26. Is it Lawful to Heal on the Sabbath? (Jn 5:1-9)

Exodus Chapter 31:12-17
And Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, (13) And you speak to the sons of Israel, saying, Keeping you shall keep My sabbaths; for it is a sign between Me and you for your generation; to know that I am Jehovah your sanctifier. (14) And you shall keep the Sabbath, for it is holy for you; the profaners of it dying shall die; for everyone doing work in it, that soul shall be cut off from the midst of his people. (15) Work may be done six days, and on the seventh day is a sabbath of rest, holy to Jehovah; everyone doing work on the Sabbath day dying shall die. (16) And the sons of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to do the Sabbath for their generations; it is a never ending covenant. (17) It is a sign forever between Me and the sons of Israel; for in six days Jehovah made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.

John Chapter 5:10-16
Then the Jews said to the one having been healed, It is a sabbath. It is not lawful for you to lift up the cot. (11) He answered them, The One making me well, that One said to me, Lift up your cot and walk. (12) Then they asked him, Who is the man who told you, Lift up your cot and walk? (13) But he did not know the One who cured him, for a crowd being in that place, Jesus had withdrawn. (14) After these things, Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, Behold, you have become well, sin no more that a worse thing not happen to you. (15) The man went away and told the Jews that Jesus is the One making him well. (16) And because of this, the Jews persecuted Jesus and lusted to kill Him, because He did these things on a sabbath.

Arcana Coelestia 10360 by Emanuel Swedenborg
‘And you shall keep the sabbath’ means that the Lord’s Divine Human is to be worshipped. This is clear from the meaning of ‘keeping’, when it refers to what is Divine, as worshipping; and from the meaning of ‘the sabbath’ in the highest sense as the union of the Divine, called the Father, and the Divine Human, called the Son, thus the Divine Human in which that union exists. The reason why ‘the sabbath’ means this union is that by the six days of labour which come before the seventh every state of conflict is meant; for in the spiritual sense ‘labour’ does not mean the kind of labour that people go out to in the world but the kind that those in the Church experience before they enter and become the Church, that is, labour that involves them in conflict with evils and the falsities of evil. Labour such as this that is meant in the spiritual sense was experienced by the Lord when He was in the world; for He engaged in conflict then against the hells, and restored them, and the heavens as well, to a state of order… [2] The time and state when the Lord was engaged in conflicts is meant by the six days of labour; but the state when the union had been accomplished is meant by the seventh day, which is called the sabbath on account of the rest it brings, because then the Lord had rest. Consequently ‘the sabbath’ also means the joining together of the Lord with heaven, with the Church, with the angels of heaven, and with members of the Church. The reason for this is that all who will come into heaven must first engage in conflicts against evils and the falsities of evil; and when these have been separated those people enter heaven and are joined to the Lord, and then they have rest. The like applies to people in the world. It is well known that they must engage in conflicts or undergo temptations before they become the Church, that is, before the goodness and truth which constitute the Church have been implanted in them, thus before they have been joined to the Lord, consequently before they have rest. From all this it is evident why it is that a state of conflict is meant by six days of labour, and rest as well as a joining together by the seventh day or the sabbath…[3] The reason why the joining together of goodness and truth is also meant by ‘the sabbath’ is that while a person is engaged in conflicts truths play the leading role within him; but when the truths have been joined to good, thus when good plays the leading role within that person, he has rest.


The Jews represent the natural man that stands opposed to what the Word seeks to accomplish in our life. The Word seeks to make us whole but what is lower within us seeks only what belongs to self interest and in the Jew’s response to this healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda we are brought into contact with the attitude that exists within our natural man towards the Divine Truth. We can see this more clearly when we understand that the words the Lord spoke represents what the whole of the Word teaches. The statement “Rise up take up your bed and walk” signifies what the Word teaches concerning the Sabbath. The statement of the Jews on the other hand that, “It is the Sabbath. It is not lawful for you to lift up the cot (or bed)” teaches us what the natural man’s response is to what the Word teaches concerning the Sabbath.

