A Heavenly Marriage
A Sermon by Rev. J. Clark Echols, Jr.
“The heavenly marriage consists in good and truth joined together in the rational. All these things are accomplished by the Lord.” Arcana Celestia n.3161
In such simple, clear words, the Lord gives us an incredible gift: an understanding of the origin of conjugial love. Think what your life would be like, whether you are married or not, if you did not have this information.
Perhaps you know someone in this unfortunate situation. How can an unmarried person explain their urge to be in a relationship? Without this knowledge many people seek union on only the lowest levels of life, because they know none higher. Many marriages turn undelightful just because the merely natural foundations of their relationship have turned to dust.
The internal sense of the story of the finding of Rebekah and her assent to be married to Isaac answers the question for unmarried people: what do you have to do to prepare for marriage. And it answers the question for married people: what steps do you have to take to achieve true conjugial love.
In the first part of the story, a trusted servant is commanded to go to the far away land of Abraham’s ancestors to find a wife for Isaac. He miraculously meets Rebekah who takes him back to her father and brother.
We all have felt commanded by the Lord. Since childhood we have been told: “You shall not….” As adults, the inner voice of conscience drives us to do what is right or rectify what we have done wrong. And every so often, we recognize the miracle the Lord performs in our life through His Word when our efforts and struggles produce peace and congruence between our inner and outer life.
Abraham’s servant went on his journey with only a promise of family ties and a hope that the infinite God would accomplish the task, as it was impossible for humans. The servant made sure he had enough provisions for the trip, and he was obedient. That was all he could do. And it was enough.
We are like that servant, living externally good lives, based on the truth, not just so that we look good. We believes the facts at hand which tell us that being evil causes us pain and that moral behavior is efficient and rewarding. We know that enlightened self-interest provides actual good to everyone.
We are this way because we have come to believe that goodness is the key. We are willing to forgo materialistic and sensuous delights for the sake of future spiritual fulfillment. So, for instance, we cut off thoughts of theft or revenge. We curb our lust. We stop evil thoughts and words.
We place these influences from the world in a lower priority, in lesser importance, compared to what the Word is telling us. Then, without really noticing how it happens, we sense holiness in life. We may be ignorant of spiritual goodness, but we know that this feeling, this delight, this perception, is sacred. We are able to then be resolute in our desire to follow the Lord’s commands, even though we do not see exactly where we are going spiritually.
When Abraham’s servant came to the well, there was something going on that caused him to hit bottom. Perhaps he was at the end of his rope physically and emotionally. Perhaps they were out of food and so far away from home that he felt completely isolated. In any case, he says a very specific prayer to the Lord. His prayer wasn’t for a good path or a watering hole. He said to the Lord: This is it. Send me a wife for Isaac now! And a miracle of perfect timing occurred as Rebekah then arrived at the well.
Remember a time when a prayer was answered? Or when you finally understood something? Or one of those “Aha!” moments when something made sense? The Writings for the New Church teach that what happens in those moments is that good and truth in your natural are vitalized and enlightened by Lord through your rational mind. We are told that this state of seemingly miraculous insight is achieved when all of the doctrine, the facts, and experience you have in your mind are confirmed, that is become your own. It is also described as when goodness and truth are married in you. Love from the Lord then flows freely into your mind, and you have a new strength, a new insight, a new way of living.
We never actually feel this process. The Lord requires by His laws, that we feel only that we own these ideas and feelings. But He also knows that we will not enter into the process unless we know what we are supposed to do. So how this conjunction of spiritual truth and love with our consciousness is revealed in the Word.
During our journey of life, which can be very long spiritually in a few years, we hear and see and bring into our hearts a great deal of truth. As we honor it and obey it, we become conscious of the spiritual love that is its origin. And they are wedded in our rational mind. All that has entered our minds through our senses that corresponds to that spiritual love is raised up. We are able to understand all that data in a rational way; in the light of heaven.
This is not abstract psychology. You know people who don’t know about this, and they are miserable, especially in their relationships. You know someone who doesn’t connect their long term obedience to truth with their happiness in their marriage. They just don’t know that marriage love, like all the kinds of love we experience, flows in from the Lord in accordance with the quality of the vessel we provide in our natural life. What an amazing gift we have been given!
