The Brief Exposition
by Alfred Acton II
Swedenborg writes: "When the Brief Exposition was published, the angelic heaven from the east to the west, and from the south to the north, appeared of a deep scarlet color with the most beautiful flowers. This took place before myself, and before the kings of Denmark and others." "At another time it appeared flamy, most beautiful."
"In the spiritual world there was inscribed on all these books: 'The Lord's Advent.' The same I also wrote by command on two copies in Holland." (Ecc. Hist. 7, 8)
Since spiritual phenomena occur from interior causes, and are in correspondence with those causes, we can by applying correspondences to the phenomena recorded concerning the publication of The Brief Exposition see something of the state which existed in the spiritual world at that time.
First note that from east to west and from south to north indicates through all the heavens in accord with love and wisdom; east being the source of love, while south is the source of wisdom. "Scarlet" spiritually indicates the presence of truth from a celestial origin, such as is the truth of the Word in its literal and natural sense, (AE 1038) while "flowers are those things which are of wisdom, or the goods of faith, because these proximately precede rebirth or regeneration." (AC 5116) Flame signifies spiritual good, and the light of it truth from that good. (AC 3222, 6832)
All these symbols are most appropriate to the truth revealed in the New Word. All of them entirely complement the advent of the Lord. Is not the truth found in the pages of our new Revelation truth in the letter of this New Word. Is it not deep scarlet-greater, more open, clearer truth than ever before revealed? Is it not also as the flower, the wisdom, which leads all men-indeed the whole earth, if the church will but perform her spiritual mission, into a rebirth of spiritual light and heat with men? Is not this New Word indeed the Lord's second advent!
The fact that the event took place before Swedenborg and the kings of Denmark is more obscure than the spiritual phenomena recorded; yet when we learn, as we do from the Invitation to the New Church, that the Danes were raised up in providence for the purpose of providing a medium whereby the Reformation, and so a rekindling of love for the Word, might take place, something of the reason for their presence seems to appear.
One of the copies which Swedenborg inscribed in Holland with the words "The Advent of the Lord" has been found and now resides in the British Museum. There are four references to the Arcana Coelestia appended to this inscription. Each of them adds to the idea of what this advent of the Lord actually is. The first reference illustrates that the coming of God is in reality a perception of His presence on man's part. God is ever present with man, but until man perceives this presence there is no advent. So the number continues: "perception is nothing else than the Divine advent or influx into the intellectual faculty." (AC 2513) The second reference spells out what actually occurs at God's advent in the world. We read: "This last time of a former church and first time of a new church are . . . the Lord's advent, for the Lord then leaves the former church and comes to the new church." (AC 4535) A third definition of the Lord's coming is found in the next reference. "By the 'coming of the Lord' is not meant His appearing with angels in the clouds, but acknowledgment in hearts by love and faith; also His appearing from the Word. . . . This coming is meant by the coming of the Lord which takes place when an old church is rejected, and a new church is set up again by the Lord." (AC 6895) The fourth reference completes the definition: "'the coming of the Lord' denotes the acknowledgment of truth Divine by those who are of the new church, and denial of it by those who are of the old church." (AC 8427)
It is clear to the New Church man that the Lord has made this second coming. The advent of the Lord has occurred. The Lord is now perceived by men of the New Church according to the open truth of His New Word, He is also with this New Church, at least as it exists in the heavens, and He has left the old church. Further, we realize that He will continue to be present with His church on earth just to the extent that that church allows His coming to increase-just as long as it does acknowledge the Divine truth freshly revealed unto it. For this reason the New Church man recognizes that his first obligation to God is the necessity of preserving the soundness and purity of the doctrine revealed in the New Word. Without such preservation we destroy the presence of the Lord with us. We make His advent of none effect. We read: "It is known that the church is in accordance with its doctrine, and that doctrine is from the Word; nevertheless it is not doctrine, but soundness and purity of doctrine, consequently the understanding of the Word, that establishes the church." (TCR 245)
Our role is clear. If the church is established according to the soundness and purity of its doctrine we must learn that doctrine. We must guard it by living it, even as we faithfully present it unto the world. Indeed our example of living the life of true religion, of doing that which doctrine prescribes, will be our most effective presentation of that doctrine unto the world. But unless we also prepare ourselves to present this doctrine verbally, unless we study the Word and learn how to accommodate it to the states of the world, we will fail in making the Lord's second advent living in the world.
