<< THE DRAW-NET. >>
THE SEPARATION OF THE GOOD AND THE EVIL.
47"Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (MATTHEW XIII. 47-50.) .
The teachings of the Church prepare men for judgment. The Divine Truth, operating upon the characters of men, separates the evil from the good, by the development of opposite qualities.
For spiritual separation is a matter of state, or character, rather than of place. Men who develop into opposite characters, spiritually separate. They grow apart. Physically they may be located very near to each other, but, mentally, they dwell in different worlds.
In the spiritual world, distance is determined by character; those are near each other, who are nearly alike in character: and those are distant from each other, who are dissimilar in character.
And it is so, mentally, even in this world; for we say of one who is of our own kind, "he is near and dear to us;" and of one who is dissimilar, and who does not love us, "he is distant."
Heaven is not merely a place, into which men may be admitted by Divine favor. The man who is admitted into the kingdom of heaven is the man who admits the heavenly principles of good and truth into his heart, into his understanding, and into his conduct; and who thus becomes a living embodiment of heavenly principles.
"Water" represents, and corresponds to natural truth; that is, truth on the natural plane of thought, external truth; such, for instance, as is in the literal sense of the Divine Word, especially of the Ten Commandments.
The" sea," as the aggregate collection of waters, represents the letter of the Lord's Word, as the reservoir of natural truths.
And, as these truths are stored in the memory of a man, so, in one sense, the sea often represents man's natural memory, filled with the waters of truth.
" Fishes" represent the living principles that are in the doctrines of truth, in man's memory. Personally, the fish are those persons who have knowledge of good and truth, and who receive truths on the natural plane, as information, or science. Such men may be either good natural men, or evil natural men. In this world, instruction is given to all men, as the wheat is sown broadcast over all the field.
Fishing represents instructing and converting men who are in external and natural states of mind and life. And fishermen are those who draw truths from the letter of the Word, and teach them to others. Therefore the Lord chose fishermen for His first disciples, because their occupation represented the new occupation to which He called them. And, in calling them, He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." The disciples, like the prophets, represented the principles which they taught.
The fish is a low form of life, cold-blooded, and not intelligent. So, men who are spiritually called fishes, men in natural-minded states, are not, spiritually, in a high or intelligent condition. But they may be instructed, and drawn out of their present condition, and into higher states of thought, and into knowledge of more exalted doctrines, as the fish are drawn up, out of the water, and into the vessel, or upon the shore.
The "net;" as a system of cords, put together in an orderly way, for the purpose of catching fish, represents a system of doctrines, in orderly, logical arrangement, which will capture men's minds, and hold them fast in the conclusion of the argument.
The net, like almost all other representatives, may be used in either a good or a bad sense. In a bad sense a net represents a connected system of false doctrines. But, in a good sense, the net is a system of true doctrines, confirmed by the Divine Word.
"Casting the net into the sea," represents gathering natural-minded men, to be instructed, and teaching them the truths of the letter of the Word, rationally opened and explained. Gathering" of every kind," represents instructing all men, men of all sorts. For we cannot tell, until we see what men are, in character, whether they will receive instruction and become spiritual-minded,
DRAWING THE NET.
When the net was full, the fishermen drew it to the shore. The net being full, represents an abundance of knowledges of truth, in the understanding of the man who are instructed; for then the men have sufficient knowledge to be able to distinguish good from evil, truth from falsity, and sin from holiness. And, having sufficient knowledge, they can live by the truth, if they are disposed to do so.
As "water" corresponds to natural truth, so the " shore," the land, corresponds to natural good, which is the result of living by the truth. It is the practical application of the truth to the things of life.
When men are taught to know the truth, the next step is to get good from the truth, by practising it. All instruction is given for the sake of its use, in making men better in character. And so which men are properly instructed, they become responsible for the practice of the truth that they know.
THE PRACTICAL JUDGMENT.
And thus their life becomes a practical judgment to them. Every man is judged by the use that he makes of his instruction, For the purpose of instruction is that men may live good lives.
Every judgment comes in a full state, a state of ripeness, a prepared condition, when the man's disposition and life are fixed and confirmed, either in good or in evil. In the history of the general Church on earth, every era, or dispensation, has been followed by a general judgment upon the men of that dispensation.
In the parable of "The Tares," the tares and the wheat grew together "until the harvest," which was said to be at "the end of the world" i. e., at the end of that age, or dispensation, or that general condition of the world.
