Do the Writings Refer to Themselves as the Word?
1. That the Writings, when speaking of the written Word, usually refer immediately and directly to the Ancient Word or the Old and New Testaments may be granted. It may not perhaps be so readily granted that the Writings never call themselves the Word, for there are several statements in those Writings which can fairly be interpreted as meaning that they do so call themselves.1 These statements, however, have received different interpretations, and by many are not regarded as conclusive. We shall therefore assume that the Writings do not specifically refer to themselves as the Word; certainly they do not so refer to themselves in language so unmistakable as to force conviction even on the reluctant or unwilling. Not only do we grant In the case of the Old Testament, and especially of the Pentateuch and the Prophets, it is quite easy to show that this Testament is a Divine Word revealed by God, and that it is to be obeyed as such. This is the case because the church to be established by the Old Testament was not a genuine church but the representative of a church. As a consequence, the external revelation made for the establishment and preservation of this church must necessarily have been a revelation which compelled acceptance; for which reason also that revelation was accompanied by compelling miracles.
1 In The Testimony of the Writings Concerning Themselves (Bryn Athyn, 1920) these statements are gathered together under the headings: " That the Writings are the internal sense of the Word." " That the internal sense of the Writings is the Word," and " that therefore the Writings are the Word." this but we go further and assert that such reticence is an integral part of a revelation made for the establishment of a genuine spiritual church.
In the case of the New Testament, on the other hand, it would not be so easy to show from its own statements that this Testament is the Word of God. Of the twenty-three direct references made in the New Testament to " the Scriptures," to say nothing of the many indirect references, there is not a single one which does not directly and exclusively refer to the Old Testament. Nor in the whole of the New Testament can there be found a single statement that proves beyond cavil that that Testament is also " Scripture." The Lord does indeed say " the words that I speak unto you are spirit and are life " (John 6: 63); and in the Apocalypse, John is indeed commanded by God to write what he had seen (Apoc. 1 : 11, 19) ; but of these and similar statements the same can be said as was said above with respect to certain passages in the Writings, namely, that while they might strengthen and confirm the believer, they cannot be regarded as being so clear as to compel belief. The reason is obvious. The Christian Church was to be a church founded on the genuine acknowledgment of the Lord and his Word, and such acknowledgment must come from perception of the truth and not from external persuasion.
How much more then is this the case with the Writings which are given for the establishment of a spiritual-rational church! No rational church could possibly be established by a revelation which compelled belief. The Writings do indeed come to us as a Divine Revelation, yet in such a form that many find it easy to read and totally reject them; others find much that is good in them but reject the idea that they are a Divine Revelation; while others accept them as in some sense a Divine Revelation, but will not for a moment entertain the idea that they are " the Word " or are even comparable with the Word. That the Writings are a Divine Revelation is openly declared in those Writings themselves, and this is generally acknowledged by New Churchmen. But beyond this the Writings declare nothing that is externally compelling. Consequently men find it possible to accept them as a Divine Revelation, and yet to regard them not as the Lord's Word but as some kind of auxiliary revelation designed to open the Word and make it of service to men. They are free to do so, so far as any externally compelling passage in the Writings is concerned; free to think that the Word is a sealed book, which can be unsealed and so can be made available for the use of man, only by means of a revelation which is inferior to " the Word."
Most Christians regard the Old and New Testaments as the Holy Bible or Word. In great part this is the result of training, and of an inherited tradition that is so strong as almost to amount to instinct. If we reflect, we can perceive something of this in ourselves; for we find that to acknowledge the divinity of "the Word," "the Sacred Scriptures," "Holy Writ," " the Bible," is so natural as almost to be spontaneous; so harmonious with our habits of thought that we feel a shock if we hear anything said that is openly disparaging to the Scriptures, or that tends in any way to modify our conception of them as the only Word, unique in divinity and unique in holiness. It is for this reason that many New Churchmen, and perhaps most, feel somewhat of a shock when first they hear that the Writings are also the Word. " The Holy Word! Yes, I can believe in that (so runs their thought), it is God's own Word to us. But to say the Writings are the Word! They were written by Swedenborg; he quotes passages from the Word to confirm what he says; he uses rational arguments." They may add, " I believe, of course, that what Swedenborg writes was revealed to him by the Lord, and consequently that his writings are a Divine Revelation. But to say they are the Word!" Such is the common reaction with those who from childhood have cherished the idea that the Old and New Testaments are alone the Word, when first they hear the Writings proclaimed as being also the Word. And those who have come to see that the Writings are the Word may feel something of the same reaction when first they contemplate all that is involved in that acknowledgment.
This, I take it, is a protection to the New Church; for in this way men are guarded against acknowledging the Writings as the Word except as they truly see them to be the Lord's teaching, and acknowledge that teaching to be the sole rule and guide of their life and faith. The acknowledgment is to come, not from tradition or upbringing but from internal conviction; from that " self-evidencing reason of love" which alone can establish a genuine spiritual church (Canons, Prologue).