MIRACLES, SIGNS & WONDERS: A NEW CHURCH PERSPECTIVE (part 2)

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Readings

John 20:24-29 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.  25 The other disciples therefore said to him, We have seen the Lord. But he said to them, Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.  26 And after eight days […] Jesus came, […]  27 Then He says to Thomas, Bring hither thy finger, and see My hands, and bring thy hand and thrust it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.  28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, My Lord and my God.  29 Jesus said to him, Because thou hast seen Me, Thomas, thou hast believed; blessed are they who have not seen, and have believed.

Divine Providence 130

[…] 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. That this is so may be rationally seen from the following considerations. 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, and that this at first so occupies the external of man’s thought as to hold it spell-bound. Man, however, is thereby deprived of his two faculties called rationality and liberty, and thus of his ability to act from freedom according to reason; and then the Lord cannot flow in through the internal into the external of his thought, except merely to leave the man to confirm from his rationality what has become an object of his faith because of the miracle.

SERMON

This morning we continue with our exploration of what the Heavenly Doctrines have to say on the subject of miracles.  Last time we looked at what the teachings for Spiritual Christianity had to say on the structure of the mind and we saw that it has an internal and external component and how that if a saving faith is to be implanted then it must come by an internal way, and that miracles belong to the external plane of life, or the world of the physical senses, and as such can’t contribute to implanting a saving faith within the mind to which the laws of order that govern the implantation of a saving faith are directed.

We need to have a clear grasp of the teaching that the internal way spoken of in the Heavenly Doctrines relates to the faculties of the mind, or to the will and the understanding.  Our will and understanding is who we are and provide us with our ability to think about truth and act to put that truth into practise or to bring goodness into life.  These two things our rationality and our ability to act freely from it is what is meant by the internal way.  So it is that we read that…

…faith and charity, must be implanted in freedom; for then [a person] makes them their own and what they make their own in this way remains, whereas what is implanted under compulsion remains outside the internal man, in the external man. This is because nothing passes into the internal man except by way of ideas seen in the understanding, that is, seen rationally, since the soil which receives what is implanted in the internal man is enlightened reason. This is why no miracles are performed at the present day.  (Arcana Coelestia 7290)

The meaning of freedom in spiritual matters has to do with your God given ability to take truths into your mind, use your rational faculty to think about them for your self and to act from them or not.  It is through acting from truths that they enter into your life and become saving.  This is because when you live from truths from the Word you are in a life of turning away from the loves of self and the world which give the hells access to your life.  An enlightened understanding is one that looks to the Word and from the Word to life.  This is the only way that a person can be saved from the selfish states of life that make up their proprium.

Miracles, as a basis for implanting faith, do away with the need for a person to have to think about truths in order to see for themselves if they are in fact true.  This is because miracles compel belief through evidence presented to the senses.  The basis of miracles as a source of faith requires no use of our rational faculties to determine if truths are true.  This is due to the strong persuasive influence miracles have over the mental faculties of the external mind, so strong that the internal or rational mind is left to yield in subservience to the external mind, at least for a time.

The idea that miracles are able to implant a saving faith isn’t borne out in the record of the Israelite’s dealings with the Lord in their journey through the wilderness.  This people experienced the miraculous on virtually a daily basis and yet as soon as external conditions changed and the opportunity arose to go their own way they discarded their worship of Jehovah (see AE 1156[2]) and worshipped the golden calf, so it is that we read in the book of Numbers…

“Jehovah said unto Moses, How long will this people not believe in me, for all the signs which I have done in the midst of them; none of the men who have seen my glory, and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, shall see the land” (Numb. xiv. 11, 22, 23).

Then we have in the New Testament the Lord’s interaction with some of the Scribes and Pharisees, who being witnesses to the miracles the Lord wrought in their midst, continuously refused to believe and kept asking the Lord to give them another sign…

Then answered some of the scribes and Pharisees, saying, Teacher, we will◠to see a sign from Thee.  But He answering said to them, A wicked and adulterous generation seeks a sign, and a sign shall not be given to it, except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (Matt 12:38-39)

And then there was Thomas in our reading from the gospels who having been with the Lord throughout His time on earth would not believe unless presented with physical evidence.  To him the Lord said… “blessed are those who do not see yet believe…”  In commenting on this occurrence in the gospels the Heavenly Doctrines state that…

Those who believe and yet do not see are those who do not desire signs, but truths from the Word, that is, Moses and the prophets, and believe them. The latter are internal men and become spiritual, but the former are external and remain sensual… (Apocalypse Explained 1156)

People’s responses to the miracles described in the Word vary.  Natural Christianity understands these things in the Word in natural terms.  It sees nothing beyond what relates to people and places set in a context of historical space and time.  It can’t offer any satisfying explanation as to how such things were able to be done, other than saying that because the Lord was God He can do anything, even suspend the operation of the laws of nature at will.  To any reasonable thinking person this is not an answer, for if God were to suspend the very laws of order, to act outside of them, then He would be acting against His own laws of order which is essentially to act against Himself, which is impossible for this would be disorder or what is opposed to order or the Lord who is order itself.

