Category Archives: Co-Operating with the Lord

A Friend at Midnight

By Rev. Julian Duckworth

Doctrine Apocalypse Revealed 951 and Divine Providence 330

These words on asking and receiving from the Lord describe the power of those who are in the Lord. They don’t desire or seek anything except from the Lord, and whatever they desire and seek is done.

The Lord’s love is in everyone, whether good or evil. So the Lord who is Love cannot act differently with everyone than as a Father on earth with his children, and infinitely more so because Divine Love is infinite. He cannot recede from anyone because His life is in them. It appears as if He recedes from the wicked, but it is the wicked who recede, when yet He leads them from love.

Text: Luke 11:8

I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise, and give him as many as he needs.

One of the first things I learned about being in Australia is that you don’t telephone anyone after nine o’clock at night. Actually it’s more like eight thirty when the evening movies start. This came hard to me at first because obviously ministers often use the phone. In England I could happily ring virtually anyone up to ten thirty, and certain people I knew would still be up at midnight and would not mind a call even then. But here, the shutters come down conventionally at nine p.m. And yes, I’ve noticed too that for the most part, we don’t get incoming calls either, after nine. So when the Lord gave this powerful short parable about the results of persistence, He was pretty accurate in putting the time of asking a favour at midnight. No-one would want to be disturbed and everyone would be tucked up in bed for several hours. I’d imagine that in Biblical times, bedtimes would be even earlier still. As he implies, most people would understandably say, Certainly not, not at this unearthly hour. Go away and come back in the morning!

But of course the Lord isn’t really talking about social conventions. Just the opposite in fact. He is saying that there is a real place in our life for breaking the convention and going against the done thing. This is one of the features of the gospels. Jesus himself was a tremendous convention-breaker, a rebel, and we can begin to build up a picture that religion is meant to be a challenge to authority, almost subversive. It’s good to be challenged about what we take for granted or have come to do automatically. It upsets us, and why shouldn’t we be upset like that from time to time? It may be the only way of getting us to think about what we do. But I also think that Jesus’ frequent rebelliousness was more than challenge. It was never challenge for challenge’s sake. The Lord wants to keep us spiritually on our toes, up and running, expectant, and as it says in this short parable “persistent” until we get satisfaction and perhaps a few good answers to our questions. The one state the Lord wants to keep us well away from is apathy, or routine, or going through the motions, or sheer habit. Far better to be in a state of persecution where you are kept on your mettle. But don’t take that to mean we are to go around looking for trouble! What we are to do spiritually is to question, wonder, stir the pot, but within ourselves. Jesus says, Ask and it shall be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. And the key thing in those words is the fact that ask, seek, knock, should be translated keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. And this is basically the spirit of the parable of the friend who is roused at midnight.

Jesus told two parables about the place of persistence. This one we’ve heard and another about a judge who is pestered by a widow to avenge her of her adversary. She wearies him, it says, with her clamouring demand for justice, to the point where he finally does something about it. It’s very human and the danger I suppose is that we might begin to think of God as being like the judge who finally gives in from exasperation. Absolutely not. God cannot give in nor can he be exasperated. But it’s as if He wants us to believe, from our end, that it is like that so that we pester him with question after question about life, in the search to understand and get good answers. He loves that, because He loves us. Everyone who asks – who keeps on asking – receives. Someone wrote that God is mute, silent, so that we can feel He is listening to us without interrupting. And at our Thursday night meeting last week, we heard the story of the person who had a huge problem, who went to God for a solution. Someone told the man that God wasto be found in a tent over there but He wasn’t there at the moment. The man would have to go in and wait a bit. So the man went into the tent and sat down to wait, and as he waited, he started running through what he was going to say to God, how he would present the problem properly. He thought hard, and soon ideas and realisations began to come into his mind one after another. Still no God. After a few minutes, the man began to see that his difficulty was virtually sorted up and he’d got a number of new helpful angles on the problem. Then God came in just as the man was getting up to leave. “It’s OK God. I don’t need you right now. Thanks a lot anyway.”

That’s a great story with a beautiful lesson, but of course not all of our questions and difficulties will get cleared up by cogitating on our own. What about the very hard ones, the insurmountable ones, the ones that people have been asking for centuries? Or the one which deeply troubles us and doesn’t go away or lessen? This is what I think it is driving at in the parable of the man who goes to his friend at midnight to borrow three loaves. Midnight is not especially twelve o’clock; it is the middle of the night. It is the spiritual rock bottom time when nothing makes sense any more and God is just not there, we feel. One of our hymns we sing says “Our midnight is Thy smile withdrawn.” Very ill people often die around four a.m. when the body is at its lowest ebb. And spiritually many people must give up on God when their own night-time is long, cold and very dark, while others find it is the great turning-point, this darkest time of them all. So we might well ask the question, why do some people throw in the sponge and dismiss God in their midnight while others find it’s their turning-point and salvation? What’s the difference? It can only finally be in whether we stop everything or keep something going. It’s there in the last verse of the parable:

I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.

We really need to appreciate what goes on in this persistence. Obviously it doesn’t mean that God will answer us after fifteen enquiries, or is it twenty five, or thirty five, but in the open-ended wish we have to keep with it at all costs, insoluble problems or not. Why? Because God can only come into something which is willing to receive Him. If there’s no avenue, there’s no access. And God may have a thousand and one other ways of coming in than the one we expect or demand. This is perhaps why the parable begins with the request for three loaves and ends with him being given as many as he needs. And the parable strongly brings out the point too that the friend does not get up and give to him because he is his friend but because he is persistent. Being a friend to God or God being a friend to us is not the deal at all. It’s too loaded with favours. It is us demanding a particular result or answer from God because we have a special relationship with Him and we’re on very friendly terms. God doesn’t deal with us like that and He many spring a few surprises if we think otherwise.

Basically, the answer is not the answer, if you follow what I mean. It’s the persistence that ushers in what we might call ‘answers’ even though more accurately they may be identified as becoming more sensitive to life, accepting that we do not know everything, growing and maturing in our own relationship with the Lord, feeling the validity of other viewpoints even though they’re not ours, wanting to go and help some suffering in the way we can, reading the Bible and allowing God to make sense of it, changing a few of those personality traits we know we have, keeping an eye on what we call our priorities, and so on indefinitely. These are just of a few of the loaves that the Lord will give at midnight, not because we are gritting our teeth but bcause we are not going to let God off the hook until we have got something worthwhile from Him. And that relentless persistence is what God loves and needs!


Ascribe Strength To God

By Rev. Donald L. Rose

“Ascribe ye strength to God” (Psalm 68:34).

By our life’s experience we know something about the limitations of human strength. We have learned something about our own personal strengths. We are aware of power in nature. It can be in overwhelming facts we learn about forces on the earth and in the universe. It can be in our personal experience of the power of lightning and the crash of thunder, the shaking of the earth and the quaking of mountains. We cannot but be aware of strength and power. And the Word invites us, with whatever limited knowledge or experience we have, to ascribe strength to God.

Our text is a very short phrase which harmonizes with a theme in so many of the Psalms – the theme of strength.

Psalm 27, verse 1: “The Lord is the strength of my life.” We can say those words, and as we say them in sincerity we are responding to the text, ascribing strength to God. Psalm 46 begins with these words: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.’ Another psalm says: “Honor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary” (96:6). Another says, “God is the strength of my heart” (73:26).

Let us consider for a moment the 29th Psalm. It ends with the words, “The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace” (29: 1 1). (This is familiar in the Holy Supper service, p. 57 of the Liturgy.) But notice the way this 29th Psalm begins: “Give unto the Lord, 0 you mighty ones; give unto the Lord glory and strength’ (29: 1). Can we give anything to the Lord? Can we give strength to the Lord? Can we give glory to the Lord? We can in the same sense of the text: “Ascribe ye strength to God” (Psalm 68:34).

Because this is something we can do, it is something we can also neglect to do or do too seldom. One could say that we came to church today to give glory and strength to God. In most of our services of worship we sing what is called the gloria. It comes from the first chapter of the book of Revelation beginning: “Glory and might be unto Him,” and ending with “the Almighty” (Liturgy, p. 17). And it is also rendered “Glory and power be to Him, for ever and ever. Amen.”

And when we kneel in prayer we say in keeping with the text, “Thine is the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

In some of the psalms we are made aware of the writer David. We are aware that the psalm was composed at a time of one of David’s experiences. In one of the psalms we picture David as a man growing old. In Psalm 71 we see David thinking of the span of his long life: “You are my trust from my youth. By You I have been upheld from my birth. You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb …. You are my strong refuge …. Do not cast me off in the time of old age. Do not forsake me when my strength fails” (v. 9). “I will go in the strength of the Lord God …. You have taught me from my youth …. Now also when I am old and gray headed, 0 God, do not forsake me until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come” (v. 18). “I have been young and now am old” (37:25).

Perhaps we picture David with muscular arms as depicted by Michelangelo’s sculpture, as when he says, “He teaches my hands to make war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze” (18:34). Swedenborg beheld a strong arm in heaven emanating power.

There was once a scene on a battlefield. David encountered a giant Philistine armed with a bronze spear and wielding a formidable new sword. No, it is not the familiar story of the shepherd boy with sling and stones. For David in this scene is old and frail. As he encountered this giant, Ishbi-Benob, could he possibly look back to his triumph over Goliath? He had spoken the truth on that day so long before. “You come to me with a sword, with a spear and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts …. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand …. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands” (1 Sam. 17:4547). Did he look back on his fight with Goliath that day when as an old man he faced another giant? As he approached the battle with Goliath he had looked back to earlier experiences of God’s strength. “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:37).

