V. The Inspiration of the Word
"The lord giveth the Word: great is the host of them that bear . the tidings."—psalm lxvii.11.
INQUIRER.—Do you believe in the Divine Inspiration of the Scriptures?
MISSIONARY.—We do, indeed; as you will see by the second article of our Creed, which reads as follows: "I believe in the Sacred Scripture, which is the Word of God, Holy and Divine in the letter and in the spirit, and the Source of all wisdom to angels and to men."
I.—"The Source of all wisdom to angels and to men." How do you understand this statement?
M.—It simply means that there is no other Source of knowledge, respecting things spiritual, heavenly, and Divine, than the Sacred Scripture, and that which is derived therefrom. The Sacred Scripture is a Divine Revelation of spiritual and heavenly things; and those knowledges which transcend the scientific and natural plane of thought, can be communicated to man, and received intelligently by man, in no other way than by means of Revelation, that is, by means of truths revealed to us.
I.—I never thought of the subject in that light before. It is to me a new idea.
M.—If you will reflect upon the subject, you will soon see that it is so. The mere substances and forms of nature do not teach you anything spiritual. A man may become a very learned scientist, a most profound natural philosopher; he may use the microscope and discover untold wonders, marvellous beauties, in the structure of forms that are totally invisible to the naked eye; or, he may use the telescope, and behold the stupendous grandeur of the great universe; may learn that it consists of a grand aggregation of countless numbers of universes; may see that all things are governed by immutable laws; that everywhere there is order, harmony, development, and thus perpetual creation going on: but if he rejects the Scripture as a Divine Revelation, he will not believe in the existence of God, the Infinite Creator and Upholder of the universe. Faith in God will seem to him puerile.
I.—This would no doubt be true of some of the learned, but not of all. I think there are some men who reject the Bible as a Divinely inspired Book, who nevertheless believe in the existence of a God.
M.—I have no doubt of that. There are some among the learned that reject the Scriptures, on account of the absurd notions and irrational dogmas which have been ascribed to them, by the literalistic interpretations of a false theology.
I.—It is not to be wondered at, that men of even ordinary intelligence reject the Scriptures, on that ground. But, of course, there is a vast amount of nonsense that passes for good "orthodox" doctrine, which in fact is not taught in the Bible at all. There are many things that I have never been able to reconcile with common sense, not to speak of sound logic, the use of which is surely legitimate.
M.—I wish here to affirm the correctness of the position, that natural things, in themselves, do not teach man a single idea respecting anything spiritual. The Apostle truly says: "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. ii. 14).
I.—Yes; Paul puts it in a pointed way, that is, spiritual things are to be spiritually understood: is that the idea?
M.—That is evidently the meaning he wishes to convey. And if a man will receive enlightenment from the Word, by means of doctrine derived from the Word; if his mind is formed by genuine truths of Revelation, concerning the existence and nature of God, concerning man and his relations to God, and concerning many other important subjects; then he can illustrate and confirm spiritual things by means of natural. Then he will be enabled to elevate his thoughts to the devout contemplation of things heavenly and eternal. Spiritual verities will no more be foolishness to him. He will be prepared to believe in the existence of spirit as an actuality, as well as of matter: will no more doubt that there is a spiritual world of most glorious and stupendous realities, than that there is a material world, the existence of which is itself a perpetual miracle. And he will be a devout believer, both in the Divinity of the lord and in the Inspiration of the Word.
I.—Provided, always, allow me to add, that the Word is taken for what it really is. It seems to me that the Bible must be a spiritual and Divine book; and that it must therefore be spiritually understood, according to a Divine method of interpretation; if there is such a thing.
M.—The lord, who gave the Word, by inspiration, has not left mankind in the dark as regards its true import. He has also provided a Divine method for its interpretation; and they that accept and use this, need not search the Scriptures in vain. There is a flood of light thrown upon all the "dark sayings of old"; and all subjects may now be more thoroughly investigated, and more clearly comprehended. "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined" (Ps. l. 2); that is, He has made a revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word; and this "to give light to them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke i. 79).
I.—I want to learn about this revelation of the spiritual sense, of which you speak. But in the first place I want to ask about an expression in your Creed. It says, I think, that the Word of God is "the Source of all wisdom to angels and to men." Does your Church teach, then, that the Word also exists in heaven, and that the angels there have it as a written Revelation?
