The Form and Style of the Word
by F.L. S.
In the truths of His second coming the Lord has given man the means of seeing the whole structure and form of Divine revelation in a new light. He has given man the means to see, and to understand from rational conviction, that the Word is Divine truth, ordered and organized from the Divine wisdom. Because the Word is the ultimate form of Divine wisdom, and thus is Divine wisdom, it is described in Scripture as being in the beginning with God, and indeed a part of God. Because the Word is the means by which the Lord gives heavenly loves to man it is described as the source of life. Because the Word is the means by which the Lord gives heavenly understanding and intelligence to man it is described as the "light of men." (John 1: 1-5)
But for countless centuries it had been true that the light of the Word "shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." The darkness which obscured the light of the Word was man's fall into evils and falsities. These brought to the human mind a spiritual night ruled by externalism and naturalism; and when the knowledge of the spiritual truths of heaven was completely lost, ignorance added its veil to complete the darkness of the night.
In giving the spiritual truths of heaven in His second coming, the Lord has torn asunder the veils of darkness that have obscured and covered the Word, and this for all time. Now the man of the New Church can see the Word of the Lord in whole and perfect form. He can see why and how the ultimate form of the Word was changed throughout the states of man's history upon earth. We can see how the Divine wisdom ordered and organized its very style, so that it would serve in every age as a conjunctive medium between the Lord and man; and yet, so wonderful would be its order, that in no age would the use of its ultimate form cease to serve its Divinely ordained function.
If we reflect upon the over-all history of Divine revelation, we will note understandable changes in the form and style employed. We will see a gradual progression from seemingly simple childlike stories to open spiritual-rational doctrines and truths.
The Writings describe the first form of the Word as it existed in the Most Ancient Church. It was not written in any ultimate form. It consisted of instruction given by the Lord through the media of angel companions. In dreams at night the most ancients would listen to the discourse of the angels, and would see the life and the scenery of heaven. Their particular revelation gave knowledge of the correspondences of all things on earth and all things in heaven. Knowing these correspondences, they would see imaged in the world of nature the kingdom of heaven, and thus would think constantly of the things of heaven as a part of their earthly life.
Because the most ancients had a thorough knowledge of correspondences they used events, names and places to signify or represent things pertaining to the Lord, the church and man's regeneration. As the Most Ancient Church declined, this knowledge was passed on from one generation to another by word of mouth. It was near the time of the final fall of that church that those represented in the Word by Enoch gathered all such knowledges together and, under the secret guidance and inspiration of the Lord, connected them together into writings. This is how the first written revelation was formed, the revelation to be known in its final form as the Ancient Word.
The Writings do not describe the Ancient Word in great detail, but they do mention certain books that formed a part of it - the Book of Jashar, the Wars of Jehovah, and the Books of the Prophetical Enunciators, or the Prophecies. (AR 11: 2 ; AC 2686; SS 103: 3) We are taught that the Ancient Word is still preserved among the people who dwell in Great Tartary. Indeed, in one passage we read concerning it: "Seek for it in China, and perhaps you will find it there among the Tartars." (AR 11: 2)
While the reason for the preservation of the Ancient Word and its possible future use with man may not be clear, we are made fully aware of the use and style of that part of it which has been retained. The first eleven chapters of Genesis, the Writings tell us, that is, up to the advent of Abram, Nahor and Haran, are all that has been retained from the Ancient Word, except for a few additional fragments. The stories included in this portion of the Word read like a series of fairy tales adapted to children. They include the stories of creation, of Adam and Eve, of their children, of the flood, of Noah and the ark and of the tower of Babel; and finally, a genealogy of Terah, the supposed father of Abram. We see from the Writings that in a sense these stories from the Ancient Word are fairy tales; they were written entirely in the language of correspondences and representatives, and do not in any sense portray historical events, personalities or places. Yet they are not like any other fairy tales, for these stories were ordered and organized by the Lord and contain within them instruction in spiritual truths that is to serve man for all ages. In these non-historical writings the spiritual knowledges of heaven are deeply hidden in the ancient style of correspondential language. So covered has been the spiritual knowledge within these writings that few have even imagined that they contain anything other than factual stories of early times, or purely mythological accounts formulated by ancient writers.
