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Chapter 3.

We will now return to the dining hall of the hotel of St. Thomas. I have said that I was reading the Bible. I had read everything readable that I had brought with me from home, and had bought and read everything readable in the solitary bookstore at St. Thomas. In fact I had procured from if a copy of Macaulay's History of England then fresh from the London press, and which, in my then starving condition, I had greedily devoured. I had done the island thoroughly, and my Bible was all that was left upon which to expend my superfluity of leisure. It so happened that I was reading the 12th chapter of Genesis, which gives the account of Abram driven by a famine into Egypt. When I had finished it I said to Mr. Kjerulff, "Is it not extraordinary that this book should be accepted by the most highly civilized nations of the earth as the Word of God? Just listen." I then read the verses, with which the chapter to which I have referred concludes, in which the patriarch passes off Sara his wife for his sister.

"This Abram," said I, "is the man whom it is pretended our Father in Heaven had selected from all the people of the earth as most deserving of His favor; had promised to make of him a great nation; to bless him; to bless them that bless him; to curse them that curse him, and that in him all the families of the earth should be blessed. And yet almost the first thing we hear of him is his commanding his wife to tell a falsehood, which inevitably exposed her to insult and degradation, apparently for the sole purpose of saving himself from anticipated, but, as the event

proved, imaginary dangers. Does not the Egyptian," I asked, "whom the Bible represents as the oppressor of God's people, appear, according to our standards at least, to have been the better man of the two?"

"Well, yes," replied Mr. Kjerulff, "it does appear so at first."

"But," said I, "does it not appear so all the time?"

Mr. Kjerulff seemed rather to avoid a direct answer to my question, and in turn asked me if I had ever read any of the writings of Swedenborg. I said that I could not say that I had, that a friend had once lent me a treatise on "Conjugial Love" when I was a law student, but then I considered my friend something of a crank, and his recommendation of a book, therefore, did not help it much to my favor; besides, I was not at the time interested, nor possibly capable of being interested, in the subject of which it treated, so that I had no recollection of anything I read in it, which at most could not have been much. "Well," said Mr. Kjerulff, "in his Arcana Caelestia, Swedenborg has given an exposition of the chapter you have been reading, which, perhaps, would satisfy you that there is more in it than you seem to suspect." I intimated mildly that there was no obscurity about the meaning, and that I did not see how anyone could get any impression of those verses different from mine. Mr. Kjerulff then went on to explain something about an interior meaning and spiritual correspondence, etc. Failing entirely to understand what he was talking about, I asked him if he had the work to which he referred. He said he had it somewhere, but he was not sure that he had it with him in his luggage at the hotel; he would see. He left the room and after a little returned with the first volume of the Arcana Caelestia, which contained, as I found on examination, Swedenborg's exposition of the verses of which we had been speaking.

[In more recent editions these would be in the second volume]

I first read the title, which ran as follows:

Arcana Caelestia - The Heavenly Arcana contained in the Holy Scriptures or Word of the Lord unfolded, beginning with the book of Genesis, together with wonderful things seen in the World of Spirits and in the Heaven of Angels. Translated from the Latin of Emanuel Swedenborg.

I then looked for a preface, the part of a book which usually first engages my attention, but found none. On the first page of the text, however, I found what was a partial substitute of one. It read as follows:


