Noble's 'Appeal': IX. The Christian Life.:
B. Holiness, not Laxity, encouraged by the Sentiment, That it is not so Difficult to live the Life that leads to Heaven as some suppose.
in the preceding part of this section I have offered a general vindication of the doctrines of the New Church upon the subject of the Christian Life: I will here reply to the specific charges made against us on this head, by my usual guide.
The following is the passage in which he puts them forth in the most explicit form, and makes a show of supporting them by Scripture; "A Swedenborgian, according to an indulgence warranted by his great leader, may 'go to a play,' may 'sing a song,' besides some other little indulgences which it is needless here to mention. In addition to which, one of his chapters is headed in the following words: 'That it is not so difficult to live for Heaven as same suppose.' In the puritanical days which obtained in this natioa about one hundred and fifty years ago or thereabout, this kind of teaching would have been esteemed unorthodox; neither do I think that the last quoted sentence, which makes heaven so easy of access, will very well accord with some passages in the New Testament, as for instance, 'Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.'—'Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure.'—'If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?' (1 Pet. iv 18.) And mark our Lord's words, for they are awfully emphatical: 'Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat: because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.' (Matt. vii. 13, 14.) 'Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.' (Luke xiii. 24.) And likewise we have in the parable of the sower and the seed, four kinds of hearers described, and yet only one of the four kinds finally attain salvation. (Matt. xiii. 3—9.) Now, there being naturally too much inclination in our constitution both of body and mind towards laxity and indolence in spiritual duties, there appears no necessity that we should have the sanction of a written prescription for dealing with a slack hand, and for being at ease in Zion!" More strange mis-statement was never made than is couched in these sentences.
The doctrines of the New Church insist, as has been just shown, that the life which leads to heaven is of the most pure and holy nature: but they certainly do not affirm, as do the doctrines generally prevailing, that man has no power, either from himself or from the Lord, to live such a life. Far from shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men, by telling them that the life which leads to it is so difficult that no one can comply with its requisitions, they encourage us by the assurance, That it is not so difficult to live the life that leads to heaven as some suppose; and for this comforting, elevating sentiment, the design of which is solely to encourage those to set in earnest about the all-necessary work who otherwise might be disheartened and so sit down in despair, the scribes and Pharisees of modern times cry out against them, as giving a written prescription for being at ease in Zion! They would fain have it believed, that in delivering this sentiment, our doctrines mean to encourage sinners in their evil ways, by intimating that they need not be overparticular about yielding obedience to the commandments of God. Amazing perversion! The life that leads to heaven, it is constantly shown in our doctrine, is a life of genuine goodness: we are taught to believe, that, through the Divine Mercy, it is not so difficult to live a life of genuine goodness as some, who have never attempted it, suppose and represent: and this is construed as implying a licence to live a life of wickedness, with the flattering unction, that a bad life will not exclude from heaven! And by whom is this perversion of our pure doctrines made ? By those who, in effect, teach the very doctrine which they thus charge against us! By those who, while they affirm that a good life follows faith as a thing of course, deny it to have any thing to do with, or to form any part of, the conditions of salvation! By those who affirm that a man may be saved by faith in his last moments, let the whole of his previous life have been as wicked as it may, and who thus practically demonstrate, that, in their estimation, a good life forms no part of the way to heaven! , By those who, in this persuasion, besiege the death-beds both of those who have lived good lives and of those who have done the contrary, to persuade the former that their having abstained from wickedness will not be of any avail in securing their happiness hereafter, and to assure the latter, that their having lived in wickedness needs be no hindrance to their eternal happiness; but that both may now equally secure salvation by what they call faith! By those who, under this persuasion, throng the condemned cell and the platform of execution, and when the terrified ruffian, in the state of constraint that attends the certainty of present death