Swedenborg’s Claims –
Can We Accept Them?
by Harold C. Cranch
We cannot present Swedenborg's teachings without sooner or later hearing the question,
"Why do you accept his Writings as a Divine Revelation? In what way are they different
from or superior to the others, or even to the revelations given through spiritists
such as Jacob Boehme?" This is a vital question, and one we must consider and answer
to our own satisfaction and to that of others. What is the basis for our acceptance
of the Writings as the Revelation of the Lord in His Second Coming? How are they
different from the others that claim to be revelations? What are the criteria for
determining revelation, that it comes from the Lord? There are two aspects to the
answer. First the claim itself and then the nature of the revelation. Swedenborg
claims that these Writings are from the Lord. They are His second coming. They are to build a New Christian Church. Second, as
to the nature of and necessity for the revelation itself, does it teach something
new, necessary for man's salvation that could not be discovered some other way?
First let us look to Swedenborg's claim, and whether it is believable. Swedenborg
says that the Lord appeared to him and commissioned him to publish a new revelation.
The Lord introduced his spirit into the spiritual world, so that he could be conscious
of both worlds. The Lord alone instructed him even though he recorded things he
heard from angels and spirits and saw in the spiritual realm, or studied from the
Word. Only the things received from the Lord in these experiences were written down-so
the Writings are a New Revelation.
There are many ways to test these claims. Probably the first and most important
would be to use the same tests that establish testimony in a court of law concerning
the competency and reliability of the witness, and the validity and relevance of
the subject matter.
- Was Swedenborg honest? In over 50 years of public life as a member of the
House of Nobles and as an assessor or judge in the College of Mines, he was one
of the very powerful political figures of Sweden. As with all in public office,
there were other political parties and powerful individuals who opposed him, sometimes
bitterly, yet not even his enemies impugned his motives or his honesty.
- Was he a competent witness? Could he understand and report accurately what
he observed? As a scientist he had shown such rare acuteness and accuracy in observation
that some of his discoveries are still timely and valuable after 200 years. His
love of truth and scientific detachment made him an ideal observer and reporter.
- Had he any motive for bias or dishonesty? Far from having anything to gain
by giving this revelation, he had everything to lose. He gave up the scientific
work that had brought him great honor. He published the Writings anonymously, so
they could not, even if widely approved, contribute to his fame. He published them
at his own expense, and gave directions that the money received from their sale
should be given to the Society for the Propagation of the Bible. So they could not
add to his wealth. He sought no personal following nor did he try to head an organization
of the church-although he knew that a New Church would someday be established.
- Did his actions confirm belief in his own testimony? From the time of his
Divine commission he left his former studies and entered into an extensive study
of the Word. His preliminary research filled many volumes over a period of many
years. He certainly believed in, and obeyed, his call.
- Does the revelation serve a use that is necessary, that could be met in no
other way? Yes. If it is accepted it proves the life after death and its nature.
It gives a new and most needed understanding of God, of His unity and trinity. It
provides the doctrinal foundation for a New Church in which all things will be made
new. It restores the basis for love truly conjugial. It gives a rational basis for
religion to resolve the rational doubts that had destroyed the former church.
From these things we can see that Swedenborg was an honest, competent, detached
observer, able to perform the use commanded-so sincerely convinced of his call that
he devoted nearly three decades of his life, and his personal fortune, to its fulfillment.
He bore solemn testimony to the truth of his teachings before a priest of the Lutheran
Church, just before his death, when he would have nothing to gain by deceit and
much to lose spiritually.
These things provide the witness to the human agent. However, the Lord dismissed
the testimony of man as being of little importance saying: "These things I say that
ye might be saved . . . . The works that I do bear witness of Me." So in the second
coming, what is the witness of the Writings-of the works-themselves?
- Are they from the Lord? They proclaim that they are from the Lord and that
Swedenborg merely served as an amanuensis. He disclaimed authorship, save as a servant
of the Lord. So he wrote: "The books written by the Lord through me are to be listed"
(Eccl. His. 3). ". . . when I think of 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 the living truth of God" (Doc. II, page 404). ".