The final judgment, as it results in fully developing and confirming every man in his chosen character, necessarily results in permanently separating men who have been outwardly together, but who have been gradually growing more and more dissimilar in character, Thus every general judgment is a separation of the good and the evil. And, individually, in each man's mind, his judgment is the permanent separation of what is good from what is evil, in his mental life. For we approach our judgment as we approach a fixed state of character. And as our character becomes fixed, we confirm the principles which we love, and in which we live; and we reject the principles which we no longer hold in esteem. Thus, practically, a man judges himself, by his own life. He judges himself to remain what he has made himself to be. "He that is filthy, let him be filthy still, and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still." He confirms, secures and retains, in his character, the principles which he has made his own, by living upon them. He calls them good, and carefully keeps them for use. But he casts away, as bad and useless, whatever principles he no longer loves and cherishes. Like the fishermen, he draws his full net to shore; and there he sits down, and sorts the fishes he has caught. He gathers the good into his mental vessels, but casts away the bad.
" Sitting," as a position more fixed and permanent than standing, or walking, represents a more fixed state of the will, or heart; a state in which the man is prepared promptly to decide as to what shall enter into his life. In the determination of his will, he spiritually sits down, to judge of the things which come to him, as supposed principles of life. His desires being fixed; he now knows what he wants, and what he does not want; what is useful, and what is useless, what is good, and what is bad, to him.
" Vessels," as hollow forms, to hold something, represent doctrines, which contain truths. But the "net" was the argumentative doctrine, by which he gathered the principles of life : and now the vessels into which he puts the good fish, are the interior, spiritual doctrines of the inward thought. He puts these living principles into all the doctrines which are necessary for his mental life. He fills every doctrine with a living .principle ; i. e., he makes it no longer merely a doctrine, but he accepts it as a principle of daily life.
Thus, in his mind, a judgment is executed. Good and evil things, and true and false things, are separated. And the good things in his affections are joined with their corresponding truths in his thoughts; and evil things are cast out.
And, as regards a general judgment, the same truths apply. The evil persons are separated from the good, when the good pass into the heavens, for which they are fitted, and when the evil pass into their appropriate hells; each going where his chosen and confirmed character takes him. Natural-minded men may be either good or evil. The test of their character is whether they keep the Lord's commandments; whether they follow their own natural desires, and live selfishly, or hold themselves under obligation to obey the Divine law, and thus resist their selfish inclinations, and practice self-denial, for the sake of good principles.
THE END OF WORLD.
"So shall it be, at the end of the world," or the end of the age, or the dispensation, in the general Church. Or, individually, so shall it be at the end of each stage of the man's progress. "The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just." Angels draw near, and seek to help, all men; but while their sphere is attractive to good men, it is repulsive to evil men; for evil men cannot bear the presence of an angel.
An angel is a regenerated man, who has lived on earth, and has passed into heaven. In an abstract sense, the angels who execute the judgment of good and evil in the individual man, are the good and true principles of the Lord's Word, the spiritual principles which we have loved and adopted, and which now judge of the quality, or character, of all the things that are in our natural minds.
These angels "come forth," out of the Divine Word, and from the Lord, "and sever the wicked from among the just;" i. e., they draw the line between the things of regenerate life and the things of evil and worldly life; they lead us fully to accept the good and to reject the evil. Or, if the man has confirmed himself in evil, then the interior truths of the Divine Word, when they throw their searching light upon the man's mind, separate the evil from among the good, in another sense; i. e., they compel the man to define his position and character.
If he has hypocritically proclaimed his attachment to what the Church calls good and true, he will, in the nearer presence and sphere of the interior truth, feel such repugnance to the truth, that he will break away even from the outward appearance of believing in the truth; as the rising sun, with its genial beams of heat and light, awakes to life the birds of day, and, at the same time, drives back into their congenial darkness, the dismal birds of night. The evil man will keep for himself the evil that he loves, and reject, the truth and the good that he does not love.
For instance, a young man is employed in a store. He has been brought up to regard honesty as an essential element of true manhood. And, in his usual outward thought, he esteems honesty; and he thinks himself to be honest. He expects to remain honest, all his life. But, as yet, he knows very little of his own actual condition of mind. Gradually, he develops a love of sensuous pleasures. He associates with other young men, who have acquired fast habits. He loves to be well regarded by his associates, and to have a name of being generous and liberal. Perhaps he also develops a love of display. He spends money freely, as long as he has the means. Now, his love of pleasure, and his love of reputation among his associates, grow stronger and stronger. He thinks he must have more money. Now his selfish loves, or lusts, begin secretly to oppose his early esteem for honesty. Honesty, with him, is only a sentiment, not yet confirmed as a principle of life. In the eagerness of his desire for pleasure, and for reputation, he considers what he is to do. He starts out with the increasing desire to feed his natural tastes, and to keep up the habits which cater to his sensuous desires. He has adopted a certain system of outward thought and doctrine, as to what is allowable and necessary to his life.
This doctrine is his fishing-net. With it, he boldly rows out into the sea of his memory, which is filled with the teachings of his parents and of the Church, and the things learned from the world. He turns again, and rows back, drawing the net to the shore, full of all sorts of mental fishes, all sorts of principles of life.
