The Possessed With Devils Coming Out of the Tombs
Matt. 8:28-the end.
And when He was come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way, etc
Q. HOW do you understand the miracle here recorded, according to its literal sense?
A. According to the literal sense of this miracle, are to be understood two men, who, as to their bodies, were possessed or obsessed by infernal spirits, coming out from amongst the filth and impurity of sepulchres, and so exceeding fierce and ungovernable, that it was unsafe for any one to come near them. And by the devils requesting to be permitted to enter into the herd of swine, and by the herd, when such permission was granted, running down a steep place into the sea, and perishing in the waters? is further to be understood, that the devils find delight in entering into the bodies of unclean animals, and then in instigating those animals to their own destruction.
Q. And how do you understand this miracle according to its spiritual sense, or according to that sense which is veiled under the letter?
A. According to the spiritual sense, by two are not to be understood two men, but two principles: and by their being possessed of devils, and meeting Jesus is further to be understood, that those principles were in connection with the power of darkness, and thus in opposition to the holy Jesus, that is to say, to his divine love and divine wisdom. And by their coming out of the tombs is further to be understood their issuing forth from their infernal abodes: and by their being exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way, is further described the violence of their opposition to the eternal truth, so that it was impossible for any truth to be manifested before them. According to this sense, therefore, by the devils beseeching Jesus to suffer them to enter into the herd of swine, and by Jesus permitting them, is further to be understood, that infernal spirits take delight in infesting both the bodies and minds of men, and that when, by the Word of the great redeemer, they are expelled from the minds of the humble, and the penitent, they then take refuge, and this by divine permission, in the minds of those who are here figured by the swine, that is to say, of the sordidly sensual and avaricious, who, under their infernal influence, descend rapidly into the infernal pit, and there perish in the polluted waters of all infernal persuasions.
Q. And what do you conceive the two principles to be, which are described as possessed of devils and meeting Jesus ?
A. By these two principles are to be understood the principle of evil in the human will, and the principle of error in the human understanding, both of them in connection with infernal agency: and by their meeting Jesus is further described a trial or temptation which the saviour of the world endured from the powers of darkness operating in His infirm humanity, before it was fully glorified, or made divine.
Q. But it is written, that the devils cried out, saying, What have we to do with you, Jesus, you son of god ? Art you come here to torment us before the time? — what do you understand by these words?
A. By the devils crying out, saying, What have we to do with you, Jesus, you son of god? is to be understood the vehemence of their opposition to the principles of the divine love and wisdom, notwithstanding their conviction that those principles were incarnate in the blessed Jesus. By the same words therefore is described, the torment under which they laboured through the opposition between their wills and their understandings, since with their understandings they knew the truth, but with their wills they hated and rejected it. They therefore exclaim, Art you come here to torment us (or, as it is expressed in the original, to explore us), before the time? to denote, that the manifestation of the divine truth was to them a source of the most exquisite pangs, because it was in opposition to their ruling love, and that consequently nothing is more painful to a wicked infernal being, than to have his purposes and thoughts thus exposed to the scrutinizing light of the divine intelligence.
Q. You have already told me what is to be understood by the herd of swine, and by the devils requesting permission to enter into them. Can you explain to me what is further to be understood by the words of the blessed Jesus, where it is written, He said to them, Go?
A. The Significant term Go, involves in it the whole of the divine will respecting the powers of darkness, which is, that they be eternally separated from Him, His kingdom, and His children, so as to be incapable of doing any mischief either to the great father of being, or to His happy family. Under every spiritual trial therefore, stirred up by the powers of darkness in the minds of the humble and the penitent, the great saviour is ever uttering the same authoritative command, Go, and the effect of this divine word is, to remove those powers from their usurped abode, that they may enter into minds congenial to their own, and precipitate them into their own infernal kingdom.
