The preaching of John the Baptist is an epoch in the history of Christianity, if it may not be regarded as its actual commencement. Thirty years had now passed since the shepherds were directed and the wise men were guided to the town of Bethlehem, where the infant Saviour lay. Now a voice is heard in the wilderness, calling men to repentance, as the means of preparing the way of the Lord, who is about to come forth as the Great Teacher and Exemplar of the Law, and to finish the work which the Father had given him, or his own divine Love had prompted him, to do.
1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
Whole Chapter cited. Washing among the children of Israel, represented spiritual washing, which is purification from evils and falsities, and consequent reformation and regeneration. From what has been said, it is also evident what was signified by John’s baptising in Jordan, and by these words of John concerning the Lord (Luke iii. 16 : John i. 33), and of himself that he baptised with water (John i. 26), the meaning of which is that the Lord washes or purifies man by Divine truth and Divine good, and that John by his baptism represented this : for the Holy Spirit is Divine truth, fire is Divine good, and water is the representative of both, for water signifies the truth of the Word, which becomes good by a life according to it. R. 378.
1-3. As with the Jewish nation the Word was adulterated throughout, and as there was no longer any truth with them, because there was no good, therefore John the Baptist was in the wilderness, whereby the state of that church was represented. Hence also the Lord says concerning Jerusalem, whereby is understood the church as to doctrine, your house shall be left deserted. A house deserted signifies the church without truths, because without good. E. 730.
1 et seq. A wilderness represents a church altogether vastated, and those who are altogether vastated as to good and truth, who cannot be reformed. Hence it is evident what is signified by the words spoken concerning John the Baptist, namely, that the church at that time was altogether vastated, so that there no longer remained anything good or anything true. This is manifest from the fact, that no one at that time knew that man had any internal, nor that there was anything internal in the Word. Consequently they did not know that the Messiah or Christ was to come to save them for ever. Hence also it is clear what is signified by John’s being in the deserts (or wildernesses) until the days of his appearing to Israel (Luke i. 80), by his preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and by his baptising in the wilderness (Mark i. 4), for hereby he represented the state of the church. From the signification of wilderness it will also be clear, why the Lord so often retired into the wilderness. Also from the signification of mountain, why the Lord retired to the mountains, as in Matthew xiv. 23 ; xv. 29-31, etc. A. 2708.
1, 4. The Word is described in the ultimate, or such as it is in the external form, which appears before man in the world, by the clothing, and by the food of John the Baptist. By clothing or a garment, when in relation to the Word, is signified truth Divine therein in the ultimate. By the hairs of a camel scientific truths, such as are before man in the world, by a leathern girdle the external bond which connects and keeps in order all interior things, by food spiritual nourishment derived from the knowledges of truth and good from the Word, by locusts ultimate or most common truths, and by wild honey their pleasantness. A. 9372.
1 In those days. There is no connection of time between the incident with which the previous chapter ends and that with which this begins. But times are, spiritually, states; and the states indicated by the days in which John appeared are those of the Jewish church, afterwards described by the place where John preached.
John the Baptist filled a most important office, personally and representatively, as the Forerunner of the Lord. The last of the prophets concludes his prophecy by saying, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shalt turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” John was this Elijah, and he prepared the people for the appearing of the Lord among them, by administering to them the baptism of repentance. Unless this had been done, the Lord’s presence would actually have smitten the whole Jewish people, nay the whole human race, with a curse. Not that the people were made personally pure by baptism, though repentance had doubt its affect. Baptism acted representatively. The Jewish was a representative church, and was connected with heaven by the correspondence, not of their lives, but of their worship. It was to supply that link of connection, which had been broken, that the Baptist came to baptize them with water unto repentance. By this means the Lord could come amongst men without destroying them. This we shall see more clearly by considering the representative character of John and the signification of baptism. The Lord came into the world as the Word. He was the Word made flesh, or the Eternal Wisdom clothed in human nature. John was a representative of the written Word. He came to prepare the way of Jesus, to represent that the revealed Word is the means by which men are prepared for receiving the Lord as the Eternal Word itself of whom the written Word is a revelation. John is called the Baptist, because baptism was a rite symbolical of spiritual purification, which, like repentance prepares men for the Lord’s coming into their hearts The days in which John came are the states of the church at the time of the Lord’s advent, and the character of these is representatively described by the wilderness of Judea. The church was in a wilderness state. This image conveys no indistinct idea to the mind of the condition in which the Jewish church then was. But what is it that produces and constitutes this state, so often spoken of under this figure in Scripture? The church is a wilderness when there is a defect or a want of goodness and truth, of charity and faith. The Union of charity and faith is the origin of all beauty and fruitfulness. When that union is imperfect, spiritual life languishes; when it is dissolved, life ceases: and with life everything of the church and heaven decays or expires. The wilderness in which John appeared, being that of Judea, implies that barrenness and desolation had invaded the very centre of the church, and was wasting its inner life. In this waste wilderness the voice of the divine messenger was heard preaching to the children of men. And in every general or individual state of desolation the voice of the Eternal Truth may be heard; for God never leaves himself without a witness. And even when the church, or the man of the Church, has induced upon himself a, state analogous to that of the Jewish church when the prophets had ceased, Divine Providence permits a crisis to come when a Voice proclaims anew, the day of salvation. This preaching of the Baptist is still going on. The mind of every unregenerate man is a wilderness, and in every one the Word comes preaching; for in every mind Divine mercy provides a remnant of the hearing ear and the understanding heart, on which the teachings of the divine Word may fall, and awaken an interest in eternal things.
2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
2 God means the Divine itself, which is called Jehovah, the Father from whom all things are. Christ means His Divine Humanity, which is called the Son of God, and because the Divinity itself and the Lord’s Divine Humanity are one, like soul and body, it follows that the Lord alone reigns. This is meant by the gospel of the kingdom, and by the kingdom of God. R. 553.
That kingdom signifies the church may appear from the following passages. It does so, because the Lord’s kingdom is in heaven and on earth, and His kingdom on earth is the church, therefore the Lord is called King of Kings. R. 749.
Thy kingdom come, means that the Lord should reign. The Apocalypse from beginning to end, treats of this kingdom of the Lord, into which are to come all who are in the Lord’s New Church, which is the New Jerusalem. R. 839.
Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come. On hearing these words the combatants said, “You make many quotations from the Word, and possibly we may have read those passages, but we do not recollect them, therefore let us have the Word produced, and let us hear those passages read which tend to show that the kingdom of the Father comes, when the kingdom of the Lord comes.” They then said to the children, ” Bring us the Word,” and they brought it. We then read out the following passages, Mark i. 14, 15 : Matthew iii. 2 and others. We further instructed them from the Word that the Lord came into the world not only to redeem angels and men, but also that they might be united with God the Father by Him, for He taught that those who believe in Him, are in Him, and He in them. T. 113.
That the kingdom of God came with the Lord, and that it is from Him. E. 376.
2 Supposing an interest awakened in the realities of eternal life, let us listen to the theme on which this infallible preacher addresses us, and the duty to which he calls us. Christianity, as first preached to the, world, and as the revealed Word still preaches it to the unconverted, is expressed in the single word – Repent. Repentance is the beginning of religion in the heart of man, and thence the beginning of the church in the world. Repentance is the gate through which the soul passes from death unto life, the path which leads from the broad into the narrow way, the step which carries us over the boundary line between hell and heaven. Repentance, in fact, is an actual conversion of the mind, of all its faculties and powers, its ends and activities, from a downward to all upward course. Prone by nature, to the world and self, man is raised by repentance to God and heaven. Repentance requires both devotion to the end and perseverance in the use of means. The very essence of repentance is TO SHUN EVIL AS SIN AGAINST GOD. Without a sense of sin there can be no repentance. The world may restrain, but it cannot convert; it may cause remorse, but it cannot inspire repentance. The bonds which the world imposes are upon the members, those which religion imposes are upon the conscience.
While the preacher calls men to repentance, he gives them a reason why they should repent: for the kingdom, of heaven is at hand. We need hardly inquire what is meant by this kingdom, and by its near approach. The Lord’s kingdom is the government of his love and truth in the hearts and minds of men. This constitutes the kingdom of heaven for heaven is a state – a state of heavenly-mindedness. The kingdom of heaven was brought near, by the coming of the Lord. It was brought near to men in his own person, and was about to be declared in his teaching and exhibited in his beneficent works. The judgment, too, was approaching, by which the power of hell would be diminished and that of heaven increased, and the perverted and obstructive dispensation of the Jews be succeeded by the pure and progressive Christian church; and when, above all, the work of redemption being completed, and the Lord’s humanity glorified, there would be a new power and influence operating on the human mind, enduing it with power from on high to receive and act upon the teaching of Christ and his ministers. All this, and much more, is comprehended in the kingdom of heaven, into which men were called to enter through repentance.
3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
3 See Chapter III., i et seq. A. 2708.
That these words (Isaiah xl. 3) were spoken of the Lord, and that a way was prepared, and a highway made plain for Him, is evident from the evangelists, and also from the Lord’s own words, that He was one with the Father, and the Father in Him, and He in the Father. A. 4727.
A thought occurred to my mind, respecting John the Baptist, that it was according to the order of heaven that he should be sent before, and announce the Lord’s coming, and prepare the way, that He might be worthily received, as it is written in the evangelists. A. 8028.
That the Lord from eternity is Jehovah Himself, appears from many passages in the Word. See Isaiah xxv. 9 ; xl. 3, 5, 10 : Mark i. 3 : Luke iii. 4. L. 30.
3 In calling men to repentance, the Baptist (for these words formed part of his address, as appears from John I. 23) cites his authority. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. The prophecy in which this occurs is one of the sublimest of the predictions of the Lord’s advent. “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of Jehovah. O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, Jehovah will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him” (Isa. xl. 9). As John takes his credentials from this prophecy, his hearers are referred back to it for the character of the personage whose way he came to prepare. That personage was Jehovah. In the person of Jesus, Judah and Jerusalem were called upon to behold their God. In citing the passage, John substitutes the name Lord for Jehovah. As this is the constant practice in the New Testament, Jesus as Lord is Jehovah incarnate. And if he is divine, he can be none else; for besides Jehovah there is no God and no Saviour. Such is the Being whose forerunner John the Baptist was. Well might he fall back upon ancient prophecy for the authority by which he assumed so high an office. And when John’s representative character is considered, his reference to the prophet is peculiarly appropriate. For as the revealed Word is the voice that is alone adequate to proclaim the coming of the Lord, and to prepare his way, so is it the source whence all true knowledge of the Lord can be derived. Therefore John does not speak of the Messiah in his own words, but first introduces him to the attention of his hearers in the words of the grandest yet plainest prophecy that was ever uttered respecting him, and one that reveals him in his true character of Jehovah our Redeemer. The voice calls upon us to prepare the way of the Lord, and to make his paths straight. Where two things are spoken of that have a similarity of meaning, one relates to the will and the other to the understanding. These are the faculties in the human mind into which the Lord enters, and in which he is received. His way into the will is prepared by our ceasing from evil and doing good, and his way into the understanding is made straight by our rejecting error and believing truth.
4 And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
4 A hairy garment signifies the natural in regard to truth. Prophets were clothed in such garments, in order to represent natural truth, as being external. Camels signify scientifics in the natural man. A. 3301.
Skin signifies external things, which are natural in relation to things celestial and spiritual, and in the Ancient Church it was customary to speak and write by significatives. A. 3540.
As John the Baptist represents the Lord as to the Word, which is the Divine truth on earth, in like manner as Elias, therefore he was the Elias who was to come before the Lord, therefore his clothes and food were representative. Raiment of camel’s hair signifies the Word, such as is its literal sense in regard to truth, which sense is a clothing for the internal sense, because it is natural, for what is natural is signified by hair and also by camels. His meat being locusts and wild honey signifies the Word, such as is its literal sense as to good, the delight of which is signified by wild honey. A. 5620.
The locust in the good sense signifies ultimate and most general truth and its pleasantness. John represented the Word. By his meat, as well as by his clothing, which was of camel’s hair with a leathern girdle, is represented the Word in the external sense, for external pleasantness is signified by locusts and wild honey, and external truth by a garment of camel’s hair and by a leathern girdle. A. 7643.
The reason why Elias and John were so clothed and girded was because each represented the Word, hence their garments denote the Word in the external sense, which is natural, for hairs signify what is natural. Camels denote common scientifics in the natural. Leather and a skin signify what is external, thus a leather girdle signifies that which collects, concludes, and keeps together interior things. A. 9828.
