A Challenge to the Authority of the Writings
by Harold Cranch
In the General Church it is held that the Writings are the very Word of the Lord. In the little work, Sketch of Ecclesiastical History, Swedenborg wrote: "The books written by the Lord through me are to be listed."* Similar statements are found in other parts of the Writings, and the Divine authority of this revelation, and that it is the coming of the Spirit of Truth, the second coming of the Lord, are emphasized in The True Christian Religion, in The Coronis, and in Invitation to the New Church.** We use the Writings as the Word when we think from them, and apply their teachings to our daily life, and use them as the source of doctrine in sermons and doctrinal classes. So these works are considered the Word not only from these statements, but because they are used as the Lord intends the Word to be used for reformation, regeneration, and the establishment of the church. They are not the Word from so naming them, nor do they have authority in the church unless we use them as the Lord intends. By such use we show that we accept the authority of the Word.
One of the reasons the authority of the Writings has not been accepted by all of the organizations of the New Church to the same degree is contained in the closing pages of Divine Providence. It does not seem to be the Word when Swedenborg could write: "Excuse the addition of this which is added to fill the page." And then he quotes a conversation with a devil! This does not seem to be the Word for many reasons, one being the casual reference to filling a page. It is also said that the teaching is from the devil, yet in the Writings Swedenborg says: "I have not received anything whatever pertaining to the Doctrine of that church from any angel but from the Lord alone while I have read the Word." (T 179) Again what is the use of this passage? What is the value of having a brief quotation from the devil (as it were asking equal time to answer what had come from the angels)?
We must find answers to these challenges if we are to accept the Divine authority. If we cannot find satisfactory answers, then we would have to deny at least some aspect of the Divine authority of the Writings, and possibly accept the more commonly held view that the Lord gave a Divine revelation to Swedenborg and then Swedenborg wrote it down. Many New Church men hold that the revelation itself was from the Lord, but the writing describing it was Swedenborg's. Just as we might have a dream. The dream could be given us by the Lord, but in the morning we could write down our remembrance of that dream to the best of our ability. The writing would be our description of what the Lord had revealed. Those who hold this view of the Writings say the filling of the last page of Divine Providence with the statements from the devil is evidence that it is not from the Lord.
Let us review very briefly the argument as to why this part of the Writings is fully the Word despite such external difficulties in form. In the first place the Lord protects man's freedom. If there were no possibility of doubt we would be under compulsion, so the Word is always given in such a way that we can question, yet with so many confirmations that we can answer those questions if we desire. Without the possibility to question there could be no freedom. Without freedom the Word would not be received because we would be compelled. We would be marionettes pulled by strings with no choice as to where we would go or how we would think, and whatever is not received in freedom does not remain.(A 9588; CL 132.6) It would not affect our lives, as we would not then act from free will. A person under hypnosis acts according to the direction of the hypnotizer, and a man is not responsible for what he says or does under those conditions. Freedom is essential for us to be human, and therefore there must be freedom to accept or reject Divine revelation. This is also true in the Old and New Testaments. Nowhere are we told, "this is the Word of the Lord that must be accepted in fullness." There are a few statements from the prophets: "Thus saith the Lord:" Yet if you believe the prophet, you believe his prophetical teachings to be the Word of the Lord. But the fact that we are free to accept or reject the prophet maintains our freedom.
In the New Testament we have a statement that has caused many to question the acceptance of the Gospels. It begins:
So the beginning of the Gospel of Luke is a letter to an individual explaining something about the life of the Lord, because Luke had a very perfect understanding. This does not seem to be the language of positive revelation. It implies a question, a doubt. How can a letter sent to an individual to explain certain points of doctrine be part of the Word? Yet we accept it as the Word for many different reasons. But man can accept it in freedom because he can question. He must confirm himself by the fact that it is essentially different from any human production, and this can be shown fairly easily.
