The 19th of June and Its Spiritual Background
The Nineteenth of June is called New Church Day because on that day in the year 1770 the Lord called together His twelve disciples and sent them throughout the whole spiritual world to preach the gospel that the Lord Jesus Christ reigns and of His kingdom there shall be no end. (TCR 791)
At Christmas time we think about the Advent story and how the birth of the Lord, as revealed to the wise men, represented the Lord's coming to our understanding, and how the story as told in the Gospel of Luke, with its tidings of good joy told to the simple shepherds, represented the birth of the Lord in our hearts. The natural sense of the Christmas story we share with the world; but in all its events we also see the spiritual sense which makes the coming of Christ on earth as our God and Savior a coming to each individual.
At Easter we again join with the Christian world in celebrating the Lord's bodily resurrection from the grave. As Paul said so many times in his epistles, "If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain." (I Corinthians 15: 17) It was the fact that the disciples saw the Lord so many different times after He had risen from the dead that established the firm faith of Christianity. And in this belief we join, but we add to it the spiritual sense of the Word that is revealed in the Writings of Swedenborg. For we can now see that in the tomb the Lord put off all the human from the mother, and that on the third day He rose completely glorified in a body of Divine substance.
The Nineteenth of June, however, marks an event which only those can celebrate who receive the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg as a Divine revelation. It is through his eyes alone that we see the other world and the events which transpire there. For as the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ his spiritual eyes had been opened that he might record the events in the spiritual world which marked the Second Coming of the Lord.
The calling together of the disciples in the spiritual world was an event with stupendous implications. It makes of the spiritual world a very real place. Here were men who had preached on earth, who had given up their fishing or tax collecting and all their worldly occupations, and had devoted themselves, heart and soul, to the spread of the gospel that the Lord Jesus Christ was the God of heaven and earth; calling on people to repent and to he baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to enter the Christian Church. In doing this in the world, these twelve men had incurred the wrath of the Jewish hierarchy and the persecution of the Roman emperors.
It is inspiring to know that these men, who had made the preaching of the gospel of the Lord's kingdom in this world the center of their lives and who had gladly died for their convictions, were still filled with glowing enthusiasm when they came into the spiritual world. What a thrill it must have been for them to be called together in the spiritual world by their same Lord and Master and sent forth into a vastly wider field to do that which they had loved to do best of all, while they lived in the world, to preach the gospel that the Lord Jesus Christ doth reign! Let me recall to your minds a similar event in this world, as recorded in Matthew:
"And when He had called unto Him His twelve disciples, He gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him. These twelve Jesus sent forth." (Matthew 10:1-5)
Eagerly they entered into the mission which He had set before them, and went forth and preached with utmost vigor and courage.
The True Christian Religion was the last work which Swedenborg himself published. He had commenced writing the twelve volumes of the Arcana twenty-two years before, and they are the first fruits of his complete inspiration. Many volumes had flowed from his pen since that beginning and the Last Judgment had taken place in the world of spirits. Swedenborg was now eighty-two years of age. We can but wonder at his energy and that he was able to complete so vast a work! He finished the first draft of it on the Nineteenth of June in 1770. At the bottom of the manuscript, after he had written the last chapter on "The Consummation of the Age," he adds a note which reads, "After this work was finished, the Lord called together His twelve disciples who followed Him in the world; and the next day He sent them all forth throughout the whole spiritual world to preach the Gospel that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, whose kingdom shall be for ages of ages, according to the prediction in Daniel, (7: 13, 14) and Apocalypse (11:15)" (TCR 791)
You will note that the sending forth of the disciples into the spiritual world depended upon the completion of the True Christian Religion in this world, and it is impossible to understand the significance of the Nineteenth of June in the year 1770 without understanding some spiritual history and spiritual geography. The spiritual world is a world of living men and women. There is no one there except people who have once lived on this earth. There are no angels created such from the beginning. There are myriads of angels there, but they have all been good men, women or children in this world first. The angels of heaven are just like those good people who seem almost angelic even while living in this world. Thus the spiritual world seems very real to us, for it is populated by people who are very human in their interests, and very forthright in their friendliness.
