Eleventh Sermon: Matthew 5:12 continued
"For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." (Matthew 5:12.)
It is a principle of the Divine Word that what is first said in any given series is universal therein, and reigns throughout to the end. We have seen this rule illustrated in the series of Blessings, in the introduction to which we are told that the Lord opened His mouth and taught His disciples. To open His mouth and teach, when said of the Lord, is to open His Word and reveal true doctrine from it, in order that a church may be formed in the world by means of doctrine so revealed, in order that a church may be formed with those who receive this doctrine in heart and life. But the truth of doctrine cannot be impressed upon the mind, upon the internal mind, unless it be received in a humble and willing spirit, and man acknowledges that he can be taught by the Lord alone through revelation from His Word. Hence the first Blessing speaks of the "poor in spirit," who are they that are affected by truth for the sake of the truth itself, and who are therefore in the spiritual affection of truth, that affection by which the internal man is opened, and which is assailed in the combats of temptation; which latter, therefore, is also treated of in the series. For whenever there is any spiritual opening in the regenerating man, the opposite is at once present by permission of the Lord, in order that the reception of the truth may be broad, expansive and yielding; and not hard, narrow and resisting. The opposite is therefore permitted to be present, or spirits who are in the opposite, introducing doubts by which are inaugurated the anxieties of spiritual temptation, and which are not removed except through a series of bitter tribulations. These tribulations of the church, experienced by those who are in the spiritual affection of truth, are also treated of in the series of the Blessings, and appear prominently at the close, in the use of the word persecution, which is brought upon those who love the truth because it is the truth.
Another principle of Divine Revelation now comes to view, namely, that whatever reigns in any given series, as its universal, appears at its close. We have seen that the ruling idea in the present series is that those are redeemed or regenerated by the Lord who receive the truth of Doctrine from Him, and live according to it, and who therefore must of necessity undergo a succession of temptation combats, or spiritual labors, by which the truth is established, or implanted in the internal man. The blessing which comes as a reward of combat, as the triumph of victory, to him who perseveres to the end, now appears at the close, and is spoken of as the "reward in heaven," coupled with the joy and gladness that attends a life of use in the kingdom of the Lord.
As we have stated, temptation is treated of from the beginning of the Blessings, though it does not appear prominently at first; still it is present, since evil spirits assail even in the initiament of the church, endeavoring to strangle or choke its life, or to devour the man-child as soon as it is born. This temptation, this persecution of the woman which brought forth the man-child, is involved, though not openly expressed, in the first Blessing of the series, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." For none are "poor in spirit" except those who are humbled by temptations. All others are proud in spirit, filled with the pride or conceit of human intelligence, attributing their intelligence to themselves and not to the Lord. This element of temptation, present throughout, becomes prominent at the close, and is openly spoken of in the words,
Blessed are they that are persecuted for the sake of justice. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you, falsely, for my sake;" and finally in the words of the text, "For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you."
