Phenomenal and Real

<< THE PHENOMENAL AND THE REAL, >>
OR THE SENSUOUS APPEARANCE
AND THE DIVINE REALITY

It is a principle of great importance, unfolded by Swedenborg, that there is apparent truth and real truth. An intelligent and affectional reception of his teachings will raise one from that lower intellectual range where only seeming truth is perceived, to that higher position where truth is seen as it is. There is the phenomenal, or things as they appear to the senses of the natural man, and the real, or things as they appear to the spiritual mind, or to enlightened reason. He justly observes, that ” To think spiritually, is to think of things as they essen­tially are, to see truths in the light of truth, and to perceive goods from the love of good; also to see the qualities of things, and to perceive their affections, abstractedly from matter. But to think materially of things, is to think, to see, and perceive them together with matter, and in matter, thus in a gross and obscure manner respectively.” (New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine, 39.) It makes a wide difference in the appearance of an object when we look at it from the standing-ground of the natural man, or the plane of the sensuous mind, from what it does when we behold it from the higher range of our spiritual nature. There are, as we have seen, three degrees of the soul; the natural or sensual, the spiritual or intellectual, and the intuitional or celestial. These are discrete, or entirely distinct (though not disconnected), like act, thought, and affection. The Word of God, or anything else, will mean quite differently to us, according as we occupy one or the other of those positions when we contemplate it.

In the Holy Scriptures things are spoken of, almost without exception, as they appear to the natural man, or the sensuous mind. The Divine Truth was brought down to the grasp of the fleshly mind. God condescended to men of low estate. The Lord in mercy came down to our platform in order that, in some good degree, He might elevate us to His. The Word was made flesh, (Jno. i. 14,) or the Divine thought was brought down within the range of the carnal mind. The celestial descended to the sensual, in order to raise man from the sensual to the heavenly. The Lord spake in parables for this end; and also all His actions are only the ultimation of Divine Truth, or truth exhibited to the natural man. He acted the truth. The Lord represented the Word in the world. This is often remarked by Swedenborg, and Augustine also observed someting similar. The latter says, Verbum Dei est Christus, qui non sonis, sed etiam factis loquitur hominibus. The Word of God is Christ, who speaks to men not only by uttered language, but also by things done.

It is important that we bear in mind that the letter of Scripture is the truth, as it can be apprehended by the natural man; the spiritual sense is included in it, as the soul in the body, and is the truth as it is cognizable by the spiritual mind, or the Divinely enlightened reason.

The principle that there is apparent and real truth, is not peculiar to the Holy Scriptures. It is so with every­thing contemplated by man. Thus it is in the Book of Nature. If we see anything with the eye of sense merely, and form our judgment accordingly, it is different from the same object contemplated with the interior eye. It appears to the sensuous mind, (and so it is even said in the Divine Word,) that the sun rises and sets, and revolves around the earth. But it does so only in appear­ance. How long it took, and how much persecution was suffered, before men of science could be raised from the sensuous appearance to the fact in the case—from the phenomenal to the real! As we behold the sun, the most glorious object in nature and best image of Deity, it appears much smaller than the earth. But the real truth is, that while the earth is eight thousand miles in diam­eter, the sun is eight hundred and eighty-seven thousand miles in diameter, and is one million three hundred thousand times larger than the earth. It appears to us, and it is difficult for some to think otherwise, that the body has life and feeling in itself; but a moment’s reflec­tion will convince us that all feeling, all sense is in the soul,—that sensation is a mental state. If we look at this from a higher position still, and think of it from an intuitional ground, we shall see that even the soul has no life in itself, but lives from the one only Life,—from Him who is the true God, and eternal life. To the eye of sense and the carnal mind, death appears as the extinction of life. If we had only our sensuous and animal mind, we could have no possible evidence of, or belief in the existence of ourselves, or others, after death. To the Divinely illuminated reason, death is resurrection; it is the Anastasis, the ascent of the soul, the real man, to a higher plane of life. When this is viewed from a celestial or intuitional standing-ground, death is a conscious and vital union of our personality with the living God. It is the extinction of the proprium or selfhood; so that we can say with Paul, ” I no longer live, but Christ liveth in me.” And “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” To the carnal, fleshly mind, death is tiie end of life ; to the spiritual mind, it is only transition to a higher form of life, sometimes to the highest possible life—life in God.

