Books, articles, sermons and blogs
online, based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg
Second Sermon: Matthew 5:4
"Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4.)
The three great evils that have afflicted mankind are famine, pestilence and war. There are, in addition, fire and flood, heat and cold, storm and earthquake; also the loss of relatives and friends, the loss of property and possessions, the loss of reputation and fame; and other evils which by their presence bring distress, calamity, or ruin upon states, communities, families, or individuals; and they cause men to mourn, they cause grief of mind and spirit, which sometimes takes the form of weeping or bitter lamentation, causing tears to stream from the eyes, accompanied perhaps by cries uttered from the mouth, and even in some nations with beating of the breast.
The evils, however, which we have mentioned, and which are the cause of mourning, distress, or grief, are merely natural evils. They pertain to this world and to the life of the body. Famine, pestilence or war, fire, flood, or earthquake, may kill tie body, but they cannot destroy the soul. They may bring to an end life in the natural world, but they cannot bring to an end life in the spiritual world. The destruction of the whole earth, the wiping out of the visible heavens, cannot cause man as a spiritual being to cease to exist.
These are the things men mourn over—the evils which bring natural calamity. But in the eyes of the angels they are of little moment. In heaven they are not regarded, except so far as they contribute to break the force of natural loves, and thus to bring man into a becoming state of humility, by which he is prepared to receive the spiritual things of the Word. The angels regard these natural evils as of small moment, because they are not the real evils that afflict the human race. They indeed bring natural calamity or death, but they do not bring spiritual death. Spiritual death is damnation or eternal misery in hell; it is to be shut out of heaven forever, and is what is meant by the "second death" in the Book of Revelation. These natural evils, therefore, are not treated of in the spiritual sense of the Word, which is the Word for the angels in heaven.
The spiritual sense, which is the angelic Word, is also to be the Word for the New Church on earth, and the man of the New Church must learn to look upon the natural evils spoken of as of but little account; he must learn that spiritual evils are the evils to mourn over, the evils which destroy the soul, which bring ruin to the spiritual life of men. The Lord, in all that He uttered, was speaking to and teaching primarily the angels of heaven, and at the same time the New Church which was to come. Thus He spoke of spiritual things to spiritual men and angels, while in the outward form and appearance He spoke of natural things to natural men and children. When He spoke, as in the text, of mourning, He referred primarily and essentially to mourning, distress, and grief over the spiritual evils which afflict the human race, and which destroy men eternally.
In the outward form, indeed, He spoke of the use which mourning over natural evils may bring to men, by breaking the power of the lusts of the flesh, and thus in preparing them for the implantation of the spiritual seed of the Word. Viewed in this light, even mourning over natural evils becomes a blessing, and there is a comfort and consolation that flows forth from it, since, in the Providence of the Lord, it is made to contribute to the advancement of spiritual life. Even in this sense it may be said, "Blessed are they that mourn." But this is not the sense primarily in view in the words of the Lord. The spiritual sense of what He said treats of the spiritual evils which desolate the church, which bring it to its consummation, which destroy what is spiritual in the life of man, and which would destroy all that is spiritual in the world if Divine power did not intervene to stay the hand of the destroyer.
Grieving over the spiritual evils which desolate the church, and which tend to its destruction, is signified by "mourning" and "weeping" in many passages of the Word, treating at the same time, as in the text, of the consolation which is to come to those who so mourn and weep over the church, even as the Lord wept over Jerusalem. The following are examples:—
The same is the subject of the following passages:
And in Luke, where the Blessings are repeated, in the passage corresponding to the text, we have these words: "Blessed are ye that weep now; for ye shall laugh." (Luke 6:21.)
Thus are the former things to pass away, and new things to come; thus are they to receive consolation who become regenerate and are to be formed into a spiritual church by the Lord; thus is the promise given of rescue and relief to those who mourn over the desolated state of the church, and are in temptations on that account. They will be comforted; all their mourning and weeping shall cease; for God Himself shall "wipe away all tears from their eyes."
