Rev. Kit Billings
April 24, 2005
A Reading from New Church Doctrine
It will now be stated briefly how a man can be more nearly conjoined to the Lord, and then how the conjunction appears more and more near. A man is more and more nearly conjoined to the Lord, not by knowledge alone, nor by intelligence alone, nor even by wisdom alone, but by a life conjoined to these. Man's life is his love, and love is manifold. In general, there is the love of evil and the love of good. The love of evil is the love of committing adultery, taking revenge, defrauding, blaspheming, and depriving others of their goods. The love of evil has a sense of pleasure and delight in thinking about these things and in doing them; and the desires, or the affections which spring from this love, are as numerous as the evils in which it has found expression; and the perceptions and thoughts of this love are as numerous as the falsities which favor these evils and confirm them. These falsities make one with the evils, as the understanding makes one with the will; they are not separated from each other, because one is of the other.
Now because the Lord flows into the life's love of everyone, and through its affections into his perceptions and thoughts, and not the reverse, as was said above, it follows that the Lord can conjoin Himself more nearly only so far as the love of evil with its affections, which are lusts, has been removed. As these reside in the natural man, and as whatever a man does from the natural man he feels as if he does from himself, therefore he ought, as if from himself, to remove the evils of that love; and as far as he does this the Lord draws nearer, and conjoins Himself to him. Anyone can see from reason that lusts with their delights obstruct and close the door before the Lord, and that these cannot be cast out by the Lord so long as man himself holds the door closed and, pressing from without, prevents it from being opened. That man himself ought to open the door is clear from the Lord's words in Revelation:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20) ~ Divine Providence n. 33
Last Sunday I spoke with you about the joy of being a witness of the Lord, a witness of he who was resurrected and is fully present with us and blessing us. There is indeed the reality of God living among and within us—the Lord’s power from his love, his omnipresent good will and Divine sunshine are constantly pouring into all creation! God’s Divine love and Spirit is here…every day…every moment! Blessing life. Transforming life. Constantly working down deep within the minds and souls of everyone, especially those who choose to invite the Lord inside where miracles happen. And Easter is our awesome revelation that since Jesus lived every moment of his life for the Divine love and in the Divine love that was his very Soul, he therefore became fully Divine—or rather, fully LIFE. Divine Love Itself is the essence of reality, and Jesus became fully one with Life Itself. Thus he was able to say, “I am the Way, the truth and the life.” In doing so, death could not keep him down. Our glorified Lord Jesus (God in his Divine-Human) has, ever since his resurrection, been wisely and lovingly pouring into life…that is, working and moving in life ever since, commanding legions of great and mighty angels to help us too. I believe it is very helpful, if not vital, for us to understand and welcome the normal spiritual effects of coming into a personal relationship with the Lord, who loves and transforms us.
For indeed, coming to believe in the living Person and presence of “God with us” does unleash the Lord’s Spirit in a profound way inside of one’s heart and mind, which is why the apostles and writers of the New Testament wrote so eloquently and powerfully of what happens to people who enter into faith in Jesus Christ. There is nothing more empowering and uplifting than to make real for myself these august words from my loving Savior, revealed in Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Rev. 3:20) For true, choosing to invite the Lord into my heart and mind (and do this regularly throughout my life) is the greatest choice I can make in life, and such a choice therefore leads me to try well every day to live in tune with his Commandments. However, it is also true that making this choice to invite God himself into my life in such a personal and intimate way does not end my journey of vital growth in love and faith. Entering into a personal relationship with Jesus opens the doorway into a lifelong journey of spiritual change and transformation—it is entering “the Way” as the early Christians understood it. Part of what happens inside of us is that all of the in-rooted “weeds” or noxious inherited or acquired evils and falsities that partially make up our lives begin to stir and come to life like never before. In other words, the typical ego-centrism we’ve come to love, or the self-centered orientation in life we may only have begun to realize in our middle age, gets awakened and agitated quite seriously after we invite the power of love and the Light (which is God) to come in and “sup” with me, inside my conscious mind and heart.
The Lord understood the reality and importance of this normal, intense battle between heaven and hell inside of us. He spoke to this reality in many ways. For example, when He said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” (Mtt. 10:34) And also, “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.' And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.” (Mtt. 12:43-45) To clarify the immensity of the battle that the Lord and his angels hope to fight with our cooperation within us (and in society at large where injustice, racism and all the other “isms” exist) against the forces of darkness, we must turn toward the inner meaning of the Lord’s holy Word, as Jesus predicted the terrifying “end times,” which are also revealed in correspondences in the Gospels, the epistles, and Revelation. Jesus spoke to both the spiritual tribulation of the spiritual end of the first Christian Church era, which happened in the Dark Ages in Christendom, when he spoke of the “end of days.” Likewise, he also spoke at the same time to the deep tribulations of spirit that people of faith are likely to encounter as the Lord works hard to uproot the seat of egotism and selfishness within us. We read: “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Luke 21:25-27)
Christ predicted that the sun would lose its light, the moon would turn into blood, and the stars would fall from the sky, which is a dramatic and poetic way of teaching on the intrapersonal level of life that after converting into living faith and love in Jesus Christ, there will be certain internal spiritual battles within many of us that will cause intense havoc within. In other words, we will likely experience in life periods when our love and faith in the Lord will wane, and may seem to die. There may be times when the bright, guiding knowledge we’ve learned may seem to become lifeless and of no help—truths which once led our way like stars in the night, but which will fall out of sight. “The powers of heaven will be shaken,” and our minds will be filled, at times, with deep distress, perplexity, as our memories even roar and churn like a raging sea; and men’s hearts will fail from fear. BUT, then after enduring these tough and painful times, we shall see the Son of Man, our Lord Jesus Christ, coming again to us through the power and glory of the literal sense of the Word, which is like the clouds in the sky that contain the awesome light of the inner sense.
