Word of God?
For there are many things in the letter which appear not only unimportant, but also unworthy of God's Word; and so it is that the spirit of the Word "is hidden from the wise and prudent" in the things of this world and is revealed to babes—that is, to those who are in innocence.
Our Lord called Himself the door, the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the Stone which the builders rejected. It is this door which admits to Paradise, or, what is the same, into the Kingdom of Heaven which is within man. There are also guards or cherubim, which hide the Divinity of the Lord from the sophisticated, lest, seeing, they should profane.
The Lord said: "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth shall pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise Pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." (Matthew 5:18.)
The teaching of the Lord was therefore that He would fulfill every least thing of every letter of the Old Testament: thus the Old Testament as to every least thing is the Word of God. The sophisticated either do not believe the words of the Lord quoted above or do not believe that the Lord said them.
In a column by Louis Cassels in various newspapers we read under the title "Protestant Split":
Protestantism is heading into the sharpest theological controversy since the fundamentalist-modernist clash of the 1920's.
The issue is whether the Christian message needs to be radically recast to make it plausible to modern man.
Among those calling for drastic overhaul of the conceptual package in which the Gospel is presented are theologians Rudolf Bultmann in Germany and Paul Tillich in the United States.
Their views have been given wide circulation by English Bishop John A. T. Robinson in his book. Honest to God, and Episcopal Bishop James A. Pike of California in his book, A Time for Christian Candor.
Robinson contends that many educated people today reject Christianity "because they cannot accept certain traditional beliefs which were really the envelope in which the message was sent, rather than the message itself." Pike agrees.
The solution, says the California Bishop, is to "rethink and restate the unchanging Gospel in terms which are relevant to our day and meaningful to the people we would have hear it."
Few theologians or church leaders would argue with that objective. The point in dispute is how far the church can go in "restating" the Gospel before it finds itself offering something besides authentic Christianity.
The Bultmann-Tillich-Robinson-Pike school is not in agreement on which parts of the New Testament are to be retained as "kernel" and which may be jettisoned as out-of-date "husk."
But there is a tacit understanding among most of the reinterpreters that any Biblical account of a physical miracle must automatically be labeled mythical. Even the supreme miracle which gave birth to the church—the Resurrection—is regarded as a subjective experience of the disciples rather than an objective historical event.
There also is a general tendency to move away from the concept of a personal God toward more abstract and impersonal terminology, such as Tillich's "Ground of Being."
The "New Theology" remains Christian at least in the sense of asserting that God is revealed to men uniquely and supremely in the life of Jesus Christ. But this belief is often expressed in language which suggests that Jesus was a man who was so good and unselfish that God's love shone through his humanity, rather than in Biblical terms of the Word of God becoming flesh and dwelling among men.
But critics are now saying that the reinterpreters have gone too far in the attempt to "demythologize" the New Testament and that they have needlessly abandoned many things which are both historically credible and essential to Christian faith.
The giant of European theology. Dr. Karl Barth, makes no secret of his feeling that the demythologizers have thrown out the baby with the bath water. There may be no scandal in a "modernized" Christianity which has no place for a personal God, an incarnation or a resurrection; but there's not much hope in it, either.
On this side of the Atlantic, also, theologians and church leaders are beginning to voice concern about attempts to reduce the Christian gospel to an inoffensive proclamation that Jesus was a nice man. Dr. Roland Mushat Frye, writing in the scholarly journal Theology Today, said that the greatest threat to contemporary Christianity comes from "pseudo-sophisticates" so eager to accommodate the Gospel to the presuppositions of modern culture that they have emptied it of all "distinctively Christian content."
As soon as we deny the words of the Lord concerning the Scriptures, "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18), the "baby" is already thrown out with the bath water. A baby or little child stands for innocence.
To the modern sophisticated theologian may we not apply the words of the Lord: "Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, 0 Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." (Matthew 11:25.)
But lest we should fall into the other extreme of naivete and over-credulousness, the Lord also said: "Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." (Matthew 10:16.)
As various writers have said, some ministers use double talk, that is, they speak in such a way about the Lord that the sophisticated understand it in one way and the unsophisticated in another, giving the impression to the sophisticated that they look on Jesus as an exceptional man, and to the unsophisticated that they see him as the Son of God. Such dishonesty is common.
Although for a Christian, faith in the Lord as his Lord and God and in the Bible as the Word of God is the only door, still every man, including the Gentile, is admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven if he chooses to look to God, as best he can according to the light he has, and lives the best he can according to his lights. For such have in their hearts a willingness to be instructed; and if they were in ignorance of the Lord and the Word of God when in the world, they gladly receive faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and God when instructed by the angels. But a Christian is faced with this choice here on earth; and if he rejects the blessing promised to those who say to the Lord Jesus Christ, "My Lord and my God," and confirms this rejection out of the hardness of his heart, he will not listen to the angelic instructors.
It is the sophisticated who choose the broad way; it is those who are made wise by the spirit of God who choose the strait gate and the narrow way which leadeth unto life. (Matthew 7:14.)
There was a time when it was especially the learned who were sophisticated, but now the majority are more or less sophisticated and are proud of it.
The way that leads to heaven and the way that leads to hell were once represented to me. There was a broad way tending toward the left or to the north; and many spirits [those who had recently died] were seen going in it; but at a distance a large stone was seen where the broad way came to an end. From that stone two ways branched off, one to the left and one in the opposite direction to the right. The way that went to the left was narrow or straitened, leading through the west to the south, and thus into the light of heaven; and the way leading to the right was broad and spacious, leading obliquely downwards towards hell. [The quarters referred to here are not spatial quarters, but indicate different states of mind, having to do with the path of life, which appear like spatial quarters.] All at first seemed to be going the same way until they came to the large stone at the head of the two ways. When they reached that point, they divided; the good turned to the left and entered the straitened way that led to heaven; while the evil, not seeing the stone at the fork in the ways, fell upon it and were hurt; and when they rose up they ran on the broad way to the right which went down towards hell.
