One person can live like another in outward form. As long as there is an inward acknowledgment of the Deity and an intent to serve our neighbor, we can become rich, dine sumptuously, live and dress as elegantly as befits our station and office, enjoy pleasures and amusement, and meet our worldly obligations for the sake of our position and of our business and of the life of both mind and body. So we can see that it is not as hard to follow the path to heaven as many people believe. The only difficulty is finding the power to resist love for ourselves and love of the world and preventing those loves from taking control, since they are the source of all our evils. The fact that it is not so hard as people believe is what is meant by these words of the Lord: “Learn of me that I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls: for my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Matthew 11:29–30). The reason the Lord’s yoke is easy and his burden light is that to the extent that we resist the evils that well up from love for ourselves and the world, we are led by the Lord and not by ourselves. Then the Lord resists those things within us and removes them.
I have talked after their death with some people who during their earthly lives had renounced the world and devoted themselves to a virtually solitary life, wanting to make time for devout meditation by withdrawing their thoughts from worldly matters. They believed that this was the way to follow the path to heaven. In the other life, though, they are gloomy in spirit. They avoid others who are not like themselves and they resent the fact that they are not allotted more happiness than others. They believe they deserve it and do not care about other people, and they avoid the responsibilities of thoughtful behavior that are the means to union with heaven. They covet heaven more than others do; but when they are brought up to where angels are, they cause anxieties that upset the happiness of the angels. So they part company; and once they have parted, they betake themselves to lonely places where they lead the same kind of life
they had led in the world.
The only way we can be formed for heaven is through the world. That is the ultimate goal by which every affection must be defined. Unless affection manifests itself or flows into action, which happens in sizeable communities, it is stifled, ultimately to the point that we no longer focus on our neighbor at all, but only on ourselves. We can see from this that the life of thoughtfulness toward our neighbor—behaving fairly and uprightly in all our deeds and in all our responsibilities—leads to heaven, but not a life of piety apart from this active life. This means that the practice of thoughtfulness and the benefits that ensue from this kind of life can occur only to the extent that we are involved in our occupations, and that they cannot occur to the extent that we withdraw from those occupations.
But let me say something about this from experience. Many people who devoted their energies to business and trade in the world, many who became rich, are in heaven. There are not so many, though, who made a name for themselves and became rich in public office. This is because these latter were led into love for themselves and the world by the profits and the positions they were given because of their administration of justice and morality and of profits and positions. This in turn led them to deflect their thoughts and affections from heaven and direct them toward themselves; for to the extent that we love ourselves and the world and focus on ourselves and the world exclusively, we estrange ourselves from the Divine and move away from heaven.
from Heaven and Hell, Sections 359, 360