MIRACLES, SIGNS AND WONDERS: A NEW CHURCH PERSPECTIVE (part 1)

   Click play to listen to audio version

READINGS

Lk 4:16-22  So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.  (17)  And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:  (18)  “The spirit of the lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed;  (19)  to proclaim the acceptable year of the lord.” (20)  Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.  (21)  And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  (22)  So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.

Divine Providence 131.  When a miracle alone leads a man to the acknowledgment of God, to worship, and to piety, he acts from the natural man and not from the spiritual. For a miracle infuses faith by an external and not by an internal way, thus from the world and not from heaven. Now the Lord does not enter by any other way with man than the internal way, which is by the Word, by doctrine and by preaching from it; and as miracles close up this way, at this day no miracles are wrought.

SERMON

Today we begin a series in which we shall look at the meaning of the miracles performed by the Lord in the gospels.  But before we look at any of the specific miracles found in the gospels we need to first build a general overview of how the teachings for Spiritual Christianity handle this subject which we will begin to do this morning and continue with in the coming months.

The topic of miracles in the Heavenly Doctrines which includes extraordinary visions or anything that constitutes “out of the ordinary” spiritual phenomena manifest to the physical senses of human beings touches on a number of very important areas of spiritual teaching.  Areas like human freedom in spiritual matters, the effects of being compelled to believe, of the difference between compulsion and self compulsion in spiritual matters, it touches on the principle of influx and the process of how the Lord regenerates the human mind, the structure of the human mind itself with its external and internal levels and the need for Divine order to be maintained for our salvation to remain a possibility.  The subject of miracles touches on all these areas.  So let’s hear again the reading from the teachings of the Church.

When a miracle alone leads a man to the acknowledgment of God, to worship, and to piety, he acts from the natural man and not from the spiritual. For a miracle infuses faith by an external and not by an internal way, thus from the world and not from heaven. Now the Lord does not enter by any other way with man than the internal way, which is by the Word, by doctrine and by preaching from it; and as miracles close up this way, at this day no miracles are wrought.  (see also Arcana Coelestia (AC) 5508[3] 7290[2]; Invitation to the New Church 29)

 This statement that “at this day no miracles are wrought” occurs on a number of occasions in the Heavenly Doctrines.  We also have the teaching that…

…miracles do not make any contribution towards faith… (AC 7290[3])

that

…there can be no faith through miracles…[nor can there be] conjunction through miracles, for they are of such a nature as to compel.  Whatever beliefs are sown through miracles, if they do not wither away of themselves, are assuredly uprooted, for they attach themselves to falsities, and link up with evils. (Miracles and Signs (MS) 9)

and

[With] those who have no faith, miracles can accomplish nothing; while for those who have faith they are unnecessary. MS 2)

and finally…

If man could have been reformed by miracles and visions, all in the whole world would have been reformed.  (Apocalypse Explained (AE) 1155)

We can tend to think that if miracles were able to be performed more readily that this would strengthen people’s belief and draw more people into the Church.  What the Heavenly Doctrines say however is the very opposite, that miracles and visions do absolutely nothing as far as inplanting faith in a person is concerned and in fact can actually end up destroying their capacity to receive the Lord and His salvation.  We also see that rather than supporting or promoting what is good and true in people miracles are said to “attach themselves to falsities, and link up with evils” and so are harmful (AC 7290[2]) to people’s faith.  So while a faith based on miracles is no faith at all…

It cannot be denied that miracles induce a belief and a strong persuasion that what is said and taught by him who performs the miracles is true… (Divine Providence (DP) 130)

But as we shall see it is a persuasive form of belief that actually shuts down rather than opens up a person’s ability to access the Lord because when miracles form the basis for belief in people they lead them away from the very principles that the Lord has set in place in His Word for the salvation of the human race.

We might find ourselves questioning the couple of points made so far, 1. That at this day miracles don’t occur and 2. That they don’t contribute to building people’s faith.  After all the Bible is full of miracles and the Lord Himself is seen to have performed something like 35 separate miracles in the gospels, with his disciples also able to perform miracles in the name of the Lord.  We also have accounts of miracles in the book of Acts performed in the Lord’s name by the Apostles and that the Lord Himself declared in…

John 14:12  “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.