What all this meant was afterwards explained to me. The first way that was broad, wherein many good and evil went together and talked with each other as friends, because there was no visible difference between them, represented those who externally live alike honestly and justly, and between whom seemingly there is no difference. The stone at the head of the two ways, . . . upon which the evil fell and from which they ran into the way leading to hell, represented the Divine truth, which is rejected by those who look towards hell; and in the highest sense, this stone signified the Lord's Divine Human. But those who acknowledged the Divine truth and also the Divine of the Lord went by the way that led to heaven. By this again it was shown that in externals the evil lead the same kind of life as the good, or go the same way, that is, the one as readily as the other; and yet those who from the heart acknowledge the Divine, especially those within the church who acknowledge the Divine of the Lord, are led to heaven; while those who do not are led to hell. The thoughts of man which proceed from his intentions are represented in the other life by ways. (Number 534.)
Let us give an illustration of the above. A minister or priest serves his congregation, he labors long hours, he visits those who need his care, he conducts the services of the church with reverence, he preaches earnestly. Yet one minister or priest has in view his own advancement, his popularity, his desire to be liked by his congregation; in all his preaching and actions he is thinking of his own position or of increasing the prestige and wealth of his church, and thereby of himself. With his mouth he worships the Lord, but in his heart he worships himself.
Another minister or priest loves the truth in his heart. He prays to Jesus Christ, saying, "My Lord and my God," and he has a feeling that the Lord Jesus Christ is the visible God, in whom is the invisible God as the body in which is the soul—the Father in the Son, as expressed in the Gospels. He loves the Lord with all his soul and heart, and he will gladly sacrifice position, wealth, popularity, success, and friendship, if it is necessary, to uphold the truth. He would rather die than be unfaithful to the truth.
Both the good and the evil minister may appear so similar in outward speech and act that few can distinguish the one from the other. This is the meaning of the words of the Lord: "Many shall say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity." (Matthew 7:22,23.) Note that the iniquity may be hidden in the heart so that it is recognized by scarcely anyone—and usually not by the man himself, who regards himself as honest and sincere. What is said above about a minister or priest applies in a different way also to the politician, the businessman, the professional man, and the laborer.
We read in the first chapter of John: "In the beginning was the Word [Logos] and the Word was with God, and God was the Word." Not as in the King James translation: "the Word was God."
The Word or Logos evidently is the Divine Truth, for words, if they genuinely express anything, express the truth. God here is the Divine Love, for God is Infinite Divine Love. To express itself or communicate itself, love uses words, which are truths speaking. Truths, or thoughts which are of truth, are the manifestation of love or are love in a form accommodated to the one with whom one is communicating. Wherefore God was the Word; that is, Divine Truth is the Divine Love, going forth, or proceeding.
This Divine Truth proceeding went forth from the beginning of creation; wherefore the Lord, Who was, as He said, "the Way, the truth, and the life," declared: "Before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58.)
As all things were made from Divine Love, by means of the Divine Wisdom, or, what is the same, from the Divine Good by means of the Divine Truth, it is said, "All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made." (John 1:3.) Now, although God indeed created the material universe from His Divine Love by means of His Divine Wisdom, the essential thing which God made is man and the spirit of man, material creation being only a means to this end. When therefore it says, "All things were made by Him," it is especially the Kingdom of Heaven within man that is created from God's love by means of His Divine Wisdom, the Divine Light or Logos. Wherefore it is said, "That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. . . . And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory." (John 1:9,14.)
If we see that God is Divine Love Itself, and He wishes to communicate His Divine Love to man, and that to do this He must do so through the Divine Truth accommodated and clothed in such form that man can receive and reciprocate His love, the story of the incarnation, of the Lord as the Divine Truth becoming flesh, appears natural and reasonable. But if we think materialistically or scientifically, we cannot accept such an idea.
As was stated above, the Word which was in the beginning not only was the Divine Truth in the act of creating the world, but it is, moreover, the Divine Truth communicated to man. Now, for Divine Truth to be communicated to man, it had to be spoken and written. As we shall show more fully in the latter part of this book, the Word of God, which is the Divine Truth, is contained in what is called the Bible.
The Lord said concerning the Scriptures, that is, the Law and the Prophets: "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." (Matthew 5:18.)
The internal or spirit of the Law and the Prophets was also represented by Moses and Elias as they were seen in vision with Jesus when He appeared on the mount in glory, while His face did shine as the sun. (Matthew 17:2,3.)
The Divine Truth in heaven and in the church, which was the Word or Logos, formed a Divine seed, from which the virgin Mary conceived.
If we think on the plane of the spirit, this miracle is not hard to believe, for if God from His Divine Love wished to clothe Himself with the seed of the Divine Truth and come to commune with men, this is no more incredible than the first creation of life, which is an event which, as far as science knows, has not occurred in hundreds of centuries.
In spite of the statements in the New Testament that God was the Word that became flesh, that he who saw the Lord saw the Father, that He and the Father are one, that blessed are they who say to the Lord "my Lord and my God," and He is the true God and eternal life (I John 5:20), there are those who say that the New Testament does not teach that Jesus Christ is God. Is it not evident that those who make such statements do not view what is written objectively but with a desire to find what they wish to find, with a negative attitude toward faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal God? This negative attitude of the sophisticated, as we have said, exists because they do not desire to have a Divine Man, one who is God and Man, above themselves, for they themselves wish to be supreme.
