In the perusal of these pages it will doubtless occur to the reader to ask what, after all, did I learn from Swedenborg of substantial value, that I did not know or might not have learned from the pulpits of the churches open to me in New York? Especially what, if anything, to which I can attribute the great change wrought in my views of my relations to the Godhead within those few short weeks? It would require volumes to answer this question fully; but I can state in a brief space some of the most striking and comprehensive truths for which, by God's mercy, I think I am indebted to these writings.
First. They apprized me of the fact that I, in common with most professing Christians, had been all my life a pagan, believing or acting as though I believed in a plurality of Gods. While at school in Troy and afterwards at Trinity College, Hartford - it was called Washington College in my time - I had been required to attend the Episcopal Church, and every Sunday to repeat what is termed in the Prayer Book, The Apostles' Creed, in which I proclaimed my belief in -
Here were eight separate articles of belief, including a belief in at least three separate and distinct Gods, whom I was educated to recognize, and to whom I was to address my prayers. Jesus Christ, the Son, was just as distinct from the Father in this profession of faith as the Communion of Saints was distinct from the forgiveness of sins, or from the resurrection of the body. The Holy Ghost was apparently a third person, equally distinct from both the Father and Son. When I attempted to pray I was always perplexed to know which of the three I was appealing to or ought to address. This difficulty got me some years later into the habit, for a time, of attending the Unitarian Church. As I advanced in life, and in blindness perhaps, I used to address my petitions to God the Father, closing my eyes, as it were, to the other two, to avoid confusion.
If I am not greatly mistaken, the impression generally prevails among what are called orthodox Christians that there is a sort of graded Godhead, to which the Roman Catholics add the Virgin Mary, and now I believe the Pope; to which the Moslems add Mahomet, and the Mormons, Joe Smith. I am indebted to Swedenborg for showing me the way out of this polytheistic tangle, and making perfectly intelligible to me the great central truth of Christian faith, that there is but one God, in Whom, as Swedenborg describes it, there is a trinity of person, not of persons; that Jesus was Jehovah Himself revealed to us in the measure proportioned to our needs and capacities for receiving Him, just as the light and heat which enter our windows are the sun passed through an atmosphere several miles deep to prevent their blinding or burning us. In this way I comprehended how in Christ was the fullness of the Godhead bodily; how the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are united in the One Divine Person of the Savior, forming One Divine Being, in like manner as the soul, body and their joint operation in man, form one human being.
Second. I first learned from Swedenborg that the Atonement was not, as I had always been taught, a reconciliation of God with the world through a barbarous and unnatural traffic arrangement, but a reconciliation of the world with God; an at-one-ment effected through the intervention of the Lord's Divine Humanity. If the Father and Son really were one person, and the unity of the Godhead assumed that they were, of course neither could feel any resentment towards sinners not equally shared by the other, nor could either have any claims of justice which were not common to both. The Son, therefore, could not but feel as much wrath towards sinners as the Father, and the Father as much compassion for them and solicitude for their salvation as the Son. So that the idea of crucifying either to satisfy the honor of the other was not only at war with any rational conception of God, the Good, the Great, the Just, but struck a fatal blow at the unity of the Godhead. Such a scheme of redemption requires at least two Gods, or it strips Christ of His Divinity, in which latter case His death ceases to be the infinite sacrifice which is claimed to have been the stipulated price of our redemption.
