Joseph in Egypt.
WE read in the story of Abraham, as interpreted to the New Church, an account of the Lord's leaving the states of the natural life into which He was born, and advancing into a knowledge of Divine and heavenly things, that He might become a blessing to mankind. And in the birth of Isaac we see a representative of the development in Him of the spiritual reason by which he discerned the quality of all human states in their relation to the Divine, and knew every thing in them which could receive life from the Divine and be saved.
The subsequent story of Jacob, and of his getting wives and sons and great acquisitions in his mother's land, contains a spiritual history of the development and ordering of the natural life in obedience to the teachings of revelation.
For Jacob returned to the land from which Abraham had departed, and there begat his sons, and gathered his flocks. That land means now as before the natural state into which one comes before regeneration. The sojourn of Abraham and Isaac in the land of Canaan represents the coming to a knowledge and an intelligent understanding of the possibilities of Divine and heavenly states. This knowledge and understanding are given in boyhood and youth, according to the interest in knowing and understanding. But the actual labor by which those possibilities are realized, must be done in the state of natural life into which one is born ; and done there by the faithful learning and living of the literal truth which teaches the practical order of Divine and heavenly life. Only there and by keeping the commandments is the mind prepared for the full descent of every kind of good love that enters into the life of heaven. The varieties of the life of heaven among men are represented by the twelve tribes of Israel, as afterward the varieties of teaching of good life that enter into the church of the Lord were represented by the twelve apostles ; and as regards the Lord Who brought the good love that makes heaven to the very doors of all mankind, the development of the family of Jacob represents the development in Him of a knowledge of every variety of good life, and of the love for living it.
It would be possible to apply the continuation of the story to the progress of the Lord's human life, or to the states of individual regeneration ; but this lesson we will consider in its relation to the church, to which it is equally applicable. For the Bible is the book of humanity: in its supreme and fullest sense it contains the human life of Him Who was the Word made flesh, in a more limited sense it contains the life of mankind, and in the most limited the life of a regenerating man.
The family of Jacob, in this application of the story, represents the Christian Church established by the Lord, and its several members are the varieties of Christian life, or of Christian doctrine in life. The last to be developed of these by the direct teaching of the Lord was the doctrine preserved in its perfection only by the beloved disciple, that the Lord and the Heavenly Father are one, and that in Him they saw the Heavenly Father Himself. Other doctrines were more readily acquired. He taught them of the life that leads to heaven, and trained them in it; of heaven and hell; of the resurrection; of the Scriptures ; of charity and faith ; of baptism and of the Holy Supper; and many other things important to their regenerate life. And yet, even at the last, Philip could say to Him : " Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us." And then the Lord replied : " Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip ? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father?"
In His crucifixion and death their vague hopes of Him were almost crushed, and it required the glories of the resurrection and ascension, and the sensible power of the Holy Spirit, to convince those that loved Him that in Him they had indeed had the Heavenly Father with them in human presence.
The recognition of the Divinity of the Lord was not with the early church a matter of theory, but of experience. They had been taught by Him of the life He loved, which was new to them, and in living it they had received new and delightful life from Him. He was to them the Source of all that was heavenly and delightful in their lives. He Himself was love and life to all the early church, and therefore they could not do otherwise than look to Him as their Lord and their God. They did not attempt any rational explanation of their belief, and the Christian Church never has had a rational explanation of it. They simply knew the fact from their own experience of it, and believed it with their whole heart.
This doctrine was the central and best beloved doctrine of the church at the first, and it was by virtue of it that the church became a spiritual church, touched with a heavenly life received sensibly from God; and therefore we read in this representative story which describes the development of the church, that as soon as Joseph was born Jacob returned with his sons and all that he had into the land of Canaan, for by that land was represented a spiritual state of the church.
It was not till after the return to the land that Benjamin the brother of Joseph was born. He was called Benjamin by his father, and the name means "the son of the right hand"; and the son of Israel's right hand is spiritually the power by which the Christian truth is finally * established. But after Joseph had long been governor over the land of Egypt, he was still called a lad; and this is because the quality in the church which he represents was very late in attaining an effective development. What this quality is will presently be indicated.
The beautiful coat that Israel made for Joseph, stands for the representatives and teachings with which this acknowledgment of the Divine in the Lord's Human nature was clothed by the church. It was the teaching of the church that their Lord was present every where in the Holy Supper, offering His own flesh and blood for the nourishment of the souls of men which implies that in His Human presence, He was Divine and Omnipresent. It was the teaching that He was the Shepherd of the church everywhere giving enlightenment, protection from evil, and the blessing of good love which likewise involves His Divinity and Omnipresence; and so likewise docs the teaching that He is the resurrection and the life imply Divine power in heaven and on earth.
