The Garden of Eden
So sang the Greek poet, lamenting the degenerate days in which his lot had fallen. And not less peaceful were the traditions of the Latins :
"The Golden Age was first founded, which, without any avenger, of its own accord, without laws, practised both faith and rectitude. Punishment and the fear of it did not exist, and threatening decrees were not read upon the brazen tables fixed up to view, nor yet did the suppliant multitude dread the countenance of its judge; but all were in safety without any avenger. The pine tree, cut from its native mountains, had not yet descended to the flowing waves, that it might visit a foreign region, and mortals were acquainted with no shores beyond their own. Not as yet did deep ditches surround the towns; no trumpets of straightened or clarions of crooked brass, no helmets, no swords, then existed. Without occasion for soldiers, the minds of men, free from care, enjoyed an easy tranquillity.
"The earth itself, too, in freedom, untouched by the harrow, and wounded by no ploughshares, of its own accord produced everything ; and men, contented with the food created under no compulsion, gathered the fruit of the arbute-tree, and the strawberries of the mountains, and cornels, and blackberries adhering to the prickly bramble-bushes, and acorns which had fallen from the wide-spreading tree of Jove. Then it was an eternal spring, and the gentle zephyrs, with their soothing breezes, cherished the flowers produced without any seed. Soon, too, the earth unploughed yielded crops of grain, and the land, without being renewed, was whitened with the heavy ears of corn. Then rivers of milk, then rivers of nectar, were flowing, and the yellow honey was distilled from the green holmoak." (Ovid, Fable III.)
Thus Ovid echoes Hesiod, and both gather up the traditions of a Golden Age in which men lived innocently, near to heaven beloved and cared for by heavenly beings.
The same state is more fully described in our Bible in the story of primeval life in the Garden of Eden. There also grew every tree pleasant to the sight and good for food; and there was heard the voice of Jehovah God talking with men and instructing them. We do not understand that the very first men were created wise in heavenly things, nor even that they became wise; but rather that they began but one remove from the animals, and with very little of spiritual life. Of necessity the spiritual development was slow, and very many generations passed before this heavenly state was attained.
We have seen in the record of the six days of creation, spiritually understood, an account of the successive steps of development of a heavenly spirit in man from the first dawning in his mind of the light which reveals the possibility of a heavenly state, as distinguished from a worldly, to the fully regenerated man, knowing God and living daily from Him, in His image and likeness. This gradual process is necessary in the spiritual growth of an individual, and still more in the growth of a community, a race, or a church. The earliest men must then have begun in ignorance, hardly removed from the animals, and advanced slowly upward.
But as we are so near to the beginning of things, a word may perhaps be desired as to the process by which men became men at all. Were they created men by a word ? or did they begin with the simplest animal form, from which gradually was developed the human form ?
We read that " God formed man from the dust of the ground " ; and although this has another meaning also, I think it expresses the literal truth that the animal organism of man began with the simplest forms. I do not think of him as developed from another animal, any more than I think of other animals as being undeveloped men advancing into human form ; but I think of a developing human animal advancing along its own line, until, the animal part of man being complete, it was possible to add to it those human parts of the brain and of the mind by virtue of which man looks down upon the animal qualities in himself, and rules over them.
Up to this point, it is an animal with animal affections, appetites, instincts. I doubt not that it is a good and noble animal, living upon the fruits and grains of the earth, in life-long and single-hearted attachment between mates as is the case with many other noble species of animals ; but as yet its hands are upon the ground, or upon the trees; its attention is fixed upon the outer world only; it seeks only animal comforts and pleasures. There is a sun of heaven all the time shedding the light of heavenly wisdom, and the warmth of heavenly love; but there are as yet no organs in man to perceive them, and to compare them with the light and heat of the world. He thinks from his animal feelings, and expresses them, but he does not think about them and describe them he is not yet a " speaking man."
