Dreams, Vision and Sleep 5
The Use of Dreams and Visions in Preparing for the Lord’s Second Coming
by Rev. Frederick L. Schnarr
When we examine the organized Writings of the second coming – and by that we mean those works which were specifically written and prepared for publication, thus excluding the “Journal of Dreams” and such works as The Word Explained and the Spiritual Diary – we find that visions and dreams have very little place. We do not mean by this that there is no instruction in the Writings concerning visions and dreams, for there is a great deal; but it is instruction rather than accounts of Swedenborg’s experiences.
It is not our intent here to consider what the Writings teach about the use and nature of visions and dreams in the past or the present. We would merely note that if one is to have any understanding of how the Word of the Lord was formed through the ages, he must study and understand the nature and function of visions and dreams. Visions and dreams were the principal means of revelation in the Most Ancient Church. How important they have been in the formation of revelation since that time is evident from both the Old and the New Testaments. Much of the Old Testament consists of visions and dreams or stories relating to them, and in a lesser degree the same is true of the New Testament.
Now before we enter into our subject, we would just point out the general difference between a dream and a vision as given in the Writings. Dreams occur while the corporeal of man is asleep, that is, his body with its natural senses. Visions occur when the body is awake, (AC 1882-84, 600; DP 134; Lord 52; AR 36) not only the natural body, but the spiritual body as well, so that man sees and hears things relating to the spiritual world. (AC 1975) Please understand, this is only a general definition; there are many types of dreams and visions, and many various states relating thereto. But this will have to suffice for our purposes here.
When we think of the style of the Writings, of the many descriptions of the life after death – of Swedenborg talking with spirits, angels and devils; of representations seen; of episodes witnessed, such as the Last judgment – we might think of the Writings as being filled with dreams and visions. And yet the Writings are explicit in their distinction between the nature of dreams and visions, and the nature of Swedenborg’s experience in the spiritual world. We read in Continuation Concerning the Last Judgment:
Even from 1745 to 1747, when Swedenborg was being introduced into the things of the spiritual world, he was clearly aware that he was in a state different from that of previous prophets and scribes of Divine revelation. He wrote at this time in the Word Explained, “In a certain manner I have been intromitted into heaven itself, not merely as to the mind, but also as it were with the whole body, or with the sense of the body, and that too when I was awake.” (WE 475)
Throughout the later Writings we find the same teaching repeated. “Whenever I have talked with angels face to face, I have been with them in their abodes. . . This occurred when my inner sight was opened, and I was fully awake.” (HH 184)
Finally, we would quote from an experience Swedenborg had with an angelic instructor. A general discussion had just concluded in an angelic society concerning the nature of the soul. The group then broke up into little informal gatherings and continued their discourse on the subject.
That Swedenborg was prepared to be in this dual state for the purpose of serving the Lord in the giving of a new revelation, was called by the angels “a miracle of miracles.” (AC 1880:3)
We have spoken at some length of the fact that Swedenborg’s experiences in the spiritual world were not in a state of vision or dream but in full wakefulness of mind and body, because this is pertinent to seeing how utterly different was his state and use as a revelator from that of all prophets, scribes, and disciples of past revelations. This, as well as Swedenborg’s special preparation through science and philosophy, is what made it possible for Swedenborg to receive the teachings of the second coming with rational understanding.
Only against this background of instruction concerning Swedenborg’s special state can we see in proper focus the place and nature of Swedenborg’s dreams and visions; and let us be clear, he did have dreams and visions. They served a special use at a particular time in his preparation. But let us regard their historic development with Swedenborg.
While it is true that Swedenborg was prepared for his mission from infancy by the Lord, he was not aware of this preparation until he was in his middle fifties. Before this time no unusual dreams or visions are recorded. His political, economic, scientific, and early philosophic writings speak little of religious topics. Later, after his spiritual eyes had been opened, Swedenborg did refer to the early preparation he had had for developing a special tacit breathing, which was to make possible his early dreams and visions, and finally his full wakefulness in the spiritual world.
Of this he writes in the Spiritual Diary,
It was not until 1736 when Swedenborg was on a trip in Europe that he began to have his first unusual experiences. As he was in Amsterdam beginning his work, The Economy o f the Animal Kingdom, he fell into a brief swoon. Following this time, he began to have vague and confused dreams. What these dreams were we do not know. (Swedenborg’s heirs wrote that a manuscript volume containing “descriptions of Swedenborg’s dreams during the years 1736, 1737 . . . were removed from the volume and in the safekeeping of the family.”) We do not know how important Swedenborg considered them. For seven years, from 1736 to 1743, nothing of unusual import is described by Swedenborg. (While this statement is true there is one sentence written in 1740 that might lead to various interpretations. It is the last sentence at the end of an essay of two pages, Corpuscular Philosophy in Brief. He says, “These things are true because I have the sign.”) During this time he was engaged in his studies and writings on anatomy and psychology. He wrote his works on the Cerebrum (Codex 65), The Economy of the Animal Kingdom, The Fibre, the Rational Psychology, and most of The Brain. During this time Swedenborg traveled much and kept a journal of his travels – the places he visited and the people and things he saw.
In 1739 Swedenborg’s Itinerarium stops. His heirs removed for “safekeeping” some leaves at the end of his journal, and it is presumed that these dealt with some dreams he might have experienced. (Docu. II, p. 130) He later notes that while occupied with the writing of a certain work (probably one of the series of The Animal Kingdom on which he was engaged in 1742-1743) . . . “hardly a day passed by for several months, in which a flame was not seen by me, as visibly as the flame of a household hearth; at the same time, this was a sign of approbation.”(WE 6905)
The sign of a flame Swedenborg mentions a number of times; it seems to have been an introductory vision. (SD 2951)
From late in 1743, Swedenborg’s dreams became so regular that he commenced to be disturbed. He started his record – what is now called the Journal of Dreams – at the close of 1743, but the first dream actually recorded occurred in March, 1744. Two leaves are torn from the journal. This was probably done by Swedenborg himself because, before resuming his journal in March of 1744, he listed brief, one-sentence references to what they had been. A few examples of the references to this missing section read:
Obviously, Swedenborg at this time had no clear idea of the use of these dreams, unless they referred to the books he was preparing for publication. But in December of 1743 Swedenborg had another vision. In letters to friends in later years he wrote:
In another letter Swedenborg says it was sometime after this appearance that his spiritual sight was opened. And this is so obvious from Swedenborg’s experiences in his dreams recorded during 1744. For there we see the man being prepared for his high office through many, various temptations. However, certainly after 1743, when the Lord appeared to him, Swedenborg thought of everything that happened to him as being in some way preparatory for some unusual Divine work, although he was not yet clear as to what that work would be. In April of 1744 he writes: “I perceive that I had received a talent for the promotion of God’s glory:
At this time Swedenborg saw that he would have to leave off the study of natural things and turn his attention to spiritual things. He wrote:
Swedenborg’s dreams which he recorded in his Journal throughout the year 1744 indicate the various uses these dreams served in Swedenborg’s preparation. They were a means of causing Swedenborg to examine himself, and to shun and order those things present with him from the loves of self and the world. They were a means of establishing communication with the states and spheres of the spiritual world. And finally, they were a means of introducing him to the knowledge of representatives and significatives.
Up to this time, Swedenborg had been wonderfully prepared through the study of science and philosophy to receive and understand truths concerning higher things. Swedenborg thought of himself as a learned man. He had great concern for his reputation in learned society, and he was plagued with many disorderly and interior passions such as undue pride, self-intelligence, and conceit. Before Swedenborg could serve as a complete and trusted servant of the Lord, he had to be led to reject and repel those inclinations of his character which would make it impossible for him to fulfill the use of revelator. He had to come to place himself fully under the Lord’s protection and look to the Lord as the only source of all truly good and heavenly things. Unlike the prophets and disciples of old, the servant of the Lord’s second coming could not serve the Lord as a means of conveying Divine truths unless he freely saw and willed to serve such a use. In the dreams that Swedenborg experienced at this time we see the means whereby he was so prepared.
In the Journal of Dreams we find Swedenborg’s soul laid bare. We see him wrestling with his temptations. In one dream he states:
Earlier in the Journal he could write of his state:
Sometimes Swedenborg would reflect upon a subject, and then later dream of it in a representative dream. Sometimes he would dream first, and then with some obscure idea of its meaning, he would reflect upon the signification of the dream. At this time Swedenborg was just coming into the idea that his dreams were significative. As yet he saw nothing clearly relating to the heavens or any part of the spiritual world. This would not commence for three more years – and when it did, it would not be in dreams, but in open and waking presence in the spiritual world.
During the period of his Journal dreams, Swedenborg also had many visions, besides the two we have already mentioned. Sometimes he would fall into a dream, then awake from the dream, and remain in a vision. Or sometimes a vision would come without the presence of a dream, but as it were in a trance or swoon of the body. At such times Swedenborg would see spirits as men, sometimes doing different things, sometimes talking.
It is clear that the dreams and visions, such as Swedenborg had at this time, served the use of introducing him into foreign states that were new to him, or of changing a state. Indeed, this use, particularly of dreams, continued up through the time of the writing of the early Arcana Coelestia in 1748 and 1749. Knowledge of certain societies of hell, for example, could not be given to Swedenborg through open communication, because their state was far removed from Swedenborg’s conscious life; also at this time, they could have caused Swedenborg harm. Such was the case, for example, with the antediluvian hells – to know the nature of these hells, Swedenborg was caused to fall asleep, and in his sleep as in a dream he felt the horrible sphere of their presence and the nature of their desires to destroy him. (AC 1270) Upon awakening he saw them, but then they fled. This was not a representative dream, such as we have mentioned before; it was a real dream of actual states. In most ancient times, such dreams were common – but then, of course, they were mostly of angelic societies. However, this use of dreams with Swedenborg was unusual, and became unnecessary after Swedenborg had become a full-time inhabitant of both worlds.
