Love and Judgment

Love and Judgment

A Sermon By Rev. Mike Gladish

A Big Spiritual Dilemma

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As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ each year we are confronted with the age old problem of reconciling two apparently contradictory principles: love and judgment. “For God so loved the world,” we read, “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Yet Jesus Himself said “For judgment I have come into the world…” (John 9:39). “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).

What a curious fact. We normally think of God Himself as somehow requiring judgment, and Jesus as the loving Savior. But truth is the standard of judgment, and it does tend to condemn, since no one is perfect, indeed “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). So if Jesus came to teach the truth and to judge, how are we saved?

Most Christians say that we are saved by faith in the “fact” that He suffered and died on our behalf, offering Himself as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the whole human race (past, present and future). The idea is that in confronting the evils and falsities of the world He became a “lightning rod” for all the hatred of the world, and that by suffering on our behalf He relieved us of any need to suffer. In classic Christian theology this is called the “vicarious atonement.”

But this makes the love of God rather demanding, don’t you think? – that He should require a Divinely human sacrifice to move Him to pity and forgiveness? Indeed, it seems rather pagan, doesn’t it? One gets the sense of an angry, jealous God demanding payment for the sins of the world and being appeased only by the brutal murder of His own Son. What kind of love is this, and what kind of judgment?

Unconditional Love?

What a contrast this is from all the talk we hear today about “unconditional love,” that is, love that requires nothing but accepts all

people without qualification. We hear it everywhere! “God loves me just as I am.” And it’s TRUE! But does He love the WAY we are? Note the Gospel is ALL about the need to change, beginning with the first words of Jesus’ public ministry, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).

So how can we understand God’s love? And how can we reconcile that love with what He does require?

Here’s a simple answer: God’s love is such that He wants to make us happy to eternity (True Christian Religion 43). You can’t ask for much more than that.

But in order to be happy we have to live in harmony and co-operation with the laws of order. Who could possibly imagine that God would love our misery or our mistakes, our selfishness or our stupidity? No, it is because He loves us that He wants us NOT to be miserable, selfish or stupid. And this love is unconditional, but it requires wisdom, or judgment to be effective.

So getting back to Christmas, we can think of it this way: – God in His Infinite love says to Himself, “My people are miserable, what can I do to make them happy?” And from His infinite wisdom He replies, “I must go down there and show them how to find happiness; I must not force them, but teach them, and show them, so that they have a choice and can turn their lives around.”

The Real Nature of Judgment, or Conditions for Salvation

There are two words in the Gospels for judgment. One refers to condemnation and the other to the concept of discernment, or prudence. The Lord in the Gospels clearly spoke of both, but when He taught He did not do so with any intention to condemn but rather “that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). And here’s the key: – not saved by His sacrificial death on the cross, but saved by the freedom that His teaching and a proper discernment of the truth provides (John 8:32) so that we can enjoy an orderly, fulfilling spiritual life.

And this freedom implies decisions, judgments that we must make. For example, there is no doubt that we should love all people, even as our heavenly Father loves all people, “making His sun to shine on the evil and on the good… sending rain on the just and on the unjust”

(Matthew 5:45), but we cannot love their evil or their falsity or their confusion or their grief. We cannot love it and we cannot confirm it or support it. Thus we cannot show our love for all people in the same way. Neither could the Lord, which is why He condemned the scribes and Pharisees even though presumably He loved them too.

And He said, “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). Note, “If he repents.” The same message is clear in the parable of the prodigal son: his father had compassion on him when he repented and came home (Luke 15:11-32). To do otherwise would be to support the disorder, and that is NOT truly loving. So we have the teaching that “Christian prudence demands that a person’s life should be carefully checked, and charity exercised accordingly” (New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 85).

But again, back to Christmas.

There is an appearance in the literal stories in the Gospels that God sent His Son as someone separate from Himself into the world, “that the world through Him [not the Father] might be saved.” But the truth is that God, being pure, unconditional love in its very essence, provided for the salvation of the world by clothing HIMSELF in the human form AS Jesus Christ so that He could teach the truth with love and so remove all the obstacles to a life of faith.

This is why, in perhaps the most famous Advent prophecy of all, we read, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given… and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Note, He is all of these in ONE person.

This is why Jesus Himself said, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30); “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

But how could the Infinite be contained in a finite body? And who looked after the rest of the universe while it was so contained? We might as well ask how the mind can look after the body while its thoughts are focused on one small thing. The fact is, the infinite is not contained or limited in any way, but it does manifest itself in a focused way in the love and wisdom of Christ.

The Dilemma Solved

So we see that the story of Christmas is not the story of God demanding any thing, least of all a human sacrifice. It is the story of love providing the wisdom necessary for us to take responsibility, to make good judgments, and to keep His commandments for our own sake, indeed, for our eternal welfare.

So it is the story of love and wisdom working together, as they always do, and working in this case in a human form for all to see and understand.

“I have come,” Jesus said, “as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). And “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

So, may this and “all your Christmases be bright” with the light of His love and wisdom!

Daily Inspiration

“A person is entirely the same character as their love.”

Arcana Coelestia 6872

What really happened at Easter?

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Spiritual Topics

By New Christian Bible Study Staff

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Cherry Blossom

What does the New Church teach about Easter? It’s a short question, but it involves a big network of connected ideas. It can’t be answered right in a sound bite, so bear with me…

First, we believe in God – just one God – who creates and sustains everything, including our physical universe.

We believe that God is love itself, and wisdom itself. It is the nature of love to want to love others outside of oneself, and to make them happy, and to be conjoined with them. It is the nature of wisdom to provide the means, the know-how, to bring love into effect.

God, acting from his core of Divine Love, using his Divine Wisdom, created the universe (the Big Bang?), and, eventually, as part of it, our galaxy, solar system, and the Earth. Through his creative providence, life began on earth. Over millions of years, it evolved into progressively more complex life forms, until, in time, God could bring about the development of human beings with rational minds capable of understanding spiritual truths. Through those truths, people would be able to love one another as neighbors, and to love God, walk in his ways, receive his love and wisdom, and be conjoined to Him.

It’s part of God’s Providence to always keep open a way to communicate with us, so that we can receive truths accommodated to our state. He communicated with early humans through a more direct awareness, but as we became more external, he used some men as prophets, or revelators, to write down his truths, and to tell them to others. Some of these revelations are very ancient, by human standards. In the Books of Moses, maybe 3500 years old themselves, Moses refers to even more ancient books – “The Wars of Jehovah”, “Annunciations”, and “The Book of Jasher”, which formed parts of an ancient Word.

