face and hands

Face and Hands

In by Michael Church1 Comment

Bible Text: Psalm 78:2, Matthew 13:34, John 16:12, 13, 25, John 10:30, John 14:9-10, Matthew 7:21, Matthew 19:17, John 3:20,21, Micah 6:8, John 14:20, 21, 23, Sacred Scripture 55, TCR 231:3 | Preacher: Fred Elphick | For people who enjoy reading, a good book can transport you into another world. It’s such a common experience that we take it for granted. Whether it’s a physical book or in electronic form, the same thing happens. As we scan the words and sentences, we can be in another world, sharing thoughts and feelings with the characters in a novel or gaining new insights in something that interests us.
Although we may not be aware of it, something like this can happen when we’re reading or hearing parts of the Bible. We begin to sense the love and wisdom of the Lord. So in a way, we’re seeing or understanding more about the Lord Himself. But what if this doesn’t seem to happen?
Let’s face it – for many, the Bible is a closed book.
It would be a big help then, to have a key to unlock it. A set of ideas to guide us. And one of  these helpful concepts is known as ‘face and hands passages’. More of this later.
We believe that the Word is designed in such a way that in many places the light and warmth within – the love and wisdom – can shine through the words we’re reading or hearing. In fact we could say that the whole of the Word is like a parable intended to help us lead a truly good life.
In the words of the Psalm: ‘I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old’ (Psalm 78:2). Hundreds of years later, this was described in Matthew:
‘All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them’ (Matthew 13:34).
Still, the Lord did promise to explain His prophetic sayings at some future time, as ‘the Spirit of truth:
‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth… These things I have spoken to you in figurative language [parables]; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father’ (John 16:12, 13, 25).
We believe that time has come. In the Writings for the New Church, the Lord does tell us ‘plainly about the Father.’ Take as one example, the idea that there is one all-loving, all-wise God, who is the Lord Jesus Christ, ever present in our lives.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus said: ‘I and My Father are one’ (John 10:30).
In another place: ‘He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, Show us the Father’? (John 14:9).
Again: ‘The words that I speak to you, I do not speak from Myself; but the Father who dwells in Me, He does the works’ (John 14:10).
Now we may not really understand these words until more of the meaning is ‘drawn out’ of them, like water from a well. So to see more, we would need to know that the ‘Father’ stands for the Divine love. It was this infinite love and mercy that burned within the Lord when He walked the earth. What appears as two people in the literal words can be seen as two aspects of one person – the Lord Himself and the Divine love within Him.
We sometimes talk to ourselves – even tell ourselves not to be stupid! But that’s a higher part of us looking at a lower part. We’re not two people!
So now we can think of the Lord as the embodiment of the infinitely wise and merciful Divine Love and Wisdom. His presence draws us to Him, if we are willing. Which means we need to respond to the Lord’s love and to seek His light to guide us. For as He also said in Matthew:
‘Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven’ (Matthew 7:21).
In the New Church, we can discover many things to inspire our life in this world and the next. But as the Lord said: ‘If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments’ (Matthew 19:17).
For what really makes the Bible a closed book is an evil life. This is not to say that you’re evil if you don’t understand it! It’s only that an evil person doesn’t want to understand it. As the Lord says in John:
‘For everyone practising evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God’ (John 3:20,21).
‘He who does the truth comes to the light.’ Truth leads to good. Doing the truth is using it to guide our life.
To summarise then, the good news is that reading the Bible is less daunting than we might think. Just knowing that there is so much more to it than meets the eye makes a big difference. So many of the books that make up the Bible are not only useful books for people to read and think about but as we have noted there are huge parts of it that have an inner meaning running through them called the spiritual sense.
Whether it’s Old Testament or New, all the books are useful, but many have this inner message hidden away in the words used. Just like clothing, the outer level protects the life within. This inner meaning can run through a whole book – even in the very words and letters of the original language! In fact it’s the spiritual sense that makes the Word holy or special, even though we may not see it yet.
