Category Archives: Other Times and Seasons

The Significance of Thanksgiving

By Rev. Douglas Taylor

“Three times you shall keep feast to Me in the year: You shall keep the feast of unleavened bread … none shall appear before Me empty, and the feast of the harvest of the first fruits of works, which you have sown in the field, and the feast of ingathering, which is at the end of the year, when you have gathered in your works out of the field “(Exodus 23:14- 16).

This law, repeated in similar words in other places in the Divine Word, is included in the Heavenly Doctrine among those that “may serve a use if one pleases” (AC 9349:4). In the passage where this is Divinely stated, the laws given in the book of Exodus are classified into three groups: those that must still be observed in their literal sense, those that may be observed if we wish and if a use is served by them, and those that were merely representative laws and are now set aside, since the age of representatives has passed. The laws about thanksgiving are therefore not mandatory or binding upon the New Church. We are free to observe them or not, according to the use that is seen in them. It is because there does seem to be a use in ceremonially giving thanks unto the Lord that we continue to celebrate the Feast of Harvest Thanksgiving, even in urban and industrial areas, where the “harvest” is not from “the field” but takes other forms.

These laws concerning offerings and thanksgiving are a very striking instance of thanks being commanded by the Lord. They seem to be the very opposite of free-will offerings. In fact, there seems to be no place at all for any spontaneous giving, but only compelled giving.

Yet the Lord does not demand thanks for His own sake, so that He may have glory from us. How can human beings add to the Divine glory? How can we think that the Lord of love and wisdom would wish to receive honor and glory at the hands of human beings, that He would want to make us submit and bow himself down before Him just for the sake of tasting some Divine delight in our submission and gratitude? To think that the Lord commands these things for His own sake is almost blasphemous, so contrary is it to the real Divine essence.

No, the Lord does not command thanksgiving, offerings, and external worship for His own sake, but for our sake. It is so that we will come into a state of humble acknowledgment of the Lord, and of our own unworthiness compared with the Lord’s Divine goodness, and may thus come into a state in which we may receive all the more fully from the Lord, and be all the more blessed. It is for our sake that the Lord commands thanksgiving, not His own.

He commands it because from His Divine wisdom he knows the heart of man, that it is necessary for us to make a beginning with a rather formal giving of thanks; that without this ceremonial thanksgiving we will never advance to a spontaneous expression of genuine gratitude for all the Lord’s wonderful works to the children of men. He knows that we must first do from duty what we may later do from delight.

When, in obedience to the Lord’s command, we pause to count our blessings, even on the natural plane alone, we find the task quite beyond us. Church people, believing in the Divine Providence of the Lord, can be entirely overawed as they contemplate all that the Lord has provided in the way of natural good things, and feel like exclaiming with the psalmist: “O that men would praise the Lord for His mercy, and for His wonderful works to the children of men” (Psalm 107:8). “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of your riches” (Psalm 104:24).

There can be no doubt in the mind of people of the church but that the Lord is the Creator of these natural gifts, for, as we read in the doctrine, “those who confirm themselves in favor of the Divine give attention to the wonders that are displayed in the production both of plants and animals. In the production of plants, how out of a little seed cast into the ground there goes forth a root, and by means of the root a stem, and branches, leaves, flowers, and fruits in succession, even to new seeds, just as if the seed knew the order of succession, or the process by which it is to renew itself. Can any reasonable person think that the sun, which is nothing but fire, has this knowledge, or that it is able to empower its heat and light to bring about these results, or is able to fashion these wonderful things in plants, and to contemplate use? Any man of elevated reason who sees and weighs these things cannot think otherwise than that they come from Him who has infinite reason, that is, from God. Those who acknowledge the Divine also see and think this, but those who do not acknowledge the Divine do not see or think this because they do not wish to” (DLW 350).

The Lord, then, is the Creator of every good natural gift; indeed, He is the Sower of life itself. So we should give thanks to the Lord from a grateful heart for all these things.

But in everything that the Lord does He looks to what is eternal. He never fails to see the eternal in the temporal, the infinite in the finite. All the natural good things that He gives are not meant to be ends in themselves. They are meant to serve eternal uses; they are but the means to eternal ends. We have to learn also to see from Him the infinite and the eternal in the finite and the temporal.

The Lord’s gifts that last for ever His spiritual provisions are even more precious than His natural provisions (if for no other reason than that they do last forever). But besides that, they are the ends for which the natural good things are only means. The supreme gift, of course, is the life that belongs to heaven, eternal life the happiness enjoyed unceasingly as themselves. Above all else, we should give thanks to the Lord because He leads us into a heavenly state and saves us from a hell of misery. Hence the reason given in the Word for thanksgiving: “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy is forever” (Psalm 106:1). Because His Divine love is goodness itself, He has made us; because His mercy is forever, He continually redeems us from hell and leads us to heaven. For these Divine gifts we should be profoundly grateful. For these blessings we should give thanks unto the Lord.

