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The Method of Giving Revelation -
Unlike Mediums

by John L. Odhner

Each revelator and prophet has been unique. The symbolic visions of Ezekiel were not like the simple conversations Hagar had with angels. John's extended experiences were not like Peter's brief glimpses of the spiritual world. The Lord gave each of them the degree and kind of communication with angels and spirits that suited His purpose for that person. Likewise, Swedenborg's state was uniquely suited to the purpose to which God called him.

Sometimes Swedenborg has been described as a medium or spiritualist. This is not surprising. Swedenborg was and is well-respected for his scientific, political, and philosophical works. He was known for his gentle, mannerly ways and his clear thinking. For those who would like to discredit the Writings, it is difficult to do so by directly attacking his personal life. It is much easier to undermine his reputation by associating him with people who have engaged in questionable practices, such as mediumship and spiritism. At the same time, Swedenborg is often claimed as a spiritualist by mediums themselves because his respectable standing lends credence to their own activities.

Obviously, whether we consider Swedenborg to be a medium depends on how broad a definition of "medium" we choose. A very broad definition would include everyone who has contact with the spiritual world. Spiritualists often claim that such people as Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, John, Paul and Jesus were mediums. In a local spiritualist bookstore I found half a dozen books which claimed to prove that Jesus was a medium. What better way to gain respectability for spiritualism? On the other hand, those who wished to discredit Jesus accused him of working in league with evil spirits.

Many of the prophets and revelators of the Old and New Testaments clearly did have open communication with spirits and angels. Just as clearly, the Word itself does not consider Jesus or any of the prophets to be mediums, since mediums were to be avoided. The Bible distinguishes between those who are given communication with the spiritual world for the purposes of revelation and those who seek such contact for purposes of spiritism. Not everyone who communicates with the spiritual world is a medium.

The list below contains some of the evidence that Swedenborg belongs in the category of revelator, not medium.

1. Mediums seek spiritualistic experiences, through meditation, classes, séances, mind control. Unlike mediums, Swedenborg did not seek, or even expect or desire, communication with spirits. When spirits began to speak with him he "was greatly astonished" (Doc. II, p. 146).

2. Mediums encourage others to contact spirits. Often mediums will offer training courses, seminars, books, etc., to spread mediumship to others. Unlike mediums, Swedenborg strongly warned against trying to contact spirits.

3. Mediums offer their services as a source of counsel, teaching, guidance. Unlike mediums, Swedenborg claimed that one cannot learn any truth through contact with spirits (AE 1182:4).

4. Mediums often make a living through contact with spirits. Unlike mediums, Swedenborg made no attempt to advertise his powers or accept money for his services or gather a personal following. "I was thinking," he wrote in a personal diary, "Suppose someone should consider me a saint, and on that account think highly of me? Indeed, suppose ...he should not only revere but also adore me as ...a holy man or a saint?... I saw that I must entreat the Lord with the most earnest prayers, not to have any share in so damnable a sin, which would then be laid to my charge. For Christ, in whom dwells the fullness of the Godhead, must alone be addressed in prayer" (Doc. II, p. 164). Note also that most of his books were published anonymously, and profits were donated to a Bible society.

5. Mediums depend on their own judgment and good character to distinguish good spirits from evil. Unlike mediums, Swedenborg followed the warning of John about testing spirits by their relationship to Jesus Christ: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God .... Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God" (1 John 4:1,3; Doc. 11, pp. 159, 208-9).

6. Mediums depend on spirit guides to lead them to their contacts. Unlike mediums, Swedenborg was guided by constant and thorough study of the Bible, and by unswerving devotion and obedience to Jesus Christ. For example, when the Lord appeared to him and opened his spiritual eyes, he was regularly praying and singing to Jesus, fasting, attending church, and receiving communion. His notes from his personal Bible study at that time filled half a dozen large volumes within three years.

7. Mediums do not agree with the teachings of the Writings. Most mediums compromise or deny the divinity of Christ and believe that the individual, rather than Christ, is the source of salvation. Reincarnation, meditation, and other eastern religious concepts are often accepted by mediums. Unlike mediums, Swedenborg taught that Jesus Christ is God-Man, and that we are totally dependent on Him for life and salvation. Superficially, there is some agreement about the appearance of the spiritual world, but the doctrines about the spiritual world (for example, about influx, correspondence, the nature of man and spirit, the connection between worlds, the way to heaven, the relationship between heaven and the Lord, etc.) are incompatible with spiritualistic beliefs. Consequently, most mediums have little interest in reading Swedenborg, although a few refer to his experiences (in much the same way they refer to the Bible) for evidence of their beliefs.

