“And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
“But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” – Luke 12:47, 48
In these words the Lord teaches us the nature and measure of our responsibility to Him and to our fellow men. All the precepts of the Word are of universal application. The Lord does not ask us to do more than we can – to act with a wisdom which we do not possess, or to do things beyond our ability and strength. But while the Lord demands no more than we can give, He also asks no less. Those who know the Lord’s will and do it not will be beaten with many stripes. Those who sin ignorantly will be beaten with few stripes. If we violate the laws of nature, whether wilfully or in ignorance, we must pay the penalty which is the necessary effect of a law.
In the Scriptures the Lord is said to punish, but this is according to appearances. The Lord is love; His only desire is to bless. His constant effort is to heal men of their afflictions and diseases. But this can be done only as evils and falsities are removed, and this requires man’s cooperation. Knowledge of this should give us comfort if we are living in the light of it, and should inspire us to greater fidelity if we are not.
What has the Lord given to us as Newchurchmen? We should realize that He has given us much. We believe that He has given us a fuller revelation of His Divine truth. We believe that we have knowledge instead of blind faith, a rational understanding of the Divine laws of life. We have the authority of truth itself instead of the authority of man. We see the truth as a unit, all its parts cohering, each particular truth a complement to all others. There is no opposition, no contradiction, nothing superfluous, nothing wanting to make a perfect whole.
We have a scientific system of interpreting the Scriptures that is universal in its application. By means of it all apparent contradictions are reconciled, all the dark sayings, strange imagery, and recorded visions are seen to have lessons of universal application. The whole of the Sacred Scriptures becomes for us a Divine revelation – a revelation of the true nature of God, of the laws of Divine order, of the Lord’s purpose in creation, and of the methods and means of effecting this purpose. We see the Word as the Lord’s voice speaking to us, and as the means of conjunction between Him and mankind.
These truths relate to the highest problems of our lives, and they solve them. They reveal to us our own nature, our relation to and need of the Lord, our life in this world, the method of our passing into the spiritual world through the gate of death, and the nature of that world as our eternal home. These things are no longer mysteries. He who accepts these truths does not doubt, he does not fear, he does not grope. He has clear, unshaken convictions. He knows that the Lord is love and mercy itself, that He is infinitely wise, and that He is continually striving to pour blessings into the heart of man and to keep him in a state freely to receive them. Surely much is given, and much will be required of us. What are these requirements?
First they require a higher standard of motive, a purer and nobler purpose than those from which men ordinarily act. One of the most common motives of Christian life has been fear – fear of the Lord’s wrath and punishment. It is, indeed, better to be restrained from sin by fear of punishment than to commit sin. But fear is a low motive of action. Another motive, higher and better, is the sense of duty. We owe this service to the Lord and we should pay it. Those who act from this motive serve the Lord as the good servant his master, as the honest man pays his debts and fulfills his obligations. This is often the highest motive presented to men for the work and worship of the Lord. It is a good motive and one which we all, at times, have to fall back upon. But we ought to seek a higher.
We know that the Lord is love and mercy itself. He has no concern for His own glory as men regard glory and honor. Instead of punishing His children, He is in the continual effort to bless them. He does not ask our worship for His own exaltation, but in order that He may bestow greater blessings upon us when we are willing to submit to the guidance of infinite wisdom. We know that He has only one desire for us, that is to give us the greatest good that we can receive. Our true motive should be love and gratitude to the Lord.
This clear knowledge, this insight into the nature of the soul and its destiny, requires of us greater fidelity and skill in using the means for our regeneration and conjunction with the Lord. When one is in doubt as to what road he should take, he is excusable for hesitation and delay, and for traveling the wrong road which he has honestly mistaken for the right. If one thinks that he is to be admitted to heaven from mere mercy, and that his acceptance depends upon the good pleasure of the Lord, he may have some excuse for not knowing what to do. There are those who have wrong ideas about the Lord. There are those who have been taught that they should not expect pardon from God because He loves them, but only because He loves His Son. They will be beaten with few stripes – with the stripes of doubt and fear, with the loss of that assurance which can be gained only by those who know their true relations to the Lord, who know what they must do to be saved, and do it.
The Newchurchman has no such excuse. He knows that there is no obstacle to his salvation in the Lord’s mind, or in His government. He knows that the Lord has no feelings toward him but love and mercy, and has never omitted and will never omit anything that He can do to save him. If he fails of heaven, it is wholly his own fault. If he fails, he must be beaten with the stripes of the consciousness that it was his own fault.
Again the Newchurchman knows what difficulties lie in the way of his salvation. He knows that they are the evils and falsities in himself, and that these are the only obstacles in the way of the Lord’s access to him. So he is under the obligation to fight against his evils, to labor to discover and correct falsities in his understanding, to be careful to avoid not only evil actions, but evil thoughts and intentions.
Men have denied themselves all the comforts of life, they have suffered pain and hardships in the thought that this might appease an angry God and gain His favor. But we know that the Lord and the angels are doing all that they can for us, stretching out their hands to us, giving us strength, as we are willing to receive.
We can be influenced only by forces that can be brought to bear upon us. It is as impossible to influence a man by truths which he does not know and by affections which he does not feel as it is to move a ship by forces which have no connection with it. Without knowledge of it the spiritual world is a mere blank. There is nothing to think about. But when one knows that the spiritual world is more real and beautiful than this world, and that in heaven all things will be lovely according to the ability formed here to enjoy them, he has a motive which should urge him on and give him strength to strive to learn and do the Lord’s will. And because the truths revealed to the New Church enable us to see the nature of our own errors, evils, and sins, and helplessness, they should also lead us to a greater sympathy for others and to a desire to help and not to condemn.
Much has been given to us in this new revelation to the world. We should use it by living according to it and seeking to bring its truths to others, that they also may receive the comfort, strength, light, and joy which they bring to every heart that truly receives them.