The Last Judgment: Where and how it was effected
It was the purpose of my last chapter to show that our resurrection is essentially a continuance of our conscious and individual life. It consists in divesting ourselves of the material body which allies us to the material world, veils our spiritual senses, and subjects us to the limitations of time and space. By this unclothing of our spiritual body we gain open and conscious entrance into the spiritual world where we are to find our eternal home. In this world, therefore, are gathered all the human beings who have been born upon the earth, and have passed away from it, from the beginning of creation to the present time. The spiritual world, therefore, must be the grand judgment-hall in which all assemble and are judged.
But this world cannot consist simply of one region where all assemble and permanently remain, there being only a simple division to the right and left of the Lord. If, as we have stated in a previous chapter and as the very nature of human life demands, those who dwell in the spiritual world are most distinctly organized into societies according to their peculiar character, and if the outward world is the projection of the inward qualities of the inhabitants, there must be the greatest diversity of societies, and the world itself must be a cosmos composed of many realms of being.
If the resurrection of a person consists simply in their withdrawal from the material body and introduction into the spiritual world, they must rise there the same being they were before their resurrection. They have gained no knowledge and no goodness by the simple act of changing worlds. The character of the great majority of human beings is composed of mixed elements. Few are wholly good or wholly evil when they leave this world. If they were, there would be no need of a judgment. They would be judged already. "He that believeth not is condemned already."
There is, therefore, good grounds for the belief that when we enter the spiritual world we occupy a region between heaven and hell, where all assemble and dwell until they are prepared for their final home. That there is such a region is as plainly taught in the Scriptures as it is that there is a heaven and a hell. Sheol, in the Old Testament, and hades, which is its equivalent in the New Testament, distinctly designate this intermediate world. They are sometimes translated "grave," and sometimes "hell," which, everyone can see, are very different states. In most cases, at least, the subjects with which they are connected require the meaning of an intermediate state.
This region is not the Catholic Purgatory; nor is it, strictly speaking, a place and season of probation. The principles which will determine the character and action there have been formed in this world. In the intermediate state they are only freed from everything which is not homogeneous to them and developed into their proper character and form. The Judgment, therefore, must be effected in the spiritual world. There the true character is revealed; there everything which is not congenial to it is eliminated.. Every evil and falsity is rejected by those who are essentially good, and every appearance of goodness and every semblance of truth is cast aside by those who are evil at heart.
The manner in which the Judgment is effected is fully described in the disclosures which Swedenborg has made concerning the spiritual world and the life of a person after their resurrection. According to Swedenborg, it is one of the grandest and most beautiful displays of the Divine love and wisdom which has ever been manifested in the Lord's dealings with the human race. Instead of being the most terrible exhibition of wrath and arbitrary power, as is generally believed, it is the embodiment of the gentlest mercy, and the most tender regard for everyone, the evil as well as the good, upon whom the Judgment is executed. It consists simply in the arrangement of the inhabitants of the intermediate world into homogeneous societies, in which they can find their greatest happiness or least misery, and are prepared for their final home. In doing this every personís nature and freedom are respected. No violence is offered to anyone. A personís essential nature is simply developed, and then they go where that will carry them.
Judgment is of two kinds, individual and general. Some men and women are so fully the embodiments of good or evil principles when they leave this world that they do not tarry long in the intermediate state. They passed out of that while they were in this world. Their natures became so fully homogeneous that there was little of evil or falsity to put off by the good, and not much apparent goodness and truth to be rejected by the wicked. Everything which is not germane to the root principles of their nature rests lightly upon them, and the more powerful forces of the spiritual world disperses it, as a summer's sun the morning mists. These do not tarry in the intermediate state; they pass on without delay to their final home in heaven or hell.
A general Judgment takes place at the end of every age. As I have stated in a previous chapter, the fall and the rise of the race advances by distinct steps. Certain principles become incorporated in human life, and are worked out to their legitimate results. It may require thousands of years to do it, and involve the rise and fall of many kingdoms. The people may pass through a great variety of phases, in some of which there may be great improvements in many respects or sad declensions. It matters not. The age moves on to its end with sure steps. And when the end comes there is a Judgment. The accounts of that age are closed, its affairs are settled, and a new era commences. There have been more than one such age, and consequently more than one general Judgment. One of them is described in symbolic language by the flood in the time of Noah. Another took place at the end of the Jewish Age, when our Lord was upon the earth in the flesh. He referred to it Himself. "For judgment," He says, "I am come into this world." "Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out." When "the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject to us through thy name," "He said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning falling from heaven." This Judgment was effected upon all who remained in the intermediate state, from the beginning to the end of that Age. Let us consider the reason for this long delay. It can only be found in the Lord's infinitely tender regard for us, and in our condition when we are raised up into the spiritual world.
