Noble's 'Appeal': IX. The Christian Life.:
A. The New Church Doctrine of Life, a Doctrine of Genuine Holiness
I am now finally to appeal to you, my Candid and Reflecting Readers, on the subject of the Christian Life; and I trust I shall not find it difficult to convince you, that when our doctrines affirm, that a life of righteousness, but not of Pharisaic righteousness, is the life that leads to heaven, they affirm the pure doctrine of the Scriptures, and maintain it as a doctrine of genuine holiness.
Among the accusations which have been brought against the doctrines of the New Church, there is none which will appear more extraordinary to future ages, none which at present appears more surprising to those, who know what they are, than the monstrous charge of their being opposed to true holiness of life: Yet the writer whom I chiefly follow has thought proper to affirm, that the enlightened man who was made the instrument of deducing those doctrines from the Scriptures, comes under the condemnation of the Lord's words, when he says, "Whosoever shall break one of the least of these commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of Heaven." Other assailants, almost without number, have endeavoured to deter the public from examining the writings of Swedenborg for themselves by similar unfounded aspersions. Without offering anything but gross misrepresentations to support his imputations, the writer I follow goes on, through two or three pages, moralising on the "awful responsibility" lying on the writer, the translators, and circulators, of "false doctrines and loose principles;" as if such guilt were incurred by the writer, translators, and circulators, of the doctrines and principles of the New Church! Yet why should any extent of calumny surprise us ? when truth has always received the same treatment on its first promulgation, and before its doctrines were so generally known, as to make evident to all the falsehood of such accusations. The writings of the early Christian apologists are filled with accounts of the monstrous fictions which were invented to blacken the then new religion and those who received it. All the most celebrated Reformers, at the era of the separation from Rome, were represented as monsters of impiety: an imputation, certainly, which was grossly scandalous and unfounded, though I would by no means represent those upon whom it was cast as maintainers of genuine truth. No more could I affirm this of the original Methodists: but this is no reason for representing their excesses as worse than they were: yet their severe antagonist, Bishop Lavington, concludes his celebrated work intitled The Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists Compared, with a delineation of the abominations which were practised at the Eleusinian mysteries, and intimates his conviction, that the private meetings of the Methodists (and he quotes passages from their writings as countenancing the charge) were not more innocent. But why advert to inferior instances to evince how naturally both genuine and comparative truth, even to the mere zeal for what is believed to be the truth, are maligned and misrepresented on their first appearance ? Do the opponents of the doctrines of the New Church strain them to a sense which does not belong to them ? the Lord himself, by his representative, David, complains that his divine sentiments were similarly perverted: "False witnesses did rise up: they laid to my charge things that I knew not:" "Every day they wrest my words." (Ps. xxxv. 11, lvi. 5). Do they affirm of the doctrines of the New Church, which are formed from the pure truths of the Word of God, that they teach men to break the divine commandments ? The disciple is not above his Master; and the teachers of the professing church said of the Word of God himself, when Incarnate among them, "We know that this man is a sinner." (John ix. 24).
The whole of the verse of which a part is so calumniously applied to the illustrious Swedenborg, with the verse which follows it, delivers, in the most explicit manner, the Lord's doctrine respecting the species of righteousness which was to distinguish his disciples: "Whosoever," he declares, "shall break one of these least commandments, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. v. 19, 20). It is here most decisively taught, that a life of righteousness, but not of Pharisaic righteousness, is the way to heaven. I propose then to show, that the doctrine thus advanced is to be understood in all the fulness of meaning which the Lord's words naturally convey; that to invent any interpretation of them which tends to evade their evident purport,—to break, or diminish the force of, any of the divine commandments,—is to incur the condemnation which they pronounce: and that the doctrine they teach, is, in all its integrity and purity, the doctrine of the New Church and of the writings of Swedenborg; which thus is a doctrine of genuine holiness.
