“Divine Mercy”

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto - Dec. 19, 2010

          We are all familiar with the teaching that the Lord came into the world in the “fullness of time” (AR 478:2, AC 3398:4).  This is describing the concept that the spiritual state of mankind was descending – becoming more and more evil – and the Lord had to wait until the last possible moment to come into the world.  Why?  Because He was coming to combat evils and falsities and put the hells back in order, and the states of evil and falsity had to be fully developed so that the reordering would also be complete.

          Sometimes it can be useful to look at those states of evils and falsity so that we can have some understanding of  what the Lord was up against, and what He actually accomplished by His advent.  Today, however, we want to look at it from another point of view.  Let’s just accept as a given the plain statement of the Word that the world was in a terrible state, and the Lord needed to do something about it.  In His Divine Wisdom, knowing everything about the states of evil present in the world, and everything about how the human rational worked with the human soul, He knew that the one path that would lead to the most people living to eternity in heaven would be to take on the human and live among us as one of us.  It probably wasn’t particularly pleasant for Him to limit Himself in that way, but He was willing to do it because by coming into the world, all who wanted to be saved could be saved through Him.  In other words, the heart of Christmas is an act of Divine Mercy toward the whole human race.

          The dictionary definition of “mercy” is “a compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one who is subject to one’s power.”  That’s a good working definition for our purposes, too.  We are both subject to the Lord’s power and offenders (in general – to some degree).  The good news is in the “compassion” and “forbearance” parts.  The Lord knows that the people He created are not perfect, and yet He loves us, cares for us, and guides us anyhow.  That’s how we understand and experience mercy, through His forbearance and compassion.  But Divine mercy is something more.

The Divine mercy is pure mercy towards the whole human race, to save it; and it is also unceasing towards every man, and is never withdrawn from anyone; so that everyone is saved who can be saved.  (HH 522)

          The Lord’s mercy is pure mercy – there is nothing selfish or self-serving mixed in.  And He’s not just willing to forgive and forget and let you get on with your life, His mercy is directed toward your eternal salvation.  His mercy is continually drawing each one of us up toward Himself to whatever degree we will allow Him to do so!

          There we have the core of it, the important and reassuring teaching that the Lord, from His throne above the heavens, is continually reaching down with compassion and understanding to forgive and forbear and lift us up to eternal life.  This is important to the Christmas story because He did this – and continues to do this – by means of the Human that He took on in the world and which He glorified.

          But wait.  We know that heaven is not granted by pure mercy, or grace.  What is our part in all this?  The answer is found in the next part of Heaven and Hell 522 which immediately follows the previous quote. 

And yet no one can be saved except by Divine means, which means have been revealed by the Lord, in the Word. The Divine means are what are called Divine truths, which teach how man must live in order to be saved. (HH 522)

          Here’s where we find out what our part is.  The Lord has revealed “Divine means” in the Word.  These “means” are none other than the revealed truths that teach how a person must live in order to be saved.  Like the Rich Young Ruler who asked the Lord what he had to do to gain eternal life (LUK 18:18-23) the Lord answers simply that all we have to do is follow the commandments.  And to avoid any possible confusion He identifies the Ten Commandments as the basis and then adds the Two Great Commandments.  Again, we read from HH 522:

By these truths the Lord leads man to heaven, and by them He implants in man the life of heaven. This the Lord does with all (HH 522).

          All this seems so obvious as to be unworthy of comment.  Except.

          Except in our Western culture today it’s no longer obvious that the way to get to heaven is to follow the path set out by the Lord in the Word, it’s not longer obvious to people that they should change their own lives to match the Divine means provided in the Word.

          The list of examples that would illustrate the problem would be tediously long.  I would simply ask you to reflect on the things you hear and see in the world around you, and ask yourselves how often you find that the church – not just the New Church – is being asked (or pushed into) adjusting its teachings and practices to what the people in the congregation want to do, even when it is contrary to fundamental teachings of the church.  This is particularly evident in issues relating to the relationships between the sexes and marriage, but certainly not limited to them.

          Part of the motivation for this is that so many churches are facing declining attendance and are trying to reverse the trend by being trendy.  Ironically, the faster churches leave their fundamental doctrinal base, the faster they lose members.  It’s the churches that have a clear doctrinal – even fundamental – position and stick to it that are holding their membership, and in many cases growing, today.

