil and explore its consequences without glorifying it, such as “Macbeth.”

There may even be a use in the kinds of movies that we see today that depict graphic violence, if the result is that by seeing it we are horrified and turn away from it. It is a problem, of course, that there are those who see these kinds of things, believe them to be good and are fascinated by them and attracted to them.

The text for this sermon is the section where the Lord taught that to lust in your heart after one not your spouse is the same as to actually commit the adultery, and in this way He was showing that it is possible to sin in your mind without sinning as to the body. If we can image a deed in our minds, we don’t have to actually do it. We can create a fantasy in which we’ve enjoyed the delights of evil and then (and this is the important step) look at the probable consequences as well as the delights. By thinking about what we picture ourselves doing in our fantasies we can learn to shun evils by observing them in the abstract within ourselves.

Remember what it said in TCR 535: “It is strange that anyone can find fault with another for his evil intentions, and say, ‘Do not do that because it is a sin,’ and yet find it difficult to say this to himself; but this is because the latter touches the will, but the former only the thought nearest to hearing……….

In each of us there is an aspect which we call the “parent” which treats others as if they are children. When we see someone about to do something wrong we want to warn him against it because we know from our own experience that it will cause hurt, and which one of us can stand silently by and watch someone that we care about be hurt? And yet at the same time we find it difficult to restrain ourselves. We look for ways to excuse our own evils, to make them acceptable and permissible. We change their names to make them sound nicer. We’re not “sinning”; we’re “sowing wild oats.” Now what does the Word say? “All who do good from religion avoid actual evils …” (TCR 535).

We’re also taught in another place that an evil once done by mistake can be removed fairly easily. That’s true, but if you do it a few times from intention it becomes firmly anchored in the will and becomes much more difficult to remove (see DP 112:3). The danger is that if we allow ourselves the right to experiment with evil, it will happen that we end up doing some of those evils many times from intention. In this way the hells lead us to do the very thing that will entrench the love of that particular evil in our lives while leading us to believe that we’re doing it for some good reason, that we are safe, that we are having harmless fun. We really have to avoid doing them at all – ever – to avoid the danger of having them become a permanent part of our character.

Consider the example used in the first lesson, the story of Joash and Elisha. The prophet, representing the Word and authority, asked Joash to do something. But Joash didn’t fully understand so he didn’t do it with enthusiasm; and after the fact, when he had struck only three times and realized that he was not going to be able to totally defeat Syria, he realized that his lack of enthusiasm was going to cost him.

We all feel that way about rules, because rules challenge our proprium, our love of self, our desire to do things our own way. We follow rules grudgingly, if we follow them at all, and sometimes that leads to painful results: teenage pregnancies, cars that are crashed while the drivers are intoxicated. We always think we know better, that we can beat the odds because we are so clever. But the Lord repeatedly teaches differently. He teaches us by illustrations in the Word so that we can learn about doing things without having to do them ourselves.

Think of the example of the good Samaritan: The story tells that a priest and a Levite passed by an injured man but it was a man from Samaria that showed mercy upon him, took him to an inn and paid for his medical treatment with his own money. The Lord wants us to see that these are both sides of our own characters. He wants us to imagine ourselves as a priest or a Levite walking by, realizing that that is the wrong thing to do, by imagining it and feeling the same thing we would feel if we went walking down the street and saw an injured man and just walked by. And then He wants us to imagine how we would feel if we were Samaritans walking by, picking the injured man up and helping him. By using the imaginative degree of our minds we can feel the same emotions and be enlightened to know what the Lord wants us to do. We don’t have to actually walk past an injured man to feel the selfishness and know that it is right to help.

Think of the story of the prodigal son: when we read this story we like to remember the parts about how the young man went into the city and lived the high life, because we would like to do that, and then when he had learned his lesson, he went home and was received by his father as if nothing had happened. He put a beautiful garment on him. He put gold rings on his fingers and we think to ourselves, “What a marvelous story! We can go off to the big city, we can waste ourselves and then come home and be forgiven and be treated as if nothing had ever happened!” But we forget that before the young man came to his senses he had to hit bottom. We forget the increasing desperation that he felt as his money began to run out and he realized that he had no prospects of getting more, that the friends he had made while he had money were leaving him behind. We forget the humiliation that he felt as his new friends turned away from him; and we forget the hunger, the desperate hunger that drove him to his hands and knees fighting the pigs for their swill.

The Lord wants us to remember both parts of the story. He wants each of us to be the brother who stayed behind, and when the other son came home, he learned from it. The brother who stayed behind suffered none of these things. All he had to deal with were some feelings of jealousy, and yet he learned the same lesson.

The same thing is true with the parable of the lost sheep which we read as part of the second lesson. It is likely that every child has felt lost for a few minutes, enough so that we all have a sense of the panic that is felt when one is well and truly lost.

Do we think that the Lord really wants us to get lost so that we can be found? What kind of shepherd would He be then? He is the Good Shepherd; that’s what He teaches in the Word. It is His job to make sure we do not get lost, but if we suffer from enough stubbornness or stupidity to get lost anyhow, then He will come looking for us. The lost sheep may be found, but then it becomes an example of foolishness that keeps the ninety and nine close to the shepherd where they belong. The Lord doesn’t want us to be lost sheep. He wants us to be one of the ninety and nine living happily and securely and peacefully within the flock.

TCR 535 says, “Since actual repentance, which is examining oneself, recognizing and acknowledging one’s sins, praying to the Lord and beginning a new life, is in the Reformed Christian world exceedingly difficult, … therefore an easier kind of repentance is here presented, which is that when anyone is giving thought to any evil and intending it, he shall say to himself, ‘Although I am thinking about this and intending it, I will not do it because it is a sin.’ By this means the temptation injected from hell is checked, and its further entrance prevented. ” Amen.

Lessons: 2 Kings 13:14-19, Luke 15: 1-10, TCR 535

True Christian Religion 535


Since actual repentance, which is examining oneself, recognizing and acknowledging one’s sins, praying to the Lord and beginning a new life, is in the Reformed Christian world exceedingly difficult for many reasons that will be given in the last section of this chapter, therefore an easier kind of repentance is here presented, which is that when anyone is giving thought to any evil and intending it, he shall say to himself, “Although I am thinking about this and intending it, I will not do it because it is a sin.” By this means the temptation injected from hell is checked, and its further entrance prevented. It is strange that anyone can find fault with another for his evil intentions, and say, “Do not do that because it is a sin,” and yet find it difficult to say this to himself, but this is because the latter touches the will, but the former only the thought nearest to hearing. Inquiry was made in the spiritual world as to who were capable of this [actual] repentance, and they were found to be as few as doves in a vast desert. Some said that they could repent in the easier way, but were not able to examine themselves and confess their sins before God. All who do good from religion avoid actual evils, but they very rarely reflect upon the interiors pertaining to the will, for they believe that they are not in evil because they are in good, and even that the good covers the evil. But, my friend, the first thing of charity is to shun evils. This is taught in the Word, the Decalogue, baptism, the holy supper and even by the reason; for how can anyone flee away from evils and banish them without some self- inspection? And how can good become good until it has been interiorly purified? I know that all pious men, and also all men of sound reason, will assent to this when they read it, and will see it as genuine truth, but still, that few will act accordingly.