THE USES OF SUBTLE TEMPTATIONS.
33He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”(MATTHEW XIII. 33)
Progress in spiritual life comes by means of temptations. Trials are the tests of character, by which the regenerating man is confirmed and strengthened in goodness and truth, and, at the same time, enabled to resist and put away the evil and false tendencies of his natural mind.
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
“The kingdom of heaven” is the mental kingdom in which the Divine Love and Wisdom are the ruling principles in the minds and lives of men: it is an inward and spiritual kingdom. (For further explanation of the term” the kingdom of heaven,” see page 104.) But the truths of “the kingdom” do not grow uninterruptedly, even in sincere minds. Evil influences have many methods of attack.
The parable of “The Sower” displays the differences in human receptivity of Divine influences. There, the influence of evil is to keep men’ opposed, or indifferent, to truth, or in a merely superficial attachment to it. The parable of “The Tares” exhibits the work of evil influences, in sowing false ideas among the truths, in our minus. But the parable of the Latin language. Over a hundred years have passed by, and yet the believers in these writings are not numerous. It is, with the New-Church, the day of small beginnings. But the truth, having the vitality of living seed, will yet extend its branches far and wide.
The world is not yet ready to adopt the truths of the New-Church. But, in the minds that are now ready, those truths will grow to be noble trees. For, since the last judgment, the conditions for growth are better, and the hindrances are fewer.
The world still sees nothing beyond natural goodness. In fact, the world seeks to make everything, even religion, cater to the tastes of the world. But the New-Church reverses the idea, and makes the earth serve as the footstool to heaven. The world’s purpose is pleasure; but the end sought by the New-Church is use, spiritual and natural.
The parable teaches us not to despise small beginnings. We cannot foresee all that will result from little things, either in good or in evil. It is the part of wisdom to encourage and develop all good, true and useful things, and to discourage all evil, false and injurious things. ” For a good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” The things which are in the angel, in fulness of life, were in him as a man on earth, as seeds. And these things are in the angel, now, as fruitful trees, because as a man, he encouraged the growth of the seeds, ~ beginnings of spiritual life. While they were men on earth, the angels did not have the fulness of spiritual life which they have now, in the spiritual world; but they never would have been angels, and never would have had their present experience, if they had not, while men on earth, done the work of repentance and reformation, by shunning evils, as sins. Any good work, begun, and sincerely maintained, will come to great results; And there is, to us, in this, a lesson on the negative side. \Ne are often tempted to allow some of our evils to run on, because they are so small, and apparently unimportant. But this is a cunning suggestion of evil spirits. Good and evil are not so much questions of quantity, as of quality. Anything that we rationally see to be wrong, is important enough to be made a subject of self-denial. And, in doing this, we are to be careful to judge of the quality of a thing, not by the world’s standard, but by the standard of the Lord’s truth, as taught in His Word, and in His Church.
THE LAW OF GROWTH.
The seed grows to be a tree, not by chance, but by a law implanted in its own nature, by the Lord. The germ of the perfect tree is in the seed. Circumstances do not make the germ, but only afford it opportunities. So, we must have the germ of goodness, or love of the truth, or no circumstances can ever develop us into angels. We have no reason to expect to attain any spiritual good which we have not yet begun to live upon. But. Having actually made an honest beginning in spiritual life, making a sincere effort to shun evils as sins, we have good reason to expect great results, as long as we practically maintain our principles.
We do not, in this world, find the full growth of regeneration. But the seeds must, have begun to grow, here. And then, in the next world, we shall find these little seeds growing to be great trees, in our greater capacities.
If we are shunning- evils, we are growing in goodness, and our growth in goodness is exactly accord “The Leaven” discloses a method of attack even more subtle, in which the cunning devils inject their false suggestions into the very things which we regard as good and true; thus, unconsciously to ourselves, contaminating the quality of our accepted truths, And the difficulty lies in our discovery of the contamination. “For, if the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” As our inward disposition to love, and to do, the truth, seeks to come out into our natural mind, to form our feelings and thoughts, and to control our actual conduct, our evil tendencies are aroused; and they contaminate our truth.
Take, for instance, our inclination to hasty temper. Inwardly, we may be trying to be regenerated. We may learn the truth and understand it. We may see that amiability is a Christian duty, and that hasty-tempered action is rude, selfish and sinful. But, when an occasion arises to try our temper, while we still know, theoretically, that a bad temper should not be indulged, yet the old inclination to be offended, and to retaliate, is secretly aroused, to pervert our idea of the truth, by giving it wrong applications. Then a combat arises between the inward principle of good and the natural selfishness of temper.
