by Rev. Willard D. Pendleton
"I am the resurrection and the life." (John 11: 25)
Nowhere in the five books of Moses do we find any direct teaching concerning the immortality of the human spirit. It is this that accounts for the doctrine of the Sadducees who, in refuting the Lord's teaching concerning the resurrection, insisted that there were neither angels nor spirits, but only the grave. (Acts 23: 8) Unlike the Sadducees, however, the Pharisees were influenced in their thinking by the doctrine of Sheol, which in the days of the kings became identified in the minds of the people as the abode of the dead. Like the Greek Hades, it was a land of hidden shadows and eternal silence in the underpart of the earth. Here the spirit lived a ghost-like existence, forgotten by God and incapable of any perceptible delight. Thus in pleading for an extension of his days upon earth, king Hezekiah said: "The grave cannot praise Thee, death cannot celebrate Thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for Thy truth." (Isaiah 38: 18)
But the hope of a better fate is not entirely absent in Jewish theology. Here and there a note was struck by a psalmist or a prophet that indicates the remains of an older substratum of faith. As for example, the forty-ninth Psalm, where it is said, "God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave; " (Psalm 49: 15) and the testimony of Daniel, who predicted that the wise shall have everlasting life. (Daniel 12: 2, 3)
It was these intimations of immortality that provided a basis for the Lord's teaching concerning the kingdom of God. Whereas Israel had interpreted the Messianic prophecy in terms of an earthly empire, the Lord denied this, saying, "My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18: 36) Yet if His kingdom were not of this world, whence was it? But He answered them, saying: "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation . . . for the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17: 20,21)
To all earthly appearances, man is the product of his physical environment. Thus when the body dies it is assumed that the man also dies. Yet it is the teaching of Divine revelation that man, as distinguished from the body, is a spiritual creation, and that in this, man differs from all other created forms. For as the Writings insist, man is not man because he is endowed with a human figure, but because he possesses a capacity which cannot be predicated of any other living form. This capacity is the ability to abstract meaning out of experience; that is, the ability to think rationally concerning the nature and origin of things. And he who thinks rationally is capable of perceiving that nature is not the cause of itself, and that life is not an inherent property of the dust of the ground.
But the ability to think rationally is one thing, and the exercise of this ability is another; for such is the nature of truth that it does not compel faith. If it did, man would not be man in that he would not be free to live and believe as he wills. Thus those who sink their rational into the sensual, that is, those who confirm themselves against the Divine by means of reasonings from the appearance of self-life, deny God and the spiritual nature of man. Nevertheless, man can, if he wills, see God, and because man can see God he can also be conjoined with Him, and as the Writings state, "Whatever can be conjoined to the Divine cannot be dissipated." (HH 435)
Unlike the beast of the field, therefore, man has what the animal has not; that is to say, a human internal by virtue of which he is gifted with the capacity to perceive what is true, and if he so wills, to do what is good. This human internal is described in the Writings as "the very first form," that is, as the soul of man. (AC 1999: 3) It is, then, as to his soul, or human internal, that man is conjoined to God; and this conjunction, once effected, can never be sundered, for if it were, the Writings state, "man could no longer live after death." (Ibid.) Hence the Writings speak of the heaven of human internals, which is above the angelic heavens, that is, above the plane of man's consciousness. This inmost degree of the human spirit is said to be "the Lord's dwelling place with man," and therefore is not pervertible. It is by virtue of this conjunction that "man becomes man . . . and is man," and "is capable . . . of being raised up by the Lord" from the earth. (See AC 1999, 1940; HH 39, 435)
As to his soul, or the inmost degree of his spirit, therefore, every man is conjoined to the Lord, and as that which is conjoined to the Lord cannot be dissipated, the spirit of man is immortal. While it is true that many may doubt, and even deny, the possibility of the resurrection, nevertheless this is the testimony of the Word and the meaning of the event which we celebrate today; for, as the Lord said to the Jews, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me." (John 12: 32)
At this day the miracle of the Lord's resurrection is a matter of Scriptural record. Yet, like the rulers of the Jews who sought to discredit the testimony of those who bore witness to the event, modern scholarship dismisses the Gospel accounts on the grounds that they are historically unreliable. In attributing the Scriptural records of the Lord's resurrection to a later day innovation, they not only cast doubt upon the historical integrity of the New Testament, but in effect, subvert man's faith in the Word.
