Human instrumentality necessary to the Second Coming
Every step in human progress has been taken by means of new truth. This is a law of the Divine order organized in human nature and applicable alike to individuals and to the whole of humanity. Our existence begins in mere possibilities; but possibilities of such supreme excellence that there are no assignable limits in their development and .capacity for knowledge, power, and the attainment of happiness, beyond which we cannot pass. Human existence begins in the circumference of creation from which we set out on an endless journey toward the infinite center, the Lord. Every step of the way is to be taken by the truth. Truth is the way; it forms it for our mind, as earth and stones and iron form the way for our feet. Truth gives light on the way. The truths which compose it shine. It is as though every particle of dust in the road, and every stone in the paved street should shine as from an inward light. Truth is the instrument by which the Lord gives us life and power. Truth is the "hem of His garment," from which flows forth virtue to all who touch it with living hands. It is as though there were a vital force in the earth and stones, which flowed into the foot at every step, invigorating the whole body with new life. Every new age which humanity passes through on its endless journey is formed by new truths.
But the truths which bridge the gulf and form the way between humanity and the Lord, do not come immediately and directly from Him; they are always given by human instrumentalities. The child does not gain truth by intuition; it must be taught. When a new age is to be initiated, the Lord always raises up some person who can receive and communicate the truths which create it. The history of human progress in every plane of life supplies us with abundant examples of this Divine method of providing the means for human spiritual development. Moses was miraculously preserved and educated to lead the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan; to receive from the Lord the commandments and statutes for the civil government, and the institution of the ceremonial worship of the Jews. David was called from keeping sheep to be the keeper of Israel; to lead her armies, to subdue her enemies, and, by singing his own sorrows and conflicts and victories, to sing the songs of every human soul in its conflict with evil, in the shame and sorrow of its defeats and the joy of its victories. Even when the Lord Himself was to come into the world in person, John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way by calling people to repentance; and people were taken from their employments to be His disciples, that they might become the apostles of His truth, and by committing it to writing, make it the common property of mankind. "John was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the Word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ" when he was called up into the heavens in the spirit, that he might see " the things which are and the things which shall be hereafter." The whole of revelation contained in the Sacred Scriptures was given by human instrumentality. As this revelation is embodied in human language, the interpretation of its meaning must be given by people also.
If the Spirit of Truth is to come with new power and glory, and guide us into all truth by means of the words which the Lord has spoken unto us by the mouth of His holy prophets, these words must contain all truth; they must have higher meanings than lie upon their surface, and they must be written in a different way from any other book, as we might justly suppose they would be if the Lord is their author. It is in accordance with all known methods of Divine operation to employ some human agency to do the human side of the work in placing the human race in such a mental attitude to the Spirit of Truth that they can receive the new light. It cannot break out by an inward force. It must come as the light of science comes from rock and plant, teaching us that it is there, and by placing them in the true position to see it. This can only be done in one of two ways. First, by miraculously endowing everyone with the capacity to discover the truth, each one for themselves; or, second, by preparing one mind to receive and communicate the new truth. So far as we have any knowledge of the Divine methods, the latter is the chosen way of infinite wisdom. We have, therefore, rational grounds for the belief that if humanity is to take a new step in spiritual knowledge and life, a human instrument is necessary to do the human side of the work.
This work is a peculiar and difficult one. It cannot be done by means of grammar and lexicon, or any amount of natural knowledge. A clearer exposition of some difficult passages of Scripture is not sufficient. The relation of the letter to the spirit and the law according to which spiritual truth invariably assumes natural forms when it comes down into the natural plane of the creation must be seen. Both the spiritual and the natural side of truth must be seen at the same time. But this can only be done by one whose spiritual and natural consciousness are both open and active. One of the great difficulties in understanding the Scriptures lies in the fact that we see only one side, and that the side of effects. Language, also, is a very weak and imperfect instrument of communicating the truth, especially when the idea and the expression have only an arbitrary connection. But our Lord said that the words He spoke are spirit and life. They must be the very forms which spiritual forces assume when they come down to the natural plane, just as the movements of the face and bodily actions are the forms which human thoughts and affections take on when they descend into the body.
We have seen that some human instrument was necessary to teach people the spiritual meaning of natural truth, and that that instrument must be able to see both the natural and spiritual side of the truths of revelation. Swedenborg claims to be that instrument, and to have been in the mental state requisite for doing the work. His statement with regard to the nature of the work, and of his own preparation for it, is so clear that we cannot do better than hear him. He says:
Swedenborg reiterates this claim to open and conscious presence in the spiritual world many times during the twenty-seven years of its continuance. In his last work he says, "Since the Lord cannot manifest Himself in Person, and nevertheless has foretold that He will come and found a new church, which is the New Jerusalem, it follows that He will do this by means of a man who can not only receive the doctrines of this church with the understanding, but can also publish them by the press. That the Lord manifested Himself before me, His servant, and sent me to this office, and that He afterward opened the sight of my spirit, and so has intromitted me into the spiritual world, and has granted me to see the heavens and the hells,, also to converse with angels and spirits, and this now uninterruptedly for many years, I testify in truth; likewise from the first day of that call I have not received anything which pertains to the doctrines of that church from any angel, but from the Lord alone while I have read the Word.