  1. The Word of the Old Testament contains heavenly arcana, with every single detail focusing on the Lord, His heaven, the Church, faith, and what belongs to faith; but no human being grasps this from the letter. Judging it by the letter or sense of the letter, nobody views it as anything more than a record, in the main, of external features of the Jewish Church. Yet at every point there are internal features that are nowhere evident in the external, apart from the very few which the Lord revealed and explained to the Apostles, such as that sacrifices mean the Lord; that the land of Canaan and Jerusalem mean heaven, which is therefore called Canaan and the heavenly Jerusalem; and that Paradise is similar in meaning.
  2. But that every single detail, even the smallest, down to the tiniest jot, means and embodies matters that are spiritual and celestial is a truth of which the Christian world is still profoundly ignorant, and for that reason it pays insufficient attention to the Old Testament. Nevertheless they are able to know this truth from the single consideration that because the Word is the Lord's and derives from Him, it cannot possibly exist if it does not contain within itself such things as belong to heaven, the Church, and faith. If this were not so it could not be called the Word of the Lord nor be said to have any life within it. For where does its life originate except in those things which belong to life, that is, in having every single detail go back to the Lord, who is life itself? Therefore anything that does not interiorly focus on Him has no life; indeed any expression in the Word that fails to embody Him within itself, or does not in its own way go back to Him, is not Divine.
  3. Without such life the Word as regards the letter is dead, for it is the same with the Word as it is with man, who, as the Christian world knows, is internal as well as external. The external man if parted from the internal man is just a body and therefore dead. It is the internal man which lives and imparts life to the external. The internal man is the soul of the external man. The same applies to the Word which as to the letter alone is like the body without a soul.
  4. As long as the mind confines itself to the sense of the letter alone one cannot possibly see that its contents are such. Take for instance these first sections of Genesis: From the sense of the letter the only subject matter people recognize is the creation of the world, and the Garden of Eden which is called Paradise, and Adam as the first man to be created. Who thinks anything different? The fact that these things contain arcana however which have never been revealed up to now will be sufficiently clear from what follows - especially clear from the fact that the subject of Genesis 1 is, in the internal sense, the NEW CREATION of man, that is, in general his REGENERATION, and in particular the Most Ancient Church. And the subject is presented in such a way that not the smallest part of any expression fails to have a representation, carry a spiritual meaning, or embody something within itself.
  5. But unless he has it from the Lord no human being can possibly know that this is the situation. By way of introductory remarks therefore it can be disclosed that in the Lord's Divine mercy I have been allowed constantly and without interruption for several years now to share the experiences of spirits and angels, to listen to them speaking and to speak to them myself. I have been allowed therefore to hear and see astounding things in the next life which have never come to any man's knowledge, nor even entered his imagination. In that world I have learned about different kinds of spirits, about the state of souls after death, about hell (the miserable state of people who do not have faith), about heaven (the very happy state of those who do have faith), and above all else about the doctrine of the faith that is acknowledged in the whole of heaven. In the Lord's Divine mercy more will be told about these matters in what follows.

    Having perused these introductory paragraphs, I turned to chapter 12 to see what the privileged Swede had to say in behalf of Abram. [In the more recent edition this would be in the second volume] After reciting the chapter at length, he proceeded to give what was entitled "The Internal Sense," and in terms which were calculated to arrest my attention. They ran as follows:

    1403. From Genesis 1 down to this point, or rather, down to Eber, the narratives have not consisted of true history but of made-up history, which in the internal sense meant things that are celestial and spiritual. In this and subsequent chapters however they are not made- up but true historical narratives, which in the internal sense in like manner mean things that are celestial and spiritual. This may become clear to anyone simply from the consideration that it is the Word of the Lord.

    1. In these chapters which contain true historical narratives every single word and statement means in the internal sense something altogether different from what is meant in the sense of the letter. Nevertheless the historical details themselves are representative. 'Abram', who is dealt with first, in general represents the Lord, and specifically the celestial man. 'Isaac', who is dealt with after that, likewise in general represents the Lord, and specifically the spiritual man; and 'Jacob' too in general represents the Lord, and specifically the natural man. Thus they represent things which are the Lord's, things which belong to His kingdom, and those which belong to the Church.
    2. But, as clearly shown already, the internal sense is such that every single thing has to be understood apart from the letter, abstractedly - as though the letter did not exist; for within the internal sense reside the soul and life of the Word, which are not open to view unless the sense of the letter so to speak vanishes. This is how angels are led by the Lord to perceive the Word when it is being read by man.

