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Previous: I The New Jerusalem Up: Missionary Talks Next: III. The Second Advent of the Lord

II. Death The Continuation of Life

"When the body is no longer capable of discharging its functions in the natural world, corresponding to the thoughts and affections of its spirit, which are derived from the spiritual world, the man is said to die. . . . Yet the man does not die, but is only separated from the corporeal frame which was of use to him in the world: the man himself lives."—H. H. 445.

INQUIRER.—I have for some time been wishing for an opportunity to have a talk with you on religious subjects. I presume we shall not agree altogether. But by comparing views we may possibly obtain more light. There is always room for us to grow in the knowledge of the truth.

MISSIONARY.—Yes; it always gives me great pleasure to meet with any one who is willing to talk about spiritual things. One does not very often meet with such people, in these days. Most folks are so absorbed by the things of this world that they have no time for anything else. They do not feel disposed to consider anything except what ministers to their merely natural life. In fact, many think it a waste of time to give any attention whatever to spiritual subjects.

I.—Or, probably it is sufficient for them to go to church on Sundays and hear the preaching. As you suggest—some people do not require much spiritual pabulum.

M.—Yes; people go to church. Many, doubtless, go from force of habit. It is fashionable and respectable to attend some popular church. I do not wish to say anything harsh, but must speak as I think. And here are some things which lead one to think that there are those who imagine that if they serve God by going to church on Sunday, they can serve the world, the flesh, and the devil, the remaining six days of the week.

I.—If you will allow me to change the subject, I should like to say that I have been personally acquainted with some of your New Church people, and have found them to be of more than ordinary intelligence. The Swedenborgians I have known were kind and good neighbours —respectable people. A friend of mine once expressed the opinion that the Swedenborgians were not Christians. I happened to be posted a little on this point, and corrected him. I told him there was no reason why they should not be looked upon as Christians, because they believe in Christ. Indeed, they go further than others. They go so far as to say that the lord jesus christ is the only God, and that all the Divinity is in Him. This is your doctrine, is it not?

M.—It is. And it is the doctrine of the Word. In the first chapter of the Revelation the lord jesus christ is called the Almighty; and beside Him there is no God.

I.—That is plain enough. But I should like to hear your views about the resurrection. I understand that you deny the resurrection of the body. You say that when the body is once put in the grave, it will never come forth again? This is an interesting subject upon which I am anxious for more light. If it is not too much trouble to you, I should like to hear your explanation.

M.—It is no trouble to me at all. On the contrary, it is a peculiar delight to me to explain these things so far as I am able. But you wish me to say something about the resurrection. Well, in the first place, we do not believe in the resurrection of the body, that is, the material body, because the Scriptures do not teach such an idea. The doctrine of the Scriptures is that man is an immortal being by virtue of his spirit. The body is mortal, and is put off at death, never to be resumed. It is laid aside like a worn-out garment, for which we have no further use. Death is the continuation of life as to man's spirit. Indeed, according to the Divine teaching, man does not die at all. The lord says: "I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die" (John xi. 25, 26).

I.—It is a new idea that man does not die at all; but in the passage you have just quoted, the lord plainly says so.

M.—Death is only a short, sweet sleep. There is suffering from disease, which is sometimes very severe. But dying itself is just like going to sleep. Death is a brief, unconscious state, lasting in ordinary cases, till the second or third day. The lord, who is life itself, ,and imparts life to all finite beings, then by means of angels or ministering spirits, awakens a person out of the sleep of death. He finds himself actually, consciously, bodily, that is, as to his spiritual body, in the eternal world. He has left nothing behind except his material body. He has "shuffled off the mortal coil." All that constitutes him a human being, remains. He has the use of all his faculties. His senses are more active than during his earth-life. He has his thoughts, affections, desires, aspirations, and delights. The man himself has entered into an immortal state of existence. He has left the natural world and has become an inhabitant of the spiritual world, in which he is to dwell to eternity.

I.—Your doctrine seems to be quite definite; but I must ask you a question. How do you know that a person is raised up into the life of the other world on the second or third day after death?

M.—The doctrines of the New Church can all of them be confirmed by the letter of the Word. And as to the point referred to in your question, we read: "After two days will He revive us; in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight" (Hosea vi. 2). And the lord's resurrection also took place on the third day.

