Ninth Sermon: Matthew 5:11
"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake" (Matthew 5: 11.)
We continue the subject of the spiritual temptations of the church, or the conflict between the internal and the external man. The conflict has now become grievous. It is a battle for life—not for natural, but for spiritual life. Hell as a threefold power is arrayed against the church in the effort to destroy it, but heaven assists. That the hells may not prevail, and spiritual life be wholly destroyed, all three heavens are opened and flow in to assist the church against the triple assault of hell. This assault, combining all the infernal forces, is expressed in the words of the text, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."
The Lord speaks later in this chapter of the threefold power of hell as three degrees of hatred, in the following words, "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment; but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." (5: 21, 22.)
The threefold character of hell, as consisting of three classes of malignant spirits, whose assault the church is to resist, separating itself from association with them, by shunning their diabolical evils, is also spoken of in the First Psalm, as follows: "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law doth he meditate day and night." As in the text, the man is said to be "blessed" who successfully resists this threefold assault of hell; that is, as to his spirit, he will be introduced into heaven by his delight in the truth of doctrine from the Word, the delight of the spiritual affection of truth, the source of eternal happiness to the angels in heaven. Those who are in the delight of this affection will conquer, because the Lord is in it, and by it inspires man to resist the forces of hell.
The text translated more literally would read as follows, "Blessed are ye, when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say every evil word against you lying, because of me." The word translated falsely or lying may also be rendered liars. The contrast is presented between the disciples of the Lord, on the one hand, and those who lie about them, on the other. The disciples are mentioned four times as being included in the pronouns ye and you) and the liars, or those who lie about them, are also mentioned four times, as being subjects of the verbs which are used. The Lord was addressing His disciples, and this is the sense of His words, "Blessed are ye [the disciples] when they [the liars] shall revile you, and when they [the liars] shall persecute you, and when they [the liars] shall say every evil word against you, lying, because of me." That is to say, it is because of me, your Lord, that the liars revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you. In the preceding verse, the disciples are told that they are persecuted because they are just, because of the justice in which they are; but a greater and more intense persecution follows, they who bring it are called liars, and it is now a war that is waged against the disciples, not because they are just, but because of Him, the Divine Teacher, Christ, who is Justice Itself, the Truth Itself, the Doctrine Itself. In the corresponding passage in Luke 6:22, we are told that the assault is made against the Lord as the Son of Man,—" Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach and cast out your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man." The Son of Man is the Lord in His Second Coming, revealing Himself in His Word as the Divine Doctrine, to establish a new Christian Church that will worship Him alone as the God of heaven and earth,—the context treating of the hatred and persecution of those who will then worship the Lord in heart and life.
They who so persecute the disciples are in opposition to the Lord, in opposition to the truth of His Word; they say that the truth is false, and are therefore called haters and liars.
They revile, persecute, and lie in the name of justice, in the name of the truth, and even in the name of the Lord; claiming to be the true representatives of the Lord, of justice and of righteousness; falsely asserting that the disciples are what they themselves really are, unrighteous, unjust, and deniers of the Lord and His Word. They are liars, they hate justice, righteousness and truth, yea, the Lord Himself, but veil their hatred under the appearance of faith in Him and in righteousness of life. The word translated "falsely," or "lying," signifies to deceive, and they who are meant are in fact deceivers and hypocrites. In a general sense, those who are in this state among men in the world are understood, but in a more interior sense evil spirits are meant who in the other world, under the guise of angels of light, have made to themselves false or seeming heavens. In a still more interior sense, which is the sense abstracted from persons, false doctrines are signified by "liars,"—false doctrines which are made to appear as the very truths of heaven.
The fact has been pointed out several times in these discourses, that the general subject of the Blessings is the establishment of the church by the implantation of the truth of doctrine, and the assault upon that truth by those who are in active opposition to it. Thus the temptation of the church as to truth of doctrine is also treated of, and runs through the series, even from the beginning. (See A. E. 659.) The Blessings, therefore, in an entire idea, teach that those in whom the truth of doctrine is implanted will receive eternal life by means of the spiritual affection of truth in which they are. These are they that are blessed and receive the great reward in heaven, which is conjunction with the Lord by use and in happiness forever.
