20 Gospels


Edward Madeley



IN the parabolic instruction of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, in the miracles which He wrought, and in the whole progress of his life and ministry on earth, as recorded in the four Gospels, we have the most incontestable evidence, and the most positive assurances, that the entire literal sense was designed to convey a more interior signification. Hence He made a most remarkable distinction between understanding his speech, and hearing, or hearkening to his words ; between what He said and what He spake (John viii. 43 ; xii. 49). The apparently irrelevant and ambiguous answers which the Lord so often gave to the queries of those by whom He was surrounded, are of themselves sufficient to prove that the meaning of all He said and did, could not be discovered in the letter, or from the outward form of the event. When He washed his disciples feet, an act which represented the purification of the externals of the mind and life, in which work we are privileged to help each other, the Lord did not explain the symbols He presented before them, but said to Peter,” What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter ; ” and, again, ” I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John xiii. 4-17). When He reproved the disciples for ambition and the love of dominion, external pretensions to holiness, and vainglory, He set before them a little child, whose engaging qualities of simplicity, innocence, honesty of purpose, humility of mind, and docility, correspond to the Christian character, and he required them to imitate its artless conduct, to adopt its unpretending simplicity, and to practise its filial obedience. When the woman of Samaria was asked for water, the Lord directed her attention to Himself as the fountain of “living water,” ” the Word made flesh,” the well-spring of eternal truth, of which, “Whosoever drinketh,” He added,” shall never thirst” (John iv. 6-15).

When He crossed the Lake of Tiberias with his disciples, and they had forgotten to provide themselves with bread, He said unto them,” Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees ” (Matt. xvi. 6); and because they interpreted what He said unto them as if it had relation to their neglect, He added,” How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees ? Then understood they how that He bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (11, 12). When the Jews required from Him a sign from heaven, in attestation of his authority, He ” answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John ii. 19). They immediately referred what He had said to the erection of their temple, and deridingly replied,” Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?” No explanation was then given, but it is added that “He spake of the temple of his body. When therefore He was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that He had said this unto them ; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said” (20-22). Many other similar instances might be adduced, but these are suffi cient to prove most unquestionably that all which the Lord said, and what is said of Him, was significative, and that all his divine works were representative.

If we read carefully the beautiful parables of our Saviour, we shall find them teeming with spiritual instruction, of which very little appears on the surface or in the letter. In them the Lord spake by pure correspondences, and each single expression is full of “spirit and life.” Take, for example, the seven parables recorded in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew. Of these, a learned, pious and intelligent writer has made the following truly interesting remarks : ” The several parables contained in this chapter stand in a connected order as to their internal sense, and thus follow each other in a regular series expressive of the whole process of regeneration, commencing with the first reception of heavenly truth from the Word, and advancing through all gradations of its growth to the full maturity of heavenly love and life. Accordingly, the first parable of the sower describes the first insemination of truth, which is the first step towards the regenerate life. The second parable of the tares of the field describes the manifestation of evils and falses in consequence of such insemination, which is a second step, and an effect of the first.

The third parable of the grain of mustard-seed describes the small increment of heavenly life, whilst man supposes that he doeth good from himself alone, and not from the Lord, which is a third state in the regeneration. The fourth parable of the leaven, etc., describes the temptations consequent on the reception of heavenly truth and good, which is a fourth state. The fifth parable of treasure hid in a field, describes the further effect of the reception of heavenly truth and good, in leading man to renounce his proprium or his own proper life, that he may appropriate the life of heaven, which is signified by selling all that he hath and buying the field, and which is a fifth state. The sixth parable of the merchant-man seeking beautiful pearls, describes the effect of heavenly truth in leading man to the acknowledgment of the Lord, as the alone source of all good and truth, and the consequent renunciation of self-love and its guidance, which is a sixth state. The seventh parable of a net cast into the sea, describes the last effect of the reception of heavenly truth and good, in accomplishing a full and final separation between goods and evils, and between truths and falses, so that goods and truths are brought into conjunction with heaven, whilst evils and falses are cast down into hell ; and this is the seventh and last state of the regenerate life.”