8. Mediums expose people directly to spirits and supernatural phenomena. For example, the medium of Endor allowed Saul to converse directly with "Samuel" (1 Sam. 28). Unlike mediums, Swedenborg never put other people in contact with spirits. Swedenborg did not lead or participate in séances or in any way associate himself with any such activities.

9. Mediums are sometimes wrong. Sometimes the messages of mediums are convincingly accurate. Often, however, they are vague, symbolically obscure, or just plain wrong. Unlike mediums, Swedenborg 's few instances of prediction and referral of messages from the spiritual world were never wrong and never ambiguous.

10. The ability to give proof of communication with spirits is important to mediums. Clairvoyance, prediction, uncovering personal secrets, bringing messages from departed relatives, and similar activities are often used for "proof' of the validity of spiritualism. Generally the activities and beliefs of mediums revolved around giving such evidence. Unlike mediums, Swedenborg did not claim any importance for his evidences of having been in the spiritual world. "He did not think it worth while to waste many words" on such "trifles" as his report of the fire in Stockholm. Instead, through what he said and wrote he directed people to the Word and to the Lord Jesus Christ. (See TCR 849, DP 134, Trobridge, Swedenborg: Life and Teaching, p. 196, 1935 ed.)

11. Spiritualism is usually accompanied by physical phenomena, such as healings, levitation, materializations of objects or spirits, psychometry, knockings, noises, voices ("whisperings and mutterings" - Isa. 8:19), etc. Unlike mediums, Swedenborg made no attempts to prove the truth by sensual or sensational evidence.

12. Mediumship does not open one's spiritual mind, although it may open the spiritual eyes temporarily. Mediums receive spiritual messages in a worldly way, with worldly comprehension. Unlike mediums, Swedenborg communicated with spirits on a spiritual level, as spirit with spirit and not as man to spirit.

l3. Mediums often contact spirits through trance-like states of mind. They allow themselves to become passive in the hands of spirits. And, in a similar but reversed situation, Saul went to a woman who was, literally, "master" of an evil spirit - she could control the familiar spirit at will. Unlike mediums, Swedenborg was neither controlled by nor in control of spirits.

The warnings of the Old and New Testaments make it very clear that mediums and spiritism should be avoided:

Do not turn to mediums or spiritists. Do not seek them out to be defiled with them (Lev. 19:31).

As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against the person and will cut him off from among his people (Lev. 20:6).

There shall not be found among you anyone who...casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord (Deut. 18:10, 11).

And when they say to you, 'Consult the mediums and the wizards who whisper and mutter,' should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them (Isa. 8:19, 20).

If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they hear though one rose from the dead (Luke 16:19-31. See also Ex. 22:18, Lev. 19:26, 20:27, I Sam. 15:23, 28:6-20, I Kings 22:19-23, 19:3, 44:2425, Ezek. 12:22-25, 13:17-23, 21:29, Mic. 5:12, Zech. 10:2).

Similar teachings are found in the Writings.

To those who seek contact with spirits, Swedenborg says, "Woe to those who do so!" (Doc. II, p, 208). They may easily "be led astray" (Ibid., p. 210). People who contact spirits are "speedily in danger of their life ....I would dissuade all from cherishing such desires" (Ibid., p. 232). "It is most dangerous" (Ibid., p. 387). "It is dangerous,...for evil spirits desire nothing more than to destroy a man, both soul and body" (HH 249). "When spirits begin to speak with a person, he must beware lest he believe them in anything .... They lie .... deceive, and seduce ....Let people beware! ....It is most perilous!" (SD 1622). "It is attended with danger to their souls!" (AE 1182:4).

No medium ever spoke like this. We cannot explain away such statements simply by saying that Swedenborg was not following his own advice, or that he himself was deceived. A more consistent and logical explanation is that Swedenborg clearly saw the difference - indicated in the Word itself - between a medium and a revelator. The combined evidence of his published works, his private diaries, and the testimony of his contemporaries shows that he made every effort to obey the laws of the Old and New Testaments and to act solely as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.

-New Church Life 1984;104: 7-11

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