A June 19th New Church Day Address

by Rev. James P. Cooper

"Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory' (Matthew 24:30).

We have gathered here today for many reasons: to worship the Lord; to promise to shun evils as sins through the covenant of the Holy Supper; and to celebrate the Lord's Second Coming.

We need to stop for a moment and think about that. Do we realize how casually we speak about the Second Coming in the New Church? Do we have any idea how strange it must seem to those who are not familiar with our doctrines to hear us talk about the Second Coming, or the life after death, like when one New Church woman expressed her sympathy for the death of the other's mother after a long and painful illness. The shocked looks of the others in the shop when she said, "I was so glad to hear that your mother died,' can easily be imagined. We in the church are so familiar with the spiritual world that death is to us a blessing, a peaceful passing from one life to another, something to look forward to when the end of fife approaches. And because we know so much about the spiritual world, we even know some amazing things about its history, particularly the history of the Second Coming which we refer to in the past tense-which also causes surprise to those not in the church.

As we said, we are gathered here to celebrate the completion of the Last Judgment, the Second Coming of the Lord, and the establishment of the New Church, and in order to do so, we need to have a clear idea of what those things mean.

The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church tell us that the Last Judgment and Second Coming of the Lord, foretold in the gospels and in the book of Revelation, actually took place in the world or spirits some 200 years ago.

The world of spirits is a place of introduction for people who have died, for although we have all been created to live in the spiritual world, no one is ready to go straight into heaven or hell immediately upon the death of the natural body. This is because all of us have elements of good and evil, and these need to be sorted out before we can enter our final home. The world of spirits lies between heaven and hell just so it can be a place where both the good and evil from the world can be gathered, instructed, and finally prepared to enter their home society in heaven or hell.

Each one of us, while we live in the world, is a mixture of good and evil, truth and falsity. While we live in the world, the mixture is acceptable, but once we die, we must either remove all the evil and falsity before entering heaven, or remove all good and truth before entering hell, for there cannot be a confusion or mixture of good and evil in either heaven or hell, and no one in heaven or hell is allowed to have a "divided' mind, that is, a mind that contains both good and evil loves.

At least this is what happens when things are in the order of creation. But when a church is coming to its end, as happens from time to time in history, and before the Lord has established a new church to take its place and serve its uses to the human race, the world of spirits comes into a state of confusion and disorder because those spirits who are entering it from the world are themselves in a state of confusion and disorder. And whenever and wherever there is confusion and disorder, the evil spirits are sure to be there, adding to the turmoil and unhappiness. We are told that the evil spirits were able to pretend that they were angels, and the new spirits from earth were so uninformed as to spiritual things that they were unable to see through their deception, and so were captured in 'false heavens' set up in the world of spirits.

These people were made captives by their own ignorance of spiritual truth. The only way they could be freed was by being taught the truth. The problem was that the truth of their own churches had been so changed by the ideas of men that it could no longer help. The genuine truth of the Word was no longer known in the churches. And so the Lord began His great judgment by coming to earth Himself and teaching truths about heaven in words and stories that were suited to those times and those people. These new truths were heard in the spiritual world as well, and served to free the captives in the world of spirits. They heard the Lord's teachings, and saw their captors for what they were, and fled from them. Once they could see the difference between good and evil, truth and falsity, they could then prepare themselves for heaven or hell, and were free to do so, and find their eternal homes.

The state of mankind was such at the time of the Lord's first coming that He was not able to reveal everything that Ile wanted us to know. What He was able to teach was certainly enough to lead men to heaven and to provide for their spiritual freedom, but He wanted to give far more than people were ready to receive at that time. As He himself said, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when Ile, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:12, 13). Jesus had taught enough to get things moving, but there was more to be done, more to be taught, but lie had to wait until the human race had digested what had already been taught before He could add anything more. So He returned to the spiritual world while mankind worked with the teachings that are now in the New Testament.

Sometimes, when a person is critically ill, there is more than one disease attacking him. The main disease responds to medication and only then reveals a second disease lurking behind it. But once it has been revealed, that second disease can also be treated. The same kind of thing happened in the spiritual world. Once the problems caused by the literalistic and power-hungry Pharisees and Sadducees had been solved by the teachings of the Lord, other evils in mankind began to reveal themselves as the leaders of the Christian Church began to use that church as a means to acquire personal power and possessions. By the year 325 A.D. the leaders of the Christian Church were determining the doctrine of that church by political councils. When that happened, when the leadership of the Christian Church turned away from Scripture and toward themselves, it marked the spiritual end of that church.

Any student of history can trace the fall of the Christian Church from that time. Soon the leaders of the church became so corrupt that a whole period of the history of the church is called, by Christian historians, "the pornocracy," the rule of filth. Hard on the heels of that came the Inquisitions and the Crusades, and quite a few other unchurchlike things. It was forbidden for anyone but a priest to take the wine of the Holy Supper or read the Bible, and no church services were conducted in a language understood by the common man.

Still speaking from the point of view of history, as Europe emerged from the Dark Ages and began to experience a rebirth of freedom of thought, many great men began to question the hold that the church had placed on the bodies, minds, and spirits of men, and through their questioning and thought, the Reformation was -born. But as is often the case, when a movement arises to counteract an abuse, the pendulum swings too far in the other direction. While the Catholic Church had put emphasis on obedience to the rituals of the church, or "works," the Reformers decided to move entirely away from works to faith without works, and began to teach that faith alone would save. The problem with the Catholic Church was that its doctrines were made by men, but the Reformers missed that point, and instead of turning back to Scripture, based their doctrine on the views of other, different men. The two great movements of the Christian Church swept back and forth across the face of Europe, and thousands died because they said their prayers in the wrong language-or their kings did.