This battle as an old man is also a victory but of a different nature. The truth was the same in both battles, that all strength is from the Lord. But whereas in fighting Goliath he knew the exhilaration and flush of triumph, in the confrontation with Ishbi-Benob he probably left the battlefield gasping for breath and trembling from exertion. Perhaps he was half carried by his men from that encounter. Abishai had killed the giant, and David knew the emotions of someone who faced death but was saved by another (see 2 Samuel 21:15-17).

The Writings say that of ourselves we yield, but from the Lord we conquer. And although we come to a sense of our own powerlessness, there is an uplifting sense of the Lord’s power. This comes out vividly in the chapter near the end of the books of Samuel, the chapter in which David has to be rescued from the giant. It is the most extensive example of a psalm actually being incorporated within a story of David. (2 Samuel 22 is virtually the same as Psalm 18.) “Then David spoke to the Lord the words of this song … ‘The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer, the God of my strength; in Him will I trust'” (2 Sam 22:1-3). We will continue this as a conclusion to this sermon, but let us first note some teachings of the Writings.

There is a chapter in Heaven and Hell about the great power of the angels. Swedenborg witnessed the power of angels that goes beyond belief. They can chase away thousands of evil spirits. “Numbers are of no avail against the angels; neither are devices, cunning or combinations; for they see through them all and shatter them in a moment.” We are told that what we read in the Psalms is so true. “Bless the Lord, you His angels, most powerful in strength” (HH 229).

But following this emphatic paragraph about great power we have the following: “It must be known, however, that the angels have no power whatever of themselves, but that all their power is from the Lord; and that they are powers only so far as they acknowledge this. Whoever among them believes that he has power of himself instantly becomes so weak as not to be able to resist even a single evil spirit. For this reason angels ascribe no merit whatever to themselves, and are averse to all praise and glory on account of anything they do, ascribing it to the Lord” (HH 230).

It is an angelic truth repeated in the Writings that strength is to be ascribed to God, and that we are strong or weak depending on our doing that ascribing, according to the text, “Ascribe ye strength to God.”

This angelic truth has found its way into human affairs and has been the way of uplifting for countless thousands who seemed hopeless. We refer to the 12-step programs. It began with alcoholics anonymous. The twelve steps actually mention alcohol only very little. There is an emphasis on power, an acknowledgment that one does not have power. There is a turning to a higher power. It is an ascribing of strength to God. This has led to several successful 12-step programs.

The Writings give the striking teaching that if we come through temptation with a sense of our own credit, the feeling that we merit the victory because of our own strength, we are going to have to endure similar or worse temptations until we are reduced to the sanity of mind in believing we have merited nothing (see AC 2273).

People who have a close experience with their own lack of power are testimonials to a fundamental truth. The same is true of people who have known paralyzing illness or those whose bodies have grown old and feeble and yet who have found a higher strength. This is in accord with the words of Scripture: “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall. But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:29-31).

There is a saying in the Writings about what one may think of in beholding the sky. “When he sees the immensity of the heavens, he does not think of their immensity but of the immeasurable and infinite power of the Lord” (AC 1807). Sometimes we behold the sky and see the grandeur of great clouds. Sometimes either with telescope or naked eye we look at the stars and try to take in the vastness of it all.

We behold the power of the Lord in His Word, as in the Psalm: “Blessed is the man whose strength is in You …. They go from strength to strength’ (84:5,7). And we take strength in the words of David when he has been delivered from the giant. “Then David spoke to the Lord the words of this song.. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer, the God of my strength; in Him will I trust …. He delivered me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me; for they were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity'” (v. 18).

“He is a shield to all who trust in Him. For who is God except the Lord? And who is a rock except our God? God is my strength and power, and He makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer, and sets me on high places. He teaches my hands to war so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your gentleness has made me great” (v. 32-36).

‘You have armed me with strength for the battle” (v. 40). “You have delivered me from the violent man. Therefore I will give thanks to You, 0 Lord, among the Gentiles, and sing praises to Your name” (v. 50).

And sing praises to His name. Can each of us say with conviction, “I am weak but Thou art mighty”? Can each of us sing with sure belief, “I am weak but Thou art mighty; hold me with Thy powerful hand …. Strong deliverer, strong deliverer, be Thou still my strength and shield”?


Being Both Salt and Light

By Rev. Julian Duckworth

You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its taste how shall it be seasoned?

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (Matthew 5:13-14)

Angels and spirits are inwardly affected by the Lord’s light according to the life of love and charity that is in them. It is not a person’s face but the affection shining out from it that stirs the feelings in another person, and in the case of those who love good it is the affection for good seen in a person’s face that stirs them. (Arcana Caelestia 2231 and 3080)

It suddenly struck me the other day that one of the very first things the Lord brings to our attention is how important we are to Him in His purposes, each one of us, or if you like, the part that we may be able to play in the overall scheme of things. Right at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, just after the Beatitudes, the Lord addresses us quite challengingly. You … You are the salt of the earth. You … You are the light of the world. What … Me? Yes … You! And that is quite a provocative idea. It’s as if the Lord is saying that He needs each one of us to be like a beacon through which the essential things of life are reflected out, shown to be important, lived up to, and kept going here in this world. It immediately reminded me of two comments I had. One was from a passer-by at a Mind Body Spirit Festival in London where we had a stand. A young man came past and looked up at the stand title and then at the display of literature and then he came over to me and said without any hesitation, So what does all this do for you personally? And he hung on my reply which both terrified me and thrilled me to summon up on the spot. The other comment was from a lady who came along with her children to our church in Birmingham. We were discussing along the lines of how much we really believe what we say we believe in. And she said to me, “You obviously believe what you say. When you talk on Sundays, we can tell how much it means to you.” And I said, “Well, thankyou. But suppose … suppose I didn’t believe it. Suppose I lost my faith. Suppose it was only just words.” And she said, “Oh, we’d know the difference straight away. We’d be able to tell.”

These words of Jesus on being the salt of the earth and the light of the world take things a bit further than we are often used to. We think of the Lord as the Light of the World of course, and we tend to think of ourselves as being on the receiving end of what the Lord does. But perhaps this is rather incomplete and not enough. We certainly are receivers and the Lord is managing and arranging our spiritual state all the time, monitoring how much we can understand of spiritual things, linking them with actual situations we’re involved in, keeping things back from us, reminding us of other things, encouraging us, and always looking towards our eventual spiritual state. All that is going on all the time between the Lord and ourselves. But it’s only one part of the whole process. All that could happen just as much if we were the only person in the world and no one else existed. It’s like the young couple who fall passionately in love, looking so longingly into each others’ eyes, and for a time they feel they only exist for each other, mutually exclusive of any other requirement. But while it’s wonderful for a while, it can’t last because they are shutting out the world and missing out on what each of them can bring from outside into their relationship.

So we are to go beyond a private one-to-one relationship with the Lord and begin to appreciate that this privilege of having a relationship with the Lord, while wonderful, carries other considerations and has a follow-on. We are to move on from just receiving to channeling it out. Think about heaven itself for a moment. Heaven is where we are going to be one day, but the very essence of heaven is not to do with a place but with a way of life. Heaven equals Others. Heaven is living for the sake of others. Not in the sense of being a do-gooder or taking on more and more, because that certainly is not heaven and doesn’t feel like heaven either. But if you live for the sake of others you simply take part and offer yourself as part of something which is endlessly improving and increasing in quality because everybody is contributing to it. If you can think of your own existence or the fact that you exist at all along those lines, you are touching something very very important. I do not primarily live to become something, be someone, feel happy, or do anything. No, I exist and have been brought into existence to take my part in the overall scheme of things and contribute to its welfare. There is no other reason. And if I think there is, am I spoiling the plan and thwarting what the Lord intends? And creating the beginning of a hell.

We touched on this a bit at the Angel service yesterday and one of the people there said something which struck a big chord with me, from actual experience. She said that you can be involved in doing something and put a lot of work into doing it and at the end feel incredibly fresh. It hasn’t tired you out at all; rather the opposite in fact. Why can it be amazingly like this, when most of our efforts tend to take things out of us and leave us feeling we need to rest and recover? The only reason can be that it was done for its own sake, and nothing else was expected from it. If I put that in more spiritual terms, I would say that the Lord was able to infill the activity (and us too) with His own energy and life and so nothing was used up in doing it, no matter how much we put into doing it.

Let’s go back to the Lord’s words again and look at them closely. He said, You are the salt of the earth and you are the light of the world. And He goes on in each case to introduce a bit of a negative element. The salt may lose its taste. A lamp could be put under a basket. And in either case it would not be doing the job for which it exists. And perhaps the Lord added these negatives to point out that we can sometimes be like that and lose our effectiveness in being part of His purposes. We can run down and we can go into hiding. We can do that if we choose, but salt and light themselves do not do that. You are the salt of the earth, Jesus says, but if the salt loses its taste …. But salt can’t lose its taste! Salt is salt! If you left it alone for a hundred years, it would not change its basic nature. So what does the Lord mean by salt losing its taste? Has he chosen an inappropriate metaphor? No. It isn’t the structure and chemistry of salt that He is talking about; it’s the use that salt has that can vary or lessen. You put salt in and on your food to bring out the flavour of the food you are cooking and eating. You don’t want to taste the salt of course – that’s unpleasant – but without salt the food is too bland. With just the right amount of salt, the food is delicious, and you don’t notice why … you just enjoy it all the more. So salt then becomes an ingredient in something else. Now we can begin to understand what the Lord is saying when He calls us the salt of the earth. If salt has this remarkable ability to give of itself for the improvement of something else (without being noticed or taking over), then we also are able to give of ourselves for the improvement of others, of something more than myself. Without being noticed or taking over! Just being in it. It is only when salt is alone that it loses itself and is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. I will leave you to make the obvious connections with that!

