One God and One Word
by Rev. Willard D. Pendelton
The idea of God is the fundamental of faith. Thus it was that when the Scribes and the elders challenged the Lord's authority in the presence of the people, the Lord appealed to an ancient prophecy concerning Himself. He said unto them: "What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner?" (Luke 20: 17; Psalm 118: 22) To all believing Christians it seems that this prophecy was fulfilled by subsequent events, for the Lord, having been rejected by the Jewish Church, was in time received and acknowledged by the Christian Church. But what men have failed to perceive is that the New Testament, even as the Old Testament, is in essence a prophecy, that is, a revelation of the future states of the church. Is not this what is meant when it is said in the Book of Revelation: "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy"; (Revelation 19: 10) and does it not follow from this that the Word in its letter contains within itself a spiritual sense? Thus it was that in speaking of the stone which the builders rejected, the Lord was not merely speaking of Himself as a person, but of the doctrine of the Divine Human, which is the essential teaching of the Word.
Simply stated, the doctrine of the Divine Human is that there is one God, in one person, who is the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the faith of the New Church. It was to this faith that the Lord referred when He identified Himself with the stone that the builders rejected; and also when He said unto Peter, "Upon this rock I will build My church." (Matthew 16: 18) To the disinterested observer, however, this exclusive claim to the truth seems not only presumptuous, but also contrary to the teaching of Scripture; for did not the Lord time and again speak of the Father as of another, and of the Holy Spirit as one who was to come in His place? Here, to all appearances, is not one, but three persons, and it is in terms of the appearance that the Gospels are formally interpreted by orthodox Christians at this day. Thus in all those churches which subscribe to the Athanasian Creed the following statement from that creed applies: "As we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every person by himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the Catholic religion [or by the Christian faith] to say [or name] . . . three Gods or three Lords." (Athanasian Creed) Concerning this, however, the Writings state that "this amounts to saying, although it is allowable . . . to acknowledge, or think of, three Gods and Lords, yet it is not allowable ... to say, or name, more than one God . . . [or] Lord. And yet it is acknowledgment and thought which conjoin man with the Lord. . . . Besides, no one can comprehend how the Divine, which is one, can be divided into three persons, each one of whom is God, for the Divine is not divisible. And to make . . . three one through . . . essence or substance does not take away the idea of three Gods, but merely conveys an idea of their unanimity." (Lord 57)
In this address, however, we are not concerned with the Athanasian Creed, but with the appearance to which it is addressed. If, as the Writings teach, God is one, not only as to essence but also as to person, why is the appearance of three persons found in the New Testament? The reason is that in this, as in all the appearances in which the letter is written, there is a truth involved. The truth is that in all unity there is a trinity, and apart from the trinity, the unity of a thing cannot be seen. In God, as in the man whom He created after His image, there is a trinity - a trinity of soul, body and mind. Were this not so, God would not be Divine Man; neither would the man whom He created be man. But whereas in God these three discrete degrees of life are infinite and uncreated, in man they are finite degrees receptive of life. In God, as in man, therefore, there is a trinity of being, and apart from this trinity the unity of God cannot be seen and understood. Hence it is said in the Writings that "the doctrine of the Athanasian Creed agrees with the truth, provided that by a trinity of persons is understood a trinity of person, and that this trinity is in the Lord." (Lord 55) Also, it is said: "Take the idea that there is one person, with a trinity in that person, and you will see that the creed of Athanasius will coincide and agree from beginning to end without any paradoxes or things that must be of faith although not understood." (Ath. 110)
The doctrine of the trinity, however, applies not only to God and to man but also to the Word, for the Word comes to us in the form of three apparently distinct revelations, namely, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Writings of the New Church; yet in this trinity of revelation there is a unity, and apart from the trinity, the unity of the Word cannot be seen. What we have here, therefore, is not three Words, but one Word; that is to say, three revelations which, when taken together, constitute one Word. Even as there cannot be three gods and three lords, neither can there be three Words; for as we read in the Old Testament, and again in the New Testament, "The Lord our God is one Lord"; (Deuteronomy 6: 4; Mark 12: 29) and because He is one, His Word is one; it cannot be divided. Thus when seen in the light of the Divine doctrine, that is, in the light of the doctrine of the Divine Human, the apparent contradictions of the letter are dissipated, and the Old and New Testaments make one with the spiritual sense.