Then follows an exposition of what Swedenborg terms the interior or spiritual meaning of each verse, I might say of almost every word of each verse of the chapter, and occupying forty-five broad octavo pages. I could not make much out of his exegesis; but I was a little disappointed in one respect. Nothing was farther from my thoughts than to suppose that in this book, written over a hundred years ago, of which I had never before seen a copy, and to which, in all my not inconsiderable and varied reading of the English classics, I had rarely seen an illusion, I should find anything that could change or in the least modify my opinion of Abram or of the Bible. I read from curiosity, merely expecting to drop the book as soon as I came to something - and I did not in the least doubt I soon should - that would be so absurd, or improbable, or illogical, as would justify me, without rudeness, in returning the book to my Danish friend with thanks. Though I understood but imperfectly what I read, I did not find what I was looking for; I found nothing that I could point to with confidence and say, "There, you see, your man Swedenborg must have been either a fool or an imposter, if not both." On the other hand, I did find several curious and striking things which piqued my curiosity. For example, his opening comments on the first verse of the chapter showed me that at least I was following a thoughtful guide. I had neither heard nor read anything like it before.

1408. The events described here and in what follows took place in history as they are recorded, yet the historical events as described are representative, and every word carries a spiritual meaning. This is so in all of the historical parts of the Word, not only in the Books of Moses but also in those of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, all of which books contain nothing else than historical narratives. But although they are historical narratives in the sense of the letter, in the internal sense there are arcana of heaven lying hidden there. These arcana cannot possibly be seen as long as the mind keeps its eye fixed on the historical details, nor are they disclosed until the mind removes itself from the sense of the letter. The Word of the Lord is like a body that has a living soul within it. The things that belong to the soul are not apparent as long as the mind is fixed on those of the body, so much so that it scarcely believes it possesses a soul, even less that it will be alive after death. But as soon as the mind departs from bodily things, those belonging to the soul and to life show themselves; and in this lies the reason not only why bodily things must die before a person can be born anew or be regenerated, but also why the body must die so that he can enter heaven and behold heavenly things.

[2] The same applies to the Word of the Lord. Its bodily parts are the things that constitute the sense of the letter, and when the mind is fixed on these the internal things are not seen at all. But once the bodily parts so to speak have died, the internal for the first time are brought to view. All the same, the things constituting the sense of the letter are like the things present with man in his body, namely the facts belonging to the memory which come in through the senses and which are general vessels containing interior or internal things. From this one may recognize that the vessels are one thing and the essential elements within the vessels another. The vessels are natural, and the essential elements within the vessels are spiritual and celestial. In the same way the historical narratives of the Word, as with each individual expression in the Word, are general, natural, indeed material vessels that have spiritual and celestial things within them. These things never come into sight except through the internal sense.

[3] This may become clear to anyone simply from the fact that many matters in the Word have been stated according to appearances, indeed according to the illusions of the senses, such as that the Lord is angry, punishes, curses, slays, and many other such statements, when in fact the internal sense contains the reverse, namely that the Lord is never angry or punishes, still less curses or slays. All the same, no harm at all is done to people who in simplicity of heart believe the Word as they find it in the letter so long as they are leading charitable lives, the reason being that the Word teaches nothing other than this - that everyone ought to live in charity with his neighbor and to love the Lord above all things. People doing this are in possession of the internal things, and thus with them the illusions acquired from the sense of the letter are easily dispersed.

