The necessity for their education,
One of the first questions put by those who hear what the friends of the New Church believe concerning the spiritual world and the nature of human life there, is, How do you know these things? They are interesting and beautiful, that no one can deny. They are what every one who has children in the other world desires to believe. They comfort those who mourn; they assuage the sorrows of the bereaved heart; they satisfy, to some extent at least, the demands of parental love. But how do you know that they are true ? How did you learn these things which have been so long hidden from humanity? What evidence can you give to confirm them ?
These are proper questions, and New Church people take great delight in answering them, though they are not always able to do it to the satisfaction of those who ask them, because they cannot be fully and rationally answered in a few words. No great vital question of natural science, even much less the principles which lie at the foundation of our existence as spiritual beings, can be answered in a few words. We say, for example, that we get these things from Swedenborg. But that does not satisfy. The question immediately rises, How did he learn them? We answer that his spiritual sight was opened, and that as to his spirit he was admitted into the spiritual world, and actually saw and heard the things which he relates. Then we are met with the customary epithets which are supposed to set aside his testimony - mystic, dreamer, insane. His claims are regarded by the great majority of humankind as unworthy of credence. It is impossible in the nature of things, men say, that he could see and hear such things. If we reply that there are many instances recorded in the Bible of the opening of man's spiritual sight; that the whole Book of the Revelation is a record of what John saw, while, as to his material body, he was in the Isle of Patmos, and, as to his spirit, in the spiritual world; if we say, further, than there are well authenticated instances of the opening of man's spiritual sight, in all ages and among all people, the question comes as quick as the report of a gun after the flash, Why was Swedenborg rather than some one else prepared and commissioned to do this work? and the question is put with a tone of voice which shows more clearly than the words, how absurd they think the claim is. We answer, Swedenborg was selected for the office of making known to man the nature of the spiritual world and of man as a spiritual being, because he was one of the greatest and wisest and best men who ever lived in the world. The history of mankind gives us no example of a more unselfish and devoted lover of the truth than he was.
But we do not ask people to accept what he says merely on his assertion and authority. While we gratefully acknowledge that we could never by our own power have discovered what he has revealed to us, yet when his disclosures were once made known, we hold that all he has taught us is a proper subject for the exercise of reason. We hold that it ought to be subjected to the test of reason and revelation. We ask everyone to give them this test. We are delighted when we can find a man or woman who will do it, for we are quite sure that whoever will do it in a candid spirit, with a sincere desire to know what is true, will find them in full accord with reason and revelation; and that they will stand any test they can apply to them, and satisfy all the real wants of the head and the heart.
We are remanded, therefore, to the intrinsic probability of Swedenborg's disclosures. Let them be judged by their merits; by their coherence with each other; by their accordance with the Divine nature and purpose, and with man's nature.
For example, let us take the subject of the present discourse, the necessity for the education of infants and children in the other life; we can test what Swedenborg says about it by the nature of the human mind itself, and the purpose of the Lord in the creation of man. This is the point of view in which I wish to place you, and from which I wish to view the whole subject. I wish not only to tell you what our doctrines teach us about the condition of children in the other life, and how they are educated, and their whole natures developed into angelic strength and beauty, but I wish to show that this is done according to the laws of the human mind, and the conditions in which the children are placed.
The human mind, composed of will and understanding, or of the affections and intellect, is man's spiritual nature. It comprises all that belongs to a human being, except the material body, Mind and body are the whole of man. At death the body remains in this world, the mind or spirit goes into the spiritual world. Its nature is not changed by this transition. It remains the same as it was while in the body. Its wants are the same; its powers are the same; its qualities are the same. It has gained no knowledge; it has obtained no new affections. It has simply been raised out of the material body and brought consciously into the spiritual world. Keeping these facts in mind, every one can decide whether what I have to say is intrinsically probable or not; whether it is contrary to Scripture or not.
First, let us see what reason we have to believe that there is any necessity for instruction. So far as we know anything about the human mind, all its knowledge is acquired. It is not innate. The new-born infant has no knowledge. It does not possess the instinct of animals. It is the most ignorant and helpless of created things. It has everything to learn. If it leaves the material body and is born into the spiritual world as soon as it is born into this, it is as ignorant and helpless, and needs care and instruction as much as it would have needed them if it had remained in this world. At whatever age a little child passes into the other world, it is there as it was here.
But while an infant has no actual knowledge, it has the germs of all knowledge; while it has no power of loving actually developed and in exercise, it has the capacity for a seraph's affection. A mere possibility itself, it has a nature which can be developed beyond any assignable limit. The infant just born has the capacity of passing beyond the present attainments of the highest angel. But this attainment is to be made by the exercise of its faculties. It must learn; its affections must be called into various play and unfolded by use.