Q. What then is the general instruction which you learn from the above miracle?
A. I learn again to adore that divine power, which was manifested to destroy the works of the devil, and overturn their empire, whether established in the bodies or in the souls of men. I learn also from the above miracle, that the powers of darkness are in direct opposition to the love and wisdom of Jesus Christ, and that their greatest torment consists in being explored by the light of the divine truth, and in the discovery thus made of their secret purposes, thoughts, and devices. I am also further instructed, that a single word uttered by the great saviour is able to put to flight a host of infernals, and that that saviour is ever uttering such a word of salvation in the hearts of all his penitent and suffering children. Lastly, I learn to tremble under the idea of the effect of infernal influence, and of those defiled concupiscencies in which it operates, since this effect is nothing less than a rapidity of motion downwards, hurrying its miserable subjects from the realms of bliss, to perish everlastingly in the disturbed waters of impiety and iniquity. I am resolved therefore, henceforth to be upon my guard against such infernal agency, and for this purpose to endeavour, through divine mercy, to keep my mind pure from all denied affections and concupiscencies. Thus, under the assault of all my spiritual enemies, I may hope to hear the authoritative word, Go, pronounced against them by my god and saviour, and may thus behold every infernal power cast out, and the blessed Jesus glorified in their separation, and in the consequent salvation of His humble and grateful child. Thus too I shall be preserved from imitating the folly and wickedness of the people amongst whom the above miracle was worked, and of whom it is written, that when they saw Jesus, they besought Him to depart out of their coasts, since by the experience which I have of the omnipotence and miraculous energy of my god and saviour in my own bosom, I shall be led to cleave to Him the more closely, and to beseech Him the more earnestly, not to depart, but rather to take up His eternal abode in my purified and grateful bosom, amen.
The Devils Cast Out
When the even was come, they brought to him many that were possessed with devils, etc.
Q. WHAT do you here understand by the even coming?
A. By the even coming, according to the sense of the letter, is to be understood the close of the natural day, or the time when the sun sets to this lower world of nature; but according to the spiritual idea contained under the letter, by the even coming is to be understood a state of obscure faith and love in the church, or the close of the spiritual day, when the Sun of Heaven sets on benighted mortals, in consequence of their want of faith in the brightness of his rays, and their want of love for that heavenly warmth which they inspire.
Q. And what do you conceive to be here meant by the possessed of devils?
A. By devils are to be understood the spirits and powers of darkness in the infernal world, and by being possessed of these devils, according to the sense of the letter, is to be understood the possession which these spirits and powers took at that time of the bodies of men; for such at that time was the deplorable state of the Jewish church, in its departure from god and His kingdom, that the infernal inhabitants entered even into the corporeal part of man, and ruled it at pleasure. But by being possessed of devils, according to the spiritual idea, is to be understood the possession which the infernal powers take of the souls of men, by virtue of which possession they obtain entire government over the thoughtless and impenitent, and rule them with the iron rod of diabolical malice and agency. For such is the awful situation of man in this lower world, that he is placed as it were between two kingdoms, the kingdom of light, which is the kingdom of god, and the kingdom of darkness which is the kingdom of the enemy of god, called the Devil and Satan ; the Devil by reason of the diabolical evil by which he is impelled to all kind of mischief: and Satan, by reason of the false principles in which that evil works, and effects its mischievous purposes. Moreover, the inhabitants of both these kingdoms have access to man, and he becomes of necessity associated with the one or the other according to his ruling love, that is to say, according as he is desirous to submit himself to the government of the divine love and wisdom of god, or to govern himself, by exalting his own will and wisdom above the will and wisdom of the most high. It is further to be remarked concerning such association, that, man acquires a life and a form according to it, an angelic life and form if his association be angelic, but an infernal life and form if his association be infernal. Jesus Christ accordingly declares concerning the wicked and unbelieving Jews, You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. (John 8:44).
Q. Can you assign any reason why the possessed of devils were brought to Jesus when the even was come?
A. Yes, if the even be understood according to the spiritual idea above expressed, as denoting the absence of good and of truth in the church, for whenever this is the case, then the members of the church must of necessity become a prey to evil and error, and of course must be possessed of devils, because wherever evil and error are, there the powers of darkness, called the Devil and Satan, must have their abode. It is only therefore in the even, according to its spiritual meaning, that mankind can become possessed of devils, and thus brought to Jesus for deliverance.
Q. But it follows, that He cast out the spirits with His Word, and healed all that were sick — what do you understand by Jesus casting out the spirits with His Word?
