Category Archives: Faith

“Your Faith Has Made You Well”

By Rev. Dr. Reuben P. Bell

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:14)

From the lessons today, it is obvious that our topic involves healing–on some level. It does.. But there are elements of the greatest truths of the universe in this deceptively short story of the blind beggar, and we are going to talk about them, too. As it turns out, they are all related.

Healing. Now, that word can carry a lot of freight. As a biologist first and then physician, and lastly as a believer in the spiritual life, I am constantly fascinated with the idea of healing. That something could be alive is mystery enough–but to be able to restore itself to wholeness after injury or illness–now that is a piece of work! And I can assure you that today, in 1996, with all our scientific knowledge and our dazzling technology, we still know very little more about healing on this natural plane than Moses learned from the priests of Egypt. And spiritual healing, like we have read about today? Don’t ask. Our culture is far too mechanistic and materialistic to consider just how someone might get himself “healed” in the true and not the trendy sense of the word. And science? “Real scientists” don’t talk about spiritual matters such as healing. But there is a spiritual life, and healing is a function of it. We just don’t understand it very well, because even those of us who claim to be “religious” have separated the spiritual and the natural so far apart that we almost cannot consider them as simultaneous qualities of the same thing. But Jesus did.

And you can bet that Bartimaeus did, as well. And with a little practice, so can we.

Let’s get to the issue at hand: the healing of Bartimaeus. Let’s work through it, this time for the “feel” of the story. We will worry about the details later. Let’s engage our imaginations first, and join this bustling crowd which is following Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. It is the Passover, granddaddy of holidays for the Jews–like our Easter, Christmas, and the Fourth of July rolled into one, week-long, continuous celebration. It is the hottest time of year–in Palestine, the hottest part of the world. Think of Arizona in August.. The road from Jericho, not very likely paved, is just like any other dirt road in the hot, dry summer–a river of fine dust just waiting for a “great multitude” of feet to churn it up. Picture this motley crowd, hardly the nobility–dusty, sweating peasants for the most part; all caught up in the excitement of the moment. Quite an image..

Picture the people of Jericho, lining the road to catch a glimpse of this notorious, mysterious, and slightly dangerous man. Imagine these people – the shimmering heat – the flies – the dust – the noise – the confusion – the excitement! “Jesus of Nazareth is coming through town! Isn’t he the new prophet who is doing all the miracles? He’s the one who heals people, who brought Lazarus of Bethany back to life! Isn’t he the one who talks with God? Here? In Jericho? Are you serious? Let’s go see him!

As we shall see, there is a lot more in this story than just the single act of restoring the blind man’s vision. In these seven short verses, we shall find the roots, in reality, no less, of some great mystical principles. And mystical principles are none other than Divine Truths. And Divine Truths are what Swedenborg called the doctrines for the New Church, The Church of the New Jerusalem.

This story is similar in style to most of the other miracle narratives in the Gospels. As journalists, the writers of the Gospels were failures! It seems that the bigger the event, the smaller the press coverage. Time and time again, the Gospel writers take momentous, cataclysmic events like this one, and report them in the shortest narrative possible. It is a curious habit of these writers–as if the miracles were simply accepted, without much comment–by the followers of Christ. Well, they were, and it is our distance from these events, both in time and spiritual sophistication, that makes them so extraordinary to us. The Gospel writers had the Good News to tell, and their story had an urgency to it, to get to “the good part,” the crucifixion and the resurrection. The miracles? Of course, but let them speak for themselves; they didn’t need embellishment. The writers of this story were not journalists. They were not historians, either. They had been there, and they told it the best way they knew how. And it is in the sparse description of such a major event that the power in it is best revealed. Seven verses.. to tell the story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus.

How do we approach this story? In some churches, to find the spiritual truth in the Scriptures means it is OK (or even necessary) to abandon the literal sense of the story as truth. This can lead us to the intellectual approach, in which we eventually don’t worry much about the story at all (especially any parts we might not like). In other churches, the literal story is the limit of the spiritual message, and interpretation is neither invited nor tolerated. We take what we can get from it, and we all go home. Either way, we lose one of the major elements of this miracle.

The New Church is different. It is not a compromise between these two extreme positions–there can be none, really. I would say that it is the best of both worlds: This church teaches the importance of the literal story (right down to its specific words) and its essential role in getting us to the spiritual. The Writings for the New Church unfold the internal, or spiritual sense of the Word. But you can’t get there without the literal sense–the words–to guide the way. So in our church, a very real Bartimaeus got his very real blindness healed by an authentic Jesus of Nazareth, who happened to quite literally be the Lord, the Divine Human, God, on this very earth, in human form. So far so good..

And, we find in this church that this very real event was structured by God’s Divine plan, called Providence, to represent a load of spiritual principles as well. This blindness was real and representational of spiritual blindness–and the details planted carefully in these seven verses, although actual, were caused to produce spiritual repercussions as well. What a system! Literal and representative. In this church we get both (must have both), for truth to come to us on both levels.

So after all this, we approach the story just as it unfolds. We take it on face value for the tremendous power of good it describes, and then we take it again, for the spiritual truths it can teach us. It is a simple story. We’ll not stifle its message with a lot of theological camouflage. In the New Church, there is no need!

It was along the road on the outskirts of Jericho where Jesus encountered Bartimaeus. He and his disciples and the crowd which followed him everywhere were heading for Jerusalem for the great Passover festival. What a scene it must have been!

Bartimaeus was in the center of the action by default, really. He was just sitting there, as usual, in his customary spot, when the confusion of the procession overtook him. Imagine his apprehension, at first. “What is this great confusion? Am I safe? How will I get away if this is a riot, or the Romans?” It was then he heard from someone that Jesus of Nazareth was the cause of the commotion. He must have been relieved. He had not been seeking this man all over the countryside, for healing, or any other thing. But he knew him (probably from his daily presence along the road, where news and gossip were plentiful among the travelers). He had already made up his mind about this prophet. We know this in two ways:

In an instant, Bartimaeus was yelling at the top of his lungs “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He yelled until those around him told him to be quiet, “but he cried out all the more.” He didn’t have time to decide if Jesus was the one–this was his one and only chance at the man–had he hesitated to ponder the facts, the moment would have been lost. But Bartimaeus was ready. And what did he call Jesus? Son of David. The Scriptures called the Messiah by this name. Bartimaeus had done his homework–he knew this, and more importantly, he believed it. He was given a Providential shot at this Messiah, and he wasn’t going to miss it. “Shut up, Bartimaeus, that is Jesus, don’t disturb him.” But he kept crying out until something happened. Here is a man who knew what he was doing.

And then, in this confusion–this great noise–Jesus did what he had done before. Hearing a single cry from within the din of voices, he stopped. Now the people who followed Jesus knew what this could mean. They had seen him do this before, and it usually meant something big was about to happen. Imagine the suspense. Jesus said, “call him,” indicating the beggar. And when they told him he was to rise and meet Jesus face-to-face, he did just as you might suspect. He “sprang up,” and went to meet him. And as he sprang up, Bartimaeus took his mantle (his loose coat) and threw it aside. Now Bartimaeus was dirt-poor. This was likely one of his only possessions, and very necessary in the hill country of the Judaean desert, with hot days, but very cold nights.

His focus intense on the Son of David, the Messiah, Bartimaeus threw it away. This man was serious.

“And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?'” What a strange question! He knew, of course. But why did he ask it? Bartimaeus’ answer was just as we have come to expect from this man, who didn’t beat around the bush: “Master,” he said, “let me receive my sight.” Now I can’t make up my mind about this answer of his. Is he asking Jesus to heal him? Not directly (and we have found Bartimaeus to be a very direct-acting man). He wants to receive his sight. This implies that sight was his to have–already his–requiring only some word from the Son of David to validate it. Indeed it was, because Jesus treats it just this way. He didn’t heal Bartimaeus. What does he say? “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” Did Bartimaeus heal himself? And what is this faith business, anyway? The whole healing thing gets very hard to picture at this point. “Immediately,” it says, “he received his sight and followed him on the way.” We know he got his sight. We know he asked to receive it. And we know that Jesus mediated the event in some manner. But what we find from carefully reading this story is that the healing was not an event as such. It was the endpoint of a process, and the process had begun long before Jesus happened by that day. Every element of this story is part of the process, and each, in its own way is essential to it. To be well, we must understand them all. Not surprisingly, each represents the application of a major doctrinal point–Divine Truth, remember?–of our New Church. Let’s look at them.

First, Bartimaeus was in the right place at the right time. He didn’t push it–did not pursue Jesus. It was the work of Providence that he was there. But remember, it was also the work of Providence that he was blind in the first place. That’s a hard teaching.. Here we find both sides of Providence, not in some dusty book, but at work in the world! Second, Bartimaeus had done his homework. When the Son of David appeared, unexpectedly, for only an instant, this man was ready. His mind was made up. He had considered the facts, and knew that this was the Messiah. When the moment came, he seized it, without rehearsal in that instant. This was a man of action, but acting from preparation. This is the way we are told that Works, or action, flow out of Faith. Faith is preparation, and knowing what is true. But until it acts, it just sits beside the road.