I.—Yes; this seems to make the matter plain enough. And I begin to see that if your doctrine is true, the idea of the resurrection of the body cannot be true. But I should like to hear more proof from the Scriptures.

M.—It is to the Scriptures we go for the confirmations of our doctrine. And the Scriptures, according to a rational interpretation, plainly show that the idea of the resurrection of the physical body is one of the greatest of absurdities. We read: "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it" (Eccles. xii. 7). Moses appeared on the mount at the transfiguration of our lord, and was seen as a man. But his material body had been dissolved fifteen centuries before (Luke ix. 28-36). The rich man and Lazarus are described as having bodies immediately after death. The former had eyes and a tongue; and the latter had a finger (Luke xvi. 19-24). After they died, and their material bodies were buried, they existed in their spiritual bodies. In the other world their conditions were reversed, because the one was a good man and the other an evil man.

I.—You are bringing out some things I never thought of before.

M.—Let me give you only one or two more passages. The great multitude of the redeemed, who had been gathered home to the heavenly world from all parts of the habitable earth, whom John saw, had bodies. They were there in their spiritual and immortal bodies. They stood before the throne. They were clothed in white robes. They had palms in their hands.

I.—I must say you are bringing some strong evidence. The subject is now beginning to become plainer to my mind than ever before. And I begin to see the point as to the resurrection of the body. Since good people after death go to heaven, and exist there in the spirit form, or in a spiritual body, they never will require the natural body any more. In this way of looking at it, it would be a queer thing for all the countless myriads of blest spirits who have for thousands and thousands of ages been before the throne praising and glorifying God, to be obliged to come back to this earth some time and be reunited to the body they once had while living here.

M.—That is stating the reductio ad absurdum of the matter pretty well. It seems that the proofs cited have helped you to understand the subject better; and I am glad you see it so clearly. But I have given you very little of the Scripture proof. The Bible is full of it. And the facts of all true science and philosophy come to our aid in confirmation of the doctrine. Every rational consideration goes to show that man is essentially a spiritual being; that the spirit is in the human form; that it is in his spirit that man is raised up and continues to live in the spiritual world.

I.—How, do you suppose, did men ever get into the notion of the resurrection of the natural body?

M.—From a natural idea they imagined heaven to be a place located somewhere in the material universe. People sing about "our homes beyond the stars," and "our mansions in the skies." One erroneous idea begets another. If heaven be thought of as a place or region in the material universe, it follows that if people are ever going to dwell there, they will require a body. Many suppose that heaven is to be established here on earth, and that the souls of men have no form, or actual, or conscious existence, until the general resurrection day, when all the dead bodies of all who have ever lived on the planet shall come forth from their graves. But I need say no more; you know the rest of it.

I.—Yes; I have heard a great deal of imaginary nonsense, and am glad to get hold of something substantial on the subject at last. How I do wish I could have become acquainted with these views years ago! But how do you understand the Apostle Paul in the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians?

M.—Paul teaches the true philosophy of the resurrection and future life of man. He declares that "there is sown a natural body, and there is raised a spiritual body" (verse 44). This is equal to saying that man, as an organized being, has a spiritual body which is clothed, as it were, with a natural body, by means of which he can live and perform uses during his probationary state in the material world. And the language of the Apostle is also equal to saying that when the natural body has served its purpose, it is put off to return to its native dust, while man, the immortal being, is raised up and continues to live in his spiritual body. This is the logic of the Scriptures throughout.

I.—I feel convinced that such is the case. I want to know more, and must know more, about these things.

M.—Those who thirst, may go to the Fountain of the Water of Life, and drink to the delight and refreshment of their souls.

I.—I have read through the little book, Heaven and Hell, that you gave me. It contains a great deal of definite information. But, I must confess, there are some things in it that seem strange. Do you believe it is all true?

M.—I do not doubt the truth of any part of it, any more than the fact of my own existence. I do not believe it because Swedenborg wrote it; but because I can plainly see that it is the teaching of God's Word. Seeing rationally is believing truly. To see, means to understand. And the understanding of genuine truth brings to the mind a rational conviction. Our doubts vanish.

I.—There is much in the little book I do not yet fully understand. But I presume no one can grasp it all at once.

M.—It is by degrees that we acquire knowledge. And it is as impossible to comprehend all the truths of a sublime theme with a single effort of the mind, as it is to see the beauties of universal nature at a single glance.

