SELF COMPULSION

A Sermon by the Rev. James P Cooper

And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. (REV 21:6,7)

The text this morning is taken from the 21st chapter of the Book of Revelation, and encompasses the whole of the doctrine of man's freedom of choice in spiritual things. The Lord provides spiritual truths in super abundance for anyone to take their fill. That is, the Fountain of the Water of Life, from which He gives freely and those who then use those truths from that fountain to overcome their sins, are promised that they will inherit blessings and will be conjoined with their Heavenly Father.

There are two things that are brought out in this text that we will focus on today. The issue of freedom of choice in spiritual things and the issue of cooperation with the Divine Providence and with the Lord in our own regeneration.

As the text so clearly states, He who overcomes shall inherit all things. Notice how that is phrased: He who overcomes. Notice especially what it does not say. It does not say "he for whom I shall overcome." The work and the effort of regeneration are ours , not the Lord's. He who overcomes shall inherit. So this in turn leads us to consider the fourth law of the Divine Providence as was read in our lesson.

According to the list of the laws given at the end of the Apocalypse Explained, the fourth law is That the understanding and the will ought not to be in the least compelled by another since all compulsion takes away freedom, but that man ought to compel himself, for to compel oneself is to act from freedom (AE 1136).

When we think about freedom and compulsion we may think that they are mutually contradictory. How can you be free if you are compelled? Isn't it true that you must either be free or compelled – but not both at once? It is also true that the desire to be free from restraint or compulsion from another is innate because freedom is the most precious gift that the Lord gives all people, after life itself. We all enjoy the sense that what we are doing is our own decision and from our own freedom.

Everyone has been given the ability to think about both truths and falsities and everyone has been given the ability to want to do both good and evil things. It sometimes appears to us that we can do these things simultaneously and that there is nothing that another person can do to take that ability away. Certainly the Lord will never take it away, for our freedom is that which gives us the capability of becoming unique individuals as we make our choices in life, and our freedom is the means by which we can reform our lives and eventually be regenerated by the Lord.

We have life and we have spiritual freedom from the Lord. We have hereditary tendencies to evils of every kind from our parents, and we have natural inclinations from our natural bodies. All these things, brought together, make up the vessel that is an individual human being on earth. We may freely choose from a tremendous variety of things on every level that are good or true. Think for a moment about the celestial angel. His freedom is expressed in his choices of ways to show his love to the Lord. The spiritual angel expresses his freedom in his choice of the truths that he learns so that he may act in charity toward others. The angel of the natural heaven chooses among his various duties and uses and does them with good cheer because he is serving the Lord.

If, while living in the world of nature, we choose only from natural inclinations of the body without looking any higher, the result is the drive for absolute freedom from constraint or law. Such freedom from constraint or from law is called "license," and license is encouraged in us by the hells, because they want us to focus on the things of the world. The more we focus on the things of the world, the less time we will spend trying to understand or get spiritual things. The result is that the purely natural person believes freedom is to be free to do whatever he wants without regard for the freedoms or rights of others.

The situation in the natural world demands that there be laws for the sake of an orderly society, but there are two very different kinds of laws in the world. The first is the kind of law that people make to govern their own behavior in society, and a simple example of that would be traffic laws. It doesn't really matter whether we drive on the left hand side or the right hand side of the road, there is nothing spiritual in that decision, we don't need to search the Word for guidance. What is really important is that we all do it the same way. Such laws are easily broken because there is nothing inherent in them to keep them from being broken. They are nothing more than an expression of society's consensus of how things ought to work at a particular time and place.

The other kind of law is the description of the observed behavior of things and systems. We sometimes call it "Science." For example, the law of gravity is a description of an order or a power that binds the things of the universe together in an orderly and predictable way. The law of gravity cannot be broken, it can only be applied.

Sometimes people will say in casual conversation that an airplane is a device that "defies the law of gravity." But when we reflect on it for a moment, it can be easily seen that a device that flies through the air doesn't defy any physical laws, but that its flight depends on the constant an unchanging nature of the law of gravity and other physical laws to operate safely.

Both kinds of laws have this in common, that they describe how things work. Either they describe the relationships of objects and forces in the physical universe (such as the law of gravity), or they are descriptions of how individuals ought to behave in society, such as the traffic laws.