The Writings tell us that the spiritual world, which is the scene of all man's experiences after death, is divided into three parts. There is the world of spirits, into which everyone comes immediately after death; above the world of spirits is heaven, and below it there is hell. Into heaven are gathered all those people who love to do what is right, while those who love to plot evil descend by a spiritual gravity into hell. What counts is what man has learned to love in this world. The Lord came into this world to give life and to give it more abundantly, and we know that wherever people are of a generous nature, wherever they seek to help one another, wherever they are fond of one another, there life becomes abundant. On the other hand, where people are selfish, all their life becomes restricted and narrow. That is the effect of evilit narrows life, whereas good gives life and gives it more abundantly. So we have those two great regions in the spiritual world on the one hand heaven, and on the other hand hell, and in between them there is an intermediate realm called the world of spirits. The world of spirits is where we first go when we die, and the world of spirits is a place where the Lord has arranged that man may judge himself; that is, that man may become convinced of his actual loves.
In the natural world we are so pressed upon by externals that we are not always sure what our deepest loves are. We are restrained from doing evil by the law. We have to obey the laws of our country if we do not wish to be pursued by the police. So we may wonder how much of our good conduct is due to the police, and how much to our own self restraint. An even stronger motive for respectable behavior is the moral law or the force of public opinion. How compelling these two forces are we may not realize in this world, but the Writings tell us that the only thing that really counts is the spiritual law which is enshrined in our conscience and bids us to shun evils as sins against God. The sins against Him destroy the things which He has created and they make the beautiful ugly and the sweet bitter; and so, only when we really want to shun evils, not because they will land us in gaol or ruin our reputation, but because they hurt Him, only then do we shun them from a spiritual principle.
All of these different motives, originating in respect for the civil law, the moral law, and the spiritual law, are pretty well mixed up with us in this world, and when we get to the world of spirits, we have the opportunity of having these things clearly defined. We come into a state of freedom, where we have not the slightest feeling that anyone is watching us or cares at all what we do. We have the sensation that we are in a country that has no laws that can be violated, and so the only law that governs us is our own conscience, which we take with us to the spiritual world. In the world of spirits we do not feel that anyone is checking up on us. No neighbor is watching what we do, no wife will note what time we come in or what time we go out and no one will seem to have the slightest interest in what we do.
In other words, we come into a state of real freedom where we proceed to do what we really love to do and do it freely, and if we have loved to do the things which are right and good and clean, those are the things that we will do in the world of spirits. Soon we find that we are associating with people who like the same kind of things. And if we have chosen to do good we will be associating with angels, because we love the things that the angels love. After we have made such a choice, we are instructed by angel guides, and we are finally led to that part of heaven where we can take up the work for which we are best fitted. On the other hand, if we have chosen evil, the Lord has provided that in order that there may not be a horrible mixture of good and evil within us we be given an opportunity to get rid of the good that appears to be ours, the good which our neighbors have thought was part of us, but which in our inmost hearts we hated, since it was only put on to attract their attention and to win their admiration. Then, when all the good which had clung to the external has been removed from us and our evil loves have, as it were, become naked and acknowledged by ourselves, then we begin to associate to ourselves evil people like ourselves and eventually find our abiding place in hell.
The world of spirits is intimately connected with this world. Each one of us lives in the world of spirits right now. That is where our mind breathes, that is where our thoughts come from. This may explain how our affections radiate and move other people just through our presence. You have all had the experience of coming into the presence of someone who heartily dislikes you. You have felt their cold sphere. We all have felt that kind of sphere; and we have also felt the sphere of love when we come among those people who are fond of us. For as to our minds we are in the world of spirits right now.
Now, the medium of connection between the natural world and the spiritual world is the Word. 'When I read "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want," the angels that are with me perceive the spiritual sense of those words and are delighted by it. The Word is the actual connecting medium between the two worlds. It combines the spiritual sense within with the natural sense without. We cannot understand what happened on the Nineteenth of June unless we see this principle clearly.
You have frequently heard of the Last Judgment. Men who read the Word and think only of the letter believe that some day there will be a great last judgment and then the world will come to an end, but the Writings tell us that the last judgment has already taken place. The Lord did teach that there was to be a last judgment, but He did not mean that it would be accompanied by the end of the physical world. It was the end of the Church of which He spoke, the Church founded at the time of His first coming.
