The knowledge of correspondences is the key to the spiritual Chapters of the Bible. By its aid the parables and histories and strange prophecies of the Word are opened to disclose the heavenly and Divine truths which they contain. Surely nothing can be of greater importance than to gain ourselves, and to impart to our scholars, a clear, reasonable understanding of this science and a practical acquaintance with it which will enable us to see everywhere, as we read the Bible, Chapters of heavenly wisdom.
How easy this study would be, how living and delightful, if we lived in heaven! if the children walked with their teacher in heavenly fields and needed but a word from him to interpret to them the thousand beautiful truths which would seem almost to shine forth from the sunlight and flowers and birds and precious gems! They would feel the relation of all things around them to the thoughts and feelings within themselves. The objects would embody and interpret to them the things of inner wisdom.
Or, suppose that we were children of the ancient Golden or Silvern Age on earth. We should then walk amid the beauties of this world almost as angel children do in heaven, and should recognize them all as full almost to overflowing with spiritual life. We should see the message of the flower in the sparkling beauty almost bursting from its delicate folds. We should feel a heavenly affection echoed in the soft notes of the birds. All nature would seem to us but a veil concealing and at the same time revealing the presence of the Lord and heaven. We should delight to point out to one another what we saw and felt. We should, in our conversation with one another, delight to use the beautiful things around us as a language to convey thoughts of higher things which we all perceived them to contain. Then, when the Lord Himself spoke to us children of the ancient age a message of heavenly and Divine truth, it would delight us to receive it in the form of parables — the very language which we were so fond of speaking, and of reading in the objects of beauty and use around us. The study of correspondences would then be our highest pleasure; it would be a real and living experience.
Fortunately the perception of a relation between inward things and outward has not yet been wholly lost in the world, though it is dim and incomplete compared with the perception of the ancient days or of heaven. The perception still lingering in men's minds of a relation between natural things and spiritual gives a living basis for the study of correspondences. This almost instinctive perception is what we must awaken in the children, and develop and make more definite. Then they too can read the message of nature and the spiritual Chapters of the Bible. If we begin here we strike at once a vein of interest, and one which leads on into increasing enjoyment — an interest which is wholly lacking if we begin in an arbitrary, dictionary way to say, This corresponds to truth and this to love — a mere matter of authority and memory.
To illustrate the kind of perception upon which we have to build, take the varying expressions of the face and the movements of the hands. Do children need to be told that these are natural things, and that they are manifestations, expressions, correspondences of feelings and thoughts which are spiritual things? A child knows at a glance the feeling of pleasure which finds expression in a smile, or the sorrow which causes tears. And the tones of the voice: is an interpreter needed to tell us that one cry is expressive of pain, and another of joy? that a word spoken in a gentle, soothing tone is inspired by kindness, and a harsh tone by anger? Does a child need to be told that one motion of the hand is an invitation to come, and another is a command to go? In a word, children perceive the correspondence of the expressions of the face, the gestures, and the tones of the voice with the feelings and thoughts of the mind.
There is a peculiar advantage in drawing our first illustrations of correspondence from the relations of the human body and mind, for here both the spiritual side and the natural are within ourselves, and it is distinctly perceived that they have relation to each other. Moreover, it is evident here that the spiritual is the cause of the natural, and not the reverse — a relation which always exists in correspondence, and which it is important to have from the first distinctly in mind. It is the feeling of sorrow which causes the tone of sadness in the voice, or the tearful eyes. It is the emotion of joy which finds expression in the cheerful voice and smile. Even if this is not stated in so many words, the children learn from such examples to regard correspondence as a relation of cause and effect.
We may now pass on to objects outside of ourselves, for the influence of a man's character extends to all the objects which surround him, arranging and shaping them as far as it is able into accord with himself.
Every one can read something of another's character in his house and the order and decoration of his room. We perceive here a correspondence, not so perfect as exists between angels and their heavenly surroundings, where all outward objects are a manifestation and exact expression of the angels' states of feeling and thought, but what we see is enough to enable us to conceive of that more perfect correspondence.
Nor does the common perception of relation between natural things and spiritual stop here with objects which bear directly the imprint of our hands. We look out upon a soft spring day, when everything is blossoming with beauty; and the sweet air and sunshine and bright colors and gay songs touch a chord of sympathy in our own hearts. They awaken a peaceful delight. There is some relation between this vernal beauty and human happiness. We express it by saying that the day, as well as we, is peaceful; that the colors and the songs are cheerful. Again, we look upon a storm and destructive torrents, and we call them fierce and cruel. In a word, we perceive a relation between these things of nature which we had no part in making, which in no direct way bear the imprint of our hand, and the feelings and thoughts of our own hearts.
This is a curious fact. How shall we account for it? We come into this natural world and find evidences of human presence before us. It is almost as if in a wild, untrodden wood we came upon signs of human habitation. It is very favorable to our comfort and happiness in this world that this is so, that we find all earthly objects adapted to our physical wants, and also of a quality to touch responsive chords in our hearts and minds. This human quality of nature is not an accident, but of purpose. It is nothing less than the imprint of the Creator's Divine-human hand, modified into more and less perfect forms, and even perverted into evil forms, by the heavenly and the infernal channels through which spiritual forces reach this world of matter.
Every object of nature, every phenomenon, is as a smile on nature's face, or a tear, or a tone of nature's voice which embodies to us feelings and thoughts within. Every one is an effect which invites us to trace it back to its cause in the world of human mind and originally in the Lord Himself.
The common perception of a relation between natural objects in the world about us and spiritual things within ourselves, the perception that they are indeed the same things on different planes of life, leads us every day to call natural and spiritual things by the same names, and to describe their qualities by the same terms. We speak, for example, of a lofty mountain, or a lofty ambition; a low place, or a low motive. So we use the word hard — either a hard rock, or a hard saying; a tender leaf, or a tender feeling; a rough country, or rough people; a warm day, or a warm heart; a cold winter, or a cold reception. So we say that both plants and ideas grow; that both bear fruit.
It is to be noted in all such cases that the word is used first of natural things and natural qualities; that it gets its clear, definite meaning from what we see and hear and feel, and that it is afterwards borrowed to describe spiritual things and qualities which we perceive to be analogous to the natural. The fact is that all words used of mental things gained their definite meaning in application to natural objects, and were borrowed for the higher use. It amounts to saying that we gain from nature the impressions which give us our only distinct ideas of spiritual things. Could we not see and feel natural height and depth, we could not conceive of spiritual exaltation and depression. The idea of a spiritual quality is derived from nature, and the term used to describe it is borrowed from nature.
If we went far in this study of words we should find many which in their origin gained their meaning from nature, but are now losing, or have quite lost, that association, and are used only of spiritual and mental things. An example of a word in the state of transition is inspire. The Roman boy may have inspired his foot-ball, and even Pope and Shakespeare inspired their instruments of music; but we inspire chiefly things of feeling and thought. The word spirit has in common speech quite passed over from the thought of breath or wind to that of the inner world with its mental forces and phenomena. So also we would hardly speak of fundamental stones, though we do of fundamental principles. We do not to-day despise the prospect from a mountain, though we do look down upon it. A word used apparently with a spiritual meaning only, is really no exception to the rule, but always, in its root, gained its meaning from nature, and was borrowed to describe what is spiritual.
The study of correspondences is of supreme importance, for as fast as we can learn to see in natural phenomena their spiritual cause and meaning we shall delight to turn to the parables of the Bible — for all its chapters are parables — and to read there, in this same language, of heaven and the Lord.
Our guide and authority in the interpretation of the Word by the knowledge of correspondences is the revelation of its spiritual meaning given by the Lord through the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. We find in these writings explicit instruction in regard to the spiritual meaning of certain books of the Word and of very many scattered passages, and a direct statement of the correspondence of many objects which is a guide to the spiritual meaning of all passages of the
Word where those objects are named. It is however most desirable in the study of correspondences to avoid the mistake of thinking that correspondence is artificial and arbitrary, and to learn to see the living relation between the natural and the spiritual objects which correspond to each other. We therefore appeal first to the almost instinctive perception that the object or phenomenon which we are studying has relation to some state or activity of the rnind, a relation to which common speech often bears witness. This perception we seek to make more full and exact, using as our guide the statements of Swedenborg of the correspondence of the natural object in question. Then we turn to the Word for illustration of the use of our newly-discovered symbol, and by its help draw beautiful and helpful spiritual Chapters, as many as we are able. (H. H. 89-91, 103-115; A. E. 1080-1082; T. C. R. 201-208.)