I.—According to this doctrine heaven does not seem to be located far off in some region of the physical universe. We used to sing about "our homes beyond the stars," and "our mansions in the skies." But how could heaven be beyond the stars? Is not the immensity of space boundless, so far as the finite mind can form an idea of it? And it seems to me that heavenly mansions must exist in a heavenly world, and not in the skies of physical space. What I like about it is that Swedenborg describes the spiritual world as no less real than this. But give us some of your ideas about heaven.

M.—Heaven is a regenerate state of the human mind. A mind formed by a life in accordance with heavenly principles, is a micro uranos, or little heaven, that is, a heaven in the least form. Heaven is also a place, corresponding to the heavenly state. But it is not a place according to a natural idea. That is, it is not a place located in, and occupying space in, the material universe.

I.—What interested me so much is that instead of vague ideas, and visionary notions, Swedenborg gives us definite information on the subject. There is something substantial about it that the mind can lay hold of and rest upon.

M.—That heaven is primarily, a good state of the human mind, the lord teaches when He says: "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke xvii. 20, 21). The kingdom of God is within us in so far as we receive the Divine love and truth, and these become the ruling principles of our lives.

I.—That is equal to saying that heaven will be wherever there are heavenly-minded people. And I presume it is because the kingdom of God is to be established by the reception of love and truth, that we are taught to pray: "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so also upon the earth" (Matt. vi. 10). But where is heaven as a place?

M.—The spiritual world is in immediate connection with the natural. The connection is of cause and effect. The natural world consists of effects. And the causes which produce them, operate through the spiritual world from God, who is the first cause, or the fountain of all being.

I.—You are now stating a philosophy which many of our theologians have not yet dreamed of.

M.—But it is the philosophy of the Scriptures, nevertheless. And it is rationally explained in the writings of the New Church. But I must answer your question as to where heaven is as a place. The spiritual world consists of three grand divisions, the heavens, the hells, and the intermediate state or world of spirits. We speak of the heavens above, or of the bright and beautiful world on high; and good people are called the children of the Highest, because the idea of what is elevated is a correspondence of what is interior, exalted, or Divine, with respect to state. The hells, on the other hand, are called the lower regions.

I.—There is something grand about this principle of correspondence in the sense in which you use the term. It seems to give one a comprehensive idea of things. But I do not wish to interrupt you.

M.—When a person enters into the other life (as is the case with every one at the close of this life), he finds himself at first in the intermediate state or world of spirits. This is the place of preparation for the final abode, either in heaven or in hell, according to the internal character. Above the world of spirits are the heavens, and beneath are the hells. And the Lord is called the Highest because He is exalted in majesty and glory above the heavens. Our doctrine teaches that He appears before the face of the angels as a sun. And this is according to the Word; for David says: "The lord our God is a sun and shield" (Ps. lxxxiv. 11).

I.—Your explanation is more satisfactory than the notion of heaven being located beyond the stars, or our mansions being in the skies. This is too much like "building castles in the air," to suit me. Let us have something that we can believe intelligently.

M.—Man after death exists in the human form, in his immortal body, and thus lives in the spiritual world. In that world all things are composed of spiritual substances, in like manner as in this world all things are made of material substances. The things of heaven are substantial and stupendous realities. The glories of the heavenly world cannot be adequately described in natural language. The spirit of man is so constituted that it is a suitable world for him to dwell in to eternity. The souls of men are not formless essences, flitting about in the universe, a sort of spectres which are something and yet nothing. The human soul is the human form, manifested in a spiritual body. The spirit of a man is the man himself, divested of the material body, by virtue of which he lived in this natural world.

I.—Your explanation is clear; but how about the passage to the other world? I presume, since it is not necessary for the spirit to travel to a place located beyond the stars, it will not require very long for a person to arrive there?

M.—No; it is just as easy for any one to go to the other world as it is to fall asleep and wake again. The sleep of death lasts only a few hours, or at the longest, until the second or third day; and as soon as a person awakes, he finds himself actually in the spiritual world.

I.—This is very different from the notion that the spirit sleeps in the grave till the day of judgment, when the body that had been buried perhaps some thousands of years before, is supposed to be raised again. But how do you prove your view of the nearness of the other world to this, from the Scriptures?

