Swedenborg's Preparation as to the Will
All New Church men agree that Swedenborg was specially prepared under the auspices of the Divine Providence for his call as "servant of the Lord Jesus Christ" in the Lord's second coming. We know of his peculiar gifts from early childhood, as, for instance, his introduction into what he called "internal breathing," and his ability to think and converse on religious subjects. We are also aware that he grew up into an ardent student of the sciences of his day, and that, building on the huge assembly of sciences he had gathered in his mind, he erected an astounding philosophical structure in which was housed both the philosophy of the creation of the universe and the philosophy of the nature of the human soul. In all this he combined knowledge with acknowledgment, intellectual achievement with humble worship. For to Swedenborg science was not a substitute for religion, but rather religion's handmaid; nor was philosophy thinkable except as a study of the presence and operation of the Creator both in the macrocosm and in man the microcosm, and of the reaction and response of creation to its Maker. His curt comment in the Principia, under the heading "The Means Leading to True Philosophy" is typical: "True philosophy and contempt of the Deity are two opposites." (Prin. I, p. 38).
Today, however, we will not pursue further the studies of many previous speakers and writers with reference to Swedenborg's intellectual preparation, but attend rather to his preparation as to the will. In my view the one preparation is not less important than the other. Rather does it seem to me certain that the Lord had continually prepared His chosen servant in both respects simultaneously.
I would offer two reasons for this view. One is that Swedenborg as a person could not have been protected from profanation had his will lingered in the proprial loves of self and the world. It is true that the understanding may be raised temporarily to the height of heaven with any man, regardless of his will*; but Swedenborg was to contemplate matters of angelic wisdom constantly for twenty-seven years and to experience conscious citizenship in heaven as well as in this world. 8 Surely, if in his will he had aspired to his own glory, and if he had ascribed the discovery of interior truths to his own intelligence, there would have arisen within him an irreparable conflict of heaven and hell, and his soul would have been destroyed eternally. As an aside, but relevant to the issue, we would note here that while Swedenborg, in his own words, "enjoyed a perfect inspiration,"** he nevertheless at the same time thought and wrote as of himself. Such as-of-self on the part of the revelator is implied in a revelation that is couched in terms of the highest understanding. It would follow, therefore, that Swedenborg as a person was constantly in that same light of heaven which through him was to be communicated to other men. On this account it must be legitimate to apply also to himself what is revealed as a universal principle in the work, Divine Providence: "Man is not admitted interiorly into the truths of faith and into the goods of charity, except as far as he can be kept in them to the end of his life."***
* AC 8443; DLW 243.
The other reason, however, has wider ramifications and goes far beyond the person of Swedenborg. I am referring to the very nature of his inspiration, and consequently to the reason why we attribute complete Divine authority to the Writings of the New Church.
It is my understanding that the difference between the inspiration enjoyed by Swedenborg and that of, say, an ordinary New Church man, is that in the case of the latter, that is, a man who is not called as a revelator, his own will is active in and qualifies everything that he writes or says: while in the case of Swedenborg his own will was laid aside - and this by his own unreserved consent; so that instead the Divine will itself might flow directly into his understanding and select there the ideas and knowledges that were to be woven into the pattern of a Divine communication to all mankind: a communication whose purpose it was to lay open the Divine arcana themselves that had been formerly reserved for angels only, because formerly hidden behind the veil of the letter of the Word.
That Swedenborg's inspiration was of this nature seems to be supported by his testimony, as follows:
Another teaching - or set of teachings - may guide us into a fuller understanding of this matter, so that we might see not only that the Divine will made for itself a path directly into Swedenborg's understanding but also how this was done. 9 I am referring first to a very specific teaching with regard to the influx and operation of the Divine with an ordinary man; and it is that teaching, compared with the case of Swedenborg, which may help us to see the difference between the Lord's influx with the one and the other.
Our first teaching is in the chapter on the Holy Spirit in True Christian Religion, and reads:
This, then, is the case with any man who would be led by the Lord's Holy Spirit. To repeat: man is led by the Lord speaking to him out of the Word, when the man has received the Word "in some fullness within himself." The important point is that the Lord does not act through man, but that man acts of his own free will from the strength and light of the Word as he receives that Word.