This combat is a temptation, by spiritual fermentation, because our good is adulterated with evil tendencies, and our truth is perverted by false suggestions. For instance; we may be induced to think that we ought to retaliate, in the case before us, in order to show the wrong-doer his own condition. And while we think we are carrying out the truth, for the truth’s sake, we are actually indulging our own self-love.
Now, if, in the light of the Ten Commandments, we examine the quality of our feelings and thoughts, we shall see their contamination. And then, if we keep control over our tongues and our hands, and if we determine to do the Lord’s will, the fire of His love will flow into our minds, and cast out the leaven of falsity. Then the evil and false things, which we have resisted, will be separated from us, more and more; and the quality of the good that we have loved and practised, will be confirmed in us. The clearer truth will become more and more a practical principle in our life, as well as in our thought.
Thus, the fermentation, by causing a temptation, has resulted in good to us. It was induced by the promptings of evil spirits, who began it, in order to break down our growing love of truth and good. They aroused our natural tendencies, and thus allured us towards our destruction.
The Lord permitted them to stir us up, because we could thus recognize our own evil tendencies, and the hells towards which they tend. But when the devils began alluring us, the Lord sent His guardian angels to us, to enable us to discover the contamination; and to keep us in our good affections and true thoughts; and to help us to bear the trial of our principles. The Lord permitted the devils to arouse us, because He could thus turn their work to our benefit. He allowed them to put leaven in our meal, because the result would be better bread. For we already possessed the truth, in whose light we could see the evil character of our tendencies.
Now, the operation of these temptations, in our minds, is like the operation of leaven, in bread-making. Naturally, the bread would be heavy, and it would contain impurities. But by leavening it, the leaven agitates and ferments the whole lump of dough, until the fire, which bakes the bread, drives out the leaven; and it also drives out all the impurities of the dough, which can be carried out with the leaven. So, a man can not clear his mind of its tendencies to evil and falsity, without a combat between these things and his good and true principles. The quality of his good and truth must be regenerated. But, after the combat, if the truth conquers, false ideas will be cast out, as the leaven from the bread.
The nature of leaven may be seen in the fact that it is the result of decay. And, therefore, it would represent spiritual decay, or death. The good that comes by means of leaven is not from the leaven, itself, but from the operation of the leaven, over-ruled by the Divine Providence, for good, and by means of fire. Leaven represents the false principles which come from evil.
Wheat represents the vital good principles, in the mind, but which need to be brought into practical-use. Grinding the wheat into meal, or flour, represents the mental process of preparing our good principles for actual use, by rationally examining them, thinking upon them, etc. Meal, or flour, thus represents truth derived from good; good put in shape to be applied. And in the application, further good will be effected, good in a more practical phase. But for actual use, the flour is to be made into bread. And bread, being partly man’s own work, represents practical good, brought out in his daily life, in performing uses. But, before pure good can come from such truth as the man holds, that truth must be purged of whatever impurities it may contain, because of false notions in the man’s mind. So, when the man begins to carry out his truth, he will find his natural and hereditary evil tendencies aroused, to contaminate the truth. In the dough, the impurities are willing to join themselves to what is good, because then they can corrupt this good: but the pure things, and those longing for greater purity, do not desire to join themselves to the impurities. So a combat arises, till the impurities are cast out. So, in the mind, false things are willing to join themselves to truth, to taint its quality. But the truth, in a regenerating mind, is not willing to be corrupted.
The leaven, in the text, was used by a woman. The woman represents the affections; here, the natural affection in an unregenerate state. She hides the leaven in the meal. Falses are insinuated into our minds, and hidden there in our truths, by evil spirits. But they do this by means of our natural and full for things for sellf and the world. In the same way, in the allegory of Eden, the serpent used Eve to tempt Adam, the natural affection to reach the rational thought.
The meal was “three measures of meal.” Measures are vessels, for ascertaining quantities. All hollow vessels, to contain things, represent doctrines, which are hollow forms or vessels, to hold truth.
Three, as a number, represents fulness, or completeness, as to truth. There are three discrete, or different, degrees of life, celestial, spiritual and natural. There are three divisions of man’s body, the head, the trunk, and the extremities, representing the three degrees of life. So, in the man, there are three parts, the spirit, the activity, and the body.
In the Lord, there are three parts, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which are Love, Wisdom and Power, a trinity of principles, in one Divine Person, the Lord, Jesus Christ.
As three means full, or complete, “three measures of meal” would mean a full system of doctrines of truth, truths so complete that we could live upon them. In the text, we are interested, not in the three measures, as vessels, but in their contents. Thus the text treats or the truths in the mind, in complete doctrinal system.
USING THE LEAVEN.