The bottom line: it just isn’t easy to go through the internal experience of God himself coming into deep contact with the self-centeredness and evil that has lived quite well in the natural depths of our minds. And yet, this great clash must and should happen. For it paves the way, yet again, for much great and wonderful spiritual growth, healing and regeneration to happen. Yes, the great and passionate self-centeredness we inherit from our ancestry, pictured in Revelation as the great seven-headed beast that had many horns and came out of the sea, must be identified by us because of our deep connection with and relationship with Jesus Christ. There will be, therefore, periods of “bottoming out” as we realize at some point in our adult lives that our life has been lived not primarily for serving the Lord and others, but for ourselves first and foremost.
Such experiences of learning deeply about ourselves, which are often preceded by some form of special time with the Lord, are what enable us to gain the strength, help and guidance we need from the Lord to root out the evils and falsities in the natural degrees of our minds. There is a pattern in life mirrored in nature, when Spring and Summer are followed by Autumn and winter. The spiritual “high,” which our theology refers to as states of deep regeneration (as God himself transforms what is disorderly inside of us into what is orderly and heavenly), is followed by a necessary spiritual “low,” when repentance comes back into full swing. In addition, entering into periods when our wonderfully conscious and easily felt love and faith in the Lord wane give us extremely important times in our lives when key choices get made, of whether during these “low” times we continue to choose on the side of God, on the side of the Lord’s Commandments, or on the side of what is evil, false and perhaps even unjust.
Responsible and more mature spiritual Christian living really begins to reveal itself during these times when we must be willing to choose to live as if we still felt and perceived God’s presence and support. Our New Church theology teaches that there will likely be many times in our journey of life on earth when our understanding must lead the way, during those times when our unregenerate natural will would rather go astray. For it is our understanding that can grasp one of Richard Niebuhr’s finest quotes when he said, “God is acting in all actions upon you. So respond to all actions upon you so as to respond to his action.” It doesn’t do us much good to intellectually understand spiritual things if when the opportunity to act or behave in their direction presents itself and then a person chooses away from living it as the Lord commanded. Here I think our theology hits the nail on the head: “A man is more and more nearly conjoined to the Lord, not by knowledge alone, nor by intelligence alone, nor even by wisdom alone, but by a life conjoined to these.”
Paul was aware of the spiritual mountaintop experiences that the Lord provides. Our lesson this morning in Ephesians brings them to light: “…that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Our spiritual mountaintop experiences confirm and reconfirm the living power, which is the Lord! Yet we need to grow and mature to the point of great responsible living even during our spiritual “lows.” To understand something of the “width and length and depth and height” of the Lord’s kingdom can give us the awareness we shall need to choose in the direction of what is good and true. This is partly what our theology refers to as living “as if” from ourselves, but still knowing and acknowledging that we are striving forward (even if in spirit it feels like a dark and lonesome time, when it feels like the Lord is far away). At such times we must do our job well of putting “…away the lusts of the love of evil and falsity.” And the Lord will give us many, many times in life when we will be faced with the choice of choosing and living on the side of what is good and true as if of ourselves, when somewhere deep down inside of us we need to be able to acknowledge (at least in thought) that this power is really coming from God!
We Christians who make such choices while necessarily dealing with states of being focused in the “natural man” (the natural mind and will) effectively are opening that awesome inner door within us which invites God, whose been knocking on that door, to enter greatly into our naturalness and regenerate it! Such responsible and wise choices, then, make room for more of the Lord’s joys of loving what is good and true (along with their delights) to flow forth from the internal depths of our souls on into these key, and more shallow regions, of the natural mind.
Thankfully, we owe much to the Lord who makes sure to provide us with vital “spiritual remains” or “remnants” of angelic goodness and understanding, which the Lord himself implants within the natural mind of every human being. God grants that every human being will have the raw hardware, you might say, within to turn toward the Lord and his goodness and truth, even when “the powers of heaven” will feel shaken within us.
And so, another part of being a great Christian witness of Jesus Christ is to be able to talk about and discuss with others some of the “ins and outs” of such responsible living, when we must prove the strength of our Christian spiritual metal, with the Lord’s deep help. It isn’t always easy being a good Christian. Sometimes, as Isaiah wrote so well, you must “wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before [God’s] eyes; and cease to do evil.” But what triumphant moments these really are! What glory they bring God in heaven, as we “learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, and plead for the widow.” Amen!