I The New Jerusalem
"That a New Church is meant by the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven, Rev. xxi., is because Jerusalem was the metropolis in the land of Canaan ; and there was the temple, the altar, there sacrifices were offered, and thus Divine Worship performed; . . . and also because the lord was in Jerusalem, taught in the temple, and afterwards glorified His Human there."— TCR 782.
INQUIRER.—I presume you are a clergyman. Of what Church, may I ask?
MISSIONARY.—I am a minister of the Church of the New Jerusalem, and am doing missionary work. That is, I am engaged in disseminating the truth of the Gospel as it is revealed to us in the New Dispensation.
I.—The New Jerusalem! What Church is that? I have not heard of it.
M.—It is the new Christian Church which is meant in Revelation, chapter xxi., where John says he "saw a new heaven and a new earth."
I.—And you think that means a new Christian Church?
M.—Yes; for the new heaven and the new earth which John saw has no reference to any change which had taken place, or was to take place, in the constitution of the physical heavens or material earth.
I.—Well, but I do not see what other heavens and earth it can refer to. The heaven of the angels is surely not to pass away; and we know of no other earth than this upon which we live.
M.—John says that "the first heaven and the first earth were passed away, and there was no more sea." But the fact is, that after John had written this declaration, the very same firmament which we understand by the heavens according to natural language, and the very same material globe which we mean by the earth, existed as before.
I.—That is very true. But the Revelation is a prophetic book, and John evidently describes some great changes which are to be miraculously effected in the end of the world, when the last judgment is to be executed.
M.—The Apocalypse is a symbolic as well as a prophetic book. The description of the holy city the New Jerusalem, is in the language of a grand symbolism. It is not intended to be understood literally. Only in the spiritual sense shall we be able to see, that is, rationally comprehend, its true import.
I.—In your way of looking at it, then, you spiritualize the whole matter. I have my doubts about that.
M.—You need not have any doubts about it; and all your doubts will vanish when once you obtain a knowledge of the spiritual interpretation of the Word of God; for it makes all things plain. It enables one to see a beauty and a glory in the Sacred Scriptures which otherwise is quite impossible.
I.—But I do not see the necessity of spiritualizing everything, in order to understand the Bible. Is it not declared that the way is so plain that the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein?
M.—Yes; but we have the warrant in the Scriptures themselves, in favour of the spiritual interpretation. Our lord says: "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life" (John vi. 63). And the Apostle affirms that spiritual things are to be "spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. ii. 14). By the "spirit," the lord can surely allude to nothing else than to a spiritual meaning contained in His words. And by the expression "spiritually discerned," the Apostle evidently means, intelligently understood, by the higher faculty of enlightened human reason. But let us not drift away from our subject.
I.—You said something about a New Dispensation. Do I understand you to claim that your Church is a New Dispensation?
M.—Yes; the Church of the New Jerusalem is not a sect. It is a New Dispensation of Divine Truth. It is founded upon the Rock of Ages. Its fundamental doctrine is that of the supreme divinity of our lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Church of the New Jerusalem is as different from the First Christian Church as that was from the Jewish. In the spiritual writings of this Church we have a method of interpretation which explains the entire Word of God, so that it can be rationally understood.
I.—Your claims seem to me most extravagant. How is it, then, about our great denominations? Are these people all in the dark? Have they none of the light of the Gospel? Does your Church alone possess the truth? And are you and your people alone on the right way to lead them into the kingdom of heaven?
M.—The declaration of the Apostle Peter has always been true, when he says: "God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth Him, and doeth righteousness, is accepted with Him" (Acts x.; 34, 35). In every age, all go to heaven who receive from the Word, and live according to heavenly principles. The lord is the Father of all. He does not withhold His blessings from the many, to dole them out to a favoured few. He is "good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works."
I.—From what you have said, the New Jerusalem must be a very wonderful institution. What astonishes me is that I have never heard of it before. There are none of your people in these parts, are there? For if so, they must keep themselves very quiet.
M.—Yes; our people as a rule are not aggressive. In some cases they are perhaps too quiet. They find but few who manifest any disposition to investigate our system of doctrine; and they are not willing to force their belief upon the notice of others.
I.—Well, but it seems to me that if they are, as you appear to think, the custodians of the doctrines and principles of a New Dispensation, they ought to let the world know all about it, and not keep their light hidden under a bushel.
M.—They are always delighted to communicate the truths which are so precious to them, to others. Indeed, it is to them a cause of sadness that there are nowadays so comparatively few who care for a spiritual and rational interpretation of the Divine Word. The lord says: "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink" (John vii. 37). Thirst signifies desire; and the water of life is spiritual truth which men can drink, that is, receive into their understandings, so that it may be united with heavenly good in their hearts and minds.
