The Story of the Creation.
THE Christian world has been greatly exercised over the authorship and the contents of the Book of Genesis, especially the early chapters, and the discussions of the subject have greatly modified the views generally held regarding the whole Word, and the nature of revelation and inspiration.
And yet these discussions leave the subject in a most unsatisfactory condition. Critical students of the letter point out that many words, and especially the Divine name, as used in the first chapter, differ from the corresponding words and name in the second—also that the second seems to tell again the story of the creation that had just been told; and the inference is that we have here the records of two different authors. The same kind of critical analysis pushed very far, shows various peculiarities of language used separately or in combination throughout the book, and takes pleasure in assigning them to many different authors or editors; with the general result that the idea of there being one author, and especially one Divine author, is in great part dissipated.
Students of natural science also compare critically the successive steps of creation as here described, supposing it to be the creation of the natural world which alone is meant, with the record of the same creation as written upon the rocks, or observed in the sky ; and they say that there are differences: that the earth was not formed and developed, and abundant in fruitfulness of every kind, before there was a sun or a moon ; that there were living animals in the water and in the air, which the written page assigns to the fifth day, before the development of the herbage and the fruit-trees of the third day was completed. And they infer that this is not the record of one who knew, and least of all the inspired record of Him Who made all these things, and Who if He gave it at all would have given an account that should be the standard of science for all time.
The simple-hearted of Christendom are little disturbed by these views. They know little of them, and such rumors as reach them are coupled with epithets of infidel and atheist, and they ascribe the whole thing to the falseness of the devil, contenting themselves with their own steadfast if unenlightened belief that every word is the truth of God.
More intelligent Christian people, however, are really troubled. They feel in their hearts that there is a truth in the story if they could only get at it, and a holiness, as of the presence of God and of heaven in it, which is inconsistent with misinformation and any merely worldly origin. They dimly see also, that even as a story of natural creation not wholly reconciled with the science of the day, there is an amount even of natural truth in it a degree of harmony with the record of the rocks which cannot be accounted for by the unaided attainments of science in the indefinitely ancient days from which the book has come down to us. They are perplexed ; and, if they could only trust it, one would think that they would accept with the profoundest gratitude an explanation which admits and accounts for all these discrepancies with scholarship, and yet holds the book to be in every word inspired by God, and full of beautiful instruction concerning God and the heavenly life, which both illumines and is confirmed by all their spiritual experience.
Such we believe to be the explanation which the New Church has to offer; and though we hold that it is revealed from the Lord in heaven, we ask that its authority may be tested simply by the light that is in it, and by its power to satisfy both the reason and the heart of those who feel the sacred influence of the story itself.
In approaching the first chapters of Genesis, to see, if we may, their real import, we are struck with the unreasonableness of applying to a writing which perhaps is the oldest now in existence, dating from probably thousands of years before the dawn of science, and from many centuries before that of secular history, the tests that are applicable only to scientific statements of the present day.
We are away back in the days of mythology and fable, or rather in those days of the immeasurable past, from which mythology and fable issued. Is it possible that those dreamy men, with their thoughts more of heaven than of earth, are studying the rocks, and discovering the order of creation or evolution of plants and animals ? Do they dream of the days when the earth was new, and through the dense atmosphere of carbon and steaming vapor the first rays of the sun struggled, ages before the disk of the sun himself was visible ? Surely these are not their lines of thinking; and if a revelation from heaven should teach them of these things, what could they think but that it was nothing to them, and most unworthy of its origin, a thing to be neither treasured nor preserved!
We do not apply the same test to any other ancient record. We read that in the time of the origin of Rome, its twin founders, Romulus and Remus, were cast out by the banks of the Tiber, and suckled by a wolf. No one thinks of it as history ; but one may see in it more or less clearly a picturesque description of the hardships and struggles of rival tribes or principles, nurtured by necessity, and drinking in with their mother's milk that insatiable rapacity which in after years led Rome to absorb the world.
