Isaiah 10:20-23; 37:31-32
Rev. Kit Billings
June 6, 2004
Without a doubt, one of my favorite aspects of New Church theology is the way our church looks at salvation—that is, the means through which the Lord gets each one of us from being a rather “happy to be self-centered” kind of person to an angelic one, where having concern and compassion for others is basic. Therefore, in talking with you this morning about salvation I'm concerned with what some might refer to as getting us from spiritual point “A” to spiritual point “Z.”
Personally, this has always made more sense to me, since when I imagine the Lord's Kingdom of heaven, where I hope to be after I physically die, I imagine a place whose environment and atmosphere is literally made up of love and wisdom—whose air is spiritual innocence and whose light is the light of truth…whose animal life embody the many various affections of love we enjoy and whose plant life express the great variety of lovely thoughts, which only God could inspire from within.
Heaven, in my own limited experience of it in a few dream-visions I've had over the years, as well from what I've read about several people who claim to have consciously been there, is a state of being—a close connectedness and spiritual union with the Lord our Creator. It is a state of loving openness to others, and personally chosen vulnerability in sharing what appears to be “my own” with the whole. Thus, to live in heaven happily and peacefully it's always made sense to me that my own mind and will need to be in profound harmony with loving-kindness and spiritual wisdom. Now, I don't know about you, but my experience of life is that gaining such spiritual maturity takes time, many years of growth. It is spiritual rebirth in growing from a human acorn to a great and wonderful oak tree, as one is transformed into terrific alignment with the environment God has created in His Kingdom.
New Church theology understands that God starts His miraculous, and often under the surface, forms of saving us while we are inside our mother's womb, infusing our hearts and minds with the Lord's innocence from His love. This continues through infancy and childhood and is what I want to talk with you about this morning, in this sermon I've titled: “The Great Kingdom of Childhood.” The reality is that there is an enormous significance in each major stage of life, and I believe it does us well to honor each one of them. In fact, our theology informs us that the spiritual gifts God gives us in our younger years are integral in the critical growth of salvation we need to engage as adults. Allow me to explain further.
Earlier we read from within Isaiah's prophecies, which the Lord gave to him, about a highly significant element within the Old Testament—the REMNANT of Israel. The Hebrew word translated as “remnant” is also translated into English as “survivors.” When all appeared to be lost, when it appeared that corruption had taken total control of the Jewish nation, God wanted everyone to know that He made certain that there would be a small band of the “faithful few” who would survive—those who would remain true to the Lord with love and faith in Him.
We read in Isaiah 1:9, "Unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah." In Isaiah 11:16 we read, "There will be a highway for the remnant of his people that is left from Assyria, as there was for Israel when they came up from Egypt." In one of Jeremiah's prophecies we read, "I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number."
Have you ever noticed that the Bible always has a deep shot of hopefulness of its sleeve, no matter how bad things got? When idolatry, self-centeredness and disobedience were the standard interest of most of the Israelites after Israel and Judah fell and so many captives were taken into exile in Babylon, God knew that He would always preserve some very good-spirited people. Israel's hopes for salvation rested, in part, upon them. And one day God would bring these hopeful few home to Jerusalem. Even in the darkest days of the world, just prior to Christ's Incarnation, we can take note that characters like Joseph and Mary, Simeon, Anna and others were real people whose hearts were aligned with the purer things of life. There was something deeply good stirring in their consciousness, which was open to receiving the light of truth Jesus brought with Him.
Many people have commented upon the issue of spiritual hopefulness in relation to God's presence in life, that there is always hope in God. Well my friends, this is true indeed! And what is more, the Lord is and always has been deeply imbedded within you, within the very raw material that makes up your subconscious mind. For you see, the story in Scripture of the purer survivors of Israel represents or symbolizes what Swedenborg called “spiritual remains,” which talks about the living, beautiful and vital gifts of God Himself that do not dissolve away over time inside of you—they remain! And they are a great part of what saves you, of how the Lord saves you gradually through life.
Our New Church doctrine of remains is one of the most crucial concepts within our theology, which also happens to be one of the most distinctive ones we have as well. The spiritual remains the Lord has implanted within you are nothing less than pivotal in your spiritual regeneration, which I suspect you will begin to recognize yourself as I move through my message with you this morning. Clearly, the salvation of Israel hung on the balance of a certain faithful few, the Jewish remnant, which God would use to start over again with. And if you believe in the awesome inner meaning, or internal sense, of the Lord's holy Word, then the survivors of Israel correspond to some similar aspect of your own soul.
Did you know that such stuff literally lives within you? Constantly. Forever. Well it does. It truly does. Put simply, remains are “…the truths and goods stored up by the Lord with man from infancy and childhood.” And they are the awesome spiritual material God uses to create the tapestry of His goodness within your conscious self and being. To be even more precise, the truths and goods I'm now referring to are the states of being you were gifted with long ago that maintain your inner balance.
