When Swedenborg took final leave of the Board of Mines, he intended as soon as possible to start on his sixth journey abroad, "to some place where he could finish the important work on which he was then engaged." The important work was Explicationes Verbi. That Holland was his destination is evident from a memorandum in one of his manuscripts noting money spent for personal items in guilders and styfers, and from two letters. One is to a creditor, Carl Broman, and the other an instruction to his banker, Peter Hultman, to forward his mail, in 1748, to Amsterdam in care of Anton and Johan Grill, a firm of Swedish merchants.
Again, as in 1744, his purpose was changed after his arrival in Holland. His work never was published but remained locked up in its three folio manuscript bundles until a century later when Dr. Immanuel Tafel published the Latin text under the title of Adversaria (Commonplace-Book). An English version first saw the light of day in completed form in recent years, through Dr. Alfred Acton's eight-volume publication: The Word Explained. The reason that Swedenborg changed his mind about publishing this work was presumably the fact that, while in Holland, he underwent a definite spiritual change.
Having finished the Explications in February, he resumed work on the Bible Index which, it seems, he brought to completion in Amsterdam. This concordance was the storehouse from which Swedenborg drew for Bible passages in all his subsequent theological writings.
Since a thorough study of Scripture requires a knowledge of the Hebrew language, it may have been just at this time that he took up the study of Hebrew, for in his diary are found various notes in that language, which was not entirely new to him, as he had studied Hebrew in his younger days at Upsala. There were, of course, many learned Hebraists in Holland whom he could have consulted. Swedenborg states that "when heaven was opened to him he first had to learn the Hebrew language as well as the correspondences according to which the whole Bible is composed," and that this led him to read through God's Word many times.
It was while working on the "Index to the books of Isaiah and Genesis" that he made the significant note which has been taken to indicate the exact time at which there dawned on him a distinctly deeper view of the nature of the Divine Word, leading him to abandon his former work and to begin something entirely new along very different lines:
"1747, August 7, old style. There was a change of state in me into the heavenly kingdom, in an image."
Students have taken this statement to mean that his mind was now opened to heaven, enabling him to see the spiritual content of the Word of God in fullness of truth, and that under this new enlightenment Swedenborg saw his previous work of explanation as insufficient and unsatisfactory. What had been written was not the true internal sense. In December, 1748, he began Arcana Coelestia and finished the first volume the following June.
This was the fourth time that Swedenborg had begun a commentary on Genesis. The first was his short essay, The Story o f Creation as related by Moses, where he is merely concerned with the literal sense of the Bible, story and its relationship to his cosmological panorama as given in The Worship and Love of God. His second treatment of Genesis was The Word Explained, where he sees "the interior historical sense" of the story of creation as applying to the Jewish people and containing a prophetical foreshadowing of the second coming of the Messiah. The third study of Genesis is contained in notes written on the margins of his Bible, now called Fragments on Genesis and Exodus, probably done late in 1747. While he was engaged in these studies it became clear to him that the Genesis story held a hidden meaning of quite a different sort from the one previously given, an internal sense applicable to the development of the Lord's Kingdom in individual minds. An entirely new treatment was consequently demanded, which he can only describe as "Heavenly Mysteries." About this time, September, 1748, Swedenborg left Holland and journeyed to England, where he began the writing of Arcana Coelestia.
In the new work he rises from a contemplation of the historical or "spiritual-natural" sense of Scripture to its interior or truly spiritual sense which looks to the regeneration of the mind of man. It was "the Word as the angels see it." He now enjoyed an inspiration which accounts for both the rapidity with which the new work was written - eight months for the first volume - and also for his change of style. No longer is there hesitation or doubt as to the meaning of words, as to correspondences, as to whether this or that should be included in the text; no longer is there adherence to orthodox theological terminology. Above all, there is no doubt about the name by which the Lord God should be addressed:
When one compares this work with all his previous writings one sees at once that now he speaks as one having authority.
