A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; He also has become my salvation. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst. (Isaiah 12:2,6)
Our text for today is taken from the twelfth chapter of book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is a prayer of thanksgiving, as well as a complete list of the things that we need to acknowledge in our life in order to genuinely benefit from the Lord's Divine Providence. It is our intention to examine this chapter section by section so that perhaps we will be able to perceive the message of humble gratitude that was inspired by the Lord and hidden in the sense of the letter.
Each year we set aside one Sunday in the fall to celebrate the Harvest Festival and turn our attention to the many gifts given to us by the Lord during the normal course of the year. It is proper for us to put aside some time each year to get together with family, enjoy the bounty of the earth, and be thankful to the Lord for all the good things in our lives. It is right that we should do this because the busy nature of our pursuits in the natural world distract us from spiritual things. Our worldly concerns limit our vision of the spiritual blessings that fill every day of our lives, things we could easily see if we would only take the time to notice. It is good to take time off from the normal routine to pay attention to our spiritual blessings, and give thanks to the Lord who constantly provides them.
While we can easily see that we must give thanks to the Lord for His many natural gifts, we must remember to thank Him for the many spiritual gifts we receive from Him as well. For example, the fact that the Lord, and the Lord alone, has the power to raise all mankind to Himself in heaven, is cause for giving thanks. We can be certain that the Lord, through His Divine Providence, is continually drawing each one of us to Him if only we do not refuse Him. He not only has the power to do this, it is His ruling love. All other blessings that we enjoy flow from this, His ruling love of providing for our salvation.
We must remember that all conjunction with the Lord is reciprocal, that is, we must respond to His leading as of ourselves. The directions we must follow are given in every verse and sentence of the Word. It is through the Word that the Lord makes His advent to every one of us in the church. It is through the Word that the Lord instructs us in the way to eternal life, and because of this, Isaiah said, Sing unto the Lord, for He has done excellent things (Isaiah. 12:5).
The opening phrase of the chapter in Isaiah from which our text was taken says, and in that day, and it signifies the Lord's advent, or coming (see Lord 4), for whenever the Word says, and in that day, it refers to the time when the Lord will come. In fact, the Lord's coming is the subject of all the Prophets (see Lord 3). It follows then that we should rejoice and be glad because the Lord came into the world to execute a judgment, subdue the hells, establish a new church, order the heavens, and glorify His Human. That the Lord did this in time is a blessing, for by so doing He preserved spiritual freedom for all people everywhere. The real cause for joy is that He will come and be born in the heart and mind of any one who will invite Him in.
It may appear to us sometimes that the Lord is angry, but the truth is that the Lord is never angry. When we are in an evil state it appears to us that the Lord is angry with us in the same way that a child fears the anger of his parents. What the child sees as anger should be love in the form of zeal to preserve and protect order. Thus, the "anger" of the Lord is said to be "turned away" and that the Lord "comforts" because a person has seen his own disorder and turned away from it as if of himself, so restoring his state of peace and order. When a person puts himself in order, there then comes a state of blessing, peace and spiritual freedom from the Lord; and that brings a state of comfort. When that happens, we can, like Isaiah, say, Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He also has become my salvation (Isaiah 12:2).
The real strength that can carry a person through life in this world to the life of heaven comes from the Lord Jehovah alone. By our nature, we are lazy and always looking for an easier way. This has some natural benefits for it can lead to many material blessings. It is incredible how hard and long some people will work to create a device or process that will reduce work. When it comes to saving labor, people seem to have limitless energy and ideas. This is not wrong, for there could be no time for reflection and thought about the things of the Word unless the daily requirements of food and shelter could be taken care of with some time to spare. Indeed, civilization itself has its roots in the development of tools and processes that allowed the necessary work to be done by fewer people in less time, leaving room for specialization in art, literature, thought and religion.
In the same vein, men have put considerable thought into developing religious philosophies that describe an "easier" way into heaven. These fall into two general categories: works alone and faith alone. These doctrines may seem like blessings because they teach a simple, instantaneous way to the promise of heavenly bliss, but they are not blessings, for the short-cuts derived from man's self-intelligence simply do not work. As it happens when a person is building something from a kit: it is far easier to do it right the first time, according to the instructions, than to have to go back and take it apart and repair your work after doing it incorrectly. The Word is our instruction book for salvation, the well from which we draw the living water with which to quench our thirst for spiritual truth. It is far better for us to read the instructions carefully and do it right the first time, for it is not likely that we will get a second chance to repair our work.
Anyone of us, whatever we may wish to do, can know the truth from the Word, and so can drink from the well of living water. But that truth is not living in us until and unless we make it a part of our as-of-self life. To be conjoined with the Lord requires not only spiritual knowledge from the Word, but also the love that binds that knowledge to the will. This becomes our own when we hold ourselves in order according to the truth that we have from the Word, because it is from the Word. This is our salvation, our conjunction with the Lord. When this happens, we are ready to call upon the Lord.
And in that day you will say: Praise the Lord, call upon His name; declare His deeds among the peoples, makes mention that His name is exalted (Isaiah 12:4). When the Word speaks of the "name" of the Lord, it does not actually refer to His name, but instead it represents and stands for everything that has to do with our worship of Him, and because He is worshipped in accordance with the doctrine in a church, by His "name" is understood everything of doctrine, and in the universal sense, everything of religion (see AR 81, AC 2009:3). To call upon the name of the Lord, then, is to ask Him to teach the way of life that leads to heaven, that is, the doctrine of the church, or everything of religion. We should give thanks to Him because He has provided such a doctrine that is accommodated so perfectly to our understanding that we can each approach him in our own way, according to our own loves and abilities.
Sing to the Lord, for He has done excellent things; this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst (Isaiah 12:5,6). This passage also reminds us of the blessing of the Lord's advent, because the form that the Divine Truth itself took on in the world, and is now glorified, was that of the Divine Human (see Lord 40). That He is seen in the midst is also important, for 'In the midst' signifies in the inmost, out of which the things that are around, or are outside, draw their essence... (AR 44, see also AE 313:4) The Lord in His glorified Human is the source of life for the church. Without Him as its center, a church has no life. Without Him as our center, we are without spiritual life. On the other hand, that the central faith of the New Christian Church is in the Lord in His Divine Human is cause for giving thanks. The promise of eternal life in return for living our lives according to this faith is cause for joy because of the awe-inspiring power of it, the potential for happiness that this knowledge and life can bring, the incredible mercy and Providence of the Lord who designed the universe to work in just this way. And yet at the same time, the sight of such a grand plan for human happiness, the way that the Lord's love for each individual person and at the same time for all of mankind that shines so brightly, can draw us up short when we see ourselves reflected in that true light. We do not always act according to our knowledge of the Lord's will. This can bring on a feeling that we do not deserve the rewards that He has promised, that we will never be able to earn them. In other words, when we acknowledge our own base nature, as we must from time to time, we are humbled before the Lord. This humiliation, when seen in the proper light, is also a blessing, for it is the confession that the Lord Alone can save mankind through His own power.
Confession is a state that is of the heart or will of a person, and shows itself only in a state of humiliation--if at the same time there is the affection of good (see AE 326:3). Before we can truly follow the Lord, we have to become convinced that His is the only way. In order to learn this as-of-ourselves, it is necessary for us to attempt to guide our own lives from self-intelligence first, and see that it does not work. Until we have been convinced by our own personal experience of the matter, until we are convinced by bitter experience of life, we will not accept the Lord's way. Key to this is the affection of good that leads us through these times of trial and temptation. If we are really trying to reach out for eternal, spiritual ends, and if we allow ourselves to be led by the affection of good that is given to us from birth by the Lord, then the Lord will protect us in our struggles, and prevent us from going too far astray, or causing genuine spiritual harm to ourselves. Then, when we are really ready to listen to the Lord, ready to listen because we have come to realize how powerless we are by ourselves, when we are humiliated, He will hear our cry and pick us up, and lead us to the well of living, spiritual waters.
The Lord only leads; He does not drag. He waits for us to ask, and even then, He bends us towards heaven, never breaking our affections. He leads us according to the distinctly different combination of loves that each of us has. We do not have the power or knowledge to do this for ourselves, so we need to confess our need of Him to the Lord, for He alone has that power, and then He will be with us, and from that knowledge, our spirits will begin to sing.
'And they were singing...' signifies an acknowledgment and glorification of the Lord because He Only is the Judge, Redeemer, and Savior, thus the God of heaven and earth (AR 279). We have many things to be thankful for: friends, family, and the Church. But most of all we have the knowledge that the Lord is waiting patiently to be invited into our hearts and minds when we are ready for Him, and He will then lead us to eternal life, conjoined with Him.
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; He also has become my salvation. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst. (text) AMEN.
Lessons: Isaiah 12, John 4:5-26, Lord 3
DLORD 3. Briefly stated, the subjects concerning the Lord that are treated of in all the Prophets of the Old Testament, from Isaiah to Malachi, both in general and in particular, are these:--
i. The Lord came into the world in the fullness of times,
which was when He was no longer known by the Jews, and when, consequently, there was nothing of the church left; and unless He had then come into the world and revealed Himself, mankind would have perished in eternal death. As He Himself says in John: "Except ye believe that I am, ye shall die in your sins" (viii. 24).
ii. The Lord came into the world to execute a Last Judgment, and thereby to subdue the existing dominance of the hells; which was effected by means of combats (that is, temptations) admitted into his maternal human, and the attendant continual victories; for unless the hells had been subjugated no man could have been saved.
iii. The Lord came into the world in order to glorify His
Human, that is, unite it to the Divine which was in Him from conception.
iv. The Lord came into the world in order to set up a new
church which should acknowledge Him as the Redeemer and Saviour, and be redeemed and saved through love to Him and faith in Him. v. He at the same time reduced heaven into order, so that it made a one with the church.
vi. The passion of the cross was the last combat or
temptation, by means of which He completely conquered the hells and fully glorified His Human.