The Spiritual Benefit of Hypocrisy

By Rev. David A Moffat

Divine Providence, paragraph 145


It was shown in what has gone before that man has an internal and an external of thought; that these are distinct like what is prior and what is posterior or like what is higher and what is lower; and that, because they are so distinct, they can act separately and also conjointly. They act separately when from the external of his thought a man speaks and acts otherwise than as he thinks and wills interiorly; and they act conjointly when he speaks and acts as he interiorly thinks and wills. The latter is generally the case with the sincere, but the former with the insincere. Now since the internal and the external of the mind are in this way distinct, the internal can even fight with the external and by combat force it to compliance. Combat takes place when a man thinks that evils are sins and therefore resolves to desist from them; for when he desists a door is opened, and when it is opened the lusts of evil which occupied the internal of his thought are cast out by the Lord and affections of good are implanted in their place. This is done in the internal of thought. But as the delights of the lusts of evil which invest the external of thought cannot be cast out at the same time, a combat takes place between the internal and the external of thought. The internal wishes to cast out these delights because they are delights of evil and not in accord with the affections of good in which the internal now is; and instead of the delights of evil it wishes to introduce delights of good that are in accord. The delights of good are what are called goods of charity. From this opposition arises a combat, and if it increases in severity it is called temptation.

Now since a man is a man by virtue of the internal of his thought, this being the spirit of man itself, it is evident that a man compels himself when he forces the external of his thought to compliance, that is, to receive the delights of his affections, which are the goods of charity. It is evident that this is not contrary to rationality and liberty but is in accordance with them; for rationality causes the combat and liberty carries it on. Liberty itself with rationality also has its seat in the internal man and from that in the external. When, therefore, the internal conquers, as happens when the internal has reduced the external to obedient compliance, then liberty itself and rationality itself are given to man by the Lord; for man is then withdrawn by the Lord from infernal freedom, which in itself is slavery, and is brought into heavenly freedom, which in itself is freedom itself, and he is granted association with angels. That those are slaves who are in sins, and that the Lord makes those free who receive truth from Him through the Word, He teaches in John 8:31-36.

A recent edition of New Church Life (Vol. CXXIV, No. 9, September 2004) published a sermon by the Rev Michael Gladish entitled, “The Dangers of Prayer.” It certainly made me stop and think, “What’s he talking about?!” I offer the title of today’s address in the same spirit.

What is hypocrisy? We may think of it as, thinking one thing and doing another, or teaching what is good and failing to apply it ourselves. If I had read more of chapter 23 of Matthew’s gospel, you would have heard that this was very much in the forefront of Jesus’ mind as he criticised the Pharisees. Searching the teachings of the church, I found these three definitions:

… evil appearing outwardly as good, but within is filthy from false and profane things. (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 3812.10)

… to do truths without willing them is hypocrisy, because it is before men and not before the Lord (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 10645.3)

a hypocrite wants to speak otherwise than he thinks; from which there comes an opposition in the mouth (Divine Providence, paragraph 231.4)

To be double minded, or to be hypocritical is universally recognised as a bad thing. I suppose one of the criticisms we’ve become used to hearing of the church is that it is “full of hypocrites”. In the reading from Divine Providence, Swedenborg talks about the ability of the internal and external mind within a person to work together or against each other. He comments:

“[The internal and external of thought] act separately when from the external of his thought a man speaks and acts otherwise than as he thinks and wills interiorly; and they act conjointly when he speaks and acts as he interiorly thinks and wills. The latter is GENERALLY the case with the sincere, but the former with the insincere.” (Divine Providence, paragraph 145, emphasis mine)

Notice the word, “generally”. It may be easy to skip over quickly but it is an important one. There are instances when this doublemindedness is of spiritual value to us. One such situation is temptation, or spiritual battle against the falsities and evils which emerge in all our lives from time to time. Let’s see how.

Exodus chapter 17 illustrates for us the processes of temptation and spiritual growth. “The people thirsted for water” (verse 3). Like the children of Israel, I begin with spiritual dissatisfaction. I sense that I am not happy with my present life. I recognise a lack of something, although I may not know what, and my thirst drives me to cry out to the Lord. I may blame Him or wonder why I ever wanted to improve myself. I might even begin to think that spiritual happiness is a pipe dream. But even though my attitude is founded upon self-interest, the Lord is merciful enough to supply what I ask for. New truth is given, or some new insight emerges from the things already present in my mind, things I assumed to be barren and lifeless (verse 6).

This new insight satisfies and fascinates me for a time. But as the reality of it sinks in, and it begins to demands that I change my life, I realise that I don’t actually want to change. So, while my mind affirms and cherishes my discovery, the old attitudes and habits emerge and seek to destroy the insight I have been given. This is represented by the attack of the Amalekites (verse 8). They are the evils present in our lives which would rather have us stay exactly where we are. This is what temptation is – it comes about when a new truth challenges my status quo, and the status quo fights back!

What should I do now? Well, I have a choice. I can return to my old ways, or I can decide that I do really want to follow the Lord’s leading. So, I send Joshua into battle (verse 9) – in reality I engage in battle myself. Despite feeling the desire to run away defeated, with my tail between my legs, I decide that some things are worth pursuing, even when I don’t feel like it. I compel myself to obey the Lord.

