The Teachings of Swedenborg
The Lord Jesus Christ and The Divine Trinity
by Philip N. Odhner
Swedenborg teaches that there is one Infinite Supreme Being who created the universe and all things in it out of His Divine Love and Wisdom.
The human mind can see that God is infinite. For if God were finite, or limited, there would have to be something that made Him finite and limited. And in that case that thing which made Him finite and limited would be the real source and origin of all things, and thus would be the real God. So also the human mind can see that God is eternal. For if God were not eternal, then He had a beginning in time. And if He had a beginning in time, then there was something previous to Him from which He had origin, and that previously existing thing would be God.
Because God is infinite and eternal He is one. There cannot be two infinite Beings. If there were two or more supposedly infinite Beings, one would limit and finite the other, and thus neither would be infinite. To think or speak of two or more infinite Beings is a contradiction in itself. Such an idea cannot enter the understanding of man.
That the one infinite God is Wisdom can be seen by man from a view of the starry heavens, in which the suns and planets can be seen held in a wonderful order. It can be seen also from a view of anything in nature in its smallest parts. For the microscope reveals the most wonderful order in the least things of creation, even as the telescope reveals such an order in the greatest things.
God is Love. This can be acknowledged by man from the fact that the order existing in the created universe bespeaks a Divine Purpose therein. And especially can it be seen that God is Love in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who showed forth the most perfect love for the eternal salvation of the whole human race.
God is Love and Wisdom. In all that He does His Love and His Wisdom are present. Everything that exists is therefore part of His Purpose in creation. But what is the Divine Purpose in creation? Can this be expressed in a way that the human mind can grasp? Swedenborg teaches as follows: “There are two things that make the Essence of God. Love and Wisdom; but there are three things that make the essence of His Love: to others outside of Himself, to will to be one with them, and to bless them from Himself. . . . These things of the Divine Love were the cause of the creation of the universe, and are the cause of its conservation.” (The True Christian Religion, 43, 46.)
It is the nature of love to love others outside of self, to will to be conjoined with them in love, and to make them happy. This is evident in all true human relationships. It is preeminently true of God. In Him is all life, all love and all wisdom. His will therefore is to create others outside of Himself whom He can bless with the gift of His Life, His Love, His Wisdom. His will is to give to others that which is in Him. This is the cause of all creation.
But God, being infinite, cannot create another infinite Being, or another God or gods, to receive His Love and Wisdom. It is impossible for there to be two or more infinite Beings. If there were a God from God, that God from God would either have to be not infinite and not eternal, and thus not a real God, or He would have to be infinite and eternal and thus absolutely one with the first God. For God to create and love another God would thus be God loving Himself in Himself. And this is contrary to the essence of God, which is to love others outside Himself.
God could not create others who have life and love and wisdom in themselves, but He could create finite beings who could be formed into vessels of His Life and Love and Wisdom. For this reason God first created the physical universe. Out of His own Love and Wisdom, which are the origins of all life and motion, He made the physical universe and the dead and inert matters therein. Some idea of how God so created the physical universe out of His Love and Wisdom can be gathered from the discoveries of modern science, in which it is seen that the dead and inert matters of the earth are in fact composed of things in the highest motion.
Out of the dead and fixed things of nature God formed vessels which can receive His Life. These vessels are men, the human race. These vessels God gifts with liberty and rationality, so that they can if they will receive understanding from God in ever increasing measure, and by the perfection of their lives receive the Love of God in ever increasing measure. These vessels can become images and likenesses of God. In such images and likenesses of God the Divine Purpose of creation can find its fulfillment, for such beings can receive God’s love and wisdom freely, can feel them to be their own, and can freely return the love of God. Between the infinite God and such beings there can be eternal conjunction. In this way a true and everlasting relationship can be established between God and those created by Him outside of Himself. But because God’s Love is infinite therefore He looks to an eternal increase of those who can receive His life, and out of them He forms for Himself an eternal Heaven in an eternal world, which is the Spiritual World. In this Heaven those who have become images and likenesses of God advance forever in the understanding and love of God and their neighbours.
