16. Encounter With Nicodemus II (3:4-12)

Nicodemus said to Him, How is a man able to be generated, being old? He is not able to enter into his mother’s womb a second time and be born? Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, If one is not generated out of water and Spirit, he is not able to enter into the kingdom of God. That having been generated out of the flesh is flesh, and that having been generated out of the Spirit is spirit. Do not wonder because I said to you, You must be generated from above. The Spirit breathes where He desires, and you hear His voice; but you do not know from where He comes, and where He goes; so is everyone having been generated from the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said to Him, How are these things able to occur? Jesus answered and said to him, You are the teacher of Israel, and you do not know these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, That which we know, we speak; and that which we have seen, we testify. And you do not receive our testimony. If I tell you earthly things, and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? (John 3:4-12)

This the Lord teaches in John:–
Except a man be begotten of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5).
“Water’ in the spiritual sense is the truth of faith from the Word; “the spirit” is a life according to that truth; and “to be begotten” is to be regenerated thereby. (The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 204)

The reason why no one can come into the kingdom of God unless he has been born again is, that man by inheritance from his parents is born into evils of every kind, with the faculty of becoming spiritual by the removal of these evils; and unless he becomes spiritual he cannot come into heaven. From being natural to become spiritual is to be born again or regenerated. But in order that it may be known how man is regenerated these three things must be considered: the nature of his first state, which is a state of condemnation; the nature of his second state, which is a state of reformation; and the nature of his third state, which is a state of regeneration. (Divine Providence 83)

We spoke last time of the need for a person to be born again or born from above to see the kingdom of God. This is a spiritual birth, a birth of the inner man or if you like, bringing forth of what is of the Lord within us into life. Nicodemus is our natural reason which can’t see spiritual realities and is perplexed by them. Such things only come into view for those who are being regenerated or born again, for it is these that can perceive what the kingdom of God truly is. That kingdom is an inner kingdom of the mind or spirit. The natural idea of a kingdom is an area that comes under the governance and rule of a monarch of some kind. Unlike natural kingdoms, the kingdom of God is not a place but a state of life. It’s a mind that has for its will, the goods of love and for its understanding, the truths of faith – genuine spirituality. What is born of the Lord within us looks to the things of the Spirit, also within us. This is why it says that unless a person is born again or generated from above, they cannot see, perceive, or understand what this kingdom is, or what it means to be a citizen of it.

This kingdom is in the inner sense of the Word. Anyone with a natural eye can read the Word but the natural man makes spiritual things complicated because it lacks understanding for to understand it spiritually requires the inner eye of spiritual understanding . So, the phrase you must be born again is understood very clearly by the spiritual man who thinks in spiritual terms, but for the natural man the phrase suggests the impossible task of somehow having to enter back into the womb when old.

Nicodemus said to Him, How is a man able to be generated, being old? He is not able to enter into his mother’s womb a second time and be born?

But it’s not that complicated, for while the Word instructs us that if we are to perceive the kingdom of God we must be born again, it doesn’t leave it there. The Lord goes on to explain how this is accomplished for us. We must be generated or born of water and of the Spirit. And in this birth, we have an important part to play. The Lord gifts us with all that we need to bring this spiritual birth about within ourselves. He doesn’t leave us hanging – he gives us teachings as to what it is a person must do if they are to be born again and come into the reality of the kingdom of God.

But no one will do what this teaching says unless they can see why a new birth is necessary. We are all born into tendencies to evils of every kind and these tendencies are moderated by the Lord’s influence over the course of our lives through what the doctrines of Spiritual Christianity call remains. But they are only moderated, and this stabilising influence of goodness that flows into the mind from deep within is not something that belongs to us. Further to this, where a person has contact with religious or spiritual teachings they have in these a means of governing these tendencies and preventing them from breaking forth into destructive words and behaviours. These teachings become especially important as a person’s rational faculties develop because it gives them something to think from as a basis for moral behaviour. Those who don’t have the influence of external religious or spiritual teaching have their evils or selfish tendencies governed by fears. In the main these take the form of a fear of consequences, whether from the law, or of a loss of reputation, or loss of wealth or loss of some other form of circumstance that they enjoy and would hate to lose. All this works in an external way to keep evils in check and so the miracle is that in general, society functions in a reasonably ordered way.

