There probably has sever been a line written that has unsettled the faith of so many in the Divine origin and authority of the Bible, as the opening sentence of that sacred volume: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Swedenborg tells us that this first chapter of Genesis, which is commonly supposed to treat only of the creation of the world, and of the Garden of Eden called Paradise, and of Adam as the first created man, really treats of the second birth or new creation of man, that is, his regeneration, and that the six days of creation represent so many successive stages of his regeneration. The first stage is that which is referred to as the "beginning," and includes both the state of infancy and the state immediately preceding regeneration. This is called vacuity, emptiness and darkness, and the first movement is the Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters. "The beginning," he says, "implies the first time when man is regenerating, for then he is born anew and receives life, hence regeneration, which signifies a new creation."
Thus "the beginning," referred to in the first verse of Genesis, does not refer to any particular epoch in time, but is applicable to every regenerating soul in all time.
I am here tempted to quote a very striking passage on this very subject from the writings of William Law.... And curiously.., entitled "An Appeal to all that doubt or disbelieve the truths of the Gospel, whether they be Deists, Arians, Socinians or Nominal Christians," etc*
Properly and strictly speaking, nothing can begin to be; The Beginning of everything is nothing more than its beginning to be a New State . . of something that existed before of Eternal Nature, and is nothing else but so much of Eternal Nature changed from its eternal to a temporal condition. Fire did not begin to be; Light did not begin to be, Water and Earth did not begin to be when this temporary World first appeared, but all these things came out of their eternal state into a lower, divided, compacted and transitory state. Hearing, Seeing, Tasting, Smelling, Feeling, did not then begin to be, when God first created the creatures of this World; they only came to be Qualities and Powers of a lower and more imperfect order of Beings than they had been before. Figures and their relations did not begin to be, when material circles, squares, etc., were first made, but these Figures and Relations began then to appear in a lower State than they had done before; and so it must be said of our temporal Nature and everything in it. It is only something of Eternal Nature separated, changed or created into a temporary state or condition. (William Law's Works, Vol. 6.p 114)
The undervaluation of the Bible is the infirmity of the flocks and the vice of the shepherds throughout Christendom. Both treat the Bible mostly as the savages treat the soil, harvesting and hunting only what grows spontaneously on the surface. They too rarely turn it up to see what wealth is stored up for them beneath. Both look, with more or less suspicion or contempt upon those who explore and toil for the hidden wealth. This disposition is neither logical nor theological. No one can read the Bible, however superficially, without finding himself occasionally obliged to go beyond the literal to the spiritual meaning of its language to get any edification from it.
Solomon proposed to build a house for the name of the Lord (I Kings 5:5); and every time we utter the Lord's prayer we say, "Hallowed be Thy Name," How shall the literalist expound these words? What does a name need of a house? How does it occupy a house? What kind of a house can a name occupy? Farther on in the 9th chapter of I Kings, the Lord says, "I have hallowed this house which thou hast built to put my name there forever, and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually." The young and the very ignorant when they read these passages may suppose that in some way these statements are literally true; that the house was built for a name, and that God did somehow put His eyes and heart there. When, however, they begin to reflect, it dawns upon them that the name here referred to must signify something more than the numeral to which the soldier or prisoner answers at roll call. No educated clergyman would construe these words literally. They would generally treat it as figurative, or metaphorical, merely leaving the impression that another writer having occasion to record the same story might have employed quite different words and illustrations. In this way God's Word is treated as if it were subject to all the fluctuations and caprices of human speech, a treatment entirely irreconcilable with its Divine authenticity.
So when we pray the Father to give us our "daily bread," no inconsiderable portion of the Christian world regard this as simply a prayer that their daily recurring bodily appetite may be gratified, assuming that the word "bread" here is only a general term for any suitable nutriment for the body. But one can have read the Bible to very little purpose not to have discovered that the bread in this prayer signifies not only the kind of food that is essential to the growth and development of the body, but also of higher and more enduring life in man, in other words spiritual food; food suited to the nourishment of our spiritual life day by day.
Bread (from grain), says Swedenborg, in general corresponds to the affection of all good, because it supports life more than other things, and because all food is meant by it. On account of this correspondence the Lord is called the Bread of Life. "Thou feedest them with the bread of tears," says the Psalmist (Ps. 80:5). "The virtuous woman," says Solomon, "looketh well to the ways of her household and eateth not the bread of idleness" (Proverbs 31:27). It is obvious enough that in neither of the cases here cited is there any question of the nourishment of the body merely. Nor when Moses said to the Children of Israel, "Neither fear the people of the land, they are bread for us." The people of the land here referred to, are the lusts, the passions, the evil propensities of every human heart, and "he that overcometh them shall not be hurt of second death." "They shall eat of the bread of life." "He that overcometh shall sit with me in my throne." Such is the kind of bread that Moses promised to those of his followers who bravely pursued and overcame the enemies of their own households.