. . from the first day of that call I have not received anything whatsoever pertaining
to the doctrines of that church from any angel, but from the Lord alone, while I
have read the Word" (TCR 779).
- Are they consistent? Over a period of nearly thirty years of association with
those in the spiritual world, he describes the same world-laws, purposes, relationships,
and appearances are described in detail from first to last.
We find a growth in understanding but no conflict of ideas or purposes. So the new
doctrines, in a multitude of volumes, teach every aspect of life and use, on the
deepest practical and philosophical subjects, yet the doctrine is one. Every aspect
fits into and confirms every other part. Such consistency is impossible from merely
human prudence, and confirms the perfect inspiration he enjoyed.
- Do they perform a use that could be done in no other way? They reestablish
the authority and holiness of the Word, and reveal its spiritual sense. They establish
the certainty of the life after death, and explain its nature. They give a rational
understanding of God and remove the falsities concerning the tri-personal concept
which had destroyed the former church. They show the beauty, dignity, and nature
of the life of charity and use. They give the means for the re-establishment of
genuine Christian marriage. They show the universality of the church, and they were
given by the Lord for man's salvation which had been threatened.
- Do they agree with truth formerly seen? Although the Writings contain new
truths and perform uses that could only be given by a new revelation, they can be
accepted as true only if they are consistent as to purpose and use with what had
been revealed before. The new things are established and confirmed from the letter
of the Old and New Testaments and from the basic laws of nature. Former teachings
are given a new interpretation in many cases, but always proved and established
as being consistently taught in the whole Word. The Lord did the same at His first
advent. He made the Old Testament new, by His teachings-yet they did not deny. So
He said: "I come not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill" (Matt.
5:17), to fill them full of new and deeper truths confirmed by their letter. He
did the same thing by the Heavenly Doctrine, opening the Old and New Testaments
to expose the deeper spiritual sense within (AE 641:2 and 948:2).
- Do they fulfill prophecy? Before its fulfillment, prophecy is often misunderstood.
The Lord's first advent fulfilled all prophecy about it, but in a way that the Jews
had not expected. However, the fulfillment was recognized afterwards. So the Writings
completely fulfill all the prophecies given in the letter of the Word concerning
the Second Advent.
They are the promised Spirit of Truth that shows men plainly of the Father. They
are the Divine Human of the Lord, coming in the clouds of heaven-in the appearances
of the letter-so that every eye should see Him. His coming is as a thief in the
night, quietly, to be discovered only by searching Him out. His coming was like
the lightning in the sky, for it is the enlightenment which opens up the spiritual
sense of the Word. The sun and moon were darkened, and the stars fell from the heavens,
picturing the fallen state of the former church when love to the Lord and genuine
faith were extinguished, and spiritual principles of life no longer shone in the
firmament of man's endeavors. The stone of Divine Truth was cut from the mountain
without human hands and struck the image of the churches at its feet of iron mixed
with clay, where the truths of the Word were mixed with natural falsities, and utterly
destroyed the statue. But the rock grew until it filled the earth.
The last point in regard to the internal testimony of the Writings themselves
becomes more and more evident as the Writings are read and used. For they present
a religion of such beauty and high principles and standards; they renew so perfectly
the vision of God, the God whom we serve and the life of charity and use by which
we serve Him; the goal and purpose of life here on earth, and the fulfillment of
the spiritual world, that it becomes impossible to deny the spiritual quality and
the Divine source of this heavenly doctrine. And the fact that every doctrine is
bolstered with complete proof passages-page after page, so that nearly a third of
the Writings are from the Word of the Old and New Testaments-shows that it is impossible
to be a made-up, lying presentation.