By a life of righteousness, it will of course be understood, we mean a life of obedience to the Lord's commandments: and that such obedience is required of all those who call themselves his disciples, is so evident in Scripture, that scarcely any can be so bold as openly to deny it; though many break the force of the commandments respecting it, by straining their language to a different meaning. The whole of the Bible, both in the Old Testament and the New, is nothing else but the code of God's commandments, with an. ample comment respecting the rewards which Divine Goodness bestows on those who keep them, and the punishments which unavoidably overtake those who persevere in disregarding them. Under the Jewish dispensation, the keeping of the commandments of God had rewards in this life attached to it, and the disobeying of them was followed by punishments in this life; and when such disobedience became national, it was to be followed with expulsion from their own country, and exile and captivity in foreign lands. Accordingly, when the Jews, having long refused, by obedience to the divine commandments, to render of the fruits of the vineyard to its rightful Lord, proceeded to the direful extent of casting the Divine Heir out of his own vineyard and slaying him, they were finally ejected from being tenants of the vineyard, or from being the recognised church of God in the world; and with it, agreeably to the nature of the punishments with which under that dispensation, disobedience was attended, they were miserably destroyed by foreign invaders, were finally cast out of their own land, and have been abject wanderers in foreign countries ever since; exhibiting a standing monument before our eyes of the awful consequences of disobedience. But many modern teachers will here exclaim, "Yes! but the case is quite different now: they were under a covenant of works, but we are under the covenant of grace." True, I answer, from the doctrines of the New Church: we are under the covenant of grace; but in what does this grace consist ? In the power which is bestowed upon man, in consequence of the increased divine aids and communications of the Spirit, which are the blessed effects of the Incarnation of Jehovah in the person of Jesus Christ, whereby he is enabled to keep the divine commandments from that inward ground, in the spirit and not in the letter only,—in the heart and mind as well as in the outward form,—which is intended by the Author of those commandments, the God who looketh at the heart. We are under grace! "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ:" and "as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to as many as believe on his name." (John i. 17, 12). Believing on his name, then, does not, of itself, make them sons of God, but brings the power of becoming such; in other words, it is indispensably necessary to our receiving from God the power to keep his commandments in the spirit as well as in the letter: and "he that hath my commandments, and keepeth them," saith the Lord Jesus Christ, "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 unto him:" (Ch. xiv. 21) which is only another mode of declaring, that such shall be sons of God.
If we were to cite all the passages in the discourses of the Lord Jesus Christ in which he declares that the keeping of his commandments, in other words, a life of righteousness, is indispensable to admission into heaven, we must quote a great proportion of his instructions indeed, including the entire burthen of the whole. More, surely, cannot be necessary, to remind Christian readers of the constant tenor of his exhortations, than to repeat the sublime and pathetic conclusion of the longest of his discourses, his sermon on the mount. That whole discourse is a series of precepts enjoining righteousness of life; and he closes it with saying, "Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him to a wise man which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not; because it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it." (Matt. vii. 24—27). So, how plainly are the conditions of admission tc eternal happiness laid before us, in the parable of the sheep and the goats! To the sheep, with words of the highest tenderness and affection, the Divine Judge enumerates a number of good works, as representative of a life of charity and goodness, which he says they had done, and done to him: and these are expressly denominated the righteous: to the goats, the same works are mentioned as having by them been entirely neglected: and the discourse concludes with saying, "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal." * And the doctrine of the Epistles is precisely the same as that of the Gospels, though much mischievous industry has been employed to set them at variance; and many theologians of high name have thought they have effected a glorious achievement when they have made the Apostles appear to contradict their Divine Master, and when they have extolled the sentiments thus-forced from their Epistles as the genuine gospel, and depreciated the opposite sentiments of Jesus Christ as not "evangelical."! Paul, however, plainly enough teaches, that it is righteousness of life which enables man to stand in the judgment, and to obtain admission into heaven. "God," he declares, "will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality,—eternal life: But unto them that are contentious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness,—indignation and wrath: tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil;—but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good."# So, the same apostle assures us, that to produce this life of obedience is the design of the grace of God: "The grace of God," saith he, "that bringeth salvation, hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, even our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."$ Here the apostle plainly tells us, that the grace of God, of which he elsewhere speaks so often, is given to enable us to live righteously; that it is by living righteously that we shall be prepared to stand before our Saviour and Judge; and that the design of his coming into the world, whence we receive such grace, also was, to enable us so to live, by being zealous of good works.
* Matt. xxv. 34—46.
+ See a Sermon of Nathan Taylor, an old divine, in the Methodist Magazine for July or August, 1823. Toplady, in his posthumous tracts, quotes the words of Paul in Acts xiii. 39, as the doctrine of the gospel, in opposition to the words of Jesus in Matt. v. 48, which he treats as the abrogated doctrine of the law. It would be easy to multiply examples.