In the case of Swedenborg, however - and we are not speaking here of Swedenborg prior to his call - the Lord did act through him. That appears to be the real difference and the crucial point in understanding the nature of the inspiration enjoyed by the last of the revelators.
In supporting this concept of "through Swedenborg" as against "not through other men" we recall first the well-known passage in Sketch of an Ecclesiastical History of the New Church: "The books are to be enumerated which were written, from the beginning to the present day, by the Lord through me."* But this is not, as some people seem to have supposed, an isolated passage which may he explained away. On the contrary, there are numerous statements elsewhere in the body of the Writings bringing forth the same point, to wit, that the Writings are the Lord's works, and therefore written by the Lord, not by Swedenborg but only by means of him.
* Ecc. Hist. 3.
To illustrate this we offer the following examples. In the concluding memorable relation in True Christian Religion angels are quoted as asking, "What news from the earth?"; to which Swedenborg replied: "This is new, that the Lord has revealed arcana which in excellence exceed the arcana hitherto revealed since the beginning of the church."* 10 And in a little tract in answer to a bitter attack by Dr. Ernesti - a tract that Swedenborg caused to be printed for private circulation among his friends - he refers in the following terms to the arcana enumerated in the said memorable relation: "Read, if you please, what has been written concerning the arcana that have been revealed by the Lord through me in my latest work, entitled True Christian Religion, in nos. 846-851."** In the "Summary of the Coronis" we find: "The church knows nothing at all about this, its desolation and consummation, nor can it know, until the Divine truths revealed by the Lord in the work entitled True Christian Religion are seen in light and acknowledged."*** Heaven and Hell, in the introduction, gives us, after quoting the prophecy concerning the Lord's second advent in Matthew 24, the following: "By these words of the Lord is meant that in the end of the church, when there is no longer any love and consequently no faith, the Lord will open the Word in its internal sense and reveal arcana of heaven."**** The Preface to Apocalypse Revealed stresses the same point: "Anyone may see that the Apocalypse could not possibly be explained but by the Lord alone, since every word of it contains arcana which could never be known without some special enlightenment and consequent revelation, wherefore it has pleased the Lord to open the sight of my spirit and to teach me. Think not, therefore, that anything there given is from (ex) myself, or from (ex) any angel, but from the Lord alone (ex Domino Solo)."
* TCR 846.
Now, since it is the prepositions in these passages that hold the key to their essential message, we pause here to recall the prepositions in our opening passage, True Christian Religion 154, and to draw attention to those used in our later passages: this in brief only. The Latin, of course, is our authority, but if the Latin is translated consistently into corresponding English prepositions, the point will be borne out. Our True Christian Religion passage says that man (the ordinary enlightened man, not Swedenborg the revelator) is to act and speak "out of himself from the Word"; and that the Word, or the Lord, does not speak and act "through him," but rather that the Lord "out of Himself or out of the Word" acts "in" man and "into him," and not "through" him. These are the important prepositions; and it is because of them that other phrases become significant, like "by the Lord through me,' ". . . could not be explained but by the Lord alone," and "not out of myself, nor out of any angel, but out of the Lord alone."*
* Other passages of great interest in this connection are SD 6101; AE 971: 5; inv. 44; TCR 508: 5; AR 5, 820; AE 641: 3, 948; DP 162. Lack of time prevents their being quoted. 11
These things have been brought forward to suggest the view that Swedenborg could not have served in the second coming of the Lord, that is, in penning a revelation that was rational in its whole structure but without having a mortal man's mind as its essence, if it were not for his complete and total willingness to lay aside his own will, so that instead of it the Lord's will might operate in and through Swedenborg's understanding without the intervention of either man or angel. The operation of the Lord's will is the operation of the Holy Spirit. What we suggest, therefore, is that the Holy Spirit came upon the intellectual part of Swedenborg's mind and used it at its own discretion, giving birth in this manner to the "male child that was to tend all nations with a rod of iron," namely, the Divine Doctrine of the New Jerusalem. Is there not, then, a very full parallel between the Lord's first advent, which was in the flesh, and His second advent, in which He came as the Spirit of truth? It is almost as if we heard again - but with a new application - the words of Mary: "How can this be, seeing I know not a man?" (Luke 1: 34)
With these thoughts in mind we return to the man Swedenborg, and inquire into his own preparation so that the above might come to pass. The little work, The Journal of Dreams, which was found and published long after Swedenborg's death (about the middle of the Nineteenth Century), is our chief source of knowledge in this regard, for it was to the pages of his private journal that Swedenborg confided his deepest temptations and other experiences and his inmost prayers. It was written in 1744, in the time intermediate between his labors as a scientist and philosopher and his twenty-seven years in the special service of the Lord.
In thus approaching him, as though disturbing him when he had expected to be alone, we must vest ourselves with the deepest respect that is owing to such a man, and venture upon our intrusion only because of a high purpose. However, let us bear these two things in mind: all temptation is an attack on that which a man loves; and the deeper is the love, the greater is the awareness of and the combat against sin.
Swedenborg's Awareness of Sin. To be truly aware of sin is to be subject to humiliation. In other words, the quality of humility is impossible without a real sense of unworthiness. Swedenborg's Journal of Dreams makes it abundantly clear that he knew his sins and had a profound sense of unworthiness. He writes:
Reflecting on a certain dream, and what it might mean, he later added: "Afterwards I saw all that was impure, and I acknowledged that I was impure from head to foot. I cried for the mercy of Jesus Christ." (JD 85)
In another entry he names his sins as being the love of self and pride:
What he had in mind in reference to his pride is more clearly indicated in one of his published works, written a few years earlier, namely, the Economy of the Kingdom of the Soul (or Animal Kingdom, as it is commonly known). There he writes in connection with his decision to make use of the works of others in gathering materials for his philosophy, as follows:
"On deeply considering the matter I deemed it best to make use of the facts supplied by others. Indeed there are some that seem born for experimental observation, and endowed with a sharper insight than others, as if they possessed naturally a finer acumen. . . . There are others again who enjoy a natural faculty for contemplating facts already discovered, the eliciting their causes. . . . Besides, I found, when intently occupied in exploring the secrets of the human body that as soon as I discovered anything that had not been observed before, I began (seduced probably by self-love) to grow blind to the most acute lucubrations and researches of others, and to originate the whole series of inductive arguments from my particular discovery alone." (EAK 18)
Humility, then, or the conquest of conceit, was what he strove for earnestly. To this effect he writes:
Swedenborg in Temptation. All these sentiments concerning his own sinfulness and unworthiness, and his deep quest for humility, were born of intense temptations. Some extracts from his Journal will indicate to us in what manner he suffered and fought.
A little later, also, he refers to the same kind of temptation, saying that he was "as it were forced to think what he did not want to think." (JD 86)
While being thus tempted he also learned of the conflict between the internal and the external man, concerning which so much was later written in the Writings themselves. At one time - it was Easter, and he had taken Communion - he felt "inwardly content, but still outwardly sad," and he adds: "I could not govern my fugitive thoughts so as to restrain some expressions opposed to my better knowledge; it was from the evil one, by permission." He prayed and read the Word, and entered the observation that this gave "some relief," and that "faith was present entirely, but the confidence and love seemed to be absent." (JD 39)
Tears were no strangers to him in these states; sometimes tears of sorrow, at other times tears of joy. Contemplating his own nature, "he fell aweeping because he had not been loving, but rather had offended Him who had led him and shown him the way even unto the kingdom of grace. (JD 36) But his suffering was at times relieved by profound joy:
The whole Journal gives evidence of the most profound piety, so that one senses how Swedenborg was constantly aware of the closeness of his Savior, prayers coming spontaneously to his lips, and reading and meditation on the Word being a daily diet that clearly far exceeded his meager requirements for natural food.* 14 He had a favorite hymn, too, from the authorized Swedish Hymnbook,** and he would every so often sing this to himself. It also came back to him in his dreams. An unrhymed, somewhat free translation from the Swedish, may be of some interest:
* Cf. Cuno: Memoirs on Swedenborg, pp. 11, 159, et al.