And as they died, once again they were entering the world of spirits without sufficient truth to be able to make the basic decisions between good and evil, truth and falsity. The hells were once again able to rise up and set up their false heavens in the world of spirits. Once again, innocent people from the world were prevented, through their own ignorance of spiritual truth, from entering heaven. The falsities that had lain hidden beneath those that had been dealt with by the first judgment on the Jewish Church were now exposed in their fullness. It was time for the Lord to finish the work that He had begun when He came to earth as Jesus Christ. It was time for Him to show all mankind that the Word does not teach either works alone or faith alone, but the truth that the life of faith and charity together is the path to heaven.

The nature of prophesy is such that it is very difficult to tell what is going to happen in advance. It is only after it has already passed that you can recognize it. We know that the twelve disciples did not understand that Jesus Christ had come to establish a heavenly kingdom until after He had refused to fight when betrayed by Judas and allowed Himself to be crucified and then rose again, even though the Old Testament was full of prophecies of that very sequence of events. In the same way the prophecies of the Second Coming are not so clear unless you have seen the event in the past. Then you can look at what happened and see if it fits the prophecies.

The Lord first opened the spiritual eyes of Emanuel Swedenborg in the year 1743. Swedenborg spent the next 27 years being guided through the spiritual world, and, like John, being commanded to write in a book the things he saw. His observations filled volumes, detailed notes of things seen and heard at the command of the Lord Himself, and perhaps the most important thing he saw and reported during those years was that the Lord was making His Second Coming, not in person but in the spiritual sense of the Word. Swedenborg was shown that everything in the Word contains a spiritual sense that can be worked out using what was called 'the science of correspondences." By this new science the Bible became a work that spoke of the Lord and His kingdom in every verse, instead of being a book that appeared to be merely a history of the Jewish people. But most important, it told us that when Jesus said that He would return in 'the clouds of heaven," it meant that He would be re-appearing through a new understanding of the stories of the Old and New Testaments. The stories are represented by clouds because, like mist, they stand in the way of the genuine meaning within, but they are clouds of heaven because the truths contained in the Bible are heavenly truths from God.

So the Lord came again, not in person but through a new revelation that opened up the spiritual sense of the Word so that for the first time it could actually speak to all the spiritual states of mankind if only they used the proper key. This new truth was revealed in the world of spirits as well, and as before, when the confused, unhappy spirits heard the genuine truth from the Lord, they immediately recognized it, loved it, and made it their own. This new truth made it possible for them to see their captors for what they were and, reject them, thus allowing them to freely choose their own heavenly society.

As we prepare for the Holy Supper on this important anniversary of the completion of the Lord's great work of salvation, let us resolve to turn to the Word for ourselves, and with the knowledge that it contains heavenly truths that will help us live happy lives in this world and the next, make a covenant with the Lord today to make those truths our own by bringing them into our daily life, by striving to throw out those evils that oppose them, and by living a life of charity to all. If we do these things, then the Lord will indeed have made His Coming, for He will have come into our lives, bringing peace, happiness, and eternal life. Amen.

Lessons: Daniel 7:9-14, Matthew 24:15-31, TCR 787
Presented in Durban, South Africa

True Christian Religion 787

This New Church is the crown of all the churches that have hitherto existed on the earth, because it is to worship one visible God in whom is the invisible like the soul in the body. Thus, and not otherwise, is a conjunction of God with man possible because man is natural, and therefore thinks naturally, and conjunction must exist in his thought, and thus in his love's affection, and this is the case when he thinks of God as Man. Conjunction with an invisible God is like a conjunction of the eye's vision with the expanse of the universe, the limits of which are invisible; it is also like vision in mid-ocean, which reaches out into the air and upon the sea, and is lost.

Conjunction with a visible God, on the other hand, is like beholding a man in the air or on the sea spreading forth his hands and inviting to his arms. For all conjunction of God with man must be also a reciprocal conjunction of man with God; and no such reciprocation is possible except with a visible God. That before the assumption of the Human, God was not visible, the Lord Himself also teaches in John: 'Ye have neither heard the voice of the Father at any time nor seen His form' (v. 37). And in Moses: "No one can see God and live" (Exodus 33:20). But that He is visible through His Humanity is stated in John: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath manifested Him" (1:18). And in the same: "Jesus said I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one cometh unto the Father but by Me. He that knoweth Me knoweth the Father, and he that seeth Me seeth the Father' (14:6,7,9).

That there is a conjunction with the invisible God through the visible, that is, through the Lord, He teaches in the following passages: "Jesus said, Abide in Me and I in you; he that abideth in Me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit" (John 15:4,5). 'In that day ye shall know that I am in the Father and ye in Me and I in you' (John 14:20). "The glory which thou hast given Me I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one, I in them and Thou in Me, that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them and I in them" (John 17:21-23, 26; also 6:56). It is also taught that He and the Father are one, and that in order to have eternal life, man must believe in Him. That salvation depends on conjunction with God has been frequently shown above.

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