Qualifications of the Seer
by Morley D. Rich
In the course of our reading of the Writings of the New Church, we may often come across passages which test our understanding. For the Lord there, as in other parts of the Word, sometimes uses seeming paradoxes to lead and teach. At times, perhaps too often, we are tempted to see the statements as errors. But nonetheless, we ask ourselves if we are really understanding the literal meaning of what is being said. And this may involve considerable time and patience on our part. We de not want to believe hastily that the instance is an error. And this is good. If we find that we cannot solve it, then we lay it aside for a future time, when we may be given more enlightenment.
We are slowed down and rendered cautious if we remind ourselves of a number of facts regarding the witness and seer. For example, we may be reminded of the fact that Swedenborg was endowed in the Divine Providence with a unique combination of natural and spiritual gifts.
Among the natural gifts were:
These were natural gifts through heredity and environment. And added to these later, with respect to the Divine Revelation of his later life, were two spiritual gifts which equipped him for the reporting of his observations of the spiritual world:
Let us be more specific as to the first of these spiritual gifts,-the ability and techniques of "trying [testing] the spirits," "whether they are of God or man," "whether their words be true or false."
On April 5, 1744, Swedenborg records that the Lord appeared to him that day. Afterwards, he was much troubled by this, and we find him reminding himself to "try the spirits" in connection with it,-as to whether it really was the Lord, or a deception by the spirits, or an illusion on his part. So we see his awareness of this necessity, which may have been in his mind much before this time. (Journal of Dreams 51-56)
Some time later in the Word Explained, we find him writing of the difficulty of explaining the process in these words, "This was of such frequent occurrence with me [the hidden substitution of an evil spirit for a good one, and vice versa] that, in the beginning, I was never able to know whether it was an evil spirit or a good [one], except from the series of his sayings, and thus until he had been explored. Because this is unknown, it cannot easily be explained to the understanding." (WE 1928)
Notice the phrase "in the beginning," as it plainly indicates that as time went on, Swedenborg must have acquired the ability of instant discernment of the quality of the spirits with him, also as to whether they were deceiving him or innocently giving him misinformation. Then, some 3000 numbers, possibly a year later (1746), he has found the words to explain the whole process. (WE 4919-20)
Such is one of the specifics of all that which imparts caution and patience to us in our faulty understanding of Divine Revelation. We may realize that our first impressions of statements made therein are not to be trusted. Perhaps if we added up our own instances of thinking that this or that item therein must be a mistake or that Swedenborg was deceived, and added to them the many times others have pointed to other things which they considered mistakes we might find that the total could lead to that nullity as to doctrine and that agnosticism as to all truth which marked the death of the first Christian Church, and which is obvious in the Christian world of today.
Finally, we may note that, by his own testimony as early as 1758, Swedenborg had had repeated conversations with 100,000 people in the world of spirits (LJ 15). Presumably this includes hundreds from other earths and other ages. Can we therefore presume that he was deceived or misinformed in so many conversations, granting his natural and spiritual endowments!