In the year 1758 there appeared in London a small volume in Latin, with the remarkable title, "The New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine," in the opening paragraphs of which it was taught that "the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven," signifies the Heavenly Doctrine of a New Christian Church, which the Lord was about to establish in this world. For the New Jerusalem, we are told here, is not a natural or material city, hut a heavenly or spiritual city, a city of that Heavenly Kingdom, which cometh not with observation, but is within you. A "city," when mentioned in the Word of God, always represents such a spiritual city, which is essentially the system of doctrine and faith, in which a man dwells spiritually. Thus Jerusalem, of old, stands for the faith and worship of Judaism, Babylon for the doctrine and dominion of the Roman Catholic Church, and so in all other cases.
But the "New Jerusalem" stands for a new system of Christian doctrine, revealed and descending from Heaven, and this Doctrine is briefly unfolded in the little work referred to above, and is further explained in numerous other volumes, all of which, as was noticed at the time, had evidently issued from the same pen.
The writer, it became known after a time, was a star of the first magnitude in the realms of science, philosophy, literature and politics, Emanuel Swedenborg, (born in Stockholm, 1688; died at London, 1772,) a Swedish nobleman, the son of a famous Bishop, and himself celebrated throughout Europe as traveller, inventor, mathematician, astronomer, metallurgist, natural philosopher, physiologist, patriot and statesman.
Great was the astonishment of the learned and the fashionable world on hearing the news that this clear-sighted, critical savant, this aristocratic intimate of statesmen and princes and kings, had left the pursuit of worldly fame and had entered upon the career of a theologian and revelator. Society was bewildered at the claims made so solemnly, yet with so much innocent modesty by their old, universally beloved and respected friend. He asserted that his spiritual eyes had been opened; that he was able to live in the other world as consciously as in this; that he was in daily conversation with spirits and angels; nay, that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself had manifested Himself to him, had commissioned him and filled him with the Holy Spirit, to reveal by Divine inspiration the Doctrine of the New Jerusalem as contained within the Sacred Scripture
What were men to think of these claims and of him who made them? Was he an impostor, or madman, or a self-deluded, harmless monomaniac? Or was he what he claimed to be?
Swedenborg an impostor! The saint-like purity and benevolence of his whole life, his disinterestedness and single-hearted devotion to the welfare of his country and of humanity forbade the thought. A madman? No, for he retained throughout his life, in private as in public affairs, the same calm, rational and well-balanced judgment as had distinguished him in his earlier years.
But his claim to open vision and inspiration, would not this by itself show that he was laboring under a self-delusion, to say the least?
Not necessarily, for Moses and David and all the prophets, John, Paul and the evangelists made the same claim. They were rational persons and servants of the living God. How do we know? By reason of the self-evident light of Truth Divine, which shines from every page of the inspired Word!
Clearly, the only possible and just manner of judging of the validity of Swedenborg's claims is to give him a fair trial and hearing; to read his published works, and to judge them according to Scripture and reason. These two—not disjoined, but in union with one another—are the divinely given tests of truth. Apply these in reading Swedenborg's works, and you will see whether the Doctrine announced by him is of himself or of God.
The following few pages aim only to call attention to these works of Swedenborg's, by setting forth, as in a birds-eye view, the walls and streets of the New Jerusalem, the leading and essential features of the Doctrines of the New Church.
The theological system of the New Church is contained in four leading, all-embracing Doctrines, treating respectively of the Lord, the Word, Life, and Faith. Following this order, we will now briefly review these Doctrines, as contrasted with the teachings of the old Christian Church, as appealing to the enlightened human understanding, and as supported by the Word of God.