Noble's 'Appeal': IX. The Christian Life.:
C. Charity not infringed by Swedenborg's Exposure of the Errors of a Perverted Church.
I have had occasion to observe above, that "piety to God and charity to man form the soul, both of Swedenborg' s system and of his conduct." It is certain that charity is affirmed, in his writings, as in those of Paul,* to be the greatest of Christian graces; yet his accusers pretend, that it is one in which he was extremely deficient himself. Upon the same ground, however, on which this charge is attempted to be established against Swedenborg, it might as truly be brought against the Apostle, and even against their Divine Master: it is purely because, in his writings, he treats evil as evil, and darkness as darkness, and does not, as those who are confirmed in false sentiments would prefer, "heal the hurt of the daughter of the Lord's people slightly, saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace."+
Scripture expressly affirms (in Matt. xxiv. and the corresponding chapters of Mark and Luke, in many parts of the Apostolic writings, and in the Revelation throughout), that the most deplorable evils and errors would successively devastate the Christian Church, insomuch that a judgment would at length be passed on its corruptions, and God would depart from those who uphold them, to dwell with the new dispensation of pure Christianity delineated as the New Jerusalem: the Apostle, in a holy zeal, exclaims, "Let God be true, but every man a liar:"# but Swedenborg, only for declaring that God is true, and that his predictions are fulfilled, is charged with an unpardonable breach of charity. But what does this prove, but that conviction of error, now, as of old, is deeply resented by those confirmed in it? "And the chief priests and the scribes the same hour sought to lay hold on him; — for they perceived that he had spoken this parable against them."$
* 1 Cor. xiii 13. + Jer. vi. 11. # Rom. iii. 4. $ Luke xx.
"In the Baron's writings," says my guide, "the word charity is a very prominent word: of course we have a fair claim upon him, not only for the manifestation of much candour of expression, but also for a great share of benevolent feeling and brotherly love. How far he has satisfied our claims or gratified our expectation, will be seen in the following Extracts from a small tract published 'By the Members of the New Jerusalem Church, who assembled in Great Eastcheap, London, 1788,' entitled, 'Reasons for separating from the Old Church,' &c. For the accuracy of these extracts the author does not vouch, but he will vouch for it that they are exactly copied from the tract in question."* These Extracts he presents under the title of "A Sample of Swedenborgian Charity."
As this tract has been also made use of by the Rev. Mr. Adam, who, in his work, "The Religious World Displayed," &c. gives the greater part of its contents as an authentic view of the doctrines of the New Church: whereas it was not drawn up as a view of the doctrines of the New Church, but only as a declaration of the errors of the doctrines called those of the Old Church; as, also, it has been reprinted, as a subject for obloquy, by adversaries of the New Church in America; I will here offer some account of its nature, and the occasion of its publication, from which it will be seen, that to give extracts from it as specimens of Swedenborg's writings and sentiments, is extremely deceptive.
In the years 1787 and 1788, when the approvers of the writings of Swedenborg had become pretty numerous, the question began to be earnestly discussed, whether it was right and necessary for those who accepted them to form societies for public worship in a distinct manner, or whether it was more expedient for individuals to remain, for some time longer, in connection with the Church of England, or the various denominations of Dissenters to which they might previously have belonged. Tracts were written on both sides; and both drew from the writings of Swedenborg conclusions in favour of their own sentiments. Public worship, however, in a distinct form, was commenced by those members of the New Church in London who approved the measure, in a chapel in Great Eastcheap, in 1788. By them, in justification of the step they were taking, and to induce their brethren to join them in it, was issued the tract in question. It, of course, was never intended for the public in general, but only for the readers of Swedenborg's writings. By them, the extracts from, or rather, references to, those writings, would be rightly understood; but as, in many instances, the compilers give their own conclusions from the passages referred to, rather than the words of the passages themselves, persons unacquainted with those writings would form from these statements an inaccurate judgment.