The feasts commanded in the Word represent that conjunction with the Lord that gradually deepens as we are led by Him to a heavenly state of mind. The gathering together of the people on the appointed feast days is a picture of the heavenly gathering together or convocation. Something of heaven can be seen in such gatherings in obedience to the will of the Lord. That is why they were commanded in the Jewish Church, which was a representative church.

There were three feasts commanded: the feast of unleavened bread, the feast of first-fruits, and the feast of ingathering. The feast of unleavened bread was a reminder of the Lord’s deliverance of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, in particular of the time when the plague upon the first-born passed over the Israelites and did them no harm. This was also known as the Feast of the Passover. The second feast was for giving thanks for the first fruits of the harvest, the first sign that the planting had been successful. The third one, the feast of ingathering, was held at “the going out” or the “end” of the year, when there was a completion of the harvest, and all the fruits of the field had been gathered in.

In the spiritual sense, as referring to our rebirth or regeneration by the Lord, these three feasts represent three universal stages in the process whereby we are brought into a heavenly state, a state of perpetual thanksgiving to the Lord.

The feast of unleavened bread in memory of deliverance from Egypt represents the first state, that is, deliverance from the falsities springing from evil, meant by Egypt. After we have begun to be instructed in the truths of the Word, there arises severe conflict in our minds, caused by the falsities that cling to our inherited will, which in itself is evil. We are quite content to be in slavery or bondage to the loves of self and the world, and are quite willing to believe only the things we see with our own eyes, and nothing else. We are full of doubts and wondering. This state continues until (in the Lord’s strength) we succeed to some extent in bringing the truths of the Word into our daily life by sheer self-compulsion and from a sense of duty. We obey the Lord with a heavy heart because we feel we have to, not because we freely want to.

This is a vary arduous, undelightful state, pictured also by the later wanderings of the sons of Israel in the wilderness, when they hungered and thirsted, complained and rebelled. But by dutiful obedience to Divine commands, there is deliverance from the ever-present falsities and doubts, and we begin to have a stronger faith in the Divine truth revealed in the Word. This is the first state of regeneration, represented by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, or the Passover.

The second universal state of regeneration is one in which we are affected by the truth as a result of making it our own. The truth moves us, moves us into action. We have some delight in doing it. Doing it begins to become second nature to us. We begin to think not just about the truth but from it. We use the truth to fight evils our own freely acknowledged evils. The truth is in us fighting. The first fruits of the planting are beginning to appear. The truth that affects us is being planted in our minds in such a way that it will remain there. It is implanted in the good affections of love toward the neighbor, which are beginning to appear. This is represented by the feast of first-fruits, “the first-fruits of your works,” as it is called in the text.

The Heavenly Doctrine describes this second state, represented by the second annual feast, as one in which “truth is being implanted in good.” The good affections come primarily from the remains of good received from the Lord by means of angelic influences during infancy and childhood. To these are added any moral goods, or moral virtues, that we have acquired in adolescence, and also everything good that was in our obedience from duty to the Lord’s commands. Because the truth is moving or affecting us more deeply, it is the more deeply implanted. We begin to possess it. This stage is also meant in the Word by the process of occupying the land, which the Israelites achieved under Joshua, who, incidentally, represents “truth fighting.”

The third and final feast commanded the feast of ingathering at the end of the year represents the fullness of regeneration, when there is a veritable harvest of good things: good affections, good will, feelings of charity, expressed in a harvest of good works, genuine good works which can properly be offered back to the Lord from whom they came forth. The great rejoicing that was always part of this feast of feasts was but a natural expression of the spiritual and heavenly joy that comes with the completion of the stages of regeneration, when we really do acknowledge the Lord, thanking Him from the heart for the good things of regeneration. It is not that we are at all conscious that we have completed the journey to the heavenly state, that we have come into full possession of the Heavenly Canaan; rather it is just that we feel permanently thankful to the Lord. We have a true and deep acknowledgment of the persistent teaching of the Word that everything good and true comes from Him. This has become a delightful matter of belief with us something we see and acknowledge from insight. Consequently, our whole life is ruled by charity our words and our deeds. Love toward the neighbor shines forth in all we do and say and think and feel. It is a state of perpetual thanksgiving one in which the opportunity to give thanks to the Lord with the mouth is eagerly embraced because there is thanksgiving in the heart also. This is the gift to give back to the Lord a true testification that the good of charity has indeed been received. It was to this kind of gift that the Lord referred when He commanded: “None shall appear before Me empty,” that is, without a gift. The natural fruits of the field that were offered in the ceremony of thanksgiving correspond to spiritual gifts the reception of good affections from the Lord and if there is genuine thanksgiving from the heart, they represent them.