Where do we seek in the Word for such light! Can we preserve the soundness and purity of doctrine even as we accommodate it to the states we find around us? Is it proper for us to make such accommodation? Will we not in so doing violate the basic truth we seek to preserve?
If by accommodation we mean watering down our principles, if by accommodation we mean living something of a life of evil in order to get along with those around us, then we may well harm doctrine. But we need not do this. We can accommodate truth from the Word to states of evil without being evil ourselves. We can face ignorance or disbelief with-out becoming ignorant or atheistic ourselves. We have with us Divine truth. It is a sword which will protect us, if we but learn to wield it properly. As the Lord commanded His disciples: Ye must be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
The question arises: Why of all the volumes of the New Word is the Brief Exposition singled out for special attention? Why does this short little volume receive the inscription "Hic liber est"! Why should not the True Christian Religion, or the Arcana Coelestia, or some other seemingly major work be signified as the Advent of the Lord? Why should spiritual wonders mark this small volume's publication? Are not all the theological works of Swedenborg equally the New Word of God? Are not many of the thoughts and ideas expressed in this little work contained in earlier works? How can this book which is described by Swedenborg as a "forerunner" to the True Christian Religion, and was published to prepare the way for that book, be so important?
Answers to these questions may vary, but I believe the truth of the matter rests in considering just how and where the Brief Exposition served as a forerunner to the major work.
As I see it, this forerunner was most effective in the spiritual world. In that world it did indeed serve to prepare spirits for entrance into the New Christian Heaven. As is testified, it did cause wonders in heaven as it enabled men hitherto bound to the concept of three Gods to awaken to the joys of a new world, the New Christian Heaven. Witness how the final relation in the work treats of this new heaven and of entrance thereinto by those previously bound. Granted this relation comes from the Apocalypse Revealed, published three years earlier, and is the last relation in that work as well; but still it has been incorporated into this work for a purpose, namely, to illustrate that this work has prepared the way for entrance into that new heaven which rests on the truths of the New Word.
Here is an important fact that guides my thinking. Heaven rests on the Word. Swedenborg records that in reading the Word, specific angelic societies are evoked by specific passages. The reason for this fact, as I see it, is that the Word is, in fact, the form of the Lord which is, of course, the form of heaven. The Word is Divine truth in ultimates which gives ultimate expression to the Divine Human. Heaven also needs this ultimate on which to rest. So we can conclude that until the New Word was complete, that is until the completion of the True Christian Religion, which event, you will recall, caused the twelve apostles to go forth into the spiritual world teaching the life of the New Heaven, until this event the New Heaven was not fully formed. It was not ready for population in any great measure. So it is that that part of the Word which hailed the advent of this work-which hailed the advent of the final formation of the New Heaven, and so the commencement of the New Church on earth which grows only in accordance with that heaven-the work which hails these events is singled out as the Advent of the Lord. It is the commencement of a new perception in the heavens. The scarlet of new celestial wisdom and the beautiful flowers of its specific truths dawn in that world. The freedom at last to populate that new world is at hand.
We should remember that the first advent preceded the glorification. The Lord was born as a baby. His glorification did not occur until the resurrection. At His advent the Lord was impotent. At His glorification He was all powerful. The book singled out as His advent can well be a minor work-even as the book which completes the formation of the New Heaven is a major one.
But what does all this speculation do to the rest of the New Word! Are the bulk of the Writings, so to speak, pre-Advent revelation? Obviously we cannot hold to such a claim. The Word is an organic whole. From Genesis to the completion of the True Christian Religion it is a single unit. We cannot divide Divine truth, even as the Romans vying for the Lord's garments at the crucifixion could not divide His inner garment. Yet the outer garments of the Lord were divisible. We can see divisions in the Word. We can see that the Old Testament is a unit, even as is the New Testament, and again the New Word. We can further see divisions in each of these works. There are obvious divisions in the New Word. There are the pre-Judgment works, and the post-Judgment works. There are expository works, and works on angelic wisdom. Likewise there are works devoted to specific doctrines and works devoted to doctrines in general.
