The Immortality of Man's Soul
Man is a spiritual being. I shall confine myself here to showing from the Bible, from common sense, and from the Writings, why the only logical belief that we can have is that man survives death and God's purpose in creation is the formation of a heaven from the human race. The Lord said to the Sadducees, "But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." (Matthew 22:31, 32; Mark 12:26, 27; Luke 20:37, 38) The Sadducees were a sect which did not believe in the resurrection. They believed that when the body died, the whole man died, and that was the end of the cycle of life. The Lord told them that God was not a God of the dead but of the living, and since God told Moses that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they must be living at the time centuries later when God spoke to Moses at the burning bush.
In the Gospel of Luke there is a familiar parable. "There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with crumbs that fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. (Luke 16:19-28) Since the five brothers of the rich man were still alive, this shows that the rich man, when he died, immediately continued life in hell, and that Lazarus died and was taken immediately into Abraham's bosom. There was no waiting around for any last Day of Judgment, no waiting to enter into the spiritual world, but immediately Abraham embraced Lazarus in heaven and the rich man lifted up his voice from hell.
Note also what is written in Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians. But first let us recall the teaching of the Christian Church, that man will re- enter his natural body at the last day that by a miracle the flesh and bones which had been disintegrated will be called together and reform themselves. How could this take place? The answer comes that with man this would be impossible, but that with God all things are possible. Yet the truth is that man's natural body is not the man, but man's spiritual body is the man; and man's spiritual body continues in the spiritual world, and man's natural body is laid aside and is never taken again, and that is borne out by this passage from Paul.
Paul says. "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (that is, man's natural body); "neither doth corruption inherit incorruption." (That is, the body which is corrupted in the grave never inherits the incorruptibility of eternal life.) "Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law." (I Corinthians 15: 50-56) And in the same chapter (verse 44), we read, "It is sown a natural body, but is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body."
It is the plain teaching of Paul that man has a natural body for life in this world, and a spiritual body for life hereafter. Divine Providence always seems to bring us illustrations when we are meditating deeply upon some subject.
I remember once I was preaching on the subject of life after death. It was Easter time, and as I walked to my Church in Toronto the little crocuses were just poking their heads through the ground. A blind man came out of a house just ahead of me.
A little boy was leading him by the hand. As they walked the boy was telling him about the crocuses, and how the grass was turning green, and how everything seemed to be reborn and coming into new life again. I could see the delight on the face of the blind man at the description of this world which he could not see, but which he thoroughly believed in, because of the words of his companion. And I thought, this is a parable to illustrate what I am going to try to do in my sermon. I am going to tell the congregation about the beauties of the spiritual world which they have never seen with their eyes, but which have been seen by the eyes of Swedenborg. Swedenborg has to bring to them the glories of the unseen world just as the little boy brought the glories of this world to the blind man.
The whole Christian world is supposed to believe in the immortality of the soul. But they have such a vague doctrine, without any particulars, and such an incomprehensible belief, that in this skeptical age in which we live today, many doubt the existence of a spiritual world and many are becoming agnostic that is, they say there may be a life after death but if there is, no one can know about it. The New Church, in the Writings of Swedenborg, has positive instruction concerning the life after death, instruction which has led to the formation of a new and living faith in the life hereafter.
The idea which we hold of the spiritual world, and of man as a spiritual being, is intensely important. It will affect the entire pattern of our living because we are going to shape our lives in accordance with the ends which we believe to be the most important. The Lord said in words that cannot be mistaken: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:19-21) That is the point, where our treasure is. If our interest is in worldly things, if we seek social position or strive to accumulate wealth, or center our love in the success of our children, these will be the things wherein our real love resides. They will shape our lives. But the Master exhorts us to make spiritual things, the treasure of heaven, the real goal of our search.
Is it not startling to contemplate the fact that one hundred years from now scarcely a soul will be left in this world who is here today! A hundred short years, and some of us have lived many of the hundred already. Is it not strange that in spite of that fact many are content to let the spiritual world seem vague and illusionary? So many people with whom you desire to talk about the spiritual world do not seem to be interested. It is a very peculiar thing. If they were going to take a trip to Europe, or some place where they had never been before, they would be thrilled and they would be getting timetables and maps, and they would study the history and the customs of the people and of the places where they were going, but we are all going into the spiritual world inevitably and inescapably. Therefore it is very important that we make the study of it one of the great and moving forces of our lives. Now review with me the wealth of material concerning the spiritual world which can be found in the Writings of the New Church. We believe Swedenborg's claims, but no one can believe them until he sees the truth in them. If I show you a yellow lampshade and tell you that it is yellow you will believe me because you see it is. If I could show you a truth just as clearly, then you would believe that also. For example: If I say two plus two make four, that is a truth. You see that clearly, and I do not have to convince you. Those of us who believe Swedenborg see these truths to be true just as clearly as we see that the needles on a pine tree are green. The only proof of the truth of Swedenborg's Writings is that they bring to the mind the light of truth in which truth alone can be seen; just as we see the sun solely by the light of the sun. New Church ministers who preach about the spiritual world do not ask anyone to believe it until they see it to be true. But we do want you to know on what we base our convictions about the spiritual world. In the first place, Swedenborg claims that he was fully conscious in the spiritual world for twenty-seven years! This consciousness was not like a seance produced by spiritists who, after various incantations, may get a medium to utter a few disjointed sentences. Swedenborg's contact with the spiritual world was not like that at all. He was there continuously, and conscious in both worlds at the same time for a period of twenty- seven years.