For instance: In most of the extracts here cited, the words "Old Church" occur: but they are only found in one or two of the passages in the writings of Swedenborg to which reference is made; and in one of them (AR 707), the "Old Church" mentioned is the Jewish Church. In explanation of the phrase, the writer I follow gives this comment; "It maybe necessary to remind the reader, that, in perusing these extracts, he is to bear in mind, that by the 'Old Church,' so often mentioned, is to be understood both the Roman Catholics, and Protestants of every denomination!" This however is not Swedenborg's account of the matter, but is quite inconsistent with it. His censures are always chiefly directed against the false doctrines of the Church, as established among Roman Catholics and Protestants, and only against those persons who are confirmed in those false doctrines in consequence of being immersed in evils of life. But so far is he from affirming that this is the case with all in the Christian world at this day, that he declares, that by the seven churches, to whom the Revelation is addressed, "are described all those in the Christian church who have any religion, and out of whom the New Church, which is the New Jerusalem, can be formed." (AR 69). Thus, he considers the inhabitants of Christendom, at this day, as divided into three great classes; 1. Those represented in the Revelation by the seven churches to whom the book is addressed; 2. Those represented by Babylon; and, 3. Those represented by the dragon and his two beasts: the two latter being those which constitute the "Old Church," but not the former, though mixed with them and undistinguished from them. The doctrines generally professed are, indeed, those of the two latter: but according to Swedenborg's view, in all denominations are many, who, although, for want of opportunity of knowing better, they profess the common doctrines, are not confirmed in the false sentiments which abound in those doctrines, but in their hearts have an idea of the Lord's Humanity as being Divine, and who live in the habit of abstinence from evils. Hence we find him, even in the extracts cited to prove his uncharitableness, speaking so well of the state of many in the other world: hence he speaks of Christians, both Roman Catholics and Protestants, as being in the centre of all in that world; of Protestants as being in the centre of all Christians; and of the English as being in the centre of all Protestants. This would be inconsistency indeed, if he considered all who pass under the denomination of Roman Catholics, and all who pass under the denomination of Protestants, as belonging to what he sometimes, and his disciples more frequently, denominate "the Old Church:" though the professions of faith generally received, according to which the public worship of all denominations of professing Christians is constituted, belong to "the Old Church" only. The extracts, then, cited from the "Reasons for separating from the Old Church," do not bear the harsh or uncharitable character which accusers would assign them, for three reasons: first, because the phrase, "Old Church," is not in general used by Swedenborg himself in the places referred to: secondly, because, if it were, it would not be used in the sense assigned it by adversaries, but as applying more to principles than to persons, and by no means to all the persons who profess the common doctrines: thirdly, because, to affirm of evil and false principles that they really are such, and thus to prevent persons from accepting, or abiding in, what would endanger their salvation, instead of being a mark of want of charity, evinces real charity, and concern for men's souls.
To show that such is the character of the warnings on these subjects as they exist in the writings of Swedenborg himself, we will take two of the strongest of the extracts adduced by my guide from the tract he mentions, and will subjoin the passages in the writings of Swedenborg on which they are founded.
An extract says, "That there is nothing spiritual remaining in the Old Church, but that it is full of blasphemy against the Lord:" and refers for its authority to Tr. Chr. Rel. n. 132, 133, Ap. Rev. n. 692, 715. In the Tr. Chr. Rel., in the preceding article, it is shown, "That the Passion of the Cross was not Redemption itself, but was the last temptation which the Lord endured as the grand Prophet, and that it was the means of the Glorification of his Humanity, that is, of Union with the Divinity of his Father." Then, at the place referred to, this proposition is advanced and illustrated: "That it is a fundamental error of the Church to believe the Passion of the Cross to be Redemption itself; and that this error, together with that relating to Three Divine Persons from Eternity, has perverted, the whole church, so that nothing spiritual is left remaining in it."—The following are some of the strongest of the remarks offered in illustration of this proposition: "What doctrine more abounds in the books of the orthodox at this day, or what is more zealously taught and insisted on in the schools of divinity, or more constantly preached and extolled in the pulpit than this: That God the Father, being full of wrath against mankind, not only separated them from himself, but also sentenced them to universal damnation, thus excommunicated them from his favour; but because he was gracious and merciful, that he persuaded or excited his Son to descend, and take upon himself the determined curse, and thus appease the wrath of his Father, and that thus, and no otherwise, could the Father be prevailed upon to look again with an eye of mercy on mankind?—But who that hath his reason enlightened by the Word, cannot see that God is mercy itself and clemency itself, because he is love itself and goodness itself, and that these constitute his essence: consequently, that it is a contradiction to say, that mercy itself or goodness itself can behold man with an. angry eye, and sentence the whole race to damnation, and still abide in its own divine essence ? Such dispositions are never ascribed to a good man, or an angel of heaven, but only to a wicked man, and a spirit of hell; it is therefore blasphemy to ascribe them to God.— From this idea concerning God and redemption, the whole system of theology has lost its spirituality, and is become in the lowest degree natural; this was the necessary consequence of ascribing to God merely natural properties and attributes."—Here the author's language is undoubtedly strong; but if the sentiments it conveys are just, it assuredly is far from being too strong for the occasion. And where is there any absence of charity in it, when it is not applied to persons, but only to a "system of theology?"