Third, Bartimaeus was persistent. This is the first thing we learn of him. “He cried out all the more” when the many rebuked him. He was going to cry out until the Son of David heard him and did something about it. This represents the work of our regeneration. We must persist in our daily work of removing evils and replacing them with good. We must do this blindly at times, from Faith that the Lord will hear us and lead us to our goal. And we must go about this work relentlessly.

Fourth, when his moment had arrived, he “sprang up” to meet the Messiah. But first he threw aside his mantle, signifying that all his needs were to be met in this man.

This kind of trust set the stage for what was to happen–what was indeed happening already. This is a lesson in Faith.

Fifth, in order to have his sight, Bartimaeus was compelled by the Lord to state this need, in plain language, out loud:

“What do you want me to do for you?,” he said, remember? That’s why he asked that curious question. It wasn’t for him–it was for Bartimaeus. This is the first principle of prayer. The Lord would have us state our needs plainly, so that they can be transformed from their natural form to spiritual fulfillment.

And last, we come to the most powerful image in the whole story. What was the deal between these two for restoring the blind man’s sight? What was the price of this healing? Nothing. “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” Those were the terms. And which way did Bartimaeus go? Let’s read it: “And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way. He followed the Lord. This is the story. Freedom. Regeneration by the grace and mercy of the Lord, in freedom, according to reason. That is the New Church, and that is the message of this story.

The lesson from the literal sense of this story of Bartimaeus is enormous. We are told that there is also a spiritual sense to be perceived, and I think we have already sensed its presence. In closing, let’s examine this spiritual lesson.

What happened to Bartimaeus? We know that “he received his sight.” And we know, by intuition, that this also means that his spiritual eyes were opened. But what does this really mean?

He was told that his faith had made him well. Let’s try that. Well, in this version of the Bible (NKJV), is whole in the King James Version (now, maybe we are getting somewhere). And this word in the original Greek was sozos, from the verb “to be made whole.” Now I think we’ve got it! But “wholeness” can be a pretty fluffy concept, if we’re not careful–the word is sure thrown around a lot these days, without doing much work. But this we know: Bartimaeus was made whole.. he got his sight. And Jesus was the broker of this transaction.

Now if we distill the message of the Gospels into its purest form, we find a single theme. Every time Jesus paused to teach the people, he talked of nothing else. This was his message: You are a body and a spirit, right now! Your spirit will not appear later, it is with you (it is you) right now! Your spirit and you body don’t know each other! Get them back together! Your spiritual self is an eternal being! You must do something with it now to get it started toward heaven! He tried to make people want to be spiritually alive, and he tried to show them how to be whole. But he wouldn’t do it for them. He told them he was the Son of Man, the Divine Human; a living, breathing model of this spirit/body creature, and then he proved it.

But with all of this, very few believed. Those who did were healed, like Bartimaeus. It had to happen. Let me read you some wonderful fiction–words put into the mouth of Jesus by Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of The Last Temptation of Christ, a novel of great power which comes to terms with the humanness of Jesus:

The scene is on the road, much like the circumstances of our story today. His disciples are talking among themselves, and it says “But Jesus did not hear. He was watching in front, his eyes filled with the blind, the lame, and the leprous.. Ah, if I could only blow on every soul, he thought, and cry to it, Awake! Then, if it did awake, the body would become soul and be cured.”

This, as Kazantzakis understood (as every mystic since time began has understood), is the secret. Healing, in this physical world, and spiritual healing, are two sides of the same coin. When people become whole, they attain the perfect total blending of material and spiritual, and as spiritual perfection proceeds, perfection of the material body follows suit. Christ leads us to wholeness–but he does not transform us, until we ask. Who healed Bartimaeus? By looking to the Divine Human, Bartimaeus saw the spiritual perfection that was his for the asking. So he believed and he looked. This blind man looked on the Lord and said “Master, let me receive my sight.” Bartimaeus was primed. He got his sight.. and a whole lot more.

Who was this man on the road outside of Jericho? He was the Son of Man, and in the third chapter of the Book of John, we read:

No one has ascended to heaven but he who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3: 13-15

Eternal life. To teach its existence has been called “The Great Task” for centuries.

To believe in it is our salvation, for when we do, we feel the urgency of getting these souls of ours in order. And to see it, we have only to look upon the Lord with the simple but powerful faith of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. There is healing in it.


The Faith of a Gentile

By Rev. Dr. Reuben P. Bell

“And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 8:11)

Our story from the Word today is no doubt familiar to many of you, as are probably most of the Lord’s healing miracles. It’s no wonder. Out of the Lord’s 35 miracles described for us in the Gospels, 17 are of healing – just about half – devoted to making broken people whole again. These stories have universal appeal, and we never grow tired of them. Healing is important to the Lord, and in the New Church we know that it isn’t just this literal story we share, but the story behind the story – the illumination of the internal sense, telling us ever more – about our lives, our spiritual states, about healing, and about the Lord. The centurion’s servant was healed for just this purpose.

This particular miracle took place on the heels of a big event in the life of those who followed the Lord. Only just before had they sat on a hillside and listened to one of the Lord’s only real public addresses, later to be named “the Sermon on the Mount.” This “sermon” had delivered truth in loads, and curious glimpses of life in the kingdom of heaven. Now the Lord was through with talk of love, and ready for love-in-action, as he journeyed to the city of Capernaum.

As he entered there, with the ever-present crowd, he was met by a Roman centurion – the captain of a hundred Roman soldiers – by definition, a man of no small presence.

Having stopped the Lord, however, he did not order, or compel Him to do anything. Matthew says “he pleaded with Him.” Now that conjures up an image.. a centurion, a mighty warrior, pleading with an itinerant preacher. But that is what he did. He told him that a servant in his house was afflicted with paralysis, causing great distress. But before he could go on, the Lord simply said “I will come and heal him.”

The centurion, perhaps a little surprised at this quick response, explained why that would not be necessary. And in doing so, he laid out the “story behind this story,” for all of us to see. “Why come to my house,?” he explained, when it was obvious to him that this Jesus and he were a lot alike: he operated under the authority of the Emperor of Rome. When he told a soldier to do something – he did it. Jesus could do the same: speak the word and his servant would be whole. The centurion knew.

And Jesus looked at that centurion, a gentile – not one of the chosen – not educated in the Law – not circumcised into the posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And he knew that he knew. “Assuredly I say to you,” he said (to the crowd crowding around), “I have not found such faith, not even in Israel!” Then he told them something they did not understand: People like this centurion, this gentile, would dine with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in “the feast of rich food for all peoples, the banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.” – in the Messianic Banquet promised by Isaiah the Prophet long before, and now, finally, soon to come. And the chosen? the circumcised? the people of the Law? Unless they learned to act like this centurion..”outer darkness.” (How could these people understand?) Jesus said to the centurion (as he so often did to those who claimed healing with their faith), “Go your way; as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” His faith had done the healing. “And his servant was healed that same hour.”

There is a lesson for us all, in the literal sense of this narrative, and we don’t want to miss it on our way to the illumination of the internal sense. First: There is a covenant, a contract, God to-man. It began with Adam, when the Lord put him and Eve in the Garden, and laid down the rules for living there. You know what happened next. But the Covenant was too important to lose, so the Lord renewed it, with Adam and Eve, then again with Noah, and then again with Moses, and later with David and Solomon, and finally He came Himself, to renew it again (Don’t forget that He didn’t have to. It was His Covenant. That’s grace, in the New Church – a story for another day. It’s the very life of our regeneration.) And that Covenant is right here, in our story this morning. What is it in this case? It is four principles: 1) Faith is required for healing. 2) The Lord is ready to heal us without a moment’s hesitation. 3) There are no “chosen people;” no special deals. 4) As we believe, so will it be done for us. And believing is faith..”knowing what is true.” The clear and essential message right here, in the letter of the Word, is that Healing is ours, to claim.

The internal sense of this narrative is simple and direct, and as always, it augments and illuminates what we have already learned from the letter. This “story behind the story” is the Lord’s Second Advent, in essence, His presence among us in a new and very real way – teaching and establishing His New Church. Let’s look at it.

First of all, when the Lord, in the Gospels says “I say,” we are told that this is the most direct form of revelation we can have. “Assuredly I say to you,” he said to the crowd, “I have not seen such great faith, not even in Israel.” This is the Lord, speaking directly to you, and to me. This story is worth reading carefully.

Now this healing is like a lot other healings we find in the Gospels. And we are told that in the spiritual, or internal sense, there is a deeper reason why these people were made whole. Jesus healed this man (and others) because “the first and primary thing of the church is to believe that the Lord is God Almighty, the Savior of the World.” That may be easy for us to grasp, as we sit here in this day and age, in this New Church Worship Service. But for this crowd, in this time, this was revelation. And revelations take a while to take. This one is still news to a majority of Christians today. This crowd needed miracles to drive that point home, and the Lord provided these for this greater purpose.

