Judgment After Death
The subject to which I now invite your attention has been the theme of much eloquent discourse. The poet and the orator have delighted to portray its tragic and terrible scenes; to hold them up as a warning to the wicked, and to present them as powerful motives to repentance and amendment of life. It is regarded by multitudes as the greatest and most dreadful event in human history; as the culmination of all human affairs, and the final settlement of all human conditions. It is the final settlement. Judgment is pronounced upon every human being; it will be pronounced upon you and upon me, and from that judgment there can be no appeal. Its decisions are irrevocable. It is of the utmost importance, therefore, to us to know how the trial is to be made, and according to what principles the judgment will be rendered.
Before entering directly upon the subject, let us glance backwards, and take our bearings from the principles we have endeavored to establish, and see what light they throw upon the question before us. I do not wish to state personal opinions, merely. No opinion or theory is of any value unless it is true; unless it is according to the order established in the nature of man by infinite wisdom. If we can find that order, we shall find the truth, we shall find harmony; and so long as we follow it, we can never go astray.
In previous chapters I have aimed to show that spirit is a substance, and is capable of existing in various organic and inorganic forms; that there can be, therefore, and is, a real and substantial spiritual world; that we are essentially spirits in the human form, organized of spiritual substances; that death is really our resurrection from the material body, and a regular and orderly step in life; a step people would have taken if they had never sinned; that we rise in the world of spirits the same being that we left this world, and with the same character. We have the same form, the same features, the same knowledge, and the same affections. The infant is an infant, the youth is a youth; the ignorant gain no knowledge, the wise lose none.Ö The evil have the same evils, and the good abhor wickedness and love purity and truth the same as ever.
These human beings, in all states of moral, intellectual, and spiritual character, are pouring into the world of spirits more than sixty a minute. At this rate the whole population of a vast city would be removed in ten days. If this grand levy of death was limited to this country alone, in one year it would take every man, woman, and child, and leave these great cities and this vast territory without inhabitant. These people, according to our belief, are never to return to this world. The material body is never to be resumed. Their resurrection is already accomplished. Their judgment must, therefore, take place in the world of spirits, where all great judgments have been and will be effected. The judgment which John describes in the Revelation took place in the spiritual world.
What is to be done with this great, seething, incongruous mass of humanity? If the Lord is a Being of infinite wisdom and mercy, He could not permit this vast multitude to remain promiscuously together. This would be a most terrible fate, unless their natures have become totally changed. If they are nothing but vital principles, or mere shadows of a shade, flitting around in the empty realms of space, being nobody and nothing, they would need no care. But if they are, as we believe, real human beings, with human hearts throbbing with human desires; with intellects thirsting for truth; with affections hungering for love, with passions stimulating them to intense activity, they must come under the power of law, and be arranged into societies, in which each individual will sustain some definite relations to all others. Is it not so? They could not live together in this world without some discrimination of characterÖ and the establishment of definite relations; and unless they lose their individuality, they cannot, there. Happiness would not be possible with such a commingling and contact of incongruous elements.
But besides this assemblage of opposite and repellent characters, there are many opposing and inharmonious elements in individual minds. There are few, if any, who are so good that they have no evils and falsities; and there are few, if any, who are so wicked that they have not some apparently true principles and good traits of character. A great number have no established character; infants and children certainly have none. Our happiness depends upon the degree and quality of our affections, and their harmonious activities. There can be no heaven where there is no knowledge and no affection, or where the various affections are in conflict with one another.
The nature of man, when he rises in the world of spirits, requires that these conflicting elements shall be eliminated from his character. All his progress depends upon it. It requires also that the good and evil shall be separated, and that only those of congenial characters shall associate with each other. The happiness of the evil as well as the good requires this, and the Lord regards their happiness as much as He does that of the good. He has declared that He is kind to the evil and to the unthankful. A wicked man is never so unhappy as when he is compelled to live in the society of the good. He is compelled to act under restraint. His evil principles are continually assaulted. But let him get among his companions, and he feels that he regains his freedom, for he can act out freely his desires. He is less miserable, also, when his whole character is evil and false, than when it is composed of conflicting elements. We see abundant evidence of this truth in this life. A thoroughly bad person, a person who loves evil, and has persuaded themselves that evil is good and the false true, is not so miserable as the person who knows what is good and true, but loves what is evil and false. The person who believes it is right to make the best bargain for himself that they can, as many people do, is delighted when they overreach another and makes money out of the other person; while another, whose greed of gain overcomes his or her principles, would be tormented by his consciousness of having done wrong. It is of the Lord's mercy, therefore, that the character of the evil as well as the good shall become homogeneous, and that the conflict between them shall cease, when it can be of no more service to a person.