The Divine Being is spoken of in the Scriptures as He is apprehended by the natural or carnal mind ; or in other words, the Lord reveals Himself to man in his lowest state. But in this sensuous representation, as in an envelope, lies concealed the real and spiritual truth. When we are guilty of known sin, and our wickedness makes us miserable and unhappy, it appears to us as if God was angry, just as it seemed to the demons at Gadara, that Christ had come to torment them, though He came to torment no one. It is well that it should so seem to wicked men. The real truth is, that it is evil, every one’s own wickedness, and not God, that slays the wicked. (Ps. xxxiv. 21.) “When it is said that the Lord is angry, that He is a jealous God, and that He repents, the expression belongs to the same class as where it is said, that the sun rises and sets, and that the earth is a level plain, bounded by the ocean,—the apparent view taken of it in the Word of God. But let it be well observed, that a carnal and wicked man cannot rise above that appearance of God. He can grasp no truth but the seeming truth. Such are the laws of our being, that we can never, while wicked and impenitent, view God other­ wise than as angry with us. When we do what we know to be wrong, we can have no confidence in the Lord, and must be jealous of Him. This causes Him to seem to us as though he were a jealous God. It is one of the deep laws of the human soul, that God manifests Himself to us, or appears to us just what we are ourselves. Thus our idea of God is an index to our interior character. (See Ps. xviii. 25, 26.)

The real truth is, the Lord is not angry with any one. The Scriptures sometimes openly declare this. “God is Love.” (1 Jno. iv. 10.) He says of Himself, ” Fury is not in me.” (Isa. xxvii. 4.) ” Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” (Ezek. xxxiii. 11.) But as a wicked man can never, in his conceptions of God, rise above the sensuous appearance, it has all the use in restraining him from deeper depravity, that it would have if the Lord, whose name is Love, were actu­ally angry with him. It will do no harm to proclaim the real truth, for no one will, or can come into an inward perception of it, until he puts away evils as sins against God, and thus becomes spiritually-minded, which is life and peace.

It seems to men as if heaven were a reward, and hell a punishment, but it is only so to the conceptions of the natural man. It is a fundamental truth, that all good is from God, who alone is good, or has goodness in Himself. Hence there is no reward of merit, for the simple reason that however good we may be, there is no merit to reward. Well will it be for us if we can learn to love goodness for its own Divine sake, and to hate and shun evil, because it is evil. Such is the position of the spiritual man. The idea that heaven is a reward, and hell a punishment, lays hold upon the carnal mind, and commences its elevation to that spiritual condition, where goodness becomes its own reward, and evil its own punishment. Blessed is the man whom God’s abounding grace has elevated, in his conceptions of Divine and heavenly things, above ths-phe-nomenal to the real. Such a one, in the words of our Saviour, judges not according to the appearance, (the outward appearance only, so Bloomfield,) but judges righteous judgment. (Jno. vii. 24.) For the attainment of so desirable an end, I know of no better means than a prayerful perusal of the spiritual writings of Swedenborg.

The principle that there is apparent and real truth, is one of vast importance and amazing sweep. It is funda­mental to the attainment of a truly spiritual knowledge. It is one of the letters of the spiritual alphabet. It is one of the principia of the hidden wisdom. It is one of the groundworks of a living theology. “We should never lose sight of it. It belongs to the New Age to elevate the mind to a higher range of thought, to raise our concep­tions from the position where only seeming truth can be apprehended, to that higher plane where truth shines in its own uncreated light. We shall then know things, not merely in their effects, but in their causes, which is knowl­edge in its reality. Without this, no higher mental and spiritual life is attainable to the Church. And this is what the Head of the Church has accomplished through His eminent servant. In this respect he comes to us as the messenger of a new dispensation.

Author: Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889)