That judgment took place in the spiritual world, and the nature of it was this. Men in the love of dominion had misconstrued Divine revelation in order to gain power for the Church over the souls of men. The Roman Catholic Church maintains that because it is said in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew that Peter was to be given the keys of heaven and of hell, this meant that Peter passed down that power to the popes whom the Catholics look to as Christ's vicar on earth, that is, the one who exercises Christ's Divine power on earth. But this conception is hard to reconcile with what we read in the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew. To His disciples, after He had risen from the dead, He said, "All power is given unto Me in heaven and on earth." (Matthew 28:18) In these words the Lord informs His disciples Peter included, that all power was given unto Him, in His Glorified Human, and not that any special power was given to Peter as Christ's vicar on earth. But let us examine the passage in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew upon which the Pope's claims are based. "When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am? and they said, Some say that Thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:13-19)
Now let me call your attention to the fact that the Lord asked, "Whom say ye that I am?" And when Peter replied, "Thou art the Christ," the Lord said, "Thou art Peter and upon this rock." The rock is obviously not Peter the man, but the rock is the confession that He, the Lord, was Divine, that He was the Christ. It is on that doctrine of faith that the Church shall be built, not on the man Peter. However, if it were not for what the Lord said six verses later, we might get an erroneous idea of the importance of the man Peter. For the Lord then recounted to the disciples "how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him, saying, Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee. But He turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence unto Me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." (Matthew 16:21-23)
Thus we note that in the same chapter, only six verses apart, He says first, "Thou art Peter and on this rock will I build my Church," and then He calls Peter "Satan," and says that he is an offence unto Him and that he should get behind Him.
I looked up this text in the Douay Bible, which is the Catholic English version, to see how the twenty-third verse would be rendered. They translated it, Thou art Satan, Get thee behind Me," but they had a footnote by a learned bishop who said, and I quote, "Verse 22. 'And Peter taking Him.' That is, taking Him aside, out of a tender love, respect, and zeal for his Lord and Master's honor, began to expostulate with Him, as it were to rebuke Him, saying, Lord, far be it for thee to suffer death: but the Lord said to Peter, verse 23, 'Go behind me, Satan.'
These words may signify, begone from me; but the Holy Fathers expound them otherwise, that is, come after me, or follow me; and by these words the Lord would have Peter to follow Him in His suffering, and not to oppose the Divine will by contradiction; for the word 'Satan' means in Hebrew an adversary, or one that opposes." (Footnote in the Douay Bible at Matthew 16:22 and 23) This explanation will hardly satisfy the reason of an intelligent person. The explanation of the New Church is just this: that Peter the man was neither the rock on which the Lord built His Church, nor was he Satan; but that the declaration of faith that Christ was God was the rock on which the Church was to be built, and Peter's opposition to the Divine will was Satan. Thus we see that the letter of the Word can be misused to subject people to the dominion of the Church. Millions of worshippers have been under the rule of the Catholic Church and when they have gone into the spiritual world they were still under its dominion.
Other millions of simple souls had accepted the doctrine of salvation by faith alone and they had been kept under the dominion of that false persuasion by Protestant ministers for many hundreds of years. Because the letter of the Word was used to hold people under the altar, as described in the book of Revelation, a judgment was not possible until the spiritual sense of the Word had been revealed. However, when the Arcana Caelestia was finished in 1756twelve marvelous volumes explaining the internal sense of thousands of passages in the Word, then the condition was ripe in the world of spirits for a spiritual judgment. After the truth concerning the Trinity, and the truth concerning the life after death, and the truth concerning man's being saved through building a character which loves the things that the angels love, when those truths had been revealed in all abundance in the Arcana Caelestia, then there was an immediate reaction in the spiritual world. These new Divine truths tore away the sham foundations of the imaginary heavens that wicked leaders had been able to set up through their abuse of the letter of the Word. And when the truths of the spiritual sense were revealed in this world as they were in the Arcana Caelestia, it was possible for the Lord to effect, accomplish, and produce the Last Judgment in the spiritual world, which took place in the year 1757.
The New Heaven, however, was not completed until 1770. That is a number of years later and, during the interval, there poured from the pen of Swedenborg, but not from the mind of Swedenborg, for they were Divinely inspired, the rest of the Writings, among which were: Heaven and Hell, The Earths in the Universe, The Last Ju4gment, Divine Love and Wisdom, Divine Providence, The Apocalypse Explained, The Apocalypse Revealed, Conjugial Love, and The True Christian Religion. When Swedenborg finished the last paragraph of the first draft of The True Christian Religion, the Lord "called together His twelve disciples who followed Him in the world, and sent them forth throughout the whole spiritual world to preach the Gospel that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, whose kingdom shall be for ages of ages." (TCR 791)
All of the truths necessary for the establishment of a New Church in this world had now been revealed. The purpose of this revelation was to manifest the Lord in a new way. The Divine is everywhere. In no true sense can the Divine come to a place where the Divine already is. But the Divine can reveal Himself in a new way. At the time of the first coming He revealed Himself as a Man. But in the second coming He revealed Himself as Divine Truth. The essential of this Divine Truth is that the same Lord Jesus Christ who had gathered the twelve apostles to Himself in this world is the very God of heaven and earth. In this world the disciples had preached the doctrine that the Lord Jesus Christ was Divine, and that He had risen from the dead, and most of them had given their lives to defend that doctrine. How beautiful, then, that they should be called upon to preach throughout the whole spiritual world that the Lord Jesus Christ doth reign and that of His kingdom there shall be no end.