But this essential doctrine from which the church had all its spiritual life did not long hold its central place in the teachings of the church. It was as has been said a doctrine of experience not rationally understood. It also was the doctrine of the church in its infancy and feebleness, when it needed the support of the sensible presence of the Lord. But the church grew apace, and its honors and leading positions were sought for, and, as in the old days of Babel, the strife for leadership begat confusion of tongues. Not content with the Christian charity with which the presence of the Lord vivified the church, men demanded doctrinal tests, and accused one another of heresies, and forced heretical speculations where simpler hearts would have been content with the life of charity. As the love of rule in the church grew, it was the inevitable tendency to lead the minds of men away from their sole and living dependence upon the Lord, to the discussion of comparatively non-essential points by which the rulers of the church could become important.
All this is represented in a simple way in the story of Jacob's sons. They were shepherds. At first they fed their father's flocks in that great central plain of Shechem, in the heart of the land where Abram first abode, and whither afterward Joshua first led the people to rehearse to them there the blessings and the curses of the law.
We shall not be wrong to see in this the teaching in the primitive church, of its great essential principles of life from the Lord in obedience to His commandments. Joseph was sent to seek his brethren there, which represents the testing of the quality of the church by its acknowledgment of the Lord. But they had gone down, down from that central mountain plain, to a little bay in the low plain of Esdraelon, and there they fed their flocks. How better could the change in the teaching of the church be depicted the change from the teaching of the great central principles of Christian charity from the living presence of the Lord, to the discussion of points of doctrine about Him ?
There Joseph found his brethren, and before he came to them they conspired together against him. And when he came, they stripped him of his beautiful coat, and dipped it in blood, and sent it to his father; but him they cast into a pit, and presently sold him to the Ishmaelites to be carried down into Egypt. What is the corresponding history in the Christian Church ?
During the apostolic period, and for a very short time after, the one grand reality in the church was the presence of the risen Lord, and a fulness of love and charity among the scattered few who believed in Him, and kept His words. But the church multiplied, and men strove for dominion in it; and scarcely three centuries after the Lord's ascension, we see the rulers of the church assembled in councils vehemently discussing points of doctrine, the real intent of which is to turn the hearts of men away from the Lord. If He is really the light and the love and the strength of the church, their part must be that of humble worshippers and servants, and their dominion is gone.
Some there are to their honor be it said who would love to keep this humble place, rich with blessing from heaven ; but not so the leaders who prevail. Some of these would kill Him outright denying to His human any more power than that of another man. But all the faith there is in the church resists this proposal, and, like Reuben, would if possible save to the church the acknowledgment of Him as Lord and God. They say, When you destroy this doctrine of the church and make Him Whom you follow like another man, you will take the vitality out of the church and leave it no excuse for existence. They yield much, however for the early councils of the church were fierce battle-fields, where blows and furious invectives were exchanged, as well as more solid arguments and earnest appeals they yield much, and accept as the best they can get the hiding of their living Lord in an obscure doctrinal pit. They permit it to be decreed that their Lord is one of three Divine Persons, of different characters and attributes; and that in Him is embodied a Divine Son from eternity in a human like that of another man! a deep pit surely for Him Who had risen in glorified human body, in Whom was the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and Whose living presence had alone been the life of the church. Surely it was true, as Swedenborg declares from angels' mouths, that when the Nicene decree was promulgated, the Lord's prediction was fulfilled that the Sun of the Church should be darkened, the moon should not give her light, and the stars should fall from heaven.
Such became the position of the acknowledgment of the Lord with the rulers of the church at this very early period. But not all of the church were rulers, and bent upon establishing their rule; nor were all skilled or concerned in their dark reasonings. There were simple-minded people very many, indeed the bulk of the church, who believed in simplicity the story of the glorified Lord, and loved the charities of the life of the church. For the sake of reverence and profit from them, it was permitted them to keep the acknowledgment of the Lord in their simplicity, even though it was removed from its central position in the church as it was permitted the Ishmaelites for a price to rescue Joseph from the pit, and take him with them into Egypt.
The beautiful garments of the acknowledgment of the Lord still remained. The Holy Supper in which the bread and the wine stood for the Flesh and Blood of the Lord was still observed; but the bread and the wine were no longer the vehicles of His love and truth for the nourishment of men's souls, but made the communicants partakers in the sacrifice of His body by which an artificial redemption was purchased. The teaching of Christian benevolences and good deeds also remained, yet not as in themselves the activities of love and truth from the Lord which are heaven to men, but as means of earning the rewards of some different heaven. The beautiful garments remained, but they were defiled with the blood of the innocent thought which once prevailed in the church ; and they who loved the spiritual life of the church from the acknowledgment of the Lord alone, lamented that that acknowledgment was destroyed in the church, and believed that the church would go down to the grave mourning for it.