Then Jesus says, You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. I think the Lord is talking about something else now. If salt is the way in which we can help affect the world around us, light is what the world around us sees coming from us and takes notice of. It’s like the other way round to the same idea. The whole point of light is to be broadcast and if it is covered up there just isn’t any light. It’s as if the light never was. So men do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lamp stand so that it will give its light.

Let me put this in a more meaningful way. Think about some of the things you believe, perhaps some of the spiritual ideas that have always been important to you. As you check through these, for many of them, you will find yourself connecting the idea with an actual person, perhaps your parents, a close friend, or a great teacher, or a former church minister, or whoever it is. This association is rather lovely; it gives a human face to our abstract ideas. But the point is that we got the impact of the idea from someone who gave it to us from their own conviction. They were, for that moment, the light of our world and we lit up inside. And as with the salt, they didn’t set out to give us what we got, but they gave us this lasting ever-grateful connection because a city – their city set on a hill – cannot be hidden from view. We do not realize (thank goodness) what we are giving to each other!

And Jesus ends these sayings with one of the best verses in the Bible – Matthew 5.16. Listen to it, turn it over in your mind, and see it in terms of what you can be part of in the Divine scheme of things. Let … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. And we can be content to just do that.


Coming To Rule With the Lord

By Rev. Grant H. Odhner

Our general subject today is the importance of service in human society — what many of us call “doing our jobs.” The text that we’ll follow is the story about James and John asking Jesus if they could rule with Him in His kingdom, sitting at His right and left hand. The Lord used the incident to teach the disciples about the nature of service and leadership in service:

Whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Mt 20:26-28)

Since the main point of the incident has to do with service, it’s not surprising that the brothers “James” and “John” were the ones who came to the Lord and asked to be ranked first in His kingdom. The twelve disciples, Swedenborg says, symbolize the core feelings and truths that make for heaven with us. But “James” in particular symbolizes charity in the heart and “John” love-in-action or useful service from love (cf. AE 820f; AC 7038.3).

To the generally accepted idea of “charity” and “love” the Writings of the New Church a special emphasis. They say that we express genuine love and charity not just through good deeds or shows of loving affection, but primarily through our daily work (AC 4730:3, 4783:5; D.Wis XI:5; Life 114; SE 6105; TCR 422ff). The book Doctrine of Life states:

Christian charity with every one consists in faithfully performing what belongs to one’s calling; for by this, if one shuns evils as sins, one is doing goods every day, and by it he is himself his own use in the general body [of human society]. In this way also [both] the common good is cared for, and the good of each person in particular. All other things one does are not the proper works of charity, but are either signs of it, or its kindnesses (benefactions), or its obligations.

The angels’ attitudes toward their daily jobs reflects this same priority. We read:

[Angels] have no other idea than that loving the Lord is doing goods which are uses.. By “uses” they understand the uses and good works of ministry, administration, and employment, with priests and magistrates as well as with business-people and laborers. The good works that are not connected with their occupation they do not call uses; they call them alms, kindnesses, and favors. (Divine Love XIII)

From this emphasis on charity as being our daily “uses,” we can see that “James” and “John” are closely linked with what the Lord was trying to teach here: unselfish service, “use.”

James and John wanted to rule with the Lord. On the personal level we can readily see that they were suffering from delusions. The disciples were obviously grossly ignorant of what the Lord’s kingdom was, and of what heavenly service was all about. They were thinking of a worldly kind of kingdom. They expected to be rewarded for following the Lord by enjoying the trappings of power — wealth and ease and glory (cp AC 3417).

People through the ages have thought that heavenly happiness would consist in living the life of a king. In his book Married Love Swedenborg relates an experience he had in the spiritual world. Some newly arrived spirits were allowed to experience their ideas of heaven? One group had this idea that heavenly happiness was “ruling with the Lord.” So they were given thrones and silken robes, crowns and scepters, and were waited upon by servants. From time to time heralds would announce, “You kings and princes, wait a little while longer. Your palaces are now being prepared for you in heaven.” Well, after a few tedious hours of this, some angels had compassion on them, and told them that someone was having fun with them. And by that time they were ready to hear what the angels had to say about true happiness — which was this:

[“To reign with Christ”] means to be wise and perform useful services — [for] the kingdom of Christ, which is heaven, is a kingdom of uses. For the Lord loves all people, and from love wills good to all, and good is use. And because the Lord does goods or uses indirectly through angels, and in the world through people, therefore to those who perform uses faithfully He gives a love of uses and its reward, which is an inner blessedness. And this is eternal happiness. (CL 7:3)

To “reign with the Lord,” taken symbolically, means to perform daily services in human society that are of use, because in this way the Lord works and governs in us and through us. So on a deeper level, in our story from Matthew James and John were asking for a role that is in fact given to what they represent. What could be more important to the Lord than charity and love in act ( love serving? These are, in fact, first in the Lord’s kingdom. They are the way in which He rules and provides for the common good. They sit at His right and left hand!

Now, if this is the case, why didn’t the Lord say openly to James and John that they could sit on His right and left when He came into His kingdom?

The reason for this comes down to the Lord’s incredible wisdom! He was teaching us through this incident, not only about the nature of true service, but about how we come to it. Our text artfully invites us to see service in a developmental way.

Did you notice how the general tone of this incident is that of a father dealing with children? The disciples behave in a childlike way. James and John’s request is spiritually immature, as is the other disciples’ reaction.

James and John’s request has that childlike quality of being transparently mixed: it’s an offer to be of service that is at the same time obviously selfish. They want to help the Lord, but they are clearly hoping for the honor of having a special place in His kingdom. They were asking from a place of incredible ignorance and mixed motives! How was the Lord to answer? If you’ve ever been asked by children if they could help you do an adult job, you can get some idea of the Lord’s position.

When my children ask if they can help cook, it’s a “mixed bag.” They are full of a wonderful “can do” attitude. They have no fear of failure. And they are woefully ignorant and untempered by manual dexterity or good judgment. Undoubtedly angels are with them in their urge to help. But many levels and kinds of desire are clearly present. They are simply curious. They want attention and recognition; they want to be a factor in what’s going on. They want to gain favor by helping; they want to be praised and thought well of. They want to lick the beaters! One indication of some of the primitive, selfish affections at play is that, if another child gets too close, there’s often an immediate show of jealousy or some kind of turf-defending behavior.

Reflecting on this can give us an idea of what we are like when we set out to be of use in the Lord’s kingdom, and how the Lord must see us. Our motives are mixed and we are not very wise. Innocence is working in us; we have a kernel of genuine desire to serve the Lord. And yet our drive to serve our self and to provide for our own happiness is also very great. And we don’t see what is moving us very clearly.

When James and John came with their mother and asked Jesus if they could sit on His right and left hand in His kingdom, where were they coming from? What were their thoughts and motivations? Did they feel that they had a special call from within to be leaders (or even leaders of leaders), to minister at that high level? Did they feel that they had the talents to do this? How much were they thinking of service, and how much of their own gain, glory and honor?

Judging from Jesus’ response, there was definitely a lot of this last motivation. But how gently the Lord treated them! He didn’t confront them in such a way as to leave them feeling exposed and shamed. Like a wise parent, He noted the innocence that was there, and the potential, and responded honestly, but in such a way as to help them grow. First He pointed out to them:

You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? (Mt 20.22)

Clearly He’s implying that James and John were not worthy at that point to sit at His right and left hand in His kingdom. They were not ready. They were not coming from the right place. They were not chastened or wise enough. Nevertheless they answer, “We are able”!

(I can’t help feeling that the Lord must have been a bit amused at this reply! It reflects the same endearing mix of ignorance and innocence that children show when they want to help with an adult task! “We are able!”)

Again the Lord could have crushed them with His response. But affirming their “can do” attitude and their potential, He says, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with..”. “But,” He adds, “to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father” (v. 23).

Gently the Lord tells them that they would become more worthy. Their motivations would be purified, through struggling against evil and overcoming. This is what “drinking of His cup” means and “being baptized” — namely, temptation and spiritual cleansing. Then He adds that their place in His kingdom could only be given by His “Father.”

What did He mean by this? If He was really one with the Father, why couldn’t He have given James and John a clearer answer? The Writings for the New Church point out that the Lord always spoke according to what people could accept. As we mentioned earlier, the disciples were grossly ignorant of what the Lord’s kingdom was, and of what heavenly service was all about. They were thinking of a worldly kind of kingdom and a worldly glory. And they had no idea that He was God almighty. If He had said “Yes, you can sit at my right and left hand in My kingdom” He would have misled them. They would have mistaken their present feelings and ideas (connected with heaven and service) for the real thing. If He had said “No,” or if He had tried to explain to them what His kingdom was really about, they would not have understood and He would have crushed the very affections and hopes that were keeping them growing in the right direction. Instead He said:

To sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father. (v. 23)

The Lord’s wise answer lets James and John keep hoping and striving, and yet secretly contains the message that their place in His kingdom would not be a matter of truth as they understood it now (symbolized by Himself, the “Son of Man,” whom they saw in their present state). Their present ideas would not bring them heaven! Rather, their place in heaven would be a matter of how much they were “prepared” through time to receive the Divine love (symbolized by the Father). Their place would be a matter of growth in heart and life.

