“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.” – Isaiah 2:2
The Word of the Lord everywhere recognizes the necessity of associated effort for spiritual uses. The church is the means by which the Lord is conjoined to men and accomplishes His purposes in them, for the true church is the love and wisdom of God in the hearts and minds of men. Or, in other words, it is the goodness and truth of heaven believed in and practiced on earth. In the Word it is sometimes called the “Kingdom of God” and the “Kingdom of Heaven.”
The word church has various meanings, but we well know that any church is a true church only so far as its members worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The church in its highest sense is a Divine institution, a system of life of inexpressible beauty. In its lower sense it is an association of persons who in their imperfect way are aiming at and seeking to live this life. Yet this latter is a Divine institution as well as the former. “Gather my saints together unto me,” says the Lord, and “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Thus the church as a congregation of people associated to learn and follow the Lord is an institution divinely ordained for the purpose of uniting and blessing mankind.
We need truth from the Lord. We must have it to free us from wrong ideas and their results, and to understand ourselves. The truth does for us mentally just what the light of the sun does for us physically. Walking in darkness we shall often stumble and fall; but in the sunlight we can carefully choose our footing. And an essential to good life is that we understand ourselves. To do this it is necessary to distinguish between what we feel and what we think. Our natural inclinations tend to lead us astray.
The verse following our text reads, “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” And Isaiah then goes on to say that as a result “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
External unity can be attained and maintained only where there is spiritual unity. The Lord is the center of all unity. The more men look to Him, to His truth, and to His will the more their hearts become centered in the same Divine Being, the same wisdom, the same law of love, the same law of life and use, and hence the same purpose. So they become united. The reason of this is that then self-love, self-intelligence, self-assertion, and self-seeking all cease, and men can dwell together in unity.
Upon this plan the universal heavens are arranged. Those who have the same spiritual affections are in the same society. Therein is their happiness and delight. The uses of individuals may vary but they all harmonize with one another and all grow out of and center in love to the Lord. They have a common Lord, a common cause, and a common good; and they act together each in his own sphere, each in his own place.
This is the pattern for the church on earth. But in order for it to follow this pattern there must be the knowledge of what its spiritual use is. We come to church for instruction, for worship, for spiritual development, for strength, for use to others. This is the way that the heavens are organized, and so far as we come into the love of the heavenly principles and the practice of them, we prepare ourselves in this world for the place which the Lord has prepared for us in the world to come.
The church holds out to us these means, leads us into the love of doing these things, and strengthens us in the performance of them. Then the pleasures of this world as the primary things of life lose their appeal and play only a secondary part, though still a necessary one. For it is not sufficient merely to do our natural duties well.
In this present age the faithfulness in performing our duties is mixed up with a large degree of self-interest, self-approbation, and self-seeking. We are not able to judge motives. No two persons will have quite the same reasons for their acts, though the acts may be similar. What is done may be to all appearance the same, yet with one it may be a good deed and with another a sin. And through ignorance a man may do a very wrong thing, believing that he is doing what the Lord would have him do. Paul, in persecuting the Christians, thought that he was serving God.
The difference between a good and an evil man is not in the external deeds but in that which prompts the deeds. The truly spiritual man does what is right not for what he can get out of it but because the Lord requires it. He loses sight of self. Self-seeking is gone. Then the external service becomes genuinely good. If there is acknowledgment of the Lord – not lip acknowledgment, but of the heart – it lifts one out of himself. If there is not acknowledgment of God, self reigns and is exalted more and more. For each good, just, and kindly deed the man without a God takes credit to himself. He has done it. It is his. So he becomes more and more confirmed in selfishness and self-laudation by each good thing that he does.
The man who looks to the Lord knows that he is not the source of the good that he does. He knows that every impulse to do right is not from himself but from God. He knows that if left to himself, all his deeds would be entirely selfish, whether they looked so to others or not.
This is a very practical difference. The man with religion rises above self. But the man with no religion acknowledges allegiance to no higher power. He is for himself the highest power in all the universe. And those who do good for the sake of self are not fitted for heaven. All who are in heaven live consciously from the Lord. They look to Him for inspiration and for wisdom in whatever they do. They do not become proud and self-sufficient because of their good deeds.
Man needs religion because he can do nothing genuinely good without it. We are born natural not to remain so but that we may become spiritual. We need to know that the Bible is the Lord’s own Word to us. The Lord is the infinite source of all power, of all wisdom, of all life and blessedness. We need certain and satisfying knowledge of what we are, what is the nature of life here, and what will be the nature of our life when we have passed from the earth.
It has been and still is said that no such knowledge is possible. In the realm of nature science has amassed an immense body of truth, giving us ever-increasing understanding of the world and mastery of its resources and powers. But today this world is largely regarded as the real world and the spiritual world as the shadow world. To the materialist this world is all that there is. He does not know or admit that there is an interior world entirely hidden from his view. And the church of the past has pretended to do little more than to save his soul from hell.
But men are not to be kept forever spiritually blind. In the truths revealed in the Second Coming knowledge of the real world – the spiritual world – has been supplied in abundance. By means of this knowledge men may, if they will, rise to new life, new power, and new glory in this world as well as to a richer life in the spiritual world. Only with this knowledge can they reach the stature for which they were created. Men are only beginning to awake to these possibilities, but in time, if the people of the New Church remain true to their spiritual mission, “the beauty of the Lord our God” will rest upon them. His truth will be the light of their understandings and His love the peace and blessedness of their hearts.
“Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.”