Swedenborg Study.com

Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg


Emanuel Swedenborg
The Relation of His Personal Development to His Work as a Revelator

 Hugo Lj. Odhner

Admittedly, a close relationship exists in our minds between Swedenborg as a man and the work which the Lord in His second advent performed through his mind and pen. Former revelations were given through many individuals, as is true of Moses and a succession of prophets, and of the four evangelists. Besides this, the sacred writers of biblical times received the Spirit of God by an external way which asked more of mere passivity and less of deep co-operation from these ancient scribes.

The second advent of the Lord was effected by means of one man - a man who was selected for this unique work because of peculiar faculties and talents; a man who was prepared by the Lord from childhood, he unknowing; a man who from free choice was willing to sacrifice not only his worldly ambitions but also his love of natural research, to become the anonymous amanuensis of the Lord.

Upon the character and credibility of this man depends more than we can well estimate - perhaps even our faith itself. Certainly, the very character of the New Church - in its human history - has varied according to the concept held of Swedenborg's relation to the Writings, which (as we acknowledge, with him) were written by the Lord through him.

The very first attacks upon the New Church were aimed at Swedenborg's character, or rather, at his health and sanity; for as far as we know, his character or good faith have never been seriously questioned by any student of his life. Unable to impugn the veracity of the man, his enemies naturally attempted to dismiss his claim with the impatient judgment that he was self-deluded, possessed or insane. This cry - as was inevitable - has been raised in every age and every tongue. Even of the Lord, His enemies had said, "He hath a devil"; and the less Swedenborg was known, the easier it was to class him among well-meaning lunatics-at-large.

The materialist, convinced that there is no spiritual world, is perforce compelled to invent some sort of special category within abnormal psychology which will include all such as have testified of a world beyond - as did the Hebrew prophets, the evangelists, and many others; so that he may account for the origin of their experiences by supposing that they suffered from something resembling hallucinations. The New Church man must at times be amazed at the lengths to which some men will go to dismiss the whole spiritual experience of mankind as a mere phantasy. Its great men, who have lived closer to the borders of the unseen world which is the source of life and inspiration, they would consign, if not to the insane asylum, yet to the limbo of paranoiacs and self-deluded maniacs. All artistic geniuses, all spiritual leaders, are thus put outside of the only "normal" type; and the deadly "average-man," with an earthbound mind domesticated to the grooves of a sophisticated civilization, becomes the norm of perfection. The dry little thinking machine, emancipated beyond passion or perception, becomes the official leader of our progress.

The danger of this is indeed dire enough to make the leaders of science somewhat cautious lest their enthusiastic followers prove too much and give to certain mental diseases so wide a definition that almost any human being might be suspected of them, and suspicion itself fabricate enough symptoms to support its claim. At the same time, we New Church men must get used to the fact that the only language in which unbelieving medical men can, by their own rules, catalogue the visions and peculiar states of Swedenborg, is the language of "abnormal psychology" that they have learned from the psychopathic wards and psychiatric clinics; and it naturally abounds in unpleasant terms such as "hallucination," "persecutory delusion, " "expansive obsessions" or megalomania, "dissociation" of perception or of personality, "hypersthenia," etc. When Swedenborg records how he perceived spirits insinuating contrary thoughts and emotions into him, how could it be otherwise than that an appearance of "double personality" would ensue! When spirits caused the sensation of pains or pleasures in various parts of his body, the apparent results would be symptoms like those of hypersthenia or exaggerated or imagined sensations. When Swedenborg sees and describes the efforts of evil spirits to harm him and others, and later speaks of his unique mission and Divine appointment, it is too easy for one who wants to discredit his visions to talk learnedly of a persecutional mania or of expansive delusions.

