In my Father’s house are many mansions : if it were not so,
I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go
and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you
unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. —John xiv. 2, 3.
I INVITE your attention to what the doctrines of the New Church, as contained in the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, teach us concerning heaven. Swedenborg presents the subject in his work on ” Heaven and Hell” from two points of view : from the nature of the Lord and from the nature of man, and we must take the same position and view it in the same light if we desire to get any clear idea of his disclosures concerning it. The Lord is essentially a being of infinite love and wisdom. His end or motive in creating the universe and man must have been the formation of a heaven of intelligent beings whom He could bless with the largest measures of the highest happiness it is possible for a finite being to receive. Infinite love could do no less than this. Infinite wisdom also could not fail to provide the best possible means in every form, quality, and method for attaining the ends of infinite love. If you assume that the Lord could have had any other end in the creation than the greatest good of the greatest number, your supposition denies His infinite love. It falls short of the highest purpose which even a finite mind can conceive; how, then, can it be infinite? If you assume that the Lord has not devised the best possible methods to carry His purpose into effect, you do not accord to Him infinite wisdom and power. He could have done better than He has, and that would be infinite folly and failure. The Lord’s nature demands that He shall provide a state of endless and boundless blessedness.
We must come to the same conclusion if we view the subject from the nature of man. There is not a principle or power or form in man’s soul, mind, or body, when unperverted, which does not look to the same end. If you examine the material body in its relations to the material universe, you find that every bone, muscle, tendon, nerve,—every organic form in its least and largest parts, was designed directly or indirectly to be an inlet of delight ; to contribute in some way to man’s happiness in this world. If you examine the material universe you find that everything, from the rock to the sun, was designed to contribute to human well-being ; to sustain, to protect, to delight, and to bless man. If you view the human body in its relations to the human soul, you discover that it is designed with an exquisite skill to clothe the soul and to serve as its instrument in gaining ideas, in developing its affections, and in forming the basis for an immortal career in another world. If you look at the nature of man himself, his love for knowledge and delight in obtaining it, his power of loving and the blessedness which flows from the exercise of that power ; when you consider that his capacities to know, love, and enjoy are so great that nothing can satisfy him, so immeasurable that it is impossible for a finite mind to conceive of any assignable limit beyond which he may not pass, what other conclusion is possible than that the Lord created man and specifically formed him in every organ, quality, and principle to be a recipient of endless and ever-increasing happiness ? To deny it is to attribute to Him the monstrous mistake and folly of creating human beings with capacities and wants for which He provided no means of supply, thus compelling His children to go on their endless way with a burning thirst which He has provided no living waters to assuage, and consuming hunger which there is no bread to satisfy. That would be terrible beyond conception. Annihilation is better than that. There is, therefore, no rational escape from the conclusion that the Lord, man, and nature all point in one direction, to a state of complete and perfect human happiness.
Our next question, therefore, is, How is this happiness obtained ? What makes heaven ? Observation, experience, reason, and the Lord Himself in the Sacred Scriptures, give one answer to this question. Heaven essentially is a state or condition of the soul, of the will and understanding, of the affections and thoughts. ”The kingdom of God is within you.” There is where heaven begins. It must be there or it cannot be anywhere else. Every faculty of man’s nature, as we know, was made to be an inlet of delight, and when all his faculties of will and understanding preserve the perfection into which they were created, and act in the form and order designed by infinite wisdom, the result must be happiness and heaven according to the measure and degree of their capacity.
