An Heritage of the Lord

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, October 18, 2009

          Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is His reward Psalm 127:3.

The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that every human being, every one of us, has been created with an innate belief that there is a God and that He is one. We see evidence of this when we are with little children. They readily acknowledge heavenly truths such as that the Lord is their Heavenly Father, that they are under the protection of angels, that everything in the universe is living and good because it was created by Him. It’s as they get older, and more experienced in the ways of the world that they become more callous, questioning, cynical – more like adults. But we all do begin with this basic premise:  that there is a God, and that He is one. This is the primitive doctrine or religious point of view of every man.

It is also true that from the moment of birth our environment, hereditary inclinations, our educational experience, and the results of our own free choices begin to add to the basic doctrinal view. We experience the delights of good behaviour, and the pain that comes from bad behaviour – and we adjust and add to our doctrine to account for the ways other people react to us. People whom we trust and love tell us that certain things are true, and we believe what they say because we love them, whether we fully understand what they say or not. We become aware of the kinds of things the people in our home community do and think, and we consciously and subconsciously either adjust our own view to fit, or we begin to associate more and more with others outside our home group. Over the years each of us builds up a doctrine as unique as our own personality, and depending on what our life’s experience has been, it may bear little resemblance to the primitive idea placed there by God at birth. 

Such is the nature and completeness of our spiritual freedom that we may take what God has freely given us, and make of it whatever we wish, make it totally and uniquely our own. However, the fact remains that the Writings teach that all humans begin with the same doctrinal basis. Since this is the case, we should be able to see some evidence of that common religious background in all peoples.

For example, we note that in almost every known form of society, whether pagan or God-fearing, whether ancient or modern, there is some form of practice or ritual in which people may thank God for His gifts. The Ancient Canaanites ritually sacrificed their first-born children. Ancient farmers would place the first produce of their fields at the foot of the statue of their local god. The children of Israel brought a sacrifice to the temple as a symbol of their willingness to give their children to Jehovah, a practice that was commanded by God to replace human sacrifice with them, and which continued for thousands of years. Recall that Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple with the sacrifice of the first-born son. Even in our day, in many countries throughout the world, a day is set aside for national thanksgiving at about the time of harvest.

Why is it, in a world that seems to be increasingly materialistic and godless, do these ancient practices survive? Why do people continue to feel a need to thank God when important milestones in their life are reached? Why is it that in a world where marriage is increasingly viewed as a purely natural contract that can be broken the moment it ceases to be convenient, that people still want to be married in a church? Why is it that people who haven’t prayed in years suddenly find themselves fervently praying to God that a loved one will survive a time of severe trouble or illness. Could it be that, for all our sophisticated veneer and technological advances, most people still have the voice of God within them, whispering that He is there and that He wants to bring reassurance and peace into our lives? And people instinctively want to respond to that knowledge by turning to Him at the important milestones of life, at those times in our lives when our attention is turned away for just a moment from those natural material things that occupy most of our time and attention. When we come to church to witness a baptism, a wedding, or a funeral, we are prepared to consider some eternal truths that we might not be willing to consider at any other time.

The 127th Psalm speaks about the part the Lord plays in life’s events, and beautifully phrases the Psalmist’s thanks to Him for His help. The Psalm begins with the words, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it,” and as the opening idea it sets the tone for all the rest of the psalm. Through much of our life we work very hard, we put a lot of thought and effort into the things we do, and to a great extent we want to take credit for them to ourselves. The farmer clears the field, plows it, plants it, cultivates the new plants, waters it during drought, and harvests it in its season. He works from dawn to dusk through the whole season – and yet he gives thanks to God for the good harvest. And it is very important for him that he do so, for the knowledge and acknowledgement that God alone lives is the “celestial confession” – but through His gift we have the joy and the pleasure of performing uses in the world as-if-of-ourselves.

Our text focuses on the idea that children are an inheritance of the Lord, that they are a reward from God for a good life. But at the same time we must know that having and raising children is not always rewarding – it can be expensive, frustrating, and difficult, so we must ask ourselves how to understand this promise. The Heavenly Doctrines speak specifically to this point when they say, “Since there is no other offspring born of spiritual marriage, and a male offspring is truth and good in the understanding and consequent thought and a female offspring is truth and good in the will and consequent affection, therefore by ‘a son’ in the Word truth is signified” (AR 543:2). 

The Doctrines further explain who the heirs of God are:  “All who are in the heavens - are heirs of the Lord’s kingdom; for they all make one heaven. It is that which is internal that causes any one to be an heir. That which is internal is love to the Lord and charity toward the neighbour; in proportion therefore to the love and the charity which they have, in the same proportion they are sons and heirs, for in the same proportion are they partakers of the Lord’s life” (AC 1802).

Wherever the Word speaks about children, it is telling us about the good that we can have when we live according to the truth that the Lord has given us from heaven. And the more we live the life of charity, the more we will be prepared to receive our inheritance and our reward from God. “The heavenly kingdom should be given as an inheritance to those who from charity have faith in Him” (AC 1865).

In the church we often speak of the marriage of good and truth, and how when this occurs, uses are the result, but how can we get a feeling for what this really means? When God created the universe, He did so by uniting His Divine Love – His desire to have a human race to care for – with His Divine Wisdom – His plan for an orderly development on all planes to eternity. The result was the spiritual world, the natural universe, and all the living things therein.

By correspondence the same thing happens in marriage. The love of creating and nurturing new life – (the wife) is united to the intelligence and wisdom to teach new life (the husband) in the marriage, and on the natural plane this expresses itself as a new human being, an eternal life that is loved unconditionally by its parents. We should not be surprised that the conjugial delights of marriage are so wonderful when we see that they represent nothing less than the joy that God felt when He created the human race. God’s purpose in creating the universe was so that there would be a heaven from the human race that He could care for, and that would be free to return His love. Children are meant to be angels of heaven, and we have been given the marvellous privilege of sharing with God in the process of creating a heaven from the human race! No wonder children are the cause of such wonder and joy, for they give us a taste of God’s own delights.

But our children grow up so fast and move away from home. They too soon begin their own lives and families, and the parents who centred their whole lives on them are soon left alone. This cannot be the order God intended. If children are our heritage and our reward, why do they leave us when they are grown?

We have both natural and spiritual children. Both can give us great pleasure. Both are serious responsibilities. Natural children are a great deal of work, and considerable worry, and yet they are our prime source of joy and satisfaction in this world. How much more, then will be the joy and satisfaction we experience when we produce spiritual offspring and when we can spend eternity watching them grow.

The Lord loans us children for a time to teach us some important lessons about Himself and His universe. He wants us to have some small knowledge of why and how He created the universe when He shares with us the delight of the miracle of creation of new life, He wants to give us a taste of heaven when He gives us the celestial spheres of little children, and He wants us to know what an eternal life of use will be like when He gives us the opportunity to take part in the education and upbringing of a child.

Raising children in this world teaches us how to raise spiritual children, that is, how to do be genuinely useful to others. When after practice and conscious effort we form a good habit, when some truth from the Word is so ingrained in our hearts that we do it without thinking and from delight, it is called a marriage of good and truth. And when good and truth are married, there are spiritual offspring, that is, uses. When you form good habits from the Word, the things that you do are useful to others and express your charity and love to the neighbour. These actions are your spiritual children. They will be with you to eternity. They will bring you continual pleasure. Your sons will be the charitable thoughts you have, and your daughters will be the delights you feel. Eternal life is our inheritance, freely given by God to each of us His children. But the reward, the delight of heaven comes only to those who themselves produce children, that is, who produces spiritual offspring – goods and truths, for children are an heritage of the Lord. The fruit of the womb is His reward. AMEN.

First Lesson:  PSA 127

(PSA 127) Unless the LORD builds the house, They labour in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain. {2} It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so He gives His beloved sleep. {3} Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. {4} Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. {5} Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate. Amen.

Second Lesson:  TCR 685

…The three uses of baptism cohere as a unit, like first cause, mediate cause, and effect, for the sake of which the former exist; for the first use is that the man may be called a Christian; the second, following from this, is that he may know and acknowledge the Lord the Redeemer, Regenerator and Saviour; and the third that be may be regenerated by Him; and when this is done man is redeemed and saved. As these three uses follow in order, and are conjoined in the last, and consequently in the conception of the angels cohere as a unit, so when baptism is performed, read of in the Word, or mentioned, the angels who are present do not understand baptism, but regeneration. Therefore, by these words of the Lord:  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (Mark xvi. 16), the angels in heaven understand that he who acknowledges the Lord and is regenerated will be saved. And for this reason baptism is called by the Christian churches on earth the laver of regeneration. Let every Christian know, then, that he who does not believe in the Lord even though he has been baptized, cannot be regenerated. Also that baptism without faith in the Lord has no effect whatever. Every Christian is well aware that baptism involves purification from evils, and thus regeneration, for when he is baptized in infancy, the priest with his finger makes the sign of the cross, as a memorial of the Lord, on his forehead and breast, and afterwards turns to his sponsors and asks whether he renounces the devil and all his works, and accepts the faith; to which the sponsors, in the place of the infant, answer, “Yes.” The renunciation of the devil, that is, of the evils that are from hell, and faith in the Lord, are what effect regeneration.