Our attention naturally turns here to the cause of the mourning of which we have been speaking, the cause of the mourning or grief that is treated of in the spiritual sense of the text. What is it that causes the spiritual man, the regenerating man, to mourn? What is the cause of grief in a spiritual church that is being formed by the Lord?
We have seen that the cause is not worldly calamity, or natural evil of any kind—nothing that affects the body or life in the world; but that it is grief over the spiritual desolation of the church, grief on account of the presence in the church of that which is destroying its spiritual life, rendering it impossible for men to be saved, if nothing comes to stay its destructive course. Perceiving this, the spiritual man grieves; he mourns over the state of the church, is in distress on account of the presence of that which threatens his own spiritual life, as well as that of the church and of the human race. But what is the particular evil, or falsity of evil, that is in view in the words of the text, where the Lord said to His disciples, "Blessed are they that mourn"? There must be some special thing, some particular falsity of evil in view here which causes grief to the man of the church.
In order to find this out, we must go back to the verse which precedes the text, where the Lord says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." We must go back even further, namely, to the opening words of the chapter, where we are told that the Lord, on "seeing the multitudes went up into a mountain, and sitting down there, His disciples came unto Him, and He opened His mouth and taught them." From these opening words we learn that the subject of the series in the spiritual sense is the revelation of the Divine Doctrine out of the inmost heaven, and the instruction of those who are in simple good, and the formation of a new church out of them, without which the saving work of the Lord would cease with the human race, and all men would perish. Then follows what is called the Sermon on the Mount, beginning with the series of the Blessings; and the first words uttered by the Lord are, "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
The words "poor in spirit" take up and express the truth that is universal in the series of the Lord's discourse on the mountain; namely, that the Divine Doctrine must be revealed for the restoration of the church and the salvation of mankind. But the application here is that this Doctrine must enter and be received by the understanding in a state of humility of thought and affection. The understanding is signified by "spirit," and the humility of the understanding by being "poor in spirit." The first state of the Church is, in fact, the subject of these opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Blessed are they that acknowledge that they know and understand nothing from themselves, or from the light of their own intelligence, but that the Lord alone knows all things, and that He alone is able to teach from His Word the true Doctrine of heaven. It is this state of the understanding that receives revelation from the Lord out of heaven; and with those who are in it a new church will be formed, and salvation become present with men. This is the first state of the church, and the church does not begin until the Divine Doctrine is received by those who are in this humble state of the spirit, in this humility of thought in the understanding, who thus are not in a state of human self-conceit, or in the pride of mere human intelligence. With these alone the church on earth begins, and with them alone is it established, and they alone are saved.
Two things are presented to view in these opening words of the Lord: first, the humility of the understanding, which receives the true doctrine of the Word when it is taught by the Lord; and second, the opposite of this, namely, the non-humility of the understanding, or the pride of human intelligence, the belief or persuasion that man lives from himself and not from God, which persuasion, or human self-conceit, is signified by the dragon in the Apocalypse, and by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. This same human self-conceit is in view in the first words of the Sermon on the Mount, in view as that which opposes the reception of the Divine Doctrine; and this negative or opposite sense of the Lord's words may be expressed by saying, "Cursed are they who are not poor in spirit; for the kingdom of heaven is not theirs." Cursed art they who are saturated with the pride of human intelligence, who are in the persuasion that they live from themselves and not from God; for thereby they shut themselves out of heaven, and cannot be saved; for the church, the Lord's heaven on earth, cannot be established with them. This falsity of evil, this false persuasion in full possession of the understanding, destroys the church and all things of it, and effectually prevents its reestablishment with those men who are in it. This is the falsity of evil that generally prevails in a vastated church; this is the falsity of evil that prevails now in the Protestant Christian world: and unless the Lord should come again, no flesh could be saved.
There are some, however, who receive the Lord in His coming; there are some who are not under the dominion of their own intelligence; there are some who are "poor in spirit," who acknowledge in heart that they do not live from themselves but from God, whose minds can receive the Divine Doctrine when it appears, who are interiorly affected by the truth of the Word, whose understandings are illumined by that truth, and who, in the light of new truth, are able to perceive the desolation of the church, and the cause of that desolation. And because this,—the pride of human intelligence,—threatens the integrity of the Doctrine itself, there is distress, grief, and mourning.
