The Ten Commandments are a divine guide for living. They comprise the heart of every true religion. In 1764, Emanuel Swedenborg wrote, "All can be saved, in every religion, provided they acknowledge God and live according to the Ten Commandments" ( Divine Providence, New York: Swedenborg Foundation, 1982, p. 247). As Jesus said, "If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17).
One of the most remarkable things about Swedenborg's teachings is the lack of dogmatism. Although Swedenborg saw clearly that Jesus Christ is the One God of heaven and earth, he never asserted that salvation depends on believing this. Rather, he taught that salvation depends on living according to the truths that have always been available to mankind, summed up forever in a Divine series of steps called "The Ten Commandments."
The religion that Swedenborg explains is taught today through the New Church. Although the teachings of this church seem "new," they are actually the ancient truths, many of which have long been forgotten. In thirty Latin volumes, Swedenborg shows how the wisdom of the ages is stored up within the sacred pages of the Holy Bible -- and is concentrated in the Ten Commandments, which were written with "the finger of God."
The Ten Commandments were written on tablets of stone, with strong statements about our outward conduct. Their literal teachings are to be obeyed, but they also contain deeper, more interior levels of meaning which are revealed to man when he is ready to live according to them. Jesus showed this to be true when he deepened the commandments on murder and adultery. He also promised that He would come again and lead us into an even deeper understanding of the commandments: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth has come , He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).
In her spiritual autobiography, Helen Keller describes her faith in the teachings of the New Church. She compares Swedenborg to Michelangelo: just as Michelangelo saw an angel in the stone, and carved out its delicate form, Swedenborg saw angelic wisdom within the literal stories of the Word, and drew forth answers to the age-old questions of life, death, and love. "Swedenborg did not write a new Bible" she says. Rather, "He made the Bible new." And she adds, "We are not born again all of a sudden as some people seem to think. It is a change which comes over us as we hope and aspire and persevere in the way of the Divine Commandments" ( My Religion, Swedenborg Foundation: New York, 1974, p.56).
"WORDS OF SPIRIT AND LIFE":
The messages contained in this cassette series were originally given as radio broadcasts in West Georgia and East Alabama. These weekly broadcasts, called "Words of Spirit and Life," were intended for listeners who were unfamiliar with Swedenborg's vocabulary and syntax. Consequently, the quotations from Swedenborg are adapted to suit the needs of modern listeners who might be hearing these teachings for the first time. Similarly, Biblical quotations were selected from a variety of authoritative translations. The sole criteria was to choose the wording that is most understandable, and most accurately conveys the spiritual meaning of the passage.
Although some listeners may be satisfied to have theological questions answered, others will want more specific suggestions about how to apply the commandments to everyday life. Therefore we have provided summaries and suggested tasks, all of which are based on the spiritual meaning of each commandment. Please note that we have kept with the ancient (and more spiritually accurate) tradition of regarding idolatry as part of the first commandment, while treating the commandment against coveting as a double commandment.
I would like to thank Kent Junge, who originally opened the way for me to see these deeper applications of the commandments in everyday life; and Peter Rhodes, who helped so many of us see the importance of self-examination in the light of a clearly defined aim. I am also deeply grateful to Eknath Easwaran for his clear teachings about the value of meditating on Sacred Scripture.
For their encouragement and help in launching this project, I want to thank Dr. Aubrey Allen, Stuart Burke, Henry Dunlap, Don Rogers, and Ward Welch. I am especially grateful to Dave Sansom, owner of Laurelwood Productions, who recorded this series and provided the musical background. Finally, I want to thank my wife, Star, who not only developed this program with me, but also gently encourages me to use it in my own life.Webmasters note: Rev. Silverman lectures regularly on the subject of the Ten Commandments. You can visit his website at www.riseaboveit.org
And God spake all these words saying:
God, who is the source of our life, ought to be at the center of our life. We focus on Him whenever we focus on useful service to others, with no thought of personal reward. But "other gods" have a way of diverting our attention. We may worry a lot about what other people think of us; we may believe that we can't function without our morning cup of coffee; we may feel furious when someone scratches our new car. Our worries, our coffee, our new car -- these are some examples of things that can become "idols" and "other gods," especially when we place them on the altar of our minds, giving them central attention. When we find ourselves dwelling on our own concerns, apart from the commandments of God and the needs of our neighbor, we may well be committing idolatry -- worshipping other gods. In this commandment we are reminded to keep our focus on our heavenly Father, meditating on His Word, and living according to His commandments.
