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Sermons

Heavenly Gates. A Classic Sermon.

May 30, 2004

Bible Reading

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb."

And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south, and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates, and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits: the measure of a human--that is, of an angel.

(Revelation 21:9-17)

Read also: Genesis 28:10-17

Reading from Swedenborg

There are in general two gates in every person. One gate opens toward hell, and is open to evils and falsities from there. In that gate genii and spirits from hell are present. The other gate opens toward heaven, and is open to goods and truths from there. In that gate angels are present.

Thus there is a gate leading to hell and a gate leading to heaven. The gate to hell is open to those who are immersed in evil and falsity, and only through chinks round about overhead does any light at all from heaven penetrate, which enables them to think and to reason. But the gate to heaven is open to those who are immersed in good and truth from heaven.

For there are two paths that lead into a person's rational mind: a higher or internal path along which good and truth from the Lord enter in, and a lower or external path along which evil and falsity enter in surreptitiously from hell. In the middle is the rational mind, towards which the two paths converge.

Because of the good and true things present in it, the rational mind is compared in the Bible to a city, and is actually called a city. And since it is compared to and actually called a city, it is depicted as having gates, and is described in various places as having enemies--that is, evil genii and spirits--besieging it and assaulting it, while angels from the Lord are defending it--that is, the Lord Himself is doing so.

The genii and spirits from hell, with their evils and falsities, can go no further than the lower or outer gate, and cannot pass at all into the city. If they were able to pass into the city, which is the rational mind, humanity would be completely done for. But when they reach the point that they have taken the city by storm (as it seems to them), it is then closed, so that good and truth no longer flow into it from heaven--except from a small amount that comes in through chinks round about, as I already mentioned. Because of this, such people no longer possess any kindness or faith at all, but make good to consist in evil, and truth in falsity. . . .

"The gate of heaven" is the place where angels are present with a person--that is, where good and truth flow in from the Lord. Thus there are, as I said before, two gates. The Lord refers to this in Matthew:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads away to destruction; and those who enter by it are many. For narrow and strait is the road that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:12-14; Luke 13:23-24)

(Arcana Coelestia #2851)

Sermon

If I were asked for a summary of the Christian way of life in Bible language, I do not think I could do better than to cite the incident of Jacob at Bethel, when he awakens from his wonderful dream saying, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it. . . . This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (Genesis 28:16-17). Together with this, I would put John's vision of the Holy City, with its walls and its twelve gates, each of which is a single pearl. These passages are from Genesis and Revelation--the very first and very last books of the Bible.

The dream of Jacob and the vision of John epitomize the Christian life. For it begins as but a dream in the night, perceiving but dimly that a relationship exists between earth and heaven. It begins with a promise that man, through God, can encompass the whole of creation. It begins with a general awareness that within man himself is the "house of God," and the "gate of heaven." And it ends with a realization and a clear understanding that makes possible a close, intimate, and personal relationship with God himself.

Many people make the mistake of thinking and believing that regeneration and salvation are a matter of a moment and a word. But between the dream of Jacob and the vision of John there are many gates that must be opened and closed. There are many heavens and earths that must pass away. There are many battles that must be fought and won before what appears obscurely, and merely as a possibility, is seen clearly as an imminent reality. There is much that must happen to a man or a woman before the Lord above becomes the Lord within, and before "the gate of heaven" becomes "the city of God."

Speaking in a very general way, we can say that there are within a man or woman two gates. There is one gate that opens toward hell, and thus toward all that is evil and false. And there is another gate that opens toward heaven, and thus toward all that is good and true. But the gate that opens to heaven does not appear until we truly seek it.

Even though the Lord continually invites and urges and presses us to open the gate to him and to heaven, it is only when we resist evils for the sake of the spiritual life, and because they are sins against God, that it is possible for us to see and to open the gate of heaven.

If the gate that opens towards heaven is opened first, it can remain open towards the world also, and in this way the will of God, which is done in heaven, can also be established on earth. But we cannot live in a vacuum. If the gate to heaven is not opened, evil will rush in through the gate of hell and take control of our lives; and gradually, the pathways, or truths, that lead to the gate of heaven will be obscured and hidden from view.

The course of development outlined in the Bible from the dream of Jacob, which brings the realization of the "gate of heaven" in the vision of John, which sees "the city of God" with gates open to all sides, represents spiritual growth. It represents growth from a religion of mere obedience, and perhaps of fear, to a life of freedom and love. It is a pathway from the "strait gate and the narrow way" into a knowledge and an understanding that is so comprehensive and various that it is suited to meet all human needs, whether they be spiritual, mental, or physical.

The gates that give entrance to the city on all sides proclaim to all, in the expressive language of symbol, that the knowledge that opens a way into the church of God is adapted to all capacities, and to all states of mind. It can meet the needs of all who have any desire for salvation and eternal life, regardless of whether they are governed primarily by the heart, by the mind, or by the senses; by religion, philosophy, or science.

If the church is to be truly "catholic," or universal, it must be capable of receiving within its walls all who have any affection for what is good and true. And it can only do so insofar as it is able to bring the knowledge of its principles down to the apprehension of all people.

As long as religion remains an unexplained mystery, and adherence to it blind faith, it is not real, but only nominal religion. It is, in fact, simply "religious persuasion," or superstition. A church that has but one gate--the gate of unquestioning obedience to human authority--is not a true church. A true church is one that, through love and understanding, is able to embrace all who have an affection for truth and good, and who live a life accordingly.

The true church is adapted to all minds and all states. It can satisfy not only all the demands of the heart, but also all the demands of the intellect and the life. All these are included in the four sides of the city, with its gates open on every side.

There are many ways, many truths, that lead to the heavenly life. This is necessary to meet people where they are. But all these "ways" must ultimately lead to the "pearl of great price" (Matthew 13:46). That priceless pearl is the gate into a deeper, more perfect understanding. Regardless of where we begin, we must all find this pearl, which is the great truth that what is represented in the life of Jesus and is manifested in the Bible is absolutely necessary in order to enter the "city of life," and to become citizens of the New Jerusalem.

In the last analysis, it is the quality of our personal lives that counts. If we have within us the quality that is represented in the life of Jesus and in the Bible, it will not be difficult for us to recognize and ultimately acknowledge and understand the literal, outward, and objective expression of it.

Our relationship with the world and our fellow human beings need not come through a compromise of the fundamental principles of Christianity and of true religion. It can come, rather, through a love and an understanding of those principles--the result of putting them to work in our personal lives. Ultimately, we include all people in our concepts and life, not simply because we feel that we should, but because our lives have been so enlarged and enriched by embracing the Christian principles that we want to share them with everyone. And we know that they exist for everyone who has a desire for them.

Let us enter "the gate of heaven," and lay hold of the promises of our God. For he will not leave us until, as he said to Jacob, "he has done that which he has spoken of to us" (Genesis 28:15)--until he brings to us the Holy City New Jerusalem, and orders our lives with his glory.

Prayer

O Lord Jesus Christ, our blessed God and Savior, who has given us a foreglimpse of heaven on earth in John's vision of the Holy City, grant that the love and the truth and the life that constitute your New Jerusalem may descend into our hearts, and prepare them as your dwelling. Grant that, by the power of a more abundant and clearer knowledge of you, and by a more grateful and responsive practice of your presence within, your tabernacle may be among us.

May the turmoil and confusion of our present day give way to heavenly peace and order. And may we cooperate with you to bring about the day when people in all communities and nations will be one in you, always moving toward perfection, just as you yourself are perfect. Amen.

Kenneth W. Knox