<< THE DOCTRINES OF THE NEW CHURCH >>
A SPIRITUAL SCIENCE.
“Behold, I make all things new.”—Revelation xxi. 5.
WE live in a miraculous age. Our lot has been cast in the midst of those tremendous changes in man’s spiritual condition which could be fitly typified only by the most stupendous convulsions in the material world, —by the darkening of the sun in the heavens, the falling of the stars from their places ; by conflagrations and cosmic storms ; and by the creation of new heavens and a new earth.
It is our happiness as New-Churchmen to know the meaning of these prophetic symbols, and, secure from harm from these convulsions, and unterrified by the noise and wild fury of old systems falling to ruin, and the collision of chaotic forms of belief, to stand upon the new earth rising fresh and fair from the ruins of the old, and to see the new heavens, clear and serene, overarching human life,—heavens whose moon is brighter than the sun of the former age, and whose sun shines with seven-fold splendor.
I ask your attention to one of the distinct and peculiar characteristics of this age, one which clearly entitles it to the claim of being the fulfilment of the Divine promise, ”Behold, I make all things new;” which will make it enduring as the power of the Lord to create human souls, will give it the excellence of heavenly graces, the beauty of heavenly forms, the power and glory of Divine truth, and imbue it with the blessedness of heavenly peace ; which will make it the Lord’s kingdom on earth. I say, “will make it,” for this new day of the Lord, even to the most advanced minds, is yet only in the gray of the morning. Its full-orbed sun is yet below the horizon, and the mass of the people are still asleep in the shadow of the valley. Some of them are indeed stirred by a new breath of power, but “whence it cometh and whither it goeth” they cannot tell. It is the unconscious influence of the Divine force which precedes the light, which opens the eyes and prepares them for its reception. But enough of the light has been seen by some minds, watching for the morning, to reveal its true nature and to give undoubted assurance that it is not the twilight of an age passing away, but the morning of a spiritual age which is new in spirit, new in form, new in power, and will be new in life. The characteristic of the new age to which I invite your attention is one peculiar to its genius, which gives it a surpassing excellence. I propose to speak of the truths of the New Church as a spiritual science.
By science I mean the laws of the Divine order as they exist in the creation, the methods of the Divine wisdom in effecting the purposes of the Divine love in their connections and relations. The Lord’s methods of working in nature constitute natural science. When we discover those methods and the relation of one substance and of one form to another, and of causes to their effects, that knowledge constitutes science. Science treats of substances and forces and forms in their connections and relations, and reveals the laws and methods by which many things make one. Science is spiritual when it relates to spiritual subjects. The same conditions are essential to a spiritual as to a natural science. Let us consider what those conditions are. . First, science must be based upon facts. It is as impossible to construct a science without facts as it is to build a stone wall without stones. Science cannot be constructed with fancies, or opinions, or of facts even as they appear to the senses. Nor can it be formed by a mere accumulation of facts. Science is formed by insight into the intrinsic forms and qualities of isolated facts, by which their relations to other facts are seen, and the higher laws and qualities common to all the particular facts are discovered.
It is now known that all the kingdoms of nature, and all the individuals in each kingdom, are bound together, penetrated, and moved by substances and forces of a finer and more subtle nature than the coarse concrete forms which clothe and hide them. The knowledge of these forces and the laws according to which they act upon every particular object, and of how the stone and plant and animal welcome and treat, receive or reject, use or reflect these, to them, heavenly visitors, is the science of nature.
Spiritual science requires spiritual facts. These are given us in the doctrines of the New Church. Swedenborg’s introduction into the spiritual world, and his statement, from living experience, of what is done there by the Lord and angels and spirits, was just as necessary to a spiritual science as a man’s introduction into this world and the ability to see and hear what the Lord is doing here, and what men are doing, and how they are doing it, is an essential condition of any natural science. The claim of Swedenborg to have done this, a claim to which men take strong exceptions, is absolutely essential to the work he performed. His doctrines of man’s nature and relations are not based upon fancies or opinions, but upon facts, upon what takes place in the spirit. He has also rendered to men this further service and given this larger evidence of the truth of his claims ; he has shown us how to descend from the palaces of spiritual truth into the paradise of nature, and to find the higher laws of the spirit ruling in corresponding forms and working by similar methods in animal, plant, and mineral.