When the mind is thus properly instructed, and equipped for spiritual progress, and when it makes an effort to go forward to a new step in spiritual life, then the evil spirits, by means of our natural affection, the woman, insinuate into our thought some natural falsity, linked with some hereditary tendency to evil. Then the whole mind is stirred up, by this injected falsity. “The whole [lump] was leavened.” The truthfulness of the truth is practically brought in question, in the mind, and the love of truth is assailed, by the false principle injected, the leaven.
The woman” took” the leaven, from some old decayed dough, from a previous leavening, which represents something left over, from the old, unregenerate nature, and now brought forward. So a combat arises, a fermentation, a temptation. If the truth conquers, the fire of love to the Lord drives out the leaven, and carries off, with it, the impurities by which it had a foothold in the mind; as the swine of the Gergesenes carried off the devils that entered into them.
THE EXACT MEANING.
Thus, we see that the kingdom of heaven is not like the leaven, itself; but the establishment of the kingdom of heaven, in man’s mind, by means of temptations, is like the cleansing of the dough, and the making of good bread, by means of the leaven. Dry leaven will not operate upon dry flour; but it needs moisture.
Water represents natural truths. And natural truths, truths as seen by the natural mind, are often so erroneously understood, that, like water in the meal, they aid in the operation of leavening. The natural mind is not able to take clear and genuine truths, at once; but it has to receive, at first, appearances of truth, which are not genuine; and these are used as means by which genuine truths are afterwards received by the mind; as, in fruits, the first and unripe juices are sour, and yet these sour juices are the means of introducing the sugar which sweetens the ripe juices. Truth is theoretical and speculative, in our minds, until we are brought to test its quality and our adherence to it.
See, for instance, how the rich young man, who went to the Lord, asking what he should do to inherit everlasting life, felt confident that he was willing to do whatever should he required of him. He expected to be called upon to do some great external act, But, as soon as he found that he was asked to practise self-denial, he declined to do the first thing suggested. It did not seem good, to him.
“See, too, how self-confident Peter was, in his adherence to the Lord. ” Peter said unto Him, Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee. Likewise, also, said all the disciples.” And yet, within a few hours, Peter did deny the Lord, three times. And he, with the other disciples, forsook the Lord, and fled.
We are all apt to imagine that we are as good as we know how to be. If we know the truth, we are apt to think that we shall always do it. But,” Let not him who girdeth on his armor boast himself as he that putteth it off” For there is a combat at hand, and he cannot tell, till the fight is over, how he is coming out of it. He does not recognize the quality of his good and truth.
But, when we are actually tried and tested, and have acknowledged the contaminated quality of our good and truth, then the truth we have fought for, and lived for, we value as our life. It becomes a part of our life. And “all that a man hath will he give for his life;” not merely his outward existence, but especially his mental life, of affection and thought. So, as we uphold our good principles, and allow our Lord to regenerate their quality, against our tendencies to evil, we exalt our good principles, in our own esteem; we rise to higher and finer qualities of good and truth; because, more and more, we separate ourselves from our inclinations to evil. Then our good principles are no longer merely theoretical, but practical ; and they are not merely natural, but also spiritual.
THEORY AND PRACTICE.
Because we have placed a new truth in our memory, and in our understanding, and even in our natural affection, it does not follow that we have placed that truth in our life. That requires another step forward. We do not always make good bread, even when we have good flour. If we have merely taken the new truth into our thought, and are externally delighted with it; if it has never, as yet, cost us any struggle in our life; we may know that it is not yet as well-made bread, but as meal, only. And it must yet go through the process of leavening, that it may be purified, and made ready for spiritual food.
Many persons hold very loosely their good and true mental possessions. But, when a temptation comes, and they are stirred up, in a mental fermentation, their supposed principles are brought out sharply, before them, and they are made to define their quality.
When a man comes into the New-Church, he has an enthusiastic delight in the new truths. He wonders why all persons do not at once receive these beautiful doctrines, But when he tries to carry out these doctrines, in his daily life’ and when he sees how hard his own evil and false inclinations try to hold their ground, and to justify themselves; and how hard they seek to contaminate the actual quality of the new truths; he will cease to wonder why the whole world does not rush into the New-Church.
The complete system of truths in his understanding will be the” three measures of meal.” But this meal is not yet his bread of life. It will have to go through a tremendous fermentation, before it can be made into” the bread of God, that cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.”
LEAVEN REPRESENTS HELL.
We notice the fact that, in the parable, leaven does not represent heaven, but hell. And yet, outside of the New Church, almost all the commentators on the Scriptures regard the leaven as representing heaven; and this, too, in the face of the acknowledged fact that, in all other texts, in the Scriptures, leaven denotes what is evil and false. The few of the old commentators who see that leaven represents hell, go to the other extreme, and interpret the parable to mean that heresies and evils, like leaven, will creep into the Christian Church, and corrupt the whole Church.