I.—It seems to me that if your doctrine were true, there ought not to be a few only who believe in it. Is it not a fact, that many people nowadays are always looking out for something new?
M.—Yes; there are doubtless many who are always looking for some new sensation. People will go in large crowds to hear a sensational preacher; but comparatively few are satisfied with the plain and simple teachings of the everlasting Gospel. A few months ago I saw an illustration of this. In the city where I reside, a noted sensational preacher was holding forth for a few weeks in an extensive rink. I went to hear him one night. Of course the place was full to the doors. But the laughter and clapping of hands, occasioned by the sharp sayings of the speaker, gave me the impression of being rather in a place of amusement, than in a meeting intended for religious instruction.
I.—I presume many would even be benefited by that kind of preaching. Most people have got away from the idea of putting on a long face when they go to church.
M.—That may be. People need not put on an appearance of sanctimoniousness in order to be devout worshippers in the lord's house. But when the apostles went forth preaching the Gospel, they were in solemn earnest. We have no example in all their evangelistic labours, of their turning a religious meeting into a place of amusement. And such a proceeding is evidently unbecoming in Christians at this day.
I.—As my time is nearly up, I want to go back to a former part of our talk. You said, did you not, that by the New Jerusalem is meant a new Christian Church? Now how do you make good that assertion?
M.—By Jerusalem, in the Old Testament, the Church is represented. There are many sublime passages where Jerusalem is mentioned. Let me give you a few examples: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall rest that love thee" (Ps. cxxii. 6). Here the Church is evidently meant. And it is written: "Behold, I create a new heaven and a new earth." And immediately after follow these words: "Behold, I create Jerusalem an exultation, and her people a joy; that I may exult in Jerusalem, and joy in my people" (Isa. lxv. 17, 18). And we read in other places that "the lord hath redeemed Jerusalem"; that "the word of the lord shall go forth from Jerusalem"; and that "Jerusalem shall be called the city of truth, the mountain of holiness."
I.—These are certainly very beautiful passages; and it looks as if there was something in what you say.
M.—The holy city, the New Jerusalem, represents a New Church. And it is the new Christian Church, because in it the lord jesus christ, its Divine Founder, alone is worshipped. There are many who have never heard of this Church. But when they do hear of it, and learn what it is, they will find that it is the kingdom of God on earth, the glory of the last days, the tabernacle of God with men.
I.—How do the doctrines of your Church differ from the creeds of other Churches?
M.—There are great differences between the teachings of the New Church and those of the various denominations, respecting all subjects. But I will answer your question, if you please, by showing you the difference of view on an important point. I allude to what is perhaps the most important point in our whole theology, because it is of a fundamental nature.
I.—Very well; I shall be interested to hear it.
M.—The central and most vital doctrine of the Christian religion is that respecting God. Our doctrine is derived from no other source than the Word; it is according to its spiritual sense, and is to be confirmed by its literal sense. The New Church teachings are based upon what is contained in the Sacred Scriptures as a whole, and not merely upon a certain class of passages.
I.—Well, what does your Church teach about God?
M.—The Scriptures everywhere teach that there is one God. "The first of all the commandments is: Hear O Israel, The lord our God is one Lord;" or, as the Jewish Rabbis translate the passage: "Hear, O Israel, The lord our God the lord is one" (Mark xii. 29; Deut. vi. 4).
I.—Do you believe in the Divinity of Christ?
M.—We do not only believe in His Divinity, but in His Supreme Divinity. We do not believe that He is a third part of God only. According to our doctrine, derived from the Holy Word, He is the only Divine and therefore the one God. We worship Him as our Father in the heavens. For He is "God over all, blessed forever."
I.—Then it seems you do not believe in the Divine Trinity?
M.—Most certainly we believe in the Trinity. Let me give you the first article of our creed. It is as follows: "I believe in the lord jesus christ, the Creator, Redeemer, and Saviour, the only God of heaven and earth, whose Humanity is Divine, and in whom is the Divine Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in essence and in person one."
I.—I see; you do not believe in the three Divine persons. But does not the Bible teach that there are three persons and one God?
M.—The Bible nowhere speaks of persons, in connection with the subject of the Trinity. God exists in one glorious and adorable Person. The Divine Trinity does not consist of three persons. It is in the one person of the lord jesus christ. The Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one in Him, comparatively as the soul, body, and activity are one in man. Man is created in the image and after the likeness of God. In man, therefore, the trinity is finite, while in God it is infinite.