There are many Gospels, some true, some spurious. The four Gospels of the New Testament tell their story plainly, clearly, without apology, and without trying to make others accept it without argument. They just say it because it's so. The spurious gospels (and there are many of them) are all written with a. special purpose of persuasion. They are very conscious of the reader. They want to make sure that they are accepted. So they say all sorts of strange things and use all sorts of strange language to convince one that they are true, and their excessive efforts to prove they are true proves them false. For example, in their day miracles were accepted as a matter of fact. So the authors of the spurious gospels used them to meet the challenges of their day. When lack of details of the Lord's childhood became a major challenge to the church, a monk "remedied" the situation. He wrote a gospel about the Lord's childhood and in a miraculous way discovered it and gave it to the church. It is abundantly filled with miracles, but the miracles in this gospel are so contrary to the nature of the Lord that it is a mender that it was ever used. They made the Lord, as a child, a monster. On His way to Egypt the sphere from the Lord as a little infant drove away all men-bandits, and others that might have hurt Him. When He was a child, He began to model things at a fountain and there were other playmates with Him. They made little mud images and one of them was quite an artist and made a very nice looking animal, and he said to the Lord: "You can't make an animal as perfect as this." The Lord said maybe not, but He made a little bird and said: "But mine can fly." He threw it up into the air and it flew away. These were ridiculous miracles. Again He was jostled by one of His playmates and He turned and said: "Because you did that to me you shall die before nightfall," and he did. So this human element of trying to prove His case by making inhuman miracles, actually destroys the possibility of belief in the spurious gospel. You don't find any of that in the four Gospels that are now accepted.
The spurious gospels are still published. Many of the Roman Catholic traditions about names of people of the Lord's day, and saints, and so forth come from them. But they are discredited as actual revelation. They are shown to be pious frauds written to prove a point. So we can see how the freedom of man is protected by the possibility of doubts. Yet after examination we see that the content of the challenging portion of Divine revelation is of the same high spiritual quality as all the rest.
Now let us look at the last number in Divine Providence where the devil asks to present his case. What is challenged here is Swedenborg's statement that he wrote down only that which was from the Lord. This is answered plainly by Swedenborg himself in another place when he referred to what the angels spoke to him. He said that he was given a most acute perception of where the ideas came from. He could see the source of the thought. That which was from the Lord he wrote down, that which was from the angel he did not.* The same thing would be true here. That which would serve a spiritual use comes from the Lord even though it comes to us by means of an evil man or a devil. So the Writings teach that an evil minister can still perform the uses of the ministry if his evils are not known. The fact of his being an evil man does not detract from the fact that the Lord acts through the reception of the Word, not through the quality of the man reading the Word or preaching from it.** Again it is taught in The Doctrine of Charity and in many other works that an evil man can perform uses equally and even better than a good man because he does it from the zeal of selfishness and he gains rewards and honors according to the skill that he displays in performing his uses.*** So the Lord can act even through an evil man or a devil to perform uses. Here He acted through the devil to present some very important spiritual truths. The question of what use it can be to have a quotation from the devil is thus answered, for many important doctrines are contained in that very simple statement.
* D 1647; E 1183.2; D 4034 ** A 4311.3; 1030.2 *** P 250.3; NJHD 81.3
To obtain a true understanding of any part of the Word we must see it in its context. What is here being taught is the operation of Divine Providence, and in the number that precedes this little statement from the devil we have the teachings about how Providence operates despite the falsities and evils that exist with man, and despite the teaching that had become very wide spread, that man is saved by immediate mercy apart from the quality of his life. If we think of this for a minute we can see the use. If we put the two together the teaching from the devil says that we cannot change the nature of our life after death.
Each one will remain in the delight of his life, although it seems most malignant, evil, and horrible to others. It shows the delights that they breathe in, as we would breathe in the fragrance of flowers, were to an angel like the most horrible smells from sewers and dead bodies and so forth. They said: "Do you find delight in this?" "Yes, to us it is most delightful," and Swedenborg said: "You are like wild beasts that live in such stinks;" and the devil replied: "If we are, we are, but these are the things that give us delight."
