10 The Love Of Self
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's.
From the literal sense of the Word alone, it is not clearly seen why the verse of our text should be divided into two commandments, and named, as they are in the Writings of the New Church, as the Ninth and Tenth Precepts.*
* That there were ten commandments in the two tables of the Law given to Moses at Sinai, is clear. And the finality of the number ten is recognized; ten, the number of man's fingers, signifying what is complete. Yet there is no clear Biblical teaching as to how the Law was to be divided into ten precepts.
The consequence was that the traditional Christian division which was generally received up to the time of the Reformers of the 16th century, was changed by Calvin. So anxious was Calvin to emphasize that the Catholic use of images was against the Divine Law, that he separated the first commandment into two, and made a separate precept of the part of the commandment against polytheism and idolatry which says, "Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image... ." The English-speaking Protestants have therefore adjusted the numbering and joined the last two commandments (which both treat of envy or lust) into one; and they call it the Tenth -for otherwise there would have been eleven commandments. In the Writings the original numbering is maintained, except in the Apocalypse Explained where the numbering of the fifth and the seventh is reversed. - (HLO)
At first glance, there seems indeed but little difference between the law "not to covet the neighbor's house," and the further injunction "not to covet the neighbor's wife, servants, cattle, and chattels." Both prohibitions are warnings against envy and jealousy, and thus against the spirit of theft. Still, if we look more deeply, we may see that the first warning is against the possession of what is the neighbor's, and the second is against unlawfully ruling what is the neighbor's. One possesses a house, fields, and inanimate things, like wealth or property. But one does not, in the full sense, possess a wife, servants, or even cattle; but these may become subject to some degree of control or rule; and the possibility is here suggested that they may become alienated from the neighbor's control, and become obedient to one's own will. While the Ninth Commandment therefore warned against the envy which comes from a love of the world or the lust of possessing the goods of another, the Tenth Commandment in effect states that we must not will, or be eager, to rule over our neighbor to his detriment (AE 1021:2).
Much emphasis is laid in the Heavenly Doctrine upon the fact that all evils come from two roots or springs, and these are the evil Love of the World and the evil Love of Self. Even if man's life were ever so faultless; even if he -like the rich young man of the Gospel story -had conducted himself in entire obedience to the first eight commandments, as to his outward behavior; even if he, as Paul suggested (I Cor. xiii), spake with the tongues of men and angels, understood all mysteries and all knowledge; even if he bestowed all his goods to feed the poor, and gave his heart's blood for some noble cause; yet would he not have kept the Law of God, yet would he be far from the Kingdom of Heaven, unless he had resisted, when alone with his heart's thoughts, the loves of the world and of self! For these loves are the roots of all evils, and in the shunning of them is found the essence of the whole Law.
Last of all come these two commands in the Decalogue. Last of all are the lusts of evil expelled or subdued. They remain after man has begun repenting of evil works, and indeed are removed only by the Lord Himself from the -internal of man's thought, while man is striving to cleanse the externals of his thought from lustfulness and envy and covetousness - and this only if man realizes that these lusts are unclean in the Lord's sight and are sinful against Him and can be removed only by supplicating Him continually for help (DP 100 seq.).
The prohibition of harboring the lusts of the love of self is placed at the close of the Decalogue for the special reason that it discloses the very purpose - the end-in-view - of the Law, as well as laying bare the real character of evil.
The lust of the love of the world is an envy or desire for external things - which makes the mind more and more external, less and less concerned about internal things. It generally does not lead to such deep infractions against the neighbor's life, as does the love of self. Worldliness desires the neighbor's house. But the love of self tends to go further: it desires to control internal things - all things within the house! The end-in-view of evil is to rule, to control others, to make others into the slaves and tools of one's own pleasure, or at least to make others unable to oppose the gratification of one's whims or ambitions. In all evil desires, when they are examined, this love of rule will at last be seen as the final objective.
And the end-in-view of the Divine Law of the Decalogue is just the opposite to this: the Lord's Law aims to provide freedom - the true freedom of charity and mutual uses, the state of heavenly community life, in which all envy and desire to prevail over others is absent; where all are content with their lot and respect the freedom of each one's use, finding their delight rather in seeing others happy than in having their own way.
Here, in the last commandment, we therefore find brought into contrast the essence of good and that of evil; or, what is the same, true love and false love.
