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9 The Love Of The World
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house.
The Commandments of God were once written upon the hearts of men, and their contents were perceived in living warmth as an expression of love to God and to men. But the human heart now issues a challenge against the laws of God, which it has come to know only as forbidding precepts written on tables of stone.
Yet these precepts have ever been necessary to the well-being of society. They have been incorporated into the statutes of nations, as part of civic law. In the task of maintaining order among its citizens, every government has had to define certain acts as disorderly and forbidden, others as permissible, and some even as compulsory; and to punish those who contravene such laws.
In actual fact, however, justice demands that even the civil and criminal law should recognize the difference between deliberate law-breaking and unintentional, ignorant, or accidental crimes. The law of equity has been called in to modify the letter of the law by taking into consideration the motives and purposes of the transgressor.
It is in this way recognized quite universally, from a common perception, that it is in the motive, the ill-will, that the real crime lies. Yet few will reflect upon this most important truth. It is only too common to find that people consider it quite blameless to harbor hatred and bear grudges and wish evil to others, or to display an irreconcilable and unforgiving spirit, so that one does not actually do any physical harm to the neighbor; the thought - erroneous but common- being that evil will or evil intent will do him no harm. Thus the act alone is made a sin. And this persuasion is confirmed in unthinking minds by such false doctrines as are often taught in Christian lands to the effect that the Ten Commandments are not necessary for salvation, and - at any rate - can only be kept as moral laws (See Life 63). Regeneration - such false doctrines proclaim - is a matter of faith and of instant conversion; and God can in an instant wipe away man's sins as from a slate, no matter how full of evil desires the heart is, or how perverse the "old Adam," the natural man, may be.
New doctrines are therefore necessary for mankind's spiritual recovery; and being necessary they have also been furnished by the Lord in the new revelation to that New Church to which He now calls and invites all that have ears to hear. This new doctrine - which is the doctrine received among the angels - teaches that man can be regenerated only if he actually repents, not merely of the evils he has committed by word and deed, but of the evils that lie hidden in his spirit as lusts or evil desires. By repentance is meant acknowledgment of an evil, resistence to it, and discontinuance of it with prayer to the Lord for help. For when man in his natural thought resists and repents of evils, the Lord by Divine power will remove the lusts of evil from the internal man; which is done by His separating man's spirit or mind from the societies of evil spirits which inspire such lusts. The evil that man has longed for and lusted for before repentance indeed still remains organically with man as scars in his mind; but these evil forms become quiescent, and as it were dead, and the Lord - by an irresistible force - keeps the influx of hell away so that it cannot rouse the evil delights into activity.
This essential truth about repentance is taught in every revelation - even in the Law of God to the stiffnecked people of Israel. It there appears in the last two of the ten commandments, which both open with the words, "Thou shalt not covet." Preceding commandments had prohibited certain evil acts against God and against the neighbor; but the last two forbid even the desire for harming the neighbor, or the harboring of feelings of dissatisfaction with one's lot. In order to obey the Divine law and to be regenerated or born anew - not from the will of the flesh, nor from the will of man, but of God - man must receive a new heart and a new spirit, a new love, a new will which does not covet, is not envious, does not long for evil, and is not stirred by evil delights.
The people of Israel did not appreciate this law of regeneration, although even the letter of their Law taught it. Their Prophets however pointed to this internal reform as the very essential in the commandments, more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices. But the spirit of prophecy perished, and when the Lord came into the world, His first work was to restore the inner spirit of the law and religion of Israel, and to urge that - first of all - the inside of the cup and the platter of human life must be purified. In His sermon on the mount He showed that, while the letter of the Law given to them of old time was "Thou shalt not kill" nor "commit adultery," yet the anger of hatred, the lust of enmity, was really murder; the impure lustful desires of the heart were really adultery.
Thou shalt not covet. To covet is to long ardently for something, to yearn - yea, to burn with desire for it. Most frequently it is used, as here, in the sense of unlawful and inordinate desire. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house" means, "Thou shalt not be envious of thy neighbor, nor desire to be enriched at his expense, or wish for his downfall for the sake of thine own aggrandizement." It may be said to be a more internal form of the seventh commandment, "Thou shalt not steal", and as such it is aimed against the lusts of the love of the world, the love of possessing the goods of others.