The general idea of the commentators seems to be that leaven, as a symbol, is used in a general way, to represent the active but secret influence, working great results; without assigning any definite character to the leaven. As to this parable, outside of the New-Church, the general interpretation is, that it represents the silent power of the Gospel of Christ, gradually transforming the world to its own character, or quality. But as we have already seen, this is an entire misconception of the meaning of leaven. Leaven does not, in the text, as it does not elsewhere in the Scriptures, represent anything good or true.
Though the leaven, itself, is vile, yet its operation is made to result beneficially. So, though false and evil things are vile, yet their permitted operation, during temptations, is, in the Divine Providence, over-ruled and turned to human good, in the regenerating man.
Therefore, the common habit of speaking of anything good as “leavening” evil things, is erroneous. Leavening does not mean purifying; it means tempting, and seeking to corrupt. It is evil that leavens, or, rather, falsity derived from evil. But the Lord purifies men’s minds, by thwarting the leaven, and turning its influence against itself
No good comes from the leaven, itself; but from the fire, which compels the leaven to defeat itself. If you leave the dough, with the leaven in it, the dough will soon be ruined. The good comes from the fire, which drives out the leaven. Fire represents spiritual love.
And, in temptations, our spiritual love, filled with the fire of energy from heaven, so acts upon our mind, that it drives out the evil and false things insinuated and suggested by the tempting evil spirits, and also makes them carry away, with them, our hereditary evil and false tendencies. For these, being recognized and resisted, are rejected. Now, if the leaven represented good and true things, then its action in leavening the dough, “till the whole was leavened,” would be all that was necessary. Yet, when the whole mass is leavened, it is utterly unfit for food.’ It must yet go through its most important process, by means of the fire. Therefore, the leaven, itself, does not improve the flour, nor does it make bread of the flour; it spoils the flour. And the more it goes through the whole lump, the more it spoils the flour. But the more we bake the leaven out of the flour, the better the bread.
In these facts we can see that leaven cannot represent heaven, or the gospel of heaven. And the general belief that leaven does represent the gospel, is one of the superficial fallacies of the Old Theology, which does not penetrate to the centre of things.
In some of the religious feasts of the Israelites, including the passover, the people were commanded to use unleavened bread; and all leaven was strictly forbidden. Now, if leaven represented anything good, it would surely be what was especially needed at the passover.
But, with leaven meaning evil and falsity, the explanation is easy. The earlier feasts of the Jewish year represented the earlier stages of regeneration, when men were in faith, rather than in love; not yet leavened, or tempted, and not yet purified. And so they were to use no leaven, in order to represent that they were in early states of reception of what the Lord was giving; but that they had not yet made these things their own, in practical life, through temptation and the resulting purification.
But, when they came to the last of the “first fruits,” they were commanded to use leavened bread. For mental harvest fruits are attained through something of labor and temptation; after a leavening process has been undergone. And so the leavened bread, being purified, represented the more advanced state of mind, in which their good had been somewhat tried, and purified in quality. The feast of the “first fruits” represented the entrance into the promised land; and this was after, and through, some leavening of temptation.
THE FLOUR AS GOOD, NOT EVIL.
And, again, if leaven represents good, in the parable, then the flour must represent evil. And this would be against the whole tenor of the representative ceremonies in which flour was used, in the offerings to the Lord. Of course, there are impurities mixed with the flour, but the fine flour, itself, always represents truth derived from good. And, in the bread-making, the use of the leaven was to make the good flour even more pure.
Spiritual truth is obscured, and often forgotten, in the Old Theology, because the leaven of the false doctrines of “Vicarious Atonement” and “Justification by Faith Alone,” has completely leavened the whole Theology, and has contaminated its quality; and in may cases, no fire of spiritual love has yet driven out that leaven, to purify, and make wholesome, the bread of life.
Salvation is not by faith alone, but by love, faith and obedience. Goodness is not imputed to men, but imparted to them, when they follow the Lord in actual life. The parable also affords a warning to the young, as well as to others, not to. rush into temptations, before they are prepared to meet and overcome the evil influences. We must have the” three measures of meal,” the full teachings of truth, in our minds, and the fire of a pure love in our hearts, or we shall not know the quality of our affections and thoughts; and the leaven will not be expelled, and we shall not have the pure bread of life. We need not seek temptations; they will come, soon enough, and as soon as we are able to bear them. Let our prayer be, “Lead us, not into temptation,” which we are not yet able to bear; but, when we are being tempted, “deliver us from the evil.”
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887