It is manifestly true that when this third state of regeneration has been reached, the thanksgiving is complete and full and perpetual. That is why the number “three” is mentioned explicitly because, wherever it is used in the Word, “three” signifies what is complete.

But we can give thanks to the Lord even if we feel that we are only in the first state of regeneration being delivered from falsities and wandering in the wilderness of temptation. Even if, in our spiritual life, we do not yet eat of unleavened bread, if the good we do is tainted with impurities, we may still give thanks to the Lord for whatever knowledge of the truth we have, and whatever deliverance from falsities He has granted us. And let us remember too that the first state reigns throughout, and that there can be something of genuine thanksgiving even in the beginning.

If we have reached the feast of first-fruits if the truth is affecting us more deeply now so that it is being implanted in good our thanks to the Lord can be even more interior. For He is the Sower who goes forth to sow, and it is from His strength alone that we prepare the ground. If we are fighting from the Lord’s truth to possess the land, we may still sing songs of glad thanksgiving unto the Lord, “for His mercy is forever.”

But if we have reached the feast of ingathering, when the good things of charity begin to shine forth, we thank the Lord from a full heart persistently, perpetually, and spontaneously. We know then from within that the Lord has been the Redeemer and Savior and Regenerator in each stage of liberation from damnation and of regeneration, or entrance into heaven.

The ceremonial giving of fruit-offerings in the Jewish Church was meant to represent this acknowledgment of the Lord from the heart, this acknowledgment that the fruits of the field and the fruits of charity that they represent have alike been given by the Lord and should be returned to Him with glad thanksgiving.


The Value of Work (Labor Day)

By Rev. Brian W. Keith

“Everyone who has been faithful, sincere and just in his employment and work in the world is received in heaven by the angels … ” (Divine Wisdom XI:4).

This quote, taken from the Heavenly Doctrines, is useful to reflect upon this Labor Day weekend, when we recognize and give honor to all whose hard work and effort make up the backbone and strength of this country. A day of parades, family cookouts, and rest are how we celebrate the occasion. While this is a secular and not a religious holiday, there are spiritual implications to our employments. For our work, be it caring for children, running a business, or blue or white collar employment, has a significant impact upon who we are and what we become.

An emphasis found throughout the Scriptures is the importance, the value, of work. In the creation story we are told that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Even in the very beginning the Lord expected people on earth to work, to take care of things. Then in the fundamental principles governing life, the Ten Commandments, the Lord says, “six days you shall labor and do all your work.” Yes, one day is for the Lord, but the others are for our work (see TCR 301). And when the Lord sent out the seventy to proclaim the Gospel to all, He told them not to take much money or garments, “for the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7). He expected that they would be rewarded. “A tree is known by its fruit” (Matt 12:33).

It is not hard to see how valuable work is in our lives. Vacations are delightful, but where would we be without work? When we are forced to be idle due to extended illness or unemployment, how do we feel? Is it not frustrating? And how often does it lead to depression? For the feeling of being useless, of having no meaning, can rob us of our self-esteem, can destroy our desire to do anything. This is why retirement can be a challenge to many. People who had been accustomed to hard work suddenly find themselves without any need to get up in the morning. Until a sense of usefulness is discovered in other ways, retirement can seem like a pointless waste.

The hellishness of being without any use in life can be seen both in the faces of the long-term unemployed who seem to have surrendered, and in the excessively rich. Now wealth has nothing whatsoever to do with whether one gets to heaven or not. But people who had led useless lives here because of their wealth not wealth they earned through their own labors, but usually inherited, which enabled them to avoid all useful employment find little happiness in the spiritual world. For they had spent their days finding new and more exciting ways to amuse themselves, usually in destructive ways. They cared only for themselves, and looked down on others who labored hard (see SD 2501). While some may complain that they have to work to earn a living, it is actually a blessing of Providence that we need to find jobs and are not tempted through wealth to be useless.

Being able to work, to find gainful employment outside the home, or devote one’s attention to rearing a family and taking care of a home, is a vital way the Lord has provided for us to learn to be useful. For what value would our lives have if we sat around waiting to be entertained? We can talk and talk about what we believe, about what ought to be done, but if we do not do it, what is the point? Genuine charity, genuine love for others, exists in what we do for others. And our jobs, when we perform them justly and fairly, become our life of charity (see AC 8253e).

To have regular work establishes a pattern, a structure, for our lives. As the Heavenly Doctrines note, “the love of use and devotion to use holds the mind together lest it melt away and, wandering about, absorb all the lusts which flow in from the body and world through the senses with their allurements, whereby the truths of religion and the truths of morality with their goods are scattered to all the winds” (CL 16:3). Put simply, having to work keeps us out of trouble. It occupies our time; it keeps us busy.