But the spiritual meaning of the precept against coveting the neighbor's house has necessarily a wider scope. It does not refer to the merely material possessions which are bound to pass from him at death. Our "neighbor's house" signifies a man's good of charity, and also the internal rewards which rightly should bless such good as our neighbor represents, such use as he performs, such character as he possesses. These must be acknowledged as justly his. We must be content with whatever of mental peace the Lord has bestowed on us - content with the spiritual lot which is to be ours, and utterly trustful in the justice of Providence. We shoult gradually learn to strive for heaven, not as for a reward, but as for a kingdom of such uses as can only be performed in purity of heart.
And because this commandment inculcates a new love, of uses rather than of rewards, of heaven rather than of the world, therefore the Heavenly Doctrine gives us to know that the inward contents of the precept against coveting the neighbor's house specifically is, that one must beware lest the evils springing from the love of the world become of one's will and thus come forth; thus lest they become loved, and, from a longing for them, retained, and so become appropriated to man as a part of his mental make-up, and finally, in course of time, become actual evils (AE 1021:2).
This teaching suggests that evils can exist in the mind without being actually man's own. And this is indeed possible. We know from the Doctrine that an infant newly born, despite its innocence, is but a mass of cupidities which are hereditary evils - evil tendencies, evil desires springing mostly from self-love (DP 83:2). We also know that because these evils of tendency are in the nature of the offspring from the parents and their forebears - and thus are not harbored there from any deliberate choice - the infant, should it die before maturity, would still be educated in heaven and its salvation would be assured. And we know that, even as with children, so adults are not, after death, punished for their hereditary evils which they received from their parents, but only for the actual evils which they appropriate to themselves from their own consent - consent exercised knowingly of their own free will.
Evils of heredity are seated organically in man's natural mind. And the organics of that plane of man are at birth so perverted that they do not receive heavenly influx, but only infernal. Indeed the whole tendency of man, from heredity, is to act against heaven and against others whenever these at all oppose man's self or hinder his own interests.
Man's native will - the proprial will, which from birth receives the influx of the hells - is so filled with corporeal and sensual passion that if it was let out into man's mind, the mind could not resist it, but would become insane and utterly ungovernable. In His mercy the Lord on this account provides that the native will should only gradually show itself, so that even man himself should not fully know the beast that is within his heart. The will has been "closed off" from man's understanding. Only as man grows up from childhood, and his understanding is filled with knowledge and is awakened by prudence and spiritual reason, one affection of the native will after another is permitted to show itself as a lust. The external heredity is first displayed, then the more internal traits. One by one, the tribes of evil may thus be combatted and driven from his inheritance; or else, one by one, they may conquer him, if he makes alliances with those evils instead of opposing them as sins against God.
And from without, that is, from the world, come constant allurements and temptations, stirring the thoughts and opening the mind to a new influx of some lust from the evil will; or, what is the same, from hell. The evil will of the hereditary proprium is but a dead thing, were it not for the fact that it is an organ moved and controlled from hell.
Man cannot always avoid coming into contact with evil. He cannot prevent evil at times from entering his thoughts, and inviting the influx of hell. Indeed it is only so that he can become acquainted with the horror of evil - and come to realize its power - its tyranny, its merciless cruelty and ugliness. It is only so that evil can be recognized for what it is, and that man can learn to judge it, control it, and thus to govern himself; and, by shunning it, be born anew from the Lord, acquiring a new will. Evil is known by the state it induces in the mind.
The Lord was often censured by a certain class of hypocrites who insisted on a puritanical life and who suffered no ordinary people even to speak to them for fear of their pious states being contaminated. When they criticized our Lord for not observing religiously the hollow ceremony of dipping the fingers into water before each meal, He replied, "There is nothing from without a man that entering into him can defile him...because it entereth not into his heart but into the belly...." But "from within out of the heart of man, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness; all these evil things come from within, and defile a man" (Mark 7:15,19-23).