In general the prophets represented the Word in its ultimate sense, which is that of the letter, by wearing a garment of hair. L. 15.
By prophets are signified those who teach truths from the Word, and, in an abstract sense, the truths of doctrine, which are from the Word. On account of this signification, the prophets were clothed with a mantle of hair, which signified Divine truth in ultimates. E. 395.
By the locust is signified the sensual, which is the ultimate of the life of man’s thought, or the ultimate in which the understanding closes, and upon which it subsists. Hence this ultimate is the basis and foundation upon which the interior or superior things which pertain to the understanding and will of man stand, as also the interior and superior things, which are called in the Word spiritual and celestial. As all things must have a foundation in order to consist and subsist, therefore the literal sense of the Word, which is the ultimate and the basis, is natural and sensual, and is also understood, in a good sense, by the locust, consequently also the truth and good thereof. Hence it is that John the Baptist did eat locusts, and that the children of Israel were allowed to eat them. The reason why John the Baptist was thus clothed was, because, like Elias, he represented the Word. By raiment of camel’s hair, by a leathern girdle, and by eating locusts and wild honey, he represented the ultimate of the Word, which is natural-sensual, because it is for the natural-sensual man. By raiment is signified truth clothing good, camel’s hair the ultimate of the natural man, which is sensual. By locusts and wild honey is signified the same as to appropriation, by the locust the sensual as to truth, by wild honey the sensual as to good, and by eating the appropriation thereof. E. 543.
Honey signifies the good of the natural man, and locust the truth of the natural man. It amounts to the same whether we speak of the truth and good of the natural man, or of natural truth and good, such as the Word, is in its ultimate sense, which is called the letter or natural sense, for this was what John represented by his clothing and food. E. 619.
4 We now have a description of John himself, and one that bears testimony to his representative character. The same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins, and his meat was locusts and wild honey. That which John wore was the garment of a prophet, for a “hairy garment” was a badge of the prophetic office. Both the hairy garment and the leathern girdle are specifically mentioned (2 Ki. i. 8) as having been worn by the prophet Elijah, in whose spirit and power John the Baptist came. And he so came because Elijah represented the Word. The literal sense of the Word, which is the clothing of its spiritual sense, was specifically represented by the garment in which these prophets appeared, the leathern girdle about their loins signifying the bond of connection between the spiritual sense and the literal sense. The literal and the spiritual senses of the Word, like the natural and the spiritual worlds, and the human body and soul, have nothing in common; the one is natural and the other is spiritual; and yet they exist in the closest connection. What is it that forms the bond of connection and union betwixt them? This is an interesting question; and the true answer to it supplies a profound theological as well as philosophical truth. The literal and the spiritual senses of the word, like the natural and the spiritual worlds, and the body and soul, are united by CORRESPONDENCE. And correspondence is the mutual relation which exists between a spiritual cause and its natural effect. Correspondence is the “girdle” that unites the natural and the spiritual senses of the Word. The genuine truths of the literal sense of the Word are included in the meaning of John’s girdle; for from these truths doctrine is derived and the apparent truths of the Word are explained. The spiritual sense is revealed to none but those who are in genuine truths. John’s garment was of camel’s hair, because the camel on the land, like the whale in the sea, is the symbol of that general kind of truth which is expressed in the letter of the Word. It was in reference to this symbolical character of the camel that our Lord said, “a camel cannot go through the eye of a needle,” meaning that the mere literalist cannot discern spiritual truth. There is another interesting part in this description of the Lord’s forerunner. His meat was locusts and wild honey. Without being a necessary, this was a natural result of his living in the wilderness; and, spiritually understood, has a meaning in harmony with it. For as the wilderness represented the desert state of the church, the locusts and wild honey which it afforded John for food represented the spiritual food which the church then supplied to her children. The locust was among the lowest kind of winged creatures that were permitted to be eaten by the “holy people” (Lev. xi. 22), and therefore signifies what serves as food for the intellect. Honey, from its sweetness, signifies what is spiritually delightful. “Thy words are sweeter than honey to my mouth.” Wild honey signifies what is delightful to the natural mind. John’s meat, therefore, represented that in the church at that time the soul’s food was the lowest possible by which spiritual life could be sustained. When John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, he was, like the prophets of old, a sign unto the children of Judah. His abode, his raiment, his meat, all spoke, in the symbolic language with which the Jews were acquainted, of the state of the church among them; and in the language of correspondence these will speak to all ages of the state of those who are in a gross and benighted condition of mind. And as this was a state from which John came to rouse the carnal Jews, so is it a state from which the Word of God is ever striving to awaken the sinner.
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,
6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
5, 6. That baptism is of Divine institution is very evident from John baptising in the river Jordan, to which all Judea and Jerusalem went out, also from this circumstance, that the Lord our Saviour was Himself baptised by John, and that He commanded His disciples to baptise all nations. T. 668.
It was by baptism that John the Baptist was to prepare the people for the reception of the Lord, for baptism represented and signified purification from evils and falses, and also regeneration by the Word from the Lord. E. 724.
6 As the things of the church are signified by baptism, and also by Jordan, therefore the people were baptised in Jordan by John, and also the Lord Himself was willing to be baptised there by John. A. 4255.
The reason why he (John) baptised in Jordan was, because the entrance to the land of Canaan was through that river, and this land signified the church, because the church was there, in consequence of which Jordan signified introduction into the church. T. 677.
6, 13. He who is washed signifies he who is regenerated. That total washing was called baptising is manifest from Mark vii. 4 : Matthew iii. 13-16., etc. Jordan, in which washings were effected which were baptisings, signified the natural. That by the washing of baptism is also signified temptation, is, because all regeneration is effected by temptations. A. 10239.
5 John’s preaching was so effective that there went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan. We cannot suppose that this is to be understood in the strictly literal sense. It cannot be supposed that the whole population of these places went out and were baptized. Like many other seemingly hyperbolical expressions in Scripture, this has been written for the internal sense. Jerusalem signifies the spiritual principle of the internal in the church and in man, Judea the celestial, Jordan the natural. The record teaches us that all in whom there is anything of spiritual truth, good, and obedience go out unto John, or obey the voice of the divine Word, which calls them to repentance, and go out from their unconverted state to one of new life and light – go to the divine Word for instruction, to learn what and where that kingdom is which is at hand, that they may be prepared to enter it.