In summary, James and John represent our inner charity and our service from it. They represent our love and its daily activities for others in the network of human society. These things are what will bring us closest to the Lord in His kingdom. They are the things in us that what will enable us to sit at His side. They are what will bring us a sense of heavenly fulfillment and happiness.

The clear and compelling message of this story is that the Lord calls us to serve one another unselfishly, even as He came “not to be served but to serve, and to give His life.. for many.” So far as we make it our business to be useful in our daily lives — using our God-given opportunities and talents, using what insight we have, looking to the good of our family and neighbors, to the common good of society and our country, to the good of the church and the Lord’s kingdom — so far as we do this, we will find the Lord’s joy, because we will be participating in it! This is the clear message.

The more hidden message of this story (uncovered through a knowledge of correspondences) is that we must grow in our wisdom and ability to serve. Like James and John we are not “there” at once. We must tread the path patiently, avoiding evils, being willing to “drink” of the “cup” of temptation when necessary. We must welcome a baptism of truth, again and again, so that our minds and hearts might be bathed and purified, and become wise and skilled in following the Lord’s inner leading. When we acknowledge our spiritual life as a growing thing, we won’t expect to find our place in heaven guaranteed to us based on our present sight of truth (the “Son of Man”). Rather, we will look to the Divine love (the “Father”) to fill our life with happiness as we are “prepared” through time for a life of eternal usefulness in His heavenly kingdom.


Doing Greater Works

By Rev. Douglas M. Taylor

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do because I go to My Father” (John 14:12).

he Lord is here telling the disciples that those who believe in Him will not only do the works that He does but will do even greater works. This is a surprising statement indeed. How could a disciple do greater works than the Lord? How can a servant be above his master? Yet the statement must be both true and good, since it comes from the mouth of the Lord Himself, prefaced by the words, “Most assuredly, I say to you,” which can also be translated, “Truly, truly, I say to you.” So we cannot doubt the truth of the Lord’s statement. Our task is to understand just how it is true and good.

It is not difficult to see that the disciples could have power from the Lord enabling them to do the works of healing that He did. After all, the Gospels tell us that they had already gone forth as apostles and had cast out demons (see Luke 10:17). What is more, the Acts of the Apostles recounts many miraculous healings performed by the disciples after the Lord had ascended. For example, it is recorded that they healed a lame man (Acts 3:6,7), cast out demons, escaped from prison by supernatural means (5:19), healed a paralytic (9:34), also a crippled man (14:10), and even raised a woman from the dead (9:40,41). These miracles were similar to those of the Lord. But the apostles could do them only because they had been given Divine power from the Lord.

This power could be given only because they “believed in Him” and because He had gone “to the Father” (text). What is the meaning of these two requirements believing in the Lord and the Lord’s going to the Father?

The new revelation has much to say in answer to these two matters. To believe in the Lord includes much more than to believe that He existed on earth as an historical character or seeing Him as a wonderful man, even the most wonderful man who ever lived on earth. Such ideas of the Lord completely ignore or deny His Divinity. Even the scriptural statement that He was the “Son of God” is usually understood to mean only that He was in some sense Divine, but that He still has a human part inherited from Mary. This makes Him still the Son of Mary. True, this is better than the complete denial of His Divinity, but it nonetheless falls short of acknowledging His full Divinity or that He is the only God.

Yet the new revelation and the Scriptures themselves say that this is precisely what is meant by “believing in the Lord.” For instance, we read in the Apocalypse Explained that “`to believe in the Lord’ is to believe in `the Father,’ [as] the Lord Himself teaches … in John: `He who believes in Me does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me; and he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me’ (John 12:44,45). This means that he who believes in the Lord believes in Him not separate from the Father but in the Father; and it is therefore added, `He who sees Me sees Him who sent Me.’ So elsewhere in John: `I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world; and I go to the Father’ (16:28). `To come forth from the Father’ signifies to be conceived of Him, and `to go to the Father’ signifies `to be fully united to Him'” (AE 815:15).

In other words, His human part was now Divine. It was no longer the Son of Mary, but the Son of God, the Offspring of God, the Divine Human. He had glorified His human, that is, He had made it Divine, even down to the very bones of His body. Not only did God become man, but man had become God. This is what is meant by the Lord’s going “to the Father.” No one can dispute the proposition that if Jesus is Divine, then He must be the only God, for there can be only one God.

No miraculous works could be done without believing in the Lord in this way. For confirmation of this we have only to turn to the incident read as our first lesson. The Lord had gone to what was called “His own country,” that is, to Nazareth, where He had grown up. When He spoke in the synagogue there, the people were astonished and offended, for the reason that they did not believe in Him. They still thought of Him as one of themselves, as being merely human. They were too close to His Humanity to believe in His Divinity. Consequently, “He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matt. 13:58). This explains why the Lord, before doing a healing, always asked: “Do you believe?”

We would note in passing that “to believe in the Lord” could not possibly mean to believe that He suffered for us on the cross. This had not yet happened. The Lord could hardly ask them to believe in something that had not yet happened. It could mean only a belief in His Divinity.

So we can see how the disciples could do the works that the Lord had done; they believed in the Lord, in His Divinity, His Almighty power to heal. They believed that He had gone to the Father. But “greater works” than those of the Lord? What could He have meant by that promise and prophecy? It is remarkable that, while the Heavenly Doctrine has much to say about the part of the text we have considered so far, there is nothing said about “greater works.” However, there are similar passages that are explained, and these shed light on the “greater works.”

Take, for example, these words to the disciples: “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” was nothing but an outward show eye-catching piety, all for the sake of self and the world. There was absolutely nothing spiritual in it at all. It was merely natural and physical. In saying that the disciples were to exceed the scribes and Pharisees in righteousness, the Lord obviously did not mean that they were to outdo them in outward-seeming good and do a greater number of pharisaic works on the natural plane. As is clear from the verses that follow, He meant that the motives of the disciples were to be spiritual in quality, that their works were to go beyond mere outward show, and were to have a soul, a spirit, a spirit of charity within them. In this way their good works, being spiritual in origin, were to exceed merely natural, good-looking (but empty) works, and so be greater works.

It was the spiritual content that was to make them greater. It is the same with the works spoken of in our text. While the Lord did many marvelous works of physical healing, the disciples were not only to do the same but also to do even greater things healings on the spiritual plane, healing the mind or spirit, not just the body.

The Lord’s miracles on the physical plane did indeed represent miracles of spiritual healing. His restoration of sight to the physically blind represented healing the spiritual blindness of ignorance as well as of prejudice or other evil feelings. After all, when He accused the Pharisees of being “blind leaders of the blind” (Matt. 15:14, Luke 6:39), He was not referring to ailments such as cataracts or glaucoma. He meant their spiritual blindness. Healing the deaf represented healing disobedience or a lack of heeding the Divine commandments. Healing the paralyzed represented healing the state of mind in which our intentions are good but when it comes time to action we are paralyzed. Feeding the hungry and the thirsty represented feeding those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Raising the dead represented raising the spiritually dead to a life lived from spiritual motives, such as love to the Lord and charity toward the neighbor. It is the same with all the Lord’s physical miracles. They all represent miraculous changes in the mind or spirit. That is the level on which they are to be understood.

Now, while the Lord’s miracles represented spiritual things, the disciples were to do those very spiritual healings themselves. They were to do greater things. The general meaning of our text, then, is that if we really believe in the Lord as the Divine Human, we, as disciples of the Lord, can be given the power to do good works of a spiritual kind for ourselves and for others. We will be enabled to heal the spiritual blindness, spiritual deafness and paralysis, spiritual famine and thirst experienced by ourselves and others. We will be doing greater works than physical healings, for the spiritual is greater than the natural.

Understanding our text in this way does indeed increase and confirm our faith, and that is not a matter to be dismissed lightly. If the hells can induce us to doubt the Lord’s Word, they will have taken the first step toward destroying our faith and our commitment to following the Lord in our life. We have doubts whenever we do not understand what the Lord is telling us in His Word. That is why He said, when explaining the parable of the Sower, that the seed falling by the wayside corresponds to “one who hears the Word of the kingdom and does not understand it” (Matt. 13:19). Let us recall also that the cunning serpent in the Garden of Eden began his insidious attack on innocence by insinuating a doubt, saying: “Has God said, You shall not eat from every tree of the Garden?” (Genesis 3:1) and “You will not surely die” (verse 4).

But, besides telling us what we should believe because it is true the Lord also tells us what we should do because it is good and leads to real and lasting happiness. In regard to our life and how we should live it, the Lord is here reminding us that spiritual things are greater than natural things. In order to come into the greatest happiness possible, the happiness He wishes for each one of us human beings, we must learn to value natural and physical things only as means to spiritual ends or purposes, not as ends in themselves. This needs to be done in particular situations in order to become a general or ruling love.

The Lord is constantly reminding us of this. In the Old Testament He says: “If riches increase, do not set your heart on them” (Psalm 62:10). “Do not be afraid when one becomes rich, when the glory of his house is increased; for when he dies he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him” (Psalm 49:16,17). In the New Testament He says: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21). “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26) “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27).