When we think about the laws of the Divine Providence we must be careful to distinguish between which kind of laws they are. The laws of the Divine Providence are not restrictions on the Divine, which leads to people asking the absurd question "Can the Lord make a rock that is too heavy for Him to lift?" That's a trick question, a play of words designed to confuse and to detract from the idea. Instead, the laws of the Divine Providence are descriptions of the principles by which He operates. It's not paradoxical to speak about laws of order or laws of providence for these laws do not in any way restrict God. These laws exist to teach us how we can understand the principles from which and through which He acts in our lives. Thus the Lord can have laws of providence and still be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent because the laws are from Him and simply describe to us the way in which He governs His created Universe.

If we can see that the Lord can operate according to laws and still be entirely free, can we not also see that the laws that come from within ourselves do not restrict our own freedom, for they are simply the forms through which our will presents itself to the outside world? On the other hand, when laws come from outside, from another person or agency, and they are opposed to what we ourselves believe and feel, when they are opposed to what we want to do, when we feel that we are being compelled by another, we immediately rebel because we feel that we are no longer in freedom.

We see this all the time in our relationships with others. The minute we sense that someone is trying to force us to do something, we immediately set up our defenses. On the other hand we know from many different experiences that if we want to get someone else to do something for us we cannot simply issue a command but instead we try to find a way to introduce the idea to the other person so that it appears that it was his idea in the first place. If we can do that, he is then likely to happily go along with it.

True freedom is heavenly freedom as the angels have it. The freedom of angels is the action of their wills, their desires that are within themselves, upon the various truths that they have in their understandings from the Word. The will then selects those truths, those areas of wisdom that are appropriate to itself, and they are then free to act according to their loves through the wisdom that they have. What compels them to do this is their own will and the delight that they feel from doing what is good from the Lord. Thus their compulsion is from within, from their own will and they can do whatever they want to do. An angel's freedom is complete because he only wants to do what is good and thus is totally free to express any love that he feels.

Unfortunately we can't have that kind of freedom while we are yet on earth. We each have this freedom within us as a potential, from creation, but its nature is determined by the nature of our will. Each of us is born with a will that delights in expressing a mixture of hereditary tendencies to evil, affections of good and truth, and loves that we have made our own through choice and practice.

While our minds remain free to contemplate good and evil, truth and falsity, we are restrained from acting according to our every passing desire by a fear of punishment, and because of breaking the laws of human society, we are totally free to think about things while we are in this world but we do not have license to act totally according to our will because it's mixed, because its full of evil, because we will then do harm to others.

We are taught through the doctrines that what makes a person is his loves, and before regeneration the loves that make up our character are not unified, they are not one, but are made up of literally thousands of competing desires and affections, both good and evil. Therefore during temptation the various loves fight one against another for dominance within us. When one love wins, the other opposite love must necessarily have lost. Since the delight of our life was in the losing love as well, we feel that the freedom and delight that we had from that love are gone. We feel that our very life and freedom are in question. And yet, at that very moment we have overcome some evil, we feel that we are actually the most free because we are choosing for ourselves to do what we know to be right according to the Word.

It's important to note that we have to first shun evil before we can do good because to have good we have to make room for it, we have to move the opposing evil, otherwise they mix themselves in our minds. A thief who steals a particular object but still plans other thefts has not rejected his love of evil by doing the opposite good, for he still believes that stealing is right for him. An adulterer is not reformed by spending time at home with his family while in his mind he plans the next seduction. Both the thief and the adulterer must see the evil that lies behind their actions, search it out, see it for what it is and then flee from it as if from hell. They must see that what they have been doing is wrong and shun it before the opposite good can have any spiritual effect.

When a man does a good deed the Lord gives him a love of doing that good. When a man does an evil deed he confirms and appropriates to himself the delight in doing that evil. A man must first sun the evil before doing good so that there will be room for the good love, so that the evil will be removed and the good love can take its place. If this does not happen then good and evil become mixed in his mind and then they can only be separated by a long and painful vastation after death.

We are told that man's conscience begins as a gift from the Lord. His freedom and his heavenly proprium are also gifts from the Lord, everything in man is first borrowed from the Lord and then made his own or appropriated to his own through his use of it in freedom of choice. While man in and of himself may be nothing but a vessel of life, he is not nothing, by using the things which the Lord gives him throughout life and in the combats of temptation, he forms the vessel that is the essential individual, stripped of all gifts. By borrowing freedom and using it he forms the unique vessel that can receive and react in a unique way to the influx of life that flows in from the Lord.