At the time before Jesus Christ was born, the truths from the Ancient Word had been corrupted or largely forgotten, and polytheism and idolatry were widespread. Of the 12 tribes of the Children of Israel, 10 were dispersed, and swallowed up into the surrounding culture. In Jerusalem and its surrounds, the Jewish church still preserved the Old Testament, and the faithful still observed its tenets, but even within Judaism, some of the external worship was hollow. There were still some people in simple good, who would receive the Lord’s new truths gladly – Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zacharias, Anna, Simeon, and later the apostles, and then the multitudes who gathered to hear Jesus preach the truth, and to be healed by Him.

The New Church teaches that Jesus Christ was God himself, who took on a human body, so that he could live among us, and teach us the essential truths we need so that we can follow them, and by doing so open our minds to receive and transmit his love.

We also believe that part of his method of redeeming us was to take on a human heredity with its temptability, so that he could directly fight evil. Where was the evil coming from? We believe that people have immortal souls. When our bodies die, we live on in a spiritual world. In that world, we can’t pretend we are good if we are not – our true natures become evident. And, we gravitate towards like-minded people, much as we do in this world, except with clearer sight. If we fundamentally love our neighbor and God more than ourselves, we will create friendly, neighborly societies. If we fundamentally are looking out for “number one”, our societies will tend towards the nasty, forming hellish places. God didn’t create hell, but he does not force us to be good, since that would destroy our freedom. So, he permits us to create hells for ourselves. We can do it on earth too, when evil people have power. Nazi Germany was one ultra-clear example of this, among too many others.

Now, in the New Church we believe, as many people do, that there is a relationship between the spiritual world and the natural world, and that we are subject to spiritual influences. The popular image of the guardian angel actually has some basis in spiritual fact, and the image of the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other is also more real than is comfortable to think about.

We are tempted, while living our lives, to do evil things. These temptations flow into us from evil people in the spiritual world. In the normal order of things, the power of this evil is kept in check by balancing influx from heaven, where the Lord’s love flows through good societies and communicates itself to us. At the time of the Lord’s birth, the balance was precarious – the hells had grown too strong and evil was too influential. We see illustrations of this in the stories of the New Testament, where Jesus and his disciples in many cases are healing demon-possessed people.

So, part of the Lord’s mission was to rein in the power of hellish influence, and he did this by allowing himself to be tempted through the human that had had taken on from Mary, and by winning each temptation in turn, to cap the power of each hellish society. In the stories of the New Testament we see some of those temptations – when He was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, and in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross. But, he conquered each one, even the final ones where he was doubting whether His mission had succeeded.

What, then, happened at Easter?

God incarnate had come to earth, as Jesus Christ, fulfilling a whole series of Old Testament prophecies. He had, through a lifelong series of temptations, fought with and subdued the powers of hell, restoring the balance which allowed people to freely choose their course in life. He had taught us the new truths that we needed, so that we could learn, if we wanted to, how to be good. He had opened a new channel of communication – we could now picture him in human form – not just as a remote, formless God, but as a Divinely Human God who loves us, wants to save us, and in whose image and likeness we are made.

The crucifixion was the climactic temptation, and victory, in a life of victory over evil. The human body that the Lord took on from Mary was glorified, converted to Divine substance. That’s why it was not found in the tomb on Easter Sunday, when the stone was rolled away.

After Easter, the Lord could – and did – still appear to his followers, but they were seeing him with their spiritual eyes opened. They followed him to Galilee, and witnessed his ascension to heaven. And then they spread out around the world, teaching the truths that he had taught them, and leading by example, so that Christianity became the world’s largest religion.

As the Christian religion spread, false ideas crept into it. Here are some key points in our belief, that combat those falsities:

– We don’t believe that Jesus was a separate person from God. He was God.

– We don’t believe that he sacrificed himself on the cross to atone to God for the sins of humankind. He WAS God. Instead, he allowed himself to be crucified because by doing that he could show that even the death of the physical body was not something final – not something that really had power over good and truth. His resurrection was the key event.

We believe that Mary was good, but not that she was perfect, nor that she was born without sin. She was chosen to be the mother of the Lord because she was, like Joseph, part of the remnant of simple, good people who obeyed the Lord’s will, and whose faith would enable the fulfillment of His mission. However, the heredity through Mary contained normal tendencies towards evil that opened Jesus to temptations, which was a necessary part of the plan.

There are also non-Christian ideas that have currency in our culture, though we think they are false. Here are some key points in our belief:

– We do not believe that Jesus Christ had a romance with or married Mary Magdalene.

– We do not believe that Jesus Christ was merely a good teacher or man of exemplary character, who was later deified by his disciples.

– We DO believe that Jesus Christ did exist as a historical figure, and that he was God incarnate, and that the Gospels contain essential truths that we should live by.

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Appearance Of The Lord

Appearance Of The Lord
A sermon by Rev. Grant R. Schnarr

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The Lord had appeared before His disciples, most of them rejoiced that
they had seen Him again. But He was alive. All the times that He had
spoken of, rising on the third day, had come true. They remembered,
they believed Him.
And yet there was Thomas who was a very earthly kind of person,
known as “Doubting Thomas,” who said, “I won’t believe in the Lord
unless I can put my finger in the holes in His hands and put my hand in
His side.” What happens? Eight days later the Lord appears before
Thomas and says, “OK, Thomas. Reach your finger in my hands. Put
your hand in my side. Handle me and see that it is I.” Thomas didn’t
need to do that any more.

He said to Him, “My Lord, my God.”
And the Lord said to Thomas, “You have seen. That’s why you have
believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed
in Him.”

Why was it that the Lord appeared to His disciples after His crucifixion?
It might have been to show that He was alive, that He had conquered
death. That’s a great part of Christianity, that He is the resurrection and
the life. But even more than this, He appeared to His disciples so that
they would worship Him in His risen form, that they wouldn’t think back
on Him historically, think about His life in the world, but to see that, yes,
He is very much alive now. He has risen, He’s alive, He’s with them still.
“Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age,” He said to them.
The Lord came on earth to make Himself visible to the human race, to
make Himself accessible to people so that they could know Him, so that
they could understand Him, so that they could, if they chose, be one
with their Creator through that understanding.

