It may seem strange to some, that if Swedenborg be the herald of a new dispensation, that his doctrines have not made more rapid progress during the past century. But this is no objection to the fact of their being the commencement of a New Age of the Church, except to the sensuous mind, which can take only an external view of anything. It may be remarked, in reply to the above objection, in the first place, that his teachings are having a much wider influence in the religious world, than, at first sight, appears. They are operating silently and powerfully in shaping the theology, and directing the thought of the present day. In the teaching of the pulpit and the press, many doctrines are proclaimed and received by the thirsty multitudes with joy, that can be traced to no other source than the disclosures of the Swedish revelator. They are straggling rays of the light and uncreated glories of the New Jerusalem, struggling with the midnight darkness of a consummated Church. But as in the days of Christ, so now, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not. It is impossible to make mere external proselytes to the system, even if it were desirable to do so. His doctrines must be received interiorly, in freedom and by reason. A system that is to be received interiorly, and only by those who are in a recipient state, makes its way slowly in the world, but it moves forward surely, because it takes a deep hold upon the spiritual life of man. The rapid spread of a system is no test of its truth or merits, but an evidence only of its adaptedness to the carnal, fleshly mind. No system of religion has ever spread more rapidly than Mahommedism. Nothing in the annals of mankind presents so extraordinary a spectacle as the sudden and overwhelming revolution which sprang up in Arabia, an obscure corner of the East, and in less than a hundred years covered an extent of territory greater than ever owned the sway of Rome in the Augustan age of her glory.
But this is no evidence of its truth. It accomplished some great designs in the scheme of the Lord’s Providence, but its rapid spread does not prove it a revelation from heaven. It is in accordance also with that Divine order unfolded in the government of the world, that what is to be of long continuance, is a long time in reaching maturity. This is the law of the animal and vegetable kingdoms. A learned French Philosopher has shown that the natural period of the duration of the life of an animal, may be ascertained by multiplying the time it requires to reach maturity, by five. The longer is that period, the greater the duration of its life. In the vegetable kingdom, witness that most wonderful plant, the Sea Coco, which grows only in one spot on the globe. The seed does not germinate until it has laid upon the surface of the earth twenty-five years. It is then one hundred years before it produces fruit, and reaches maturity. After it blossoms, it is eight years before the seed ripens. But it outlives kingdoms. Its years are centuries.
In the rise and duration of the kingdoms of the world, we see the same law of the Divine Providence. Those, like Rome, that are long in reaching their mature proportions, have a duration proportionally long. While, on the other hand, we see the kingdom of Alexander springing up with a mushroom growth, and quickly disappearing. It grew up like Jonah’s gourd, in a night, and perished at noon.
The New Jerusalem dispensation is manifestly destined to continue long. It is to have no ephemeral existence. From its small mustard-seed beginning, it will gradually and silently progress, and extend its duration through the revolving cycles of the unknown future. Perhaps ages will yet roll away while the Divine hand lays deep its Divine foundations, and it will live when the pyramids shall have crumbled to dust, and the drifting sands of the desert have obliterated the spot where they stood.
” The Light Himself shall shine Revealed,
and God’s eternal day be thine!”
It will continue until the heavens once more close round the earth, and man is at one with the angels and with God. If such be its destiny, it has progressed as rapidly as is consistent with the laws of the Divine order.
The question is also asked, ” Has the new dispensation exhibited a higher spiritual life than the Old Church ?” On this subject but little can be said, for the simple reason that the whole subject lies beyond the sphere of human knowledge. The quality of a soul’s interior life can be known only to the Lord. The secret springs of action can be discerned only by the eye of Omniscience.
