A lecture by The Rt. Rev. Philip N. Odhner,
All Christians know that the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to save men. Salvation is a state or condition of the conjunction of man with God. "If a man love Me, he will keep My words; and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him and make Our abode with him." (John 14:23.) "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in Me." (John 15:4.) "I am the vine, ye are the branches." (John 15:5.)
Salvation is the conjunction of man with God, and this conjunction is through the reception by man of a new life from the Lord, the reception of a new life of faith and of love. "I am the way, the truth, and the life." (John 14:6.) "I am come that they may have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10.) "I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." (John 11:25.) "He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal." (John 12:25.)
Conjunction with God is affected through two things, through faith and through love. Conjunction with God, or salvation through faith or through believing is taught in the following and many other places: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mark 16:16.) "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." (John 3:36.)
Conjunction with God or salvation through love is taught in the following and many other places: "If a man love Me, he will keep My words, and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him." (John 14:23.) "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him." (John 14:21.) "The first of all the commandments is, Hear O Israel, The Lord our God is one Lord. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:29-31.)
The two things by which man is saved or brought into conjunction with the Lord are symbolized in the Lord's words concerning the eating of His Flesh and His Blood. "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:53-54.) His flesh or His body, which in the Holy Supper is symbolized by the bread, is His Love, which man must receive. And His blood, or the wine of the Holy Supper, is His Truth of the New Covenantor the New Testament, which men must receive from Him. If man receives a new faith from the Lord, and a new love, he has received a new life from the Lord, and he is then born again, and is a new man, a son of God, conjoined with the Lord in all things of life.
Christians have long disputed as to what it is that saves man. Some have held that man is saved by faith alone, and others that man is saved by love or by good works alone. And both confirm their belief by many passages in the Scriptures. Swedenborg in his Writings shows that man is saved through the unition of faith and love, not by faith alone, nor by love alone, but by their conjunction in man's life. Because the knowledge of this subject is of the utmost importance to man's cooperation with the Lord in the work of saving man, we shall in this lecture set forth the teachings of Swedenborg on this subject.
That there is a Divine Order whereby the Lord saves man.
There is an order in which the Lord gives man faith and love, and conjoins them in man. This is not generally recognized. It is a point of the greatest importance, and every man should reflect on it. Some think that the Lord can do anything in any way that He wants to do it, without any means. They fall into the idea that if the Lord wants to save a man, He can immediately transform that man from being a devil into being an angel, as it were just by a wave of a magic wand. So also they think the Lord made the world in a moment, out of nothing. But if they reflect upon the nature of the world they would se" that everything in it is in the most marvelous order, that everything is maintained and progresses in an order beyond all imagination. Nothing is arbitrary, nothing is without cause and effect. One thing depends on another, from beginning to end. For everything there is an order both for its origin and its continuation, and if that order is broken or not observed, it cannot continue to exist. There is not a single creation of God that anyone can point to in which this order is not observed.
And yet when men think of salvation they are prone to dismiss all order therein. They regard this, the supreme work of God, as somehow an exception to the universal rule that God does all things according to order. And yet if they searched the Scriptures they could see that the Lord likens His work of salvation to those things in the natural world which are filled with order.
Consider the Lord's words to Nicodemus: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. . . Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God." (John 3:3, 5.) Everyone knows that in natural birth there is an order so great that while we can know more and more about it we can hardly hone ever to know all things of it. How the seed of man is formed, how it is conceived and gestated and how it forms the indefinitely many wonders of the body, the brain and the mind, - these things we can observe and at them we marvel, for in them is an order that passes all thought.
It is to this that the Lord likens the regeneration of man, the work of the salvation of man. And from this we can see that there is far more in the work of regeneration than any one can imagine, indefinitely many truths describing an order for the salvation of man, one thing depending on another in a seemingly endless series.
Consider also that the Lord likened the work of salvation to the order in which seed is planted and in which it grows. "So is the Kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; and should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." (Mark 4: 26-28.) So also the Lord likened His work in the regeneration of man to a Sower who went forth to sow, the seed being His Word, and the different grounds in which the seed fell being likened to the different states of man's mind which can or cannot receive that seed.
From these and other like teachings of the Scriptures it can be seen that the work of salvation is a work of Divine Order. Swedenborg teaches that God is Divine Love and that He is Divine Wisdom. His Love acts according to His Wisdom. His Wisdom is the Divine Order. Thus His Love acts according to the Divine Order, and not apart from Order. Some have objected to Swedenborg's teaching concerning the Divine Order on the grounds that he limits the omnipotence of God by constraining God to an order. But to this the reply is made that God is not limited by Order; He Himself is Order, and that He cannot act contrary to Order because to do so would be to act contrary to Himself, like a wise man acting contrary to his wisdom.