"For the sake of the end that the Lord might be constantly present, He has disclosed to me the spiritual sense of his Word in which Divine truth is in its light, and in this light He is continually present. For His presence in the Word comes only by means of the spiritual sense; through the light of this He passes into the shade in which the sense of the letter is, comparatively as it is with the light of the sun in the day-time passing through a cloud that is interposed. The sense of the letter of the Word is as a cloud, while the spiritual sense is the glory, and the Lord Himself is the Sun from which the light comes, and so the Lord is the Word" (TCR 779, 780).
Such is Swedenborg's account of his mission, and of the means by which he was prepared and enabled to fulfill it. It is calm, dispassionate, consistent with itself, with the wants of humanity, and perfectly adapted to its accomplishment. It was not a fitful and sudden change. It came on gradually, and continued without intermission for nearly thirty years.
He knew with what incredulity his claims to open spiritual vision would be received, and this is a strong collateral evidence that he was not himself deceived.
Whether Swedenborg's claims to open and conscious intromission into the spiritual world, and free interaction with its inhabitants for many years, be true or not, must, ultimately, be decided by other evidence than his own testimony. It must be decided by the necessity for such a service to human progress, by the rationality of the reports he brings to us, and their accord with the well-established general laws of man's nature. His claims must be judged by the Divine and only crucial test, the work itself. This is a test which he and those who accept the doctrines taught by him earnestly invite. Let us see distinctly what those claims are.
He claims to have been admitted openly and consciously into the spiritual world, and to have associated freely and widely with its inhabitants of all classes for many years. He was not in a state of trance. His natural and spiritual faculties were awake at the same time, so that he could see both the natural and the spiritual at the same time, and could accurately distinguish between them. He did not confound the natural with the spiritual, or the spiritual with the natural, and mistake one for the other. He saw them side by side; he could compare one with the other; he could discriminate their differences, and see how they were related.
By these means he claims to have disclosed to this world the grand truth of the substantial existence of the spiritual world, as distinct from the material world as the human spirit is from the material body, and bearing about the same relations to it that the spirit bears to the body. He declares that it is a world in the true meaning of the word, and possesses all the forms, features, and qualities essential to a world. It is objective to the inhabitants; they dwell in it as we dwell in the material world, they have their homes in it, and find the most ample means of happiness in its wide and lovely realm. The inhabitants are spiritual, but truly human beings, in the human form, having all the organs and senses of human beings. Their spiritual bodies are related and exquisitely adjusted to the substances and forces, the attractions and influences of the spiritual earth, as our material bodies are adapted to a material earth. The inhabitants of that world see by means of spiritual light, they breathe a spiritual atmosphere, and speak and hear by means of it. The innumerable company of human beings who have been born upon the earth, and have passed away from it, are living there now, retaining their consciousness, and preserving their identity, and have lost nothing of their form or faculties, or of the qualities of human beings. The essential difference between the spiritual and the material worlds, and the inhabitants who dwell in them, consists in the supreme excellence of spiritual substances, which can take on more various and lovely forms and, in the case of human beings, can be molded into organs capable of more exquisite sensations.
He has, also, described the manner in which the inhabitants of the spiritual world are organized into societies according to their characters, their modes of life, their dwellings, the scenery which surrounds them, the ample means of happiness which the good possess, and the torments which afflict the wicked. His account of what he saw and heard in a state of clear spiritual wakefulness is so minute and graphic, and consistent with itself, and with all the known laws of man's spiritual nature and wants, that, supposing it to be true, we get a distinct and satisfactory idea of the spiritual world as a real and substantial world, and of life in it, as individual, conscious, and supplied with all the means for the unlimited development of every spiritual faculty, and the attainment of ever-increasing happiness. Personality becomes more distinct, the senses more acute, the outward world more substantial and rich in beautiful forms, social life more harmonious and lovely, and everything without and within more nicely adjusted to supply every spiritual want and to minister to every heavenly desire. Hope becomes fruition, and the purest ideals, and the loftiest aspirations are realized.