As I see it, each of these divisions finds a spiritual unit resting on it, even as does each verse of the Old Testament. In turn each of these units had its advent in time with the formation of that work. So the New Heaven as it was formed by the different books of the New Word had many comings of the Lord. There is no such thing as a pre-Advent revelation, but the Advent marked by the Brief Exposition is as it were the final advent-since it is the Advent which marks the final formalization of the New Word, since it heralds the full formation of the New Christian Heaven.
But of what value is this little work to us? How are we to use the truths of this revelation in our own lives?
Obviously the specific truths of this work find ready application. We can by reading its pages clearly see the fallacy of faith alone. We can reject the idea of three persons in God. Further points occur throughout the work. But if we are correct in our thoughts concerning the general purpose for the writing of this book there is perhaps more that we can gain from its format. If this work served to prepare the way for spirits to enter into the New Christian Heaven by marking the Lord's advent, by making perception of God possible, then the pattern which made that perception possible should be a pattern we can follow in presenting His truth to the world.
With this in mind we turn to the general format of the work, seeking just such a pattern. In so doing a striking similarity occurs between this presentation of the Lord as the one God of heaven and earth and a presentation of the same fact in earlier revelation. We speak of the time when the Lord on earth converted a Samaritan woman to Christianity, or at least provided that that woman should see the truth that He was God. The same truth, of course, is the essential theme of the Brief Exposition: There is one God, in one person who is the Lord Jesus Christ.
The story of the Samaritan woman begins with her at Jacob's well. Interestingly, the Samaritans were, so to speak, a reformation of the Jewish faith. They were not the orthodox Jews who worshiped at Jerusalem, but were rather hated by the orthodox. To be at Jacob's well, spiritually, is to be at the source of truth, while Jacob is the Word as to its literal sense. (AC 3712) So the story begins with the woman, or, spiritually, an affection, seeking to draw truth from the letter of the Word. She is searching, but has been surviving spiritually on this source of truth. The heavens up to the formation of the New Christian Heaven likewise had been surviving on the truth of former revelation, perverted though it was. Yet the heavens like the woman were searching-seeking new light from God. The Last Judgment was past. The bonds of falsity were broken. Instruction in truth was now needed.
A similar state to both these illustrations must exist if we are to present the truth to an individual. The Lord in secret must have prepared the prospective convert to the New Church. A last judgment must have taken place in his life as to the truth of former revelation. He must be searching for truth. Like the woman at the well, he must be seeking water. Only the Lord can bring such judgment. Only the Lord builds His church. But we must be ready to do our part in building the Lord's church if we are to be His disciples. We must be ready to present His truth-to serve as His spokesmen on earth, to lead unto the source of all truth, His New Word. For the Lord uses men as the instruments of His providence. Our choice is either to be for Him or against Him: to work with providence in the spread of the church on earth, or to become a permission of providence by inactivity in the proper performance of our use. We can either choose to spread the church by living its doctrine and fearlessly presenting it to those around us, or we can turn our backs on providence by encasing ourselves in the comfort of a quiet community. Granted we are not all ranting missionaries, but we are, by reason of the fact we are in the New Church, the Lord's new disciples on earth. We must be in the world, but not of the world. We must shun the evils of love of the world as we seek to present by example the happiness of life guided by genuine spiritual truth.
The Lord when He first saw the woman at the well said unto her: "Give Me to drink." (John 4:7) To which she responded by questioning His motive in asking for such water of her. She identified Him as a Jew with whom she had no dealings.
In this exchange we find the Lord enquiring of the woman as to the state of truth with her, and we note that His questioning evokes something of an argument. She is not ready to deal with a Jew. The parallel to the Brief Exposition can again be drawn. It begins with a statement of the faith of the Protestant and Catholic world at that time. It exposes in no uncertain terms what the water of the old well has become. We, too, must be ready for a similar exposure. We must be ready to state just what we think of the world around us, and we should not be surprised when such statements evoke the response of the Samaritan woman: How can you, a Christian, deal with us! Note here that the Lord had not at this time said He was anything other than a Jew. Nor does the Brief Exposition. It must be first hand. The scholastic approach which would study simply what the Word reveals about such beliefs will not do. True, we must guide our thinking in this study from the truths of the New Word, but we must read what others write if we are to know what they say. We must be in the world.
Since the Last Judgment a new freedom holds the minds of men. Almost every conceivable idea has its adherents around us. Without careful attention to this variety we will not be able to show the truth we have. If we begin with a misconception of others' beliefs we will probably fail. So it is best to allow them to speak for themselves; to ask as did the Lord of the woman for her to give Him to drink or, as in the Brief Exposition, to quote verbatim.