The distress arises, therefore, from seeing that the church is in ignorance because it is without truth and unwilling to see the truth; from seeing that the falsities of self-intelligence have taken the place of the truth of the Word; from seeing that these falsities, and the pride of self-conceit which they engender, are in the church, and are in the active endeavor to destroy what remains of the church, and prevent any new implantation of its principles and life. Hence die grief, the distress, the mourning. But there is at the same time resistance; for to see evil as evil is to resist it. This resistance to the falsities which assail the faith and life of the church is what is called in the Writings the combat of temptation; the temptation itself is what is signified by "mourning" in the text.
Let us at this point endeavor to make clear that the thing which desolates the church, destroying the spiritual life of men, threatening the existence of a new church, causing grief, distress, mourning with those who are in charity, and who love the spiritual things of the Word—this cause of the desolation of the church is not the ordinary self-conceit or pride in the possession of the scientifics of the world, such as men have who are in no concern whatever about spiritual things, having not even any profession of belief in them, openly denying and rejecting them. This common self-conceit of men is not what is specially in view in the words of the Lord. It is indeed not excluded, for those who are in it are in no state to receive the spiritual truth of the Word, and even despise and reject it when presented. But they are in no concern about such things; they are indifferent to them, and on this account make no active assault upon the spiritual life of the new church. But those are meant who are in pride, in self-conceit, on account of their possession of the things of the Word and of heaven. They are themselves in no concern about salvation and eternal life, but they are concerned about dominating the thought and life of others, are concerned about their own position of eminence and reputation for learning in the things of the Word, and are ever ready to assail and destroy the faith of those of the church who are not willing and ready to become subject to their thought and will. They make use of the spiritual truth of the Word to build themselves up, and at the same time to oppress and subjugate others. It was such as these that formed the imaginary heavens before the Last Judgment, and who cast the simple good into hell; it is such as these that actively oppose the institution of a new church, and endeavor to destroy the new doctrine as soon as it is born into the world. And the greatest danger to a new church is, that they may even outwardly accept its doctrine, for the sake of the worldly reward of power and dominion that it brings. It is such as these that are meant by the dragon in the Apocalypse, who persecuted die woman; by the serpent in the Garden of Eden who deceived the woman; and who assault the "poor in spirit," causing them anguish and distress of spirit, grief and mourning.
It is said in the Apocalypse that the dragon stood before the woman, ready to devour her child as soon as it was born; and we are told that by the "woman" is meant the New Christian Church which was to come, and by the "man-child" its doctrine. The "dragon," as we have seen, signifies the pride of human intelligence in spiritual things, especially that intelligence which concocted the dogma that man is saved by faith alone without obedience to the Commandments; teaching that the Commandments are to be kept for the sake of moral and civil life in the world, but that they contribute nothing to salvation, faith being the only instrument by which men are saved, and by which they become heirs of the spiritual kingdom of the Lord.
Now, wherever the New Church appears it is assailed, and its existence threatened, by the ruling falsity of evil in its environment. In the Protestant Christian world, the environment of the New Church in its beginning—the ruling evil—is the pride or conceit of human intelligence; and the ruling falsity of that evil is the belief or persuasion that man lives from himself and not from God, and that since he lives from himself, he also thinks from himself, his thought is his own, self-derived, from no source outside of himself. These are they who are not "poor in spirit," with whom the kingdom of heaven is not, and with whom it can never be until after serious and bitter repentance. This is the state that opposes the New Church, that assails its doctrine and life; it is the dragon that stands before the woman, ready to devour her child as soon as it is born, it is the same serpent that deceived the woman in the Garden of Eden. It is this state of conceit, of pride in the things of human intelligence, of belief that man lives and thinks from himself, that makes the reception of the Doctrine of the New Church difficult, and causes the Church at first, and for a long time, to be confined to a few, and is the cause that it will not increase among many until it passes through "great tribulation and affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the world, or ever shall be again." It is this state that is signified in the text by they that mourn; it is this state that causes grief and distress to those who are in the spiritual affection of truth, who love the spiritual things of the Word of God.