A. By the spirits here spoken of are to be understood the powers of darkness, who have their abodes in all man’s natural evils and errors, and by the word of Jesus Christ is to be understood the complex of His divine love and wisdom brought down into the letter, or literal expression. By Jesus casting out the spirits with His Word is consequently to be understood the removal of evil and error through the implantation, the growth, and fruitfulness of heavenly love and wisdom, or what amounts to the same of heavenly goodness and truth. It is not therefore to be understood that Jesus cast out the spirits by the mere sound of His voice, or by any extraordinary act of divine authority or omnipotence separate from His divine love and wisdom, for evil can never be supplanted but by good, nor can error be supplanted but by truth, and therefore it is to be understood, that the voice of the blessed Jesus operated to the casting out the spirits by virtue of the omnipotence of His divine love and wisdom, as formed and contained in it. Hence then may be discovered the obligation imposed on every one, who is desirous of experiencing in his own mind the casting out of the powers of darkness, to cherish carefully in himself the contrary powers of heavenly love and wisdom, or goodness and truth, from a firm conviction that one opposite can never be cast out but by another, in like manner as darkness can never be cast out but by light, nor cold but by heat.
Q. And what do you conceive to be meant by the words which follow, and healed all that were sick?
A. By the sick, according to the spiritual sense O the Miracle, are here meant those who are spiritually sick, and the spiritually sick are all those who are distempered in their understanding, by reason of the influence of false persuasions and perverted thoughts. By healing the sick therefore is to be understood the removal of such false principles and perverted thoughts by the insemination and growth of heavenly truth and knowledge. This operation of healing the sick accordingly follows that of casting out the spirits, because by the spirits are meant the spirits of evil infecting the will of man with disorderly love, and until these spirits are cast out, it is impossible the sick can be healed, since if the love be disorderly in the will, it must of necessity give birth to false persuasions in the understanding; but no sooner is evil extirpated from the will, than error is at the same time extirpated from the understanding, and thus the sick are healed.
Q. But it is added, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses how do you understand these words? A. By these words I am instructed that all the Miracles worked by the blessed Jesus were of divine prediction, and that thus the prophetic Word and the evangelical are in the most perfect harmony, and accord with each other; the latter being the accomplishment of the former, in the person of the incarnate god. By this god taking our infirmities, and bearing our sicknesses? I am further instructed, that he subjected himself to the assault of all those evils and errors which infest the nature of man, and which are in connection with the powers of darkness, to the intent that he might finally subdue those powers, and deliver man from their tyrannical usurpation. Mention is accordingly made both of infirmities and sicknesses, because infirmities relate to the disorders of evil in the human will, whilst sicknesses have relation to the disorders resulting from false principles in the understanding.
Q. What then is the general instruction which you learn from this Miracle?
A. I learn in the first place to adore the power of that incarnate god, who was manifested to destroy the works of the devil, both in the heart, in the understanding, and in the operation of man, by delivering the heart from the love of evil, and the understanding from the darkness of error, and the operation from the mischievous effects of both. I learn in the next place to venerate that holy word, which proceeds from this incarnate god, and is embodied in the letter or literal sense of the divine records, and to regard it as the grand complex of the divine will and wisdom let down from heaven for the use of man, by forming in him the same heavenly love and wisdom with which itself is filled. I learn also that the incarnate god effects all his saving purposes by the instrumentality of this His holy word. I learn further that so far as I deliberately cherish any evil or error, in the same proportion I admit into myself infernal agency, and by degrees become a living form of diabolical influence, from which I can never by any possibility be delivered, but through the reception of the eternal truth, producing in me the blessed fruits of repentance, of faith in Jesus Christ, and of a holy life according to His divine precepts. I learn lastly to adore that divine mercy, which was pleased in the fulness of time to assume a body of flesh, and in that body to submit to all the assaults of the powers of darkness, for the purpose of subduing them, and thus removing them from man. I am resolved therefore from now on to take Jesus Christ for my only god and saviour, by believing that he alone has power to deliver me from my natural evils, and thus from infernal association and usurpation. I am resolved also to venerate His holy word, by believing it to proceed from him, and to contain in its inmost bosom all the fullness of His love and wisdom, by virtue of which it is in continual close connection with Him. Lastly, I am resolved to cherish this holy word in my heart, my understanding, and my life, from a full conviction that I can never attain any ascendancy over my own natural evils, and thus over the powers of darkness, only so far as the heavenly goods and truths of the eternal word are implanted and bring forth their blessed fruits in my life and conversation, amen.