The states of being that God implants into every human soul called “remains” are God's free gift to you that balance you out intrapsychically, and they are the Lord's antidote to the hereditary inclinations toward evil that humanity has passed down to you, which exist also within the subterranean depths of your subconscious mind. These spiritual remains of Heaven within you are the rudimentary building blocks of the new spiritual will the Lord builds within every person who chooses to enter actively within the process of growth called regeneration. As Professor Bill Woofenden once wrote, “For unless there were instilled in each one of us some kind of will for good, our intellectual faculty could never be developed by the implanting of truths, nor would it be possible for a new will to be established in our discernment level by regeneration.”
Swedenborg discusses remains in these ways:
But what are remains? They are not only the goods and truths that a man has learned from the Lord's Word from infancy, and has thus impressed on his memory, but they are also all the states thence derived, such as states of innocence from infancy; states of love toward parents, brothers, teachers, friends; states of charity toward the neighbor, and also of pity for the poor and needy; in a word, all states of good and truth. These states together with the goods and truths impressed on the memory, are called remains, which are preserved in man by the Lord and are stored up, entirely without his knowledge, in his internal man, and are completely separated from the things that are proper to man, that is, from evils and falsities. All these states are so preserved in man by the Lord that not the least of them is lost…. (Arcana 561)
If the Lord did not preserve remnants [of love and charity] with each individual he would inevitably perish in eternal death, for those remnants contain spiritual and celestial life. The same applies to what is general or universal; were there not always some people among whom the Church, or true faith, existed, the human race would perish. (Arcana 468)
These saving states are implanted in each person's soul by the Lord even before birth. For according to Swedenborg:
The Lord conjoins himself to man in the mother's womb as soon
as conception takes place and forms the person. . . . While in the
womb a person is in a state of innocence; the first state after
birth, therefore, is a state of innocence; and it is only in a
person's innocence that the Lord dwells; more especially when the
person, as it were, is innocence. The person is then in a state of
peace likewise. (DLDW 75)
Let me cite just a few more short passages to set the concept clearly before us:
Angels from the inmost heaven are present with infants while
they are in the womb; and through them the Lord has care that the
infants are nourished and perfected. (AC 5052)
It is from remains, or from the Lord through them, that anyone
is enabled to be a human being, to know what good and truth are, and
to reflect on individual things, and so to think and to reason. (AC 560)
Every man is called a living soul from what is living in him. No man can ever live, still less as a man, if he has not something living in him, that is, if he has not something of innocence, of charity, and of mercy, or something from it like or emulating it. This something of innocence, charity, and mercy man receives from the Lord during infancy and childhood, as is evident from the state of infants and also from that of childhood. What the man then receives is preserved in him, and the things that are preserved are called in the Word "remains" and are of the Lord alone in the man. Together with the truths of faith, they are also what are called "remains" and are of the Lord alone. Insofar as a man in adult age extinguishes these states, he becomes dead. When a man is being regenerated, these states are the beginnings of regeneration, and he is led into them; for the Lord works through the remains, as already stated. (A.C. 1050)
One of the many blessings I get by officiating at many weddings is the blessing of meeting many, many babies. It just amazes me sometimes the spiritual states of being I feel and encounter in these little people—how ablaze their eyes are with life and love, how soft and supple their whole aura is. Swedenborg was trying to help us get some handle on how much is going on spiritually during our youngest years of life. It is during those years that the Lord stores up within our interior memory the very best of what God has to share with us. And there are many other forms of blessing children receive, especially those who grow up in the church.
It is during these years of childhood when we are able to soak up the core spiritual truths of life, which later on are important to wrestle with, to doubt and question, and turn over many, many times when our adult rationality kicks in once we leave the nest and take on the great challenge of deciding who and what we will want to be. As children in church for example, we may learn that there is a God and that He is One. That the Lord rewards those who are good and allows punishment to befall those who are evil. That salvation is crucial, and that heaven and hell are realities that are here with us now, as well as after death. That God's Word is to be reveared and used, and that daily prayer is how we remain in close touch with the Lord and help Him to reach us with help and guidance. All of these core truths are also preserved in us by the Lord, and serve us later on too.
The great kingdom of childhood allows us to experience real times of deep involvement in evil or selfishness, and hopefully provides an early time for us to start to reflect on how my evil choices and bad habits negatively influence others—one's parents and siblings especially. Ultimately, these years of life provide an extraordinary platform from which our adult journey of potential spiritual growth can happen. God keeps His spiritual treasures stored up safely within you, even when the storms and gails hit us hard, just as the Lord kept Noah and the animals safe and sound in the Ark when the 40 days of the flood came upon the world.
Now, as adults, it is your choice to decide whether to turn toward the Lord and all that is good, innocent and merciful, or not. If you do daily turn toward Heaven, then God Himself taps those holy remains of peace and love and sows their essence within your conscious, adult rational mind, as He gradually saves and regenerates you. It is wise as adults to venerate our earliest and precious years of our journey, starting inside the womb of our mothers and onward. Yet the innocence of infancy, the innocence of ignorance as young children, is far from the real goal. Ultimately, the Lord's plan is to bring you into the innocence of wisdom, which then completes the entire circle.
May your own precious kingdom of childhood, and the remnants it gave you, continue to serve you well. Blessings to you in your journey of growth into the innocence of wisdom you are destined to enjoy. Amen.