Towards the end of 1744 Swedenborg experienced his first open, waking discourse with inhabitants of the spiritual world. At this time he was writing his concluding anatomical study The Five Senses, and beginning his work, the Worship and Love of God. As he worked on writing about the senses he noticed that he began to be aware of the sensations of the other world. For example, he dreamt of wine in a dream, and upon awakening actually smelled wine. Or, once while writing he saw a fly walking across the page, the fly being not of this world. (Docu. II, p. 206 Sens. 492) The first time a spirit addressed him while he was fully conscious came, he notes, in September of 1744 in the following manner: “Before I slept, I was strongly in thoughts concerning that which I had in hand to write; then it was said to me, ‘Shut thy mouth or I strike thee!’ I saw then one sitting on a piece of ice, and I was afraid.” (Docu. II, p. 207)
Writing about this in 1749 Swedenborg says:
After this time the use of dreams and visions decreased, while that of open discourse with spiritual beings increased. In April of 1745, when the Lord appeared to Swedenborg and told him that he was to be the servant of the Lord’s second coming, Swedenborg entered from the preparatory state in reference to his character to the preparatory state in reference to instruction – the instruction in heavenly doctrines and spiritual truths which were to form the context of the second advent. Swedenborg settled down at once to study the Old Testament and the New Testament in their original languages, and gradually began an exposition of the Scriptures, called the Word Explained. At this time he writes: “The kingdom of God was first shown me in the repose of sleep, but afterwards sometimes in the middle of the day, or in a time of wakefulness, so that I perceived it most clearly with the very sense itself.” (WE 541)
While working on the Word Explained, wherein Swedenborg grasps only occasionally the spiritual sense of a part of the Scriptures, he also commences to record his waking experiences in the spiritual world. This record is the Spiritual Diary, begun as inserts in the Word Explained in November, 1745. It records the experiences which were to constitute the final preparation for Swedenborg’s office of revelator. The nature of the Spiritual Diary is utterly different from that of the Journal of Dreams – although the two are often confused. In the Journal of Dreams we find Swedenborg experiencing certain terrorizing and incomprehensible, or dimly comprehensible, visions and dreams. We see Swedenborg constantly reflecting on his own state and upon his ability or shortcomings. In the Diary we find Swedenborg recording the events and states of the spiritual world more as a traveler in a foreign country. Truly, some of the things he witnesses and records are not clear to Swedenborg, and many of them are unpleasant, depicting states of evil. But still they are utterly different; they are no longer dreams and visions. Swedenborg not only sees and hears spirits, but speaks with them. And we see nothing of Swedenborg’s personal trials and tribulations therein. When writing the Diary he starts a section by saying “When I was in the company of spirits,” or “This morning it was shown to me how,” or “I was conducted into” such and such a place, or “It was told me from heaven by a living voice,” and so on.
With the beginning of the writing of the Arcana Coelestia in 1748, questions of uncertainty, and all the preparatory use of dreams and visions, came to an end. As we noted, the dreams and visions which Swedenborg experienced while serving as a revelator were of a different nature; they were not preparatory. The few which the Writings describe were used to allow Swedenborg to experience the state of the prophets of old, for example, so that those states could be revealed. The same was true when he experienced the kind of dreams they had in the Most Ancient Church. Indeed, these teachings also confirm how completely different and distinct was Swedenborg’s state as a revelator from that of all former prophets and revelators.
Dreams and visions were a means, and a necessary means, of preparing Swedenborg for his great use. But let us be clear, they are not the means whereby the second coming was made. The clarity of Swedenborg’s wakeful state may be seen all through the Writings. In preparing to describe something about heaven, for example, he will say, “On a certain morning I looked up into heaven,” (CL 42) or “As I was going home from the school of wisdom I saw in the way an angel.” (CL 151) The some thing is true of the descriptions of hell, such as “It has been granted me to enter some of the infernal workhouses”; (AR 153) no dreams, no visions, but full wakefulness of mind and body living in both worlds at the same time.
We would close with the following statement made by Swedenborg a few months before his death in 1772, and after he had lived twenty-seven years of such experience in both worlds at the same time: “The manifestation of the Lord, and intromission into the spiritual world, surpasses all miracles. This has not been granted to any one since the creation, as it has been to me. The men of the golden age, indeed, conversed with the angels; but it was not granted to them in any other than natural light; but to me it is granted to be in both spiritual and natural light at the same time. By this means it has been granted to me to see the wonderful things of heaven, to be together with the angels like one of them, and at the same time to draw forth truths in light, and thus to perceive and teach them; consequently to be led by the Lord.” (Inv. 52)
–New Church Life 1980;100:487-496
How the Lord Governed the Universe
While on Earth
…”If Jesus was God the Creator appearing on earth in a human form, then how was the universe governed while He was on earth with the mind of a child?” Now, that’s a most important question, and it deserves to be treated seriously. The answer can be stated briefly in this way: that the universe was governed by His Divine soul, which was within, and which had always governed the universe. But that answer will not convey very much to us until we understand what is meant by the term, “the soul.” What do we mean by the Divine soul?
First, let’s see what the soul is with man. Then, perhaps, we will be able to form some ideas of the Divine soul. Of course, the word, soul, is used to mean many things. But what is strictly called the soul in this context is that receptacle of life that we all have – good and evil alike. Every human being without exception has an inmost spiritual vessel receiving life from the Lord. That inmost vessel is called the soul. It’s the first thing in us that is acted upon by the Lord and receives life from Him. But note: it’s nothing physical; it’s not to be confused with anything of the body; it’s made of spiritual substance; and it’s a spiritual organ or vessel receiving life from the Lord. Without it, nobody could live.
But the Divine soul – God’s soul – is life itself. It’s not a receptacle of life. It’s life itself, the source of all life.
But as far as man is concerned, what does his human soul do for him? Well, as we’ve already seen, it’s the part of us that first of all receives life from the Lord. The soul also directs the formation of the body in the womb of the mother. The operation of the soul is that mysterious force that directs the whole process so that cells subdivide in just the right way, according to the Divine order. Life from the Divine Being flows in and is received first of all by the soul, which channels it in order to perform various uses throughout the body. All our involuntary or automatic functions, such as our reflexes – those things in our body that work quite apart from our mind, our thinking and willing – are all directed by the soul. You see, the soul acts into and upon the rear-brain, which is technically known as the cerebellum, and through that it exercises control over all the automatic or involuntary, unconscious functions of the body.
Now, this happens with even a newborn babe, who has very little mind or consciousness at all, and it goes on through life no matter what stage of development our mind is in or what state it is in. The state of the mind has no bearing whatsoever upon the soul and its work; the soul in this context being defined, as I’ve said, as the organ or receptacle that first receives the inflow of life from the Lord.
For example, you know how it is if you scratch your hand. Provided that scratch is kept clean, it will just heal automatically. It’s not the body, of course, that heals itself. The body, in itself, is just flesh. It’s the action of the soul – a spiritual organism, a finite receptacle of life; it’s the soul that channels life from the Lord and automatically does the healing without any help from our mind. In our mind we can wish as hard as we like that the healing be speeded up, but it makes no difference: this because the workings of the soul are above our conscious awareness. In the example we are considering, the soul marshals instinctively the forces of the body that are necessary to heal the scratch and restore order in the body.
Now let me repeat: this kind of intuitive working of the soul goes on no matter what we are thinking. It goes on even when we are not thinking at all, when we are asleep. The state of our mind has nothing at all to do with it.
Another example would be the process of growth. This is another involuntary process of the body that goes on quite apart from the thinking and willing of our mind. This is why the Lord Himself said: “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?”
Now, it’s the same with the Divine soul – except that it is not a receptacle of life but life itself. Just as our own individual soul governs the involuntary functions of our body, so the Divine soul governed not only the body that it had created for itself but also the whole universe. It always had governed the universe. In fact, this Divine soul, or what is the same, this Divine Being, had created the whole universe. From infinite love and wisdom the Divine soul (or the Divine Being) – known as Jehovah God – provided what was needed in the whole universe, intuitively sensing what was needed to maintain everything in a state of order, just as our soul, on a finite scale, intuitively provides for the needs of the body.
Now when the Divine soul, the Divine in itself, needed to be more closely and personally present with mankind on the physical plane, He created a human body for Himself by means of the Virgin Mary. But the fact that that human part was, in the beginning, merely human and finite or limited, the fact that it began life with only the rudiments of a mind as does every newborn babe, in no way prevented the Divine soul from continuing to operate as it always had done, and so rule the universe. Even when the Lord’s human mind was barely conscious, even when it was asleep, the Divine soul continued to govern the universe. After all, we are assured in the Old Testament that “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” Incidentally, it’s the same with our soul, isn’t it? It governs our body even while we are asleep. Our soul neither slumbers nor sleeps. It is a finite image of the Divine soul.
Now it’s interesting to note that the human part that the Lord made for Himself was known as Jesus. This was the Divinely revealed name; and it means, most significantly, “Jehovah saves.” That expresses a great truth, doesn’t it? As we’ve seen in previous talks, in the Old Testament it is said that Jehovah is the only Savior. You’ll find that particularly in the book of the prophet Isaiah. But in the New Testament Jesus is called the Savior. We can only reconcile these two groups of passages by supposing, as we’ve seen, that Jesus is Jehovah in the human form, come on earth to save us from the hells; not to save us from the consequences of our sins, but to save us from the influence of the hells, and so save us from sinning. He saved us by putting on a frail human nature which could attract the hells so that from the Divine within He could fight against and subdue the hells; which, as we know, He finally did. This was the way the Creator of the universe became the Savior and Redeemer. It is one of the greatest and most fundamental errors of the Christian Church that it has taught that God the Creator and the Lord the Redeemer are two separate persons, when, in fact, they are one and the same – the one and only God of heaven and earth.
Now this explanation that you have been listening to this evening, derived from what has been revealed by the Lord through Swedenborg, not only answers the question that was raised, but it also explains something I mentioned briefly last time – i.e., why the Lord on earth had, so to speak, two states of mind, a kind of dual consciousness. You see, when the influence of the merely human body was predominant, He had one state of mind; but when the influence from the Divine soul predominated, then He had a more exalted state of mind.
When the body prevailed, the Lord seemed to be separated from the Divine soul within, which He called in the New Testament “the Father.”
At times like these the Lord was described as praying to the Father as if to someone outside of Himself. These were times when He was in temptations, when His human part was rebelling against His Divine part. The effect of this was that there seemed to be two persons in Him; just as with us, when we are in states of temptation, there seem to be two forces contending for the mastery of our minds.
But, on the other hand, when the Divine soul predominated, then He did His Divine miracles, and said things like this: “I and the Father are one.” He spoke as one having authority, and not as the scribes. He spoke from the Divine, and He did this more and more often until this more exalted state began to predominate. It kept on predominating until finally His human part also had become completely Divine. He was then Divine from first to last. This is why, in the book of Revelation, He describes Himself as the First and the Last. There was complete unity or peace between the Divine and the Human in Him, so that He was the Prince of Peace and could communicate peace to His disciples.
To sum up, then: from His birth throughout His life on earth right up to the resurrection, the Lord (that is, Jesus) was completely God only as far as His soul was concerned. Only His soul was fully Divine, the Divine. But after the resurrection He was and is God as to both His soul and His body. From this we can see the answer to a question that was put to me recently as to why Jesus said, in Matthew chapter 19: “Why callest thou Me good; there is none good but one, that is God.” You see, we have to remember just when this was said. This was said at an early stage in His ministry; so, obviously, He could not allow His human part to be called “good.” At that stage goodness, Divine goodness, could be fully attributed only to His Divine part. Later on, however, when even His human part had been made Divine, then it was in order for Him to be called good. He said that all power was given unto Him in heaven and on earth, that is, that He was the Almighty. And He did not rebuke doubting Thomas when he called Him “My Lord and my God.”
After all, Thomas had spoken a great truth. Jesus is Lord and God. But let’s face up to what follows from this: that if He is Lord and God, there can be no other Lord, no other God, can there? The moment we say there is some other Lord or God who is not Jesus, in that moment we are saying that there are more gods than one. We are getting into polytheism – the worship of many gods.
The teaching of the New Testament is that there is one God in one Divine person, and that He is the Lord Jesus Christ. The Father, meaning His Divine soul, is within Him, and His Holy Spirit or Divine influence goes forth from Him. It is completely true that “in Jesus Christ dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead (that is, the whole of the Divinity,) in bodily form.”
