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Saviour, a final judgment, by which the faithful are plentifully rewarded, and the unbelievers committed to eternal flames, were eagerly awaited as the only possible fulfillment of prophecy.
This dogmatic literalness of interpretation Swedenborg condemns as a sign of the gross materialism and externalism of the age. In the prevailing doctrines with regard to God, the vicarious atonement, and justification by faith alone, he discovers proof that there was no longer any living or helpful relationship between the Church and the one true object of its worship. Let all who have any doubts in the matter candidly examine the state of things which he criticises, let them analyze the creeds which he opposes, let them read the works of Luther and Calvin, or the current theological literature of a hundred years ago; and not a few will be filled with wonder at the former things which have passed away, and will ask whether there is not a very intelligible sense in which they too are New Churchmen.
Over against the existing falsities and corruptions,—the Protestant solifidianism, the Roman Catholic assumption of spiritual dominion, and the general moral turpitude, -Swedenborg places no disjointed series of negations, but a complete new system of Christian doctrine. Of its more important features I shall presently attempt a synopsis. But before doing so, it seems necessary to touch briefly on the way in which it came to him, and on the nature of the claim which is made for it. Although, as I have said, it courts the favor of no one except on the ground of its own intrinsic reasonableness and its harmony with Scripture, it is nevertheless so intimately connected with the life and experience of its reputed author, that the one cannot be fully understood without some knowledge of the other.
Until he was more than fifty years of age, Swedenborg had written nothing on religious subjects, and apparently given them no special attention. He was principally known, in his own country, as Assessor Extraordinary of the Board of Mines, and an influential member of the Swedish Diet; and not only there, but throughout Europe, as a writer on many branches of science and philosophy. In this field he acquired great distinction; and the number and variety of topics which he treated was remarkable. Geometry and algebra, metallurgy and magnetism, anatomy, physiology, and the relation of the soul to the body were among the subjects which received his attention. There is to be noticed in the general order of his publications a certain gradual, but steady, progression from lower to higher themes, from a contemplation of the mere external phenomena of nature to a study of their deep and hidden causes. He was always full of devout spiritual aspirations. In all his scientific researches he steadfastly looked through nature up to nature's God. Says one of his not too favorable contemporaries : * “ He applied his whole strength in attempting to fathom the inmost recesses of things, and to connect together the various links into one universal chain, and show their derivation in a certain order from their first origin.”
Maintaining this inflexible belief in God and revelation, and in the essential unity of truth, Swedenborg, in his upward course, at last reached the boundary line between matter and spirit. Then it was that he entered on those remarkable experiences by which, as he affirms, the secrets of the other world were revealed to him. He declares that the eyes of his spirit were opened, and that he had, from that time forward, conscious daily intercourse with spirits and angels. His general teaching on this subject is that the spiritual world is an inner sphere of being,—not material, and in no wise discernible to natural senses, yet none the less real and substantial, and that it is the ever-present medium of life to man and nature. This point he illustrates by the distinction and relation between the human soul and body. These are as distinct from each other as it is possible for any two things to be ; and yet, during the continuance of man's life on earth, nothing could be more evident than their mutual dependence. The soul is the man himself: the body is but the material covering which brings him into contact with the outer or natural world. By no possibiaty can the soul be seen by natural eyes ; yet the body lives by virtue of its presence, and dies when it is withdrawn. The reason is, that the body is natural, but the soul or spirit is spiritual ; the latter belongs to another and separate plane of existence. Still, it is, in itself, a completely organized form of life, having its own spiritual body within the natural one, and its own spiritnal home and associations. The eyes of that body may be opened at any time, though this is not the normal or ordinary esperience of men on earth. The effect of such opening is that man looks directly into the spiritual world, and has conscious
• Samuel Sandels. See Worcester's Life of Swedenborg, p. 407. TOL. CXLIV.-30. 362.
intercourse with its inhabitants. In this way the visions of patriarchs and prophets, as recorded in the Scriptures, are to be explained. They were but temporary foregleams of the state which death makes known as a permanent reality.
To the clear perception of that inner realm Swedenborg claims to have been repeatedly admitted ; and his works abound in descriptions of things there seen and heard by him. In these accounts he exhibits none of the spirit commonly ascribed to the visionary and enthusiast, nor does he present them as matters of prime importance in themselves; but with marvelous calmness and sobriety, he brings them forward as evidences of great spiritual laws, which they illustrate, and to which the attention of the reader is mainly directed. So unusual a mode of illustration is this, that in the minds of many persons it has been permitted to obscure, and almost to obliterate, the thing illustrated; but it is nevertheless an unquestionable fact that Swedenborg's narrations of his own personal experience occupy but an inconsiderable portion of his writings, and are manifestly subordinated to the grand doctrines respecting God's nature and Providence, Divine revelation, and the essential conditions of human happiness, which it is his chief object to inculcate as the basis of a new Christian faith.