Unless the Lord is regarded in this way, no one can receive anything of good or truth from heaven, and this means no true faith is possible. The good part is that the Lord proved, by this example, that anyone (signified by the “many” who will “come from east and west, to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”) anyone may have this faith and go to heaven if they’ll start with this simple acknowledgment and live according to it. This means you.. me.. and them. Everybody. On a society steeped in the knowledge that they were the chosen ones, this message was essentially lost. They just couldn’t hear it.

Now Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob together in the Word signify the Lord, in His Celestial, Spiritual, and Natural fullness. This passage means that if we only acknowledge that the Lord is God Almighty, the Savior of the World,” we are on our way to dine with Him, to dwell with Him, “to sit down with Him,” in His heavenly kingdom. It’s the first and most important step, “the first and primary thing of the Church.” The internal sense tells us that we may appropriate this heavenly life to ourselves (that’s what eating means), and be conjoined with the Lord in His home. If we only believe. The centurion believed. He knew.

Now so far we have looked at the literal message in this healing miracle, and we have explored the interior message within it as well. Both tell us that faith is knowing what is true, and that saying this is not enough – we must act from this knowledge and do the things it moves us to do. Faith works. But there are a few other connections here, that can illuminate this story a little more.

The Lord used a gentile among the Jews to prove two points about faith. First, a gentile, someone ignorant of the Law and the Prophets, and the teachings of the Church, could plainly see the Divinity of the Lord. It is tempting to suggest that perhaps it was his ignorance which allowed such keen spiritual sight. Second, the Lord used this outsider to prove, graphically, that all are welcome in the Kingdom of Heaven. Now this gentile state is interesting: it is a state of obscurity and ignorance, and innocence – not evil or sinister in any way. This is an important distinction. It says here that people like this centurion can be led into the church because of this innocent state. Where is this centurion? Is he out there, or is he not within us all, ready to appropriate the heavenly life?

We have learned that the “first and primary thing to be established” for the people in this story was the fact that the Lord is God Almighty, and He is also the Savior of the World. This man whom they were following around the hills of Galilee. Faith begins with the acknowledgment of these things. Who can enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Those who have the faith of a gentile. This means everybody – those from east and west, and north and south as well.. Every one of us.

The Lord is ready in an instant to heal us; to make us whole. At a moment’s notice, He will patch up our marriages, take away our grief, shame, or guilt, mend our messed-up lives, give us back our friends, children, and parents;

He will give us joy, and meaning, make us strong in our faith, and lead us in our regeneration. He will “make for us a feast of rich food, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines. He’ll wipe away the tears from our faces..”

He will do this work, but the invitation is up to you and me. And there are some rules to this arrangement – a covenant (the Covenant) or a contract which must be fulfilled. The terms? We must only believe.. and then act like it. Sounds easy. We must know what is true as the centurion, without hesitation, knew that his servant would be healed, with just a word from this man who operated under God’s authority. This is the simple faith of a child.. or the gentile within us. Faith works.

The Lord is God, and He, not you or me, is the Savior of the world. Only He can save us. Try saving yourself, if you don’t believe it. The Writings tell us a lot of people have tried. They’re in hell, still trying.

Healing – making us whole – taking our pieces and putting them back together again so we can start all over and attain to the Kingdom of Heaven. This is our repentance, reformation and regeneration. It is a work in progress – the work of the Great Physician. No one on earth can do this job. And the price? Not much.. we must only believe, with the faith of a gentile.”And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”


Longing For Truth

By Rev. Brian W. Keith

Everyone has needs. Everyone requires certain things so that life can go on. There are many natural needs. We need to eat and drink. We need a relatively healthy body. We need a sense of security. We need to be productive, useful.

In addition we have spiritual needs. These are less tangible, but even more important to our eternal well-being. We need a sense of direction, a sense of purpose. Our minds stretch to understand the “whys” and “hows.” We also need a goodness within a quality of loving and caring that can bring lasting happiness, to others and to us.

While the Lord is concerned that our natural needs be met, He is more concerned for our spiritual needs. It is these that He is ever attempting to satisfy, guiding us so that heaven may be created within our hearts.

One aspect of our spiritual needs is described in the wanderings of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. Upon discovering the harsh reality of the desert, they grew hungry. After they had complained bitterly, the Lord provided them with manna bread from heaven. It took care of their appetites, but they were soon thirsty. In Rephidim they camped and feared they would die from the lack of water. Moses sought direction from the Lord, who showed him a rock, which, when struck, would deliver water in abundance. So it was that their thirst was quenched and they were able to continue their journey.

Spiritually, this story of survival in the desert depicts how the Lord quenches our inner thirst. The longing we have for truth for ideals and direction is spiritual thirst. The Lord can satisfy this need as we seek from Him the waters of life the truths of His Word. For where there is spiritual thirst, the Lord has said, “I will open rivers in desolate heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water” (Isaiah 4:18).

The Children of Israel had been journeying. So is described our spiritual journeys. For even as there is a natural progression in life from infancy to old age, so there is a development of the spirit. Our thoughts and feelings change as we mature not just because we are older, but because we have thought about what we need to do, and have done it. Even as the Children of Israel were fed by the manna, so we have been fed by the Lord’s good His warmth and love. It has touched our hearts, giving us delight and happiness.

Yet, as we know, life is not a continual progression. We have times of growth and times of leveling out, of reaping the rewards of past efforts and looking ahead to the future. So the Israelites were here seen to be camping in Rephidim. They were regrouping, preparing for what would come next.

But in their encampment they were lacking something. They could not rest or prepare for the further journeying without water. Spiritually we can come into the same predicament. Perhaps upon reaching adulthood we begin to realize that the answers which satisfied us before can no longer meet our needs. It may be that our childlike ideas of Providence are inadequate to help us understand why the Lord allows our parents to suffer a sudden death or a prolonged illness. Or perhaps our concept of how to help the neighbor becomes more cloudy when a close friend is found to be stealing from his company.

Feeling a lack of truth can also arise after we have achieved something in life, and are awaiting what is next. Perhaps after struggling to establish a career or a family, we have reached some goal, only to wonder what is ahead. We can thirst for the truths about the purpose of life or what is really important. Perhaps in the latter half of one’s natural life, there is a thirsting for truth about the life after death wondering what it is really like, and whether heaven is a possibility.

Sensing a lack of truth can also occur when one recognizes that there is more to life than this natural world can offer. A person can have success, money, power, and beauty and still sense an emptiness inside. In the midst of all the natural delights, there is still a spiritual longing to understand our Creator and our role in life.

This appears to be what the Lord was trying to awaken in the Samaritan woman He met at the well. When she questioned Him, He replied, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, `Give Me to drink,’ you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water … [For] whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:10,13,14). The Lord challenged her to think beyond what she could see with her eyes. He stirred in her a longing for something more, for living water truth that would satisfy her soul.

It is interesting how gentle the Lord was with her, even in the discussion of her many husbands. We may assume that He did not condemn her because in spite of her mistakes there was good within her. That is probably why she responded so positively to Him. So it is with us. When we thirst for living water, it is because there is something good within us that longs for it. The person who hates does not long for truth. The person who feels superior does not desire truth. Only because we have made spiritual progress do we yearn to have a better understanding of life. As the Heavenly Doctrines note, “good longs for truth as a thirsty person does for water” (AC 2698e).

However, the Children of Israel did not have water, and following their traditional reaction to any deprivation, they quarreled with Moses. They demanded water. This response depicts the initial reaction we may have when we do not receive quick answers. It is a sense of frustration that our needs are not immediately met. We want to know. We want to have simple, direct answers.

The quarreling with Moses indicates our irritation with not getting what we want. For wherever we turn, be it our memories from school, a friend, or what we think the church teaches, there is no living water.

Moses accurately pointed out that they were really angry with the Lord, not him; so is seen a conflict we are having with the Lord. When we are confused or have lost a sense of direction, we are apt to think He has left us. For we have certain expectations of Him, and when He does not deliver, we feel He has failed.

This fear does not go away; the thirst continues. The people complain bitterly, wondering why they left Egypt, thinking they are sure to die. From confusion and frustration there arises a sense of hopelessness. Not only is there confusion, but there begins to be fear fear that there is no answer, no truth, no way out of the maze.

Moses then speaks to Jehovah, realizing the unruly mob may well take his life. This is the recognition that a person who seeks direction or a better understanding of life, and does not receive it, will do violence to what is true. As the ideas that the person had as a child are no longer able to quench his thirst, and no living water is found, there is a danger of rejecting everything. It is like seeing Christians murdering non- Christians, or evil conquering good, and wondering how a merciful God could permit it. If no answers are forthcoming, Christianity may be seen as hypocritical, and it is rejected entirely.

