A Sermon by Rev. Ian Arnold
With regard to the raising up of truths and of the affections for these, and the arrangement of them within things that are general, truths and affections are raised up when the things of eternal life and of the Lords kingdom are thought to be more important than those of life in the body and of the kingdom of this world.
When a person acknowledges the former to be first and foremost, and the latter to be secondary and subordinate, the truths he knows and his affections for them are raised up. For as is his acknowledgement, so in the same measure is the person conveyed into the light of heaven, which light holds intelligence and wisdom within it; and so also in the same measure do things belonging to the light of this world become for him images and so to speak mirrors in which he sees the things belonging to the light of heaven.
The contrary takes place when he thinks the things of the life of the body and of the kingdom of this world to be more important those of eternal life and of the Lords kingdom. He does this when he believes that the latter do not exist because he dos not see them and because nobody has come from there and given an account of them or if he believes that they may exist, nothing worse will happen to him than to others and in so believing confirms himself in these ideas, leads a worldly life, and despises charity and faith altogether. With such a person, truths and the affections for them are not raised up, but are either smothered, or rejected, or perverted. For he dwells in natural light into which no heavenly light at all flows in. This is what is meant by a raising up of truths and of affection for them. (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 4104.3)
RECAPTURING earlier IDEALS, insights and enthusiasms.
Turning, friends, to the 26th chapter of the book of Genesis, and reading from verse 18:
“Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham.”
Friends, probably every one of us here this morning is aware of how it so often is with businesses, corporations, and indeed with organisations generally, that they start off with a commitment to high ideals, to business integrity, and to the founding vision which motivates them in those early stages; and yet, for one reason or another, and due to difference circumstances, there is an undermining of those founding ideals, a weakening of commitment to stringent business ethics, a losing sight of what it was that caused this business, this organisation, this operation to come into being in the first place.
A very current example of what I am talking about is the United Nations. Its not too many weeks ago that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, announced a thoroughgoing reform of an organisation which seems to have lost its sense of direction, and run off the tracks. And so serious is it, that he believes that a huge amount of energy needs to be put into the recovery of what it was the United Nations was first founded for.
There is a biblical example of what I am talking about as well, in the reign of the boy-king of Judah, Josiah, in the middle of the 600s Before Christ. A boy of only eight when he came to the throne, yet for whatever reason, whether it was wise advisors, or his own innocent sense of how it should be, he instituted a reform of the religious and legal practices of his country. And in the process of doing that, they recovered what is believed to have been a copy of the book of Deuteronomy, which had been lost for generations. The founding raison-d’etre of the country over which he was reigning monarch, those founding laws and principles and visions that are contained in the book of Deuteronomy had been lost, and were now recovered; and he set about, as with the United Nations today with Kofi Annan, he set about the most thoroughgoing reform of practices, religious practices in the temple, and legal practices, and its administration, unjust and corrupt as it had become.
Well, we can switch our thinking, friends, from the secular world across to the spiritual world. And there’s no doubt that with this, as well, when we come to the spiritual, and spiritual affairs, you can detect and see examples of similar processes: of how things have begun with high ideals and great enthusiasms, a founding vision, and yet there has been a falling away. We as a human race have lived through a succession of religious ages or epochs; and there is no question that each of them has started with high ideals, with a pristine, clear, uncorrupted sense of what it was about; and yet over time, there was a falling away, a crumbling, of that early idealism. It was what confronted our Lord when He came into the world: that the Old Testament church, that we know of as the Jewish Church, had crumbled away from where it had begun and started. And He was confronted with a church that had fallen from its ideals, which as we know from His comments and teachings had so externalised the practices of religion. “You people who stand on street corners to pray so that you may be seen of others: my goodness, what had become of spirituality amongst you?” He might have said.
And so it has been when we stop and contemplate and reflect on such things as those ridiculous, blood-thirsty, unwarranted Crusades and the Inquisition, which went on for centuries during the Middle Ages there is no question that the Christian Church and the Christian Era, which also began with a pristine and clear sense of what it was all about, fell away. You can even read about it in the book of Acts, you can read about the ideals which had Christians coming together in communities, sharing what they had, giving to those who were poorer than themselves, a kind of kibbutz, a living together; but human proprium got in amongst it. There was theft, people taking more than their share. So many instances and examples to be given, the way in which what began so promisingly, then fell away. Fell away. The dirt began to be shovelled in on the top of those early ideals and enthusiasms.
And so it is, friends, for you and I. Idealism and early enthusiasms, a commitment to a vision that energises us in the beginning, steers us, causes us to rally to it, is so often eroded and undermined with the passage of time, whether it be days or weeks or months or years. It can be a project, just a project that weve embarked on, or it can be something that the Lord Himself has drawn to our attention in the pages of His Word. Were switched on, were alert and we are awake, and we see possibilities in those early beginning states. But then there’s a dropping away and corrupting; and we are no longer energised by, nor are we drawing life-giving strength from, those ideals, that vision, as we were in the past.