Identify the "idols" in your life. Make a list. (Note: it is suggested that for this and all subsequent tasks you carry a notebook in your pocket or purse. Our most important insights often come at the most unexpected moments.)
Love and Wisdom are the essential qualities of God. We receive the Divine Love as affection towards the neighbor. It is a continuous inflowing desire to wish the neighbor well and to help him whenever we can. The Divine Wisdom comes to us as a desire to understand spiritual truth and to live according to it. These Divine Qualities -- Love and Wisdom -- are what is meant by the scriptural phrase "the name of the Lord." When God came to earth to reveal His essential nature to us, He took a name which stands for both His Divine Love ("Jesus" means "Saviour"), and His Divine Wisdom ("Christ" means "Anointed one," or "King"). We are saved by His Divine Love, and governed by His Divine Wisdom. But we sometimes take these tremendous blessings in vain. For example, He gives us the gift of forgiveness, and we tend to be unforgiving. He gives us the gift of patience and we tend to be anxious. He gives us perceptions of Divine truth, but we stick to our rigid opinions. When the cashier seems to take forever to ring up our items, we feel irritated and the thought comes in, "She should be fired." In refusing to extend mercy and understanding, we take the Lord's name in vain.
Observe how you take the Lord's name in vain (by not using what He gives you). Do this by non-critical observation of your thoughts and feelings.
"Sabbath" is a Hebrew word which means "rest." We rest in the Lord whenever we trust in Him, confident that He provides all things. We may still experience conflict and loss on the plane of natural life, but we can rest in full confidence that there is perpetual peace in the Lord, even amidst the storms of life. The "Sabbath" is not so much a day of the week as it is a state of mind. It is prayer to the Lord, acknowledging that the battle is His, and that He is in total control. Then He gives us His power to do our part. In hurrying to complete a project the thought comes in, "I'll never finish this project on time. I'm so nervous I can't even think straight." But we turn to the Lord in prayer, asking Him to grant us the Sabbath state of peace: "O, Lord, lead me beside the still waters. Calm my restless mind. Grant me Thy peace." (Note: for more on this subject see the commandment against coveting.)
Observe anxious and restless thoughts and feelings in yourself. Then pray for the Sabbath of inner peace.
Our "father" in the highest sense is our heavenly Father. We honor Him most when we read, listen to, and meditate on His Divine teachings and then seek to use them in our lives. Our "mother" represents all those people and organizations which receive what the Lord gives directly and pass it on to others. Our "mother" is the church, our local support group, our family and friends, and the many fine books -- all of which provide useful information about the Lord, and nurture us on our spiritual journeys. We honor our mother by utilizing these indirect avenues of the Lord's nurture and care for us. As a result we honor God who is with us directly through the heavenly teachings of His Word (the "Father"), and indirectly through the earthly care of others (the "mother").
Be open to receive positive influences -- directly from the Lord through reading and meditating on Sacred Scripture, and indirectly through the care and insights of others.
When Jesus deepened this commandment, He taught that we can murder others by our cutting comments and ridicule. He warned us not to hate our brother, but rather to love one another. When He gave bread to His disciples, it was a symbol of the love He was extending to all mankind. He said, "I am the bread which cometh down from heaven" (John 6:33). He came to give the gift of love in place of hatred; to give the gift of life in place of death. He called us to examine our thoughts and our words, and to avoid saying anything critical about others. "Whoever says 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matthew 5:22). You have just been cut off on the turnpike, and the thought comes in, "I can't believe it! What an idiot!" But then you ask the Lord for a more loving attitude, and the thought comes "Oh, well, maybe he needs to be somewhere in a hurry."
Observe, but do not express your critical thoughts. When a critical thought comes up, ask the Lord for a more loving attitude.
When we begin to understand the Sacred Symbolism of the Word, we perceive that each of us is invited to a Divine Marriage in which God is the Bridegroom and we are the bride. This marriage is consummated when we first begin to accept His seeds of truth. But if we turn away from Him, we are like a married woman who runs off to play the harlot. This can happen to us whenever we succumb to the allurement of negative emotions. Every negative emotion has its own set of delights, and we can be seduced by them. For example, you may feel the delight of self-pity setting in. You may be tempted to embrace it, and to wallow in the self-importance of sorrow. You may feel unforgiving towards someone who has hurt you terribly, and you feel a certain hardness of heart. But the Lord calls out to you, asking you not to commit adultery with these negative emotions. "Return to Me," He says. "Return to Me . . . for I am married to you" (Jeremiah 3: 7,14). In this commandment we are called to return to the Lord, to refuse to submit to the allurement of negative emotions -- hard- heartedness, self-pity, revenge --and once again receive the seeds of mercy and truth that He gives to us.
