Coming To Grips With Our Motives

A Sermon by Rev. Ian Arnold

“It is the mark of someone wise to be aware of which ends are present in himself. Sometimes it does seem as though his ends are selfish, when in fact they are not, for the human being is such that in everything he considers how it affects himself. This he does regularly and habitually.

But if anyone wishes to know the ends he himself has in view, he has merely to take note of his feeling of delight whether it is on account of his receiving praise and glory, or whether it is on account of his performing some unselfish service. If it is the latter delight that he feels, genuine affection is present in him.

He ought also take note of the varying states he passes through, for these states cause his feelings to vary considerably. A person is able to find these things out in himself, but not in others, for the ends in view to anyones affection are known to the Lord alone. This is why the Lord said,

“Do not judge, lest you are judged; do not condemn, lest you are condemned.” (Lk 6:37)

For a thousand people may apparently share the same affection for truth and goodness, and yet the affection in each of them may have a different origin; that is, each may have a different end in view.” (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 3796.3)

Coming to grips with our MOTIVES and how they can change along the way.

I want to take you, friends, into the book of Joshua; to chapter 9 and the verses 3, 4, and 15:

“When the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to the inhabitants of Jericho and Ai, they worked craftily and went and pretended to be ambassadors. So Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them to let them live. And the rulers of the congregation swore too.”

Friends, it’s one of those things we are so very conscious of, isn’t it? How at times there can be the most awful mismatch between what, on the one hand, we intended and what, in fact, is the outcome. People launch into a project, launch into a conversation, take an initiative in one or another areas of life, and the outcome is unforeseen, unanticipated, and very, very different from what they hoped and thought it would be.

What comes to mind is a biblical example, and that example is Judas Iscariot. Its almost certain that when Judas betrayed the Lord, his motive was not that the Lord should be arrested and crucified, but that the Lord should at long last instigate the rebellion which Judas Iscariot, the only Judean by the way amongst the 12 disciples, is believed to have wanted the Lord to engage in. But, of course, the outcome was horribly different from what he ever intended.

And this is, I’m saying, a common experience: there is this mismatch between what is intended, and what is the outcome. When we stop and reflect on that and, sometimes as we do, agonise over it, it’s very important and I hope you find it very reassuring that in the eyes of the angels motives, or intentions, or ends, are everything. Are everything.

There is this question people within the New Church ask, concerning Judas: is he in heaven? Was he amongst the 12 disciples who the Lord called together in the spiritual world in 1770? And a reasonable answer is: most likely he was, because the end, the intention, the motive, qualifies everything. And I want to refer you here to some wonderful passages, first of all from paragraph 3489 of Arcana Caelestia:

“The angels pay no attention to anything else than the things that are internal, to ends in view, that is to peoples intentions and wills and to their thoughts stemming from these.” Note that they pay no attention to anything else, than to the ends, the motives, or to the intentions.

And I also draw your attention to two other short statements, this one from the work Conjugial Love:

“The end in view, the aim, or the intention of the will, is what is primarily considered by the Lord.”

And from Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 1930:

“In the other life, no-one is ever punished for evil acts if he has acted from an end that is truly good.”

And that applies to Judas Iscariot if, as I say, we are right.

Dont forget friends, it may also apply to those people we like to stick pins into, like Robert Mugabe. In the other life, no-one is ever punished for evil acts if he has acted from an end that is truly good.

In introducing the readings this morning and the topic, I said to you that we agonise over them, we try to discern and unravel our motives; but in one area, we have this horrible failing of assuming that we are very competent, so far as motives are concerned, and that is other peoples motives. It’s one of the classic human failings, to make assumptions about the motives of other people. Now, of course you may protest, that we don’t do it with people who are closest to us or whom we know. But we need to just stop a moment and recognise the fact that we are supremely good at doing it when it comes to people we don’t know, who are public figures, who are held up to ridicule, because people assume they know what their motives are, whether it’s Robert Mugabe or John Howard, or whoever it is. Journalism hits rock-bottom in the constant ascribing of motives to people, to politicians, to those people whom it is regarded as fair game, to make what is in fact are spiritual judgements. And if we can’t practice restraint where motives and the judgement of motives are concerned, where public figures are concerned, then woe betide us!

We should practice restraint and shun the community tendency to jump to conclusions as to what the motives are. Whether it’s a new industrial reform or whatever it may be, you look and read the journalists and what they are saying and about the motivation which lies behind it.

We do not know, and cannot know, the eternal state of another! The Writings, the Word itself, Jesus Himself says: judge not, that you be not judged; condemn not, that you be not condemned. And as we have it said in the first book of Samuel, chapter 16:

“The Lord does not see as man sees. Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

And that’s something that you and I need to have the humility to acknowledge that that is something we are incompetent about, and can’t do.

Now it is different when it comes to our own motives. I want to just go back a bit to that reading earlier in the service. It was Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 3796:

“It is the mark of someone wise to be aware of which ends are present within himself.”

And almost the same statement appears in True Christian Religion in the chapter there where its discussing repentance. It says there:

“True repentance is not only examining not only what one does in ones life, but also what one intends in ones will to do.”

“It is the mark of a wise person”: the need to know and discern accurately, and as honestly as we can, what our motives are. So far as that is concerned, there are three things that it is important for us to bear in mind. Two of them appear in this reading that we can read again from paragraph 3796 in Arcana:

“Sometimes it does seem as though our ends, our motives, or our intentions are selfish, when in fact they are not, for the human being is such that in everything, he considers how it affects himself.”

Its a very important statement.

First of all, as we look within ourselves and try to identify and analyse what our motives are or have been, we don’t want to beat ourselves up too much because we see a connection with ourselves. That’s what that statement is saying, and it’s full of mercy.