What is the Order whereby the Lord saves man?
What is the order whereby the Lord saves man, or gives him new life, a life of faith and love?
Swedenborg teaches that the Lord has gifted every human soul with two faculties, Rationality and Liberty. These two faculties make man to be a man, and without them he would not be human. That God has gifted man with these faculties is evident from the Scriptures in this: the very fact that the Lord has given us His Word, has presented us with the Truth in His Word, implies that man has the ability to read and understand His Word. And the very fact that the Lord in His Word commands man to love and will and do what He commands, implies that man has the faculty of so loving, willing and doing. Rationality is the faculty of seeing, understanding and believing the truth. And Liberty is the faculty of loving and willing and doing it. Because of these two faculties implanted in the soul of man by God, man can receive the Faith and Love of God into himself.
Man has these two faculties of Liberty and Rationality deep within his soul. But the life of man from birth, the life into which he is born from his parents and into which he comes by his environment in the world, is a life of the love of self and the love of the world. This is the old life spoken of by the Lord in contrast to the life of love and faith which must be received by man if he is to be saved. In the old life man receives from the faculties of Rationality and Liberty only the ability to reason according to his worldly and selfish desires, and to love and will and do according to his native desires. This is evidenced in the fact that an evil man, a man ruled by nothing but love of self and love of the world, can reason acutely, which no animal can do. And it is evidenced also in this that an evil man can restrain his actions and make them appear unselfish and unworldly for the purpose of better attaining to his selfish and worldly ends.
Before a man begins to be born again his whole life is dominated by the love of self and the love of the world. From this state of evil in the heart and mind of man, the Lord must bring to man a state of love and faith. How is this to be done?
The beginning lies in this fact: that the Lord has so accommodated Himself to man that man can be given the sight and understanding of truth, even though his love or will is evil. Thus when the Word of God is presented to a man through sight or hearing, a man can see and understand that the Lord is, and that He alone is good and true, and that a new life must be received from the Lord by man. This is the implanting of the truth of faith in man. When man comes to see and believe the truth in the Word of God there is an opening of his understanding, an opening of that interior faculty of seeing and understanding and believing the true and the good which is of God. This is faith, which is the beginning of regeneration, the beginning of the work of salvation insofar as the cooperation of man with the Lord is concerned.
Let it be noted what has been said about faith. Faith is not just a vague feeling that you believe something which you don't see and understand. Many people say that they believe something because someone in whom they have trust and whom they love has said that it is so. This is the case with all children, and with all who never wish to think about the truth. They say they have faith, but what they mean is that they believe something because someone whom they love and in whom they have trust says that it is so. This is not the faith which is the beginning of regeneration. The faith with which regeneration begins is the sight of the truth, when a man sees within himself that a thing is so. Thus faith is the truth received in man. It is a reception by the understanding, through the opening of his understanding to the light of heaven, to spiritual light from the Lord through the faculty of rationality. Faith is not a blind faith, but a seeing faith, which carries with it the internal conviction that a thing is true.
The miracle of faith is this, that man is so made and has been so redeemed by the Lord that his understanding, with the aid of the Word of God, can be opened to the sight and belief of the truth, in spite of the fact that his will or love is evil.
But let us illustrate these things with a diagram, so that the idea may be made clearer.
In this diagram the faculties of Rationality and Liberty in the soul of man are represented by cups, receptive of the Love and Wisdom of the Lord. The will and understanding of man before regeneration are represented by A. and B., with little cups inverted in them to indicate that they are not receptive of the Love and Wisdom of God through Rationality and Liberty. When the Word of God is brought to man, vessels are implanted in his mind which are open to the influx of the rationality in his soul, and in this way man has the sight of spiritual truths, and is thus given his first faith in the Lord.
When man has received faith in the Lord his regeneration has begun, but it is not by any means completed. His understanding may then be more and more filled with light, but his love, his will is not thereby immediately changed into a love of the Lord and the neighbour, into a love of what is good and true. How then is man's will made receptive of the love of the Lord? How is it made receptive of spiritual Liberty, the faculty to love, will and do what he has been given to see is true?
We know that a man can know the truth, and even think that he believes it, even to the degree that he thinks he has faith in the Lord and in His Word, and yet not love it, and not carry it into his life. It is even possible for a man to pretend to live according to the truth. For the sake of his own honour and reputation in the world, for the sake of the praise of men, for the sake of power among men, he may make much of professing what is true, and he may live a moral and civil life, coating his whole self over with an appearance of good, a wolf in sheep's clothing.