To my knowledge, no psychologist, after any study of the case, has publicly dared to call Swedenborg "demented," or even classed him with assurance under any mental disease. A man who, at eighty-three, could publish a monumental work on abstract theology, who advanced no "crazy" notions, evinced no bewilderment and no sensational changes in his speech or manner of living, and showed no apathy or dullness, hardly fits into the medical picture. 8 A Swedish physician, Dr. Kleen, in 1920, indeed completed a book of nearly a thousand pages with the object of proving him a "comparatively mild" paranoiac - by going over the threads of his life-story with an unfriendly fine-tooth comb! but the evident animus behind the research discredited this old doctor; and others who are psychiatrists have contented themselves with regarding our Seer as a unique problem - his "symptoms" being so contradictory as to defy analysis. So they merely question the credibility of his intercourse with spirits and his descriptions of the other world, without denying the integrity of his reason as such.

The New Church man's whole faith is tied up with the acknowledgment that Swedenborg's mind was not only sane, but was specifically equipped for a unique task. He had to be so sane, so calmly philosophical, that he could sustain with equanimity the expressed scorn or indifference of his fellow men; and at the same time suffer the perceptible influx of all manner of spirits, without permitting any of the peculiar results of their operations into his mind, his affections and his very body, to disturb his own character, his own free choice and will, or his own mental attitude and purpose. Swedenborg gave severe warnings against any attempt of men to communicate with spirits. He knew the terrors in store, knew the delusive power of corporeal spirits, knew that only an exceptionally strong mental constitution, under the immediate protection of the Lord, could stand the strain of such a life without entering upon the road to insanity.

Although medicine, after nearly two centuries, has not yet officially invented a disease which might dispose of Swedenborg's case, still there have been many loose charges. In 1766, Immanuel Kant scoffed at Swedenborg as a "dreamer," yet smilingly hesitated wholly to discredit either his metaphysics or all the evidence about his supernatural relations. And in 1781 and 1783, John Wesley, the patriarch of Methodism, attacked the New Church in his Arminian Magazine, stating that Brockmer once Swedenborg's landlord in London, told the Rev. Mr. Mathesius (a Swedish Lutheran clergyman) that Swedenborg had suffered a fit of insanity and had called himself the Messiah. * The claim was thoroughly investigated and found very self-contradictory and a web of fallacious hearsay. Mr. Brockmer himself utterly repudiated having believed or circulated any story of insanity: but, strangely enough, he maintained that Swedenborg had on one occasion called himself "the Messiah."

* Docu. 270.

It would be very easy, though pointless here, to trace possible causes for Mr. Brockmer's misapprehension of Swedenborg's claim. 9 But the issue involved has been the subject of a continual contention in the church. The recognition of the Writings as the very means of the Lord's second advent in Divine truth has been met with the charge that we "deify" Swedenborg. Yet the very opposite is true: only when we see the Writings to be the Word of the Lord's own mouth can we see the man Swedenborg in his proper proportion and in the right human perspective; while as far as New Church men deny that the Writings are the Lord's work, they elevate Swedenborg the man into the position which the Lord alone should occupy, as the source of the light in which the Lord's own Holy Scripture is to be seen and interpreted.

Where the Writings are not acknowledged as the work of the Lord, there has been no protection against such ideas as infested the New Church during the middle of the last century in connection with what was called the "celestial heresy." This originated in Boston, and involved that Swedenborg received truth from the Lord in exact proportion to his regeneration, which, it was allowed, was proceeding throughout his life. The Writings were viewed as the intellectual result of Swedenborg's progressive regeneration. The last published of these works, such as the True Christian Religion, would thus carry an authority proportionately greater than that of, say, Heaven and Hell or the Arcana. But, it was argued, since every man can receive only that truth through the Writings which agrees with his state of regenerate good, it did not really matter what authority the various books of the Writings lacked; the perception of each man from the good that was in him was really his own authority and criterion for truth.

This specious fallacy, which confuses Divine revelation with the enlightenment of the regenerate mind and sweeps away the authority of truth to the understanding, is not quite defunct even now. And even the claim that is sometimes made for Swedenborg that he was a "celestial" man, an angel of the third heaven, is one which is not easily demonstrated from the Writings (although there are some indications which point that way, and however much we all would like it to be true!)