Consider carefully the Divine Purpose of creation here set forth. It means that God’s Purpose in creating you is to make you an image and likeness of Himself, to make you an angel of heaven, to give you into eternity an increasing understanding of Him and an increasing love of what is good and true from Him. That is His interest and concern with you and with everyone in the human race.
Consider whether there can be any other cause of creation, or any other reason for your existence? Have you heard of any other explanation that is in agreement with the Scriptures and with the dictates of your own reason concerning God?
The Advent of the Lord into the World.
Swedenborg teaches that mankind in their first state of creation were as children, innocent and obedient. From the influx of the Love of God into their minds they were able to perceive the truths concerning God in all things of creation. They loved God and they loved their neighbour. This is the state of mankind that is described in the Bible as the Paradise of Eden.
But as the knowledge and the natural understanding of mankind increased they began to feel and believe that they could lead themselves in all matters of faith and wisdom. They began to believe that they were good and wise, and denied the truth that they were only vessels of good and of wisdom from God. This is represented in the Scriptures by the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Because of this disorder men fell from their state of love and wisdom. More and more they removed themselves from the influx of God into their souls and minds. Finally the human race came into a state in which the Divine Purpose of creation was threatened and the human race itself was threatened with spiritual destruction.
Because of the removal of man from his first state of reception of the Love of God, it was necessary that a new kind of conjunction between God and man should be established. This was accomplished by the coming of God the Creator into the world.
In the Scriptures of the Old Testament, which were Divinely inspired and given to men by God during man’s gradual decline from his first state, it is foretold and promised many times that He who created the world would come into the world to redeem and save mankind.
We here quote a few such places from the Old Testament:
“For thus saith the Lord (Jehovah) that created the heavens; God Himself that formed the earth and made it; He hath established it, He created it not in vain. . . . He formed it to be inhabited: I am the Lord (Jehovah) and there is none else.” (Isaiah 45:18.)
“Behold the Lord God (Lord Jehovih) will come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him.” (Isaiah 40:10.)
“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion; for lo, I come and will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord (Jehovah). (Zechar. 2:10.)
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord (Jehovah), that I will raise up unto David a just Branch . . . and this is His Name whereby He shall be called, THE LORD (Jehovah) OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Jeremiah 23:5,6.)
“And all flesh shall know that I Jehovah am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Isaiah 49:26.)
“For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand in the latter day upon the earth.” (Job 19:25.)
“Let Israel hope in Jehovah … He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” (Ps. 130:7,8.)
“Yet I am Jehovah thy God from the land of Egypt . . . and thou shalt know no other God but me; for there is no Saviour beside me.” (Hosea 13:4.)
From these passages it is clear that the Old Testament teaches that there is one God, who is called Jehovah God, and that this God calls Himself the Saviour and the Redeemer, as well as the Creator. But now consider the following passages from the Old Testament, which foretell the Coming of the Creator into the world, and which clearly refer to the Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ:
“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord (the way of Jehovah), make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3.) It is said in the New Testament that this is a prophecy of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the Lord Jesus Christ. Here, in the Old Testament, the one for whom John prepared the way is called Jehovah and “our God.”
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His Name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14.) This prophecy is quoted in Matthew with reference to the birth of the Lord, and it is there added about the name Immanuel, “which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matt. 1:23.) Here therefore the Lord is called God with us, in both the Old and the New Testaments.
“Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us: this is the Lord (this is Jehovah) ; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9.)
“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, Counsellor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6.)
From the above passages from the Old Testament it is clear that the one infinite and eternal God, Jehovah God, the Creator of the universe, promised that He would come into the world, and that this promise refers to the Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Swedenborg in his works shows not only that the Old Testament prophesies the coming of the Creator into the world, but also that the New Testament teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ is that Creator come into the world. This is taught in John, as follows:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (or, God was the Word.) The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1-3, 14.)