With the development of the truly human faculties that look down upon the animal in him, comes the dawning in his mind of spiritual light, the objects of which are spiritual things states of mind, ideals of heaven, revelations of the God of heaven. The man begins to look up, to rise upon his feet, to be instructed in spiritual things, to compare them with natural, to describe their differences. He speaks, he reasons he is truly a man.
Only now begins that process of spiritual creation represented by the six days' work of God, the first of which gave the light, which in the eyes of God was good. The minds of men, just awakening as men, were innocent and good, though not wise ; they were not perverted—there was no wilful shutting out of the light of heaven. Gradually, very gradually, they opened upward, and we are taught that as their inner perception of the light was developed, an inner sight of the spirit in the spiritual world was given, too. Generation after generation enjoyed the light, and slowly gathered knowledge of heavenly life which was stored in their inner minds as the waters above the expanse of heaven, and knowledge of worldly life which was collected in their natural minds as the waters beneath the expanse.
And then began the living from spiritual motives the life of heaven upon the earth represented by the appearing of the dry land above the waters a life which consisted first in the cherishing of ideals and hopes, like the flowering plants, and then in the performance of heavenly uses and the development of comprehensive wisdom and the fruitfulness of it the grains and the fruit-trees of the spirit.
The fourth state of this development of heavenly life was to this early church of God, as it is in individual regeneration, a clear recognition of Him to Whom they owed their powers of good, and from Whose love and thought they loved and thought heavenly things. And then from the sense of personal relation to Him came full and varied living affections in all human relations like the peopling of the earth with the living animals. Not until it had attained this full development of wisdom and affections from God was the church truly an image and likeness of God, and the age truly a Golden Age.
Of the church in this state, Swedenborg tells us:
Our story of their home in the Garden of Eden is a description of their spiritual state as they would have described it, and it has come down to us from days not far removed from their own.
Here we must pause a moment to take notice of the relation between the first chapter of Genesis which contains the account of the six days of creation, and the second chapter which appears to describe briefly again the same creation, adding thereto the account of the Garden of Eden and of the life in it. In the second chapter, after the mention of the day of rest which followed the days of creation, the name Jehovah God first appears, and all that is done is ascribed to Jehovah God ; whereas in the first chapter we find only the name God. On account of this difference and of the apparent repetition of the account of the creation, it is commonly believed by Bible students that we have here the separate accounts of two authors put together; and the discussion of them generally leaves the uncomfortable impression that there is a lack of unity in the Holy Word, and that it was put together by some chance.
But the New Church has another view to present. We are taught, as has been shown already, that the story of the first chapter represents the regenerating state of the race the state in which by instruction from heaven it was gradually elevated from the level of the brutes to association with angels and communion with God. The seventh day here, as everywhere, represents the state of heavenly rest after the labors and conflicts of regeneration not a state of idleness, but a state of peaceful, heavenly life, with abundant love and wisdom and usefulness ; and it is the new development of wisdom and usefulness under the inspiration of this fulness of love a development quite distinct from the toilsome acquisitions of the regenerating state that is described in the second chapter. Its peaceful perceptions of what is good and true are represented by the rain and the mist that watered the ground ; its new fulness of good natural life, by the man formed by Jehovah God from the dust of the ground, into whose nostrils He breathed the breath of life.
That a new name for the Lord here first appears is because a new relation with Him is now first established, and He is known in a new way. The plural name Elohim, rendered " God " in our version, everywhere represents the varied teachings of truth from God, and God Himself as the Source of varied regenerating truth; and the name is used everywhere in speaking of states in which the truth from good has the leading part. But the name Jehovah is from the verb " to be," and means the self-existent Being, from Whom all other beings are. It is not a name to be applied to the Divine Teacher; but to Him from Whom men live, Whose love is their love, and Whose life is their life. It is not applicable to the Divine during man's states of instruction and obedience to the truth, but it does describe Him as He is known in the sabbath peacefulness of love, when conflicts cease, and the mind is at rest. We are taught that it is a name which from very ancient times was used in this sense, though afterwards forgotten for a lime, and that this is its meaning wherever it appears in the Scriptures.