The Lord Jesus Christ is therefore the God we worship and pray to in the Church of the New Jerusalem.
The Messianic Prophecy and its Fulfillment
by Rev. Willard D. Pendleton
… To understand [the Christmas] story as it is recounted in the Gospel of Luke we must go back into the history of that nation among whom the Lord was born. For it is here, in the historical and prophetical Word of the Old Testament, that the prophecy of Him who was to come is to be found. Indeed, it is this prophecy which accounts for the remarkable history of this people and sets it apart from the life story of all the other nations of the ancient world.
It is to be noted, however, that the Messianic prophecy did not have its origin among the Israelites. The first recorded statement of a Savior who was to come is found in the third chapter of Genesis, where, in rebuking the serpent who had deceived the woman, the Lord God said to the serpent: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed . . . [he] shall . . . [trample upon] thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3 : 15)
The first thing that strikes us in connection with this prophecy is its obscurity. In fact it is so obscure that the question immediately arises, how, from this statement, did men know that the Lord was to be born into the world? But the Writings state that the ancients also possessed other doctrinals “from which they knew that the Lord would come into the world, and that Jehovah would be in Him, and that He would make the Human in Himself Divine, and would thus save the human race.” (AC 3419) What specific forms these other doctrinals or prophecies took, we cannot say, for the Ancient Word has been lost, and all that remains of it today is to be found in the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis in which the prophecy of the seed of the woman is found.
One thing, however, is certain: the knowledge of the Advent did not originate with the Hebrews. It had its origin among the remnant of the Most Ancient Church who survived after the fall. It was from this remnant that the Ancient Church was formed, which, in turn, recorded the prophecies of the Lord’s coming in the Ancient Word. But when in the course of time the Lord did not come, the ancient prophecy was gradually forgotten. As men fell away from internal worship and turned to external worship, that is, as the men of the Ancient Church became idolatrous, the time came when they did not even know the name of the Lord. This was the case with Abraham, a descendant of the Ancient Church, with whom the historical Word of the Old Testament begins.
According to the testimony of the Writings, Abraham was an idolater who worshiped a family God by the name of Shaddai; and it was as God Shaddai that the Lord revealed Himself to Abraham. But if this be so, the question arises as to why the name of Jehovah, and not that of Shaddai, repeatedly occurs throughout the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The reason is that the book of Genesis was written many years later by Moses, to whom the name of Jehovah had been revealed. Because of this later substitution of the name of Jehovah for Shaddai, we are left with the impression that the patriarchs knew the Lord. This, however, was done by Moses for the sake of identification; but the real reason, although unknown to Moses, was, we are told, for the sake of the internal sense. (AC 7194)
Throughout the entire story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, however, there is only one open or direct reference to the Lord who was to come. It came at the end of the patriarchal period, when, in the blessing of his sons, Jacob said of Judah: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come.” (Genesis 49: 10) The historical meaning of the text is clear. The function of government was to belong to Judah until such time as He who had been promised of old came into the world. By this renewal of the ancient prophecy with the sons of Israel, the nation that descended from them was set apart from all the other peoples of the earth. As the Lord said later unto Moses: “Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people. . . . Ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Exodus 19: 5, 6) But the holiness of Israel did not consist in any spiritual virtue that was peculiar to this people, but in the representative function that they were selected to serve in preparing the way for the Advent.
Yet here is a curious thing: while it is true that throughout the entire patriarchal period only one direct reference is to be found concerning the Advent, in the derivation of the spiritual sense out of the letter it is this series which serves as the basis for the exposition of the doctrine of the glorification. Seven volumes of the Arcana Coelestia are devoted to this primary doctrine of the church. Chapter by chapter, verse by verse, the Lord’s life on earth is progressively revealed.
By the Lord’s life on earth, however, I do not have reference to the historical events which are recorded in the New Testament, but to those states which He put on as a man in the world. Here are revealed the laws of mental growth and development, the formative states of the Human, the nature of the Lord’s temptations, the quality of those perceptions which were revealed to Him from the Divine, and the nature of those states of humiliation and glorification which marked His progress toward union with the Divine. This testifies to two primary teachings of the Writings:
a) That apart from the spiritual sense, the Word in its letter cannot be understood.
b) That in its inmost sense the Word treats exclusively of the Lord, and were this not so the Word would not be Divine. For as the Writings insist, the Old Testament comes to us in the form of history, and if this history did not contain Divine truths, that is, truths concerning the Lord, it would have no more claim to meaning than the history of any other people or nation.
Our interest this evening, however, is not so much in the spiritual sense which testifies to the Divinity and holiness of the letter as in the continuity of prophecy as seen in the spiritual sense, as it is in those occasional passages of the Old Testament where the inner vein of prophecy breaks through the letter and speaks directly of the Lord who was to come.
In this connection we note what is said concerning Shiloh, which signifies the tranquility of peace. It is a beautiful signification, and the inference was that some day a ruler or governor, who would be a lawgiver, would be born among this people, and in His day Israel would enjoy the tranquility of peace. But that day was not yet. Remaining in Egypt, the descendants of Jacob were enslaved by the Egyptians; and during the long years of servitude they forgot the God of their fathers. Thus it was that when the Lord appeared to Moses He had to identify Himself as the God of his fathers; that is, as Shaddai. But as in each progressive revealing, a new concept of the Lord is given, He said unto Moses: “I am . . . [Jehovah]. And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob . . . [in God Shaddai]. But by My name Jehovah was I not known to them.” (Exodus 6: 2, 3)
In Moses, therefore, it seemed that one like unto Shiloh had come. Was he not a lawgiver? Neither did any come after him who so closely approximated this first definitive function by which He who was to come was to be known. But the days of Moses were not days of tranquility and peace. Israel was beset on all sides by enemies, and for forty years they were forced to remain in a wilderness where each day was a matter of bare survival. If Israel was to fulfill its allotted destiny new hope was necessary, and it was during this period that two further signs were given by which He who was to come was to be known.
It was Moses himself who gave the first sign, for he said: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet . . . like unto Me; unto Him ye shall hearken.” (Deuteronomy 18: 15) When Shiloh came, therefore, He was to be not only a lawgiver, but also a prophet; that is, even as Moses was speaking, now He, too, would speak with authority of things that were yet to come. In all probability it was this prophecy that heightened Israel’s sense of anticipation in the days of the later kings of Judah when such prophets as Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah appeared upon the national scene.
The other prophecy of this period is the well known prediction of Balaam – a wise man or magi who came from among the sons of the east. It was he who, having been charged by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse Israel, blessed them instead. He it was who said: “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river’s side.” (Numbers 24: 5, 6) It was also he who took up his parable, and said: “I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh. There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.” (Numbers 24: 17) For more than a thousand years this prophecy must have been preserved among the wise men of the east. How else can we account for Matthew’s testimony that “when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.”(Matthew 2: 1, 2)
Now we note with interest that in the succeeding period of Israelitish history, that is, in the days of Joshua, the Judges and Samuel, no open reference to the Messiah is to be found. In all probability the reason for this was that during this period Israel was a divided nation, warring among themselves, and there was no unified concept of a nation into which the ideal of the Messiah could be recast. It was not until the time of David that Israel actually became a unified people, and he is generally regarded as the outstanding prototype of the Messiah. What is more, when the Lord was in the world He was frequently referred to as the son of David.
It was, then, in the image of David, that a new concept of the Lord as a king and a deliverer began to emerge in the popular mind. This image is reflected in the Psalms, many of which are attributed to David. While as yet obscure, the Psalms nevertheless opened the way to the more definitive statements of the later prophets. As for example, the twenty-fourth Psalm, where the question is asked, “Who is this King of glory?” The answer is: “The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory..” (Psalm 24: 10) The question itself is evidence of the form in which the Messianic prophecy was now being cast.
But of all the references in the Psalms to the Savior, the most significant is found in the second Psalm, where it is said: “I have . . . [anointed] My king upon . . . Zion . . . I . . . [shall announce the statute] : The Lord . . . [saith] unto Me, . . . My son [art Thou] ; this day have I begotten Thee.” (Psalm 2: 6, 7) Here, for the first time, what was common knowledge among the people of the Most Ancient Church was revealed to the Jews: namely, that He who was to come into the world was to be as no other, in that He was to be conceived of Jehovah. Yet when, and where, and how this miracle was to be effected was not yet revealed. But one thing was certain: this Man, although like unto David, would be different, in that by virtue of Divine conception He would possess Divine attributes. This was a great step forward in the formation of the Messianic ideal in the national mind. Slowly but surely the way was being prepared for the advent of the Lord into the world.
It was not until the days of the later kings of Judah, however, that this new concept of the Messiah was confirmed. As the psalmists gave way to the prophets – those men of God who were specifically authorized to speak for Jehovah – the voice of prophecy was frequently heard throughout the land. Those were the days of Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habbakkuk and Jeremiah, an age in which the Messianic prophecy became so descriptive and so insistent that it seemed as if the day of the Lord was actually at hand. It was Isaiah who foretold how the Lord was to be born on earth; and who can forget his immortal words? “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [God with us].” (Isaiah 7: 14) Neither did he leave to the imagination what manner of Man this was to be, for he said: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9: 6) Neither was there to be any doubt concerning the kingdom He would establish, for “of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9: 7)
But if it was Isaiah who foretold how the Lord was to come, it was Micah who designated the place of His birth: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler of Israel.” (Micah 5: 2) So specific, so urgent, so insistent was the voice of prophecy, and so desperate was Israel’s need at the time, that it was only reasonable to assume that the time was now at hand.
But despite all the signs that had now been given, the Lord did not come. Instead of the Messiah, came Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon; and having destroyed Jerusalem, he carried the people away captive into Babylon. What follows here is a matter of history – the tragic history of the remnant of a once proud nation whose confidence in their manifest destiny had seemingly ended in crushing defeat and foreign captivity. But the voice of prophecy, although it never again attained to the heights of eloquence and immediacy that are descriptive of the prophets who spoke for Jehovah in the days of the later kings of Judah, was not yet stilled. It was Daniel, the prophet of the captivity, who saw in the night visions, one like the Son of Man, coming in the clouds of heaven, and to Him was given “dominion, and glory, and a kingdom . . . which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7: 13, 14) In all probability it was this prophecy which led to a renewal of hope among those who later returned to Jerusalem. But apart from this we find no further open reference to the Messiah. While it is true that the prophets of the post-exilic period spoke of Him, they spoke in veiled terms which served to keep alive the hope of His coming, but did not provide any further signs by which He was to be known.
With the death of Malachi, the last of the prophets, the voice of prophecy ceased altogether. For almost four hundred years the Word of the Lord was not heard in the land. During these barren years in Israel’s history all that was known of the Messiah was what had been revealed to them of old time. But it came to pass, when Herod was king in Jerusalem, that rumors of one who had been born King of the Jews began to spread among the people. According to the testimony of certain shepherds, an angel of the Lord had appeared to them, saying: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. . . . And when they had seen . . . [Him] they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” (Luke 2 : 11, 17) It was also reported that following this there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, inquiring of Him who had been born King of the Jews, and they said: “We have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2: 2) Was this, indeed, He of whom the prophets had spoken, or were they to look for another? That is the question which to this day separates those who believe in Him from those who repudiate the testimony of the New Testament.