The passages referred to in the Ap. Rev., are those in which these words are explained: "And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues." —"And men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great."* According to Swedenborg, this whole chapter relates to those in the Protestant Church who are "in faith separated from charity both in respect to doctrine and in respect to life." He explains the first of the above passages as signifying, that such persons, "owing to the delight of the love of self arising from dreadful evil lusts, did not acknowledge the Divinity of the Lord's Humanity:" and the second he interprets to mean, "that they who have confirmed in themselves direful false persuasions, have denied truths to such a degree as to be no longer able to acknowledge them, owing to the repugnance against them occasioned by their inward false persuasions and evil lusts." His meaning is, that such is discovered to be their state at the time of the last judgment. Now to charge this with want of charity, is to reproach the sacred text itself, and not its expositor. The sacred text declares, that certain persons would arise in the church whose states would be grievous: and when the expositor affirms that these persons are they who are in faith separated from charity both in doctrine and in life, and who are in direful false persuasions and evil lusts; who will say that the application is unjust? Will the opponent deny that there are, or ever have been, any such characters ? If he cannot do this, how can he impute want of charity to Swedenborg for stating the fact, and for pointing out the awful nature of the state as a warning to others ? It would appear as if he felt like the lawyer in the gospel, on hearing the Lord's condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees: "Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying, thou reproachest us also."+ I forbear to add the sequel.
* Ch. xvi. 9, 21. + Luke xi. 45.
We will take one other example. One of the extracts presented is the following: "That there is not a single truth remaining in the Old Church which is not falsified and brought to its consummation: and that this is signified by the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel." For the foundation of this statement we are referred to Tr. Ch. Rel. n. 174, 177, 180, 758. In the first of these places the following proposition is advanced: "That a Trinity of Persons was unknown in the Apostolic Church, and that the Doctrine took its rise from the Council of Nice, from which it was introduced into the Roman Catholic Church, and was thence propagated among the Reformed Churches." After a brief historical statement respecting the Council of Nice and the circumstances that led to it, the author proceeds thus: "From that time an incredible number of heresies, respecting God, and the person of Christ, began to spring up; whereby the head of Antichrist was exalted, and God was divided into three persons, and the Lord the Saviour into two: and thus the temple which the Lord had built by his Apostles was destroyed, and that so effectually, that there was not one stone left upon another which was not thrown down, according to his own words, Matt. xxiv. 2; where by the temple is not meant the temple at Jerusalem only, but the church also, of whose consummation or end that chapter treats throughout. But what else could be expected from that council, and from the others which succeeded it, which divided the Divinity, in like manner, into three persons, and placed the incarnate God below them on their footstool ? For they removed the head of the church from its body, in consequence of climbing up another way: that is, they passed by the Incarnate God, and climbed up to God the Father, as to another person, with only the mention of Christ's merits in their mouths, as an inducement to the Father to have mercy on them; believing that they should thus receive instantaneous justification, with all its attendant graces, such as remission of sins, renovation, sanctification, regeneration, and salvation; and all this without the use of any means on the part of man." And in n. 177, after some similar remarks, in, which he illustrates how little dependence is to be placed on councils, by mentioning the palpable abominations which some of them have sanctioned, he concludes the subject with this affecting exhortation: "But do you, my friend, go to the God of the Word, and thus to the Word itself, and enter by the door into the sheepfold, that is, into the church, and you will be enlightened; and then you will see, as from a high mountain, not only the errors of many others, but also your own former bewildered wanderings at the foot of the mountain."
