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The Modern Prophet of the Lord

by Ragnar Boyesen

That we are gathered today to celebrate Swedenborg's birthday has meaning for us essentially because we believe in the second coming of the Lord. The Lord, we believe, has again wrought redemption for His church, and will preserve it forever. On this occasion, however, we remind ourselves of the means by which the Lord reveals Himself to man. Therefore it seems fitting that we commemorate the latest and most sympathetic of all the Lord's prophets.

When we remember Swedenborg the man, we do so because he was uniquely prepared by the Lord for the most wonderful of all tasks; a man who gave up a truly brilliant career to serve the Lord. New Church men have thought of him as a wonderful example and an inspiration in the work of serving the neighbor. As an instrument in the Lord's hands he has been called the great Scribe of all ages, and may be rightly considered the most favored of all the Lord's servants. We would note that he never contemplated being, a revelator, but rather an intellectual warrior wielding the sharp sword of science for the benefit and proof of the kingdom of God.

Swedenborg labored with might and courage for the establishment of a rational foundation upon which the Word of the Lord could be accepted even by the learned of his own day. In this connection we are reminded of the two foundations of truth mentioned in Spiritual Diary 5709, namely, nature and revelation, just as nature had been to the most ancient people the general foundation for the truth of the spiritual world in which they saw and worshiped the Lord, so the written Word became the specific foundation of truth when it was correspondentially written. We might think that Swedenborg was exclusively preoccupied with the general foundation of truth-with the various sciences of physics, astronomy, mechanics, chemistry, mathematics, mineralogy and physiology, to which he devoted so much labor and contributed such a wealth of new insights and "revelations." Modern science has still not fathomed the depths of his studies on the brain, for example. Yet, while we note his extreme preoccupation with science and philosophy, we should not forget his devotion to the written Word. His first rule of life reads: "Diligently to read and mediate upon the Word of God." Throughout his prolific career as a scientist, he remained at heart a profoundly religious man. A simple testimony written by himself gives evidence of the Lord's leading, even from his early youth:

"Why, from being a philosopher, have I been chosen? The reason was that the spiritual things now being revealed may be taught and understood naturally and rationally; for spiritual truths have a correspondence with natural 'truths . . . for this reason I was introduced by the Lord first into the natural sciences, and thus prepared; and, in fact, from the year 1710 to the year 1744, when heaven was opened to me. . . . Moreover, the Lord has granted to me to love truths in a spiritual manner, that is, for the sake of the truths themselves; for he who loves truths for the sake of truth sees them from the Lord." (Letter to Oetinger, Docu. 232.)

"I was once asked [by Oetinger] how from being a philosopher I became a theologian. I replied, In the same way as that in which fishermen were made disciples and apostles by the Lord; and that I, too, from my earliest youth, had been a spiritual fisherman. A 'fisherman' signifies one who investigates and teaches natural truths, and afterwards, rationally, spiritual truths." (Infl. 20)

"As the Lord our Savior cannot come into the world in person, it was necessary that He should do it by means of a man, who should not only receive the Doctrine of that Church by his understanding but also publish it by means of the press; and as the Lord had prepared me from my childhood, He manifested Himself in person before me, His servant, and sent me to do this work." (Letter to the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, Docu. 246.)

"For this reason it pleased the Lord to prepare me from my earliest youth to perceive the Word; and He introduced me into the spiritual world, and illustrated me more nearly with the light of His Word. Hence it is evident that this is above all miracles."*

* Inv. 55. [Italics added.] See SD 4123 for reasons that the Memorabilia are today substitutes for miracles.

We are convinced of Swedenborg's mission as revelator and servant of the Lord, but in saying this we do not revere him as a saint of the New Church. He is indeed our fellow-servant of the Lord, although far more exalted. So strong was his fear that men should come to think of him as a sacred person that he writes violently against this in his private journal of Dreams:

"While the thought occurred to me, as it often does, if it should happen that anyone took me for a holy man, and therefore made much of me; nay, as is done by some simple-minded folks, if they were not only to venerate me but even adore me as a supposed saint; I then perceived that in the zeal in which I then was, I would be willing to inflict upon him every evil, even unto the extreme, rather than [to permit] anything of such a sin to cleave to him. And [I recognized] that I must entreat our Lord with earnest prayers that I may not have any share in so damnable sin, or that it should cleave to me." (Journal of Dreams, 72.)

Swedenborg was never holy but rather was remarkably well prepared for a holy work. His own sense of unworthiness repeatedly breaks through in the preparatory works, particularly in the journal of Dreams.

"I found it my duty to reconcile myself again to our Lord, because in spiritual things I am a stinking carcass." (Journal, 134)

"There came then a thought, as it were spontaneous, and it seemed to me everything was full of grace. I fell aweeping because I had not been loving but rather had offended Him who has led me and shown me the way even unto the kingdom of grace, and that I, unworthy one, have been received into grace." (Journal, 36)

"I pray Thee, O Almighty God, to grant me the grace to be Thine, and not mine own! Forgive me if I have said that I am Thine and not mine own; this belongs not to me, but to God. I pray for the grace of being permitted to be Thine, and that I may not be left to myself." (Journal, 118)

"There has been a change so that I represent the internal man, who is opposed to another person, for I have prayed to God that I may not be mine own, but that God may please to let me be His." (Journal, 133)

These truly remarkable statements show us a man wholly giving up his life of glory and scientific learning for the study and devotion of and to the Lord's Word. That he prayed the Lord to belong to Him is a most significant step on the way, and we shall refer to this very point to show how our modern prophet differs from the prophets of old. Let me at this point just mention that Swedenborg desired to be a servant of the Lord all his life, and that when his spiritual eyes had been opened in 1745 he longed to be led by the Lord in all his work. His own desire to be of service foreshadowed the opening of the mysteries of the spiritual world through him. As a lover of spiritual truth, he desired to be the instrument in the hands of the Lord by which the Word of the spiritual sword of truth could be put on earth to slay the dragon.

"I saw a great beast which at times looked like a human being but with a great gaping mouth; he did not venture to touch me. I cut at him with a sword, but had no skill or strength in the arm to strike him. Finally I saw him standing before me with a gun from which he fired some venomous fluid; but it did not hurt me because I was protected. Immediately afterwards I thrust the sword into his jaws, though without great force; I thrust deeper and it seemed as if it was said that he had been slain. I had been thinking during the day about the woman -and the dragon in the Apocalypse, and I wished that I might be an instrument to slay the dragon; this, however, is not within my power, but it is in the power of God alone." (Journal, 227)

This desire to fight evil from truth was clearly inspired in him by the Lord. Indeed, so strong was the suggestion that he did the Lord's will that he felt himself to belong to the Lord, and even to be useful to Him.

"Many things . . . occurred to me, which I left to the good pleasure of God, because I am like an instrument with which He does according to His good pleasure." (Journal, 245)

The key to our consideration of Swedenborg as the prophet of the Lord is the term, reciprocation. Nowhere have I been able to find the slightest indication that Swedenborg's mind ever opposed what he was led to perceive. From what I can see, be rather loved to see what the Lord taught him.

I submit for your consideration the idea that Swedenborg was a regenerate man-angel when he actually undertook the writing of the Word, and that the Word essentially was given in the spiritual world, yet was confirmed and brought to rest in the natural world on the foundation of the sense of the letter. As a tool in the Lord's hand, his proprial will had been put to sleep with his own consent because he most earnestly desired to belong to the Lord and not to himself. This distinguishes Swedenborg from all prophets at all times, because his will was not set aside but was, in fact, concordant with the Lord's will. Swedenborg did not have an active proprial will because the Lord had given him a heavenly proprium. In this way there was a marriage between the intellectual of his mind with the will of the Lord; in other words, there was a conjunction through reciprocation, whereas with the prophets of old there had been total submission through fear, or through holy awe.

The essence of the celestial state is the innocence of being willing to be led by the Lord. As I understand this, Swedenborg was in a celestial-spiritual state when the Writings were written. I shall endeavor to show how this was possible, and to point out that this does not make the Writings the intellectual product of Swedenborg's mind. To think so is to misunderstand the essence and purpose of the Writings.

At this point I would like to interject that we are used to referring to prophecy as a "forecast" of the future, a kind of foreknowledge of what will happen in the world. Originally the term meant something quite different. According to Webster, a prophet was one who "speaks for God or a deity, or by Divine inspiration." The Greek word Propheta means a spokesman or interpreter. As a prophet of the Lord, Swedenborg may be said to be a heavenly spokesman or interpreter, one who knew and lived in the heavens just as you and I live in this world. He was even criticized for his lack of worldly concern. Towards the end of his life he was reproached for not going to Holy Communion, but he said that he did not need this as he was a member of a society in the other world.*

* New Jerusalem Magazine, 1885, p. 371.

"Conversation with spirits is possible (though rarely with the angels of heaven); and this has been granted to many for ages back. And when it is granted the spirits speak with man in his mother tongue, and only a few words. But those who speak by the Lord's permission never say anything that takes away the freedom of the reason, nor do they teach; for the Lord alone teaches man, but mediately by means of the Word when in a state of enlightenment. . . . That this is true it has been granted me to know by personal experience. For several years I have talked with spirits and angels; nor has any spirit dared or any angel wished to tell me anything, still less to instruct me, about any matter in the Word; but I have been taught by the Lord alone, who was revealed to me, and who has since appeared and now appears constantly before my eyes as a Sun in which He is, in the same way that He appears to angels, and has enlightened me." (DP 135)

The Lord's teaching the internal sense of the Word may sound strange to us at first, but this also is accounted for in rather explicit terms: "That the internal sense is such as has been set forth is evident from all the details that have been unfolded, and especially from the fact that it has been dictated to me from heaven." (AC 6597) To understand what is involved in dictation from heaven, we should note that revelation is given in two forms. The Arcana states: "All revelation is either from speech with angels through whom the Lord is speaking, or from perception." (AC 5121) The first type of revelation was experienced by the prophets of old, who heard a living voice and saw visions, but in the case of Swedenborg the second type was dominant. He was allowed to experience other forms of inspiration, but worked and wrote from internal perception. Consider this from the Arcana:

"In regard to revelations being either from perception, or from speech with angels through whom the Lord speaks, it is to be known that they who are in good and thence in truth, and especially they who are in the good of love to the Lord, have revelation from perception; whereas they who are not in good and thence in truth can indeed have revelations, yet not from perception, but through a living voice heard from within them, and thus through angels from the Lord. This revelation is external, but the former is internal. The angels, especially the celestial, have revelation from perception, as also had the men of the Most Ancient Church." (AC 5121: 2)

What is here called "revelation from perception" I take to be the same as what we understand by enlightenment from the Word, which may be enjoyed by an unregenerate man, but strictly in accordance with the "knowledges that are already with him." (See TCR 208) Such a revelation would not have authority in reformation or regeneration for any other than the person receiving it. I believe Swedenborg enjoyed this type of revelation because he was regenerated to the spiritual celestial degree. But this does not answer our question of whether this has Divine authority. Can we assert that the opening of Swedenborg's spiritual sight constituted a unique development which makes the doctrine of the Writings credible? The opening of the spiritual sight was not unique to Swedenborg. He shared it with such prophets as Daniel, Ezekiel and John. We are told of this in True Christian Religion:

"Since by the spirit of man is meant his mind, therefore 'being in the spirit,' a phrase which sometimes occurs in the Word, means a state of mind separate from the body; and as the prophets when in that state saw such things as exist in the spiritual world, that state is called 'the vision of God.' Their state was then like that of spirits themselves and angels in that world; and in that state a man's spirit, like his mind as to sight, may be transferred from place to place, while (the body remains in its own place. In this state I have now been for twenty-six years, with the difference that I have been in the spirit and the body at the same time, and only occasionally out of the body." (TCR 157. Cf. AC 1882-1885; AE 53; TCR 777)

But the unique character of Swedenborg's intromission into the spiritual world was indeed a miracle:

"The manifestation of the Lord and the intromission into the spiritual world surpass all miracles. This has not been granted to anyone since the creation, as it has been to me. The men of the golden age conversed with the angels; but it was not granted to them to be in any other than natural light, but to me it has been granted to be in spiritual and natural light at the same time." (Inv. 52)

Normally a separation from the body causes death. To preserve him from this, the Lord granted him to remain as to the will in the body while the intellectual faculty was raised up into the light of even the third heaven. This ascent of the intellect could not have taken place unless the Lord had willed complete control of Swedenborg's thought, while he yet remained a conscious man-a consenting human being having his own life, yet by choice submitting his proprium to the Lord's service: "Every man is in the spiritual world as to his spirit, without separation from his body in the natural world: I, however, with a certain separation, though only as to the intellectual part of my mind, and not as to the voluntary." (Coro. Miracles, PTW I, p. 24)

Such a separation was the cause of the "double thought" he has mentioned from the first days of his call, describing it later in Spiritual Diary: "I have been endowed with a double thought, one more interior and the other interior; so that, while I have been in the company of evil spirits, I was also able to be at the same time in the company of good spirits, and could thus perceive of what quality the spirits were who desired to lead me." (SD 484)

Later, he calls this a "sensitive reflection,"** which was from the Lord, making it possible to distinguish the source of each influx upon him. This distinction also is mentioned in the Word: "I have been permitted to see this enlightenment, and from it to perceive distinctly what came from the Lord and what from the angels; what is from the Lord has been written, and what is from the angels has not been written."***

** SD 5171. *** AE 1183.

We are now approaching the crowning reason why Swedenborg may be called a prophet, and indeed the most remarkable of them all. In the preface to Apocalypse Revealed, we are told that the Writings were not revealed by the Lord from Swedenborg, but were rather revealed from the Lord through Swedenborg.

"Anyone may see that the Apocalypse could not possibly be explained but by the Lord alone, since every word of it contains arcana which could never be known without some special enlightenment and consequent revelation, wherefore it has pleased the Lord to open the sight of my spirit and to teach me. Think not, therefore, that anything there given is from myself, or from any angel, but from the Lord alone."

That it was through Swedenborg as the instrument is brought out by the well-known statement in Sketch of an Ecclesiastical History of the New Church: "The books are to be enumerated which were written, from the beginning to the present day, by the Lord through me." (Ecc. Hist. 3)

There are few statements in the Writings about the nature of the Writings, whether they are indeed Divine. We have but a few references, like these two in the last numbers of the same little work: "When the Brief Exposition was published, the angelic heaven from the east to the west, and from the south to the north, appeared of a deep scarlet color with the most beautiful flowers. This took place before myself, and before the kings of Denmark and others."* "In the spiritual world there was inscribed on all these books: 'The Lord's Advent.' The same I also wrote by command on two copies in Holland."**

* Ibid. 7. ** Ibid. 8.

We cannot dispute the testimony that the Writings are indeed the coming of the Lord, the Second Advent. They were written through Swedenborg, not as an ordinary man, but as one who had subjected his will to the Lord's pleasure. Ordinarily, the Lord does not act through man but into man, and man acts by himself but from the Word.* Swedenborg had been gifted by the Lord and tenderly led to this glorious service. Even as a man on earth, he was a Divinely directed instrument. It is for this that we are thankful and rejoice at the memory of the Lord's merciful providence. Swedenborg the man was as other good and upright men, but Swedenborg the servant of the Lord testifies to us all by his willing co-operation and conjunction with our Creator.

* See TCR 154.

Our celebration of his preparation and leading is a celebration of the Lord, because He alone has wrought redemption and shown us the way to salvation. We may rejoice, as Swedenborg no doubt rejoiced when he penned the radiant truth of the new revelation in concluding True Christian Religion: "After this work was finished, the Lord called together His twelve disciples, who followed Him in the world; and the next day He sent them forth into the whole spiritual world to preach the Gospel that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, whose kingdom shall be for ever and ever. . . ." (TCR 791)



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