The Lord is not impatient to judge and condemn people. He regards everyone with infinite love, and always does everything in His power for human happiness, either in this life or in the life to come. He respects our freedom, also. He seeks to lead us to act as of ourselves; and He never molests us or does violence to our nature so long as we refrain from evil. Even then He only seeks to restrain us from sinking into deeper evils and suffering keener misery, and He does this, not by arbitrary authority or violent force, but according to the laws of the Divine order in which the power of the Spirit of Truth acts in secret and manifold ways to give to us all the good we will receive, and to lead us to heaven. A knowledge of the character of those who had been pouring into the spiritual world from the beginning of the Christian era will give us a clearer idea of the Lord's mercy, and will show us how and why the Last Judgment was executed.
It is not difficult to gain an accurate general knowledge of the people who passed into the spiritual world during the first Christian Age, for we have some true knowledge of them from history and from our own observation, though there has been a vast improvement in the general character of the people since the Last Judgment took place. We can gain as accurate knowledge of their character after their resurrection as before, because they are the same beings. No more change is wrought in their minds by simply divesting them of the material body than there is in a sparrow by breaking from its shell. They hold to the same religious doctrines that they believed in this world. They have the same ideas about God, heaven, hell, the conditions of salvation, the proper forms of worship, that they had while here. They are just as ignorant of spiritual truth. They retain all their prejudices against others, and biases in favor of themselves and their own modes and forms of worship. They are merely transferred to a new country.
We know that the people, even in Christian countries, were in a state of the grossest ignorance with regard to all knowledge, especially the knowledge of spiritual truth. There were no Bibles accessible to the people. Men were burnt at the stake for translating the Bible into the English language and working to get it into circulation among the people. The rulers and teachers in the Church are truly described by our Lord when He said, "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in" (Matthew xxiii. 13). There were no books in general circulation, and no schools in which the common people could be instructed. Many of the priests, even, could not read. It is difficult, if not impossible, for us to form any adequate conception of the spiritual darkness and corruption of the Christian Age, through many centuries, down even to modern times. They were justly called "the Dark Ages."
These men and women, priests and people, were pouring into the spiritual world generation after generation, and forming societies there. There were, doubtless, many good men and women among them. But, unless all history is false, the greater part of those who professed to be Christians were so only in name. Religion was a matter of verbal assent to certain doctrines which they did not understand, and the performance of the external rites of worship. Spiritual life, which consists in love to the Lord and the neighbor, had died out of the Church, and left only a dead body of dogmas which were not understood, and of rituals which were "the mint, anise, and cummin" of worship, while the "weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith" were omitted. It was this destitution of spiritual life which caused the end of that Age.
But we need not go back some centuries to get a true idea of the character of the vast multitude which had assembled in the spiritual world. We have only to look around us and reflect upon the character of those with whom we are acquainted, and who are constantly passing away from earth, and entering upon the life beyond the grave. Men and women of all characters, and all religious opinions; infants and children, and young men and women, are migrating to that world every day. If we keep in mind that they are the same beings when they awake to conscious life in the spiritual world that they were when they left this, we cannot avoid the conclusion that the inhabitants must be composed of the most incongruous elements. We have only to add to this company a few shades of ignorance, bigotry, and intolerance, and we have before us the people upon whom the Last Judgment was executed.
But we must not conceive of this multitude as a vast mass-meeting houseless and homeless, surging around some common center, and waiting with impatience or fear to have their case decided. The spiritual world we must not forget, is a most real and substantial world. Its inhabitants have their distinct homes, which are contiguous or remote from each other, according to similitudes of character. Consequently, there must be vast cities compared with which the largest earthly cities are mere hamlets. They have their societies and temples of worship; they teach their doctrines, have their employments, mingle as freely with one another as they choose, and in all respects live a real life.
Those who had been externally moral and devout continued to be so. They frequented their temples and were zealous in instructing the simple and ignorant in their doctrines. They entered into their ideas of heaven. They occupied elevated positions and thought they were in heaven. So long as their internal character remained quiescent, and was concealed by correct moral conduct and a devout exterior, they were not molested; and they performed a use in instructing the ignorant, welcoming those who were constantly arriving from this world, and in many other ways adapted to the conditions and wants of the people around them.
We must keep in mind, also, that all those who were good at heart, and whose external life was brought into conformity with their internal character, and all infants and children, were taken to heaven; and that those who were wholly wicked, in external form as well as in internal principle, went to their infernal abodes. This left two classes in the intermediate state, one of which was composed of those who were internally evil and externally good; and the other, of those who were internally good but externally in ignorance, and who only needed instruction and the development of their internal nature to fit them for heaven. Multitudes were like children. They were simply ignorant of all spiritual knowledge. They had not known the Lord's will, and consequently they would be "beaten with few stripes." They had not destroyed the germs of spiritual life, and consequently were capable of being instructed and raised to heaven. They were of simple minds, incapable of spiritual discernment. They judged people according to their appearance, as multitudes do at the present time. They reverenced their leaders; those who appeared to be devout they believed to be so, and accorded to them the honor and authority which they claimed.
But Swedenborg's description of those who dwelt in what is called in the Word the "first heaven," which was situated in this intermediate state, and which those who formed it considered it to be heaven itself, is so graphic and so true to the well-known character of professing Christians, especially during the last centuries of that Age, that we will give it in his own words: "Its inhabitants were those who lived in the world in external, and never in internal, sanctity; who were just and sincere for the sake of civil and moral laws, but not for the sake of Divine laws, therefore, who were external or natural, and not internal or spiritual people; who also were in the doctrinals of the Church, and who were able to teach them, but whose lives were not accordant with them; and who filled various offices, and did uses, but not for the sake of uses. These, and all throughout the whole world who were like them, constituted the first heaven.
"This heaven therefore was such as the world and Church upon earth is, among those who do good, not because it is good, but because they fear the laws, and the loss of fame, honor, and lucre; they who do good from no other origin, do not fear God, but people, and are destitute of conscience. In the first heaven of the Reformed, there was a large proportion of spirits who believed that people are saved by faith alone, and did not live the life of charity; and who loved much to be seen of other people. In all these spirits, so long as they were associated together, the interiors were closed, that they might not appear; but when the Last Judgment was at hand, they were opened; and it was then found that inwardly they were obsessed by falsities and evils of every kind, and that they were against the Divine, and were actually in hell; for every one after death is immediately bound to his like, the good to their like in heaven, but to the evil to their like in hell, yet they do not go to them before the interiors are unveiled; in the meantime they may live together in society with those who resemble them in externals."
This state and the reason for its existence is described in the parable of the tares and wheat, which are so intimately connected that the tares cannot be pulled up without destroying the wheat also. Both must grow together, therefore, until the harvest, which is the end of the Age.
Such was the character of the people who were to be judged. The good and the evil were so intimately connected that they could not be forcibly separated by the application of omnipotent power, until their real characters had become so fully developed that they were evident to all. Every principle and quality of a personís spiritual nature, whether it be good or evil, gains strength by exercise. We cannot always wear the mask. "There is nothing covered which shall not be revealed." As the character of the people in this world became more corrupt, the vast procession of human beings who were moving into the intermediate state would swell the numbers of those who remained there, and inflame their evil passions until they would seek to bring every one into subjection to their will. There is no limit to the arrogance and claims of homage by the love of self. If Milton had laid the scenes of his "Paradise Lost" in the intermediate state, it would have been in many respects a remarkably true description of the character of those upon whom the Last Judgment was performed, and of the scenes which occurred during its execution. It is not a long step from assuming the office of vicegerent of God in this world to the claim of being God Himself in the world to come. Everyone who has any accurate knowledge of human nature can see what results would be inevitable if those who are openly and decidedly principled in goodness and truth were removed from any people, and only those who loved themselves and the world, and the simple-minded who do not think for themselves, remained. The only restraint upon the leading minds of such a people would be their machinations against one another, and the fear of losing their power. A society, whether in this world or any other, large or small, composed of such elements, contains within itself the forces which must inevitably destroy it. They are antagonistic in their essential nature, and "a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand."
But there is another cause for the breaking up and destruction of societies and kingdoms composed of the conflicting elements of evil and falsity. The Lord does not stand by as an idle spectator of the conflicts of the evil with the good, or of the evil with the evil. He has not given up the government of the human race to certain laws with which He cannot in any manner interfere or regulate. Law has no power. It is simply the way in which the Lord accomplishes His purposes. He has an infinite reserve of power which He can bring to bear upon any condition of society, either in this life or the other, when in His infinite wisdom He sees that the preservation or extension of His kingdom requires it. He manifests His infinite mercy and truth as much by withholding His power as He does by the exercise of it. There is no fuller or more beautiful exhibition of the Divine love and wisdom than in the precision with which means are adapted to ends, and the exquisite care with which the Lord withholds His power, when a larger influx of it would hurt us. "A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench: He shall bring forth judgment unto truth." He allowed those who were dwelling in the intermediate state to remain there as long as they could preserve even the semblance of goodness. He was in no haste to uncover their iniquity and expose their hypocrisy. He moderated the influx of His Divine power that they might not be disturbed by it. He was in no haste to send them away to their dreary abodes. He did the best He could for them.
But when the Age had come to an end, and those who composed it had been gathered into the spiritual world, and could no longer render any service to one another; when the wicked could not be kept even in the semblance of good, the time for the Judgment had come. The harvest was ripe; there would be no more growth, and nothing remained but to gather it in.
How this Judgment was effected, and the World of Spirits was cleared of this vast multitude of people, remains to be considered. Evidently it was not done by a merely spoken word. That would be too mechanical, too much like a human tribunal, and would not be adequate to the result. It is truly described as due to the Coming of the Lord, and the consequent opening of the book of every life. It was caused by a more powerful action of the Divine forces upon the minds of that vast multitude; by which they were brought face to face with the truth, and their real characters were revealed. To understand the effect of such a disclosure of the inward wickedness of the inhabitants of this world, it is necessary to keep in mind two great laws which we see in operation in this world, but which act without any restriction in the spiritual world.
The first is this: In the other life the outward world is the perfect reflex of the inward life. It is a projection of the affections and thoughts. The outward is related to the inward as effect to cause. This is true in this world to a very great extent. People are always trying to make the outward world correspond to their affections and knowledge. But matter is hard to overcome, and for this reason even the wisest and most powerful can reduce the outward to the inward state only in a small degree. We see the principle, however, in the differences in dress, habitation, the plants and animals which exist, between savage and enlightened nations. But in the spiritual world the correspondence is perfect. It extends to the minutest particulars, and involves the earth on which the people dwell, and the whole outward world around them.
The other point is the relation of the people to the Divine forces which give them life. I have spoken of this principle in a previous chapter. All the power of life is a constant gift from the Lord, and is adjusted with the most exquisite exactness and delicacy to a personís spiritual and natural organism. Any diminution of the forces of life would leave him or her correspondingly weak and incapable of action. Any large increase of vital power would torment and consume them. It would have the same effect that an intense light has upon a weak and inflamed eye.
By drawing near to the inhabitants who were in this intermediate state between heaven and hell, there would be a more powerful inflowing of the Divine forces into their spiritual organisms. These forces would come as light uncovering the hypocrisies and revealing the true characters of those who were inwardly evil. This could not fail to cause a separation between the wicked and those who had been deceived by their feigned goodness. The good at heart would be horrified at the revelation of such wickedness, and the hypocrites would be covered with shame and confusion. It would require no almighty power to drive these two classes asunder. The good would withdraw from horror, and the wicked would flee from shame. The same principles would operate to drive them asunder that we see in operation in this life.
But there would be a more potent cause of separation than these. Truth is not only a light, it is a Divine force repelling those who are not in harmony with it, and attracting those who are. By bringing this vast and incongruous multitude of people more directly under the influence of the Lord, the Spirit of Truth would have more direct access to them. The good would hail the new power with delight, and would be drawn by its sweet attractions towards heaven and the Lord. At the same time, the wicked would be tormented by it, and would flee to escape the suffering. By these influences the separation of the good from the wicked would be accomplished.
These great changes were not effected in a moment by the application of arbitrary power. Every step was taken according to the laws of infinite wisdom, and with the most tender regard for every member of that great company, the evil as well as the good. The whole book of Revelation is employed in describing, in prophetic symbols, the preparation for the Judgment, the manner in which it was executed, and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth. Some of the scenes which are described in that book literally took place in the spiritual world. Indeed, it was distinctly said to John, "Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter" (Rev. iv. 1). The great cosmic commotions and changes which are attributed to the Second Coming were effected there. There were great earthquakes, "the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men. and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid them selves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" As the objective world, in a spiritual state of being, is created by the states of life of the people, it would change as their states changed. Any great spiritual commotion would cause earthquakes, and changes in the visible heavens. When the inhabitants fled, the earth and the heavens would depart, for they are but the shadow of the substantial thoughts and affections which exist in the mind. The people who had claimed office and honor in the Church, and had professed affection for the Lord and the neighbor, but who were hypocrites, could not bear the approach of the Lord and the holy angels. The power of His love and wisdom would be intolerable to them. Their minds would be filled with terror. It would be a day of torment to them; it would be the overthrow of all their power, the unmasking of their true characters, and the destruction of all their hopes.