In the other section it was pointed out that when devils were permitted to enter heaven by making their evil loves quiescent, there was nothing of them left. They lay as dead. The only way they could be brought back to life was to allow the delights of their evil nature to flow back into them, because their whole mind and the very fibres of their bodies had been twisted to perceive and react to evil loves. The only way they could live was to enter into their enjoyments.(P. 338.7) This confirms the teaching in Divine Love and Wisdom that love is the life of man. (DLW 1) If our loves were cut off, we would barely exist. So those spirits could not be resuscitated until they again breathed in the lusts and delights of hell.
These teachings can be seen on three planes. First the specific, factual narration of the way things are in the spiritual world after the death of the body. Second, a statement of a, number of very important doctrines that are contained in the facts and knowledges that are there presented. And third, their plane of application-how we are to use these things after we learn them. These are the three planes: end, cause, and effect. This is very plainly taught in a narration in T.C.R. which parallels this, which I will just touch on. The efficient causes are the facts and knowledges. What are the facts and knowledges here? That the devils are in their delights just as the angels are in theirs. Everyone is permitted to live in the delights of his life after death. The devils are allowed to enter into and enjoy their evil lusts and nature so long as they do not harm others. They enjoy their life as far as it is possible while in the lust of harming others-the lusts of adultery, cheating, stealing and lying. And yet by the very nature of those four evils they become unacceptable to one another. Everyone is at least a bit wary of a liar. One never knows when he is telling the truth. He will lie at the first opportunity if it will help him. We cannot trust one who lies, cheats and steals, and is in the lust of adultery. Yet these are the evils that they love, therefore they constantly cause enmity, hatred, and fear in others. This does not build a truly happy life. But because they delight in these things they feel every delight they are capable of in that sphere.
The delights of a man's life are permitted in the other world so long as they do not harm others. (T 570.7) We are taught also that the delights of others are recognized as spheres and odors, and it says in a parallel passage that the spheres of the angels are like beautiful odors from a garden, with great varieties; and the spheres of the hells are like all noxious scents. They can be known by the odors that surround them. (W 292; A 4626, 1519) We learn also that man is in freedom to choose his place and that he may know the nature of his loves, and his trend towards heaven or hell, by the nature of the delights that influence him. All of these things are plainly taught in the lowest aspect of this teaching. With just a little reflection it. teaches us the very nature of life after death.
From this we have the next higher plane, the plane of causes and motivations and doctrines-that which affects our understanding and our will. It manifests the nature of delight and how it leads us, and teaches that we must either change it or accept it, and that will lead to our spiritual development. We are taught the importance of the doctrine of spheres, the nature of life after death, and the nature of the judgment, the necessity for the separation between the heavens and the hells. These are doctrines drawn from the plain sense of the letter, and can be understood in it.
The third plane is the plane of applications and how these teachings can affect us in daily life. The doctrine of delights is very fully taught in the parallel memorable relation in The True Christian Religion. A novitiate spirit who in the world had thought much of heaven and hell, when he realized he was in the spiritual world, again began to meditate upon them, and he asked; "Where is heaven? and where is hell?" He was told: "Heaven is above, hell is beneath, and you are in the middle ground." When he realized this, he prayed to the Lord for an understanding of heaven and hell, and immediately an angel appeared at his right hand, raised him up, and said: "You have prayed to be instructed about heaven and hell. Enquire and learn what delight is, and then you will know." (T 570)
We can draw a few ideas on how we should read the Word from this. First, we are all novitiate spirits. Our life in the world is a time of preparation. It continues in the world of spirits until we are ready for our place. So we are novitiate spirits. Everything that is said about novitiate spirits has personal application here and now, to each one of us. So we should learn about heaven and hell, our purpose, and where we are.
The novitiate's first inquiry produced a general answer: Heaven is above and hell beneath. That is also true in this world, but not spatially. As to state, heaven is everything superior and good. Hell is everything evil and bad. That is the general statement which must be filled in with particulars. First we are enlightened as to the general ideas. Then we can ask the Lord to give us some understanding of particulars. The Lord always answers such a petition, here represented by the angel appearing immediately. His answer is very interesting. "Enquire and learn what delight is, and you will know." The Lord does not take away our responsibility to use our minds. He doesn't give us things too easily. He tells us how we can learn, how we can develop, because our development is His purpose, and if He gave us the answers we would hear them and say, oh yes, of course, and then forget them. But if we have to work for them, we remember, and use them. So we are told: "Seek out what delight is and we will learn both things, what heaven is like, and what hell is like."