It is not, therefore, a question of supreme importance whether the account was written by one hand or by two or several. Any one wise man of the old time, having full knowledge of the meaning of the names and of the representatives of nature, could have furnished the materials.
The subject of the inspiration of the Scriptures will be treated more fully hereafter ; but it may here be observed that the language and the natural ideas in which revelation is conveyed must always have been derived from the men to whom it came; otherwise it would not have come to their apprehension at all. Thus these ancient records of primeval men are in the language of mythology; the revelation in Jewish days was clothed in the language of their own history and customs; and that of the Gospels in the forms of the language and experiences of the writers.
Returning to the story before us, we find there the wise and innocent state of the childlike church of God pictured as a garden which Jehovah God planted in Eden, in which Jehovah God caused to grow "every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil." The trees of the garden, we are almost told in so many words, represent the varied knowledge and wisdom of life—those that were pleasant to the sight the rational wisdom as this very knowledge of correspondences and representatives—and those good for food the wisdom of usefulness of every kind. Preeminent among these—if indeed it does not picture to us the soul of them all is the Tree of Life, which is the tree of the Divine life, whose merciful providence for men is the soul of all the usefulness that they can do for one another.
The tree of knowledge of good and evil also was there as a possibility, not as an actual existence until men did evil for God did not make evil nor tendencies to evil; but to men who were made to love God in freedom as His friends, it was always possible to turn away from Him, and love only self.
There also was the four-parted river going out of the garden, which like the river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and the Lamb in the streets of the golden city, represents the continual teaching of truth from God which makes the lives of His children clean and fresh, and vigorous in fruitfulness.
It is plain from what has been said that in this view by Adam, or man, is not meant an individual person, but that whole state of the race knowing and loving God, and living consciously from Him. Indeed by this knowledge and love of God and conscious life from God, man is truly man as distinguished from a mere human animal. It follows that by Eve is not meant an individual woman made from the rib of a man, but a lovely transformation of some element in mankind represented by the rib; and it is not difficult to see in the rib which is like a projecting arm about the heart a representative of that love of one's self, or of one's own life, as distinguished from love for the Lord and for the Lord's life, which is necessary to the full sense that man is separate from God a free, reciprocating being.
The love of self may be a degrading thing, leading away from God to what is opposite to God ; but here the rib was built into a woman who was a help "meet for" or fitting to the man ; which means that in those innocent people the love of being one's self, and living as of one's self, fitted and responded to the love of being the Lord's and living from the Lord, so that they became one; and that one was the love of living wholly from the Lord, altogether as of one's self; thus it was as yet wholly innocent.
Much the same is true, also, of the uniting of man and woman in a true marriage. For the wife surrounds the man's heart, and loves and protects it; while the man, if he is a true husband, gives up his conceit and his love of himself, and loves only his wife ; and thus what would have been a degrading love of self in him alone becomes an ennobling thing in his wife, and in his love for her.
While man slept it is said that the transformation was effected by Jehovah God ; which is true in marriage in the sense that the wife in quiet ways, which the man does not see, takes to herself his life; and thus by the same unseen ways, if the man is true to her, the Lord transforms his love of himself into love for her. In the development of the early Church of God it means similarly that, all unseen and unknown to them, the Lord made their natural desire to be themselves and be independent of Him, a beautiful love of living as of themselves from Him making innocent and lovely what otherwise must have been evil and degrading. A beautiful thing the desire to live as of one's self may be when it follows the Lord, and has no wish but to live as of one's self from Him ; but it is quite another thing when it follows the serpent.