The danger is in giving up, in becoming mentally passive. If answers are not immediately found, a person may simply stop thinking about spiritual matters. That area of the mind which wants to understand, to explore the spiritual realm, is deadened. And the person goes through life refusing to ask difficult questions for fear there are no answers.

But the Lord is not silent. Jehovah commanded, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” Spiritually this means that there should be an urgent asking of the Lord for direction. This may sound strange, for the people had been complaining bitterly before. What more could they do?

It all has to do with attitude. A thirst for truth cannot be satisfied until the person is receptive to the Lord. Once past the most basic and simple truths, understanding takes time and maturity. As a young child cannot appreciate why he has to eat a balanced meal, so the young couple are just beginning to glimpse the nature of love, and the mature adult has but a rudimentary concept of God. And a further understanding is made difficult because of selfishness. For when we want to know on our own terms, there is little we are willing to listen to.

When we are impatient, setting a time limit on the Lord and our own ability to grasp the value of spiritual things, then we are likely to continue groping in the dark. Or when we go to the Lord asking Him to put a stamp of approval upon a course of action we have already decided upon, there is little we are open to hear. Or if we ask the Lord for answers from a mild intellectual interest, with little or no intent of doing anything with what He says, then our ears are shut, and we do not see the living water.

Striking the rock is searching the Lord’s Word for water that will refresh us, that will enlighten and change us. The Lord said He would stand before the rock, for it is only when we sincerely want to know what He thinks, what He knows is best for us, that we see the rock of truth. Putting aside our preconceived ideas, being willing to admit that our ways have not been perfect, enables us to receive His water.

It is saying “Lord, I will follow wherever You lead. Even if it is not where I had wanted to go, or thought I should go, I will still follow You.” It is saying, “Lord, I will trust You. Although I may be unclear as to how Your Providence is working, I will do my best to walk in Your ways, having confidence that You will take care of all my needs.” It is as the Lord Himself said, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39).

From humility we can be refreshed with the water of the Word. We will be able to find direction because we want to be the sheep of His pasture. Then our thirst for the truth can be quenched. Then we can receive the living waters which refresh and give direction to our lives. Then we shall accept the invitation to the New Church:

“And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, `Come!’ and let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).


Faith Without Charity Destroys

By Rev. David C. Roth

It seems at times impossible to change our lives. We get caught up in an addiction, a fear, or a destructive attitude like prejudice, and no matter what efforts we make to change, we still seem to fall back into our old patterns. What is wrong with us? The Lord promises us we will change if we follow His Word – if we learn His truths. Yes, learning truth is a big part of following the Lord, but you’ll notice He never says, “Just learn the truth and you will be fine.” It is easy to take the quote “The truth shall make you free” and assume that it will do just that. Dead wrong. We are missing the whole teaching which is, “If you abide in My Word, you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” If we abide in the truth then we will know it. It is as if the Lord is saying, “If you don’t live according to My teachings you really will not know what they mean”; they will not be truth to us.

The Lord has taught us in His Word by means of stories, often parables, but many times through historical narratives that teach a hidden message about the Lord’s heavenly kingdom. The story of the ark of the covenant being stolen by the Philistines and finally returned is a most graphic story which shows us what happens when we depend on faith alone or truth and knowledge alone to change our lives.

In the Word, whenever the Philistines are mentioned it is talking about faith alone, or a life devoid of charity and good works. In our story the Philistines were warring with the Children of Israel. In this case the Philistines were winning. In fact, they won a battle against Israel and then the warring parties returned to their respective camps. Israel represents the church, so at this point the church was losing to faith alone. In other words, people were turning their backs on a life of good, and thinking that a life of religion depended only on faith alone, or knowledge of the Word without applying it to their lives. When this happens, the church slowly gets destroyed.

To redeem themselves the Children of Israel brought the ark of the covenant which contained the ten commandments from Shiloh to their camp, thinking that this would make Jehovah’s influence stronger and so defeat the Philistines. Did it work? You would expect that having the Lord present would give the Israelites the power to conquer any enemies. This did actually cause the Philistines to be afraid, but they said among themselves, “Be strong and conduct yourselves like men that you do not becomes servants of the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Conduct yourselves like men and fight!” (I Samuel 4:9) When they did as they said, they defeated Israel and captured the ark.

It is interesting as we look at this as a metaphor for our spiritual lives. Israel, which represents the church in us or the good and truth within us based on how we receive the Lord, is defeated by the Philistines, which is that facade that faith alone or knowledge and intelligence without putting them to use will save us. When we turn from the Lord, as Israel did, then this belief has the ability to defeat us. It is easy to think that faith alone will change our lives. It is a real danger in the New Church to think that simply reading and meditating on the Word of the Lord in both the Sacred Scriptures and the Writings is a life of religion. But as the Writings say, “Religion is of life, and the life of religion is to do good.”

When we find that we are losing control of our lives, as the army of Israel was experiencing in their battles, then we immediately grab the nearest copy of the Writings and start to read, which is like thinking that bringing the ark into the camp will change everything. This means we think the solution is learning some more truth rather than living what we know. By doing this we are not breaking the bonds of faith alone; we lose the battle over our lives anyway, and eventually lose the Word itself, because truth that is not applied is dead and will be taken away from us, either on this earth or after death. This is what is represented by the armies of the Philistines defeating Israel and capturing the ark. We can have all the truth in the world, but unless we live it, it is of no power, just as Israel was powerless over the Philistines.

When the Philistines had possession of the ark, they set it in the house of Dagon, a Philistine idol. When they came to the house the next day the idol of Dagon had fallen on its face before the ark of God. So they set it on its feet again. The next morning when they had come in, Dagon was again fallen on its face before the ark, this time with its head and the palms of its hands broken off. This particular incident is very illustrative of the kind of power that faith alone really has – none. Dagon in this instance represents the religion of the Philistines, or the religion of a person in faith alone, that is, someone who places everything of religion in knowledge and facts.

Their idol Dagon was part man and part fish, kind of like a merman. The part like a man stands for intelligence, and the fish part below stands for knowledge. As is clear from what happens, intelligence and knowledge alone cannot stand up to a religion that is based on a life of good and charity. It is powerless. Before the ark of God the idol falls to its face. The second time it falls is even more significant. The head and the hands break off, which signifies the lack of real intelligence and power with faith alone. The head signifies intelligence and the hands, power. If we think that knowing a lot of things without putting them to use is going to help us, we are sadly mistaken. This illustrates that in reality we have no strength and no intelligence.

These incidents with Dagon make the Philistines realize that something is wrong with their having the ark in Ashdod, so they send it on to another city. Cities in the Word represent doctrine – in this case, false doctrines or false ideas which we possess: like the idea that lying helps our relationships with other people, or that drinking helps us to communicate more openly, so drinking is good. Just like the Philistines not giving the ark back to Israel but sending the ark to another city, we don’t give up on the faith-alone idea; we just try it out on new ideas we have (send the ark to new cities) rather than return the ark to Israel, which in effect would be starting to live a life of charity and good.

This only causes more problems for the Philistines, which to us means that we find ourselves beating our heads against the wall. When we refuse to actually change our lives and instead just try out more false ideas, or even fall back into the same destructive thought patterns, then the results become clear. In the story all the people of the cities which received the ark broke out with hemorrhoids or with the bubonic plague and the land was ravished by mice. When we don’t shun evils as sins, which a belief in faith alone doesn’t allow, then all of our evil inclinations run rampant and take control of our lives because we don’t do anything to stop them. Knowledge or intelligence alone will not do it. What are represented by these hemorrhoids which afflicted the people are the filthy loves, or natural loves which are separate from spiritual loves, which makes them unclean. They become like sores or boils on our spiritual persons. An obvious example would be the love for having sex. This is a beautiful love if it is coupled with a spiritual love that goes with marriage called conjugial love. But if this love is separate from the spiritual origin, then it becomes a filthy love and manifests itself as fornication and adultery instead of pure marriage love.

The mice which ravished the land of the Philistines represent the devastation or destruction of the church by falsification of truth. Fields and land usually represent truth, and mice have the ability to destroy a field of its crop; that is why the mice represent the falsification or wiping away of truth. This is what faith without charity or truth without good does. If truth has no foundation in good, then our false ideas can take it and twist it into what is false, which destroys the essence of truth.

This sounds like a pretty dismal picture for the Philistines. It makes you wonder why they didn’t send the ark back right away if every time they sent it to a city the people there would break out with painful sores and their land and fields would become ravished. But we know how difficult it is to let go of a false idea if it serves our purposes. We are basically stubborn when we latch onto false ideas. Why should we have to actually work on our lives by shunning evils and turning to good? That is hard work. Why not just believe in the Lord and declare our faith in Him and be saved, as so many millions of people in the world around us have done? Because we eventually see that our spiritual lives are not in peace; our bodies are covered with sores spiritually and we are in pain. And what we relied on for strength – the truth we know – is losing its power; it is literally being eaten away. It took the Philistines seven months to realize that they had better send the ark back to Israel. If we are lucky it will take us only seven months, but usually it takes many years of pain and struggle before we realize that a change is in order.