Now in all this, where is there any breach of charity ? False doctrines, it is true, are exposed with a clearness of illustration that renders their falsehood palpable, and with a strength of language well calculated to awaken attention in those who are slumbering in them: but the objects of the writer's severity are always destructive, principles, not deluded persons; while for the persons who have been, or are in danger of being, deluded by them, he evinces the tenderest solicitude.
All the other passages referred to in the selected extracts are equally replete with most solemn truths, and equally consistent with the purest charity.
Some, however, may possibly think, that Swedenborg exhibits the false doctrines of the day in more than their native deformity, and that such sentiments as he explodes are not really included in the popular creeds. To guard against this mistake, he prefixes to his Apocalypse Revealed, and to his Brief Exposition of the Doctrine of the New Church, summary views of the doctrines both of Roman Catholics and Protestants in their own words, the former taken from the decrees of the Council of Trent, and the latter from the book called Formula Concordiae, which is an exposition of the doctrine of Protestants, agreed upon by most of the Lutheran churches on the continent, and subscribed by their ministers at their ordination.
What the doctrine generally prevailing respecting the Trinity is, is known from the Athanasian creed: but that many carry the work of division in the Divine Being farther than that creed sanctions, and actually, beside dividing God into three, divide the Saviour into two, as stated in the last extract, is a fact of which many, perhaps, are not aware. It is however done by Calvin and his followers. A popular example of it may be seen in a Sermon of Dr. Watts's which he calls the Scale of Blessedness; in which, after describing the blessedness of saints and angels, he proceeds to delineate that of "the man Christ Jesus," meaning the Human Nature of our Lord, which he places, as a man by itself, in heaven among the angels; after which he sketches the blessedness of the three Persons of the Trinity, one of whom he represents as the Divine Nature of our Lord, which he places, with the other two Persons, at an immense distance above heaven, and above "the man Christ Jesus." This sermon was written by Watts when he was a young man, and was full of school-divinity upon the principles of Calvin; in his latter years he adopted more rational and scriptural sentiments.
This is a sufficient specimen of the divinity of the schools, being that which nearly all profess, whether they are aware of it or not, in regard to the Trinity in the Godhead and the Duality in Jesus Christ: I subjoin a few propositions from the Formula Concordiae on Justification by Faith without the works of the Law, as quoted in the introduction to Swedenborg's Brief Exposition, where references to the pages of the work itself are accurately made. "That faith is imputed for righteousness without works, on account of Christ's merits, which are laid hold of by faith.—That charity follows the faith that justifies; but that faith is not justifying as being formed by charity, as the Papists say.—That neither the contrition which precedes faith, nor the renovation and sanctification that follow it, nor good works thence, have anything at all to do with the righteousness of faith.—That it is foolish to dream that the works of the second table of the decalogue can justify man before God; for in them we have to deal with men, and not properly with God, and in the business of justification we have to do with God, and with the appeasing of his wrath.—If any one thinks to obtain remission of sins because he has charity, he casts a reproach upon Christ, because a man's trust in his own righteousness is impious and vain.— That good works are altogether to be excluded from the business of salvation and eternal life. That good works are not necessary as a meritorious cause of salvation, and that they do not enter into the act of justification.—That the position, that good works are necessary to salvation, is to be rejected; because it takes away the consolation of the gospel, affords occasion for doubting of the grace of God, and brings in an opinion of man's own righteousness; and because it is accepted by the Papists to support a bad cause.—That such forms of speech as imply good works to be necessary to salvation, are not to be used or defended, but to be exploded by all churches, and rejected as false.—That works, when they do not proceed from a true faith are actually sins before God; that is, are defiled with sin, because a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.—That faith and salvation are not even preserved and retailed by good works; for they are only tokens of the presence and indwelling of the Holy Ghost.—That the decision of the Council of Trent,—that good works preserve salvation; or that the righteousness of faith previously laid hold of, or faith itself, is retained and preserved by our works, either in whole or in part;—is deservedly to be rejected."