The Lord was speaking to His disciples as the Teacher of men, and He was imparting the truth which was to bring salvation to mankind. It was no temporal kingdom that He came to establish, nor did He teach them concerning their temporal welfare. The world is full of books that treat of the temporal good of man, and they are being multiplied every day; for it appears that this is all that the mass of men are interested in or care for. But the Lord taught concerning the welfare of mankind in a kingdom where they were to live eternally; and it is this eternal welfare in an eternal kingdom that is meant by the word blessed, which the Lord repeated so many times in this early part of His discourse on the mountain. And the fact or eternal verity is now made clear that men are blessed even in their temptations, that even spiritual persecution is overruled and made to serve as an instrumentality in the salvation of men, an instrumentality for tie opening of heaven and introduction into it.
In the eighth Blessing, the subject is concerning the spiritual persecution or spiritual temptation of the church in general. "Blessed are they that are persecuted for the sake of justice." But now, in the ninth Blessing, we are told that this temptation is threefold, signified by revile, persecute, and speaking falsely. Also, in the eighth Blessing it is said that die persecution is for the sake of justice, but now that it is for the sake of Me,—Jesus Christ the Lord. It is because of Him that the disciples, or the men of the church, whom the disciples represent, are reviled, persecuted, and lied about. In reality the assault is upon the truth which the disciples or men of the church hold, and which they confess before men. This truth is the Lord with them. It is because of this truth, which is the Lord Himself present in the church,—it is because of this truth which they love and defend, that the church has to undergo spiritual persecution. The general subject of both verses, therefore, of the two Blessings now before us, is the active assault by evil spirits who are hypocrites, and of evil men whom they inspire, and who are like unto them, and the active defense of the truth by the loyal members of the church in both worlds, by those in both worlds who are in the spiritual affection of truth. As we have said, the assault is really upon the Divine Truth from the Lord out of heaven, and because of it and its presence in the church, and so upon those who love it because it is the truth, and who from love defend it.
There are involved also in the ninth Blessing, as we have shown, three degrees of the temptation of the church, or three degrees of assault upon its life, thus three classes of evil spirits who make the assault, and therefore three degrees of the church itself, and thus three degrees of the Divine Truth of the Word which makes the church. The assault upon the inmost life of the church, upon its love to the Lord and its charity toward the neighbor, is what is meant by "revile"; the assault upon its mediate life, upon its doctrine, its faith, upon its understanding of the Word, is meant by those who "persecute"; and the assault upon its ultimate life, upon its works and uses, is meant by those who "say all manner of evil falsely, for my sake."
We have already intimated that the assault of the three hells upon the church involves the opening of the three heavens; and there is in fact an opening of the three heavens by the Lord in His Second Coming, or the opening of the three senses of the Word at that time. This the Lord has done, and the hells rise up to destroy the spiritual and celestial truth of the Word now revealed. The opening of the three heavens, or the three senses of the Word, is necessary at this day; for without this, as we are told, no flesh could be saved. The assault of the entire hell to destroy the last remnant of spiritual life with men was thus foreseen by the Lord, and provision was made by Him to meet it at once, in order that some men might be saved. The opening of the three heavens, or the three interior senses of the Word, is what is meant where John says in the Apocalypse, "And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder; and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps." (14: 2.) A voice from heaven is revelation, which was first heard as the roaring of great waters, then as the sound of thunder, and finally as sweet music,—the playing on harps, and the singing of a song,—a song which had not been heard since the days of the Ancient Church; and hence it is called a "new song," which was sung by the whole heaven in glorification of the Lord, because He had come a second time into the world, proclaiming Himself the only God of heaven and earth, the only Teacher of Doctrine unto men.