Now already, friends, you may realise that I’m touching the edges of the spiritual meaning of this passage from Genesis chapter 26: and I am! Abraham, you see, represents an early, innocent, perhaps at times naive, and uncomplicated phase of our lives. A recurring phase (this is not a linear development); a recurring phase when wells, and plenty of them, are dug in our lives: wells from which we draw that which gives us life and energy, and encouragement and enthusiasm to go forward in new directions, to embark on new projects, to believe in new relationships. We get it through those Abraham states time and time again. Those states when the wells are dug, and they are dug deeply, and the water in them is fresh and clear: we can see what this could achieve, we can see where we are going, we are attracted to the possibilities, and the wells are wonderful. But over time, the dirt gets shovelled in, and they are smothered and covered over. Choked, so that they can no longer yield to us all the wonder and potential they otherwise hold.
Now who are the Philistines? Let me remind you, friends, that the Philistines owned the wells. They knew about them, they were quite content to see that they held possibilities for people in those days, but they did not want anyone else to benefit from them. The Philistines are a feature of our own makeup which is quite able to see the possibilities of these ideals, of these new enthusiasms, of these visions which get hold of us; but they are determined that we shall not benefit from them. There are voices, are there not, within us which are cynical and resistant to any thought of new projects, of things being achieved, of making new headways and new directions? “Well yes, they’re there, but we’re going to make sure that you dont benefit from them in any way at all!”
Technically and doctrinally, the Philistines are, we are told, faith alone. Faith alone is big on ideas, but just about zilch on action. It can see the ideals, but it can immediately see a thousand problems as to why those ideals can never be accomplished or come into actuality. They are the Philistines, and there are Philistines within each and every one of us. Theyre the ones who, as we saw, caused the wells to be stopped up.
The story however, does not stop with the filling up of the wells so that they could not yield water, life-giving water, to other people. The story in fact is about the reopening of those wells. And so I want to move you on, friends, from what sounds and seems somewhat dark and negative in this story, to what is full of promise and hope: that though the wells get covered over, yet they can be reopened. And they were reopened by Abraham’s son, Isaac. And Isaac represents a more insightful, and a more regenerate approach and understanding to life and its challenges and its possibilities. It was in the time of Isaac that the wells began to be reopened.
I’ll give you an example for a moment, friends, and it’s from that reading from the fifth volume of the Arcana Caelestia: that as a child, in earlier Abraham-dominated states, you found no difficulty in believing in the life after death. Your grandma had died, and your parents told you that Grandma had gone to heaven, and you accepted it. But as you grew up, that well had dirt shovelled in on top of it: your sense-based experience of the world around you caused you to question whether there can be another dimension of existence other than this physical and material one. But then as you matured and realised that life in this world is not everything, and that physicality is not everything, you revisited that well, and you began to reopen it and draw from it what is life-giving and sustaining so far as your spiritual progress is concerned. Under Isaac, the wells began to be reopened.
But even so there is resistance. Of course there is! Because by this time, when you are becoming a maturer person, there are other voices that come to you and say, “Why bother? Who cares? Why does it matter? I’ll wait until I get there!” I’ve heard that a hundred times: “I’m not that interested in life beyond death: I’ll wait ’til I get there to see if it’s true or not.” So the wells don’t open, though we may try to open them, they don’t open and yield in the way they could do. But some do. Some do, and that’s what we’ve got to hold on to: that whilst there are some wells that we may never adequately reopen and draw upon, there will be others that we do; such as that God exists, and that God cares. That God provides. That God gives strength. Those wells that became blocked up, we recover them and we draw upon them again what is life-giving and sustaining.
How do we keep them open? The answer is this: we keep them open by ourselves keeping as close as we can to where they come from: those ideals, those visions, those convictions, those early first states and the sense of promise that infused and excited us. We need to keep close to where they come from. And I’ll give you another example. How many people go through stages in their life when they do wonder about the care of the Lord and the closeness of the Lord? And how many of those same people, by turning back to something as familiar as Psalm 23, the shepherds psalm, are reenergized, and find again that their original conviction about the Lord’s care, His love, His monitoring of our life that their original conviction is strengthened again and is able to yield to them that which will sustain and energise them.
Genesis chapter 26 friends, and this incident that I am focussing on this morning, is about what I referred to as first states or beginning states: we all know about them, we can all relate to them. In dozens of different ways in our lives, the times we are excited, the times we are captured by a vision, the times when ideals really lift us up, the possibilities grab hold of us: yes, they can come to have the dirt shovelled in on top of them, so that they are no longer a source of life and energy for us. But here is the Lord assuring us that the essential ones can be recovered, be reopened and recovered; so that again we can draw from them the life-giving waters of everlasting life and spiritual prosperity.
“And Isaac dug again the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham.” (Genesis 26, verse 18)