This idea, that the Word had degrees of significance which varied and expanded in exact proportion to the spirituality of a man's life, was one that had never crossed my mind before, in a way to distinguish the Bible as a literature from Dante or Plato, and it seemed to me as though there might perhaps be something in it; but what? And how did he know, and where were the proofs? Still I could not say, "This is nonsense; this is unscriptural," though the distinction made between the chapters preceding the twelfth and those following, by which it was claimed that the narratives of the first eleven chapters of the Old Testament, embracing the careers of Adam and Eve, of Cain and Abel, the deluge, the building of the tower of Babel, etc., "were not matters of true history," had a somewhat heretical not to say profane ring. I was, however, so pleased to find that anyone had found a way of retaining his faith in the divine origin of the Bible without being obliged to accept its account of the creation as history, that I did not feel like having Swedenborg burned as a heretic for that. In spite of these redeeming features in his writings, however, I did not in the least despair of bringing him to the stake before I had done with him. I persuaded myself that he had built up a theosophy from his imagination, and I knew enough to know that no human imagination was capable of producing anything of the kind that would not bristle with weak points, which could not all escape the penetration of even so poor a theologian as I was. So I turned to other places to see what was said, for example, of Abram's subsequent misrepresentation to Abimelech, what of Isaac's repetition of the same fraud in Gerar; of the tower of Babel; of Hagar; of Jacob and his mother's scheme to defraud Esau of his birthright; what of Jacob's method of enriching himself at the expense of his father-in-law, Laban; of Rachel's fib to her father about the images, and so on. In this way I spent the entire day; I looked through the whole volume. Much of it was too mystical to be intelligible to me then; but, to my mortification, it begun to dawn upon me that it was unintelligible to me, for much the same reason as the Mechanique Celeste would have been. While I ran upon many things that were quite new to me and seemed wise, I did not find anything upon which I could move to put the author out of Court. On the contrary, the desire to read on, grew by what it fed on, and begat a longing to know something of the author's personality.

When Mr. Kjerulff came in to dinner that evening, I said to him that I had spent the day with his friend Swedenborg, but that the value of what I had read depended so largely upon the tenor of his life and the character he had borne in the flesh that I felt as though, before spending any more time upon his works, I would like to be enlightened on these points. Mr. Kjerulff, thereupon, ran over the prominent events of Swedenborg's life in a rather enthusiastic strain, as it seemed to me, and wound up by assuring me, in substance, that he doubted if in the history of our race another man could be found, who had ever succeeded in delivering himself more completely from the sway of the World, the Flesh and the Devil. I asked if he had any biography of Swedenborg. He replied, after a little reflection, that he believed he had in his luggage a collection of documents relating to Swedenborg compiled by a Mr. Bush, of New York, where he said I would find, in the testimony of Swedenborg's contemporaries, the best of evidence in regard to his singular purity of life, his conspicuous elevation of character, and the completeness of his consecration to the service of the Master. I asked if the Bush to whom he referred was the professor of Oriental languages in the New York University and a Presbyterian clergyman, who had written commentaries on the Bible. All he knew about his antecedents was that he had been a clergyman, though of what denomination he did not recollect, and that since becoming acquainted with the writings of Swedenborg he had withdrawn from it, whichever it was, and was then settled as pastor of the New Church (Swedenborgian) in Brooklyn. As I had long known Prof. Bush, and esteemed him very highly for his eminence, both as a scholar and as a Christian, I was greatly surprised to learn that he had been dabbling in heresy. Of one thing, however, I was quite sure, that he was entirely incapable of lending himself to any sort of imposture, and that absolute confidence might be placed in the good faith of anything published with his name or with his sanction. The fact that he had so far separated himself from the church organization in which he had been bred, in which he had worked with distinction as pastor and author for many of the best years of his life, and had sacrificed to his convictions what to him no doubt seemed and was, in a worldly point of view, his all, increased my interest in his book and its hero.

So I begged Mr. Kjerulff to let me see it. He promptly complied with my wishes. The book was entitled Documents Concerning Swedenborg, and consisted chiefly of letters and publications of Swedenborg's contemporaries, showing the estimate and reasons for the estimate in which he was held by them. I read the book almost at a sitting. My first feeling when I laid it down was of mingled surprise and mortification that I had lived till then in such dense ignorance of the career and work of so remarkable a man, at once so great and so good as Swedenborg was there shown to have been, while I had spent so much of my life in trying to make myself familiar with the lives of men who were unworthy to unloose the latchets of his shoes. Whatever doubts I had entertained of Swedenborg's good faith and sincerity, this book effectually dispelled. He might have been subject to illusions, but I had no longer any suspicions of his being an imposter. These convictions naturally increased my curiosity to know more of his writings, and especially of his theology, though my curiosity was still of a purely intellectual origin and character.

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