I shall attempt, in the following remarks, to point out the urgent need that the one chosen to be the revelator of the Heavenly Doctrine had to be a normal human being - with all that this implies. And this implies also that he was a developing man, capable from the first of great progress and growth, both natural and spiritual; a man who faced many obstacles, even in himself; who was not beyond failure and despair; who made many new beginnings, as is the need of every man to do; and who, as far as all signs can indicate, was truly walking on the road of reformation and regeneration. 10 But although this latter progress did not cease, or was not stopped, by his call to become an explorer of the heavens (and this by degrees and through a constantly growing spiritual experience), yet the authority of the Writings rests not one whit on Swedenborg's state, nor is it proportionate to the breadth or length of his increasing experiences in the spiritual world.

Emanuel Swedberg was born with the splendid physical heredity of his Dalecarlian ancestors - and was very seldom ill, even temporarily. The Dalecarlians were known as a very industrious, honest and strong people; farmers, woodsmen and miners, eking out their living under frontier conditions among the forests and mountains of "Dalom." Intolerant of shams, lovers of liberty, they bravely took up the sword again and again to free Sweden from oppressions.

Swedenborg was thus well endowed physically for a task of scientific, and later, spiritual, pioneering. Many have marveled at his indefatigable labors - such as writing an average of eight closely written folio sheets a day on abstract and technical subject matter, and this while seeing his work through the press, proof-reading it himself, as well as keeping up personal diaries at the same time. His genius was, of course, largely hereditary - a happy combination of strains provided by a watchful Providence. His tremendous brain power was seen as a native gift from his father, the valiant old Bishop. (But none of the other children showed any real brilliance. The family strain seems to have exhausted itself in producing Emanuel Swedenborg!)

His unique characteristic of being able to suspend his breathing while thinking or praying, and this from childhood, was, of course, also a providentially required equipment for his later mission. His good-natured acceptance of others, and his open-minded personality, his disarming sincerity and simple humor, as well as his love of children, his gentle courtesy toward women, and his uncompromising disdain for falsity, were, naturally, virtues more individual to himself; yet they had a basis both in heredity and in environment.

Let us recognize, however, that Emanuel lived for at least fifty-five years before he had any realization of the work for which he had secretly been prepared, and for which he was finally destined! And not until he was nearly forty-six did he manifest any notable desire to be any sort of lay champion for the faith of the church in the immortality of the soul!

He was early given very wide opportunities to acquaint himself with the great world of book-learning. His brother-in-law, guardian, and literary guide was Eric Benzelius, the virtual founder of the Upsala University Library, who had wide literary connections throughout Europe. In his home Swedenborg lived in the formative years - fourteen to twenty-one. 11 And the age in which he lived was still thinking in terms of the classical authors and the humanists, even though the march of science and of natural research had already started apace. Swedenborg found himself at the causeway between the ancient and the modern, and could weigh the values of both and form his mind without losing balance.

In a manner, I think we New Church men can see that the very need of a Swedenborg raised a Swedenborg. The Lord ever provides that every situation shall contain the means for the solution of its own problems. His personality was one which no other age could have produced! His use, as revelator, was one which, humanly speaking, no other person could have performed: I believe that there could have been no Swedenborg, no man who by his rational mind (formed by natural truth and by a balanced philosophy of life) could have received a revelation of the doctrines of the New Church, except in that century.

But heredity and circumstances do not make the man. Swedenborg was indeed led by Providence, but his response to the call by the Lord was his own free choice - foreseen but not compelled. The changes within his life - as far as men can discern - visibly testify to his free will, and to the development and gradual ripening of his spiritual motives.

At first we glimpse him as a somewhat precocious school-boy, shyly proud of his verses, and scribbling his name in some ancient tome which he as yet cannot understand. Then we see him as an eager youth - bent on seeking his fortune, and openly relieved at having escaped the priestly career into which his very pious father is thought by some to have tried to lead him. He is a good, clear-eyed, wholesome youth as he sets out on his first foreign journey. But there is a bit of prank and mischief in him at this his first breath of liberty, as well as a bubbling enthusiasm for all the things that he is going to learn and accomplish. His ambition rides high; the embarrassment of a small purse is not allowed to quench his hopes of bringing back the most advanced things in learning and of lifting Sweden onto a new crest of technological progress. He is teeming with inventions - and shows impatience with the conservatism and the scholastic mud in which some members of the Upsala faculty still were sticking. He is contemptuous of stupidity, and quite frankly plans for his career; and in the manner of his time he paves the way to obtain the favor of the powers that be, by writing laudatory poems: well timed and, he thought, prudently directed.

