Swedenborg Study.com

Online works based on the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg


Previous: Chapter 3. Up: The Bible That Was Lost and is Found Next: Chapter 5.

Chapter 4

Though getting to be somewhat absorbed by this new acquaintance, I did not forgot that I was a long way from home; that the time I had proposed to be absent had already expired; that I had not heard either from my family or from my business colleagues since I left New York, nor had I any reason to presume they had heard from me. Mr. Kjerulff and I had studied up the destination and plans of every vessel in the harbor of St. Thomas to no profit, till at last we opened negotiations with a skipper in command of a fore and aft schooner of 130 tons or thereabouts, owned in Baltimore, to take us to some port in the United States. As he could get no freight, for which he had been hoping, from or to any Spanish port, on account of the cholera, he finally decided, if we would take passage with him, to go to New Orleans and look for freight there. An arrangement with him was concluded; we laid in a stock of extra provisions, and, with more alacrity than I ever left any port before or since save one, we took leave of St. Thomas bound for New Orleans. Before sailing, however, I begged Mr. Kjerulff to take with him all the books he had by or about Swedenborg. With this request he very obligingly complied.

Our voyage was prolonged both by calms and storms, and more than twenty days elapsed between the time of our departure from St. Thomas and any arrival at New York. I do not recollect but one day in all that interval - a day that I spent in New Orleans, where the editor of the Picayune drove me out to Lake Ponchartrain - that I did not pore from ten to twelve hours over these writings. In fact, they absorbed all my time that was not devoted to eating and sleeping. It would not be possible to convey to anyone, who had not had a similar experience, the effect they produced upon me, the almost insane appetite with which I devoured them, the complete revolution that they wrought in all my opinions about spiritual matters, and especially about the Bible. Though, like the blind man in the gospel, I as yet only saw men as trees walking, before I reached home I had acquired a thorough conviction that "these were not the words of him who hath a devil," and that Swedenborg was "a scribe instructed unto the Kingdom of Heaven." It seemed to me that every line I read removed some difficulty, cleared up some doubt, illuminated some mystery, revealed spiritual wealth in the Word of which before I had no conception. If I had become possessed of Aladdin's lamp or had discovered a new continent, I could not have been more completely rapt, more wildly intoxicated with my acquisition. I felt literally that whereas I was blind now I saw; as if my eyes had opened to a world of which till then I had only seen the reflection or shadow. Saul of Tarsus could not have been more utterly surprised and carried away when "there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith," than I was as my mind was opened to the new truths which were revealed to me during this voyage. Before reaching New Orleans I found myself on my knees, exclaiming, "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.". . .

When I left the steamer at Cincinnati to take the train East it became necessary for me to part with my good friend Kjerulff and his books. As I was to be detained a few hours in Cincinnati, I lost no time in looking up a bookstore, where I was fortunate enough to find a nice copy of Swedenborg's Divine Love and Wisdom and of Divine Providence bound together. The price I paid for it led me to suspect that it was not regarded by the proprietor as very valuable merchandise, but I would not have exchanged it for any other book in his shop. In fact, I felt then as though I should never care to read any other books but Swedenborg's and the Bible. I devoted the daylight hours during the remainder of my journey to my new treasure, every line of which seemed to set a new star in the heavens for me. By the time I reached home, though not quite clear in my mind about the nature or extent of Swedenborg's illumination, if specially illuminated at all, nor indeed caring much to know, not doubting that he believed he was, I had got over not only all my difficulties about Christ's mysterious birth and miracles, but I had become equally well satisfied of the Divine authority of the twelve chapters of Genesis over which I had so often stumbled. If there were any parts of the Bible about the Divine origin of which I was less clear, I presumed they were given for our edification, but upon what precise authority I did not pretend to know, nor then much care. I felt like one who had sold all he had and bought a pearl of great price, but at such a bargain that he did not care to wait for his change.

I embraced an early opportunity, upon my return, to look up Dr. Bush. I found him where I had occasionally seen him before, in what he called his "den," a small room in the upper part of the Morse Building, since replaced by a more imposing structure bearing the same name. The room was nearly full of books. He had reserved a place for himself at his desk and scant room besides to seat a visitor or two. I was much interested, of course, in hearing from his own lips of the revolution through which he had passed. He seemed very happy and well assured that he had found "the Way, the Truth and the Life." It turned out that he had already for several years had the advantage of Swedenborg's teachings. In a little pamphlet which he published about 1845, entitled, "Statement of Reasons for Embracing the Doctrines and Disclosures of Swedenborg," he had given an interesting account of the circumstances which first turned his studies specially in that direction. As the "Statement" is now pretty much forgotten, and as the journey his mind traveled, the difficulties he encountered and the processes by which he surmounted them were in many respects similar to my own, and I suspect of most persons who have found in Swedenborg, as he had done, deliverance from spiritual disorders for which the Church, in which we had been reared, had neither cure nor anodyne, I cannot doubt that those who have followed me thus far will be edified by it.

