HIGH AND LOW >> Elevated and Fallen Spiritual States
The words high and low suggest familiar natural ideas, but almost as quickly they suggest spiritual ideas. When we hear the words, can we always tell whether they are used to mean natural or spiritual qualities? I say, "The site of the city is low." Evidently I speak naturally. "The moral tone of the city is low." Plainly I speak spiritually. The mountain is high." "His hope is high." "He aims too high," I must tell you now whether I mean with his gun or with his ambition. "He started from a very low level, but climbed upward, rising at every step, till he reached the desired height, and from his elevated position he looked down on others less successful than himself." You really cannot say whether I mean a physical or a spiritual ascent. In any case it is plain that natural elevation is what gives us our idea of height and that the thought and the words are borrowed from the outward world to describe spiritual relations which we perceive to be analogous to the natural.
When we use the word high of natural things, we of course know what we mean. What do we mean when we use it of spiritual things? Let the class do their best to tell the meaning of this familiar word. They will doubtless conclude that we mean by high, lifted above bodily and worldly things, nearer to what is heavenly and Divine. Low does not necessarily mean bad; but it does mean external and removed from what is Divine. (AC 4210) Which is higher, the love of studying astronomy or the love of eating? Which are higher, thoughts about heaven and the Lord, or thoughts about my new clothes? We often speak of acting from high motives or from low motives. We may do our work from desire to serve the Lord, or from desire to be useful to our neighbors, or from hope of money, or for personal glory. The highest motive is that which regards the Lord most directly. Desire to be useful to others is a less high motive. The hope of gain is a low motive.
Heaven, we say, is higher than the earth; do we mean it naturally or spiritually? If we are speaking not of the sky but of the heaven where angels dwell, we mean that it is higher in the spiritual sense, with no thought of natural place. The ways in which angels live are nobler than worldly ways; they are nearer to the Lord. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa. IV. 9; AC 2148, 450) Let us recall other passages from the Bible, if possible at the suggestion of the class, where we may be able to see under figure of natural height a lesson of spiritual elevation.
We often read of going up to Jerusalem to worship. "The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." (Isa. ii. 2, 3) When Jesus was twelve years old, "they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast." (Luke ii. 42) And we remember that it was customary with the ancients to worship on high places. (Gen. xii. 8, xxii. 2; AC 796, 6435) Does it tell something of the state in which we should come before the Lord? (AE 405; AC 795; AR 336) Remember also how the Lord went into a mountain to pray. (Matt. xiv. 23; AC 2708 end) And we go down, when we turn from our worship to every-day affairs, from our Sunday resolutions to our week-day labors. The Lord "went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them." (Luke ii. 51) Do difficulties and dangers beset us when we try to bring down our good resolutions into daily practice? Remember the parable of the good Samaritan. "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves." (Luke x. 20; AE 444, 458; see Chapter 39)
The commandments were given from Mount Sinai, while bounds were set about that the people should not come near nor touch the mount. (Exod. xix) This pictures the deeper truth that the heavenly and Divine spirit which the commandments contain and from which they came was far above the comprehension of the Jews, and is above the comprehension of all evil and natural minded people. They cannot approach to it. (AC 8797, 9422) But when the Lord would open to His disciples the laws given to them of old time and reveal something of the heavenly and Divine love within them, He went up into a mountain and gathered the multitude about Him. (Matt. v) What spiritual difference does this mark between the Jewish and Christian Churches? Does it tell us anything of the state into which the Lord was leading His disciples and into which He desires to lead us? His effort is to lift our hearts and our thoughts above all-absorbing worldly cares into a heavenly state of charity and of nearness to Himself. There we can see the heavenly spirit within the stern commands.
Into "a high mountain apart by themselves " the Lord led the three disciples (Mark ix. 2) to see Him transfigured, His face shining as the sun and His raiment white as the light. So He would lift us into heavenly states to perceive His love and His wisdom as angels do. (AE 405)
When by a few examples the idea of spiritual elevation is fixed in the mind, always afterward, as we read the Bible, going up suggests to us entering into the inner chambers of the soul nearer to the Lord and heaven. The Lord's charge to flee to the mountains in troubled times, and not to come down from the house-top (Matt. xxiv. 16, 17), suggests at once that safety is in nearness to the Lord, and in doing right. (AC 795 end, 2454, 3652, 3653) The words to the blind man, "Rise, he calleth thee " (Mark x. 49), are spoken to us too. We must look up from false thoughts and from evil ways. We must say with the prodigal son, "I will arise and go to my father." (Luke xv. 18; AC 2401, 4881)
Some passages doubtless come to mind where elevation, or a mountain, has quite a different meaning. In common speech we mean nothing good when we say that one is "haughty," or "set up." We mean that he is high in his own esteem, and thinks himself above his neighbors. So elevation, which in its noble sense means a state of nearness to the Lord and of love for Him, may express the opposite idea of a state of intense self-love. Do you find both kinds of elevation in this verse? "Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth him self shall be exalted." (Luke xiv. 11; AC 6393) What valleys are meant, and what mountains and hills, in this call to prepare for the coming of the Lord? "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: . . . and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed." (Isa. xl. 4, 5; Luke iii. 5) Plainly the mountains of pride and self-love must be humbled, and the low, unworthy things of our life must be lifted up and made good. The valleys which are exalted suggest also those states of humility which can receive the Lord's blessing. (AC 1691, 4715; AR 336; AE 405)
Is it the mountain of heavenly or of selfish elevation of which the Lord promises, "If ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea, it shall be done "? (Matt. xxi. 21; AE 405, 510) And does it mean that the Lord came into a state of interior peace and fullness of Divine love, or that for a time all the inherited tendency to self-love was aroused, when "the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me "? (Matt. iv. 8, 9; AE 405 end; AC 1691) In the spiritual world all outward objects are expressions of the states of the inhabitants. Who in that world will dwell on lofty mountains, and who in deep caverns? We are taught that the most holy angels dwell on mountains, the evil spirits of hell in caverns, and that the intermediate world of spirits appears as a valley. (AC 10438, 10608; CL 75; HH 582-586)
Shall we think of natural elevations greater and less, or of heavenly states of love for the Lord and one another, when we read, "The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness"? (Ps. lxxii. 3; AE 365) And is it the moving of natural mountains and hills or the joyful activity of these same heavenly affections that is described in the words, "The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs"? (Ps. cxiv. 4; AE 405)
Author: WILLIAM WORCESTER 1897