ALL THE PATHS OF THE LORD
A Sermon by the Rt. Rev. Peter M. Buss
All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth to such as keep His covenant and His testimonies. Psalms 25:10.
Part of the wonder of the revelation the Lord gave in His second Advent is the vision of true married love, or love truly conjugial: a love so rare that it is scarcely known, and its quality is not known; the precious jewel of human life; a love so beautiful that the Lord made it to be His ultimate gift to all who will follow Him; a love so powerful that for its sake a man may leave the father and mother of selfishness and pride and cleave to his wife, and in becoming one flesh find heaven.
It is so great a love that we may be deceived by its power. Love conquers all, is a common saying. In a sense this is true. Because of the love of two people for each other, they have withstood torture and oppression. They have undergone hardship and misery and deprivation. They have lived in abject poverty and yet been happy.
Love conquers all that is outside of us. But the Writings tell us, and experience shows, that love does not conquer selfishness - not at first. The enemy within is proof against love. Love is not sufficient to banish the mean emotions of the unregenerate heart, the petty jealousies, the desire to dominate another, the spirit of distrust, the sword of anger. In a most remarkable passage, one that is key to all our understanding of the Lords way to us, He said that when He came on earth, He came because His love was not enough. The Divine good by itself, He said, was inadequate to overcome evil. Love is like the blunt edge of a sword, or like a bow without arrows - powerless in the face of determined evil. So the Lord clothed Himself in truth, and from that truth He conquered hell (True Christian Religion 85, 86). He established the way of truth, and this way, this path leads us to our dreams (Arcana Coelestia 2034).
So, we pray with the Psalmist, "Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation." It is a cardinal principle of love truly conjugial that it comes only by means of truths. We have to walk in the ways of the Lord, by learning His truth and seeking it. Married love is a journey, and the path can be found only in His Word.
So, we find many places in the Word which speak of the Lords paths. I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight (Isaiah 42:16). Come, 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 (Isaiah 2:3). For everyone who starts out on the path of true marriage He provides a way, and He longs to teach them of that way, because love is a journey, and truth is the guide, and without that guide we will not reach the precious goal of love truly conjugial.
Thou wilt show me the path of life (Psalms 16:11). We long for a single path in our marriages. When a young couple gets married, don't their hearts echo the words of the Psalmist,
"Lead me, Lord, lead me in Your righteousness... make Your way straight before my face." (Psalms 5:8).
And it seems that the Lord promises this:
"I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters, in a straight way in which they shall not stumble." (Jeremiah 31:9).
It is possible to start off your married life with high ideals, to walk a straight path from that point on towards your heaven. Perhaps the path will waver a little, but for a very few, who have not confirmed themselves in evils, such a path exists. The Word speaks of it, when it says that those who have not given in to evil may walk towards heaven along a simple path. If they incline to an evil, they must just resist it. For them it is as easy as that (see The The Doctrine of Life for the The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 97, Heaven and Hell 535). The obedience of such people, simple as it is, triumphs over the vicissitudes of life, and they walk along a relatively straight road to heaven.
But this is far from the only way and there are many married couples who, when their path is not straight, feel like failures. We know the way we should have gone, they say. The Lords truth was very clear. We just couldnt live up to it. So we have lost our way, and our hope of a pure love is gone.
A farmer once noticed how his cattle went down to the river to drink each night. The river lay directly to the east of the field in which they grazed. But they had worn a path that started towards the north, then wound west, away from the river, then reversed itself and twisted and turned until it reached the water. At first he wondered at their meandering, but then he reflected that his life had been very like the path his cattle had trodden. He too had wandered far off course, sometimes heading in the opposite direction from his goal, and finally, by a devious course, realizing his dreams.
All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth to such as keep His covenant and His testimonies. The ways of the Lord are many, and they are merciful and full of truth. He doesnt create one path only, nor does He forsake those who stray from the straight one that He does indeed offer. All the paths of the Lord..... There are many, many truths which He has revealed which help people to journey towards the dream once again, and His mercy and truth together await those who decide - even if belatedly - to keep His covenant and His testimonies.
We must not deny the danger. The hells love to destroy marriages, and they have ways of helping us to stray from the paths. Many dreams are shattered in peoples lives. Perhaps they are trying to do what is right, and are misguided. Perhaps one of them is trying and the other is not. At times they are led astray by the allures of sexual love or the desire to dominate. And, tragically, sometimes they have their dreams hurt by predators who rob them of a sense of beauty. They look upon their lives, and feel they have wandered so far from the path of true love. They understand when the Word says,
"The angels of peace weep bitterly; the paths are laid waste, the wayfaring man has ceased." (Isaiah 33:7-8; see Arcana Coelestia 3780); or when Deborah said,
"The ways ceased, and they that walked in paths went through crooked ways, the roads ceased in Israel." (Judges 5:6-7; see Arcana Coelestia 8753); or again, when the Lord lamented,
"The way of peace they have not known; and there is no judgment in their tracks; they have perverted their paths for themselves; whoever treads on it shall not know peace." (Isaiah 59:8; cf. Arcana Coelestia 8941).
But all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth to such as keep His covenant and His testimonies. Consider this teaching in the Writings: when a person from set purpose commits adultery heaven is closed to him. Doesn't that seem to say that there is no path back? Yet the Writings in that same passage say that such a person's interiors can be opened by serious repentance (Arcana Coelestia 2750). This is the path of mercy and truth offered to an adulterer, and the many truths about repentance and forgiveness are part of the road he may travel towards heaven. Can we help him to see that road?