Nothing better illustrates the change that had taken place in Swedenborg's mind at this time, than his change of terminology. Some of the expressions - and to some extent even the ideas - employed in his previous works were taken from orthodox theology and embody the dogmas of the Lutheran Church in which he had been raised. Throughout these intermediate works are found phrases which seem to indicate a belief in three Persons in the Godhead and the doctrine of vicarious atonement. The Worship and Love of God, for example, seems to describe two divine Persons one of whom, the Omnipotent, "is burning with the zeal of a just anger and, armed with lightnings, would have destroyed universal society," had not the other, His Only-begotten [Son], "cast himself into the midst of the rage and embraced human minds with His -arms . . .
In The Word Explained it is stated that "the life and soul of the blood of Messiah appeased the Father" and that the Messiah, by the merit of this blood, "bore in Himself and thus removed the sins both of the Jews and the Gentiles." Even later Swedenborg seems to refer to the Holy Spirit as a Third Person of the Godhead. It is to such expressions as these that he alludes when saying that "the things written and published by me concerning the devil . . . could not have been written differently, inasmuch as the Christian world does not believe differently." In other words, such terms were used because they expressed the understanding of the literal sense of the Divine Word as then commonly accepted. It was a statement of that doctrine out of which Swedenborg considered it his mission to lead men.
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For several years Swedenborg had been keeping a daily record of his spiritual experiences. At first he had jotted down such experiences with the text of The Word Explained, indenting the paragraphs that recorded his contacts with spirits. These lines were not meant for publication. He afterward recorded such experiences in a separate volume known as his Spiritual Diary. The first 148 items in this diary were written while he was still in Sweden and now are lost, but their nature is known to us from the carefully worked out "Index to the Spiritual Diary" made by Swedenborg himself. Mostly they relate to the nature of spirits.
A certain annotation written in September, 1748, has led to the surmise that the lost manuscript may possibly have burned up, for he says that "he dreamed about his lost writings, and the fireplace in which they were burned." During his stay in Holland, also, he became anxious about his papers that were stored in the empty space above the ceiling in his garden house, and he wrote, in a letter to his agent, Peter Hultman:
The new "opening" of Swedenborg's mind to consciousness of another world had taken place gradually. The first of his psychic awakenings was the unusual or "preternatural" sleep which he experienced in October, 1743, while he was beginning The Economy of the Animal Kingdom. The Lord's first manifestation to him, related in The Journal o f Dreams, occurred in 1744. His experiences of glimpses into the spiritual world had reached their height when he was addressed by a spirit. Then came his "Call" of April, 1745, after which time he spoke with spirits as man to man. From then on, he says, he was at the same time in heaven and with his friends on earth.
In describing the various ways in which spirits can consciously operate on a man, Swedenborg indicates that his first awareness of spirits was "by a sensation of obscure sight," and that he noticed their presence, approach, and departure. He tells of being surrounded by a crowd of spirits of those who had died many years before. He is informed that the other world is full of malignant forces and evil spirits who hold in bondage many myriads of simple and sincere but uninstructed souls, imprisoned there by their own false notions and erroneous beliefs. To these he had a special mission.
He awoke one night from a troubled sleep and, trembling, perceived that he was surrounded by "a column of angels" amongst whom was the Messiah himself. The thought came that these angels constituted "a wall of brass" whose purpose was to defend him against the evil. He was afterward let down to the unhappy in a certain region of the spiritual world called "the lower Earth." [Terra inferior]
"I heard such lamentations as these, ‘O God! O God! Jesus Christ, have mercy! Jesus Christ have mercy! "' One of those pitiful wretches complained of being tormented by spirits who were allowed to inflict dire tortures on him. Swedenborg consoled him with the thought that the Lord, all merciful, will eventually release the prisoners from that pit, raise them from their place of torment, and take them into heaven.
Another night he seemed to himself to be in a boat, and to pass through a roaring sea, terribly black. The waves lashed about from right to left and rocked the shore where he finally found himself standing. He was conscious of a violent commotion as great multitudes of prisoners were delivered from the bondage of the pit, a sign that "the last time" was near at hand. "Let men be watchful!"