The novitiate first began an undisciplined inquiry, just as we do. We pet interested in a subject, and we begin to get ideas from many sources. As they come into our minds, we give them a little thought, and accept or dismiss them. So he asked everyone he met, "Tell me what delight is!" Some said: "What sort of a question is that? who doesn't know what delight is? Is it not joy and gladness. Delight is delight, one is the same as another. We know no difference." Others said: "Delight is the mind's laughter." One replied: "Delight is nothing but feasting, drinking and getting drunk." Then we use common sense. So the novitiate said: "These answers are boorish. Such delights are neither heaven nor hell. I must find some wise man." This is the way we are to develop. If the common answers are unsatisfactory, we are to find what wisdom teaches. Where do we find that? From the Lord in the Writings. The novitiate spirit was led to an angelic spirit who said: "I perceive that you have an ardent desire to know what the universal of heaven is and the universal of hell, and as this is delight I will conduct you to a hill where there is a daily meeting of those who enquire into effects, into causes, and into ends."
End, cause, and effect are in every teaching. The end or purpose for which the teachings are given, then the doctrines drawn from the teachings that affect out mind and our will, and then the effect of these-the application of these things to our lives. The end or purpose is the intended use of the teachings of the Word. The cause is the facts themselves, their rational nature, their presentation of the vision of what might be attained by their means, and the means of attaining the goal. The effect is the ultimate, the application when these teachings effect our daily acts and purposes, and begin or further our regeneration. If we would become wise, we too must seek them out.
The wise men pointed out the nature of love's activity in the natural, and its cause and motivation, and finally, its application. Then we are given the description paralleling that in Divine Providence of the devils from hell who came up to explain what hellish delights were. The Lord cannot give us truth without also showing us its opposite. We can no more see truth without seeing the falsity that it corrects than we can see whiteness against whiteness, or light against light. It would be like snow blindness when everything is white, and we lose our sense of perception and sight. Shadows are necessary to delineate anything, and so we see a truth against its opposite falsity.(A 4172e; P 24; A 7075e; D 1427e) Even the angels of heaven cannot receive truth without being shown its opposite. So here the nature of angelic delight is contrasted with the nature of delight as it is with the devils. When we see truth in comparison with its opposite falsity, we can weigh, judge, and accept the truth. We see its necessity, and we can see its nature.
Many other things are pointed out. One, the devils accept their nature. In the world, when we are accused of something, we want to cover up. Even if it is true, we still want to appear good. We do not like to admit our mistakes and evils. It does not bother the devils anymore, because they delight in their evils, and they are not going to change, so they do not care who knows it. When they were accused of being like unclean beasts that live in filth, they answered: "If we are, we are, but such things are grateful to our nostrils." (T 570:7; P 340)
The memorable relation goes on to teach that everyone is his own delight, angel or devil. Delight is the enjoyment of man's loves. And the nature of a man's love is such that it compels him to act. We can see that here if we think as we read. The devil said that everyone is allowed to be his own delight, even the most unclean, provided he does not infest good spirits and angels. But, the devils added, on account of our delight we cannot help infesting them, so we are cast into work houses where we suffer terribly. So this teaches that love and its delight compel one to act. We cannot love something and not act from it. Therefore the devils want to hurt others, and they work at it. As sure as they work at it they are punished. They are put into work houses where they must do useful things as the angels do, but devils do not like it, therefore they are in hell when they do it. The angels like their work because it helps others, therefore they work willingly. The devils work in order to get food and some recreation.
