Foreward and Introduction
DEAR LORD, I know that I could never be so near to Thee,
The other day we had a guest to dinner. My wife had made an apple pie, which was served with cream. When asked how he liked it, our friend rolled his eyes, made appreciative noises and exclaimed: "It's out of this world!" Well, of course, he didn't mean it literally, because if the pie had been out of this world — "pie in the sky" so to speak — it would hardly have satisfied his physical hunger! He meant, I think, that it was so delicious, so scrumptious, so divine in its flavour, that no merely earthly comestible could compare with it. It was angels' food, heavenly, "out of this world."
The expression pie in the sky refers satirically to the attitude of some of the employers in Victorian England, who encouraged their sweated labourers to work for next to nothing and put up with all sorts of hardships, on the promise that they would be rewarded with special privileges in heaven after death. No pie in this world, but "pie in the sky when you die!" We realize nowadays that this was a scandalous abuse of religion, a shabby and shameful confidence-trick. The felicities of heaven are not a reward or compensation for sufferings borne patiently on earth, nor are the miseries of hell a punishment for luxurious living in this world. Life after death is but a continuation of life here on earth, a further stage of human development. Heaven and hell are inner states of mind which are released at death and burst forth into fulfilment in the spirit realm. Heaven is essentially a state of unselfish love to God and one's fellow man, whereas hell is essentially a state of self-love, self-worship, hatred of God and the neighbour. They are not imposed upon us after death; we take them with us.
Man here is a blending of flesh and spirit, so his life must be a blend of the world and heaven — or the world and hell. In some cultures, especially in the East, the body is undervalued and denied legitimate satisfaction, with the result that the spirit becomes out of balance. In our Western culture, on the other hand, the material side of life is overwhelmingly emphasized, even to the extent that the very existence of the spiritual dimension has come to be forgotten or denied. Such expressions as "out of this world" are associated with science fiction, journeys to the moon or outer space; and, as God has not been found Out There, it is assumed that he does not exist. But the planets and stars are in the same universe as we are; so also are the electrons and subatomic particles studied by the New Physics. Correctly used, the expression "out of this world" refers to entry into another dimension altogether — the SPIRITUAL DIMENSION, which no kind of physics, New or Newtonian, will ever be able to measure, take to pieces, analyse or synthesize. Can physics handle such concepts as love and hate, happiness, worship — even humour? Medical doctors can describe physical sex, but can they diagnose marriage joy? True happiness, apart from mere animal pleasure, cannot be obtained from the physical world at all; its source is "out of this world." The material ingredients may be present (must be present), but if true and permanent happiness is to result, a large drop of heaven must be added to the mixture, straight from God out of the spiritual dimension.
This indicates something of the importance of what is loosely called Religion. I am aware that many of the so-called Religions have failed to provide the Spiritual Dimension — which may be the fault of their devotees. On the other hand, many people nowadays who call themselves atheists may in fact have a rich blending of other-worldliness in their make-up. The closing down of churches in the world today does not itself indicate that spiritual life is on the decline, but only that the members of these churches, especially in the younger generation, are either not interested in spiritual things, or find that they cannot get what they need from the established churches. Many are now looking for spiritual satisfaction elsewhere, often without wise guidance — hence drug abuse and the amazing outburst of interest in esoteric cults: yoga, transcendental meditation, fortune telling by tarot cards, astrology, magic, and so on. People everywhere are seeking in a crazy way to find something "out of this world" to restore the balance which the pressure of scientific materialism and humanism has upset.
Yet a true Christianity contains all the ingredients necessary for a balanced and satisfactory life. The Bible itself is a perfect blending of the natural and the spiritual, the human and the divine. But to understand it fully one must penetrate a little below the surface. God's method of teaching has always been by symbol and parable. There are various levels of meaning in the Sacred Scriptures, some in this world but most of them out of this world. As Jesus Himself said: "It is the spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life." (John 6:63.)
The man who has probably done most to uncover the spiritual sense of God's Word is Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). A Swedish nobleman, he became known during the first period of his life as one of the greatest scientists and philosophers of Europe, with many learned works to his credit: on cosmology, the origins of the universe, the nature of matter, and almost every other area of intellectual enquiry. In his middle years he wrote extensively on the physiology of the human body — especially the brain, in his search for the seat of the soul. Then, rather suddenly, his consciousness broke through into the spiritual dimension — a process which normally takes place only at the death of the physical body; and for the last thirty years of his life he was fully conscious for long periods, even days and weeks, in the spiritual world, while still being fully alive in the natural world. In his book Heaven and its wonders and Hell he describes in detail the life after death, "from things heard and seen." In Arcana Coelestia (twelve volumes in the English translation from the Latin) he gives the internal or spiritual meaning, verse by verse, of Genesis and Exodus; elsewhere he does the same with the Apocalypse or Book of Revelation. In Divine Love and Wisdom he shows how spiritual forces from God produce and maintain the material universe; and in Divine Providence how they maintain and control human life. One of his latest works, published in London, was Interaction between the Soul and Body (or, Soul-Body Interaction). His theological system was summarized in his final work: True Christian Religion, published in Amsterdam in 1771.
The fact that Swedenborg the celebrated philosopher and scientist had swung over into the orbit of "religion" caused him to be disclaimed by his fellow intellectuals who regarded him as having gone crazy, and to be violently attacked by the professional theologians and leaders of the established Church. There has been, in fact, a conspiracy of silence concerning his teachings, except among a small body of faithful followers who formed themselves in 1787 into "The Church of the New Jerusalem," known more briefly as The New Church. But with the present-day liberation of the human spirit and the breakdown of the conventional barriers of belief, more and more people are finding inspiration in Swedenborg's writings. He has shown perhaps more clearly than anyone else the relationship between spirit and matter — in the created universe, in the Word of God, and in man himself.
Spirit and matter! Soul and body! Rub them together like a match on a matchbox, and you get a spark, a spurt of flame, and a fire that illumines your whole being, and eventually the furthest corners of the universe.
I myself gladly acknowledge my indebtedness to Swedenborg for many of the insights in this book. I have also, as will be seen, drawn copiously from the Sacred Scriptures in their spiritual and natural senses. It has been my purpose throughout to show and illustrate the manner in which life in this world should be lived, in order to prepare us for the life of heaven after death. To achieve success we must have spiritual elements in all our natural activities. We must learn to live in this world, and "Out of this World!" at one and the same time.
Each of the twenty-five chapters of this book is complete in itself and can be read separately, perhaps as a basis for meditation. I have not hesitated to repeat the main points over and over again, to drive them home. The sub-title: "Lay-bys on the Road to Heaven", occurred to me when my wife and I drew the car into a lay-by once on a long journey across England, to study the map, ponder our best route, and eat our lunch.