“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” – Matthew 24:35
Again our country celebrates “Memorial Day.” Great was the relief when the armed conflict ceased, and still greater was the joy in the hearts of the people that the danger was passed and families and friends would be united again. And the hope was inspired that this would be an end to wars between the states. This hope has been fulfilled, and there is no longer any thought of a civil war.
But conditions in the world at large are unsettled and threatening – perhaps more threatening than ever. Whether our country will again be engaged in war it is impossible to predict, for this involves knowledge of the future and no man or angel can know the future. We are living at a time of change both material and spiritual. It is a new age, the age of the New Church. Our text, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away,” has really been fulfilled several times, to mark the different spiritual epochs in the history of the human race.
The first was the Most Ancient Church. The spiritual history of that epoch is told in the allegory of the days of creation, the garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve. This period marked the childhood of the human race, when men lived close to the Lord in innocence and trust. The Word was written in their hearts. The story of the flood is the story of the end of this Adamic period.
Then a new earth – a new religious era – was inaugurated, which is described in the allegory of Noah and his sons. This age was of a different genius. It was a spiritual church. They had a written Word, learned its truths, and directed their lives by them. The story of Babel and the confusion of tongues and the dispersion of the people tells of the end of this era.
The third religious epoch began with Abraham, and to his descendants a new Word was given, new in outward form, but containing within it the same Divine truths. The end of this religious dispensation was reached when the Lord came as the Word made flesh.
Then began the Christian era. But soon the love of spiritual power crept into the heart of the priesthood, the simple and beautiful Gospel teaching was corrupted, and this era was brought to its end by the Second Coming. But the Word this time remained unchanged. Its truths, more or less deeply understood, have determined the character of history down through the ages, but in its outward form it reached completion with the giving of the book of Revelation.
For this new era the Word has been opened, and a rational basis for faith has been given by a system of teaching that harmonizes and unifies all things of true science and true theology. So we are in a new age of spiritual enlightenment and human progress on all planes of life.
In Revelation, the prophecy of this new age, John writes: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth.”
The new earth does not refer to a new material earth, but to a new kind of living on all planes of life, the bringing down to the natural plane of the right spiritual ideals. This is what is meant by the new earth. The new earth is not a material creation. It is the natural plane of life – the plane of human practice and conduct – governed by the laws that obtain in heaven, in fulfillment of the petition “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, as in heaven so upon the earth.” Under the concepts of the old interpretations of Christianity men classified the different phases of their life, calling this secular and that pleasure, and setting religion apart by itself as a thing which belongs exclusively to the sanctuary. Thus religion has been separated from life, and business and pleasure have places assigned to them entirely apart from religion. That is why the church lost its hold upon men. It ceased to be practical.
It is a significant fact that men never live as wholly isolated individuals, but they always live together in a society of some kind. Men were created not for themselves alone, but to be of service to one another – brethren dwelling together in unity. This social unity results from the uses of individuals to each other, and to the group. Various motives can cause people to work together for a time, but only one can keep them united – that is the love of serving others.
There are two opposing general principles by which men may direct their lives: self-interest or use. We all know what self-interest is. It is having self in everything that we think or do. The principle of use is altogether different. It is based upon the fact that each one of us is created to fill a use that no one else can fill. And no one can find his use by his own efforts alone. As we learn and do the Lord’s will, the Lord leads us and accomplishes His plans for us. To look to the Lord, seeking to be led by Him, and doing the duty of each day as it comes to us is the only sure way of finding one’s true place in this world or in the world to come. In the Lord’s sight all people are bound together. Their interests are not separate or individualistic. They are common and collective. For in the Lords sight humanity is only the larger man.
God is the Creator of all men. He gives being and life to all mankind. However widely men may differ in their mental and spiritual capacities, whatever may be the social distinctions created by education and environment, yet all derive their being and life from the same Divine source, and love to the Lord and to the neighbor unites them in a brotherhood.
The coming of this new ideal of man’s relation to man will lead to a new earth. Love is the desire to do good to others. It can have no real existence until it becomes active in word and deed. This love can be expressed in many ways: in the interchange of material goods, in the communication of knowledge, in the performance of services, in caring for the common welfare, in happy social life. But the love which above all others unites men in the bonds of mutual service is love to the Lord and love for the spiritual welfare of mankind.
Everyone realizes that the world today is in a process of change, but the change at any particular time may be for the worse rather than for the better. No one can tell what the immediate outcome will be. Civilizations have perished in the past. The amazing civilization of Greece came to an end. Rome fell, and there followed the dark ages. We know that the Divine providence is over all things, we realize that there is much good in the world, and we know that there has been revealed truth sufficient to meet the needs of the day.
It is true that the church has a message. It is not that the church has the ability to set forth the external changes that must take place, or the form of government that a nation should adopt, but it should declare that whatever plans are made, they will fail if they depend on human strength or wisdom or on any inherent goodness of human nature. There is no power in man to make himself good; there is no power in mankind to make the world good.
It is the mission of the New Church to see this truth clearly, and to proclaim to those who despair and to those who seek for good by other means that there is one power and only one that can succeed, that is able to give security to nations, to remove strife from the earth. That power is not in arms. It is not in science. It is not in philosophy. It is not in ethics. It is not in economic or political science. It is the power that comes from the presence of the Lord in human life, as men keep His laws.
The Scriptures close with the prophecy of a glorious future for the earth. It is the prophecy of a world governed by justice and wisdom, a world of peace and good will. Truth and righteousness must indeed prevail.
The greatest threat to our future is not from bombs or guided missiles. Our civilization will not die out in that way. It will die only if the spiritual forces which make us wish to be right and noble die out from the hearts of men.
Peace, even peace on earth, is a Divine achievement. Without the Lord it cannot be attained, either in the individual soul or in the larger community of the world. But it can be obtained as men cooperate with the Lord and with each other.