# Rom. ii. 6-10. $ Tit. ii. 11—14. That the above is the proper translation, see before, p. 361.
This, then, is the doctrine of the New Church respecting the way of admission into heaven: and this, we see, according to the Scriptures throughout, is the only way thither. A good life, or a life of righteousness, seriously commenced in this world, is the only life that can endure the sphere of heaven, and the presence of the Divine Judge. On this account, a life according to the Ten Commandments is one of the two essentials, to which the doctrines of the New Church reduce the whole of religion; the other is, the acknowledgment of the Lord. And these two are completely incapable of being separated in act, though they may be thought of separately in idea. For no one can live a life of obedience to the commandments, from an internal ground, as well as in outward form, from himself: it is only possible by and from the Lord, and by power communicated from him: let none therefore suppose, that, when insisting upon a life of righteousness, we go about to establish our own righteousness. It being only possible by power communicated from the Lord, all the merit of it belongs, not to man, but to the Lord alone. And this power can be imparted to none but those who acknowledge the Lord, and look to him to impart it. In like manner, no one in heart acknowledges the Lord, but in proportion as he is grounded in the desire of obeying his commandments; without which, whatever he may say with the lips, he cherishes the denial of the Lord in his heart, whether he may be aware of it or not; and the loudest profession of faith is but an empty sound. Faith and life invariably go together, and such as the one is, such is the other.
Such being the fact, and such the doctrine of the New Church on the absolute necessity of a life of righteousness,—most cordially does she accept the divine declaration which says, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." What is the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees here spoken of, and rejected, by the Lord ? Its character is abundantly delineated in other parts of the New Testament. It was the righteousness of those who formed the most strict professors of the church at that time existing in the world, but which was in a state of utter decline and corruption. It was a righteousness which was rigid in outward observances, especially in little matters, but which quite overlooked and disregarded the true end and design of the divine commandments, and, while it kept them in the letter, entirely omitted them in the spirit. It was a righteousness which did its works to be seen of men. It was a righteousness which made great pretensions to more religion than others, and which announced its claims by its outward appearance and the form of its dress; for we read, of the scribes and Pharisees, that they made broad their phylacteries, and enlarged the borders of their garments. It was a righteousness which, in the language of the prophet, continually said in its heart, "Stand away, and come not near, for I am holier than thou;" and the professors of which, in the language of the gospel, "trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others." It was a righteousness which made clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, while within they were full of extortion and excess. It way a righteousness which paid tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith or fidelity. It was a righteousness which, not finding the precepts of the divine Word numerous and minute enough to give sufficient opportunity for its love of display and pretence, added many others to it, about which the divine law is silent and indifferent; such as the washing of cups and pots, brazen vessels and tables, and of the hands before meat. In short, it was a righteousness which affected the external man only, and did not reach within; a righteousness which delighted more in performances of its own invention, than in any that the law of God enjoined; and which, in the performance of the latter, even when it kept the moral law or that of the Ten Commandments, only kept it in external form, and merely as a civil and moral law,—thus from outward motives, such as only looked to well-being in this world,—without regarding it at the same time as a spiritual law, whose precepts are to form the law of the mind as well as the law of the body.
What, then, is the righteousness which the Lord alludes to, when he declares that it is a righteousness which must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees ? Does he mean that we must be still more scrupulous than they in matters purely indifferent? Does he mean that, whatever they do, we must go farther in the same line ? that as they make sad their faces that they may appear unto men to fast, we must make ours sadder ? that as they so arrange the form of their garments as to announce their pretensions to holiness to all beholders, we must still more distinguish ourselves by the singularity of our appearance ? Nothing, surely, nothing of the kind. He does not mean that we are to exceed them in that in which they are superabundant, but in that in which they are deficient; by keeping the divine commandments in our hearts as well as in our actions; by supplying to the observance the inward principle, without which the outward form is an idle mockery, a dead letter. This is evident from the comment which the Divine Speaker makes upon his own text. The scribes and Pharisees thought that they sufficiently obeyed the commandment which says, "Thou shalt not kill," if they did not carry their enmities into the outward act of murder; the Divine Author and Expositor of the commandment declares, that he is guilty of a breach of it, and liable to divine judgment accordingly, "who is angry with his brother without cause." The scribes and Pharisees thought that they sufficiently obeyed the commandment which says, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," if they did not carry the concupiscence into the very act: "But I say unto you," says the Divine Author and Expositor of the commandment, "That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (Matt. v. 21—28.) And from these two instances, the Saviour plainly intimates the extent of all the other precepts of the Decalogue, and clearly shows in which direction the righteousness of his disciples must exceed that of those who acted in that day as the teachers of righteousness. He calls not upon us to be more sanctimonious than they were, hut more sincere; not to shelter ourselves behind the mere letter of a precept, but to take in with it its whole spirit and design; and not to be content only to shun evils as they appear before the world, but so to shun them as to avoid them also in the sight of God.