Again, when the Lord said to His disciples, "I am the Vine and ye are the branches," He was not teaching vegetable physiology nor talking poetry, as any one may see by noting the stations of dignity and consequence occupied by the vine and every product of the vine, as well as the "branch" in nearly every book of the Bible.
The prophet forecasts the birth of our Savior in these words; "Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.
What have butter and honey in their literal sense to do with our choice between good and evil? It is no irreverence, we hope, to say that if it has no other than the literal meaning it is nonsense; but as representing and corresponding with the faculty by which we love the good and eschew evil it is everything.
When we read in John that Jesus cured the blind man by anointing his eyes with His own spittle mingled with clay, it is our first impulse to ask why did He not prevent the man becoming blind, and why resort to such a process to cure him when He had but to say the word and the man's sight would have been restored? Obviously something more than blindness of the body was involved in this miracle, and something more than a simple eye ointment was employed in his cure. It is not until we observe how frequently "blindness" is used to express the absence of divine light that we see how perfectly our Savior's remedy was adapted to the infirmity.
If some words in any one book of the Bible have a spiritual or interior meaning, why not in all of that book? Can a motive be conceived for giving a spiritual meaning to some word of a Divine message and not to all? Is not a discrimination equivalent to an impeachment of its Divine authorship?
Swedenborg tells us . . that in the Most Ancient Church before the flood, the language of the world was entirely correspondential, and when natural phenomena were named they were but as words that empress the spiritual idea with which they correspond, the phenomena occupying no more of the speaker's thought or attention than the paper or letters of a book do of the thought or attention of its reader.
At the Deluge, the children of men had so far lost the correspondential language that the phenomena of nature had practically ceased to be intelligible to them; they had become as a page of a book to a child who can not read, who can spell out the characters, but having little or no suspicion of the thought those characters were intended to express.
It is perhaps the greatest, as it is the most nearly universal delusion of mankind to ascribe causality to physical phenomena; to suppose the events in nature, of which we take note through the senses, to be something more or other than a series of effects from the spiritual causes which they represent. True, the order and connection of events and circumstances appear to us for wise reasons, which I will not interrupt this narrative to explain, to stand towards each other in the nature of cause and effect; but the harmony and order which we mistake for cause and effect are but the inevitable consequences of the order, connection and succession of their spiritual causes, and of the Divine order reigning through the whole.
This correspondence, therefore, between the two worlds of spirit and of matter, of cause and effect, must be universal. It can admit of no exception. It does not consist in affixing certain arbitrary meanings to certain objects, nor in the tracing of a metaphorical or poetical resemblance between a certain state of the mind and a certain event in nature, but it in the necessary link, the umbilical cord, which unites the spiritual world with its natural progeny, and in accordance with which the state of the human will and understanding are represented in the sensible appearances of space and time . . .
"Wherever in the universe," says Swedenborg, "any object appears, it is a representative of the Lord's kingdom, so much so, that there is actually nothing in the atmospheric en starry universe, nothing in the earth and its three kingdoms, that does not, after its kind, represent. For in nature the whole, and every part of the whole, are ultimate images. From the Divine essence are celestial states of goodness, and from these spiritual states of truth, and, from both of them conjointly, natural objects; and because all things, as well as each thing singly, subsist from the Divine essence - that is, continually exist from Him - and as all their derivatives must of necessity represent those states through which they become extant, therefore, it follows that the visible is nothing else but a theater, representative of the Lord's kingdom, and this latter a theater representative of the Lord Himself." (Arcana Caelestia 3483)
"Throughout nature there is not a single thing which can exist unless it have a correspondence with the spiritual world, for without it, it would want a cause for its existence, and, consequently, for its subsistence also. For all things in nature are nothing else but effects, the causes of which are in the spiritual world, and the causes of these which are ends, in the interior heaven. The effect cannot subsist unless the cause be continually in it, for the cause ceasing, the effect must cease also. The effect considered in itself is nothing else but the cause; but so extrinsically clothed as to be subservient to the cause by enabling it to act in a lower sphere. What is here said of the effect in relation to its cause is equally true of the cause in relation to its end. For a cause is nothing unless it exist from its cause which is the end; for without an end it is a cause devoid of order, and without order nothing can be effected." (Arcana Caelestia 5711)