Actually the number seven here is very important. Seven represents what is full or complete. We often hear that an alcoholic, for example, must hit bottom before he or she realizes that there must be change. The signification of seven months is to point out that it does often take a complete or full state of despair or destruction to make us wake up and make an effort to change our lives – in this case, to realize that the only true path of religion is to shun evils as sins and to do good. This is a most important duality.

If we want to stop the pain and devastation in our lives we are going to have to make a change; this is what is represented by the Philistines sending the ark back to Israel. The Word of the Lord must be coupled with a life of good. Faith without charity is an empty, lifeless, and even painful existence. What the Philistines do next represents this change we must make.

The Philistines sent the ark back to Israel, but they did not send it alone. They built a new cart out of wood and placed the ark in it and hitched it up to two milk cows which had never been yoked. In the cart with the ark they placed five golden tumors and five golden mice. These were a trespass offering to the Lord. How did they know to send these articles in the cart? Because the lords of the Philistines knew about correspondences, they knew to send the ark back in order to appease Jehovah. All of the things they did were very significant, as you will see, especially for New Church faith aloners.

The new cart which they built represents the kind of doctrine that must be used to begin our change. It represents doctrinal things of memory-knowledge, which are doctrinal things from the literal sense of the Word. But since it is a new cart it signifies new doctrine that is untainted by our previous false beliefs or our own interpretation of the Word. The reason the ark was to be set in this cart was that “The ark represents heaven, which stands and rests upon the doctrinal things of memory-knowledges” (AC 5945). Genuine truths and stories from the literal sense of the Word must be our foundation for spiritual life, for as said, all of heaven rests upon it. This is a strong message for us in the church: if we do not study the Old and New Testaments but put all of our time into the Writings, we are missing our foundation. The whole of the Word teaches from start to finish that the Lord is to be acknowledged and that man must shun evils and live well. This is what is contained in the ark; this is the doctrine we see represented by the ark in the new cart.

The five golden tumors which are to go in the ark represent our natural loves purified and made good. Why are they in the cart with the ark? Because the only way to purify these loves is through living the truths of the decalogue, that which is represented by the cart and the ark in it. The same holds true for the golden mice. Also put into the ark, they represent the end of the devastation and destruction of the church with us, or the end of the falsification of truth, which ends only by means of doing good. Gold signifies good. It may seem odd that they made golden tumors and mice rather than something beautiful to appease the Lord. But gold is gold and good is good no matter what form or shape it takes. Externals don’t make the difference; internals do. It is our motive and reason for doing good, not how wonderful the act of good was. We read, “The external is estimated from the internal, and not the reverse” TCR 595).

What is it that is going to get this offering and the ark back to Israel? In other words, where are we going to get the power to move this heavy cart of good intentions on the road to a life of good? By remains, of course. The cows in this story represent good natural affections. They have never been yoked because to be yoked would have meant that they were defiled by falsities. But we know that the Lord stores up within us, free from defilement by our natural heredity, remains which are affections for what is good and true. It is in times like these that the Lord stirs our remains and empowers us to move that cart, or to get going on our new life.

To me the most interesting and true part of this whole picture is the lowing of the cows on the way up the road. The path to regeneration and change is not without pain. It is not easy to leave our old habits and our love for doing what we know is wrong, no matter how well we know what’s right. It is our love, our very life, but if we want to live to eternity, that old life must be given up. The old man must die before the new man can be born. The cows’ lowing on the way up the road represents “the difficult conversion of the lusts of evil of the natural man into good affections” (DP 326). We can imagine ourselves on the path to recovery or change and whining and complaining about giving up our old ways, but the remains which the Lord has given us will pull us through. You will note in the story that the cows headed straight for the road to Beth Shemesh, and once on the road they did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.

Once we get on the path of life the Lord will hold us there. We may whine and complain along the way, but we know we have to give up what we used to consider happiness and joy in exchange for the true joy and peace that awaits us when we follow the Lord. As Divine Providence states, “Man is admitted interiorly into the truths of faith only so far as he can be kept in them right up to the end of his life.”

This is a very illustrative and graphic story of the danger of faith alone, but it also paints a beautiful picture giving hope that we can change our lives; we can depart from destructive habits and attitudes, but it will take work. We will have some pain, and probably complain, as illustrated by the lowing of the cows, but the Lord will guide our path until we have made it back to Israel where we can find some peace and happiness from a new life – a life of charity and good will to each other, the life of heaven.


Faith That Is Really Faith

By Rev. Ian Arnold

“There are many who declare that a person is saved through faith; or as they say, if he or she merely has faith. But the majority of such people do not know what faith is.

Some imagine it is mere thought; some that it is the acknowledgment of something which ought to be believed; others that it is the entire doctrine of faith which ought to be believed; and others that it is something different again. Thus in their mere knowledge of what faith is, they are mistaken; and as a consequence they are mistaken as to what saves a person.

Faith, however, is not mere thought; nor is it the acknowledgement of something that ought to be believed; nor is it a knowledge of all that constitutes the doctrine of faith. Nobody can be saved by such thought, acknowledgement or knowledge that cannot send down roots any deeper than thought.

Thought does not save anyone, but the life which they acquire to themselves in the world through what they learn of faith. Such life remains, but all thought that is not in keeping with the persons life dies away, even to the point of becoming nothing at all. In heaven, that which brings people into association with one another is their lives, not thoughts which are not related in any way to a persons life.” (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 2228.2-3)

From the gospel, friends, from Matthew chapter 8, verse 10:

“When Jesus heard, He marvelled and said to those who followed, Assuredly I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”

That’s Matthew 8, verse 10; and of course at that time, the Lord was talking to the crowd that had gathered around Him. There’s no doubt there was a crowd around Him: it begins the chapter by saying that He had come down from the mountain, that’s immediately after giving the Sermon on the Mount, and great multitudes followed Him.

When Jesus heard it, heard what the centurion had said, He marvelled. He said to those who followed: “Assuredly I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”

Even as He said those words, its 99.9% certain that Jesus would have been aware of the impact that they had on the people who were around Him, many of whom of course would have been Jews. And many of them would have entertained the assumption that was ingrained with them: that by birth and as a birth-right they had access to the Kingdom of Heaven (however they understood that to be) in a way that no gentile would ever have. And here, straightaway afterwards, Jesus challenges this assumption. They’ve heard this, they would have been unhappy, they would have been murmuring, it would have caused consternation: “What is He saying this to a gentile for? This is not one of us! And yet He is saying He has not found so great a faith even amongst us!” So even perhaps they were affronted, and Jesus picked that up and went on to say, “I say to you that many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, but the sons of the kingdom will be cast into outer darkness.” That’s a slap in the face for them! “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Nobody has access to the kingdom of heaven by going to a particular church, or by belonging to a particular faith. Nobody. You see, we can extrapolate from what Jesus is saying here a message for our day and age. It matters not what faith you’ve been brought up in or born into. It matters not what church you belong to. What matters is how vibrant and how living is the faith which you have, and which energises you! That’s not to be missed as one of the key points highlighted, brought to our attention, and taught to us here. When Jesus heard what the centurion said, He marvelled and said to those who followed, “Assuredly I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”

So far as assumptions are concerned friends, we too can make our assumptions, lets face it. When it comes to the Romans, what are your assumptions? That they were earthy people, worldly? That they were materialists; loved pleasure, and a good glass of wine? Archaeologists have dug up their houses for us; some of them certainly lived in splendour. But what are your assumptions of the Romans? And what are your assumptions of their soldiers? That they were monumental blockheads who simply followed orders, did what they were told, never thought for themselves? Perhaps its true of some of them. But be careful, because we are into assumptions; and when we come to look at this centurion, and think about him and where he came from, even those assumptions have to be challenged or qualified as to just what it was that made a Roman soldier.

Certainly the centurion was an exception; he was an exception for two obvious reasons. One is he cared for those under his authority; he was a man who worried about, and had compassion for, those who served him. So let’s not think of the Romans exclusively in terms of the brutality of the age, or in terms of the brutality which history is evidence of that they could commit. He was a man of tenderness, who like I say, cared and had compassion.

But as well as that, we learn something else of him, and that is that he was prepared to think outside the square. Why should he, a Roman (he was part of the occupying army, a relatively senior soldier) go and see this itinerant rabbi, this Hebrew, this preacher, who at that stage had hardly begun his public ministry? Why should he take the risk? He took a risk because he stepped outside convention, and he was prepared to seek healing and help where it might be found; hardly a monumental blockhead, but rather a man of insight and decency.