We read that in the founding of Athens, Athene and Poseidon, called by the Romans Minerva and Neptune, strove for the honor of naming the city, and presented gifts Athene the olive-tree, and Poseidon the horse that the people might choose between them. This may be a perfectly true story, but surely it is not literal history. And no great insight is required to see in the story a representative of the rivalry from the beginning between the philosophic schools or principles characterized on the one side by the study of good morals flowing from love to God and man, represented by the oil-bearing olive, and on the other by the intellectual power which is imaged in the horse as a still loftier intellectual power was represented by Pegasus, the winged horse which principles in the later days of the glory of Athens were set forth respectively by Socrates and Xenophon on the side of morals, and Plato and Aristotle on that of intellect; and we honor the ancient men who determined that at least in the foundation of the city, the precedence should be given to Athene and her olive.
Probably from a far earlier day the ancient record before us has come down, and it is a record that treats professedly of the earliest relations of God with men. Applying to it the same principles of interpretation which we have applied to the other records, we shall see in it not an account of the creation of the natural world, but a description of the development step by step of a heavenly spirit in man under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord. It begins with the breaking in of that spiritual light which shows that a life from the Spirit of the Lord is possible. It advances through successive steps of learning the truth of heavenly life and living according to it, and bringing forth first the fruits of spiritual knowledge, and then more living affections of love for the Lord and for good life from Him. And it closes with man in the image of God, discerning clearly and judging wisely the whole domain of affection and thought and knowledge, ruling his mind as one might rule a kingdom.
A difficulty in the way of even looking for such an interpretation, is the apparent resemblance of the story as told to the real story of natural creation. The cause of this is interesting, and will be considered before we leave the subject. A more important difficulty is that in our day of devotion to material good, we have so little spiritual development that if the orderly course of that development be ever so clearly and truly pictured before us we are by no means sure to recognize it. And still another difficulty is that we have little or no accurate observation and knowledge of the correspondence between natural things and spiritual between the inner world and the outer world so little indeed that it may be doubted if the meaning of the representative story would ever have been recovered unless it had been revealed.
The question may perhaps arise, as in regard to the supposed revelation of science, Is it possible that a revelation of such profound truth of spiritual experience clothed in language so difficult of interpretation to us, would have been of any value to a primitive people whom we are accustomed to think of as but one remove from the animals, simple and ignorant in the last degree ? In other words, is it possible that such knowledge, which has hardly dawned upon the mind of the present century, should have flourished and been familiar before what we know as civilization began ? The answer is that from what we know of the centres of human thought in the most ancient times this is just the kind of knowledge that did then flourish. The most ancient remains of the literature of Greece and Rome are full of it. The wonderful Book of the Dead, in which the Egyptians described in just such representative language their idea of the spiritual world and the judgment of the dead, and which is believed to be in its essential parts at least five thousand years old, refers back to what it then called "the wisdom of the ancients," as the revered source of its knowledge. We are told that the further we go back in the sacred literatures of India and Persia and China, the more intelligent and spiritual they become. And I believe it is true that the traditions embodied in all literatures that are themselves old enough to retain such traditions, point back to a "Golden Age," when God walked with men, and men were wise in the wisdom of heaven.
The world glories in the boast that from the beginning there has been a steady advance or development of the Race in knowledge, intelligence, skill in mechanics and art, and that to-day the humblest of us may look from a pinnacle of wisdom backward and downward upon the degraded ages behind us, and see them slowly climbing, but in vain attempting to reach our exalted position. In some respects perhaps the boast is true. But is it certainly true in regard to innocence, and spiritual intelligence, and openness heavenward ? Has there been a steady growth in all that is noble and beautiful in art from the days of the Parthenon and the statues of Pheidias, attaining a glorious culmination in our public statues and buildings ? Has there been a steady gain in gentleness and courtesy and kindliness and reverence—in all that makes life sweet and noble and delightful—from the days of Confucius and Buddha and Socrates, and the brotherly love of the early Christians, culminating at last in the order and charity and loveliness of our manufacturing cities?
The boast is the boast of an age that cares chiefly for material greatness and wealth, and stores of natural knowledge,—with the knowledge of God and heaven, and of the life of heaven on earth, left out. It is the boast of the youth who prides himself upon his strength in rough games, or in sharp argument, and looks back upon all that is innocent and dependent and trustful and loving in childhood as beneath contempt.
To the whole Age the Lord says, "Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." He points us away back to the days that we despise, for our models of that which is nearest to heaven and most like heaven. Not that the young man is to lose his manly strength and development in regaining the gentleness and innocence of his childhood, nor that the Age is to lose its gains of scientific knowledge and mechanical power and facility of combination, in recovering its docility and charity and nearness to God and heaven. It must go on to the golden city, not back to the garden in Eden ; but to the city in which is the throne of God and the Lamb, and in whose streets grow forever, the manifold forms of the same Tree of Life that stood in the midst of the Garden of Eden.
