ERIC A. SUTTON, M.A. B.D.
Published by The Missionary Society of the New Church, 20 Bloomsbury Way, London, W.C.i
Printed in Great Britain by The Campfield Press, St. Albans
IF THOU BRING THY GIFT TO THE ALTAR .... 7
A SOWER WENT FORTH TO SOW 14
SUFFICIENT UNTO THE DAY IS THE EVIL THEREOF . . 23
THE FIRST BEATITUDE 30
LORD, I BELIEVE38
VINEGAR AND GALL46
THE EASY YOKE 53
THE HOME OF THE PROPHET67
GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD . . . -74
SPARROWS SOLD FOR A FARTHING 82
THE WRATH OF GOD89
THE MOUNTAIN OF THE LORD96
THE FORMER THINGS ARE PASSED AWAY .... IO4
THE GREAT SUPPERII4
"And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones".Revelation 21: 19.
" In the Word, a stone signifies truth in ultimates, and a precious stone truth transparent from good". Apocalypse Revealed 231.
"... a precious stone signifies the Divine Truth of the Word ".Apocalypse Revealed 897.
"In heaven all precious stones derive their origin from the ultimates of the Word and their transparency from the spiritual sense of those ultimates".Apocalypse Revealed 231.
" If thou bring thy gift to the altar. . . . " (Matthew v. verse 23)
You will be familiar with the passage. It is from the sermon on the Mount. " If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift ".
These words are read at the beginning of the sacrament of the Holy Supper. They caution us, in an impressive manner, of the futility of supplicating our Heavenly Father for His blessing if we are unable to show brotherly goodwill to others, or continue in any way to harbour resentment or unworthy feelings towards them. The giving of a gift upon the altar is not only a ritual of great beauty, it involves on the part of the giver the observance of the most exacting requirements; requirements, be it noted, laid down by the One to Whom the gifts are made, the Lord Jesus Christ. In no sense are we to approach the altar of God as those who would confer a favour; we are required by Divine injunction to observe with care and precision the manner and spirit of our approach.
The altar of which the Lord spoke is the sacrificial altar of ancient Israel, and the gift is the animal, bird, and meal offering the nature of which is so precisely described in the pages of the Old Testament law. There, in that lengthy legislation, it is made clear to all that it is not man who confers a favour on his God; it is man who is favoured and blessed by God's gracious acceptance of his gift. Divine blessings are never bestowed with caprice or inconsistency, and if man is to give in such a way that God will receive, he must learn to give as God requires.
The first requirement of worthy giving is that a man be reconciled to his brother. Who is this brother ? Who is this brother who must have nothing against us if we are to give an acceptable gift to the Lord? The question recalls an earlier one, " Where is Abel, thy brother? " And we are reminded of the answer, " I know not. Am I my brother's keeper? " On that occasion, a brother had delivered up the brother to death. In other words, he had regarded charity as of no concern. The " brother " with whom we are to be reconciled is charity. And the Divine command is where the heart knows that there is a lack of charity, where the full, frank fellowship of goodwill is restrained or withheld, and where resentment glowers sullenly over some fancied or real wrong, " leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way ".
Under such circumstances, heaven is not deceived; it is we who are duped, and there is no baal to descend and kindle our altar offerings to flame.
The phrase, " to bring thy gift to the altar " is, of course, another way of referring to worship. Israel worshipped the Lord by way of its sacrifices. Worship is to bring gifts to God. By them, we acknowledge Him. By them, we magnify and serve Him. When the wise men from the East opened their treasures before the Infant Lord at Bethlehem and presented to Him the gold and frankincense and myrrh, they represented to all future ages the manner and the spirit of perfect worship. And so, the whole idea of a gift or of giving a present to God, embodying as it does the act and spirit of man's approach to God, is seen to involve the complete doctrine of worship. Little wonder that the laws of sacrifice for ancient Israel were given with such care and detail. By his sacrifices, the Hebrew of old adjusted his whole attitude to God; and, that his attitude to God might be a right one, it was necessary that God should reveal to him what those sacrifices should be, when they should be made, and the full ritual that should accompany their offering. How arresting is the thought that the right attitude of man to God, the state in which we are to be when we approach God, is the state of giving; and of giving to Him; denying ourselves, and rendering to Him, to His purposes, His ends and His uses, every faculty and power with which we are endowed. Is not man created in the image and likeness of the Lord, the Creator? Is not the Esse of Divine Life to give Himself to others, to seek their good and well-being? Must not the bright gleam of this Divine image shine from the countenance of man, the creature, only as he, too, gives himself, everything he has, back to the Lord, for the furtherance of Divine ends? Is not man seen by God, heard by Him, and blessed by Him, only as man is found in the spirit and act of giving? The image of God upon man is the image of a DIVINE GIVER; we worship God only as we learn to give.
What, then, shall we give? And so soon as our treasure chests are brought into the open (and in a true sense they are all inexhaustible) the undeniable fact is brought to light that everything there of any value has first been a gift from the Lord. He it is from " Whom alone cometh every perfect gift." However puerile and obvious the fact may seem, it is nevertheless very impressive; all that we can bring to the altar, all that we can give to this or to that worthy endeavour, is first of all received from the Lord. The Divine Giver has been there before us, and filled our treasure chest that we might have gifts to give. This has been the very first of all His gifts to us, the gift of the power to give - of the will to give, and of the wisdom to give well. It is, you see, the signature of His trinal nature upon us creatures made in His image. To catalogue all that we have been given that we might give, would be unending. If only we begin to give, we then find we are pulling at a golden thread whose end is never reached. But the end we have must not remain with us; we must draw the thread, as it comes from the weavers of heaven, only to pass it, with its benedictions and uses, into the hands of some brother. " The Lord wills writes Swedenborg, " that gifts should come from man as from himself, provided he acknowledges that they are from the Lord ". How incredibly it would help if, in all our giving, we gave one thought to that truth itself, of course, another of God's gifts to us. Looking upon the treasure we wish to pass on to a friend, as belonging, by right of creation, to God, as already the property of the Infinite Love, shall we not make the giving of it more of an act of worship, shall we not plan our giving more wisely and more freely, acknowledging that the gift is not ours, but only ours to give ?
The whole glad, shining theme of giving, which is the very sunshine of heaven, is summed up in the Writings of the New Church in these words, words which ring so paradoxically in our ears because our thinking is so worldly and false, " What are called gifts and presents offered to the Lord by man, are in their essence gifts and presents offered TO MAN BY THE LORD. Their being called gifts and presents is according to appearance. All who are wise at heart recognise this appearance, but not so the simple; and yet the gifts and presents of the simple are acceptable, so far as they are offered from ignorance in which there is innocence ". (The children, you see, are all right. They do not see the principle, not yet being wise in heart, but the innocence of their ignorance protects them.)
"Gifts offered to the Lord by a man, are, in their essence, gifts offered to the man by the Lord ". (Arcana Caelestia, 9938.) The truth of it may not at first be seen. It involves much more than the mere fact that we can give to the Lord only something of what we have first received from Him. It means that in what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. It means that man's gift to God can be regarded after the manner of a vessel or cup, which He, on receiving, can fill to overflowing for our increasing spiritual welfare. Seeing us before His altar in the act of giving, He then can give to us; not that He will give only as we first give to Him, but that the gifts of His Love can be poured only into a vessel whose peculiar character it is to GIVE.
All right giving is a bringing of our gift to the altar. Or, to express it otherwise, a gift, to be acceptable to heaven, must be brought to the altar. It is to be made an act of worship to the Lord Jesus Christ. Only then can it bless him that gives and him that takes. "Ye fools and blind; for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? " That which sanctifies our gifts is the altar. And so our greatest gifts will ever be the acknowledgment of the Lord Jesus Christ and our shunning of evils as sins against Him. Thereby alone do we truly worship Him; thereby alone are we reconciled to our brother (for there is no charity where evil remains); and thereby alone do we receive from heaven the things which are of real worth. That gift will multiply and abound to the good of mankind, that is laid upon the altar.
"A Sower went forth to sow " (Matthew xiii. verse 3)
The "Sower going forth to sow " is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Source and Radiating Centre of the Divine Truth. He is the Sower of Divine Truth; the Light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world. No man has lived but has received some measure of the Divine Truth from the Lord to show the path of life. We must regard the Lord as perpetually operating towards us as a Sower sowing seeds.
Whatever else the Lord may be effecting, we need to realise that the instrument of all spiritual progress is the Truth sown by the Divine Sower through His Word. Without the Word there is no truth; without truth there is no perfection of spiritual life. And hence it is that our enquiry into the Lord's own analysis of how man receives Divine Truth needs to be sincere, and coupled with a courageous and intimate self-examination. The careless identification of ourselves with the good ground bringing forth fruit a hundredfold is dangerous, and destroys the whole value of the parable. The Lord's revelation of how the seed is destroyed is a revelation not in itself condemnatory, but in order that by self-examination the condemnation may be escaped. The condemnations of the Word are not to be feared, so long as they are read in a teachable disposition, and there is a willingness to shape conduct and life that they be not merited. The " good ground " on which the seeds fall ought rather to be looked upon constantly as the ideal to be achieved, and the several descriptions of imperfect ground as aids to our self-examination. There is room in the complex mind of man for all these imperfections. The Lord is not classifying men, characterising each class in a different way. He is rather revealing the several deformities of our spiritual life, each one of us perhaps failing most conspicuously in some one particular way. But the parables of the Lord are useless if we read them with self-approval; they are to stimulate a sincere self-examination and a vigorous re-orientation of our life.
The parable warns us against birds, sun and thorns. The birds eat the seeds that have fallen on the wayside, or as it can be translated, on the "hard way". Now birds are of many kinds. We have beautiful, gentle, clean and useful birds; we have others, ravenous, ugly, unclean, fierce and useless. It will be quite clear that the birds of the parable represent some sinister quality of our life for they are an influence destructive of the sower's seeds. The whole class of animate beings known as birds corresponds to the intellectual things of, our mind, that is, to our thoughts, our ideas of things, reasons we hold for doing actions, truths we learn and understand, and of course the perversions of truth which, whether we recognise them as such or not, are falsities. Like the birds of the air, these intellectual things, the ideas and reasons of our minds, are, some gentle, beautiful and clean, others ravenous, ugly and unclean. The ravenous, ugly and unclean ideas and reasons are of course false ones, and the presence of such false thoughts in the mind (and all of us have them) is a danger to the development of spiritual life. For these thoughts literally consume those seeds of truth which fall on the hard way. Now it will be noted that the danger of the birds is to be feared only where the seeds fall upon the " hard " way. The Lord is describing not only influences that destroy truth, but also those particular ways of receiving truth which expose man to the destructive influences. The birds of the air apparently do not threaten the seeds which fall on good ground. This is the essence of the Lord's message. It is the imperfect nature of man's reception of truth which exposes him to sinister influences. It is not that man is subject to so many malicious influences from which he must try to escape - it is that each imperfection of his character itself exposes him to some particular encroachment of evil.
The " hard way " on which the seeds fall only to lie as a prey to birds, typifies a mind hardened against the reception of truth, through the constant practice of evil. The enemy of truth is evil; and where evil habits of conduct fix the fashion of man's life, truth finds no welcome. The soil on which the seed falls from the Sower's Hand, is ungrateful. This condition of spiritual life can be looked for and discerned in almost every round of the clock. It is one of the most common defiances offered by man to the purposes of the Divine Sower, and the Lord, by the imagery of the parable, reveals man to himself that this wayside may be recognised and destroyed. This incipient hardening of the ground in youthful days, is the sorrow of every parent's heart, yet a natural fondness blinds parental eyes to its full significance. Each man by sincere introspection can best find for himself the real measure of the danger. The philosophy of Egotism crystallises itself slowly out in the maturing youth and swoops like a proud bird of prey upon the seeds which are cast from the Sower's hands. So, too, does each lightest thought with which we excuse or bolster up our evil, catch away that which is sown in the heart. Truth rejected and unabsorbed becomes the very nourishment of falsity.
Like the first part of the parable, the second indicates a state of life common in varying degrees to all men. The quick germination of truth, leading rapidly to a weak maturity, and lapsing equally quickly to decay, is a common experience of life. The stony places, we read, indicate a historical faith. Here it is important to note there is growth, but a growth so weak and sickly that it cannot endure. Evidently a historical faith is but poor ground for the seeds of Divine Truth. Now, all of us have something of this historical faith. It is the faith, the system of precepts concerning moral and spiritual life, given us by parents and teachers while we were young. This of course is a most essential provision of our life. But in the parable the words are added, " where there was not much earth ". So it is a faith not our own, foreign to our real life, yet looking on the surface like good ground. The precepts of our youthful days do indeed find a lingering expression in our conduct, suggesting an integrity and wholesomeness when yet it is but a veneer of habit, artificially imposed. Through early education, and the whole tradition of our home influences, there is a response to the seeds of truth which come to us from the Word. But, to use the word describing this state in the Writings, this response is the mere " imitation " of genuine goodness of life. The seeds of truth germinate in our conduct either independently of our volition or because we recognise the value of such conduct from our early education. But it is not the expression of our real character. If truth is to develop at all, it must have a soul within it, and that soul must be genuine goodness. When our faith is merely historical, imposed by education and upbringing, it lacks this soul; and lacking thus all vitality, it shrinks and dies when the glowing fire of our real inner interest of self-love asserts itself. The sun that rises and scorches this harvest of pretence is the fire of our ruling love. Sooner or later, that dominating fact of our life, that real selfhood of ours will blot out the fictitious fruit of mere historical faith and leave us harvest-less. The green growth of pretence may last a lifetime, but we pass into the other life only with what is our own, that which by conviction and affection has become our inmost nature.
The thorns crowd out the seeds. This is a picture of the world being too much with us. And where there is no room for truth, there is no knowledge of good and consequently no perception of sin. This may mean that worldly concerns occupy man's thought too exclusively for Divine precepts to find any reception. That indeed is a common enough condition. But the Lord is directing our attention to still more universal conditions. The very principles of religion which we hold may themselves be deceitful riches, wealth which withholds from us the living seeds of truth. Those principles may be false, and when false it is easy to see how they lead to the choking of truth from the Word. On the other hand, they may be true and yet may be as thorns stifling the .germinations from the Word. For often enough man rests satisfied with the knowledges of truth, fixing his interest on the all-absorbing task of accumulating unfruitful facts of religious life. To deal thus with truth is to lose all knowledge of good, it is to raise a harvest of thorns instead of fruit. It is to love not heaven, but the world; and so to love it, that heavenly life can find no place which to bloom. The life force of the thorns can be nothing but evil. Whether the thorns be the love of merely mundane things or the absorbing interest in mere principles of religious belief and life, self-love lies within and evil vivifies the useless harvest. The seeds of the Divine Sower can grow only as those thorns are completely uprooted and destroyed. The shunning of evils as sins against God can alone prepare the ground for the heavenly harvest.
The amenable disposition which looks to the Lord in the effort to do His Will, is that which softens the hard surface of our mind and admits His Truth. " Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit ". This fruit of good will differ with each member of the Church, and a general threefold division of man's spiritual harvest can be made which reflects the threefold division of the mind and of the heavens. This is the force of the Lord's words, some " thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, some a hundred-fold ". These are the fruits of obedience, of faith and of love, possible to each one of us according as the nature of our reception of truth is perfected. The seed is cast untiringly, unsparingly, but the kingdom of heaven is not gained without man's own conscious co-operation. That share of his work is cultivation of the ground, softening, enriching, clearing it, that the seeds of the Sower may find in it an abiding place.
"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof " (Matthew vi. verse 34)
This teaching concerning the Divine Providence of the Lord comes to mankind in its fever and anxiety, to soothe and to encourage. Here is an assurance from a source of supreme authority. Man stands ever between two testimonies, the testimony of appearance and the testimony of truth. The testimony of appearance is that which the life of the world provides. Experience suggests certain laws by which human life is governed. The more the natural universe is examined, the more perfectly does it appear to be controlled by definite laws. No sphere of enquiry is entered upon by man, but what exemplifies this presence of ordered principle. Man comes to know how and why things happen. So long as he submits to certain conditions, he can provide for his needs. The right season chosen, the seed sown, the soil fertilised, and behold his harvest ripens and his children are fed. A calculation, based on ascertained facts, and he foretells to within a second of time the obscuring of the sun's face by the interposition of the moon. In the spheres, too, of economic and political life, he observes facts, formulates principles, calculates ahead, and the prizes of the world are his.
All this is well, if the other testimony, the higher testimony, is given its due place. There is the testimony of truth, the revelation of that which lies behind appearances, the guidance and counsel and assurance of the Lord Jesus Christ. To give heed to this higher testimony is to safeguard oneself against the errors of appearances. With this higher testimony ignored, the exact and definable character of the world suggests to man his complete control over the circumstances of his life. Whatever he may desire will be forthcoming if he schemes in the right way. The fact that the world is governed by law suggests that man can dispense with all else but the knowledge of that law. It suggests, as do all the appearances of the world, man's self-sufficiency. And hence it is that when his endeavours fail, when unforeseen circumstances intrude and defeat his purposes, he is left utterly without support and comfort. Anxiety arises, feverish exertion invades where weakness is incapable of controlling affairs. Whenever man is led to deny any power beyond his own, the cares of the world absorb his whole thought; and his failures to cope with circumstances bring him, for want of some higher testimony, to despair. Few men attain to so implicit a faith in the Lord's Divine Providence, that cares for the future and anxieties about life do not invade. And yet, when the laws of Divine Providence are studied in the light of heavenly truth, the futility of anxious cares is. made clear. In all that we strive for, in all that we pray for, and long for, that which is of the Lord, that which is truly worthy and of abiding value, will be, must be provided, if we look to the Lord in faith and courage and quiet confidence.
The love of the Lord has brought us into being. That love is deathless and unchanging. The testimony of truth is that the Lord's love, unsleeping, watches eternally over that which, in us,is its peculiar object of desire, and enfolds all that is worthy of protection with power Divine. The testimony of appearance is inadequate and misleading. It focuses our cares and attention upon the temporal and illusory. The testimony of truth summons us to concerns of abiding value. The Lord is mindful of His own, of that which is His and thus eternal. " Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow will take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof ".
The renunciation of anxious care for the morrow is not a call to fanatical heedlessness. There is nothing contrary to the Lord's Providence and Will in providing for the future, but this provision is not to be made man's primary regard. He is not to provide in the spirit of self-sufficiency, disregarding the thought that all provision for the truly needful is the Lord's provision through him, and not his own. " Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof ". Even literally considered, the day itself has its own cares, its own anxieties, its own requirements. Anxious cares about the future are useless, for even if the future promises disaster, there is no need to duplicate the sorrow and disaster. There is the present, with its burdens and trials, immediately before us; there, at least, is our first concern. " The morrow shall take thought for the things of itself ". But the real force of the Lord's words requires, of course, a knowledge of their spirit, and from this higher knowledge our duty in the world itself, as taught in the literal sense, is made more plain. Man does not stand still spiritually.
He is ever moving through different states of life. Each state has its specific function to perform in the upbuilding of character. Each state makes different claims on our powers; brings different faculties into operation; nourishes distinctive qualities of life, and strengthens or weakens our spiritual fibre. In each such state, new temptations arise, for it is by the conquest of evil through temptation conflicts that heavenly qualities are born and perfected. Life's journey is a succession : these states, with their several struggles, their varied experiences, their peculiar opportunities and their safeguarding provisions of the Lord.
The "morrow ", considered spiritually, is each succeeding state. However well one state may terminate, whatever it may have meant for us in the building up of angelic character, the new state brings further temptations; situations requiring new powers, new effort, new suffering, possibly new despair.
The Writings of the New Church teach this remarkable doctrine: "The life of every man is foreseen by the Lord, as to how long he will live, and in what manner. From earliest infancy therefore he is directed with regard to a life to eternity. Thus the providence of the Lord commences from earliest infancy". From the golden mists of infancy and childhood to the quickening evening hours of man's decline, he passes through many spiritual " days ". Each new day or state confronts him with a challenge, a duty, and a promised joy. Through each such day the Lord is with him, not primarily to bring material welfare or to remove trial, but to safeguard and nourish and bring to fruition some element of angelhood that may eternally abide. That is why new spiritual days dawn for us, it is why new experiences come, it is why we can never with impunity linger in the lotus fields of spiritual indolence and neglect. The regenerating man comes at length to learn the power and stability and certainty of the Divine Providence. Our past years re-echo with following feet, each of their many days is lit up with some testimony of the Divine Presence. Each darkest hour was never without its Divine provision, its agony was but a birth throe of some new unparalleled joy. In the face of trial, when the path is dark before us, we may pray that the cup may pass from us. But purification and strength and victory come only as we yield to the Will of the Lord. He sees beyond the gloom. He is labouring in His workshop; forging and fashioning the tissues of our angelhood. By trust and confidence in Him, the needs of the hour are supplied, and the comfort and calm of the Divine Presence are felt. Ways, hitherto unseen, open out before the mind's eye. Man comes to realise how little he knows of the laws" of life which he fondly imagined he could master for the purpose of gaining a self-sufficiency. Each new spiritual morrow, with its especial trials faced and suffered and overcome, brings with it its unguessed, undreamt of revelation of Divine Law which lay utterly beyond the rower of our feeble calculation and anticipation. The new need brings its new provision, the fear and despondency of the natural man prove vain and futile, strength sufficient unto the day's own evils has been vouchsafed.
Our service to the Lord is the duty of the present moment. For the trials that lie ahead, there will be sufficient strength given when those trials swing into our ken. We can best prepare for them by present service, by resisting the evil that is here and now, and learning by patience and self-renunciation the nearness and sufficiency of the Lord. Our only concern, in the true sense, is the temptation of the moment and the truth as at present seen. Here is the way to strength and quiet confidence. The Lord has created and He has redeemed. Our path through life therefore is under His all-seeing care. Beyond the morrows of our life, He sees what He would have us be; and for that end He labours with us through all our trials and mistakes, through all our changing circumstances and varying needs. In His Will alone is our eternal peace. Complying with that Will, and joyfully rejecting all that is opposed to it, we move most freely in the current of His Providence, and beckon more assuredly the beatitudes He holds in store.
The First Beatitude "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew v. verse 3)
The "poor in spirit" are the truly humble. There is a certain New-Church principle which shows how in the Word the first in order of any list is the universal idea that reigns in all that follows. In the seed of a tree, for example, the whole tree is present, potentially. In the first sentence of the Divine Word, the whole doctrine of the Word is stated in brief. The first Commandment, again, embraces and involves all other commandments. And in the first beatitude, a characteristic of human life is blessed which must be present in all other virtues in order that they may remain virtues at all. " Humility ", which is here the first object of the Lord's blessing, is the ground of all heavenly graces. With true humility established as the characteristic of one's whole attitude of life, other graces can be successively implanted, whereas without it present, the virtue of all other graces is destroyed.
Humility, like fertile soil, is complex in character. We think of it at first as being the opposite of pride and arrogance. It is an attitude of heart and mind more easy to define negatively than positively. It clearly implies the absence of selfishness - a disinterestedness of spirit, without regard to recompense. Its importance would be hard to overstate. "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". Heaven itself and all the things of heaven are sown in this soil. It is the ground necessary for the very implantation of heaven in our life. And hence it is that it is this quality of human life upon which the heavens of the spiritual world have been established - it is that grace, present in some form in all the manifold graces of angelic life, which has opened heaven to all who are there. We can regard its formation within our own lives as the first thing, the chief thing, of regeneration.
By that strange paradox that appears in so much spiritual teaching, the "poor in spirit" are the only truly rich. The paradox is due to the strange contradiction between our natural ideas of things and the underlying truth. For the essence of "worship" lies in "man's adoration of the Lord and the adoration of the Lord is humiliation". In true humility, worship is perfected, for it consists in the acknowledgment that in one's self there is nothing good, and that for life itself and for everything life brings, one must look to the Lord alone. Such a truth as that comes first to us in our natural, unregenerate ways of thinking as a mere abstract idea; it is revealed from heaven by the Lord, but its wide and impressive significance is undiscerned. Yet the angels of heaven live moment by moment in the full perception they are in entire dependence on their Creator. As a rainbow is held in its form and colour and whole being by the presence of the sun, so man lives moment by moment from the Lord. And as it is with his physical life, so it is with his spiritual life, the affections he may have for things that are worthy and the thoughts he has of things that are true. We are, because God is. The worship of heaven is from the clear perception of this dependence on the Lord, and the perception has grown through the sincerity of angelic worship. We on earth may be far from any such living experience f our dependence upon the Lord, but revealed knowledge about it can grow into conviction and full understanding; and it can come in time to saturate our whole thought and transfigure our attitude towards life. The perception of our worship of the Lord requires that this new attitude be cultivated. We are to live in the full assurance that our very life is the Lord's, that its whole purpose is known to Him alone and that it can he formed and perfected only as we depend on Him. True selfhood, therefore, lies by way of the surrender of self, by laying down our own life, and in thought and purpose and deed taking up that life the Lord ordains. Humility is thus more than an emotion - it is most perfectly expressed in the shunning of evils as sins against the Lord. For this is the quintessence of self-surrender. The measure of our real humility, and thus of our true worship, is the extent to which we shun, in purpose, thought and deed, what is abhorrent to the Lord. That is the sole way by which the old self dies and the new manhood is implanted by the Lord. It is the measure of our " poverty of spirit ", and so it is the degree in which we can receive the kingdom of heaven.
The more the beatitude is examined with reverent care, the more wonderful and the more profound does its inner soul appear. It is one of the great foundation principles of spiritual life. It has kinship and touch with all that is universal in Divine teaching. This indeed is so with all the teaching of our Lord, but there is so quiet, almost platitudinous an aspect, about this first beatitude that the depths it conceals are prone to be passed by unsuspected. It is well to bear in mind in all our reading of the Word that the Lord Himself, the Saviour of the world, is present with all His redemptive power in every truth of the Word. The truths of the Word are as rays of light from the sun—each ray links sun to earth and bears the magic of its origin to the darkness of the earth. So is each truth of the Word a hidden sanctuary in which the Lord is present.
Our care should be that life be not spent in the unthinking repetition of these truths. Such superficial regard for Divine teaching is as if we passed the Lord bypassed Him unrecognised - when yet by the Word of His mouth He would beckon us to Him and would commune with us, imparting the breath of His Holy Spirit.
The opening words of the Sermon on the Mount embody the beginning of blessing, the beginning of beatitude. They place before us a new attitude of life; they plead for a reorientation of thought and endeavour. Like all great leaderships they make a great claim upon us, yet one that is not beyond our reach. They suggest that even as the faithful Daniel of old opened his windows towards Jerusalem that he might pray towards the Holy City, even as the pious Moslem of today still sets his prayer mat towards the Kaaba of Mecca, so each one of us now, when the truly Christian life is known to be an exercise of spirit, is called upon to set the Lord always before him, to set Him first in all endeavour and in all service. This is the keynote of the Christian life, even as it was the opening word of the Sermon on the Mount. It is the beginning of blessing, for it is man's presentation of himself to the Lord. And man's presentation of himself to the Lord must needs be followed by Divine benediction. The law of Divine mercy and grace is as fixed and sure as any. law of nature. It is but our unenlightened natural thought that leads us to suppose that the Lord chooses among men as upon whom He shall bestow this or that spiritual blessing. Yet in reality the blessings of the Lord stream forth as the sunlight streams from the sun, the shadows fall behind when the uplifted face is to the light. Reception of Divine blessings is dependent on the attitude of man alone, the presence or absence of the receptive mind. The one obstacle is self. To look to self and to live for self is to stand with one's back to the sun; it is to lose the light and to dwell in the shadow cast by self.
So is the great impressive thought again brought before us, that heaven and heavenly blessings and heavenly life are possible to all men; the fault and failure lies with the individual alone. The task before us is not difficult, it is not hard to live the life of heaven, but it is of that nature that it will not brook delay. The kingdom of heaven is implanted in true humility of spirit, in the acknowledgment, heart-felt and life-proven, that of ourselves alone we are nothing and that the all of life, the all of worth, in character and service, must come from the Lord. Such true poverty of spirit is a prostration of the soul before the throne of God, not, again be it urged, as a surging emotion whose heat will pass, but in a discipline of life, in a determined resistance to all that is inspired by self, in zealous quest for a deeper understanding of the Divine will and in a compulsion exercised upon the purpose of the heart and the thoughts of the mind. So is the Lord most surely set before us, and the obstacles imposed by self-love to the descent of Divine blessings, moved. So does full self-surrender lead on to true humility of life wherein heart and head and hand are yielded up to be used for the Lord alone, nd into which He, the Giver of all good gifts, may pour those things which shall be for us the kingdom of heaven.
"Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief" (Mark ix. verse 24)
In this chapter of the Gospel through Mark, a most striking contrast is presented. It records the transfiguration of the Lord on the mountain height, it portrays this sad picture of degraded humanity at the foot of the mountain, the distressed and helpless father, the tortured and possessed son, the troublesome scribes, the defeated disciples. The scene is suggestive of a far greater one. The Lord's descent of the mountain to bring healing and renewed happiness to those on the plain beneath is a miniature of His Advent into the world. The physical distress of the boy and the futility of the disciples' efforts portray the sickness and helplessness of humanity when unsustained by the Divine Presence, and the Lord's coming to Bethlehem was a descent of omnipotent, saving power to the levels of natural human life with all its manifold spiritual diseases; it was a declaration and exercise of those Divine powers for the well-being of the race. In such wise can there be a descent of the Lord into every life. He is not only a God of the hills, He is God also of the plains. His presence with man need not be only in the lofty spiritual principle and high ideal, it can be a presence soiled with the Just of our lowest, most degraded, earth-fashioned nature, toiling amidst all that is impure and diseased and "lunatic", and restoring health and peace and sanity of mind.
The picture thus presented of the Lord in His glory on the mountain height and of the demoniac writhing at the foot is not only a true picture of what actually happened at the time, it is a picture of what is constantly happening within us. We, too, surely, spend moments with the Lord on the mountain height. Do we not at times, when in prayer or in meditation on the Word, leave the lower levels of life and ascend to a clearer, fuller vision of His true nature ? Do we not, on all such occasions, when the perception of Divine Truth is more vivid or when the soul rises to a more intimate experience of the Divine Love, feel, as did those earlier disciples, "it is good for us to be here?" Do we not inwardly resolve to build tabernacles within heart and mind and life in which to preserve and cherish what we have there received? The vision on the mountain is possible to all true New-Church discipleship, but it does not cover the whole of truly Christian life. There is the plain beneath the mountain. There are those thoughts which we have, not of God, but of men and women with whom we meet in daily life; there are those emotions and desires and affections that are inspired, not by the near presence of the Glorified Lord, but by the "daily round, the common task". To everyone that looks within himself with any degree of frankness, the contrast between the truth and the love made manifest by the Lord, and the state of our natural life, shows how imperative it is that the Lord should descend from the mountain height and exercise His power on the plain. The virtue in vision is that what has been seen may be applied, and in the Lord's descent from the hill we see Divine Wisdom and Love preparing to effect their cleansing and healing powers in the lower, earth-soiled levels of human thought and affections.
Why does this young man, possessed of this dumb spirit, figure in the Word of the Lord ? One reason is, that the power of God might be made known for the sustaining of human faith. But the record is a detailed one, and the details of the Divine Word have each some meaning for man, they are never idle words for the mere adornment of a tale. The incidents recorded in the Word become at once more useful to us and more impressive when we identify ourselves with those whom the Lord rebukes and heals. We, individually, are members of the humanity He came to save, and the Gospel story becomes impressive and effective the moment we have the courage to see in ourselves the blindness, the disease, the poverty, the lameness, the Pharisaism, the coldness and the unbelief He so often healed and reproved. Even as the prophet Nathan declared in parable the evil of David, only to reveal that David was the one he spoke of when David had rebuked the evil described, so must all true reading of that diseased and sinful and ignorant and possessed humanity to which the Lord ministered impress the fact that we are there portrayed. This poor, possessed son, brought to the disciples that he might be healed, is used in the Divine Word as a figure for a universal human railing, a weakness of all human life when it is without the Lord's presence. Let it not be thought that because we are not dumb, therefore, we are not represented here. The physical infirmities -spoken of in the Gospel typify spiritual infirmities.
The blind whom the Lord came to heal are not only the physically blind but those who are spiritually blind. The ear that does not hear is symbolic of the heart that does not obey. And the spirit of dumbness is with all those who are without faith. Voice is given to man, primarily, that he may confess the Lord, and man's speech, whatever may be its immediate purpose and subject-matter, ought always to be a confession of the Lord. Man's spiritual speech is his faith, and where faith is dead, the spirit is dumb. This teaching will recall what is taught in the Writings of the New Church concerning the praise of those in heaven. This praise might be supposed by the more simple-minded to be a perpetual singing to the Lord. But all angelic life and work and social intercourse, whether any actual singing is being done or not, is referred to as song because such life and work and intercourse is the expression of faith and is wrought in faith. The faith of a truly regenerated man or woman, when it is given expression in the purposes and efforts and services of life, rises as a song to heaven, and no song can be sweeter to the Lord than a man's full acknowledgment, sustained by heart and life, that "the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth". Such a song is the submission of every faculty of life to the aspiration of Divine purpose and principle. Our natural, worldly natures, the homes of manifold evils and falsities, are as this tortured boy, possessed with a dumb spirit. We have faith on the mountain height, there are moments when it is strong, glowing and invincible. But have we this faith down on the plain? That is to say, does even the lowest part of our nature exercise this high faith? Or must we not rather confess that the two pictures this chapter presents are true pictures of the sad contrast between our high, inward convictions, and the poverty and helplessness of our lower nature? Must we not, as the chapter is read, have brought home to us the need for reckoning the Lord down from the mountain height, and bringing into the lower reaches of our life His touch and His Word of healing?
Jesus said to the man's father, " If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth ". And the man straightway replied, "Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief". Nothing is gained by tampering with this reply of the father. To discern a great spiritual principle of wide application in some words of the Gospels is quite a different thing from adding, out of our own minds, something to the record as given. Here it has been suggested that after the father had declared, "Lord, I believe", the Lord gave a reproving or questioning look, whereupon he became more humble and said, "Help Thou mine unbelief". Such an addition is so unnecessary. The man's words, "Lord, I believe", were quite true. Had he not believed, the healing could not have been effected. Wherever the Lord found sheer unbelief, He could do no mighty work. The whole confession of the man, surely, hangs together as a true and consistent one, and one that should be echoed by every one of us. "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief". It is at once an acknowledgment that we believe in Him and an admission that we do not do so sufficiently. How can we say to the Lord, "Lord, perfect our faith" if we do not already in some measure, believe? Only the man who believes can add, " Help Thou mine unbelief ". Faith is a ladder whose foot is on earth, but whose top is in the highest heaven. We may be on the lower rungs. Our constant prayer as we climb, must be "Help Thou mine unbelief". The faith of some is purely historical they believe that Jesus lived and died for us. They have heard that said, they have seen it printed, they are satisfied the evidence is good. But they have not lived it. And faith, considered in its fulness, is one with love and life. That is not true faith which is mere assertion, or mere knowledge, or mere belief. Faith is the love and the living of all that the Lord in His mercy has made known. We only divide these things of spiritual life while we are yet imperfect, but as the Writings teach, " Faith is an internal acknowledgment of the truth" "Faith, especially, is an obedience of the things which doctrine teaches"" Faith, regarded in itself, is charity". Faith is perfected, then, only as we rise in knowledge and in service and in love. Do we "believe" that God is Love if we do not love? Do we "believe" in His Providence over us, if we do not submit to His laws?
That the works of perfect faith might be wrought, the Lord commands two things, " prayer and fasting ". " This kind ", He said, " goeth not out but by prayer and fasting". Prayer is the aspiration of our inmost manhood towards God. Fasting is our repudiation of self and the world. So is the perfecting of our faith one with the perfecting of our life, " a leaving all to follow Him ", our vision of Him on the mountain height, our constant beckoning of Him into the trials and distresses of our lower natures. When the Lord came to earth, He descended to prove and to apply His Power over all human ills. That Power He will use for us in every true need of life. It is exercised on our behalf. Only, we must believe. There is not one of us but can say, " Lord, I believe ". There is not one of us but has need to add "Help Thou mine unbelief ".
Vinegar and Gall "They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink" (Matthew xxvii. verse 34)
Twice, on that fateful day, the day of crucifixion, was Jesus offered vinegar. Coming to Golgotha, they gave Him vinegar mingled with gall, and He would not drink. And again, while on the cross, vinegar alone was offered Him which He accepted. Why is this in the Word of God if it means nothing? And if it has meaning, what is it?
The only comment we need make perhaps of the historical circumstance is the fact that these drinks were offered on such occasions to deaden sensibility. Our need is to look beyond and within the record and to discern the spiritual truth unbodied in this way. We are to ask what is the meat and the drink of the Lord? Wheresoever among men there goes forth from the heart some pure affection towards another, some good purpose, or some service wrought in perfect love, there the Lord's Divine hunger finds satisfaction. The food He hungers for is that highest of all forms of worship man can give, goodness of will, the purpose of mercy and kindliness and charity. His drink, spiritually considered of course, is man's knowledge and understanding of Divine Truth. If we think of the Lord as He dwells immanent in His Church - as an inmost Divine Soul vivifying the universal body of the faithful on earth - can we not see how that Divine Soul is fed and refreshed as men increasingly do His Will and are enlightened and directed by His Word? His hungering and thirsting, while on earth, though they referred immediately to His purely natural needs, nevertheless were representative of a hunger and thirst Divine in character, a longing on the part of the Divine and Infinite Spirit for the perfect offerings and sacrifices of human hearts and minds. This is the spiritual principle underlying the old Mosaic laws of sacrifice - in no sense to be looked upon as spiritually meaningless. The corn, wine, and sacrificial animal which the faithful offered, typified the deeper, worthier, and more real offering of heart and mind - the things which the Lord longs forth - at rise to Him as a sweet savour and are acceptable to Him.
So when the Lord was offered vinegar and gall, He found something unacceptable to Him. When offered the vinegar alone, He drank. Now " wine ", as we know from the Sacrament of the Holy Supper, corresponds to the Divine Truth a " vinegar", a soured wine, is this truth falsified. " Gall ", spoken of in many parts of the Word is shown in the Writings of the Church to relate to evil. And a glance at the whole incident will reveal that these two things were precisely what the Jewish Church at that day were offering to God, while in reality they were rejecting God. They were offering Him vinegar mingled with gall - a falsified religion polluted with evil - the evil of pride, sensuality, selfishness, worldliness. And they offered Him, too, vinegar alone - a falsified religion in which was not evil, but good purpose, ignorance, error, spiritual darkness, but free from malicious purpose. These were the two offerings men made Him. Both types of men, in His day, offered up to God, for the Divine thirst, this vinegar in place of a true wine - this falsified religious thought, this ignorance of the true nature of the God who fashioned them. The Divine Word, the Divine Laws had been made of none effect. Truth was no longer being taught, the Word was wholly falsified. But with some, this falsity which directed their lives instead of truth, was but the falsity of ignorance, they knew no better. At heart they were innocent of malice and selfishness, and in their homes they joyfully received the Lord, offered Him shelter and supplied His needs. Others, as the Word declares, dwelt not thus in falsity of mere ignorance, but added evil to error, malice to a perverted religion, gall to vinegar.
Here are exemplified, in the correspondences of this incident, two types of men whose characters are analysed at great length and with impressive effect in the Writings of the Church. There can be error excusable and error culpable. Error excusable is sometimes called Gentile, for it is that falsity of thought and worship, that ignorance of mind which comes of being born beyond the Church, or of having lacked the means of hearing and understanding the truth of heaven. And that is why the Lord could so often speak with much favour of Gentiles, when yet the Jew met with His unqualified rebuke. " Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven, but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out". And why? Because the ignorance and error of the Gentile mind are not culpable - gall is not mingled with the vinegar offered for the thirst of God. How sane, how liberally minded, is that utterance of the Lord contrasted with the belief that the Jew only was saved - or to come nearer hometh - at those who do not accept the rites of this or that Church organisation are anathema. Ignorance and error are by no means pleasing to the Lord. He comes to open blind eyes - to be a light in darkness. He would have all minds rich with the clear apprehension of the Word He teaches. But perverted as our thought may be, wrong as our principles may be, false and crude and ignorant as our minds may be, so long as evil purpose and selfish lust and malicious intent do rot poison the poor cup we thus offer to Him, He will drink thereof. It is the gall He will not touch. We cannot hope for the Lord to accept us, if evil is part of our offering to Him. That element He will not take. All else He can accept, poor and unworthy as it is. But evil denies us His acceptance. That must first be cast out. If we approach Him in prayer or in worship, if we would gain His ear with any petition, howsoever urgent and vital to our needs, He will not accept that which is tainted with gall. His word still is " Put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes ", " Cease to do evil ", " Turn you from your evil ways ". It is the evils of our hearts that separate us from the Lord. His redemptive grace goes forth boundless in its measure to mankind. So ardent is His desire for the salvation of the race that He will accept the simple, the ignorant, the misled, those in the darkness of utter falsity. Even these will allay the intensity of His burning thirst as He gives Himself for the race. Little wonder that as He drank the vinegar, He said, " It is finished ". This emblem of falsity, of perverted religious thought, typified the end of the Jewish Church - in that offering was symbolised the death of all truth in that Dispensation. So, also was the hyssop placed about the sponge which held the vinegar - hyssop used in the legal purifications of the Jews - and pointing yet again to the hope and promise that dwell in ignorance and error when free from evil.
"When free from evil": let that be our memory of this incident on the Cross. The gall of malice, of selfishness and evil can find no acceptance with the Lord. From all that we would offer Him, that must be removed. Beyond that, howsoever poor our offering, His desire finds some satisfaction. Can we not, now that His Word so powerfully is opened to us, offer Him something more acceptable - a life, displaying in its service the enlightened apprehension of His Truth, a worship born of our own hearts' yearning to do His Will?
The Easy Yoke "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew xi. verse 30)
In many respects, this is one of the most wonderful and appealing passages in the Divine Word. It throws into relief the Humanity of the Lord's Divinity. It proclaims in no uncertain way the Divinity of the Lord's Humanity. It is an appeal, that is to say, that could not possibly come from the God of Science or of Metaphysics. It is no utterance of a mere unfeeling all-pervading Force. It is essentially the call of a man to man, of One who knows our labour and the irksomeness of our burdens, and of our need and desire for rest. It comes, too, from One who knows our fears, the fears born of evil and the consciousness of evil, and One who, that these fears may not stand between us and the source of our happiness, assures us of His meekness and lowliness of heart. How essentially Human is the Divinity that here speaks! It is the Word of tender appeal crowned with gracious promise. And yet, human as the voice would seem to be, it is supported by omnipotence. Human as Jesus is, there is no escaping the finality, the sufficiency, the authority of His words. Human as this appeal is, it could come only from the Divine. " Come unto Me "." I will give you rest "." Learn of Me "." Ye shall find rest unto your souls ". How useless the cry, how hollow the promise, if no Divine sanction lies behind the human voice! Even as Jesus was born Emmanuel, God with us, so His every utterance is the translation of Divine and Infinite purpose into the language of human appeal. By His Word, we learn that Divinity, immeasurable, distant, omnipotent as it is, is yet intensely understanding in nature, is yet so near, that our faintest sigh is heard by it, our most secret sorrow is known to it; is yet so human that it can plead and beckon, though it could so readily compel.
The nature of the Lord's yoke is not difficult to ascertain. The whole realm, of what we call inanimate nature displays a myriad substances and forces yoked to the Infinite Will of God. In obedience to unseen control the distant and mighty suns of the physical universe move in silence and with mathematical precision. The meanest speck of meteoric dust, the mighty nebulae in Orion and Andromeda, the stupendous whirl of solar systems we know as the Milky Way, all are yoked to the Divine Will, and the yoke is easy.
Wherever we turn in the physical universe there is law, and that term law is the name we give to the behaviour of things in their yoked-labour; their obedience to the Infinite Will. By this unquestioning obedience on the part of material things, the Lord's purposes can be effected in the material universe. His Love can reveal itself, because His Wisdom holds sway. Now if the Will of God were such that it found satisfaction in the contemplation of a gigantic mechanical universe obeying with absolute precision His every order, His Will would be no higher in kind - though of course much greater in degree - than the will of the little boy who gets his mechanical engine to go when he wishes it to go, and to stop when he wishes it to stop. The attempt to reduce all creation to mechanical terms presupposes a very puerile will in the Creator. But there is evidence of a vastly higher kind of will even in mankind. The little boy may be said to will that his engine shall go; but this will is but poor stuff when we consider that if made to go, if forced to go, the engine can in no way refuse. Vastly higher in kind is that will which finds its satisfaction in freely-given obedience and in voluntary love. And that is the only obedience the Lord would ask of man. Mankind differs from the rest of creation in that this yoke of obedience must needs be assumed freely, if at all. And that freedom to obey is man's highest gift, his crowning glory. It is what makes him spiritual that raises him eternally above the character of the natural universe. It gives him, too, immortality, for that element of free response to the Divine Will satisfies an essential quality of the Divine Will, that quality which is above delight in mechanical obedience and which demands an unforced, voluntary love.
Thus it is that the Lord pleads with humanity. He pleads that we bring ourselves into the right order of our creation. He appeals to us that we, with our freedom to respond or not, come under that same yoke under which all other creations are working. By assuming that yoke, there is rest for our souls. Before we take His yoke upon us, we live in the illusion of freedom. We live, it seems to us, unyoked. And yet in this imagined freedom there is no rest. Countless cares obsess the soul. And this is because our seeming freedom is a positive slavery - it is the burden of a yoke that is chafing - destroying us instead of bringing us into the right order of our creation. It is this slavery to self which society and the individual so willingly submit to, that makes rest - real peace of soul and mind - an unknown and undreamt-of treasure. It is the yoke under which mankind has sown its selfishness and reaped its harvest of ignorance and unhappiness, of hunger and poverty, of hatred and crime, of impurity and distrust. We have only to trace, in the annals of the world's history, the effect of evil, the merciless nature of evil's reaction, to realise how hard a yoke this one of our own selfish life can be. And that story, writ large in the pages of history, is written none the less clearly in the conscious experience of every individual soul.
Now, the Lord's yoke is easy. Let us beware of how we understand this. From what we have already seen of the meaning of yoke, this will mean that the government of the Lord in our life is not felt as a government, a government in which we shall seem to be free, rather than perpetually feeling the pressure of control. There is nothing in this passage to suggest that the relinquishment of our own yoke and the assumption of the Lord's is a particularly easy change to effect in our own life. And that is what the passage is popularly understood to mean, and those are the grounds on which it is frequently criticised. How hard or how easy to us appears the change from slavery to freedom depends entirely upon our own state of life and particularly upon the faith we have when the change is contemplated. Theoretically, even this abandonment of the selfish yoke and the assumption of the Lord's yoke is simplicity itself, because Omnipotence is on our side. But how far our practical effort approximates to this theoretical fact again depends on us. But according to the Writings of the New Church, the word " easy " here applies not to any facility by which any man can change from his present yoke to the Lord's, but to the character of the Lord's yoke once it has been positively assumed. And the meaning is that the Lord's yoke is such that it is not felt as a yoke. His government of the regenerate, of those who have abandoned all other control for His control, is through our affections and therefore by our delights. The life that lies beyond our temptations, that is the life of man when he is securely yoked to the Divine control, is a peaceful or restful life because the yoke is not pulling us contrary to what we love to do or to what we delight in. That which the Lord desires us to do, we do of our own pleasure because it is our will, too. He has no need to urge, to command, to pull. We are led apparently by our own delight. It is this fact which obscures from us the other fact that the Lord is really directing, or that we are under a yoke. We seem to go where we will to go, to do what we will to do. But it is the Lord's presence in our will that makes His purpose our delight. The yoke is easy. We do not labour under it - we do not tire of it - we do not strive against it. On the contrary, because it works not against our will, but actually through our will (made one with His) we go ever from one delight to new and higher ones. This is the life which the Lord in His Mercy and Love offers to each one of us. His yoke is His government, His command. And His command is that we love one another. That command, made the yoke or guiding principle of life, leads us to perfect freedom, and then to perfect peace. It is a call to make life the exercise of unselfish affection, one long and happy errand of mercy and charity. We may call it a yoke, but it is one we shall not feel as such when once we have assumed it. It is rather the grasp of the hand of a friend, or those golden cords which link us eternally with the source of love.
Unknown Footsteps "Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known" (Psalm lxxvii. verse 19)
The psalm before us is concerned with the affliction which comes with spiritual temptation. Temptation of this nature is quite different from ordinary natural anxieties, griefs, suffering, disappointment or catastrophe. All those can be utilised as much for victory as for defeat. The Divine purpose is to form man into angelhood - perfect manhood; and to that end the Lord moves with man into successive spiritual campaigns against his natural lusts and errors. Step by step, the inherent selfishness and mischief of man's natural affections are repelled. Man comes to look upon life from an entirely new angle - to see in it a new purpose - and he is called upon to relinquish much that he had hoped for and much that gives him pleasure. The nature of spiritual temptation would seem to be beyond mere description - it must be experienced for it to be understood. But between what we are and what the Lord would have us be, there are the affliction and despair to which this psalm, in its internal sense, refers. It is the experience of all who are being regenerated. It was the experience of the Lord Himself in the course of glorification. And so it is that the psalm is no mere cry of distress. It is no mere helpless invocation of the Lord. All that is said of the Lord in the psalm embodies great truths which point out to man how the power of the Lord can be grasped and wielded in the course of temptation conflict. In olden days, men thought it sufficient, literally and solely, to " call upon the name of the Lord ". Such invocation was their sole strength in the hour of need. But with enlightenment, this refuge, though not denied to man, takes on a new form. In the light of spiritual truth, we come to realise that a mere invocation is a feeble aid. It may, of itself, be no more efficacious than a resort to a medicine man or to an incantation. " To call upon the Lord " comes to mean for the enlightened man of the Church, a resort to revealed truth when in affliction and distress. With the enlightenment which truth brings, we see a more clearly defined task than mere invocation. We see exactly what we ought to do, because we understand more perfectly the Will of the Lord and His way of effecting it. This plainly is a source of confidence and strength to man in his temptations. It equips man far more effectively than mere invocation. Knowledge of truth is no mere theoretical enquiry - it is the revelation of the whole duty of life - the general principles and the minute details of how we, in all circumstances, are to adjust our life to Divine requirements. The cry to the Lord, made in the psalm - and the repeated confidence of the psalmist in the power of the Lord - carries with it, spiritually, this assurance that man's need in temptation is the power of Divine Truth. This is not to be prayed for and invoked as if endowed with some magical efficacy. We are not to call upon the Lord as upon some idol. Man is to seek to understand the truth of the Lordto live and act in its light - and thus, in a sense, to look after himself and assist himself, while in temptation. This does not mean that of his own power man is to redeem himself. It means that man's own intelligent self-adjustment to the laws of revealed truth will sustain him in spiritual trial and bring him safely through the darkness to triumph and to light.
The Lord's power operates through the Lord's Truth - and it is vain to call upon the Lord for succour when that truth is neither sought nor considered, nor observed.
When the psalmist declares, " Thy way is in the sea and Thy path in the great waters ", he embodies the great principle that the whole purpose of the Lord, the end for which the Infinite labours - the whole object of the creative Love and the myriad ways by which that object is to be effected - are to be found outlined, defined, ordered and explained in the Word of Divine Truth. That is the " sea " which shows the " way" of the Lord - its truths are the " great waters " which declare His " path ". In revealed truth is the Will of the Lord made known - not only His general purpose, the establishment of a heaven from the human race but His detailed purposes, His Will in every and any circumstance of our conduct and life.
In the New Church we are called to more than mere blind obedience. We are called, by the revelation of interior truth, to an understanding of the Lord's way and will. We are to enter intellectually into the mysteries of spiritual and Divine principle - there to see the purposes which actuate the Lord - there to grasp something of His way of effecting them - and intelligently to adjust our whole thought and life in harmony with those divine ways. Therein lies man's power in temptation - the promise of succour and victory. It is no usurpation of Divine merit - the efficacy is in the truth, not in man. That truth radiates eternally from the Divine Love that it may reach man, be the means of enlightening him, of showing him the path of life, and drawing him upwards towards more perfect communion with the Lord, its source.
There are those who suggest at times that it is an impertinence to hope to know the ways of the Lord. Ignorance and darkness and misapprehension with them are confused with humility of spirit. But to know intelligently and to use with zeal the truth of the Lord is but to reach heaven by the Divinely appointed way. A Father of love would be known and understood by His children. Yet the Infinite Wisdom of God must always in its fulness elude the mind of man. The " footsteps of the Lord " are not known. We look with wonder upon the stars, the miracle of world formation, the stupendous character of snowcapped mountains - the cameo perfection of a flower's heart, and we learn and wonder at the perfect law that fashions each. It is so in all things. The way of the Lord is discernible in the revelation of truth He has made. He has disclosed its story, has declared His purposes and made known" the great principles of love's activity. Yet His footsteps are not known. We can discern the laws of life - yet the most perfect knowledge of such laws could not suffice to fashion a flower - much less a star.
In the Word of Divine Truth we discern the way of the Lord - His eternal purposes regarding us - His Love enfolded in Wisdom - His Providence safeguarding and preserving us in all experiences - His concern each day for that which is of abiding worth for each one of us. And yet His footstep is unknown. As His Providence ultimates itself in the complicated thread of our experiences, we lose all comprehension of what is being effected for us. We are surrounded by circumstances whose bearing on our salvation is utterly unseen. We are subject each day to experiences whose ultimate effect on our regeneration is quite obscure. We are lost in a mesh of providential circumstances - powerless to see how obedience to truth will preserve us or make salvation and happiness sure. All that is possible is the understanding of the way - the grasp of Divine principle as it operates for the achievement of its end. The Word unfolds that " way " before us. It reveals the Divine path - the Divine purpose - the goal of Divine Providence. We can see the path and set our footsteps in its way.
Beyond that, a veil falls. Where the Lord's footstep touches the thread of our natural life we lose clear vision. Just as Divine activity crystallises itself out into the loveliness of a flower - just as the flower, however much we learn of it, must always be a miracle - so the Lord's Providence can be seen as to its principles while yet in the warp and woof of natural life it is one unfailing miracle. Our eyes are screened from its immediate operation. That, too, is of providence. The duty of life is clear, the way of the Lord and the way for man is declared in the Word. That path, once followed with zeal and prayer - the miracle of Divine Providence reveals itself in wonder around our path and satisfies our every need.
The Home of the Prophet "Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither" (2 Kings iv. verse 10)
There is something very beautiful in this incident in the life of the prophet Elisha. He is seen by a Shunammite woman passing through the little town of Shunem lying some few miles from Mount Tabor, and is summoned to her home to eat bread. The welcome given him leads him to call as often as he passed by that way. In course of time, the woman, discerning that he is a holy man of God, provides for him a little chamber, suitably furnished, wherein he can abide whenever his duties lead him to the town. Her home became the home of the prophet.
Now, in seeking some of the still deeper beauty in this passage, let us realise that it is recorded in the Word in order that it may influence our lives, that it may directly assist us in our present state. If we receive its message listlessly, it is as if the incident never took place. For to ignore it, now that it has found a place in the Word, and now that our attention is specifically called to it, would mean that the prophet of the Lord passed by the house of the Shunammite and received no welcome summons from her to enter and break bread. This " passing by" of the prophet Elisha, and being noticed by the woman, is really our individual perception of the Lord passing by, and our invitation to Him to enter into our life. He passes near our home when we discern in His Word of truth some divine message. We have at times read the Word and perceived no prophet. It was as if a mere man walked down the street. At other times, let us hope, every one of us has read the Word and its living message has "come home to us"; the prophet of God has been recognised; has entered our spiritual abode; has been received as the very Word of the Lord and has been summoned to abide with us. We can see the force of the spiritual meaning here if we bear in mind that the Lord is always with us, that His message of comfort, of assurance and of instruction, is always in the Word. But we do not always see Him therein. We are not always in the perceptive state. We do not always open its pages with a warm affection for the truth, with the burning intention of welcoming the prophet into our life. And so, when we do perceive a message, it is as if the Lord approached our spiritual home. For He, of course, is the only prophet. Prophecy is His Word of truth. His Word on the lips of a man constituted that man a prophet. It will be noticed, for it is important, that it is the Shunammite woman, not her husband, who perceives the prophet passing by, and it is the woman who suggests that the chamber be prepared for the constant reception of the prophet. The husband and wife living together in Shunem represent man's intelligence and affection. Now, our intelligence, when wedded to a genuine affection for the Lord's Word, will be a welcome host to the truth, nevertheless it is our affection for the Lord's message that will first make us recognise the prophet. Intelligence alone will not effect this. Nothing so breaks the silence of the Divine Word as does the will to hear it, the affection for its truth, the desire that its message be heard and received into our life. And be it noted that this urgency on the part of man's affection is clearly alluded to. The woman " constrained " the prophet to enter and eat bread. If man is to make the Divine Word a living power in his life, then there has to be constraint exercised upon it. This is not through any unwillingness of the Lord to speak to man and to supply the needs of his state. It is that the Word will speak only when there is a wholehearted desire on the part of man for its utterance. Man can make Divine Truth his, only by determination and self-discipline, and the self-discipline may mean the most grievous trials and anxious endeavours.
Now, the little chamber on the wall prepared for the " holy man of God " is representative then of the abode, with each one of us, of the Lord. The details of the provision made for the prophet by the Shunammite inform man of the provision he must make if the Lord is to dwell with him. As New-Church people, there ought to be, with each one of us, a deliberate constraint exercised for the purpose of making our life the abode of the Lord. Our life is our only real worship. It should be lived through from day to day in the conscious presence of the Lord - a receptacle, a home, a chamber prepared for Him that His counsel might ever enlighten and guide. But if He is thus to be with us, then provision must be .made for Him. It may at first appear strange that shelter and security and other provisions must needs be made for Him if He is to abide with us. But it must be borne in mind that these are not so much for His welfare: they are rather securities for our personal retention of His Presence. The little chamber is said to be " on the wall ", and this means that we are to provide for Him in our mind truths drawn from the Word, in which He can dwell as an inner, enlightening and vivifying Spirit. What better abode can our affection for Him prepare than the abode He Himself has chosen - the great, ultimate, fundamental doctrines of His Word? There are many people who believe the Lord will dwell with them through mercy though they disregard the Word. It is tantamount to expecting that love will animate their hearts though they disregard the principles of love. There must be, with each one of us, something that will literally protect the Lord within us, some chamber in a protecting wall, the strength of which will safeguard the Divine guest from harm. Every abode in the Holy City is a chamber within the outer protecting wall - the wall of protecting and fundamental truth - the literal sense of the Word, which guards the living spirit within.
Similarly, too, the bed, the table, the stool and the candle are provisions of our natural life, such that the Lord might find a fitting abode with us. All these are the contributions of man towards a reciprocal communion with the Lord. We shall here remember the doctrine " influx is according to reception." The furnishing of this little chamber represents man's arrangement and equipment of his natural life that the graces of spiritual life might flow in and continually bless him. The articles are all necessities for the prophet's life in the little chamber; and the Lord can abide with us only as our natural life is ordered suitably to receive Him. This reminds us of the fact that John the Baptist had to precede the Lord's advent. The gospel of repentance had first to be preached. Evils of natural life had first to be recognised and repented of. Before there can be any enlightenment of the spirit of truth, the natural mind of man must be furnished with the natural truths of the Word. Before high spiritual purpose cart animate the heart, it must at least be animated by natural good, the grace of charity to fellow-man. The candle provided is man's equipment of natural truth - the Word as its letter enlightens us. The table and stool are the good affections of our natural life, making possible the provision of the bread which is the food of heavenly life. A " bed " in the Word always signifies man's natural life, upon which are superimposed the higher spiritual powers. It has, too, of course, the representation of doctrine, the essential basis of all higher enlightenment.
With such provisions, the Lord can abide with man. The little incident crystallises in simple parable the whole duty of life. We are to become fit abodes of the Lord's Presence. The Word is always with us, and the Lord with His Divine Truth for our every need, is within it. May the affections of our heart be centred more upon Him as their supreme object. Let our desire for Him lead us more surely to recognise Him in His utterances. And once recognised, let Him be brought into closer communion with us, an abode being prepared for Him within the heart and mind, so that in the least, as in the greatest need of the soul, His counsel and grace may be at hand.
"Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew vi. verse 11)
"After this manner therefore pray ye" is the phrase by which the Lord introduced the words of His prayer. " Lord, teach us to pray " the disciples requested not realising that all the truth the Lord uttered indicated the way of perfect prayer. For to live in the order of Divine Truth is perfect prayer, for it is the sole way in which whatsoever is asked, is asked in the Lord's name. "After this manner, therefore, pray ye ", said the Lord, and then He gave us seven petitions. But how different is the manner of His prayer from that of our " much speaking "! The first three petitions carry us, as it were, through the three heavens of the spiritual world, and each one beckons us to remain in the heaven of which it speaks - just as if the angels there besought us to stay and enjoy the blessings peculiar to their state and use. For the heaven where the Lord's name is most especially hallowed is the celestial or highest, wherein love to the Lord sanctifies the worship, the life and the service of angelhood, and makes of that heaven the most closely-knit community in the universe.
"Thy Kingdom come" petitions the blessings of the second or spiritual heaven - for the Kingship is that of Divine Truth, and it summons us to a loyalty to Divine authority and a discipline that betokens a heart not yet at peace with God.
"Thy Will be done" echoes the life and service and obedience-in-act that characterise the lowest heaven. Not that all three, love, truth and obedience, are not in each of the three heavens they are, indeed, for in all three lies perfect manhood; but in that trinity of prayer, each heaven, according to its most characteristic quality, beckons us to enter. And he who in sincerity of heart offers up these petitions commits himself thereby to a life which will lead to heaven. There is no prayer offered unless in our life we strive after the blessing that is petitioned. That may be why some petitions are not answered; it is possible they may not have been prayed.
And so, praying that the blessings of each of the heavens might be ours, or praying that will, understanding and life, may be made heavenly, we come to the one sole petition by which we appear to ask something for ourselves. " Give us this day our daily bread ". We may understand this to mean food for the body, food for the natural mind, and food for the spiritual mind food, that is to say, for our whole complex manhood. This is, of course, the meaning of this, the middle petition. But how shall all three be gained except we give heed to the Lord's words " Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you "? The prayer must mean for us, above all other things, a petition for the things of the spirit - for the bread of heaven - for only so can all our needs be supplied. Now the bread of heaven is He who came down from heaven. It is the presence of the life of the Lord Himself that is here asked for. To ask for less, is to ask for self. It is only as we dare ask for the Lord's life the Lord's will - the Lord's goodness - it is only as we dare to ask to live from His own selfless life, and thus to lose our own life - it is only as we dare this that " all these (other) things shall be added " unto us. Does it not suggest that only as our life puts on the character we plead for in the first three petitions can we be fitted to receive this bread of heaven? For the life that will answer for us the first three petitions is that alone 76 which will make us receptive of the bread of heaven. It is the regenerate heart alone which provides an entry for the Lord, the " bread which came down from heaven ".
"Bread" in the Word signifies, first of all, the Lord. For the Lord, by His glorified Human, brings down to man the very substance of manhood. The Lord is called in the Writings, " the celestial" Itself; that which constitutes the celestial, that which celestial angels receive from Him and by which they are celestial. This term, " celestial ", refers of course to the love man has. Love is man's very life. That teaching, so far as it is coherent and rational, is a new truth given to mankind at the Lord's second advent. Before then, and often enough now, man was thought to be essentially understanding, because his rationality seemed to distinguish him from all other living things. But "love is the life of man". And man lives from the Lord. His "Bread" is his reception of the Lord. The Word refers to the whole life of man's will, everything celestial, everything that pertains to love and charity, innocence and mercy. In the sacrificial offerings of ancient Israel, this fact that the will or love must be in worship if it is to be acceptable was represented by the shewbread placed ever in the Holy Place before the veil. That bread was unleavened, because leaven changed the representation to what is impure within the heart. The shewbread stood there as the permanent symbol of the Church's reciprocation of the Divine Love a reciprocation by means of love already received from the Lord, but returned to Him, or used "for others" even as His Love is essentially "for others". The importance of this reciprocation of God's Love by man should be clear. Where there is no reciprocation, there is no true reception. For what we receive, if the Lord's Love is received, is something that strives to go out to others, to give itself to others, to be the instrument of blessing to others. And if our love for others is genuine, it is love to the Lord.
This that we ask for when we pray "give us this day our daily bread" imposes the primary duty and task of life upon us. Do you remember how Adam, expelled from the garden of Eden, was condemned henceforth to eat bread by the sweat of his face? But how many of us, when we pray, "give us this day our daily bread" realise that we are asking for what will mean "sweat" and toil and tears to receive? We are asking for celestial love, for the love which angels have, for a heart that is innocent of all selfishness but that beats in pure love for others! We are asking for that against which every natural desire, all self-interest, all that is native to our being will rise up and attack with remorseless vigour. " By the sweat of our face " alone can we receive this bread of heaven. Its reception is exclusively by way of arduous and persistent spiritual trial, the whole warfare of temptation combat. We ask that we might be given the strength and the will and the courage to endure the battles of a Joshua and a David and patiently to sustain the work of reformation and regeneration of life!
"After this manner therefore pray ye"never, you see, for self for the sake of self, but always for self that we may be sources of blessing to others. All perfect prayer must involve this task of regeneration of life; for therein alone lies our real and abiding welfare and therein alone lies that which the Lord would vouchsafe. In all true prayer we stand on the border-line of this finite universe, communing with the Infinite. And all true prayer, therefore, deals with infinite and eternal things, the things of our most real nature, the only things that abide. The "our Father" itself sets our eyes towards the spiritual east in whose light the universal heavens eternally stand. Where those words are uttered in sincerity, we align ourselves with the societies of the heavens, acknowledge our spiritual kinship with all of the Church, and leave behind us the things of time and space, the anxieties and trivialities and interests of the world, to remember the real and enduring things of our nature and life. These, our truest selfhood, which is the selfhood of the Lord within us, are fed and sustained and counselled by Him alone, for they are essentially the things of His creation within us, the things of which He alone is Father. Can we wonder that the Lord, while on earth, taught us how to pray? In the words, "give us this day our daily bread", He set on the lips of humanity the prayer that they might receive Him who was and is the bread of heaven. He asked mankind to ask for Him, and that is what His Love eternally yearns for, the will on man's part to receive Him who alone can bring blessing to man.
The religious life is a schooling in prayer, and we learn but slowly. Only the perfect life can utter the perfect prayer. But the manner of that prayer is revealed to us; first, in a cameo, in the words of the Lord's prayer, and second, in the whole body of Divine doctrine that teaches the life that leads to heaven. To set out upon that life and way is to begin to pray, and to persist in that life and way is to learn how nothing really matters but the things of heaven, the things to which "all other things are added". For to pray sincerely brings perfect trust and confidence in Him alone who has created us and seeks eternally to lead us to His eternal kingdom. We ask for Him to enter and to sup with us, to break bread for us, and to give us strength to shun all that would eternally destroy us, when, from the heart, we ask, "give us this day our daily bread".
Sparrows Sold for a Farthing "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father" (Matthew x. verse 29)
The Lord teaches not only the scholar, but the teacher. In spite of the magnitude of the truths He came to teach, they must have reached, in some measure, the simplest of his hearers. No one could have turned away from the little crowds that gathered round to hear His words, on the plea that the Lord was too profound in His thought or too technical in His expression. The Infinite Wisdom of God was enshrined in the garments of perfect simplicity and arresting beauty. He took, one by one, the gems of Divine Truth and revealed them to His hearers in the language of everyday life and through the objects of everyday experience. Whether the Lord spoke of the sower going forth to sow - of the virgins awaiting the bridegroom - of the lilies of the field arrayed more beautifully than was Solomon - of the husbandman planting a vineyard - of the labourers awaiting hire in the market place - or of the sparrows sold for a farthing, the minds of the hearers would be directed instantly to the commonest and most familiar circumstances of their everyday life. Objects and incidents around them were made to speak eternal truths. The more they listened to His words, the more would earth become the perpetual suggestion, the polished mirror of heavenly realities. It was the touch of the ideal teacher, whose thought and whose method alike were perfect. All who heard Him speak of the sparrows sold for a farthing, had seen these sparrows. Possibly even as He uttered the words, his hearers turned to see the birds fluttering about on the roofs and walls or perching on the stalls of the market place, and twittering from the barns. And henceforth the sight of the birds would recall the profound principle of Divine Providence, and unsleeping, unforgetting care of God for man. "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing, and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father ". "Ye are of more value than many sparrows ".
Unlike some of the objects of those homely illustrations which the Lord used in His teaching, the presence of the sparrows is almost universal. The bustle of city life does not exile them to the peace and quiet of the country. They flourish in the noise and roar of the London streets, and appear there to be as much at home as they are in the open country. They would seem to be the last remnant of Divine handiwork in places where man's handiwork predominates - persisting still even where life is most artificial - an abiding touch of nature, to remind one of the God of nature, where the memory of nature and of the God of nature is prone to be forgotten. As Michael Fairless says, "They ... are dumb Chrysostoms - but they preach a golden gospel for the sparrows are to London what the rainbow was to eight saved souls out of a waste of waters a perpetual sign of the remembering mercies of God".
These "remembering mercies" of God deepen our wonder the more we learn of them. The Divine care for sparrows, sold in pairs for a farthing, is the allegory or figure, chosen by the Lord Himself, whereby we may come to know more fully the ways of His Providence. All the bird life of the world is an image of thought life. Our thoughts are birds - they are endowed with wings whereby to rise. The keenness of a bird's sight exemplifies the keenness of the eye of though - tfor our thoughts penetrate deeper and further into the nature of things than do our physical eyes. And the great variety of birds helps us to realise the wide difference in the nature of our thoughts. There are thoughts of purity and of use, of coarseness and rebellion, of love and thankfulness, of unholiness and lust. The general division into good and bad is exemplified in the ancient Jewish laws regarding clean and unclean birds. Tame, gentle and beautiful birds suggest the good thoughts of the mind, the fierce, useless and unclean birds suggest our evil and false thoughts. These latter are the night birds, the hideous " winged things " of our consciousness. And how unresting are our thoughts - how diverse in form and nature and song!
It seems that our thoughts are as uninvited as are the birds that hover around us. Thoughts come and goand we seem to be quite unresponsible for their advent or their disappearance. An old Persian proverb points out, however, a great truth in this connection" birds of evil plumage come unbeckoned, but only the consent of man makes possible their stay ". This is a very true comment on our thinking. Sometimes a thought occurs which appals us, so hideous is its appearance. From whence has it come? Its home must be near. We have not invented it, yet it is clear and unmistakable in our mind. Its home is indeed near - but unsuspected and hidden. It has come from the dark valleys of our sleeping heredity, a testimony to us of the terrible capacities of man for evil thought and purpose. In the Writings of the Church, the representative character of birds is shown in many wonderful ways. The thoughts of an angel bring birds, correspondential in character, into the trees and skies that are around. The evil thoughts of the impure and malicious find concrete expression in the hideous bird-life. On this earth the fixity of things prevents this. Yet its truth is expressed in a general way. Animal and bird life throughout the ages copies to some extent the development of man. The great monsters of primeval ages have goneand as civilisation proceeds, the wild and vicious and hideous animals and birds disappear.
The sparrow was among the clean animals of the Hebrew sacrifices, and its precise representation relates to the commoner and more humble thoughts of a spiritual nature. Clearly there is, in the sparrow, no symbolism of the sublime and profound. They are the homely and the humble thoughts which can characterise the life of every man - and they are within the sight of God and they come under His Divine care and protection. They may hover in our mind unbeckoned, unexplained; they may be varied in character and swift in movement - yet they are as much under the control of the Divine Providence as natural birds are under the control of biological and physical laws. The laws of thinking and the science of our spiritual thoughts are ordered and systematic, however elusive they may appear, and they lie within the Divine hands that they might serve the Divine Will. Often enough these thoughts, common and lowly as they are, fall to the ground. We may pass through experiences in life which bring down our thoughts from heaven to earth - which depress our spiritual aspirations and threaten the destruction of our faith. Every day of our lives these sparrows fall. Injustice makes us cynical - disappointment brings doubt - some appeal of the world or of self leads us into evil. The fall of the sparrow is not the precipitous crash of a lofty faithit is the daily, the almost hourly, forgetfulness of a simple commandment; the disloyalty to some spiritual principle; the disregard of a humble ideal. But careless as we are of these sparrows, unmoved as we may be at their fall, the Lord in His " remembering mercy " is mindful of them. They come still with a sturdy pertness to people our minds, and their noisy twitterings awaken us to new mornings of spiritual endeavour. They declare the nearness of the skies, the spiritual heavens, even in our artificial or worldly preoccupations. In the midst of the city, hemmed in as we are by the world and the things of the world, these humble thoughts of spiritual truth, of the Lord and His Love, of the need for purity, and justice and charity these and kindred thoughts speak to us each hour of the God from whom they came, and point to a world which is more than this world. Over such heaven-sent thoughts as these, the Lord watches with care. They come from Him, He knows the fate of each, the use of each, and the whole energy of omnipotence is directed towards sustaining and preserving them. When one falls, He knows. Trivial though such a fall may seem, the omniscience of God is aware. Our failures, however small, are signals to Him that new and ever more loving efforts be put forth for our salvation.
In the infinite love of God there is no distinction between the great and the small, the sublime and the humble. Over the least things that raise us from earth, as over the greatest things, there is the shadowing protection of the Divine.
As the fall of the sparrow is known to the heavenly Father, so are our thoughts of heaven known to Him in their risings and their falls. "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father ".
The Wrath of God Abideth on Him "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John iii. verse 36)
Two considerations arise out of our text: in what sense we are to understand the teaching that " the Father loveth the Son and hath given all things into His hand ", and in what sense the wrath of God abideth on him who believeth not the Son.
The foundation of all sound religious thought is the belief in one God. " Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord ". There can be no two Gods, for God is the Eternal, the Infinite, the one Creator and Sustainer of all creation. Before the Lord came on earth, God was but obscurely known. He declared Himself to Israel through prophet, priest and king - but Israel knew Him imperfectly - as a local tribal God, as a Being of wrath and terror, as an avenging power, as One who would turn from them and abandon them because of their disobedience. It was with Israel as it is with every man - God was understood according to the character of Israelitish thought and life. They saw Him through the dense clouds of their own materialism and ignorance. His real nature was but dimly discerned. And be it noted that when we say Israel only obscurely realised the nature of God, we do not mean that the people vaguely understood the character of some human being living in heaven. Jehovah God indeed manifests Himself in heaven in human form that the angels may see Him, but He is infinitely more than this - He is the Infinite and Eternal, the Reality behind every created thing in the spiritual and natural universe. This is He whom Israel but dimly discerned. They did not know the nature, the quality and the character of that Power behind creation - that Being from whom everything is - that Will that controls the universe. Being little themselves, they thought God was a local spirit. Being cruel themselves, they thought Him wrathful and resentful. And so, in the fulness of time, He declared Himself more perfectly that we might know Him. He came on earth. He did not leave heaven, for He is everywhere. But through His power the mother Mary gave birth to a human being whose inmost life and soul was this eternal God. The Lord Jesus Christ was not another God - indeed if "Godhead" or "Godhood" be rightly understood, the idea would be seen to be impossible. But God expressed His Divine nature, declared His quality, through a Human nature, through a nature like ours, in order that we might more perfectly understand who and what God is. All this was a work Divine - the greatest, most miraculous of God's works, Into all that it implies, man will have the joy of penetrating with his intelligence throughout all ages. But in the Word, this mighty and profound theme is expressed in simplest terms. In the Word of the New Testament, the name " Father " is given to the Divinity; the name " Son" to the Humanity. To the Son, the Father gave all things. Had He not done so, there would have been no full appearance or " coming " of God. The "Sonship"the Humanity of Jesus Christ fully reveals the Father. Everything that the Father has, is the Son's. All the power of God, all the wisdom and love of God, every phase of the infinitely complex character and quality of God, are declared to us through the Divine Humanity. The Son lacks nothing that is the Father's. What if we looked upon the Lord Jesus Christ and saw the wisdom but not the love of God? - the justice but not the mercy? - the might but not the meekness ? But God has declared Himself in fulness. And that is why the Son is loved. Love led the Lord to raise up this Humanity - love led the Lord to glorify this Humanity - for by means of it the race of mankind was to be redeemed. The whole power of God directed towards the eternal welfare of mankind is vested in the Divine Human. God is not the unknown, mystic, Infinite Power as formerly; He is known, approached, understood and loved as God-man, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
And it is just this knowledge of Him, this understanding of His nature and will, and this love of Him, now made more possible, which is the means of human betterment and regeneration. The provision of a humanity and the glorifying of it, the making of it Divine, has facilitated or rendered effective the urgent desires of the Infinite Love, has made men see God as a Being of love, willing the eternal blessedness of the race and working with man in all his waywardness for ultimate repentance and reform.