Before the Lord had come, what kind of God did they worship at that time?
The Writings for the New Church say that they worshipped an invisible God,
incomprehensible. After all, if God is love itself, life itself, reality itself, that’s pretty
incomprehensible for us finite beings. How can the finite comprehend the infinite?
It’s impossible. Beyond that, though, they had a perception of the Lord within.
They could think of His humanity, so to speak-His love and wisdom withinperceive
what it was. But there was no external form, no concrete image, to put
that into. Again, it was an invisible God, sort of perceiving who God was, but not
really being able to grasp Him in their imagination.

And then through the process of time, as people turned away from the
Lord, as the leaders of the church at that time, began to make up teachings,
began to lead the people to themselves rather than from God, that picture of the
Lord became very clouded. And so we can look at the Old Testament, and we
see their concept of God – an angry God, a punishing God, a God who can
repent, a God who wants vengeance. This is the way they saw Him because of
their infantile state, because of the dark state that they were in.
Where was the relationship with God and man? If you think of God as
being love itself and desiring nothing more than to be one with that which He had
created, that wasn’t taking place and the end of creation was in danger, so the
Lord came to her (?) “Jehovah bowed the heavens and came down,” the Psalms
say. He presented Himself to mankind so that could understand Him, so that they
could see Him, so that they could see the infinite God in human form as Jesus.
He could set up a new church that had the opportunity to worship Him in truth
and sincerity, had an opportunity to be joined with their Creator like never before.
So the Writings for the New Church say the following, “By means of the
Human, Jehovah God sent Himself into the world and made Himself seen before
the eyes of men, and thus accessible. The Lord made the natural man in Himself
Divine in order that He might be the first and the last, that He might thus enter
with men even into their natural. He was then able to conjoin Himself to man in
His natural, yea, in His sensual. And at the same time to His spirit or mind in His
rational, and thus to enlighten man’s natural light with heavenly light.

It’s not as if the Lord said goodbye, to His disciples and zoomed off a
million miles away, or into some other realm of existence. No, He was still right
there. He’s right here today. He hasn’t gone anywhere. In our natural lives we
cannot see Him, but God exists around us, within us, in a way that He didn’t
before His Advent. He came into the natural, He made that natural within Him
Divine so that He could be with us, not only from within, from our perceptions, but
also without, so that now we can grasp God in a form and understand Him. So
now we can have a personal relationship with our Maker.

So how do we have that personal relationship with the Lord? We have to
recognize His Humanity, not like many Christian churches have done today,
solely seeing His Humanity and sort of separating it from His Divinity and the
Divine Father appear in Jesus, my friend and buddy, my pal. If we do that, if we
separate it out, then we take away that Divinity of the Lord. And when we take
that away we take away some of the respect He had, the admiration, the love,
the responsibility that we have to the Lord. We can’t see Him as merely being
human, we’ve got to see Him as Divine, life itself, in the Human form.
The Writings say that we should look at God from essence to person, think
of His essence first, that God is life itself, that God is love itself, the very reality of
these two concepts of God. His essence though, shows itself in the human form
of Jesus Christ. And we can take all these unknowable things and put them down
in a form that can be grasped.

And we can see the Lord with His arms open, waiting to take us in. And
He will take us in and hold us as long as we want Him to, in our own freedom.
That’s how we should see the Lord.
So the Lord said, “He that has seen Me has seen the Father.” He that has
seen that Humanity has seen the Divine within. “I am the Way, the Truth and the
Life. No one comes to the Father, but by Me.” No one comes to that Divinity but
through the Human of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Divine Human.
You know, many of us who are receivers, wandered away from traditional
Christianity because of that very point, that it made Christ too human, that they’ve
made God more of a fable, made God a comic strip character, rather than
something real and living.

But we can go too far. We can make God a complete abstract concept in
our life. God is life itself. God is love itself. God is impersonal. God is a concept.
But what good does that do us in our relationship with Him to do that? We can’t
worship an It. We can’t be conjoined with an It. We can’t love life itself, the esse,
the first principle. Reality, what does it mean? We can’t talk to it. We can’t love it.
We can’t be one with it? Why should we obey what it says? What good is it going
to do us? That’s the whole reason the Lord came, so that we could see Him in
that Human form, see that Divinity, so that we could be one with Him and have a
personal relationship with Him, see that He is a very real God, very real person.
So, when He appeared before Thomas, that’s why Thomas said, “My Lord and
my God,” to that Divine Human.

One of the ways we form a relationship with the Lord is through turning to
His own Word. This book is unlike any other book that has ever been written. Not
only does it teach us about God, but it is a living book. If we read the New
Testament alone, think of the picture that we get there, seeing God in human
form. What a picture that is! What a beautiful picture of who God is, how He
presents Himself.
Look at the New Testament. Look at the Lord’s life and see how He
presents Himself to us, not with preconceived notions, but take a good, honest
look. We see the Lord joking around with His disciples. When He was talking to
Peter He said, “Peter, from now on your name will be the Rock.” He was saying.
Petra. “From now on I’m going to called you Petra.” That’s like saying, “Rick, from
now on I’m going to call you Rock.” Or saying, “Stanley, from now on you’re
Stonely.” It was a pun. It was comical. And yet it says something deeper.
How about when He appeared, when He was whipped in front of the
whole Sanhedrin who were judging Him. And Caiphus says, “Are you the Christ,
the Son of the Living God?”
He said basically, “You said it. It is as you say,” right back to them.
When Pilate said to Him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You said it.”

How many times have we heard in pulpits in different churches, “Are you
the king of the Jews?” “It is as you say. And they led Him away,” in a monotone
The Lord was human. “You said it. Yes, I am.”
We see Him laughing, the Scribes and the Pharisees, “You whited
sepulchers.” “You who strain at a gnat and yet swallow a camel.”
When He’s in the temple, clearing out the temple. “My house should be a
house of prayer and you have made it a den of thieves.”
And then we see another side of Him. As He’s trying to raise Lazarus from
the dead, and all these people don’t believe it. He’s been with them for three
years and no one really understood. There He is. He’s weeping. He’s weeping
because of their disbelief.

When He was in the Garden of Gethsemene, that Human was going
through such anguish, knowing what would happen, that it was said that He
sweated as if drops of blood.
Remember when He was even riding into Jerusalem, and all the people
were cheering, Luke tells us the Lord was weeping at that time. Why was He
weeping? Because God had come to the light into the darkness to save His
creation, and the darkness comprehended Him not. As John said, “He came to
His own and His own received Him not.”