Mark 16:17-20  And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues;  (18)  they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  (19)  So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.  (20)  And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.

Don’t these statements suggest that miracles and belief go together?  We will come back to this next time but for now we need to take a closer look at what the Heavenly Doctrines have say about the process through which a genuine spiritual faith is instilled into people. 

To do that we need to give a little attention to what the Heavenly Doctrines reveal concerning the structure of the human mind and the laws that govern it being made spiritual by the Lord.  The human mind is made up of many layers but in general terms we can say that it is made up of an external and an internal part.  The external part of the mind is called the natural mind and the internal part is called the spiritual mind.  The natural part of the mind is open to the world through the physical senses and this lower mind develops as a matter of course throughout our life.  For many people any knowledge that there are potentials existing beyond this level of mind remains hidden.  However spiritual truths across many traditions teach that such potentialities exist but unless a person gives specific attention to what such truths teach they invariably remain natural, that is, their sense of themselves remains in that lower mind attached to the things of external life that belong to the world.  Everything about this lower mind stands opposed to what is truly spiritual. In fact what the Heavenly Doctrines say of this mind is that it is not only in the form of the world, the things of the world being its only concern, but that as to its form it’s a little hell.  This is said because what rules in this lower mind or in us when our sense of self is identified with its concerns is self interest or self love and this we are told is so opposed to the loves of heaven, so much so that if all external constrains were removed it would rush headlong into the most despicable hellish acts imaginable.

The spiritual mind is of a different character altogether, and while we all have a spiritual degree to our mind it remains dormant until we engage with truths in a way that leads to its opening up.  To become spiritual our sense of self has to be reborn in terms of its attachments, or loves, its beliefs, values ideas and thoughts.  We need to receive a new understanding of what constitutes the spiritual life for only then can we see what is not a spiritual life but a natural one and when we are able to see this so then we have the ability to reject our former natural life that has self and the world at its center in favour of those things that make up a genuine spiritual life and so receive a new will.  The thing with the spiritual mind is that while it is in us in potential we don’t actually have access to it unless we are willing to seek out and make a part of our lives what spiritual truths teach.  Unless we do this the Lord’s hands are tied in terms of His ability to work with us to have our sense of self renewed and built on what is genuinely good and true.  This renewed sense of our selves arises when we freely accept what spiritual truths teach and favour these over worldly values aspirations and goals for life.  When we live from the Lord’s Word then our minds become a new church or new mind which is how the term church is understood spiritually.  The term church as far as Spiritual Christianity is concerned refers to a spiritual way of thinking and being in life that has an inner focus as opposed to a natural way of thinking and being in life which is to have an external focus on the those things that belong to the world. 

The Lord’s life flows into every single human being but it is received and expressed in accordance with the form each person’s mind takes.  By the form of the mind we mean the beliefs and loves that make up a person’s life.  Therefore if there is no belief in God then the life that flows in is expressed through affections thoughts and actions that are in keeping with that unbelief, similarly if spiritual things are loved then a different quality of life is given expression in accordance with that love.  All the differences that exist between people are simply differences in the forms of their minds, everyone receives the same life from the Lord. This inflow of life from God flows from what is more internal into what is more external.  In other words the flow of life from the divine doesn’t come from outside us but it flows into your very soul or the highest part of you mind which is above your conscious awareness.  From there it flows out into the more external parts of the mind until it breaks into your conscious awareness in what you experience as the affections, emotions and thoughts that make up the flow of your mental life.  This activity you experience in your mind is the life of your spirit and what is meant by the term spiritual life. 

This process of influx from the Lord is looking for vessels in people’s minds that it can enter and use to awaken people to the existence of God as well as to those higher spiritual and celestial realities that sit above the natural level of our awareness.  The challenge is in finding such vessels in the natural mind that can serve this end for all the thought structures, patterns of feeling, values, and loves, that have been established in and through our life in the natural world are pointed outward towards the external world with ourselves at the centre.  This structure is opposed to the true order for human life which is a spiritual design where things are pointed towards internal things centred on loving the Lord and others.  It is because the unregenerate natural mind is in a form opposed to the spiritual mind it is called in the Word a “thick darkness”.