But more than that, he was a man who possessed a faith at which the Lord marvelled; and went on to say that He had not found such faith, not even in Israel, not even amongst his closest followers and disciples. We can take that as being read. He wouldnt have said what He said: “I have not found such great faith, and yet here I find it in a Roman soldier who you see to be a Gentile!” And we need now, friends, to start looking at what it was that made his faith so outstanding, which attracted this tremendous compliment from the Lord.

Well, so far as his faith was concerned, we do know this: that it was not based on book learning or long years of study. He wasnt a rabbi. He hadn’t been brought up in some school of the rabbis. He had no Jewish background in the scriptures. He came to Jesus innocently, but wonderfully, to seek healing for his servant who was paralysed at home.

And friends, the first thing that I draw your attention to here is this: that faith is not alive just on the basis of long years of study, or book learning. That is not to deride or to undermine the purpose or the usefulness of reading and learning, growing an understanding. But none of those things in themselves guarantee a living and vibrant faith. He obviously possessed something else, which like I say, was able to attract this incredible, unusual compliment from the Lord: “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” What is it that he possessed?

I want you, friends, to go back into the words that he spoke when he came to Jesus: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only speak a word and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man under authority.” There are two things there that we tend to miss in our reading, and even the translation, of this particular part of the gospel.

Firstly, the word worthy, “I am not worthy”, is not helpful. He actually said to Jesus: “I see that you are a man on another level”, a man on another level. It makes you wonder whether he had been listening to the Sermon on the Mount, hearing Jesus speak on another level, recognising that Jesus orated differently to anybody else he had encountered so far; because thats what the Greek means. Our English has “I am not worthy”. No! “I see that you are a man on another level, that you operate differently”. What this opens up for us is this: that the centurion was tuned into the fact that life is not just about one physical, outer, natural level, but that life is multi-layered, multi-levelled, and that indeed there is a level, as epitomised in what he had seen of Jesus, there is a level that we might all even aspire to. That’s the first thing.

And the second thing is this, when he talks about being a man under authority, what he is saying is this: “I know all about unerring obedience. I say to somebody Go and he goes; I say to somebody Come and he comes.” And what he is saying there is this: “I know and can see that the higher needs always to be obeyed and carried out in the lower.” And that changes what we so often, as it were, slide across when we read this episode. We’ve got to look at what this man was saying. He was talking about levels of our existence and also about authority and the need to recognise when authority should be obeyed. Wonderful! And Jesus was stunned, stunned at the insight. “When Jesus heard, He marvelled and said to those who followed, Assuredly I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”

The centurion knew that life is not about doing as you please. The centurion knew that you ought to live life to the fullest, and in a spiritual way. We need to be prepared to look up to, and be subservient to, authority above ourselves. “I am a man under authority. I know what authority is all about; and I can see how it applies to my own inner discipline and the way I live my life.” He had captured, you see, what faith is all about! And Jesus was incredulous. “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”

The higher must always be, and take precedence before, the lower. The higher must always be observed, and carried out, in the lower. As we say in the Lords Prayer: “As in heaven, so upon the earth.” The higher rules the lower. And the centurion got it, but nobody else had up to that point. And so the Lord commended him, because faith is a commitment and a resolve to live our lives from a higher authority, and more or less to live our lives unerringly to the best of our ability from a higher authority. “I know”, said the centurion, “what authority is all about.” And so it needs to be in the way we practice the things we subscribe to and say we believe in.

The centurions servant was paralysed, stuck, immobile. He had become dysfunctional. The centurion needed that person to be up and about if he was to carry out his duties as a senior soldier. Let’s hone in to these words: “being stuck and immobile”, because often we get ourselves and recognise times and situations when we become stuck and immobile. Attitudes become stuck and immobile. We become stuck and fixed and immobile as if we can’t move. Let’s face it, relationships also become fixed and stuck and immobile. Our initiative to do new things, to get up and go about life, becomes such that we feel as if we can’t do it. We’re like the paralysed person.

What Jesus is doing here is inviting to re-examine what is the essence of faith. And when we look at it and see what it involves, then the sense of being fixed and stuck and immobile and unable to move certain parts of our life dissolves. If we truly have faith, in the very essence of faith, then all is well. The Lord doesn’t even have to come to the place where the man is! He feels it from a distance. No wonder Jesus said that if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mulberry bush move there to here, and it will be uprooted and move. If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain move from here to there. Nothing will be impossible to you, not on the spiritual plane! Not when it comes to the challenges of life, particularly those times when we feel fixed, stuck, imprisoned, somehow rigidly ensconced, which is what that paralysis brings home to us. Have faith, and all will be restored, healed, ameliorated, set free again.

“When Jesus heard, He marvelled and said to those who followed, Assuredly I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! Then Jesus said to the centurion, Go your way. As you have believed, so let it be done for you! And the servant was healed that same hour.”


Faith In the Will

By Rev. Peter M. Buss

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples” Luke 1:29-31.

Nearly everyone wants to believe. It is a need sown into the human soul, for there is an influx from God which disposes us to believe that He exists. We want to believe that there is such a thing as unselfish love, that there are true ideals that rise above personal inconvenience, that there is a heaven, worth longing for and striving for. We want to believe that there is a perfect God who offers us these things.

Most hero images manifest this deep longing to believe in a power greater than our own. Sometimes we transfer this image to other people. Young people have a tendency to choose an idol and expect him or her to be perfect, and then become disillusioned when faults appear. People become inordinately hopeful about their national leaders or heroes. They treat them as super-beings, who will miraculously give them freedom from hunger or poverty, give them employment, peace, no inflation, no crime. How many times has a nation heralded a new leader with unnatural fervor, and turned on him a few months later because, like everyone else, he has human flaws?

This longing of the human heart, to believe in a savior, was fulfilled when the Lord came down to earth. It was for this purpose that He came, so that He could show Himself as the one perfect Man–God-man. Only He can fulfill the need within us for a complete trust.

He had no flaws. He did not put a foot wrong in all that He did on earth, nor did He show anything but the most perfect love and wisdom. Much though we love a human being, however deeply we revere a wife or husband or parent or friend, we cannot trust him or her altogether. There will be areas in which her love or his wisdom is not equal to helping us. But in Jesus we see infinite qualities at work, and we are able to say with Simeon, “My eyes have seen Your salvation.” In our faith in the Lord is our hope, and our security.

It is that certainty, that faith, which is meant by Simeon’s words, when he held the infant Lord, and knew that this was the moment for which he had been kept alive. He prayed to die: “Now let Your servant depart in peace.” For the longing to believe is with us only for a time. When we discover faith in the Lord, then the wish to believe dies. It departs–in peace–because it has done its job, and its time has passed.

Yet Simeon does not represent simple faith in the Lord and His power. For faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a powerful and comforting thing, but it is not effective if it is a belief in the Lord as Someone standing outside of us. It is the sense of the Lord within us, coming to be born in our hearts, that matters. The first faith a person has is an intellectual picture, the mental vision of his God. But the understanding is not the person himself. We are the things we love.

Therefore the Lord comes to us in our wills, in our hearts, and Simeon, that just and devout man who longed to see Jesus with the eyes of his body represents our wish to have the Lord within us. In the internal sense of the Word, Simeon (whose name is taken from the word “hearing”) represents faith in our will, faith working in our lives, so that the Lord can dwell in us.

What do we know of the Simeon story? He was just and devout, and he was waiting, longing, for the “consolation of Israel.” Because of this, the Holy Spirit had promised him that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Christ. He was led of the spirit into the temple to worship at just the time that Jesus was presented there, and in this infant he recognized the salvation of all people. He took Jesus up in his arms, and blessed God.

These actions represent a state of mind in us which follows after we already have an intellectual faith in the Lord. For Simeon was already a believer, and he was just and devout. He was putting into practice the things he believed. When faith is put into practice, it becomes “faith in the will,” faith in act, the wish to make our religion a reality (AC 342; 3862; 5472; 3869; 3872). Simeon also represents obedience, for obedience is the willing subjection of our will to the Lord’s truth (AC 6238).

To understand Simeon’s part in the Christmas story, it is important to reflect on the abiding emotion which ruled his life. For Simeon knew that it was his lot to remain on this earth until the promised Messiah came. His days were filled with hope, and with eager anticipation of this most wondrous event. This spirit, of hope leading into anticipation, is what keeps us going between the time of our first obedience to the Lord until charity, or true love is born in our hearts. The Writings say that hope is of the understanding, but confidence (or anticipation) is of the will (AC 6577, 6578). It comes about when we trust the Lord with our hearts.

There is a wait between the start of our obedience, and the birth of true love. Simeon waited for the consolation of Israel. How long did he wait? Probably for a long time. But was it an anxious wait? No. Was it a wait filled with uncertainty? No. He knew: the Holy Spirit had told him that his waiting would come to an end.