But there is one final proof of great importance. A scientist reporting the results
of an unusual experiment is believed. His experiment can be duplicated and his conclusions
tested. The Writings also give us the means to test and prove their claims. Formerly
the Lord said, "Search the Scriptures, for they are they which teach of Me." Thus
He invited men to prove His
Divinity for themselves. The same test can be applied to the Writings. As the
Old Testament proved the Divinity of the Lord in His first coming, so the Old and
New Testaments can prove the Divinity of the Writings as His second coming.
The books of the Old and New Testaments were revealed by the Lord over a period
of approximately fifteen hundred years. They were written in many different places
by many different men.
There were several gaps of a hundred years or more between prophets and the giving
of revelation. Yet they have been gathered into a book which in morals and ethics
is consistent in itself, presenting a living history that is accepted in Judaism
and Christianity. It is accepted as revelation. The Writings were published seventeen
hundred years after the last of the Old and New Testaments had been published. Now
here is the test that everyone can apply for himself. If we found a book written
in Hebrew characters, beautifully bound, and we did not understand Hebrew, we could
say, "it looks like a book in a foreign language." But because we could not understand
it, we might add that it could be an elaborate hoax. If we put that book away and
later buy another book which says in English, "English-Hebrew and Hebrew-English
Dictionary," we could examine this and say, "It looks like a dictionary." We can
understand the English part of it, but because we cannot understand the Hebrew characters,
again, it might be an elaborate hoax. But if we use the dictionary to translate
the book that we had previously found, and the dictionary translates the book, we
have proven two things-that the book was written in a genuine foreign language,
and that the dictionary is exactly what it claims to be-a Hebrew-English dictionary.
The book proves the dictionary; the dictionary proves the book.
Here there is a parallel; the Writings of the New Church as to one aspect of
their use say that the entire Old and New Testaments have a spiritual sense within
the letter, and they give the laws of exposition by which the spiritual sense might
be drawn forth. But men have been blind to that meaning in the Word, and so to them
it has been a closed book. Now they may test the truth of the claim made by the
Writings that they will open the Old and New Testaments as they do with the book
of Revelation and the books of Genesis and Exodus, verse by verse. So if we use
the Writings to translate the letter of the Word into its spiritual sense, we have
the same proof as was evidenced in the use of a dictionary to translate Hebrew.
The letter of the Word will prove the Divine dictionary, that it does translate,
and the Writings will prove the book, that there is an internal plane of holiness
and spiritual meaning within the entire revelation. So the fact that we can find
that deeper meaning consistently from the beginning to the end of the Word proves
that the Writings are what they claim to be.
This is a test we can all make, so we have not only the testimony of a competent
witness-an honest man with no ulterior motive; the consistency of the Writings;
the agreement with the former truth; a new, beautiful religion; the revelation of
new truths that are needed to establish the church; and the fulfillment of prophecy,
but we have also a way to test these things for ourselves. I don't think we need
anything more. By these arguments it is possible to prove to those willing to learn
that the Writings are a new Divine Revelation, different from all the spurious revelations
that are presented to the world today.
So we can give thanks to the Lord that in His Providence He has guarded the spiritual
welfare of mankind, and raised up a New Church to preserve the possibility of salvation
for all people. And we can be grateful for the character that Swedenborg displayed,
that in humility, with a deep love of truth and great spiritual courage, he obeyed
the Lord's call to become the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord's spiritual church exists throughout the universal world; for it is
not confined to those who have the Word and thence know the Lord and some truths
of faith; but it exists also with those who have not the Word and therefore are
altogether ignorant of the Lord and consequently know no truths of faith (for all
the truths of faith regard the Lord); that is to say, this church exists among the
gentiles who are remote from the church; for there are many among them who from
rational light know that there is one God; that He has created all things and preserves
all things; and also that from Him is all good, consequently all truth; and that
likeness to Him makes man blessed; and moreover they live according to their religion,
in love to that God and in love toward the neighbor; and from the affection of good
they do works of charity, and from the affection of truth they worship the Supreme
The gentiles who are of this character are they who belong to the Lord's spiritual
church (Arcana Coelestia 3263:2).