In this world every one has two characters, a real and an apparent one. A bad person can appear to be very good. They can be very polite. They can assume all the airs of virtue and innocence; be kind and attentive to others; they can even preach and pray and exhort others to live a good life. Every one can conceal their real feelings. They can speak differently from what he thinks, even when he has no intention of deceiving. A good person knows he or she has two natures. Two opposite characters are struggling in them for the mastery. In the New Church we call these two characters the internal and the external person. The internal is the real person. The external sometimes acts in harmony with the internal, and sometimes does not. We know from our own experience, from observation and history, that the internal and real character gradually gains the ascendancy even in this world, and brings the external, and even the body, into conformity with it to some extent. Vice graves its ugly lineaments on the face so clearly that every one can see them. The habitual exercise of a pure and good affection, changes even a homely face into its own likeness. This work must continue to go on until the external and internal become one, and the whole being is perfectly homogeneous. Every one can see that no one could enter heaven until this perfect unity between the external and the internal was effected.
This external person is not the material body. We carry that external with us when we go into the spiritual world, and when we are first raised up we can pretend to be what we are not. The hypocrite is a hypocrite still; and though a wolf in nature, they may and will try to deceive others by putting on the sheep's clothing of goodness and truth. The person who has been externally religious and devout, hoping thereby to gain entrance into heaven, though evil at heart, will still be devout. Every one carries their whole character with them. Their character is themselves.
The whole question of judgment is simply the arrangement of these people into societies; bringing them into true and orderly relations to one another, and leading them by their own affections to their final abode. I say leading them by their own affections, for the Lord always respects a personís personality. He never violates a personís freedom. That is the essential human principle, and to destroy that would be to destroy the individual.
Our doctrines teach us that this judgment is effected in the following manner. When a person first rises in the spiritual world, he or she is received by the angels with the utmost kindness, whether he is good or evil. All are welcomed alike. Every attention is paid to them and everything is done for them that it is in the power of the angels to do. When people find they are in a real world, and are themselves real human beings, they begin to inquire about heaven, and desire to know whether they are likely to gain entrance into it. The angels then instruct them concerning the nature of heaven and heavenly happiness. Here the real character begins to show itself. Those who have the kingdom of heaven within them, that is, those who love the principles which constitute a heavenly life, listen with delighted attention to what the angels tell them; while the evil, who have no real love for goodness and truth, are listless and inattentive, and desire to turn to other subjects. Those who have an angelic nature delight to remain with the angels and be instructed by them; but those who are evil at heart grow uneasy and restless, and desire to leave them; which they are always permitted to do. But others of a different genius, and better adapted to their states, attend them and introduce them to various societies, where they remain as long as it is agreeable to them, and when they desire it, they depart to others, and they continue to do this, until they find those who are in a similar state of affection, and consequently congenial to them.
This change from one society to another is not accidental, nor is it effected in an arbitrary manner. But they are drawn by a spiritual attraction by the secret but powerful affinities of their natures. They are also at the same time undergoing great personal changes. They are in a world where all spiritual forces operate more directly and powerfully upon them than in this. The ruling love rapidly subdues all things to itself. The will and the understanding become united. The external becomes subject to the internal and the perfect form of it. If the essential character is evil, it will be acted out in speech and deed. All restraints will be cast off. People will have no regard for public opinion, no shame for their wickedness. They will rather glory in it.
The will and the understanding being united, they cannot even think of anything good and true, and the whole form becomes changed into the similitude and perfect expression of their evil wills. The same principles apply to those who are interiorly good. All which is not in accordance with their ruling love, which is essentially love to the Lord and the neighbor, is put off They are freed from everything which restrained its activities. Their whole form be comes the similitude of their affection. It glows in their faces, and every feature becomes molded into a heavenly beauty. It is heard in the tones of the voice, which express it in every modulation. It speaks in every limb and motion of the body. The whole form is the embodied and varied expression of the essential character. Thus the good and the evil are separated and drawn away from each other, by the inevitable attractions and repulsions of their natures. And the great gulf that finally separates them is in their souls. "They are judged according to the deeds done in the body," that is, according to their characters. Their allotment is not in any sense arbitrary. They choose their own lot. And the Lord does all He can for the evil as well as the good. But what He can do for each one depends upon what he can receive.