Swedenborg's Desire To Give Everything in Order that He Might Belong To the Lord. Temptations, however, are never an end in themselves, but serve only to prepare the mind for an uplifting into the peace that accompanies the reception of the Lord. This uplifting came at times to Swedenborg, apparently with almost unbearable power. At one time he refers to an experience through which it came to him that one must not love angels more than God, for "in comparison with our Lord no respect must be paid to them" - and apparently he had been tempted in this respect also. But afterwards he writes: "I found in me as it were a radiance, that the greatest happiness would be to become a martyr, for the consideration of the indescribable grace, combined with the love towards God, makes one desire to sustain that torture which is nothing compared with the eternal torment, and the least thing would be to sacrifice one's life." (JD 46, 47)
He is increasingly aware of his calling; this is what is meant by the indescribable grace." But he is also aware of the dangers attached to it, to others and to himself, and in an outburst of zeal he even felt as though he might wish to inflict harm on harm, nay, even extreme harm, if this should be necessary to prevent that veneration be turned to himself rather than to the Lord. He writes:
The Lord Appears to Swedenborg. It was in this period of Swedenborg's life, that is, in the course of approximately seven months covered by the main body of his Journal, that the Lord appeared to him. To be more exact, this happened about Easter time in the year 1744. He commits an account of this event to the pages of his Journal, and as this is, perhaps, the only indisputable testimony to the Lord's having come in Person to His servant to call him, and is certainly the most full and vivid account, we shall quote somewhat at length here.
Swedenborg's Inmost Prayer. There is one recurring prayer, confided to the pages of his Journal, which seems to come forth as an inmost cry of his heart. He asks no greater favor than to be granted that he might give up his own will, and that so he might wholly belong to the Lord alone. But so great does he deem this favor, that he also asks forgiveness for desiring it.
But let his journal speak for him on this point also: "And as I have my motto: 'Thy will be done; I am Thine and not my own;' and as I have given myself away from myself to the Lord, may He therefore do with me according to His good pleasure." (JD 117) Yet something from his proprium, something from his body, seemed to resist. There was still something of combat. He wrote: "In the body there seemed to be something of discontent, but in the spirit there was joy, for it is the grace of our Lord that effects this. May God strengthen me therein!" (JD 117) In fact, the battle within him seemed unwilling to cease. "I was continually in a state of combat with double thoughts which were fighting one another. I pray Thee, O Almighty God, to grant me grace to be Thine, and not mine own! Forgive me if I have said that I am Thine and not mine own; this belongs not to me, but to God. I pray for the grace of being permitted to be Thine, and that I may not be left to myself." (JD 118)
At last he seems to have gained assurance that the Lord had wholly accepted him. There is triumph in these words: "I now arose, a whole God up. God be thanked and praised! I do not wish to be mine own; I am certain and believe that Thou, O God, wilt let me be Thine in all the days of my life and wilt not take away from me Thy Holy Spirit which strengthens and upholds me." (JD 157)
"Servant of the Lord Jesus Christ." In the Writings themselves there is evidence of continued temptations and recurring sufferings - perhaps because Swedenborg, still living on earth while at the same time a citizen of the Lord's internal kingdom, must be constantly lifted up, constantly drawn out of himself, lest he relapse. Perhaps also because Swedenborg, as representing the doctrines given through him, must suffer the attacks and the hatred that rose up from the hells against the doctrines themselves.
Be that as it may; there is nothing in the Writings to cause us to think otherwise than that the will of Swedenborg was, from the beginning of the time of the new revelation itself, wholly and unreservedly given up to the Lord, so that nothing whatever from him would interfere with the operation of the Lord's Holy Spirit into his mind and through it.
It was thus that his will gave itself up as a personal will, and became as it were permeated with the grace and mercy for which he prayed so earnestly; and it was thus that his understanding, with everything that was gathered there, could be taken into the Lord's own possession, and this for the purpose of giving to the world a revelation that the Writings themselves describe as "surpassing all the revelations that have hitherto been given since the creation of the world." (Inv. 44).
There is, therefore, a full and profound truth in the designation that Swedenborg assigned to himself on the title-page of some of the Writings, notably the True Christian Religion: "Emanuel Swedenborg, servant of the Lord Jesus Christ."