By Bishop George de Charms
I. The faith or the New Church is based on the conviction that in the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg the Lord Jesus Christ has fulfilled His promise to come again that He may be visibly present with men to teach them and to lead them in paths or true happiness and lasting peace.
A. The purpose of His coming is to establish His Kingdom on the earth as well as in the heavens.
1. The Church is the Kingdom or the Lord on earth, and in the Heavenly Doctrine the Lord Himself has set forth the plans and specifications of a true Christian Church, one that is designed to be altogether distinct from the former Christianity.
2. The teachings of the Writings differ from traditional Christian doctrine not merely superficially, as to matters or ritual, or church government, or social custom, but as to the most basic and fundamental concepts or religion.
a. Although they reaffirm the truth of the Old and New Testaments, and restore our faith in their Divine infallibility, they completely revolutionize our understanding or what the Bible teaches, and of how its teachings are to be applied.
b. They present a radically new idea or God, of Jesus Christ and His Divine work of redemption; they offer an entirely new concept of heaven and the life of man after death; and they give a new interpretation of what is meant by a truly religious life.
3. These teachings are set forth in plain terms, in rational language, with marvelous logic and consistency.
a. They are brought within the grasp of any normally intelligent person who approaches them with an open mind.
b. And the whole world is invited to receive these doctrines in heart and faith, and to join in the task of building that spiritual city of God which is called in the Apocalypse the New Jerusalem,
B. It is not so difficult for any one to acknowledge intellectually the general teachings or the Writings.
1. For the most part they appeal at once to common sense.
a. Unless the mind is deeply imbued with traditional doctrines, and literal interpretation of the Bible, many of the teachings of the Writings are spontaneously recognized as true.
x. Indeed, many, on people hearing them for the first time, will often say, Yes, that is what I have always believed, although they could not possibly have formulated the idea for themselves or have expressed it in words,
y. They recognize it as true, but they do not see how greatly it differs from what they had previously been taught.
b. Sometimes the difference is clearly seen, and then people have been known to exclaim: What a beautiful idea, if only I could believe it!
x. It strikes them as something wonderful, but visionary and impractical, out of harmony with the hard realities or life.
y. It affects them no more deeply nor permanently than a tale that is told.
2. It is obvious that if the New Church is actually to be built in the minds and hearts of men according to the new Divine specifications given in the Writings, more than this is necessary.
a. The doctrines must be clearly understood.
b. The way in which they differ from the established tenets of the former Christian Church must; be clearly seen.
c. And finally, their practical application to the problems or are must be not only understood, but brought into practice.
d. As the Writings plainly state: All religion is of life, and the life or religion is to do what is good (Doctrine of Life 1).
x. Divine teaching is given not merely that it may be known and stored in the memory; nor even that it may be understood and intellectually admired.
y. It is given in order that it may guide mans life, and mould his character.
z. The most important thing of all is the application or doctrine, for by this alone is man regenerated and prepared for entrance into the Lords Kingdom, both on earth and in heaven.
s. There is no teaching in all the Sacred Scripture, nor in the many volumes of the Writings, that does not have a direct and vital bearing on human life; and by this we mean on mens life here and now in the material world.
t. The New Church comes into being only so far as this application is actually made.
3. Let us not suppose that the difficulty or realizing the difference between the teaching or the Writings and the generally accepted religious ideas or the day, and thus the difficulty or understanding how those teachings are intended to be applied, is limited to those who come into contact with the Heavenly Doctrine for the first time.
a. Those of us who have been brought; up in the New Church, and have been familiar with the Writings from earliest childhood, are all too aware or this difficulty.
x. Much of what as know or the doctrine is retained in the memory as abstract knowledge accepted and believed without deep understanding, merely because we are convinced that everything in the Writings is true. And this applies to the most learned or the clergy, as well as to the least learned of the laity.
y. A relatively few things--more or course with some than with others--have been rationally confirmed by individual study and reflection, so that they have become matters of deep conviction.
z. And still fewer are those doctrines which have been understood so fully as to have become a motivating force in the formation or our character.
b. As members or the New Church, therefore, there is nothing more important for us to consider than the all-pervading question or how doctrine is to be applied to life.
x. We would propose therefore to present a few reflections on this subject in an effort to understand more clearly what; the Writings really mean by the life of religion.
y. To this end we would examine a few specific teachings, contrast them with parallel ideas prevalent in the Christian world and analyze just what their impact upon our actual life is intended to produce.
