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Swedenborg has not taught any doctrines peculiar to Christianity absolutely new, but has presented the old doctrines of the Gospel in a new and higher light. The New Age is to come forth from the Old. Christianity in the apostolic age was not so much a new dispensation, a new spiritual creation, as it was a new development of the old dispensation. Christianity came forth from the envelope of Judaism. The whole Gospel is in the Old Testament, as a precious stone is sometimes found inclosed in a rough matrix. So the New Jerusalem, or Millennial dispensation, is to be an unfolding of the present Church. It will come forth from the womb of the present Church; but the present age, in imparting its life to the future, will itself die, like Rachel, in giving birth to Benjamin. So it has been with every age. The giving birth to the new has always cost the life of the old.
Many of the doctrines of Christianity, as they are taught in the Old Church, have lost much of their moral force. Swedenborg, through the mercy of the Lord, has restored to those doctrines their proper redeeming power. This is true of the whole scheme of Christian doctrine; but my limits will not allow me to mention only his higher view of the resurrection and judgment. These are fundamental in the Christian system. It is In accordance with the laws of the human mind, that whatever is viewed at a great distance, either in time or space, has comparatively little influence. The older churches, by falling into the carnal, material view of those truths, and by removing, in their conceptions, the resurrection and judgment to an indefinite period in the future, have taken from them much of their moral force. It is almost equivalent to a denial of them altogether. Swedenborg has shown that the soul is the internal ‘man, and exists in the human form. The material body, with its life and form, and all its activities, is a mere effect, of which the cause is the living spirit within. When the material body, which constitutes no necessary part of our being, is put off, the soul, disrobed of its day, still lives in the ever present spiritual world. Man rises from the dead, immediately after the dissolution of the mortal body, a real and substantial man, and not a mere shadow or unsubstantial phantom, like the ghosts of Ossian, and the vapory bodies of the Northern Mythology. He becomes au inhabitant of a world, most vitally real, because it is not material, but spiritual. He possesses a real human body with all its senses, organs, and powers. This ascent of the soul, the real living man, to the never distant spiritual realm, is the Anastasis, the resurrection. This is the doctrine of the resurrection as taught by Christ, and commends itself to every man’s consciousness with the force of a self-evident truth. It is a necessity of thought to conceive of our absent friends in the human form. That human form is the spiritual body. This is the resurrection body. Christ, in the Gospel, always uses the term resurrection, for the ascent of the soul to the higher realm of being. Life after death, in the human form, is His idea of the resurrection, and not the resuscitation of the material body. The phrase, resurrection of the body, never once occurs in the Word, but the resurrection from the dead is the form of expression generally used.
The sense Christ attaches to the word resurrection, may be seen in His argument with the unbelieving Sadducees. He says, “Now that the dead are raised,” (or that man lives after death a real being) ” even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for all live unto Him.” (Luke xx. 37, 38.) Though they are lost to our view, our material senses not being cognizable of spiritual substance, yet they truly live to Him. If we substitute the resuscitation of a dead body for the term resurrection, the argument of our Saviour loses all its logical force. The passage he quotes from the Old Testament, if it proves anything, proves that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were risen from the dead. Let the reader attach the idea of life after death in the human form, to the term resurrection, wherever it occurs in the New Testament, and he will see new beauty and force in those passages. This is the higher view of the resurrection belonging to the New Age. In this world of death, it is one that is full of comfort. The resurrection is no distant event; our friends rise from death. In the older churches, the dead body in the grave is spoken of as the real man, which is said to sleep until the end of time, showing that in the minds of the preachers there is no vivid and influential belief in immortal existence. But the New Age is to be characterized by a vivid faith in the reality of life beyond the grave.
