The Worship of the Visible God
by George deCharms
"Seal not the sayings of
the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand."
"Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand."
We read in the True Christian Religion, number seven hundred and eighty-seven: "The New Church is the crown of all the churches that have hitherto existed on the earth because it is to worship one visible God in whom is the invisible, like the soul in the body." How can this be understood? Surely, in some way, God has been seen by men through all the ages of the past. How else could they know Him, and worship Him? How else could He teach them, and lead them in the way to heaven?
From the very beginning the Lord has been seen in the spiritual world. He appeared to men in spiritual vision as the Angel of Jehovah; but He was not seen as God-Man in the natural world. Yet it has been the goal of the Divine Providence from first creation that God might be immediately and consciously present with men on earth, as He is with the angels of heaven. That He would so come to dwell with men, is the burden of all Divine prophecy.
At His first advent, the Lord did indeed appear on earth in the person of Jesus Christ; yet men did not see Him as God, but rather as a human messenger sent from God to intercede for the salvation of men. Even His disciples could think of Him only as He appeared to them in a material body of flesh and blood. When He rose after His crucifixion, leaving nothing in the sepulcher, He disappeared completely from the natural sight of men. For a brief period the Lord showed Himself to His immediate disciples in spiritual vision, similar to that of the ancient prophets; but at the end of forty days He appeared in this way for the last time. He led His eleven apostles from the city of Jerusalem to Bethany on the Mount of Olives. "And it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven." (Luke 24: 51) Thereafter He was seen no more; nevertheless, He had promised that He would come again, and this promise was ever after the sustaining hope of Christian faith.
Men thought that the Lord would return in person, through the clouds of heaven "with power and great glory," as foretold in Matthew; but what would really come to pass at the time of the Lord's second coming, was revealed in cryptic imagery to John the Evangelist on the Isle of Patmos, and was recorded through him in the book of Revelation. The visions of John were so strange` that no one could 'understand their meaning. Yet they pictured Jesus Christ as the Son of Man in heaven, a Divine Judge, and King over all the angels. Because of this, the simple in heart on earth could think of Him and worship Him as God. In this way, the belief of many Christians that Jesus Christ would in His own time return to dwell with men, was kept alive for centuries. This in providence was the purpose for which the Apocalypse was written. Without it no one could have been prepared to receive the Lord at His second coming. In fact, it does for the Gospels what the Messianic prophecies did for the Old Testament. Without those prophecies, the expectation of the Lord's advent could not have been perpetuated through all the centuries that followed the destruction of Jerusalem; nor could any one have recognized the Savior when He came. Although these prophecies were grossly misinterpreted by the Jews, the Lord was able to reveal to His disciples their true' meaning, expounding "unto them, in all the Scriptures, the things concerning Himself." ('Luke 24: 27) So also, at the present day, the Lord has opened the true meaning of the Apocalypse, demonstrating thereby that as He appears in the Heavenly Doctrine, He is the very Lord Jesus Christ, returning according to His promise to dwell with men in His glorified Divine Human. Therefore, to this book also the Lord referred when He said to His disciples; "Now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe." (John 14: 29)
In the tenth chapter of Revelation we read of a mighty angel who came down from heaven, holding in his hand a little book, open. He is said to have "cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth, and when he cried seven thunders uttered their voices." But John heard a voice from heaven, saying unto him, "Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not." Concerning this we are told in the Apocalypse Revealed, number 472, that "the little book" in the hand of the angel, contained all the things which are now openly stated in the little work The Doctrine o f the Lord, published by Emanuel Swedenborg in 1763. There we may learn how Jesus Christ, during His life on earth, glorified His Human, and at last united it to the infinite Divine above the heavens, so that in Him, God and Man became one, the infinite Creator of the universe, and the Savior of the human race to all eternity.
How this could possibly be, no one in the past has even been able to understand. John, therefore, was commanded to "seal it up and write it not." But the promise was given that at last "The mystery of God should be finished," (Revelation 10: 7) and the Lord would make Himself visible to men on earth as the Divinely Human God. That is why it is said in the last chapter of the Apocalypse: "Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand."
It is now imperative that the doctrine of the Lord's glorification should be openly proclaimed, because on the acknowledgment and the understanding of that doctrine rests the only hope for the establishment of the Lord's kingdom on the earth. Because, in the past, this doctrine has not been understood, the true Divinity of Jesus Christ has not been seen. The first Christian Church has worshiped an invisible God, because prayers have been addressed, not to Jesus Christ, but to the infinite Father, asking Him to show mercy for the sake of His Son. It has been acknowledged that Jesus Christ must in some sense be Divine, but He is not thought of as God. Rather, He is regarded as a human mediator between God and man. With the passage of time men have put increasing emphasis upon His human qualities, while His Divinity has been progressively called into question. The simple have acknowledged it in blind faith; but such a faith can no longer be perpetuated. Unless men be given some understanding of how Jesus Christ is Divine, His Divinity will at last be completely denied, and this denial will mark the end of the first Christian Church.