Obviously the statement of belief by another will lead to discussion. We must then be ready to expect misunderstanding. As the Samaritan woman thought the Lord was a Jew, we will be mistaken for members of the dead Christianity. Such misunderstanding is natural, but notice how the Lord responded to it. "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water." A new source of truth is implied in this answer, yet the details of this truth are not stated. Just so does the pattern of the Brief Exposition progress. A sketch of the doctrinals of the New Church follows after the quotations from the former Christianity.
In our discussions it is well to keep in mind a similar need. The first questions of the would be convert need but a sketchy answer. Detailed development of doctrine will bore and so defeat our purpose.
Such a sketch should evoke a response similar to that of the woman at the well. She questioned the Lord's ability to provide living water. "Art Thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself . . . ?" The New Church man also should expect similar questions. "How do you think you of all those in the world have true answers to these questions? Where do you get the authority to speak on such matters?"
The response of the Lord, as, too, the response in the Brief Exposition, is most important.
The Lord demonstrated something of His supernatural power. By example He showed the woman that He was able to know things about her which He had not been told. Similarly, Swedenborg in his pointing out the errors in former Christianity relies upon the testimony of angels with whom he calmly states he has spoken. His supernatural experience is implied as fact without great fanfare.
We must be ready to give equal assurance to the potential convert. Yet we should not expect immediate approval of our calm statement. Indeed much doubt probably will be evoked. But the fact that Swedenborg was clairvoyant can be demonstrated by a few simple stories, and the claim should be made. Obviously the New Church man considers such spiritual happenings as purely secondary to the clear truth of the New Word, but in these first states of instruction they are important. Only after the fruits of spiritual truth are tasted can they be savored, they must be introduced in such a way that they can be lasted. A clear statement of sincere belief in the fact that Swedenborg did indeed see in the spiritual world is essential. For this reason Heaven and Hell can be a good first book of the New Word to give to a potential convert, but, as we shall see, more in the work of introduction follows.
When the woman at the well realized that the Lord spoke with a new kind of authority she asked Him to settle a dispute that had caused the Samaritans to be hated by the Jews. In other words she asked Him to give His views on the old theology. The answers she sought were not answers to new problems. Her problems were with her present. So, too, the Brief Exposition devotes its major emphasis to current theology.
With this in mind, we also must be ready to face problems which bother contemporary Christians. We must be ready to face questions of integration, peace and other social and moral issues.
But note how the Samaritan woman's question was answered. "Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth."
In other words, the Lord gave an entirely unexpected, and a completely new answer to the old problems. So also, of course, does the Brief Exposition in its analysis of the old theology offer an entirely new solution. God is one person. All theology derived from an idea of three persons is simply heresy.
We in turn must face the challenge of giving new solutions to the problems of our world. The New Word, for example, tells us that peace can only be found when spiritual peace is attained. Freedom for the New Church man has far different connotations than it does for others. Our freedom consists in the ability to follow a good love, not in mere equality. Similarly, other major issues facing men today find new answers in the New Word. We must seek these answers, and be prepared to communicate them to those with whom we associate.
But notice what all this introduction is leading to. The woman at the well following the Lord's new interpretation of old theology realized that this man with whom she spoke was not like any other. She recalled the teaching that a Messiah would come. So she said: "I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ: when He is come He will tell us all things." To this statement the Lord replied: "I that speak unto thee am He." At last the woman had by successive degrees been led to the final, most important truth, on which her faith as a Christian would rest: "Jesus Christ is God Messiah."
Obviously this fact of faith is but the beginning of Christian theology, yet in terms of introduction it is the fit conclusion. So it is with the Brief Exposition. The conclusion is the universal statement of faith for the New Church, the universal which is repeated as the preface to the work which this one introduces, namely, the True Christian Religion: We read, "The Lord from eternity, who is Jehovah, came into the world that He might subjugate the hells and glorify His Human; without this coming no mortal could have been saved, and those are saved who believe on Him."
So we see in the Brief Exposition a general pattern for presenting the truth of the New Word to men, a pattern which if carefully applied by those who have prepared themselves for it should reap much fruit: indeed a pattern which should find on earth the same success which it did in the heavens, namely, the full establishment of the Lord's church.