When he comes back to Sweden, he is not one to underestimate himself; he has a keen realization of being able to make important contributions to his country's scientific and mechanical progress. He is not immodest, but he and his father do all that can be done to further his career. 12 He is disgruntled at non-recognition, and at times writes somewhat bitterly. Emanuel is very human in his reactions. When finally he is taken up into favor by the king, he is filled with elation - as well as smitten for a while with that infectious loyalty which Charles XII, by sparing praise and simple personal charm, invariably produced in those who came within his magic circle.

Yes. The Swedenborg of 1715 and thereabouts sought patronage quite frankly. And at that time nothing could be accomplished without court recognition and on royal bounty, which in Sweden was sadly slender. An episcopal family was - according to precedence - a legitimate petitioner for a title of nobility, which, however, could not be obtained through false modesty.

Emanuel worked with Christopher Polhem on public works, but although he gave all that he had in him, the country was bankrupt and the work lagged, salaries unpaid. War absorbed all the energies of the kingdom, and young Emanuel was nearly dragged into the fatal campaign in Norway in 1718.

The winter of 1718 finds him in his lowest moral ebb: hurt to the core because of the fickleness of kings, disgusted with the deceit of courtiers, disillusioned as to any chance of personal advancement or of the furthering of Sweden's scientific future. He seems to have felt no grief when the news slowly came trickling into Sweden of the king's death. To add to all this, his engagement to Polhem's daughter had been broken off. It was a somewhat embittered man who returned to Stockholm. For reasons unknown, he would have nothing to do thereafter with Polhem, who still wanted to treat him as a son.

His thirtieth year thus found him with the promise of an empty title, and with a lonely, unsalaried job as junior Assessor in the Department of Mining where his appointment was resented. Never did his restless mind cease working on scientific, mechanical, geological, and mineralogical projects - on which he published treatises at his own expense. He was a born researcher. But besides this, the years had, I think, taught him not to rest on his native ability. He started now from the bottom, with the business of earning a living and of protecting his family interests, which were concerned with mining and iron works. He worked and studied and wrote, and his heart was healed, his enthusiasm revived. In 1726 we find him paying his court to the daughter of Bishop Steuchius * As in the former case, the lady preferred a dashing chamberlain to the learned and somewhat sedate Assessor! But meanwhile, Swedenborg - in his spare time, for he was now working regularly in the Department of Mines - produced one learned treatise after the other, mostly on chemistry and on the various metals. 13 He tried to see things from their beginnings. Also, he started with practical ultimates. Always, he was making new starts. He worked out three cosmological theories, one after the other, always with revisions, always from a new start each time: and finally, in 1734, he was able to publish his monumental work the Mineral Kingdom - the most comprehensive work on mining copper and iron in that whole century. The first part of that work is what we know as the Principia. It traces the origin of matter from its first constituents, points of force, which he there calls "mathematical points" or "first natural points." And even today, when the idea of tight little atoms has broken down, physicists can go no further in the analysis of matter than to imagine points of energy and lines of force as the reality that makes natural substance.

* Kleen's Swedenborg, Vol. I, p. 378.

It was at the very height of his deserved fame in this field of mineralogy that Swedenborg suddenly dropped the subject, never to return to it. As late as 1743, he always intended to add new volumes to the three already published of his Mineral Kingdom. * But in Germany, while publishing the Principia (1734), he was profoundly disturbed by the growth of unbelief in the learned world. Why was there such unbelief? Because there was no proof of the survival of the soul, and no understanding of the necessity that the universe had to have a Creator! He therefore hastily wrote and published that magnificent forerunner, Prodromus of a Philosophical Argument Concerning the Infinite and the Final Cause of Creation; and Concerning the Mechanism of the Operation of the Soul and the Body (1734). His idea was to follow this up with a treatise on the soul. His Principia had already shown that the inmost, finest, most elastic and active substances of nature could not be destroyed by death or disaster. Now he shows that the soul is not a merely metaphysical entity, but operates on the body from its own natural seat within the cortex of the brain and the inmost fibers of the body, and that this physical basis of character is immortal.