In reviewing the Scriptures, one thing is certain: the Lord did not come when expected; neither did He come as expected. Israel had looked for a king after the pattern of David and Solomon, but this Man came from among the lowly. According to the record, He was to be a lawgiver and a prophet; but the scribes and Pharisees accused Him of perverting the law, and the future of which He spake held no comfort for Israel. As to the kingdom which He was to establish on earth, He answered them, saying, “My kingdom is not from hence.”(John 18: 36) For these, and for similar causes, the Jewish Church rejected Him. But in this also a long forgotten prophecy concerning Him was fulfilled. Had not Isaiah said: “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of . . . dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected of men.” (Isaiah 53: 1-3)With the Jews, therefore, as with every church since the beginning, the darker implications of prophecy were forgotten in anticipation of the event.
So it is that at this season of the year when men pause to reflect upon the meaning of those events which took place almost two thousand years ago in the hill country of Judea, the question arises, Who was this Child and what did His birth portend? Some say He was but man, even as you and I and others are man. Others say, although He was man, yet was He the best of men, and as such, an example to all men. Still others hold that He was a third person in a mystical trinity of Divine persons. But the Writings insist that although He was born as man, He was God; that is, one God in person, who is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the faith of the New Church, and upon this faith, as a house upon its foundation, all of the Writings rest.
If, then, we would understand those things which were said by them of old time concerning this Child, we, too, must go unto Bethlehem, that is, to the spiritual sense of the Word, and there we will find Him. The reason for this is that apart from the spiritual sense the Word in its letter cannot be understood. But once it is seen and acknowledged that the Word in the letter contains a spiritual sense, the thought of the understanding is able to perceive that this Child, that is, the newborn doctrine of the Divine Human, is as no other, and that in Him all prophecy from the beginning is at this day fulfilled.
But again we are reminded of the prophecy of Isaiah: “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” (Ibid.) It is a pertinent question, and in this the Second Advent does not differ from the first; for while many have heard of Him, few have sought Him. But there is a difference, and the difference is that the second coming of the Lord is not in person, but as the Writings testify, it is in the Word which is from Him and is Himself.” (TCR 776) This Word is the Word in its spiritual sense; that is, the Spirit of truth of whom the Lord spake to His disciples, saying, “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.” (John 16: 13) In this, however, the burden of proof lies with the Writings, and this will be the subject of our next class.
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From ancient times it was known that the Lord was to be born on earth, but when and where this was to take place was not revealed. It was not until the days of the later kings of Judah that Micah the prophet spake, saying: “Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel.” (Micah 5: 2) It is reasonable to assume that this prophecy created a state of expectation among the people. The inference was that the coming of the Messiah, which had been so long delayed, was now at hand. But in this, as in former instances of open prophecy, Israel was destined to disappointment. Several generations passed; kings succeeded one another; but no one who fulfilled the prescribed qualifications of the Messiah appeared upon the national scene. Then came the armies of Nebuchadnezzar; Jerusalem was laid waste; and the people were taken away captive.
It was a pathetic remnant of a once great nation who returned to the site of Jerusalem after seventy years of foreign captivity. Under the urgings of Haggai and Zechariah they restored the city and rebuilt the temple, but prophecy had lost its emphasis upon the immediacy of the Advent. Then, without apparent cause, the voice of prophecy was stilled altogether. Generations passed, and the Word of the Lord was not heard in the land. With the passing of the years the central theme of prophecy was gradually obscured in the minds of the people, and all that was known of the Lord was contained in ancient scripts which preserved the record of that which had been told to “them of old time.”
It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that in the days of Herod few recalled those signs of the Advent which in earlier days had been common knowledge. Thus it was that when certain wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, and inquired as to where they might find Him who was born King of the Jews, none seemed to know of whom they spake. In evidence of their mission, the wise men spoke of a star which they had seen in the east. The reference was to the prophecy of Balaam, who, in viewing the encampment of Israel in the days of the wilderness, had said: “I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24: 17) But if this prophecy had been forgotten by men, the record was yet intact. So it was that when Herod “heard these things, he was troubled. . . . And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.” (Matthew 2: 3, 4)They said unto him: “In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet . . . out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule My people Israel.” (Matthew 2: 5, 6)
To all believing Christians, the story of the Lord’s birth is a matter of historical record. Yet the question arises, who was this Child who was born so many years ago in the hill country of Judea? Some say He was as other men, howbeit, the best of men. Others say He was the Son of God born in time, that is, a third person in a trinity of Divine persons. But it is the faith of the New Church that apart from the spiritual sense of the Word, the Word in its letter cannot be understood. If, then, we would know this Child, we, too, must go unto Bethlehem, that is, to the spiritual sense of the Word; for it is there, in the city of David, that is, in the doctrine of the Divine Human, that we will find Him who was spoken of by the prophets. Here, and nowhere else, is He to be found: “For thou Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel.”
It is important to note that in this prophecy, Bethlehem is also referred to as Ephratah, the name by which it was known in most ancient times. By Ephratah, therefore, is signified the Word in a former state; that is, the Word as to its letter, from which the spiritual sense is derived. Thus it is that in the Psalms of David we find an earlier and more obscure forecast of the Lord’s birth in which it is said: “Lo, we have heard of . . . [Him] . . . [in] Ephratah, we found . . . [Him] in the fields of the. . . [forest].” (Psalm 132: 6) By the fields of the forest are meant those appearances of truth in which the Word in its letter is written (AE 700: 9) and it is from these appearances that man forms his first idea of God.
Let us have no illusions, therefore, concerning the use of the letter of the Word. Were it not for the letter, man could not be introduced into the spiritual sense; for it is upon the idea of God as Divine Man that the faith of the New Church rests. This is the primary teaching of the Old Testament and of the New Testament; and unless a man believes this, how can he accept the testimony of the Writings concerning themselves?
As the Lord said to the Jews: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets . . . but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5: 17) If the Writings break with the letter, it is not with its essential content but with those appearances of the letter in which the Divine doctrine is obscured. It is, therefore, in order that man may enter with perception and understanding into those things which are contained in the letter that the Writings are given; and the central theme of the letter is the prophecy of the Lord’s birth and His life in the world.
It is He, therefore, of whom we have heard in Ephratah; and in the recollection of these things we experience the delight of former states. Thus it is that when we reflect upon the Christmas story there is a renewal of those affections which we knew as children, when we heard with awe and wonder the story of the Lord’s birth among men. It is these affections of former days that the Writings call “remains.” They are so called because they remain with man as long as there is any remnant of innocence in him; that is, any desire whatsoever to be led by the Lord. Never underestimate the influence of first states of instruction upon the mind; for while much of what is learned is obscured in the memory, the delight that is inspired may yet be recalled to service.
It is these primitive affections of childhood that are represented in the scriptural story by those who received the Lord at His birth. Were it not for them there would be none to receive the Divine doctrine at its coming; for at the time of His coming, Herod is king in Jerusalem, and Caesar Augustus is emperor of Rome. By Herod is represented the love of self, which exercises dominion over man’s natural affections; and by Rome is represented the natural-rational, which exalts human reason. Thus it is that when confronted with the claim to the authority of Divine truth, the natural-rational, like Pilate, takes refuge in skepticism, saying, “What is truth?” To such states of mind the Divine doctrine cannot be revealed, for in such states man does not will to believe. It is, then, only to those who will to believe in His Word that the Writings are addressed.
Yet faith in the Writings is not the faith of childhood. If it were, there would be no need for the Writings. It is because the faith of childhood is not sufficient to the more advanced states of adult life that the Lord has come again as the Divine doctrine. It is, therefore, not as children that we experience the joy of the Lord’s advent, but as those who are permitted to perceive what these things interiorly present; for it is here, in Bethlehem of Judea, that is, in the spiritual sense of the Word, that He to whom all prophecy attests is to be found. We see Him, therefore, not as we knew Him in first states, but as He is now revealed; that is, as Divine Man made visible to the sight of the understanding in the Divine doctrine. The meaning of the prophecy, therefore, is clear. If we would know the Lord we must go unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass that the Lord hath made known unto us. If we will do this, we will come to see that all revelation from the beginning testifies to the Divinity of this Child. That this is so is evident from the treatment of the letter of the Word in the Arcana Coelestia. Verse by verse, and chapter by chapter, we follow the sacred text through the formative states of the Human, and through those alternate states of temptation and glorification which marked His progression toward union with the Divine. Thus the Divine doctrine, which formerly dwelt in Ephratah among the obscure appearances of the prophetic Word, is now to be found in Bethlehem; that is, in the plain teachings of the Writings concerning Him. That is why it is said that Bethlehem represents the Word in a new state.
But although at this day the ancient prophecy has been fulfilled, it seems that there are few to receive Him. In this, the Second Advent does not differ from the first. As the prophet Isaiah said: “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” (Isaiah 53: 1) The answer is, to none save a few. Men say, If this be the truth, would we not know it? But like many in Israel who were indifferent to those things which were told abroad by the shepherds, the modern mind does not credit the possibility of an authoritative statement of truth. It is not that men no longer believe in God, but that they have lost faith in Divine revelation. Yet in this day, as in that, there is a remnant who have not forgotten the Word of the prophets, and perceive that the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, even as the Divine Child, were conceived of God, and not by man. In the final analysis, this is the test of truth, and when applied to the Writings it inspires faith.
At this time of the year, therefore, when we celebrate the birth of our Lord upon earth, let us not forget that those things which were seen by the shepherds were not only a fulfillment, but also constituted a renewal of the ancient prophecy; for as stated in the book of Revelation, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19: 10) That this is so is evident from the fact that the Lord Himself said that He would come again; but nowhere does it say that He would come again in person, but that He would come as the Spirit of truth, that is, as the spiritual sense of the Word. If men would read the New Testament with this in mind, if they would regard what is said there not merely as an historical record of past events but as a forecast of things to come, the Lord’s life on earth, His birth, His death, His resurrection would take on new meaning, and, as it is said in the preface to the work Heaven and Hell, ignorance would be enlightened and unbelief dissipated.(HH 1)
Consider, for the moment, the evidence in this regard. Did He not say to His disciples: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth”? (John 16: 1) Also: “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter; that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him.” (John 14: 16, 17) And again: “When the Comforter is come . . . even the Spirit of truth which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me.” (John 15: 26) Who is it, then, whom the world cannot receive because it seeth Him not? Is it not He of whom the Lord spake; that is, He who at this day testifies to the Divinity, to the holiness, and to the unity of the Word? And is this not He of whom the prophets spake; that is, the Lord in His Divine Human?
But like the Jews who did not receive the Lord because He did not conform to their preconceived concept of the Messiah, neither has the Christian world accepted the Writings. Because they do not conform to men’s preconceived concept of truth they have rejected them. But the truth of the Writings is not dependent upon men’s acknowledgment of them. As the Lord said to the Jews: “I receive not testimony from man.” (John 5: 34) In this, as in all things, the truth speaks for itself. As it is stated in the Writings: “It is the Divine which bears witness concerning the Divine, and not man, from himself.” (AE 635: 2) We do not accept the Writings, therefore, on the basis of Swedenborg’s claim to a Divine revelation, but upon the internal evidence that the Writings are what they claim to be; that is, the fulfillment of the prophetical Word.