To believe on Him is life; to disbelieve is death. The wrath of God abideth on the unbeliever. Again it should be clear that the real, vital truth here is somewhat hidden. For creation is from God's Love, wherefore then condemn those who, like Mohammedans, Hindus and Parsees, do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Son? Nothing is more harmful to a wise perception of truth than the glib, tenacious quotation of words. The truth does not lie always on the exposed surface of the Scriptures. But when it is realised that the Son is not a separate person whose recognition by us brings life eternal, but that He is the God of heaven and earth as made known to us in a glorified Humanity, then belief in Him is seen to mean belief in every Divine quality, virtue and feature. For it is precisely these that the "Son" or "Humanity" of the Lord discloses to us. All things of the incomprehensible Divine are given to Him. Everything of the Divine nature is made manifest to us in the Humanity and what is the rejection of all these but the rejection of life itself? The term "belief" means more, of course, than mere recognition, the mere acknowledgment that Jesus lived. Belief, to be sincere and genuine, must involve both love and obedience. The teaching of Jesus is not "believed" until it is obeyed; and no sincere belief could be held in Him by one who hated Him. Belief is at once love and obedience and understanding. And He is loved and obeyed when Divine qualities and virtues are loved and lived. For the Son, as we have urged, is no distinct person separate from God, He is the Humanity revealing all Divine things to us. To reject this Humanity is to reject all that is of God, it is to reject love and truth, and mercy and justice, and charity and humility. All these are born in God, they constitute His nature. The "Son" discloses them - even as our human life reveals all that is in our heart. And wheresoever, throughout the world, love is treasured and truth is hallowed, wheresoever mercy and justice are observed and charity and humility are exercised, there is belief in the Son, for those things are the very expression of the Lord Himself. Where they are not, the wrath of God abides. Not that God is ever wrathful. But where love is spurned, man suffers - where truth is falsified, man suffers where mercy and justice are spurned, man suffers. And the suffering, as ever, is attributed by the evil to the wrath of God. It is the old story of the criminal attributing his punishment to the judge and not to himself. The expressions used in the Word are expressions of appearance, and man's condemnation ever appears to him as the wrath of God.
Life for each man comes through belief in the Son of God, for the Son makes manifest all that is God-like, true and good. The Son was sent for this express purpose - that men might know the Father. God is made known to us, not through another, but through His own glorified Humanity, making clear to us what love is, that we may love - what wisdom is, that we may understand - and by believing, find eternal life.
The Mountain of the Lord "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks" (Isaiah ii. verse 4)
"And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord " (Isaiah ii. verses 2-5)
Doubtless, when Isaiah uttered this prophecy, he conceived it realistically, believing that 'Zion and Jerusalem were to become the permanent seat of the Lord's dominion - that the neighbouring nations would at length turn thereto in humble submission to hear the Word of the Lord, and that in place of the sword, the doctrine of the Lord would be that which would enlighten, govern and control all peoples of the world. From its earliest days the Christian Church has discerned in these words the promise of its final triumph. For long centuries it was felt that the prophecy was fulfilled in Rome, to whose authority so many peoples turned in obedient submission. But the mountain of the Lord is neither the Zion of the Judaean hills nor the Latin city of the seven hills. The prophecy is not understood until divested of all reference to this earth and perceived as speaking throughout of the things of spiritual life. The "mountain of the Lord" is love to the Lord, the highest possible state of the human heart, the final achievement of the saving and regenerating power of the Lord in man. It is that angelhood which the Infinite Love of God eternally strives to fashion as its one pre-eminent purpose and end. To this mountain of the Lord man is summoned by every word proceeding from the Lord. As such love is the very end of creation, it is the very essence of worship, and thus of the Church. Though Divine Truth is that alone which builds up the Church, the Church is not formed within us until that truth is transmuted to love conveyed, that is to say, by discipline of life, from the understanding to the will, there to live in the whole service of one's life. This Divine prophecy is a summons to the Church, not merely to an institution, nor yet to a mere code of conduct, but to the Church as the threshold of heaven, to the Church as a new and purified and hallowed aim and end in all our living, the aim and end of love to the Lord, of purposing ever to do His Will, of seeking the law of that Will in His Word, and of making our endeavours and purposes one with His. This is the Zion of the Sacred Scriptures. In the Church alone does the Lord teach us of His ways and so enable us to walk in His paths. The descent of Divine blessings is by way of Divine Truth. As light descends from the heat of the sun, so Divine Truth descends as the Holy Spirit from the Divine Love, and the Divine Love needs, as it were, the vehicle of truth whereby to reach down to man and bestow its gifts. The fevered and perplexed effort of mankind for peace and security, for plenty and freedom and happiness, will remain fruitless until it is seen that from the Lord alone, and thus in His Word in His Church, can these desired things be found. And that they may indeed descend and become realities in the life of men, there must be the ascent of the mountain of the Lord. There must be the search of His Truth, and the living out of His Truth as an act of worship, as an expression of love to Him. Otherwise, the spirit of self-love will be present - the perception of His appointed way will be obscured, and the blessing will turn to a curse. " Out of Zion goes forth the law and from Jerusalem the Word ". Even as the Divine Truth comes to mankind from the Divine Love, speaking of the nature of that love, of its infinite joys and of the way of its attainment, so can the accents of that truth be heard only by worshipping ears, only by him who goes up to Zion seeking to know the truth, that the love it speaks of might be his and enter and animate his life. Only as this is the end and aim of all our searching after truth can the Lord in that truth "judge among the nations and rebuke the peoples ". Only as light is sought that love may be multiplied will the truth judge and discriminate between the nations and peoples, the conflicting affections of the heart; rebuke and condemn the evil, and sustain the good.
This, then, the New Church teaches, is the deeply spiritual and intensely realistic meaning of this great prophecy. And never was its message more needed than today. To await some near or far-off event when the Lord will descend upon some earthly mountain and by some mystic fiat enforce a peace among mankind, is to resign our manhood and most grievously to misread the message of the Word. The fulfilment of this prophecy lies by way of our fulfilment of the Word. The benediction of the Infinite Love is given in a life ordered by the Word of that love: and, be it affirmed, nowhere else. The need of mankind is most assuredly not to turn to the Church as it has been in the past, to a letter of Truth which can be turned this way and that, to an ecclesiasticism and an effete theology framed by councils and papal pronouncements. The need of mankind is to turn to the Word as to a body of laws of life; laws of love; with the set endeavour of living those laws as a means of worshipping the God of love, and of serving fellow-man. As the sterility of the old theology becomes more apparent, men are relying increasingly on themselves to regenerate human society. Progress is measured in terms of penicillin, of air-transport at 600 miles an hour, and, presumably of the atomic bomb. And the fiercest debates arise as to whether science is good or evil. The fact that man is a spiritual being, and that his very life is love, is not known. Yet these fundamentals of New-Church thought imply that behind human living and doing is the animating love of the human heart. The cry, "Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord" is instruction in the Word from the Lord, the source of all love, that a reorientation of life's endeavour and purpose will be necessary before the least evil can be removed from human affairs. There, and there alone, in that mountain, is the happy, peaceful, secure and useful life of mankind. Only as mankind learns that behind and within all its international policies, its economics, its trade and its inventions lies the human will, the source and inspiration of all the concrete experiences of the race, and only as it directs that will by those spiritual laws which alone can fashion it aright, can the mountain of the Lord be ascended and thereby any hope that the tide of human misery and chaos will be stemmed. The distant ages of the future have no moment in which some Divine magic will sheathe the drawn sword of man's contentious spirit and set the race, every man under his vine and under his fig-tree in peace. The sword will be beaten into the ploughshare and the spear into a pruning hook only when the work of Divine Truth, the enlightenment and discipline of Divine doctrine, have pierced and slain the spirit of war as it lives in the human will, not perhaps as so much blatant militarism, but as that which alone fosters militarism, the self-love which sets every man against his brother, that knows no God of love, that refuses to hear the truth of love, and that knows no object in life but its own pleasure and aggrandisement. The sword and the spear are the heaven-revealed doctrines of truth, die commandments and precepts of the Lord to man as essentially a spiritual being.
Be it noted that the first function of truth in life is that of the sword and the spear. " I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword ", taught the Prince of Peace, and until the work of the sword is done there can be no cry raised in the human heart summoning a man to the mountain of the Lord. The very promise here given, that the sword shall be beaten into the ploughshare, and the spear into the pruning hook, is completely reversed in another of the Divine prophecies. In the prophet Joel, the explicit command of the Lord reads, " Prepare for war . . . beat your ploughshares into swords and your pruning-hooks into spears, let the weak say I am strong ". It is only as the desires and affections of the unregenerate heart are pierced and slain, that the truth can begin to cultivate positive goods of life. The order of reform is announced in the Word, "Cease to do evil, learn to do well". Before any new life can be hoped for by humanity, the old life of self-interest must be recognised as such and put to the sword. But when, through the sword of truth, men "cease to do evil", the function of truth changes. It is then the beneficent instrument of cultivation, to enlighten and direct the good affections of the new heart the Lord implants. Then can the swords and spears be fashioned into the ploughshares and the pruning hooks, and the new-born angelhood in man "learn to do well".
"For the former things are passed away" (Revelation xxi. verse 4)
The wonderful incidents recorded in the Book of the Revelation were witnessed, it must be borne in mind, while John was in the spirit. They present in rich and varied imagery vicissitudes of the spiritual life of man; and an understanding of the prophecies is denied if the interpretation given them is a material and natural one. The Word of the Lord is concerned primarily with principles of spiritual life - the burden of the Lord's message to mankind is precept and doctrine for the strengthening and enlightenment of the soul - and the whole dignity of the Divine Word is destroyed when man, by the pale candlelight of his own ingenuity, seeks to draw parallels between John's visions and the affairs of the nations on earth. The light of genuine, serviceable truth begins to shine through the symbolism so soon as it is realised that the Word deals with man's spiritual life. Although the vision may have been of cities and nations, of men and beasts, of plagues and earthquakes, yet all is symbolism, relating to things of the spirit. Man would be no happier, no better, no more enlightened for living in a city of precious stones - their abundance would at once take from their economic value and if vice and selfishness remained in the heart the jasper of the walls would still conceal slums and the beggar would ask for bread in the gold of the gutter.