6 The multitudes who went out to John, after being instructed by him respecting the Messiah and his kingdom, sealed their faith in him by receiving the sign of baptism. They were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. It is hardly necessary to say anything respecting the origin of baptism as an initiatory rite. Washings existed in the Israelitish church; and these, like many others of their ceremonies, would seem to have descended from the ancient, which was a representative church. Hence lustration came to form a ceremonial in all the nations, contemporary with the Jews, descended from those who formed the Noetic dispensation. It appears that the Jews, from whatever source they derived the opinion, understood that the advent of the Messiah would be ushered in by baptism. They demanded of John, “Why baptizest thou, if thou be not the Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?” This we learn from the Forerunner of the Lord’s second advent: that all the ceremonials of the Israelitish church were collected into the two sacraments of the Christian church – all washings into the sacrament of baptism, and all feasts into that of the Holy Supper.
The baptism of John had two distinct uses. It is declared in Malachi (iv. 5, 6) that Elijah’s coming was to prevent the Lord’s smiting the earth with a curse. Had the Lord come among the Jews without signing and sealing them with the ordinance of baptism, through which they were connected with heaven and surrounded with an angelic sphere of protection, his presence would have consumed them. The church, signified by the earth, would have perished prematurely, and no remains would have been left from which to form the beginning of a new dispensation.
Baptism had a second use: it represented purification. Water is the symbol of truth, and baptism is the sign of washing the heart from wickedness. John’s baptism being performed in Jordan added to the significance of the rite. Through Jordan the children of Israel passed into Canaan and as Canaan was a type of the church and heaven, baptism in Jordan was a sign that our passage into the church and heaven lies through purification. He who is baptized with this living baptism has put off the old man and put on the new – he is passed from death unto life, has been buried with Christ and risen with him.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
7 The quality of that nation (posterity of Jacob) appears very manifest from several things which the Lord Himself spake in parables, which in the internal historical sense were spoken of that nation. . . . From these considerations it appears that goods and truths were altogether destroyed in that nation. Goods and truths are said to be destroyed, when there are none interiorly. The goods and truths which appear outwardly, derive their esse and their life from those which are internal. Such therefore as the internals are, such are the externals, however these latter appear before the eyes of men. A. 4314.
That punishment and condemnation are signified by anger, is also evident. By the wrath of Jehovah are signified punishments and condemnations. The reason why by anger is also meant clemency and mercy is, because all the punishments of evil exist from the Lord’s mercy toward the good, lest these should be hurt by the evil. The Lord does not, however, inflict punishments upon them, but they upon themselves, for evils and punishments in the other life are conjoined. A. 6997.
This nation was the very worst nation; when in worship they were in externals without an internal, there was no church among them, but only the representative of a church, and still they could represent the internal of the church. That they were of such a character is also described by the Lord in parables. Mark xii. 1-9 : Luke xiv. 16—24 ; xx. 9-19. A. 9320.
Unless a way had been prepared for Jehovah, when descending into the world, by baptism, the effect of which in heaven was such as to cause the closing of the hells and so to guard the Jews from total destruction, they must have perished before Him. That this would have been the consequence of the Lord’s coming without preparation is clear from the words of John to the multitude that came to be baptised by him. John also when he baptised, preached Christ and His coming. Hence it is plain how John prepared the way. T. 689.
John the Baptist said, Who hath warned you to fl.ee from the wrath to come ? D. P., Page 7.
7 Besides the numbers who were drawn to the baptism of John by feelings of true penitence, there were others who sought baptism from unworthy motives. When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers. Persons belonging to these sects might have come and been accepted; but these had come without manifesting the spirit which would have rendered their acceptance of baptism profitable to themselves. Of these two sects, so frequently mentioned in the New Testament, it may be useful in this place, where they are first mentioned, to say a few words. The Pharisees and the Sadducees may be regarded as the ritualists and the rationalists of the Jewish church. The Pharisees not only accepted the Scriptures, but the traditions of the elders, as their authority in matters of religion, which they made to consist chiefly in multiplied ceremonial observances. The Sadducees, on the other hand, rejected all tradition, and adhered rigidly to the written law, which they so interpreted as to deny the immortality of the soul and the existence of angels and spirits. The Pharisees formed the pious, the Sadducees the philosophical section of the church. Taking their character and their systems as the basis of their spiritual representation, we cannot fail to see in the Pharisees and Sadducees the symbols of the will and understanding of the natural man, not merely unconverted, but perverted by self-righteousness and intellectual pride. John called them vipers, not from similitude, but from correspondence. The whole serpent tribe are emblematical of the Sensuous part of man’s nature. Originally this was very good – but when it had accomplished man’s fall, it became degraded; the serpent walked on its belly, and dust became its meat. Sensuous wisdom, which should have been a protection to innocence, having become its destroyer, it is only now, when the seed of the woman has bruised the serpent’s head, that it can, through his work and by his power, be deprived of its dominion in the heart of man. How complete that dominion had become, the Pharisees and Sadducees too fully exemplified. What was their state is that of every unconverted man as to his Sensuous or carnal mind. This is that old serpent called the devil and Satan; and from these are produced a generation of vipers, in the endless reasonings in favour of self and the world.
John demands of his Pharisaical and Sadducean hearers, Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? This is a question of the utmost consequence, and should be asked of himself by every one who wishes to flee from the wrath to come. In the first place, what was this coming wrath from which these men were induced to flee? Perhaps they understood him, as many Christians understand him, to mean the wrath of God. Divine wrath is indeed mentioned in the Scriptures; but this is the language of appearances; the reality is, that there is no wrath in God. Yet there is a wrath that overtakes the sinner, and as surely as if God could himself be angry. Wrath is in all evil loves as burning is in fire; and every one who loves and lives in sin carries in his own bosom the fire of his future torment. This is the wrath to come. Who hath warned you to flee from this coming wrath? – God or yourself, the Word or the world, sorrow for sin or fear of punishment? What is the thought that induces you, the motive that impels you? Is it the voice of God speaking through your conscience, or the voice of the world speaking through your interests? These are practical inquiries involved in the demand of John.