However, it takes a level of honesty on the part of any individual to see that their external goodness is just that, external. For until we engage in personal spiritual work, we remain oblivious to the destructive thinking and feeling patterns that underlie our day-to-day life and from which we operate out of in our civil and moral conduct. This is why we need to be born again; without this birth we can’t even see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and would have been meticulous in his keeping of the laws and traditions of his community. But all his efforts would be of no avail unless he is born again for external compliance with religious teachings and traditions don’t make a person spiritual.

So how has the Lord made provision for this to happen? Well, He has given us the Bible and the doctrines for Spiritual Christianity as the means by which we can understand the Word in a way that addresses this very question.

Both the giving of the Bible and the doctrines for Spiritual Christianity constitute two dimensions to the Lord’s advent into the world as the Word, the Logos. For the Word is the Divine Truth and when truth is lived it produces and becomes good. So, the whole story of the Word becoming flesh describes how the Lord glorifies His human, a process that involves the Divine Truth or the Word becoming Divine Good or flesh.

Now a similar process must occur in us if we are to enter the kingdom of God but with us the process is not one of glorification, as it is with the Lord, but one of regeneration or rebirth. Both glorification and regeneration centres around the Word, and in the case of our regeneration it centres around our responses to the demands that the Word or Divine Truth makes on our life. Nicodemus was in the dark, he is described as coming to Jesus at night, and so he represents a mind that lacks the means to understand the Lord’s words. We can be fairly sure that as a Pharisee he would have known the Scriptures but it’s clear from his responses to the Living Word Himself that this knowledge was not a saving knowledge – in fact, while he knew the Scriptures he clearly had no understanding of them in relation to spiritual work and eternal life.

Nicodemus however doesn’t just represent an individual’s blindness in relation to understanding the Word spiritually; he also represents a recurring state of ignorance that returns when the church for a particular age declines due to a lack of love, of goodness. Nicodemus couldn’t see because the church of that age, which was the Jewish church, had lost touch with the essentials of religion and become self-absorbed in traditions and practices that had nothing to do with the Word and eternal life. In this sense, Nicodemus represented the blindness of the age in which he lived, a blindness that arises from the loss of a true idea of God. In such times the Lord must make His entry into the spiritual affairs of the human race and re-present the essentials of spiritual life to human consciousness, so that those who have a desire for spiritual things can be led into them. This is what Divine revelation is, and this is what is meant by the Lord’s advent into the world. Every advent involves the restoration to human consciousness of the idea of a loving and merciful God. When this idea is lost, the human race falls into a state of spiritual darkness.

So having knowledge of the Scriptures is only of value when we can take that knowledge and apply it with understanding in support of living a spiritual life. Nicodemus had the knowledge, but he didn’t have the means to make sense of it as a matter of life. As a teacher of Israel, he represented the state of the church of his day, a church rich in the Scriptures but lacking the keys by which they could be opened up so that the Lord’s desire for humanity’s salvation could be realised.

Such a state also existed in the Christian Church just prior to the revelation of the doctrines for Spiritual Christianity. The Christian Church had the Scriptures but was bound up in literalism and like the Jewish church before it, lacked the keys to understanding it. People were, at that time, spiritually in the dark, a kind of Nicodemus state overshadowed the minds of all who were in the Church. The idea of God had deviated so far from the image of God that Jesus had presented to the human race. The image of a loving, merciful and compassionate God had been virtually lost, resulting in a fragmented idea of Him in which the whole focus of religious thought centred on a divided God who became three persons, where one person came into the world to satisfy the justice demands of the other.

God was seen as a being that got angry or jealous or became envious. He became one who punished, and these ideas were used to promote fear in the people. With the loss of a true idea of God, the spiritual conditions were right for the Lord to make his advent into the world once again, to re-present to human consciousness the true face of the Divine Human. Only this time it wasn’t to be a coming limited to a person but a universal revelation of Himself that the whole of humanity could have access to. Thus, this coming would be an opening of the Word and a drawing forth from it of genuine teachings of Divine and spiritual matters that would enable people to connect with the Lord as the living Word. The Lord came into the world of human consciousness and presented Himself as a new understanding of the Word as to its spiritual meaning. It is this new understanding that offers the foundation for a new church to be born within us, one which is grounded in a new body of teaching that is centred on understanding everything in the Word in relation to the two principal commandments of love to the Lord and love towards our neighbour.

