The Cup and the Plate


It is probably difficult for most of us to believe that many people who perform all the religious rituals and do good deeds on earth will still be unable to enter into the harmonic fields of Heaven. Why?

Many human beings regularly perform spiritual rituals and charitable works on earth in the hope of pleasing God or some higher power. By giving money to the poor or organizing charitable events, they hope to erase their selfish behavior and change God’s mind.

The fact is that it is not just what we do that matters, it is also why and how we do it. It is our inner loves, intentions and beliefs that define who and what we are. Therefore, many of these individuals, sometimes due to their wealth and power in the world or their stature in the community, believe that they are superior to others. Others, due to their self-righteousness and success in the world, erroneously believe that they are more knowledgeable. Hence, these so-called righteous, good or charitable deeds that they perform are for the most part driven by selfish intentions. And, as a consequence, by these so-called good works that they do, these conceited and self-righteous individuals attribute merit to themselves and only continue to inflate their hellish ego.

Human beings are not self-existent; their being is derived from God or Infinite Being. Therefore, our own human self is only an empty recipient that cannot do any Good from itself. Such a self can only receive and reflect God’s Love like a mirror reflects Light. Hence, when we perform good deeds as from our own self, we should always remember that this good is not our own; it belongs to the Lord. We are just stewards or caretakers of His Love, Truth and Goodness. In the course of practicing true spirituality, we should never attribute any merit to ourselves and instead ascribe all the Glory and Honor to God.

All the angels who are presently in Heaven are innocent and wise. They are innocent because they are unselfish and they are wise because they know that all the knowledge or Truth that they know and the Good that they perform does not belong to them; it belongs to the Lord.

Hence, if we desire to enter the harmonic fields of Heaven, we should first search out our heart and mind and make sure that our motivations and intentions are not selfish before we perform religious rituals or good deeds. The Lord, when He was on earth, made this very clear when He spoke to the Pharisees.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” LUKE 18:9-14

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye tithe mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and faith: but these ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone. Ye blind guides, that strain out the gnat, and swallow the camel! Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye cleanse the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full from extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup and of the platter, that the outside thereof may become clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but inwardly ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. MATTHEW 23:23-28

Some of the truths in the Word’s literal meaning are apparent truths rather than naked truths. They are like similes or comparisons taken from earthly situations, which are therefore accommodated and adapted to the grasp of people who are simple or young. Nevertheless, because they are correspondences they are still vessels and dwelling places for genuine truth. They are vessels that contain genuine truth the way a crystal goblet contains fine wine or a silver plate holds palatable food. They are like garments that clothe, like a baby’s swaddling cloths or a young woman’s beautiful clothing. They are like facts our earthly selves know that also involve our awareness and love of spiritual truth. The naked truths that are enclosed, contained, clothed, and involved are in the Word’s spiritual meaning. There is also naked goodness in the Word’s heavenly meaning.

Let me illustrate this from the Word:

Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, because you clean the outside of your cup and plate, but the insides are full of plundering and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of your cup and plate, so that the outside may be clean as well.” (Matthew 23:25, 26)

In saying this the Lord used similes and comparisons that are also correspondences. He mentioned a cup and a plate. A cup does not just relate to the truth in the Word; it also means that truth. A cup relates to wine, and wine means truth. A plate relates to food, and food means goodness. Therefore cleaning the inside of their cup and plate means using the Word to purify the inner things in their mind related to their will and thought. “So that the outside may be clean as well” means that by doing this, their outer aspects – their actions and conversations – would be purified, because the essence of actions and conversations comes from within. Emanuel Swedenborg [TCR 439]

Those who want in some way to merit heaven distance themselves from heaven

I was in a conversation with spirits about those who want to merit heavenly joy, or heaven, through piety, that is through prayers, gifts to the poor, self-imposed humiliation and renunciation of the world, and the like, by which people think, sometimes in simplicity, that they merit heaven-as also, for example, by having during their bodily life contributed something to the increase of the Lord’s Church, ascribing merit to themselves for it. Of such people there are many, many kinds and species.

Then, as I was in conversation with spirits, I also saw by a spiritual mental image that the more people suppose that they merit heaven by such means and thus come nearer to heaven, the more they distance themselves from heaven, because they ascribe merit to themselves and take it away from the Lord, ascribing faith, charity, and the goodness of their works to themselves, denying them to the Lord. Thus the more one does this, the farther one distances oneself from heaven.

This is a well established truth and can be corroborated in many ways by them in the other life, for in so doing they interpose a kind of chasm between two mountains, so that they cannot cross over onto the other mountain without falling headlong into the chasm, or else an intervening sea into which a person plunges, shipwrecked, who wants in this way to cross over into heaven-who must therefore go back, and be led by a different way by the Lord. Emanuel Swedenborg [SE 2652, 2653]


Good works take place with merit, and they take place without merit, as may be illustrated by the person who holds an office, and who performs his duty for the sake of merit: it is in order to obtain applause, thus for the sake of reputation, and honor and future promotion, or for the sake of gain; but, if he can have these things without the performance of his duty, he does so. But he who does not place merit in it, does it on account his obligation, because it belongs to his office. In this lies concealed the fear of God, and also love of the community but in the former is the love of self and the world. Also take as an example, a workman. One does his work because it is of his religion, and hence because he is under obligation, to do it: this is his end; but another does it merely to obtain applause and to be better thought of, solely that he may profit thereby. The latter places merit therein, the former not. The former, like the other, accepts any fame, honor and profit but to such ones these things are additions from the Lord. Emanuel Swedenborg [SE 6075]

In the exercise of charity a person avoids attributing merit to deeds, so long as he believes that all good is from the Lord.

To attribute merit to deeds executed to gain salvation is ruinous; for evils lie hidden in this of which the doer is quite unaware. Among these are denial of God’s influence and working on people, trust in one’s own powers in matters concerning salvation, faith in oneself and not in God, self-justification, salvation by one’s own strength, the cancelling of Divine grace and mercy, the rejection of reformation and regeneration by Divine means; in particular they detract from the merit and righteousness of the Lord God the Saviour, since they claim these for themselves. Moreover they have constantly in view the reward which they regard as their first and last aim; they drown and kill love to the Lord and love towards the neighbour. They are totally ignorant of and unable to feel the pleasure of heavenly love, which is free from all idea of merit; all they feel is self-love. Putting the reward first and salvation second, so that salvation is for the sake of the reward, turns the order upside down; and such people plunge the interior desires of their minds in the self (proprium), and in the body they befoul them with the evils of the flesh. That is why in the sight of the angels good done to gain merit looks like rust, and good not done to gain merit like purple.

The Lord teaches in Luke that good is not to be done to gain merit:

If you do kindnesses to those who do them to you, what credit is that to you? Rather love your enemies, and do kindnesses, and lend without expecting any return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Luke 6:33-36.

We learn in John that a person can do no good which is essentially good, except from the Lord:

Remain in me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it remains part of the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me, because without me you can do nothing. John 15:4, 5.

And elsewhere:

A man cannot take anything, unless it is given him from heaven. John 3:27. Emanuel Swedenborg [TCR 439]

Image credit: Kopp med fat. Motiv Stockholmsvy. HWY Gr.XLVII:K.I:A.a.01. Nyckelord: Kopp, Fat, Guldkant, Gulddekor, Heinemann, Porslin, Europeiskt, Föremålsbild Date 1830s , Hallwyll museum , Source/Photographer Jens Mohr – LSH 87144