The evil will of man can with incredible subtlety use the understanding given to man to make itself appear good. Man sees immediately how he can gain his own selfish ends better through appearing good than by being openly evil. Who has not heard the well worn maxim, "It pays to be honest," "It pays to live according to the law." Man quickly perceives these things, and uses his understanding to make himself an apparently good man. In his external or appearing life he becomes like an angel, but in his internal life, in his own secret heart he is still the same as ever, a mass of love of self and the world.
Here is one of the greatest dangers in the path of spiritual life, that from having faith a man will imagine himself regenerated. The danger is that he, from an evil internal, will use all the truth given to him to make an apparently good external. This is the condition condemned by the Lord in the Scriptures when He denounced the Pharisees: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and the platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." (Matthew 23: 25-28.)
The thing that makes man a Pharisee is that he will take all the truth that he learns and will bend it to the increase of the good appearance on the outside of his life, leaving his will, his essential love, extortion and excess, hypocrisy and iniquity.
What then must a man do that he may be saved? He must turn the truth of faith inward, to cast light upon his love and his affection:-, to see there in his love and his affections the evils that prevent him from receiving the love of God in his heart. He must cleanse first the inside of the cup and the platter, that the outside may be clean also. The inside of the cup and the platter is his own evil will. When man learns a truth from the Word of God that truth should be used by him to explore his life, to see the things in himself which stand in the way of the Lord's love. This is expressed in the teachings of Swedenborg in the words, that a man must explore the the thoughts and intentions of his will, as well as the deeds and speech of his body, and shun all that he sees to be evil therein as a sin against the Lord.
When man turns the truth of the Word of God inwards upon himself, and sees and acknowledges the evils of the love of self and the world within the inmost motivations of his life, then a change begins in his will or love. He has the desire for a new life, a new love. And he shuns the evils of his old life as the very things that will destroy the new life with him. In this the faculty of liberty, the ability, to will what he sees to be good and true, is opened. Then there inflows into him the love of God in the measure in which he shuns his evils, and this love is made one with the truth which he lives. In this way a new will and a new understanding are given to man. The seed of life given in faith is received into good ground in the will, and begins to grow until a new man is born. This is not done all at once, not in a moment, nor in a month, nor in a year. Even a man in the natural sense is not born in a moment, nor is he full grown in a moment, but takes months to be made ready for birth and years to grow up to manhood: so also the new life which begins in the unition of love and faith has many states to pass through before it is brought to any fullness. Indeed in one sense it continues into eternity to grow and become ever more perfect.
Some say that man is saved by faith, no matter what his life. Others say that man is saved by a good life, no matter what his faith.
Those who believe in salvation through faith alone use this argument: that man through the fall of Adam has a perverted and evil mind which of itself cannot do any good except what is meritorious, and that such meritorious good does not and cannot save anyone. Therefore God does not pay any attention to that side of their life, but is willing to forgive all this if man has faith in His Son.
To this argument of those who believe in salvation by faith alone, the following reply is given in the works of Swedenborg: That while it is true that man cannot from himself will and do anything that is genuinely good, it is likewise true that man from himself cannot have any genuine faith. On the other hand it is true that man from the Lord can receive a genuine faith, and through that faith from the Lord he can shun evil and receive a good love from the Lord. Out of this love he can do good, not from self but from the Lord.
Those who believe that man is saved through good alone, no matter what their faith, have no idea of the evil that is within man, A man's idea of what is good and what is true, as also of what is evil and what is false, is according to his faith. If he has no faith he has no idea of good and evil. They cannot distinguish between the good that comes from God and the apparent good of their own animal loves. They therefore do not care for the truth, and they remain in the loves in which they were born.
Faith alone does not save man. Nor does good alone save man. But the good of life to which man is led through faith does save man, and the faith which man has, leading to good of life, and loved out of that good, saves man.
Faith united to love, truth conjoined to good, the will of good united to the understanding of truth, saves man. And this unition, this conjunction, takes place only when man in the light of truth shuns evils as sins against the Lord. To shun an evil as sin against the Lord means to shun evil not for the sake of any outward appearance, nor for the sake of health or wealth, but because evil is opposed to the will of the Lord and opposed to the Word of the Lord, and is destructive of the presence of love and faith from the Lord. When man sees his evils in the light of the truths of the Lord's Word, and turns away from them, shunning them as poisons to all that is from the Lord with him, then his faith is conjoined with the love that is given from the Lord, and man becomes a vessel of the Lord's Love and Wisdom.
For this reason there is nothing in the whole life of man more important than that he should explore his life in the light of the teachings of the Lord, and that he should see the evils in himself, confess them before the Lord, and shun them in intention and in thought and indeed as sins against the Lord. Search the Scriptures. See the evils in yourself that God forbids, and cleanse your life of them. If you do this, there will be fulfilled the command and promise given by the Lord in Isaiah, "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." (Isaiah 1:16-18.)