* Docu. I, p. 459.

He had now obtained an entirely new goal for his research, a new and higher motive for work! - a new field, a new enthusiasm! To find the nature of the soul, to prove it, and thus sustain the perishing faith of mankind! Hoc opus, hic labor!

Swedenborg soon finds that the soul can never be understood or studied except in connection with its temple, the human body. He studies the brain. No, the brain is not enough! He makes a new start, by studying elementary anatomy, to see the soul actually at work, in the blood and the organs. He goes to Holland, then the center of anatomical studies; spends months in Paris, studying the brain - living, as Dr. Alfred Acton has pointed out, very near the School of Dissection. He goes to Italy, and there he begins to write his Economy of the Animal Kingdom, a series of which he publishes two volumes in Holland in 1740-1741.

But still the soul eludes him. Its essence, its form, what are they? He thinks he may have proceeded too fast. So he again starts all over again, from a new, more scrutinizing study of all that is known about anatomy. He writes, drafts, rewrites, a number of manuscript volumes, on all phases of his topic. Finally, he begins to prepare the final work, the Animal Kingdom - "The Soul's Kingdom" - for the press. And in 1744 and 1745 he published three parts, covering only the subjects of the chest, the abdomen, the skin and some of the senses. In his manuscripts and treatises, however, we find the essence of the psychology to which he was steering but which was never published. But just as he never returned to complete his Mineral Kingdom, so he never returns to finish his Animal Kingdom.

The reason is that he finds that he has to start again, and make a new beginning! While he is laboriously trying to surmount or pry through the gateway to a knowledge of the soul as it exists in the body, the portals of the actual kingdom of the soul slip gradually ajar of themselves. And he is prostrated, utterly humbled, conscious of the temerity of his former attempts and of his personal unworthiness of a grace which he realizes is now being bestowed on him.

In his Journal of Dreams, the fifty-six year's old Swedenborg privately jots down a picture of the crisis which now came in his spiritual life. Some would have it that here we see a mental, medical drama enacted, the while Swedenborg fights for psychic unity. 56 And indeed, Swedenborg was himself aware of the dangers that intercourse with spirits might have to his reason. He resisted it, until he was clearly called by the Lord. At Delft, on the 7th of April, 1744, while he was planning to sail for England, he had a vision of the Lord, who strangely asked him whether he had "a certificate of health." * Swedenborg was perplexed. Yet he must soon have realized that this had no reference to the English quarantine (which had detained him in 1710), but to the spiritual health which was necessary for a passport into the kingdom of the after-life.

* JD 54.

In the year 1744, Swedenborg's entries in his private journal read like a cry from the depths. He is immersed in temptations - doubts his salvation, glories in an abandon of thankfulness. He stands at the crossroads. He is being tested. He gives up all - casts himself on the mercy of the Lord. He is confused and astounded when he actually sees and feels the presence of spirits and angels. Pitifully he beseeches the Lord for guidance. And once again, when terrible evils invaded his thoughts, the Lord was presented vividly before his internal eyes and gave him comfort. * But while the Lord seemed to have bidden him to prepare himself for some new undertaking, he still did not know what this was to be. His dreams seemed to be symbolic references to his physiological labors. Should he perhaps go home - or go on with his writings? He scrutinizes all his motives - finding pride and merit and self-satisfaction, despondency, lack of faith; and he sees no health in himself.

* JD 168.

But he gathers courage from the faith that the Holy Spirit had led him through the many vicissitudes of life. He perceives indeed that pleasure, wealth, fame and position, which he had pursued, were vanity. *

* JD 165.