More subtle the serpent was than any other beast of the field which Jehovah God had made. The creeping, gliding, noiseless thing, insinuating itself unnoticed, and as imperceptibly vanishing when afraid of being observed shocking every one who suddenly does observe it pictures to us the affections that lie close to the body of earth, that stealthily seek for pleasures of sense, and, unless we awake with a shock and shake them off, may presently benumb and destroy all true manliness and spiritual life. " The trail of the serpent " means to every one the low uncleanness of sensuous beguiling.
" And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said ye shall not eat of all the trees of the garden ? And the woman said unto the serpent, Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die ; for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."
Hardly do the words now need an interpreter, so plainly do we see the love of being one's self and living as of one's self listening to the beguilings of sense, only too ready to be convinced that it is not death but a more independent life to know good and evil from one's own experience, and to judge for one's self between them.
It is not a temptation and a yielding peculiar to the olden time. It belongs to every modern descendant of the ancients. Alas, that in them the yielding so early began ! But there is no one so innocent that he has not followed the example of the woman, who when she saw that the tree was good for food, and pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, took of the fruit thereof and did eat; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he did eat. And in the first yielding, and until conscience is destroyed, every one knows that the consequence is that the eyes are opened to spiritual nakedness and shame, which he fain would cover with at least a formal knowledge of orderly life.
In the curse pronounced upon the serpent, occurs the prediction : " I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed : it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." I believe that in all subsequent time this has been taken as a prediction of the birth from the woman of a Saviour Who should bring into the world the Divine power to subdue the body, and to lift the soul of man again to God and heaven. We are taught in the New Church that it was so understood from the beginning of the decline of men under the beguiling of the senses—that it was then perceived that if men were left alone the decline would go on till the race would perish by the fierceness and abundance of evil, but that because God loved men, He must needs come to them, and deliver from evil all who were willing to be delivered. We are taught that this was revealed to them while there was still enough innocent love among them to perceive from the nature of love that this must necessarily be so; and from that early time they began to look in their own families for Him Who was to lead them back to the happy days from which they had departed. Partly from this came the pride in having many children, and down to Jewish days the reproach of being childless; and because they knew that He Who would save them must suffer even to the death of His own body to bring the perfect victory, in less intelligent days there came the practice of sacrificing their sons in times of severe trial, in supposed propitiation of the angry God.
There was no sudden drop to this low level of spiritual intelligence ; but as men slowly turned outward to their senses for guidance, their inner perception of the Divine love and the wisdom of it was gradually closed up they could not eat both from the tree of life and from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and in pursuing the cultivation of the wisdom of the world, they left their garden of the wisdom of heaven. And then,
To understand what is meant by the cherubim, let us turn for one moment to the ark of the testimony in the inmost part of the Jewish Tabernacle. It was an ark of shittim wood overlaid with gold, in which were placed the two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Upon the ark was placed a cover of pure gold, called the mercy-seat, of the golden substance of which rose two golden cherubs. Now the Ten Commandments are the Divine law of life in its lowest forms. They are the forms through which the Divine power is exercised in subduing evil, and bringing men into the order of heaven. The Divine control of evil and the Divine blessing in good are in them ; and when the Commandments are truly taken home to one's heart, and the inmost ruling place is given to them, the sense of the Divine mercy and forgiveness descends upon them ; and then from the very substance of that mercy in the heart, ascend the living forms of love to the Lord and love to man. In these loves is the sense of the Presence of the Lord in the heart, and through them He guides and leaches man in all the wisdom of His Providence, as the Lord communed with Moses from between the cherubim.
The cherubim which guard the way to the tree of life are the same love for the Lord and love for man. They are as a flaming sword to those who love the beguilings of the serpent. But to those who faithfully keep the Commandments in their spirit as well as their letter, they are the pure loves of heaven which the mercy of the Lord brings again into their hearts, and which open again to them the garden of delight, where God walks with them, and communes with them teaches them the wisdom of heaven, and nourishes their souls day by day with the fruits of the life of His own life.