How the Incarnation of God Took Place.
But how did God come into the world, and what did He do here that brings about the Redemption and salvation of the human race and makes possible again the conjunction of mankind with Him in the reception of His Love and Wisdom?
Swedenborg teaches that God came into the world by taking on a human body by means of birth from the virgin Mary. Consider what is said in the New Testament concerning the conception of the Lord Jesus Christ:
“And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that Holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35.)
This teaching can mean nothing else than that the one Infinite God was Himself the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord had no human father, as do all other human beings, but the infinite and eternal God was His Father. This means that the Lord had that in Him which was infinite and eternal, that which was life in itself. But because the Infinite cannot be divided as can the finite, this also means that God Himself was in Jesus Christ.
In the Lord Jesus Christ when He was first born into the world there were two distinct natures: that which He derived from Ilis Father, which was infinite and Divine, and that which He derived from Mary, which was merely human and which had within it the heredity of the human race.
Because the Lord had with Him that heredity from Mary He had with Him that which was mortal and vulnerable. In the heredity from Mary was the heriditary evil of the human race. He thus took on Himself the sins and iniquities of us all, and in His life in the world He overcame those evils in Himself. In that maternal heredity, which Swedenborg calls the maternal human of the Lord, the Lord met and conquered the evils which had taken possession of human minds and bodies. Through that maternal human the hells could attack His Divine Love for the salvation of the human race, and in it the Lord from His Divine soul met and conquered that attack.
Swedenborg teaches that two things took place by the incarnation of the Divine in the Lord Jesus Christ. First, the evil of the human race, hell itself, was subjugated by the Lord. The second thing was that the Lord during His life in the world reordered that human mind and body which He assumed through Mary, and conjoined and at length united it to His own Divine soul which He had from conception. This is what is called the Lord’s glorification. Through His glorification the Lord put off what He had derived from Mary and put on a new Human, the Divine Human, from His own Divine soul. Thus He made His Human Divine, and the Divine Human in Himself. Even as to the Human He became Life itself, Love itself and Wisdom itself.
As to His very soul, and also as to those things of His mind and body which the Lord had made one with the Divine, Jesus Christ was altogether one with the Father. As to those things of His human which had not yet been made Divine, He was as another person. This is why the Lord sometimes spoke of Himself as one with His Father, and at other times spoke as if the Father were another than Himself. But at His Resurrection the process of the glorification of His Human was complete, and then He was altogether one with the Father as to person and essence.
This may be illustrated in the following diagrams:
The Lord in His Human made Divine (D) is not another person than the Father, or another infinite and eternal God, but is the Father Himself clothed with the Human made Divine.
The Lord’s soul was Divine from conception. It was the Father in Him. And this is why the Lord taught that the Father was in Him. As the Lord glorified His Human, so that Human also was made Divine, and this is why the Lord says that He is one with the Father.
The one infinite and eternal God, now clothed in His Divine Human, is the Lord Jesus Christ glorified. He is God made Man, and Man made God. And in His Divine Human He has power over all things in heaven and on earth, as the Lord Himself says in Matthew:
“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matt. 28:18.)
In the Divine Human the one infinite and eternal God has so embodied and accommodated His Divine Love and Wisdom that He may be seen and approached by man in man’s fallen state. In His Divine Human He can inflow into our minds and influence us in the love of what is good and true in spite of the heriditary corruption of our nature. And in the Divine Human we can if we are willing come to the idea of God in a truly rational human form. Thus through His incarnation we can see Him and understand Him and love Him in a way that is far superior to anything that ever existed previous to His Advent into the world. For in His Divine Human the Lord is seeable, approachable, able to be understood and loved.