No word has been so much abused as the word LOVE; nor so much misunderstood. That misunderstanding strikes at the very roots of human happiness. Its tragic reflections are seen in the many disillusionments of life - friendships that fail, marriages that go to wreck, associations that are found to have no soul. But the wisdom of life - at this day - is at its low ebb. It is lost, and has to be learnt anew; because it is thought that "to love one's own in another" is love! And the heavenly teaching is therefore now given: that love is to feel the delight of another as delight in one's self (DLW 47); or to be happy when others are happy. So often it is said that someone loves another when this other person pleases him - as that a man loves a maid when he likes her beauty and grace of mind and body, and enjoys her conversation, her cheerfulness and industry and modesty, so that he desires her for his own and feels utter undelight away from her. Such love does not seem evil; certainly it does not seem to
divide. For he feels his joy in her! Yet there may be no love there - nothing but self-love. He might be utterly incapable of taking any delight in what he thinks might be delightful and good to her. He may care only about his own happiness; and his love, which at first may seem to conjoin them, will then eventually so divide them as to be turned to hatred at the first signs of opposition. For in self-love there burns interiorly only the desire to rule, to control, to turn all things and all men to its own use; while true love - which is love of others and service to others from love to the Lord and for the sake of cooperating with the Divine ends of creation - wishes not to compel, since there is no conjunction of love except in freedom.
The last of the commandments, in its internal sense, bids us beware of the evils of the love of self; and especially, since every man from birth is selfish and lustful, it warns us against permitting the love of self to become the ruling love in us. It begins to rule us if the lusts of that evil become confirmed in our mind - if we neglect to recognize them for what they are but instead permit them to be excused, condoned, and indulged, and taken to our heart.
The Writings describe certain danger-signs for which we must watch. The first is the habit of immersing one's thoughts in self, or into the proprium - reflecting on one's own power, wishing for ambitious things, regarding our own welfare as very important, disregarding others and feeling contempt for them, being unjust when one's own interests are at stake, and generally filling the imagination with evil delights, with sensual pleasures, and with enmity toward others. And the remedy is said to be to shun these thoughts of self and self-glory, and instead to think of others, of their rights, their wishes, their good.
These, like other evils, are not seen while they are active. When a man immerses his thought in the body, or in the allurements and appearances of the senses, he becomes blind to the difference between evil and good. The thought must therefore be trained to lift itself above self, to be elevated from the natural mind into the spiritual light of heaven which streams forth from the truths of Divine Revelation -from the Lord as the Spiritual Sun. This is the opening of the spiritual mind.
Yet we are given another important indication as to how we may avoid appropriating the lusts of evil loves when they come to our apprehension:
It appears that Swedenborg, already in the year 1749 (eight years before the Last Judgment), was observing how the spirit-world, increasingly congested with evil spirits, was becoming worse and worse, and how it turned all the influences of heaven into evil, instead of transmitting them unpervert to mankind on earth. Certain spirits then blamed their evils upon the general ruling state of evil, saying in effect, "How can we be good if the rest are evil?" and adding that since everything is from influx, men would not be in fault for the evil they do on earth. Swedenborg was then inspired to reply to their reasoning, that evils active in the world of spirits and thus inspired into men's minds were appropriated to men because men were persuaded that the evils were self-originated in themselves, and took full responsibility for them; and thus became guilty of them, whether they actually carried out the evil suggestions or merely consented to them in their minds. If, on the other hand, men would only believe, as the matter really is, that evils, lusts of concupiscence of every sort, do not originate from themselves but are inspired from hell, they would not become guilty of those evils; they would oppose them, shun them, refuse to harbor them; they would not identify them with their own desires, not take pride in them; but would cultivate aversion for them, and finally disown them utterly.
The lusts of the love of self - which, as one grows up, begin to crop out from our hereditary nature - are so various and so numerous that they can scarcely be catalogued. In general, they are all the longings and seethings of man's selfish heart. And the corresponding imaginations of the mind display their quality. They are turbulent affections; impatient, or cunningly patient, as the case may be; and they are all suggestively included in the tenth precept - "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's." That the love of self always seeks to transgress upon the rights of the neighbor, may not be so evident when we think of the many ways in which it seeks to fulfill its secret passions. Gluttony and drunkenness and dissipation may be the symptoms of disease. Yet they have a spiritual origin and serve as the ultimate and sensual outlets of the lusts of self-love, and tempt a man to ask, What harm is he doing anyone? or, Whom does it concern whether he abuses his body or not, should he so want? The answer to that question is far-reaching.