Everyone, without exception, is in need of light to show them the way.  Light in spiritual matters are the ideas that can show us how to live a spiritual life, light therefore corresponds to truths.  This is because it is truths from the Word that are able to enlighten the mind to the presence of higher spiritual and celestial realities and show people what is required of them if they are to become truly spiritual.  What the Heavenly Doctrines for Spiritual Christianity reveal is that the Lord is with every person urging them to receive Him as their Saviour and that this presence and urging is something that comes from deep within us.  What it needs is for people to do what is required of them which is to acquire truths by an external way, through reading the Word, hearing its teachings taught and preachings.  The spiritual mind is opened when people freely use their rational faculties to look into these teachings to see for themselves where their value lies.  When a person sincerely values truth then the Lord, who enters by an inward way, inspires new affections in a person’s mind that joins with those truths they have considered and have freely decided to make part of their life.  By means of such truths from the Word they are enlightened by the inflow of the Lord’s life shining through them and as these truths shine their light so they are given insight into what is required of them to further cement their life in what is of heaven.  This is what it means to be born again or become spiritual.  It’s a process and it begins only when the Lord is acknowledged through the act of a person taking His Word into their life through living from it.

So let’s recap.  1. Everyone receives life from the Lord but that life is expressed according to the form of the mind that receives it.  2. People have two minds a natural mind and a spiritual mind.  3. The natural mind prior to a person becoming spiritual is organised in a way that is opposed to the spiritual mind.  4. If a person is to become spiritual they first need to acknowledge the Lord.  5. Then they need to acquire spiritual vessels or truths that can receive the inflowing divine life into their conscious awareness. 6. They are to use these truths as the basis for their life and reject what is not in keeping with what these truths teach is good.  7. In this way a person receives what is of faith and love from the Lord which is a new life and is spiritually reborn.

Now what you will notice is that this way of being made spiritual has two parts to it.  It has the Lord’s part and our part.  The Lord has fulfilled all that is required for any person to enter into a spiritual life through undergoing a transformation whereby their sense of self can be lifted out of a natural state reflective of hell, into a spiritual state reflective of the life of heaven.  What is left for people is to do their part, which is to act on the knowledge the Lord has provided through divine revelation of the written Word.  In this we see that the Lord places a high value on our freedom in spiritual matters.  For if we are not left to freely assess what truths teach and from that choose to live from them as if of ourselves, then, they can have no lasting impact on our lives because it is only what we choose to do freely from our understanding that makes something a real part of our life. In the end we are what we love or will.  Now what has this to do with miracles?

Quite simply witnessing miracles circumvents this vital aspect of having to assess spiritual truths for ourselves by using our God given rational faculties and from that choosing to make truths a part of our life.  Miraculous events, by which we mean out of the ordinary spiritual phenomena occurring on the natural plane of life so that they are detectable to the physical senses, does away with the need for people to rationally consider whether what truths teach are in fact true.  And when you do away with people having to asses things for themselves it closes down the divinely ordained way by which faith from the Lord is implanted in people so that they can become spiritual.  We will continue with this topic next time but to close let’s listen to a couple more quotes from the teachings for Spiritual Christianity…

…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 cast out the evils and falsities that have their seat within; but external means enter by an external way, and do not cast out evils and falsities, but shut them in. (AE 1155)

…man has an internal and an external of thought, and that the Lord flows through the internal of thought with man into its external, and thus teaches and leads him; and also that it is of the Divine Providence of the Lord that man should act from freedom according to reason. All this would perish in man if miracles were wrought and man were driven by them to believe. (DP 130)

Amen

About David Millar

My passion revolves around supporting people to engage with the Lord's Word, or Divine truths in the form of sacred texts, to cultivate an intentional spiritual practice. Through the works penned by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) we find that the Biblical texts contain a deeper meaning that, once understood, enables them to be applied in ways that open the human mind to the realisation of its spiritual potential. The goal of the Divine Life is to free each and every human being from the pain of self centred living and bring them into the experience of all that is heavenly through the promotion of what is genuinely good and true. The material shared here is offered in the pursuit of that aim.
This entry was posted in Doctrinal, Miracles, Rev. D.W. Millar, Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.