Those doctrines, he declares, came to him out of the Holy Scriptures. “Not from any angel, but from the Lord alone, while I read the Word,”* is his very language. To help others likewise read the Word intelligently and truly, is his great aim and effort. Simultaneously with the opening of his spiritual sight, he was led to perceive, as he believes, that there is in the Scriptures a wondrous wealth of meaning previously unknown--an internal or spiritual sense within the sense of the letter, and constituting the very soul and essence of Divine revelation. To unfold these hidden treasures of truth he regards as the chief part of his mission. As he devoutly pondered the contents of the sacred volume, they seemed to shine with a new light, and he saw clearly that, although, in outward form, they were peculiarly adapted to the times and circumstances which produced them, they had within them the living and eternal spirit of wisdom. They were composed of parables not hitherto interpreted, “dark sayings of old,” which in the coming ages would be radiant with heavenly brightness. Complete possession of the key was made possible to him by his intimate acquaintance with the spiritual world ; for, according to his philosophy, the relation of that world to the natural is similar to that which the spirit of revealed truth bears to its letter. As every object of nature is a visible embodiment of spiritual life, so is every thought expressed in the literal sense of Scripture the outward form and analogue of some deeper and far-reaching principle. This relation between things internal and external is called correspondence. By virtue of it, whatever is outwardly seen becomes the fixed symbol and representative of something which is not seen. The phenomenal world by which man is surrounded images to his bodily sense the world of thought and affection within him. In a word, nature is the responsive and harmonious environment of mind. The Scriptures are written by means of correspondences. Their higher significance is brought forth when the symbols are interpreted.
* True Christian Religion, No. 779.
To the exposition of this internal sense of the Bible, Swedenborg, in his theological works, devotes by far the largest number of pages. It goes without saying that those to whom the explanations seem true, must find in them not only a deep spiritual satisfaction, but a new and powerful support of faith. If heavenly lessons can be drawn from passages which appear to teach only the facts of natural science and earthly history, the strongest arguments are provided against those who would discredit Divine revelation, or detract from its authority. When, for example, it is seen that in the first chapter of Genesis no exact description of the creation of the world was intended to be given, but that the narrative, interiorly regarded, sets forth the successive processes by which man, in all ages, is re-created, or prepared for heaven, there is no longer any ground for affirming that the record is untrustworthy, or that God's Word is contradicted by His works. So, likewise, when the story of Adam's fall is divested of its literal improbabilities, and understood to be an allegorical account of the manner in which evil gradually gained a footing in the human heart, one favorite weapon of infidelity has lost its power. Or again, when the history of the Israelites, though resting on a basis of actual fact, is shown to portray, with the utmost minuteness of detail, the spiritual experiences of universal humanity, it rises above the limitations of time and space, and excites a proportionately broader and more vital interest.
No other claim is preferred on behalf of this interpretation of Scripture than that it is true and reasonable in itself, and, therefore, worthy of acceptance. Closely connected with it are the doctrines comprised under the name New Church. These are presented by Swedenborg as plain deductions from Scripture, truths which must be manifest to all who read their Bibles with open and unprejudiced minds,-truths, moreover, which Christianity, in its languishing state, needs for its own resuscitation. In what remains of this paper I shall attempt a concise statement of those doctrines, so far as relates to the two points already specified as the very essentials of religion, namely, God, and man's relationship to Him.
First, respecting God. The foundation principle in our conception of Him should be His absolute and changeless unity. Not three persons, in some miraculous manner constituting one Deity, but a being, who is one in essence and in person, should be the primary idea in our minds; and every other thought which we have concerning Him should be dominated by it.
He is Jehovah, the I am, the infinite and uncreated source of life. All other beings are but finite forms, receptive of life from Him. Not only did He create them in the beginning, but by the unceasing communication of His own life and substance He holds them in existence. Thus preservation is perpetual creation; and the universe both was, and is, created, not from nothing, but from God Himself.
He is the sum of all perfections. Love and wisdom are His very essence. Creation itself is but the exercise of infinite love acting according to unerring wisdom. This is the same as saying that the reason why men live is that the Lord loves them, or, in other words, desires objects on which His love may be bestowed, and by which it may be reciprocated. His love, of necessity, finds expression in absolute goodness, His wisdom in absolute truth. Hence He is incapable of anger, hatred, and jealousy, or of any so-called justice save that which is the outflowing of love. If the Scriptures seem to teach otherwise, we must remember that in their outward form, or the sense of the letter, they must needs be accommodated to the states of natural-minded men, and, therefore, to a certain extent, must speak according to the external appearance, rather than the internal reality.
From the recognition of God's love and wisdom, as being His essential nature, we arrive at a true conception of His Providence.