yields to the influence of their exhortations and prayers, exult in having destroyed, as far as in them lies, the eternal barrier between good and evil, and proclaim with triumph, that they have dismissed the plunderer of his fellows, the violator of innocence, the murderer of his brethren, to certain glory! If this is not breaking the divine commandments, and teaching men so, by encouraging them to believe that their lot in eternity will be the same as if they had kept them, it will be difficult to say what is. And yet these charge such breaking of the divine commandments upon the doctrines of the New Church, for teaching, that as no life but a life of goodness leads to heaven, it is actually possible to live such a life, and is even not so difficult as some suppose! But here lies the secret. Such a sentiment overturns from the foundation the doctrine of faith and salvation by them professed. That doctrine all proceeds upon the supposition, that man cannot keep the divine commandments. Once establish the contrary to be the truth: once rescue the Divine Goodness from the blasphemous imputation of having given man a law that he cannot keep, and then condemning him to eternal torments for the breach of it; and down tumbles at once all the fabric of the "scheme of salvation," which certain modern theologians have invented out of their own heads, and then fathered upon the Word of God; though the Word of God lends no countenance to the fiction, and primitive Christianity knew nothing of it. When therefore the doctrines of the New Church vindicate the Divine Justice from such aspersions, by affirming that man can keep the Divine Commandments, and that the Lord Jesus Christ did not come into the world to make his keeping them unnecessary, but to give him power to keep them in the manner he requires, the advocates of the common "scheme of salvation" take alarm: but when our doctrines proceed a step further; when they vindicate the Divine Goodness as well as the Divine Justice, by affirming that, owing to the Divine Goodness, man not only has power given him to keep the Divine Commandments, hut that the keeping of them is not so difficult as some suppose; there are men who are ready to invent any fictions that may prevent so blessed and affecting a truth from making its way into the hearts and understandings of the penitent and sincere.
Is, however, the sentiment, which is found so obnoxious, true, or is it not ? Is it as difficult to live for heaven as some suppose, or is it not ?
There is nothing in this assertion, be it observed, which affirms, absolutely, that it is not difficult to live the life that leads to heaven: for any thing that is here said to the contrary, it may be allowed to be extremely difficult: and yet all the adversary's remarks are levelled against the notion, that it is not at all difficult; as if this were advanced in the proposition. Thus nothing which he has said against it applies to the proposition itself, but only to what he has substituted in his thoughts, and sets before his readers, in its place. Accordingly, the texts which he quotes against it afford no contradiction whatever to the assertion, that it is not so difficult to live the life which leads to heaven as is supposed, but only to the notion, that it is so easy, or is a matter of so little importance, as to justify man in carelessness and indifference.
Thus, the first text which he cites is, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;" which refers neither to the difficulty of the work, nor to its easiness, but only to the awful consequences of neglecting it, which ought to excite us to set about it with the utmost solicitude: and this is a sentiment which every tenet of the New Church unites to confirm. To the same purport, though without allusion to the ill consequences of an opposite conduct, is the next citation: "Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure." So, when Peter says, "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear," he does not mean that to live the life which leads to heaven, or so as to be reckoned among the righteous, is a work of such extreme difficulty, but that they who do so live, and are accepted as righteous, have nothing to boast of,—that there can be no works of supererogation, since, at the utmost, we are unprofitable servants, who can do no more than it is our duty to do. But our opponent seems to rely most upon the Lord's own words, which he justly denominates "awfully emphatical:" "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it:" And again: "Strive to enter in at the strait gate, for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able." But as attention to the context plainly shows, that the Divine Speaker is here referring to the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of entering the gate of heaven in the other life, when preparation has not been made for heaven by a suitable life here, but not to any extreme difficulty attending the living of such a life here. Thus, the Lord carries on the subject