Now an important point about this, is that because something has an inner meaning, it doesn’t do away with what the words actually say. In fact the words of the Old and New Testament are like a treasure chest of love and wisdom from the Lord. Yet when you read many parts of it, the Word seems to reflect more of man’s cruelty and perversion than God’s goodness and power. Or else it’s written in dark sayings and mysterious prophecies like Ezekiel or the Book of Revelation. But as well as a protection, it also puts us in unconscious contact with people in heaven – for they depend on our reading it and share the good things with us.
Which is why it helps to imagine the Word as a person clothed in such a way that everything is covered except his face and hands. This is exactly how most of our day-to-day dealings with other people take place. We talk with them, see their expression and gestures. As we read earlier:
‘The doctrine of genuine truth may also be fully drawn from the literal sense of the Word; for the Word in that sense is like a person clothed, but whose face and hands are uncovered. Everything in the Word pertaining to man’s life, and thus to his salvation, is there unveiled.’ (Sacred Scripture 55)
In the same way, the places in the Word that can guide and correct our daily life are plain to see, like the Lord’s Prayer or the Ten Commandments. They’re just like the expressive face and hands of a human being.
For example, in Micah, it says: ‘He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6:8) This is not difficult to understand in its context. It’s in contrast to the belief that good lies in performing outward rituals without regard to one’s inner character.
The Lord then, is inviting us to read His Word in the light of genuine truths from Him which have been drawn and collected from the so-called ‘face and hands’ passages already mentioned. Then we can be inspired to apply His teachings to our everyday life and thus be led step by step to the joys of heaven – which is the whole purpose of creation. The Lord doesn’t leave us to struggle on without help, for in the Heavenly Doctrine, the Lord gives us wonderful guidelines.
As we read in the True Christian Religion:
‘Enlightenment is from the Lord alone, because the Word is from Him, and consequently He is in it. Enlightenment is given to those who love truths because they are truths, and who make them uses of life, because such are in the Lord, and the Lord is in them; for the Lord is Truth itself …and people love the Lord when they live in accordance with His Divine truths, that is, when from those truths they perform uses, as is taught in these words in John:
In that day you shall know that you are in Me and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is that loves Me, and I will love him and will reveal Myself to him and I will come to him, and make My abode with him (John 14:20, 21, 23). (TCR 231:3)
Readings
Psalm 78:1-7, John 16:24-33
De Verbo 10, Sacred Scripture 55
Fred Elphick
An Extract from De Verbo 10 [speaking of the literal meaning of the Word ‘clothing’ the spiritual sense within] … in general clothes mean truths, and really correspond to them. But there are still many things in the literal sense of the Word which are bare and so to speak unclothed; and they correspond to a person’s face and his hands, which are the parts left uncovered. Those parts of the Word serve for the teaching of the church, because they are in themselves spiritual-natural truths. From this it can be established that there is no obstacle to prevent a person being able to find and see bare truths there too.
[We can think of ‘spiritual-natural’ truths as spiritual truths written in everyday language so that the meaning is easier to see – eg the Ten Commandments – also see Arcana Caelestia 5008] Sacred Scripture 55 [on the doctrine or body of teaching that can be drawn from the literal words] The doctrine of genuine truth may also be fully drawn from the literal sense of the Word; for the Word in that sense is like a person clothed, but whose face and hands are uncovered. Everything in the Word pertaining to man’s life, and thus to his salvation, is there unveiled. The rest is veiled; and in many places where it is veiled it shines through as the face appears through a thin veil of silk. Moreover, as the truths of the Word increase from the love of them, and are coordinated [set in order] by love, they shine more and more clearly through their coverings and become more obvious. But this also is brought about by means of doctrine.
John 16:24-33  Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God. I came forth from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world and go to the Father.”
 His disciples said to Him, “See, now You are speaking plainly, and using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You. By this we believe that You came forth from God.”
 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Comments

  1. Many thanks, Mr Fred, for this useful sermon. I have often struggled with the parts of the Word where there is violence and cruelty. I sometimes find it hard to focus on the internal sense, even if I know it because the literal sense is so sad. It is very comforting to know that the angels only see the internal sense. A wonderful example is the sermon I just heard from Michael Church today about the ‘Quail and the Manna’, so thanks to Rev. Schnar.

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