We have mentioned the fact that the subject of the Blessings as a whole is the implantation of the truth of doctrine from the Lord by His Word, and that this implantation is attended at every step by temptation, which is spiritual combat or resistance to the falsities which assail the truth of the church. This assault upon the doctrine, upon the faith of the church, upon its understanding of the Word, is especially signified by persecution, and is the principal subject or leading idea in the verse which precedes the text, "Blessed are they that are persecuted for the sake of justice." But as all things are threefold, or in a trine, so it is with the temptations of the church, and this because the life of the church itself is threefold or trinal. And so we have now presented to our view the assault that is made by the hells upon the entire life of the church from its inmost to its ultimate, upon its charity, upon its faith, and upon its uses or its works.
Hitherto the subject was the assault upon its faith, or its doctrine, which is signified by the term "persecution"; but now a more grievous assault is made upon the church and those who love the truth of the church. They are not only persecuted, but they are reviled, and they are not only persecuted and reviled, but all manner of evil is spoken against them. They are reviled for their charity, which is the love of the truth for the sake of the truth; they are persecuted for their faith, which is faith in the truth of God, a faith which rejects the conceits of human intelligence; and all manner of evil is said against them because of their application of truth to the uses of life, and because they willingly bear testimony to the truth before men, are ever ready to confess to the world all things of their faith in God and His Word. They are therefore reviled, persecuted, and lied about; that is, the truth which they represent is reviled, persecuted, and lied about,—all because of the Lord and His presence in His Word, which presence He reveals, and which revelation is received and loved by those who are to constitute His church. They are reviled because of their love, they are persecuted because of their faith, and their very testimony is turned against them and made an offence in the eyes of men, because they would that all men should be as they, lovers and doers of the truth of the Word of God.
The word translated revile signifies to censure, inveigh against, upbraid, to insult with opprobrious language, to bring reproach or disgrace upon any one. It signifies nearly the same as the word which is elsewhere translated to blaspheme, and which is applied especially to those who bring scandal or disgrace upon the Word of the Lord, and upon the Lord who is in His Word and who is the Word, and at .the same time upon those who love the Lord and His Word, and who, because they love the Lord, are in spiritual good or charity towards the neighbor.
As we have just said, the word blaspheme has nearly the same meaning in the Greek language as the word revile, and it is therefore legitimate for us to apply what is said in the Writings about blasphemy to the word revile, since the two words are so similar in their signification. Indeed, we read (A. E. 778) that "in human languages, as also in the Hebrew, there are various words by which blasphemings against God and Divine Truth are expressed; such as calumnies, reproaches, ignominies, taunts, revilings, vituperations, witty sayings, mockings, jeers, and many more." In fact, any term of human language which can be used to bring ridicule or insult or scandal upon the Divine Truth, or upon the Lord who is the Truth, would signify the same, or nearly the same, as blaspheme; and so it is with the word revile in the text.
Concerning blasphemy, we read that by "bringing the name of God into what is vain" is signified blasphemy and profanation, and that "blasphemy takes place when the things of the Word or of the doctrine of faith, thus the things which are holy, are held in derision, and are dragged down to unclean earthly things, and so are defiled." (A. C. 8882.) Again, in explaining the words, "Thou shalt not curse God," we are told that by this is signified "that Divine Truths are not to be blasphemed, as appears from the signification of 'cursing,' as denoting to blaspheme, for they who blaspheme also curse. The reason why it denotes that Divine Truths are not to be blasphemed is because 'God,' in the internal sense, is the Divine Truth proceeding from the Lord." (A. C. 9221.) In the next number (A. C. 9222), the words are explained, "Neither shalt thou revile the prince among thy people," by which is signified that "neither is the doctrine of truth to be blasphemed, appears from the signification of 'prince,' as denoting the primary truths of the church." It is stated further that "Divine Truth is the Word and the doctrine of truth from the Word," and that "they who in heart deny this truth blaspheme it, even though they praise it and preach it with their lips."