8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
8 Because man has from the Lord this power to reciprocate or withhold reciprocation, and thence mutuality, therefore the Lord enjoins that man shall do the commandments, and should bring forth fruits. From these passages it is evident, that man acts from himself, but by the power from the Lord, which he should implore, and this is to act as from himself. See also Luke vi. 46-49: John xiii. 17; xv. 14. Life 104.
That fruits signify the goods which a man does from love or charity, is known, indeed, without confirmation .from the Word, for by fruit in the Word the reader understands nothing else. The reason why by fruits are meant the goods of love or of charity is, because man is compared to a tree, and is also called a tree. R. 934.
The Word abounds with injunctions and exhortations to obedience, and with blessings and promises of rewards for those who practise its precepts, and with curses and threats against those who do not. But to what purpose would all this be, unless a man had free-determination in spiritual things, that is, in whatever regards salvation and eternal life? Surely in such case every Divine declaration would be vain and useless. It may be expedient to refer to a few passages, which insist on man’s doing and believing. Matthew xxi. 43 : Luke iii. 8, 9 ; vi. 46-49 ; viii. 21, and many others. T. 483.
8, 9. A man who receives as a principle the doctrine that faith alone saves, even though he does no works of charity, in other words that it saves him who has no charity, such a man separates faith from charity. As a general truth if a principle is false, it necessarily leads to false conclusions, for all things conform themselves to the principle. Yea, as I know from experience, those who confirm themselves in such principles respecting faith alone, and are not in charity, care nothing about, and as it were do not see, all that the Lord has so often said concerning love and charity. See Mark iv. 18-20; xi. 13, 14, 20 : Luke iii. 8, 9 : John v. 42. A. 1017
Those who do not endeavour to do good of themselves, but lead a life of evil, teaching and professing that there is salvation in faith separate from good, these do not know that such good has or can have any existence. When they come into another life they are desirous to merit heaven by some good actions, which they recollect to have done, because they then first know that there is no salvation in faith separate from charity. It also then appears from the same persons, that they have been altogether inattentive to all those things which the Lord so often taught concerning the good of love and charity. A. 2371.
That fruits signify goods is evident from many passages in the Word. See Matthew vii. 16-20 : Luke iii. 8, 9 ; vi. 43-49 : John xv. 2-8, 16, etc. A. 7690.
In these passages it is manifest that Abraham is not meant, but the Lord as to Divine good. A. 3703.
8 He who proposed the inquiry gives the test by which to know whether we can give the true answer. Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance. If we are really desirous to flee from the wrath to come, the way lies through repentance. The purpose in the heart must show itself by amendment in the life. If our purpose is of God, he will infallibly lead us to work it out by acts of self-denial. These are the works meet for repentance. “Cease to do evil” is the first great work of the repentant sinner. There can be no true holiness without it. To do acts of piety and goodness, without hating and shunning evil, is to cover and gild corruption. Merely to desist from evil may seem to be but negative virtue; yet the negative is the only foundation of the positive. Eight out of the ten commandments are prohibitory. Thou shalt not steal, nor bear false witness, nor commit adultery, are the forms in which Divine wisdom teaches us honesty, sincerity, and purity. And this is the way in which we are to bring forth fruits meet for repentance.
9 But while the Word demands practical, we are all inclined to trust in hereditary and nominal religion. The Jews presumed upon being the descendants of the faithful – children of the promise. Divine Truth raises its voice against this vain confidence. Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father. While they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh, they were far from being his children according to the spirit. When, afterwards, the Jews boasted that Abraham was their father, Jesus answered them, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye, would do the works of Abraham.” He then told them, too, that their father was the devil, whose deeds they continued to do. It is this hereditary relationship to Abraham which John warns them against as a ground of confidence, as answering all claims of religious obligation upon them. And as the same evil exists now under a different name, what is this plea in our time and on our part? Do not we Christians trust to the name of Christ, when we have not his spirit and do not his works! What virtue or profit can there be in this nominal religion, when God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham? We need not trouble ourselves with the question of natural possibility; the spiritual lesson is that which concerns us.
Stones are types of truths. The apostle speaks of the members of the church as living stones: these are the true members of the body of Christ, who is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel. But the stones out of which God can raise up children to Abraham – that is such children as the Jews – are not living, but dead stones – truths without life, because without love and goodness. Nominal members of the church can be raised up from the knowledges of truth; real members only from the love and practice of the truth. The stones from which God could raise up children to Abraham are also the statutes and ceremonial laws of the Jewish church, as a representative and shadowy dispensation. The law of the ten commandments was written upon tables of stone, to represent that in the Jewish church the law of Divine order and righteousness could only be impressed upon the outward man. Therefore, when the new covenant which the Lord should make with his church is treated of, he says, “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts” (Jer. xxxi. 33). And so Paul: “Ye are the epistle of Christ, written with the Spirit of the living God, not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart”
(2 Cor. iii. 3).
10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
10 The Lord says the tree is known by its fruit. A. 794.
Man during his life in the body, is of such a quality, however he may outwardly appear to other men, that were he viewed near by the angels, he would appear in their eyes exactly according to the description here given, namely his states of hatred would appear as torches of fire, and the falsities thence derived as furnaces of smoke. Of such fire the Lord speaks in Matthew. A. 1861.
The love of self and of the world is as infernal fire. So is also every lust of those loves, for love is lust in its continuity, for what a man loves he continually lusts after. The evils flowing from these loves are contempt of others, enmity, and hostility against those who do not. favour them, envy, hatred, and revenge, and from these fierceness and cruelty, and in respect to the Divine they are denial and consequent contempt, derision, and detraction of the holy things of the church. Such is the meaning of fire in the Word, where the evil and the hells are treated of. H. 570.
Since this selfhood of man constitutes the first root of his life, it is evident what kind of a tree man would be if this root were not extirpated, and a new root implanted. He would be a rotten tree, of which it is said, that it is to be cut down, and cast into the fire. Life 93.
There is also a correspondence between a man and a tree. In heaven therefore appear paradises of trees, which correspond to the affections and consequent perceptions of the angels, and in some places in hell there are also forests of trees, which bear evil fruit, corresponding to the lusts and consequent thoughts of those who are there. That trees in general signify men as to their affections and their thoughts thence, may be evident from Ezekiel xvii. 24 : Jeremiah xvii. 7, 8 : Psalm i. 1-3, etc. R. 400
That fruits signify the goods of love or of charity, which in common language are called good works, may appear from the following passages. Matthew xii. 33 : Luke vi. 43, 44 : John xv. 16. R. 934.