Following the stories from the Ancient Word, the style of revelation changes abruptly to the historic account of the birth, growth and life of the Israelitish nation. From the call of Abram in the twelfth chapter of Genesis, through the books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, the Scriptures read much like a historical journal. The Writings inform us that there are some exceptions to historical accuracy, in that certain numbers, times, places and miracles were either changed or inserted to serve the context of the spiritual sense. The spiritual sense within this history is buried deeply, but not as deeply as in the stories of the Ancient Word. We do find throughout the history of the sons of Israel various laws and commands which make clear certain fundamental spiritual truths, such as that Jehovah God is one. However, such instance of open spiritual truths being taught are few and widely scattered. We find certain moral laws, such as those contained in the last three commandments; and we find a veritable multitude of civil laws. But for all of this, nothing has shown man a spiritual sense lying consistently within. No one has ever guessed that every jot and tittle contains the truths of heaven.
When we leave the books of Kings and turn to the Psalms and the Prophets, we note that the style of the Word in the letter changes abruptly. No longer is there a story to be followed: not the allegorical stories of the Ancient Word, nor the historical recounting of the lives of the patriarchs and the rise and fall of the Israelitish nation.
In the Psalms of David we find a style of writing that is musical and poetic and filled with the expression of affection and love - a style that is intermediate between the prophetic and that of common speech. We are not able to see from the literal sense how the Psalms are formed into a connected series; indeed, even with the help of the spiritual sense from the Writings, we only begin to see an internal series within. The Writings tell us that inmostly the Psalms treat of the Lord's states of humiliation and glorification, and they outline for us the spiritual content of each Psalm. Yet, even with this, the student of the Writings will find that the series of the internal sense of the Psalms, and of the Prophets, cannot be examined in a progressive story as can that series in the other books of the Old Testament. The average reader, who perhaps has only a general idea of the internal sense, can nevertheless reap much benefit from reading the Psalms. Because the language of the Psalms approaches that of common speech, if we take each Psalm as a unit we will see clearly some particular aspect of the Lord's love and wisdom shining forth from the song and poetry of the letter. In many places the spiritual sense stands forth to view; warming and stirring the heart to acknowledge the Lord as Creator, the Lord as Preserver, the Lord as Protector, the Lord as judge, the Lord as the Redeemer and Savior, or the Lord as mercy and love.
When we come to the Prophets, beginning with Isaiah and concluding with Malachi, we find that much of the letter seems broken and unconnected. Yet we are made fully aware that what we are reading has some meaning, some signification. The style is still poetic, but the language is no longer that of common speech, as in the Psalms, but rather the symbolic language of prophecy. At times the letter is crude, and so vulgar as to raise a question as to its use in public worship; at other times a prophetic vision is given, clear and beautiful, and so powerful in its message and implications as to inspire a holy awe for the nature of the Divine wisdom. Such, for example, is the prophecy given in the ninth chapter of the prophecy of Isaiah which begins: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given."
It is well to remember when reading the Psalms and the Prophets, indeed when reading any part of Divine revelation, that the language and the expressions employed, while chosen and ordered by the Lord for His Divine purposes, yet had to be chosen in adaptation to man's changing states. Spiritual truths had to be contained in all written revelation, and they had to be in their proper order and series; but most of the time such truths had to be clothed in language that would protect them from misuse and profanation, while still providing man with something of the light of heaven.
When we turn from the Old Testament to the New Testament, we see the style and form of the Word undergo another great change; we find the whole nature and sphere of the expression to be different. It is true that in some manner we see all three styles employed in the Old Testament used again in the New Testament. In place of the correspondential stories of the Ancient Word we find the Divine parables. In place of the history of the Israelitish nation we find the historical movements and dramatic story of the Lord and His disciples. In place of the prophecies of judgment upon various cities and countries of the Old Testament we find the New Testament prophecies of the great Last Judgment. And finally, in place of the Old Testament prophecies of the Lord's birth, life and resurrection we find the New Testament prophecies of the Lord's second coming and the birth and life of the New Church.
Where we see the change in form of Divine revelation from the Old to the New Testament is in the subject-matter, and even more in the manner of expression. We see the spiritual truths of the Word, hidden for the most part deeply in the letter of the Old Testament, coming much more to the foreground in the letter of the New Testament. In the Old Testament we find that the emphasis of the letter is upon law - Divine law couched largely in terms of civil law. In the latter, such Old Testament law appears rather harsh, abstract, cold, demanding, and sometimes unmerciful. In the New Testament we find the emphasis of the letter upon law also; but now we see Divine law couched largely in terms of moral law. We see more clearly the presence of love, mercy, charity, understanding, forgiveness, and the concern of a loving Human God for His children.
In the Writings of His second coming we see the last and final great change in the style and form of revelation. We see a revelation presented partly in the form of exposition, partly in the form of spiritual heavenly doctrine, and partly in the form of descriptions of life in the spiritual world. We are presented with spiritual truths in the language of rational ideas. The veils of correspondence, of history, of prophecy and of parable - all are removed; and the Divine Humanity of the Lord, with all His purposes, qualities and operations, stands before us in perfection and beauty: the perfection and beauty of the Divine love and wisdom - the Lord in His Word, the eternal life and light of mankind.
When from the Writings we can see something of the Lord's hand in preparing the style and form of Divine revelation from most ancient times to the present, we will have the means to appreciate more fully the nature of the Divine intelligence. We will have the means to treasure and use that wonderful presence of the Lord in His Word whereby He conjoins man to Himself.
The Writings tell us that we are to seek the Lord each day in the reading of some part, however small, of His Divine revelations. They tell us of the use that such reading performs both to ourselves and our spiritual companions, even when we do not understand what we are reading. But this is not to say that we are not to make every effort to understand the Word. For the Lord has given the spiritual truths of the Word for the development of man's rational mind, that that mind may be formed into the rational of an angelic man - a man of heavenly wisdom.
What he is able to see of the spiritual sense of the Word will depend with each man upon many things: his preparation, his study and reflection, his desire for the things of wisdom from the Lord, and his willingness to use the things of wisdom in performing the spiritual works of charity. It is of particular importance to those just beginning to read Divine revelation, especially the young, that they do not try to absorb too many details at once. The learning of the Word follows the same universal order as the learning of all other knowledge: elementary knowledge, general rules and laws, must come first before one can see the connection and relationship of particulars. Even in reading and learning the spiritual sense of the Word from the Writings it is easy to become restless and impatient. For we are presented with a view of the spiritual sense that staggers us in amazement and bewilderment, such is the complexity and detail brought suddenly before us. We are faced with a multitude of correspondences and representatives - of each word, name and place. And we find not just one story to follow in the internal sense but three: the story of the Lord's glorification, the story of man's regeneration, and the story of the states of the church.
Yet what do we expect? The natural mind is born into darkness; and though the light of the Word shine in the darkness, the progress from darkness to light cannot be made in a moment, but must follow the laws of Divine order.
If we approach the Word with patient understanding, and with confidence in the Divine promise of light therein, we will find that the light of Divine truth does not shine in the darkness for ever, but gradually illumines and enlightens the whole mind. We will find that there is no greater or more powerful confirmation of the Lord's existence, and of the reality and purpose of His. love and wisdom, than to see how the Lord dwells in the internal sense of the Word: its order, its organization, its series within series - spiritual food from the Lord, adapted to all degrees of human life and prepared to feed man's spirit with heavenly intelligence and wisdom to all eternity. Such is the treasure stored in the Word - the Word that in the beginning was with God, and was God: the Word that is still and forever the presence of the Divine life with us, the life that is the light of men.
-New Church Life 1968;88: 296-301