Returning then, as we are bidden, to gather from the childhood of the Race the lessons of heavenly wisdom which were given to it, we find contained in the representative language which was then familiar a description of the steps by which a full heavenly character was to be attained, and by which also it is to be attained by us. That not much progress in this development or heavenly creation is common—even with those who recognize the duty of living according to the Divine laws is true. " They who are being regenerated," Swedenborg tells us, "do not all reach this state" the Sabbath of the seventh day "but some, and the greater part at this day, only the first, some only the second, some the third, the fourth, or the fifth, rarely the sixth, and scarcely any one the seventh."
Yet if we have made a beginning, and so much of the light of heaven has entered our minds as to show that there is such a thing as the heavenly life distinct from the natural life, that light will show us the reality of possible states not yet attained ; and to see the possibility before us may give new inspiration to the endeavor to attain them.
Before the light can enter which begins the regenerative work, there must be some development of the rational mind to receive it. And this implies that there has been a childhood with some innocent joys and some instruction—the more of these the better and some development of the natural character, with its capacities for good and for evil. And over these the Spirit of God has been moving, to increase the good and to check the evil, and to arrange all things in the best order for the future formation of the heavenly spirit.
Before the mind clearly perceives the beauty and desirableness of the heavenly life, as distinct from the natural life, it is as regards spiritual development a void and emptiness, with thick darkness enfolding it, although the Spirit of God never ceases to brood over it. But when there does dawn the light of a clear perception of the beauty of a spiritual life as compared with a worldly life of a life of patient usefulness as compared with a life of self-indulgence; of the Lord's life as compared with the natural life of any other man then there is the beginning of what is heavenly in the mind; there is something which is good to man, and even in the eyes of God is good. Thenceforth there is a distinction between the states in which the goodness of the heavenly life is seen, and those in which worldly desires are so strong that heaven is unattractive. The former are day, and the latter night. To develop the distinction between them is the work of the first day.
In the natural mind, in preparation for the heavenly formation, there are stored knowledge and affections, memories of states good and bad in great variety. And now that there has come a sense of distinction between a heavenly life and a worldly life, that distinction is extended to all the mental possessions. Some there are that belong to heaven and the life of heaven, and some that are of the world and its life. There are memories of innocent times when mother and father were loved, and perhaps when upon their knees the lessons of the Bible and its teachings of good life were learned. There are happy memories of obedience and faithfulness in doing right, of friendly yielding to brothers and sisters and other children the means of pleasure, of sympathy with them in sorrow. In the light of our new spiritual day, these things and all that relate to God and heaven and the life of heaven seem good, and the knowledge of them is gathered into the heaven of our minds; while all merely natural knowledge, of the world and of worldly matters, lies upon the plane of the world. And thus are the waters above the expanse divided from the waters below.
This second step is quickly taken as is also the third, represented by the gathering together of the waters under the heaven into one place, that the dry land may appear.
The dry land is the ground from which the productions of the earth may spring. And that ground appears not among the waters of the heaven, but among the waters of the earth. For, the further progress in regeneration is to be made not in the realms of spiritual knowledge, but in practical life; and that life must be in the world, though it may be watered and encouraged by the truth of good life from heaven.
The first productions of the earth are called tender grass, or herbage. And the first productions of a mind desiring to live a spiritual life, are not works of mature and manly wisdom but clear ideas about the theory of good life, and the humbler virtues of kindness, gentleness, considerateness, and others, which emulate the virtues of the fully developed life, as the grasses and flowers of the field emulate the grains and the fruit-trees.
But this knowledge about good life is quickly followed by efforts to do the works of good life both those of daily duty, humble and unattractive and dry, yet full of genuine satisfaction, like the grains; and those of far-reaching usefulness, which is loved and studied and steadily pursued for a life-time, increasing continually in power of productiveness and these are the fruit-trees.
