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Baptism with the Holy Spirit
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
December 4, 2011
Isaiah 40:1-11 Mark 1:1-8 Psalm 80
In both our readings this morning we see the topic of reformation. Reformation is the second step in spiritual rebirth, or what Swedenborg calls regeneration. Last Sunday we talked about repentance. This Sunday we will look at reformation. And next Sunday about regeneration. These are the Swedenborgian 3 “R’s”.
In our reading from Mark, John the Baptist says that when Jesus comes He will baptise with the Holy Spirit. This means that Jesus will regenerate us. In the baptism services of this church, we talk about regeneration. We say that baptism symbolises the spiritual cleansing of regeneration. For we are born for this world by our biological birth, and we are reborn for heaven by the spiritual cleansing of regeneration. Jesus tells us that we need to be reborn in order to enter heaven. He says, “Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). For some Christian denominations, being reborn is an instantaneous act when a person takes Christ into their life. For us, it is a lifelong process of character reformation. Swedenborg calls this process regeneration, which in Latin means “rebirth.” The process of regeneration is the same as letting God’s Holy Spirit into our soul, so that we are living in Jesus, and for Jesus. Jesus talks about this in John 15:5, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.”
To see how our passage from Isaiah treats regeneration we need to look at the internal sense. We are told to, “prepare the way for the Lord.” This means that we are to make ourselves fit to receive God. Then Isaiah talks about the process of reformation. He says,
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain (Isaiah 40:4).
The valleys are the lower things of our personality. They are external knowledges and, in general, our lower self, or natural person. Raising up the valleys means that our natural person will be raised up from worldly interests into heavenly interests. It means that our lower self will be filled with heavenly goods and truths and that it will accord with the loves and truths of our higher selves. Making mountains low signifies lowering of self-interest or pride. Mountains mean pride when they are said to be lowered. And our spiritual washing means a breaking up of self-will and the desire to make everything go our way. So our Old Testament reading also treats the subject of reformation.
We saw last Sunday that repentance is the identification of sin. Reformation is when we act on the truths we know. Reformation is when we form our actions and thinking in accordance with the spiritual principles we know.
Repentance and reformation are essentially the same process. When we get to regeneration, though, things are quite different. Repentance and reformation are when we act on the truths we know to form our lives into an image of heaven, and into a likeness of God, our Creator. The stage of regeneration is when we are no longer acting from truth, but we then act from love. When we are in the stage called regeneration, we are no longer applying truths to our lives. Rather, we are acting from heavenly love because we have formed ourselves into a vessel that can hold God’s Spirit. These are two distinct stages. Swedenborg breaks these two stages down for us.
There are two states that man must enter upon and pass through, when from being natural he is becoming spiritual. The first state is called reformation, and the second regeneration. In the first man looks from his natural to his spiritual state and longs for that state; in the second state he becomes spiritual-natural. The first state is formed by means of truths, which must be truths of faith, and through these he looks to charity; the second state is formed by means of the goods of charity, and by these he enters into the truths of faith. Or what is the same, the first is a state of thought from the understanding, and the second a state of love from the will (TCR 571).
I find it quite interesting that we don’t need to finish the work of reformation in this world. Swedenborg tells us that, “The man who while in the world has entered upon the first state, after death can be introduced into the second” (TCR 571). The stage of reformation is when we look from a natural state to a spiritual state. This means that we have a sense of what spiritual life is. In order to see what spiritual life is, we need to know about it. This calls for instruction. Spiritual education forms our understanding. There are two basic parts to our psyche: our will and our understanding. Our will is composed of all our feelings and emotions. The understanding is composed of all the things we know and think. The process of reformation draws on our understanding, in that our understanding tells us what spirituality is like.
that a person may be regenerated, it is necessary that his regeneration be effected by means of the understanding as the mediate cause; and this is done by means of the various kinds of instruction that the understanding receives, first from parents and teachers, afterward by reading the Word, by preaching, books, and conversation . . . The things which the understanding receives from these sources are called truths; it is the same, therefore, whether reformation is said to be effected by means of the understanding, or by means of the truths which the understanding receives; for truths teach man in whom he ought to believe, and what he ought to believe, also what he ought to do, thus how he ought to will; . . . so long as anyone sees and mentally acknowledges that evil is evil, and good is good, and thinks that the good ought to be chosen, he is in what is called the state of reformation (TCR 587).
Our understanding is formed from a variety of sources, as said above. It is formed from parents and teachers, from Sunday school, from personal reading of the Bible, from books, from conversation, and a whole host of other sources of input.
Forming our understanding into an image of heavenly truth is the first step in the process of reformation. Our higher self is where we are first made into a form of heavenly truth. Then, our task is to let this higher self shine down into the lower self. In Swedenborgian language, this would be called letting out internal shine forth in our external.
Swedenborg says that this process of making the internal external may not be easy. Our external person has been created as an image of the material world and to satisfy all that we need in the material world. Two great drives emerge in our external person: love of the world and love of self. These two loves can grow to unhealthy levels. Love of the world can turn into greed. And love of self can grow into a selfishness that looks down upon everyone else in the world. Love of the world needs to be transformed into a love for our neighbor. And love of self needs to be transformed into humility before God, who is to be loved above all.
Transforming our natural drives into spiritual loves can cause conflict. Our worldly self may rebel against heaven’s loves. Swedenborg describes this process in language that suggests Paul. Last Sunday we reflected on Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul writes,
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. . . . For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8: 5-6, 13).
This contrast between flesh and spirit finds its way into Swedenborg’s description of spiritual temptation,
A conflict then arises because the internal man is reformed by means of truths; and from truths he sees what is evil and false, which evil and falsity are still in the external or natural man; consequently disagreement first springs up between the new will, which is above, and the old will, which is below; and as the disagreement is between the two wills, it is also between their delights; for the flesh, it is well known, is opposed to the spirit and the spirit to the flesh, and the flesh with its lusts must be subdued before the spirit can act and man become new (TCR 596).
God is unceasingly in the act of reforming and regenerating us. And it is comforting to know that everyone can be regenerated. The processes that we all go through are as different as are our faces and personalities. Everyone has their own unique way of walking from the world into heaven. But all can make this journey–even those who grow up in hostile environments and have learned survival skills based on hatred and abuse. Swedenborg promises that,
Every person may be regenerated, each according to his state; . . . those who are principled in natural good from their parents, and those who are in evil; those who from their infancy have entered into the vanities of the world, and those who sooner or later have withdrawn from them; in a word, those who constitute the Lord’s external church are regenerated differently from those who constitute his internal church, and this variety, like that of men’s features and dispositions, is infinite; and yet everyone, according to his state, may be regenerated and saved (TCR 580).
I find it comforting to hear that even those who are in evil and those who are deeply immersed in the vanities of the world–even these can brought into God’s kingdom of love.
Our Bible passage from Mark this morning looks forward to the coming of the Lord, as does our reading from Isaiah. Isaiah tells us that “The glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.” He tells us further to shout, “Here is your God!” As we work through the process of reformation, we are letting the divine rays of light into our hearts and actions. We are piercing the gloom of the material world and are looking into heaven’s dazzling light. As we let the baptism of the Holy Spirit fill our personalities, we will grow closer to our Lord and our love for Him and our neighbor will intensify. The glory of the Lord will be revealed in us and to us. God will “gather His lambs in His arms, and carry them close to His heart” (Isaiah 40:11). We will go up onto the high mountain and shout, “Here is our God!”
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