We are told further (A. R. 571, 692) that blasphemy is the denial of the Divinity of the Lord and of the holiness of the Word, and that it occurs when doctrine is not taken from the Word, but is hatched out from human intelligence; and that this latter is blasphemy, because the church is from no other source than from the Word, and is according to the understanding of the Word. If, therefore, a church comes into existence from any other source than the Word and doctrine from the Word, the name of God is blasphemed; for the Lord is then denied in heart, even when He is preached and outwardly confessed in the worship of the church; and it is said of such a church that it is "full of names of blasphemy," that is, it is filled with the sphere of profanation. Hence by the word revile, as used in the text, is signified the opening of the hell of blasphemy and profanation, and the influx of scandals from that hell against the Lord and His Word, by which every vestige of the church is destroyed, except with those who receive power from the Lord to resist and overcome that profane and unhallowed sphere.
The signification of persecution has been presented in the discourse on the eighth Blessing, wherein it was shown that by those who are "persecuted for the sake of justice" is meant the assault that is made upon the doctrine of revelation, the doctrine of Divine Truth, doctrine from the Word, the assault being made by those who have applied their human intelligence to Divine Revelation, and therefore falsifying and perverting it. For no man can understand the Word, or doctrine from the Word, unless he be in illustration from the Lord, unless the light of the Word itself shine in his mind as a lamp to guide him in his reading, in his study, and in his meditation. If he be not in illustration from the Lord, his mind will be filled with the light of the world, which is the light of human intelligence, and with this false light to guide him, he can do no otherwise than falsify and pervert the Word of God. Such a man is not in illustration from the Lord because he is not in the good of love to the Lord,—for it is love that kindles its own light in the mind,—and he is not in good of love to the Lord because he has not inwardly kept the commandments, although he may have kept them outwardly to be seen of men, for the sake of being regarded as an upright, pious, and religious man.
The light of human intelligence will necessarily falsify the Word, and doctrine from the Word, because the fires of heaven have not been enkindled in a mind where the pride of human intelligence dwells; for where there is no fire there is no light; and where the fire of heaven is not in the will or heart of man, the fire of hell is there, and the fire of hell is hatred of the neighbor. Such a man, as we have said, cannot do otherwise than pervert the Word and hate those who are in the true understanding of the Word, who are in this because of the love of heaven that is in their hearts, by virtue of an inward keeping of the commandments of God. Such hatred becoming active is what is called "persecution." The persecution that is treated of here is not so much a persecution as to the natural, material life, such as the early Christian martyrs suffered; it is not so much the confiscation of one's property and natural possessions, or the taking away of one's natural life; but it is a spiritual persecution; and a spiritual persecution is an attack upon the spiritual doctrine of truth which one holds and loves, presenting false arguments and false conclusions against the truth of one's faith, presenting with skill and cunning the falsified truths of the Word, bringing the mind into doubt and anxiety as to whether the truth that has been believed and loved is really true, the genuine truth of the Word. This doubt and anxiety is what is called spiritual temptation, and when the assault is resisted, and the truth defended because of the love of it for its own sake, it is called spiritual combat or spiritual war. In the eighth Blessing, the Lord said to the disciples that they would be "persecuted for the sake of justice," by which is meant that those who are in the faith of genuine truth desire to bring this truth into life, and that on this account they are assailed. If they hold their doctrine merely as an opinion or speculative theory, they are not disturbed; but because they wish to bring it forth in the fruits of their own life, and ardently desire that others should do the same, their faith is assailed, and the attack is followed up and persisted in with continuous energy. This is spiritual persecution.
But in the ninth Blessing, the element of blasphemy and profanation appears, and is set forth in the words of the text, especially in the first word—revile; and, according to a principle of all revelation, what is first said in a series enters into and rules in all that follows. As we have seen, the word revile, which is essentially the same as blaspheme, is the assault that is made upon the very essential love of the church, which is love to the Lord, which assault is made from the hells of the profaners of the Word. The second word is persecute,—" Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you." It is the same word that is used in the previous Blessing, "Blessed are they that are persecuted for the sake of justice," but it has not here identically the same meaning, because it is modified by the series in which it comes; and the series treats of the profanation of the Word, and the assault upon the faith of the church by those who profane the Word. The persecution, therefore, is of a more malignant character than the former persecution.