By the prophetical Word, we here mean all the Word of the Old and the New Testaments. There is nothing said in the letter of either Testament that is not prophetic of the Lord who was to come; that is, of the Lord as He is now revealed in His own Divine Human. It is true that when the Lord came into the world men saw Him as a person; but to know the Lord is not to know Him merely as a person. It is to see and acknowledge the good and truth which are from Him; for to see what is good and true is to see what in essence is human. Hence we read in the Writings: “Who does not know that a man is not a man because of his having a human face and a human body, but because of . . . his understanding and the goodness of his will.” (TCR 417) This also is what is meant by the statement in the same number: “To love the neighbor, viewed in itself, is not to love the person, but the good that is in the person.” (Ibid.)
As it is with man, so it is with the Lord, who is Divine Man. If we would know Him we must know Him not only as He who came into the world in His own Divine person, but we must see and acknowledge that He is good and truth itself, and that all good with angels and men is from Him. But as God, or good, cannot be presented to the sight of the understanding except in the form of truth, the Lord gave the Word; and it is in His Word, and not apart from it, that the Lord may be known among men. Thus the Writings teach that the Word is the medium of conjunction between God and man. Yet how many at this day believe this? For the most part, men think of the Word as the testimony of the religious experience of the prophets and the evangelists. And while many believe that the prophets and the evangelists were somehow inspired, they do not understand the nature of their inspiration; neither are they prepared to believe that within the appearances of the letter of the Word there is a spiritual sense which constitutes an authoritative statement of truth.
To see God, therefore, is to see truth; that is, to see Him as the truth of the Word. Hence it is said in John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1: 1) But whereas, prior to His coming, the Word was revealed through the instrumentality of the human of an angel who appeared to the prophets, and whereas at His coming the Word was revealed through the human that the Lord assumed from the mother, in His second coming the Lord is revealed in His own Divine Human; that is, as the Divine doctrine which, in the words of the Writings, “is from Him and is Himself.” (TCR 776)
By the Divine Human, therefore, is not meant that body of flesh and blood which the Lord put on by birth into the world, but that body of Divine doctrine in which He is revealed at this day. We do not see Him, therefore, as the disciples saw Him; that is, as one who is revealed to the sight of the senses, but as one who is revealed to the sight of the understanding, that is, the good which is implicit in the truth of the Word. For God alone is good, and he who perceives what is good from the affection of truth sees God. But before God may be seen we must first form some idea of Him. That is why the Word has been given, for apart from the Word, man cannot form any idea of God; that is, any idea in which truth may take form. Thus the Writings insist that “no one can think of the Divine itself unless he first presents to himself the idea of a Divine Man”; (AC 8705) for to think of God apart from the idea of a Divine Man is to think indeterminately; and as the Writings state, “an indeterminate idea is no idea.” (Ibid.)
Despite the apparent discrepancies that exist in the Scriptures, there is one teaching that is consistent throughout. This is that God is Divine Man. In the Old Testament, in the New Testament, and in the Writings there can be no question concerning this. But whereas in the Old Testament the thought is determined to the idea of God in human figure, and in the New Testament to the idea of God as a person, in the Writings the thought of the mind is elevated to the concept of a God who in essence is good and truth. Thus the subject of the Writings is the essential Human, or that which in essence is Human in the Lord. Hence we are told that we are not to think of the Lord from His person, and from this of His essence; but from His essence, and from this of His person.” (AR 611: 7) In other words, if we would understand who it was who was born into the world, we must not think of Him from the appearances in which the New Testament is written; but we must think of Him as He is revealed in the Writings, and then the appearances of the New Testament will be understood. For He was not man as we are man; neither was He a third Divine person in a trinity of persons, but He was, as the Writings teach, the one God of heaven and earth.
What, then, shall we say of this Child who was born so many years ago in Bethlehem of Judea? Is it not He who has come again in the spiritual sense of the Word? Yet, like the Christ Child, the Divinity of the Writings is not at first perceptible. As we read in John: “He was in the world . . . and the world knew Him not.”(John 1: 10) Think of the multitudes who saw Him as a man in the world; but how many perceived that, as foretold by the psalmist, He was the begotten of God? (Psalm 2 : 7) In this, as already noted, the Second Advent does not differ from the first. Because He has not come as expected, that is, as a person, men say this is not He of whom Christ spake. But as Nicodemus said to the Lord: “Can a man . . . enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born [again] ?” (John 3: 4) The answer is, he cannot. In other words, the Lord cannot come again as a man in the flesh; and if He did, who would believe it and what purpose would be served? But He can and has come as the Divine doctrine, that is, as the spiritual sense of the Word. Hence the teaching of the Writings that “the Second Coming of the Lord is not in person, but in the Word, which is from Him, and is Himself”; (TCR 776) and also the teaching that “the Second Coming of the Lord is effected by means of a man to whom the Lord has manifested Himself in person, and whom He has filled with His Spirit, that he may teach the doctrines of the New Church from the Lord by means of the Word.” (TCR 779)
“Who,” then, “hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” It is revealed to those who in their hearts believe that there is a God, that He is one both as to essence and person; and who believe that the’ Scriptures contain within themselves a spiritual sense which, although not at first apparent, is nevertheless implicit in the Divine text. To such, that high and holy event which took place in the days of Herod the king is seen, not only as a fulfillment of the ancient prophecy, but also as a renewal of the inner meaning of prophecy, which at this day has found its ultimate fulfillment in Him who has come as the Spirit of truth.
-New Church Life 1965;85:497-504, 545-552
The Fulfillment of Prophecy
by Rev. Willard D. Pendleton
“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” (Isaiah 9: 6)
From the time of the fall it was known that some day the Lord would be born upon earth, and that at His coming He would redeem the human race. But when He was to come, where He was to be born, and what manner of man He was to be was not revealed. It was not until the days of the later kings of Judah that the voice of prophecy became both definite and insistent. It was Micah who identified the place where the Lord was to be born, and it was Isaiah who foretold the miraculous manner of His birth. Of even greater significance, however, was Isaiah’s description of the qualities that the Messiah was to possess; for His name was to be called “Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9: 6) How this was to be understood, no man knew; yet one thing was sure: this Man was to be as no other, and from all portents it seemed as if the day of His coming was at hand.
It was a bewildered and disillusioned people who, several generations later, were taken away captive into Babylon. The word of the prophets had not been realized, and Israel’s hope of a free and independent kingdom had ended in crushing defeat and foreign servitude. It is true that in the days of the post-exilic prophets the hope was revived; but the prophecy of this period lacked the sense of immediacy that had characterized the pre-exilic period, and while hope remained, it seemed remote. Then suddenly the voice of the Lord was stilled. For almost four hundred years all that was known of the Lord and His coming was what was preserved in the scripts that had been written “by them of old time.” What was once common knowledge, therefore, was gradually forgotten, and in the days of Herod the king few were familiar with those signs by which the Lord was to be known when He was born among men.
Now “it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. . . . And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem . . . . to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2: 1-7)
This was the child of whom the prophets had spoken, the child whose coming was so long delayed. In the silence of the spiritual night which enveloped all humanity, Israel’s high function had at last been realized. A virgin daughter of the people had conceived and brought forth a son, whose name was to be “Immanuel,” that is to say, “God with us.” Yet in all Israel only a few knew of His coming; and of the many who heard the words which He spake, only a handful of disciples perceived that in Him the voice of prophecy had at last been fulfilled. The reason for this was that in the fulfillment of prophecy the reality rarely conforms to men’s preconceived idea of the event. Israel had looked for a king, but this Man came from among the lowly. It was foretold that He was to be a lawgiver; but the Scribes and Pharisees accused Him of perverting the law. Of the Messiah’s kingdom, it had been said that it would know no end, but when questioned He answered, saying, “My kingdom [is] not from hence.” (John 18: 36) Yet in their rejection of Him, the ancient prophecy was fulfilled, for as Isaiah had said: “Who bath believed our report? . . . He is despised and rejected of men.” (Isaiah 53: 1, 3)
In this later day, when it is permitted to enter with understanding into the spiritual sense of the letter, the scriptural account of the Lord’s birth opens the way to an interior perception of the prophetic function of the Word; for while it is true that the New Testament is, in effect, a fulfillment of the Old Testament, what men fail to perceive is that the New Testament is in itself a renewal of prophecy and that in its internal sense it speaks entirely of things which were yet to come. As the Lord said to His disciples: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.” (John 16: 12, 13)
It was this, and similar teaching, which for a time led many to believe that some day the Lord would come again. But how many believe it at this day? While many subscribe to the social teachings of Jesus, few credit the reliability of the prophetical statements of the New Testament. Yet the reason for this is that men have assumed that the teaching is that the Lord would come again as to person, but this is not what is said. What is said is that He would come as the Spirit of truth. Hence the explanation of the Writings that “the second coming of the Lord is not a coming in person, but in the Word, which is from Him, and is Himself.” (TCR 776)
It is, then, as the Spirit of truth, or as the spiritual sense of the Word, that the Lord has been born among men at this day. Yet, as the prophet Isaiah said: “Who bath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” (Isaiah 53: 1) In this, the second advent does not differ from the first. In both instances the Lord did not come when expected; neither did He come as expected. We have no difficulty, therefore, in understanding why it is that few at this day perceive that in the Writings the Scriptures are fulfilled; for even as the Lord did not conform to Israel’s concept of the Messiah, neither do the Writings concur with men’s preconceived idea of truth. Men say that truth is the sum of human experience, and that what may be regarded as true is at all times relative to experience. But the Writings insist that truth is a form of good, and that as God alone is good, to see God is to see truth. To enable men to do this is the function of all Divine revelation; but as the Word in its letter cannot be understood apart from the spiritual sense, the Lord has come again as the Spirit of truth.
What, then, is the claim of the Writings concerning themselves? Is it not that in them the prophetic Word is fulfilled? Like the shepherds, therefore, who watched over their flocks on the night that the Lord was born on earth, “let us now go even unto Bethlehem,” that is, to the spiritual sense of the Word, “and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord bath made known unto us.” (Luke 2: 15) “And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2: 12)
By swaddling clothes are signified primary truths or truths of innocence; (AE 706: 12) that is, those general or primary truths of revelation which are acknowledged by all in whom there is something of innocence. These truths are: that there is a God; that the Lord came into the world to save the human race; that there is a heaven; and that the life of religion is to do good.” (AC 8773) It is these truths which in first states attest to the Divinity of the Writings, and serve as a sign that the newborn doctrine, while born of woman, is conceived of God; for by a woman is signified the affection of truth, and it is through, or by means of, this affection that the Divine doctrine is born in the hearts of men. Thus it is that in the prophecy concerning the New Church the book of Revelation speaks of a great wonder seen in heaven – of a woman clothed with the sun, who gave birth to the Man Child who was to rule .all nations. (Revelation 12: 1-5) He it was of whom Isaiah had prophesied, saying, “Unto us a child is born,” for the Christ Child and the Man Child are one. Yet while they are one, there is a difference, the difference being that the child who was born in the days of Herod the king is the Lord as He is seen and known in the sense of the letter, whereas the child who was born of the woman in the wilderness is the Lord as He may now be seen and known in the spiritual sense of the Word. Hence the Man Child is said to signify the nascent (newborn) doctrine of the Divine Human, who is the Spirit of truth who was to come.
