Sermon: “Works of Charity”

You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes, or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bring forth good fruit." (Matthew 7:16-18)

It is the nature of love not to rest and find satisfaction except in some outward act, something practical. We know this from common experience; whatever we love or desire, we strive to achieve, and only in the achievement itself is there the fullness of delight. Because of this, the love for what is good cannot contain itself until it produces good; and if there is no production of good outcomes, then there is not any love for them. In the same way, the love for what is evil comes into its so-called pleasure only by doing evil … except that it does not call it evil.

This striving for practicality, for tangible results, is derived from the Divine proceeding, whose origin is the Divine love, whose means or law is the Divine wisdom, and whose termination is usefulness. The Divine desire for use is the salvation of the human race, and in that alone the Divine love comes into its rest or completion.

With us, the termination of love in practical things is also called use. But we have to realise that no use originates in us. We can see this when we realise that the various uses to which a wicked person or an evil spirit turns are in no way derived from the person or the spirit. An evil love can produce nothing whatever but evil; that is to say, an evil love can never do anything but harm. The turning of that harm to serve for a warning and a balance is quite another matter, and is the Lord’s doing. Similarly the use that an angel or a regenerating person service is not in that angel or person, but in the Lord.

An angel or a person by him or herself without the Lord is not life but rather death, and nothing that is dead can produce what is living or what leads to salvation. Even so, the angel and the person is given a love to be his own, a love which is imperfect, only a limited image of Divine love. Such a love is given so that we will strive to do things and bring things to fruition and completion. Like the builder feels the house is all his own work and like the guard who feels the security comes from his own vigilance, but truly,

If the Lord does not build the house, the labour is a vain one… (Psalm 127)

The fact that the Lord flows in with life into that love which is born of God brings an assurance that whatever results from that love will be in the stream of providence. The Lord doesn’t leave what is born of himself but follows it up to eternity in all the usefulness that comes from it. When we do things genuinely and with the best intentions, it comes from our love for what is good, and then we do not need to be anxious about the results because the Lord will protect and guide those as if they are his own, which of course, they are.

Conversely, the Lord is not “in” the word or action that comes from an evil love, and so it will decay. A good person’s actions are immediately useful in the kingdom of God but those of a bad person are not of “immediate” use but can only be made useful by contrast when the wrong in them is seen for what it is. This is what Jesus’ words about bringing forth fruit speak about: It is an actual truth that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree bear good fruit, but a bad tree bears evil fruit.” And we, if we turn to the Lord, shall know them by their fruits and see them for what they are or they are not.

In the New Church we are taught how the fruits that are of the kingdom of use are produced, and we are also shown what they are. It is all to do with what is called “the first of charity” which is to look to the Lord and to shun evils as sins. The actual fruits themselves and their nature are called the “second of charity” which is to do things that are good because they are useful.

When we start thinking about the first of these, we see that the charity from which some usefulness is to come is born of and perfected by the Lord’s truths. This is to the same extent that any individual evil is shunned and abstained from because it is a sin, since it goes against the truths which expressly forbid them.

At the same time we will also see that unless evils are seen to be contrary to certain divine laws or truths they will not be recognised as sins.

And finally we see that the spirit of charity which gets formed from that painful process, like the pearl in the oyster forms from the irritation of grit, is the new love of the person. Now we can turn to the second aspect of charity, about doing things that are good because they are useful.

In Swedenborg’s book “Charity” (from which the above two aspects of charity are taken – see the first two headings in it) it is shown that the good or the use which are to do with the “second of charity” can be divided into five types. 1. Charity in our occupations; 2. The signs of charity; 3. Helpful acts of charity; 4. Duties of charity; 5. Enjoyments of charity.

It seems clear that these five types embrace everything that can ever be called a fruit of charity. In the same way, we cannot do without any of them; we must develop all of them if it is to be well with us. Doing that is the art of life. Longing to do so is present in the spirit of charity itself. So far as that spirit is born in a person as his or her new love, he will have nothing but delight in doing them.

Yet even then this person will be aware of needing to pay attention, striving from an awakened love to arrange his life proportionally within their heavenly framework, leaving none of them out and not letting any one of them develop unduly at the expanse of the others.

We are sometimes reluctant to be organised in regard to our way of living. Yet every love, good or evil, is systematic within the boundaries of its own purposes. A burglar is systematic in his manner, a wise leader also in his. Our soul is very systematic in sustaining and maintaining our body, so is our contriving love of ourselves in its creation of private excuses. The only system that is repugnant to us is that which opposes our ruling love, and it is from that that the love of a worldly person is opposed to the ordered life in which a spiritual person’s love would find as it were his home.