During these twenty-seven years these are the things that he wrote about the spiritual world. He kept a diary which we know as "The Spiritual Diary." Swedenborg did not name it and did not expect it to be published. It was written for his own use. But now it has been translated into English and published. It forms a perfectly wonderful undesigned story about the spiritual world. It was not written with any thought of its ever appearing before the world. It was written by Swedenborg in that simple guileless style that was characteristic of him. He just wrote down what he saw in the spiritual world and the conversations that he had had with the men and women with whom he had talked. There are five volumes of the Spiritual Diary. Then in three of his works, Apocalypse Revealed, Conjugial Love, and The True Christian Religion, he appends after each chapter what he calls Memorable Relations. The Memorable Relations are accounts of things that happened to him in the spiritual world. Once a man named Cuno in Holland who had a high regard for Swedenborg said, "Why do you put in these accounts about what you heard and saw in the spiritual world? Don't you know that people will think you are crazy?" "Well," Swedenborg said in his simple direct way, "I put them in by command of the Lord." He explained that it was necessary to understand both the appearances and the inner relationships in the spiritual world, in order to understand the doctrine of the New Church, for the two go hand in hand. It it quite impossible to believe the theology of the New Church about one God in one person who is the Lord Jesus Christ, and about shunning evils as sins against God, or Conjugial Love, or the spiritual sense of the Word, unless we believe that the spiritual world is a real world.
The New Church minister has seventy-two of these Memorable Relations to draw from. The one that opens Conjugial Love is twenty- five pages long and contains many descriptions of actual things in the spiritual world. In addition there is the work on Heaven and Hell, which is a volume devoted entirely to a description of the spiritual world and life there. And in Swedenborg's other Writings, continual mention is made of the spiritual world as a real world, a living world, a factual world. Swedenborg talks of the spiritual world just as freely and simply as you and I talk of the natural world. The New Church minister has all of that wealth of truth from which to draw his picture of the spiritual world. It is no concept that he invents but it is a description of the spiritual world as it has been revealed to mankind through the mind and experience of Emanuel Swedenborg.
It is interesting to note that when the Lord was on the cross He said to the thief that believed in Him: "Today shalt thou he with Me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) It is interesting for this reason the thief's body was buried in this world, so that the "thou" denoted the personality of the thief who repented on the cross and whom the Lord said would be in the spiritual world. The Lord did not say, "Half of you will be with Me in the spiritual world today." He said: "This day thou, the ego, the man himself, shall be with Me in paradise." And so with all the clearness that words could possibly denote, the Lord gave that thief to believe that he, the man himself the spirit who felt and thought and loved would be with Him in paradise. "Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise."
The relation of the natural world to the spiritual world is really not hard to understand. In winter we wear overcoats. We dislike their weight and clumsiness, and we long for spring, so that we can lay them aside and expand our muscles more freely. But the real man is still inhibited by his physical body in addition to his clothes. If I want to see the Canadian Northwest my body has to be carried there by an airplane or a train. But my mind can get there instantly. Even in this world man is continually striving to overcome the handicaps of time and space. That is why he has invented the telephone and television so that the laws of the mind which govern the spiritual world may function here. The question is, why do I want to talk by telephone to someone thousands of miles away? Why do I want to see and touch things thousands of miles away? Because that is the law of the spirit. And when I go to the spiritual world, after I put off this natural body, I will be able to see and talk and feel and be with people, with all my senses, at any distance whatsoever, so long as we wish to be together. There, the law of attraction is the only thing that can bring us together. If there is no mutual attraction, two spirits or angels cannot be together; but if there is attraction and love they can be; for thought brings presence, the Writings say, and love brings conjunction.
After seven years, scientists tell us, there is scarcely a particle in our body that we had seven years before. The change is gradual but still we remain the same person. Which shows that the physical body has nothing to do with the personality, the real person. If you live to be seventy years old you have perhaps had ten natural bodies! Is it difficult to believe that, if we die at seventy we can leave ten different bodies in this world and still be the same man? That which has organized the ten bodies that we have had successively was the spiritual body. It is that spiritual body which is the real man that goes immediately into the spiritual world at death, and carries into that world all our loves and all our thoughts and every single experience, conscious or unconscious, that we ever had.
Swedenborg discovered and made known quite a number of things years before scientists discovered them. For instance, before his spiritual eyes were opened, he discovered that the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and various areas of the brain control various parts of the body. He discovered this long before it was acknowledged by the world. And now modern psychologists are talking about the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind, in Swedenborg's Writings, includes what is called the interior memory. The exterior memory is what you can recall consciously. Now psychologists are discovering that under certain stimuli, and by certain forms of hypnotism, or by various drugs, they can get a man to reproduce things from the subconscious memory which he cannot reproduce from his conscious memory.