That a tree signifies a man is plain from these passages in the Word. T. 468.
By fruits are signified the goods of love, or what is the same, goods of life, which are also called works. E. 109.
10-12. The Lord’s Divine love is also signified by fire in the following words of John the Baptist (Matthew iii. 11 : Luke iii. 16). Where fire in the Word is predicated of the evil and of the hells, it signifies the love of self, and the love of the world. E. 504.
10 As nothing spiritual and useful could grow out of that dead root, which was never intended to be more than temporary, now also, said John, the axe is laid unto the root of the trees. Judaism was to be cut up by its roots, and all presumptuous hopes founded upon it to be overturned. Such was the sentence of divine truth upon the Jewish church, and upon all who clung to it in its then showy but fruitless condition. But there is a lesson here for us. Our motives are the roots from which our actions spring. Christianity lays the axe at the root of the tree; for it is not only a law to regulate our actions, but a principle to guide our motives; and whatever grows out of the ends of our life, that does not bear the fruits of holy living, must be cut down. Our selfhood constitutes the first root of our life. What sort of tree would man become if that root were not extirpated? But the evil root is not removed, and a new one implanted in its stead, unless man regards the evils which constitute the root as destructive to his soul, and on that account is desirous of removing them. As, however, they belong to his selfhood, and are consequently delightful to him, he cannot effect their removal but with a degree of unwillingness and of struggle against them, and thus of combat. The truth, which is the instrument of combat, is meant by the axe, and the combat itself by hewing down the tree. But the tree after being hewn down is to be cast into the fire.
These two acts have reference to the understanding and the will. To cut down the tree has reference to the removal of evil from the understanding; to cast it into the fire, to the removal of evil from the will. The axe and the fire, too, are symbolical – the axe of truth, the fire of love. As the removal of evil is not effected but by temptation, the hewing down of the tree refers to intellectual labour or combat against evil, and the casting it into the fire to conflict in the will. The imagery is expressive and instructive. The evil principle is cut down in the understanding, but is consumed in the will. Faith prostrates the evil principle, love burns it up. Fire as a symbol of love and zeal, and burning, of the severest trials and the completest vastation, often occur in the Word. The Lord’s conflict with the powers of darkness, in his zeal for the salvation of the human race, was to be, “with burning and fuel of fire” (Isa. ix. 5); and even as a Regenerator, he was to be “like a refiner’s fire” (Mal. iii. 2). – He “came also to send fire on the earth” (Luke xii. 44); and to “baptize with fire” (Luke iii. 16). In all which there is reference to conquest and removal through the fiery trials of temptation, in which holy overcomes unholy love.
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
11 To baptise is to regenerate, with the Holy Spirit signifies by Divine truth, and with fire signifies from the Divine good of the Divine love. A. 9818.
The Holy Spirit is the Divine truth from the Lord. L. 51.
See Chapter III., whole chapter. R. 378
To baptise in the spiritual sense signifies to regenerate, the Holy Spirit is Divine truth, and fire is Divine good. E. 183.
See Chapter III., 10-12. E. 504.
He that cometh after me, said John, whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose. D. P., Page 47
That the Lord regenerates man by means of faith and charity, is signified by these words of John the Baptist. To baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire, is to regenerate by Divine truth, which is of faith, and by Divine good which is of charity The like is signified by the words of the Lord in John iii. 5. T. 144.
The Lord Himself was baptised by John, that He might not only institute baptism as a rite to be observed in future, and establish it by His own example, but also because He glorified His Humanity, and made it Divine, as He regenerates a man and makes him spiritual. T. 684.
The baptism of John represented the cleansing of the external man, whereas the baptism administered at this day among Christians represents the cleansing of the internal man, which is regeneration. . . . The Jews who were baptised were merely external men, and the external man cannot become internal without faith in Christ. T. 690.
11, 12. That wheat and barley signify the good and truth of the church. R. 315.
By baptising with the Holy Spirit and with fire, is here signified to reform the church, and to regenerate the members of the church by Divine truth and Divine good, to baptise means to reform and regenerate, the Holy Spirit the Divine truth proceeding from the Lord, and fire the Divine good of His Divine love. By the wheat which He shall gather into His garner, and by the chaff which He will burn with unquenchable fire, are signified good of every kind, which is of heavenly origin, that it shall be preserved to eternity, and, consequently, those who are principled in such good ; and falsity of every kind, which is of infernal origin, that it shall be destroyed, consequently those who are principled therein. Because wheat, a garner, and chaff are made use of to indicate such things, therefore mention is also made of a fan, and a floor. By the fan is signified separation, and the floor indicates where the separation takes place.E. 374.
11-16. By the river Jordan were signified the truths which introduce into the church, which are the first knowledges of truth and good derived from the Word. By washing therein was signified purification from falsities, and thence reformation and regeneration by the Lord, therefore baptism was instituted, which was first performed in Jordan by John. E. 475.
12 John the Baptist thus speaks of the Lord, wheat signifies the good of love and charity, and chaff the things in which there is nothing of good. A. 3941.
11 John proceeds to speak of the true means and agencies by which this work is carried on and completed, and of the last as greater than the first. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire. John’s baptism represented reformation; the Lord’s baptism represented regeneration. The first is the removal of evil; the second is the implantation of good. John’s baptism precedes and prepares the way for that of Jesus.
Man must learn from the written Word what evil is, and abstain from it; and so far as he does so, he receives new life from the Lord. John’s baptism comes from without; the Lord’s comes from within. John’s baptism removes outward impurities; the Lord’s inspires new inward life. Thus does the Lord baptize with the spirit of his truth and with the fire of his love all who faithfully follow the teachings of his Word, by ceasing to do evil. The second baptism is a greater work than the first, and a mightier power is required to effect it. So much mightier is he who comes after him, that John declares himself not worthy to bear his shoes. The lowest good of love is worthier than the highest good of repentance. But on this point we shall see something more in the next verse.