The miracles of our Lord were not only works of mercy actually done on behalf of a few individuals, or wrought in testimony of his exclusive divinity and sovereignty, but were, in every particular, representative and significative of what He is still doing, and will be forever doing, to promote the salvation of his creatures. Just as diseases, for instance, disorganize, afflict, and destroy the powers of the body, so sin and folly, the offspring of evil, disturb the order of life and destroy the spiritual faculties of the soul, rendering it incapable of receiving the vital influences of heaven, except in a perverted degree. Hence, He opened the eyes of the blind, to denote that the truth of his Word can unclose the darkened understanding and dissipate the mists of spiritual ignorance. He healed the sick, to signify that He only can restore the diseased and feeble mind to spiritual health and strength. He cleansed the lepers, to signify that He alone can deliver man from those filthy and contagious states of evil in which he profanes the divine truth. He opened deaf ears, and commanded the dumb to speak, and caused the lame to walk, in order to exhibit the process of those inward operations of his mercy by which men are prepared to listen to the instructions of true wisdom, are disposed to offer thanksgiving to Him in the grateful acknowledgment that He is the only giver of “every good and perfect gift,” and are enabled to wralk in the way of the divine commandments. He raised the dead, to prove that He alone possesses the ability to awaken man from the lethargy and corruption of spiritual death, and to give immortal life to the soul, once” dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. ii. 1), for ” to be carnally-minded is death, but to be spiritually-minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom. iii. 6, 7). He cast out devils, to show that by faith and love, derived from Him as their divine source, man may reject from his natural mind those unclean lusts and affections, and those false and foul persuasions, thence derived, which, before the work of regeneration is begun, obsess his spirit.

He walked on the tempestuous sea, and rebuked the winds and waves, not only to prove that He was the God of nature, in human form, but to signify that his omnipotent power alone can subdue and control the raging influence of hell, and that He is ever in the act of assuaging the troubles, and dissipating the doubts and fears, of his faithful followers. He miraculously in creased a small quantity of food, and supplied the wants of multitudes, to signify his ability and willingness to impart in rich abundance, to all who truly come unto Him, the elements which are needed for the support of spiritual life and energy in the soul. ” Divine miracles,” says Swedenborg, ” differ from magical miracles, as heaven from hell. Divine miracles proceed from divine truth, and go forward according to order ; the effects, in ultimates, are miracles, when it pleases the Lord that they should be presented in that form. Hence it is that all divine miracles represent states of the Lord s kingdom in the heavens, and of the Lord’s kingdom in the earths, or of the church ; this is the internal form of divine miracles.

Such is the case with all the miracles in Egypt, and also with the rest that are mentioned in the Word. All the miracles, also, which the Lord Himself wrought when He was in the world, signified the approaching state of the church, as the opening the eyes of the blind, etc., signifying that such as are represented by the blind, etc., would receive the Gospel, and be spiritually healed, and this by the coming of the Lord into the world. Such are divine miracles in their internal form. Magical miracles appear like divine miracles, because they flow from order, and order appears like in the ultimates where miracles are presented. [But] although in the external form [magical miracles] appear like divine miracles, they nevertheless have in them a contrary end, viz., of destroying those things which are of the church ; whereas, divine miracles have inwardly in them the end of building up those things which are of the church.” A. C., n. 7337.

