As Was His
by the late Rev. Richard Tafel
Former minister of the Swedenborgian Church in Philadelphia
and the founding editor of Our
In the March, 1995 Issue of Our
The Bible is unique in saying so much
by saying so little. In the midst of the stupendous story of creation in
Genesis, there is tucked away a little verse that might appear almost an
after thought. It is said that God made the sun and the moon and further
on toward the end, "and He made the stars also." The shortest
verse in the whole Bible, only two words, reveals the depths of human
nature of our Lord that comes to us otherwise only as we grasp the
meaning of all the gospels together - "Jesus wept." What
volumes of thought and insight are expressed by these two words!
And in the fourth chapter of the
gospel of Luke is another of these beautiful little gems - a miniature
picture that gives insight into truth that is as large as Life itself.
It comes after the spectacular forty days' temptation of our Lord in the
Our Lord comes to His home in
Nazareth. "And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the
Sabbath Day, and stood up to read."
Notice "And as His custom
was"; it is almost concealed in its great surroundings. It is given
to us this way on purpose - to make us look for important and valuable
truths in the small, everyday happenings of life. Here is expressed in
so many words our Lord's secret of success in showing to the world the
Perfect Life. It was an habitual opening up to the forces of good,
giving play to heavenly forces in a human life. Palm Sunday, the
crucifixion, Easter, and the resurrection were made possible by a life
in which good was ever given free rein - "As His custom was."
We know in our own lives, from our
own experiences, the power that habit has upon us. It is almost trite to
speak of the "force of habit." But too often we restrict our
thinking to the power of bad habits; the hold our appetites have upon
us, our selfish indulgences, our weaknesses, our failures, our sins. Any
one of us could name at least half a dozen habits we have that are
standing in our way to better living.
And we know that their hold upon us
increases, if we don't break their stranglehold. Our vanity, pride,
greed, putting ourselves first, breaking the Commandments - it becomes
harder and harder to conquer these habits of ours.
Because as a river that ceaselessly
runs over hard rock cuts a deepening channel, these habitual actions of
ours cut a pathway in our minds and hearts through which the course of
our lives rush.
These channels are dug out in us at
first unconsciously or thoughtlessly. We drift into certain ways of
thinking, and feeling, and acting. When we come to a point where we
notice them - and by the merciful love of our Lord they are brought to
our attention - they are already well-formed.
Now the Lord God, the Master of Real
Living, knowing so well our frame and the set of the human mind and
heart - knowing it so well for having become man - asks us to change the
direction of these watercourses of our personality. He not only asks,
but has shown us through His life here, how it can be done. One of his prerequisites
for our inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven - life fuller, happier, the
real life - is changing our habits, the way we act.
There are consequences to letting
habits go unchecked - not only to ourselves, but in passing them on to
our children and to the world, and in carrying them with us to the
spiritual world. For it is our habits, our accustomed ways of thinking
and feeling and acting, that go with us into the other life. On our
souls we are cutting deeper and deeper lines of conduct, and ways of
living, that if unchanged, are the ways we are going to live forever.
Superficial things vanish - ideals,
promises, hopes, Our habits of life alone stay with us.
"Habit" is literally what we have - what we have and hold as
our own, what we have made a part of ourselves by frequent repetition.
Imagining ourselves in the future life, we don't like to think of it in
this way - it is too realistic. But the Bible, above all else, is
realistic. "As the tree falls, so shall it lie" - or more
exactly, "In the place where the tree falleth, there is shall
lie." It is habit, repeating over and over again - thoughts,
desires, and actions - that creates an habitual pattern in our mind and
heart - the personality that is the "we" forever.
But the Bible, being as we said
realistic, does not leave us with a hopeless picture of ourselves and
our future. The whole point of this insight into the way our Lord lived -
"as was His custom" is that good habits are just as strong and
lasting as bad ones.
And thinking of our text, of our
Lord, and of this insight into His life, we must necessarily for the
time being focus our attention on the power of doing good, and thinking
straight in our lives. Our Lord does not want us to do good just on
occasion. Our Lord would have us make these habitual, accustomed
actions, until we do them unthinkingly; without effort - until they
Religion in us does not start with a
clean slate; we are already warped. But if we would concentrate on
setting up good habits in our lives, the other channels that have been
cut deeply into us by bad habits would become dry river-beds, no longer
used. They become short-circuited, and life runs in the new channels.
As we look from Ash Wednesday to Palm
Sunday, and to Passion Week with its crucifixion and Resurrection, it
should awaken a renewed determination in us to let that Great Love have
its way in us, and turn us to our Glorified Christ-God - the habit of
turning to the Lord and His Holy Word. Let it teach us of the way, its
commandments, of love for one another that is greater than love of
ourselves, of a love that seeks out others, not ourselves. The habit of
trusting in God - not in our ideas and plans and world-weary worries.
We can change the course of our
current of life, by setting up these new and better channels of
responses to His life and love, and turn to Him, first by conscious,
habitual practice, until we are borne along on its current by His overpowering
Then the devil led him up and showed
him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to
him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it
has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you,
then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him,
"It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem,
and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If
you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is
written, 'He will command His angels concerning you, to protect you,'
and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash
your foot against a stone.'"
Jesus answered him, "It is said,
'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" When the devil had
finished every test, he departed from Him until an opportune time.
Then Jesus, filled with the power of
the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about Him spread through
all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and
was praised by everyone. When He came to Nazareth, where He had been
brought up, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was His
custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was
given to Him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon
me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has
sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the
blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's
And He rolled up the scroll, gave it
back tot he attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue
were fixed on Him. Then He began to say to them, "Today this
scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Reading from Swedenborg:
Truth is in this respect
like everything else that is implanted in us from childhood, namely, that it
does not become our own until we act according to it, and this from
affection, in which case our will becomes imbued with it, and it is then no
longer brought into act from memory-knowledge or doctrine, but from a
certain delight that is unknown to us; and as it were from our disposition
or nature; for every one acquires such a nature by frequent use or habit,
and this from the things which one has learned. Therefore conjunction with
truths cannot take place with a person until those things which one has
learned by means of doctrines have been insinuated from the external
personal into the interior. When they are in the interior person, the person
no longer acts from the memory, but from his own nature, until at last the
things thus insinuated flow spontaneously into act, being inscribed on the
person's interior memory; and that which comes forth from this, appears as
if it were innate. Hence it is manifest that truths of doctrine, even those
which are interior, are not conjoined with a person until they are of the
Arcana Coelestia (Heavenly