These faculties, or what we may call the nature of the infant, are tainted with hereditary evil. Every child derives its peculiar nature, or specific character, or tendencies, from its parents. The mind of a child is not like a sheet of white paper, or the prepared surface of the photographic plate, passively receiving and retaining every form impressed upon it. It is organic; it is alive. It is like the germ in the seed, or the invisible principle in an egg, which determines the form and color and nature of the whole plant, or animal which springs from it. These germs derive their quality from the parent. "Like begets like." The moral as well as the physical nature is hereditary. Moral as well as physical disease is handed down from. generation to generation. The natural spontaneous impulses of children are selfish, and no child who was left to the unrestrained indulgence of its natural appetites and passions would grow up to be a good man or woman. .
This hereditary evil nature is not sin, it is only a tendency to it. The child is no more to blame for it than it is for having a narrow chest…. Sin is the voluntary violation of a known moral law. An evil nature is a tendency to sin.
Every child takes with it all its hereditary nature; all its tendencies to evil. This must be so, because it is the child itself which goes into the other world. It leaves only the material body in this world, which is only a better-fitting garment, woven of material substances, and fashioned in the form of the spiritual body. The subject of education and the necessity for education are the same that they would have been if the child had remained in this world. The conditions and means of education only are changed. The child is placed in far better conditions than it would be possible to find in this world. These conditions are worthy of a passing notice.
The child is freed from the encumbrance and restraint of the material body. The material body in itself is dead. It has no life which the spirit does not give it. It grows slowly; it is feeble and will never bear much strain. It is easily deranged; it is heavy and dull.. It is like a veil to the senses - a glove to the hand. In this life we can only approach the child through the obtuse and perverting medium of the body, and the child can only apprehend what comes to it through this medium, and as it comes. How long it takes to get any recognition from the infant before it can even answer the mother's smile! How much longer before it can understand her words. It requires months and sometimes years before it can walk and articulate words. How many efforts it must make before it can stand, or even sit alone! How long it must coo and mumble before it can speak a word distinctly! How many falls it will catch before it can walk. I doubt whether we ever do anything in after life so difficult, and so apparently impossible, as walking and speaking.
But when the infant passes into the other life, it escapes from all the hindrances and limitations of the material body. It is an infantile form. It has the same spiritual body it had before its material body died. Its death was only its resurrection from the material body. The material body is a cast upon the spiritual body. Death is withdrawal from the cast. The living mold remains the same.
Freed from this encumbrance, the spiritual body, which is the child itself, develops much more rapidly than it could when imprisoned in the flesh. The little infant from its mother's arms begins to walk immediately, and to express its affections by sounds. It grows up much more rapidly, also, because it does not wait for the slow motions of the material body. It has no dead weight to carry about. Its body is organized of spiritual substances, and moves spontaneously at every effort of the will.
The idea that the soul grows seems very absurd to those who have been accustomed to look upon it as a formless essence, or a vital force, and it is absurd from that point of view. How can that which has no form grow? It is a contradiction in terms. But the point of view is false. The spirit is in the human form. The spirit gives form to the material body. The body grows as the spirit grows. We know this from abundant experience. When a little child leaves its material body, the body does not grow any more, but soon turns to dust. There is no power in the elements of matter, in carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, to organize themselves into a living body. There is no more power in the food we eat to make brain and muscle, nerve and bone, than there is in the clay 'to mould itself into bricks, and in the bricks to arrange themselves into a house. The spirit forms the body. The body grows because the spirit grows. If it is the, spirit which weaves the body around it as a garment, why should it cease to grow when it is freed from the body? If the body does not cause its growth, why should it prevent it? Why should it not grow more rapidly until it attains its adult and normal form?
If infants always remained infants in the other life there would be just ground for the too common idea that the death of an infant is a loss to humanity; a promise unfulfilled, a hope blasted. Delightful as infancy is, and fruitful in innocent joys, every parent would regard it as a terrible calamity if the child, born today, was to remain forever a feeble infant. It is not infancy in itself which has so many charms. It is the sense of progress, the surprises which continually greet the parental heart, caused by newly-awakened powers. The half-opened bud is more beautiful than the full blossom, but it would not be if it was to remain half-opened.
It would be impossible to reconcile the death of infants with the Lord's goodness and wisdom if the death of the bud was the cessation of all progress; if they were to remain infants for ever. Reason and observation, and the nature of the human mind, and the goodness of the Lord, all unite in declaring that the growth of the spiritual form is not arrested by its separation from the material body. On the contrary, it is brought into better conditions in every respect for more rapid and perfect development. Your little son or daughter who passed from the sanctuary of your home to the purer and more beautiful homes of the angels lost nothing of the means and capacities for growing up into the full stature of angelic manhood or womanhood; on the contrary, it gained immensely in every faculty and power of growth and attainment.
What a comfort this would be to you if you would let it have its due weight. How many of us have children in the other world and in this world! If we should compare their conditions in the one particular which determines in which world they live, whether they are in the material body or out of it, how much we should find in favor of those whose bodies we have put tenderly away into the earth. They are free from all physical restraints. They are as free to move as the mind itself. They can be where their thought and affection carry them. Those who remain here are imprisoned in the flesh. They must carry the dead weight of their bodies with them wherever they go; and they are often kept from companionships and delights by those physical impediments. How often they would go and come if they were not hindered by the body. How much weariness they would escape. How many delights they would share, if by merely thinking and willing they could change their places.