We cannot leave these words of John without a remark on the important testimony thus borne to the rank of Jesus, between whom and himself he admits of no comparison. If among those born of women a greater had not arisen than John the Baptist, who could that one be whose sandals John was not worthy to bear? His rank may be described in John’s own words: “He that cometh from heaven is above all” (John iii. 3). And not only above all, but before all. Not only was he before John (John i. 15), but before Abraham (John viii. 58). He who was all this could be no other than the Highest and the First.
12 The Lord’s baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire is to be followed by a thorough outward cleansing, His fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor. This purification is to be distinguished from that represented by John’s baptism. For as there is a truth which leads to goodness, and a truth which is derived from goodness, so there is a purification that precedes and one that follows regeneration. The first is a purification of the actions, from motives of obedience, the second is a purification of the actions, from motives of love. The first was represented by John’s baptism, the second by the Lord’s washing his disciples’ feet, when he spoke to them as being already inwardly clean. This second purification is that by which the Lord “thoroughly purges his floor,” making a full and final separation of good and evil. The floor is the outer memory, the common receptacle of acquired objects of thought and affection. The Lord’s truth is the means by which separation is effected. The garner into which the wheat is gathered is the inner memory, the storehouse of ends and principles, which form our life, and remain with us for ever. The chaff is burnt up in the fire of an unquenchable zeal for singleness and purity. The wicked, who never judge themselves in this life, are judged in the next and being themselves like chaff, are cast into the fire of burning lusts, in their own evil hearts, that nothing can quench.
13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
14But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
15And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
13-16. See Chapter III., 6, 13. A. 10239.
13-17. See Chapter III., 6. A. 4255.
See Chapter III., 5, 6. T. 668.
See Chapter III., 11. T. 684.
15 To fulfil all the justice of God, signifies to subdue the hells, and to reduce them and the heavens into order, from His own proper power, and at the same time to glorify His Humanity. These things were effected by temptations admitted into Himself, thus by continual combats with the hells, even to the last on the cross. A. 10239.
Righteousness consists in doing all things according to Divine order, and reducing to order whatever has departed from it, for righteousness is Divine order itself. All this is understood by these words of the Lord. T. 95.
Jesus said to John, thus it becometh us to fulfil all justice of God. D. P., Page 46.
13 Among those who came to John, to receive his baptism, was no less a personage than the Saviour himself. Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan to John, to be baptized of him. Jesus, it would appear, had resided in Galilee till now. Thirty years of a life the most momentous to the world, though not in the world’s sense, that had ever been lived by man on earth, had been passed in private, if not in seclusion. But now he publicly appears as the Saviour of the world, the great Teacher and Exemplar of the law. Before entering on a life consecrated to the highest use, Jesus came to Jordan to be baptized of John. The Lord as the Incarnate Word comes to him who represented the written Word, to receive at his hands this initiatory and representative rite. He came from Galilee to Jordan, to symbolize that progression of state from good to the truth which gives it quality and power – power to subdue. The primary idea involved in John’s baptism was purification, especially that of the external man. The means by which this purification is effected are the truths of the Word, which are meant by the waters of Jordan. But these truths purify the mind in two ways – by repentance and temptation. Repentance is necessary for the removal of actual evil, temptation for the removal of hereditary evil also. As every human being is defiled both with hereditary evil and by actual evil, which is sin, everyone requires to be purified both by repentance and temptation. In this respect there was an essential difference between the Lord and every mere man. He had no sin, and therefore needed no repentance.
14 Well then might John forbid him to come to his baptism; for to Jesus it could be no baptism unto repentance, which John had proclaimed it to be. But although the Lord had no sin, and therefore needed no repentance, he had evil derived from his fallen mother, and required to undergo temptation. And to represent this means of purification, Jesus was willing to receive, at the hands of his own messenger, the rite which symbolized it. But John not only forbade Jesus, but said, I have need to be baptized of thee. There is one particular in this relation that it may be difficult to understand. If John represented the written Word, why did he say to Jesus, “I have need to be baptized of thee.” Is the word of God impure and does it need purification? In itself it is pure and holy, but as it had become in the Jewish church, and as it is in the mind of everyone not yet fully regenerate, it is more or less impure, by reason of their impure perversions of its meaning, and the sanctions of evil which they thence draw apparently from it. The Jews had thus perverted and defiled the Word; and it is more or less defiled in the mind of every child of Adam. These defilements needed to be removed; and no one could in the first instance remove them but he who was himself the Word. There was an analogy between the incarnate and the written Word. The Lord took human nature upon him, not fair as it came from the hand of God, but marred as it had been by the hand of man. And just so marred as was the nature of man, so marred was the Word of God. Corruption among the members of the church brings with it a corresponding corruption of the revealed truths of the Word, as the Pharisees made the commandments of God of none effect by their traditions. It was through these perversions that the truths of the written Word became instruments in the hand of Satan for tempting the Incarnate Word to do wrong. The Lord and the powers of darkness contended over the truths of the Word, as Michael and Satan are said to have done over the body of Moses. Evil spirits assaulted the Lord through the appearances of truth in the letter of the Word, which are capable or perversion, and the Lord overcame them by its genuine truths, which they could neither pervert nor resist. These conflicts were the Lord’s temptations, represented by his baptism. With every temptation when ended, the Lord put off some of the infirmities of his humanity, and put on, or put forth, some of the perfections of his divinity, till at last he became the Word in ultimates, as from eternity he had been in first principles.
15 When John forbade Jesus to be baptized, the Lord answered, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” In fulfilling the least of the requirements of righteousness the Lord showed that be would fulfil them all. He came to fulfil the whole law of righteousness, and thereby to become righteousness. This is a great and important truth. He not only fulfilled the law of the commandments, but the law in its widest sense, which is the whole Word. He, by fulfilling, magnified the law and made it honourable. Through his fulfilling the law we can in our measure fulfil it also through his becoming Righteousness we can become righteous. By fulfilling the whole law, or the Word, he became, as to his humanity, the Word. The fulfilling the Word means, not only that be obeyed its laws, but that be so transcribed the whole Word, internally and externally, into his own life, that he became the living form of all the eternal principles which it contains. All this is included in the Lord’s words to John, “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” And as the law which he desired to fulfil by submitting to baptism was but a law of ceremonial righteousness, we learn from the Lord’s condescending to it, that he fulfilled the ceremonial as well as the moral law, and that all its ceremonials had relation to him in his work of glorification and salvation.