In doing what is good, we should note that all five forms of it, superficially regarded, are quite possible without anything whatever of actual charity being in them. For who cannot attend to his occupation or employment, observe the forms of worship and piety, carry out kind actions to other people, fulfil various obligations to state and society, and take part in diversions with his friends, and do all of them without shunning evils as sins. Who, in other words, cannot make a display of the second of charity and yet not be in the first?

Suppose, now, that evils are being shunned as sins, and therefore the love of the new will has been kindled by the spirit of charity. If this is so, the first and main expression of that charity will be the honest, just and faithful performance of the work of one’s occupation or employment. In fact this is the chief form of charity because it is the greatest use, for on it depends the orderliness of nations and society, and likewise the welfare of the kingdom of God. Ideally, the occupation taken up by each person is the best channel for his inclination or talent. It will be like this in heaven. But it is not always like this on earth, particularly when the state of the world is beset by all kinds of disorder.

Nevertheless, if it is seen that one’s work does add to, and not detract from, the wellbeing of society, if it is properly done, then the best application of one’s mind must be given to it. Indeed, not only is the honest, just and faithful carrying out of one’s responsibilities conducive to the general health of society, it is also the chief means of ensuring the health of one’s own mind. The Heavenly Doctrines say:

All those who in the world have loved being of use, and who have carried out uses from the love of them, think sanely in their spirits, and their spirits think sanely in their bodies. Affection for use has kept their minds entire.” (Divine Love, xv).

Second in importance are what are called “signs of charity.” These are all things that pertain to worship and piety. They are called signs because the various acts of worship and the meditation or prayer of the mind are external things; and whatever the internal person brings to sight and feeling in the external is called a “sign”. Because this is so, the quality of someone’s piety is the same as the quality of his charity. Someone’s piety or lack of it is in proportion to his charity or lack of it.

But since the forms of piety are but the signs of internal charity, so then that charity cannot sustain itself without its proper sign. It is in the nature of genuine charity to have an urge for prayer, confession and thanksgiving; for in these it shows and confirms its acknowledgment that the origin of everything good and true is in the Lord alone.

The third type of use consists in the “kind actions of charity”; and in the Heavenly Doctrines these are defined as

all the good which a man who is a charity does, in freedom, outside the scope of his occupation. (Charity 184).

Such activity ought to be done, and done prudently and plenteously, yet not for the sake of meriting heaven, for heaven is not granted for small efforts of that nature, which might even give some gratification to the benefactor’s own love of self, but for the giving up of that very love. Nevertheless, the life of society, here on earth and also in heaven, requires the rendering of services to the neighbour beyond those which are prescribed by one’s occupation or employment. In fact, a special measure of spontaneity is given to the mind in this third type of charity-

When you give alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth (Matthew 6: 3).

Less free in their outward form are the “duties of charity,” which are next in order. These too are necessary uses of the kingdom. They consist in payment for common necessaries and for the various needs of one’s own household. They take the form of subordination, obedience and the like, when such things do matter. The main point of emphasis here is that all these things can either be done from charity or not. If they are from charity, then they are done willingly and gladly, and without a sense of external compulsion; they are not avoided, nor done grudgingly and with complaint.

True, the issue may become clouded in our sight when there is disorder in the country, and when legislators and other persons in the country appear to be unworthy of our trust. Nevertheless, meeting of obligations by its citizens is necessary to the life of every community or state; and this being so, there should be a ready willingness to “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”; and this in a spirit that springs from willingness to give “unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22: 21).

Finally we have the “enjoyments of charity.” These are not, as might be supposed, a matter of delight for everyone. Certainly men, women and children alike enjoy diversions. But there is a difference, for every love has its own delight and its own diversion, and here we are concerned only with the diversions or recreations of charity. It is important for charity to have these, for a love can be replenished only by relaxation as it were in its own corresponding external form. Without such rest in the “evening” states of the heavenly mind, the love of that mind would become stale and torpid, and would eventually lose its vigour and zeal. To develop proper and delightful forms of “diversions of charity” is the purpose of what we are accustomed to call New Church social life. And there is much to be learned and achieved here by future generations, and also by our own.

These, then, are the five forms of charity. They are uses, and they complement one another, so that together they form an ordered whole into which the Divine aspect of use, the Holy Spirit, may flow. They are the delightful fruits, the fruit of a mind from which the entangling thorns and the thistles of merely worldly and bodily loves have been removed. Genuine charity and the faith of charity are their origins; and in them the Divine love and wisdom, and the love of its likeness and the faith of its image, dwell together and are conjoined.

Ye shall know them by their fruits.


by Rev. Erick Sandstrom

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