Still he goes on with his physiological works because he knew that he had had as an end to promote the glory of God, and that his talent had been given him with this purpose in view. (And now he notes that no sooner has he come to this brave resolution, than he hears a hen cackling, as takes place at once after she has laid an egg!) * To him, everything seems like an indication of Divine leading. His dreams and their strange medleys become significant, symbols in every detail, he feels. He sees premonitory signs, is governed by confirmatory lights, is comforted by visions and by angelic voices. And gradually the terrors of the period of temptation pass away.

* No. 165e

But it is as if he had gone through death into a kind of resurrection. A personal love and trust of the Lord has developed. A calm of mind has been born, despite recurring conflicts. 57 He visions, or dreams in living fashion of, a palace of surpassing beauty and brightness; and, he notes: "I was told that it had been resolved in the society that I was to become a member, as it were an immortal - which no one had ever been before, unless he had died and lived [again] . . . ." *

* JD 243.

Later he saw in a vision beautiful loaves of bread presented to him on a plate. "This," he notes, "was a premonition that the Lord Himself will instruct me, since I have now first come into such a state that I know nothing, and that all preconceived opinions have been taken away from me; which is the beginning of learning, viz., that one must first become as a child, and then be wet-nursed into knowledge, as is now taking place with me." *

* JD 266.

Swedenborg was a religious man throughout his life. Yet up to this time, by the standard of his family, he could hardly have been called very pious. He did go to church frequently, however, in this transition period, at least. His religious awakening in 1744 made him long for the companionship of faith. He thought for a time that he had found this, in the Moravian Church in London. He thought certain of his dreams to signify that he was "becoming acquainted with the children of God." But other dreams made him feel that he was not yet worthy and would not be accepted. He therefore never joined; and later it is well known that the state of that congregation decayed - at least for a period - into rather scandalous emotionalism, which is well consonant with what the Writings say about certain Moravians of that day. * and **

* JD 202, 206, 264, 215

** An image of the primitive Christian Church has been preserved among the Moravians (SD 3488, 3492). They captivate minds skilfully by their fraternal concourse and bland speeches. They have interior, secret falsities and consider all outside of their own congregation as infernal. See Concordance, s.v. Moravian.

If anything can testify to Swedenborg's regenerate humility and innocence of heart, the Journal of Dreams does so. His real loves were tested and purified. His life also soon took an entirely different turn. After publishing a part of the Worship and Love of God, in 1745, he gave up this work and all his physiological labors, stopping, as it were, in the middle of a sentence; and began, after his final call by the Lord, in the middle of April, 1745, to devote all his energies to the study of the Word.

For the first time it was now clear to him that a special mission awaited him. The spiritual world was opened to him constantly from now on. Yet his introduction, for years to come, was to be a gradual one. * "I was elevated," he writes, "into the light of heaven interiorly by degrees, and in proportion as I was elevated, my understanding was enlightened until I finally [could] perceive what I had not before perceived. . . ." **

* SD 2951.
** HH 130. 58

Already in 1744 he had had a fleeting vision of the kingdom of innocence." * In 1747 he records: "There was a change of state with me, into the heavenly kingdom, in an image." ** But there is no evidence that this meant an opening of the celestial heaven, but only an introduction into the company of angels. Later in the same year he visited in an interior heaven. *** But in the Arcana, vol. II (published in 1750), he states: "Those things which I have seen in the world of spirits I have seen in clear light, but those in the heaven of angelic spirits I have seen more obscurely, and still more obscurely those in the heaven of angels, for the sight of my spirit has rarely been opened to me so far; but it has been given me to know what they are saying, by a certain perception, the nature of which cannot be described, and frequently through intermediate spirits; the things there have sometimes appeared in the shade of the light of heaven, which is not like the shade of the light of the world, for it is light growing thin and faint from its incomprehensibility equally as discerned by the understanding and by the sight." ****

* JD 220.
** Ind. Bible, Aug. 7,1747, Esaias, p. 1.
*** SD 299, 301. Compare AC 2133.
**** N. 1972.