This is a very brief statement of the manner in which, according to our doctrines, every one is judged. Let us now examine some of the reasons on which this doctrine is founded.
It is executed with the most delicate and perfect regard to peoplesí freedom. That is never violated. They are not forced to any course of conduct or bound to any society against their will. They are not driven away from heaven and the Lord. On the contrary, every effort is made to bring them into communion with the good, and to make them happy. Their identity and the continuity of being is preserved. Instead of losing it, they becomes more perfectly themselves: all that is extraneous to them is discarded; every thought and desire acts in perfect harmony, and even the outward form is the exact similitude of the internal character.
It is in perfect harmony with all we know of the nature of people as intellectual and spiritual beings. It is only carrying out to perfection, under the most favorable conditions, those spiritual laws which we see in full and universal operation here, and which, if a person continues the same being, must operate in the spiritual world.
We know, for example, that we are drawn together in this world by similarity of tastes, habits, pursuits, and character. It is true, there is much that is arbitrary and factitious in our associations, and there are many obstacles that prevent those of similar natures from finding one another, and coming together. But we are always struggling against them and endeavoring to overcome them. A knowledge of the same mechanical employment, or the study of the same science, the practice of the same profession or art, draws people together into societies and more or less intimate associations, and forms a common ground on which they can stand.
When the tastes and habits are similar, the union is more intimate, and its bonds are stronger. The more interior the ground of sympathy, the more powerful the attraction. Thus, those who love the same spiritual truths, find in them a most powerful bond of union. These fine and delicate but powerful affinities, are to people what attraction is to matter. They are universal in their operation in every plane and degree of the creation. It is the Divine method of combining all beings and all things into some degree of unity. There are many obstacles to this unity from interior grounds in this world, owing to our selfish and worldly loves; and we are compelled to seek by outward restraints and force, by external laws and arbitrary punishments, a kind of formal or legal unity. It is, however, at the best, a very external and imperfect bond.
Can any one suppose that the Lord abandons His universal methods, embodied in rock and plant, in beast and bird, and in the inmost nature of man; a law so perfect that no one can escape from its influence; a law that is self-executing? Does the Lord abandon this law, reverse His own methods, when a person comes into a world where there would be no obstacles to their perfect operation? How can any rational mind entertain so absurd an idea?
The doctrines of the New Church simply carry out this universal principle to its legitimate conclusions. They have the logic of the Divine order as it is embodied in the creation and in the hearts and minds of men. It is a conclusion also which every good and every wicked person must desire, if they understands their own nature. A wicked person cannot be happy in the presence of the good. Heaven would be a perfect hell to them. What delight could a supremely worldly and selfish person find in loving the Lord and the neighbor? In doing good to others? What pleasure could the impure find in purity? the proud in humility? the ambitious and tyrannical in serving others? Their whole nature must be reversed before they could find any delight in these heavenly virtues. What we inmostly and really love is what we call good. It is and ever must be the measure of our good, and must determine its quality. We can no more escape from it than we can escape from the laws of gravitation. People desire to escape from hell because it is a place of torment; and to go to heaven because they think it is a place of happiness. But they forget that what is happiness for one is torment to another. They forget that freedom from punishment is not happiness. If every law was abolished in the land, and every penitentiary leveled with the ground, it would have no effect in making wicked people delight in what is good. They would rejoice, no doubt, that they could freely indulge in their wicked desires. But these would soon react upon them in some form of punishment, and in the end they would gain no happiness by it. No. If those heavenly principles, which constitute the kingdom of God, are not formed within us - if we have not made them our own, by actual life - we can never taste a heavenly joy. We pronounce judgment upon ourselves, in the spiritual world, in the same way we do in this world. The wicked man seeks hell there as he does here, because he is drawn to it by his infernal delights - the only delights he is capable of enjoying; and he is drawn to it by the current of his desires, as a vessel is drawn to the ocean by the current of a stream.
