The Promises of Baptism

Toronto, January 9, 2011
A Sermon by James P. Cooper

A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. (John 16:21)

Our text for today speaks to the strong emotions that are present with every couple at the time of the birth of a baby. The sorrow is caused by the months of waiting, of increasing physical discomfort, the difficulty in doing the simplest things, and the fear that every parent secretly harbours in their heart for the health of the unborn child. 

The birthing process itself is difficult and painful, something that it would seem that no one in their right mind would actually choose for themselves – but somehow when the baby is born, when that new, unique little person comes into the world helplessly dependent on your care, the sorrow, the pain, the sacrifice are forgotten for the joy that a human being is born into the world.

The love of creating and nurturing children is the most basic and fundamental love given to us by the Lord. It has its origin in the union of the Divine Love with the Divine Wisdom in the creation of the universe itself. That, in itself, is sufficient reason for it to be celebrated in the Word. But through the revelations of the Heavenly Doctrines, we know that there is more to it, that the Word has not been given to us for mundane or earthly reasons. The Word has within every verse and every word an internal, spiritual sense that is open to the angels and spirits with us. 

When we read the name of a person in the Word, the angels and spirits perceive instead some quality represented by that name.  When we read of an animal, they are inspired to think of a human affection. When we read of the death of a character, they think of his resurrection into eternal life, and when we read of a birth, they think of re-birth, or regeneration, the process whereby human beings become spiritual beings by shunning their evils.

Today we started the service with a baptism which invites us to reflect on how the church, school, and home work together in the life-long process of regeneration. This is the lesson that was taught by the Lord to Nicodemus:  that He had come to the world to save it, by showing mankind that there was a life after death, and that the thing that would prevent men from being saved was loving darkness, that is, falsity, because their deeds were evil.

So while the primary thrust of the sermon today deals with a parent's spiritual obligations to their children, everything will also apply our own parenting of ourselves, the work of the interior parts of the mind in governing the lower, natural parts.

Uses of Baptism

One of the first uses of baptism is introduction into the Christian Church.  The net effect of having parents make a decision to approach the Lord in this way, to make a promised before the Lord in the presence of family and other witnesses has the effect of drawing angels who have similar beliefs into our spiritual neighbourhoods.

The acknowledgment of the Lord Jesus Christ in the ceremony is important because  our place in heaven is determined by our idea of God, so it is important to have a correct idea of the Divine Human as He has revealed Himself in the three-fold Word. Since a child is too young to take any kind of obligation upon himself, the parents instead publicly declare their intention to help the child keep the commandments until such time as he is able to keep them for himself.  This, of course has the secondary effect of keeping these things in the mind of the parents and helping them modify their own behaviour accordingly.

Seek light and knowledge to guide you

We may find that when we read the Word without any particular purpose, it can be a difficult book. The language can seem strange, the stories seem to require knowledge about ancient customs before they can be fully understood. However, when the Word is read from purpose, when, for example, we are seeking guidance about the care and upbringing of a child, when we are seeking comfort in a time of personal tragedy, when we are trying to make a difficult decision, then, suddenly, the Word comes to life. It can be opened to any page, and events and stories that pertain to the current situation seem to leap out from the pages.

The secret to reading the Word is our attitude. When we humbly approach the Word, the humility, the willingness to listen, opens the way, for humility is a heavenly attribute. When we associate ourselves in this way with heavenly qualities, then heaven draws near, and when heaven draws near, heavenly light shines into the mind, enlightening it, and showing it the way.
Lead the child to acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ

We cannot love that which we do not know. Therefore it is our responsibility to teach our children to know the Lord. We do this by using the stories of the Old and New Testament to present a living, human image of our Heavenly Father. They may not be able to see Him with their own eyes, but they should be able to picture them in their minds, see Him teaching the crowds, healing, and leading them to heaven.

It's essential that parents take the lead here, even if they are being assisted by having their children in a New Church school, because how can a child be expected to discover God and religion and morality on their own? A child cannot just be left to their own devices. They must be given something to base their belief on. It is true that when they become adults they must also be free to choose their own way of expressing their love of God, but there has to be a foundation of truth from the Word from which they may explore the different views of God that are in the world.  

Teach your child the Lord's prayer

This prayer, because it is from the Lord's own mouth, is to be the model for all our prayers, but it is not to be the only prayer. If we have done our job and taught our children to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, it is only natural that we should speak to Him. The heavenly doctrines tell us that prayer is speech "to God from God," and by that they mean that we pray properly and usefully when we approach Him from those things that are His in us, that is, from good and truth. It is appropriate for us to pray for guidance, for patience, and for the wisdom to see how our actions can best fit into the dispensations of His Providence.

We teach our children to worship when we teach them the Lord's prayer, when we pray unselfconsciously with them, when they see us praying, and when they are introduced into congregational prayer and feel the power of many people speaking to the Lord at once.

That the child may be introduced into worship

There is more to worship than prayer. There is the obligation that we have to the Creator for giving us life itself, and this too must be taught to the child. He must be introduced to these idea through the outward forms of religion and worship so that the raw material of spiritual life can accumulate in his mind so that the Divine may inflow and organize these things into a spiritual mind. Worship is not just for children, either.  We all need to approach the Lord in humility and love on a regular basis.

Teach the child the Ten Commandments that he may shun evils as sins

The first of the church is charity.  The first of charity is to shun evils as sins.  You cannot shun evils as sins unless you know what they are, and so the first and most important function of parents and the church is to know and teach the difference between right and wrong, using the revealed truth of the Word as the foundation.
Little children don't sin!  But they do need structure and discipline. It doesn't just happen by accident. There must be planning. There must be thought about what spiritual principles apply that to allow a child to do wrong is to love the evil more than the child.1 A parent has to respond to disorder. Consistency by parents will prevent the need for frequent punishment, but when necessary, that punishment must be immediate and appropriate. Punishment's purpose is to restore self-control, not to satisfy a parent's anger or need for revenge.  Punishment is to end when self-control returns.

Instruct the child in the Word

The Ten Commandments, when understood in their moral and spiritual senses, contain all truth needed to prepare one for heaven. And because of this, they stand as a symbol for the whole of the Word. Therefore, by extension, the obligation to teach the Ten Commandments to our children extends to teaching them the whole of the Word.
Again, the church, school, and home all cooperate in this effort through Children's talks, Sunday School, regular supervised instruction, and through discussion of the Word at home both formally and informally.

That the child may be prepared for regeneration

The mind has two parts, the will and understanding.  It is the will that we are trying to fix, but it can only be reached through the understanding. The Word is particularly prepared and suited to this task. The only purpose in all this is to prepare our children for heaven. Our children are our treasures. What we really want is what is best for them. Are we guiding them properly if we teach them to aim for earthly treasures that will not last, or is it our obligation to prepare them for spiritual life? Can we not see that to prepare a child for spiritual life prepares him for life in the world at the same time, but to prepare a child for life in the world only, prepares him for nothing else, and leaves his eternal, spiritual life in doubt? Do we want any less for our children than we would choose for ourselves?

"So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. {10} "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. {11} "If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? {12} "Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? {13} "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:9-13)
AMEN.



First Lesson: JOH 16:16-24

A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father.” {17} Then some of His disciples said among themselves, “What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” {18} They said therefore, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is saying.” {19} Now Jesus knew that they desired to ask Him, and He said to them, “Are you inquiring among yourselves about what I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’? {20} “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. {21} “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. {22} “Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. {23} “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. {24} “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

Second Lesson:

JOH 3:1-21 (John 3:1-21) There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. {2} This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” {3} Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” {4} Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” {5} Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. {6} “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. {7} “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ {8} “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” {9} Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” {10} Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? {11} “Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. {12} “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? {13} “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. {14} “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, {15} “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. {16} “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. {17} “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. {18} “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. {19} “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. {20} “For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. {21} “But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

Third Lesson: AE 475:21

Washings were instituted in the ancient churches, and afterwards baptisms in their place, which nevertheless are only representative and significative rites, in order that heaven might be conjoined with the human race, and in particular with the man of the church; for heaven is conjoined to man when man is in ultimates, that is, in such things as are in the world in regard to his natural man, while he is in such things as are in heaven in regard to his spiritual man; in no other way is conjunction possible. This is why baptism was instituted; also the holy supper; likewise why the Word was written by means of such things as are in the world, while there is in it a spiritual sense, containing such things as are in heaven, that is, that the sense of the letter of the Word is natural, while in it there is a spiritual sense. (That by means of this sense the Word conjoins the angels of heaven with the men of the church, may be seen in the work on Heaven and Hell, n. 303-310; and in the small work on The White Horse from beginning to end. That the holy supper likewise conjoins, see in The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, n. 210-222, and the same is true of baptism.) But he is much mistaken who believes that baptism contributes anything to a man’s salvation unless he is at the same time in the truths of the church and in a life according to them; for baptism is an external thing, which without an internal contributes nothing to salvation, but it does contribute when the external is conjoined to an internal. The internal of baptism is, that by means of truths from the Word and a life according to them, falsities and evils may be removed by the Lord, and thus man be regenerated, as the Lord teaches (Matt. 23:26, 27), as explained above in this article.



1See AC 4421, TCR 407