It seems to me to be one of the mistakes, common in the old dispensation of religion, that they attempt to make men spiritual before they become rational. This is an impossibility; for a genuine rationalism is the point of transition to a spiritual state. It is one of the laws of Divine order in the process of our recovery from our fallen condition to the heavenly state, that before we can become truly spiritual—can attain to spiritual-mindedness in thought and affection—we must become rational. The latter is the only standing ground on which we can rise to the former. In the highest heavens, where the true order of life prevails, the intellectual views of the angels flow out from their love. Their faith is not the result of a slow process of reasoning, but is an intuition, a spontaneous inward perception. In them the love predominates, and governs their whole being. They are moved by their heavenly affections, and the instincts belonging to them, rather than by their ideas. A celestial love uses the intellect only as an eye to see the way to the benevolent ends at which it aims. The intellect is the servant of the heart, and truth flows from goodness, as light from fire. This is the Divine order of our being. But we are in a lapsed condition; and in order to rise to that heavenly state from which humanity has descended, we must go back in an Inverted order over the same route through which we descended.
Man fell from that high spiritual position which characterized the Paradisiacal state, through rationality, into sensuality. Hence, in returning—and the New Jerusalem is the coming back of the Golden Age of the Church—we go back over the same route. From a state of carnality, we must rise to a state of rationality, and this is the point of transition to a true spirituality. Now this is exactly the order of the redeeming process unfolded by the writings of Swedenborg. He makes no appeal, in any of his numerous works, to the sensuous and selfish side of our nature. He never asks of us a blind faith in anything, for he avers that what does not fall into the compass of the understanding, cannot be an object of interior belief. The reception of it must, in that case, be external, and hence is not permanent. Such are the laws of the mind, that we cannot believe a real or apparent absurdity. It is the tendency of his whole system of doctrines—one of the grandest ever taught by man—to raise us from our low sensuous views and feelings, to a state of enlightened reason, and then to a truly spiritual life. This is the Divine order of our restoration. I do not mean that a soul may not, in a certain sense, become religious, without first attaining to rational views of Divine truth. The advocates of a blind faith make their disciples religious. The Pharisees were religious, in their way, but they were carnal, and not spiritual. The Athenians, according to Paul, were very religious—such is the force of the word rendered ” too superstitious “—for, according to an ancient Greek historian, it was easier to find in Athens a god than a man. Yet they were far from being spiritual.
If there is to be a new dispensation of the Church, which in point of Divine light shall be£as far in advance of the old as that was superior to Judaism, and one that shall fulfil the prediction of the prophet, that in that day the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be seven-fold, as the light of seven days, (Isa. xxx. 26,) it must come with such views and teachings respecting Divine and heavenly things, as shall satisfy our reason. Then, from this elevated foothold of the intellect, the heart can rise to those loftier and holier experiences that belong to the spiritual man. In the true order of our being, light comes through heat, truth through love. In the inverted order of our being, in which we are unhappily placed, heat comes enveloped in light, love comes through truth. In the Apocalypse Revealed, 832, it is said, ” It must be observed, that no man has any spiritual good from the Lord, but by truths derived from the Word; for the truths of the Word are in the light of heaven, and the good things are in the heat of that light; therefore, if the understanding be not in the light of heaven by means of the Word, the will cannot come into the heat of heaven. Love and charity are formed by truths from the Word only, and by these truths only can man be reformed; the Church itself in man, is formed by them, not, however, by those truths in the understanding only, but by a life according to them; thus truths enter into the will, and become goods; in this manner the complexion of truth is changed into the complexion of good; for that which is of the will, and thus of the love, the same is called good, and all that is of the will or of the love, the same is also of the life of man.” For it is one of the important principles of his philosophy, that love is life.
He also further says, ” Rational truths are those which proximately receive spiritual truths, for the rational faculty of man is the first receptacle of spiritual truths.” (A. R. 936.) When a soul attains to that state of mental elevation, which may be properly called rationality, it becomes receptive of spiritual truths, and will imbibe them as the dry soil drinks in the gentle rain of heaven. The plan of salvation, as unfolded by Swedenborg, is in perfect harmony with the redeeming effort of the Lord’s infinite love. He says to men, ” Come now, and let us reason together.” (Isa. i. 18.) A man can never become spiritual, much less celestial, until he is willing and able to look at the truths and duties of religion soberly, candidly, and from a rational point of view. No quantity of dogmas, blindly received, can make a man truly spiritual in his views and feelings. Swedenborg—and the same is true of all his followers—would not have us receive even those loftier and more satisfying truths and doctrines that he teaches, except so far as they can be rationally apprehended by us. For it is only that which we do in freedom, according to reason, that is appropriated to us, and is of any enduring value. (Divine Providence, 78.) It is only in this way that it is incorporated into the soul’s substance and life, and receives the quality of perpetuity. Mere dogmas, blindly swallowed, are like indigestible substances in the stomach, which are not transformed into the living tissue so as to become a part of ourselves; and happy for us if their presence in the system is not positively injurious. There are many honest souls in all the older churches, that are sincerely seeking for a higher Christian life. They are filled with unsatisfied cravings for a higher position in religion. The ordinary teachings, both of the pulpit and the press, only serve to increase their restless thirst, and mock the Divine hunger of their spirit. I am confident that by a prayerful perusal of the spiritual writings of Swedenborg, they would obtain those higher views of Divine truth which would elevate them to a state of illuminated rationality. Then they would receive from our blessed Lord those spiritual truths which would satisfy the deepest needs of their nature. By receiving those truths, not merely into the intellect, but embracing them with the will, and incorporating them into the life, they became real goodness, which is only truth in the life. Thus they become receptive of still higher and more satisfying views ; according to the words of the Lord, “He that doeth truth cometh to the light, that it may be made manifest that his deeds are wrought in God.” (Jno. iii. 21.) A person in such a state of rational illumination has an interior perception that all the truth and goodness he possesses is from the Lord, and is the Lord in him. And that state becomes the seed of a richer harvest of Christian experience. For Swedenborg asserts, ” that by means of the two faculties of rationality and liberty, man can be so far reformed and regenerated, as he can be led to acknowledge that all the truth and the good which he thinks and does is from the Lord, and not from himself.” (Divine Providence, 87.)
Author: Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889)