The land of Egypt in the old time was the depository of the wisdom of the ancients after it had ceased to be a thing of spiritual perception and intelligence, and had become of the memory only, and this is its signification in the Scriptures. There is even in the physical configuration of the land a likeness of this, which makes such a representation peculiarly appropriate.
Through barren wastes of nearly rainless desert, winds slowly northward the river Nile, bearing in its fertilizing floods both the waters and the soil which make habitable the green ribbon and wider delta which compose the land of Egypt. The land itself drinks not directly of the rain of heaven, but far away upon the mountains and elevated plains of the south, the rain descends which gathers into the waters of the Nile, and fertilizes the desert strip for two thousand miles. This imaged to the ancients the state of the church when heaven had long been closed to it when the days of Eden and even of Noah and his three sons were long past, and men communed not with angels, nor had clear perception of truth from heaven—but, through traditions and records of the far past, heavenly wisdom and counsels of obedience came down to them giving them the knowledge and the stimulus to live outwardly a good and fruitful life.
It images also the present state of our own Christian Church, far, very far, from that innocent life open to heaven and to the Infinite love of God which was the source of all Christian truth and love so far that the very existence of that life in the remote past is doubted. It is a state that drinketh not immediately of the truth of life from God and heaven; but through the records of eighteen centuries it receives all that it has of knowledge of right and wrong, of good and evil, of God, and of heaven and hell, and of the life that will be blessed by God and will lead to heaven.
That the church is now in such a spiritual Egypt, I think that no one who sees its state truly and understands the figure can doubt; when and how it came hither, leaving the fair pastures of the mountains of God, the story before us relates.
As long as the risen Lord alone was worshipped in the church, and His presence was felt as the light and warmth and life of the church, it abode in the heavenly land, and pastured its flocks in peace. When its leaders turned against that acknowledgment of the Lord inventing a doctrine of three Divine persons of Whom He was only one, and as to His human nature hardly that it was remembered that His sole and full Divinity had been acknowledged in the early church, and He had been the life of the church—but this was no longer so; it was a memory of the past. Joseph was already sent down into Egypt.
Naturally they who had sold him thither did not immediately follow. They preserved the forms and appearances of a spiritual church after the life had left the centre and betaken itself to the circumferences, and they tried for long centuries the experiences of a church whose heart was turned away from its God. A simple acknowledgment of Him remained with simple people. The memory of Him and of His teachings remained ; and even as a memory there was a blessing in it that brought salvation wherever its teachings were heeded.
Not to overload our sketch with details every one of which at proper time would have its interest the chief events of the life of Joseph in Egypt were the seven years of plenty, during which Joseph was lord over all the land, followed by the years of famine in which the stores he had gathered kept the land alive, and the coming down of his brethren to him, the particulars of which will be more fully treated presently.
The memory of the acknowledgment of the Lord and of the good life that He lived and taught brought an abundance of useful fruit wherever it was received. It came into a heathen world a world full of the grossest evils, of violence and licentiousness. Everywhere it checked the evil, and brought a new and wholesome life. Slaves were kindly treated or were freed. Women and children were ennobled as compared with their position before. Public and private charities sprang up of kinds and in an abundance before unheard of. Giving to the poor, and giving lovingly and reverently, and caring for the sick with like love and patience, even in loathsome disease, came into existence as a new thing not really new, but new for those days. This abundance of charity continued away down into the Middle Ages close on to the Reformation. The charities and benevolent and religious impulses were by no means always wise. Indeed they were often very unwise, and in the later days they were associated with much self-indulgence and corruption, for which the good deeds were supposed to compensate; and all the while the central rule of the church grew more into the likeness of Babylon haughty in its pride of dominion, evil and corrupt. All this is true; and yet through many centuries there had been a development of natural goodness and beneficence under the influence of the Christian teaching, which is justly represented by the multiplication of corn in Egypt under the rule of Joseph.
No doubt the corruptions of the later centuries needed a sharp remedy even as sharp as centuries of famine; but one almost starts in surprise to see the famine ushered in by the enunciation of the dogma that good works have no part in man's salvation; but that man is saved by the faith that Christ has suffered and died for him. If the intention had been to cut off all the fruitfulness of Christian life, which consists in doing good from the Lord, the doctrine could not have been better framed.