That was the first New Church sermon that was ever uttered, and it was preached in the spiritual world. The calling together of the twelve disciples was on the Nineteenth day of June in the year 1770. That is why we call that day the birthday of the New Church. We may well ask ourselves why the twelve disciples who had followed the Lord in this world were chosen for this high office in the spiritual world. Was it because they were better than anyone else? Just why was it that of the thousands and thousands of Christians who were in the spiritual world by 1770 the same twelve men should be chosen as were chosen in this world? We are not left without an answer to that question. A study of the Writings tells us that Swedenborg met the twelve disciples in the spiritual world on March 13, 1748. He tells us in the Spiritual Diary (1330) that there were thousands and thousands of angels in the inmost heaven of the spiritual world who were higher angels than the apostles ever became. The apostles went to the interior heaven, he said, and above the interior heaven is the celestial or inmost heaven, so that the disciples were not of the highest angels. They were not chosen then because of their personal virtue.
When Swedenborg met the twelve apostles on March 13, 1748, the occasion was their descent from their heavens into the world of spirits for the purpose of judgment; and when they came down into the world of spirits, they entered into the external state in which they had been in this world. Here on earth the Lord had said that when He came into His kingdom they would be judges, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. On one occasion the disciples had been quarreling together. They had been arguing among themselves as to who should be greatest in the Lord's kingdom, when He came into His power. They were thinking that He was going to be a worldly ruler who would break the yoke of Rome from the neck of Israel. Then one of the twelve would be first in His kingdom. They wanted to know who that one was going to be. (Mark 9:34; Luke 9:46; 22:24) But the Lord called a little child and put him in the midst of them and said, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3) On another occasion, the mother of James and John came to the Lord and desired that He allow her sons to sit at His right and left hand when He came into His kingdom. (Matthew 20:20-28) She was thinking of His worldly kingdom, when He should come into power, and the Lord said that that position was reserved for those prepared for it by His Father which is in heaven.
When, therefore, these same disciples came into the world of spirits, they came into their external state. Then it was that they thought that they should judge the tribes of Israel, and they thought that only those who had suffered martyrdom for the sake of their faith, as they had done, should be rewarded by being given heaven. And they had to be instructed that if martyrdom were the price of heaven, then in modern days, no one would be going to heaven because no one is dying for their religion at the present time. No one would be coming into heaven if the apostles' criterion for entrance into heaven were correct. In reading the account in The Spiritual Diary (1330) it is interesting to note how absolutely human these men were.
They were still influenced by what they had thought on earth, and it was not until they had been instructed and had been freed from these wrong ideas as to what makes a person worthy of the kingdom of heaven, that they could return to the interior heaven which is their final abode.
We are now ready to see why these same twelve men should be called to preach the Gospel in the spiritual world that the Lord reigns. The reason is that they were better able than anyone else to preach the Gospel of a Divinely Human God. For although God is Infinite, Divine, and eternal, He must still appear to us as a Divine Man, and He does so appear in the pages of the New Testament. And of all the people in the spiritual world, no one could have known Him as a Man with the same vigorous impressions that these disciples had who had eaten with Him, slept under the same roof, listened to Him, talked with Him, and followed Him whithersoever He went in this world. And the message of the Nineteenth of June, which is the Gospel of the New Church, is that the Lord Jesus Christ is a Divine Human Personal God who is interested in individuals and who can be worshipped, not as a cloud, not as a force of energy, but as a Divine Human Savior.
It is stated that the Lord called together the twelve disciples who had followed Him throughout the world and sent them each into his own province. Why were there twelve disciples? Why weren't there thirteen or Six? There were twelve for the same reason that there were twelve tribes of Israel. The number "twelve" corresponds to all the goods and truths of the Church. Twelve is a combination of three and four: three representing the truth in its fullness and four representing conjunction of good. The combination of the two represents everything that the marriage of good and truth can bring to the life of the Church, and the twelve disciples represent all of the elements of good and truth which go to make up a true Church.