Now will any candid and reflecting person say, that it is want of charity to treat such doctrines, respecting the Trinity and justification by faith alone, as utterly perverting the Christian church, wherever they are embraced and confirmed, and where their receivers actually neglect the charity and good works which are thus vilified in their doctrines as not necessary to salvation ? Would it not rather be a want of charity, to suffer such doctrines still, unreproved to continue their desolating career ? If, also, as has been shown in Sect. V., Swedenborg was a chosen instrument for restoring the lost truths of pure Christianity, how should he, if he saw the evil of the common doctrines and gave not warning, have "delivered his soul?" And, little as many may suspect it, the same pernicious sentiments as are stated above, are contained in the Articles of the Church of England, in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Assembly's Catechism, received by the Church of Scotland, and in all the prevailing creeds, though they are not in all so openly disclosed in their proper deformity.
We have now, I apprehend, abundantly vindicated the Eastcheap document, which the accuser gives as "a sample of Swedenborgian charity," so far as it expresses the sentiments of Swedenborg himself. The whole case may be illustrated thus: Suppose a man were to knock loudly at our accuser's door in the middle of the night, and on his coming to the window to inquire the cause, should tell him that his house was on fire, and that unless he made haste out he would be in danger of perishing; and suppose the gentleman should answer, "You are very uncharitable to disturb me with such disagreeable news," and without making any examination, should return to his bed and his sleep, and should persuade his wife and family to do the same, what would be thought either of his charity or his prudence ? Yet this is an exact image of what he has done, in condemning, as uncharitableness, Swedenborg's solemn information of the insecure state of his spiritual house and bed,—of the system of doctrine in which he reposes at his ease. Take another parallel case. "Come out of her, my people," says the warning voice of the Apocalypse, "that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues."(Chap. xviii. 4). "A fine specimen of angelic or divine charity, truly!" answers this gentleman: "regard not, my friends, the unkind intrusion: the 'Old Church,' depend upon it, 'sits a queen, and is no widow, and shall see no sorrow.' (Ver. 7). Though prophecy may announce the disownment by heaven of our doctrines, it will never, take my word for it, be fulfilled."
But while Swedenborg affirms that prophecy is fulfilled, and that great evils and errors have, as was predicted, crept into the professing church; and while he exposes those evils and errors, and their deplorable consequences, with the uprightness essential to his character, and with the truly charitable motive of withdrawing his readers from them; far is he indeed from being infected with the least taint of that odium theologicum, that uncharitableness towards others, which has so extensively influenced the adherents of the different forms of the Christian religion, and which has brought so much disgrace upon the Christian name. Far is he, indeed, from partaking of that spirit, of which almost every sect has drunk so deeply,—that spirit which would limit salvation to those of their own denomination or party, or, at most, to those who make mention of the Saviour's name. Though fully acknowledging "that there is none other name under heaven given amongst men whereby we must be saved" but that of the Lord Jesus, he shows that the benefits of this name are not confined to those who, by the mere circumstance of birth, have had the opportunity of hearing it, but are extended to all in the universe: and that the Apostle utters a real truth, and does not amuse by a solemn mockery, when he says, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." * The Lord's church universal, he teaches, is indeed a catholic or universal church, including all the good of every denomination, and of every family of the human race; though the church particular, or where the Lord is known by his Word, is, to the rest, what the heart and lungs are to the body; thus that another Apostle declares a most certain truth when he says, that God "is the Saviour of all men; but specially of those that believe."+ Statements to this effect are contained in all his works; as a just "sample," I will conclude this part, with two short extracts, which, I am sure, all the Candid and Reflecting must acknowledge to contain the enlightened views of pure reason, and to breathe the expansive sentiments of genuine charity.