It will be noted that now, at the close of the Blessings, the Lord speaks of those who follow Him as prophets, and not as disciples; and in the beginning of the series which follows the Blessings, they, as prophets, are called the "salt of the earth." The prophets in old time were they who proclaimed the truth, even in the presence of kings and rulers, even in the presence of a hostile civil power, and on that account were persecuted. The disciples themselves, as apostles, fulfilled this role of the prophets, even to the martyr's grave; and we are told that on this account they were permitted after death, to wear a martyr's crown,—a badge of the reward of victory. The prophets, then, are they who confess the truth, and who openly proclaim it before men, in confessing and proclaiming the Lord in His coming to save mankind. They speak the truth openly, and conceal nothing. These, and no others, are the true prophets of the Lord; these, and no others, are called the "salt of the earth," and the "light of the world;" and the church that is established by the doctrine so proclaimed is spoken of as a "city set upon a mountain, which cannot be hid;" for, as is added," men do not light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that it may give light to all in the house;" and the disciples, who are to become apostles and prophets, are exhorted to let their light shine before men, "that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
The disciples were told, in the closing words of the Blessings, that they would be persecuted as the prophets who were before them had been persecuted. By this is meant, in the historical sense of the words, that the disciples, in their work as apostles and evangelists of the coming of the Lord, would be persecuted as the prophets of the Jewish church had been, because of their bold proclamation of the truth without fear of consequences to themselves. But history, with the idea of time, of place, and of person, is removed when we enter into the spiritual sense of the Word. We are then given a view of conditions in the spiritual world rather than in this; and we are not told of the prophets who worked before, or previously to any given period of the church's history. Removing, therefore, the idea of time from the term before, and thinking rather of what is prior in state, we learn of the tribulations of the faithful in the other world previous to the judgment. We learn of the formation of the New Heaven out of the faithful after they have passed through tribulations. We learn of their songs of deliverance on entering the societies of the New Heaven, wearing the martyr's crown; or, as viewed more interiorly, on entering into the delight and happiness of use in those heavenly societies, fulfilling the words, "Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven." We learn of the descent from the New Heaven of a New Church to men in the world. We learn of the spiritual temptations of the church, or its tribulations in both worlds, in the process of its formation and establishment. The tribulations of the faithful in the spiritual world is what is meant, therefore, by the "persecution of the prophets who were before you." The tribulations of those of the church in this world, who are faithful and true to the teachings of the Lord in His Word, is what is meant by you, the disciples, who are also persecuted. The formation of heaven and the church by the marriage of good and truth, as the result of spiritual temptation, is what is meant by the disciples as prophets being called the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a city set upon, a mountain that cannot be hid, whose good works are seen by all men that are capable of any spiritual understanding of the Word, and seen for a time even by those who only look to see in order to falsify, pervert, and accuse.
The New Heaven is formed of those who have gone before us into the spiritual world, and have passed through the spiritual persecutions which are permitted to come upon every regenerating man; and the New Church descends from them, or by means of them, to the earth. It is said of those who have gone before that "their labors do follow with them;" it is also said of the church on earth that it "enters into the fruits of their labors;" and it is indeed true that the church is continually entering into the fruits of their labors; for those who have gone before are still present and still laboring. For the New Heaven is the internal of the church on earth, the inmost of which is the Lord Himself. The Lord is the soul, the New Heaven is the mind, and the Church on earth is the body of this Greatest Man. Without the labor of the Lord Himself when He was in the world, without His presence now in His Divinely Glorified Human, without the labors of those who have already gone into the New Heaven, the Church on earth would be a body without a soul, a body consummated and dead. The salt would be salt- less, the light would be extinguished; all would be darkness on the mountain where the city should have been; there would be no good works by which men could glorify their Father in heaven, nor would any man be left to glorify.
Those who are here called persecutors, in the book of Revelation (12:10) are called the accusers of our brethren. By the "brethren" there are meant the same as the disciples or prophets who are persecuted. We read that there was rejoicing in heaven because "the accuser of our brethren was cast down, which did accuse them before our God day and night." Concerning these words we are told that "by the brethren are meant those who are in the doctrine of the New Church, and in a life according to it. By accusing is signified to oppose that doctrine, to denounce it as false, and to cry out against it; and because they do this continually as before God, the dragon is called the 'accuser of our brethren,' that accuses them before God day and night. The devil also does this, when he tempts; for he draws forth various things from man, which he calls falsities, and condemns." (A. R. 554.)
