Swedenborg, from the “Word of God, has given a more rational view of the way of salvation. He traces sin to its vital root in the soul, and finds that root to be self will, or the love of self and the love of the world. The first is the opposite of love to the Lord, and the other opposite to the love of the neighbor. ” The love of self consists in wishing well to ourselves alone, and not to others, unless it be for the sake of ourselves; not even to the Church, to our country, to society, or to a fellow-citizen.” The love of the world consists in desiring to appropriate to ourselves the good things of others, in setting our heart on riches, and suffering the world to withdraw our affections from spiritual love, which is love towards the neighbor, and consequently from heaven. In these two loves are included all evil. Any remedy that does not weaken and remove the source of depravity, must be inefficient. In many of the so-called conversions of the present day, it is to be feared that the deep-seated selfishness of the natural heart is not removed, but only concealed under other forms of manifestation. “We are taught by Swedenborg that there is a necessary order in the process of a soul’s salvation.
Before one can come into the goods and truths of heaven, he must put away the evils and falsities of the soul, which are from beneath. He must put away his falsities of faith in his understanding, by truths derived from the Word of God. He must also put away his evils, as sins against God. This is constantly insisted upon as of fundamental importance. It is not arbitrary, but necessary, in the very nature of things. He must put them away, or avoid them, for no other reason than because they are sins against God. If we cease from the outward practice of an evil for any other reason, as that it is unprofitable, or destroys our reputation, or even because it makes us unhappy, we leave untouched the selfishness from which it proceeds, as its vital root. It is not put away from the internal man, which is the real being, but there remains ready to break out when the outward force that now operates ceases to act. It is not effectually removed, but only concealed from the gaze of other’s, and perhaps our own. But “he that covereth his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesseth and forsaketh, shall find mercy.” Such conversions ” heal the hurt of the daughters of my people slightly.” If we analyze the state into which many are brought by the current popular teachings of the day, in times of revival, you will find them to be of this character. Appeals are made to the selfishness of the heart, and the outward life is changed from self-love. The conversion is not radical, but superficial and temporary. If our inmost nature is to be changed, conscious evil is to be shunned, or put away, because it is a sin against God. This is the necessary beginning of a soul’s regeneration. It can commence in nothing else. It is only this that gives a death-blow to our self-will or self-love, which is the essence of all sin. When we do this, we are to exercise confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the only God of heaven and earth. Before coming into this attitude of hostility to evil, and of obedience to the will of God, confidence in the Lord, as our Saviour, is impossible; and if possible, would be of no avail in our salvation.
Swedenborg says in the Apocalypse Revealed, 949, ” By faith in Him is meant confidence that He will save, and this confidence is enjoyed only by those who shun evils as sins; with others it does not exist.” In the little treatise entitled ” Doctrine of Life,” he enforces the proposition ” That so far as any one shuns evils as sins, so far he has faith, and is a spiritual man.” Well would it have been for the Church if this order had not been inverted. This is a principle of profound importance. Insisting upon it in times of popular revival, might diminish the number of proselytes, but would greatly increase the quantum of real holiness.
In the little work referred to above, Swedenborg proves, “That so far as man shuns evils as- sins, so far he does good, not from himself, but from the Lord.” The philosophic reason on which this principle is based, is well given by B. A. Blanchet, in his ” Familiar Lectures upon Practical Morality.” He remarks:—
” Man has free will. He is placed between two opposing influences, which constantly incite him. If he accedes to one, he departs from the other, and reciprocally, for he cannot be at the same time in both: no one can serve two masters. If he turns himself to good, it is because he turns from evil; and so far as any one turns from an evil life, because it is contrary to the law of God, so far the influence of God, who is ever with him, merciful and watchful, converts him, and draws him to good. But the essential condition is, that he should shun evil. We can then lay down;this general and perfect rule: the more we shun evil, the more we are drawn to good, and the more really we do good.”
Our first duty, and the first step in the process of our salvation, after coming to the knowledge of evil, is to combat it, and put it away as a sin against God. Having done this, the soul becomes receptive of goodness, which flows in from the Lord, its only source, through the heavens. The love of God is a perpetual inclination and endeavor to impart truth and good to the souls of men. Evil alone obstructs this Divine, influx. When it is removed, or the will is arrayed against it, good inflows “from its Divine source, and in proportion as evil is removed. It belongs to man’s free will, or free agency, to do this, and he must do it as of himself, but all the while acknowledging that it is of God, from whom all power to do good proceeds. Man was created with free will, and is preserved by the Providence of the Lord in freedom, in order to his salvation. The human soul is subject to the two opposite and contending forces of good from heaven, and evil from hell. When these forces or opposing influences are in equilibrium, the soul is in freedom. Man is compelled to do neither one nor the other. It belongs to the self-determining power of the will to decide in which direction to act.
When a man, thus preserved in liberty, puts away evil as sin, he comes spontaneously into the opposite good. This is tljie reason why the commandments of the Decalogue, with two exceptions, are given in a negative form. The reason underlying this feature of the Ten Commandments, is the principle or law of the human spirit, that mind is essentially active. When it ceases from an evil or disorderly activity, it comes from its own impulse (Divinely imparted to it) into the opposite condition of holy activity. We must do good or evil. If we cease from evil, we shall learn to do well. When we cease from idleness, we become diligent and industrious. When we cease from covetousness, we become benevolent. Every evil has its opposite good. To cease from one, is to come into the other. When we cease from the love of self and the world, we come into the love of God and the neighbor. The command, ” Cease to do evil; learn to do well,” is the Divine order of salvation, and is based upon the necessary laws of our spiritual being. That a man can cease from evil, is involved in the idea of free will. M. Cousin has correctly defined a free act, to be one that is performed with a consciousness that we had a power not to act. Whether man has a natural ability to cease from evil and do good, is a question that will not require a moment’s thought to decide, with one who feels that all good is from God, and that “A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven.” (Jno. iii. 27.) Our very life, with all its powers, is the perpetual gift of Him who alone has life unoriginated and self-derived.
Author: Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889)