"In the retrospect of the last five or six years of my moral and intellectual life, I am compelled to fix upon the date when I was first led to question the received doctrine of the Resurrection, as the point from which my progress really began to tend towards the New Church, although then profoundly ignorant of the fact. I had previously acquired no precise knowledge of Swedenborg's system, nor formed any intelligent estimate of his character. With the mass of the Christian world, I had contented myself with the vague impression of his having been a man of respectable talents and attainments, but who had unhappily fallen into a kind of monomania, which made him the victim of strange delusions and dreams - the honest but real dope of the wildest phantasies in respect to the state of man after death, and the constituent nature of Heaven and Hell. As to anything like a consistent or rational philosophy of man's nature or the constitution of the universe, I should as soon have looked for it in the Koran of Mohamed or the Vedas of the Hindoos, or what I then deemed the senseless ravings of Jacob Behmen. Having never read his works but in fragmentary extracts, I was unprepared to recognize in him anything beyond the character of a well- meaning mystic, who had given forth to the world a strange medley of hallucinations that could never be supposed to meet with acceptance except in minds which had received some touch of a similar mania, and which had lost , if they ever possessed, the power of accurately discriminating between visions and verities. Such was my general estimate of the man up to the time when I had become settled in the belief that the current dogma of the resurrection of the material body was a gratuitous hypothesis, equally unsupported by a sound interpretation of Scripture, or by the fair inductions of reason. The grounds of this opinion I have given to the public in a work ('Anastasis, etc.') expressly devoted to the subject.

"I had already begun to announce my conclusions on this head in a course of public lectures delivered in this city and elsewhere, maintaining that the true resurrection took place at death, when, at the close of one or these lectures in an eastern city, a lady incidentally remarked to me that the views I had advanced bore a striking analogy with those of Swedenborg on the same theme, and intimated her impression that I must have been conversant with his works. The supposition was unfounded, but my curiosity was excited, and I determined, at the first favorable opportunity, to acquaint myself with the system, and thus supply a conscious desideratum in my knowledge.

"Not many months elapsed before a copy of Noble's Appeal in behalf of the views of the New Church fell into my hands, by the perusal of which I was very deeply impressed. I was compelled to form an entirely new estimate of the man and of the system. I not only saw my own general views of the nature of the resurrection abundantly confirmed, and illustrated, and planted upon the basis of a philosophy and psychology which I still deem impregnable, but an exhibition also of the doctrine of the Lord's Second Advent, which came home to my convictions with a peculiar power of demonstration. I was struck, too, in the perusal of this work, with the Scriptural character of the evidence adduced in support of the doctrines. I had previously no adequate conception of the amount of testimony from this source going to sustain the leading positions of the New Church scheme, and to this hour I do not scruple to regard Noble's Appeal as an unanswerable defense of the system.

"Hitherto, however, I had read nothing of Swedenborg's own writings, excepting occasional detached paragraphs. The Heaven and Hell shortly afterwards fell under my perusal. I read it with profound, but still with great abatements from a full conviction of its truth. I was rather disposed, on the whole, to admit the possibility of the psychological state into which Swedenborg declared himself to be brought, and which alone could make him cognizant of the realities of the spiritual world, because I saw that a similar immersion into that world had been granted to the prophets and apostles, which showed that such a state could exist, and it had once existed, I saw not why it might not again, provided sufficient reasons could be pleaded for it; and the reasons alleged I felt to be sufficient if they were but sound; a question that I felt myself willing seriously to consider, but which I think the mass of the Christian world is not. I found, however, in my perusal of the work, such a violence done to all my preconceptions of that world, that I doubted exceedingly the absolute reliableness of his statements. I could not help distrusting the lucidity of his perceptions. I was continually haunted by the suspicion that his preformed ideas on the subject had both shaped and colored his visions. This was more especially the case in regard to his descriptions of celestial and infernal scenery. I had the greatest difficulty imaginable in conceiving the possibility that any objects similar to those with which we are conversant here should even appear to exist there. Again and again did I propose to myself the question, 'What kind of an entity is a spiritual house, animal or bird; a spiritual mountain, garden, grove, or tree; a spiritual cavern, lake or stream; not dreaming that these things exist there by the very laws of the human mind, as outbursts or emanations of the interior spirit, and as living representatives of its affections and thoughts. It did not then occur to me that a spirit dislodged from the body must, from the necessity of the case, be introduced into the midst of spiritual realities, and that these cannot in the nature of things be any other than what Swedenborg describes them to be - that is, they must be what we should term mental creations or projections. A little deeper reflection would have then taught me, as it has since done, to assent freely to the truth of Swedenborg's statement, that thoughts are actual though not material substances, and that to spirits, that alone can be substantial which is spiritual and consequently that alone can be real. We, indeed, in common parlance, reverse these terms, and denominate that substantial which is material, and which comes under the cognizance of the external senses. But the spirit, on leaving the body, leaves the region of dead matter, and comes into a sphere where itself and its emanations are the real substances or the substantial realities. Consequently, what is here subjective becomes there objective.