While many at this day subscribe to a faith in God, there are few who regard the Old and New Testaments as an authoritative statement of truth. For the most part, men think of the Old Testament in terms of an historical document which bears record of a people whose religious experiences opened the way progressively to a monotheistic concept of God. The Writings say that the reason for this is that the historicals of the letter are of such a nature that "the mind of the reader cannot but be held in them; especially at this day when most persons ... do not believe that there is ... [a spiritual] sense." (AC 1540) Yet they also say: "That these historicals cannot be the Word . . . might [be known] from the mere fact that when separated from the internal sense there is no more of the Divine in them than in any other history . . . [for it is] the internal sense [which] makes the Word to be Divine." (Ibid.) Apart from the spiritual sense, therefore, how can men believe that the Old Testament is Divinely inspired and is holy in every word? Is it not that sense which imparts meaning to the letter and enables the mind to perceive the holiness and unity of the Word?
But if in the Old Testament the truth is heavily veiled by historical appearances, what of the New Testament? On coming into the world, did not the Lord reveal His Divinity through the Word which He spake? By its own testimony, however, the New Testament is presented in the form of parables, which, by definition, involve a meaning that is not directly explained in the text. The question immediately arises, therefore, as to how these parables are to be interpreted; and this becomes a matter of particular importance when we reflect on the statement that "without a parable spake He not unto them." (Matthew 13: 34; Mark 4: 34) How, for example, are we to understand the teaching, "whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also"? (Matthew 5: 39) Did the Lord intend to teach the doctrine of non-resistance to evil? But if this places a strain upon faith, what of the injunction that man is to take no though for the morrow? (Matthew 6: 25, 34) What seems to be advocated here is an improvident way of life. But this cannot be. In these, as in so many things that are said in the New Testament, there must be a meaning that is not openly stated in the letter. Was it not, therefore, to the spiritual sense of the Word that the Lord referred when He said to His disciples: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth"? (John 16: 12,13)
Three times the "Spirit of truth" is mentioned in the New Testament. In each instance the reference is to one who was yet to come. Thus the Spirit of truth is identified in the Writings with the Holy Spirit, or Comforter, who is said to signify "the truth, thus also the Word." (TCR 139) By the Holy Spirit, or Spirit of truth, therefore, is not meant some third person in a trinity of Divine persons, but the Word in its spiritual sense. Hence the teaching of the Writings that the "second coming of the Lord is not a coming in person, but in the Word which is from Him, and is Himself." (TCR 776) Was not this He of whom the Lord spake to His disciples, saying: "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: But ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." (John 14: 16, 17)
Who is it, then, that "the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not"? Is it not the doctrine of the Divine Human which is now plainly revealed in the spiritual sense of the Word? But the perception of the Lord in His Divine Human is dependent upon a faith in the Word. By this we do not mean a blind faith in the letter, nor a general acknowledgment that the Scriptures are somehow inspired, but the faith that the Word contains in itself an authoritative statement of truth. Hence the Writings teach that "the Holy Scripture or Word is Divine truth itself"; (SS 1-4) that "in the Word there is a spiritual sense hitherto unknown"; (SS 5-26) and that it is "from the spiritual sense . . . that the Word is Divinely inspired and is holy in every word." (SS 18, 19) And because it is this sense which "gives life [or meaning] to the letter, it can therefore bear witness to the Divinity and holiness of the Word." (SS 4) This is the faith of the New Church, and it is in the light of this faith that the Divinity and unity of the Word may now be seen and understood.