So much of the work of regeneration is done by the learning of the truth and by efforts to live faithfully according to it. It is recognized as truth from God and as teaching the life of heaven. It teaches us also of God Himself, and of our duties toward Him ; and in all that has been done there has been a heavenly light from the Lord, and perhaps a hope that some time the Lord Himself might be a living Presence in our hearts. But the Lord has not become a personal Presence to us even as in the corresponding steps in the story of the creation, the sun has not been seen. There has been a constant light from Him, and an intellectual acknowledgment that not only the truth, but our will and power to live it, are of the Lord alone; and yet so far the Lord has not become the sensible life of our hearts, from which we live. We have done our work as of ourselves, with study and labor with pleasure, it is true, and much satisfaction; yet it has been work of the head rather than of the heart, and indeed with much resistance from the natural desires of the heart. And until we have done so much as of ourselves, it is not possible that the Lord should come more fully to us. For when the Lord does come, He comes as an ardent love for men, and for doing every good to them ; and it is not possible for such love to come to us until we have learned the truth that teaches of goodness and usefulness, and compelled ourselves to live it. Then the Divine love for bringing forth good fruits can come into its own forms of truth in our lives, and only make them more delightful to us.
When therefore the work of the third day is complete, and the mind has faithfully brought forth its tender grass, and herb yielding seed, and trees yielding fruit, then the Lord Himself can come to conscious inner sense. He comes with a fulness of love which fills the heart with joy as the light has filled the rational mind. Thenceforth that love itself is the source of the light. In states when It is felt it is day ; and when It is not felt, but remembered and surely believed in, it is night illumined indeed by the light reflected from the state that is past. These are the sun and the moon. And the stars which naturally are points of light too remote to show a disk are the knowledge of the many possibilities of heavenly states. These " rule over the day and over the night, and divide the light from the darkness ;" for all the changes of spiritual state have their quality from the presence or absence of these. When the Lord's love warms the heart, and all things are seen in the warm light of that love, then there is a heavenly day; but when there is only the clear remembrance of that love, and of what it taught, and a knowledge of the possibilities of heavenly life too remote to be seen as realities, but apprehended as possibilities—then it is relatively night.
All the work that is done previous to this state of regeneration, is done with so much effort of self-compulsion, and so much as of ourselves, that it is not possible that there should not be in it a great deal of reflection upon self, of sense of merit, and anticipation of return to self. And the great change does not come, the Lord's love does not: fill the heart, until this constant reference to self is plainly seen and repented of and abhorred. Then only, as the claiming of good for ourselves ceases, the heart opens to the Lord with sincere acknowledgment that all good is His alone; and His love for good enters, and for the first time is felt to be as it really is, the only power by which evil is put away and good is done—the power which is life itself.
When the Presence of the Lord is thus felt, a new class of joys springs from it. There will still be much faithful study of the truth, and doing of duty according to the truth, as of ourselves, and with effort. But there will also be new joys in seeing many things in the light of the Lord's love, and doing many good works from the willing impulse of that love; and these are represented by the living creatures of the fifth and sixth days.
First will come the developments of the joys in seeing, or, what is the same, of affections for truth ; affections for truth of the natural world, represented by the living things of every kind which the waters bring forth; and affections for seeing and observing all things in the light of heaven, represented by the birds that fly above the earth against the expanse of the heavens.
And closely following the joys of thinking the truth from the Divine love, come the still more fully living joys of showing the goodness of that love in forms of kindness and gentleness and courtesy, in patient bearing of one another's burdens, and doing of works of good-will and these are the affectionate and useful beasts of the heavenly spirit.
With the possession of these affections flowing from the love of the Lord in the soul, is given the consciousness that although the heavenly affections are from the Lord, they are not obtruded upon us without our consent, but are subject to our own will that they come at our call, and vanish at our wish; that in obedience to our desire they pursue their labors and enjoy their delights, or withdraw themselves from our consciousness. To man is given dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the heavens, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth.
A state of full and continuous enjoyment of these affections from the Lord is not attained at once. The habit of reflecting upon the merit of one's doings, with some reference in them all to the returns to self, is not overcome at once. It is put aside for the time in some state of more than usual humility, and then resumes its old place again, and must be again attacked and subdued. And only after long continued efforts will the Lord's love be established in the chief place in the affections, and man become an image and likeness of God.
