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Fifth Sermon: Matthew 5:7
"Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7.)
In order to understand the words of the text, it is necessary to know something of the environment or conditions in which they were uttered by the Lord. For all He said to His disciples had in view the actual states of men, and involved the reasons for His coming into the world, the reasons why the God of the universe had made Himself manifest and visible to men, why He had come to sojourn among them as one of them.
If all men had been merciful, if the element of mercy had been dominant in human life, there would have been no need for the Lord to come and make Himself manifest in a body of material flesh and blood. But because mercy was almost absent as a factor in the relations of men with each other, it was necessary that He who was Mercy Itself should come and exercise mercy, and thus restore that which had been lost; for without the quality of mercy, human life is impossible in the association of men with each other. And the Lord teaches in the text, and elsewhere, how mercy is to be restored. All men are in need of mercy; the Lord God of heaven and earth has come to impart it unto them; but in order that they may become active recipients of this human angelic quality,—this Divine principle of life,—they must exercise it toward one another. "Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy."
By "blessing" in the Word, and being blessed, is signified to receive eternal life. Only the angels of heaven are blessed, because they alone live. Those who are shut out of heaven, who shut themselves out of heaven, are not blessed. They cut themselves off from blessing and the source of blessing. They continue to exist, but they cannot be said to live; for only those live, and are blessed in living, who conjoin themselves with God and consociate with their fellow men, who love to be conjoined with God and love to consociate with their fellow man. All such are blessed, all such live, all such are in heaven after death.
Hell is not life, the infernals do not live, no one in hell is blessed, because everyone there is disjoined from God, and strives against consociation with his neighbor, except so far as the neighbor can be subjugated and compelled to serve the activities of his self-love. There is no life in hell because there is no love with those who are in hell, nothing to conjoin one with another; and because there is no love, there is no mercy. All mercy is of love, is the exercise of love towards those who are in need of the ministration of mercy; and all men are in need of this heavenly ministration. The Lord also pointed out to His disciples that there is no way for anyone to receive the ministrations of mercy but for himself to enter into the active exercise of it towards others. But there is no mercy in hell, or among evil spirits towards each other. Cruelty there takes the place of mercy; for the law is the same in things that are opposite. They who are cruel and vindictive will have cruelty and vengeance visited upon them. As ye give, so shall ye receive. This law is operative in heaven, in hell, and in the world. There is no escape from it. As ye give, so shall ye receive; as ye visit upon others, so shall it be visited upon you.
In the Golden Age, the conditions of heaven were the conditions of the world. Love and mercy were active principles of human life. But at the time of the Lord's coming, these heavenly principles no longer prevailed among men. The conditions of hell had become the conditions of the world. Men were no longer in a state of blessing, because hatred had taken the place of love; cruelty and revenge were everywhere the practice in men's relations with each other. Men even justified themselves in being cruel and vindictive; they had forgotten that the only way to the mercy which they so much needed, and which every man craves in his soul because he needs it, is for the individual himself to begin by being merciful to others.
There is no man who does not at times feel the need of mercy; there is no man who does not at times pray for mercy; and the Lord comes down from heaven, and says unto him, even as He said to His disciples on the mountain: Be merciful, and ye shall receive mercy. Ye feel the need of mercy; therefore exercise it, in order to receive it. If mercy flows forth out of you into the world, it will flow down into you from heaven, and it will flow back from the world unto you again. The universal law of creation has no exception, that influx accommodates itself to efflux; where there is a going forth, there will also be a return; in other words, where there is action, there will also be reaction; as ye visit upon others, so shall it be visited to you again. Influx is from the Lord; efflux is towards the neighbor, and reflux is a return again from the neighbor. For it is a law of all creation that where there is a going forth, there is also and always a return. As we give forth, so shall we receive back again; as we give, so shall we receive by influx from the Lord; and as we give, so shall we receive by reflux from the neighbor.