The adoption of the dogma of faith alone, however, though a characteristic feature, was only a feature of a much more general movement. For some centuries before, a movement which was called the revival of learning had been in progress. It was essentially a movement to substitute intellectual culture for what was left of the Christian religion. The culture which it sought was derived especially from the study of the ancient literatures of Greece and Rome that of Palestine was not excluded—and later on most useful work was done in the study of the Sacred Scriptures, in translating them into many tongues, and giving them a wide distribution. Yet even in this the motive was not to bring back a full and living Christian life in the spirit of the Lord and Master, but to furnish the weapons to antagonize Rome, and to substitute for what was left of Christian living abuses and all the study of severe, unfruitful doctrines.
I need not tell of the hard, unloving, joyless centuries that followed centuries valuable for the acquisition of a certain intellectual freedom, and for the distribution of the Scriptures—but barren, utterly barren, of teachings of happy, innocent, loving life. Here in New England I need only point you back to the joyless austerities of the Puritan Sabbath, as an example of the desolation of the church as to all that regards the heavenly life of love taught by her Lord and Master. Nor are we yet so far removed from the prevalence of these unlovely teachings, as to have forgotten their barrenness and their utter inability to minister with the bread of life to the souls of hungry men.
And yet, and yet! What means it that in our own day the one subject that all the world is studying is the life of the Lord Jesus ? What means it that new studies of His life are issued continually by the press, and are among the most widely read of serious books? What means it that all the churches are turning with what they themselves call a Christocentric movement, to Him Who has so long been ignored and almost unknown ? Are the brethren of Joseph indeed coming down into Egypt to buy of him corn for food for their households and their little ones ? If so, how does he receive them ? Do they recognize at once the doctrine that the Lord is their God, and come into the abundant reception of spiritual love and truth through that recognition ? Do they not rather speak of it through an interpreter, still discussing who He is, and not knowing how to come into full, living relations with Him, nor how to bring Him into all the things cf their thought and life! They receive food for their present needs, but before the truth is fully revealed to them they must bring their younger brother with them.
And what is the quality in the church represented by the younger brother of Joseph, in giving birth to whom his mother died ; who was a son of sorrow to her, but the son of the right hand to his father ; and who became the means of uniting Joseph with his brethren in the Egyptian days ?
We have seen that the acknowledgment of the Lord which Joseph represents was not an acknowledgment of the head, but of the heart; that the Lord's disciples had neither the power nor the desire to reason about Him, and understand Him intellectually, but were content with the experience of Christian love from Him, which was an all-satisfying life to them. But it was not to be always so. After the experience of the goodness of the Lord was received, the same affection for interior things which made it possible to receive and love this goodness, begat also the faculty of understanding the truth in relation to Him.
Rachel suffered hard things and died in giving birth to Benjamin, by whom this spiritual understanding is signified, because there is much of self in the natural desire to understand even spiritual things; and no true understanding of the Lord can be born until the desire for glory from such understanding, or for confirming one's own opinions or favoring one's selfish ends, suffers hard things and dies. When the selfishness of the natural desire perishes, then is born the power of understanding truth for the sake of truth because it is itself so good, and leads to so great good without either distorting it to favor self, or pride in the possession of it.
Some small measure of such understanding there has long been in the church ; but the general history of both the Roman Catholic and the Reformed Churches shows a very different attitude toward the truth. In general they have exhibited a zeal for the views that favored their own purposes, an intolerance and even bitterness toward everything else, and exceedingly little of modest love for truth for truth's own sake.
It does exist, and is increasing rapidly, yet even now it is but a lad ; and the timid heart of the church fears to have it go down among all the materialistic, agnostic science of our Egypt, lest the understanding of spiritual truth should utterly perish.
It does not know, and it is afraid to believe, that the most potent fact in all the history of men is the fact of the transforming, spiritualizing power of the presence of the Lord Divine and yet human. It does not know that the Bible which reveals Him is still in Christendom not only the most widely read and the most loved of all books, but more loved than all other literature, and with a stronger power over the lives of men. It does not know that Joseph is lord over all the land of Egypt.
Reluctantly it permits its immature understanding of spiritual truth to enter the rude world, fearing that it will now be all over with the faith of the church. But the result will be that while much that is unimportant will be left behind even as Joseph sent word to his father: " Regard not your stuff, for the good of all the land of Egypt is yours" yet all that has life in the church will be saved, and will be abundantly supported and multiplied.
In the land of Goshen, the richest of the land of Egypt, and the part nearest to the Holy Land, the brethren of Joseph pastured their flocks ; and among the richest of natural truths, most nearly related to spiritual life, and laying the broadest foundation for it, the flocks of the church of the Lord will feed and grow strong, until they are once more ready to return to the deepest experiences of the life of heaven with their Lord.