I.—It seems to be very plain to you. But it has always seemed to me that the subject of the Trinity is a great mystery, which no one is able to understand.
M.—But, my friend, the lord says to His disciples: "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God" (Luke viii. 10). "To know" here means to understand. For we cannot know anything about a subject, except in so far as we understand it. I grant you that it is a mystery, but not an incomprehensible mystery, as you seem to think. We have no more difficulty in forming intelligent ideas respecting the Trinity in God, than as to the trinity in man.
I.—We have been taught, you know, that it is not desirable for us to apply our own fallible reason, to these subjects. They are matters of faith. That is, we are to believe them, though we do not understand them.
M.—From the fact that our Creator has endowed us with the faculty of understanding or reason, I think we may conclude that it is perfectly legitimate for us to make use of that faculty. It is surely allowable for us to reason, in a good sense, that is, to think logically and rationally, concerning spiritual things as well as natural things. It must be well-pleasing to the lord for us to make a proper use of our mental as well as of our physical powers.
I.—Well, you have another way of looking at these subjects. But tell us more about the Trinity.
M.—With great pleasure. Now if we think logically about the Trinity, we find that the idea of three persons in the Godhead will not do at all. Because, three persons are three beings. Do you see? Three persons, three beings, three gods! This is the analysis of the matter. And you can come to no other conclusion, if you think of the subject at all. As a matter of fact, the dogma of the tripersonality of God is an absurdity, and not a mystery.
I.—Now you are coming to the point. But does not the fact that Jesus prayed to the Father show that there must have been two persons, at least? How can you explain this?
There is no difficulty about it. Jesus Christ was "God manifest in the flesh." He was "the Word made flesh dwelling among us." Jehovah, the Creator, by assuming the Human and coming into the world, became also the Saviour and Redeemer. The Father and Jesus were not two persons. Jesus said: "I and my Father are one" (John x. 30).
I.—But they certainly appeared to be two persons; because Jesus prayed to His Father, and often spoke of Him as of another.
M.—Very true; they appeared to be distinct beings until after Jesus was glorified. This was because there were in the lord two natures, the Divine and the Human. By the Father is always meant the Divine in the Lord. And the Son, the man Jesus Christ, was the Human which Jehovah assumed, and by means of which He was "Emmanuel—God with us" (Matt. i. 23). The Apostle teaches the true doctrine, when he says: "God was in Christ," etc. (2 Cor. v. 19). The Father was in the Son, the Divine was in the Human, the Word was made flesh. God was in Christ; the infinite Spirit dwelt in Him, performing the work of redemption; comparatively as the Soul or finite spirit is in us.
I.—As you seem to understand this subject, I presume you are able to give us the explanation of the reason why Jesus prayed to the Father.
M.—With regard to the Human which Jehovah assumed, the lord was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isa. liii. 3). He "was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. iv. 15). As to the Divine, Jesus was the God of the universe. But as to the Human, He passed through the most direful temptations. He was assaulted by the infernal spheres of all the powers of darkness combined. Thus He suffered infinitely more than any merely finite human being could ever endure. And in these states of humiliation He prayed to the Father. By the Father, that is, the Divine, the lord jesus our Saviour was omnipotent. Thus He was "the mighty God, the Father everlasting, the Prince of Peace" (Isa. ix. 6).
I.—Well, this is to me an entirely new interpretation of this matter. And although it is essentially different from what I have always been taught, I must confess that it seems reasonable.
M.—The New Church interpretation of this subject is as scriptural as it is reasonable. The teaching that Jesus prayed to the Father as a separate person, would lead directly to the idea of one god praying to another god. And this idea is a fantastic notion.
I.—That is putting it in a pretty strong light, but it does seem to be a wrong idea altogether.
M.—Let us consider further, that in no other way than by assuming the human, could Jehovah become the Saviour and Redeemer. He "made bare the arm of His holiness" (Isa. lii. 10). The Human was the arm of His strength. By this He came in contact with the powers of darkness. He overcame the hells, which had begun to threaten universal destruction. He burst the bars of death, triumphed over the tomb, and glorified His Humanity. To glorify means to make Divine. Thus, at the same time that the lord's glorification was going on, He performed the Divine work of redemption, and so prepared the way for the salvation of the human race.
I.—Do you believe, then, that all men can be saved?
M.—All shall be saved who come to the lord, that is, all who believe in Him, acknowledge Him to be the God of heaven and earth, and look to Him and pray to Him for strength and wisdom to do His will. To do His will is to keep His commandments. The lord invites all to come unto Him. No one is excluded. "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. xxii. 17).