The other part of the equation in the story is Moses (verse 12), standing in prayer to the Lord while the battle takes place. So we must also look to the Lord constantly throughout this battle of wills. When we keep our eyes upon Him as our salvation we find that we are able to make headway, but when we lower our eyes (to the challenges facing us on a natural level, all the difficulties and obstacles in our path), we become overwhelmed and the battle turns against us. The apostle Peter felt the same way walking on the water – although invited by the Lord, he sank when he took his eyes off Jesus, and looked instead at the wind and the waves (Matthew 14:30).

But if we persist, the Lord assures us victory (verses 13-16). And we know that we have it when our old ways no longer hold the attraction they once did. When I can look back on my old life and realise that I no longer want to be like that, even that my old behaviours repulse me, then I know that the evils which once beset me and held me captive have been destroyed. I no longer have to convince myself that I’m better off than I used to be, because I feel it in my heart.

What we have to realise in this process is that we begin our part of the battle before we feel like it. The Lord brings about our victory, but only so far as we are prepared to invest our own time, energy and effort. In True Christian Religion, paragraph 535, Swedenborg proposes what he calls an easier form of repentance:

When anyone is turning over in his mind some evil deed, and intending to do it, he should say to himself: ‘I am thinking about this and I intend to do it, but I shall not because it is a sin.’ This has the effect of blunting the thrust of hell’s tempting and preventing it from advancing any further.

I am surprised by the strength of the phrase, “I am thinking about this and I intend to do it, but I shall not because it is a sin.” It proposes that in order to fight for the Lord and to grow spiritually, we must work against our own motivation. Swedenborg tells us that if we are growing spiritually, we have an old will and a new on. Our new will strives to obey spiritual principles but the old will seeks to crush that obedience. At these times it is the old will we tend to feel most forcefully, and so we find ourselves performing actions which our hearts are not in. This really is a spiritual battle: the Lord and the heavens fight for our growth (which will ultimately lead to our eternal happiness), and the hells fight to keep us where we are. We are the battleground.

I want to emphasise further the importance of our own efforts in this process. Several times Swedenborg warns us against idle prayer in temptation. Sometimes we think his teaching is against prayer of any kind. This is not the case. He is saying that we cannot expect the Lord to do it all:

… when people are in the throes of temptation they usually stay their hands and resort solely to prayers, which they pour forth feverishly, unaware that such prayers achieve nothing, but that they should battle against the falsities and evils which the hells introduce. (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 8179)

We must certainly look to the Lord in temptation because He will bring us victory, but only if we are prepared to do our part in the battle. To resort only to prayer without an accompanying resolve to apply the principles we know to be right is tantamount to something we are all prone to – procrastination. “I’ll start my diet tomorrow.” “One more beer can’t hurt.” It’s like standing at the doors of the gym and telling myself I’ll go in and begin my new exercise regime when I feel stronger. It is utter nonsense. The reality is that I won’t feel stronger until I begin exercising. Spiritual strength is no different from our physical strength in this regard. Until we put in the effort we will not begin to grow. “The use of temptation is that good from the Lord can not only flow in, but can also dispose the vessels [of a person’s mind] to obedience, and thus conjoin itself with them” (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 3318, subsection 4). Unless we take the first steps, we will get nowhere – and that is exactly where our old will (and the hells behind it) wants us to be.

Swedenborg presents a three stage model of spiritual growth – Repentance, Reformation and Regeneration. These stages only ever take place in that order. He describes repentance as a person’s responsibility – to recognise our sins and begin a new life. Only then does the Lord take over, giving us a new understanding of reality (reformation), and a new will or desire for the goodness and truth we have been given (regeneration). Regeneration represents the end of the process, its culmination. So, we are foolish to expect Him to grant us this new desire before we have even put in the effort of repentance, which is its beginning.

Now, it is our doublemindedness which allows this to take place. It is our ability to act against what we feel, to do what our heart does not desire which allows us to grow. Without this ability we would be incapable of growth – because it is only by this process that our internal mind can defeat and cast out the evils of our external mind. It is also the expression of freedom (although it probably won’t feel like it at the time!) “for rationality causes the combat and liberty carries it on” (Divine Providence, paragraph 145).

The onlooker may not see the difference between these two forms of doublemindedness. We may find ourselves being accused of hypocrisy when we are actually seeking to follow the Lord’s commands. We may even worry about taking our first steps because they feel hypocritical – surely it is not helpful to “pretend” to be good! The real difference between this “self compulsion”, as Swedenborg calls it, and hypocrisy is our attitude and purpose. To return to one of the definitions we began with, “… to do truths without willing them is hypocrisy, because it is before men and not before the Lord.” (Arcana Caelestia, paragraph 10645.3) In hypocrisy my intention is to pull wool over the eyes, to appear holy or good before other people. Self compulsion looks to God, not man. It doesn’t seek to cover up the evil found in my heart but expose and defeat it. It is driven by my need of change – to follow the Lord more nearly, to become better than I feel myself to be.