* * *

"This I am aware, will find with many but a slow admission, on this first announcement from their having been always accustomed to regard these manifestations of mind as simple acts, exercises, operations, etc. But let the matter be pondered, and judgment rendered, whether the fact be not actually so. How can anything exist which is not a substance? How can anything that exists act, but by the putting forth of its qualities and functions as a substance? The sun acts by the emission of its light and heat. Are not the light and heat of the sun a part of its substance? A flower acts by sending forth a sphere of fragrance. Is not the fragrance as real a substance as the flower, though vastly more rarefied and ethereal? So of the human spirit. A man's thoughts and mental images are the goings forth of the substance of his being; they are as substantial as his being; and if a spirit himself can be objective reality to another spirit, his intellectual conceptions, for the same reason, must be equally objective. Consequently, nothing more is needed, for one's being introduced in the most splendid celestial scenery, than to find himself surrounded by the mental creations prompted by the pure and angelic affections of the countless multitudes which constitute that kingdom. These must be beautiful, because they originate in a moral state of the inner man, which can only be represented by objects of a corresponding character; and that they are real, arises from the nature and necessity of the case. Spiritual objects must be the real objects to a spirit. The infernal scenery, though a counterpart to this, depends upon the same law.

"A great advance was accordingly made towards a full reception of the disclosure of Swedenborg, when the objections on this score were overcome. I saw that here was a rational and philosophical theory of the dominant conditions of the other life; and yet it was evidently a revelation of such a nature as to transcend the utmost grasp of the unassisted human faculties. The inference, therefore, was not only fair but irresistible, that Swedenborg was brought into a preternatural state, in order to his being enabled to make it; and the admission of this was a virtual admission of the main item of this claim - the claim of having been divinely empowered to lay open the verities of man's future existence, and the essential nature of Heaven and Hell.

"This primary fact, then, having been established to my own satisfaction, I was, of course, very strongly disposed to listen with the deepest respect to whatever other reports he brought from that world of mystery and of marvel; although I was still very far- as I hope ever to be - from a blind surrender of my own judgment, as to every point of his announcements. I was not yet prepared to receive the distinctive features of his theology, and more especially was I stumbled by his unsparing critiques upon the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone, which I had been taught to regard as the grand tenet established by the Reformation, and which I supposed to be true, of course, simply from its having been the result of that struggle, which is so often spoken of as the glorious Reformation from the errors of Popery. I had yet to learn that there were a great many things in the Reformation that need much further reforming. So also in regard to the peculiar views advanced respecting the true nature of the Atonement, from which the current doctrine of Justification is inseparable. It was long before I could so entirely emancipate my mind from traditional sentiments, as to embrace fully what I now regard as the far more Scriptural views of the New Church on that subject, to wit, that the atonement was what is signified by the word - reconciliation - God reconciling the world to Himself instead of reconciling Himself to the world.

"But the great rock of offence with me was the interior or spiritual sense of the Word. This, I was strongly assured, even it there were to some extent a basis of truth on which it rested, was yet carried to an entirely fanciful extreme in Swedenborg's interpretations; and I had scarcely a doubt that if I ever accepted the system as a whole, it would still be with a reservation on this score. One who is at all acquainted with the general scheme, will see at once from this, that I had thus far failed to apprehend the true genius of the Science of Correspondences, on which it rests, and from which it flows by inevitable sequence. The truth of this science, however, gradually loomed up more and more to view, as I became more clearly aware of the spiritual nature of man, and the fundamental fact, that all natural things are pervaded, acted, molded, vivified by the influx of spiritual causes."

With Dr. Bush I afterward had many pleasant and edifying talks. I promptly procured a copy of the Arcana Caelestia, and, as I felt the need of them, the other theological writings of Swedenborg. I also looked up the church frequented chiefly by students of Swedenborg on Thirty-fifth street, in which the Rev. Chauncey Giles was then preaching, and which I have since habitually attended when in town.

Previous: Chapter 3. Up: The Bible That Was Lost and is Found Next: Chapter 5.


Webmaster: IJT@swedenborgstudy.com