The Profound Wickedness and Nefarious Arts of Infernal Spirits
In the same degree that there is wisdom and intelligence among the angels, there is also wickedness and cunning among infernal spirits…. In the life of the body the evil in the spirit of a man was under the restraints which are imposed upon every man by the law, by his love of gain, of honour, and the fear of losing them; and therefore the evil of the spirit could not then break forth and manifest itself, as it was in itself. Besides, the evil in the spirit of a man then also lay wrapped up and veiled in the outward probity, sincerity, justice, and affection for truth and good, which such a man manifested and feigned for the sake of the world. The evil lay so concealed and in such obscurity under these semblances, that he scarcely knew himself that his spirit contained so much wickedness and craft, and that therefore in himself he was such a devil as he becomes after death, when his spirit comes into itself and into his own nature. Such wickedness then manifests itself as exceeds all belief. There are thousands of evils which then burst forth from evil itself; among which are even such as no words of any language can express. It has been given me to know and also to apperceive their nature by much experience for it has been granted me by the Lord to be in the spiritual world as to the spirit, and at the same time in the natural world as to the body. This I can testify, that their wickedness is so great that it is scarcely possible to describe even a thousandth part of it; and also that if the Lord did not protect man he could never be rescued from hell.
The worst of all are those who have been in evils from self-love, and who at the same time, in their interior selves, have acted from deceit; for deceit enters more deeply than any other evil into the thoughts and intentions, and infects them with poison, and so destroys all the spiritual life of a man. Most of these are in the hells behind, and are called genii; and their delight there is to make themselves invisible and flit about others like phantoms, secretly infusing evils into them, which they spread around like the charms of the viper. These are more direfully tormented than others. And those who were not deceitful, and not so eaten up with malignant cunning, and yet were in evils from self-love, are also in the hells behind, but not in so deep hells. But those who have been in evils from the love of the world are in the hells in front, and are called spirits. They are not in such evils, that is not in such hatreds and vindictiveness, as those who are in evils from the love of self; consequently they have not such profound wickedness and cunning. Their hells are therefore more mild. (HH n. 577, 578)
The nature of the wickedness of infernal spirits is evident from their nefarious arts, which are so many that to enumerate them would fill a volume, and to describe them, many volumes. These arts are almost all unknown in the world. One kind relates to the abuse of correspondences; another, to abuses of the ultimates of Divine order; a third, to the communication and influx of thoughts and affections, by conversions, by searching looks, and by other spirits distant from themselves, and by emissaries from themselves; a fourth relate to operations by means of fantasies; a fifth, to a certain casting themselves out beyond themselves, and consequent presence elsewhere than where they are in the body: a sixth, to pretences, persuasions, and lies. Into these arts the spirit of a wicked man comes of itself, when released from the body; for they are inherent in the nature of its evil, in which it then is. By these arts they torment each other in the hells. But as all of these arts, except those that are effected by pretences, persuasions, and lies, are unknown in the world, I will not here describe them specifically, both because they would not be comprehended, and because they are abominable. (ibid. n. 580)
The Lord governs the Hells
It shall be briefly stated how the hells are governed by the Lord. The hells in general are governed by a general influx of Divine good and Divine truth from the heavens, whereby the general effort issuing forth from the hells is checked and restrained; and likewise by a special afflux from each heaven, and from each society of heaven. The hells in particular are governed by angels, to whom it is given to look into the hells, and restrain the insanities and disturbances there; sometimes also angels are sent thither, and being present moderate them. And in general all who are in the hells are governed by their fears; some by fears implanted and yet in them from the world; but as these fears are not sufficient, and also by degrees lose their force, they are governed by fears of punishment. By these principally they are deterred from doing evils. The punishments in hell are manifold, more gentle and more severe, according to the evils. For the most part the more malignant, who excel in cunning and artifice, and are able to keep the rest in submission and servitude by punishments and the terror of punishments, are set over others. These rulers do not dare to pass beyond the limits prescribed to them. It should be known that the fear of punishment is the only means of restraining the violence and fury of those who are in the hells. There is no other means.