In our own lives nothing worth having comes to us in a moment. The truly worthwhile joys, the satisfying experiences in life take time. When did you first fall in love? How long was it from that day until your marriage? When did you first decide on a career? How long was it from the time you dreamed of owning a house until you inhabited it? A baby takes nine months to grow before you can hold it.

But the time between the beginning of the dream and its realization is pleasant. At first there is hope. Then hope gives way to something even better–a knowledge that the thing you dream about is going to happen. Two lovers plan their wedding: now they know it is going to happen. They still have to wait, but they are not anxious. That period of waiting, when you are certain of the end, is an important period. Each day that you wait, you reflect on the importance of your dream, of its special nature. The wait increases the delight in the final goal, and makes it more satisfying when it becomes a reality. In fact, if we were to gain our important wishes too quickly, without the pleasure of anticipation, much of the joy would not be there. More important, we would not have gone through the preparation which makes the joy meaningful; and even more important, we would not have used our own reason, in freedom, to prepare for that event, so that there is something of the as- from-self in the experience of the event. It is the wait that allows the Lord to give us a part in the joy that we experience. The Lord gives gifts, and through waiting and planning and looking forward to them, we have a part in their creation.

This principle applies when we start to seek the Lord’s love. Obedience is the beginning, but there is a long way to go. We don’t change from being selfish people to being loving people in a moment. We learn, step by step, and each step is a discovery. It is an adventure. It brings its own satisfaction.

The feeling which Simeon represents is the certainty that if we obey, love will be ours. Tomorrow, or maybe for many tomorrows to come, we may show signs of the selfishness that is still within us, but the time will come when unselfish love is born in us. The Holy Spirit has said so. We know it.

That waiting period is not an unhappy one. A person who is obedient to the Lord has some immediate rewards. He or she has a clear conscience. There is satisfaction in each day’s work. There is a feeling of accomplishment in fighting a weakness and overcoming it. There is real pleasure in finding growing kindness in one’s self. There are moments of quiet reflection and prayer when there is thankfulness that the future is going to be good.

It’s just that we do not yet have the love which makes heaven. The Lord has not yet been born inside us.

How did Simeon picture the meeting that he would have with His Messiah? How many times he must have imagined it! What was his mental vision? We don’t know, but we suspect that nothing prepared him for the joy which overwhelmed him when the infant Lord was brought into the temple and he had the privilege of holding Him in his arms.

We talk of unselfish love, but when it begins to be felt in our hearts, it is going to be much better than we had imagined it.

Simeon asked to die. Why? Because the spirit of anticipation has a limited life. Faith in the will lasts only so long, because when true love is born, faith becomes love, and faith flows from that love. We no longer look forward to charity, it is here, now. Hope, even certain hope, dies when its goal is reached (DP 178). “Now, Lord, you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to Your word. For my eyes have seen!” It has happened.

Like Simeon, we will spend a lot of our lives waiting for something. We are born to love others, and to find joy in loving them unselfishly. At some moment in our lives we believe the promise of the Lord that it can be so, and we begin to obey. But there is a long wait before love becomes a reality. We are invited to enjoy that wait, to find happiness and contentment in it. We are invited to use our reason and our planning and our activity–our freedom!–to look forward to the day when love is a reality. It is into that freedom that the Lord inspires hope, and then confidence, and eager anticipation (see AC 6577, 6578). It gives us the power to go forward, waiting for the consolation that will surely come. “It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26). “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word do I hope.. for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is abundant redemption” (Psalm 130:5-7).


Faith and Human Freedom

By Rev. Peter M. Buss

“And many more believed because of His own word; and they said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of your saying: for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (John 4:41, 42).

“Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” John 8:32).

Our freedom is limited in all sorts of ways and at different times of our lives. A child grows up under authority and learns to take orders. He also learns his parents’ ideas of morality and his parents’ religion. He has to obey the rules of the school, of the town in which he lives, of his country. He is taught to look up to and obey those in higher positions than he, and he comes to have a feeling for the authority of man and the power of certain persons. He feels the press of social law — doing what society expects of him. All these things limit his freedom to do what he wants.

Rational society knows that some freedoms should not be given to us. To break the laws of the country should be forbidden unless they are totally and spiritually unjust. We should be bound by social law as well. Society has a right to punish people who show no care for its members in moral matters (see AC 4167 et al).

Some freedoms we should work for and even fight for. We have made a history of doing so, and we have to wish well to all people who are trying to do so throughout the world. The freedom to worship, to speak the truth, to act from conscience, to live where you may make a living — all these things should be guarded by a government which deserves to survive. For these freedoms are part of human longing. They can be smothered for a while, but the human soul yearns for them and will go on looking for them through any oppression.

And one freedom is so important that it is in the hands of the Lord Himself. He won’t let anyone take it away for more than a while. It is the liberty to believe what you want to believe and to love what you want to love. That spiritual freedom is deep within the heart of man, and it can hide where no person can ever go, and it can be protected even when terrible pressures are being put on us to give it up. The Lord holds as inviolate the principle that every human being is free to choose his or her belief, and to cherish his or her chosen loves. You can deny someone the free expression of belief or love, but not the secret, private conviction and enjoyment of them (see DP 129, AC 5854, et al).

In the long run no one can deny us this freedom, but it can be muted and delayed and interfered with over a period of years. A person who is sick is not in full freedom, because the private enjoyments of life are denied him, and he may be afraid of death. A person acting under strong fear is not free: the fear makes him think differently from the way he might otherwise think. Someone who is mentally ill may find his spiritual freedom impaired for a long time.

There are also pressures that can limit it. Some countries, for example, teach their people that disagreeing with the rulers is a crime, and often succeed in limiting free thought (see TCR 814, SD Minor 4772). Society can do that as well: if people are made to feel that merely to express a differing opinion is sinful, they will be pressured into the more acceptable modes of thought. A church can be just as bad if it limits the understanding of truth to what the leaders of the church teach. Anyone in the church can do it too: if you express an idea and someone looks at you with surprise and faint distaste because the idea is “not what the church teaches,” you may feel pressured to relinquish your idea in favor of one that will make you less unpopular.

It’s amazing how deeply the people around us can affect our enjoyment of the most precious freedom there is — the one the Lord guards secretly in our minds so that no one can destroy it forever. It can’t die, but it can be held ransom for months or years; and bits of it can be limited so that we have to wait, maybe until the next life, to feel true spiritual freedom.

The Lord has given the Writings for the New Church to restore that freedom, to establish it at the highest level possible. In His order there is nothing more important, because unless we can turn to Him in freedom, we can’t turn to Him at all. The freedom to choose our loves and our beliefs is so important that He Himself never forces anyone. In fact, He says that were He to force someone to love what is good, that person “would come into such torment and into such a hell that he could not possibly endure it, for he would be miserably deprived of his life” (AC 5854).

The Writings establish and uplift this freedom in several ways. First, they are given to take away the authority of man, to cut through the dogmas or the customs of any organization — even of the church that acknowledges them! They were given to enable people to look not to the learned and the outspoken and the eloquent for guidance, but to the Lord Himself for leadership in all spiritual things. They were given to provide personal, private, and therefore totally free, contact with the Lord and His truth. “If ye abide in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed, and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

This last revelation by the Lord is quite different from all those which went before, even though it agrees with them in every point. It is different in its appeal. First of all, it is complete. It talks about all matters of human life, in terms that people can understand. The Old and New Testaments touch on all parts of human life, but often so briefly that people have not understood them. The Writings are a comprehensive, consistent and completely presented description of the Lord’s laws.

They are not just comprehensive. They also have depth. They talk about things that we could never know without the Lord’s telling us. They tell us about the life after death and the spiritual nature of the life we will live there. They tell us secrets about human life here — how, for example, the bond of marriage spiritually changes a young man and woman and prepares them for total love. They tell of the thousands of secret things the Lord is doing when He rebuilds the human heart that turns to Him. Inside of his new revelation there is a depth that will never be plumbed. We will go on learning its secrets for tens of thousands of years and never grow tired of them.

They appeal to that human understanding which longs for truth and goodness. They touch the part of us which wants to see the truth for itself. The Writings aren’t written in the form of commands. They set out our obligations, and they most certainly tell us what is forbidden. But their whole approach is Lo ask us to consider what is said and see if it is true, and only embrace it when we see it. “What the spirit is convinced of,” they say, “is allotted a higher place in the mind than that which enters from authority and the faith of authority without any consultation of the reason” (CL 295). And again they say, “Real faith is nothing else than an acknowledgment that the thing is so because it is true; for one who is in real faith thinks and says, ‘This is true and therefore I believe it.’ … If such a person does not see the truth of a thing, he says, ‘I do not know whether this is true, and therefore as yet I do not believe it. How can I believe what I do not comprehend with the understanding? Perhaps it is false” (Faith 2). It is nonsense to say that we should believe without understanding. The Lord has given us the power to see His truth. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

The freedom to look at truth for ourselves and see it for ourselves; the freedom to find joy in discovering that what He has said is true: the Lord offers us this by telling us of His truth and doing so quietly, without persuasiveness, without threatening us or appealing to anything but our love of the truth.