Third. In clearing up my ideas on the Atonement, Swedenborg helped me to see that Heaven and Hell are not places, but states or conditions of the soul; that no sinner, whatever he believes, or thinks he believes, can experience the joys of Heaven, except by ceasing to be a sinner; and that this change is wrought, not as I had been taught, from outside of him, or in and through another being by transfer or imputation, but by "a life according to the commandments"; by works as well as faith. He must actually be inhabited by the righteousness which saves and justifies. I had been accustomed to think that when I was created, I was delivered over to the world like a plough from its factory, or a steamer from the shipyard; that my Creator was to have no more to do with me, at least until the last assize, than the maker of the plough and of the steamer have to do with them; that I had been wound up, as it were, to run like a clock for a few years, more or less, and that I was to be the real author of everything I did or thought until I should have "run down" - or like Job, "I should lie down in the dark." It was Swedenborg that first brought home to me the conviction that every sin and every sinful propensity has its origin in this self-love, in this sense of self-sufficiency, in this primeval ambition to be as Gods; that it was only by expelling, and only so fast as we do expel this selfhood from our hearts, that the Lord could come in and dwell with us. It was not till I began to explore my heart and study the motives of my conduct by the light of this fearful revelation, so new to me, though it lies on the very surface of all Christ's teaching and example that I began to realize how selfish and worldly my life had been from the beginning; how habitually I had appropriated to myself the credit of anything I thought I had done well; how ingeniously I excused and justified what I had done wrong; with how little charity I had judged those whose conduct wounded what I thought to be my interests, my vanity, or my pride; how little concern I had felt for the happiness and welfare of others compared with that I felt for my own; how impracticable seemed the Divine injunction to do unto others as I would have others do to me; how readily I thought evil of those who differed with me in opinion; how slow to run to the relief of a fellow sinner waylaid and overcome by temptation, and left bleeding by the roadside, to suffer, and perhaps to perish for lack of timely sympathy and succor. I now realized for the first time that the whole of the work of regeneration consisted in expelling the self-hood which, with the crew of devils in its service, was always trying to persuade me that it was my own breath I drew, my own thought I used, my own work in which I triumphed. It was this self-hood which urged me to conciliate the self-hood of others and which I yearned to have others conciliate in me; it was to this self-hood that I found political agitators and aspirants, philanthropists and reformers, made their most successful appeals. As I watched and became more conversant with this infirmity, I found, to my astonishment, that to its headquarters might be traced every sinful thought, lust and act which obstructs the Lord in the effort He is always making to re-unite us with Him, and to perfect His image in us; that it was the germ of all dissension, disease, misery and crime in human society, and that the highest, not to say the only, ambition which any mortal can afford to indulge is to pursue and extirpate this self-hood - this proprium, as Swedenborg most appropriately terms it - as persistently and unrelentingly and unsparingly as the Israelites were instructed to pursue and exterminate the inhabitants of Canaan, who, Swedenborg tells us, represent the several classes of enemies that beset every human soul.
Fourth. It was Swedenborg who first made me comprehend and realize that all causes are spiritual; and all phenomena are only effects; that all things which exist in the spiritual world are the direct or indirect causes of all those effects, that the internal or spiritual man and the external of natural man are related to each other as cause and effect, the causes of all things operating through the internal man and all effects through the external man, and that whatever takes place from any cause, takes place from and according to some law of the Divine Providence.
Fifth. From Swedenborg I first obtained an idea of Heaven and Hell, that seemed not irreconcilable with my conception of a God of love; the conviction that our material bodies are but garments in which we are clothed for a temporary purpose, and bearing no more permanent relation to us than the husk bears to the corn, or the shell to the walnut, or than this typing to the thoughts I am here trying to express with them; that death, so far from being an interruption to man's life, is rather a ministry unto life, and as necessary a step in it as getting our teeth or any other process of development; that through its gates we are admitted into a state of existence in which our faculties will be emancipated from the restrictions of sense, and their embryonic capacities indefinitely increased in proportions but faintly represented by the growth of the giant oak from the embryonic acorn; that the spiritual life is but a continuation of our life on earth, and that heaven consists of a practically unlimited gratification of those prevailing loves in harmony with Divine laws, which the dying carry with them; that hell consists of as equally free indulgence of the prevailing lusts and passions not in harmony with the Divine order, which the dying carry with them; that, whether in heaven or in hell, we have what in life we have prepared ourselves most to enjoy, and that an abode in heaven would be as full of torture to one without heavenly affections, as hell would be to one with such affections; and, finally, that God's mercy or love, which "is over all His works," is manifested just as unceasingly, and just as bountifully, towards those whose loves have attracted them to the one place, as to those whose loves have attracted them to the other; that He is always in the effort to give to everyone, whether regenerate or unregenerate, all the happiness such person is capable of receiving. This I found, when I had divested myself of some of the prejudices in which I had been educated, was the teaching of the Bible, and that the sensuous heaven and hell of the popular theology was simply a vulgar expression of our most corrupt and selfish instincts.
Sixth. That God's infinite love is bestowed as constantly upon the greatest sinner as upon the greatest saint, is manifested as fully in what we regard as tribulations or calamities as in what, in the worldly sense, we regard as blessings, as prosperity, as triumphs. That so far from having a penal purpose, our tribulations are merciful warnings that we are violating some of the laws of our being, the observance of which is indispensable to our supreme happiness, and they are permitted only to incite us to trace our errors to their hiding places and to correct them.