There is a teaching in the Writings that the majority in young adult life turn to evil (Arcana Coelestia 5470). Yet the same passage says that the Lord preserves in many who do so a sense of anxiety when they reflect on their sins, and within that anxiety He preserves an interior acknowledgment of evil, which, when it is recalled, becomes confession and finally repentance. This is the path of the Prodigal Son, who confessed, and returned.
Then there is a beautiful teaching in The Apocalypse Explained, which speaks of how the Lord leads peoples affections, silently, gently. It says that if his affections are evil, then his spirit is in hell, even while he lives on earth. If he doesnt look the Lord he goes down deeper into hell. And yet, the passage continues, the Lord leads him as if by the hand, permitting and withholding as far as the person is willing to follow in freedom But if the person looks to the Lord he is led forth from these societies gradually, according to the order and connection in which they stand, which order and connection no one knows but the Lord only, and thus he is brought by continual steps out of hell up towards heaven and into heaven (Apocalypse Explained 1174). All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth to such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.
All of us tread only those paths to which our affection leads us (Heaven and Hell 496). But the effort of the Lords mercy and truth together are to bend the pathway back towards heaven. So we find references to winding pathways through which the Lord leads us. Even people who are on the way to heaven go through winding paths, known not to any angel but to the Lord alone (Divine Providence 164). Another passage speaks of how we would revolt against the Lords leading if it was clear where he was guiding us, so he leads us by unknown paths. It is as if a man were in the company of an enemy who intends to kill him, and a friend leads him away by unknown paths to safety, and when he is safe, then the friend tells him what the enemy had intended (Divine Providence 211).
There is another beautiful teaching in the Writings that says that in order to find true love, people need to understand the other person, but they also need to understand themselves, and then from this understanding the Lord leads them by gently sloping pathways up to heaven (Arcana Coelestia 189). To understand yourself - both your good parts and your weaknesses: to use that understanding and the truth of the Word to show real love to another - that is a path to true marriage.
There are many in this congregation who are not presently married. To them the path of true love seems to be something for the future. But all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth. He is leading you to the marriage of love and wisdom in your hearts, not matter what your married status. And if that bond - of your loves with your truths - is being forged, you are walking along a beautiful path towards love truly conjugial.
Nearly all couples marry with high hopes, deep and intense dreams for true love and charity between them. They may not understand well enough what they are doing. They may be rather shallow in the vision they have of love. They may be woefully immature. But deciding on the person with whom one wishes to share eternity is the most important decision in life, and when they take it they usually have a passionate sincerity about it. When the marriage starts to falter, the misery, the sense of failure, the sense of having wandered from the way make their lives deeply, deeply distressing. They may have walked down crooked paths - along the way of false values. But the Lords will is to change that.
"I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do for them and not forsake them." (Isaiah 42:16).
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places smooth." (Isaiah 40:3-5).
The Lord came on earth to re-establish the marriage between good and truth, which is the origin of love truly conjugial. To all who allow Him to join good and truth in their minds and hearts, He has given his greatest gift, the privilege of loving one person truly, totally, tenderly, if not in this world, then certainly in the next. All the paths of the Writings, every truth that is there, speaks mercy and truth together, showing that precious union between love and the way of love. Each path leads to true marriage. There are no other pathways than the ones He has shown.
In this small church of ours the pathways to true marriages may be explored. We may look into the pages of the Lord's last, great revelation to humankind, and find many truths, each one showing people the way, so that they can keep His covenant and His testimonies, and then He will lead them by secret pathways known to Him alone, away from danger towards their dreams.
Let us try to picture our Heavenly Father, looking down with the eyes of mercy and truth, using all the powers of His infinite providence to work on each of our marriages. And the Lord challenges us all to help others along this journey.
"Prepare the way for the people; Build up, build up the highway! Take out the stones, lift up a banner for the people." (Isaiah 62:10).
"And you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in." (Isaiah 58:12).
Each of us as an individual is on a journey towards the marriage of good and truth in our hearts. Each couple among us is treading a pathway towards true love. And the church as a whole is on a journey, seeking the many pathways of the Lord's truth, that they may walk towards the dream of a community in which marriage is honored and treasured, and in which the children of the church grow with a trust that the Lord will lead them to happy married love. May we find many paths as we explore His Word, and know that there are many more; for all the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth to such as keep His covenant and His testimonies. Amen.
Show me Your ways, O LORD; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day. Remember, O LORD, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; according to Your mercy remember me, for Your goodness sake, O LORD. Psalms 25:4-7
The blind by a path they have not known:
I will bring the blind by a way they did not know; I will lead them in paths they have not known. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things I will do for them, and not forsake them. - Isaiah 42:16
He will teach us of His ways:
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the Lords house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. - Isaiah 2:2-5
Amend your ways:
For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. - Jeremiah 7:5-7
The voice of Him that cries in the wilderness:
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. - Isaiah 40:3
Pave the highway:
Go through, Go through the gates! Prepare the way for the people; Build up, Build up the highway! Take out the stones, lift up a banner for the peoples! - Isaiah 62:10
See also: Divine Providence 164, 211, Heaven and Hell 519.