Then he sits down and sorts his fishes. His will now arouses itself, to judge of the character of the things which he has drawn from his memory. He finds many living principles of goodness and honesty, and many false ideas of life, perhaps perverted notions of what has been taught him; perhaps wrong ideas which his parents have carelessly allowed to grow in his memory, uncorrected, Perhaps his parents, themselves, have had false views of what life is, and of how men should live.
Now, at this point, the young man finds, in his thought, a plan of securing means for his pleasures, by stealing a little from his employers. His mental fishing-excursion has brought sharply before him two classes of principles, good and bad. Which shall he adopt?
If he is trying to be regenerated, he will regard the true and good principles as good, and the false and evil ones as bad. And he will carefully gather the good into the vessels of his inward mind; and, at the same time, he will promptly cast away the bad. He will see that dishonesty, even in its beginnings, will never result in any good, or in any happiness. But, if he is determined to have his sensuous pleasures, his love or pleasure will overcome his love or honesty ; and
then he will think that the teachings of the Church, and of his parents, concerning honesty, are not really good; but that they are actually opposed to his own interests. Then, in his affection and thought, he will put evil for good, and good for evil; in his folly, he will retain and cherish the bad principles, and cast away the good.
Good, to him, will mean what seems good to his self-love; what will agree with his lusts. But "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." For they will go on from bad to worse, even while they imagine they are going towards happiness.
Take the same case of the young man tempted to steal from his employers. Having determined to satisfy his desire for sensuous pleasures, he rejects the truths which counsel honesty. He defrauds his employers, perhaps but a little, at first, But his dishonesty grows by indulgence. And, after, a continued course of stealing, his sense of integrity is more and more blunted; and he loses the ability to distinguish clearly between good and evil, and truth and falsity. He becomes fixed in the character of a thief. And sooner or later, he is overtaken by exposure. And then even his selfish pleasures must come to an end. And, in fact, even while he was not suspected, he was suffering daily torments, for fear of exposure. He has executed a judgment upon himself, by making himself a confirmed form of his selfish lusts.
HISTORICAL AND PERSONAL APPLICATION.
Historically, then, the text relates to a general judgment, at the end of every general church, or dispensation. Then the fishing goes on, in natural things, in this world, and, in spiritual things, in the spiritual world, And then the shore is in the eternal world.
Objectively, all spiritual judgments are executed in the spiritual world, because it is the spirit of the man that is judged, and such a judgment must be in that world where the spirit attains its full condition. And personally, each individual judgment is in the spiritual part of us, even while we are on the earth. At each stage of our spirit's progress, it is judged: and thus it enters its next stage.
Before we become fixed in character we are always, spiritually, either preparing for, or undergoing, a judgment. The angels of Divine Truth are always drawing to shore the things that swim in our memory; and they are always sorting those things, and separating the evil from among the good.
And the Church is helping us to do our part of the work, by instructing us in the principles which we need to know, and pointing out to us the way of heavenly life. And we are always casting the net of our doctrine into the sea of our memory, and into the letter of the Divine Word, and drawing to shore the knowledges that abound in the Scriptures. As we take them, some of these are good and true, and others are falsified by our misconception of their meaning. And, in our rational thought, we gather the good, for use, and cast away the bad.
The parable declares that after the evil are separated from the good, the evil shall be cast" into a furnace of fire," and there shall be, among the evil, "wailing and gnashing of teeth." The "furnace of fire" is not merely something outside of the man; it is the mass of the man's own burning evil passions. "Weeping" is the anguish felt by evil men, because they cannot satisfy their evil desires. "Gnashing of teeth" is the chafing and collision of thought against what the evil men do not like.
There is no vindictive hell, in which the Lord purposely punishes evil men. The Lord seeks to create a heaven in each man's mind and life. But men who resist the Lord, and pervert His principles, turning good into evil, and truth into falsity, make a hell in their own minds and lives. The judgment of men is merely the full development of their character. He who would be free from the results of evil, must give up the love and the practice of the evils, themselves. Divine Justice is also Divine Love; and it will never thrust before a man's face a list of his outlived evils. Men are always judged by their character, not by their outward deeds, alone. When a man's character changes, from evil to good, he has no need to fear any Divine wrath for the past. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die. . .. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked turn from all his sins that he hath committed.. and keep all My statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live. . .. But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, ... in his sin that he hath sinned ... shall he die." "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments," for they are the laws of life. Happy, indeed, both here and hereafter, are they who, in the light of the heavenly Word, sit down with the angels of Divine truth; who, in every step of progress, carefully examine the spiritual quality of the things which move their affections, their thoughts, and their conduct; and of whose life the angels may truly say, "they gathered the good into vessels, and cast the bad away."
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887