This law of efflux and reflux became, in the Ancient Church, what is called the law of retaliation. The word retaliation signifies requital, reprisal, retribution, paying back, returning upon another what he has brought upon us, giving back like for like; and in the ancient law it was "a punishment similar and equal to the injury sustained," which was also called retaliation in kind. This law became a rigid statute of the Mosaic code, well suited to the genius of the Israelitish people, with whom justice was but another name for vengeance, even though it was exercised under the forms of law. "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," was the requirement, a justice not tempered with mercy. But the Lord taught His disciples that, while they were to "hunger and thirst for justice," they were not to hunger and thirst for vengeance; and thus, after teaching them concerning the law of justice, that it is to be desired above all tilings, He immediately follows with the law of mercy, in order that they might know that the justice which is inspired by revenge, and sought for the sake of vengeance, is not the justice of God, but a justice having its origin in a kingdom where a cruel retaliation is visited for all offences, and where the law is fulfilled that the unmerciful cannot receive mercy.
The law of retaliation, which is the law of strict, rigid and cruel justice, justice without mercy, is the direct opposite of the law which reigns in heaven, which is the law of mutual love. The law of mutual love is the law of efflux and reflux, under the operation of which the angels are consociated together, conjoined together as one. This is especially the law of marriage in heaven. With every angelic couple, there is an efflux of love from each to the other, and a reflux of love from each to the other, by which they are joined together in a perpetual and never ending union of heart and mind, of body and soul, so that each may say of the other, as Adam said of his wife, "This one is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh." A union which God has joined together, and which man cannot divorce or tear asunder. But where the law of retaliation reigns, and a rigid and vindictive justice is visited upon all, and is exacted and required of all, where justice is insisted upon to the exclusion of mercy, there can be no union of souls, no mutual love, no reciprocal efflux and reflux, no truly human life, no influx from God, no blessedness by conjunction with God, no eternal felicity in consociation with men. For only those who give mercy and love can receive the same from the fount of mercy.
The Lord, therefore, when He came into the world, abolished the representation of the infernal law of retaliation for injuries sustained, and decreed that the law of mutual love should be represented instead; and it can be said with truth that this is the burden of His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Early in the Divine discourse we find the teaching, expressed first in the words of the text, "Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy." They that give forth mercy shall receive mercy; they shall receive it both by the influx of mercy from God, and by the reflux of mercy from men.
In the twentieth verse of the same chapter in which the text occurs, the law appears again, "Except your justice shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." The justice of the scribes and Pharisees, the justice of the world at large, was the justice of revenge, and self justification in the exercise of cruelty and revenge upon others. In no case can such as these enter into the kingdom of heaven, where the supreme law is the law of mutual love, and conjunction by mutual love. The Lord therefore abolished this law, and its representation in the civil code of nations, in order that the way might be prepared for the perpetual reign of the kingdom of heaven on earth.
As soon as the Lord spake to His disciples, abolishing for the Christian Church the law of vindictive justice, such as then ruled with the nations of the earth, especially with those known as the scribes and Pharisees, He immediately adds the teaching that anger or revenge, or hatred of the neighbor, is not to rule in the dealings of men with each other, that men were not to visit wrath one upon another for injuries done, to requite wrath for injuries received, to pay back or retaliate wrath for wrath, evil for evil, "Ye have heard that it was said by them or 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." (Matt. 5:21, 22.) In other words, he that visits wrath upon another shall have wrath visited upon him from hell, the source of wrath; and the only escape from it is to be merciful, even as our heavenly Father also is merciful, who is kind even to the unthankful and the evil. This is not a sentiment, but a law; not a theory, but a fact; and presents the only way of escape and refuge to man from the influx of the wrath of hell. Be ye merciful, and ye shall obtain mercy.
Later in the same chapter, (5:38-42), the Lord teaches more plainly that there is to be in the Christian Church no revenge for injuries done. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man shall sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away." In these words, the Lord presented before His disciples the law of Christian good. It is not meant that we are meekly and tamely to submit to all indignity and wrong, for neither would this be of charity; but there is to be no revenge for injuries done; we are not to resist evil with evil in return; the old law of retaliation and vindictive justice is abolished; evil is to be resisted, not of man, but of the Lord; for vengeance belongeth unto Him, and He alone can resist evil and remove it far away from us. If we resist evil from evil, it will return upon us again, and the last case is worse than the first.
The Lord then delivers the Christian law of retaliation; for the word retaliation, or talio, was not originally used in a bad sense. It simply meant returning like for like, and in heaven returning good for good. It is the law of mutual love,—of loving, and of being loved in return. But in the Christian Church on earth men were to begin by returning good for evil; for he who does not begin in this way will not reach the state in which the angels are,—a state of mutual giving and receiving of all things of good and truth, of mercy and love. The Lord therefore said to His disciples, speaking through them to the Christian Church, inculcating the genuine law of Christian good. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father in heaven; for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. 5:43-45)
This was a new law in the world, a new principle of human action; and it is new even now, even in this enlightened age of the world; and for the natural man it is a hard saying. The natural man is not willing to love his enemies; he wishes to resist evil with evil, he wishes to retaliate injury for injury. Thus the law of Christian good is but little understood; it has taken little hold upon the affections of men; it exercises but little influence in the activities of the world; it is, indeed, an almost unknown factor in the practical working of human life on earth. And because there is but little Christian good or genuine charity among men, there is scarcely any faith; for where there is no charity neither is there any faith, since the one does not exist without the other. For this reason, the Lord has come again into the world, and is establishing a new Christian Church, wherein the law of Christian good is to be the law of life, by which the kingdom of heaven is to come and be established in the world.
Finally, in the seventh chapter, the third of the Sermon on the Mount, the Christian law of retaliation receives its complete formulation in what is called the Golden Rule. "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets." (7:12.) Here we are taught that the law of Christian good, the law of mutual love, is the sum of the Word of God, the burden of the law and the prophets,—the spirit of the law, the spirit of the Gospel, from first to last. "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets;" this is the Word of God, this is the doctrine of the Church, this is the essence of the true Christian religion, the universal law of life for angels and for men.
No man wishes that another should do evil unto him; he does not desire injury and wrong at the hand of others; so strong is this desire in him, that he at once resents it, and perhaps meditates revenge, when evil is visited upon him by another. He wishes that the neighbor should do good to him; and he wishes to enforce or compel others to do good to him. Every evil spirit in hell desires good from others; he longs for it; he wishes others to love him, and he even prays for mercy when he is in misery and distress, as when he receives the punishment of revenge at the hands of his enemies. This is a universal fact of human life. Every man desires good from others, would have others love him, and be merciful unto him. And the Lord God our Savior, living in the world among men, knowing the human heart as no man could know it, knowing the needs of human life as men cannot know, gives unto men the Christian law of ethics, the Christian law of retaliation, the Christian law of mutual love,—" As ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them." The standard of our doing, of our giving to others, is the standard of what we would have them do unto us, and give unto us. As ye would have them do to you, do ye even so to them. This is the standard; this is the law in heaven. Every angel lives according to this law; every angel is constantly giving what he would wish to receive; and since he gives, he also receives. He blesses others, and the blessing of others returns upon him. He is merciful to others, and mercy flows back upon him. He loves others, and is loved by them again. Thus mutual love is the spring of angelic life.
Men, however, apply this law negatively, as it is applied in hell. As men do unto you, do ye in like manner unto them, whether evil or good. If men do evil unto you, then do evil to them in return. If so be they do good unto you, then do good to them, but wait until they do good unto you before ye do it unto them. This brings men back to the ancient law of retaliation, that men are to render evil for evil, and takes them away from the law of Christian good which teaches that men are not to resist evil with evil, but that they are to resist evil with good, and that the very resistance to evil, which is at times necessary, is not to be from the evil in them, the evil of revenge, but from the love of good. Evil is to be resisted, indeed, but it is to be done from good, that is, from the Lord.
The principle enunciated in the Golden Rule clearly indicates that the individual must himself be active, and not wait for the action of others. Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. As influx is prior to efflux, so is efflux prior to reflux. What we receive from the Lord we send forth in the life of use; and he who receives the efflux of our use reacts, and gives back in return of what he receives. Action is prior to reaction; and this is just what the Golden Rule means in the relation of men with each other. Let us state it in this way: As ye would have men shun evil toward you, so do ye shun evil toward them; as ye would have men refrain from injuring you, therefore refrain ye from injuring them; as ye would have men do good to you, so do ye do good to them; as ye would have men be merciful unto you, so be ye merciful unto them. The standard of our own action is thus plainly set before us in what we would wish others to do unto us. Whatever we may wish others to do unto us should become with us an active principle of life toward them, and this even regardless of their action or their attitude toward us. We are not to study their actions, or their attitude, and shape ours accordingly. If we do this, we are waiting for the action of others; and in doing this, we are making ourselves a passive subject. This is not the Golden Rule; this is not the law of mutual love. This law requires that the standard which we form —which every man forms—for the action of others toward him should become his standard of action towards them, an active standard toward them, a standard that does not wait for their action, but which should be the active efflux of his life, regardless of their state or mental attitude. If they meditate injury or do evil to him, he is not to make this his standard of action towards them; for he does not wish them to do evil to him; he wishes all men to do good to him; therefore let this be his course of action towards them. As ye would have men do unto you, do ye even so to them. The efflux must precede the reflux, for the efflux is the active and the reflux is the reactive. If ye would have the reflux, first let there be efflux. If ye would receive, first give. If ye would have the reaction, first act. As ye would have others do, so do ye unto them.
Every angel in heaven is this kind of active subject. He receives from the Lord, he gives to the neighbor, and the neighbor responds to his action. There is thus with all the angels a constant state of action and reaction with each other, a continual efflux and reflux. This is the mutual love of heaven, and the source and cause of all angelic happiness. For in all their action and reaction towards each other, in all their efflux and reflux, there is delight, and this is the source of happiness in heaven which is perpetual.
It is the opposite in hell. Every inhabitant of hell applies the Golden Rule negatively. There the law is eye for eye, tooth for tooth, wound for wound, burning for burning,—the return of injury for injury. Every evil spirit studies to return upon another the evil which the other meditates or practices toward him; and the statement of the law there would be, Whatsoever evil others do to you, do ye even so to them. Every evil spirit watches another with the eye of a hawk, and shapes his own action toward the other by the evil he observes in him. The standard of evil he observes in the other toward him, he makes his own standard in return; and so the law of mutual love in heaven becomes in hell practically this, actually this, Whatsoever ye would not that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them. We would not have them do evil unto us; and notwithstanding this our standard for them, we do evil unto them, since they do evil unto us. This, for the most part, is also the standard of the world at the present time, the negative application of the Golden Rule. Nearly two thousand years have elapsed since the giving of this wonderful law to men,—the spiritual law, the law of mutual love in heaven; and yet men still act according to the old law of retaliation,—the negative, the opposite of the Golden Rule.
Men long for mercy, pray for it in their hearts, wish others to exercise mercy toward them; but because they do not perceive the exercise of mercy in others, they will not themselves practise it. But this is not to be so in the New Jerusalem, which the Lord is now establishing in the world. They who would dwell within the walls of that Holy City, must remove from their lives all negative application of the Golden Rule, and shun as a sin any application of the old law of retaliation for injuries done. Revenge is to have no part in the city of God; no return of evil for evil; for the law of mutual love is to prevail. In that great city is to be fulfilled to the life the injunction of the Sermon on the Mount, and men are to be rescued from damnation, men are to enter heaven in the fulfilling of it. For in that great city is now to be fulfilled the real spiritual significance of the law, the real spiritual meaning that was in view when the Lord uttered the words inculcating mercy towards others. It was the exercise of mercy over the souls of men, the rescue of men from the misery and cruelty of eternal damnation, from the cruelty of those who would take away the bread of life, who would close heaven and open hell to mankind. This was the mercy that the disciples were to exercise, and this was the cruelty against which they were to wage war, namely, in giving to men the genuine spiritual truths of the Word, the truths which the Lord had come to give, and which false prophets and false priests had taken away from men. The lost truths of the Word, by which alone men could be saved, were to be restored. The apostles were to exercise a compassion for the spiritual miseries of mankind. And this mission the New Church is to fulfill as it has never been fulfilled before; for the Lord has given unto men new truth, and a new power in truth, such as was never given before, and thus as never before there is to be a spiritual fulfillment of the words of the Lord. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." All who thus bless others will be blessed in tie doing; untold blessings will return upon them, in time and in eternity. Amen.
Lessons: Numbers 14: 11-25; Luke 10:
T. C. R.