It was said that the first thing of the church is the revelation from heaven of genuine doctrine, and the reception of it into the understanding of those who are meant by the "poor in spirit." But as the understanding of truth is nothing without spiritual affection, nothing but thought from the memory; and as spiritual affection is nothing else than the activity of charity, or love to the Lord and love to the neighbor; so the real truth is, that love or charity is the first thing of the church; and hence its activity, which is the spiritual affection of truth, is the first thing of the church, and they are in this affection who are meant by the "poor in spirit"; and no others but those who are in such spiritual affection will receive, or can interiorly receive the spiritual truth of the Word as now revealed by the Lord in His second coming into the world.
It is this same spiritual affection of truth that is signified in the Apocalypse by the woman clothed with the sun, who was persecuted by the dragon. The assault of the dragon, or of those who are in the pride of human intelligence,—those who believe that they live from themselves and not from God,—is upon the new doctrine indeed, upon the understanding of truth indeed, but in reality it is an assault upon the spiritual affection of truth, which is the first of the church, which, if it does not survive—if it is destroyed, if it dies,—the church will die, spiritual life will be extinguished from among men, and all will be over with the human race.
It is the perception of this danger to the Church that is the cause of grief and mourning to the spiritual man of the Church. It is a danger to the Church,— its greatest danger,—because it is the ruling falsity of evil in the Protestant Christian world, and is what has desolated the Church. It is what has destroyed, and is destroying, the spiritual life of men; and it is that which will strangle the life of the New Church in its beginning, if it is not met and successfully resisted; and the spiritual man grieves because of its presence and activity. The danger is the greater because this evil is implanted in the natural of every man. It is this in the man of the Church himself which, if excited into activity, will deceive him, lead him astray, and destroy his spiritual life, even as the serpent deceived the woman in the Garden of Eden, and through the woman the man, and caused their expulsion from the Garden of the Lord. It is the perception of this threatening danger; it is the perception of this falsity of evil active in itself; it is the perception of his own tendency to be persuaded that he lives from himself, thinks from himself, and not from God; the perception of his own tendency to attribute his truth, his thought, to himself; the perception of this very activity in the New Church itself, which is the cause of the grief and mourning. It is the perception that the life of the Church is threatened, that the spiritual life of every man in the Church, including himself, is in danger,—it is this that causes him to grieve over the desolation of the Church, to grieve because of the continued activity of that which threatens its existence, that causes the difficult reception of the spiritual truth of the Word, that places the New Church in jeopardy, and causes its existence in the Christian world to be exceedingly precarious, and makes it necessary in the Providence of the Lord that it should at first be confined to a few, while a gradual preparation is made for its increase among many. And we may be sure that this increase will not take place until the dragon and all his progeny are driven forth from the interior thought and life of the Church.
This, however, will be done. The danger will be removed; the dragon will be cast out; the pride of intelligence will be cast down from its seat; the life of heaven will become an established factor in the life of men; the Church will increase from a few to many; the New Heaven will continue to be formed from a New Church on earth; the Church will consist of regenerate men and women, and they will no longer fear the assaults of the destroyer of the souls of men; the land will no longer be desolate; the "wilderness shall rejoice and blossom as the rose"; the "tabernacle of God will be with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, their God."
For has not God Himself, the Lord our Savior Jesus Christ, promised to comfort them that mourn, to calm the unrest and disturbance of mind arising from temptations, to inspire a hope that would take the place of despair,—a hope for the continued existence of the church, a hope for the regeneration and salvation of the individual man,—a new perception, a new light, a clearer understanding, a new delight in the things of heaven. All these, and immensely more are involved and contained in the words of our Lord to His disciples, when He said unto them, as He sat upon the mountain, "Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted." Amen.
Lessons: II. Samuel 1:11-27. Revelation
C. 5480; or
A. R. 884; or
N. J. H. D. 187-195; or
T. C. R. 165.