We are told that the sphere of the profanation of the Word is a suffocative sphere, like some horrid, pungent, noxious gas, which, entering the lungs, paralyzes respiration, and poisons the blood. The lungs, and the respiration of the lungs, correspond to the understanding and the activities of the thought of the understanding. Thinking is spiritual breathing. The sphere of profanation entering the mind paralyzes the thought, producing a state of spiritual suffocation, from which there is no deliverance except by the Divine Power of the Lord. The former attack or persecution is mild as compared to this, and is relied upon as a last resort of the hells to destroy the faith and doctrine of the church. It is indeed a last resort, but there is still another which is meant by the words, "And say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake"; or more literally, "And say every evil word against you, lying because of me." This is the third term of the temptation described in this verse, the ultimate or last form of it.
By evil word is meant the same in general that is meant by scandal in the letter of the Word, especially in the New Testament. It is usually translated offence, and literally means a stumbling-block, which latter is defined in the English Dictionary to be "any obstacle of hindrance; something that may cause one to err or fall." In the same, scandal is defined to be the "heedless or malicious repetition and dissemination of evil reports; in law, malicious defamation by word of mouth." Behind scandal, or an evil word in regard to another, as we see from the definition, there is usually malice, which also is defined to be a wilfully and deliberately formed design to do another an injury. Thus the evil word or scandal is not an unpremeditated word, and is well expressed by the phrase "malice aforethought."
As we have seen, the evil that reigns in the sphere of profanation is malice or malignity of the worse kind, producing, where it enters, paralysis of the mental faculties. It is this malice that inspires and produces the scandal or evil word of the text. As used in the letter of the Word, and in the Writings, the term scandal must be understood as covering a broader field than the common usage of the word. In general, it is false assertion concerning the character of another; and more than this, false assertion concerning the Lord and the Divine things of the Word and the church. The Lord was merely a man like other men, having a human father; the Word is a human production, inferior to the standard works of literature; the heavenly doctrine is human in its origin, and immoral in its teaching; the Revelator for the New Church was insane; the men of the new Christian Church believe in and practice free love. These are among the innumerable instances of what is meant by "scandal" or "offense" in the Word, or by an "evil word" said against a disciple.
A scandal or evil word, when it is said, closes argument. The disposition of the mind that hears it is to accept it without investigation, and there is perhaps no further thought concerning it. It is like an obstacle suddenly thrown in front of a man, causing him to stumble and fall,—perhaps into a ditch or pit, out of which he may not be able to rise. For the sphere of profanation, the sphere of blasphemy,—a sphere of malignity,—is persuasive, and the ordinary mind is defenceless against it. This is the final effort of the hells to destroy the church, and its purpose is to close the human mind so that no light from heaven may enter into it, and that dense darkness may reign where light should be. It ceases to be an open, honorable, direct attack upon doctrine held and believed, but it is an indirect attack upon the same doctrine by attacking the character of those who hold and proclaim it. If they are destroyed, then the doctrine has no foothold among men. It is like destroying the foundations; for the church is founded in men, in the men who receive it and love it. If there are none left who believe and love the doctrine revealed from heaven, that doctrine is no longer present in the world, and there is no longer any church on earth. But this cannot be, since the Lord is present and reigns in His church among men.
In the Eleventh Psalm, the question is asked, "If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?" By the "righteous" or "the just" are meant the angels of heaven, and heaven could not continue if the church on earth should be destroyed. But the answer is given that the church will not be destroyed, even though it be in the midst of temptations. "The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord's throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids try, the children of men." (Ps. 11:3, 4.) "For evil doers shall be cut off; but they that wait upon the Lord shall inherit the earth." (Ps. 37:9.) Amen.
Lessons: Psalm 74. Revelation 12.