If Swedenborg's account of the spiritual world was given in a state of ecstasy, or if it was a theory of his own, unsupported by any substantial evidence independent of him, it might be classed with the multitude of fancies and speculations and guesses which have appeared in every age of the Church, though more rational, consistent, and every way worthy of the Lord, and in accordance with man's nature than any of them. But he sets out with certain well-established laws and principles of universal application to which he constantly adheres, and to the judgment of which he brings every statement he makes, even the most trivial, concerning the spiritual world. He commits himself to the custody of these immutable laws and asks that his disclosures be received, not on his personal testimony, but on the testimony of universal principles. He takes ground against himself, as it were, "I know," he says, "that these things are incredible; but they are, nevertheless, true." Their incredibility, however, does not consist in the fact that they are contrary to the laws of the Divine order, or impossible in the nature of things, but in this, that they are above the conceptions of human ignorance, and surpass the limits of the natural senses.
By his intromission into the spiritual world, Swedenborg gained the true point of view to see the relation between the natural and the spiritual worlds, between natural and spiritual truth, and how they act and react the one upon the other. He saw the spiritual side of natural truth. He was raised above appearances; saw spiritual principles in their true forms and order, and, in this way, while he was able to guard against the illusions of appearances, he could, at the same time, understand them. In this intellectual position he could be instructed concerning the manner in which the Word was written. He found that it was written according to the law of relation between spiritual and natural things. He learned that material objects and natural actions and events were the effects of spiritual causes, and, therefore, that they were the natural exponents of spiritual laws and forces; or, in other words, of spiritual and Divine truths. In this way he claims to have gained a scientific law of exegesis, of universal application in the interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures; a law which inheres in the nature and relations of spirit and matter. This method of interpreting the Scriptures does not consist in spiritualizing the natural meaning, as that is commonly understood, or in putting fanciful meanings into the words of the Lord, but in following the guidance of a law, which actually exists, to its necessary results. There is no more fancy in this mode of interpretation than there is in the meaning of the figures in a mathematical calculation. If, for example, water is the natural exponent of one degree of spiritual truth,, it must be so taken wherever it is mentioned in the Word, and in whatever form and relations it occurs. The fixed, unalterable meaning is truth, the meaning being modified according to the subjects connected with it, the modification itself, however, following an immutable law. And so with regard to every other natural object and action and person mentioned in the Word. The wildest scenes of prophetic vision, and the most explicit statement of natural acts, are subject to this law, and by its application even numbers and dry genealogies yield the most precious practical truths. The letter becomes transfigured and shines like the sun. The glory of the Lord illuminates it, and the power of the Divine truth penetrates and is transmitted by it.
By means of this higher and specific knowledge of the Word, we get all the means necessary or useful in coming into such relation to the Divine forces that they can operate upon us in the most direct and helpful manner. We gain a true knowledge of the Lord. The Lord reveals Himself to us in His Word, spiritually understood, in His true form and character. He not only reveals the fact of His existence, but He reveals His form and character and purposes and relations to us, and the means He employs to carry His purposes of love and wisdom into effect. And He does this with such accuracy and precision that He comes distinctly before us in His Divine and glorious personality. All obscurities are removed, all conflicting views concerning His attributes and personality, which originated in the letter, are reconciled. He reveals Himself as one Being, one Person, in one glorious human form, as the distinct and central object of thought and affection. "We have one Lord and His name one."
With equal clearness and precision and distinctness we find our own spiritual natures revealed to us. We find not only that we have spirits, but that we are spirits. We not only get satisfactory knowledge of the fact, but also about the form and substance and organization of our spiritual natures. Spirit becomes something more than a name, or a force. It is substance, it is form, it is the person themselves. The relative position and estimate of the body and soul are reversed. The spirit gives form to the body. The material body is the accident, the evanescent, the unreal. The spirit is the constant, the substantial. The spiritual world is the real world. We are citizens of that world; are formed to dwell in it, and to find in it our eternal home.
We not only learn that we are spiritual beings, and that a spiritual being is something more than a name, but we see in the clear light of spiritual truth the forms, degrees, and relations of our spiritual faculties to one another, and the proper order and essential means for their development. We learn that the laws of spiritual life are not empirical or arbitrarily imposed us; we see that they grow out of us, or, rather, that they are organized in us, as the laws which control the growth of a plant are organized in its structure or as the laws of physical life and growth are organized in the material body. We all know that the body was not made and then put under the dominion of arbitrary laws. It is its own law. So the spirit is the embodiment of all the laws which determine its relations to other beings and things, and which regulate all its activities and prescribe its means of growth. In a word, it is discovered that the Sacred Scriptures, when seen in spiritual light, are a statement, in natural language and symbolic forms, of the laws and principles of the Divine nature, and of human nature. The Lord is the Word because the Bible is the transcript and expression of principles which exist in Him in their infinite fullness and perfection. He is the truth; revelation is the expression of the truth which exists in Him. It is the presentation of it in forms adapted to human use and transmission. As people were made in the likeness and image of God, by which we are to understand that the laws of the Divine nature were finited in him, the Scriptures are a statement of the laws of life embodied in us. They are a spiritual physiology. They were given for the same relative purpose that a book on physiology is written and put into the hands of a. medical student; and that is for the purpose of acquainting us with the principles of our spiritual nature, the laws which are enacted in its structure, which regulate its activities, point out its relations to the sources of power and life, and reveal the means for its development, and the attainment of its ends.