Swedenborg teaches that man rises from the dead immediately after the dissolution of the body, and enters upon an intermediate life—a world intermediate between heaven and hell. This is called in the New Testament, and the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, Hades. This intermediate life is the judgment state. So that the judgment is not to take place in the indefinite future, at the end of the world, but takes place in the spiritual world soon after death. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” (Heb. ix. 27.) In the judgment state, man becomes externally what he is internally; and when there exists a true harmony between our inmost character, and our outward life, we are fitted for either heaven or hell. When the ruling love, which is the life of man, shows itself without as it is within, and the hidden things of darkness are brought to light, man is judged. In the judgment state also is effected a harmony between our intellectual and moral state. Every state of goodness has its appropriate form of truth belonging to it. Evil has its falsity in harmony with it. In this life there is not always this true harmony between our moral and intellectual condition, between the will and the understanding. Those who are radically good, the predominant bent of whose will is towards God and goodness, have oftentimes many falsities of faith, which do not belong to that state of the will. In the judgment, those falsities are put away, and the soul comes into the truths that are in harmony with its moral condition. On the other hand, there are many who are radically evil, that have truths in their understanding, not in harmony with their wicked internal state. This is an unnatural condition, because the proper state of man is where there is a perfect union or harmony between his will and understanding, or heart and mind. In the intermediate judgment state, those truths will be removed from the wicked, and they will imbibe those falsities of faith which are at one with the evils in which they are grounded. (See Heaven and Hell, 425.) When this harmony is restored, and man comes into his natural condition, he is in the highest happiness of which he is capable. It is like restoring an animal to its native element. The good, from the impulse of their goodness, rise spontaneously to heaven, and the evil, from the gravitation of their wickedness, descend spontaneously the scale of life to hell. They go, not where Divine vengeance can make them the most unhappy, but where infinite love sees they will be the least tormented.
Such is the doctrine of Swedenborg, concerning the resurrection and judgment. I need not say how much, as motives to goodness, he has increased their force. To defer those great events until an indefinite period in the future, as is done in the Old Church, is to destroy their moral power, and weaken their regenerative force. It is a fact, that every one may observe who will, that the old forms of doctrine, as preached at the present day, have lost their power over the public mind. This is seen and felt by many who still preach them. If there is to be a new and better dispensation of the Church, some one must be raised up to restore to Christian doctrine its true redeeming force. This has been accomplished by the Head of the Church, through Emanuel Swedenborg. Truth of Doctrine is of fundamental importance in the Christian life. It is one of the laws of the mind, that it sees the truths of Holy Scripture through the doctrines it has received. Doctrines are the expression of certain general principles, to which all particulars are referred, and by the light of which they are understood. The knowledge which any one has, must always be that which lights his way to that which he has not. Our understanding of the Word will always be in harmony with, and will be colored by, our system of doctrine.
If one has con firmed himself in the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, irrespective of the quality of the internal life, he sees nothing else but that idea, even in passages that declare that a man is rewarded according to his deeds, and that without holiness no man shall see the Lord. The doctrine of three Divine persons, each one of whom is God by Himself, having each a different character and office, haa affected the whole scheme of doctrine as taught by the older theologies. The idea of three Gods runs through the whole system, and pervades it from the top to the bottom, from the centre to the circumference. It will always be a law of our spiritual being, in time and eternity, that we view all Scripture truth by the light of our doctrines. If they are false, all truth is perverted. It is like seeing the sun through the distorting medium of smoked glass.
Swedenborg, speaking in harmony with the laws of mind, has averred that no man can come into the genuine spiritual sense of the Word, who is not in the truth of doctrine. If there is to be a higher or more interior understanding of the Scriptures, as the foundation of a higher spiritual life, there must be given to the Church higher views of the doctrines of the Gospel. This, I am constrained to believe, is what Swedenborg has done through that high degree of illumination that was vouchsafed to him as the servant of the Lord. We have in his works the doctrines of the Gospel, drawn from the literal sense of the Word, as that sense was made translucent by the spiritual significance within it. Such doctrines are symbolized by the precious stones that constituted the foundations of the wall of the New Jerusalem. (Rev. xxi. 19, 20.) While the doctrinal system, proclaimed in the pulpit, and received by the Church, is derived wholly from the low, carnal and sensuous view of the truths of the Gospel, no higher spiritual life can be built on such a foundation. He who prayerfully reads the writings of Swedenborg, will receive those higher teachings, which will render him more and more receptive of the genuine spiritual sense of the Word, which will be given him by our Lord.
Author: Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889)