But if the Word in its letter cannot be understood apart from the spiritual sense, neither can the spiritual sense be understood apart from the letter. The reason for this is that the sense of the letter is the basis, the containant, and the support of the spiritual sense. (SS 27) In other words, it is the letter which provides those basic concepts of God, of good, and of truth upon which the Writings rest. The Writings, therefore, do not stand alone, but make one with the former Testaments. That is why the letter of the Word has been miraculously preserved to this day.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the doctrine concerning the Lord, for it is the primary thesis of all Divine revelation that God is Divine Man. In this the Writings do not differ from the New Testament, nor the New Testament from the Old Testament. Yet let us ask ourselves, What idea do men have of God at this day? For the most part, men think of Him as a metaphysical entity, or as a philosophic abstraction; that is, as some kind of Being without substance or form. But to think of God in this way is to think indeterminately concerning Him; and, as the Writings state, "an indeterminate idea is no idea."(AC 8705) The reason for this is that every idea must be determined to some object of thought. (ibid.) Hence the Writings also teach that "no one can think of the Divine itself unless he presents to himself the idea of a Divine Man; still less can anyone be conjoined through love with the Divine itself except by means of such an idea." (ibid.) One cannot love what one does not know, and one cannot know him of whom he can form no idea. It is therefore as Divine Man that the Lord is revealed in the Word, and it is in this that the three Testaments constitute one Word. Nevertheless, there is a difference in the idea of God as Divine Man which is presented in each of the three Testaments; but despite all appearances to the contrary, the difference does not involve a contradiction.
In infancy and early childhood the idea of God that takes form in the mind is represented through the person of others. There is no other way in which the little child can form an idea of God. In this first or primitive idea of God, therefore, the Lord is seen through the instrumentality of those who temporarily stand in His place. Thus the little child thinks of God as he thinks of his parents; that is, as one who possesses human attributes such as love, wisdom, judgment and authority. But this idea is qualified or limited by the person or personality through whom it is represented. It is in this that the Old Testament differs from the New Testament; for whereas in the Old Testament, God is known through the persons of those who represent Him, such as the prophets and the kings, in the New Testament He is seen and known in His own Divine person; that is, in the person of Jesus Christ.
There is a world of difference between the idea which we form of one who is known to us through the representation of others, and one who is directly known to us in his own person. Thus it was that by birth into the world the Lord opened the way to a new concept of God; for while it is true that the ancient Israelite thought of Jehovah as a person, it was not until the Lord came into the world that God was seen and known in His own person. It is this that accounts for the striking difference between the Old and the New Testaments; for whereas to the ancient Israelite, Jehovah seemed remote, that is, a God who was known only through the representation of others, to the Christian the Son of God became a personal Savior whose presence was felt in His deep concern for all men. Here was a God who not only understood the frailty of human nature, but willingly forgave the transgressor if he would but take up the cross and follow Him. At this later day we can scarcely conceive of the impact of the Lord's teachings upon the minds of men. Here was a new doctrine - a doctrine so utterly different from the Mosaic law of retaliation that the Scribes and Pharisees openly accused Him of perverting the law. But the Lord answered them, saying: "I am not come to destroy the law, or the prophets ... but to fulfill." (Matthew 5: 17)
But now the Lord has come again, this time not as to person but as the Word; that is, as the spiritual sense of the Word, "which is from Him and is Himself." (TCR 27) For God is a person, but He is also a Spirit, even as the Lord said to the woman of Samaria: "God is a Spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." (John 4: 24) To worship the Lord "in spirit and in truth" is to think spiritually concerning Him. Hence the teaching of the Writings that we are to "think of God from His essence, and from this of His person; and not from His person, and from this of His essence"; (AR 611) for "to think of God from His person, and from this of His essence, is to think naturally concerning Him; but to think of God from essence, and from this of His person, is to think spiritually concerning Him." (Ibid.) The reason for this is that in God, even as in the man whom He created after His own image and likeness, the person is but the manifestation of a deeper reality, whom the Writings refer to as "the essential man."