by immediately adding to the last extract, "When once the Master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets: but he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity." How plain is it from hence, that the subject relates to the impossibility of entering heaven hereafter, if we have neglected our opportunities here,—not to the difficulty of now applying those opportunities to the purpose for which they are granted us. The gate of heaven is too narrow to let in any thing evil, or any evil doer who has not overcome his evil habits by actual repentance and by a suitable after-life: it is only the gate of hell that is wide enough for these; and it ever yawns greedily to receive them. To avoid this fate, and to secure the other, we are to strive now; before "the Master of the house is risen up,"—before he "hath shut to the door" which terminates our state of probation; and never does the Lord intimate that, before the door is shut to, the work of acquiring the passport of admission, is a work of such extreme difficulty. There is a time in which we can work, and a time in which we cannot; and the one is separated from the other by the grave. As followers of our Divine Master, we are to "work the works of our heavenly Father while it is day: for the night cometh when no man can work."* "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world."+ Therefore, "Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you."# Perfectly evident then it is, that the difficulty to which the Lord refers when he speaks of the straitness of the gate of heaven, is not the difficulty of so walking, during our day of probation, as to be able to find it, but the difficulty of finding it, and entering in at it, after death,—after having slept away all the twelve hours of our day here, instead of walking and working in them. If, also, his words could be so strained as to include the other meaning, it would be making the Divine Saviour contradict himself: for does he not say, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me: for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls: for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light?"$ Here is a declaration which is perfectly clear and explicit: and when the Lord himself declares that his yoke is easy, and his burden light, who shall contradict him by saying, that his yoke is galling, and his burden oppressive ? To take upon us his yoke and burden, is to follow him: to follow him, is to live the life that he requires of us, which is the life that leads to heaven: and when he declares this to be easy and pleasant, who shall affirm it to be difficult and almost impracticable ? The beloved disciple, than whom no one evermore completely took on him his Master's yoke, and was more highly qualified to speak of its nature, knew better: he says, "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous;"@ or, as the original word literally signifies, "are not heavy," or "burdensome." To keep the Lord's commandments, is certainly to live the life that leads to heaven: if then his commandments are not grievous or burdensome, it is evident that to live the life which leads to heaven is not a task of such extreme difficulty. The opponent, however, declares, that it is very difficult: evidently, then, the New Church sentiment is true in the fullest extent, when it affirms, that it is not so difficult to live the life which leads to heaven as some suppose.
* John ix. 4 + Ch. xi. 9. # Ch. xii. 35. $ Matt. xi. 29, 30. @ 1 John v. 3
Behold then, in this example of the contrariety upon this subject between the doctrines of the New Church and those of her adversaries, the old controversy revived of Caleb and Joshua with the other ten spies, respecting the ability of the people to take possession of the promised land. The New Church encourages the people, and says, with faithful Caleb, "Let us go up at once to possess it; for we are well able to overcome it."+ But her adversaries exclaim, with the unfaithful ten, "We be not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we."# "And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched, unto the children of Israel, saying, The land through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grass-hoppers, and so we were in their sight." $
+ Num. xiii. 30. # Ver. 31. $ Ver. 32, 33,
Since, then, it is perfectly evident that the Scriptures never represent the life that leads to heaven as a thing of great difficulty; and since, when our doctrines affirm that it is not so difficult to live the life that leads to heaven as some suppose, they by no means affirm that it is attended with no difficulty whatever; and since it thus is certain that the Scriptures and our doctrines are here in perfect harmony; all that is necessary to clear the subject of all remaining obscurity, is, briefly to state in what manner the illustrious Author of the treatise on Heaven and Hell explains his proposition, and proves that the difficulty of living for heaven is not so great as is too often imagined.