The gifts the servant gives to Rebekah represent these blessings from the Lord. We sense the real value of our life, for our living is connected to an affection for truth. Our life is not just animal passions, materialistic goals, or self-centered growth. Our daily living is an expression of a deeper value: love of truth for its own sake
Here is the promise the Lord makes: when you live by what Word says, the love of truth becomes more attractive to you than merely natural desires and ideas. You are able then to willingly give up the connection to senses that has tied you to the world. Now, this is a difficult stage. And Rebekah leaving her family represents it. She is an innocent, naive teenager. While completely dependent upon her father and brother, she has been taught reliance upon God. She instantly and willing responded to the command to go with this stranger to a far away land to be married to a distant cousin she had never even heard of let alone met!
When we respond to the influence of the Lord’s love because it has become habitual to do so, all that we know is made over. We have a new sense of our life being our own. Our character, personality, words, actions, all now reflects our connection to the Lord and His Divine love and wisdom. We become rational human beings, able to rise above and so understand the natural world. We are worldly wise and commonsensical, even as we think spiritually. A deep holiness–a sacredness of goodness and truth–is married to our external actions. Our religion has become our life. And we live a truly good life.
Again, you certainly know people who are not in this stage of regeneration. There is much they do not understand. They make mistakes they could avoid if they had a deeper, broader view of life. We grive that they are missing this gift, and know the effort it will take for them to acquire it. It is a long journey which ends in turning one’s life over to the care of the Lord.
Resistance to this conversion, this transformation comes from our natural man. Our old ways of being, our old manner of thinking about things, argue for delay, even as Laban wanted Rebekah to stay a while.
The false persuasions and merely worldly desires of our natural man hold on as much as they can. There are well established pathways in our brains upon which all these delusions and evil desires travel. Changing them requires conscious, intentional decisions not to utilize them. This feels very uncomfortable, and requires a higher purpose from which we act. In this case, it is the notion that we will be blessed with peace and happiness in our relationships if we will trust in the Lord, even if we don’t clearly see the goal He is leading us to.
You can make this long journey. The angel of Lord is going before you. The muddled state of your life now can be purified, lifted up, blessed. The task is clear, even if the journey looks long. Rely upon the Word. Listen to Abraham and do as he asks: let go of the false appearances that arise from your senses. The Lord then can supply a higher light, deeper heat, which light and warmth you are not responsible for. Pray, and then watch for signs from the Lord. Notice when you feel blessed, even on the level of your senses. Know it is from the Lord, and acknowledge it to be so.
Freely consent to this marriage in you of spiritual goodness and truth with all the facts and experiences of your natural life.
All this certainly is about marriage: the heavenly marriage that is within you. The spiritual fact of the matter is that no conjugial love between husband and wife is possible without this inner marriage. No work you can do preparing for marriage or seeking a marriage partner does this. To find a potential conjugial partner, or to establish conjugial love in your marriage, you must provide this heavenly marriage, and then give it as a gift to your partner. No work you do on your spouse does achieves conjugial love. “No others come into conjugial love but those who go to the Lord and love the truths of the church and do the good things it teaches.” (Conjugial Love n.70)
Lessons: Genesis 24:10-27, Matthew 19:1-6 and on Arcana Celestia n.3161: “It is well known that nobody is born rational but merely into the ability to become so, and that he becomes rational by means of factual knowledge, [including knowledge] of the spiritual things of the Lord's kingdom which are called matters of doctrine. These are learned in part from the doctrine of faith, in part directly from the Word, and in part therefore by a person's own efforts. As long as these matters of doctrine remain solely in the memory they are merely factual truths and have not as yet been made over to the individual as his own. They first become made over to him when he starts to love them for the sake of life, and more so when he applies them to life. When this happens truths are raised up from the natural memory into the rational part of the mind and are there joined to good. And when they have been joined they are no longer matters of knowledge but of life, for in that case a person is no longer learning from truths how to live but actually living by them. In this way truths come to be his own and become matters of the will. He accordingly enters the heavenly marriage, for the heavenly marriage consists in good and truth joined together in the rational. All these things are accomplished by the Lord.
Preached at the Church of the New Jerusalem, Glendale, Ohio.
November 16, 2003