In this world men are often compelled to take jobs needed in the community. They may not like the work, but they need the wage to live, so they will do what they dislike because it produces the means for their livelihood. In the perfect order of heaven everyone would find work that he delights in, and the work he delighted in would be useful and accepted in society. The Lord can regenerate us by our work, and we develop, even if we dislike it, but we do not have the added joy of doing what we love. Because of this, some work that men are compelled to do is less in the image of heaven, and more in the image of a higher hell. However much we may dislike aspects of our work, if we will approach it from this stand-point, that we will shun evils as sins, and do the work of our employment honestly, sincerely, and justly to the best of our ability, the Lord will build our spirits into a form of charity which will find a perfect use in the heavens. But even here, if a man loves his work it is heaven to him; but it is actually hell if he takes dangerous and evil work simply because it will give him the highest amount of money to indulge his own whims. When devils are put into workhouses they are compelled to do something that they do not like at all, but they must do it if they want to eat and find some pleasures in recreation. For them this is the only reward. So we learn from this teaching that the zeal of their evil love makes them act against order, but when they hurt others, they must be punished by performing useful service.
When the devils recognized that Swedenborg and those with him were under Divine protection, and when they felt the sphere of heavenly love they were filled with fury. They would have done evil, so they were sent back into hell. This brings up the last aspect of our subject, the application. What is involved in this last statement that we can use particularly? When we think of things that are evil, things that are false, things that lightly or deeply profane the Word, or joke about or pervert the marriage relationship, we are not coming into the sphere of heaven. Almost everyone has listened to, or told, jokes about the Word, or about marriage, at one time or another, particularly the so called clever, dirty jokes. If we saw them for what they are, if we saw the spiritual associations they bring, we would turn away from them in horror. We would see it to be the fulfillment of what is being said here. A devil comes into our minds and says: "Consider some of my delights and enjoy them." Like Swedenborg, we must as it were examine him and say to the evil spirit that brought these ideas of filth into our minds: "What are your delights like?" In the memorable relation he said: "Like the smell of open sewers, and decaying bodies." What is making fun of the marriage relationship and telling dirty jokes but being embroiled in filth? There is no angel there. Only those who enjoy the stench of open sewers are present in this love of adultery, for that is what it is. When we talk adultery, perversion, and evil, the hells are invited into our minds.
At that time spiritually we are covered with filth and are so affected with the stench that the angels cannot come near us. When we see the source and realize the impact upon us, we can say as the angels said during the narration: "Back into Hell. We want nothing of this. It will destroy us. It will make us one with you." All we need do is see it for what it is, and we will shun it. Which one of us would willingly wallow in physical filth and manure? Yet spiritually, that is the way we are seen when we indulge in dirty stories or malicious gossip. This is not an imaginary thing, for we are spirits now, and every time we give in to such things we allow ourselves to be bathed in spiritual filth and we drive away angelic associations. This application of the teachings in that memorable relation can lead us to make better judgments.
There is a further application. As soon as the devils were seen in relationship to the harm they would do to others they were cast out into hell. The derived teaching is that as soon as we recognize an evil to be evil we must shun it. The Lord will give us the power to do it, to put it back into the hell from whence it came, and we can remain with the spiritual association of the heavens. If we cling to the evil, if we delight in it, if we make ourselves popular with others by catering to this sort of filth, then we make ourselves purposely like these devils from hell. But if we fight evils while they are small, we will have power over them. If we let them grow large and important in our life they become very difficult to unseat. This is a most important thing-shun evils while they are small and we won't be overcome by them when they are big.
There are many applications that can be made from these teachings but the main point is that every teaching of the Writings can be analyzed and used in the same way. The end and purpose is that the Writings be used for our regeneration. The effective causes are the plain teachings and knowledges which move our will and expose the loves which are involved, and then in effect we can make application and cleanse our mind, or the reverse. Power is given to each one of us. If we read the Writings in this way, every bit of reading that we do will become a fascinating challenge to see what the Lord is teaching in it, and what use we can make of it, and we will find delight in our reading, and spiritual development in our lives.
When we look at the challenge to the authority of the Writings by the inclusion of this statement from the devils, we see that there is no real challenge. It is the Lord teaching, even though He uses a devil to present this most powerful lesson. Because we can see the Divine purpose and use in this brief quotation from Divine Providence, and we can see how its form preserves our freedom, and causes us to think and make personal applications, we can accept it as a worthy and important part of the Lord's Word.