I.—I must admit that it sounds to me like good Bible doctrine. But I am not quite satisfied yet about the Trinity. I would like to know more clearly how you understand the lord jesus christ to be the only God.
M.—When the lord was glorified, the Divine and Human were united. Then Jesus no more prayed to the Father, but He said: "Unto me is given all power, in heaven and in earth." Because all power is given to Him, it follows that He is "the Almighty," as He is called in the Apocalypse (Rev. i. 8). In the lord's reply to Philip, He said: "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." "The Father dwelleth in me" (John xiv. 9. 10). In the lord Jesus Christ the Divine was made manifest, and the invisible God became visible. The lord declares that the Father dwells in Him: and we read that the Holy Spirit proceeds from Him. "He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit" (John xx. 22). We see from this that the Divine Trinity is in the lord jesus christ. In His one glorious Person He is God, and Him alone we ought to worship. The apostles teach this doctrine very plainly. Paul says: "In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. ii. 9). And John declares: "This is the true God, and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John v. 20, 21).
I.—I have heard it said that the Swedenborgians deny the evangelical doctrine of the atonement. Now what is your view of the subject? Do you believe that through the sacrifice of Christ the just demands of the Father were satisfied?
M.—We do not believe in the generally received doctrine of the vicarious atonement. That is, we do not understand the Scriptures to teach that the lord Jesus Christ was in any sense a substitute. In the person of the lord Jesus, the Creator Himself became the Saviour and Redeemer of the world. We read in a number of passages in Isaiah, especially in chapters xliii., xliv., and following chapters, that Jehovah God, is the Saviour and Redeemer. He did not require a substitute, for He came Himself to accomplish the Divine work of redemption. We do not, therefore, believe that the lord Jesus Christ is a second person in the Godhead, who suffered and died in man's stead, and thus satisfied any demand of the Father.
I.—But in what other way could man be redeemed? Was not the atoning sacrifice of Christ the plan decided upon in the just counsels of the triune God, for the salvation of the world? Is not this the scheme of redemption plainly laid down by the apostles in their epistles?
M.—We do not find such a doctrine as the vicarious atonement plainly laid down in any part of the Scriptures. This idea of substitution, to satisfy an imaginary demand of our heavenly Father, is essentially erroneous. The doctrine taught in the Word of God with regard to the atonement is something very different. It would certainly not be just for an innocent person to be required to suffer and die in the place of the guilty.
I.—You surprise me by such assertions. Was not Jesus Christ, by His crucifixion, a sacrifice for the sins of the world? Do you mean to say that the doctrine which has been taught by the Church for more than a thousand years, is wrong, and contrary to the teachings of the Bible? If this is the case, what countless millions of Christians have been in the dark! And it seems high time for you New Jerusalemites to bestir yourselves to enlighten the world. But I fear it will be a long time before you will convert the world to an acceptance of your peculiar ideas. It seems to me that people will be much more apt to cling to "the faith once delivered to the saints."
M.—My dear sir, it is a remarkable fact, that there are at this day many who do not cling to what you call "the faith once delivered to the saints." True, there are those who hold on to the old religious views, and do not trouble themselves to investigate anything else. They are satisfied with what they have, and do not care to look for anything better. But at this moment the world is full of sceptics, that is, doubters. They are to be found among all classes of men throughout the whole Christian world. You will even find them among the members of the popular Churches. The sceptics are not all infidels. On the contrary, many of them believe in a Supreme Being. Sound reason tells them that there must be a Creator and Preserver of the universe. They have a sort of veneration for an unknown Deity. But they discover the manifest fallacy of certain religious views. Then they become doubtful on other points. They reject one thing after another, until the entire system of "orthodox" teaching is gone.
I.—It seems to me that I have switched you off the track. We were talking about the atonement. And I am not ready to drop the subject yet. You have such new and strange ideas, that I must hear more. I will not attempt to discuss the subject with you, but will hear what you have to say. I want to find out whether there is anything in your doctrine.
M.—It is always a pleasure to talk to any one who is willing to listen. But I do not wish to do all the talking. You shall have the opportunity to say whatever you may desire.
I.—I confess my ignorance on these matters. In fact, I know very little about them, although I have been pretty thoroughly drilled in our evangelical doctrines. And sometimes it has almost seemed to me as if I were half of a sceptic myself. You said that a sceptic was a doubter. And upon my word, doubts will sometimes arise in one's mind in spite of one. A man cannot well help thinking, even if he is not much disposed to reason.