A human God, someone we can relate to. He shows us all the different
aspects of humanity on purpose, so that we won’t see Him as a God afar off, so
that we won’t see Him as an abstract concept, but we can see Him as someone
who has gone through many of the things that we go through, and even worse.
We can relate to Him, that we can be with Him, that He understands us, that He’s
here and now. He’s not somewhere else.
Keep that in mind. The Lord is very real. If you picture the Lord as an old
man with a beard, holding a scepter, way off there somewhere, you’re missing
out on a lot. The Lord is very real. He’s here and now.
He’s there, ready to have a relationship with us, if we are willing to open
our minds and hearts to him.

We can see Him in the literal meaning of the New Testament so easily.
The Writings also say that there are deeper meanings to the Word, that the
whole Old Testament, for example, has a continuous internal sense, a
continuous inner symbolic meaning which deals with many different aspects of
our lives, which deals with the Lord. So that story of the Israelites coming out of
Egypt through the wilderness into the promised land, is also a story of the Lord’s
life on earth, how He came out of the slavery of that human hereditary evil and
worked toward the promised land, His glorification, making Himself Divine. And
the Writings lay out a lot of this for us in the Arcana Caelestia, 12 volumes. The
Psalms, for example, are not just prayers of David, but on a deeper level, a
symbolic level, are prayers of the Lord to the Father – that human part of Him –
praying to the Divine within, becoming one with it.

And when we read the Word in that sense, study it, and look for the
symbolism, the deeper meaning, all of a sudden the Word becomes alive. It’s a
living book. The Lord is there speaking to us. So, John says, “In the beginning
was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” That’s how
the Lord shows Himself to us, can talk to us in His Word. It’s alive. The Writings
say that the Word is the soul medium of conjunction between the Lord and man,
the sole medium of communion between the heavens and the human race, that
when we read the Word with simple minds and simple hearts that the angels of
heaven affect us. Whereas we understand the literal sense, they understand the
deeper internal sense. And when we read the Word we are affected by it. The
Lord can be with us in a special way to the degree that we can read the Word
with the willingness to be led, to understand.

Some people read the Word as if it’s a textbook and they are going to
have a test on it. They look for the facts. If you do that all you’re going to get are
the facts. If you look at the Word with pessimism as you read, all you are going to
get is pessimism. If you look at the Word with preconceived dogmatic notions
about what you’re looking for in certain doctrines, then all you are going to see
are certain doctrines. The Writings say, “Those who approach the Word with
preconceived doctrines, it’s as if they only read one page and flip it over, they
miss this page, they read the next one, they flip that over. They’re only reading
half the Word.” The approach is like that.

To approach the Word with open minds, open hearts, those who approach
the Word with a willingness to be led, simply to say, “Help me.” To read it, even if
you were reading something about David going off and doing this or that, or Saul,
or Solomon, you are going to get something from it. Sometimes you will be
amazed at the answers you get in the Word. When you ask a specific question
about your life, “How am I doing? How can I do better?” the Lord will answer you
in an incredible way, an astounding way. You’ll see this is a living truth. This is
alive. At other times it’s much more subtle. It was pointed out once that a lot of
the time it’s just a feeling you walk away with, a feeling that we’ve been
somewhere, a feeling that we’ve been with someone, that they are still with us in
a special way. And that someone is the Lord.
The Word is very important to read. But not only to read the Word, but to
do something with that.
There is also prayer, the whole realm of prayer, come to know our God, to
understand Him. The Lord’s prayer is a very special prayer. After all, the Lord
gave us that prayer. He says, “When you pray, say this..” He gave us that prayer.
The Writings of the New Church say two things about the Lord’s prayer. One, that
that prayer in its deeper, inmost sense, deals with all the different facets of our
relationship with God and man, and when we say that prayer we are saying a
general prayer to help us out in all fields. And if we can see that deeper, inner
sense we’d understand that it has all kinds of things to do with our life.

But beyond that, we’re told that when we say the Lord’s prayer, because
of the way it’s been written, that we can communicate, can have communion
with, all of the heavens, all the different societies of the heavens. So that prayer
has a special power, a power for good, an effect on our own lives and hearts.
There’s more than just reciting prayers. It’s funny, it’s amazing, many
churches haven’t picked up on this, especially some of our larger churches. The
Lord said, “Do not use vain repetition as the heathen do, for they think that they
will be heard for their many words. Therefore, do not be like them.” When we
pray, sometimes all we have to do is talk to the Lord. The Writings define prayer
as “speaking with the Lord.” It’s very simple. Talking to Him, “How am I doing
today? Help me out in this one. Help me to get through this. Thank you.” There’s
many things we can do, just to talk to Him. At first when we do that, when we are
not used to it, it may seem a little strange, talking to the Lord. You remember that
Paul Newman movie, Cool Hand Luke, after he had escaped for the third or
fourth time, in that church he was looking up and talking to God, he looked up
seeing if someone was listening to him. We’ll feel that way a little bit when we
first start. But what happens is, after a while when we do this, we begin to feel
the Lord’s presence in a very real way. And we begin to feel it’s more than what
we bargained for. It’s not as if we do this and ended up all of a sudden feel it,
there’s some kind of psychological reason for it. No. The Lord comes into our
presence, His presence comes into us even more than it would have at that time,
and we can feel Him and understand Him. We will be astounded.

Even more than this probably, the most important thing, we want to have a
relationship with the Lord. If we want to bring Him into our hearts and tell Him,
we’ve got to put ourselves in the order of His creation.
We’ve got to shun that evil and selfishness that we all know we have
within, that block out the Lord’s life, that block out His love. That’s why
He’s given us His teachings, so that we can use them to get our act together, to
put ourselves back in that order, to put ourselves on the right path, that He can
flow into us with His wisdom, He can come into us with His love. And with that
love comes joy and happiness. It could be sometimes, that we like God to be way
up there in an abstract concept because when we want to do what we want, He’s
not there to make us feel bad or make us feel guilty.