This city, the New Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, is a symbol. John saw it in the spirit. It typifies the spiritual life of man when that life is inspired by truth revealed from heaven. It is called " Jerusalem " because, in the olden days of Jewish history, the city Jerusalem was the centre of worship - the source of all Israel's instruction in spiritual matters - the place of its temple and of its sacred feasts and the focus of its whole religious life. John, in the spirit, saw a new city descend from God out of heaven. A new worship - a new religious life - a new Church - is thus foretold. This is not the only occasion on which the term Jerusalem is employed symbolically. The prophecies of Old Testament Scripture are honeycombed with such instances. The day was to come, it was foretold, when the Lord would rejoice in Jerusalem, when the wolf and lamb would feed together, when the city would put on beautiful garments, when the Lord would rest in her love and joy over her, and when her name would be a praise in the earth. How sluggish the mind, how unseeing the eyes, when this is thought to relate to the stones and alleys and courtyards of the ancient city of Judea! The name of the old place of worship becomes the symbolic term of worship. But like all true worship it must not be man-made. In spite of all that is professed by scientist and philosopher, there can be no man-made creed in spiritual concerns. The destiny of man and the way that destiny is achieved can be known only as it is revealed by the Lord out of heaven. And this revelation is by means of the Lord's own Word of truth. Whether the reader be in the white-washed butt and ben of far-off Shetland, whether he be in the timber shanty on the African veld, if he approaches the Divine Word of the Lord for precepts of spiritual life and exercises those precepts in his conduct and dealings with fellow-man, the city Jerusalem is putting on her garments of beauty in his life - and that city, the life of spiritual precept, has descended from the Lord, out of heaven. John's vision related to a more universal worship, but the universal can come only as individuals, the wide world over, approach the Word and seek to draw therefrom the precepts that shall control their life. And, as further testimony that this city descending from heaven is symbolical of man's worship, we read later that it was prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. So is all true worship. Such is every true Church. The love of the Lord in man, man's loyal regard and desire for the precept of Divine Truth, man's perpetual looking to the Lord for the inspiration and guidance of his life, that is the Bride, the Lamb's Wife, the true Church - seeking ever closer communion and conjunction with her Lord.
With the descent of this city, which is a coming among men of true and enlightened spiritual worship, tears, sorrow, death and toil are to be no more, " for the former things are passed away ". It should be evident at once that this is no promise of complete, immediate happiness and immunity for those on earth who enter into true worship. John is prophesying truly, but his real burden is concerned with the things of spirit. In this natural life these things remain - sorrow is not escaped; toil remains - death must be experienced by all. The fact that death is included in this promise proves at once the purely spiritual character of the promise. It is no reference to physical death. Though many may allow themselves to be deluded by the hope that death is not part of the necessary order of things, it is nevertheless in the providence of the Lord that all will pass on from this life to the spiritual world, and the better for all will it be when physical death loses its horror and superstition, and sad misunderstanding. Physical death itself is perfectly normal - though through the present state of humanity it is attended often by pain. That pain, and the disease which causes it, are not inseparable from death. In orderly states of human existence, the transition would become a falling to sleep and a joyous awakening. There is, of course, a "death", frequently spoken of in the Word, from which the Lord seeks perpetually to rescue man. That is spiritual death, the rejection of the life which He unceasingly offers. This other life is not physical. It is not mere organic life either of the physical or of the spiritual body. It is that into which a man is reborn - the life of regeneration in which man is born into the love of what is good and true. That is the dawn of angelhood in man; the promise of his particular perfection; the realisation of that especial quality and use for which he was made. To reject the offer of this truly spiritual life is to court what is called in the Word "death". It means the perversion of all spiritual powers; the complete misappropriation and distortion of Divinely given life. The heart grows cold in the sense that the man is foreign to all the warmth of genuine affection. The eyes fail to discern the light of truth, the ears to perceive its dictate. The man exists, but for himself alone. His self-interest detaches him from the communion of fellow-man. He is "dead" to all that true spiritual life implies and effects.
Now the descent of the Holy City promises for man an end of death such as this, and with it of tears and sorrow, pain and toil. Like all prophecies of the Word, these are to be understood, first of all, spiritually. That is the real burden of the message. If all on earth entered, in their thought and life and purpose, into this Holy City, lived perfectly the life declared by the heavenly doctrines of the New-Church, then as a result of the spiritual excellence of all human endeavour much of the world's toil and sorrow would unquestionably disappear. If there were less selfishness in the world - toil, as it blights and curses the whole life of many men, would be unknown. But that would be the effect of the prophecy's fulfilment - not the fulfilment itself. The subject of the prophecy, as of all prophecies in the Word, is spiritual. The toil and sorrow spoken of are the toil of temptation conflict and the sorrow is the fear and the grief of mind which attend upon the temptation because such assaults threaten man's truest life. Every temptation is a challenge to man's spiritual development. Over each such assault the Providence of the Lord rules with far-seeing eye - and each one is controlled only that it may be the means of strengthening fibres and tissues of our spiritual organism which demand such trial. Spiritually, as physically, we cannot develop without discipline and effort; and the fear inherent in temptation assault is disclosed in the prayer we are given
"Lead us not into temptation". It finds utterance in the Lord's own words in Gethsemane that the cup might pass from Him. The whole catalogue of distresses in this passage is of those anxieties and griefs which assail the regenerating life of man, which would deny man the hope of perfect spiritual achievement.
And so it is that the passing of these afflictions is promised through the descent of the Holy City. This city, be it remembered, is the Bride, the Lamb's Wife. It is explicitly so called in this chapter. To enter this city is to come into the life and love of those doctrines revealed to the New Church and which are the very form of life in the new heaven. It is to establish perfect worship in thought and purpose and deed. It is to know truth in its inner spirit and import - it is to understand what the Lord has revealed of the duties which attend upon our existence as creatures fashioned by His Love and Wisdom and it is to make those precepts the foundation and the protecting bulwarks of our life. To be thus taught and disciplined by the heavenly doctrines, intelligently apprehended and sincerely loved, is to secure oneself against every assault of the spirit. It is to find peace in the borders of Jerusalem, it is to dwell in the holy hill of the Lord, under the shadow of the Almighty. Nothing unclean can enter in those gatesfor those gates are truths themselves, and the truth of heaven is utterly opposed to what is evil. In the security of that city "the former things are passed away ". The things which afflict spiritual life before Divine Truth is made the one exclusive guide are clearly desires of the heart and thoughts of the mind which are essentially antagonistic to Divine Truth. Such desires will centre around self and the world, will impel - under a thousand disguises - to self-aggrandisement, self-magnification, and will ride rough-shod to their goal to the utter ruin of human charity and love. The " former things" which exist and flourish in human life before the real spirit of truth is accepted are the brood of selfishness. They are purposes and ambitions which corrupt all human endeavour, policies and creeds whose inner spirit defies the will of God. And while this lasts man is the victim of perpetual affliction. Outwardly, he may flourish, inwardly, as to his real manhood, he is diseased, impoverished, lame, blind, perilously near to death. Neither the individual, nor society as a whole, can hope for a passing of its griefs until the gates of the Holy City are entered. Behind all human endeavour and beneath all human institutions must be the stability and security of Divine Truth. And Divine Truth is never merely a formula - never a mere naked code of conduct. It is a spirit and a purpose, as well as a way. Mere morality may not even be in sight of the descending city. Morality of conduct, like dress, can be merely Pharisaic, and reek inwardly as a whited sepulchre. The life of heavenly doctrine demands more. For heavenly doctrine is divine only so long as it embodies Divine Love. When the purposes of Divine Love are rejected by man, the principles of truth lose their efficacy and become warped into policies of self-love.
That man might find spiritual health and peace, the Lord has revealed to us the richer implications of His own Divine Wisdom - the principles of perfect love. This wisdom is here pictured as a city - as Jerusalem - for it promises a Church, or a worship, inspired by the spirit of wisdom, which is Love. Relinquishing our own endeavours and overturning our own local, secret altars, we are summoned into this city to learn and to live the truth of love. Within those gates alone there is security from spiritual tribulation and death, for the "former things have passed away". Man's life, then, and for the first time, grows in beauty and strength, for love inspires it, wisdom divine directs it and the dignity of perfect service adorns it.
The Great Supper "Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many" (Luke xiv. verse 16)
The parables alone furnish us with a liberal education in spiritual truth. Story after story is told by the Lord in the endeavour not only to impart concrete teaching on vital subjects of spiritual well-being, but in order to interpret the spirit of Divine attitude to man. Perhaps nothing is more valuable in the parables than this revelation of the Lord's loving, tender regard for erring human nature. It is possible for the scholar, in his analysis of theological doctrines, to discern the merciful providence, the loving-kindness, the untiring efforts of Divine activity on man's behalf. He is able to perceive how all Divine process leads to good - casts all human experience in a mould tending towards perfection. The analysis of spiritual principle discloses this. But all cannot indulge in such abstract study, and it is the unique power of the Divine parables to supply, ready-made, the very result which the scholar attains through technical study. In His parables, the Lord seems to say "Even if you cannot understand all I have come to effect, even if the Divine purposes and attitude are obscure to you, look upon your Father in heaven as a Shepherd seeking His lost sheep, as One who welcomes back His prodigal son, as a Sower flinging with liberal hands the good of heaven to all; look upon the life of heaven as a hidden treasure to be procured at all costs, as a goodly pearl, as talents to be used, as leaven that makes palatable all experience". To analyse a specific teaching of the Lord without paying any attention to the affectionate appeal of the parable which clothes the teaching is to divest the teaching of its greatest value. Such affection, such deep and undying love on the part of the Lord does not, be it noted, justify man in folding his arms in inactivity. The prodigal son suffers, and suffers severely, until he returns. But the onus of the suffering is clear from the parable, and the onus of human suffering can clearly be placed nowhere but with humanity itself. And in the parable of our present consideration, the Lord reveals Himself as calling men to a great supper to participate with Him in a festivity. Can we ask for a more affectionate and more generous attitude on the part of the Lord? How utterly foreign is the spirit of this invitation to the Calvinistic idea of Divine intention! "Come, for all things are now ready ".
We can discern the immediate application of the parable. The Lord had called the Jewish people. Through the prophets of old, He had promised this great communion with Himself. And on His coming, when the hour of the Supper had struck, the bidden guests were called. And the excuses of Judaism began to be uttered. The Scribes and Pharisees did not literally give excuses, for they did not believe the hour had come. But their life and interests were such that they prevented their acceptance. Concerns of self-interest withheld them from the proffered joy. Those of them who listened to the teaching of Jesus would regard it as utterly impracticable, for they would have in mind the great organised church with its material interests and policies, and their own personal offices in the government and Sanhedrin. The appeal of the Lord would find no room even for a superficial consideration, so weighty, so imperative did the excuses of other interests appear to be.
And so when the hour of the Supper came, when mankind was called to so close a communion with the Lord, He who summoned the guests found none, and was forced to send into the streets and lanes, the highways and hedges and bring in with compulsion the halt and maimed. How extreme that phrase, " compel them to come in that my House may be filled "!
A feast, the wide world over, is the instrument of joyous association. The guest partakes of the host's provision; the host's delight is in the guest's delight. And so the joy is reciprocal. When the Lord is Host, the analogy holds good, and is indeed intensified. Our supper with Him is our spiritual reception of good purposes and affections and of true principles and thoughts. These benefits are infinitely superior to material gifts, although in our present unenlightened state of life it may seem that those who actually sat at meat with the Lord in Palestine were blessed supremely. It is, nevertheless, a sober fact of spiritual truth that communion with the Lord today is a more real communion than was possible to a disciple two thousand years ago. The association is closer, the food is spiritual instead of material, and the benefits to heart and mind are consequently immeasurably richer. In a sense the whole human race is guest to the Lord. The earth yields food for all men. But the imperfections of such a feast are plain. The Host is widely unknown and still more widely unacknowledged. And hence there is but little reciprocity. The world feeds, ignorant of or unconcerned about its Host. And such a feast as this supplies the needs only of our natural physical life. It is common to all, and hence includes those who, while boasting of some knowledge of the Host, systematically oppose His Will in life. The real feast is spiritual, and here the association aimed at is eternal, the needs supplied are the needs of the spirit which is abiding. This is no mere provision of temporal needs, the things we require from day to day for physical life. The state of society at different periods of history proves only too conclusively that physical needs are of little use when spiritual needs are lacking. The wealth of nations, great though it may be, does not guarantee just distribution, it does not assure the bare needs of life to everyone.
Eternal needs, the needs of the soul, are moreover essential needs - essential because they are abiding and because they promote the right use of temporal needs. And so the Lord's invitation is to a consociation with Him by love, a conjunction with Him through truth. By approaching Him, we are offered the nourishment of a right and good spirit of life, the furnishing of the heart with pure disinterested affections and the declaring to the eye of the understanding of eternal principles of heavenly life.
Because the feast is more perfect than the feasts of the world, the communion of guest and Host is infinitely more real. The food of pure affection and the wine of spiritual truth are not the mere provision of the Host - they are His own life. Every primitive race on earth embodies in its customs some corrupt form of communion whereby the god is eaten. The underlying meaning is true and valuable, but it is hidden by ignorance and superstition. Spiritual feasting is the furnishing of the heart and mind with the Lord's own life, we by His Presence within us attaining to greater happiness, He by gaining us, finding further instruments whereby to effect His Will and new objects on which to lavish His Love. It is the urgent, deeply affectionate call of a love that will not let us go.
Let us be quite clear about the issue His table alone supplies the needs of our life - the framing of right purposes, the enlightenment of right thought. And if the thought of happiness impels us, there, too, is our only abiding joy. To look elsewhere is to wander eternally in the desert of want and to lose the touchstone of true delight. The weight of our excuses is the measure of our present foolishness and future grief. His table is set, and He calls.