There seems reason to believe that the first stadium in the development of the new dispensation, must, of necessity, be prominently intellectual. This is indicated by the New Jerusalem being represented to the vision of John first, as a city of doctrinal system, and then as a bride adorned for her husband. The truth must first be received before it can be incorporated into the life. It may be permitted also further to remark, that although it may not be apparent to the eye of a sensuous world, the New Church, even in the present infant stage of its existence, has attained a far higher spiritual life than the dispensation that is passing away. The real Christian life is a conjunction of truth and good, of wisdom and love, or faith and charity. Swedenborg has demonstrated that where good is not united to truth, as essence is to form, it is not real, but only apparent good; and where truth or faith is separated from good in the will, it is, by virtue of such disjunction, no longer truth. Much of the goodness that appears among the eminent religions persons of the old dispensation, is of this character, and is more a capacity of goodness, or a receptivity of it, than real good of life. It is a good arising from a false ground, or from wrong views of God, and Divine things. Good done from a false ground, is in reality only a false goodness. Swedenborg forcibly remarks, ” They who are in works alone and in no truths, are like people who act, and do not understand; and actions without understanding are inanimate.” (A. R. 107.) In proportion as one is destitute of truth in the intellect, do his actions lose their moral value; so that where there is no knowledge, we attribute no real value to the act. Truth is the form of good, and gives quality to it. To be good, is to act according to truth; for goodness is only truth in the life. Hence a life of worship and religion, that proceeds from falsities of faith, is not real good, however it may appear externally. In comparing the Christian life as it is exhibited in the old and the new dispensations, we are to decide according to these principles. Looking at it from this point of view, we shall not hesitate to conclude that those who have heartily embraced the spiritual doctrines of Swedenborg, as revealed to him out of the Divine Word, enjoy the means of attaining a higher Christian life than the old age has witnessed.
The doctrines taught by Swedenborg, are the truths of the Gospel, as they are apprehended by the human soul on the higher plane of being; or in other words, they are heavenly doctrines, such as minister to the growth of souls in the angelic sphere. It is truth in its reality. The proper nutriment of the soul, which alone can minister to its harmonious development, is spiritual truth. There can be no genuine religious growth without this. A plant cannot really grow without light, for it is only the influence of the sun’s light that causes the deposition of woody fibre, without which its enlargement is not growth. So the soul of man cannot attain to angelic proportions without the same light that flows from the central throne into the heavens. Without this its growth will be dwarfed or distorted. The New Jerusalem comes down from God out of heaven. (Rev. xxi. 2.) It is a projection of the heavens into earth, a descent of the celestial to this lower sphere, in order to elevate earth to heaven. Whatever may be the actual spiritual attainments of those who embrace the doctrines taught by Swedenborg out of the Holy Scriptures, it is certain that no people, since the apostolic age, are favored with such means for religious culture, and of attaining the highest results of Christian life. The higher one’s attainments are in genuine good of life, the more receptive he will find himself of the teachings of Swedenborg. This is in harmony with the remarkable prophecy of Isaiah, respecting the Millennial, or New Jerusalem dispensation. ” It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and allnations shall flow unto it.” (Isa. ii. 2.)
The Church, elevated te the mountain top, marks the celestial degree of its life. By nations, according to the laws of correspondence, are signified those in good of life. Such are represented as flowing unto the mountain of the Lord’s house, or they spontaneously imbibe the principles of the new and higher dispensation. He who carefully marks the signs of the times, will find reason to believe that we live in the dawn of such a glorious day, when the Church’s life will be one with the heavenly life. Truth will be no longer divorced from good, but joined in a perpetual and heavenly marriage; and earth will rise to meet and embrace the descending heavens. There are a few in this transition period, this breaking up of the old order of things in the kingdom of God, and the formation of the new, to whom the words of the Lord come with appropriate emphasis: ” Blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.” (Matt. xiii. 16, 17.) It is to be hoped that such will not be indifferent to the high responsibilities of the position to which the Lord’s abounding grace has elevated them. May they heed the Divine precept, ” Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people : but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side.” (Isa. Ix. 1—4.)
Author: Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889)