How do we apply this principle to our daily life? How do we in a practical way put our spiritual life before our natural life, both in general and in particular situations?

The first step is to recognize and accept the principle and resolve to follow it. Reading and reflecting on what the Lord has revealed is the best means of being given reminders and renewing our resolve, because it raises our understanding into the light of heaven, connecting us with heaven and the Lord, so that our spiritual blindness is healed.

The next step is to examine our life and loves thoroughly to see when and where and with whom we tend to put self and the world first before the Lord and charity toward the neighbor. The process would include identifying times when we seem to forget the Lord and His will entirely, when self-gratification takes possession of us, when the body and its appetites control us instead of being controlled by us. Bodily pleasures are, of course, not evil in themselves. They are necessary. But they become evil when indulged in for their own sake, when they become the great goal of life rather than a means to living a useful life.

But our words and works are only extensions of our thoughts and desires. So what goes on in our mind needs to be examined candidly if our outward life is to be ruled by good affections and true thoughts. Such evil feelings as contempt of others in comparison of oneself, or the hidden lust of adultery, or feelings of hostility or hatred or revenge against those who do not favor or flatter us, need to be shunned as sins against the Lord if we are to do the greater works of love and genuine charity.

We also forget the spiritual life when carried away by love of the world, when we dream of being famous, or even infamous, when the undeniable delights that the things of this world bestow upon us completely captivate us, and we think there is nothing greater, when we dream and act from personal advantage in all its forms rather than from principle.

As we all know, it is a basic teaching of the New church that “all religion belongs to life.” So we strive to apply the teachings to life. But which life? our natural, worldly life or our spiritual life, our life to eternity? Which is more important to us? Which is greater?

For example, psychological therapy does indeed help us function better in this natural life, and it works even for an atheist. But spiritual therapy, that is, shunning evils as SINS AGAINST THE LORD, is even greater, because it invites the presence of the Lord and connects us with Him. As a result, it helps not only our natural life but also our spiritual life at the same time. That is why the Lord said: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

In order to make this the rule of our whole life, we need to ask ourselves: “In this situation, am I putting my spiritual life first or some worldly advantage? Am I doing this for the sake of the Lord’s kingdom or purely for my own sake? Do I really think, in actual life, that spiritual works done from the Lord are greater than natural works done from the love of self and the world? Am I worshipping God or Mammon?”

Searching our souls in this way can lead to doing what is good consistently from the Lord, that is, to doing the greater works that He promised.


In Use, In Health, In the Lord

By Rev. Grant H. Odhner

“…and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)

What did the still small voice say to Elijah? Perhaps a few of you, who are very familiar with the story, or who have a very good memory, can answer this question. But I suspect that most of you cannot. There is a reason for this: the voice did not say anything that could match the drama of the build-up that preceded.

First the hushed voice repeated what the Lord had just said to Elijah before the cataclysmic events: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then He said something very anticlimactic. He said something which seems an insufficient response to the intense concerns that had driven Elijah into the wilderness, and which had been consuming him for over forty days. He said, in sum:

“Go, return,… anoint Hazael king of Syria…Anoint Jehu king of Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat… you shall anoint prophet in your place…Whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 19:15-18

Yes, the last part of this response does answer Elijah’s feeling that He alone is left, that he is the last of the Lord’s defenders. The Lord assures him that, in fact, there are 7000 others. But this is almost an after-thought! His first and main message is “Go, return, anoint..” In effect He says, “Return to your work!” The still small voice of the Lord directs him undramatically to his job, in all its ordinariness. And yet the Lord was “in” this quiet voice as He had not been in the dramatic things that came before.

The three forces that Elijah experienced from the cave all stand for the Lord’s working in our lives to make us new people. But they stand for the Lord’s working when there is as yet resistance from the natural part of us.

The “great and strong wind” that “tore into the mountain and broke the rocks in pieces” stands for the power of truth working to break up a false mind-set. “Wind” in the Word stands for the flow of thoughts – for reasoning. This mental “wind” can be good or bad, but here it pictures the kind of thinking that can lay bare our selfish delusions. The “mountain” into which the wind “tore” is the mountain of self-love, and its “rocks” are the mental blocks that our selfishness sets up. Honest, true thinking has the power to “break these in pieces.” This kind of thinking is the first step in our spiritual liberation. But when our life is resisting the truth, it can be quite painful and violent.

Next came the “earthquake.” Earthquakes in the Word stand for spiritual change, for mental reorganization. True thinking is followed by life-change. It brings changes in how we see, and it brings changes in how we feel and behave. This life-change can be full of struggle, as we fluctuate between our old life and old way of seeing things, and our new life.

Finally a fire swept over the mountain. “Fire” stands for heavenly love. But a burning, purging fire stands for judgment, the judgment that takes place in the mind as heavenly loves drive away lesser loves, selfish loves.

It was the Lord who causes all three of these things – the wind, the earthquake, and the fire. They came as He “passed by” the mouth of Elijah’s cave. And yet, we read, “the Lord was not in the wind,” “…the Lord was not in the earthquake,” “…the Lord was not in the fire.” Now what could this mean? The Lord was clearly there, yet not there.

The meaning seems to be that while the Lord is present in the true thinking that exposes our evils, while He is present in the mental changes that are brought about in our lives, while He is present in the love that drives out selfishness, yet He is not perceived by us as long as there is struggle going on. In other words, it’s not in our spiritual struggles that we experience the chief gifts that He wishes to give us – peace, protection from evil, happy feelings of being connected with other people and being useful. When do we experience these? Mostly in the ordinary realm of our daily work. The Lord was not perceived to be in the three impressive experiences that Elijah had. The “still small voice” that he heard afterwards bore the Lord’s presence, in part, because it directed him back to his life-work.

Think of it. In which aspect of our life does the Lord touch us most fully?

People over the ages have thought that the Lord’s greatest presence and blessing is to be found in moments of prayer, religious devotion, spiritual experience. It may seem to “fly in the face” of this common belief to say that the Lord’s greatest presence is to be found in working. Yet this is what the angels told Swedenborg. Heaven’s blessing – which is the Lord’s presence felt by angels – comes chiefly in their “uses.” Angels define “use” as “do[ing] the work of one’s function faithfully, sincerely, and diligently” (CL 16.3).

Again, when we look at our life, on what single aspect does our greatest happiness depend? On our recreational activities? On our devotions? On our occasional opportunities to bestow a kindness or do a good deed? Doesn’t it depend more on our daily activities – on carrying out the primary responsibilities that make our life?

It is the “uses” of angels that affect them with the greatest sense of fulfillment, purpose, joy in being alive.

Let’s look more closely at “use.” What does being useful do for us? What is its psychological and spiritual effect on us? Returning to our angel teacher, he says:

“The love of use and the resulting devotion to use holds the mind together, lest it flow away and wander about and draw in all the lusts with their allurements which flow in from the body and the world through the senses. [When lusts flow in] the truths of religion and the truths of morality with their goods are scattered to all the winds. But devoting the mind to use, retains these truths, and binds them together, and disposes the mind into a form that is capable of deriving wisdom from them. And then it banishes the mockeries and stage plays, both false and empty, from the sides [of the mind].” (CL 16:3)

When we love being useful, and are working at it, our mind is “held together”; we have a mental focus that keeps us from the distracting itch of lusts and cravings. Use holds our mind in a “moral state.” Also, when we’re involved in our own work, what we know is then miraculously at our disposal. More than at other times, we are able to utilize the information that we have – including truths from the Word. And our mind is disposed by use to gain wisdom from truths.

On the other hand, when we are lacking the love of use, or when we are idle too long, our mind wanders. We become very vulnerable to selfish lusts and fantasies. These things are called “mockeries” and “stage plays.” Like entertainments they are initially engaging and promise us pleasure. But, in truth, they are false and empty lies. They bring a spectacle of delight to the imagination, but are not in fact real. And what happens when we indulge them? Our lusts soon turn to shame, self-loathing and contempt. Being actively in our uses saves us from that.

To sum up so far: we are at our best when involved in useful activities. Our mind is then most “together” and sharp. Use also gives us mental protection. False and empty allurements are pushed to the sides of our minds. And the love of use and its discipline eventually banish them even further.

Another thing that our uses do for us is to enable us to love our neighbor. It may seem that we can love our neighbor simply through nurturing friendly and positive thoughts toward others, and other direct efforts. Yet our real love for our neighbor can only grow and be sustained through our living a useful life. We are taught: “Only those who perceive delight in works [of usefulness] can be held in spiritual love (which is love for our neighbor)” (AE 831:5). The discipline of working gives our minds an increasing capacity to function unselfishly, and therefore to love unselfishly! We cannot really love others unless we are in a love of use, and from this in an active life.

This is why we are taught that one of the causes of coldness in marriage (i.e. one of the causes of an absence of spiritual love) is the “lack of determination to any study or business.” Let me read from this passage. (It reinforces much of what we’ve been saying.)

A human being was created for use, because use is the containant of good and truth.. While a person is in some study and business, …his mind is given limits and is circumscribed as by a circle. Within this “circle” the mind is brought into order (coordinated) step by step into a form truly human. From this as from a house he sees the various lusts as outside himself, and from the sanity of reason within banishes them and consequently [banishes] also the beastly insanities of scortatory lust.. The contrary is the case with those who give themselves up to laziness and idleness. Their mind is unrestrained and unbounded, and the person then admits into his whole [mind] all manner of empty and frivolous things which flow in from the world and the body and carry him along into a love of them. That marriage love also is then cast into exile is evident. For from laziness and idleness the mind becomes stupid and the body dull, and the whole person becomes insensitive to every vital love – especially to marriage love, from which the activities and cheerful energies of life flow as from a fountain. (CL 249)

Use orders our minds and makes us sensitive to every vital love.

This passage refers to the “sanity of reason” which lies within a use-oriented mind. We read elsewhere that “a human being is not sane unless use is his affection or occupation” (D.Lov XV). Only when we are inwardly in a love of being useful are we sane. This passage goes on to point out that people in the world who don’t love being useful appear sane – and are kept somewhat sane – by being involved in outer jobs, where they must get along with others and accomplish tasks in order to maintain or build their position in society. They are really insane on the inside. This can be seen only when they are alone and fully left to act out their own thoughts and desires. It especially appears after death when they become completely free to express who they are. And then, we read, many who had appeared good on earth..

…think, speak, and act as insanely as crazy people in the world.. And, what is more, they love this state of their spirit;… they would rather think insanely. ibid.

Interestingly, even evil people in the other life must work. They wouldn’t choose to work, but otherwise they’d get no food, clothing, bed, or sexual delights (ibid.; AR 153). There are a number of reasons for this. First, it’s the only way they can receive any life! You see, in the spiritual world outer realities must reflect inner realities. And the truth is evil spirits need the Lord’s life daily, each instant. Their innermost life as human beings (which lies far beyond their conscious control) is sustained by the Lord. And their outer, conscious life consists in the abuse of the Lord’s life (His love and wisdom). This spiritual fact requires that evil spirits work for food and other necessities, because they “correspond” to the Lord’s life on which they depend.

A second reason why evil spirits must work is that work enables them to enjoy the kind of life they love. The Lord does permit them to act evilly against each other. Hell would be no life for them if this weren’t allowed. But what if there were no limits to their insane cruelty and violence? There could be absolutely no society in which everyone there could find a life. Being compelled to work mercifully helps to curb their insanities toward one another. It helps keep a basic order which even evil requires. Even the enjoyments of insanity depend on sanity! And sanity depends on being engaged in uses. The uses they perform are lowly ones, yet the Lord gives them work out of pure mercy.

Every human being inclines toward insanity. We tend this way because we tend toward selfishness. In fact the Writings invite us to see that:

Even though a person has been regenerated, he is still nothing but evil and falsity.. No one has any good or any truth at all unless it derives from the Lord.. A man, a spirit too, and even an angel, if left in the smallest degree to himself, of himself rushes headlong towards hell.. Angels acknowledge this.. [and] perceive [it] clearly. (AC 868)

What aspect of our life keeps us from being “left to ourself” more than our daily work?

Returning to our story.. The aloneness that Elijah felt in his state of temptation came in part from the fact that in temptation one is left to one’s self, one is immersed in one’s “proprium.” To be sure, the issues involved in temptation-states are not resolved by plunging ourselves in our jobs, running into mindless business. On the other hand, they are not usually resolved by removing ourselves from our uses and responsibilities, except perhaps for a time. The still small voice of providence always tells us: “Go, return to your tasks.” For in uses lie all protection, sanity, and ultimately peace and happiness.

So we can thank the Lord for uses! They bring us outside of our selves, they make us a part of other’s lives, they join people together! Uses bring out the best in us, they enable us to experience larger feelings and larger thoughts – feelings and thoughts that we could not experience “left to ourselves.” And where do these larger feelings and thoughts come from? … What it comes down to, really, is that uses draw us into the Lord!


Make Disciples of all Nations

By Rev. Peter M. Buss

“All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19,20.

Some of the disciples were doubting when the Lord spoke these final words before He was lifted up out of their sight. His words were of comfort, and exhortation. In fact, they speak of everything that He longs to give, to any human being, and to the world.

The New Church is the Lord’s gift to all nations. “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth.” The Writings for the New Church often quote this as a proof that He alone is God. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Visible God, is the One who has all power. The Trinity is simply three different parts of Him, of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Go and make disciples of all nations.” What is meant by “all nations?” The Writings say that this term refers to those who are in some goodness. They are the ones who will worship the Lord in His Human (AC 2227, 2228; see AE 340:21; AR 667).

The nations represent those who are in goods according to the doctrinal things of their religion. Therefore the Writings teach “[Because the Lord conquered in temptations] there will be a church that will be gathered together from all parts, and it will worship Him.” (PP: Ps. 22:26-30; AE 331:9,10; AE 454). All people throughout the world who have love are “the nations;” those who will be gathered into His Church, and they will receive Divine truth from Him (AC 1025:6; AE 768:13; AC 3380). In this world or in the next it will certainly happen.

All of this is accomplished by the Lord in His Visible Human, and it needs to happen today through the New Church (AC 2853:2). For this Church has received the truth that the Lord has spoken, and from it true religion will grow once again. (AC 2853; SS 110 et al).

But this text also has a deeper sense. We tend to take it at face value because it is so clear. But there is a deeper meaning. When we look at the internal sense, we find that it is a call to us to be regenerated by means of the Word. “All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth” means that regeneration is only by means of the Lord. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations:” This is speaking of how the Lord speaks to the goodness in us. For we are “the nations,” people in whom there is some goodness. The Lord wants to teach that goodness. He wants to make disciples of it, giving it His new truth that will let us be His followers. (AR 325 et al.) All good things in us can be taught by the Writings. We are called to let His truth shine on those good states, and lead them to the Lord. That is to become a disciple.

“Baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptism represents regeneration, which is the result when we become true disciples of the Lord. And regeneration is effected by the Trinity in the Lord. “The Father” is the Lord’s love, which created and warms us. “The Son” is His truth, which reaches down to us to show us the way. “The Holy Spirit” is His outgoing energy or power, saving us.

“Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you:” as we are regenerated by the Lord we come to a point at which we are willing to keep all of the Lord’s laws as He has now revealed them.

“And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” This is more than a promise of the Lord’s presence. It is certainly that, but it is much more. The Writings say that the end of the age is when a church does not follow the Lord, and then “The Lord leaves it.” (AR 750; cf. AC 4535:6; 10248; AR 658 et al). In the internal sense this speaks of what happens when the Lord regenerates us. Each one of us has a false church in us, our weaknesses, our evils, our self justifications. These are not following the Lord. When the Lord leads us that false church comes to an end. It is the end of the age of what is false and evil in us that He is promising, when He says, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” This too is meant by His promise: “the former shall not be remembered nor come to mind.”(Is. 65:17); and by His promise for the Holy City: “For the former things are passed away.” (Rev. 21:4).

In simple summary, then, our text, which is sometimes called “the Great Commission,” is a promise given to each one of us. Because we have the New Church: because the Lord now stands visible to us, the “nations” (our willing states of good) will be taught by the truth. We will observe that truth. We will be regenerated or spiritually baptized, and He will be with us as our God even through to the death of all that is false and evil in us.

This promise is why our Church exists; for the Divine Providence of the Lord has as its end a heaven from the human race, and thus He wills that the church on earth, in individuals, shall become “the Lord’s heaven upon the earth” (DP 27, 30).

So the deeper sense of these words is speaking of what happens inside each of us. It is talking of what the Lord will do for everyone. It is fitting that this promise was the last thing spoken by the Lord on earth, because it is indeed the fulfillment of His Divine will.

In a lower sense these words speak of another part of the Lord’s will. We know that all people who believe in God and seek to obey Him, even if their religion is most mistaken, will be accepted by the Lord and led to heaven. But we also know that they cannot be regenerated until they receive the truths of the Word. We know that true married love is really available only to those who are in the truths of the New Christianity, and who look to the Lord as the only God.

Therefore the essential means to the end of regeneration is that people shall come to know and acknowledge the Lord in His threefold Word – in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Writings for the New Church. The children who grow up in this organization are spiritually gentiles, for they do not have faith – the internal conviction of truth. The multitudes in the universal church of the Lord on earth who do not have the Word are spiritually in need of it before they can receive the true blessings of His heavenly kingdom.

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations. Remember that “all nations” means those states in others which are states of good. It is a call to offer these truths to our children, who are not yet truly in the Church, and to the world. The Lord Himself expresses this beautifully in the following passage: “Those who are outside the Church but nevertheless acknowledge one God, and in keeping with their religion lead a life of some kind of charity towards the neighbor, are in communion with those who belong to the Church. From this it is evident that the Lord’s Church exists throughout the whole world, though it does so in a specific way where the Lord is acknowledged and where the Word exists.” (AC 10765).

The greatest neighbor is the communion of those who are in heaven, and those who will one day be in heaven. The call of the Lord to us, who do acknowledge Him and read His Word is: First, use that Word to shun evils and become spiritually baptized; and second, offer that Word to this greatest community, this “communion of saints.” (TCR 416).

And we too may doubt when we hear this call. After all, have we not tried to share our religion and found it difficult? But we don’t all have to share it in the same way. There will be some who actively promote the Church’s growth. Others may make it clear that their lives are governed by a deep religious faith – that is a form of sharing the truth, inviting interest. You may teach a child in school or speak the truth to your grandchild or be a part of a community which resonates with true values. You may communicate your conviction in true marriage or in the nature of eternal life – without asking for any response – to a friend or acquaintance. We should support the Church itself in its efforts to spread the Writings, support it in spirit and in truth. There are so many ways in which we can be a part of “making disciples of all nations,” touching the good states in others not yet in the Church, letting them see a truth that helps them to be a follower of the Lord.

The Lord tells us that “This New Church is the crown of all the churches which have existed upon the earth because it will worship one visible God in whom is the invisible, as the souls is in the body. In this way and in no other is a conjunction of God possible with humankind” (TCR 787). The gentiles, and indeed our own children, cannot have true conjunction with the Lord unless they have that truth. Thus the Writings speak of “the truth that even the gentiles were to be loved, taught the truths of faith, and led to correct their life.” (AC 9259).

As we approach the celebration of the birth of the New Church, let us lift up our eyes and reflect on the Lord’s command to all who will hear of His Word. Just before the Lord spoke these words, it is said that some of the disciples doubted His resurrection. We too will doubt that the vision of the Lord in His Divine Human can indeed grow in influence in a world gone so far astray. We may be afraid that the forces of materialism will overwhelm our children, and cause them to turn from the Writings. But He promised His almighty power would be with us. He commanded us in the internal sense to be baptized by the truth of His two advents. He commanded us to reach out to the goodness in other people with the message of His power and His commandments.

The New Church will be different in different lands. The General Church is not the New Church. The New Church is a spiritual, living entity, made alive by the Lord’s presence. It is the New Church which is to spread abroad. How it will be organized externally is not important. How it is to be organized internally is clear – by the laws of the Lord’s eternal kingdom, now revealed on earth.

But the General Church has a faith which it is vital that we communicate. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one God of heaven and earth, that His Human is Divine, that the Writings are the very Word of God, and that they and the Old and New Testaments are the sole authority in the New Church. Whether there are different branches of the New Church or not is immaterial. We have a sacred duty to foster these principles, and if they are embraced, then there is a true bond, an internal bond, between us and new organizations that will grow up.

We are invited to lift our eyes to see the goodness that is in all lands, the nations who will walk in the light of the Holy City, if only they know of it. Let us reflect on those precious states of good in His universal church, let us think of the millions, no, the hundreds of millions who have His life inside of them; but it is life from their allegiance to a God whom they do not really know. They walk in the darkness, they long for the light.

And let us reflect that our small organization is to serve that great purpose. We ourselves come to the Church to find the truths that make us disciples, and lead to our regeneration or spiritual baptism. With our children and those not in the church we want to offer them the truths that, if they can acknowledge them in their hearts and minds, will be the means of their regeneration and entrance into heaven. This great purpose should unite us, as we look towards our future service to our God.

“And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” He promised that He will walk with us down the road to heaven. On the way our false values and evil loves will die – their age will come to an end. We may ask, “And what about the world? When will evil end in this world which knows so much evil?” The Lord causes it to happen one person by one person. It is the goal of His New Church that He will walk with each willing soul, using the truth of His final revelation to create a new heaven and a new earth in them. Then the old age will disappear; “for the wind passes over it and it is gone, and the place thereof will know it no more.” It is thus that His heaven is built, one by one, “even to the end of the age.”


Opening Ourselves Up to the Lord’s Life Flowing In

By Rev. Ian Arnold
Preached in Brisbane, August 3rd 2008

Luke 6: 38 “Give, and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

There is a saying that some people subscribe to because – obviously enough – it helps them to make sense of life that, and I quote, ‘What goes round comes round’. From time to time I have heard people state this, as their conviction, and you may have done as well. ‘What goes round come around’. In other words, if you give out goodness or kindness, or whatever, goodness and kindness will one day return to you. If one the other hand you give out badness or hurtfulness, badness and hurtfulness will one day return to you.

Another way of putting this might be that ‘we reap what we sow’. In essence, we will eventually attract back to ourselves what we give out.

There seems little doubt that there is some truth in this.

Just as a simple and straightforward example, neighbourliness and goodwill usually attracts neighbourliness and goodwill in return.

Approach life with in sullen and complaining way and, usually, it will be what you attract back to yourself.

But not always, of course. It’s not 100% guaranteed.

If we were to stop and think about it, it is almost certain that we could all come up with examples of where, and when, what goes out hasn’t come round; where what has been given out hasn’t been returned. A murderous dictator is driven into exile and ends his days in luxury and peace.

But still, something very important is touched on here. Indeed, a truth is enshrined here.

But what we need to do is to shift our focus from the outer word, as such; and our external life; to our inner world. For here is where the truth of the matter emerges, and it is what the Lord is bringing to our attention in these words from Luke’s Gospel.

“Give, and will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

What is highlighted in these words is a fundamental truth about human life, that what we say and do and set out hearts on and give out has repercussions or consequences for us, and those repercussions or consequences are within.

Instead of saying, we attract back to ourselves what we give out, what we are being told here, and taught, is that we attract into ourselves what we give out.

Let’s just note this now, that this has far reaching implications. It changes the way we see ourselves. It clarifies things. It frees us, even, from anxieties and guilt feelings we sometimes unnecessarily have, and it is amazingly encouraging when we are running low; don’t feel we have much left to give; and are finding it extremely difficult to give what we’ve got.

“Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

So, what is the Lord saying to us here? What is He getting at?

For one thing, He is challenging the notion that we start our adult lives with a store of love, trust, care, tolerance, loyalty, faithfulness and wisdom which, over the years slowly runs down and can even run out. It’s not the case and He wants us to know this.

Coupled with this, and following on from it, He is opening up here a fundamental truth about our existence, that we live our lives, every day and every moment, in the midst of influences – both positive and negative – reaching us and impacting on us from the spiritual world.

When we reflect on it we all know how it is. Feelings can well up in us, sometimes out of nowhere; feelings we didn’t know we were capable of or possessed. In an emergency people will make super human sacrifices. In the face of a disaster a wave of sympathy and care wells up and sweeps over us. Then again and a different example, show a hardened, tattooed, bearded bikie his new born child and feelings will rise up reducing him to tears.

And it’s the same with thoughts and insights. Thoughts also come to the surface from, apparently nowhere; thoughts that uplift us; ideas; insights; as well as thoughts that shame us and cause us to shudder.

“All life inflows”, is a key teaching of The Heavenly Doctrines: the good of life – or, all that is wholesome and good and uplifting and thoughtful of others – from heaven, and the evil of life – or, what is dark and degrading and self-promoting and self-absorbed – from hell.

And this is going on continuously.

Random thoughts pop unto our minds – from where?

Random feelings are awakened, sometimes in one situation but not in another – from where?

But here is what is important.

Firstly, the Lord has the most detailed awareness of what is happening and monitors the situation s that we are in freewill. These influences that reach us and impact on us from the spiritual world, either from heaven or from hell, reach us in roughly equal measure and strength.

Secondly, we are not responsible for what comes to us, as such. So it is not a matter of congratulating ourselves on good thoughts and feelings nor is it a matter of feeling guilt, or making ourselves guilt, because of dark thoughts and feelings. We become responsible for what we choose of these contrasting thoughts and feelings to make our own.

Thirdly, and we won’t go too far down this track this morning, we become what we choose of these contrasting influences. As children and within the context of personality traits and inherited talents we start out as a clean slate. But we become the sort of person that over the years we choose to become or have chosen to become.

We noted the point earlier that we attract into ourselves what we give out.

We attract into ourselves, from the spiritual world what we give out.

And this is both wonderfully encouraging, but it is also quite sobering.

Let’s listen to the words of the text once more:

“Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Now, let’s pick up, again, the reading from The Heavenly Doctrines from earlier in the Service:

“With someone who does good with all his heart good is flowing in from heaven on every side into his heart and soul and inspiring him greatly to act as he does. At the same time love and affection for the neighbour to whom he does the good is increasing, and with this love and affection a heavenly delight, beyond description. The reason why all this happens is that the good of life from the Lord reigns everywhere in heaven, flowing in unceasingly in the same measure that it is given out to another. (Conversely) with someone evil who does evil to another with all his heart, evil on every side is flowing in from hell into his heart and spurring him on greatly to act as he does.” (Arcana Caelestia 9049)

What, then, of the implications here?

Earlier, mention was made of time when we feel we are running low, if not drying up.

Give what you have got and you will discover the very thing you are being called to give out amazingly replenished.

The effort will attract replenishment. You will – and cannot but – attract into yourself what you are being called to give out however difficult it may seem; however big the task.

But be warned, that as we give out what is ugly and self-promoting so this – too – attracts reinforcement from the spiritual world; from hell. It can’t but do so.

We all know that if we take a negative, complaining, attitude into a situation it attracts reinforcement. We only see further things to criticize, complain about and be negative about.

Setting the tone and theme of the Service, our opening words from Scripture this morning were taken from the prophecy of Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, from Chapter 3, verse 1:

“Test me now in this” says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.”

The Lord here, both tests and challenges us.

Think of it, He is challenging us to put him to the test. ‘Try it out’. ‘See if it is not so’.

He knows that we can be resistant and reluctant when it comes to

Thinking the best of people

Making excuses for them

Looking on the bright side

Praising and encouraging

Genuinely applauding another person’s efforts when it outshines ours.

But give it a go! See if it is not so. Take the risk.

And what you will find is that heaven, with all its influences, comes flooding in, in even greater strength and measure.

“Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”


Our Way, Our Truth and Our Life

By Rev. J. Clark Echols, Jr.

“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.



By Rev. Mark D. Pendleton

” … Jesus said to them, `Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to Him, `Yes, Lord.’ Then He touched their eyes, saying, `According to your faith let it be to you” (Matt. 9:28,29).

One month ago I sat and talked with a college friend on a hill which overlooked an athletic field. We were watching a lacrosse game together. As we talked, his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter toddled up the hill to meet us. She was crying. What was wrong? I didn’t know. But what struck me was what she did as she came up the hill. She went to her father, took him by both hands, and began pulling on him. She wanted his attention and his help. As I watched daughter and father, I sensed that something profound was being pictured in their interaction, though at the time I didn’t know what it was.

After this service, and each day for the rest of your lives there is going to be a test, and the test will have three questions. Right or wrong is not an issue with this test. No one will see your answers. No one will give you a score. What is at issue is your personal sense of contentment and happiness, and the level of effectiveness you enjoy with people around you. The answers you give will be indicators of how much peace you feel inside, and of the level of effectiveness you enjoy in relationships.

And so, the first question of the test is this: Who is God? And we might ask that question in a different way: Who is the source of power in your life? The second question is: How powerful is your God? And the third question: What will you do?

Once when Jesus was leaving His own city, two blind men followed Him. They cried out, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” So Jesus turned aside into their home. The two blind men approached Him, and Jesus asked them a question: “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord” was their reply. “Then He touched their eyes saying, `According to your faith let it be to you.'”

But this isn’t the only story of its kind in the New Testament. There are six others like it. A centurion’s boy was healed of paralysis (Matt. 8:5-13). A woman with a flow of blood for twelve years was made well (Matt. 9:20-22). A Canaanite woman’s demon-possessed daughter was healed (Matt. 15:21-28). Jairus’ only daughter, who was almost dead, arose and walked; her spirit was restored (Mark 5:22-42). Blind Bartimaeus received his sight (Mark 10:46-52). And a woman who was a sinner was forgiven and saved (Luke 7:36-50).

These are different stories, different people, different problems. What are the common denominators in all of the stories? All of the people in those stories wanted to feel the Lord’s healing power, and so all of them came to Jesus. All of them believed that He had the power to heal them.

The centurion came and pleaded with Jesus, and when Jesus said that He would come and heal his boy, the centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only speak a word and my boy will be healed.”

The woman with the flow of blood came and touched the hem of His garment. “If only I may touch His clothes,” she thought to herself, “I shall be made well.” Jesus turned to see who had touched Him. The woman was afraid. She trembled. In an instant she had been made well and she knew it. So she came and fell down before Him. She told the whole truth in front of everyone. She told the reason why she had touched Him and how she had been healed immediately.

The Canaanite woman came and cried out to Jesus, “Have mercy, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely demon-possessed!” Jesus didn’t answer. And so she came and worshipped Him: “Lord help me.”

Jairus, man of prominence, ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at His feet. He begged Jesus earnestly, “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her that she may be healed and she will live.”

Blind Bartimaeus sat by the road begging. When he heard that Jesus was passing by, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” When people around Bartimaeus told him to keep quiet, Bartimaeus cried out all the more. Jesus stopped. He commanded that Bartimaeus be called to Him. Bartimaeus threw aside his garment, rose and came to meet Jesus. Jesus asked him a question: “What do you want Me to do for you?” “My great one,” he replied, “that I may receive my sight.”

And finally, a woman who was a sinner brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil. She stood at Jesus’ feet behind Him and wept. She washed His face with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. She kissed His feet and anointed them with oil.

These are different stories, different people, different problems. And in each case the Lord was able to perform the miracle that was longed for. Why? Because in each case the person came to Him with a conviction that He had the power to heal. And so after each miracle, Jesus had something to say to the person who had been healed. To the centurion He said, “Go your way, and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” To the woman with the issue of blood He said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your affliction.” He answered the Canaanite woman, “O woman, great is your faith. Let it be to you as you desire.” When the report came from Jairus’ house that his daughter was dead, why trouble the teacher any further? Jesus said to Jairus, “Do not be afraid; only believe and she will be made well.” To Bartimaeus He said, “Go your way. Your faith has made you well.” And finally, to the woman who was a sinner He said, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Seven stories, and each points to a simple truth: Jesus Christ is God, the one and only one who is able to heal. He is the one and only one who heals “every sickness and every disease” (Matt. 9:35).

And so, in the gospel of John, we are encouraged to believe in the Lord: “Jesus said to them, `I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst'” (John 6:35). “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:26). “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in His name” (John 20:30,31).

In the Lord Jesus Christ we have our life. With Him as our help, we can have personal power in all that we do.

As I was preparing for this sermon, I was reminded of a passage in the book Heaven and Hell in which Swedenborg describes the power the angels have in the spiritual world (HH 229). Any obstruction which presents itself to them, welling up out of hell, the angels are able to disperse in a moment. And so, as a witness to happenings in the spiritual world, Swedenborg saw mountains which were occupied by evil spirits cast down and overthrown. Rocks which the evil spirits were hiding amongst were split in two. As Swedenborg watched, he saw evil spirits scattered and cast into hell. The angels who were able to do this exercised their power by an effort of will and by a look. It didn’t matter how cunning, or how deceptive, or how convincing the evil spirits were. The angels were able to see through their efforts and disperse them in a moment.

We can have that same kind of power in our lives. We can feel the presence of evil spirits as they come to us, out of hell, in the form of harmful desire. We can see through any argument that they pose to our minds.

But when the doctrine for the New Church speaks about the power that angels have in the spiritual world, they also talk about angels’ loss of power. Reading from Heaven and Hell: “But it must be understood that angels have no power whatever from themselves, but that all their power is from the Lord; and that they have power only so far as they acknowledge this. Whoever of them believes that he has power from himself instantly becomes so weak as not to be able to resist even a single evil spirit” (HH 230).

Like angels, as soon as we think we have power from ourselves over the influence of evil spirits, we lose that power: “You search the scriptures,” Jesus said, “for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they who testify of me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39,40). “And He said to them, `You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that … if you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins'” (John 8:23,24).

Seven stories from the New Testament, and each points to a simple truth: Jesus Christ is God, the one and only source of power for angels in the spiritual world and for people in this world. But implicit in that truth is a second, simple truth: He is able. He is able to heal every sickness and every disease. No human problem is too great for Him to overcome. “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

When was the last time you went to the Lord for help? When was the last time you sought Him in prayer and asked Him to help you with something? When you sought Him, what did you ask? And when you asked, did you believe? Did you really believe that He is able to grant that request? “Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, `Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things He says will come to pass, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive, and you will have” (Mark 11:22-24). “All things whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Mark 11:24).

The last time you sought the Lord for help, did you believe that what you asked for would come to pass? Do you really believe, for example, that the Lord is able to overcome your greatest fault?

The Lord Jesus Christ is God. He is able to heal any sickness and any disease. No human problem is too great for Him to overcome if only we will believe that He can do it.

But let us not forget the third question in the test: What will you do? You see, if we accept the Lord as our God, and if we believe that He has power to heal every sickness and every disease, then we are left with a final logical question: How will we follow through?

Suppose, for example, a teenager is having trouble in school. She trusts her parents for their wisdom and for their advice, and so she comes to them to talk about it. “All my teachers are against me,” she says. Her parents listen, they talk with her about her problem, and maybe they suggest one or two options for how she might behave differently, to help nurture her relationships with her teachers. Suppose that teenager doesn’t try any of the suggestions that have been given to her by her parents. She goes right on behaving as she has in the past. Can it really be said that she trusts the wisdom of her parents if she doesn’t follow through?

If the Lord is God, and if we believe that He has power to heal and save, the natural and logical consequence is that we would follow through on whatever advice He gives us to help with the healing (see AC 10083:6).

In this regard I am reminded of the number of times that I have talked with people about trouble in human relationships. Often in those conversations I have recalled the teaching in the New Testament which says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15).

How many of us know that truth from the New Testament? How many of us are aware of that piece of advice for helping relationships heal? And yet how many of us, when we think of a teaching like that, will say, “That’s too hard to do. That’s too hard to follow through on.” And a response like that is understandable; there can be a lot of fear surrounding such an approach to our brother: “What will he do?” “Will she even listen to me?” “He will yell at me.” “Maybe I’ll just let it lie. After all, it doesn’t seem important enough to bring up.”

There you are, hurting in a personal relationship. You want to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You want to believe He has power to heal and save. The Lord has called to your mind a bit of advice out of His Word one that you sense may help and yet you aren’t following through on that advice.
If Jesus Christ is our God, and if we believe that He is able to heal and save, and if He suggests a course of action and we don’t follow His lead, can it really be said that we believe in Him? Can we really expect that we will be helped in our struggles? Jesus said, “If you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).

Belief in the Lord Jesus Christ belief that He has power to lift us up and save us; belief that He is able to accomplish whatever we long for is the first and most essential element of spiritual life (see AC 10083:5,6). It’s the beacon in the night to which every ship will eventually turn. It’s the pearl of great price. Without it no one can see and no one can love, and no one can be truly happy or at peace (see AC 10083:6). The Lord Jesus Christ is power, and He alone is peace.

One month ago I sat and talked with a college friend on a hill which overlooked an athletic field. We were watching a lacrosse game together. As we talked, his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter toddled up the hill to meet us. She was crying. What was wrong? I didn’t know. But what struck me was what she did as she came up the hill. She didn’t even notice that I was there. The only one she saw was her father. Here was one of her parents who could help her. She wasn’t going to be distracted by anyone or anything else. She went straight to her father, took him by both hands, and began pulling on him. She wanted his attention and his help. “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”