II. As a general introduction to the subject we would ask ourselves this evening, what do the Writings really mean when they say, All religion is or life find the life or religion is to do that which is good?
A. Surely this is something that we spontaneously recognize as true.
1. It must be obvious to every one that; the end and purpose or religion of the good life.
2. That the good life consists in keeping the Commandments or God is the universal testimony of the Word.
a. As we read in the Law of Moses: Thou shalt hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep all His commandments which I command thee this day, to do that which is right in the eyes or the Lord thy God (Deuteronomy 13:18).
b. Again: Keep therefore the words or this covenant, and do them, that; ye may prosper in all that ye do (Deuteronomy 29:9).
c. And again: When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness and committeh iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die. Again when a wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.... Therefore, I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God (Ezekiel 18:24, 26, 27, 30).
d. And in the New Testament: He that; hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me (John 14:21).
e. And again: If ye keep my commandments ye shall abide in my love, even as I have kept; my Fathers commandments and abide in his love (John 15:10). And in many other places.
3. But what then is new about the teaching that religion is or life, and the life or religion is to do that which is good?
a. Does not every religion, both Christian and non-Christian, teach the same thing?
x. Every religion in fact claims to teach the law of God.
y. Every religion teaches obedience to that law.
z. Every religion therefore professes to have the secret of the good life, and of salvation by means of it.
b. Yet that one religion proclaims as good, another condemns as evil.
x. What then really is the good life in the sight of God?
B. Of course the New Church differs from all other religions primarily in this: that the Writings or Emanuel Swedenborg are proclaimed to be a Divine Revelation from God.
1. The teachings found therein consequently replace in our thought and understanding the theological doctrines that have been traditionally acknowledged in the sects of Christendom.
a. We hold therefore that these teachings are the true law of God, in keeping which there is great reward.
b. Yet in professing this belief we are doing no more for the doctrine or our own church than others are doing for their particular creeds and dogmas.
c. It is quite possible to profess this faith, and at the same time to be carried along in the stream of life that swirls about us.
x. We may to all intents and purposes continue to feel, and speak, and. act very much as before.
y. And in this case our faith will not greatly change the deeper currents of our life.
2. It is not by our intellectual faith, but by practical application of our religious beliefs to life, that our religion becomes really new and different.
a. But what do we mean by application?
x. Is it the adoption of a different form or ritual and mode of worship?
y. Does it consist in formulating a new mode or church organization and government, based on the teaching of the Writings?
z. Does it imply a new system or education, a new code of moral conduct, now social customs, and forms or family life?
b. Certainly the establishment of the New Church involves all of these things.
x. For the Lord promised at His coming, saying, Behold I make all things new.
c. Yet all or these things could be done without attaining what the Writings really mean by the application of doctrine to life.
x. There is nothing distinctive about this kind or application, for the same thing is done by every church and every religion in the world.
d. In order that a really new religion may be born, and come to life, something more than this is needed, something deeper, more subtle, and much harder to achieve.
x. For all these things have to do with the life or the body.
y. But when the Writings any that all religion is or life they refer primarily not to the life of the body, hut above all to the life of the inner mind and spirit or man.
C. The essence of life is love, Whatever a man loves supremelyloves so deeply that he will sacrifice everything else to attain it, and to protect it--this is his God. And the activity of this lovewhatever he thinks, speaks, and does under the impulse of this love--this constitutes his real religion.