” The miracles which the Lord performed when He sojourned on the earth were actual facts, as well as representative works. Their performance was not, as many suppose, effected by the exercise of arbitrary power in opposition to the laws of creative order, but dispensing with those mediums, or the setting aside of those intermediate modes of operation by which the great Creator brings forth all effects in the order of nature, thus the activities of the spiritual world, whose creations are instantaneous, and not progressive, being brought near the natural world, and acting more directly upon matter, control or suspend all mediums, and produce a spontaneous and instantaneous effect both on organized forms and natural substances. Hence, at the Lord s presence infernal spirits were compelled to retire, inveterate diseases were healed, new arrangements of internal and external structure were supplied, withered limbs were restored, health was infused into the disordered frame, the very dead were raised to life, water was turned into wine, bread was multiplied by a word, the raging sea was calmed. It was an extraordinary descent of spiritual force into nature, or into the things of the natural world, which thus effected all known miracles. They were no direct breach of divine order, but rather a manifestation of that superior order which prevails in the spiritual world, and which, when permitted to enter into the natural world, supersedes or extinguishes for the moment, and within the space allotted for its action, the common order of nature, just as a vivid concentrated sunbeam, or a flash of lightning from heaven, supersedes and extinguishes all minor earthly flames.” Hindmarstis Essay on the Lord s Resurrection, page 70. Nor should it be forgotten that these mighty works cannot be done in man, and for him, without Iiis own free and hearty cooperation with the Lord Jesus Christ, his God and Saviour, from whom all power is derived. Wherefore He says, ” Behold, I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions,” that is, power to subdue all the false and deadly persuasions of sensuality, ” and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you ” (Lukex. 19).

The works of the Saviour were likewise representative, as must be evident from his own divine declaration, where He says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also ; and greater works than these shall he do ; because I go unto my Father” (John xiv. 12), where we are taught that these mighty works are to be wrought in us by the combined activities of love and wisdom, signified in the spiritual sense by the Father and the Son ; that they are to be done by the united operation of the human will with the Divine will ; and that they are as much greater than those which had reference to the renovation and preservation of the body as the soul is superior to its earthly tabernacle.

As an example of the manner in which the Lord s miracles are to be explained and understood, we will briefly instance the deeply interesting one, literally performed at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, and recorded in the first twelve verses of John ii. Cana was a city of the Gentile nations, which signifies, in the spiritual sense, the state of those who acknowledge their destitution of divine truth, and who, in consequence of their ignorance of the Word of God, are preserved from the dreadful evils of profanation, which had consummated a previous dispensation. It was to enlighten and instruct such humble minds, that the Lord condescended to sojourn in the flesh ; and, to represent his divine purposes and operations more vividly, He made the first wondrous display of his mercy on the delightful occasion of a nuptial ceremony in Galilee of the Gentiles. A marriage, we have seen, signifies the union of love and wisdom in the will and understanding ; hence, also, conjunction with the Lord, for without such a union of the constituent principles of the church, and of every individual, no such conjunction can be experienced. When the sincere desire for it exists, however, the Lord is said to be called or invited to the feast. He is present, as to his divine love, denoted by his name, Jesus ; for it is from the infinite ardor of his love that He wills to”save his people from their sins” (Matt. i. 21). He is present together with the inward good affection, denoted by the Mother of Jesus which prompts the perception of that holy principle, and with his disciples, significative of all the divine truths and doctrines derived from Him through his Word, and needful to supply the ful ness of instruction. The third day denotes a complete state of preparation. The feast commenced, but it was suggested by Mary, who represented heavenly affection, that they had no wine. External truth, signified by the water, with its cleansing and refreshing qualities, existed in abundance ; but interior truth, signified by wine, which exhilarates the inmost principles of the soul, was wanting.

When the Lord was thus applied to, He apparently gave a discouraging answer, but in reality teaches that internal truth, however desired, cannot be given till the hour or state arrives in which man is duly prepared for it, and which is induced by a willing and simple obedience to the truths already acquired. The servants are therefore directed to do whatsoever the Lord saith. The six water-pots of stone, ” set after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece,” signify the divine Word itself, and the purifying tendency of its doctrines ; and their numbers and measures denote fulness, adapted to every state of the church and the mind. To be filled to the brim signifies, that as the Word is obeyed, it is seen to be replenished, to overflow with an infinite abundance of truths.