The Arcana teaches that it is a universal law that all that which is good and true is inseminated in freedom, for otherwise the ground cannot possibly receive and cherish that which is good, and in fact there is no ground in which the seed can grow (See AC 1937:e).

We read further in the Divine Providence that the internal of thought cannot be forced by any fear; it can be compelled by love and the fear of failing to love. In the true sense, fear of God is nothing else. To be compelled by love and by the fear of failing in it is self-compulsion . . . and is not contrary to freedom and rationality (See DP 136:e).

According to the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church, self-compulsion, which is essential to regeneration and to our own sense of personal freedom, is nothing other than acting according to our own will. If the will has been made new by the Lord through as-from-self conquests in temptation, then it feels wonderful to compel oneself. If one does not really want to do truth, but knows that he should, and thus tries, he can still feel delight in the attempt, because the Lord implants the appropriate affections in him. If he only acts according to the law because of fear, or to hide his evils from others, he burns with his lusts, and chafes under the slavery to his own evil which is called "hellish freedom."

We close by reading from the Arcana number 1937: In all freedom there is man's life, because there is his love. Whatever a man does from love appears to him free. But in this freedom, when a man is compelling himself to resist what is evil and false, and to do what is good, there is heavenly love, which the Lord then insinuates, and through which He creates the man's (heavenly) proprium (AC 1937:6). AMEN.

1st Lesson: REV 21:1-8

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. {2} Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. {3} And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. {4} "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." {5} Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful." {6} And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. {7} "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. {8} "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." Amen.

2nd Lesson: AE 1136:2-10

The laws of order which are called the laws of Divine Providence are the following:

(1) Man does not feel and perceive and thus know otherwise than that life is in him, that is, that he thinks and wills from himself, and thus speaks and acts from himself; and yet he may acknowledge and believe that the truths that he thinks and speaks and the goods that he wills and does are from God, thus as if they were from himself;

(2) Man does what he does from freedom according to reason, and yet he may acknowledge and believe that the very freedom that he has is from God; and the same is true of his very reason, viewed in itself, which is called rationality.

(3) To think and speak truth and to will and do good from freedom according to reason is not from oneself but from God; and to think and to speak falsity and to will and do evil from freedom is not from oneself but from hell; and yet in such a way that while the falsity and evil are from hell, the freedom itself, regarded in itself, and the ability itself to think, will, speak, and do, regarded in itself, are from God.

(4) Man's understanding and will must not be compelled by another in the least, since all compulsion by another takes away freedom, but man himself should compel himself, for to compel oneself is to act from freedom.

(5) From sense and perception man does not know in himself how good and truth flow in from God and how evil and falsity flow in from hell; nor does he see how the Divine Providence operates in favor of good against evil; if he did he could not act from freedom according to reason as if from himself; it is sufficient for him to know and acknowledge this from the Word and from the doctrine of the church.

(6) Man is not reformed by external means but by internal means; by external means miracles and visions, also fears and punishments are meant; by internal means truths and goods from the Word and from the doctrine of the church and looking to the Lord are meant; for these means enter by an internal way, and remove the evils and falsities that have their seat within, while external means enter by an external way and do not remove evils and falsities but shut them in. Nevertheless, man may be further reformed by external means when he has previously been reformed by internal means; but a man that has not been reformed is merely withheld by external means, which are fears and punishments, from speaking and doing the evils and falsities that he thinks and that he wills.

(7) Man is let into truths of faith and goods of love by God only so far as he can be kept in them until the end of life; for it is better that he should continue to be evil than that he should be good and afterwards evil, for he thus becomes profane. This is the chief reason why evil is permitted.

(8) God continually withdraws man from evils so far as man is willing from freedom to be withdrawn. So far as man can be withdrawn from evil God leads him to good and thus to heaven. But so far as man cannot be withdrawn from evils God cannot lead him to good and thus to heaven; for so far as man has been withdrawn from evils so far he from God does good that is in itself good, but so far as he has not been withdrawn from evils so far he from himself does good that has evil within it.

(9) God does not teach man truths either from Himself or through angels immediately; but He teaches by means of the Word, preaching, reading, and conversation and communication with others, and thus by thoughts with himself about these things. Man is then enlightened in the measure of his affection of truth from use. Otherwise man could not act as from himself.

(10) Man from his own prudence has led himself to eminence and opulence, when these lead him astray; for by the Divine providence man is led only to such things as do not lead astray and as are serviceable to eternal life; for all things of the Divine providence with man look to what is eternal, since the life which is God, from which man is man, is eternal life. Amen.