Every single sensation that comes to us forms a part of the spiritual man and goes into the spiritual world. It may be said that every man is his own bookkeeper; every man records all things in his own book of life. Our book of life is our interior memory upon which is written every least detail of our lives. All of these details are written upon man's interior memory, so that when he puts off the material body he loses absolutely nothing of his personality, of his mental capacity, of the broadness or depth of his loves. Nothing does he lose and nothing does he leave in this world of any essential value. The only thing he leaves is a material organism which was for the purpose of contact in this world. And when he lays it aside, within three days the man himself becomes completely conscious in the spiritual world as to every one of his faculties. "Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise."
Some people have thought that God's original plan was to put men in this world and have them live here forever; but that sin caused them to die. They sinned when they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The Lord had said, "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Genesis 2:17) Very definite words, and yet the day that Adam and Eve ate thereof at the behest of the serpent, they did not surely die. No indeed far from it. They were merely driven out of the Garden of Eden, and afterward Eve suffered the pain of childbirth, and Adam had to till the soil and earn his living in the sweat of his brow. But they did not surely die that is, physically. They died a death that could surely be represented as the death of sin. "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." This cannot be taken in a literal sense, for the simple reason that they did not surely die.
The Lord on the night before He was crucified had a wonderful conversation with His disciples. They were worried. They knew He was going to be taken from them. But He said: "Let not your heart be troubled. Ye believe in God. Believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions . . . I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." (John 14:1-3) He said this just before He was crucified, and shortly before the Easter morning when they saw Him as the risen Lord. What a magnificent promise that isthat He goes to prepare a place for each one of us and that in His house there are individual mansions for each one of us.
After a spirit is free from the body it is free to travel wherever it wants to. It is also free to express its true emotions in a way that it could never do while in the body. If our bodies are overweight, we must use determined fortitude to diet in order to make our natural bodies conform to some standard which we think may be good for them. However, there are other things about the natural body that we cannot change. As the Lord said, "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature?" and "Thou canst not make one hair white or black." (Matthew 6:27; 5:36) But that is not true of the spiritual body. It can be made beautiful by the beauty of our character, or if we live a wicked and selfish life our spiritual body will actually become ugly and distorted.
The way that the spirit grows in strength is to do the things that we know are right. On one occasion the Lord showed how this was done. It was the time that he had been left by His disciples at Jacob's well conversing with the Samaritan woman. When His disciples returned they "prayed Him saying, Master, eat. But He said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of. Therefore said the disciples one to another, bath any man brought Him ought to eat? Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work." (John 4:31-34) Every time that we do the will of God we build up our character that is, we feed and strengthen our spiritual man that lives to eternity. Obedience to the commandments, and courage to do what is right build spiritual stamina and increase the beauty of man's spirit. One other thought. Throughout the Bible, wherever angels are said to have been seen, those angels have been seen as men. You know how Michelangelo pictured angels with great white wings. But we do not believe that any of us will have wings in the spiritual world. We will just be people there, as here. This is confirmed from the Word.
The first mention of angels in the Bible is where they appeared to Abraham three of them and they were men. He got a feast ready, and he gave them food, and they ate, and talked with him. (Genesis 18) Later, two of them went down to Sodom and talked to Lot and took Lot by the arm and brought him forth out of Sodom. (Genesis 19) Of course, you will recall the angel mentioned in the Book of Revelation who took John all over the Holy City and when John fell down to worship him, He said, "See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow-servant and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God." John saw thousands and thousands of angels wearing white robes. The picture that he draws is one of many people of human beings and no matter where you read in the Word, wherever angels are spoken of, they are described as people. But the most important thing to stress is that the real man is spiritual. And when I say a "spirit," I don't mean a ghost. That is why in the New Church we do not say "the Holy Ghost." We say "the Holy Spirit" because the word ghost," through a few hundred years of usage in the English language, has come to mean an apparition something that haunts a house, something that comes and goes and is not substantial; but a "spirit" is the will and the understanding, the love and the affections everything that makes you to be you. That is the spirit of man, and that is independent of his body.
For example, if I should have a wretched accident and have to have my arm amputated, you would all feel sorry for me, but you wouldn't think that I was a different person not at all. You would just feel that I had a physical handicap to overcome. You could remove both arms and both legs; in thought you can see that I could lose an eye, and an ear; I could become blind; like Helen Keller I could be blind and deaf, and still the real person would be there. Although Helen Keller is deaf and blind, she has learned to appreciate color through the eyes of other people, and sym. phonies through the ears of other people, and people love her. Now they don't love the deaf ears or the blind eyes. They love the magnificent spirit within her which has triumphed over all of those handicaps. And she says in her book, "My Religion," "It is easy for me to see the spiritual world through Swedenborg's eyes and to hear its songs through his ears and to hear the voices of the angels through his ears," because, she says: "I have had to depend for all of my knowledge of this world on the eyes and ears of other people."