In the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, the Lord, for the first time, makes Himself visible to men on earth in His glorified Divine Human as the one God, the Creator and the Preserver of the universe. In the Writings, the Lord speaks once more "with authority, and not as the scribes." (Mark 1: 22) Again men "are astonished at His doctrine." He describes in terms that appeal to man's rational mind how, by progressive stages, the Human assumed in the world was fully united with the Divine of the Father, until they became perfectly one, both in essence and in person. That He and the Father are one, the Lord openly declared to His disciples when Philip said unto Him, "Lord, show us the Father and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet, hast thou not known Me Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou then, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me.?" (John 14: 8-10) This the Lord's disciples believed because they had faith in the teaching of Jesus Christ; but how it could be true remained for them "the mystery of God" which could not be revealed before the time of the Lord's second coming.
But how does the Lord now make Himself visible to men on earth? He is not to return in a material body. He is not to be seen, as at His first advent, with the eyes of the body. But He is to be seen as never before, as immediately present in the natural world. He is to be seen by the enlightened rational mind as present within all the forces of nature, creating, preserving, governing all things with infinite love and wisdom. How this can be true has never been seen before, although in all past ages men have acknowledged that somehow it must be true. Men have believed in it blindly, without understanding. In our modern day, this blind faith is being challenged as never before. Men are seeking to penetrate all the secrets of nature, and to understand the operation of natural laws as if they were totally independent of God. The very existence of anything super-natural is questioned, and by an increasing number denied. That there is any dependable law of morality, or of religion, is therefore brought more and more into doubt. If the worship of God is not to perish from the earth, the Lord must make Himself visible to man's rational mind. He must be seen as Divinely Human, immediately present, and perpetually operative, not only in heaven, but also in the world of nature. That He may be so seen, man must be empowered to understand at least in some degree, how the Lord actually governs and directs the forces of nature, that they may all combine to promote the ends of His infinite love and wisdom. This it is to see Him, and realize His immediate presence in the natural world. Such a vision of Him has never been possible before. It is the "new" thing that the Lord has accomplished by the revelation of His glorified Human. It is the "Divine Natural" which, before His second coming, the Lord possessed "only in potency," but by means of which He now makes Himself visible even to men on earth. By means of the Heavenly Doctrine man is now permitted for the first time to "enter intellectually into the mysteries of faith." This is the second coming of the Lord.
This is a hard saying; who can hear it? It seems so unbelievable that many hesitate to proclaim it openly, lest in doing so they cause men to reject the Writings out of hand, without further investigation. Men seek, instead, to present the Writings as the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, a remarkable scientist and philosopher of the eighteenth century. As such, indeed, they have become widely known. They have exerted an in creasing influence upon the philosophical thought of the day. Important ideas derived from them have found their way into modern literature and poetry. In subtle ways they have modified, in the minds of many, the interpretation of traditional Christian doctrines; and because of this some have supposed that the New Church is gradually being accepted throughout the Christian world. But the one thing that has not been accepted is the truth that the Lord has come again. The acknowledgment that the Lord Jesus Christ, in His glorified Divine Human, actually appears in the Heavenly Doctrine as the visible God of heaven and earth, this alone will establish the New Church.
In this connection we are reminded that when the Lord was baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, John pointed Him out, saying: "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1: 29) To the Jews this was utterly unbelievable, and undoubtedly many who heard it rejected it at once. Nevertheless it had to be said. It was the first introduction of the Lord to the public of that day, and it was this above all else that led some of John's disciples to follow the Lord, and to hearken to His Word. If they had not done so the Christian Church would never have been established. So now, unless the Writings are presented to men as the promised second coming of the Lord, and unless the teaching of the Writings leads men to see the Lord, and to worship Him, no ideas drawn from them have any power to build the New Church in the minds and hearts of men; for "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it." (Psalm 127: 1) That is why the Divine command is given: "Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand." The testimony of the Apocalypse is clear and unmistakable, for the Lord says: "I Jesus have sent Mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright and morning Star.... Surely I come quickly, Amen." Only those can enter the New Jerusalem, and become members of His New Church, who answer with joy of heart, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22: 16, 20)
-New Church Life 1970;90:453-457