          The problem is that, in spite of what people may instinctively believe, the church doesn’t make the rules, the Lord does.  The church’s job is to present those rules with a clear, compassionate voice so that people can get themselves back on the path that the Lord has laid out for them.  It’s an unfortunate and painful truth that it requires some effort, it requires that we learn from the Word what evil is, identify it in ourselves, and then get rid of it with the Lord’s help.  Here’s a little more from that passage from Heaven and Hell:

But the life of heaven can be implanted in no one unless he abstains from evil, for evil obstructs  (HH 522).

          How many times does the Lord say in the Word that we have to “cease to do evil, learn to do well” (ISA 1:16) and in that order?  It’s even in one of our beloved prophecies of His birth on earth:

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good (Isa 7:14-15).

          Every human being was created to live forever in heaven.  It is the Lord’s will that we live forever in heaven.  It is the end of His Divine Providence that, no matter what we may choose to do, we will be guided to a lesser evil, a better choice in the hopes that we will prepare ourselves for heaven.  The Divine Mercy exists to allow the Lord to view our failings with compassion and forbearance.  He came to earth and took on the Human form so that we could hear, see, and touch our God and so be led out of our evils.  This is the Lord’s Christmas gift to each one of us.

          How do we return that gift?  What can we do that will please the Lord?  Doesn’t it make us happy when people listen to our advice and do what we suggest?  The same thing is true for the Lord.  He will be pleased if we take His advice, and do what He says, and put our lives back into heavenly order, according the means, the Divine truths, that He has provided in His Word.  Amen.

First Lesson: PSA 86

Bow down Your ear, O LORD, hear me; For I am poor and needy. {2} Preserve my life, for I am holy; You are my God; Save Your servant who trusts in You! {3} Be merciful to me, O Lord, For I cry to You all day long. {4} Rejoice the soul of Your servant, For to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. {5} For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You. {6} Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; And attend to the voice of my supplications. {7} In the day of my trouble I will call upon You, For You will answer me. {8} Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord; Nor are there any works like Your works. {9} All nations whom You have made Shall come and worship before You, O Lord, And shall glorify Your name. {10} For You are great, and do wondrous things; You alone are God. {11} Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name. {12} I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And I will glorify Your name forevermore. {13} For great is Your mercy toward me, And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol. {14} O God, the proud have risen against me, And a mob of violent men have sought my life, And have not set You before them. {15} But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth. {16} Oh, turn to me, and have mercy on me! Give Your strength to Your servant, And save the son of Your maidservant. {17} Show me a sign for good, That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, Because You, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.  Amen.

Second Lesson:  AR 478 [2]

First we must say something here about the Lord's advent and His kingdom's being foretold in the Word of both Testaments:
In the Word of the Old Testament, in the spiritual sense of the prophetic portion, and also in its natural sense wherever the spiritual sense shines through, the subject is the Lord alone, namely, His advent in the fullness of time, a time when the goodness of charity and the truth of faith would no longer be present in the church, whose state then is called a consummation, a being laid waste, a desolation, and a cutting off. It includes as well His battles with the hells and victories over them, which constitute also the last judgment that He executed, and after that the creation of a new heaven and the establishment of a new church, which are the Lord's kingdom to come. All of this is found in the Word of the New Testament, too, in the portion called the Gospels, and in particular in the book of Revelation.  Amen.

Third Lesson:  HH 522

But first it will be told what the Divine mercy is. The Divine mercy is pure mercy towards the whole human race, to save it; and it is also unceasing towards every man, and is never withdrawn from anyone; so that everyone is saved who can be saved. And yet no one can be saved except by Divine means, which means have been revealed by the Lord, in the Word. The Divine means are what are called Divine truths, which teach how man must live in order to be saved. By these truths the Lord leads man to heaven, and by them He implants in man the life of heaven. This the Lord does with all. But the life of heaven can be implanted in no one unless he abstains from evil, for evil obstructs. So far, therefore, as man abstains from evil, the Lord leads him out of pure mercy by His Divine means, and this from infancy to the end of his life in the world and afterwards to eternity. This is what is meant by the Divine mercy. Hence it is clear that the mercy of the Lord is pure mercy, but not immediate, that is, it does not look to saving all out of mere good pleasure, however they may have lived.  Amen.