These things God has done out of His infinite Mercy and Love for the human race, to make possible again His Divine Purpose with men, that He might bless them with eternal life and be conjoined with them in Love.
These things are meant by this in John:
“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” (John 1:18.)
The Fruit or result of the Advent and Glorification of the Lord may be illustrated in the following diagrams:
1. A represents the Love and Wisdom of the one Infinite God flowing into men.B is the interior mind of man, into which the Lord could inflow before the fall.C. is the conscious or external mind of man into which the Lord also inflowed through the interior mind with those before the fall.2. After the fall of man the interior mind was blocked up with evils, and the influx of God into man was obstructed.3. A here represents the infinite Love and Wisdom clothed in the Divine Human. By means of this accommodation God can inflow directly into the conscious mind of man and enlighten it with truth and affect it with good. Through this man receives from the Lord the ability to fight against and remove the evils obstructing the interiors of his mind.
The Divine Trinity.
The New Testament speaks of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Many have understood this to mean that God is in three Divine Persons, each of whom is infinite and eternal, and each of whom is God and Lord. But the New Testament does not speak of Persons in God at all, much less of three Divine Persons existing from eternity.
It is admitted by many that the question of how three persons make one God is past all human understanding. And because of this mystery many people do not think deeply about God, believing that their minds are not capable of entering into such thought.
What does Swedenborg teach concerning the Divine Trinity?
From what has gone before in this lecture it can be seen that the Father, the one infinite and eternal God, is not one Divine Person and the Son another Divine Person. but that they are one. as soul and body are one. The Son. the Divine Human, is the Divine Body, and the Father is the Divine Soul in that Divine Bodv. Even as the soul and body of a man are not two people, but one person, so the Father and the Son, the Divine and the Divine Human of the Lord are one Divine Person.
But what then of the Holy Spirit?
Swedenborg teaches that the Holy Spirit is the Lord’s own Divine Spirit going forth from Him to men and angels. It is the Divine Love and Wisdom proceeding out of the Divine Human of the Lord to work the regeneration and salvation of mankind. This can be seen perfectly represented in the Gospel of .John:
“And when He had said this. He breathed on them and said. Receive ye the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22)
This was said after the Lord’s Resurrection. The Holy Spirit is there represented as the Breath of the Lord. His Breath is His Divine Truth going forth from Himself to men. Swedenborg calls this the Divine Proceeding, or, the Divine Operation.
That the Holy Spirit is the Divine proceeding from the glorified Human of the Lord is also taught in these passages from the New Testament: “But this He spake of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:39.) The original Greek reads “The Holy Spirit was not yet, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”
“It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.” (John 16:7.)
After the Lord was glorified, that is, after His Human was made Divine, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, which leads men into all truth, could come to men, because through the Divine Human the Divine Good and Truth can inflow into our minds.
The conclusion therefore is that the Divine Trinity is not a Trinity of Persons, but that it is a Trinity of essentials in the one Divine Person, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father is the Divine itself, present in Him as the Soul. The Son is the Divine Human, which is the Body of that Divine Soul, and the Holy Spirit is the Divine Operation, the Divine Good and Truth proceeding from God to men.
This is taught also by Paul, in these words concerning the Lord:
“For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col. 2:9.)
If you see God as one Divine Person, one Divine Man, and the Trinity in Him as Soul, Body and Proceeding, you will have an understandable idea of God and of the Divine Trinity in Him. This teaching is that which is given in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. It is the Supreme Truth concerning the Lord.
This truth may be summarized thus: That the Lord Jesus Christ is the one God of heaven and earth, that He is Jehovah, the Lord from eternity, that He is the Creator from eternity, that He is the Redeemer in time, that He is the regenerator into eternity, and thus that He is at the same time the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Lord Jesus Christ is our God. There is no other. To Him we owe all that is good and all that is true. All power in heaven and on earth is His. To Him alone should we pray. To Him alone should be our worship, our love, and the service of our lives.