We read further that "by an accuser is signified one who impugns, chides, and rebukes; the same expression, also, in the original tongue, signifies an adversary and rebuker; and what is wonderful, they who are dragons, although they make no account of the life, yet accuse the faithful in the spiritual world, if they observe in them any evil of ignorance; for they inquire into their life, in order that they may reproach and condemn, and hence they are called accusers," (A. E. 746) and further that "diabolical spirits desire nothing more ardently than to find something false; nay, it is common with them to induce from themselves something false, and then to make it a subject of accusation." (A. C. 1917.) It may be added that by Satan is meant an adversary, a persecuter, an accuser; and we read in Revelation (12:9) of him who is called "the accuser of our brethren," that he was "the great dragon who was cast out, that old serpent, called the devil and Satan;" and further, that this same dragon, the Devil and Satan, was cast down into the earth, where he persecuted the woman that brought forth the man-child (12: 12, 13), by which is meant that in the Last Judgment the spirits of the dragon were cast down from heaven into the world of spirits.
It is clear from this teaching, therefore, that the spirit of accusation is abroad in the world of spirits. The Doctrine also teaches us that what is active in the world of spirits is also active in the natural world; and we know, both from observation and experience, that this same spirit of accusation does indeed prevail in the natural world, that it prevails in every department of human endeavor. It is strikingly illustrated in the political field, especially in the activities of a political campaign. This spirit is in the political world because it is abroad in the churches,—the source and spring of all human activities. If the church were in charity, there would be charity everywhere among men; but since it is not, real charity is a thing difficult to find. The New Church at the present time is largely pervaded by the same spirit, since whatever is the prevailing spirit in the world of spirits and in the natural world is most difficult to resist, because the hereditary inclination of everyone is to the same thing, and the human mind yields to it as if to an irresistible force; and since it is the spirit of hell, and not of heaven, it follows that the New Church will be established just in the degree that this spirit is met and overcome.
The Lord Himself was reviled, accused and persecuted. All manner of evil was said against Him. Hence He, as the Greatest Prophet, is meant in the supreme sense of the words, "For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." The Lord Himself was before, prior, above all the prophets and all the disciples; He was therefore persecuted more than all others, and it is because of Him that others are accused and persecuted; it is because of Him that the church and the regenerating men of the church are hated, even as He Himself said to His disciples on another occasion, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. ... If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also." (John 15: 18, 20.) But the Lord resisted and overcame, and those who would be of His Church and His heaven must also resist and overcome; and they can resist and overcome because He did it, and will do it in them and for them, if they cooperate with Him, and labor from Him. If the Lord could not escape persecution, neither can they. For if they yield to persecution, they will cease to resist evil, and the Lord can then do nothing for them.
The spiritual descends into the natural of man, or heaven descends into the world of spirits and into the church on earth, just in the degree that good spirits and regenerating men resist evils and falsities inspired from hell,—resist the assault, the persecution of infernal spirits; and what is more, according to such resistance there will be increase—increase of intelligence and wisdom, increase in the societies of the New Heaven, increase in the Church on earth.
Increase always follows persecution. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. The battle of liberty brings life to a nation. Spiritual temptation opens heaven, and the life of heaven flows down into the church, bringing renewal to all her activities, producing the fruits of both spiritual and natural increase.
The sons of Israel, who represented the church, were persecuted in Egypt. They then represented the church when good or charity begins to take the first place, and is made fruitful by the multiplication of truths. Hence we read that "the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them." Now evil spirits, as soon as they observe that charity has become the first thing of the church, both in faith and in practice, are moved to assail and extinguish its life, for they see that, unless this be done, their dominion over the souls of men will soon come to an end. Hence the new king of Egypt, who knew not Joseph, "said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and get them up out of the land. Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens." (Exod. 1:7-11.)
But a church that is in the beginnings of spiritual good, a church in which charity has assumed the first place, instead of extinguishment by persecution, enters into renewed growth and activity because of the persecution, or because of its resistance to assault. Hence we read that the more the Egyptians afflicted the children of Israel, "the more they multiplied and grew." (Exod. i: 12.)
Persecution, or spiritual temptation, is therefore a necessary means to spiritual growth; indeed, an instrument of mercy in the hands of the Lord, permitted of Him, because in no other way is effected deliverance from the thraldom of infernal spirits, and introduction to the peace and happiness of heaven. "For every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." (John 15:2.) —Amen.
37: 1-14. Revelation 10.