Victor cousin, in his profound work on the History of Modern Philosophy, has shown that philosophy, in all lands and in all ages, has existed under one of the four following forms: Sensualism, Idealism, Mysticism, and Scepticism. All the philosophical systems of the world belong to one or the other of those forms, because they are based upon the principles of human nature. Where the sensuous element, which belongs to our nature, is in predominance, philosophy will be sensational, as is seen in the systems of Locke and Condillac. When the intellectual is unharmoniously prominent, as in Plato, Berkley aud others, the philosophical system will be idealism. The objects of sense, and the whole material creation, retire into the background, and spiritual things, the things of the mind, become the only real substance. All else is shadow. Where the feelings and intuitions are the ruling element in the mental character, Philosophy will be Mysticism. When neither alone gives satisfaction to the human mind, Scepticism arises. All these systems are true and important. They become false only when they become exclusive. Each has had much to do in the intellectual development of the race. Neither could have been spared from the history of mankind: and the most perfect system of philosophy must be eclectic, or must combine into a harmonious unity the excellences of all other systems.
Something similar may be said of religion, because there always must be a connection between philosophy and theology. One must influence the other. Religion always exists under a few fundamental forms. It is sensuous, as in the Pharasaic formalism of the age of Christ and every age—a bondage to the letter, and an over estimation of the value of mere externals. This is the Jewish element, which has ever been in the Church of Christ— the fleshly, ritualistic element—mere naturalism. When the intellectual element is pushed to an undue prominence and is made of primary importance, we have another fundamental form of the Church in its historical development. Here we must, for an example, place the Aristotelian Scholasticism of the mediaeval period. It is often seen in individuals and in sects, both before and alter the Reformation. It makes faith of higher value than charity. There are others who lay excessive stress upon the emotional and intuitional in religion,—upon frames and ecstasies. Generally, the externals of religion with such are undervalued. This is Mysticism. It has given to ecclesiastical history some of its most finished characters. Its maxim is, Pectus est, quod theologum facit; it is the heart that makes the Christian and theologian. In the seventeenth century, it produced its Madame Guyon and Fenelon, Antoinette Bourignon, Molinos of Saragoesa, and the Quietists. In the fourteenth century it had its Keinpis and Tauler. Sometimes in the Christian development of the Church and individuals, the moral or ethical element rises to prominence, and we have the other fundamental form of Christian life. These four aspects are the only ones under which Christianity can be viewed. It is either ritualism or intellectualism, or mysticism, or moral duty and life. These, like the four sides of a parallelogram, include it. They are represented in the Apostolic Church—the mustard-seed beginning of the new Creation—by Peter and Paul, by John and James; and their successors have been found in every age.
In the system of Swedenborg, there is a harmonious combination of all these fundamental elements into a perfect unity. There is no one element pushed to a onesided development, but all is symmetrical. Externals are not undervalued, but proper importance is given to them. No man ever insisted more earnestly upon the enlightenment of the intellect; and St. Martin, the great Mystic of France and of the Nineteenth Century, pronounces his works too coldly intellectual. Yet the intellect is everywhere made secondary to the heart, faith to love. All that is valuable in mysticism is found in his works. In fact he has reduced its chaos to order. He has organized it into a logical system, so complete and interwoven that you cannot embrace a part without the whole. Many of the principles of Swedenborg are found scattered about in the mystic writers. It belonged to him to gather up these disjecta membra, these scattered limbs, into a symmetrical body, and call down the divine Promethean spark to animate it. But his mysticism is without the least taint of asceticism, which cleaves to all the mystics of the world before him. No one, not even the apostle James, has more earnestly insisted upon works, and upon a life of charity, than he. Yet there is nothing one-sided here. In an age when Christian life had felt the frozen touch of the Solifidian Antinomianism, he assembles the hosts of Israel once more around Sinai, to hear the Commandments from the mouth of the Lord. His ethical code is the Decalogue. The life he enjoins is divinely simple, and practicable to every man who has a sincere desire to be good, and reach the celestial shore. In the age in which he lived, the tenet of Luther, that salvation is by faith alone, had become to the Reformed Church like the fabled AEgis of Minerva. It turned all who touched it to stone.
The New Jerusalem is not a sect. It cannot be enclosed within the area of a sect or party. It is not a system of lifeless dogmas, intellectually received. It is a new and higher life—the life of love. He who merely receives the teachings of Swedenborg as a creed, and does not apply them to life, is far from the New Jerusalem. He simply passes from one sect to another. Neither are the sects of Christendom to be undervalued. As Judaism led to Christianity, and was a preparation for it, so the good and truth in many honest souls in the old churches, will be a preparation for the New Jerusalem. The age in which we live is a transition period. Old things are passing away, and all things are becoming new. The voice of God is shaking not only the earth, but the heavens. And there is a removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are. made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. (Heb. xii. 26, 27.) There are many germs of an undecaying good in all the older ecclesiastical organizations. These cannot die, for the life of God is in them. All that was of enduring value in Judaism passed over into Christianity. As all rivers tend to the ocean, and flow into it, so all the goods and truths of the Old Dispensation will pass into the New. The kings of the earth shall contribute their spiritual wealth to the New Jerusalem. In all churches there are stray beams of light that carne from the sun of the New Age. There are ideas floating about in the religious mind, that have lost their visible connection with the writings of Swedenborg. Wherever there is good and truth, there is a preparation for the New Age. The human body is a combination of all beautiful forms; so the New Jerusalem, the Johannean Church of the future, will be a body of Christ, composed of all the good and truth that has ever appeared in the history of redemption.
Author: Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889)