The implications within these words become more evident when we know that the mind of man is the real man himself; that it is like a complete spiritual body with organs corresponding to those of the mortal body; and that in the mind, the thought corresponds to the mouth and the alimentary canal. Into the thought enters all the food for the spirit of man. There it is tasted, judged, and digested. Yet normally, only such food as is agreeable to the state of the body is absorbed by the heart's blood and made part of the structures of the bodily tissues; and only such thought as is received with some delight, and by man's free consent, is united with the will and thus made a part of man's spiritual being. Thoughts concerning evil, evil suggestions and imaginations, do not defile a man. Not, that is, so far as they come uninvited - come as spheres of temptation, as wandering spirits seeking rest, as spies seeking out the weakness of man's spiritual defenses. What defiles a man is the heart's consent to evil - the consent which makes the suggestion of evil welcome - the consent which opens the house of the human mind to the imaginations of vainglory and self-importance and to the fantasies which feed unlawful lusts, the consent which unlocks the flood-gates of the will of the proprium for the influx of cupidity.
And now the internal sense of the precept, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house," tells us that we must beware lest the evils which the love of the world prompts and suggests, become of the will, become no longer hereditary tendencies, but actual evils. Actual evils do not mean merely evils of obvious act. Rather do they mean evil personally sanctioned and appropriated, which transforms the imagination and the deeds of the body into a symbolism, in which the fulfilment of that evil lust is prophetically present in veiled ways, inhibited only by fear from going forth into acts openly rebellious against the laws of charity. We must beware, therefore, lest we consent to the thoughts which our hereditary inclinations would have us entertain as permanent guests.
For what is retained in the thought of man - what is kept active for long, what is not rejected but is accepted with some delight excused and held agreeable - that enters and forms his will. If it is good and true it forms the new regenerate will, but if evil it forms, in man's consciousness, an evil will which is at one with that old evil hereditary will which was, by the Lord's mercy, at first closed off for the sake of man's freedom. Man must beware against thus allowing the love of the world to stretch forth its lusts like tentacles from the old will into the understanding, and there confirming it by the thought. For out of the heart come the evils which defile a man.
But what are the lusts of the love of the world? We generally call them envies, or covet-ousness. The "love of the world" drives men on relentlessly in its desire for that elusive happiness which the sense of possession is supposed to ensure. It urges for wealth, for comfort, for luxury, for display. It delights in constant acquisition, yet it knows no lasting contentment, no real enjoyment. For the love of the world rules the man with whom it has found a home, and rules the age in which we live. This is what makes it a restless age - for there are no limits to the pursuit of wealth and comforts. As soon as one goal has been reached, envy again raises its eyes to the neighbor's house, and the heart is deprived of its delight in what is its own, and casts about to obtain something new.
Who can recount the indefinite varieties of lusts which proceed from the love of the world? In hell they range from the desire to take the goods of others by force, with the insatiable tortures of envy attending this desire; to the vanity of seeking to substitute the sophistication and conceit of much knowledge and of great intellectual acquisitions for the true wisdom of life which begins with the fear of God and results in lasting happiness.
But over the fevered world, fretful and suffering, there comes descending, to those who may see it, the cooling morning dews of Divine revelation. "Is not the life," it causes us to ask,"more than meat, and the body than raiment?" "Take no thought," it protests, "for your life, what ye shall eat... nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on! ...For your heavenly Father knoweth ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.... What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Take heed and beware of covetousness; for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Matt. 6:25,32,33; 16:26; Luke 12:15).
And in the words of John in his epistle there rings the conviction and peace of one who had followed his Master's precept: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.... For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world; and the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever" (I John 2:15-17).
The lust of the world is not of the heavenly Father, but is in rebellion against Him. It involves a sin against Him - a denial of His mercy and continual watchful providence. It is really an envy against Him. It contains at bottom a fretting hatred against the Lord the Creator for not making a different universe - a world where we could always be supreme. The lust of worldli-ness is envy against the Lord's claim upon us for a place in our lives and in our minds and hearts - envy against Him as our supreme Neighbor.
The human mind - which is so fearfully and wonderfully made, so curiously wrought - is the house of the Lord. It is built by the Lord as His abode - an abode in which our spirit is but a guest Let us pray that we may ever freely grant Him room, and not covet for ourselves our Neighbor's House.