1. It is well known that this supreme love lies deeply concealed from the sight or others. Often it may remain hidden from the man himself.
a. The faith a men professes may not be the outward expression or his inmost love.
x. He may cling to it from mere habit, or out or deference to those among whom he lives, or because by means or it he gains the respect, the approbation, and the assistance of his associates.
b. His accustomed forms of worship, his moral conduct, his outward way of life, may not at all accurately reflect his inmost purpose or objective.
x. They may be bent to serve the ends of many divergent loves.
y. One brought up in the New Church may follow its established customs as a matter of course, because to do so is the easiest path, taking them for granted without serious thought.
z. One may come into the New Church and adopt these external observances without in the least realizing why they have been established, or what they are intended to mean in terms of spiritual life.
c. For this reason the acceptance of a new creed, the adoption of a new ritual, or a new mode or social behavior is not necessarily a reliable sign that one has acquired a new religion.
x. All these things can be done while the inmost love, the motivating force, the essence and qualifying soul of a mans religion remains unchanged.
2. The purpose for which the Heavenly Doctrine has been given is that it may change the inmost loves of men, and thus make new not merely the outward forms of religion, but especially its vital soul and essence.
a. This change can be effected only by the application or doctrine to life; and it is for the sake of effecting this change that doctrine must be so applied.
x. We cannot be satisfied with any external conformity to the truths or revelation.
y. The Lord has said: My words are spirit and they are life, and only as this spirit and life are received in mind and heart can we become true disciples and followers or the Lord.
b. This is what is meant when it is said in Heaven and Hell no. 351: True intelligence and wisdom is seeing and perceiving what is true and good, and thereby what is false and evil, and clearly distinguishing between them; and this from an interior intuition and perception.
x. Such intuition and perception are possible only so far us the spiritual or internal mind is opened and formed.
y. Mans internal mind can be formed only in one way, namely by mans looking to the Divine and to heaven, and by an inmost willingness to be led by the Divine.
z. When man looks to the Divine and is willing from the heart to be led by the Divine, everything he learns and applies to life causes him to grow in intelligence and wisdom, because then the interior sight belonging to his understanding, and the interior affection belonging to his will are perfected.
c. This, however, is no easy task, The loves into which we are born are those or self and the world; and the loves into which the Lords teaching is intended to lead us are those or heaven and eternal life.
x. Creeds, doctrines, rituals, moral precepts, all are but necessary means whereby this essential change of love may be effected.
y. Only so far as it is effected will these outer garments of religion serve their true purpose.
z. This change or love is what is really meant by the application or doctrine to life, the only kind or application that can actually establish a New Church, a new religion in the hearts or men.
d. That which makes the church new is not anything or the body, but is a new state or attitude of mind that is born of love to the Lord.
3. Many or the teachings found in the Heavenly Doctrine, many or the goals of life, or the ideals to which those teachings point, appear superficially to be altogether similar to the ideals acknowledged in other religions, both Christian and pagan.
a. For this reason it is not easy to see wherein their newness really lies.
b. If we are to discover it we must probe deeply beyond the outward form or appearance, to lay bare the love from which they spring, the love that gives them their distinctive quality.
c. In attempting to apply to life these ideals, it is this inner content of love that we must seek above all else.
4. In order to demonstrate this truth we have undertaken the difficult task or defining the real differences that distinguish a few of the well-known doctrines of the New Church from similar teachings of other religions.
a. The first or most essential requirement of true religion is an attitude of internal humility.
x. The reason for this is obvious.
y. The truth of the statement appeals at once to common sense.
z. In some form it is acknowledged in every religion.
b. But what the Writings mean by an attitude of internal humility is something new and different from that which is understood by it in other churches.
c. We shall endeavor at our next class to show, at least to some degree, just what that difference is.
Readings: HH 351.
Music: Doxology 17-398
Hymn 22-442 (Verse 1, 3)