Now it is a notable fact that the historical account of the Lord’s birth on earth concurs with the prophetical account of the birth of the Divine doctrine in that in each instance there was no place to be found for Him among men. Because there was no room for Him in the inn, the infant Lord was placed in a manger. By a manger is signified the doctrine of truth from the letter of the Word which, although it testifies to the Lord’s Divinity, has no place in the minds and affairs of men. But if men have rejected the doctrine of genuine truth as contained in the letter, what of the Divine doctrine as plainly revealed in the spiritual sense of the Word? Surely, it would seem that if the Writings are what they profess to be, men would acknowledge them. Yet, as foretold, the Man Child is born in a wilderness; that is, in a state in which there is no interior perception of the Divine doctrine. Thus it is that at this day the knowledge of the Divine doctrine must be preserved by a few while preparation is being made for its reception by many.
On this high and holy day, therefore, when our thoughts and affections are stirred by the remembrance of the Lord’s birth among men, we share the joy of those few to whom these things were revealed. Like Mary, like Joseph, like the shepherds, there is much that we do not understand; but of one thing we are certain: this child, the nascent doctrine of the Divine Human, is as no other. In all history there is nothing comparable to the Writings; and while men may not credit their testimony concerning themselves, they cannot account for them, neither can they explain them away. Like the Divine Child who astonished the doctors in the temple by His understanding and answers, the Writings speak with an authority and a clarity that testify to their Divine origin; and while few at this day are concerned with the unique claim that the Writings make to be the truth, yet the fact remains that “never man spake like this.” (John 7: 46)
It is, then, as the Spirit of truth, or the Spirit of prophecy, that the Lord has come again into the world; for as we read in the book of Revelation: “The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19: 10) And was it not He who testified, saying, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you and shall be in you”? (John 14: 16,17)
Who is it, then, that the world cannot receive because it seeth Him not? Is it not the doctrine of the Divine Human which is now plainly revealed in the spiritual sense of the Word? Is it not He of whom the prophet spake, saying, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given”? For by a child is signified He who is innocence and love itself, and by a son is signified the truth of His Word. This truth is that there is one God, in one person, who is the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the doctrine of the Divine Human, and it is in the light of this doctrine that the Word in its letter is to be understood. But the perception of the Lord in His Divine Human is dependent upon a faith in the integrity of the Word. By this we do not mean a blind faith in the letter, nor a general acknowledgment that the Scriptures are somehow inspired, but a faith that within the letter there is to be found an authoritative statement of truth. In this also, the second coming does not differ from the first, for in this day, as at that, the Lord is received by those who have not forgotten the words of prophecy and are capable of perceiving that in the doctrine of the Divine Human all prophecy from the beginning is at this day fulfilled.
Yet the inevitable question arises: If this be true, why is it that the Writings are not acknowledged by many? The implication is that the test of their truth is their acceptance by men. But this is not so; for as the Writings insist: “It is the Divine which bears witness concerning the Divine, and not man from himself.” (AE 635: 2. See also AE 538: 4) What is meant here is that it is the spiritual sense which bears witness to the Divinity and holiness of the Word in its letter, and when the letter is understood, it supports and bears witness to the spiritual sense.
So it is that when we reflect upon the scriptural account of the Lord’s birth we think of Him as He is revealed in the spiritual sense of the Word. For whereas when He lived in the world He was seen and known through the instrumentality of a human derived from the mother, in the Writings He is revealed in His own Divine Human. There is a world of difference between these two concepts of the Lord, as may be evident from the fact that in the New Testament our thought is directed to Him as a person; and while it is true that God is a person, and that apart from the thought of Him as a person we can form no idea of Him, yet the Writings insist that we are not to think of the Lord from His person but from His essence, and from this of His person. (AR 611)
If, as stated, this seems arcane, it is not; for by essence is meant the essential man, or the real man. Hence we are taught in the Writings that the real man is not the person, but the affection and thought which underlie the person; for love is the life of man, and such as the love is, such is the man. What, then, shall we say of Him who came into the world as man? To all appearances He was as other men; but as it is said in John: “In Him was life: and the life was the light of men.” (John 1: 4) In Him therefore was love; that is, Divine love, and it was in this that He differed from all men, for whereas man is but a vessel receptive of life and love from the Lord, the Lord is love itself; and because He is love itself He is the source of all good and all truth with the angels of heaven and with men upon earth. But as God, or good, cannot be presented to the sight of the understanding except in the form of truth, the Lord gave the Word. For this cause came He into the world and made the Human, which He took to Himself, Divine. This Human is the Word made flesh, the Spirit of truth; that is, the Lord as He now is revealed in the living sense of the Word.
This is the Man Child who was born in the wilderness, and it is this child, or newborn doctrine of the Divine Human, who testifies to the integrity of the scriptural account of the Lord’s birth on earth. For, as promised, a virgin did conceive and bear a son, whose name was Immanuel, that is to say, God with us. And what is more, the day has come when men at last may enter with understanding into the reason that His name is also to be called “Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9: 6)
–New Church Life 1964;84: 529-534
The Gathering of the Elect
by Hugh L. Odhner
“And He shall send forth His angels with the great voice of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Matthew 24: 31)
The Lord foretold His second advent in several different ways. He was to return to His church as the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; as a King judging from His throne; as a wounded Lamb who would open the seals of Scripture; as a male child born from a celestial woman; as a Harvester with a sickle; as a Divine Bridegroom ready for the marriage supper; and as the conquering Hero mounted on a white horse and having the name of “the Word of God,” and followed by angelic hosts on white horses.
The confusing variety of these prophetic word-pictures was necessary to show that the Lord’s second advent was not a physical or personal coming but a spiritual event – effected by a new revelation of His presence to the minds of men, at a time when the Christian Church had become so alienated from heaven and from the understanding of the Word that it could no longer serve as a source of spiritual enlightenment. And the New Church now sees that this second advent of the Lord was effected in spiritual fact by means of His servant Emanuel Swedenborg, whom He filled with His Spirit to teach from Him the doctrines of the New Church through the Word. (TCR 779)
In the natural world this second advent of the Lord went unperceived except by a few, even as was the case when the Lord was born into the world and only Mary and a few others pondered in their hearts what His birth might mean. It was in the spiritual world that the Lord was seen in great glory. It was there that the clouds which had concealed the way to heaven were dispersed by a great judgment, and angels were sent out to all quarters to gather the “elect” together into the New Heaven.
All men are intended for heaven, in the sense that none are predestined to hell. All men can be saved in the other life, unless they have confirmed themselves in evils of life, and this whether they are pagans or Christians, or whether they die as babes or as adults. All can find salvation if they have acknowledged God and lived well. There are many mansions in the heavenly Father’s house – many heavens with differing degrees of spiritual light. Yet only those spirits who have been in a spiritual affection of truth (AE 732) can intellectually receive the Heavenly Doctrine in the other life, and thus go to compose the New Heaven whence the New Church on earth is to receive its strength. The New Church on earth, our revelation indicates, will at first be among a few. For the falsities of the former church must be removed before truths can be permanently received. (AR 547) The faith of the New Church cannot be together with the faith of the old church, in one house or in one mind, any more than an owl and a dove can be reared in one nest. (BE 102, 103)
And because the state of the Christian world is such that in the official teachings of the churches no truths remain that are not entangled with and steeped in dangerous falsities which annul the power of the Word to enlighten men’s minds and conjoin them with heaven, therefore the New Church is likened to a woman in a wilderness, preserved by a miracle and hidden by God from the persecutions of the “dragon.” (Inv. 38; AR 562) Its growth in both worlds is slow, especially from the Christian world.
A new church, the Writings note, is seldom if ever formed from the people of the former church, but mostly from gentiles or those of other races. It was so also with the Christian Church, which indeed first commenced among the Jews, but was established mainly among former gentiles. Still, each new church or dispensation rests upon the Divine revelation originally given to the previous church. The New Testament rests upon the Law and the Prophets. The Writings rest upon the entire Scriptural Word. And this continuity in the giving of Divine revelation was illustrated when Swedenborg had completed his draft of the True Christian Religion. For he adds the “Memorandum” that when the book was finished, the Lord commissioned His twelve disciples who had followed Him in the world, and who were now angels, to go out into the whole spiritual world and preach the new advent of the Lord God Jesus Christ, whose reign will be eternal. “This was done on the 19th day of June, in the year 1770. And this was meant by these words of the Lord: `He will send forth His angels . . . and they shall gather together His elect . from one end of the heavens to the other.'” (TCR 791)
The spiritual sense of the Word is never confined to persons. The apostles who were sent out on the 19th of June, 1770, were not chosen because of their personal distinctions. In heaven there are many that are more worthy than they. (SD 1330; HH 526) They had entertained many crude ideas as to their Master’s return, and of their own position in His worldly kingdom. But after their death – and again after the Last judgment in 1757 – they had come to see the spiritual truths which were hidden beneath the symbolism of the Lord’s words.
These twelve had seen the Lord in His ultimate Human. The form and features of His personality, His words, the tone of His voice, His touch, had been impressed upon their memories. In their hearts burned His promise to return – a coming long delayed. And their function now in the spiritual world was to testify to His identity: that He Himself had indeed made His second advent, as He had promised, in the clouds of heaven. Only they could confirm that the true Christian religion was the very teaching of Christ, at last clarified and revealed in the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem – in the foundations of which were collected all the gems of truth for which these apostles had labored in the world! Truths built by the Lord into a city of celestial life, rising secure above the clouds and obscurities, the conflicts and confusions, of earthly life.
These twelve, who represented each in his own way the cardinal truths of the Lord’s church, were the forerunners of an unending number of evangelists who are to proclaim the new reign of the Lord. The gathering of the “elect” proceeds in both worlds, not suddenly, but slowly and continuously, through the patient work of angels and also of men.
The function of the priesthood in the New Church includes, as its first province, the announcement of the Lord in His second advent. This is the first priestly duty, (TCR 669: 2) for without this new gospel there could be no New Church on earth. It is a work which can be done only by a distinct ministry – by men whose lives emulate those of the apostles in that they are dedicated to the work of the salvation of souls, the ingathering into the kingdom of God.
In one sense, all men are the Lord’s elect, chosen or destined by the Creator for eternal life; and none are born who cannot be saved or find a place in the Lord’s kingdom. In a narrower sense, only those who consent to the Lord’s will, who walk the way of repentance, become His “chosen.” Yet among those who enter heaven some are said to be “called,” while others are said to be “chosen,” and still others “faithful.” (Revelation 17: 14) Those of the natural heaven are said to be “called,” and these are described as a vast multitude. But while “many are called, few are chosen.” (Matthew 20: 16) Only those who have fought the battles of temptation and have embraced the truths of the Word with a spiritual love are chosen as angels of the spiritual heaven. And the celestial, whose hearts are not defiled by hereditary evils, are especially called the “faithful” who never fall from their high estate. (AR 744, 821)
Yet in a relative sense the apostles were singled out as the Lord’s “chosen.” Indeed the Lord had said: “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” (John 15: 16) He had breathed upon them, and said: “Receive ye the Holy Spirit.” (John 20: 22) That these disciples were selected by the Lord in a unique sense, for qualities and characteristics of which they themselves were not aware, is peculiarly true. For they “represented” all the various cardinal things of the church, and thus all things of faith and charity by which the Lord builds the church.