What’s wonderful about the teachings of Spiritual Christianity for the new Church is that they look at things top down, from what is higher into what is lower.  Natural Christianity reasons from what is lower in its consideration of what is higher.  To reason from what is lower about spiritual things is to see them in terms of natural things belonging to the senses and can only result in drawing conclusions that are false.  To see things more clearly a higher general overview is required first, then from that we can see how the particular elements fit in.  I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the TV program “I shouldn’t be alive.”  It’s about people who find themselves in life and death situations either through some accident or getting lost in a wilderness etc.  What’s interesting is that those who get lost more often than not head for higher ground, if possible, in order to get the lie of the land and make decisions about which way to head out of their predicament.  Obviously from a higher vantage point they are able to get a more accurate perspective as to how they need to approach the terrain around them.

Getting a higher perspective is vital if we want to understand the Word and access its saving truths.  It is Doctrine or teaching that serves as higher ground spiritually speaking for it gives us this higher perspective.  The Heavenly Doctrines are able to guide us so that we can come to see the very principles that underlie the miracles the Lord performed.  They show us that while natural reasoning may struggle to fathom how miracles can occur and put them down to a suspension of physical laws there is in fact a rational explanation that is able to satisfy anyone who is open to hearing what truths teach concerning the relationship between the natural and spiritual worlds.

The first piece of higher ground to get hold of is that the Lord’s coming was not primarily focused on curing humanity of its physical ills.  This is clear for although He did cure some people of physical ailments when He was in the world He didn’t cure everyone, and His coming didn’t rid the world of natural diseases and other factors detrimental to human life on the physical plane of existence.  It is true however, that all things that are detrimental to the physical health and wellbeing of people and the planet are the result of some form of disorder or departure of human beings from the order of life for which they are created.  All disorder that manifests on the physical plane of life is the effect of disorder on the spiritual or mental plane.  This can be seen from the following teaching on the relationship of the natural world to the spiritual world…

Nothing in nature exists except from the spiritual, because no effect is possible without a cause. […] For there is a spiritual world; and that world is prior, interior and superior to the natural world, consequently everything in the spiritual world is a cause, and everything in the natural world is an effect. (Apocalypse Explained 1206[3])

Also in..

In a word, all things that come into existence in nature, from the least to the greatest are correspondences.  They are correspondences because the natural world with all things belonging to it comes into existence and continues in existence from the spiritual world, and both worlds from the Divine. (Heaven & Hell 106)

The idea that every effect has a cause is easily accepted from our own experience of things.  What is perhaps not so clearly seen is that for an effect to remain in being its cause must be continuously and actively flowing into it.  This means that if you remove the cause from its effect then the effect must cease to exist.  Every miracle the Lord did while in the physical world obeyed this law and was an effect which had its cause in the spiritual world.  Miraculous changes witnessed on the natural plane of life merely reflect that some cause on the spiritual plane has acted into the natural world and what is actually seen on the physical plane is this change in its corresponding effect.  This is a spiritual law that can’t be suspended or altered.  There are in fact no natural laws strictly speaking.  All that science defines as laws of nature are corresponding effects of spiritual laws.  But because science doesn’t acknowledge the spiritual as causal, but sees all cause as being in nature herself it misreads effects for causes.  But the Lord has provided us with teaching from which we can think about phenomena occurring on the natural plane of life, including the miracles described in the Word, and better understand their causes.

Divine miracles proceed from Divine truth and advance according to order, the effects in ultimates being miracles when it pleases the Lord that they be presented in this form. (Arcana Coelestia 7337)

And in

Miracles […] are the effects of the Divine power, and take place according to the influx of the spiritual into the natural world… (True Christian Religion Add. 1)

Now the Lord in coming into the world was concerned with the salvation of the whole human race and this required that people have access to divine teaching that could lift them from a natural to a spiritual state and support them in that new life.  The Lord’s physical manifestation in the world was necessary because human beings had lost the ability to access any internal connection with heavenly influence due to a build up of hereditary and actual evils.  Divine truth had to be presented to the bodily senses of people who were natural to set up a plane in the lowest level of consciousness from which human beings could be lifted into higher things.

The true purpose behind the miracles the Lord did while in the world was not to cure the individuals concerned of their individual physical ailments, whatever they may have been, but to present a very physical, albeit natural manifestation, of the divine power to save people spiritually.  By performing miracles on the natural plane the Lord offered a physical representation of the power of the Word to effect corresponding changes in the human mind.  Every condition the Lord cured while in the world, in fact everything the Lord said and did, was a representation of what must take place on the level of the spirit or in people’s minds if they were to be saved from the loves of self and the world.  This can be seen in the following teaching…

The Lord’s miracles, because they are Divine, all involved and signified such things as pertain to heaven and the church, therefore they were healings of the diseases which signified the various healings of the spiritual life… (Apocalypse Explained 455)

But we will have to leave it there and will continue with our theme next time…

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.
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