In this connection we shall quote the words of Augustine:
That the Son is very God . . . They who have said that our Lord Jesus Christ is not very God or not within the Father the One and only God, are proved wrong by the plain and unanimous voice of the Divine testimonies : as for instance, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" .. . He is not only God, but also very God. And the same John most expressively affirms this in his epistle: "For we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us understanding, that we may know the true God, and that we may be in His true Son Jesus Christ, He is the true God, and eternal life." (Book I, 9.)
The equality of the trinity are intimate to our faith. But because on account of the incarnation of the Word of God for the working of our salvation, that the man Jesus Christ might be Mediator between God and man, many things are said in the Sacred books as to signify or even expressly declare, the Father to be greater than the Son, men have erred through a want of careful examination on the whole tenor of the Scripture, and have endeavored to transfer those things which are said of Jesus Christ according to the flesh, to that substance of His which is eternal before the incarnation and is eternal.
And not therefore without cause the Scripture says both the one and the other, both that the Son is equal to the Father, and that the Father is greater than the Son. For there is no confusion when the former is understood on account of the form of God, and the latter on account of the form of a servant . . . and in truth this rule for clearing the question through all the Sacred Scripture is set forth in one chapter of the epistle of Paul when this distinction is commented to us plainly enough. For he says: "Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but emptied Himself, and took upon Himself the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men, and was found in the fashion of a man." (Philippians 2:6,7.) For in the form of a servant He took, He is less than the Father, but in the form of God, in which He also was before He took the form of a servant, He is equal to the Father. (Book I, 14.)
The Lord Jesus Christ when in the world had two states, a state of Glorification, and a state of exinanition or pouring out of His soul. When in the state of Glorification, He said, "I and the Father are one. He that seeth Me seeth the Father, I am in My Father, and the Father is in Me"; but when in states of exinanition in which He underwent temptation, He prayed to the Father as if separated from Himself. But now that He is fully glorified or made Divine, He is totally one with the Father as body and soul are one person. After His resurrection He said: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." (Matthew 28:18.) That is, He is now omnipotent in His power to save mankind. As He said, "I came forth from the Father, and ... I leave the world, and go to the Father." (John 16:28,30.) After the resurrection there can be no question of two persons. If we think of the Father and the Son as being two persons, we cannot help thinking that there are two or three Gods no matter how much we say with our mouths that there is one God.
Few now ever think about the Trinity. They feel an aversion to even considering the matter. It appears to most as old-fashioned to consider such matters of doctrine, and they regard the consideration of doctrine and creeds to be doctrinaire, abstract, and having no relation to life.
Such an idea is contrary to the attitude of the early Christians, and has come about with a decline of faith especially with a decline of faith in the Bible as being the Word of God and a decline in the faith that the Lord Jesus Christ is God.
With this decline of faith no real heed is given to the First and Great Commandment: "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."
If a man were not sure whether his father was one person or three, and he was uninterested in finding out or considering the matter, could it be said that the man loved his father? If a man were in such a predicament, would it not affect his life—his point of view? Would it not disturb him profoundly? The fact that so few are disturbed by not comprehending the Trinity in God indicates a great indifference, a total concentration on the things of this world, and an irritation at even being asked to consider anything above this world. Is it this indifference that is not only the cause of a lack of spirituality, but also a cause of the decline of standards of morality and honesty, of the vulgarization of life that is so evident? Man, in considering himself to be essentially an animal, sinks lower than the animals.
In the Middle Ages, other-worldliness was considered an ideal. The Kingdom of Heaven was considered the only thing of importance—at least theoretically; and the importance of life in this world was theoretically disregarded. This led to monasticism and contempt for pleasures. If we really believe in a life after death, we recognize that life in this world is scarcely a moment in comparison to eternal life, and therefore in itself is of relatively no importance. But if we regard life in this world as a school in preparation for eternal life, then it is of great importance. A school has little importance if it does not look to a life after leaving school. Yet a school which does not have its own delights and pleasures is not a good preparation for life afterward. All kinds of healthy delights, including pleasures, are gifts of God and not to be despised. Yet things like wealth and bodily pleasures, including the appreciation of the arts, are of no use—are even a hindrance—if they are loved for their own sake and not for the sake of giving thanks to God and as of use for His praise and for showing forth the things of His Kingdom.
Bodily pleasures and worldly knowledge should not be despised or rejected, but still they should hold the lowest place of importance if man really believes in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The great fallacy of monasticism is that it is an escape, an attempt to find an easy way out of the struggle of life through placing oneself in a kind of prison, or army, in which one gives over one's problems to one's superiors and follows the commands and orders of others. This is a far easier thing to do than to lead a normal life, disciplining one's mind to regard the things of this world as relatively insignificant in comparison to the things of the Kingdom of Heaven.
To acquire a spiritually well-disciplined normal natural life, as a servant to the ruling love of the Kingdom of Heaven, is a much more difficult thing than in a moment of enthusiasm to enter a monastery, and is therefore a better preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven. How many in their business—in their family and social life-.-place the eternal Kingdom of God in the first place?
In the Christian churches an idea of salvation grew up which is frequently called "medieval" theology. The idea is that God the Father became angry with the human race on account of the sin of Adam and Eve and placed a curse on the human race. The Son agreed to come on earth, took upon Himself the curse, and by dying upon the cross He satisfied the Divine Justice and propitiated the Father, so that the Father agreed to save those who had faith that the Son had died for their sins. Does this agree with the oft- repeated words, "For His mercy is for ever"? (Psalm 136.)