M.—One of the striking passages is that in 2 Kings vi. 15-17. It was with his ordinary bodily sight that the prophet's servant saw the army of the Syrians. And the account goes on to state that in answer to the prayer of Elisha, "the lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." This was a vision in the spiritual world, which he saw with the eyes of his spirit. And he did not need to go away from the place where he was, to see the vision. The veil of the physical conditions which ordinarily exist, was for the moment drawn aside, and he saw.

I.—This was certainly a remarkable circumstance, and I see that it plainly proves the point. I suppose you have no trouble to find more passages of the same kind?

M.—There are many similar things in the Scriptures. Read, for example, the announcement of the birth of the Saviour in the second chapter of Luke. It is most sublime and beautiful. "There were in the country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night." And after several particulars are related, it is said: "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men" (Luke ii. 8, 13, 14). The spiritual sense of hearing, as well as of sight, was opened in the shepherds at the time. And heaven, with its bright and beautiful angels—its messengers of peace and joy and good will to men—was not far away from them. When their natural sight returned, the angels seemed to them to go away from them into heaven, as is stated (verse 15).

I.—I must thank you most heartily for the explanations you have given. And now I should like you to answer a few questions in the same line of thought. My friend here is becoming interested in these things, and I ask for the sake of his information, as well as my own. And the first question is: Do the inhabitants of the other world, that is, angels and spirits, live in houses, in a similar manner as the people in this world?

M.—I shall with the greatest pleasure reply to your questions according to the best light I have from the New Church writings, which are, in my view, the lord's plain teachings of what the Scriptures contain on the subject. In these writings the lord no more speaks "in parables," saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like unto" this or that. According to the lord's promise to His disciples, in John xvi. 25, He now "shows plainly" the real truth, on this and other momentous themes. The constitution of the spiritual world is described, not only as to its general features, but as to all necessary particulars. The stupendous things of heaven are revealed in language that every one can understand. They that seek for knowledge as to man's state of life in the eternal world, shall surely find it by reading the Writings.

I.—That is so. The beauty of it is, that what is taught in the works of Swedenborg about the future state, so far as I can learn, is in harmony with the Scriptures, with sound reason, and at the same time with all true science and philosophy.

M.—With regard to your question, for example. We can now understand what our lord means when He says: "In my Father's house are many mansions" (John xiv. 2). By the "Father's house," heaven is evidently meant. There are mansions there. And for what other purpose could the mansions be except for the angels to dwell in? Heaven is arranged by the Lord into innumerable angelic societies, each and all according to Divine order.

I.—So the angels are not altogether, in one vast amphitheatre-like place? It has been taught that they are continually standing in the presence of God, and engaged in nothing else but devotional exercises. According to this notion, heaven has been described as a place

"Where congregations ne'er break up, And Sabbaths have no end."

But it seems to me that the countless myriads of good people, including all the innocent little ones, who have during the past ages gone to heaven, would make rather a large congregation to be in one place.

M.—As soon as any one obtains an intelligent idea of how heaven is constituted, these erroneous notions will vanish. The immensity of heaven is beyond the conception of the finite mind. When we try to form an idea of the area required to furnish standing room for those who have gone to heaven during some thousands of years, we can easily see the absurdity of the notion that they are all standing and worshipping God before a throne. The heavens consist of angelic societies innumerable, those who are in similar spiritual states dwelling together. The angels have mansions or houses, in which they live. The angels are human beings that once lived in this natural world. By leading a good life they were purified of evils; and after death they were raised up as to their spiritual bodies, and are now in a blessed state in the heavenly world.

I.—How and by whom are the mansions of the angels of heaven built?

M.—The lord, our Father in the heavens, creates all things for the angels. And all things—the mansions, their contents, their surroundings, and even the garments in which the angels are clothed—are perfectly suitable to, and in correspondence with, their heavenly state of life. They are all that their inmost hearts could desire.

I.—There is something delightful about these definite ideas. But tell us how and by whom they were communicated to men in this world.