"The Lord provides that every religion should contain precepts similar to those in the Decalogue; as, that God is to be worshipped; that his name is not to be profaned; that sacred festivals are to be observed; that parents are to be honoured; that man is not to commit murder; that he is not to commit adultery; that he is not to steal; that he is not to bear false witness. The gentiles who regard these laws as of divine authority, and live according to them from a principle of religion, are saved."# "It is provided by the Lord, that whatever heresy a man may be in with regard to his understanding, he still may be reformed and saved, provided he shuns evils as sins, and does not confirm himself in the false doctrines of his heresy [which as is shown elsewhere, can only be done, so as to be incapable of removal, by a wicked life]: for, by shunning evils, the will is reformed, and by the will, the understanding also, which then first comes out of a state of darkness into a state of light. The essentials of the church are three: the acknowledgment of the Lord's Divinity, the acknowledgment of the holiness of the Word, and the life which is called charity. According to the life, which is charity, is the state of every man in regard to faith; from the Word he acquires a knowledge of what his life ought to be; and from the Lord he obtains reformation and salvation. If these three things had been regarded as the essentials of the church, intellectual dissensions would not have divided, but would only have varied it; as the same light produces various colours in beautiful objects, and as various precious stones give such splendid beauty to a royal crown."$
* Acts x. 34, 35. + 1 Tim. iv. 10. # Div. Prov. n. 254. $ Ib. n. 259.
Are not these the sentiments of genuine charity; and of reason and truth, in addition ? Must not every attempt to impute to the enlightened mind that was the organ of expressing such heavenly sentiments, defect of charity, egregiously fail ? Is not a life formed according to such doctrines to be urged upon all, as, most truly, a christian life?
I now close this Appeal; and to avoid protracting it, further, I will make no additional attempt to recommend the subjects which have been considered to the favourable attention of you to whom it is addressed,—the Reflecting of all Denominations. I will only entreat you, as becomes men of reflection and thence of candour, to weigh what has been offered in the balance of a serious and impartial judgment, and under the influence of a real love of truth; and, in order that you may be guided aright in your decision, I would only earnestly beg of you to remember the request made in the introduction above (pp. 5, 6),—to put your minds, for the occasion, under the direction of him, who is the Truth Itself, the Light of the world. Then, and then only, may you rely, that the Holy Spirit, which He sends from the Father, will guide you into all truth. The consequence, I trust, will be, that you will be brought to the conviction, that the important Doctrines of Faith and Life which have now been presented to your consideration, are those which tend, above all others, rightly to inform the understanding and to purify the heart; that the views which have been offered respecting the Eternal World and State, are such as carry the highest evidence of their own reality, and impress the reality of the things belonging to that world and state in the strongest manner on the human mind; and that the opinions which have been advanced respecting the accomplishment of the Second Coming of the Lord and of the Last Judgment, with the raising up of a Human Instrument for making them known are precisely what Prophecy, rightly understood, should lead mankind to expect, and what Experience and Fact,—the experience, in our day, of the whole world, and facts which press upon the observation of all,—irresistibly confirm. And even such of you as, not yet venturing to put your minds under the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ, but looking for light to some different source, shall not be convinced that these sentiments are true, must yet, I trust, be satisfied, that both our doctrines and ourselves have been greatly misrepresented, and are in general much misunderstood; that our doctrines are not altogether undeserving of attention, and that those who hold them are not altogether deserving of contempt. As to what is thought of ourselves, however, we desire to be indifferent; but the sincerest charity compels us to wish, that mankind may be led to think less unworthily of what, we are satisfied, is the Truth. But this also, we are instructed, will, sooner or later, be the case. For though it is agreeable to divine prediction, that, at the time of the Second Coming, "they should make war with the Lamb,"— should oppose the belief of the Divinity of the Lord's Humanity and of his oneness with the Father, with the other truths then to be made known; yet the same prediction assures us, that "the Lamb shall overcome them,"—shall convince them, from the Word, of their mistake: "for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings." (Rev. xvii. 14). Happy, assuredly, are they, who yield to his dominion! Thus, happy are they, by whatever denomination they wish to be called, who practically admit the two first essentials of the New Church, prefigured, as we believe, by the New Jerusalem; which are,—The acknowledgment of the Lord in understanding and in heart; and, A life according to his commandments.