He later saw some of those previously benighted souls being raised into heaven, clothed in white raiment, instructed and given beautiful mansions. It appeared as if God embraced one of them and kissed him. "Most of them appear to themselves to be riding in chariots and vehicles and to be carried around to various places, trying whether this or that place be suitable for them, that is, whether they agree with the souls who are there." For every soul finally finds a place of rest, in a society where he can abide in peace.
Swedenborg saw two people whom he had known in the world elevated into an interior heaven. They said that their joy was ineffable, all terrestrial and worldly delights being as nothing in comparison. No tongue can utter the peace experienced in heaven. He says that it is "the complex of all joy, freedom from bodily desires, cares and worries for the future." One night before falling asleep, he heard the singing of many angels of the interior heavens and was told that the whole heaven thus continually glorifies the Lord. But to those who are not ready for a heavenly state, he says, the atmosphere of the superior regions is so disagreeable as almost to suffocate them. This was the case with certain spirits who insisted on being elevated and were permitted to try it, but soon cast themselves down headlong.
The state of spiritual abstraction with Swedenborg was not, at this time, continuous. On December 5, 1747, he says:
On March 4, 1748, he wrote:
On the first day of March, 1748, he experienced something resembling the state of death and resurrection.
He describes the partial suppression of his breathing and how "the celestial angels moved in and occupied the province of the heart," guarding it from exploitation by evil genii:
This experience, like many others recounted in The Spiritual Diary, was incorporated into Arcana Coelestia in spite of the desire of certain spirits who were averse to anything being said concerning such revelations.
As for the spirits themselves who encountered this remarkable soul - this inhabitant of two worlds at once, the living and the dead - they commonly called him underlig, the strange, the wonderful, the unaccountable one.
The spiritual adventures that Swedenborg at this time experienced were of a nature hardly conceivable. This was a field that called for courage, but courage of a different kind from that of usual adventurers. Here was a man well born, endowed with genius, a man for whom the doors of the political as well as the learned world stood open with their rewards of fame. What had he chosen to do with this endowment? He had chosen to risk all on a career that could bring him little but scorn from his contemporaries, persecution from the orthodox clergy and enmity from his relations who saw him squandering his time and substance on publishing books that nobody read: But he did not expect an immediate appreciation. He says in one of the anatomical works:
"Those will come who shall judge without enmity and without favor," he quoted from Seneca.
These risks, however, were as nothing compared to another danger - the danger of communication with the dead, of intercourse with a world of spirits packed with legions of demons, waiting to rush in upon him and destroy him body and soul. Swedenborg realized this danger. While he was asleep in his bed they plotted, he says, to strangle him. They surrounded him with nightmares and visions so horrible as nearly to destroy his reason. They inspired him with an almost uncontrollable desire to commit suicide. They tried to make him drink something that would deprive him of understanding. They inflicted excruciating pains upon various parts of his body, causing nausea, swooning, or fever.
"I doubt whether others could have endured it on account of the pain," he says, "but having become accustomed to it I at last bore it often without pain." Once a spirit seemed to come up to him stealthily from behind and plunge a dagger into him. "I felt as it were a stroke through the heart," he says, "and immediately another in the brain such as easily would have killed a man. But being protected by the Lord, I feared nothing . . . Unless the Lord defended man every moment . . . he would instantly perish, in consequence of the indescribably intense and mortal hatred which prevails in the world of spirits against the things of love and faith towards the Lord. [But] the devil can do no harm to those whom the Lord protects, as it has been granted me to know from much astonishing experience, so that at last I have no fear even of the worst of the infernal crew."
This sublime confidence, this complete childlike trust in the Lord's protection, was the heart of Swedenborg's courage. We cannot forget, however, that he suffered all this to bring down to earth, as he firmly believed, information of inestimable spiritual worth. His dangerous mission required courage of a very special order, courage that has little in common with the kind that wins medals. In a treatise on the soul he gives a definition of courage that we submit as a suitable description of his own:
Perhaps because of its baffling nature, The Spiritual Diary has received less study than the rest of Swedenborg's works, although efforts are occasionally made to call attention to its remarkable contents.