M.—Yes; we read: "For ever, O lord, Thy Word is settled in the heavens" (Ps. cxix. 89). It is also declared that "God is the Word" (John i. 1), —according to the original. The lord is the God of heaven; and it is the Divine Sphere of the lord that constitutes heaven. The Word also exists in the heavens; and the angels are in intelligence and wisdom, from the lord, by means of the Word. This is what the Writings of the New Church teach us; and they contain an immense amount of definite information concerning the subject. You see, in the New Church we need not bring forth ideas from our own imaginations; because we have an abundance of ideas and truths and principles revealed to us from the lord respecting things spiritual, heavenly, and Divine.
I.—Wonderful! The things you are telling me are, in fact, nothing less than a revelation to me. May I ask, what sort of a language is it in which the angels have the Word?
M.—The angels are spiritual beings, dwelling in the heavens in the spiritual world. They are "the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb. xii. 23). They are "ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Heb. i. 14). They are the proclaimers of "Good tidings of great joy" to a benighted and sin-stricken world (Luke ii. 10-14). They are the lord's hosts, "that excel in strength, that do His commandments, hearkening to the voice of His word" (Ps. ciii. 20). They are the lord's redeemed ones, gathered home to heaven, from all parts of the habitable globe (Rev. vii. 9-17). The angels of the universal heavens were once men, or human beings, in a natural world. But they are now spiritual beings, inhabiting the glorious and peaceful abodes of the heavenly world. They are nevertheless finite beings, endowed with the faculties of finite minds; and therefore require Divine instruction. And this they receive from the lord, the God of heaven, by means of the Word.
I.—Your remarks are very acceptable, because exceedingly instructive; but you have not yet answered my question.
M.—I was just on the point of doing so. The doctrines of the New Church inform us that the Word in heaven is written in a spiritual style, which differs entirely from the natural style. The angels, therefore, have the Word and read it in a language suitable to their state, thus in a spiritual or heavenly language. We have in the Writings the following beautiful statement: "In the spiritual world, the Word, in the inmost recesses of the temples there, shines before the eyes of the angels like a great star, and sometimes like the sun; and also from the bright radiance around it, there appear, as it were, most beautiful rainbows" (T.C.R. 209).
I.—The mention of the sun, in this passage, reminds me of the account of our lord's transfiguration, where it is said, "His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light" (Matt. xvii. 2). Now, was not Jesus Christ "the Word made flesh, dwelling among us," that men might behold His glory? (John i. 14). And was it not because of the lord being the Word, that His face shone as the sun, and His garments were white as the light?
M.—Yes; the transfiguration of the lord was a most sublime circumstance, being in all particulars representative. The essential attributes of the lord are Divine Love and Divine Wisdom. The very names of the lord, in the Humanity, Jesus Christ, signify the Divine Good and the Divine Truth. When it is said, in the account of the transfiguration, that the lord's face shone as the sun, it has reference to His Divine Love, or Good; and when it is said that His garments were white as the light, it has reference to His Divine Wisdom, or Truth.
I.—Somewhere in the Scriptures the lord is called a sun, also; I do not remember where the passage is.
M.—Yes; it is said: "The lord God is a sun and shield; the lord will give grace and glory" (Ps. lxxxiv. 11). The sun is the most glorious object in nature, and the most perfect representative of the lord. The lord, in His Divine Humanity, is exalted in glory and majesty above the heavens, as the Sun of the spiritual universe. When the lord manifested Himself to John, in a transcendently glorious Personal Form, "His face was as the sun shineth in his strength" (Rev. i. 16). The Divine Love and the Divine Wisdom of the lord proceed from Him, and thus are manifested, in the elements of heat and light. By means of the heat and light the whole universe was created; and by the continual operation of these elements its existence is perpetuated. The heat and light of the sun of nature are what we call correspondences of love and wisdom. Love is warm, genial, glowing; and wisdom enlightens and brightens and elevates the mind. Love is heavenly fire; and truth is spiritual light.
I.—These things are exceedingly beautiful; but I should now like to go back to your Creed once more. I should like to hear an explanation of the words: "Holy and Divine, in the letter and in the spirit." For this will, I presume, bring forward something relating to the spiritual sense.
M.—The Word in reality contains three senses, called the natural, the spiritual, and the celestial; and in each sense it is Holy and Divine. The reason why there is in the Word a threefold sense, is, because the lord is the Word; and there is in the lord a Divine Trinity. There are three senses and one Divine Word, as there are three essential attributes and one Divine Being, who is the lord our Father in the heavens.
I.—This idea of the Scripture containing a threefold sense is quite new to me; but it looks reasonable.