To see God, therefore, is not merely to envision Him as a person, but to see and acknowledge that in essence He is good and truth. If this seems abstract it is because for the most part our idea of God-Man is derived from the thought of man as a person. But in reality, or in essence, man is not man from his person; he is man because he is a form receptive of good and truth from the Lord. Were this not so, man would not be human, but would be like the beast of the field, which knows neither good nor evil. Hence we are also taught in the Writings that "to love the Lord does not mean to love Him as to His person, but to love the good which is from Him." (HH 15) In regard to the neighbor, the same law applies. He, too, is to be loved for the good that he does, and not on account of his person.(TCR 417-419) But it is to be noted that he who loves the good that is with the person also loves the man as a person, and this, not on account of his person but because of the good or the use that the person administers. (DP 217) Here is a new concept of human relationships. It differs from the Christian concept of the neighbor even as the concept of the Lord in His Divine Human differs from the thought of the Lord as a person; for what is involved here is a spiritual idea of the neighbor, that is, the idea of the neighbor as a form of use and not merely as a person. So we are told that in heaven when one sees another he does indeed see him as a man, but he thinks of him as a use. (Love XIII)
What is it, then, that the Writings offer us? Is it not a new concept of God, that is, of a God who in essence is good and truth? Yet it may be asked: "What is new about this; have not men always believed that God is good?" But what the Writings offer us is a new concept of good. It is as different from the Christian concept of love for the person as the Christian concept is different from the Old Testament concept of moral perfection; for whereas in ancient Israel men thought of good strictly in terms of the moral integrity of the individual, in the New Testament the thought is directed to the ideal of a selfless love for the person of others. It is this ideal of unselfish devotion to others that has ennobled Christianity, but if man is to attain truly to this ideal, he must look beyond the person to the use of which the person is but a form; that is, to Him who alone is good. But as good; or God, cannot be revealed to the sight of the understanding except in the form of truth, it is as the Word that the Lord is made visible to man.
Apart from the Word, man could have no knowledge of God, for there is no other way in which God can communicate with man. Thus it was that the Lord instructed His disciples, saying, "If ye continue in My Word ... Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8: 31, 32) Yet we live in an age in which all claim to truth is suspect, particularly the claim that truth is revealed. Like Pilate, men say, "What is truth?" (John 18: 38) "Is it anything? If it is it must agree with experience, and as all experience is relative, we are forced to conclude that truth, too, is relative. It is one thing to one man, and something else to another." Yet the Writings insist that truth is prior to all experience, and that by definition, truths are the laws of Divine order; (HH 523) hence the laws of Divine Providence, which, as revealed in the Writings, open the way to an entirely new concept of the relation between God and man. In these laws, as in all the other doctrines of the church, it is the Lord who is seen; not as He was seen in ancient times, that is, through the human of others, nor as He was seen as a man in the world, that is, in a human derived from the mother; but as He is seen in those laws of Divine order which proceed from His own Divine Human and constitute the spiritual sense of the Word. (AC 6723)
But if the Writings afford a new concept of God, of good, of truth, and of the Lord's providence, do they not also open the way to a new concept of man, of freedom, of marriage, of the spiritual world, and of the meaning and purpose of life? In these doctrines, as in all the other doctrines of the church, the Lord has fulfilled the promise given in the Apocalypse: "Behold, I make all things new." (Revelation 21: 5) Yet it is said: "If this be so, why is it that after almost two hundred years, these doctrines are acknowledged by so few?" It is a fair question, for it does seem as if men, in ever-increasing numbers, would perceive that the Writings are what they claim to be. It is the testimony of the Writings concerning themselves, however, that the first state of the church will be one in which the acknowledgment of the Divine doctrine will be confined to a few. The reason given for this is that the Divine doctrine "cannot be received except by those who are interiorly affected by truths." (AE 73) Man may be exteriorly affected by many things, but he is interiorly affected only by that which he receives with delight. Thus in the history of the New Church many have expressed interest in the doctrines, and some have endured for a time, but it is only through those who delight in the doctrines that the church can be established and perpetuated. That is why the General Church has placed so much emphasis upon internal evangelization; that is, upon instruction and education, for like any other spiritual love, the affection of truth must be nourished and cultivated.
