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The Tree of Life:


The Art of Living

Genesis deals with the beginning of things. The expression "these are the generations," or "genealogies," occurs ten times in the book. The keynote of the book is the promise of the inheritance to one family. Exodus deals with the departure from Egypt of that family become a nation. Its keynote is the gift of the covenant to be kept in the sanctum sanctorum. Leviticus is the handbook of the priests. Its keynote is "Ye shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am Holy." To sanctify signifies "to represent the Lord as to the Divine Human, because the Lord alone is holy, and because all that is holy proceeds from Him, and all sanctification represents Him. The purifications of the external man were represented by burnt offerings and sacrifices of oxen, bullocks and he-goats; and the purifications of the internal man by burnt offerings and sacrifices of rams, kids and she-goats; but the purification of the internal itself, which is the inmost, by burnt offerings and sacrifices of lambs. Therefore what particular purification or expiation was represented can be seen from the animals themselves that were sacrificed" (Arcana Coelestia #9988, 9990). The blood in the sacrifices is the symbol of the "blood of the covenant." "This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for many" (Luke 22:20). In the Antitype, the Lord, we see the meaning of the types of sacrifice. Each illuminates the other; each is a part of the whole. The function of the priesthood represents the work of the Lord as the Savior. "The altar of burnt offering was the principal representative of His Divine Human and the worship of Him" (Arcana Coelestia #10273). The laws of the offerings, therefore, outline the technique of religion, or of salvation. It is enough that we obtain for the present a practical understanding of the general principles of this highest art of living. The practical significance of the numerous details in the laws comes to light with advancement in spiritual living.

Our Utmost for the Day’s Work

Chapter 1. A burnt offering represents God’s love operating in human relationships, and first of all in man’s daily work. The offering of a bullock, one of the herd, and "strong to labor," is first in order. We must put the very best we have to give into our contribution to the common good from which we in turn derive our living. The blood of the bullock must be sprinkled round about upon the altar, and the flesh burned by fire. Our labor must be freed from impatience or dishonesty, and consumed by the love of service. It must also be purged of bitter or unjust criticism of the work of others. This is the burnt offering of a male sheep or goat. And the spirit of our work must be without thought of any reward. "Do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again" (Luke 6:35). Here is the significance of the sacrifice of a dove, the emblem of the Holy Spirit. These sacrifices form a trine in relation to life’s labors in dedicating them to the Lord.

And for the Day’s Thoughts

2. The next three meat offerings represent the dedication of our thoughts to the service of the Lord. These offerings are, therefore, bloodless. The three preceding offerings contained the purification of the will in the day’s work. So far as the will is purified the thoughts are true, thoughts in regard to the purpose, thoughts in regard to the means, and thoughts in regard to the skill that enters into our work. The consecration of these thoughts is involved in the meat or meal offerings of fine flour, of unleavened cakes, and of first fruits, "green ears of corn dried by the fire."

All Credit Belongs to the Lord

3. But the three offerings which follow are blood sacrifices. Like the meat offerings they are eucharistic, or thank offerings. But they are also attended with pain in surrendering part of the self-life which mars the joy of work—the reward of labor. The two distinctive features of these three offerings are that the blood of one of the herd of the flock, or goats, was sprinkled on the altar, and the fat removed from them, and burnt on the altar. Our joy in work well done must be freed from self-merit for the truth or the good in it. All good is from God. "All the fat is the Lord’s." We dare not appropriate to ourselves any credit for it. "It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that ye eat neither fat nor blood."

Christian charity with everyone consists in faithfully performing what belongs to his calling, for by this, if he shun evils as sins, he every day is doing goods, and is himself his own use in the general body. In this way also the common good is cared for, and the good of each person in particular (The Doctrine of Life #114).

Sins of Ignorance

4. The next set of sacrifices is expiatory, atoning for sins done in ignorance, which covers most of the sins of the world. It would be too dreadful to think of it otherwise. Even David was unconscious of the atrocity of his offense in getting rid of Uriah to have Bathsheba as his wife, until brought home to him by the prophet Nathan.