The church is not built by men. Yet the Lord, who judges not by the appearance, sees beyond the personal qualities of men. He chooses His human instruments with Divine foresight, and performs through them the kind of work which is of use in each age and place – uses which are not necessarily foreseen by men, or even consciously intended by them; uses which do not stem from man’s own power or merit, or reflect to his credit; uses which are not visible to man’s dull eyes, but which, through the inscrutable wisdom of Providence, build up agencies which in time permit the Holy Spirit to pass “from the Lord through men to men,” and thus heal and restore His church through spiritual enlightenment.
Among the canons of the New Church we find the statement that the Holy Spirit “flows into men who believe in the Lord, and, if according to order, into the clergy, and thus through them into the laity.” The Spirit of truth “proceeds from the Lord through the clergy to the laity by means of preaching, according to the reception of the doctrine of truth thence.” (Can. HS IV ) The institution of the New Church priesthood, with its threefold function of instruction, worship and government, is an orderly contribution to and ultimation of the work of the apostles which commenced on the nineteenth day of June, 1770, in the spiritual world – the work of “gathering together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
This gathering of the “elect” is also called a “harvest.” The final harvest takes place in the spiritual world. But on earth it takes the introductory form of a collection of men who belong to the visible body of the church from their own free choice and conviction. Even the spiritual works of the church must be organized in an external form and order, to withstand the onslaught of its foes and to carry on its uses, which are prescribed in the revelation; and to bear fruit both visible and invisible.
The priest of the New Church must think not only of persons but also of states. What is true of every man in his own sphere is true of the priest in the larger sphere of the church. The first fruit that he must harvest and preserve is found in the Word of God, in its threefold revelations, as truths of doctrine. But a ripening harvest also awaits in every tender state open to the influx of heaven. It is a priestly responsibility to protect and gather into fruitfulness the growing faith of infancy with its innocent charity and obedience; to bend the fancies of childhood and order the budding reasonings of youth with its ideals and its doubts; to watch against the falsities of self-intelligence and to challenge the thinking that stems from passion and sensual appearances or from the illusions of worldly glamour. It is the priest’s work to sound the trumpet on the walls of Zion if falsities of doctrine invade or evils of life encroach. It is the task of the priesthood, as the servant not of men but of God, to guard the sanctities of conjugial love and to keep the holy things of worship from being neglected or violated by human ambition. It is the task of the priesthood to lead – not by own intentions but by revealed truth – to the uses of charity and mutual love, and to see that the freedom of every man’s conscience is respected. In such leadership there must be no blind persuasion or compulsion, for only that which is implanted in freedom will endure.
It is so that, we pray, the kingdom of the Lord may be increasingly established on the soil of earth, and the minds of successive generations of men be interiorly opened to see the spiritual wisdom latent in the Writings of the Lord’s second advent. The priesthood is ordained to inherit the apostolic office, as an assurance that what is Divine may ever find a place among men and that the fruitful states of the church may be gathered together into organic unity in the uses of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, of which there shall be no end.
–New Church Life 1968:88:261-265
The Mode of the Second Coming
by C. H.
…. The mode by which the Lord made [His] final coming is well known to all New Church men and women. He came, not in person, but in the Word; not in the flesh, but in and as the Spirit of truth. It is interesting to note, however, that the Lord initiated His second coming by appearing before Swedenborg in person, and that He appeared before him as God-Messiah; thus identifying the Divine Human with the Lord who had been born in Bethlehem, and the Lord so born with Jehovah. Thereafter the Lord revealed through Swedenborg the internal sense of the Word – first as drawn from the letter of Genesis and Exodus, and then as heavenly doctrine for the New Jerusalem – and inspired Swedenborg’s writing of what was thus revealed.
This, we are taught, was the second coming of the Lord. In thus making His advent the Lord came, as always, to the minds of men, and essentially by the same mode that He had used before, namely, by means of a man. The Old Testament Word had been given through Moses, the prophets and other inspired writers; the gospel had first been spoken by the Lord Himself as Divine Man on earth, and then written through the evangelists; the Apocalypse had been given through John; and in making His second advent the Lord has again given a Divine revelation through a man, His servant, Emanuel Swedenborg. The distinctions between the Lord’s two advents should not be blurred; but this consistency in and similarity of method may usefully be stressed in discussing Swedenborg’s claim as being unique but not without precedent.
–New Church Life 1959;79:328
The Truth: Seen and Heard
by Rev. David R. Simons
The Christian Church is founded on the conviction, expressed by John the Baptist, that the Lord Jesus Christ came from “above” and is “above all.” True Christianity acknowledges that the Lord had a heavenly origin and that He testifies in the New Testament from “things seen and heard,” that is, that He had an infinite soul and that what He did and taught reveal Divine omniscience and Infinite perception. The Lord Himself confirms the authority from which He speaks saying, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, We speak that We do know, and testify that We have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?” (Jn. 3: 11, 12)
The New Christian Church, now to be established on the earth, is founded on the conviction that the same Lord Jesus Christ has come again, as He promised, in the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem. As “the Spirit of truth (spiritual truth) leading unto all truth,” (Jn. 16: 130 this new scripture comes from “heaven” and is “above all,” that is, is Divinely inspired and thus superior to all the writings of men. The evidence which backs this claim, like the evidence which confirms the validity of the New Testament, rests on what is “seen and heard,” “that he testifieth”:
The evidence establishing the First Coming of the Lord is contained in the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John who also wrote the Book of Revelation. The New Testament is the product of Divine inspiration through men who knew the Lord for less than three years, or were in contact with those who knew Him, who described themselves as “eyewitnesses from the first” and as “having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first . . . .” (Lu. 1: 2-4) And the disciple John adds, “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they should be written everyone, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” (Jn. 21: 24, 25) And later at the end of the Book of Revelation, he concludes, “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely, I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22: 20)
In contrast to the New Testament, the evidence which establishes the truth of the Second Coming of the Lord is contained in more than thirty volumes. The Heavenly Doctrines are the product of Divine inspiration through a man who had contact with the Lord and over twenty-seven years of direct experience in the eternal world of the human spirit, which is the kingdom of the Lord. In these Writings New Churchmen see the same Lord Jesus Christ now speaking “plainly of the Father.” (Jn. 16: 25) Swedenborg, the evidence shows, received the Doctrine of the New Church from the mouth of the Lord alone:
Christianity was based, founded, and confirmed not on the teachings of the Lord alone, but on what He did – on miracles performed, on open demonstrations of His mercy and love. The disciples of John were shown who the Lord is as follows:
The First Christian Church was established by things seen and heard, by miracles which were seen and direct teachings of the Lord which were heard. The Lord used miracles to attract men to Himself so that He could teach them the truth and open their understandings to the light of heaven. In every way He worked to lead men from external things to internal – from the things in this world to those of the world to come. For example, by changing the water to wine in the outer, physical world the Lord drew men to Him so that He could give them the “new wine” of the New Testament and in this way perform the spiritual miracle of changing the external truths of the Old Testament in their minds to the internal truths of the New. Again, by raising Lazarus from natural death and commanding them to release “him and let him go,” ( Jn. 11: 44) the Lord on earth filled men’s eyes with wonder so that they might be willing to hear His new doctrine and by it be themselves raised from spiritual death, to be released from self-centered living and world-centered thought, that they might “Know the truth” and become free! No one is saved by the sight of miracles, yet everyone can be led by means of them to hear what the Lord has to teach.
The New Christian Church, now made possible by the giving of new Doctrines from heaven, is based, founded, and confirmed not on doctrine alone, and definitely not on miracles, for the Writings teach that miracles and concern for what is externally miraculous is misleading in a rational age and can seduce the church. “Was anyone ever made spiritual by their means?” they ask. (Inv. 46) The Writings of the Second Advent, although they center on clear rational doctrines which appeal to the “self-evidencing reason of love” (Can. Pro.) and to the love of truth for its own sake, are confirmed by actual experience, by things “seen and heard” in the spiritual world. In place of miracles, this new revelation is founded on the experience of a science-oriented mind which was specially prepared and led to receive and rationally understand a body of evidence greater than all miracles and which is calculated to have a deeper impact on the rational mind which understands the laws of the physical universe and something of the workings of the human mind.
As miracles in the first Christian Church led men to the Lord that they might hear and learn, so in the New Church the remarkable experiences recorded as “Memorable Relations” in the Writings are not ends in themselves, but are to lead to deeper things. To see into the spiritual world, to see heaven and hell and the world of spirits into which each one of us is to come immediately after death, is but an introductory step, an opening of the way to an interior understanding of the Lord, in a way not possible on earth, and how He demonstrates the fullness of His love and the depth of His wisdom in the eternal world for which each one of us was created. The psychological, dramatic, spectacular, and even at times humorous experiences of the Revelator in this after-death environment, because they are new, different, and totally unique from anything ever written, have the power to attract the curious and to stir wonder in all who take the time to read them. Yet like miracles their primary purpose is to lead men to the Lord, lead them to hear His voice, perceive His foresight and His providence, and to learn of Him the way of regeneration and eternal life. As the revelator was given to perceive behind what he saw the love and wisdom of the Lord, so all who would be New Churchmen must learn to penetrate the external appearances of the spiritual world and see the living laws which apply to their own spiritual lives right here on earth. Sight is to lead to hearing and obedience. The rational sight of these things in the Writings is to lead us to hear the voice of the Lord, to recognize and perceive Him as the same Lord revealed in the New Testament, and to follow Him in a New Christian life, in which evils are shunned and use made the center of our lives. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life.” (Jn. 10: 27, 28)
By sight and hearing each one of us knows what we know. By sight and hearing we sense realities outside of ourselves. By these twin senses we come to know the reality of the natural world, and by twin senses of a higher kind – by the internal sight of understanding and the internal hearing of perception – we come to know the reality of spiritual things.
The whole purpose of the Word, the whole purpose of Divine Revelation is to bring the Lord present before these higher senses to be seen and heard. “Life consists in the exercise of sensation, for without there is no life, and such as is the faculty of sensation, such is the life, a fact that anyone may observe.” (AC 322)
Sight and hearing are the senses which the Lord chose to emphasize, since they relate first to the understanding and then to the will. The man of the spiritual Church is to enter first with his understanding into spiritual things, and then with his will.
Although sight is a superior sense in that it can reach out and sense things untold distances away, being aware of the starry universe, and can in a flash absorb a scene which would take hours to describe adequately, still hearing is the more powerful of the two senses, since it directly stirs the will.