There is another passage from the Writings about these disciples that I want to call to your attention. Swedenborg was writing the chapter on Faith in The True Christian Religion. Here he brings together, from many different angles, the truth that the Lord is one God in one Person. He quotes many passages from the Word which teach this doctrine. "I and My Father are One."
(John 10:30) "Before Abraham was I am. (John 8:58) And he quotes many more beautiful passages which show the oneness of God. At the end of number 339 he says, "The foregoing was written in the presence of the Lord's twelve apostles, who were sent to me by the Lord while I was writing it." The Lord had surrounded Swedenborg with the very company who had known Him as a Man and who had followed Him in this world in order that their sphere of absolute knowledge might inspire Swedenborg to present a living faith in one God in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In number 108 of The True Christian Religion we read, "To this I will add the following new information. Some months ago the twelve apostles were called together by the Lord, and were sent forth through the whole spiritual world, as they formerly were through the whole natural world, with the command to preach this gospel; and to each apostle was assigned a particular province; and this command they are executing with great zeal and industry." What is meant by each apostle being assigned a particular province? You recall that the Lord's first miracle was turning water into wine, which represented turning natural truth into spiritual purpose. That was at the marriage feast at Cana of Galilee, and we are told that "both Jesus was called, and His disciples, to the marriage." This means that in order that this first miracle may take place in the lives of each one of us, both Jesus and His disciples must be present, and when they are present, then the miracle of changing water into wine can take place. The reason for this is because the disciples represent that which brings the worship of the Lord to the individual, and this is none other than the principles of good and truth whereby we make the religion of our hearts govern the acts of our daily lives.
But each disciple went to preach in his own province. Peter's province was faith. We can see in every act of his life this principle of faith. We see his life reflected in our own lives for we all know that at some moments, faith is very living. It seems to fill our whole being, just as Peter cried out on the eve of the crucifixion, as he sat by the Lord at the Last Supper and said, "Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee." (Matthew 26:35) Only a few hours later, in the palace of Caiaphas the high priest, he denied Him three times. We exhibit the same disloyalty when, knowing what is right, we do evil.
It is not hard to understand the province into which Thomas was sent, for he is the symbol of all doubters. To be able to see by rational demonstration is a God-given faculty. When the Lord said, And the way ye know," Thomas immediately said to Him, "Lord, we know not whither Thou goest." He came out and confessed his ignorance, so the Lord said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." (John 14:5, 6) Later, when the Lord appeared to ten of His disciples on Easter night, Thomas was not there, and when the disciples told him about it he said that unless he put his finger in the print of the nail and thrust his hand into the Lord's side, he would not believe that the Lord had risen again. One week later, the Lord appeared again and said to Thomas, "Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing." Thus by rational demonstration the Lord convinced Thomas, and he answered, "My Lord and my God." (John 20:24-29)
Or we could take the case of the beloved disciple, John. How constant he was, how unlike Peter who denied the Lord! John never denied the Lord. True, all the disciples forsook the Lord and fled, when he was seized. (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50-52) But John and Peter returned and followed the Lord even to the palace of the high priest (Matthew.26:58; Mark 14:54; Luke 22:54), and John went into the palace. (John 18: 15) We might also think of Philip whose name means "a lover of horses," and whose spiritual correspondence represents the study of the letter of the Word and connects with the fact that the Lord was born and laid in a manger where horses are fed.
Consider any one of the disciples, or all of them, and as we study their lives we can see that the principles which they represent are the principles which have to be established in us, if the Lord is to be the one only God of our heaven and earth. Similarly, in the Grand Man of heaven there is a province which receives the particular ministrations of each apostle. Each apostle is privileged to perform that use which is particularly his own. Thus, when we celebrate the Nineteenth of June, as New Church men we can understand why the Lord chose His twelve apostles to proclaim, each in his own province, that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, and that His kingdom shall be for ages and ages. As we receive Him into our own lives, and as we let His love, mercy, and wisdom penetrate into every province of our personalities, then we will be so inspired by Him that every action of our lives will bear witness of Him. Since He will be in our loves, our lives will be uplifted; since He will inspire our wisdom, our footsteps will be directed heavenward; and since He is our God, our whole being will be moved to proclaim the new gospel of His apostles, "The Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, Whose kingdom shall be for ages and ages."