Conscious Sins—Internal and External

The expiatory sacrifices cover sins against the Church, and sins against the state. First, the violation of the first three commandments. These are inner and outer—the sin of a priest, and the sin of the whole congregation. Here the blood of the bullock was sprinkled before the veil, put on the horns of the altar of incense, and the rest poured at the base of the altar of burnt sacrifices. How do you interpret the first three commandments in relation to your thoughts and actions? Wherein do you worship idols, or ignore Christ’s example, or break the Sabbath day? Sins of omission or of commission in our duty to God by reason of our self-righteousness require giving up our own will in the ruling purpose of our lives, and the strengthening of the will to do God’s will by the power of prayer, and by a change of outward conduct. Our worship of God must cease to consist in specious generalities, or platitudes, or empty professions, or dead rituals. "Learn what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice; for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matthew 9:13).

And, second, the violation of the last seven commandments. These are also inner and outer—the sin of a ruler, and the sin of any one of the people of the land. Here the blood of the sacrifice is only put on the horns of the altar of burnt sacrifice, and the rest poured out at the base of it. Repentance for sins against the spirit or the letter of the civil or moral law demands simply the more free use of the power always available to overcome self-will in perpetuating habits ruinous to the welfare and happiness of ourselves and others. "I will do whatever you ask in my name" (John 14:14). Self-will from inmost to outmost must be consumed by the Lord’s will. In every one of these expiatory sacrifices the fat of the animals, with the latent heat in it, was burned on the altar.

"The Soul That Sinneth, It Shall Die"

5–7. To sin, to see the effects of it, and be silent about it, or to be oblivious to any wrong, leaves no escape from the consequences. Neither can we touch pitch without being defiled. Rash oaths are a menace to sanity. It is necessary to think charitably of others, though he may be unable to feel charitably toward them. And if we cannot think charitably of them, we should at least hold ourselves under criticism, till we can think and feel without prejudice or anger. We wrong the Lord when we fail to acknowledge his care and protection over us in bad as well as in good fortune. Ignorance of the law excuses no one: suffering follows disobedience from ignorance or indifference. We wrong others when we deny them freedom of opinion, or violate their confidence. Insincerity is productive of much suffering in life. All these defaults call for repentance with due acknowledgment of the Lord’s mercy in peace and thank offerings for newness of life from Him. Our vows and voluntary offerings are sacred and should not be broken. The heave or wave offerings represent the avowal of the work of the Spirit.

8, 9. The consecration of our lives in the service of the Lord is sometimes attended with thoughts and feelings that require to be ardently renounced. The consecration of Aaron and his sons was attended with sin burnt offerings.

Prayers Motivated by Self-Interest

10. Our prayers also may come under serious condemnation when self-interest injects itself into them. Nadab and Abihu suffered death for offering strange fire before the Lord. We must learn to differentiate between that which is holy and unholy in worship or life, and make an atonement for everything that is unclean.

11. The food we eat must also be clean. This covers a large field when we consider the amount and the variety of reading we do every day.

12. We must be purged of conceit when practical concepts are first given to us.

13, 14. The profanation of the truth—knowing the truth and living contrary to it—is a big subject, and has many sides to it. The laws affecting leprosy and the treatment of it throw much light upon this evil.

15. The offering of turtle doves or pigeons in expiation of unclean issues is a prescription for purification from thoughts issuing from the heart that defile man.

"Worship in the Beauty of Holiness"

16. The great day of atonement brings to light an important regulation to the regenerate life. Aaron should not enter the inner precincts of the tabernacle without first cleansing the sanctuary from "pollution caused by involuntary uncleanness of priests and people." During the first part of this ceremonial he was clothed in linen, but put on "the garments of praise" in the latter part of it (Arcana Coelestia #9670). The approach to the adytum is an approach to the Lord and closer conjunction with Him. This necessitates further and deeper penance. "He has illustration through the Word who shuns evils because they are sins, and because they are against the Lord and against his Divine laws. In him, and in no one else, the spiritual mind is opened. This is the way of all illustration in the Word, and also the way of the reformation and regeneration of men" (Apocalypse Explained #970). The law of the atonement requires the complete rejection of evil as it is revealed to us from day to day. "Once in the year signifies perpetually" (Arcana Coelestia #10209).

17–26. Volumes might be written on the succeeding collection of laws often described as the "Law of Holiness." Little is known of the practical significance of this ceremonial law which pertains chiefly to the inner life. The meaning will emerge with a growing practical need. So far as we assume responsibilities in life we shall acquire the technique to discharge them to the gain of everyone.

27. The closing chapter specified the exchange value of vows. In how far can we measure up to our present standard? The Lord commended the unjust steward for compounding with his debtors according to their ability to pay. He does not demand perfection of us. And yet that should be our constant aim. This is signified by the reference to tithing with which the book closes. "Ye shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy."


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