It has hitherto been believed in the world that there is some one devil who presides over the hells; and that he was created an angel of light, but afterwards became rebellious, and was cast down with his crew into hell. This belief has prevailed because in the Word mention is made of the Devil and Satan, and also of Lucifer, and the Word has been understood in these passages according to the sense of the letter. When yet by the Devil and Satan hell is there meant; by the Devil the hell which is behind, and where the worst dwell, who are called evil genii,’ and by Satan the hell which is in front, where they are not so malignant, and are called evil spirits; by Lucifer they are meant who are of Babel or Babylon,[See p. 611]—who are those that extend their dominion even into heaven. That there is no one Devil to whom the hells are subject is evident indeed from the fact that all who are in the hells, as all who are in the heavens, are from the human race; and that, from the beginning of creation to the present time, there are myriads of myriads there, and every one of them is a devil of such character as he had acquired in the world, by opposition to the Divine. (HH n. 543, 544)
VII. The Origin of Evil
“Man himself is the origin of evil: not that that origin was put into man from creation, but that he himself, by turning from God to himself, put it into himself.”—C.L. 444.
INQUIRER.—My knowledge of the New Church doctrines is limited; but I understand that your views on religious subjects are essentially different from those generally taught.
MISSIONARY.—The idea may be new to you, as it is to many, but the fact is that we have a system of doctrine which has been Divinely revealed for the spiritual enlightenment of the world, and thus for the salvation of the human race. That is, the genuine truths of the Divine Word are now made known by the revelation of its internal sense. And this we have in the Writings of the New Church.
I.—What do you mean by the genuine truths of the Word? The expression is new to me.
M.—We employ new terms to express distinctively new truths, and to convey definitely spiritual ideas, respecting religious subjects. By genuine truths we mean the spirit, or real import, of the Word, which is within the mere letter, as the soul is within the body. For the mere letter is no more the essential Word than the merely physical body is the actual man. Both of these, indeed, are only the outward form.
I.—There is a passage where the Lord Jesus Christ says: “The words that I speak unto you are spirit, and they are life” (John vi. 63). I suppose the terms spirit and life have reference to the spiritual sense?
M.—Yes; the Apostle Paul also emphatically declares that “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. iii. 6). It is by virtue of the spiritual sense of the Word that we obtain a knowledge of its genuine truths, and from these are derived the living, rational, definite ideas, which alone can make us really intelligent. The literal sense in itself, though also Divine, is full of contradictions, because these are mere appearances of truth.
I.—The Scriptures say that God is love, also that He is angry with the wicked every day. This is surely a contradiction, and it looks as if this must be an apparent truth; for God certainly cannot be infinite love and infinite wrath at the same time. The idea does not agree with the revealed truth of His immutability. Since God is love, and is also unchangeable— the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,—it seems to me that He must be love only, and that He cannot be angry with any one.
M.—Your remarks are in accordance with sound logic, and your conclusion is quite correct. That God is angry, that He manifests feelings of wrath or revenge, that He caused evil and created a hell, that He is arbitrary and cruel in the treatment of some of His creatures, that He casts the wicked into hell, and consigns His enemies to eternal torment in unquenchable fire, and a thousand other things, are all mere appearances of truth in the literal sense of the Scriptures.
I.—How, then, did evil originate? If God did not create hell, who did? And in what manner are the wicked punished, if God does not punish them?
M.—Ah! there you propound questions that require a great deal of time and consideration to answer properly. I fear it may not be possible for me to reply to them as fully as the importance of the subject demands. But we shall make as good use of the time at our disposal as we can.
I.—It is frequently much easier to ask questions than to answer them. But I want light on these dark problems; for it seems to me there is in the old systems of belief a fearful confusion of ideas concerning the points I have indicated.
M.—There is no doubt but that many of the theologians of the day are without any rational doctrine, to enable them satisfactorily to explain matters of this nature. There is great need for light. And He who is Himself the Light of the World desires that all His children should be brought from the darkness of ignorance to the light of intelligence and wisdom.
I.—That surely must be so.
M.—Let us now consider your questions, in the order in which you have put them. As to the first, respecting the. origin of evil, allow me to premise that God, our Creator, gives to man, His creature, the prerogative of thinking, of willing, and of acting in freedom. In the exercise of the faculties with which he is endowed, man has the ability to receive truth into his understanding, and at the same time good into his will, and thus to live according to Divine order. Or, he can do the reverse of this—think what is false, will what is evil, and also live contrary to Divine order. And to come into a life contrary to Divine order is to confirm the false and the evil, and thus wilfully to transgress the laws of God, and so to become wicked and perverse.