Seventh. In confessing what I am in the habit of regarding as the most conspicuous of my obligations, under Providence, to Swedenborg, I reserve for the last, the one without which I possibly should never have had the grace to understand or appropriate those already enumerated, and one which I regard as by far the most important contribution made to the science of theology since the death of the apostles. I refer to his disclosure of the correspondential language in which God has chosen to reveal Himself to man in His Word.
To aid in the comprehension of this doctrine of correspondence, to which I attach such value, I must pause for a little to consider what sort of a book we should expect the Bible to be; how the Word of God must have been written to serve as a lamp to the feet and a light to the path of the children of men; in what sort of language infinite truth could be made intelligible to finite beings; and, finally, in what respect such a Book should necessarily differ from secular literature.
Obviously, God's Word could not be addressed exclusively to any particular stage of intellectual maturity, for "His tender mercies are over all His works." It necessarily had to be written for the instruction of the young, as well as of the aged; for the weak, as well as for the strong; for the ignorant, as well as for the learned; for the idolater, as well as for the monotheist. It had, also, to be written not for any particular nation, nor for any particular generation; no more for the saint than the savage, for the Jew than for the Gentile.
Neither can we conceive of such a Book being written for any particular era or stage of civilization. On the contrary, such a message had to be suited to the intelligence and spiritual perceptions of every generation, of every nation, of every era, in every age and stage of civilization, for God is no respecter of persons. Nor is that all. It had to be adapted to all the changes and spiritual fluctuations to which every human soul ever has been or ever can be subject; its lessons adapted to every possible stage in the process of every human being's spiritual regeneration or degeneration. It is not possible to conceive of God the Infinite and Eternal giving His preference to any nation or tribe, or providing less carefully for one period of our lives than for another, for the old than for the young, for the mature than the immature, for the rich than for the poor, for the learned than for the ignorant, for the saint than for the savage. A book of instructions essential to salvation, addressed to any peculiar people or tribe, or to the people of any particular epoch, age, worldly or spiritual condition, would necessarily absolve all outside of those categories respectively, from any culpability or responsibility for disregarding those instructions, and would imply limitations of God's interest in the salvation of His creatures, which would be wholly inconsistent with the essential attributes of the Divine Nature.
Nor is this all. The inferiority of all creatures to the Creator is infinite. The angels are as much His creatures as any of their ancestors in the heavens or their descendants on earth, and therefore must be presumed to have as much to learn from the teachings of Infinite Wisdom in the spiritual world, as when they dwelt among men in the flesh; indeed, more, for they may be assumed to be more enlightened, and capable of receiving more. The Book, therefore, which professes to be the Word of God, and a guide in the ways of salvation, should express truths unconditionally adapted to the spiritual needs of all His creatures, at all times, under all circumstances, from the beginning and to all eternity. Any other conception of God's Word to His creatures could not be consistent with the essential attributes of Divinity.
It is plain that each of these conditions differentiates such a book profoundly from any imaginable human composition. Swedenborg assures us, and I think demonstrates, that in the Bible we have God's Word precisely so conditioned and differentiated from all other books. What, then, are the structural differences between the Word and all other human compositions, which gives such limitless scope to its teachings?
The natural world in which we live, with all its phenomena, is a world of effects. The causes of such effects, as I have already stated, lie far back in the will, or more properly speaking, in the spiritual world. All the phenomena of life, by which I mean everything of which we take cognizance by or through the senses, are but the sensual manifestations or effects of spiritual causes, the action of some will, without which action they could not have been manifested. Phenomena are representations of the will or purpose which begat them. There must, therefore, be not only a relation but a correspondence between every phenomenon, which is material, and its parent will. This correspondence has been aptly compared to the relation of speech to thought; of the printed page to the ideas it expresses. Every material object and phenomenon expresses so precisely the motive or will of which it was begotten, that a person as competent to read the language of all phenomena as he is to read the books written in his native tongue, would in one, as in the other, think only of the idea, motive, or will it expressed, rarely ever of the phenomenon or type by which the parent idea was made intelligible to him through the senses, When we see a smile on the face of a friend, or a tear in his eye, our mind does not dwell upon the muscular change in the one case, nor upon the fountain in the other, but upon the pleasant affection or tender sympathy of which they are the natural interpreters. The smile or the tear correspond with the emotion which they manifest, though neither has anything to do with producing the emotion, or has any consciousness of it. The human face reveals to the most careless observer well defined qualities of character, and it is those qualities only, whether correctly or incorrectly divined, that we commonly carry in our memories. One person we say is cunning; another, open and frank; a third, vain; a fourth, cruel, and no on. The features represent or correspond with the several qualities of cunning, frankness, vanity, and cruelty, which have been indulged in to a greater or less excess. This idea is happily expressed in a familiar couplet of the "Faerie Queen"
"For of the Soul the bodie form doth take,
There is nothing, there can be nothing, therefore, in the natural world which does not represent something in the spiritual world, or which has not there something with which it corresponds. The natural world, its activities and phenomena, are the language of God; the tones or utterances of infinitude adapted to the comprehension of mortal man, and when we read in the Word of the deluge, of the ark, of mountains and rivers, of lambs, wolves, wars, honey, frankincense, myrrh, or of any other natural objects or phenomena, we are reading vital truths, disguised in a language suited to every possible stage of spiritual enlightenment. This visible world is in fact, the thought of God expressed in a language adapted to the intelligence and edification of all its inhabitants, in every possible stage of spiritual development.