M.—It is so in the very nature of things. The Word is a Divine Revelation to man. In and by means of it the lord manifests Himself to His rational creatures; and teaches them concerning things spiritual and eternal. The Word, therefore, as to its style and form of composition—as to the truths and ideas involved in its Divine Language—must be adapted to man's spiritual nature and mental constitution. And it is so adapted; and that by Infinite Wisdom. For we are taught that the human mind consists of three planes or degrees, called the natural, the spiritual, and the celestial. There is, therefore, a trinity in man; because he was created in the image and after the likeness of God.
I.—So the Book says. Can you give any other reasons for believing that there is a threefold sense in the Word?
M.—Another reason is, because there are three heavens.
I.—Three heavens! That is another new idea. I have always thought there was but one heaven.
M.—There are three heavens, which constitute the one universal heaven. As there are three degrees in the human mind, so there are three degrees of regeneration, which are effected by the reception of the truths of faith from the Word, and by a life according to them. People go to the heaven, and to that particular society in that heaven, for which they are fitted, according to the degree of regeneration that is effected in them. In the Father's House are "many mansions;" and the lord, in His Divine mercy, prepares an eternal, beautiful, delightful home for everyone that will permit himself to be regenerated, and so be led, finally, into His heavenly kingdom.
I.—After the explanation you have given, I am sure there is nothing objectionable, about the idea of three heavens.
M.—That there are three heavens, is very plainly taught in the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul speaks of one that was "caught up to the third heaven" where he "heard unspeakable words" (2 Cor. xii. 2-4). We are taught—according to the original—to say: "Our Father who art in the heavens" (Matt. vi. 9; Luke xi. 2). And it is written: "Sing, O ye heavens, -and be joyful, O earth" (Isa. xlix. 13). "The heavens are telling the glory of God" (Ps. xix. 1). These passages, in the true sense, do not allude to the physical expanse above us, but to the angelic heavens. The angelic beings, who are redeemed from the earth; who have come "out of great tribulation;" these can sing, and rejoice, and give glory to the God of the heavens, for His infinite mercy and loving-kindness toward His children.
I.—Your point is well proved. In fact, when one comes to think of it, the trinal principle is very general.
M.—It is universal. As there is a Trinity in God, the Creator, there is a trinal principle in all things of creation. There are three kingdoms in nature, the mineral, vegetable, and animal. And all of these together are the product of the combined operation of the heat and light of the sun.
I. — Even a common thing like a brick is characterised by the dimensions of length, breadth, and thickness. And the trinal properties of substance, form, and essence, are attributable to all physical objects. But as we have not very much time to devote to philosophizing, I would now like to hear more about the spiritual sense of the Scriptures. Indeed, as you have given me such plain proof that there is a threefold sense in the Word, I should be greatly pleased to receive some definition of the whole subject; because, the ideas which your doctrines seem to teach concerning it, are certainly wonderfully interesting.
M.—Yes; they are interesting to those who can receive and appreciate them. And what is more perfectly plain and reasonable, than the truth that the Word contains a spiritual sense? The Divine Being, the lord our God, could not reveal Himself to man in any other manner, than by inspiration, that is, by filling an angel with His Spirit, and by means of the angel enunciating the Word. God could manifestly not reveal Himself in any other than a Divine language; and this is the language that was spoken by the lord, through the Angel while filled with the Divine Spirit, to Moses and the Prophets, and by them was written down, precisely as the lord, in His infinite Wisdom, desired it to be written, and afterwards preserved as a permanent Revelation.
I.—What seems surprising to me, now that we are considering these matters, is that any one professing to be a Christian, should be ignorant as to the spiritual sense.
M.—Very few have any knowledge of it; and men generally, at this day, care not to use their under-handing, or reason, to look into such things. There is, however, such a thing as the legitimate use of reason. And in the proper use of this faculty, it is our privilege to repudiate ideas that are manifestly absurd and unscriptural, and to seek after rational interpretations of the Word, and to continue to do so until we find the same. The lord is the Light of the World; and if we go to Him in the Revelations He has made, and thus learn from Him alone, we shall not abide in the darkness of ignorance concerning spiritual and Divine things. Our pathway of life will be illuminated with the light of truth revealed from heaven. And so we shall learn, by happy experience, in the faithful performance of our daily duties, what it is to "walk in the light of the lord" (Isa. ii. 5).
I.—I have several times been much impressed with the idea, that perhaps there was, or would be given, by some means, in some providential manner, a true and reasonable explanation of that most mysterious of all books, the Bible. An expression you have just made use of, causes me to speak of this. You mentioned something about going to the lord in the Revelations He has made. What am I to underhand by this?