These steps of creation of the heavenly man in the image and likeness of God are unfamiliar to us great is the pity that it should be so ! But we are taught in the New Church that to the people of the Golden days, before the accumulation of the load of evil which weighs us to the dust, it was the familiar experience of the race. Generation after generation brought all their individual members as they advanced from childhood to old age, through to the full possession of their truly human powers of knowing God, and living from the love of God. It is mainly because the spiritual states are so little known and so obscure to us, that they seem so remote from the natural pictures presented in the story. If the spiritual experiences were real and vivid, they would appear reflected as from a beautiful mirror in the natural scenes. Every detail would send back to us some easily recognized particular. In body, and in the other to the truly human soul the one series serving as a basis for the other, and perfectly representing it.
We must not, however, apply to either series standards of interpretation which are inapplicable. No one will venture to say that he can see in either series the Divine view either of the creation of the world or of the regeneration of man. What we may hope to see in them is the teaching which the Lord gives to men of their own regeneration as the steps will appear to them, and the corresponding series of steps of the natural creation.
It is not true spiritually that man advances in regeneration before God exists ; but it is very true that he makes much progress before the Lord becomes to him a sensible Presence. And, correspondingly, it is doubtless true, as others have observed, that in the creation of the earth, when the masses of water that are now in our seas, and of carbon that are in the coal-beds, and the gases that now exist in combination with many minerals when these were all in the atmosphere of the warm earth no sun could have been seen from the earth, nor indeed any rays of light. These first appeared when the waters were so far condensed upon the surface of the earth as to make its dense covering penetrable by light. And then presently, as the condensation went on, there came a space of clear air, above which rested a sea of clouds, and below which lay the waters beneath the expanse; and then, as the mountains rose and the valleys sank, the waters were gathered into one place, and the dry land appeared, and began to bring forth tender herbage, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit-trees yielding fruit.
In all this the spiritual creation follows the same order, as it is apprehended by man. In the first natural state there is dense obscurity as regards all things of spiritual life. The youth has heard of God and heaven, and possibly many things about the life of heaven and of good life upon earth. All that he has learned is to him unformed knowledge, in regard to things which are as yet unreal to him, and the knowledge is scarcely distinguished in his mind from other worldly knowledge. First the light steals in, that shows that heaven is real, and heavenly states are possible in men. The knowledge of heavenly things and of innocent states agreeing with them, instantly becomes more precious; and while the knowledge of the world sinks to the level of the earth, this nobler knowledge rises toward heaven. The desire to live the life of heaven then becomes nobler in his eyes than mere knowledge, and begins to bring forth first its hopes and ideals of heaven, then its works of faithful duty, and at last the fruits of wisdom as the earth rises above the waters, and brings forth herbage, grains, and fruit-trees.
It is not true that all this productiveness of principles and the fruits of principle, goes on without any development of good affections that enjoy the good works. On the contrary these exist as soon as there are living truths in the mind for them to enjoy. But the growth of intelligence and the works of intelligence prevail, and are the characteristic of the state; and therefore in the representative description it is said that the earth brought forth all these productions of the vegetable kingdom—which in this period did immensely prevail and nothing is said of the animals, which were relatively far inferior in development. This is in accordance with our common forms of speech ; as when we say that woman is affectionate and man is intellectual, we do not mean that woman has no intellect and man no affection, but that affection is the characteristic of the one, and intelligence of the other.
With the coming into view of the sun the moon and the stars, no doubt the animal life attained a rapid development, as the sensitive love for the Lord and for all that He teaches us and gives us to do, prevails when He Himself becomes a sensible Presence in our hearts. And the development of animal life was crowned by man, who should have dominion over all other productions of the earth as the free and rational heavenly man, receiving and loving the life of the Lord, rules over all the affections and the wisdom, the feelings and the thoughts, that he looks upon and recognizes in himself.
It is not impossible that the open-minded men for whom this account was first given, saw in it indirectly, as a secondary meaning, such an account of the natural creation. They knew nothing of science as we understand it, and they cared nothing for it. Their hearts were given to the things of heaven. Still they loved to describe spiritual states and possessions by representatives by parables, by fables, by various forms of representative art; and they were likely to form a mental conception of the literal story, as a representative image, in which they might see the spiritual story which especially delighted them.
But to them, as to the coming generations that will belong to the City of God, the chief value of the history lay in its containing heavenly -wisdom, and inmostly the wisdom of God concerning the formation of a heavenly spirit in man, that the Divine ideal of humanity might be revealed and preserved, and that Heaven and the Church might cooperate in bringing it to pass.