One of the causes which has made the endless discussion of religious questions so fruitless in results is the want of any fixed and clearly-defined subject of spiritual knowledge. The New Church stands on the solid basis of spiritual substance. It deals with realities. The spiritual world is the real world, the spirit is the real man ; its laws of culture and development are as definite and immutable as the laws of nature ; they are also ascertainable and capable of precise application. We have the same basis for progress in spiritual knowledge and life that we have for progress in natural knowledge and life in this world. The spiritual body is presented to us for examination, as real and substantial as the material body which is presented to the physiologist for his study.
We are introduced into a distinct and substantial world, and we are furnished with true principles for our guidance. So far as regards a substantial basis, therefore, we are as thoroughly equipped for progress in spiritual knowledge for the attainment of some distinct and desirable end as the men of science are for knowledge of physical laws and their use in our natural progress.
There is also no dearth of material for endless advance in spiritual knowledge. The science of correspondences, which reveals the definite relation between natural effects and spiritual causes, opens in nature, and especially in the natural symbols of the Sacred Scriptures, exhaustless depths of spiritual knowledge. Every natural object and act mentioned in the Scriptures is the outward form and expression of a spiritual fact or a series of facts, one lying within the other, and all so connected and related that they reveal the means and the order of man’s spiritual creation and of his relations to the Source of life. We shall never want for facts, therefore. Science will sooner exhaust nature than any finite mind can exhaust the forms of spiritual truth contained in the Sacred Scriptures.
The doctrines of the new age possess also in an eminent degree the second essential of a true science ; they are organized truth. They are not assertions made upon personal authority ; they are not detached and unrelated truths ; much less are they conflicting statements which destroy one another. They bear the same relation to spiritual facts that a house does to the materials of which it is constructed, or that the wonderful structure of the body bears to the food which nourishes it. They are a symmetrical whole, composed of intimately related parts, a house fitted to be the home of heavenly affections and the indwelling life of the Lord.
Science teaches us how to use facts. Rational knowledge shows the ratio or relation of one thing or of one being to another, by which the unity of life is discovered. The plan and form and function of the various mental faculties are shown by true spiritual science. In this respect we are better equipped for spiritual progress than the scientific man is for natural progress. Here we find again the inestimable service which Swedenborg has rendered us. He has given us the laws of spiritual life as they are derived from the Lord and exist in man. We have only to learn them and to examine spiritual facts in their light to see their true nature and relations. We can verify the general law by particular facts. The principle is seen at first in outline more or less distinctly ; but every new particular fills up the outline, brings new light to it, and is a new witness to its truth. Having rational knowledge we know how to dispose of the facts as we learn them. We see their relations to other facts and to the central principle which underlies the whole. They fall into their places and tend to unity. Beneath the illusion of appearances we see order, harmony, and the most powerful forces working according to immutable law for human good.
This is a new and distinct step, and gives man the same help in spiritual progress that a rational knowledge of the substances and forces of nature has given him in natural progress. It forms a basis on which he can stand. It gives him power to wield his materials, to build up his life, and to come into orderly and helpful relations to others. His knowledge changes from a thicket, in which he gets entangled by a multiplicity of apparently unrelated and incongruous forms, to a garden with sure paths which lead from blossom to fruit, from labor to attainment. He comes out of confusion and chaos into harmonious and established order.
The doctrines of the New Church are a statement of the laws of man’s regeneration, spiritual culture, and growth in heavenly life, and of his relations to the Lord, to angels, spirits, and men ; to the spiritual world on one side of his nature, and to the material world on the other. They possess all the qualities of a true science of the spirit ; they will meet every requirement for the most varied and fullest development of our spiritual faculties and the attainment of every natural, spiritual, and heavenly good which man can conceive and the Lord can give.
Science not only introduces us into a world of new truths, gives us clearer light, enlarges the horizon of thought, and reveals to us the beauty and harmony of the Divine order, but it teaches us how to employ the substances and forces we have discovered for our own use. We are all familiar with the achievements of natural science in this respect. It has discovered and brought into common use tireless forces of exhaustless power which bear our burdens, run upon our errands, do our work, and minister to our comfort in manifold ways. Science has not only revealed them, but it has taught us how to use them. It has harnessed them to our service ; it has put the reins into our hands by which we can control and guide them. Spiritual science will render the same service to us on the spiritual plane of life. It not only introduces us into a new world of spiritual truth, illuminates the understanding with its light, and charms the soul with its beauty ; it not only places us in the midst of the Divine harmonies and unveils the forms of spiritual substances and forces as much superior to natural forces in power and capacity for human good as the soul is more excellent than the body, but it teaches us how to use them to overcome our spiritual enemies, to remove the obstacles to our progress, and to help us in the development of our noblest faculties and the attainment of our highest good.