To select one more illustration of the internal sense of the Gospels, let us refer to the narrative of the Lord s transfiguration on the mount, related by three of the Evangelists (Matt. xvii. ; Mark ix. ; Luke ix.). This wonderful event was designed in general to teach that the whole Word bears unbroken witness to the great truth that the divine love, wisdom and power are the indwelling attributes of the Lord Jesus Christ. Three of the disciples, Peter, James and John, were present. I may observe that the Lord was so seen by these disciples, when, being withdrawn from the body, their spiritual sight was opened. Though it is described, like the ancient prophetic visions, as if it had happened in the natural world, it was in reality a transaction which took place in the spiritual world. We have before observed, that by the three disciples, Peter, James and John, are signified the three essentials of all religion, viz., faith, charity or love, and good works or the fruits of charity. None but those in whom these ennobling principles are found united and active can spiritually discern the Lord s glory in his Word. It is said that after six days the Lord took them up into a high mountain apart. After six days signifies a state of rest, peace and joy, denoted also by the Sabbath, a holy and heavenly state which can only be attained by passing through the previous states of labor and trial, and by enduring the severe conflicts of temptation, signified by the six days in which man has to do” all his work.” By a high mountain, called by an apostle ” the holy mount” (2 Pet. i. 18), is signified a state of inmost affection ; denoting, when predicated of the Lord, his divine love for his creatures, and when predicated of them, their love towards Him. High signifies what is exalted and interior ; and apart denotes the separation which obtains, in this exalted state, between what is earthly and heavenly.

By the Lord being transfigured is not meant that there ever was, or can be, any change in Him ; but He so represented Himself in the presence of his disciples to denote that the effulgence of his inmost Divinity can only be revealed to those who are prepared to ascend the mount of love. There they can see and commune with their God and Saviour. From that lofty elevation, losing sight of his sufferings and sorrows, his states of humiliation and temptation, He is beheld in all the splendors of his glorified Humanity. Nor is the glory which is thus manifested, any extraneous appearance assumed in a moment, and for temporary purposes, but it is an inward emanation, perpetually flowing from the inherent essentials of his own divine nature. The Lord s face, which was refulgent as the sun, signified his infinite goodness and mercy, beaming with splendors from his divinely glorified Person. His garments, which appeared white as the light, signified those sacred and eternal truths in all their radiant purity, with which He clothes or invests Himself as with raiment (Psalm civ. 2). By Moses and Elias are not only signified the great lawgiver and the prophet, but the Word itself, which they were instrumental in recording ; Moses denoting the historical portions, and Elias the prophetical. Their conversation with the Lord was unquestionable evidence that the whole Word treats concerning Himself and his divine operations. Through the same holy medium, man also may, as it were, hold converse with his God. By Peter saying, ” Lord, it is good for us to be here : if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles ; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias,” is denoted the blissful perceptions given to a true faith, that the highest privilege of the Christian is to hold in tercourse with the Lord through his Word, thus to open the mind towards Him, that dwelling w7 ith us and in us He may continually replenish all the faculties of the soul with his divine gifts. The cloud into which the discholes entered, and with which they were overshadowed, represented the literal sense of the Word, which, veiling its inward truths, accommodates them to the state of the beholder, and becomes a “light or bright cloud,” when these truths are seen to shine through it. A voice out of the cloud is the response or confirmation of divine truth, as heard in the pure doctrines of religion, and taught even in the letter of the Word. These doctrines instruct us that the Lord glorified his maternal or material Humanity, and made it divine according to his own infinite will and good pleasure ; that all the fulness of the divinity dwells in the glorified Humanity, the” beloved Son ; ” and that having learned this all-important, all-glorious truth, we must ever harken to the still small voice, the dictates of a genuine conscience formed by the plastic and vital operation of truth.

By the disciples hearing the voice, falling on their faces, and being gore afraid, is signified a disposition to obedience, adoration from the deepest humiliation of heart, and thence inward reverence for the Lord and dread of evil. Jesus touching them signifies divine communication of new strength and life from Himself. His saying, “Arise, and be not afraid,” signifies the consequent elevation of state, from which all fear is banished, because the Lord is seen as” mighty to save,” and as saving to the uttermost all who come unto Him. And, lastly, by the disciples” lifting up their eyes and seeing no man save Jesus only,” is meant, that in this exalted state of the understanding, and so far as finite power can discern the infinite, the Lord Jesus Christ is perceived in all his grandeur and glory, and acknowledged from the heart to be the only God of angels and men, the Creator, Redeemer and Saviour of his creatures, the All in all of the church in heaven and on earth, ” the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. i. 8).

The Lord s birth into the world, his baptism, temptations and ministry, his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, were, as to every historical circumstance recorded in the holy Gospels, not only true as to the literal facts (see ante), but also significative of his approach to the church in general, and to every prepared mind in particular, and of his reception, acknowledgment and glorification in the regenerating mind ; and thus, by consequence, they are made to represent all the various steps and degrees in the spiritual pathway through which we must walk to obtain an everlasting state of conjunction with Him, and the blessings of his salvation.

The temptations in the wilderness, or the grievous assaults and suggestions of the infernal powers, signified by the devil and satan, were endured by our blessed Lord in their utmost intensity, while He was clothed with an infirm Human, which, with all the hereditary proclivities and corruptions of our degenerate nature, He had assumed for our redemption, or deliverance from hell. They are very briefly portrayed by the pen of inspiration (Matt. iv. ; Luke iv.), and can only be rationally understood from a knowledge of the inward sense, in which they describe the states of direful temptation and inconceivable anguish that He passed through, as He subjugated the infernal hosts in that wonderful process by which He delivered man from their influence, and made his Humanity Divine. In a subordinate sense, as the Lord was “tempted in all points like as we are” (Heb. iv. 15), the inspired account of his temptations must of necessity be significative of the discouragements, trials, temptations and sufferings with which every Christian is exercised in a finite degree, as he faithfully follows the Lord in that purifying process of regeneration, whereby man is eternally saved from death and hell. When He presents Himself to our minds, and we are unprepared for his glorious presence, because we are unwilling to cast out the subtle and impure affections and thoughts which fill our unregenerate bosoms, it is then said that” there is no room for Him in the inn” (Luke ii. 7) ; and, again, in tenderest ac cents we hear Him bewailing our condition in language of love and pity, saying, ” The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head” (Matt, viii. 20; Luke ix. 58); for, alas! human cunning is preferred to divine wisdom, self-dependence to Divine Providence, and the heart is filled with unclean and selfish desires, and the understanding is overwhelmed with worldly solicitude, and no preparation can be made for the reception of Him who, as the Son of Man, presents Himself before us in his own blessed Word.” He cometh to his own, and his own receive Him not” (John i. 11). In their perversity of soul they say, ” We will not have this man [the eternal Truth] to reign over us” (Luke xix. 14) ; we acknowledge no sovereign as ruling over us but” the prince of this world” (Luke xix. 14) ; ” We have no king but Cresar” (John xix. 15). The circumstances attending our Lord’s crucifixion were significative of a depraved state of the church and the human mind.

Swedenborg places this subject in a powerful light. He says: ” That the Lord Himself, as the chief Prophet, represented the state of the church in its relation to the Word, appears from the circumstances attending his passion ; as, that He was betrayed by Judas ; that He was taken and condemned by the chief priests and elders ; that they buffeted Him ; that they struck Him on the head with a reed ; that they put a crown of thorns on his head ; that they divided his garments, and cast lots for his vesture ; that they crucified Him ; that they gave Him vinegar to drink ; that they pierced his side ; that He was buried, and rose again on the third day. His being betrayed by Judas, signified that He was betrayed by the Jewish nation, who at that time were the depositaries of the Word ; for Judas represented that nation. His being taken and condemned by the chief priests and elders, signified that He was taken and condemned by the whole Jewish church. Their scourging Him, spitting in his face, buffeting Him, and striking Him on the head with a reed, signified that they treated in a similar manner the Word, with respect to its divine truths, all which relate to the Lord. Their putting a crown of thorns on his head, signified that they had falsified and adulterated those truths. Their dividing his garments and casting lots for his vesture, signified that they had divided and dispersed all the truths of the Word, but not its spiritual sense, which his vesture or inner garment represented. Their crucifying Him, signified that they had destroyed and profaned the whole world. Their giving Him vinegar to drink, signified that all was falsified and false, and therefore He did not drink it, but said, It is finished. Their piercing his side, signified that they had entirely extinguished every truth and every good of the Word. His being buried, signified the rejection of the residue of the Humanity taken from the mother ; and his rising again on the third day, signified his glorification. Where these circumstances are predicted in the Prophets and the Psalms, their signification is similar.”