I.—Why did God not create man so that it was impossible for him to sin?
M.—Because He could not do so.
I.—Is that not, an unwarrantable assertion? Do you mean to say that anything is impossible with God? Surely there is no limit to His power.
M.—In the true sense of the word, there is no limit to the power of the Almighty. But it is impossible for the Lord to do anything that is contrary to His Divine order. The Lord is the God of heaven; and “order is heaven’s first law.” It is an absolute law of the Divine order that man should be a free agent. As a matter of fact, God could not create man, to be man in the true sense of the word, without endowing him with distinctively human faculties, and giving him the ability to exercise these faculties in freedom. Without free agency, man would be a sort of mechanical creature, and not really a human being.
I.—Very true; but how is man’s free agency related to the origin of evil?
M.—We shall see presently. And here let me assure you that our doctrine, fully considered, satisfactorily explains (to any one that can understand rational truth) the difficult problem as to the origin of evil.
I.—I am greatly pleased to learn that there is such a doctrine.
M.—In most ancient times, men, from the purely natural state to which they were created, passed by stages of development into the spiritual state; and thereafter by orderly progression they at length reached the celestial state. These things are described in the sublime symbolism of the first chapter of Genesis. Then, in times immemorial, the fall of man took place. The fall of man was a gradual degeneracy, continuing through many ages, and not a sudden transition from a good and holy to an evil and wicked state. The beginning of the fall originated in the desire, in the minds of the ancients, to understand things heavenly and Divine by means of the senses, that is, to prefer the evidence of the senses to revealed truth; or, as it may also be expressed, to believe the apparent truth from without rather than the real truth from within.
I.—What about the forbidden fruit? It has always seemed to me a queer thing that sin and death, disease, and all but universal misery, should be introduced into our world by the simple act of a person eating an apple.
M.—The account in Genesis is not to be taken literally, of course. It is purely symbolic language; and it is nonsense to imagine that physical, spiritual, and eternal death could come in consequence of eating any natural fruit. In fact, the literal interpretation of the Scripture in question quite defeats itself. We read: “Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” (Gen. ii. 16, 17). But he did not literally die in that day. For again we read: “And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died” (Gen. v. 5). The Scripture, therefore, has no reference to physical death, as the literalists suppose. It is exclusively spiritual death, the death of the soul, that is treated of.
I.—How do you define the term “spiritual death”?
M.—When man ceases to receive life from the Lord, who is the infinite Fountain of life, he is spiritually dead. A man may be alive as to his body, but nevertheless be dead as to his soul. Of himself, man is spiritually dead, because of the perversion of his life, which is, by inheritance, his natural state. For this reason man requires to be regenerated, or born anew. But to those who confirm themselves in evil, and will not permit themselves to be brought into a state of good, the Lord says: “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life” (John v. 40).
I.—Now I should like you to explain something of the spirit of the passages you have quoted from Genesis.
M.—We will try. In the first place, then, let us consider that we do not understand the words of our Lord in their literal sense, when, for example, He says: “Except ye eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, ye have no life in you” (John vi. 53). Nor does a consistent method of interpretation require us to take the Scripture literally, when we read in Genesis about eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For this, in like manner as the Lord’s words in John, has a spiritual sense. Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man, means to receive and to appropriate the Divine good and the Divine truth from the Lord, in order that we may have spiritual and eternal life.
I.—Quite different from the notion of transubstantiation, to which millions in the Christian world still adhere.
M.—Eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in the symbolic style of expressing ideas, signifies man’s ascribing life and all things of his being, to himself, instead of to the Lord. But from what is revealed to us in the Word and the Writings, we learn that for man to be truly human, he must freely acknowledge that he receives life and all things good and true,—all pure motives, heavenly aspirations, ennobling thoughts and affections,—only from the Divine. Of himself, man is nothing but evil, and prone to confirm himself in false notions of every kind. Whatever is of the genuine human character in him, is from above. It is written: “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven” (John iii. 27).
I.—All very true! And the ancient philosophers were therefore quite right when they said, that “in God we live, and move, and have our being.” It appears that in this respect they were really wiser than many of the learned of modern times, because these do not acknowledge this grand truth.
M.—It is the fundamental truth of the philosophy of human existence. God the Lord alone is self-existent, essential Life, Infinite, Divine, All-Good, All-Wise, Omnipotent, and Omniscient. Man, on the other hand, is a recipient of life, and of all human qualities, by influx from the Lord. The flowers and trees, the things of universal nature,—the countless forms of use and beauty, which adorn the bosom of the earth,—would immediately be dissipated, if the inflowing of the heat and light of the sun were to be withdrawn. The Lord is to the human soul, and to the forms in man recipient of life, what the sun is to the forms and substances of nature.
I.—Your comparisons seem to me quite legitimate, and they help to make the subject intelligible. But I must not interrupt you.
M.—We shall be able to understand this matter of the origin of evil more clearly, when we consider that both evil and falsity are the perversion of good and truth. That is to say, when men come into a state in which they were inclined to abuse their freedom, by thinking and willing, and hence acting, contrary to Divine order, then good and truth from the Lord (the essential principles which form the interiors of the human mind) were turned .into the opposite. Thus evil and falsity had their beginning in man.
I.—But how did men come into a state such as you describe?
M.—Because they permitted themselves to be deceived by the serpent. That is, they were not content to allow themselves to be led by the Lord; but came into a state in which they desired to be led by their own intelligence. They gave way to an inclination to love self and to depend upon their own prudence, instead of continuing to love the Lord supremely, and to trust implicitly in His Divine Providence. Their self-love then induced them to begin to believe nothing but what they could comprehend by means of the senses. This was the very origin of the degeneracy of the human race. And it continued to operate, until, in the fullness of time, the Lord Jesus Christ—who was “God manifest in the flesh”—said to the sensuous-minded Jews: “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matt. xxiii. 33).
I.—You said the language about those things in Genesis is symbolic. I suppose, then, we are not to understand that a serpent ever actually talked with a woman, and persuaded her to eat fruit?
M.—It is certain that no serpent ever literally talked. Nor did the knowledge of good and evil ever literally grow on a tree. The serpent is mentioned in the Word to represent the sensual principle in man, that is, all things which belong to his senses. To be a full and perfect man, one requires the sensual principle also. But this must be made subordinate. The higher principles of human nature should rule in man, and not those of his lower nature. To allow the sensuous propensities to become predominant, is the beguilement of the serpent.
I.—I now begin to get some light upon the subject. And it is gratifying, for I have been in the dark quite long enough.
M.—Let me endeavour to make it still more plain. When men, in most ancient times, began to feel inclined to think that they were wise and good from themselves, and so gradually ceased to be willing to acknowledge that they could only be really wise and good from the Lord, then they did that which is meant by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The celestial man—the man of the celestial Church—so long as he remained in a state of integrity, delighted to acknowledge that the Lord is All in all; that He every instant imparts life and the power to think and act; and that in His infinite mercy He will confer upon His children the joys of angelic life to all eternity. But it is evident that man fell from a state of innocence and purity; that a gradual degeneracy ensued; that men in the process of the ages became wicked, hard-hearted, and cruel; “earthly, sensual, and devilish.”
I.—No one can deny that such has been the outcome. And it is lamentable to think of the state of the Christian world to-day. The effects of the degeneration of the race are, in one form or another, constantly brought under our notice. There are shams, frauds, and deceptions of all sorts. There is a vast deal of disregard for the rights of one’s fellow-man. The Golden Rule is at this day at a fearful discount, although it is the only rule of life and conduct by which we can practise the principles of true religion. Men are careless as to what they believe, and equally so as to how they live. Large numbers in Christendom have become, or are becoming, sceptics, scoffers, rationalists, and atheists. In fact, when one reads so much about the evil doings of people as we read nowadays, it sometimes actually makes one feel ashamed of human nature. But I do not wish to change the subject. Please go on with your explanations.
M.—I was about to say something in reply to your question as to who created hell. Evil and false principles, in the aggregate, constitute hell. The angels receive the Divine good and the Divine truth from the lord, and of these the heavens are formed. But evil spirits, who are devils and satans, in the very act of reception, turn good and truth into the opposite, and of these the hells are composed. We know that reception is according to the character or quality of the recipient.
I.—It evidently could not be otherwise.
M.—We have illustrations of this in nature. Look at the difference existing in the forms of the vegetable and animal kingdoms. The wheat and the tares come up together. The rose and the thorn may grow side by side. The fruit-tree and the poison-producing plant flourish in the same soil. The same physical conditions surround the wolf and the lamb. The owl and the dove breathe the same atmosphere. All these things are developed, and live by virtue of the influences of the heat and light of the sun. But the forms, receiving these influences, being essentially different, the effects produced are various accordingly. The wheat gives us bread for our nourishment; the tares are useless weeds. The bloom and fragrance of the rose delight our senses of sight and smell; but there is nothing very attractive about the thorn. The luscious fruit gratifies our taste, and promotes good health; but the poisonous will destroy the body altogether. The wolf and the lamb are as opposite in their dispositions as they can be; and so are the owl and the dove.
I.—The Lord says: “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matt. x. 16). By the sheep are evidently meant the good, and by wolves the evil.
M.—I have not quite finished the point of my illustration. I was about to add, that the Divine love and the Divine wisdom proceed from the Lord as the sun of heaven, for the benefit of all, irrespective of state. That He is no respecter of persons is plainly stated in the Scriptures; and is also meant when it is declared that “He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. v. 45). Love and wisdom, received by an angel, make him a form of heaven; but the same influences are with a devil turned into the opposite, and he becomes a form of hell. The angel is in pure, genuine, heavenly delight; and the evil spirit is in his own impure, sensual, infernal delight, agreeable to his state.
I.—I should like to hear an explanation of the difference between devils and satans.
M.—The devils are those in whom evil predominates, and who from evils are in falsities. The satans are those in whom falsity predominates, and who from falsities are in evils. The Lord said: “One of you is a devil,” because the one referred to, namely, Judas Iscariot, was under the influences of evil to such a degree that he finally betrayed the Lord (John vi. 70). And the Lord on one occasion called Peter, Satan, because that disciple objected to the Lord’s passing through those things which were necessary for Him to fully glorify His human, and to finish the work of redemption (Matt. xvi. 23).
I.—Your view seems to militate against the idea of a personal devil. How about His Satanic Majesty?
M.—There is no personal devil, in the sense of one big devil, or evil deity, who has supreme power in the internal regions, and rules there, as many have imagined. It is written: “I am the First, and I am the Last, and beside me there is no God” (Isa. xliv. 6). By devil and satan are respectively meant all evil and falsity in the aggregate. In the Apocalypse, for example, we read of “the dragon, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world” (xii. 9).
I.—I must now remind you of the question concerning the punishment of the wicked.
M.—The Lord says of those who confirm themselves in evil and in falsity, and make infernal loves the chief delight of their lives: “These shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Matt. xxv. 46). This expresses the truth of the matter. The wicked go away from the Lord. They turn their back upon heaven, with all its shining splendours, its glories, and its unspeakable felicities, and of their own free choice go down into the regions of eternal darkness and spiritual death. They have perverted the order of their life, have become forms of evil, and hence are like owls that cannot endure the light of the sun.They cannot abide in the presence of the beneficent Lord of heaven. And thus we read in the Apocalypse, that they hide themselves in dens, and say to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Matt. vi. 15, 16).
I.—The Lord, then, is not responsible for the sufferings of the wicked?
M.—Certainly not. The Lord desires all to be happy, in time and throughout eternity. And all who come unto Him that they may have life truly human, shall be blessed for evermore. But the Lord cannot compel any one to do right, to live a good life, and go to heaven; because this would be contrary to the Divine law of human free agency. It is sad to think that it should be so; but it is the insane delight of the wicked to violate the laws of Divine order, which have been ordained of God for the direction and guidance, the well-being and spiritual prosperity, of His children. And by the wilful violation of these beneficent laws, without which the universe could not exist for a moment, the evil bring punishment upon themselves; and this as inevitably as effects succeed causes. Let us remember that there is absolutely nothing arbitrary about the Lord’s dealings with His creatures. He is just in all His ways. He doeth all things well. He is, most truly, our Father in the heavens. We, His children, may confidently trust in Him, and in all circumstances of life look up to Him; for His Divine hand will lead us, and His Divine Providence will protect us, that no evil may do us harm. The Lord, whom alone we ought to acknowledge and worship, is pure Love Itself, infinite and unchanging. And it is a genuine truth, expressed in the letter of the Divine Word, where we read: “The Lord is good unto all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Ps. cxlv. 9).