“For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.
“It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?
“Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?
“But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” – Deuteronomy 30:11-14
The Lord gave His Word through the prophets, came into the world, and lived out the Word that men might know the things that are necessary to a heavenly life, and to teach us that the essentials of a good life are neither hard to know and understand nor hard to live. All creation testifies of the Lord and of His purposes for us. Paul writes, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”
It is true that life is infinitely complex, that there are depths of meaning in the Word which neither men nor angels can fathom, that we can always find more to learn. But there are fundamental general truths that everyone can learn, understand, and apply. Life should not be a burden; the requirements of a good life are within the reach of all.
The commandments are such simple laws of life. They are not hard to understand nor impossible to keep, but are such as men and women in this world may easily learn and do, if they will.
“It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, that we may hear it, and do it?” The Lord does not ask us to ascend to the heights of His Divine wisdom and to understand it in its infinite fullness. Indeed He tells us that there are secret things that belong to Him, and that it is for us to know and obey only the things that have been revealed. By the Word the Lord brought the commandment from heaven and by His Incarnation He presented it in the example of His life. We do not need to have great spiritual development in order to learn the laws by which we are to live, for the Lord has given His Word in such a form as to reach the natural mind. Even a child, or one who is just learning can know, if he wishes to know, how he ought to live. Salvation is not beyond the reach of anyone.
“Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?” As the sending up to heaven would mean great interior and spiritual development, great spiritual enlightenment and strength, before we could know the Lord’s will and do it, so this sending beyond the sea suggests great learning and ability on the natural plane. Natural knowledge has its use, but one does not need to be learned before he can keep the ten commandments. Our natural powers are useful, material possessions may be useful, but it is not necessary that one should have great natural powers or occupy a place of large influence in the world before he can begin to learn the Lord’s will and do it. We can know our duty without being learned, and we can do it in small things as fully as in great. There are those who say, “When I have made my way in the world and become prosperous, then I shall begin to take thought for the things of the other life.” Such people rarely, if ever, come into a desire to learn of the Lord and of heaven, for they are seeking the things of this world first.
“But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” The word is in our mouth when it is brought within our understanding, and in the Word the Lord speaks to our natural state. The word is in our heart because the Lord’s love is in His truth, and He makes it possible for us to love His laws.
It is true that the Word is very complex and deep and that the writings of our church are very voluminous. The doctrines of the New Church, giving as they do the key to the spiritual interpretation of the Word, open to us fields of study which are inexhaustible. Yet the principles which one needs to know and live in order to be a true and useful Newchurchman are few and simple. There are three things essential to the faith and life of the New Church: the acknowledgment and worship of the Lord in His Divine Humanity, the acknowledgment of the holiness of the Word, and a life according to the commandments. We do not need great spiritual attainment or great natural learning to understand these essential doctrines, and we need no other opportunities in which to keep them than those of our ordinary daily life. It can surely be said of these doctrines that they are not hidden nor far off. They are not in heaven, comprehensible only to angels and applicable only to their lives; nor are they beyond the sea, requiring more natural learning than we possess or adapted to those of larger opportunities than ours. But they are very nigh unto us, in our mouth and in our heart that we may do them. They come home to our understanding and to our affections, and they meet the needs of our daily common experience.
What do these fundamentals of the church mean? First, the acknowledgment of the Lord in His Divine Humanity: our acknowledgment begins when we are taught as children that there is a God and that He is the Lord. This acknowledgment grows as we learn more about Him in the Bible, and our reason confirms our belief. It becomes real and living as we find a new happiness in resisting our selfish inclinations and in doing right. We should not think of the Lord merely as the Creator of all things, a God of infinite power far removed from us, but as our Lord Jesus Christ, who came to manifest Himself in the world and who is ever present in the world. He never went away. He is still with men, the same Lord and Savior. To acknowledge the Lord, to know Him as the Redeemer and Savior, is to acknowledge Him in His Divine Humanity. This truth is not hidden, neither is it far off.
The second essential of the New Church is the holiness of the Word. The doctrines of our church make this clear by showing how the Word is written. Using the language and natural thought taken from the knowledge of men, it can be received by them. But within the letter, as in a parable, are contained in every line and word lessons of Divine and heavenly life. The doctrine of correspondence gives the key to understanding the Scriptures. This opening of the Scriptures enables us to see that throughout they are about the Lord and that He was the Word made flesh. When we thus see that the Scriptures teach of Him, their holiness becomes clear, as they are then known to be not the expressions of Isaiah and David and others, but of the Lord Himself. To acknowledge the holiness of the Word is to know this and to read the Scriptures as one must who really believes that they are the Word of God. It is to love the Bible above all other books and to go it for instruction, for strength, for comfort, and for help according to our need.
The third and last essential of the New Church is a life in obedience to the ten commandments. At first they seem to apply only to our outward life and actions, but they reach also to the thoughts and feelings that are within the actions, as the Lord Himself showed in the Sermon on the Mount when He took the commands given in old time, “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and showed that they also forbid anger and impurity of thought. The commandments are for the most part given in negative form because we must cease to do evil before we can learn to do well, but the commandments also require good deeds of corresponding kinds as the Lord taught when, in fulfillment of the two commandments, “Thou shalt not kill,” and Thou shalt not commit adultery,” He gave the two blessings, “Blessed are the merciful,” and “Blessed are the pure in heart.” The commandments were given as they were given, because it is important that we learn what is to be shunned as evil and what good is to be done from the Lord, and not from the standards of the world or from the theories of men. This is why the Word was given to men in a way which would be received by them. But when its structure is seen, even those parts of the letter which on the surface appear unholy, as in the records of warfare and crime, and which turn many from the Word, are filled with inward glory. And as we continue to obey the commandments day by day in little things, the knowledge of the Lord and of His Word increases, our protection from evil increases, and we grow in heavenly life.
The way of life is not hidden from us nor beyond our reach. “The word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.”