The interior affection of truth, however, is not merely a matter of doctrinal interest. In itself it is the delight which is to be found in the application of doctrine to the uses of life, for as the Writings insist, the life of religion is to do good; (Life 1) but as good cannot be done unless man is of use, the spiritual measure of a man is his devotion to use. The doctrine of use, therefore, is the doctrine of charity for the New Church; and it differs from the Christian concept of charity, even as that which is done for the sake of the use which a person performs differs from that which is done for the sake of the person. This does not mean that we can do good without thought of the person, but it does mean that in the doing of goods which are of use to the neighbor the love of use should determine the good that is to be done. Thus the doctrine of use is also a new concept; and only in so far as this doctrine is applied to human relationships can the New Church actually be established on earth.
In speaking of the slow growth of the church, we are reminded of a conversation which Swedenborg once held with certain angels who inquired of him as to what was new upon earth. He answered them, saying: "This is new: The Lord has revealed arcana which in excellence surpass the arcana hitherto revealed from the beginning of the church." (CL 532) When the angels heard this they rejoiced, but in the midst of their rejoicing they perceived in Swedenborg a sense of sadness. When they inquired as to the cause of his sadness, he said: "Because the arcana now revealed by the Lord . . . are yet esteemed on earth as of no value." (CL 533) Yet the reason for this is not hard to understand. When new truth is given, it not only contravenes human intelligence but requires all that is adverse to be put aside. Men are therefore slow to yield to its claims, particularly to its claim to authority. Few are ready for this, especially when it calls them out of the faith into which they were born. Think, for the moment, of those Jews who saw the Lord face to face. Did He not appear to them as any other man? Did they not openly challenge His authority? Yet there was a division among them. Some said, "Of a truth this is the Prophet." Others said, "This is the Christ." (John 7: 40, 41) And when the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to take Him as He taught in the temple, they returned without Him, saying, "Never man spake like this man." (John 7: 46)
In this, the second coming of the Lord does not differ from the first. For the most part, men dismiss the Writings as the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth century mystic whose theological speculations are of no interest to the modern mind. Others pay passing tribute to his genius, and in acknowledging his contribution to the learning of his day express regret that a man of his intellectual stature was diverted from the field of scientific investigation by a religious obsession. Still others hold that Swedenborg's Theological Works comprise an enlightened commentary upon Scripture, and advance the thesis that he was an outstanding example of that higher type of religious experience which lends respectability to faith. There remain only a few, who, having read more deeply into the Writings, are increasingly convinced that "never man spake like this man." This is the beginning of faith. But it is not until men come to see who it is that is speaking to them in the Writings that faith becomes a matter of conviction, and conviction is a matter of life.
Once it is seen that the Writings are a revelation of the Lord in His Divine Human, there can be no further question of authority. The Divine doctrine is supreme, and it permits no equal. But how many at this day are prepared to believe this? Men are reluctant to admit to any authority, in that they prefer to be led by their own intelligence. Yet there is no reason why we should be discouraged by the slow growth of the church, for the Writings assure us that in first states the church is to be with a few in order that "provision may be made for . . . [its growth] among more." (AE 732) What is this provision? Is it not a progressive understanding of the interior doctrine of the church, and an increasing perception of the Divinity, the holiness, and the unity of the Word? After all, it is only as our own faith is increased and strengthened that we can serve as the instruments of providence in the extension and growth of the church among men.
-New Church Life 1962;82:347-356