M.—Paul says, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." And in order to prove anything, so as to understand it, we must examine, compare, investigate, and then draw conclusions. We have not time to discuss the matter fully to-day; but the theory of the vicarious atonement is alike contrary to reason and Scripture. As soon as men look into it, they see this and drop it. In fact, many of the preachers themselves have dropped it.
I.—It is very true; somehow the style of preaching seems to have changed considerably, during the past twenty or thirty years. There is not so much "fire and brimstone" about it as there used to be.
M.—The fallacy of the vicarious atonement resulted from a misunderstanding of the sacrifices offered by the children of Israel. "The sacrifices of the Mosaic law do not represent the punishment of sin. They represent the consecration of every affection of the mind to the lord." "The Jewish sacrifices were intended to represent the worship of the lord, from the affections and perceptions of a purified heart and mind" (Noble's Appeal, p. 431). Christ was indeed a sacrifice for the sins of the world; but not a vicarious sacrifice. It is erroneous to think that Jesus Christ suffered in man's stead, in the sense of His assuming the just punishment which sinners bring upon themselves as the result of violations of the laws of Divine order. "The soul that sinneth it shall die." It has been taught that Christ's righteousness is imputed to man, by virtue of his having faith. But one person's righteousness cannot be imputed to another. A man cannot be saved by mere thinking. He must cooperate with the lord, and be up and doing. "Cease to do evil; learn to do well." The man who does that which is lawful and right, shall save his soul alive. "Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die?" A man cannot become good, except in so far as he ceases to do evil. We must do the work of repentance and shun evils as sins against God. Evils are sins against God, because they are contrary to the laws of Divine Order, which are for the government of human society.
I.—Now you are throwing some light on the subject. I see you are making a strong point in favour of personal righteousness. And the lord does say: "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me" (John xiv. 21).
M.—Yes; the apostles also teach that the only way of salvation is by living according to the Divine commandments: "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God" (1 Cor. vii. 19). And faith without works is a dead, and not a living faith (James ii. 20, 26). I should think a man would be ashamed to want to go to heaven on the merits of another. There is nothing manly about this. Genuine Christian principles will lead a man to be a true man in every particular.
I.—I see that your view is quite different from that generally entertained. But you seem to find Scripture to prove your positions. We cannot gainsay what the Book says.
M.—There is another point I would like to speak of in connection with this subject. There never was in God any wrath that required to be appeased. Nor was there ever in Him any offended justice that demanded satisfaction. The Divine Father was never angry toward His children. "God is love." He is also infinite and immutable. He is, therefore, pure love itself, and this "the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever." And so we read that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son," etc. (John iii. 16). This is said with direct reference to the work of redemption. The Divine Love caused God to assume our nature, and thus to come into the world, that He might subdue the powers of darkness, and so make it possible for man to be saved.
I.—That there is in God no wrath, is another of your peculiar ideas. But you surely do not deny that God hates iniquity? Does not the Book say so?
M.—The lord our heavenly Father is Divine, perfectly just, and infinitely good and loving. He cannot, therefore, do anything of an arbitrary nature. The Scriptures do not teach such a doctrine as the vicarious atonement. "Redemption was a work purely Divine." It was performed from Divine Love, according to Divine Wisdom, and by Divine power. It was accomplished in the fullness of time, at just the right period in the world's history. The lord came to seek and to save that which was lost. By glorifying His Human, the Lord acquired a Divine Natural Humanity. By this He can succour all those who are willing to come unto Him that they may have eternal life. The everlasting arms can reach down to man, yes, even beneath him, and lift Him up to ever higher states of life. By the Divine influences, even the lowest of the lowly may gradually be regenerated, and become new creatures, and finally enter into the unspeakable felicities of heaven.
I.—I am very glad to have heard your explanations, and do not know that I can object to any of them.
M.—I have been able to say very little, and that little has been very imperfectly expressed. These are grand themes for us to consider, and it requires time to do so properly. True religion, genuine Christianity, is nothing less than a Divine Science. The principles of this Science are revealed to us by the Lord Himself, and it ought to be our supreme delight to study them.
I.—Yes; I feel that many of us are altogether too indifferent about these subjects. Most men, and women too, are absorbed in the things of this world. The things of time and sense take up all their attention. But when we stop to think about it, we see that we cannot stay here very long. And while we do stay, we ought to be doing something to prepare for a better state of existence.
M.—Very true; it is of the greatest importance. For what we become while in this world, as to our essential life and character, we shall be in the eternal world. Death is but the continuation of our life. As to the spirit we are immortal, and we our very selves shall live for ever.