The change which takes place in their own persons by which each one becomes externally the form of his own interior affection, is also the effect of laws which we see in universal operation here; and when carried out to their legitimate effects, they must produce the results our doctrines ascribe to them, unless they are arrested in their course in some miraculous manner and the whole nature of the human mind is changed. The soul being an organized form expresses its thoughts and affections by changes of form, and even the material body conforms to its action. Under the influence of powerful passions the material body seems to be, as it were, fused in their fires, and cast into their mould. The same affection or passion always expresses itself in a similar form; and those forms are universally recognized as the natural expression of the corresponding affection. All representative art in painting and sculpture is founded upon this immutable law. The mind is the great sculptor, and, line by line, traces its own habitual moods and states of affection upon the body and moulds it into its likeness. Every passion and affection leaves its own marks. Invisible or evanescent at first, they gradually come out in clearer lines and more permanent forms, until the whole body becomes changed into their similitude, and the hidden affection is spread like a banner over the face, and the secret thought is proclaimed in every tone of the voice and movement of the limbs.
If this is true of the hard and intractable substances of the material body, how much more must it be true of those spiritual substances, which yield readily to the plastic forces of the will! If a person in this world who habitually indulges in any lust, is gradually but surely changed into the forms of that lust so that he or she becomes the embodiment of it, how much more will the spiritual body become permanently molded into the exact image and likeness of the interior and real affection!
When our doctrines teach, therefore, that every essentially wicked person becomes the form of their own evil, so that it is written all over them; flashes from their eye, croaks and grates in their voice; forms its infernal ugliness in every line of the face, twists the limbs and knots the muscles into its own deformities, and makes the whole spiritual organization the embodiment of its inverted, disorderly, misshapen and repulsive self, they only state a universal law; a law that the child understands; a law that you judge and act from every day. And if it is a punishment too awful to contemplate, to be for ever the embodiment of some infernal lust - to be so hideous and repulsive to all pure and good beings that they would shrink from us with horror - we cannot say it was a punishment inflicted by the Lord. He has ever done all in His power to save us from it. The law is beneficent in its action. It is the same law that makes the angel the embodiment of a loveliness and beauty which no words can describe and no art can adequately represent.
If these changes in the external form do actually take place in the evil and the good until the external and the internal become homogeneous, you can readily understand that it would take no Divine edict and Almighty power to separate them. They would be a terror to each other. They would flee from each other, and thus the sheep would be divided from the goats, and each would seek his own companions, and his own home. And it would be done without the violation of a personís freedom; it would be accomplished by means of it. There would be no violation or suspension of universal laws, and the end would be perfectly accomplished, and by the simplest means, as the Lord always accomplishes His end. The book of each one's life is opened, for the book of life is the internal and real character; and each one is judged out of the things written in that book. And all that it contains has been written by the deeds done in the body; thus every one is judged according to his deeds. These books are opened as the Lord opens every book of life, not in a forcible and arbitrary manner, but by the orderly and harmonious development of what is really written in them.
This method of judgment is perfectly illustrated by the Divine methods we see in operation everywhere around us. Here are two seeds somewhat similar in outward form, perhaps; but internally they are totally different. How shall we judge them? How shall we estimate their true value and assign them their proper place in the paradise of the garden, the orchard, the field, or the hell of fire? Shall we weigh them? Shall we measure them? Shall we compare their colors and form? Shall we send them to the chemists or examine by any outward test? They would all fail. By none of these methods could we discover their real character, which is written in invisible lines on the delicate and folded leaves of their closed book. There is only one way to learn their character, and that is to open the book and read their past history and the sure prophecy of the future, every event of which is written there. But how shall we open the book, sealed with seven seals? And if we could open it, how shall we read what is invisible to mortal eye, and written in forms which no finite mind can understand? How can we compel or persuade them to give up their history? We will plant them. The sun and the rain and the secret forces that pervade the earth and penetrate all things will loose their seals and open the book. We put them in a rich soil and a genial climate. When we first plant them, they have the same form as ever. But soon they begin to change. They may seem to perish; but they do not. A little stalk pushes itself above the ground, and delicate leaves begin to unfold from it. You cannot yet tell whether it is vine, or shrub, or tree. You give to each plant the best culture you can. You use no partiality. Both grow. Branches push out from the increasing stem. Summer and winter pass, and yet you may not be able to read what is written in the book of their lives. In time their inward forms unfold into leaves; but every twig and leaf of the one is armed with thorns which pierce you. They cover themselves with the glory of blossoms. Both fill the air with odors, but the odor of one is fetid and poisonous; the other sweet, delicate, and grateful. You now begin to discover their real character. They are proclaiming it to every breeze. They mature their fruit. The one is pungent, bitter, poisonous, and fills every one who eats with pain and disease; the other is sweet, delicious, wholesome, nourishing; gives delight and health to every one who partakes of it. Now the book is opened: the meanings of its characters are all so plainly revealed, that beast and bird, and even insect and worm, can understand them. "By their fruits ye shall know them." How simple and orderly the process! How inevitable the result! There is no chance for escape. There is no room for error.