Think about that. How uncomfortable would you feel if you are doing
something that really was raunchy, and had that real awareness that the
Lord is right there with you, it would be a bad feeling. Sometimes we leave Him
way off in the distance. We keep Him close enough so that when we feel guilty
we have somebody to turn to, but for the most part in our lives, we keep Him way
off there. If we are going to do that, and we have a perfect right to do that, the
Lord lets us be free to do that, but if we do, let’s be honest with ourselves. We
are creating a hell in ourselves, and that after death that’s exactly where we will

The Lord is not a God afar off. He is here with us. He has His arms open
to us ready to receive us into Himself. When we hold the key, we can open that
door and let Him into us. We do that by learning of Him in His Word which He
has given us, by turning to Him for help, by being aware of His existence, and by
following His teachings. When we do that, we open our eyes to Him. We can see
Him. More than that, He will be with us. And even more than those disciples, we
will know the Lord, who He is even more than Thomas, and we will be able to say
at this time with full hearts as we comprehend our God, “My Lord and my God.”


“True repentance means not only examining what one does in one’s life, but also what one intends in one’s will to do.”

True Christian Religion 532


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For anyone who believes in heaven, one question stands above all the others: How can I get there? How can I be saved?

Christianity has offered a variety of answers over the millennia, from early sects that simply followed the example of Jesus to monasticism to the elaborate rites and rituals of medieval catholicism to crusading warfare to the Protestants’ hope in the mercy and blood of Jesus.

For the most part, those concepts have regarded heaven as a paradise, where anyone would be happy no matter what he or she did to get there, and no matter what kind of person he or she is. This actually does not make a lot of sense if you think about it. If the cruel and power-hungry could attain heaven alongside the kind and caring, then surely they would make heaven a hell through their cruelty and desire to rule. And if the cruel and power-hungry were rendered non-cruel and non-power-hungry, would they still be themselves anymore?

Swedenborg’s idea of heaven – and hell – is different. In his theology both are simply spiritual states where we live with others who love the same things we do. If those loves are good and kind it will be a wonderful life of sharing and joy; if those loves are cruel and selfish we will end up in endless contention with others who are cruel and selfish.

Salvation, then, is a matter of letting the Lord change our hearts from the naturally selfish state to a heavenly, loving state. We do this by learning what is right and good, using our minds to lead us in doing those things, and asking the Lord to change our hearts. If we continue and stick to it. He will little by little do that, so that eventually we can reach a state where we love what is good and know what is true.

So is that salvation by faith? Salvation by works? In a way both, and neither. Works are involved, because we have to make ourselves do what we know is good and loving. Faith is involved because we have to invite the Lord into our hearts to make a true change. But neither can get us there without the other, and the ultimate judgment is on what we love, not what we’ve done or what we believe.

(References: Divine Providence 338, 339; Divine Providence 258 [3]; True Christian Religion 150, 726)

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Temptation: What is it?

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Most of us would welcome a life without temptation. It would be so easy to be good!

According to Swedenborg, however, a life without temptation would actually guarantee the opposite: It would leave us mired in evil and bound for hell. In fact, his theology says that temptation is the only way we can root out our evils and let the Lord into our hearts, so we should recognize it as an opportunity even if we can’t exactly embrace it as a good time.

The reasoning behind this starts with the idea that we are what we love; that what we care about actually determines our character and defines our identity. That might sound odd at first, but consider: If you say that you “know” someone, you’re really talking about an awareness of what they love, not an awareness of all their thoughts. What we love is who we are.

And from the beginning of our lives, what we love is highly self-centered. Much as we love babies for their innocence, they can’t even form the concept of putting someone else’s needs first. And while children and teenagers learn to be kind and considerate, that kindness is more in their external levels – inside they are busy with the work of becoming themselves, and that remains a self-involved process.

Somewhere between there and the end of life, we’re called on to change completely, setting our self-interest aside and replacing it with a genuine love for others and love for the Lord. That, however, involves uprooting the things we love most. And since those loves form our identity, that’s really hard, and has to be done in many, many steps.

The key element working for us is the mind: from our knowledge and thoughts we can know what’s right even when we don’t want it. In fact, from our knowledge and thoughts we can actually want to be better people, while in our hearts we still want to wallow in those attractive evils.

Elevating the mind this way creates a conflict between “the person I want to become” and “the person I am,” between “what I want” and “what I want to want” (sort of like, “I want to be craving celery, but I’m really craving cookies”). And since the hells want to keep you enslaved by cookies, they go on the attack, using both blunt desire and twisted logic and argument to try to break you down.

Key to the hells’ attack is the fact that what we want forms our identity; giving up each evil thing we crave feels like sacrificing a little part of who we are. But the Lord’s promise is this: If we actually do it, stick through it and let that piece of ourselves be sacrificed, He will eventually replace it with the desire for something good, pure and loving.

An interesting twist is that if we tried to do this all at once, we actually would lose our identity, destroying every love we have at once. This may sound odd – wouldn’t we want such a transformation- – but imagine someone you think of as thoroughly evil: Hitler, perhaps, or Caligula, or Vlad Dracula. Then imagine removing, in one swipe, all their evil desires. Would we even recognize them anymore? Would they be themselves? Would they be anything?

But imagine a child’s stuffed bear, loved so much that it loses an arm. You replace the arm, and then it is loved so much that it loses the other arm. And then the legs, and the head, all replaced one at a time. Finally the body wears through and you replace that too. So what you have is the same bear, but with every part replaced. That’s kind of how the Lord works on us: Through a lifelong series of temptations we can root out and replace one little bit at a time until we emerge all-new and ready for heaven while still being who we are.

It’s clear, then, how crucial a role temptation plays. If we never had that conflict between what we want to be in our minds and what we are in our hearts, the evil would just stay in our hearts untouched. We have to take on those battles, one by one over a lifetime, to become the people the Lord wishes us to be.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 730, 739, 755, 757, 1690, 2334, 2338, 4274, 5246, 8403)

Progress In Spiritual Knowledge






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“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 : . . .
and he will show you things to come.” — JOHN xvi. 12, 13.

IN these words our Lord teaches us a lesson which has a most important bearing upon the condition of the human mind which is unfavorable to all progress in knowledge. We are constantly tempted to mistake the limits of our knowledge for the limits of the truth. The more ignorant men are, the greater the temptation to do it. It requires some knowledge to discover our own ignorance. Scientific men were much more disposed in former times, when there was but little knowledge of nature, to be dogmatic, and to claim that they had reached the summit of knowledge and had explored all the secrets of nature, than they are now. We see the most remarkable exhibition of this tendency in the disposition to limit knowledge upon the most important subjects of human interest, to what has already been attained, to what was attained, we might say, centuries ago. The belief among Christians is almost universal that we have reached the limits of our knowledge of spiritual truth ; that no further progress is possible while we remain in this world ; that the doctrines of Christianity, as they are accepted and understood in the so-called evangelical churches, are absolute truths, which cannot be superseded, and from which no advance can be made. They are the limit of our possibilities. New facts may be discovered about them ; there may be new ways of stating them, new illustrations of their truth, but there can be no advance beyond them. They mark the farthest boundaries of our knowledge. So determinate and fixed is this belief that it has passed into a maxim, that ” what is true is not new, and what is new is not true.”