No evil can be done by a man, in secret or openly which has not the widest consequences, and which is not a definite transgression, both against the Lord and against the human society and race of which the transgressor is a member. "He that is not with Me is against Me," said the Lord, "and, he that gathered not with Me, scattereth" (Luke 11:23). We cannot declare ourselves neutral in any fight between spiritual right and wrong. We cannot detach ourselves from the needs of those about us - from the duties that must be done - from the obligations of our position in life. And the reason why even those indulgences of self-love which do not so apparently interfere with the happiness of the neighbor must yet be regarded as destructive both naturally and spiritually, and thus as of immense negative influence - is seen from the statement of our Doctrine that "Man is not born for the sake of himself, but for the sake of others, that is, that he may not live for himself alone, but for others (TCR 406).
The love of self displays its potency for evil in manifold ways. With the politician, the officer, or the ruler, it takes the form of a love of worldly dominion which drugs itself with a sense of power and self-importance, and is unsatisfied as long as its tyranny is opposed. Whether it persuades by the sword or by material wealth or by fear or ignorance or by an appeal to the gain and self-interest of other men, it imposes its own order under the pretext of expediency. It is contemptuous of weakness, pitiless and blind to human misery. It rushes on insanely, heedless that it leaves the world in ruins. It reckons with no borders, no treaties, no principles of equity. And its spirit is the same whether its domain is confined within four walls or extended over a continent, whether it exercises its control openly or by subtle and hidden methods, and whether it is successful or whether it must remain only as smoldering passion.
But the love of self is not content to rule the world. It seeks to enslave the minds of men, by falsities both natural and spiritual. In this form it pervades the fields of learning, and invades even the churches where it shows itself as a lust for power over souls.
Indeed, the love of self surpasses all other loves in its ability to adulterate goods and to falsify truths. Where the love of self prevails, there the spiritual truths of the church are endangered and liable to perversion. Whatever "self" does or thinks seems right in the eyes of self-love. We therefore find that "self" will even pervert the doctrines of religion and will impose a spurious conscience, so that it may rule not only by outward force but by subjecting men to inner restraints in the name of religion. This is the worst of all Loves of Dominion, and is profane. This is Babylon the Great, Mother of Abominations.
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Yet in the heart of every man before regeneration there is a secret delight, a quickening of the pulse, at the thought of subjecting others to one's authority. And this unregenerate ambition takes the form of persuading others. To lead others to good by reason and by appealing to their love of truth, or to exercise the command that is a legitimate function of one's work or office - this does not violate the freedom of others or trespass upon their rights. But to persuade, and to lead a man by his sensual or evil affections, or by arousing merely natural emotions, is quite another. This is to "covet" the household of the neighbor's mind.
In the spiritual sense, a neighbor's "wife" represents his truth. His "manservant" and "maidservant" signify his affections of spiritual truth and good; "ox" and "ass" signify his affections of natural good and of natural truth. To desire to control these things in another is to take away his spiritual life (AC 8912).
The spiritual household of another can be controlled and ruled over through various forms of persuasion. Fear, flattery, emotional stimulus, or other inducements, can be used by evil men and evil spirits to enslave the mind of another and to compel him to think as they insinuate. In the spiritual world there exudes from certain evil spirits a persuasive sphere which entirely takes away the power of thought and the understanding of truth, and induces a stupor in the mind (AR 428). Such persuasion is seldom possible on earth; but still the love of dominion - even here - urges men continually to persuade others and to make them surrender their own free will, their own reason, their own initiative, and their own delight of being in free choice and in free cooperation with the Lord.
To shun the lusts of the love of self means therefore that we should not begrudge the fullest freedom of thought and will to the neighbor, and do nothing which will cause him to surrender to us the rational life of his mind. It means that we should preserve in the neighbor that precious appearance that he lives as if from himself, for upon this all his delight of life and of use rests.
In such freedom alone can men fulfill the ends of creation and the purpose of love which is present within every one of the stern commandments of the two tables.
Unless this spiritual responsibility is assumed by the regenerating man, there cannot be a kingdom of God upon earth. For the Lord cannot reign where men seek to rule over each other's minds and spirits. Inmostly hidden in the evil of envy there frets the desire to displace the government of the Lord; to deny that He is Love Itself and Wisdom Itself, that the Word is holy and that through it He grants conjunction and peace and protection from hell, that He is our Father, and that the New Jerusalem which He is now establishing is our Mother. Such envy, in its inward, diabolical form, is rashly angry against the Lord; it adulterates the goods of the Word, and, through human distrust, steals the Divine power and sole merit, and finally banishes truth itself from the Church.
The evils of coveting are, therefore, sins against God. He who shuns them as such, as from himself, shuns inwardly all the evils mentioned in the Decalogue. And the celestial covenant which the ten precepts are given to protect, will then be inscribed upon his spirit, and stored there within the curtains of his mind, as in an Ark of gold. And God Himself shall dwell with him, and be his God.