There is conclusive evidence that men, urged by their needs and stimulated by their hopes, are demanding a knowledge of spiritual truth which is based on facts, which is logically consistent, and leads to practical results. Wearied with fruitless labor, distracted with doubts, tormented by conflicting passions, despairing of help from the past, hungry for meat that will feed their famished souls, and with aspirations for a higher life than they have found the method and means of obtaining, they are waiting in despair or turning with hope to a new day. They find that all things in the material world are related and indissolubly bound together ; that unconnected existence, even for the stone, is impossible. They see method, order, subordination existing in all things great and small, and immutable law governing all the Lord’s operations in nature, and they logically conclude that the same principles and methods rule in the realm of spirit. They see that the Lord does not work at random in the creation and development of the plant and the material body, and they pertinently ask why He should do it in the formation of the spirit. All the tendencies of the age, all its movements, its hopes, and even its doubt and denial and despair, and all those subtile and delicate but powerful currents which sway the feelings before they awaken thought, which kindle hope and turn the face in the direction of the new light, point with unerring finger to a scientific and rational knowledge of spiritual truth ; they prophesy the existence of an order, method, and law of the spirit, of the same nature as those which exist in the material universe. The claim that a spiritual science is possible does not come from a few minds alone disaffected with the confusion and comparatively fruitless religious doctrines of the past ; it comes from every form and movement in nature ; the stone embodies it, the grass and the vine and every tree of the forest speak of it, the instinct of the animal proclaims it. Every principle in man’ s nature declares the possibility of a spiritual science, because it is itself the embodiment of it. But especially the rational faculties of the mind demand rational knowledge as the eye demands light, the fin water, the wing air, and the body food ; and whatever the Lord has given man the power to want. He has provided the means to supply. The existence of a Divine order in spiritual growth and attainment is certain, and the ability of man to receive and understand the knowledge of it and come into the Hfe and joy of it is as sure as that plants will blossom and bear fruit, and that seedtime and harvest will continue.
Let us then notice some of the effects which a rational knowledge of spiritual truth and a life conformable to that knowledge must legitimately and certainly produce. Fortunately we are not left to conjecture concerning these results. We have a complete demonstration of the power of rational knowledge in the miracles which science has wrought on the natural plane of life. If a true knowledge of the forms, forces, and qualities of nature can change the face of the world, modify all human conditions, and bring into the service of man a multitude of powerful, tireless forces to bear his burdens, run upon his errands, and in manifold ways minister to his wants, what limits can we assign to the power of a rational knowledge of spiritual substances and the laws of their activities and relations? The results of such knowledge must be as much greater and more beneficent in the spiritual realm of life as the knowledge itself is higher in degree and more excellent in its forms. It is not possible to overestimate its beneficent effects, for it is a knowledge of causes, of vital forces ; it deals with the sources of power; it is the true knowledge of God and of man and of their relations to each other.
The effects of a rational knowledge of spiritual truth will be both negative and positive. The truth not only gives man power and light, but it frees him from many obstacles to his progress. The truth makes him free. It frees him from groundless fears. When we do not know the way we fear that every step may lead to danger. It is natural for us to fill the unknown with terrors. Before the light of science had dawned upon the earth, any deviation from the accustomed order of nature, as an eclipse of the sun or moon, filled the minds of men with superstitious fears. They trembled at the dire calamities which they supposed such phenomena to forebode. The same occurrence now gives pleasure to millions, and is the means of much useful knowledge. In spiritual life men are tormented and held in cruel bondage by groundless fears. There is the fear of coming evils which never come and have no existence ; the fear that the Lord is our enemy when He is our infinite and unchangeable Friend ; the fear of death as the most terrible calamity, when it is an orderly step in life ; and a multitude of other fears, wholly groundless, which destroy man’s peace and paralyze his power. A knowledge of spiritual truth will disperse the darkness of ignorance in which these spiritual fears are bred, chase them away as the coming sun dispels the night and all its hideous forms.
Again, genuine spiritual knowledge will free the mind from doubt. Man’s progress in spiritual life is constantly retarded by doubts. He goes to and fro instead of moving on to new attainments ; he stands still instead of advancing ; he rejects the truth when offered to him ; his steps are halting, his courage weak ; he hesitates and lingers and is distracted by conflicting influences, misses the chances of life, and fails of any great attainment in spiritual development, because he is not sure of the path which leads to it. The misgivings, the fears and torments which the noblest minds have suffered from this cause are one of the most mournful phases in the sad history of humanity. Men do not doubt about what they know ; it is when they do not know, or when they see in the twilight only the flitting forms of appearances that they doubt. Genuine knowledge carries the conviction of certainty with it. This is the eflect of the doctrines of the New Church upon those who know them. This benign power will increase until all doubts are dispelledand man will walk in the freedom and joy of the new light, with firm and sure steps, in a straight path to the attainment of the highest ends.
A result of rational knowledge is constant increase of light. Every new truth verifies the principle to which it relates. Every new truth is a new star in the firmament of the mind. All progress in knowledge, natural as well as spiritual, is from evening to morning, and from morning to bright day. Many have accepted the doctrines of the New Church, at first with a hope tremulous with fear that they might come to a point where they would find their way obstructed with insoluble problems and darkness again gathering over them. But it has been their blessed experience to find the way becoming clearer ; difficulties vanish, problems which were supposed to be beyond human skill to solve yield readily to the new power, paths open into broad spaces which seemed closed to human approach, mysteries are understood, and light increases at every step. When we come into the harmonies of the Divine order we begin to see truth in the light of truth. Genuine truth is its own witness ; it shines with its own light, it reveals its own nature, and it fills the mind with light. This is the history of science, and it accords with the experience of every man and woman who has come into the light of the new age.
This gradual and constant increase of light also produces a conviction, which finally amounts to a certainty, that we are on the right road to the attainment of the end we are seeking. When we discover new truths in harmony with those already known, we get new and stronger confirmations of what we have already learned ; we are attracted by the new beauty, we are stimulated to new activity, we are always attaining ; new gates open into broader fields of truth, and the’ certainty of conviction that we are on the right path which leads to the everreceding goal of perfection fills the mind with a sweet and profound peace. We are coming into the order of the Divine wisdom ; we see the way to make ourselves a part of the Divine harmony.
It is a remarkable fact in the history of humanity that men have regarded those who were the most friendly to them as their direst enemies, and those steps in life which have been provided by infinite love and wisdom for their highest good as the most terrible calamities. They have fled from their friends, they have been blind to the richest treasures of truth which lay before them, they have been tormented with groundless fears, have wandered in darkness when the light was shining all around them, and have been crushed with self-imposed burdens when almighty power was offered to lift them from their shoulders.
The rational knowledge of the new age clears away all these shadows, dispels the appearances which have surrounded human life with illusions, and places man in the midst of forces of omnipotent power friendly to every human interest, and teaches him how to use them for the development of the highest plane of his being. It gives him definite, practical knowledge. It reveals to him the true ends of life, puts the means of attaining them into his hand, and shows him how to use them. It must, therefore, render him the same service as a spiritual being, as a citizen of a spiritual world in which he is to find his home and to dwell forever, that a knowledge of the finer substances and forces of nature has rendered him as a material being- and son of earth and time. It must change the whole aspect of human life ; it must give an immense impulse to progress in spiritual knowledge ; it must give fulness, clearness, directness, and precision to every effort for spiritual culture ; it must bring man into such relations to the Lord that he will know what to do and how to do it to come into orderly relations with Plim, and to open every faculty of the soul to Divine influence, to be with the Lord where He is, and thus to dwell in the centres of life and move in the peaceful currents of the Divine order to the attainment of new joys and the rest of an ever-deepening peace. It must make all things new. We stand in the morning of this new day ; its privileges and its responsibilities rest upon us. No men ever had greater interests committed to them ; no men ever possessed larger means and grander opportunities for their own spiritual attainment and to make themselves a blessing to humanity. Much has been given to us ; much will be required of us. Let us be faithful to our trusts ; let us counsel wisely and labor diligently to make known to men those spiritual and Divine truths in which the Lord is making His second coming to men, and by which He will subdue all things unto Himself
Author: Chauncey Giles, From Progress in Spiritual Knowledge, 1895