Shunning Evils as Sins
Having seen the vision of heaven which is contained in the Writings of the New Church, it now becomes essential to state in simple terms the means whereby man may come into heaven. Since heaven is a kingdom of uses which are performed from love, we must learn how man prepares himself to carry on uses from love. Herein lies our central doctrine of regeneration, which is the shunning of evils as sins against God. The Lord told Nicodemus that "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3) It is this re-birth that constitutes regeneration and the way of our salvation. Man is not born good, as some have supposed, but before regeneration commences he is like an unploughed field which is full of many weeds, briars, and thorns which must be rooted out before the good seed can be sown and take root. This process of rooting out our evils is what is known in the Church as "shunning evils as sins against God." If man shuns them for any other reason than as sins against God he is not shunning them really, he is only causing them not to appear. Therefore, as we progress toward the kingdom of heaven, our daily prayer should be that the Lord will deliver us from evil.
Before we can sincerely pray that we be delivered from evil, we must acknowledge that we are in evil, and that unless we can be led, as the Psalmist says, to a rock that is higher than I", our condition will be truly pitiful. I have met many people in this world who have not been conscious of being in any evil; they have committed no murder, have not indulged in adultery, have not been guilty of theft or falsehood. They are like the rich young man who came running to the Lord inquiring what good thing he might do that he might inherit eternal life.
The Lord told him that he should keep the commandments, to which he replied that he had kept them from his youth up. "What lack I yet?" The Lord's answer was that he should sell all that he had and give to the poor, and then he should take up his cross and follow Him. All New Church men are in the position of that rich young man. We are rich beyond the dreams of Midas in the things that count infinitely more than gold, for we are rich in revealed truth. All the truths of the Writings are ours merely for the asking. We have but to search the Scriptures and learn of Him. But this vast wealth of truth will not save us any more than the rich young man could be saved by his wealth.
Something more is necessary. For him it was to sell all that he had and give to the poor. For us it is to turn a sincere eye inward to our own hearts and there discover the things that we cherish, the things that we love and like to think about, the deeds that we deem allowable. If we do this honestly we will know that we have need of the Lord "to deliver us from evil." We do not ask Him to deliver us from anyone else's evil, nor from evil in general, but we petition Him to save us from our own particular sins, the sins that we have discovered in our own hearts when we have given our minds over to self-examination. Herein the New Church is different from the former Christian Churches, for we are enjoined to confess a particular sin, whereas in some of the Churches in Christendom they are exhorted to pray for a general forgiveness for the things that they have done that they ought not to have done, and for the things that they ought to have done which they have left undone. Certainly no evil can escape being included in these petitions. But this general confession that one is a sinner does not uncover or reveal the real source of our evils. The way of genuine regeneration is a work of building one stone upon another, as the prophet states it, "Line upon line, line upon line; precept upon precept, precept upon precept; here a little, there a little." (Isaiah 28: 10) This is the law of spiritual growth, and it is the law of regeneration.
When, by self-examination, a man discovers a particular evil in himself, he should then pray to the Lord to deliver him from that evil. How does the Lord deliver a man from an evil? He does it by keeping man in a wonderful equilibrium so that he is free to shun that particular evil as a sin against God. "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin." (John 8:34) But "Know the truth and the truth shall make you free . . . If, therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John 8:32 . . . 36)
Now the responsibility of the New Church man comes down to this: the Lord has given him many, many truths; each truth has the power to free him from some evil. If, then, man knows his evils through self- examination, he will be able to find the truth in the Writings that will apply to his own life, and when he acts on that truth, the Lord by means of that truth will set him free from that evil.
When the Lord gave the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel, He told them Who He was, and why they should believe what He told them, and why they should obey His commandments. He said to them, "I am the Lord thy God, Who brought thee out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." (Exodus 20:2)
The Israelites knew little of Jehovah at that time, but they did know that He had brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. They still remembered the lash of Pharaoh's taskmasters, they still remembered the hardship of making bricks without straw! Then the truth began to be spoken in their ears by Moses, miracles commenced to happen. Plague after plague was visited upon their captors until finally the Egyptians, after the death of their first-born, drove the Israelites forth from their land. They began to know the Lord as their Redeemer and Savior because He had delivered them from evil. So the Ten Commandments had force with them because they were the laws of the God who could deliver them from evil.
In the days of Noah, when men were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, a great overwhelming danger from evil threatened. Could anyone deliver the fallen race from that impending evil? Yes, the Lord could, but He could not deliver them apart from means. He told
Noah and his three sons that if they wanted to be saved from the impending flood they would have to build an ark, an ark that would ride upon the waves and not be engulfed by them. Noah obeyed the words of God, and he and his wife and his sons and his Sons' wives were saved alive when the rest of mankind perished. The Lord, by means of the truths concerning the ark which He had revealed to them, delivered them from the devastating flood.
The coming of the flood marked the end of the Most Ancient Church and the beginning of the Ancient Church. The ark represented a new doctrine, and doctrine means simply a new way of life which had been revealed to them by the Lord and in which they believed. The Lord taught the men and women of the Ancient Church a new way to live, and that new way of life saved them from their sins. Daniel was one of the Children of Israel who had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Darius issued a decree that none should ask any petition of any man or God for thirty days save of himself. But no worldly decree could deter Daniel from praying three times a day to his God. The result was that he was cast into the den of lions. Then it was that his trust in God was put to the full test. Could the Lord now deliver him from evil? Yes, He could. The lions were powerless against him because he was surrounded by a heavenly sphere which they could not pass. The Lord did deliver Daniel from evil. And this teaches us a lesson. If we are faithful and fearless in our belief in the Lord as He is revealed in the Writings of the New Church, no power on earth can harm us. The lions that destroy the evil represent cruel lusts which will be powerless against us because we are surrounded by heavenly spheres.
Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego refused to fall down and worship the image set up by Nebuchadnezzar. For this refusal they were cast into the burning, fiery furnace, but their courage was not abated, for although the fire slew the men that threw them into the furnace, it was impotent against them. The Lord whom they had trusted had delivered them. So it may be with us. When we refuse to do some well-loved evil, it may seem for the time that we are cast into a burning fiery furnace. It is the furnace of our own lusts that we are cast into. But the Lord has power to rescue us from all temptations. If we are steadfast He can deliver us from evil.
The deliverance from evil is so important in the scheme of regeneration and salvation that it is included in the Lord's Prayer. Let us therefore remember, as we say the Lord's Prayer, that we are commanded by it to examine ourselves for actual evils, and that when we have discovered them, then we pray to the Lord for help to shun them as sins against Him. If we do this He will deliver us from evil. He will rescue us from the lash of the spiritual taskmasters of Egypt. He will save us from the floods of waters representing the falsities that consumed the evil remnant of the Most Ancient Church. He too will save us from the lions of lust and the fiery furnace of selfish pride, for He is our God, we have trusted in Him and He will save us.