From the spiritual sense of the “Word, which he was Divinely illuminated to perceive, Swedenborg has given us higher views than the Church has hitherto enjoyed, of the Divine nature and character. I do not now refer to his teachings concerning the unity of the Godhead in the person of Christ, of which I have already spoken, but of the moral perfections of the Deity. The knowledge of God is of fundamental importance in the Christian life. It lies at the basis of the whole Christian character. “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” (Jno. xvii. 3.) By Jesus Christ is signified the Divine Humanity. By His being sent from the Father, is expressed the truth, that the Humanity was unfolded from the Divinity within, just as a man’s body is unfolded from his soul. Our spiritual state, both in time and eternity, will be according to our knowledge of God. A false view of the Divine Being will derange the whole inner life. The presence of the Lord with us, and conjunction with Him, must be based upon proper views of Him. This presence and union is salvation. “Acquaint now thyself with Him, and be at peace.” (Job xxii. 21.) This is the law of our spiritual being. The character which men attribute to the God they worship, will have a reflex influence upon the character of tho worshipper. The human mind can never rise above the character of the Divinity it adores. Of idols and their worshippers, the Psalmist says, ” They that make them are like unto ‘them; so is every one that trusteth in them.” (Ps. cxv. 8.)
If there is to be a new dispensation of the Church, called the New Jerusalem, which is to be characterized by a higher spiritual knowledge and life, it must have as its unshaken basis a better view of the Divine nature and character. One will not read far in the writings of Swedenborg, before he will obtain more satisfying views upon this all-important subject. While the Church derives all its ideas of the Divine character from the letter of the Word, where God is spoken of as He appears to the natural man, and not as He really is in Himself, no higher Christian life is possible,—no advanced stage of the Church is attainable. It is a prominent idea in the older theologies, that the Lord acts for His own glory in everything He does, and not for our good, thus making Him an infinite Self-Love. Swedenborg declares that He does nothing for His own sake, but all from pure love to man. How difficult it must be for us to rise above our selfishness, the root of all evil, when we worship the Divine Being in a character of infinite selfishness. If God acts for His own glory, why may not we? Cicero, in his work on Moral Duty, never thinks of proposing his deities as objects of imitation. It is not too much to say, that some professedly Christian systems of theology give us such views of God as to render it quite improper, and even wicked to be like Him. How is it possible for us to love the Lord for His gifts, when we are taught that they proceed from a selfish desire for His own glory? Happily for the Church a better day has dawned. We are taught that God acts from love, because love is His very life. When we attain to the highest charity, the most self-forgetting love of others, we are only faint likenesses of the Lord,—of His boundless love.
The knowledge of God is derived wholly from the Word. It has no other source among angels or men. The deeper our insight is into the inner senses of the Scriptures, the more exalted will be our conceptions of Him. Here is the fountain of those more excellent views of Him, which are seen on every page of Swedenborg’s writings. It was once a fountain sealed, but now in mercy laid open to all. Whosoever is athirst, may take the water of life freely. As the Divine Character is unfolded by Swedenborg, He is presented in such a light as to lead us to love and worship Him, not through fear, but from love. He is Love itself, and Wisdom itself. His inmost life is love. This is so intense, that it must be veiled and tempered before it can be received, even by the highest heavens. It is the necessary property of that love, to bless otkers out of itself, to desire to be one with them, and to make them happy from itself. These properties of the Divine love were the cause of the creation of the universe, and of its preservation, which is but a continued creation.
In the writings of Swedenborg, one never meets with such views of the Divine Being as would make the Father an object of dread and aversion, while the Son is presented in a more amiable light. The old theologies have given us such ideas of the Divine character as to render obedience to Him possible only through fear. We are told that when the Father bestows a blessing upon us, He does it not for our sakes, but out of regard to another Divine Personality. What becomes, in this case, of the Divine love? Why should we love Him in return, if He has not first loved us? This second Person, for whose sake the blessing comes to us, we can love, but can entertain towards the Father no other feeling than aversion and dread. In the light of the New Age, we learn that the unity of the Godhead is in Christ, and beside Him there is no other Divine Being. He blesses us for our sakes, out of pure mercy to us. ” Herein is love.” We learn, also, that the Father and the Son are one. Christ is Jehovah made man, and all the amiable qualities we behold in Jesus, are but manifestations of God in the flesh. Such views are given us of the Deity as lay the foundation for a higher trust and a closer union with Him. An unfaltering confidence in Him, that preserves the soul in peace, is rendered spontaneous. This intimate union with the Lord was to mark the New Jerusalem stage of the Church’s progress, so that it could be said, ” Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall dwell with them.” To dwell with another implies the most intimate conjunction and fellowship. I think there is to be found, in Swedenborg’s invaluable spiritual writings those higher teachings respecting the character of God, which will render such a Divine union practicable to the Church. I confess that to my own mind this is one of the principal charms in his teachings. He has taught me more of God, and hence enabled me to love Him more. He who understandingly reads him, will no more see through a glass darkly, but face to face.
Author: Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889)