More than that, working is a means the Lord utilizes to teach us to be useful (see Faith 25). Providence oversees the process of growing up and finding work that all might be productive. For initially each child has a delight in learning. In the course of education most students discover subjects or skills that draw their attention. After graduation, their delights lead them to find work in these areas. As novices, though, they are not particularly capable (who would trust a first-year doctor with complicated brain surgery, or an untried mechanic with an engine overhaul?). There is much more to learn. More information and experience is required. But as that is gained, as there is some mastery of the business at hand, then that initial delight is renewed. An affection for the work grows, which is an affection for being useful. From work, people are able to learn how to help others how to be productive how to do something useful for others.

This is especially seen in the story of Jacob. Jacob had to flee his home after he had stolen the birthright and blessing from his older brother Esau, who rightfully deserved them. Without land, without herds, he had nothing; he was nothing. Then he saw the beautiful Rachel, the woman he desired for a wife. Laban agreed to the marriage and to Jacob’s offer to work for him for seven years for Rachel. “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed but a few days to him because of the love he had for her” (Gen. 29:20). Unfortunately for Jacob, after the seven years he found himself married to Leah, the older sister. But after agreeing to another seven years of labor, he was permitted to marry Rachel also. Then, in need of flocks and herds, he agreed to work for Laban another seven years that he might acquire some. Thus, at the end of over twenty years of work, Jacob returned home a wealthy man.

What happened in those years? In addition to acquiring a family and wealth, the work was the means the Lord used to change Jacob, to mature him. For when he finally returned home he submitted himself before his older brother, recognizing his seniority. This could not have happened unless he had grown through the work unless he had developed a new set of priorities.

As Jacob learned to be useful, we do also. Often with selfish goals at first, as we put effort into our jobs, as we learn to be more productive, the Lord can change our attitudes, can gradually shift the emphasis away from reward to a joy in doing something good for others. This is the delight in being useful. It is a heavenly quality. It is actually being of service to the Lord.

In the book of Revelation, letters are written to seven churches. To the church in the city of Ephesus praise is given for “your works, your labor, your patience … and you persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and not become weary” (2:2,3). Spiritually, laboring for the Lord means striving with zeal to do what is right, to speak what is true (see AE 102). This is done in all our works as we attempt to act fairly with others, to provide goods and services which will benefit them.

It also means that all uses are ultimately derived from the Lord. As we perform to the best of our abilities in our jobs, we are serving the Lord, doing His work. For all uses have their life, their value, because they are part of the Lord’s way of helping people. The Lord enables people to participate in His Providence. He operates through human efforts to bring about heavenly ends. So He is present in every single aspect of useful interactions between people, guiding them so that spiritual life may grow.

What this means is that there is no meaningless labor on this earth. Each job, from the most poorly paid menial work to the most exalted executive position, contributes to the Lord’s purpose in creation. He will use every facet of our labor, of our efforts to do our jobs well, to further in some way a heaven from the human race. Although in a materialistic culture we tend to measure our worth by what we are paid, that is not how the Lord looks at us. Rather than look at how highly or lowly esteemed our position is, the Lord sees in each of us how fair we are trying to be, how dedicated we are to doing our jobs well. This determines our quality, the worth of our labors.

What job we do is then not as important as our approach to it. Is it simply a way to earn money to buy more things? Or is it a way to be of service? There are many who, though poor and perhaps seen as less productive members of society, develop heavenly qualities because they “are content with their lot, and are careful and diligent in their work, who love labor better than idleness, and act sincerely and faithfully, and at the same time live a Christian life” (HH 364).

While many jobs are relatively unrewarding in this world, our attitude toward them can make them better or worse. If we focus on the money earned, the prestige acquired, or rapid advancement possibilities, we are likely to become dissatisfied. But if we focus upon the use we are doing, then almost any job can have its delights, its sense of reward. If our love is for being useful, then we will search for better ways to do it perhaps changing jobs or seeking higher positions but these will be but means, not the end itself.

For through our work we can participate in the Lord’s Providence, we can learn to care for others, and can have heaven created within us. This is why the Heavenly Doctrines teach that “everyone who has been faithful, sincere and just in his employment and work in the world is received in heaven by the angels.” Not that just by working hard we somehow buy our way into heaven, but that through our labors, our service to the Lord, the truths of religion can come to life.

As the psalmist said, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you” (128:1,2). We eat the labor of our hands as the rewards of use are manifest in our lives. From a love of serving others we devote ourselves to our work. We seek ways to help. We grow in our delight in being useful, in bringing others happiness. And we are blessed with a happiness that the angels know, a happiness which can exist only where there is love for one another, even as the Lord has loved us.