Birth and Regeneration

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper


Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (JOH 33)

There are those who say that the Divine purpose behind the technological revolution that we are now experiencing is so that the Word may be more widely spread throughout the world, and that it may be presented in new and attractive ways. As we learn how to use these new ways of teaching about the Lord and presenting the truths of His Word to many different human states, perhaps we will draw closer to being able to represent the difference in the way that the angels hear the Word from the way we do.

We know that the angels and spirits who are with us are affected by the things that we do and say. We know that they draw particularly near when children are reading the Word in its original languages. We also know that the angels and spirits see the meaning within the words, not just the natural ideas that we perceive. For example, when we read about a character in the Word dying, the angels don't think of death, but of resurrection. They rejoice that another spirit has come to its eternal, heavenly home.

Perhaps someday we will be able to use this technology to produce stories about the Word that begin with a picture of an open Word, close enough to be able to read the story along with the voice of the reader narrating the story. But as he reads, the pages of the book gradually become transparent, as pictures of what the story means in the internal sense become more and more clear behind it, eventually taking over. This is one way of picturing what it means when it is said that the angels perceive the internal sense as we read the sense of the letter of the Word.

Knowing these general truths about how the angels view the spiritual side of natural things, and the opportunity to witness a baptism this morning, can lead us to consider how the angels would respond to such a wonderful thing as the conception, development, and birth of a child. When we begin to think about the birth of a child, our mind is naturally drawn to reflect on the family relationship that the child is born into. We think about the young couple who are fully involved in the succession of states in which they learn about the miracle of new life. We think about the mixed feelings of grandparents who rejoice in the birth of the child, and yet mourn the passing of that state from their own lives.

The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that every kind of family relationship represents something about the way good and truth are connected in the human mind.

It was customary with the most ancient people to give names, and by names to signify things, and thus frame a genealogy. For the things of the church are related to each other in this way, one being conceived and born of another, as in generation. Hence it is common in the Word to call things of the church "conceptions," "births," "offspring," "infants," "little ones," "sons," "daughters," "young men," and so on. The prophetical parts of the Word abound in such expressions. (AC 339)

We sometimes say, only partly in jest, that the answer to any doctrinal question in the New Church is, "Good and Truth." In a sense, that's true, because the marriage of good and truth is central to the way God created the universe to work. His Divine Love needed a heaven from the human race to receive and return His love. His Divine Wisdom knew how to accomplish this creation. And, when both the knowledge and the desire are present, then something can happen!

The Lord pictures His conjunction with us as a marriage between Himself and the Church - the heavenly city New Jerusalem adorned as a bride for her Husband. The Lord created us "male and female" so that we could draw near and become symbolically and spiritually one, and in so doing represent the very creative process that created the universe.

Each of us, individually, has a mind that is divided into a will and understanding making us an image and likeness of God. When we are able to overcome the division inherent in this structure through learning and self-discipline, new ideas and new uses are the result - our spiritual children.

That by "sons and daughters" are signified the truths and goods which they had a perception of, and indeed by "sons" truths, and by "daughters" goods, is evident from many passages in the Prophets. (AC 489)

And when the Lord commanded us to be fruitful and multiply, He did not mean only in regard to having children "bringing forth," (signifies) fruitfulness in respect to the things of doctrine. (AC 2584)

A genuinely fruitful life, a life where our affections are joined together with the things that we know from the Word in such a way as to do things that are useful to ourselves and to others, is a life where we are spiritually reborn, or regenerated by the Lord.

According to their nativities. That this signifies in proportion as they could be reformed, is evident from the signification of a "nativity," as being reformation. While a man is being born again, or regenerated, by the Lord, each and all things that he receives anew are nativities or births. (AC 1255)

Regeneration begins with the conjunction of good and truth in the mind of each individual. The birth of a child results when that which represents truth is introduced into that which represents a sphere of good (the mother) and finds a home there.

We often talk about how important it is for us to live the life of charity so that faith can really live with us. It can be hard to feel the impact of that idea when phrased that way. But, can we imagine a child being conceived and brought to full term and conscious life in the world without a mother? Charity is the mother, and Faith is the father of that spiritual being that we all hope to one day become.

Like an unborn child, our future spiritual being grows during our life in this world, organized by the Lord from within, and obeying the laws of nature from without, taking what is needed for that individual's development from the richness of one's natural and spiritual environment.

It is known that the soul of man commences in the ovum of the mother, and is afterwards perfected in her womb, and is there encompassed with a tender body, and this of such a nature that through it the soul may be able to act in a manner suited to the world into which it is born. The case is the same when man is born again, that is, when he is being regenerated. The new soul which he then receives is the end of good, which commences in the rational, at first as in an ovum there, and afterwards is there perfected as in a womb; the tender body with which this soul is encompassed is the natural and the good therein, which becomes such as to act obediently in accordance with the ends of the soul the truths therein are like the fibers in the body, for truths are formed from good. (AC 3570)

When we read the Word, the angels hear the words, but the images formed in their minds are the spiritual things that correspond to the natural images that are formed in our minds. When we read in the Word, for example, that a child is born the angels do not think of the baby itself, but instead they think about regeneration, the rebirth of a human soul, they think of the years of struggle, of the battles won, and they rejoice in the thought of the eternity of usefulness, the contributions that soul will make to the life of heaven, and how those contributions will positively affect those yet on earth. In each birth of a baby on earth, the angels see a universe of possibilities, an eternity of heavenly uses, and in their joy, they draw near.

And when they draw near, we perceive their sphere. That's why we love babies, even babies that are not our own, and even though they are a lot of trouble! They literally, actually, bring the sphere of heaven to earth, and give us hope for the future because their very existence is a miracle that helps us believe that we can be re-born into eternal spiritual life. As John records that Jesus said to Nicodemus, "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. (John 35-6) AMEN.

1st Lesson JOH 31-17

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 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." Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." 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?" Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' "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."

Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? "Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. "If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, "that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. "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. "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

2nd Lesson TCR 583

REGENERATION IS EFFECTED IN A MANNER ANALOGOUS TO THAT IN WHICH MAN IS CONCEIVED, CARRIED IN THE WOMB, BORN AND EDUCATED.

In man there is a perpetual correspondence between what takes place naturally and what takes place spiritually, or between what takes place in his body and what takes place in his spirit. This is because man as to his soul is horn spiritual, and is clothed with what is natural, which forms his material body.

Therefore when this body is laid aside, his soul, clothed with a spiritual body, enters a world where all things are spiritual, and is there affiliated with its like. Since then, the spiritual body must be formed in a material body, and is formed by means of truths and goods which flow in from the Lord through the spiritual world, and are inwardly received by man in such things in him as are from the natural world, which are called civil and moral, the way in which its formation is effected is evident; and since, as before said, there is in man a constant correspondence between what takes place naturally and what takes place spiritually, it follows that this formation is like conception, gestation, birth and education.

It is for this reason that natural births in the Word mean spiritual births, which are births of good and truth; for whatever is mentioned in the sense of the letter of the Word, which is natural, involves and signifies what is spiritual.


Copyright 1982 - 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009