Later in the Arcana he records: "It has been granted me for several years to speak almost constantly with spirits and angels; and with [good] spirits, or with angels of the first heaven, in their own speech; also at times with angels of the second heaven in their speech; but the speech of the angels of the third heaven has only appeared to me as a radiation of light, in which there was perception from the flame of good within it." *

* AC 3346

The same testimony is given in respect to the source of spiritual light. Swedenborg was early told that the celestial angels saw the Lord as a sun. But "it was not granted" him to see the sun, but, for the sake of confirmation, only the moon, which is the appearance of the Lord to the spiritual angels. * Later he was given a vision of the sun; ** and in 1758 he records: "I have sometimes also been permitted to see . . . that the Lord actually appears in heaven as a sun." *** In 1763, however, he is able to record that for several years he had seen the Lord constantly before his face, to whatever quarter he turned: "He now appears constantly before my eyes as a sun in which He is, in the same way that He appears to the angels, and has enlightened me." ****

* AC 1531.
** SD 4639, written after 1752. Compare AC 7173; SD 4894; HH 159, 118.
*** HH 118.
**** DLW 131; DP 135.

There can hardly be any question that Swedenborg, even throughout the period in which the Writings were written, was being elevated more and more interiorly into the light of heaven. And by this he received, as an individual, a greater enlightenment. 59 It is utterly untenable to hold that an unregenerate man could have sustained the light of heaven so long, could have walked the soil of heaven so calmly, or could have enjoyed the tender friendship with angels which he so spontaneously accepted.

Swedenborg never boasts about being regenerated! Yet the revelations of the Second Coming could not have been perceived and presented in rational form except by a regenerating man. An external view of the representatives of the other life could have been visioned and described by an external man, as they were by the prophets. But the arcana of heaven, the laws of the heavenly kingdom, could not have been perceived except in the spirit and from the point of view of heaven. This is very clear from the repeated teachings of the Writings.

Therefore Swedenborg's rational mind had to be sympathetically introduced into the heavens, and this gradually. We may follow his progress somewhat when we examine the earlier volumes. His knowledge about heaven did not come to him as an individual all of a sudden. At first, in the early Diary, we frequently notice his wonder and astonishment at the things he experiences. He interprets and records his first experiences in terms which he later discards and even criticizes: as e.g., when he speaks of certain "hells" as being redeemed - when he really refers to spirits in a place of vastation. He also admits ignorance, and frequently we find phrases like, "I do not as yet know." * His surprising experiences are not immediately assimilated: not until he reflects more carefully about their meaning, and, with the accuracy and conservatism of a trained researcher, observes the laws which govern phenomena in the spiritual realm.

* SD 355, 2917, 3472, etc.

The early Diary is therefore full of observations which aroused problems in Swedenborg's mind, and we are able to trace the solution of certain of these problems quite plainly in these records. A good many of these problems were born of the fact that the world of spirits, and even the first heaven, were in a state of confusion and turmoil before the Last Judgment in 1757. Deceptive and corporeal spirits filled the air with phantasies. No one but a scientist and philosopher could have been led to see the order within all this chaos. Yet with the light of the Word as a guide and the sphere of the heavens as an encompassing protection, Swedenborg was given the perception to see the laws, the truth, within all his strange experiences. For he had been prepared for such a search.

The Last Judgment in 1757 changed the aspect of the spiritual world. The new heaven was organized, the normal order was re-established in the world of spirits. The doctrine of discrete degrees became clearly reflected in the spiritual world, and the Seer could now give, in terms of his own experience, many teachings as, e.g., about the three spiritual atmospheres or about the heavens and hells, such as he could before have given only in the form of hints, or suggestively. 60 Indeed, we may take it as a general rule that each book and chapter of the Heavenly Doctrine was given by the Lord only after He had led Swedenborg into a new series of rational experiences.

Now when we say that Swedenborg's information about the spiritual realm was a matter of gradual growth, gradual accumulation and assimilation of evidence, we do not at all mean or imply that he became more and more inspired, or that his Divine inspiration could at all be measured by the amount of information that existed for its expression in Swedenborg's mind. John the Baptist testified: "He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure." * What Moses or Isaiah or Matthew knew or did not know did not lessen or increase the Divine inspiration of their sacred writings. But the Divine Spirit used their knowledge, or accommodated itself to their state and memory. So also in the case of Swedenborg. The Lord inspired him to record his experiences, his states, his deductions; and this gives to the church a Divine record. What is said in the early Diary, therefore, is Divine revelation about what Swedenborg experienced - a Divine authentic picture of the state of the world of spirits and its inhabitants at the time, about the confusion and disorders there, about the manner in which Swedenborg came to see the inward order of the spiritual world.