M.—I mean by this, that the lord, who gave the letter of the Word, has also made a Revelation of the spirit, or internal meaning, of the Word. This the lord has done through the instrumentality of His Servant, Emanuel Swedenborg. The Theological Writings of Swedenborg are the lord's Revelations for His New Church, signified by the New Jerusalem in the Apocalypse. In them the Divine Word is opened as to its internal sense; and thus the glory of the lord is revealed, as it was prophetically declared it should be. So you see that the idea with which your mind has been impressed, had a foundation in fact. For it is a fact, that a rational interpretation of the Bible has been given to the world, by the Divine Teacher Himself.
I.—The desire to read Swedenborg's writings has several times arisen in my mind. But I heard such strange things said about Swedenborg and the belief of the Swedenborgians, that my mind was somewhat affected with prejudice; and I concluded that perhaps it was of no use after all. I took the word of those who seemed to know; but now it is dawning upon my mind that men sometimes say things without an intelligent idea of what they are talking about. The longer one lives, the more one finds out that human nature is a queer thing. It is not right to judge motives; but it is certain, it seems to me, that some people say things from selfish motives, with an intention to arouse prejudice in others.
M.—Yes; it is true that many have, by their prejudices, been prevented from looking into the New Church books, and learning about the nature of the letter and the spirit of the Word of God. As long as a man is satisfied with what he has of religious ideas, be they ever so erroneous; or, so long as a man's prejudices are stronger than his love of the truth, and prevent him from investigating for himself, he is not in a teachable state, and cannot acquire genuine wisdom. The lord says: "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." Thirst, signifies desire for truth and good. To come to the lord, is to acknowledge Him as the Source of all truth and good. And to drink, is to receive into the understanding, and thence into the will and the life, the principles of rational truth and heavenly good.
I.—I am resolved, from this hour henceforth to investigate for myself—I mean, Swedenborg's writings. In fact, I have been diligently searching for some time, but have failed to find anything that I could confidently rest upon. The reading of the Scriptures has been beneficial, but it has not removed my doubts, or explained my difficulties, or answered my questionings. There are many things that seem so strange and incomprehensible. The contradictions I meet with, perplex me. And it is absolutely appalling, to think of the characteristics which in some portions of the Scriptures appear to be ascribed to God. He appears to be a Being of anger, wrath, revenge, and cruelty. He is so represented in some passages; and yet my reason tells me that it cannot be literally true. In fact, you have in our present conversation spoken of God as our heavenly Father. There can surely be no wrath in Him. For, if He from a feeling of anger did actually punish His disobedient children, as many have imagined, He would be even worse than a good human father; because a good earthly parent will not correct his child with a feeling of anger, although it may appear so to the child.
M.—Very true; it is a mere appearance that God is angry. It seems so to the wicked, who are disobedient to the laws of Divine Order. "God is Love," and is also immutable, and is, therefore, infinite Love Itself. "His mercy endureth for ever."
I.—Will you now allow me to change the subject by asking another question?
M.—Certainly; with the greatest of willingness. Questions are always in order when you are talking with a New Churchman. Not that we are able to give satisfactory answers to all the questions that it is possible for people to ask. But some of us take a peculiar delight in the consideration of questions which greatly puzzle even the philosophers and theologians of the day. We like to investigate them, as far as possible.
I.—The question I was wanting some light upon, relates to the Books of the Bible: Do you regard all of them as inspired?
M.—The Word of God, alone, is Divinely inspired, in the true and full sense of that word. The Books which constitute the Word of God, are those which contain the spiritual sense, or inner meaning. These are the five books of Moses; the books of Joshua and Judges; the two books of Samuel; the two books of Kings; the Psalms of David; the Lamentations; and all the Prophecies, in the Old Testament: and the Four Gospels and the Revelation, in the New Testament.
I.—How do you regard the rest of the Books? Do you reject them?