Many ministers nowadays have come to see that such an idea makes God the Father a cruel God. It can also be seen that no one can hold the idea that because of the Son's suffering the Father forgave those who believed in the Son, and at the same time really think of God as one God instead of two or three Gods, no matter how much he may say with his mouth that there is one God.
In the orthodox idea the idea of justice also is totally distorted. Suppose that there was a man who had a servant who disobeyed him, and the man said that he would punish the servant,' the servant's children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and that the son of the man offered to take the punishment due to the servant upon himself, and the man then forgave the children, the grandchildren, and the great-grandchildren as long as they believed that the son had appeased the man. Could anyone regard this as justice?
Has not this cruel idea of God something to do with the cruelties perpetrated by the church in the Middle Ages?
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen in his book Go To Heaven, in speaking of the mercy of the Lord, says that the Lord forgives man as He commanded man to do: seventy times seven times; that He will forgive man every sin but one, namely, that of not loving the Lord. If a man said he would forgive another every evil he did, no matter how atrocious, except the sin of not loving him, everyone would agree that a man who took such an attitude was a supreme example of egotism.
The truth is that the Lord is infinitely forgiving. There is nothing He does not forgive, for He is Mercy itself, He is Infinite Divine Love. How, then, is it that there is a hell?
Strange as it may sound, we cannot believe in a hell which is not in agreement with the Lord's Infinite Love, Mercy, and Forgiveness. The Lord's love is a love of mankind. As we have said, for there to be mankind, man must be free; for the Lord cannot love men who are not free and are therefore little more than robots. The Lord therefore loves man's freedom above everything else. Now, if man is free, he can either love God and his neighbor, or he can love himself and the world in preference to God and the Kingdom of Heaven.
When a man dies, he has the same character he had while on earth—otherwise he would not be the same man. It is a law of the life after death that a man is among his like, where he naturally tends. Now hell is nothing but the gathering together of those who love themselves and their own pleasures more than God and their neighbor.
This is of the Mercy of the Lord, for were the good to be with the evil, the evil would harm or distress the good; and were the evil to be taken into heaven where all things of the heart manifestly appear, they would be in the greatest distress, for their ugliness would be manifest not only to others but also to themselves—just as hypocrites, or those with filthy minds, if their hypocrisy and filth become manifest, cannot stand the company of the innocent and the chaste but flee away to their own kind. So the evil, when they approach heaven, flee away of their own accord; for they are far less unhappy in hell than they would be in heaven.
As to the punishments of hell, these the inhabitants inflict on each other; just like any society of egotists, they make each other miserable and come into conflict with one another.
As God is Love and Mercy itself, He moderates the punishment in hell as far as possible. As is stated in the Writings of Swedenborg, God does not permit any punishment more than is necessary to preserve a certain order in hell, and He gives even the devils as much happiness as is possible in their miserable condition.
There is no vindictive punishment by God in Hell. To think that God inflicts such punishment is a horrible idea.
As all intelligent men know, punishment for crime should never be vindictive; the only purpose of punishment is to protect society, and to lead, if it is possible, to the reform or the betterment of the one being punished. As this is true of those on earth who are just, it is infinitely true of God. When those in hell have been brought into a certain order, their punishments become milder and less frequent and they are brought into the best state possible, without taking away their freedom. But as their ruling love is their egotism, they remain in hell. Hell-fire, like heavenly fire, represents love, and at a distance it may appear as fire. Hell-fire consists of lusts, anger, the desire for revenge, and so on.
As we have said, many have come to see that God is a God of love, that in Him there can be no vindictive justice, that vindictive justice is injustice, and that therefore the idea of God's cursing mankind on account of the disobedience of Adam and Eve and of salvation by appeasement of the Father through the death on the cross is wrong.
To replace the orthodox idea of redemption, a new idea of redemption has arisen and has been accepted by many. This new idea is based on the statement of Paul: "And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us unto Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself." (II Corinthians 5:18,19.)
The new idea is expressed in a syndicated column by Dr. Louis Cassels as follows:
They depict Christ as standing in man's stead, accepting the punishment which man deserves for his willful wrongdoing. They speak of man as being saved, ransomed, redeemed, or delivered from his just fate because of Christ's intervention on his behalf.
In attempting to capture a great mystery within the dry language of dogma, theologians have sometimes made it sound as though God were some kind of vengeful ogre who had to be appeased by a sacrificial offering of innocent blood.
This is exactly the opposite of the Bible teaching, which points to the Cross of Christ as the ultimate proof and supreme demonstration of God's forgiving love for all His human creatures.
How can this be? The teaching makes sense only if it was God Himself acting in and through Christ. And this, of course, is precisely what Christians believe. As usual, St. Paul put it more succinctly than anyone else has managed to do: "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself".
Dr. Cassels in another article writes:
Christian theology has always asserted that Jesus Christ accomplished a "reconciliation" between God and man. This is the heart of the Gospel. But what exactly does it mean?
To many people, it means something like this: "God was angry with men because of their sins. But Jesus became humanity's champion. On the Cross, He suffered in our stead, accepting the punishment we deserved. God was placated by Jesus' sacrifice, and now is prepared to love any human being who appears before His throne of judgment pleading the name of Jesus."
The doctrine of atonement, so formulated, has become one of the greatest stumbling blocks for modern seekers after faith. They just can't work up much enthusiasm for the kind of faith it describes—a vindictive God whose wrath could be appeased by the sacrifice of an innocent life.
Those who are repelled by the notion that Jesus was a sort of scapegoat for human misdeeds may find it helpful to read a new book, The Man for Others. . . . The author is Reverend Erik Routley, a British theologian who formerly taught in Oxford, and is now a Congregationalist pastor.
This remarkable little book is every bit as modern, courageous and open-minded as Bishop John Robinson's Honest to God.
And it is considerably less muddled in its theology than the sensational best-seller.
Dr. Routley feels that it is nothing short of blasphemy to suggest that what Jesus did for mankind was "to placate a tyrant God who was waiting to punish His people with death." Actually he says, He came to reassure men that God is not hostile towards them.
Man has a natural tendency to think of God as being unfriendly and unfair. Everything that goes wrong in life is another justification for nursing a "grievance" against God. This "settled attitude of grievance" is what the Bible means by sin. It is the antithesis of faith, and the ultimate source of particular sin.
To liberate man from this attitude, God sent Jesus into the world. Jesus was a human person who bore "the stamp of God's very being." His mission was not to reconcile God to man, but rather to reconcile men to Godfrom one of grievance to one of reciprocal confidence.
"Jesus did not come to stand up for us against God, to vindicate mankind against a God who disbelieved in man's worthiness to be saved," says Dr. Routley. Where men were saying that "God must be caused to love the world," Jesus said "God is love" meaning "God loves the world and has always loved it."
In the above we read that "Jesus was a human person who bore the stamp of God"; that is, He was not God but was a human person who in a remarkable way above other men was in the likeness and image of God in which men were originally created. As we showed earlier, this is not the teaching of the Gospels. Although it is true that the Lord taught that God is love, there are far more reasons for the coming of the Lord on earth than just this, some of which we shall consider in the following chapter.
On the subject of redemption, two hundred years ago Emanuel Swedenborg wrote, in The True Christian Religion, as follows:
Jehovah God descended and assumed a Human that He might redeem men and save them. In the Christian churches at this day it is believed that God the Creator of the universe begat a Son from eternity, and that this Son descended and assumed a Human in order to redeem and save men. But this is an error, and of itself falls to the ground as soon as it is considered that God is one, and that it is worse than incredible in the sight of reason to say that one God begat a Son from eternity, and that God the Father, together with the Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom singly is God, is one God. This incredible notion is wholly dissipated, . . . when it is shown from the Word that Jehovah God Himself descended and became Man and also Redeemer.
The first statement, that it was Jehovah God Himself who descended and became Man, is made clear in the following passages:
"Behold a virgin shall conceive and shall bear a Son, who shall be called God with us." (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22,23)
"Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful, God, Mighty, Father of Eternity, the Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)
"It shall be said in that day, Lo this is our God, we have waited for Him that He may deliver us; this is Jehovah." (Isaiah 25:9)
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of Jehovah." (Isaiah 40:3,5) . . .
That it was Jehovah Himself who descended and assumed the Human is especially evident in Luke, where it is said:
"Mary said to the angel, How shall this come to pass, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered her, the Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most
High shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." (1:34,35) . . .
That a Son born from eternity descended and assumed the human is a total error which falls to the ground and is dissipated in the light of those passages in the Word where Jehovah Himself says that He Himself is the Savior and Redeemer, as in the following:
"Am I not Jehovah, and there is no God else beside Me? A just God and a Savior, there is none beside Me." (Isaiah 45:21,22.)
"I am Jehovah and beside Me there is no Savior." (Isaiah 43:11) "I am Jehovah thy God . . . and thou shalt acknowledge no God beside Me; and there is no Savior beside Me." (Hosea 13:4) . . .
"Thou, O Jehovah, art our Father, our Redeemer; from everlasting is Thy name." (Isaiah 63:16) . . .
"Jehovah of Hosts is His name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall He be called." (Isaiah 64:5)
From these and many similar passages it can be seen by every man who has eyes, and a mind that has been opened by means of them, that God, who is one, descended and became Man, in order to effect Redemption. Who cannot see this in the light of morning when he gives any attention to these Divine declarations themselves which have been presented? But those who are in the shades of night, owing to a confirmed belief Christian Religion, Numbers 82 and 83)
As we have said, the sophisticated will never accept this, for the reason that they have no real faith in the Bible as the Word of God, no faith in the virgin birth, and no faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and God.
The Lord said to the sophisticated among the Jews, "Thus have ye made the commandments of God of none effect by your tradition." (Matthew 15:6.) With many, even in the Christian church, this is more true than it was with the Jews at the time when the Lord was on earth.
Most people consider atheism and communism to be the greatest danger to the church. But the greatest danger is not from without, but from the sophisticated leaders within the church, who have no living faith in the Word of God or in the Lord as God, and who often undermine the faith of the simple. With the increase of worldly education, nearly everyone is becoming sophisticated, so that spiritual wisdom is becoming rare. The Lord came on earth to re-establish the Church.
Nowadays, many ministers are taking part in, or are actively supporting, various political movements instead of concentrating on preaching against the sins which are declared to be sins against God in the Word. This is contrary to what the Lord did when in the world. The Lord did not mention the evils and disorders of the Roman Empire, although they were many, nor did He encourage anyone to take part in any political movement for freedom, but quite the reverse. Such activities do not properly belong to churches. The Lord's words were directed against the sophisticated and hypocrites in the Church. If sophistication and hypocrisy in the Church can be overcome in the Church, the Church can enter upon its true function or enter into its true usefulness to the world; but so long as sophistication and hypocrisy rule in the Church, no political attempts at betterment of the world can have any lasting good effect.
The chapter on Redemption in The True Christian Religion continues: There are many reasons why God could redeem men, that is, could deliver them from . . . hell, only by means of an assumed Human. . . . Redemption consisted in subjugating the hells, restoring the heavens to order, and after this re-establishing the church; and this redemption God with His omnipotence could effect only by means of the Human, as it is only by means of an arm that one can work. In the Word this Human is called "the arm of Jehovah"—or as one can attack a fortified town and destroy temples of idols therein only by means of intervening agencies. That it was by means of His Human that God had omnipotence in this Divine work, is also evident from the Word. For in no other way would it be possible for God, who is in the inmost and thus in the purest things, to pass over to outmost things, in which the hells are, and in which the men of that time were; just as the soul can do nothing without the body, or no one can conquer an enemy without coming in sight of him, or approaching him with proper equipment. (True Christian Religion, Number 84)
That the Lord came to overcome the power of hell is taught in the Gospels as follows:
Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out. (John 12:31)
Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. (John 16:11)
And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us in Thy name. And He said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. (Luke 10:17,18)
It may be asked. How did the Lord combat the power of evil or the hells before He came into the world; and if He did it before, why did He have to come into the world to do this?
The answer is that God overcame the power of evil or the hells through the ministry of angels, all of whom were once men, and also through men on earth whom He inspired to teach the truth and to fight against evil; but the time came when the power of evil, or of the hells, had so increased that angels and inspired men had not sufficient power to accomplish this task, and God had to take it upon Himself. To overcome the power of evil, or the hells, He could not descend in Glory, for no one could have stood before the naked glory of God; and if they did indeed do so, their free choice would have been taken away. Therefore He had to clothe His glory by taking on a Human nature by birth in the world, so as to be able to approach both the good and the evil: the good, to lead them into the path of life, and the evil, to deprive them of power so dominating that men were no longer free. Thus the Lord came to restore man's freedom, so that he could choose the way of salvation, provided he was willing.
This is involved in the parable of the Lord: "And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent servants to the husbandmen, . . . and the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did to them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son." (Matthew 21:34-37.)
The same is signified by the words "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be." (Genesis 49:10.)
Hell, the devil, and Satan are scarcely believed in by modern man, yet the evidence of their influence is very great. The Lord's being tempted by the devil on the mountain signifies His combats with the power of evil and the hells which inspire evil. Such things appear unreal to modern man because, for the most part, he has lost a living faith in the Kingdom of Heaven, and therefore in its opposite, the kingdom of hell. The devil stands for the hells, and all in heaven and hell were once men on earth.
To continue the subject of redemption from The True Christian Religion:
Jehovah God descended as the Divine Truth ... although He did not separate it from the Divine Good. There are two things that constitute the essence of God, the Divine Love and the Divine Wisdom, or what is the same, the Divine Good and the Divine Truth. . . .
That Jehovah descended as the Divine Truth is shown in John as follows:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and God was the Word. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." (1:1,3,14)
By the Word here the Divine Truth is meant, because the Word, which is in the church, is the Divine Truth itself, because it was dictated by Jehovah Himself. . . . But inasmuch as the Divine Truth passed down through the heavens even to the world, it became adapted to angels in heaven and also to men in the world. For this reason there is in the Word a spiritual sense in which Divine Truth is seen in clear light, and a natural sense in which it is seen obscurely. Thus it is the Divine Truth in our Word that is here meant in John. This is made still clearer by the fact that the Lord came into the world to fulfill all things of the Word; and this is why it is so often said that this or that was done to Him "that the scriptures might be fulfilled." Nor is anything but the Divine Truth meant by the Messiah or the Christ.. . .
All strength, virtue and power of God belong to the Divine Truth from the Divine Good. . . . Therefore it is said in David:
"Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O Mighty One, and in thy majesty mount up; ride upon the Word of Truth; thy right hand shall teach thee wonderful things. Thine arrows are sharp, thine enemies shall fall under thee." (Psalm 45:3-5)
This is said of the Lord, and . . . His victories over the hells. (The True Christian Religion, Numbers 85 and 86)
That God, although He descended as the Divine Truth, did not separate therefrom from the Divine Good, is evident from the conception; of which it is said: "That the power of the Most High overshadowed Mary." (Luke 1:35) "The power of the most High" meaning the Divine Good. This is evident from the passages where He says that the Father is in Him, and He in the Father, that all things that the Father hath are His, and that the Father and He are one. By "the Father" the Divine Good is meant. (The True Christian Religion, Number 88)
That the Lord in the world was the Divine Truth is evident from His own words: I am the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)
We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us understanding that we may know him that is true: and we are in him that is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. (I John 5:20)
This was the true Light that lighteth every man coming into the world. (John :9) I am the light of the world. (John 9:5)
"Light" means the Divine Truth. That God Himself should be born of a virgin indeed seems incredible to most people. Yet if we accept the idea that God is Divine Love and the nature of love is to wish to communicate one's love to another and to have the love returned, it can be seen that it is in agreement with sound reason. No one can love someone whom one does not know; and the better one knows another, the more one can love him or her. Certainly there was no better way for God to make Himself known to men and so make it possible for men to love Him in the fullest way, than by coming and living among them.
As we have said, it is the first law of the Divine Love that man shall be free and not compelled to believe or love, for compelled faith or love is valueless. It was therefore necessary for God to come among men in such a way as not to compel faith in Him. If the Lord had come in Divine Glory such as He appeared to Peter, James, and John on the mountain when His face shone as the sun, all would have been compelled to believe on Him. If evil persons were compelled to believe on Him, their state would be far worse than when they had no faith, for they would make a profane mixture of faith with their evil life. This is what the Lord taught:
And their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears. (Matthew 13:15)
Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see, and that they which see might be made blind. ... If ye were blind, ye should have no sin; but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth. (John 9:39,41)
This was said to the Jews. But now in what is called the Christian Church there is a far greater blindness, for although the churches have grown, there are fewer and fewer who believe in the Bible as the Word of God and in Jesus as their Lord and God. If the Lord was to come into the world, He could come only by being born of a virgin in such a way that men would not have to believe in Him. It is also of the Divine Providence that there are so many arguments against the Lord's birth of a virgin that those in the Christian Church whose hearts are not turned to God can find many excuses for not believing, for to have a faith in Jesus as our Lord and God and live a life centered in oneself and the world is a more terrible thing than to have no real faith.
The Lord also had to be born of a virgin not only that He might clothe Himself with a body of this world according to order, but also in order that He might take on a human heredity, in which was a tendency toward all the evils of the human race.
If He had not clothed Himself with such a human, He could not have been tempted. No devil could approach Him in His states of glory, nor could evil men stand in His presence. He could therefore not have effected the judgment for which He came; as He said, "For judgment I am come into this world." (John 9:39.)
The reason for His coming into the world was judgment, for by judgment He cast out the prince of this world (John 12:31) and He ordered heaven and the church anew, and thus made possible the salvation of those in the human race who love Him and keep His commandments. His love and salvation also go forth to the Gentiles, who, while not knowing Him, receive indirectly of His life and light if they live according to the truths which they have.
Although the Lord took on a human heredity from Mary, as He glorified His Human He entirely put this off, so that He was no longer her son.
And Jesus answered him, 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. (Mark 12:2931)
The word "love" is a much-abused word. No one can have a real idea of what love is unless he distinguishes a true from a false idea of love. The world is full of a false, sentimental idea of love. In the first place, there is animal love and there is genuine human love. Animals love their young and love their kind, and they may love other kinds of animals and may love human beings; all men, by instinct, love others, whereas animal love is proper to animals. If human love remains on the plane of animal love, it is not the love that the Lord commanded. The Lord indeed spoke of a merely animal kind of love in human beings when He said:
"For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them." (Luke 6:32.)
The Lord also taught how we should truly love, saying:
"This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." (John 15:12.) But how does the Lord love us? The Lord's love looks to our eternal welfare. He does not regard any temporal thing—things of this world only as of any significance, unless it looks to our welfare in the Kingdom of Heaven. The things of this world last less than a moment compared to eternal life. Wherefore suffering or joy, miseries or happiness, are regarded by the Lord's Divine Providence or loving care only insofar as they are useful in preparing us for our eternal welfare. The animal kind of love in a man, which is very far removed from the love of others as the Lord loves us, regards only one's happiness, pleasures, and welfare here on earth.
Miseries, sadness, and sufferings of all kinds are often useful in helping to bring us to the real significance and values of life and thus to prepare us for eternal life; whereas too easy a time is often the worst thing possible for the development of character. Yet not only politicians but even the churches in recent times have tended to concentrate on making life in this world as easy and painless as possible, and this is considered Christian charity—forgetting completely the primary teaching so oft repeated, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness." (Matthew 6:33.)
When churches center their attention on improving the material condition of those in this world and not on preparing men for a life in the Kingdom of Heaven, they are no longer Christian churches except in name only, for they have totally left the teaching of our Lord.
This does not mean that we should not help others in regard to material things when we are able to do so, and when our help may be useful to another and does not take away his responsibility or tend to make him lazy. But a wise man recognizes that such material aid is of relatively no significance in comparison to helping one in his preparation for eternal life.
An indication of the prevailing materialistic point of view is this. Many are distressed on account of the hunger of millions of people in the world, particularly when children are near to starving. Yet few are distressed that hundreds of millions of children are spiritually starving for that food which is the love and truths which lead to eternal life. Especially sad is it that children are growing up without any instruction in religion. The above does not mean that we should not be distressed by the fact that there are many people hungry in the world. But if a man is truly a Christian, he will be much more distressed that there are so many millions who are being spiritually starved. This illustrates the fact that, although there are millions who have a membership in a church, this is no longer a Christian nation, and that the best characteristic, or highest good, with most people is a kind of animal sympathy with their fellow human beings.
But how are we to love the Lord? This the Lord taught us as follows:
If ye love me, keep my commandments. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me, . . . and I will love him. (John 14:15,21)
If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. (John 15:10)
The Lord's Father, the Infinite Divine Itself, was His soul, called the "power of the Highest," which overshadowed Mary and was in Him from conception. As to His Human which is called the Son, the Lord completely followed the dictates of His soul. Thus He glorified His Human until His Human also became purely Divine. He and His Father were one, one in essence and one in person.
We can be conjoined with the Lord, in His love, only if we obey His commandments.
Anyone will admit that a child who likes to kiss and hug its mother and be kissed and hugged in return but disobeys her and does all kinds of things which distress her and make her sad, and is indifferent to the distress it causes her, does not reveal real love. Or that a friend who is most cordial and hearty to another and yet acts contrary to the other's best interests does not show love. Yet there are many who think they can have faith in the Lord, and even love Him, and still disobey His commandments.
But consider further: what are the Lord's commandments?
As we have said, one of the Lord's commandments was, "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you." (John 13:34.) The Lord had already said that the commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," was one of the two Great Commandments. This was not a new commandment, for it had been written by Moses. But to love one another as the Lord had loved them, this was "a new commandment," for the Lord loved them as no one had loved his neighbor before. If we can come to an understanding of how the Lord loves us, then we can keep this new commandment.
There can be no genuine love of the Lord or one's neighbor unless one shuns sins which are against his neighbor, for what kind of love is it if one says he loves God and his neighbor while he sins against them?
Again we read:
And behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him ... If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Matthew 19:16-19)
The Lord therefore made the keeping of the Ten Commandments the means of inheriting eternal life. But He taught that it was not enough to keep them according to the letter, but that they must be kept according to the spirit as well, saying: "Ye have heard, . . . Thou shalt not kill. . . . But I say unto you, whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment." (Matthew 5:21,22.)
And again: "But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." (Matthew 5:28.)
The Lord, after telling the young man that the means of inheriting eternal life was to keep the commandments, added one thing more: "Sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." (Mark 10:21.)
Whereas the Lord in parable apparently spoke of things of this world, still all His words refer to the Kingdom of Heaven, to the things of the spirit. When He spoke of the poor, the "poor in spirit" are especially meant, as He declared in the Ten Blessings: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Also, when He spoke of the rich, He referred to the "rich in spirit." Spiritual riches are knowledges, especially the knowledge of the Word of God and of the church. That this is the meaning is evident from the book of Revelation, where, using the rich in a favorable sense, it is said, when addressing the church of Smyrna, "I know thy . . . poverty, (but thou art rich)." (2:9.) And in Luke: "So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." (12:21.)
The rich in the unfavorable sense are the sophisticated, the learned doctors, the scribes, both in the Jewish Church and in the Christian Church, who have a great knowledge of the Bible, of doctrine, and of philosophy but misuse it and make it serve their own honor and power, their status, and their reputation, instead of in humility serving the Kingdom of God.
All the wealth of knowledge with them is interpreted in such a way as to favor themselves and their own glory. This is the wealth with which, unless he sells it, a man cannot enter the Kingdom of God. The poor in the favorable sense are those who acknowledge that they of themselves are ignorant of the spirit of the Word, and who are therefore willing to be instructed. Such know that what they know of the Word of God, whether it be relatively much or little, is only like a cup of water compared to the ocean, relative to the Infinite Truth contained in the Word of God, and they know that they can understand nothing of the spirit of the Word of God unless it is given them from the Lord out of heaven. They are therefore modest and regard themselves as poor, although they are rich toward God.
The final thing required to enter into life, according to the Lord's command, was to "take up the cross, and follow Me." (Mark 10:21.)
To take up the cross is to undergo trials or temptations, to sacrifice oneself, to give up one's own will, in order to live according to the will of Godbut to do these things not before the world, but before God.
The Lord commanded, "Do not your alms before men, to be seen of them," ". . . let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth," pray not "standing in the synagogues or in the corners of the streets that they may be seen of men," "use not vain repetitions . . . much speaking"; not "to fast with a sad countenance" that "they may appear unto men to fast," but to do all things "in secret." Matthew 6:13, 5,16-18.)
All these commands of the Lord have gone unheeded in the Christian church. Men and women went into monasteries and convents where they prayed endlessly. Some courted martyrdom, and many desired their contributions to churches, hospitals, the poor, and other charities to be noised about so that they might receive credit and influence on account of good works, if not in heaven, then at least on earth.
To do something spectacularly good, especially if there is danger involved, or what appears like a great sacrifice, is not difficult. Evil people are often more eager to be recognized as heroes than are the good people. It is the fashion of the day to want to appear "committed." Now no "commitment," no dedication to accomplishing a good or useful work, is of any use unless evils are first shunned as sins against God. To do good before repentance is like adding pure water to contaminated water; no matter how much is added, the whole continues to be contaminated.
Observe the order of the commandments of the Lord on how to obtain eternal life.
"Thou shalt do no murder. Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, defraud not, Thou shall not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Matthew 19:18,19; Mark 10:19.) Love toward one's neighbor follows the keeping of the other commandments.
As it is said 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." (1:16,17.)
Most people want to love, they want to do good, but without keeping the commandments; therefore their offering is unacceptable to God.
Luther taught salvation by faith alone, ignoring the teaching of the Lord. Luther did, indeed, say that love to the Lord is essential for salvation, but he ignored the words of the Lord, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." (John 14:21.)
This whole principle is illustrated by the story of Naaman, captain of the Syrian army, who was a leper, though a great man in Syria and a friend of the king.
Hearing of the powers of a prophet in Israel, he came with a letter and great treasure to Elisha, to ask to be cured of his leprosy.
Elisha did not receive him into his house but sent a messenger to tell him to go wash seven times in Jordan and he would be cured. At this Naaman was very angry and went away saying that he expected the prophet to come to him, call on the name of Jehovah, strike his hand over the place of the leprosy, and cure him.
Naaman's servant said to him, if the prophet had bid him to do some great deed, would he not have done it? Was it not much easier to wash and be clean? So Naaman did as he was commanded and was cured.
Leprosy signifies an unclean state of the spirit in which one has a kind of faith but does not live according to it. Such a man may wish to do some heroic deeds to cleanse his spirit; he may, under powerful emotion, wish to do some great deed to be savedto become "committed."
The Jordan river signifies the first simple truths of life, the keeping of the Commandments in their obvious meaning. It is obedience to these simple truths that first enables a man to cross over to the heavenly Canaan, the Kingdom of God. To wash seven times in the river Jordan is to repent and cleanse oneself by shunning evils as sins against God, in obedience to the Commandments.
If this idea had been regarded as the first thing of the Christian religion and had been obeyed, how much better a world this would be! Keeping the Commandments, in a broader sense, includes shunning pride, vanity, arrogance, conceit, and sophistication, which sins are all included in the spirit of the Ten Commandments, as will be illustrated in a later chapter.
An Explication of Genesis and Certain Other Chapters of the Bible Based On the Work The Arcana Coelestia, by Emanuel Swedenborg