It is a curious anomaly that the very evidence from things “seen and heard” which is given to confirm both the New Testament and the Heavenly Doctrines have proved unacceptable to a rational, science-oriented age. As the Lord said, “Therefore speak I to them by parables; because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which said, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive; for the people’s heart is waxed gross, and with ears they have heard dully, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart.” (Matt. 13: 13-17; Jn. 12: 40)
How the precious truths of the Heavenly Doctrines are received is clear from the following Memorable Relation from the work The True Christian Religion:
–New Church Life 1978;97:1-7
Two Advents: One Divine Process
by E. Sandstrom
To remember Christmas is to reflect on the meaning of the Divine coming down to reveal itself in Person to people in this world; and truly to celebrate it is to pray that the Lord may be received by oneself and in the world.
At the time of the Lord’s coming as the Word made Flesh there was a complete turning point in the spiritual history of the human race. All that had preceded looked to that stupendous event, and all that was to follow anticipated the second advent and the resulting eternal development of wisdom with men.
The turning point consisted in this, that the Creator of the universe began to make Himself visible. Previously only His power had been known, but not the love and wisdom that operated through it. We say that the Lord began to make Himself visible at His first advent, and mean by this that He began to make known the nature of His love and the nature of His wisdom. These were the Divine qualities that stood forth in the life and teaching of the Lord our Saviour through His ministry in the world. His love was revealed throughout His life, but never more fully than on the cross when He was tempted to give it up. His words, “Father, forgive them,” represented the final and supreme victory of Divine love which descended from the infinite Divine within Him and glorified His Human.
As for His wisdom, all His teachings bear witness to it, but perhaps this too stood forth in a special way in connection with the cross. Wisdom too was finally glorified through that most grievous and culminating temptation; and wisdom was glorified in this: that it effected the victory of love. Prior to the event the Lord had prepared His disciples for some understanding of His Divine foresight in this matter. But their understanding came only after His victory. His foresight was His wisdom. It was when the end of His earthly life drew near that He said: “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished. For He shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge Him, and put Him to death: and the third day He shall rise again.” But, as we read, at that time “they understood none of these things.” (Lu. 18: 31-34) Nor did they understand the triumphant ride into Jerusalem a day or two after that saying. But what they had been prepared for came to pass after the resurrection, for as we read: “These things understood not His disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they.” (Jn. 12:16)
So we say that the Lord revealed something of His Divine love and wisdom during His first advent. Nevertheless, the men of His day were not prepared for more than a preliminary glimpse. Only at His second advent could the Lord bring fulfillment. Only then could the Lord say: “Now it is permitted to enter intellectually into the secrets of faith.” The first advent had to be restricted to this: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” (Jn. 16:12) It was at the second advent, “when the Spirit of Truth is come,” that men were to be “guided into all truth.” (Jn. 16:14) It was then that the Lord would speak “no more in proverbs, but would shew plainly of the Father.” (Jn. 16:25) In a word, the first advent prepared for the second, and the second was a fulfillment of the first. In this we see that the two advents in the Divine view were one action, one process, interrupted in time because of the hardness of the human heart and the slowness of human understanding, but undivided in the Divine concept and in the continual workings of the Divine providence.
It follows that it is only in the light of the second advent that we can see the perspective of the whole Divine process in the Lord’s preparing to come to the human race, and in His final and full coming among them. In fact, that perspective goes back to the beginning of creation; and the Writings draw it up for us in the following words:
“From ignorance again to wisdom.” That wisdom, while in depth equal to that of the Most Ancient Church (for it will again be the wisdom of love), will be wider in its scope and more full. The Lord was visible to the spiritual mind of the most ancients, but not to their natural mind as well. Now He is visible to both minds, that is, visible to the natural mind from the light that shines for the eyes of the spirit, and then shines on through the spiritual mind into the natural. This is possible because of what the Lord revealed through His two advents. The True Christian Religion gives us with regard to these matters the following:
We are to understand, here, that the Lord is now fully seen as Man. The most ancients too saw the Lord as Man, but not fully; for the Lord had not taken on the Divine Natural, therefore not revealed it, wherefore at that time the natural mind could not see in the light of the spiritual sun.
It is a stupendous thought that it is now that all things are coming into fullness. Such is the Divine invitation to all mankind. That we are slow to accept the invitation, and to respond according to capacity, is another matter. The truths that the Lord began to open up in His first advent, and fully revealed in His second, are to produce a wisdom with men such as was not since the world began. We see this in general through the pronouncement concerning the New Christian Church, in that it is said to be the crown of all the churches. More in particular, we see it in the light of two further teachings.
The first of these shows up the difference between the primitive Christian Church and the new Christian Church – and if we bear in mind the teaching concerning the crown of all the churches the statement takes on an even deeper significance than is at first apparent. We read: “The spiritual sense is now revealed, because the Christian Church such as it is in itself is now first commencing. The former Church was Christian only in name, but not in essence and reality.” (TCR 668) And similarly, “Because Christianity itself is now first beginning to dawn, and a New Church meant by the New Jerusalem in the Revelation is now being established by the Lord, in which God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are acknowledged as one because in one Person, it has pleased the Lord to reveal the spiritual sense of the Word.” (TCR 700)
Our second teaching relates to the two Revelations that brought about the first Christian Church and the New Christian Church respectively. This teaching tells us two things: first, that a new revelation is always given before the end of a previous church; and, second, it tells us concerning the nature of the revelation at that time, as accommodated to then-prevailing needs and the consequent general state of reception. This teaching reads:
The Lord’s revealing interior truths also in His first advent means that He began, even at that time, to show Himself as the visible God. But the two advents relate as the preparatory to the fulfillment. This is also reflected in the New Testament in its reference to “glory” in regard to the two advents. We read of “glory” first, and then of “great glory.” “And the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.” (Jn. 1: 14) This was the first advent; but the words relative to the second advent are magnified: “And they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matt. 24: 30) To see the Lord in great glory is to see Him as He is in heaven. “And He was transfigured before them;” (Matt. 17: 2) and in our generation, and all future generations, He is to be transfigured again – and always.
Further with regard to our second teaching above. The “revealing of interior Divine truths” obviously applies to the New Testament, which is the record of what the Lord Himself said and did whilst on earth. Similarly, the “revealing of still more interior Divine truths” is an obvious reference to the Writings, for these truths are to be “for the use of the New Church that will be called the New Jerusalem.” This takes us to the New Testament and the Writings. What about the Old Testament? But this too is included in our second teaching, for we read: “When the end of the Jewish Church was at hand the Lord Himself opened and taught the interior things of the Word, and especially revealed those things in the Word that had been prophesied of Himself.”
We therefore have prophecy in the Old Testament; fulfillment in the New; and the heavenly explanation of both the prophecy and the fulfillment in the Writings. This `heavenly explanation’ is the opening up, or revealing, of the “still more interior Divine truths” – the truths of heaven, or the heavenly doctrine.
We have therefore three forms of Divine revelation progressively leading to the standing forth of the Divine Human in glory, and then to the vision of this Divine Human in great glory. There are also three degrees of the natural mind of man. I suggest that the three Revelations were progressively and by turn given to each one of these degrees. The natural mind consists, looking at it from below, of the sensual, the interior natural, and the rational. In speaking now of each form of Revelation addressing directly one degree of the natural mind, we have reference to the letter of revelation. (The spirit and life within the letter ever speak to the spirit itself of man and the life of love that is to develop there.) And does not the Old Testament in its letter appeal to the sensual man? The sensual relates to the body. If the Jews were “willing and obedient,” there would be no famine, no war, no pestilence; but if rebellious and disobedient, one or other of these calamities would come upon them. Rewards or punishments relating to the body.
In the New Testament the appeal is clearly more interior. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, but I say unto you.” Particular examples given as to just how the New Testament in its letter is more interior, relate to the commandments concerning murder and adultery. “Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause . . . .” “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her . . . .” (See Matt. 5) This more interior natural to which the New Testament directly appeals, might also be described as the imaginative or moral quality in the mind. Entertaining “anger without a cause,” or “desiring adultery” within one’s imagination, is destructive of moral virtues.
Finally the Writings are given. Are they not the ultimate fulfillment of the words spoken already through Isaiah: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord”? (Isa. 1: 18) Do they not speak directly to the rational mind as they invite men to “enter intellectually into the secrets of faith”?
This all relates to the letter of each revelation. But clearly, the interior man, that is, the man who is to live after death, is at all times the object of the Divine concern. But the interior man cannot come forth fully, except insofar as the natural mind is prepared for reception. Therefore little of the spirit could develop in the times of the Old Testament, more in the new era that opened up through the New Testament, and still more and fully in our age, when “Christianity itself is beginning to dawn.” If the spirit and life of the Word will now be allowed to descend into the mind, so that the New Jerusalem is coming down from God out of heaven, then the rational mind, seated though it be in the natural, will receive a spiritual quality, and so will be turned into a spiritual-rational level of consciousness.
This observation, we may note parenthetically, also implies that there can be no further Divine revelation in an ultimate, natural form in the world, because there are no more than the three degrees of the natural mind. The Lord has now revealed Himself fully, and He now awaits human response.
But we return to the question of the two advents. Bear in mind that the first advent was a beginning of a revelation concerning the Divine Human. This, stated more explicitly, means that it was in His first advent that the Lord assumed the Human down to the Divine Natural, and then fully glorified it. But that He only began to reveal His glory at that time, was because the rudiments of a Christian Church that He then established could “bear no more.” In His second advent He does not repeat His glorification process, but He does reveal it fully, that is, as fully as natural language will permit. The Arcana Coelestia, especially, is devoted to this objective. So the second advent sets forth what the first advent accomplished. The two cannot be separated in thought, if either one is to be properly understood.
The Lord never had more than one end in view. His Divine love never changes, nor ever has changed; and it has within it to give to men as fully as they are ever able to receive. And His Divine wisdom accommodates His love to human reception. So it is that mankind is now invited not only to return to the wisdom of the most ancients, but to enter into that of angels, and to live according to wisdom.
To be deeply aware of this Divine love and Divine wisdom is to see God Man, that is, it is to see the infinite Divine nature of the Person of the Lord our Saviour. It is to see the Lord as Father.
Christmas, therefore, is remembered when we reflect on the turning point in human history, in that it was then the Lord assumed the Human in the Divine Natural. But truly to celebrate Christmas is to be thankful for that which the Lord already had in view through that assumption. He desired to make Himself visible down even to the natural mind of man – the whole natural mind, so that He might be conjoined to it; but He could do so only by opening up one of the two interior degrees of the natural at a time. He came in order to come again. “There came a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified, and will glorify again.” (Jn. 12: 28)
All of the above, however, has a primary focus in the Lord’s historical advents – the historical first advent and the historical second. We have spoken of revelation as words. But words by themselves address only the understanding. Words, however, need not be “by themselves:” within them there are also the spirit and the life.” (See Jn. 6:63) It is when the spirit and life are perceived and received that the real man, the inner man, is enlightened and led. Then there is a new creation, or a spiritual birth. “All things were made by the Word . . . . In it was life; and the life was the light of men.” (Jn. 1: 3, 4)
Words by themselves give only presence, but the spirit and life within them, when the mind is open for reception, bring conjunction as well. And that is advent to the individual.
The True Christian Religion lays the matter before us: “The presence of the Lord is perpetual with every man, both evil and good, for without His presence no man lives. But His advent is only with those who receive Him, who are those who believe in Him and do His commandments.” (TCR 774)
–New Church Life 1978;98: 564-570