So we see from this that the Word teaches us that if we are to be made whole we must take up our bed and walk and that this is done on the Sabbath. The Lord spoke this to convey important spiritual truths to do with what is required if we are to become whole, what is meant spiritually by the Sabbath, and that this spiritual understanding stands contrary to what natural reasoning in spiritual matters would have us believe. To take up our bed, as we saw last time, is to take up, or elevate those truths we have acquired from the Word and the Heavenly Doctrines and make them a matter of life, for when the Word says “to walk” it spiritually signifies to live in the truths we have through using them to examine our life, identify our evils and seek the Lord to have them removed. To this “the Jews” or the natural man says, “It is not lawful or legitimate to live from the truths of the Word in this way.”

And so in these two statements we have contrasted the religion of the spiritual man whose focus is on what the Word teaches concerning living a spiritual life with the pseudo spirituality or religion the natural man offers as a substitute to a genuine spiritual practice. The genuine spiritual practice the Word teaches, when understood in the light of the heavenly doctrines, is designed to expose and destroy the hold the natural man exerts over the spiritual man. In this battle it is in the natural man’s interest to offer a substitute religion to blunt the impact of spiritual truths on our life so that the life of the hells can maintain their influence through the selfish loves of our proprium.

In stark contrast to a genuine spiritual practice which is designed to bring about the death of the self through the spiritual disciplines of self examination and repentance, which is what it means to take up our bed and walk, the pseudo practice that natural reasoning advocates in an effort to avoid inner spiritual work is one of justifying the proprium or the love of self as something acceptable. So where a genuine spiritual practice involves confronting the things of self interest as evils and so as sins against the Lord, the false religion of the natural mind looks to conceal these evils from us with a facade of external good that masks the proprium’s true nature from coming to light.

Once exposed this tendency isn’t difficult to find, but it’s subtle and takes many forms so we have to be ever on our guard. Essentially it centres on self justification or efforts to justify the self on its own terms. To achieve this it looks to restrict the practice of its religion to mere externals. Perhaps its main characteristic is that those trapped in its grip tend to constantly be in an effort to strive to become better on the one hand but are often plagued with guilt and self condemnation on the other, feelings that are linked to their own self assessment before the standard they imagine God sets for them. In its harder form it produces a harsh judgemental attitude towards others and is openly antagonistic towards anything that would expose its true nature which can be seen in the Jews response to the man’s healing. The Jews felt threatened by the Lord’s activities and in the same way there are things in us that become very defensive when truth begins to shine its light upon our inner world.

The natural man thinks from externals and so in religious matters places all the importance on what is done externally and sees the inner aspects connected with self examination and inner repentance as being of little importance. A religion that is born of a natural understanding of spiritual things regards the Sabbath purely in terms of a particular day of the week separate from the 6 other days of the week on which work is to be done. This traces its origin back to a literal reading of the creation in the book of Genesis. The natural man views this story as an account of how the natural world was brought into being and that God worked to achieve this over six days and on the seventh day He rested.

Spiritual Christianity teaches that the literal sense of the Word represents or points to what is spiritual, for this is the purpose of the Word, to teach us of the things that belong to the Lord, the Church and salvation. Therefore the description of the creation of what appears to be the natural world in the Genesis account is in fact a representation of the recreation of the inner worlds of a person’s mind when they are being spiritually reformed and regenerated. The seven days represent a progression of spiritual states through which a person passes in this process of spiritual awakening and rebirth.

Spiritual Christianity takes the view that everything in the story has a spiritual meaning and application. The reason the number six is used to describe the days on which the Lord works is because this number signifies temptation and struggle. So six days are not understood to be six days when the Word is applied to the spiritual development of the human mind, they are in fact states of mind in which self love and love of the world are still actively resisting the advances of the Word in its work of reforming and regenerating our minds which is why six means temptation and struggle.

The number 7 means what is holy. So the seventh day corresponds to a state of life in which a person has become regenerate and because they are regenerate they are no longer having to battle with the evils and falsities of the proprium, in other words the person’s sense of self is so fully in the Lord that the natural man no longer actively resists the spiritual man. The higher rules over the lower and the Lord is fully present so that a person wills what is good and thinks what is true. A regenerate mind is a mind at rest, or it you like at peace, which is a better way of thinking of the term Sabbath. It is holy day or state of mind because the inner battle has ceased and so the presence of the Lord has a mind in which it can rest.

Prior to such a state being reached the Sabbath effectively doesn’t exist from a spiritual perspective. The creation story shows us that the Lord works until the true human being is formed. This work is never complete while human beings are being born into the world. The creation story presents us with a map of every person’s journey to becoming whole. We are born into the world natural and if we want to become spiritual we have to be brought into conjunction with the Lord.

The natural man is separated from the Lord and when we are separated from the Lord we are separated from the source of what imparts a true human quality to our life. The human we need is the Divine Human of the Lord and this is found in the ideas contained in the Word understood in the light of the heavenly doctrines. When we live from these we become a true human being, because they are able to fill our understanding with truths and our will with spiritual affections giving birth to a new spiritual man. To love what is true for the sake of what is good is what makes a person a human being.

Spiritual Christianity teaches that it is the quality of our thoughts and affections that makes us human, not our physical characteristics, and so to be human we need a human mind and this is only possible through being connected to the Lord. We are not born human, we born into the world natural and are spiritual or human in potential only. This potential humanity is only made possible through our affirmative reception of the Word of life into our lives.

When the emphasis in spiritual matters is placed purely on externals religion takes a subtle but sinister turn. Religious practice becomes a life of striving to gain God’s approval through our own efforts to be good. This effort is an effort to earn God’s approval and so contains within it self merit, or self righteousness. It flows from a false idea of the nature of God, where it is believed that God is a being whose approval can be earned. This of course suggests that if we don’t have His approval He disapproves of us. In an attempt to balance the register the natural man looks to external rules of behaviour by which he can determine for himself whether he or others have God’s favour or not. This kind of attitude is seen in the Jews response to the Lord healing on the Sabbath. The Jews saw the keeping of the Sabbath in terms of what is done or not done on a particular day of the week, and that adherence to this code of conduct was linked to having the favour of God. The natural man mistakenly places his confidence in his own goodness and so is in denial as to what the Word teaches concerning its nature.

No effort on our part can make the proprium anything other than what it is. All our efforts to be good are worthless if they flow from trying to make the proprium appear as something its not due to an unwillingness to face and take responsibility for our own evils. The natural man can’t see that goodness can’t exist with a person who is not in the practice of recognising their evils, taking responsibility for them, and looking to the Lord to have them removed through a repentant life. The proprium is, and will always be, selfish despite our external efforts to mask this in external ways for it is filled with the evils and falsities that make hell. Natural religion teaches it is not lawful to carry ones bed on the Sabbath. Everything within it directs the mind away from having to live from the Word to engage in inner spiritual work, and directs it towards winning God’s approval through external conduct by which it can judge itself to be righteous.

The Sabbath spiritually means to cease or rest from our own efforts to be good. To stop working from a principle of trying to win God’s favour through giving the appearance of goodness and to turn to the Word and live from it. Genuine goodness is never done to gain favour or approval. Actions that are done with this in view are always of the self and contain self love at their core. A true religious or spiritual life is not about striving for or earning God’s approval, for God is love itself and this love is unconditional and is equally towards all. The Lord is goodness itself. This goodness is the order of life and flows down towards all. What the natural man can’t see is that a genuine religious practice has nothing to do with trying to be good, for only God is good.

The Jews here represent this false idea of God and the religious life that exists within the natural man. The natural man seeks to justify itself to avoid doing the work of inner repentance because if can’t face the truth that in itself dwells nothing good. The Lord who is the Sabbath says take up your bed and walk. The Jews say that it is not lawful to carry your bed on the Sabbath. What the natural man can’t see is that the Sabbath can’t even come into existence for us until we acknowledge the Lord by living from the Word. The religion of the natural man places the emphases on being good. The religion of the spiritual man places its emphasis’s on the removal of evils so that good can flow. The efforts of the natural man to be good undoes the teaching of the Word and make it of no effect. The Word or Divine Truth is not given to make us good, it’s given to empower us to remove our evils so that the Lord’s goodness can be present in our actions. When this state is reached then we shall know what the Sabbath truly means.



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