The second thing that arises here is that when we are trying to identify what our motives are, we need to recognise that situations and circumstances may colour what we see, and that a one-off insight may be very lop-sided. So again, we have to be careful of beating ourselves up when we see what is apparently a self-regarding or a self-serving motive at work. Maybe we need to stand back and look at a bigger picture, and not just one episode that has arisen. Two lovely statements there that caused me to choose that paragraph in our readings for this mornings service.

The third thing: when it comes to our responsibility to examine ourselves, to check out our motives, the third thing that comes up is a question which is often on peoples minds: “I feel myself to be such a mixture, and when I look, I see such a mixture; I really don’t know what my motives have been for such and such a circumstance.” One of the most helpful passages in that regard comes at the end of the book Divine Love and Wisdom, and it’s worthwhile remembering the point that’s made here:

“A person does not feel and perceive the love of performing uses for the sake of uses, but he or she does feel or perceive the love of performing uses for the sake of self. Hence also they do not know when they do them, whether they are doing them for the sake of uses or for the sake of self.”

Very difficult! It acknowledges the difficulty that they may know that in the degree they shun evil they are performing uses for the sake of uses, for so far as they shun them they do them not from themselves, but from the Lord.

The truth is, we cannot know, and it is impossible to see for sure, heavenly or good motives at work in our lives. But what we are urged to do is to look for those motives that are self-regarding, hold them up to ourselves, maybe repent of them if that is required, and shun them in future. And in so far as we do that, heavenly motives will flow in from the Lord through the heavens. And we don’t have to know what they are; they will be there as a matter of course. Because by shunning what is self-regarding, we make it possible for what is heavenly to flow in and take its place.

Now friends, I want to take you, as I said, back into Joshua chapter 9. And the key there for you and I to hold on to is that Joshua made a treaty with people the real nature and identity of whom he did not fully recognise, and yet by making a treaty with them, he was able to gain a strategic foothold in the promised land.

The spiritual meaning of that passage is all about motives. And what it’s opening up for us is this: that in the early stages of our regeneration, no differently than Joshua, we make treaties and alliances and covenants with forces, with ends, intentions and motives, the true quality of which we do not fully recognise. But as a result of which, we are able to gain a strategic foothold in the promised land of heaven. It’s a wonderful story, and in a summary, that’s what the Lord is teaching us here in Joshua chapter 9.

None of us can claim the purest of motives, that would apply all though our lives. But the reality is that in the early stages our motives are fairly muddied by what is self-regarding and self-serving. And the thing is that by making alliances and covenants with such motives, we can nevertheless gain strategic and important footholds in the promised land of heaven. Remember what is said of the Lord Isaiah chapter 42:

“A bruised reed He will not break, a smoking flax He will not quench.”

And again, that is about motives. It is about motives that may not measure up fully to the ideal, but nevertheless the Lord can use them with us to lead us into, and to enable us to have, a firmer and firmer footing in the promised land of heaven. And that is wonderful.

Joshuas covenant with the Gibeonites was all about the way in which we enter into alliance with ends, intentions and motives, the true nature of which we do not fully recognise, but as a consequence of which our progress in heavenly life and regeneration is furthered and strengthened by our doing so.

As it said there in the text:

“When the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they worked craftily and went and pretended to be ambassadors. So Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them to let them live, and the rules of the congregation swore to them.”

I am reminded of the great Protestant reformer, Martin Luther. As a relatively young man, he entered a monastery, and he was quite candid in his later years as to why he entered the monastery. He simply said it was to save his soul from hell, which is a very self-regarding motive! What’s in it for me! Like the disciples when Peter said, “what’s in it for us, weve left everything, what do we get out of this?” And yet as we know, Martin Luther went on to lead a historic reformation, weakening of Roman Catholicism and so on. And in the case of Peter, he went on to be leader of the infant Christian church, and is believed himself to have been martyred courageously facing Christian persecutors. The Lord is perfectly able to use self-serving and self-regarding motives as a foothold and as a step in our journey towards the promised land of heaven.

It is important also friends, that as well as we remember that about the Lord, is that He does not despise ever where we are, or where we are working from. Important as it is to remember that, it is important also for us to remember two things.

Firstly, that regeneration is a process. That if we recognise and identify motives, ends and intentions of which we are not particularly proud, that can be a stimulus for us to try harder, to work differently, with the Lord in the future.

Secondly, there is this wonderful reassurance that arises out of that promise in Divine Love and Wisdom, paragraph 426. Stop worrying about whether your motives are good, just focus on making sure they are not self-serving and self-regarding. And insofar as you do that, you can be utterly reassured that you will be making room for good and worthy motives from the Lord to take their place.

My reading of the teaching we have is that we were never meant to identify good motives at work in our life, because we run the risk of wanting to own them, and that has all the dangers of merit and pride. So the Lord mostly keeps us unaware of good motives at work in our lives, but he does draw our attention to the self-serving ones, for they are what we need to wipe away.

“Now the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, and worked craftily and went and pretended to be ambassadors.” Lots of motives come up to us and pretend to be ambassadors. “So Joshua made peace with them.” We do. Martin Luther did. “And made a covenant with them to let them live.” So did Peter: quite likely when the Lord told him they were all going to sit on 12 thrones! “And the rulers of the congregation swore to them.”

Afterwards, as we read on in Joshua chapter 9, once the nature of the Gibeonites had been recognised, they were put in there place, and made to be hewers of wood and drawers of water: servants. At first they were allies, but later they were made to be servants.

I hope friends, whenever you hear of Joshuas covenant with the Gibeonites, the word “motives” leaps into your mind.

Amen.