If it is true that no farther advance in spiritual knowledge is possible, it is well to know it, that we may not waste our energies in struggling against the inevitable, but may rest and try to content ourselves in the darkness and uncertainty of our present attainments. If it is not true, then we ought to know it, that, without fear of danger to our eternal interests, we may freely and fearlessly examine all questions relating to our spiritual nature, and use all the means in our power to advance into clearer light and higher attainments. The bare possibility that we can gain a clearer and more rational light upon all the great questions of man’s spiritual nature and destiny ought to be sufficient to stimulate us to the diligent use of all the means in our power to attain so important a result. Let us, then, examine the subject in the light of reason and revelation, and see what ground we have for believing that we can continually advance in spiritual knowledge, into clearer light and more certain attainments.

There is nothing in the present attainments In spiritual knowledge so complete and satisfactory as to lead to the conclusion that nothing more is desirable. On the contrary, the present state of religious thought proves directly the contrary. There has never been a time, since the truths of Christianity were first revealed, when there was so much difference of opinion with regard to them, and so little heartiness in their reception as stated in the dogmatic forms of the various churches, as there is now. The fundamental doctrines of Christianity as they have been held, which have been regarded as essential to salvation, are not taught with the clearness and distinctness and directness in any of the churches that they were formerly. The ministers themselves have not the undoubting faith in them which the ministers of former times had. The intelligent members of the church do not believe them in their naked and unmodified form as they were once believed. The doctrines formerly accepted are not now held with that unquestioning belief which a good Presbyterian lady once told me she had in the Bible. ” If the Bible had said that Jonah swallowed the whale instead of the whale swallowing Jonah,” she said, ” I would believe it.”

There is an uncertainty, a diversity of opinion upon what have been regarded as the fundamental doctrines of Christianity which is increasing rather than diminishing. The Trinity, the Atonement, the Resurrection, the nature of our own existence after Death, the Inspiration of the Bible,—questions which form the basis of all religious belief, are discussed with greater zeal than they ever were, and there is a greater variety of opinion upon these doctrines, among those who believe in them in some sense, than ever before. The opinions range through all shades from a merely nominal acceptance of the doctrines to that belief which admits of no doubt because it admits of no examination. Is it rational to suppose that this confusion of tongues, this variety of opinion and even contradiction of belief, this uncertainty and doubt upon questions which relate to man’s highest interests, is the best which man is capable of attaining? Is he forbidden to advance beyond the twilight and confusion of mere opinion ? It seems to be contrary to the nature of the human mind and the purposes of the Divine love and wisdom that it should be so. But if any one is disposed to deny that there is this diversity of opinion, and to assert that the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, as formally held by Christians, are generally accepted without any doubts as to their truth, it still holds that they go only a very little way in spiritual knowledge. It is acknowledged that the doctrines themselves are not and cannot be understood.

They are great mysteries which the human mind, in this life, cannot fathom. The Trinity is a mystery, and the more it is discussed and explored the greater the confusion. The Incarnation of God, and the manner in which He effected human redemption by assuming a human nature, is a mystery which, it is generally acknowledged, cannot be understood. The Resurrection is a mystery which must be simply accepted as a fact, but which cannot be explained. We are taught that we are to live forever, and at the same time we are told that we can have no certain knowledge of the modes and forms and nature of the life after death. These great facts are affirmed in the most positive manner, and just enough is taught about them to awaken interest and lead to their examination, and then we are told that they cannot be understood ; we must accept them by an act of faith. Suppose the doctrines are true, how little they have done for man !

Now, I ask, is it reasonable to suppose that the Lord intended this to be the extent of human attainment upon these great themes which relate to man’s highest interests? Does it accord with the nature of the human mind ? Is it consonant with His oft-repeated declaration in His Word that a true knowledge of God is of vital importance to man, that to know Him aright is life everlasting ? Does it seem to be consistent with the goodness and wisdom of God that He should tantalize us with expectations which He forbids us to realize, and give us problems impossible of solution, which rend the soul in its efforts to reach the unattainable ? What else does He leave in such a fragmentary and unsatisfactory condition ? It is like bringing the tree to leaf and bud, and arresting its progress before attaining the glory of blossom and the blessing of fruit ; it is causing hunger and thirst and providing no means to satisfy them ; it is giving to the material body the power of growing into the beauty of womanhood and the strength of manhood and withholding the means of growth, leaving it in helpless infancy, cursed by eternal feebleness ; it is endowing man with the power of perceiving a few rays of the morning twilight, and awakening in him the expectation of the coming sun, and then leaving him in that expectation while its coming is withheld. It is contrary to every principle of the human mind, and to all the Divine methods so far as we have any knowledge of them. We conclude, therefore, that the Lord never intended to arrest man’s progress in the knowledge of spiritual truth, and stay his footsteps on the threshold of knowledge, while the whole universe of truth lies waiting to be explored. But we are not left to conjecture or to our own reasoning upon this subject. The Lord has declared, as clearly as human language can express a truth, that it is the purpose of His heart to communicate His love and wisdom to men. He desires to communicate Himself. He gave the Word for this purpose. He came in the flesh to be a light to the world. He attributes every loss and sorrow to ignorance of Him, and every possible attainment and joy to a true knowledge of His nature and relations to men.

The words of our text are an explicit declaration of the fact that progress in spiritual knowledge is possible. “Ihave yet many things to say unto you.” We cannot suppose that these words applied to the disciples alone. They must be of universal application. They are as true of the highest angel as of the child just born. The Lord is infinite, man is finite. The Lord has a perfect knowledge of all causes in all their possible forms and relations and effects to eternity. He knows the influence of every affection, thought, and act upon our whole future, in all its combinations and its relations to every other thought and act and being. He sees the end from the beginning of every particular in our lives.