* John 3: 34.

The Divine authority of the early Diary of Swedenborg is therefore not impaired by the fact that his information was not complete from the outset. But it does at times necessitate that we use some caution in interpreting the meaning of what Swedenborg there jots down. By itself considered, some passage in the Diary, setting down a partial observation, might be quite misleading, and perhaps in appearance be contradictory of some general doctrine later clearly and fully elucidated. But we have no need to fear that this paradox is more than apparent. If we so think, it is usually because we do not recognize the point of view from which Swedenborg made the observation; and if we view the earlier elliptical or partial statement from the doctrine later clearly laid down, the paradox will disappear. The doctrine of the New Jerusalem must be viewed as a whole.

I think we may see a sign of Providence in the fact that the finding of the manuscripts of the Journal of Dreams and the publication of the Spiritual Diary and the recovery of the copy of the Brief Exposition with the inscription "Hic Liber est Adventus Domini" were delayed and reserved from the church until the general doctrine had become familiar, and a proper point-of-view had been formed among New Church men. 61 For the Lord leads from generals to particulars.

I cannot close without pointing out that unless Swedenborg had been progressively introduced into the world of spirits and into the heavens; unless he had had many purely experimental experiences, and these described the mental states and even physical symptoms resulting from the operation of various groups of spirits; we would have missed much instruction about the states of the human mind, and of that group of spirits "which are with man" - spirits with whom Swedenborg first associates - and about any other heaven than that in which Swedenborg was among his own; and this would be only a one-sided picture.

And I would invite you to entertain the fancy that in following the story of how Swedenborg, as a person, rose to a state of spiritual perception and to the peace of wisdom, first, through the utter despair of temptation and through the dream-like realization of spiritual truths amid confusing shadows; how he was given the Divine doctrine through the disclosure of the spiritual sense of the Word; how he saw the opening of the realities of his spiritual destiny, became intimately the witness of the great clarifying judgment, and was introduced into interior vistas: so also the regenerating man of the New Church - even though he does not have an open intercourse with spirits, and does not enjoy a Divine inspiration - must in a manner walk somewhat the same road, to an eventual heavenly home. In this thought, we feel a warm kinship with the man Swedenborg, who, like us, had only a finite grasp of the Divine truth, which the Lord inspired him to write in such a way that infinite truth is therein reflected and contained.

What Swedenborg's heavenly home was like, we cannot tell. Nowhere does he hint at having found a conjugial partner while he yet lived in both worlds. It seems as if he must have known his own heavenly society, yet when angels or spirits accompanied him "home," it usually refers to his return to his natural state. Intermediate spirits and angels were needed in most of his excursions into the higher heavens. Yet, on at least one occasion, when he and some angel companions addressed some spirits, he writes: "We said, We are angels . . . ." * He tells also of how angels kissed him because of some instruction he had given them. ** But while the Sun of heaven was constant in his sight, as with the celestials, yet we are told that he was denied permission to enter a certain palace because it was open only to those who were of the third heaven.*** He had difficulty in confirming the differences between the celestial and the spiritual heavens at first hand, for this, he wrote, was possible only to one who was "altogether an angel of the middle heaven." ****

* TCR 160.
** On Mir.
*** CL 270.
**** De Verbo, iii. 3. 62

Uncertainty, we believe, may be wholesome in regard to his final lot. In heaven, persons are loved spiritually, and thought of impersonally. And so it is with Swedenborg. Even though his life might stir us to a tender love for one who so suffered, endured, and conquered, yet his personality retreats into the mists of tomorrow - when we reflect upon the infinite uses which the Lord performed by the giving of the eternal doctrine of heaven, not primarily to him, but through him to all mankind.


Revelation Anthology


• Back • Home • Up • Next •

Personal Development

Webmaster: IJT@swedenborgstudy.com