"All nature, and each individual thing in nature," says Swedenborg, "has its spiritual correspondence; and, in like manner, each and all things in the human body. But hitherto it has been unknown what correspondence is. Yet it was very well known in the most ancient times; for to those who then lived the knowledge of correspondence was the knowledge of knowledges, and was so universal that all their books and manuscripts were written by correspondence. The Book of Job, which is a book of the Ancient Church, is full of correspondences. The hieroglyphics of the Egyptians, and the fabulous stories of highest antiquity, were nothing else. Also, the tabernacle with all things therein as well as their feasts, such as the feast of unleavened bread, the feast of tabernacles, the feast of first-fruits; and the priesthood of Aaron and the Levites, and their garments of holiness; and besides these, all their statutes and judgments, which related to their worship and life, were correspondences. Now, since Divine things present themselves in the world by correspondences, therefore the Word was written by pure correspondences. For the same reason the Lord, as He spake from the Divine spake by correspondences; for whatever is from the Divine descends into such things in nature as correspond to the Divine, and which then conceal things Divine, which are called celestial and spiritual, in their bosom."
"Without the spiritual sense," says he in another place, "no one could know why the prophet Jeremiah was commanded to buy himself a girdle and put it on his loins, and not to draw it through the waters, but to hide it in the hole of a rock by the Euphrates (Jer, l3:1-7), or why the prophet Isaiah was commanded to loose the sackcloth from off his loins and put off the shoe from off his foot, and to go naked and barefoot three years (Isaiah 20:2, 3); or why the prophet Ezekiel was commanded to pass a razor upon his head and upon his beard, and afterwards to divide them [the hairs] and burn a third part in the midst of the city, smite a third part with the sword, scatter a third part in the wind, and bind a little of them in his skirts, and at last to cast them into the midst of the fire (Ezek. 5:1-4) or why the same prophet was commanded to lie upon his left side three hundred and ninety days, and upon his right side forty days, and to make himself a cake of wheat, and barley, and millet, and spelt, with the dung of an ox, and eat it; and in the meantime to raise a rampart and a mound against Jerusalem, and besiege it (Ezek. 4:1-15). Or why the prophet Hosea was twice commanded to take to himself a harlot to wife (Hos. 1: 2; 3: 1); and many such things. Moreover, without the spiritual sense who would know what is signified by all the things pertaining to the Tabernacle, such as the ark, the mercy-seat, cherubim, lampstand, altar of incense, the bread of faces on the table, and its veils and curtains? Or who, without the spiritual sense would know what is signified by Aaron's garments of holiness - by his coat, cloak, ephod, the Urim and Thummim, miter, and other things? Who without the spiritual sense would know what is signified by all the things enjoined concerning the burnt- offerings, sacrifices, meat-offerings, and drink-offerings, and also concerning the Sabbaths and feasts? The truth is that not the least thing of these was commanded concerning them that did not signify something of the Lord, to heaven, and to the church. From these few examples it may be clearly seen that there is a spiritual sense in each and all particulars of the Word."
The Book of Genesis, from its beginning to the call of Abram (chapters 1-9), adds Swedenborg, was not written by Moses, but is a fragment of an older Scripture; neither are those early chapters matter of fact history, but compositions, in the form of history, symbolical of things celestial and spiritual.
"They who do not think beyond the sense of the letter, cannot believe otherwise than that the creation described in the first and second chapters of Genesis, means the creation of the universe; and that within six days, heaven and the earth and sea and things therein, and man in the likeness of God, were created; but who, if he ponders deeply, cannot see that the creation of the universe is not there meant; common sense might teach that the operations there described were impossible; as, that there were days, and light and darkness, and green herbs and fruitful trees, before the appearance of the sun and moon. Similar difficulties follow, which are scarcely credited by anyone who thinks interiorly, as that the woman was built from the rib of the man; that two trees were set in Paradise, and the fruit of one forbidden to be eaten; that the serpent discoursed with the wife of the man, who was the wisest of mortals, and deceived them both; and the universal human race, was on that account condemned to hell.
"Nevertheless it is to be noted, that all things in that story, even to the smallest iota, are divine, and contain in them arcana, which before the angels in the heavens are manifest as in a clear day."
Swedenborg avers that in their latest state of excellence, in the Church before the flood, men had an intuitive perception of the correspondences that universally exist in nature, so that their language was the language of nature, that is, of correspondences; and that consequently the rites of the Church became correspondential, and representative of heavenly things; but that in time men became sensual and lost their perception of correspondences, and the rites of the Church lost, in their minds, their representative character. In observing the rites irrespective of the spiritual things they represented, they at length became idolatrous.
That there was a more ancient revelation than ours, as Swedenborg affirms, is proved by abundant allusions to them in our Bible: for example The Book of the Wars of Jehovah is cited in Numbers 21:14; the Book of Jasher is cited in Joshua 10:13 and II Samuel 1-18; The Proverbial Enunciations are cited in Numbers 21:27-30. Besides there were the Sayings of the Seers, II Chronicles 33:19, The Prophecy of Aijah, cited in II Chronicles 9:29, and The Book of Nathan, cited I Chronicles 29:29.
All these records were written in the language of correspondence or symbolically, and if they had survived would not be intelligible except to those to whom the language of correspondence had been disclosed, and so far only as it had been disclosed. The scraps of them which we find in the Bible are remnants only of sacred books far older than any script now extant, and which contained the wisdom suited to a people far more simple, unselfish and intuitively wise than any of whom history has preserved any record. To recover this lost knowledge of correspondences, Swedenborg claims that a new revelation from the Lord was necessary; that, for reasons which he assigns, he was selected as the medium through which that revelation was to be made, - at the time, and at the earliest time, when the world was prepared to receive and profit by it; just as the apostles, Moses and the prophets were severally and at different periods of human history selected for their respective offices. Swedenborg's own testimony upon this subject, already cited, is very remarkable. Nor did he shrink from reasserting his Divine commission on all suitable occasions.
He says in the True Christian Religion, No, 779: "I testify in truth that the Lord manifested Himself to me His servant, and sent me to this office; and that afterwards He opened the sight of my spirit and so intromitted me into the spiritual world, and has granted me to see the heavens and the hells, and also to converse with angels and spirits, and this now continually for many years; likewise that from the first day of that calling I have not received anything whatever relating to the doctrines of that Church from any angel, but from the Lord alone while I was reading the Word."
Swedenborg does not profess to give all the internal meaning of which the Word is the repository. So far from it, he represents the Word to be infinite; to contain even profounder depths of wisdom than can be expressed in the language of men; adapted, by successive unfoldings, to the angels of all the heavens, to the highest state of intelligence that finite minds can ever, to all eternity, attain; and extending upwards even to God Himself, as the rays of light extend to the sun. In other words, that it is in the true sense of the term Divine, and therefore infinite. Hence the necessity that the natural language of the Bible should be that of correspondences, capable of involving these hidden things, and so of being adapted to every spiritual state of men on earth and in the heavens. Swedenborg would therefore claim that the highest evidence of the divine authority of the Bible is to be found in the marvelous light of the manifold but harmonious meanings inhabiting its letter, which the devout and reverent-minded may find revealed through the knowledge of its correspondences now again made known. He teaches, too, that nature is a similar treasury of Divine wisdom, and capable of similar unfoldings - a vast, continuous series of cause and effect within cause and effect, extending up to God Himself. So that His revealed or written Word and His Word in Nature alike descend from Him, and lead up to Him, who is the inmost and animating soul of both; not a mere undefined pervading influence, but a Divine Personal God, an infinitely glorious Divine Man, the great Archetype, of which man was created the finite image.
"Without such a living principle," he says, "the Word as to the letter is dead. For it is with the Word as it is with man, who, as all Christians are taught to believe, consists of two parts, an external and an internal, The external man separate from the internal is the body, which in such a state of separation is dead; but the internal is that which lives and causes the external to live. The internal man is the soul; and thus the Word, as to the letter alone, is like a body without a soul."