So the Age was consummated both in this world and in the other. The World of Spirits was cleared of the vast multitude which had gathered there during many generations, and they went where the attractions of their characters would take them, and they joined those who were of a like nature with themselves.
But this event, grand and important as it was in itself and in its bearings upon those who were personally affected by it, is still more important in its effects upon the inhabitants of the earth. The Judgment was only one of the collateral effects of the Second Coming. It consisted essentially in removing the obstacles and preparing the way for the Lord's Coming to us in the power and glory of spiritual truth. But to see this clearly, we must understand how the people who are in the intermediate state stand related to the inhabitants of this world.
It is, as we have seen, the first state upon which people enter after their resurrection, and, consequently, it is but slightly removed from their spiritual condition before their resurrection. The inhabitants of the World of Spirits are, therefore, near to us. They are only one step removed from us. In one way, and in an important sense, they stand between us and the Lord as He seeks to come to us through heaven by the instrumentality of the angels. They are intermediates between us and Him, and the angels, and according to their character they transmit, or they obstruct and pervert, the light of the Divine truth and the life of the Divine love in its transmission to people on the earth. Their minds are in intimate contact with our minds, and their influence inflames our passions, or quickens our love for goodness and truth, darkens or clarifies our understanding, according to its quality. Our minds are penetrated and imbued with their life. When that is evil and their sphere powerful, we are hurried away in the currents of their influence into evil and error. They form the spiritual atmosphere we breathe, the light in which we see, and the spiritual climate in which we live. Their influence is, therefore, constant, though imperceptible, and when evil, it perverts our affections, darkens our understandings, and poisons the very springs of life.
Their power over the human race had become so great, before the Last Judgment, that people had nearly lost the consciousness that they were spiritual beings. A belief in the substantial existence of the spiritual world had nearly died out from the human mind, and even now it is only slowly reviving. People were taught that their salvation depended upon formal assent to certain doctrines which they did not understand rather than upon a heavenly life; the love of goodness and truth waxed cold and iniquity abounded. Spiritual life was suffocated in the mephitic exhalations which poured into peoplesí minds from that vast Stygian lake. A spiritual stupor was induced which rendered people almost incapable of exercising any spiritual faculty, or feeling any interest in those questions which related to their spiritual welfare.
By the breaking up and dispersion of these societies, the equilibrium between good and evil, by which people are kept in freedom, was regained; order was restored in the spiritual world; the heavens were strengthened by the accession of those who could be received into them, and the incorrigibly wicked were removed from direct interaction with people in this world and put under restraint. The spiritual atmosphere which people who were still in the material body breathed was purified, the clouds which obscured the light of Divine truth were dispersed, and all the Divine forces, which act upon us and constitute our life, could reach them more directly and work out in them more efficiently the accomplishment of the Lord's purposes of good to them. These influences tended to wake humanity from its spiritual stupor, to abate the force of evil, to weaken the bonds of error, to clarify peoplesí understanding, and give them power to see spiritual truth in rational light. The Spirit of Truth could gain freer access to the human mind, and awake it to the consciousness of its own nature and capacities, and vivify its affections with new life.
By the Last Judgment a most important change was effected in our spiritual relations, and in the aspect of the human mind to the reception of those Divine forces which constitute its life. The heavens drew nearer to people in this world, bringing with them their love and purity, their harmony and peace. The hells, with their hate and strife and poisonous breath, receded, and a freer, more direct, and larger way was opened for the Lord to come to us in the power and glory of His truth and love.
Such is a brief and general statement of the doctrines of the New Church concerning the Last Judgment, which, according to them, took place in the spiritual world more than two centuries ago. It is so contrary to common opinion, and involves so many things concerning the condition of, human beings and their relations to each other in the spiritual world, that it cannot but seem strange and, perhaps, improbable to those who believe that the Final Judgment is to take place in this world, is to be effected by the Lord in person, and is to be attended with the most stupendous convulsions of nature. It may seem especially strange that this great event took place more than two centuries ago.
But, as we have shown in previous chapters, the literal account of the Second Coming and, consequently, of the Judgment, cannot be true in all its particulars. Those who accept the disclosures of Swedenborg concerning the other life find his account of the Judgment to be eminently credible in itself, fully in accordance with all known laws of human nature, consistent with the Divine character and the purposes of infinite love and the methods of infinite wisdom. The more critically it is examined in all its bearings, in the light of reason and revelation, the more clearly it will be verified. If the doctrine is true, there must be distinct evidences of it in human society. So great a change in the quality and force of the influences which are constantly acting upon the sources of a personís life could not be made without having a powerful influence upon their condition in this world. They must wake to new life and energy, and all their activities must take a new and a more heavenly direction.