M.—In ancient times men talked with the angels face to face, and they had correct knowledges concerning man's future state. But in the processes of the ages, men became natural-minded, and lost sight of the fact of the existence of the spiritual world. In order to restore to the men of the Church this knowledge, the lord required a human instrument, through whom to reveal it. Thus, as we believe, He raised up Emanuel Swedenborg, prepared him, and then let him into the spiritual world, that from actual observation he might give a description of that world. Permit me to read you a passage or two from one of his works. In speaking of the homes of the angels, he says:

''As often as I have spoken with the angels face to face, so often have I been with them in their habitations. Their habitations are quite like the habitations on earth called houses, but more beautiful; in them are parlours, rooms, and bed-chambers, in great numbers; there are also courts, and round about are gardens, shrubberies, and fields. "Palaces of heaven have been seen, which were so magnificent that they could not be described: above they shone as if they were of pure gold, and below as if they were of precious stones, some being more splendid than others. Within it was the same; the rooms were adorned with such decorations as neither language nor science can adequately describe. On the side which looked to the south, there were paradises, where all things shone in such a way, in some places the leaves as of silver, and the fruits as of gold; and the flowers in their beds presented, by their colours, the appearance of rainbows" (H. H. 184, 185).

I.—The description is very beautiful; and he also says that he saw these things in full wakefulness, that is, consciously, when his interior sight was opened. But since the angels live in mansions, do they also have furniture, such as chairs, tables, writing-desks, and book-cases?

M.—Yes; it is not likely that the angels would care to stand all the time, any more than people in this world. And so we may reasonably believe that they have chairs to sit upon. Not only are the habitations of the angels provided with furniture, but they are also adorned with most magnificent objects of various kinds, which are correspondences of beautiful ideas, and are the means of giving them interior delight.

I.—It is wonderful to think that it should be so; but I do not see why we should doubt the truth of it; because the spiritual world is real and substantial. It takes an infinite variety of objects to make a world.

M.—We are informed that in the other world there are all things that exist on earth; but the things there are composed of spiritual substance, and are immensely more perfect in form than they are here. This idea is even expressed by Milton, who makes Raphael say:

"What if earth Be but the shadow of heaven, and things therein Each to other like, more than on earth is thought."

The prophets Ezekiel and Daniel saw temples in heaven, besides a great many other things. And all things described in the Revelation were seen and heard by John in the spiritual world. For he was "in the spirit," when the lord appeared to him, and commanded him to "write in a book" the things that he saw (Rev. i. 10, 11, 19).

I.—Do you suppose the angels have in their mansions such things as pianos and other musical instruments, upon which they can perform?

M.—There is no doubt of it. For all things that exist in this world have their origin in the spiritual world. That is the world of causes, and this of effects. In heaven they have both vocal and instrumental music; and that they have it there in greater perfection than here, we may well believe. In the work on Conjugial Love, No. 17, you will find a description of "concerts of music and singing" in heaven. There are mentioned "wind and stringed instruments of various tones, both high and low, loud and soft," besides other particulars. And what cultured person can doubt that music is of a heavenly origin! A mansion on earth is not considered to be completely furnished unless it has an instrument or instruments of music. How, then, can we doubt that the angels have them in their mansions? We read of praising the lord with the sound of the trumpet, with the psaltery and harp, with the timbrel and cymbals, with stringed instruments and organs (Ps. cl. 3-5). John heard the voice of harpers playing upon their harps in heaven (Rev. xiv. 2). And he also describes, in most sublime language, several glorifications of the lord, who is the God of heaven. The angels sang these glorifications (Rev. vii. 10-12, xv. 2-4).

I.—It seems to be true, then, that "the earth is but the shadow of heaven."

M.—All things good, useful, and beautiful on the earth, are correspondences of things that exist in heaven. The angels have beautiful homes, surrounded with scenes of magnificence and splendour, because they have permitted themselves to be regenerated, and thus by a life of use have attained beauty of human character. The good are always beautiful. The angels are also clothed in fine garments and robes, corresponding to their internal beauty of heavenly and angelic character. The lord gives them all things gratis, while they, under Divine guidance, perform uses which conduce to the happiness of the inhabitants of the universal heavens. The habitations and paradises of the angels are illuminated with the glorious light that proceeds from the sun of heaven. In the effulgence and warmth of that Divine sun, they live in a blessed state which is to endure to all eternity. And to all the faithful sons and daughters of earth—to all who believe in God and do His will— is addressed the bright prophetic promise: "The lord shall be to thee for a light of eternity, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended" (Isa. lx. 20).

I.—How good our heavenly Father is! How great His kindness, to reveal to the children of men such knowledges respecting the spiritual world and eternal life! And how grateful should we be to Him for thus furnishing the means for our enlightenment, our encouragement, and consolation!


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