M.—No; we do not reject any of them. We accept all of them as good and useful books for the Church. They contain much wholesome teaching; and they are in harmony with the Word. Those books are also written by inspiration; but not the same kind of inspiration as that by which the Word was written. The Proverbs of Solomon, for example, contain much wisdom; but they are not the Word of God. They do not claim to be. The Epistles of the Apostles are good and very useful books; but they are not the Word of God. They do not claim to be. You do not find a single "Thus saith the lord," in the Proverbs of Solomon, or in the Epistles of the Apostles. But in the Word of the Old Testament this expression is constantly used; and also the words: "The lord spake—to Moses," to Joshua, to Samuel, and to the Prophets. In olden times, before the Incarnation of the lord, He spoke by means of an angel, because He could not, as to the Divine, appear immediately to finite men and speak to them. And in the Word of the New Testament, the lord, having assumed the Human Nature and come into the world, and thus become "God with us" (Matt. i. 23), spoke in such a manner that "the people were astonished at His Doctrine; for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matt. vii. 28, 29). And therefore it was truly said: "Never man spake like this man" (John vii. 46).
I.—I believe all that you have said is perfectly true. No reasonable person can fail, it seems to me, to recognise the distinctions you have pointed out. And yet there are people who would be surprised, if not shocked, at your saying that the Epistles of the Apostles are not a part of the Word of God.
M.—Yes; but where do the Apostles say that they wrote under Divine inspiration? Nowhere. Paul says: "I speak as a man" (Romans iii. 5; Gal. iii. 15). The Epistles of the Apostles are good doctrinal teachings, which were given to the various branches of the Apostolic or Primitive Church. They have been of great use to Christians, throughout the centuries; and they are yet. But the word is infinitely superior; because it contains the spiritual sense, and as to every verse and syllable, is Holy and Divine.
I.—You seem to have a more exalted idea of the Scriptures, than any other people. I understand, of course, that you are speaking according to the Doctrines of your Church.
M.—The Writings of the New Church teach us most wonderful things respecting the Word. Let me give you a few sentences from these Writings, as follows: "The Word is as a Divine Man; the literal sense is as its body, and the internal sense is as its soul" (A.C. 8943). "In the literal sense of the Word, Divine Truth is in its fullness, in its holiness, and in its power" (S.S. 37). "There is, in the Word, a spiritual sense, in which Divine Truth is in the light" (T.C.R. 85). "Such as heaven is, such also is the Word of the lord: in its ultimate sense it is natural, in its interior sense it is spiritual, and in its inmost sense it is celestial, and in every part Divine; wherefore it is accommodated to the angels of the three heavens, and also to men" (T.C.R. 195).
I.—These are, truly, wonderful statements; and they indicate a profound reverence for the Scriptures, as being Divinely Inspired. The word inspired, would simply mean inbreathed, would it not?
M.—Yes; that is the literal definition of the term. And the reason why the lord breathed on His disciples (John xx. 22), was that breathing on was an outward representative sign of Divine inspiration (T.C.R. 140).
I.—I wish to begin at once to read, and not only to read, but to study, some of your books. What can you let me have, to begin with?
M.—That is the proper thing to do—to read and to study. Here is the little work entitled: The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem respecting the Sacred Scripture. It wrill give you some information as to the nature of the Divine Word. I presume this is the subject you prefer to look into first. I have been able to give you merely a few general ideas. You will get particulars by a study of the Doctrines. The lord will open the eyes of your understanding, and enable you to behold wondrous things out of His law of Divine Revelation. It is a good deal for me to say, but you will find, as you proceed in your investigation of these things, that a new world will be revealed to your delighted mental and spiritual vision. That is, you will gradually learn to look at all things in and of the world from a new point of view: with other eyes, so to speak. You will obtain new ideas with regard to the very objects of the creation of the universe. The clouds will doubtless come, occasionally, but I feel convinced that your pathway in life will be made more cheerful and bright, when illuminated with the pure light of the genuine truth of the Word. And you will presently feel like the Psalmist, when he exclaimed: "O lord, our lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth; who hast set Thy glory above the heavens!" (Ps. viii. 1).
I.—I must express to you my profound gratitude,, for your kindness and helpfulness, and for your words of comfort and encouragement. To all you have said, I can now only say, with all my heart, Amen! And I must add, that it seems to me you have a better appreciation of the spiritual needs of a poor soul that is struggling to find his way out of the darkness into the light, than any one I have ever met with. The remembrance of this hour will always be to me a peculiar pleasure.
M.—All honour, praise, and thanksgiving, for aught that we can do, is to be ascribed to the lord, to whom alone it is due. He is the bountiful Giver of every good and perfect gift. Though we do our whole duty, so far as wisdom and strength are granted to us, we are nevertheless "unprofitable servants." Call again, as soon as you find it convenient, and we will have a talk about the Science of Correspondences, which is the Key that opens the wonderful treasures of spiritual knowledge contained in the Divine Word, the Fountain of all wisdom to angels and to men,