How little the wisest men know, even of natural forms and substances ! Our knowledge is limited almost entirely to appearances and to a few links in the chain of cause and effect. We know that when light flows into the eye we can see, but we do not know how such a force, flowing into such a form, produces such an effect. We know that the undulations of the air flowing into the ear cause hearing ; we know some facts about the relation of the air to the ear, but why its inflowing should produce the effect it does no one can tell. Great progress has been made in natural science during the last century, but the relation of the known to the unknown is no greater than the smallest fraction to the infinite. Swedenborg says that the wisest angels see that their knowledge, compared with what there is to be known, is so infinitesimal that they simply say they do not know anything.

Every finite intelligence, however great its advancement in knowledge,—and in the coming eternity that knowledge must be so great that we have no words to express it or power to conceive of it,—will stand upon the shore, while the ocean of truth stretches away into the infinite distance before it. The time can never come when the Lord will not have many things to say unto us. This idea, at the first view, may appear to be discouraging. Must we be learners forever? Shall we never get to the end of our lessons ? What is the use of learning if we can never reach the goal ? We know it to be true that the more we know the more we see there is to be known. The higher we rise, the wider the horizon. This should not discourage us, because the acquisition of knowledge upon every subject which interests us is a source of pleasure. Knowledge is also intellectual and spiritual power and wealth. People never complain because they have more chances of gaining power and riches. Every new truth enlarges man’s means and capacities for happiness. Why, then, should he desire to have the sources of truth, and his ability to gain it, exhausted ? The fact that they can never be exhausted, that the Lord will always have many things to say to us, is the hope and the assurance that the means of happinesswill never fail.

Limited knowledge does not necessarily imply false knowledge. If we know but little, that little may be true as far as it goes. When the school-boy has only learned that two and two- make four, he has not made much progress in the science of numbers, but he has learned something which he will never need to unlearn. So it is with regard to every subject of human knowledge. When we have learned the single truth that God is onein essence and person, we have not advanced very far in a knowledge of His attributes, but we have learned an absolute truth which we shall never find occasion to unlearn. It is as true for the highest angel as it is for the little child. Every new fact adds new clearness and interest to those we have already learned. For this reason our interest in learning and our happiness in gaining knowledge will continue to increase forever.

The fact, therefore, that the Lord has many things to say unto us, and will always have many things to say unto us, holds out to us the grandest hopes for the future. He will always have something new to tell us, and there will always be the zest and joy of learning from Him. He will always have many things to teach about the laws of our own nature, about our relations to others. He will always have many things to reveal to us concerning His own love and wisdom, and His infinite tenderness and care for us. He will always have many things to reveal to us concerning the excellence and beauty and grandeur of the world around us, and concerning His infinite wisdom in adapting it to human wants, and in making it a means of support and culture and happiness.

The instructed mind sees a multitude of substances and forces and beauties in the material world which no one saw a century ago ; and when we pass out of the twilight of this dead, material world into the brightness and the perfections of the substantial, living, spiritual world, He will show us innumerable things ineffably more beautiful and nicely adapted to all our wants, ministering to a higher culture and a more exquisite happiness. The reason is often asked why the Lord does not speak to us more plainly. The question is often put to New-Churchmen, why the Lord did not make known the truths of the New Church before, if they are so great an advance upon former knowledge upon spiritual subjects.Our Lord gives the answer to all these questions in the words, “But ye cannot bear them now.” The Lord reveals the truth to us as fast as we can bear it. What He can tell us is not limited by His knowledge or power or willingness to communicate, but by our ability to receive. The word translated “bear” may mean to understand.” I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot understand them now.” We have conclusive evidence in the Gospels that the disciples did not understand many things which our Lord spake to them. This is true of all disciples. It is true of natural and of spiritual knowledge. When a child takes its first lesson in mathematics, in its ignorance and innocence it might say to the teacher, “Tell me all about the whole science of numbers.” The teacher could only reply, ” I cannot do it.” “Why can you not do it ?” ” Because you cannot bear such knowledge now. Mathematics is a great and complicated science, and it requires much study and severe discipline of the mind to understand it. I will tell you about it as fast as you can bear it.”

If this is true of a natural science, how much more must it be true in relation to the great problems of man’s spiritual nature and destiny ! They lie above the senses and the appearances of nature ; they relate to interior and hidden things. Man’s progress in the knowledge of the outer world has been remarkably slow, though its phenomena have been continually present to the senses, and its forces have been continually offering themselves to his service, to fight his battles, bear his burdens, and do his work. The wind and the rain, the sun and the earth, were constantly whispering their secrets in his ear, but he could not hear their voice. How, then, could we expect that man could understand those higher truths which relate to his spiritual wants and destiny? If it was many thousands of years before man could discover the forces in steam, the existence and use of magnetism, and the nature of the substances which contain so many elements which contribute to his comfort and happiness, is it incredible that it should require an equal number of years before he could be prepared to receive interior spiritual truth ?

But the words “ye cannot bear them now” mean more than inability to understand : they mean indifference and hostihty to spiritual truth. There is an inherent repugnance in the natural mind to spiritual truth. It is more than ignorance, or incapacity, or indifference : it is hostility; it is opposition of nature. It is like the repugnance which we find in the material body to certain substances. We use this very term concerning them. We say we cannot bear the smell or taste or sight of them. The natural degree of the mind has fallen. All its tastes have become perverted. It looks downward and outward to material things. It does not act in harmony with the spiritual mind. It does not like to hear anything about a spiritual world. It cannot conceive of a distinctly spiritual existence. Something akin to nausea is excited by hearing about the spiritual sense of the Word.

When our Lord said to His disciples that He had many things to say unto them, He evidently did not mean that he had many more natural facts to teach them about Himself or His mission in this world, because He never did speak much more to them about these things. His meaning was more plain as He went on to say, ”But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth. . . . He shall receive of mine and shall show it unto you.” He shall show you the spiritual meaning of the words which have been spoken unto you, for they are spirit and life. They could not bear their spiritual import then.

Many Christian people are in the same state now. They can talk about religion ; they can pray with fervor and sing with delight. But they cannot bear to think that the Bible has a spiritual meaning. The idea that the spiritual world is a substantial and really-existing world ; that man himself, as to his spirit, is in the human form and fully organized as a man seems absurd to them. The idea that the old, familiar Bible is luminous with infinite truth, and that they have drawn their doctrines and formed their opinions from the appearances of truth in the letter ; that their minds are veiled and overshadowed with the clouds of the letter, while the unveiled and glorious sun shines in clear radiance about them, they cannot bear. But when the spiritual truth, not the letter of it, but the Spirit of truth, comes,—and He will come when men will open their minds to receive Him,—He will show them many things which they never dreamed of before. He will show them things to come.