So it is that the doctrines for Spiritual Christianity made their way into the world as a body of teaching drawn from the Scriptures by means of a man who could write them down and publish them, making them available to all who seek to live a life of charity. That man was Emanuel Swedenborg, who claimed to be a servant of the Lord and testified that what he wrote down as the teachings for this new church was unfolded to him as he read the Word. These teachings then are drawn from the Word itself and so if applied ,should lead every person back to the Word as their source. As such they open the way to being born again because they present the Word as the Lord and show us how it is to be understood if we are to draw from it what’s needed for a genuine spiritual life.

To enter the kingdom of God we must be born of water and of the Spirit. The teachings of Spiritual Christianity provide us with the ability to clearly understand what this means and what needs to take place for it to become a reality in our own life. From them we learn that the water needed to assist a person to be born again is not natural water but spiritual water. So where natural forms of Christianity places the emphasis on the need for a person to be baptised with natural water to secure their salvation, Spiritual Christianity teaches that water doesn’t mean natural water for this can only cleanse the body and satisfy physical thirst. Rather what is needed is spiritual water which can cleanse the mind and quench our spiritual thirst for truths.

To be born of water means to have our understanding filled with truths from the Word that can fill the mind with spiritual light to guide and direct our life. These truths and principles are found in the Word when it is understood in the light of the doctrines for Spiritual Christianity. To be born of this water is to think in new ways, particularly in regard to the Word. It’s to have spiritual ideas and concepts govern our view of the Lord, others, and ourselves, and to have old patterns of thought that are based in the loves of self and the world cast out onto the outskirts of our life.

To be born of the Spirit is to apply these truths to life so that we are living in the good things that come from love. To be born of water and of the Spirit is to be born again from above because it is to have a new understanding and will, for a person is nothing else than their understanding and will. So, to have an understanding filled with the Lord’s truths and a will filled with the Lord’s love is to be born anew. This is truly a new birth, because when these things fill our life we have a new sense of self, a heavenly self(proprium) through which we are joined with heaven and so the Lord. The old is left behind, with its destructive patterns of thought and feeling based on self-interest and fear. This doesn’t mean that the old no longer affects us, it’s there and may still be active at times but what has changed is that our sense of self is no longer bound to what is self-centred and we have something higher to which we can now respond and be joined to. When this higher level of truths and affections is built up, our sense of our self has been reborn and it finds itself attached to a higher, spiritual life, a life amidst the truths of faith and the goods of love from the Lord’s Word.

None of this is vague or overly mystical. In fact, it’s very practical and accessible. To be born again all we need to do is acknowledge the Lord as the Word – to take hold of the doctrines drawn from the Word, learn of them and use them to apply our insights to the activity of our affections, thoughts, and behaviours. Anyone can do this if they want to. This is what makes a person spiritual, nothing else. This possibility is made available to us through the Lord’s second coming as the spiritual sense of the Word. On the level of our regeneration the Lord first comes to us as truth – He comes to our understanding as our understanding of truth. This is His first coming on a personal level and is what it means to be born of water. He then asks us to be responsible for that truth, to use it to live a spiritual life by recognising the evils and falsities that that are present in our mental landscape, and it is as we do this, that He comes in His power and glory. In this way He manifests as the presence and action of Divine love, operating through Divine Truth or the Word, which on a personal level is his second coming or what it means to be born of the Spirit.

The Lord’s presence is unceasing with every man, both the evil and the good, for without His presence no man lives; but His Coming is only to those who receive Him, who are such as believe on Him and keep His commandments. The Lord’s unceasing presence causes man to become rational, and gives him the ability to become spiritual. This is effected by the light that goes forth from the Lord as the sun in the spiritual world, and that man receives in his understanding; that light is truth, and by means of it man has rationality. But the Lord’s coming is to him who joins heat with that light, that is, love with truth; for the heat that goes forth from that same sun is love to God and love toward the neighbour. The mere presence of the Lord, and the consequent enlightenment of the understanding, may be likened to presence of solar light in the world; unless this light is joined with heat all things on earth become desolate. But the coming of the Lord may be likened to the coming of heat, which takes place in spring; because heat then joins itself with light, the earth is softened, and seeds sprout and bring forth fruit. Such is the parallelism between the spiritual things which are the environment of man’s spirit, and the natural things which are the environment of his body. (True Christian Religion 774)

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