Notice the allurement of a negative emotion, but do not succumb to it's embrace If it involves another person, If it involves another person, try to counter it by seeing a similar tendency in yourself.
To "steal" is to take what does not belong to us. It is the temptation to become prideful about our accomplishments and guilt-ridden about our failures. Ancient wisdom has always taught that we are not to claim merit for the good we do; nor are we to condemn ourselves for our mistakes. If we do, we are attributing to ourselves that which is not really ours. This is because all good flows in from God, and all evil flows in from hell.
Though it may feel like we are the origin of good and evil, this is an illusion. The reality is that we are not our thoughts and we are not our feelings. We are recipient vessels, given free will to choose what we will dwell on and what we will allow to just pass through. This is what Jesus meant when He said, "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man" (Matthew 15:11).
This commandment against stealing cautions us not to attribute thoughts and feelings to ourselves. Rather, we are to give glory to God for all the holy thoughts and feelings He gives us. Similarly, we need to observe the unholy thoughts and feelings that come our way and let them pass through, without attributing them to ourselves. We must not take credit or blame for that which does not belong to us.
Observe the thoughts and feelings that come to you and notice the temptation to attribute them to yourself. Separate yourself from the negative ones, and thank the Lord for the positive ones.
When we report an event as we have seen it, or heard it, it is called our "witness." The witness we give ought to be true and accurate. Many of us have experienced the destruction that half-truths and distortions of the truth can bring to human relationships. That is why those who take the witness stand are asked to tell "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." They must not bear false witness against their neighbor.
At the level of our inner spiritual world, we discover that there are unseen spiritual forces that continually bear false witness to reality. They suggest that God is absent, when the truth is that He is inmostly present. They suggest that success is based upon the accumulation of worldly goods, while Scripture teaches us to "Seek first the kingdom of God."
In this commandment we are told to refute the false ideas that come to us. We are to refute the justifications and rationalizations that prevent us from doing what we know is right. For example, we may feel a heavenly impulse to forgive an old enemy, when suddenly a barrage of false witnesses appear to argue and defend our original hard-heartedness. "You have every right" they say. They might even quote from the Word. They are clever, but evil. We must refute their false witness.
Set yourself a physical task like reading the Word, or exercising, or writing a friendly letter to someone you have difficulty with. Observe the rationalizations that flow in to prevent you from doing the task, and refute them with an appropriate passage from Sacred Scripture. (See Matthew 4:1-11 for an example.)
The commandment against coveting calls us to overcome anxious desire with trust in God. We are to develop the ability to accept circumstances as they come to us, trusting that whatever happens is vital material for our spiritual development and eternal happiness. The rain may not fall on our garden, and the sun may not shine on our parade, but we are to trust that God is in total control of all circumstances, and He gives us exactly what we need, when we need it.
Accept all circumstances (whether you perceive them as good or bad) as opportunities to do inner work.
The first part of this commandment deals with inordinate longings to possess the things of this world, and to have circumstances turn out in our favor. But this second part of the commandment against coveting takes us into a type of longing that is the most evil of all, and is at the root of all other evils. It is the inordinate desire to satisfy our self-love by controlling, manipulating, and dominating other people.
There are many forms of domination -- some obvious and some not so obvious. For example a person may whine, or complain, or use the "silent treatment" until the other person gives in. Whenever we attempt to impose our will over the will of others - either by direct force or in subtle ways - we are dominating over others, trying to overpower them. Inevitably, when people strive to assert their own will, rather than seek the Lord's will, there will be a power struggle. It is true, of course, that certain forms of external behavior must be controlled: traffic violations, thefts, murders, etc. Also, parents must discipline their children. But such power must not be abused. And, above all, no one should try to control what another person thinks or believes.
Even the Lord, who has all power, refuses to use His power to compel people to believe in Him. Although His dominion is over all, He never dominates. He never forces or manipulates. He leads us gently -- as quickly or as slowly as we are willing to go.
As you give up the desire to control others, notice the wiser and more loving attitudes which flow in from the Lord.