Our children in heaven have escaped all the pain of disease and all the weariness of labor in escaping from the material body. How great a gain that is. If some angel should announce to you when your child is born, This child shall never be sick, shall never suffer a moment's pain, would you not consider it one of the greatest blessings that could be conferred upon it? How much our children suffer, and how much we suffer with them! I do not know a more painful situation than to see a dear child writhing with pain, and to feel utterly powerless to relieve it, and how often we are called upon to sustain this trial! How many diseases they are exposed to! There is no day without some danger from exposure from their own imprudence. How much they suffer from hunger and from cold! How few children there are in the world who have a really happy childhood!
But those who have gone into the other life never fail to have it. Not one. Those who go from the poorest and foulest homes, as well as those who go from the best, gain entire freedom from all physical infirmity.
When the merciful and loving angel of the Lord came for our children, then he took them from all weariness, all hunger, all the torments of cold and heat, all the weakness of pain and disease. He gave us more than we could ever ask or hope for while they remained in this world. If we could see those who have gone and those who remain, side by side, we could not ask the Lord to let them come back, we could not grieve over their removal from earth. As we saw them rosy with perfect health, strong, vigorous, elastic; all manly and noble qualities crowning the heads of our sons, and the dignity of wisdom embodied in their forms, and flowing forth in every graceful movement; as we saw the loveliness and purity of heaven, blossoming like half-open roses in the faces of our daughters, and the grace of the angels swaying every motion, the beauty of the angels embodied in their forms, and their whole natures imbued with the modesty, the gentleness, and sweetness of the angels, we could not but confess that the Lord had done better for those whom He had taken into His own fold than we can do for those who still remain with us. How could we fail to be thankful that the Lord had made us instruments in giving existence to beings who are the subjects of so much happiness, a happiness which will continue to increase in variety, intensity, and fullness of joy to eternity.
But they are not only freed from all physical restraints and imperfections, from weariness and pain, and sickness of every form. They are also removed from the temptations to evil which assail them on every side in this world. This is the reason why they will never sin, though their hereditary nature is evil. In the other life they are carefully removed from every influence which would have any power to call it into activity, and they are surrounded with attractions whose whole influence tends to develop their good affections. This repression of the evil tendencies of their hereditary natures is not effected by restraint and coercion. The angels to whose care they are committed do not shut them up, and by so doing hope to exclude temptation. Their minds are so preoccupied and filled with heavenly delights that they have no time for anything else. The wheat gets such a start in the ground of their affections, that the tares have no chance to grow, while in this life it is too often the reverse. The hereditary nature is like the germ of a plant which remains dormant.
They become regenerate there as we do here. The necessity is the same and the process is the same. There is no possibility of entering heaven and living in it in the full consciousness and enjoyment of its blessedness until we are born from above, until we have a heavenly nature. We must receive the kingdom of heaven before we can enter into it, as we must receive eyes before we can enter into the kingdom of light.
But while the necessity for regeneration still remains, and the means by which it is effected are the same with our children in the other life that it is with those who remain here, it is much more easily effected with them because there are not so many difficulties in their way. They are not exposed to temptation, and they form no evil habits. They have no sins to repent of, they have no evils to subdue and put away. There is no difficulty in itself in leading a heavenly life. The whole difficulty consists in laying down the evil one. The love of self and the world grows strong and hardens into habit in this life before we begin a heavenly life. We have much to unlearn and undo. Our spiritual natures are like the land of Canaan before the Israelites entered it. They are preoccupied with powerful enemies, who have entrenched themselves in strongholds, who are brave and cunning and skilful in the use of every weapon of offence and defense. We have to conquer them and drive them out. What a long and weary and painful contest it is! How often we are defeated and taken captive! What slow progress we make! How often we despair!
Our little ones who have passed into the other world are saved from all this labor and conflict, this weariness and despair. They have no such hindrances. They are exposed to no temptations; they have formed no evil habits; they have imbibed no false principles they have cherished no evil affections. There are no enemies to oppose them. How blessed is their condition! Free from sin and error; with ardent and innocent and tender natures, open to every heavenly influence, with what delight they will receive every heavenly truth! How their hearts will glow with love to the Lord and to each other! How rapidly their natures will unfold.
Thus we find. the necessity for learning truth and for regeneration the same in the other life as in this. The nature and laws of the mind are the same. The nature of the child is not changed. It is an infant still. It is in the form and stature of a child. It will never know anything which it does not learn. It will never taste the blessedness of an affection which it does not exercise. But its condition is vastly improved. It has escaped all the hindrances and obscurities which are caused by the material body. It is removed from all temptation; it never becomes enslaved by any evil habits; it has nothing to unlearn. It is a real being in a real world, surrounded by everything that is perfectly adapted to call all its faculties into play and committed to the care of those who know how to touch every secret spring in its nature, it must rapidly develop into the strength, beauty, and loveliness of an angel.