The internal condition or state is the first essential. Without that no external conditions or possessions would be of any value. No one can be admitted into the heaven of light, with its splendors and beauty of color and form, until the eye, which is the kingdom of light in the body, has been formed in him ; no one can be admitted into the kingdom of harmony with all its concord of sweet sounds, until the organ of hearing has been formed within him. The same principle holds in regard to every sense and every delight. It is, so far as we know or can conceive, a universal principle, a method of attaining His ends which the Lord always adopts. We see it also in all our works. When men seek to use the power of steam or falling water to do their work, they must construct engines and wheels adapted to the nature of the element they use. When they desire to get harmony from the idle wind they make an organ. They can get it in no other way. The sun cannot create harvests of corn and fruit for man until there is some germ or Vegetable form for its heat and light to flow into and awake to activity. So it is with the soul. It must be so constituted, and must be in such a state, that it is capable of exercising heavenly affection, or it can never attain heavenly delights. A stone cannot see though the light floods it ; it cannot feel though the heat penetrates it ; it cannot hear though the winds play all their melodies over it. It cannot enter the heaven of beauty, of harmony, of delight, because they cannot enter it. The principles which constitute their kingdom are not embodied in it. These are illustrations of the method which the Lord in His infinite wisdom has provided for the attainment of His ends. And the method is universal. It is grounded in the very nature of things. We cannot enter heaven merely by going to any place, or by admission to the society of the angels. That would be of no use to us whatever if we could not receive the life and exercise the affections of the angels. What is the use to the blind man of increasing the light ? To enter heaven we must be in a heavenly state.
What, then, is the heavenly state ? It consists essentially in love to the Lord and man. Negatively, it is freedom from sin, from impurity, and from falsity. Positively, it is the harmonious action of all the faculties of the soul in the order established for them by infinite wisdom. It is for man as a spiritual being what the perfect action of eye and ear are for him as a natural being. By his senses, when they are sound, man is admitted into all natural delight. When his spiritual faculties are sound and in true order, he is admitted by them into all heavenly and spiritual delights.
This state is called by various names. It is being reconciled to God. It is making our peace with Him. It is being one with Him, so that He can dwell in us, and we in Him. It is believing on Him, loving Him, and living according to His commandments. It is a life according to the order embodied in the human soul by infinite wisdom to carry it on to the end designed for it by infinite love,—that is, to a state of complete and everincreasing happiness.
We all, no doubt, agree that one of the essential elements of heaven is a heavenly state of the affections and thoughts. But if we stop here we have told only half of the truth. No perfection of internal spiritual state would secure our happiness unless there were something without us to call our affections and various spiritual faculties into activity. Heavenly happiness is not possible without a substantial world in which the heavenly inhabitants dwell. If there were no light the most perfect eye would be of no more use to man than a ball of glass or an empty socket. This is true of all the senses. A material body perfectly organized in every part, without an external world adapted to it, capable of flowing into it and exciting its forms to activity, would be entirely destitute of sensation. Organization is only one of the factors of sensation. It is just as impossible to produce harmony from an organ in a perfect vacuum as it is to produce sensation by organization alone. I am certain you will give your assent to this.
The same law applies to the spirit. You cannot think without some object to think about. You cannot know without something to know. You cannot love without some being or thing objective or distinct from yourself to love. The various faculties of the soul, like the germ of a plant, remain inactive until called into play by some power or object without or distinct from themselves. So, we hold, it must be with the soul in the spiritual world. The spirit itself must be an organic human form or it could not preserve its identity ; it could not be in any state of goodness and truth, or in any other state. State or condition is not an abstraction. It is the form and quality of something. The state of your health is not some abstract condition apart from your body. If you had no body you would have no health, and you would be nobody. If the spirit had no form and no organization, it could not be happy or miserable. To talk of its being admitted into heaven would be absurd, for there would be nothing to admit. To say that it hears, sees, feels, can talk and sing, would be contrary to the nature of things.
No one can see without eyes ; and no one can see with eyes unless there is light and some form from which the light is reflected. The spiritual world, therefore, must be a real and substantial world. It must comprise those forms and objects which compose a world. Its inhabitants must be distinct from one another. That world must have a sun, or there can be no light. It must have an atmosphere, or there can be no speech, no song, no sound, no action of any kind. There must be the two factors, a heavenly state and a heavenly world, to produce happiness. Happiness is inconceivable without both. If we deny substance and form to man as a spirit and to the spiritual world, instead of securing conditions more favorable to human happiness, we have no conditions at all. The true way and the only way, therefore, of obtaining a correct idea of heavenly happiness and the means essential to securing it, is not to deny to man as a spirit and to the spiritual world all the properties, forms, and relations of this world and this life, but to carry out his state and relations in this world to more perfect conditions in the other.
As a man is a spirit in the human form, he has, after laying aside the material body, all the organs, external and internal, proper to a human being. He has eyes organized of spiritual substances, and he can see spiritual objects. He has ears, and he can hear spiritual sounds and be affected by spiritual harmonies. He can taste and feel, and enjoy the fragrance of pleasant odors. When the spiritual body is raised up or withdrawn from the material body, a man retains every sense he ever had. Indeed, his power of sensation always belonged to the spiritual body, even before it was withdrawn from the material body. The material body was only the instrument the spiritual senses used to gain a knowledge of material things, as we use optical instruments to assist the vision of the naked eye. There was no more change wrought in the spiritual senses by discarding the material organs than there is wrought in the eye by removing the glasses we use to assist our imperfect vision. The spiritual faculties remain the same in themselves, but they come into more favorable conditions for delightful exercise. Freed from their material covering, they are more delicate and sensitive to every contact and relation. Their power of sensation is indefinitely increased. At the same time the whole human form becomes a more perfect expression of the beautiful heavenly character. Consider the law by wliich this is attained. Any affection by continued exercise fixes itself in the features and becomes embodied in the whole form. Care ploughs its furrows in the face, sorrow casts its shadows over it, joy irradiates it, lust brutalizes it, cunning and fear leave their impress upon it, contentment and peace give to it a sweet and serene repose. This relation between outward form and inward state is more fully realized when man is freed from the incumbrance of the inert material body. He becomes the form of his ruling affection.
His love to the Lord and man becomes effigied in his face and in his whole form. He becomes an embodied affection. His face is moulded into its image. His wisdom glows in his eyes, irradiates his face, is moulded in his limbs, sways all his motions into graceful action, gives symmetry to his whole form, flows in harmony from his lips, gives sweetness to his voice, and speaks in every action. Instead of losing his human form and lapsing into a vital principle or a formless vapor, and thus losing his identity as a man, he comes into a more excellent human form ; he becomes more distinctly himself The human form contains all the elements of beauty and grandeur. This human beauty is not lost in heaven. On the contrary, it is indefinitely enhanced in every essential quality. Infants and children grow up in heaven to the stature and the perfection of adult life. The aged find a fountain of youth in heavenly affections. The material body only grows old, and men and women in the spiritual world soon return to the full vigor of their best days, and continue to grow towards the perfections of immortal youth.
While those who enter heaven continue to advance by lovely paths towards immortal youth, they do not become merged into an indiscriminate mass. On the contrary, every one becomes more distinctly himself A man becomes more distinctly masculine. A woman becomes more distinctly a woman, and the embodiment of every feminine grace and loveliness,—of a grace and loveliness peculiar to herself The varieties of heavenly beauty increase with the number of heavenly inhabitants. Every man and every woman is the embodiment and form of some variety of goodness. In man the masculine qualities predominate, in woman the feminine. The lines between them become more distinct in heaven than they can be on earth, and they grow more distinct to eternity. Every one becomes more distinctly individualized. Thus the unity of heaven is not the harmony of sameness, but of distinct and infinite variety.
All qualities of human beauty are combined in the forms and natures of the heavenly inhabitants,—dignity, grace, sweetness, purity, harmony of proportion, elegance of form, and loveliness of expression. Swedenborg has given us some pictures of those who have passed from earth to heaven. He had a rich vocabulary and he was a master of expression, but he generally ends by saying that their beauty is such that no words can express it, no painter can represent it. It is the holiest love, the purest and sweetest charity, in living, glowing, perfect form ; so living and speaking that it penetrates the hearts of the beholders.
This perfection of form is the effect and expression of internal states of progress in knowledge, of growth in goodness. Truth is infinite. No finite man can sound its depths or exhaust its riches. The wisest men in this life only learn a few facts and gain a knowledge of some general principles. But the more we know, the more we shall see that there is to be known. The horizon of truth enlarges as we rise. When we pass into the other life we pass from darkness into light. The intellectual faculties are freed from the limitations of time and space and the imperfections of the material body, and from the hinderance imposed by artificial language and methods.
Thus, while all the faculties gain an immense increase in power the facilities for acquiring knowledge keep even pace with them. Truth is not learned by rote, and only understood after long and painful reflection. Knowledge is gained by intuition. The understanding is illuminated by Divine truth, and revels in its light as in its own native sphere. It is continually surprised and delighted with new discoveries of the wisdom and goodness of the Lord. It penetrates deeper into causes, and rises higher into purer light.
The affections also enlarge with the intellect, and keep even pace with it. This is another source of happiness. There is no divorce between the head and the heart. The will and the understanding, so long put asunder by evil and falsity, are reunited in heavenly marriage, and become one. All that the heart loves, the head sees and the hands gain. There is no conflict between the desires and knowledge. Attainment always equals expectation. Such a life is so remote from our observation or experience in this world that it is difficult for us to form any just conception of it. But what more could we hope for than the attainment of such a state ? To be free from all struggle between our desires and our knowledge of duty ; to be delivered from every weight and shadow of the past; to see clearly, to love freely, to attain fully, and to be conscious of rapidly advancing to new heights of wisdom and larger measures of love, and to know that this growth, with its delight, will continue with accelerating velocity forever ! Can you ask more than that ? Can you conceive anything better than that ?
The happiness of heaven is also greatly increased by the excellence of heavenly society. Intelligent beings cannot come together and live within the influence of one another without forming society. Society is the sum total of the knowledge, influence, power, and character of the individuals who compose it. If the men and women who compose it are selfish, ignorant, brutish, lustful, fierce, and revengeful, the society they form will be infernal. It is of no consequence where they are. Place them in paradise, and they would soon change it into a hell. Its clear and sparkling water would become a standing pool, breeding miasma and death. If the good and evil are mixed, as we find them in this world, there will be the conflict of elements which rages everywhere around us. If men and women who are intelligent, pure, unselfish, animated solely by love to the Lord and to one another, live together, the result will be a heavenly society. Place them in the foulest dens, and the filth and vile odors and decay and darkness would disappear, the stagnant pools would vanish, and sweetness, order, purity, comfortable dwellings, and peaceful activity would soon take their place. Put such a company on a desert island, and they would soon make it a paradise. What, then, must be the nature of a society formed of angelic men and women ? I say angelic men and women rather than spirits or angels, because I want to keep the truth distinctly before you that the inhabitants of heaven are not shadows or ghosts or vital principles or a hybrid, half bird, half woman, but real, substantial human beings in human form, with human aflections and capacities for human happiness. Stretch your imagination to its utmost ; combine all you can conceive of intelligence and wisdom, of dignity softened with grace, of strength wedded to gentleness and flowing into acts of kindness and tender regard for others ; the dignity of a great nature united with the docihty and innocence of childhood. Imagine the men to equal, nay, to surpass in all masculine perfections the highest ideal of the greatest minds. Imagine the women to equal the men ; to be the embodiments of womanly wisdom and sagacity, of strength put to gentle uses, of quiet dignity veiled with modesty, of gentleness and purity exalted and glorified by the free play of heavenly aflections, and the whole form the living image of angelic loveliness. Could beings of such natures associate with one another and not form a heaven? Could human souls fired with such heavenly affections and armed with such amazing power fail to find each other ?
Now, according to Swedenborg, heaven is composed of such societies. It is not a huge mass of formless spirits, nor is the position of any one fixed by arbitrary allotment. The societies are as numerous as the general varieties of human affection, and the members who constitute each society are drawn together, under the auspices of the Lord, by reciprocal affinities. Heaven is in the human form, in the same sense that human societies are in the human form. Every society must have a head and heart and lungs, mouth and hands,—that is, it must have members who perform the same office for the society that those organs do for the physical body, and there are large societies which perform these offices for the race. In heaven these societies are more nicely discriminated than they can be on the earth. There societies are formed by those who pass into the heavens from the earth, and every one is drawn to his place by the affinities of his own nature, by the pecuHar bias or quality of his affections. Every human being is the embodiment of some special form of affection. The Lord never duplicates anything. No two societies are alike, and no two members of any society are alike. The unitary life of a society grows out of the free play of the harmonious varieties which compose it. There is no sameness and no dead level in heaven. There are those there who have been members of a heavenly society for thousands of years. There are infants who went up from their mothers’ arms to-day. There are young men and women, fathers and mothers, whom we have known and loved, who have cast off their earthly garments and have passed on to their homes in the heavens. Each has been drawn to his own society and his own home by the power of love ; he has been welcomed with the most ardent affection, and instructed and cared for with angelic wisdom and devotion. Each one has retained that peculiar character which constitutes his identity, and has found his place according to his character. All the societies in heaven are formed according to this universal method of Divine operation.
Heavenly employments are another source of happiness. How are men and women going to spend their eternity ? Not in singing. Singing is a very delightful employment, but I think we should all weary of it. They do sing, however, and play on all kinds of instruments, and the music is the perfect expression of some affection, and it awakens in every one who hears it the affection which it expresses. Every heart responds and vibrates in unison with the harmony. There are occasions when society answers to society, when myriads of voices and myriads of instruments join in chorus to celebrate some attribute of the Lord’s love and wisdom, and the whole heaven flows into sweet and ecstatic song. But singing is no more the business of human beings in the other world than it is here.
Nor do they spend their time in praying and perpetual worship. They have their worship and their temples and their ministers. Some know more of the Divine love and wisdom than others, and it is the delight of every one to communicate his thought and affection to others. And they instruct with a wisdom of which we can form no adequate conception, and they worship with a profound humility and an ardor of devotion unknown to us. But they have other ways of showing their love to the Lord. Here, again, Swedenborg is consistent with himself. He tells us that the employments of angelic men and women are vastly more numerous than employments on earth, but most of them are of such a nature that they cannot be described in human language. Some heavenly employments are revealed by Swedenborg and in the Sacred Scriptures. Angels are always attendant upon men, and do all in their power to withhold them from evil and lead them to good. They watch over infancy and childhood, and breathe into the pliant natures of the young something of the purity and beauty of their own souls. They always attend upon the dying, and minister to every want of the soul new-born into the spiritual world. They instruct infants who die, and children, and the ignorant but well disposed of all ages and nations, in the truth, and by all means known to angelic natures they lead them into a heavenly life. Being animated solely by love to the Lord and man, it is their highest delight to do good to others ; to communicate their knowledge, their affection, and their aid in every possible way.
There are also governments and administrations and ministries of many kinds in heaven. They are far more numerous there than they are upon the earth. Heavenly beings also have their recreations and festivals, their private and public social circles. Kindred souls commune with each other and reveal their inmost natures ; friends meet with friends and enjoy the quiet flow of affection. For those who take pleasure therein there are always subjects of profound study. Truth is infinite. The more we know the more we shall discover there is to be known. Some will learn faster than others, and will take delight in communicating their knowledge. And as they learn more of the wisdom and power and infinite goodness of the Lord, they are filled with a more glowing love and a deeper peace.
That their employments are more various than ours, and of a nature impossible to describe in human language, is consonant with reason and with our own observation of the progress of human employments in this world. How impossible it would have been a few centuries ago to describe the various employments of men at the present time ! They were not known. There were no words to describe them. It must be that in a state of life so remote from this as that in which angels dwell there must be employments and relations impossible for us to express or conceive.
One thing, however, we must not forget : there is no labor in heaven. There are employments, activities ; there is service, help, use; but there are no repulsive tasks, no exhausting toil, no weary limbs, no aching head, no distracted mind. Every one does that which he can do best, and which he delights to do. His heart, his head, his whole life is in his use. His love, wisdom, and power increase with exercise. He loves more, can do more, and enjoys more in every step he takes than he did in the one which preceded it. And so every man and woman who enters heaven will go on forever. The essence of all this heavenly happiness is the love to the Lord and the neighbor which fills every angel’s heart. Every one loves others more than himself There can be no heaven where there is no love to the Lord and man.
In going from this world to heaven we go from the unreal to the real ; we go from obscurity into light, from shadow to substance, from sameness to variety, from deformity to beauty, from the artificial to the essential, from confusion to order, from discord to harmony, from poverty to wealth, from restraint to freedom, from disappointment, labor, weariness, disease, pain, fear ; from tears and sorrow to fruition, to joy, peace, and blessedness ; from a foreign land we go to friends, to kindred, to home, to the Lord.
Author: Chauncey Giles, From Progress in Spiritual Knowledge, 1895