So the Lord judges people. They are not arraigned before some awful tribunal, surrounded with inconceivable terrors, every evil thought and sinful act of a whole life brought before their consciousness, and made to testify against them; they have no formal, legal trial according to an arbitrary law, like a criminal before a civil court. Nor is the judgment pronounced before the assembled universe, in tones of thunder, and with flashes of fierce wrath, that the face of the poor sinner may be covered with confusion and shame, and their soul filled with awful terrors. Their Creator, their Father, their Savior, who has ever loved them with an infinite love, does all He can for their. He gives him every opportunity to show the best the person is, and to obtain the highest good that person can receive. He does not drive him or her away; the person goes away of their own accord, in the pursuit of what they regards as their highest good. The Lord and the angels do not close the doors of heaven against them. They have closed those doors against themselves by not having them open in their own heart, as the person in this world would close the gates of the sun against themselves by putting out their own eyes. The Lord does not seek to expose them for the purpose of putting them to shame, but He gives people every facility for proving what they really are, by becoming the form of their ruling or essential love, that that person may find their own place and be recognized in it; that they may not be a torment to others, and that the others may not be a torment to them. The Lord does not condemn people. People condemn themselves. The Lord loves them, and would gladly draw all of them to Himself, and pour into their heart the glowing currents of His own life. But that would torment and consume people who did not want it so. So He does the best He can for such people; and He does it according to the laws of His immutable and infinitely wise order.
Can you conceive of a better method of trial and judgment than this? It is in perfect accordance with infinite love. The tenderest pity and mercy itself could do no more. It is as certain in its results as infinite wisdom and omnipotent power can make it. The wicked can no more fail of condemnation than the evil seed can fail of bearing evil fruit. By the operation of the same principles, those who have any love for goodness and truth cannot fail to receive all that they have the capacity to enjoy. The result is inevitable, and the Divine goodness, justice, and mercy are equally displayed in the method and the result.
You will observe also that according to this method of trial and judgment the result is predetermined in this world, for it is in this world that the character was formed. The book was written here, as the history of the future plant, as it is embodied in the seed, was written in the tree that bore the seed. The world of spirits is not a place of probation, but simply a world where many obstructions are removed, and many influences, more powerful and better adapted to the reduction of every external principle to perfect harmony with the essential ruling love, can be brought to bear upon every soul.
You will see also that this view abates none of the real terrors of a final judgment. If it is not attended with the picturesque and sublime, and I may add impossible scenes, which are generally associated with this great event, it is, if possible, more terrible and certain in its results, and much more consonant with all we know of the Divine laws, and with the infinite mercy of the Lord. And in its results it is in perfect harmony with the Sacred Scriptures, and in its forms and methods also when they are properly understood.
In discussing this subject I have endeavored to adhere to my simple plan, which was to take certain principles, generally admitted in some form to be true, and carry them out to their legitimate consequences, and in this manner show that the doctrines of the New Church are based on the immutable laws of the Divine order; and so far as we know, that they are in perfect harmony with them.
I have not quoted largely from the Bible, even when I might have done so, nor from any other book, because I have not sought to establish a doctrine by any other authority than that of the truth itself. I may fail in so arduous an undertaking. I doubtless shall fail in the opinion of some. But all will acknowledge that, if any doctrines of spiritual truth can be established upon the immutable order of the Divine wisdom, and can be shown to be in perfect harmony with all the Divine methods, so far as they come under our observation; and if they are in perfect consonance with the Sacred Scriptures, they must take their place with mathematics and other established sciences, and carry irresistible conviction of their truth to every rational mind. We believe the doctrines and philosophy of the New Church have this basis, and we can conceive of no greater service to humanity than to make them known, and to show the true grounds on which they are to be received.