16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:
17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
16 A dove is a representation of purification and regeneration by Divine truth. L. 51.
It is written that when Jesus was baptised the heavens were opened, and John saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove. The reason of this was, because baptism signifies regeneration and purification, and these are also represented by a dove. Doves often appear in heaven, and the angels know when they observe them that they are correspondences of the affections, and thence of the thoughts relating to regeneration and purification in some persons not far off. T. 144.
16, 17. It is expressly declared that the Lord’s Humanity is the Son of God. R. 504.
That there is a Divine Trinity, consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is distinctly declared in the Word, and particularly in these passages. Mention is made (in Luke i. 35) of three, the Highest, who is God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son of God. T. 164.
What is the first requisite of faith directed toward Jesus Christ? I answer, it is an acknowledgment that He is the Son of God. T. 342.
By a dove are signified the truths and goods of faith in the man about to be regenerated. This is evident from its signification in the Word, especially from the dove which alighted upon Jesus, when He was baptised. A. 870.
See Chapter II., 15. A. 2798.
That there is a Divine Trinity is evident from the words of the Lord in Matthew iii. 16, 17, and xxviii. 19. B. 32.
The Holy Spirit appeared as a dove over Jesus when He was baptised. E. 283.
That the Lord, the Saviour of the world taught that there was a Divine Trinity, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit; for He commanded His disciples to baptise in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. He also said that He would send to them the Holy Spirit from the Father. He moreover very often spake of the Father, and called Himself His Son. He breathed upon His disciples saying, Receive ye the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was baptised in Jordan there came forth a voice from the Father saying, This is my beloved Son, and the Spirit appeared over Him in the form of a dove. The angel Gabriel also said to Mary (Luke i. 35). Can., Page 41.
17 The Humanity was what was meant when Jesus, at His baptism, was called by Jehovah, in a voice from heaven, His Son, for it was His Humanity that was baptised. L. 19.
That the Humanity of the Lord was called the Son of God, and that He from His Humanity calls Jehovah His Father. John xx. 31. B. 120.
Now because God is one, and because there is a Divine Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, according to the Lord’s words in Matthew xxviii., it follows that that Trinity is in one person, and in the person of Him who was conceived of God the Father, and born of the virgin Mary, and thence was called the Son of the Highest, the Son of God, the only begotten Son. Can., Page 50.
The Lord as to His Humanity is called the Son of God, and He from His Humanity calls Jehovah His Father. T. 188.
16, 17. The immediate results of the Lord’s baptism foreshadow the glory he would attain when be arose out of the trials which his baptism represented. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, &c. Going down into and coming up out of the waters of baptism were recognized in the apostolic church as significative acts. Paul speaks of the Colossians as being “buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who bath raised him from the dead.” Baptism was then regarded as the symbol of burial and resurrection – not of the body, but of the soul – the putting off the old man and putting on the new.
Jesus coming up out of the water represented his resurrection, or, what is the same, his glorification. It also represented the result of every single temptation, his coming up straightway representing his emergence from the trial, and entering into a new and higher state of glory. The opening of the heavens is one of the blessed results of emerging from the flood, which has not overflowed the soul. In the spiritual sense the opening of the heavens of the internal man is here meant. For the object of the baptism of temptation is to remove evil from the external man and every purification of the external man has the effect of so far opening the internal man. Just as the world is overcome is heaven brought near to us. To us as followers of the Soul, of Man heaven is opened as often as we overcome in temptation.
And through the open or rent heaven he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him. The Spirit of God is God himself as a Spirit acting upon the human mind. The Scriptures speak indeed of the Spirit proceeding from God; yet even this is but all accommodation to our feeble intellects, as developed in a world of space: for be who is omnipresent, how can he proceed through space? it must be evident to every mind raised but a little above the sphere of the bodily senses, that both the shape and motion of the Spirit are figurative or representative. It appeared as a dove, because a dove is an emblem of pure and holy affections and thoughts, and in reference to God, of divine affections and thoughts, which are those of divine love and wisdom. And more especially do those gentle animal forms shadow forth the gentleness and purity of regenerate souls – symbols therefore of the descending love and truth of the Divine upon the human nature of the Saviour, by which also it became divine. The Spirit of divine love and wisdom is therefore the winged messenger sent from on high, with a message of peace to the soul that overcomes in temptation.
Besides the descent of the dove, there came also down from the opened heaven a voice, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. To those who think of divine as they think of human subjects, of spiritual as of natural things, this will present the simple natural thought of two Beings, one on earth and one in heaven – a Father declaring his love for his Son. The voice to the ear, like the dove to the eye, was the adaptation of the Divine, which is above all sense, to sensuous apprehension. Our Lord himself declared, after this, that no man had heard the voice of the Father at any time, nor seen his shape. This, then, could not be the Father’s own voice, as the dove could not have been the Spirit’s own shape. Both were representative – representative of realities, but of realities far above the mundane and sensuous appearances. The two were intended to teach us, representatively, that the Lord, coming out of the depths of his temptations, brought down to him, as the Man who was made perfect through suffering, a new measure of divine truth and divine love. We do not, in this view of the subject, by any means ignore the doctrine of the Sonship of Christ. But we believe that his Sonship can only be predicated of his humanity; for the humanity it was that was born of the Virgin, and this is declared to be the only begotten Son of God. The human nature of Christ could alone receive the Spirit of God. But by receiving that Spirit without measure, the humanity came to have infinite fulness; and that which has infinite fulness must be divine. The human was made divine by acts of glorification. And it was when the human was fully glorified that Jesus was truly the Son of God; for by glorification he was born of God, as by regeneration we are: and then Jesus was the Son of the Father’s love. And if he who dwells in love dwelleth in God, infinitely more must Jesus dwell in love; for he is the infinite wisdom of infinite love, the infinite form of the infinite essence – he in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily – he who has the Father as his very soul and life, and sends the Spirit as the emanating life of his love and light of his wisdom – one God in one glorious Person for ever.
AUTHOR: EMANUEL SWEDENBORG (COMPILED BY ROBERT S. FISCHER AND LOUIS G. HOECK 1906)
COMMENTARY AUTHOR: WILLIAM BRUCE (1866)
PICTURES: JAMES TISSOT Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum