The Divine Inspiration of Swedenborg
by George deCharms
When the Lord was on earth He said: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth." (John 16: 12, 13) Here was a direct prophecy of His second coming, when He would reveal "all truth." Of this coming it is said:
This is our faith: that the Lord has made His second coming through Swedenborg, who was His scribe; and that the Writings are therefore the Lord's alone, and not at all Swedenborg's. This belief is the rock upon which our church is built. Yet there are those who would reject this rock as the head of the corner; for there are those who have read in the Writings and do not consider them a Divine revelation. Most of these describe Swedenborg as an amazing genius and as astonishingly prolific in his ideas. But they readily and easily ascribe these ideas, these truths, to Swedenborg, and not to the Lord. They ignore what Swedenborg himself testifies about the authorship of the Writings.
Those who doubt the Divine authority of the Writings have a probing question to ask: How can a man, who is finite, write what is Divine? This is a valid question, for Swedenborg was only a finite man. To see how the Lord could nevertheless reveal the Divine Word through him is a vital point of doctrine. For since we believe that the Writings are true, we must have a rational answer to critics.
Here we can turn to the past, for knowledge of how previous revelations were given will enable us to understand Swedenborg's inspiration in clearer light. Thus, the Old Testament was written through Divinely chosen scribes - Moses, the prophets, and others Divinely chosen. How is it, then, that what they wrote was the Lord's, and not their own? It is because they wrote down, verbatim, what was dictated to them by the Lord. In this, the Lord used angels as His spokesmen. We are told: "Sometimes the Lord so fills an angel with His Divine that the angel does not know that he is not the Lord." (DP 96: 6) When so infilled, the "angel speaks not from himself but from the Lord." His words are the Lord's. (AC 1745: 3) All that is the angel's own is quiescent. Such "subject angels" appeared to the scribes of the Old Testament. "They [these scribes] wrote as [subject angels] dictated, for the very words which they wrote were uttered in their ears." (AC 7055:3)
This literal dictation was a necessity in the Old Testament, for in it the very Hebrew letters - every jot and tittle - have a Divine correspondence. Yet the dictation was not as arbitrary as it sounds; for the Old Testament scribes were first prepared and instructed before such Divine dictation was given to them. They were Divinely educated for their roles, and were thus enabled to co-operate willingly, where necessary. The eyes of their spirits were opened, and the things about which they were later to write were portrayed before them. But when they actually wrote their portion of the Word they were not in the spirit but in the body. Then they heard interiorly the literal words, Divinely dictated, which they wrote down, letter by letter; and this they did with joy, as servants of the Lord.
Yet, as scribes, they were far different from Swedenborg. For these early revelators did not understand the meaning of what they wrote; or rather, what was written through them. It is true that they had often seen in the other world the things later written through them; yet they had no idea of the inner meaning of what was dictated. "They were not illustrated as to the understanding." (AE 624:15)
However, the words chosen for them to write were such as they would natively use. (WE 6955) The distinctive style of each scribe was kept. One reason for this was for the sake of the freedom of the scribe. Also, if the entire Old Testament were written in exactly the same style, and yet by many different writers, this would compel belief in Divine authorship. And compelled belief is always avoided in the Divine Providence, for it can lead to one of the worst of all evils - profanation. What an evil person believes through compulsion he later rejects, and in so doing comes into what is profane.
It is a fascinating testimony to the Divine Omniscience that the words in the vocabulary of each prophet were correspondentially highly suitable. Astonishingly, and yet understandably, the Lord supervised the education of each scribe from his infancy.
The Gospels of the New Testament and the book of Revelation were written in a similar manner to the Old Testament. Each of the writers was first thoroughly prepared. They were Divinely led to inquire into all the details of the Lord's life on earth, to come into a deep knowledge of it. Where it was necessary, their spiritual eyes, too, were opened; and when their education and preparation were full and complete, then subject - angels came to them as well, and they received a literal dictation from the Lord through an angel. For in the New Testament every Greek word has its correspondence and therefore needed to be Divinely chosen. Nevertheless, the New Testament writers could comprehend something of what was written through them: they knew of the Lord's life, and they had an understanding of His moral teachings. But the spiritual sense of what they wrote: this was unknown to them.
As with the scribes of the Old and New Testament, so with the scribe of the Second Coming. There are striking similarities. But there was also a great difference. It is known that Swedenborg was prepared for his use as a revelator from his infancy. His whole life was guided by an especial Providence. Thus Swedenborg testifies: "The Lord prepared me from childhood." (Letter to the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, PTW 1, 590) "From my fourth to my tenth year I was constantly engaged in thought upon God, salvation, and the spiritual affections of men . . . ." (Letter to Dr. Beyer, PTW I, 8) He was carefully withheld from confirming the false doctrines of the Old Church, or even from studying them in any depth, for this might have clouded his mind. It was also of the Divine Providence that he loved the sciences and philosophy. He was asked why, as a philosopher, he had been chosen as a revelator; why, for instance, was not a learned priest chosen instead? He answered that the spiritual things which the Writings reveal are to be taught and understood naturally and rationally. For this reason, Swedenborg reveals, "I was introduced by the Lord first into the natural sciences, and thus prepared; and indeed from the year 1710 to 1744, when heaven was opened to me." (Letter to Oetinger, PTW I, 571) The human race as a whole was reaching adult status and attaining scientific rationality. That is why a new revelation was needed: the human race was ready and needed to hear Divine truth on a plane that was not before fully opened. This is why a man like Swedenborg was chosen, a scientist and a highly rational man. The Divine love and the Divine wisdom were now to be revealed on the rational plane. God was to be with us in His glorified Human.
Because the Writings were to be a rational revelation, the Lord willed that Swedenborg understand the new doctrines to be revealed. Therefore before he became a revelator he underwent a lifetime of preparation. First he was led towards spiritual truth through science and philosophy. Then, when he was ready, the Lord appeared to him, revealing the use that was to be his role and honor. But then there were still years of preparation. His spiritual eyes were opened only gradually, and at first he saw the light of heaven dimly. At the same time he read the literal Word, and the universals of its spiritual sense were unfolded to him. For four years this special spiritual education continued; more and more the nature of the spiritual world was revealed to him; by experience he came to know the truths of heaven and the glory behind the clouds.
It was only when he had a real grasp of the heavenly doctrines, of correspondences and of the nature of the other world that he was permitted to enter into his role of revelator. Then, when the Arcana Coelestia was started, the Lord began to reveal the Writings to mankind. And it was the Lord who did this. Thus Swedenborg says: "As for myself, I have not been allowed to take anything from the mouth of any spirit, nor from the mouth of any angel, but from the mouth of the Lord alone." (Verbo 29e) Many spirits and angels spoke to him. But through interior perception given to Swedenborg the Lord chose out what was to be used in the Writings; it was the Lord who chose and ordered and it was from His mouth, using subject spirits and angels as means.
Concerning the Writings Swedenborg states: "When I think of what I am about to write, and while I am in the act of writing, I enjoy a complete inspiration; for otherwise it would be my own; but now I know for certain that what I write is God's living truth." (Docu. 251: 7) His inspiration is defined in these words: "Inspiration is not dictation, but is influx from the Divine." (AC 9094: 4) There is a number in the Arcana that reveals how the Lord inspired Swedenborg. We read:
This inspiration extended even into the single words Swedenborg used. (SD 2270)
Thus, for instance, with the Arcana itself, Swedenborg had the letter of the Word open before him. He had studied and been instructed in its correspondences for years. Then, as he was preparing actually to write the Arcana, the Lord, by directing influx, chose what was to be written down. Swedenborg did not choose, the Lord did. Thus Swedenborg states: "When I think about what I am about to write, and while I am writing, I enjoy a complete inspiration; for otherwise it would be my own; but now I know for certain that what I write is God's living truth." He experienced an internal dictation that was absolute; and as he testifies, he was only an instrument. What is marvelous is how the Lord prepared Swedenborg so that he could be a perfect instrument. Beautifully and interiorly, he was the scribe of the Lord his maker. "For He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him." (John 3: 34)
Before us stand the Writings in their beauty, in their Divinity. The final Word is the Lord's, even as is the Old Testament and the New Testament. We rejoice because the "Spirit of truth" has come, to lead us into "all truth." In this revelation, what is finite is removed; the Divine Lord Himself stands fully revealed. He is revealed as the Lord of love, the Divine Comforter who would lead each human being to a home in heaven. In His final Word, the Spirit saith, "Come." And man's answer may be: "Even so, come, Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22: 17, 20)
-New Church Life 1973;93:22-26