We have no difficulty, however, in understanding why it is that at the present day there are few who regard the Scriptures as an authoritative statement of truth. The reason is because apart from the spiritual sense of the Word, the Word in its letter cannot be understood. For as the Writings testify concerning themselves, it is the spiritual sense which gives life and meaning to the letter and enables the mind to perceive wherein the Divinity and the holiness of the Word reside. (SS 4) The faith of the New Church, therefore, is not dependent upon the testimony of man, for as the Writings state: "It is the Divine that bears witness concerning the Divine, and not man from himself. . . . [In other words, it] is ... the good of love and ... the truth of doctrine ... that are in man [from the Lord] . . . that bear witness [of Him]." (AE 635. See also AE 638: 4)
It is, therefore, to all who from the good of love will to believe in the Lord, that the Writings are addressed. Like Mary, by whom is represented the affection of spiritual truth, we will not find Him in the sepulcher, that is, among the appearances of the letter; for as the angel said to Mary, "He is not here . . . He is risen, as He said." (Matthew 28: 6)
In the resurrection of the Divine doctrine out of the letter, therefore, the Scriptures are fulfilled. It is He to whom the prophetical Word from the beginning bears witness; and it is He of whom the Lord spoke to His disciples, saying "When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth; " (John 16: 13) and it is He who at this day is revealed to the sight of the understanding in the spiritual sense of the Word. What was formerly seen in the darkness, therefore, has at this day been brought to the light. For the God whom we warship is not some remote deity of whom we can form no determinate idea, but the risen Lord, who is Divine Man.
We are living, however, in a skeptical generation; that is, in an age in which few credit the testimony of the Writings concerning the Scriptures. The reason for this is that like the serpent who beguiled the woman, men submit the truths of faith to reasonings from sensual appearances to determine whether they are so. (AC 192) Yet he who thinks sensually concerning the truths of faith cannot possibly perceive wherein they are true. For he who thinks and reasons from the fallacies of the senses confirms in himself the persuasion that man is as the beast, that man lives from himself, that life is inherent in the physical forces of nature, and that when the body dies all that is man is forever dissipated in the grave. (AC 5084; NJHD 53) Hence they reject the testimony of Divine revelation concerning the nature of God, the nature of man, and eternal life, as may be evident from the textual criticisms of the Scriptures which are so widely accepted among the learned at this day.
To understand the Scriptures, however, it first must be perceived that although an historical document, their integrity does not depend upon the literal accuracy of the text, but upon the integrity of those truths to which they attest. These are: that there is a God, that He is one, and that it was He who came into the world as man, and on the third day rose from the dead. Yet to those who think sensually concerning the Scriptures, this seems incredible, for they say, Can any man, having died, rise again in the material body which he had in the world?
Nowhere is it stated that the Lord rose with the material body. This, however, was the appearance in that His disciples saw Him as they had known Him, even to "the print of the nails." But what they did not know was that the eyes of their spirit had been opened, and as the Writings observe, when this takes place "the man does not know but what he is seeing . . . [is seen] with his bodily eyes." (HH 76) Thus do the Writings account for the appearance of angels to the prophets; and thus, they say, "was the Lord seen by the disciples after the resurrection." (Ibid.)
We must distinguish, therefore, between two kinds of spiritual sight, external and internal. External spiritual sight is objective in that the objects of the spiritual world appear in visible form even as the things of this world appear to the sight of the eye. Thus was the Lord seen by His disciples after the resurrection. But internal spiritual sight is subjective, and therefore reflective in nature. What is seen is not seen as an object, but is presented to the sight of the understanding as a perception of truth; and he who perceives what is true, sees Him who alone is Truth.
It is, then, as Truth, that is, as the truth of the Word, that the Lord is revealed in the spiritual sense of the Word at this day. Is not this why He came into the world? Is this not what He meant when He said to His disciples, "I am the way, the truth, and the life"? (John 14: 6) And is this not why it is said in the Writings that "this New Church is the crown of all the churches that have hitherto existed on . . . earth, because it is to worship one visible God," (TCR 787) that is, a God who by way of the resurrection of the Divine doctrine out of the letter of the Word may now be seen and worshiped in His own Divine Human? He is the risen Lord.
-New Church Life 1970;90:97-101