He begins with stating what the unnecessary difficulties are when which the imaginations of men have clogged the way to heaven, which he does thus: "Some people believe, that to live a life which leads to heaven is difficult, because they have been told, that man must renounce the world, and reject the concupiscences of the body and the flesh, and must live a spiritual life; which they understand as implying, that they must reject worldly things, which consist chiefly in riches and honours, that they must be engaged continually in pious meditation about God, salvation, and eternal life, and must spend their lives in prayer, and in reading the Word and other pious-books: and this they call renouncing the world, and living in the spirit and not in the flesh. But the fact is, that they who renounce the world and live in the spirit after this manner, procure to themselves a melancholy habit of life which is not receptible of heavenly joy. But in order to man's receiving the life of heaven, it is necessary to live in the world, engaged in some business or employment,. in order that, by fulfilling the duties of moral and civil life, he may receive spiritual life. For spiritual life cannot otherwise be formed with man, or his spirit prepared for heaven: for to live an internal life, and not an external life at the same time, is like dwelling in a house which has no foundation, which either sinks into the ground, or cracks to pieces, and at last falls down." (HH 528). Here, then, some of the difficulties with which, in the opinion of some, the life that leads to heaven is attended, are at once cleared away;—all the mummery of superstition and popish mortification,—all that mistaken renunciation of the world which withdraws a man entirely from its business and its duties. The author then proceeds to show, that truly spiritual life is nothing but civil and moral life lived from spiritual motives; and thence, again, he infers, that it is not so difficult to live the life which leads to heaven as is generally supposed. For, says he, "Who cannot live a civil and moral life; when every one is initiated into it from his infancy, and comes into the knowledge of it by his life in the world ? Every one also brings the principles of civil and moral life into act, he who is inwardly bad, as well as he who is inwardly good: for who does not wish to be esteemed a sincere and just man? Almost all exercise sincerity and justice externally, so as to appear as if they were sincere and just in heart. Let, then, the spiritual man do the same, which he surely is able to do as easily as the natural man; only, as the spiritual man believes in God, he must practise sincerity and justice, not only because civil and moral laws require it, but also because the divine laws require it. Thus, as the spiritual man, when, he acts, has the divine laws in his thoughts, he is in communion with the angels, and, so far as this is the case, he comes into conjunction with them, and so his internal man is opened, which is the real spiritual man. When such is a man's character and quality, he is adopted and led by the Lord, although he is not aware of it; and thus the acts of sincerity and justice belonging to the moral and civil life are performed by him from a spiritual origin; and this is to perform them from the essential principles of justice and sincerity, or to do them from the heart." (HH 530). This is illustrated at length, and is applied to the case of the ten commandments. It is shown that many mere men of the world keep the ten commandments in outward form, as mere civil and moral laws, for the sake of maintaining a fair character in society; and the intended inference is, What is to hinder the man who wishes to become spiritual from keeping them as divine laws likewise, avoiding the breach of them as sins against God; when the Lord and the angels are ever present with the mind of every one who thus regards them, continually leading him, and communicating the necessary ability ? I will add a few sentences which deliver the practical purport of the whole: "That it is not so difficult to live the life of heaven as is supposed, is evident now from this consideration: That nothing more is necessary, than for a man to think, when anything presents itself to him which he knows to be insincere and wrong, and to which he feels inclined, that it ought not to be done, because it is contrary to God's commandments. If he accustoms himself so to think, and thus acquires a habit of it, he by degrees is conjoined to heaven; and as the higher principles of his mind are opened in consequence, he distinctly sees what is insincere and unjust; and as he sees them, they may be loosened and expelled from his mind; for it is impossible that any evil can be expelled until it is seen.—But when he has made a beginning, the Lord operates all sorts of good in him, and gives him the faculty, not only of seeing evils, but also of not willing them, and finally of holding them in aversion; this is meant by the Lord's words, 'My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.' —But here follows a most momentous remark, which shows that the writer never intended to represent the work as unattended with any difficulty whatever: he adds: "It is however to be noted, that the difficulty of so thinking, and likewise of resisting evils, increases, in proportion as man proceeds to the actual commission of evils from the will; for by so doing he accustoms himself to evils, till at length he does not see them; and next he is led to love them, and from the delight of love to excuse them, and by all kinds of fallacies to confirm them, saying that they are allowable and good. This is the case with those, who, on coming to adult age, plunge into evils without restraint, and at the same time reject all regard for divine things from their heart." (HH 533).
I know not how these sentiments may affect our accusers; but by all the Candid and Reflecting they surely will be thought to carry their own recommendation with them, and to evince, by their intrinsic excellence, that they are the very truth of heaven. They are equally calculated to repress presumption, and to foster hope: they prove that man may, with less difficulty than has been supposed, lite the life that leads to heaven, and yet that all the good of such a life is not of man but of the Lord alone: and that man himself greatly aggravates the difficulty by neglecting his opportunities. Never before, I believe, was this difficult subject treated, in any human writings, with such clearness and consistency. Surely it must require the front of the arch-accuser of the brethren himself, seriously to look at such sentiments, and impute to them any other character than that of holiness and truth.
But, says the accuser in the present case, "a Swedenborgian, according to an indulgence warranted by his great leader, may 'go to a play,' may 'sing a song,' besides some other little indulgences which it is needless here to mention." How pitiful are such charges! What mere Pharisaism do they breathe! How plainly do we see in them the same spirit which exclaimed on one occasion, "Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?"*—on another, because "the Son of man came eating and drinking," "Behold a man gluttonous and a wine bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!"+ They breathe a revival of the spirit which was eager to "bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and to lay them on men's shoulders:"—which "tithes mint and anise and cummin, but omits the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith;"— which "strains out a gnat, but swallows a camel."# They are, in short, the dictates of the same spirit as said of the Saviour in person, "We know that this man is a sinner."$ What was the pretence for this blasphemous accusation ? Because the Divine Object of it refused to acknowledge the additions which the scribes and Pharisees had presumed to make to his own law: and because the doctrines of the New Church are equally regardless of such additions by modern scribes and Pharisees, they are pursued with similar reproaches. The proper answer is that which, on one occasion, was made to the Pharisees by the Lord himself: "If ye had known what that meaneth, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless." ||
* Matt. ix. 11. + Ch. xi. 19. # Ch. xxiii. 4, 23, 24. $ John ix. 24. || Matt. xii. 7.
I will now only add on this subject, that, although, according to the Doctrines of the New Church, all the faculties belonging to human nature in a state of order, from highest to lowest, may be allowed the recreations proper for keeping them in a healthful state, capable of discharging their proper functions in. the great whole, whence even the recreations proper to the body and the senses are not condemned as criminal in themselves: yet to insinuate from this reasonable and Scriptural truth that our doctrines encourage any disorderly gratification of the lower faculties,—any thing that tends to lift them out of their proper subordination to the mental and truly spiritual part,—is a gross, unfounded calumny. Nothing is more insisted upon in the doctrines of our church, than the debasing tendency of pursuing carnal and sensual gratifications,—of the pursuit of them, in any degree whatever, as ruling ends and objects. Of persons who had been devoted to the pursuit of what is called pleasure, our doctrines teach, a very great proportion of the inhabitants of hell consists. Because, then, we affirm that the life which leads to heaven does not consist in monkish mortifications; because, to use the apostle's language, we do not adopt the precepts of "touch not, taste not, handle not, after the commandments and doctrines of man; which things," as he also affirms, "have [merely] a show of wisdom, in will-worship and [affected] humility, and neglecting of the body;" (Col. ii. 21, 22, 28.) it is the extreme of injustice in the devotees of will-worship to tax us with encouraging the love of pleasure and dissipation. We are satisfied that, in its spiritual as well as in its literal sense, the precept, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things which are God's," ia a mandate of Divinity; and in its spiritual sense we understand it to teach, that though the world, and the things belonging to the world, including that part of man's constitution which is connected with the world, may, in their proper station, and in the order intended by their Creator, have their necessary share of attention, they must not be allowed to encroach upon our duty to God, engross any share of our supreme affections, or form any part of our ruling motives, which must all be sacred to God alone.
Nothing more needs be said to evince, that there is not anything in our doctrines which is calculated to attract to their banners the careless and the dissolute, who are indisposed to submit to the discipline of sincere repentance and reformation: these will rather fly to the flattering remedies of our opponents, who will undertake to set all right in a moment, though that may be the last moment of life. We reject not the sinner; but we tell him he must repent, not in words only, but in deed; or, in the language of the gospel, that he must bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. We, however, dishearten no one by telling him that he cannot keep the law of God: we tell him that he can; yea, and that it is not so difficult as he perhaps imagines. We learn of our Divine Master not to break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax: yet we adopt also his teaching from the heart, and say to the disciples whom, we call to him, "Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."