This, then, is the species of righteousness which the Lord Jesus Christ prescribes to his disciples, and without which he declares that they shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven: and this, accordingly, is the life which is insisted upon in the doctrines of the New Church. The Ten Commandments, those doctrines affirm, understood both naturally and spiritually, are the rule of life for Christians. Let any one who wishes to see this clearly proved, consult that work of Swedenborg's, which treats expressly and solely on this subject: it is called, The Doctrine of Life for the New Jerusalem, from the Commandments of the Decalogue. It consists of fourteen chapters, in which the same number of leading propositions is stated and proved; and as they are all most profoundly important, and show in the strongest light what our doctrines are upon this truly vital subject, I will here repeat them.
The first—the sentiment with which the work opens, and which it lays down as the fundamental of all, is one which ought to be written in letters of gold in every church and in every house, and most indispensably, on every heart: It is, That all Religion has relation to life; and that the life of Religion is to do good. The next affirms, That no one can do good which is really good from himself. The third declares, That so far as man shuns evil as sins, so far he does good, not from himself, but from the Lord. The fourth states, That so far as any one shuns evils as sins, so far he loves truths. The fifth pronounces, That so far as any one shuns evils as sins, so far he has faith, and is a spiritual man. The sixth observes, That the Decalogue points out what evils are sins. The seventh explains, That murders, adulteries, thefts, and false witnesses, of every kind, are the evils which are to be shunned as sins. The four next evince, That so far as any one shuns these evils as tins, he is in the opposite good; thus that so far as any one thus shuns murder of every kind, he loves his neighbour; so far as any one thus shuns adultery, he loves chastity; so far as any one thus shuns theft, he loves honesty; and so far as any one thus shuns false witness, or lying, he loves truth. The twelfth demonstrates, That no one can shun evils as sins, so as to hold them in aversion, but by combating against them. The thirteenth assures us, That man ought to shun evils as sins, and to fight against them, as if he could do it from himself (because the Lord is present with every one that strives, and gives him the power). The fourteenth discloses, That if any one shuns evils from any other motive than because they are sins, he in reality does not shun them, but only prevents them from showing themselves before the world.—This, my Candid Readers, is our doctrine on the life that leads to heaven: I appeal to you whether any doctrine can go more completely to the root of all evil. Is it not evident, that when this doctrine affirms respecting each of the evils prohibited in the Decalogue, that every kind of such evil is to be shunned as sin, it goes to the full extent of the Lord's requirement, that the righteousness of his disciples should exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees ?
To show what is meant by shunning all the kinds of each general evil, I will mention how this is explained in the chapter on the precept respecting shunning adultery; and I select that subject, because it is one respecting which the most atrocious calumnies have been circulated against the doctrines of the New Church and the writings of Swedenborg: "By committing adultery is meant," says the enlightened author, "in the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, in a natural sense, not only the external crime, but also all obscene practices, wanton discourse, and filthy thoughts: but in a spiritual sense, by committing adultery is meant to adulterate the good things taught in the Word, and to falsify its truths: and in the supreme sense, by committing adultery is meant, to deny the Lord's Divinity, and to profane the Word:—And they are guilty of all these kinds of adultery together, who do not, both in faith and life, hold adulteries to be sins." After showing how diametrically opposite the unclean ness of adultery is to the chastity of marriage, he presently adds, "Hence it may plainly be concluded and seen, whether a man is a Christian or not,—yea whether a man has any religion or not. He who does not, both in faith and life, hold adulteries as sins, is not a Christian, and has no religion. On the other hand, he who shuns adulteries as sins; and still more, he who on that account holds them in aversion; and still more, he who on that account abominates them; has religion, and is a Christian."—Does not this come up to the full doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ ? Is it not his doctrine in all its integrity and purity ? And as all the other evils prohibited by the Decalogue are laid open in the same searching manner,—I will not say, what a want of integrity,—but, what ignorance of the subject, is displayed by those, who can reproach the doctrine of the New Church for its "loose principles!" All principles that are commandments of God they enforce in all their fulness: they are only indifferent about such matters as are Pharisaical additions to the laws of God,—the mere commandments of men,—vain traditions, the tendency of which is, to withdraw attention from the commandments of God, and to make them of none effect.
We have now seen, from the most authentic source, what the Doctrine of Life promulgated by Swedenborg, and held by those who believe that a New Church is meant by the New Jerusalem, truly is; and we appeal to all the Candid to say, whether it is not in the strictest sense of the words, a doctrine of genuine holiness?