These things are not natural events that will occur in the church in after-times, as most commentators have supposed, but spiritual things. A new and more accurate knowledge of the Lord,—”He shall receive of mine, and show it unto you ;” a more accurate and a larger knowledge of our own nature and destiny. He will show you things to come in the spiritual world. He will reveal to you the laws of the spiritual universe, and show you how surpassingly beautiful and glorious it is. He will make real to you your eternal home, and lead you into it.

When the Spirit of truth begins to shine in our understandings, a new and glorious day is dawning upon us ; a sun is rising which will never set. As the mind opens to the reception of this light, it enlarges, and can receive more of the many things which the Lord has to say to us. It also improves in strength and quahty. It can receive higher truths, clearer light ; it has a more comprehensive and delicate capacity for reception ; it can receive larger and richer and more exquisite joys. It will continue to advance towards the Lord with constantly accelerating velocity ; its power of reception from the Lord will continue to increase, and yet the Lord will always have many things to say that are more glorious and that will fill the soul with a constantly deeper and more exquisite joy. May we be among the number of those who have clear eyes and listening ears and open hearts to receive the many things which the Lord has to say to us, and which His Spirit of truth is ever ready to show unto us.

Author: Chauncey Giles, From Progress in Spiritual Knowledge, 1895



Copyright © 2007-2013 A. J. Coriat All rights reserved.

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Scholars on Swedenborg: Did Swedenborg See the Bible as Historically True?

Swedenborg Foundation

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By Stuart Shotwell, Managing Editor, New Century Edition

“The Bible is literally true” is a claim that is at least theoretically accepted by a broad swath of Christian readers today, who thus speak of the inerrancy of scripture. Swedenborg would agree that in its higher sense, scripture (the Word) does not err; but at the same time, he would be the first to insist that in its literal sense it appears inconsistent:

Statements in the Word often seem to differ with and almost contradict each other. For instance, there are statements that the Lord leads us into trial and other statements that he does not; statements that the Lord repents and other statements that he does not; statements that the Lord acts in anger and wrath and other statements that he acts with pure compassion and mercy; statements that the soul faces judgment immediately after death and other statements that it waits till the Last Judgment; and so on. (Secrets of Heaven 9025)

But Swedenborg would also be the first to insist, and in very strenuous terms, on the indispensability of the literal meaning:

The Word without its literal meaning would be like a temple containing an abundance of holy objects, with a central inner sanctum, but without a roof or walls to contain them. If these were lacking or were taken away, its holy contents would be plundered by thieves or torn apart by the beasts of the earth and the birds of heaven, and would therefore be scattered far and wide. (Sacred Scripture 33)

According to Swedenborg, then, parts of the Bible’s literal content may be both apparently untrue and yet critically important to the structure of the Bible’s truth. How can this be?

One of the themes Swedenborg has in common with Neoplatonism is the notion that all manifested being radiates from God at the center and “steps down” by degrees until it reaches its outermost limit in materiality. He described this series of degrees in the following terms:

In every work of God there is something first, something intermediate, and something last; and what is first works through what is intermediate to what is last and in this way becomes manifest and persists, so what is last is a foundation. The first is also in the intermediate, and through the intermediate is in what is last, so what is last is a container; and since what is last is a container and a foundation, it is also a support. (Sacred Scripture 27)

And this same system is applied to the Bible:

There are three levels of meaning in the Word. . . . The heavenly meaning is its first level, the spiritual meaning its intermediate level, and the earthly meaning its last level. This enables anyone who thinks rationally to conclude that the first level of the Word, the heavenly, works through its intermediate, which is the spiritual, to the last level, which is the earthly. We can also conclude that the last level is therefore a foundation. We can conclude further that the first level (the heavenly) is within the intermediate level (the spiritual), and through this in the last level (the earthly), which means that the last level (the earthly), which is the literal meaning of the Word, is a container; and since it is a container and a foundation, it is also a support. (Sacred Scripture 31)

The literal meaning, then, provides a container for the inner meaning, just as the body (which as a physical thing is part of the last, outermost extent of the outflow from the divine center) provides a container for the soul.

The disconnect between Swedenborg’s understanding and that of much of contemporary Christianity occurs in his definition of “the literal.” By this term he means the narrative detail of the text, not its historicity; that is, he means what the story describes as happening in any particular passage. Whether those events ever actually occurred is of little interest to him. Some passages he accepts as historical, and others he does not. His point in insisting on the need for a container for the inner meaning is that there must be some ideational structure to hold meaning. Thus the schema of regeneration he lays out in his exegesis of Genesis 1 depends on the details of the creation of the world in the biblical account. The parables of Jesus form an obvious parallel: remove the details of the prodigal son who spends his inheritance, and there is no substructure on which the inner meaning of the tale can rest. One has to have notes to have music. Thus for Swedenborg, the Bible is true and inerrant with respect to its inner meaning, even if it is not necessarily true and inerrant in respect to the historical accuracy of every story it recounts.

According to his system, “out here,” far from the deep center of all from which God radiates forth love and wisdom—in this material world that Swedenborg calls the ultima, the “farthest things”—we need that literal meaning, just as our souls require a body in which to dwell. The angels, by contrast, do not need the “story facts” of the Word; they can directly understand the inner meaning of the Word, just as they can live without physical bodies:

They understand in a spiritual way the details that we understand in an earthly way, and they understand what those details really mean. This is the inner or spiritual meaning of the Word. (New Jerusalem 1:2)

This understanding of the “literal meaning” of the Bible as detached from any question of actual historicity is by no means exclusive to Swedenborg. In fact, it was the most prominent understanding of the literal until claims of the historical inerrancy of the Bible came to the fore in Protestant movements during the nineteenth century. Some fathers of the church show little interest in the historical accuracy of the biblical accounts; see, for example, Origen’s description of the story of the Garden of Eden as having an appropriately allegorical meaning rather than being historically true (Against Celsus 4:39). In that respect, Swedenborg is working in a long and well-accepted tradition.



Origen. Against Celsus. Translated by Frederick Crombie. In The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4, edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994.

Swedenborg, Emanuel. New Jerusalem (unpublished translation by George F. Dole, November 10, 2015).

Swedenborg, Emanuel. Sacred Scripture / White Horse. Translated by George F. Dole. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2015.

Swedenborg, Emanuel. Secrets of Heaven (unpublished translation by Lisa Hyatt Cooper, November 10, 2015).

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