“(Israel) defiled the lands and committed adultery with stones and with stocks” – Jeremiah 3:9
There are many passages in the Scriptures, particularly in the Old Testament, in which adultery is mentioned, but ministers usually shun reading them from the pulpit and some people wish they were not in the Word.
There is, of course, the necessity for the prohibition of the literal sin, but there is a deeper meaning in these passages. In its inmost sense the Word does not treat of the relation of men with each other but of the relation of men with the Lord. We are guilty of the sin of adultery whenever we adulterate, corrupt, mingle with our own natural and rational considerations, or in any way turn aside from the plain precepts of life which the Lord has laid down in the Word for our guidance. This is the sin that is everywhere meant by adultery in the spiritual sense of the Word. It is the only kind of adultery that can be committed with “idols” or “with stocks and with stones,” or by the church in any composite sense.
Anything that tends to lessen man’s belief in the Lord, in His church, in the holiness and final authority of the Word, or in the Lord’s work as Redeemer and Savior of men, in fact anything which detracts from the Lord and enhances man’s belief in his own self-sufficiency is adultery, and adultery of a far more destructive and deadly kind than the natural sin. Indeed the natural sin derives its origin and virulence from the spiritual sin. No man who reverences the Lord and the Word will commit the outward act, and he who denies the Lord and the Word cannot be restrained from it. We are guilty of this sin when we say that the commandments are too high to be kept in this world – so justifying our compromise with evil.
Particularly is this evil found in the modern attitude toward the Bible. The Word cannot be understood except in its own light. “In thy light,” says the Psalmist, “shall we see light.” And in Revelation we read, “No man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon” save “the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David.” There are those who set up human understanding and reason above the Word and reject all in it that is supernatural or miraculous, and who would make the Word conform to the teachings of natural science and its precepts a mere statement of the ethical standards of past and present ages. In this way they deprive the Word of all absolute authority. Those who do this may be sincere and honest, they may even think that they are doing God service, but the result of their labors is to leave men with no standard outside of themselves.
This is a cause of much of the unbelief of today. The inner meaning of the Word has been revealed in order that we and our children may not be overwhelmed by the flood of doubt and unbelief that is threatening the church. It is the peculiar mission of the New Church to stem this tide and with the Lord’s help to defend and to maintain before the world the integrity of the Word.
There is no other agency which can accomplish this result. Social or economic organizations cannot do it because they deal with purely natural things. Natural science can do no more than satisfy the craving of the natural man for ease and luxury. Education and culture cannot do it, for they can only draw out what is in man, and by themselves will rather increase the desires and unrest of the human soul than save it from itself. Morality without religion cannot succeed any better, because morality without religion does not rise above worldly hopes and desires, and cannot of course lift men out of them. Nor can human laws accomplish the desired end, because men cannot invent a system of laws that is not subject to circumvention. Human laws are based on human wisdom and strength.
Only the Lord can overcome evil; man in his own strength cannot overcome the least of his evils. There are many human plans for the betterment of the world, from communism to dictatorship, but the final well-being of the individual and of the human race depends upon the regeneration of the individual soul. Because such plans have their source in man they have their day, and then gradually lose their hold on the minds of men and other plans take their place. Most of these plans, if not all of them, have good purposes in view. But they do not call men to repentance, they are not based upon the Word, they do not recognize the great truth that without the Lord we can do nothing. They are moral reforms, not spiritual, done in man’s own strength, not in the strength of the Lord God. They constitute a strange mingling of truth with falsity, of good with evil, of spiritual things with natural, and natural with spiritual, and so adulterate the teachings of the church.
What is the remedy? The remedy does not lie in a crusade either for or against any of these movements. The task of the church is to enable men to shun evils as sins, and to cultivate the distinctive life which the doctrines of the church teach.
That we have distinctive truth everyone will admit, or at least that we have distinctive teachings. By means of these teachings, which constitute the opening of the Word, the Lord makes His Second Coming into the world. The truths of the opened Word teach of the Lord, the Lord’s kingdom, and eternal life. No one of himself can acquire knowledge of spiritual truths; his faculties are not suited to such attainment. To mix these truths with the falsities of a consummated church and with the fallacies of the natural reason is nothing less than spiritual adultery.
What does this mean for us? Truth is not given for the sake of itself, but that it may be applied to life. Doctrine is for the sake of life. Regeneration is effected by the Lord alone in such as receive the truths that He has revealed and live according to them. All are born unregenerate, and the Lord saves all who will allow themselves to be saved. And those allow themselves to be saved who accept the truths with which He has provided them and live a life of love to Him and to the neighbor. The reason for this is plain. It is because truth without life according to it reaches and takes hold only of the thoughts of men, not of their affections, and the affections are the life. The Lord says: “Unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” No man can be said to have the truth until it is incorporated in his life. A man may understand the truth and even take a delight in learning it, but unless it is received in his heart and takes root in his life, when some powerful and absorbing natural affection is aroused in his soul – “when the sun is up” – it will wither and die away as if it had never been.
The distinctive life of the New Church is a free, spontaneous, and understanding love of the Lord, a life of complete trust in Him, in His goodness, mercy, and wisdom, together with the performance of one’s daily duties in His name and in His strength. It is not free from trials and temptations, nor exempt from sorrows and bereavements. But all these, if we trust in the Lord, will serve to make the truths of the New Jerusalem more real to us, lifting us above our doubts and fears, giving us strength to rise above our afflictions, joy in overcoming wrong and in doing good, so that we shall not be led astray by our own self-intelligence or by the self-intelligence of others.
When the Lord finished His Sermon on the Mount, we read that the people were astonished at His doctrine, “For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” There is no use in trying to dodge the word authority. It can’t be done. We are wholly unable to discover spiritual truth of ourselves. To look to self for truth is to worship stocks and stones. In the Hebrew the word translated “stock” is the word for “tree.” The dreary wastes of philosophy and false theology are testimony to the fact that men are prone to set up as standards principles from the natural reason and the facts of natural science, worshiping themselves and not the Lord. But we are commanded not to worship these, for if we do, we shall have no Rock higher than ourselves, no solid foundation on which we can build and rest.
“Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.”