This can be done only if it is the Lord Himself who reveals these truths. If a brilliant man explains the truth, even if he is enlightened by the Lord Himself, then he can give insights into the truth, but he can’t give freedom! The reason is simple — you are believing the truth on the basis of his understanding and his awareness, and so it is the faith of authority. If the Writings were the work of the most brilliant man who ever lived, they couldn’t make us free. Even if they were the Lord’s revelation to Swedenborg, which he then told us about, our faith in them would be a trust in a man’s understanding of what the Lord showed him. It would be a faith in the authority of some man, and that is limited. Only an explanation of truth which comes directly from the Lord Himself can open the mind. For the Lord reveals the truth in perfect form. It is unsullied by human adjustment and interpretation. It is from His mouth, and there is no fault in the expression, and therefore when we have faith in it we have faith in something pure which our minds can explore in total freedom.

This is the quality of the truth in the Word of the Lord — truth opens all the way to the Lord Himself. It is couched in the language of man, coming apparently through the prophets, through the apostles, through Emanuel Swedenborg. But the truth itself is from the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. And because it is His truth, He adds, “No man comes to the Father but by Me.”

And therefore the Writings for the New Church also do not allow us to use them — the Writings — to control the minds of others. It is true that while children are growing up, we teach them truths from the Writings without questioning them. But we don’t allow a child to confirm his faith. He or she must be an adult before taking that step. Time and again the Writings preach against historical faith — the notion that what was good enough for your fathers is good enough for you — and they reject all faith on authority — believing because people we admire believe. Time and again they urge the people of the church not to band together and decide what is true. We are not to make councils and decide what is true, nor ask people to believe in something because we, the leaders or older generation in the church, have seen it. “Put no faith in councils,” they say, “but in the holy Word; and go to the Lord and you will be enlightened; for He is the Word, that is, the Divine truth in the Word” (TCR 624e). And again they say, “But, my friend, go to the God of the Word, and thus to the Word itself … and you will be enlightened” (TCR 177e). The authority for the New Church is now and evermore will be the Word itself; it has no formal, written doctrine outside of it.

A person who is confirmed in the New Church is stating his or her faith in that Word — the Old and New Testaments and the Writings. He is saying that he believes they are from the Lord and are the only authority, the only ruler over his mind. We must obey civil law, of course; we must observe moral laws; but we reserve the right to decide from the Lord Himself, from His Word, their justice, or the rightness of anything on earth or in heaven. In doing so we give up a certain freedom — the freedom to espouse any idea we want, to decide for ourselves what is true; but we give it up willingly, for now we are saying that we want to be in favor, not of ideas but of what is true, and the Lord has shown us perfect truth. Many people may be tempted to disdain ideal truth. Like Pilate they might ask, “What is truth?” The Lord has answered that: “Everyone that is of the truth hears My voice.” “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

But in the last analysis we don’t accept faith in the Lord in order to reject faith in other people and in false ideas. We accept it because we know that we need living faith, faith in living truth, so that we ourselves can be changed. There is only one thing in all this world that is perfect, and that is the Lord’s Word, and when we turn to it, we are asking for that perfect, faultless help that flows through that Word from the Lord — the help we need if we are to forsake evil and love what is good. When a man or a woman stands before the Lord and joins the New Church, he or she is taking just the first step along the path of a happy and blessed life. He or she is saying, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.” “Lord, I know that in Your Word You are present. Guide me in all the steps that are to come.

Even when we accept Him He still gives us freedom. He shows us a perfect truth, and we can say, “I want it,” or “I don’t.” But if we choose to, then He gives us the power to find the ultimate freedom. Every angel of heaven is free to do what he or she wants, because what he or she wants is good.

This is the freedom which starts when a young man or woman declares a faith in the Word, which is the Son of God. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”



By Rev. Chris Skinner

But they who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40 verse 31)

Up to this point in the Book of Isaiah the prophet has been talking about the need to repent of the evil that the Israelites had descended into which meant they had turned away from the Lord. From chapter 40 onwards Isaiah is preaching a message of comfort and hope, of the coming of the Lord and the freedom that this will bring. In one verse there is a change from doom and gloom to the possibility of light and peace.

It is this message of hope that our text addresses. The message is being spoken to each of us as individuals because the whole Word is about our inner struggles and how we rise above them, which brings us to the words of our text.

How many of us here have always cherished the idea of being able to fly. Not in a plane but by ourselves un-aided like the birds. We look in the garden and see the way the birds take flight to the nearest tree or telegraph pole. What freedom, what delight. Up Up and away.

If we apply this to the way we feel spiritually we can think of flying high as a new perspective on things. If you have been in a plane you will know that the land, scenery looks completely different from above looking down.. Sometimes we need to look at life from a new perspective.

Our text talks about eagles. Have you ever noticed the way an eagle flies. It goes very high, hovers and looks down to survey and look for its prey. It can see far more and things are much easier to see from above. It does this with its massive wings which help it reach these heights. The wings are the vehicle for achieving the height but it is the eyes, strength and stamina that makes it effective. All three combined enable the bird to reach its goal.

In our life how much time do we spend in the mundane, rocking along involved in the essential chores, wrestling with our problems and focusing on the negatives. If we continue to do this we can become dis-heartened, dejected by what is happening to us. Open the daily newspapers and at once the negative is thrust in our face. All the evil deeds make the front pages but the positives do not make good news. Dwelling on these negatives we will find it very difficult to focus on the Lord.

‘But they who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’

This text is a beacon pointing to better things. It is a torch shining on what is good in life rather than what is bad. In the Bible animals, birds etc and the way we think about them correspond or symbolize aspects of our own spiritual development.

If we look at the soaring, flight and perspective they gain as they hover we can relate this to our own journey. The eagle can be likened to the way we see the Lord’s truth and our own intelligence. We can take the truth as merely knowledge and it will have no affect on our life. Or we can see it as a beacon or torch pointing us upwards. Knowledge will not lift us up like an eagle but the truth seen with the eye of faith and light can transform it into sharp sightedness like that of the eagle.

The eagle then when looked at in a good sense is focusing on positive energies and the good things of life which can be seen when we recognize that the Lord can lead us forward. In a negative sense it can make us look at bad and difficulties things and we will see no light at all. The eagle then is the Lord’s Word in our minds illuminated by positive thoughts and actions that enable us to move forward with some confidence.

Our text gives us the clue as to how we turn that darkness into light. Wait upon the Lord means that we must be prepared to have patience and trust as we learn to live the life that leads to Heaven. We must find strength. In other words our strength needs renewing. This can only be done by loving and obeying our inner feelings and wanting to change for the better. If we do, then that knowledge or intelligence will turn to wisdom and we will feel an inner confidence and strength.

Our text also says we must run and not be weary. It is amazing how positive energy can give us the strength to go forward with vigour whereas negative energy saps our strength and we become weary. If we walk with him or in His strength he will give us the vision, the commitment and His love will sustain us as we put our shoulder to the wheel.

In Isaiah’s day people could see very little good, as the times were tainted by evil and they had little freedom to fight it. In our day whilst negative forces are at play we have the freedom to choose. We have the freedom to see the good in people as well as the evil. It is our choice. We can choose how we think and act.

We can let our focus dwell on the things that reflect the bad things of life, the squallor and sensual the selfish and horrible things that are part of life. The appearance will then be that evil is absolutely dominating our lives. The media revels in doing this. But that is not the whole story. All sorts of good things are happening all we have to do is try to see them.

We must lift our gaze to something better, something higher. See the positive acts of kindness and use, the good attributes of people as well as the bad.

In our personal spiritual journey we can, in prayer and act rise on eagles wings above the mundane and seek a clearer view.

The Lord has given us the ability to lift our spirits above mere knowledge of His truth to glimpse the light of heaven. Let us work at lifting our understanding above the text of the Bible to what it is pointing to. A sense of hope, light and love.

This is what His coming on earth achieved. It opened up the channels of communication so that he can reach us day by day. His coming to us today is in the way our life can be changed by new positive thoughts. He is revealing himself to us if we want to have eyes to see. His presence will reside deep within us even when we are not always aware of it but it will give us the strength we need in tough times. Our text then is a trumpet call. A vision of what the Lord can achieve for us.

How much this week have we wallowed in the lower spheres of life, in self-pity, in the difficulties that appear difficult to rise above. Let us lift our spirits high like the eagle. May the Lord give us spiritual wings and enable us to gain a new perspective.

Our teachings describe how heaven is more beautiful than we can imagine and will reflect the state we are in. A state of joy and contentment will present to us beautiful vistas incomprehensible here. It is upto us to lift our spirits, our life, our sight and live in a way that will enable us to rise into the light of heaven.

It all takes effort, will-power and a trust in the Lord. The benefits and the new horizons achieved can change our view on life.

But those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.