Now, it is admitted by all that this Book, which Christians regard as the Word of the Lord, contains many things difficult to be understood, many things which have only a remote and inferential relation to us in the present time, some things which seem to be contradictory, some which cannot be literally true. Divine truths are presented in such a form that good people have come to directly opposite conclusions concerning their meaning on all the fundamental principles of the Lord's nature, of human nature, and of their relation to one another. There are many and painful doubts about their meaning. People walk in the dark. The highest Christian attainment consists in walking by faith, and an implicit trust in the Divine goodness. By the common methods of interpretation, the Spirit of Truth has not yet gained such access to the minds of even the best of us that He can lead us into all truth. And by the ordinary methods of interpretation there are no rational grounds for the hope of any improvement in this respect.
Swedenborg claims to have rendered to the human race precisely the service which they need in overcoming the obstacles to a true understanding of the Word. He claims to have given the law according to which it was written, and the key to its Divine and spiritual meaning. Whether his claims are true or not can only be determined for each individual by a personal examination of his methods and their results. But no rational mind can deny that this is precisely what we want to meet the growing skepticism of the age, and to put humankind into such relations to the source of power and life that it can receive them in full measure and effective form.
The human race has lost its spiritual life by departing from the only conditions on which it could receive it. People can regain it only by coming into those conditions. They must put themselves into such relations to the source of life that its Divine forces can act upon them. The means of doing this, and the way of doing it, are revealed in the Word. The Word was given for that purpose. But such were human conditions, and the relations between the Lord and our race, that these directions could only be given in precepts, formal commandments, and natural symbols. The laws and qualities of spirit and matter are so different in nature, that spiritual truths cannot be presented in their naked and own proper forms in natural language. They can only be expressed in correspondential images; and these images are not the truths themselves, but the garments in which they appear when they come down into the natural plane of creation. The natural garments are often very unlike the truth itself; and people in low natural conditions are liable to mistake the appearance for the truth itself. In this way they are misled; they come to false conclusions, they wander so far from the paths of the Divine order that the Lord cannot reveal Himself to them, and work with efficiency and success for their spiritual good. What, then, does man need? Evidently, some one to show him the difference between the apparent and the genuine truth.
Swedenborg claims to have done this. Those who have carefully examined his claims, and tested them by the results of his work, believe them to be well founded. He has disclosed the genuine meaning of the Word, and by so doing he has shown us how we can put ourselves into such relations to the Lord that His Divine forces can act upon us in the most direct and efficient manner. He has done for people spiritually what all the discoverers in natural science have done for them naturally, as material beings. Science has discovered natural forces, and shown how we can so adjust ourselves to them that they can come to us and work for us in manifold ways. Swedenborg was raised up and brought into such a state that he could be admitted consciously into the spiritual world, and see the true relations between spirit and matter, and by these means disclose to our world the genuine meaning of the Word, and show us how to find in its sacred pages the laws of his spiritual being, and the specific directions for adjusting ourselves with absolute precision to the nature, form, order, and flow of the Divine forces from which we receive all his power to love, think, act, and even to exist.
When a person assumes this attitude to the Lord, and places themselves in the current of the Divine forces, the Lord can come to them in power and glory. The way is open; there are no obstructions. People are in the river of life; its currents flow through them, cleansing them from the defilements of sin, vivifying and making fruitful every faculty into which they come. The Spirit of Truth, which is a river of light, and flows into their understanding, can bring all things to a personís remembrance which the Lord has spoken in His Word. It can show them in all the prophets things concerning Himself, and according to the degree of his reception, He can lead him into all truth. He can come to a person and dwell with them, and conjoin them to Himself; give them the living rest of feeling, thinking, acting in accord with the harmonies of the Divine order, and the profound peace of reposing in the heart of the Divine love.
This clear knowledge of the Lord, whom to know aright is life everlasting, and this accurate adjustment of the human organism to the nature and order of the Divine forces of love and truth, is all that is necessary to the fulfillment of every sign and promised effect of His Second Coming, and to the accomplishment of His clearly expressed purpose of establishing His kingdom among us, and so flooding our minds with the light of His truth, and so filling our hearts with the life of His love, that "His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven."