Adventure – How to find it for free?

adventureEver gone travelling off the beaten track looking for adventure? Young people may do this before they embark on a new career and those recently retired from an old one can also seek somewhere different. They go off on an adventure to exotic locations to discover what is there and at the same time find out something about themselves. Perhaps we all need a thrilling time occasionally, to get away from the hum-drum aspects of everyday life.

Adventure of an inner journey

Travelling is not an option for everyone.  However, the journey can be found in other ways. George Eliot wrote, ‘Adventure is not outside man; it is within.’  In other words, we can wake-up to the excitement of life within the confines of our normal circumstances. Many have reported on inner journeys they have taken that opened up new horizons for them.

As an example, I would like to mention Emanuel Swedenborg, a man born in 17th century Stockholm.  In young adulthood he had leisure for full-time study and travel. He lived at a time when it was still possible to have a wide grasp of the knowledge of the day.  Later he worked as an engineer and geologist and wrote science such as physics and biology.

Swedenborg’s adventure exploring his dreams

Emanuel had been on an intellectual quest to find a scientific understanding of the human soul.  In his fifties he started noticing his dreams and reflecting on them. This was to be an inner journey; not only one of self-learning but also one of personal change. He was an intellectual man not in touch with the feeling and intuitive side of life. To explore the latter was like an adventure for him because it required great daring to tap the depths of personality, and gain something new.

Whenever someone showed a lack of respect for him he felt self-righteous indignation. Likewise he would tend to think about how his next book would make him famous. Reflecting on this self-pride, he was brought to his knees in humility.  He learned to be more aware of his thoughts and to turn away from those that he judged as wrong. With this new-found effort to stand firm he became more confident that he would be forgiven and helped to find a new attitude.

Another discovery in his dreams was his sexual fantasies.  He realised how he would be looking at a woman and thinking lustfully.  He tried to resist such impure thoughts because he believed God wanted people to enjoy sex only as part of a monogamous loving relationship.

Nevertheless a woman was what was missing in his life. Someone perhaps to put flowers on his desk, to add decorations to his home, to encourage him to enjoy walks and music. Arguably, womanhood symbolises the warm nurturing side of life. There were women in his dreams but when awake he had prohibited all close relations with them.  His aim had been to find God alone.  But the kind of God he envisaged had been one to support his academic life by providing him with scientific answers like some sort of super-professor.  He wondered… had God chosen to provide women in his dreams because that warm,
loving side of his makeup must be developed if he were to have any hope of understanding the Divine Source?

Adventure of following the lead of the Divine Spirit

Swedenborg’s inner journey taught him that ultimately he was dependent on God and this meant following God’s lead.

As HT Hamblin says, ‘The only way to harmony and to peace is to
follow the leading of the Spirit, and this is the most adventurous life of
all.’

It seemed to have worked for Emanuel. He abandoned his scientific books and focused instead on the personal and spiritual side to life. For him the personal and spiritual journey of adventure were the same thing.  How better can you learn than by struggling?  His books now would be based on personal knowledge rather than on academic reading of other writers’ books.  He now wanted to explore religion from the perspective of this dimension.  During this process of personal discovery, he had felt called to a higher vocation – one of exploring theology and spiritual philosophy.  Increasingly, he used the intuitions he gained from his inner visionary experience, presenting them as rationally as he was able.

I guess the challenge for us is to more deeply listen to the leading of the Spirit and daring to accept whatever challenges of conscience we find. The promise is extra energy, the thrill of the new and the delight of a higher life.

‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And venture belongs to the adventurous.’ (Navjot Singh Sidhu)

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Dreams

Dreams

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Each year, as we reflect about the things that have happened in the past year, we begin to wonder about the things that might happen in the year to come. We are interested in what the future may hold for us, even though we know that if we had the sure and certain knowledge of the future it would take away our spiritual freedom. But we would all like to have an indication of the way things are going to be. Our subject for today is what the doctrines of the church teach about dreams, and what, if anything, our dreams might tell us about our future.

The dreams and visions that we read about in scripture are different from our own dreams, for they were given by the Lord for the specific purpose of revealing the Word. The Doctrines tell us that there are four different kinds of visions, and three different kinds of dreams. Visions differ from dreams in that visions are sights of the spiritual world that occur while the person is awake. The simplest kind of visions are those of people who have very active imaginations and see things that aren’t there. Spirits approach and encourage wild imaginings, and the longer they think about it, the stronger the feeling grows, until the person is absolutely convinced that it is so. The Doctrines say that “Such things befall those who indulge much in fancies, and are subject to infirmity of mind, and have thereby become credulous.” (AC 1967)

Each of us has no doubt seen drawings or illustrations that made no sense at all until the artist explained it. Then the visual images of the picture suddenly made sense and the image seemed to snap into place. Optical illusions illustrate how little the eye is involved in seeing–it is the mind that interprets the visual images, and puts them together in such a way as to make meaningful patterns. Since it is the mind that really “sees,” we can then understand that if the mind is confused or misled, all kinds of things will be seen that don’t actually exist in the objective universe. Anyone who has been fooled by an optical illusion can understand that many visions and sightings of strange and wondrous things are not signs from heaven, but signs from a desperately seeking mind, especially when encouraged and supported by attendant spirits.

A more powerful kind of vision is inspired by what are called “enthusiastic” spirits. In these circumstances, no shadows or optical illusions are necessary. The person who sees this kind of vision is easily persuaded about things, and is able to persuade others as well. The Doctrines say that these “enthusiastic” spirits have contracted this nature from persuasions and false principles while they lived in the world. (See AC 1968)

The third kind of vision is called “phantasy.” This is the preferred state of the evil spirits in the life after death. It is similar to daydreaming in that the person chooses to create an imaginary world in which to live and function, completely apart from the influence of any other living being. Such a world is completely imaginary and self-centered. The evil are in such a state because they are not permitted to act out their evils except in their imaginations, so they choose to dwell in dream-worlds of their own creation. “Such phantasies are perpetual with the infernals.” (AC 1969)

None of these visions are like those experienced by the prophets who were involved in the writing of the Word. The prophets had genuine visions, which means they were permitted to see real things in the spiritual world, that is, those things in the spiritual world that can be seen by spirits and angels with the eyes of their spiritual bodies. These are real things that exist in heaven and can be seen by men in the world–but only when their interior sight is opened by the Lord.

Every human being has a spirit within. While we live in the world of nature, that spirit is clothed with things of the natural world, and uses organs of natural material to sense and manipulate that world. While in the natural world, the spiritual organs are within, guiding and enlivening, but they are not used. When the earthly body dies, and the natural covering is lost, the spiritual organs within come into use and open for the first time. The spirit awakes in the spiritual world clothed in a body of spiritual substances appropriate to that world. With it he senses and manipulates the spiritual world. Such is the ordinary case with all men.

Since a spiritual body dwells within the natural body of every human being, it is possible for the Lord to lay the natural aside, for a time, and awaken the spiritual senses, provided there is an important use to be served. Such were the visions of the prophets. When the spiritual sight is opened, then those things which have actual existence with spirits are clearly seen. Not only are representatives seen, but also the spirits themselves, together with an understanding of who and what they are, all confirmed in living speech, just as in the world, except that such communication is free from falsity and mis-understanding. (See AC 1970)

Dreams differ from visions in that visions occur while the person is awake, while dreams take place while the person sleeps. The first kind of dream described by the doctrines is that which is from the Lord through heaven. This is the kind of prophetic dream that is found in so many places in the Word: Joseph, the Butler and Baker in prison, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Joseph being told about Mary and being warned to go to Egypt, and many other examples. (AC 1976)

The second kind of dream is one that is inspired by the angels themselves. This is the kind of communication that they had in the Most Ancient Church, where men on earth and men in the heavens were in constant, open communication. This does not happen to us today because the state of the human race has fallen so low, and is so concerned with the things of the natural world that it cannot any longer lift itself up to the states of even the lowest angels. (AC 1976)

The third kind of dreams are stirred in the mind when a person is sleeping. These are caused by the thoughts and affections of spirits in the world of spirits who are nearby at such times as you own conscious mind quiets down in sleep, allowing your unconscious mind to “tune in” to the spiritual spheres around you. (See AC 1976) Swedenborg conducted experiments to explore the relationship between the things that he saw in his dreams, and the things that were happening in the spiritual world at the same time. Waking after a dream, he, being at that time in open communication with the spiritual world, described his dreams to the spirits who had been with him while he slept. They said that what he described was a perfect representation of the things they had been talking about among themselves while he slept–but they were not the things spoken themselves. In other words, he did not overhear or eavesdrop upon their conversation and thus learn anything from it, but the subject of their conversation inspired the images and feelings of his dream.

The angels further told him that the same conversation could have been turned into other images with unlimited variety. The reason he saw the images he did was because of his own state of mind at the time. In other words, many different dreams might be stimulated by a single angelic conversation, because each person associated with those spirits would have a different memory, a different collection of life experiences, a different response to life at that moment, and so variety is produced much as the white light from the sun is everywhere the same, but produces a profusion of colors when received by the different substances in this world. (See AC 1980)

The whole of the Old Testament is, in regard to the internal sense, a prophecy of the Lord’s life on earth. So, we can say with certainty that the Lord revealed the future to men on earth through their dreams. However, it is also clear that the Lord presented the information to the men in such a way as could be interpreted in a number of different ways. This made it possible for Him to write the Word by means of men on earth, and at the same time protect them from the danger of certain knowledge of the future.

Evil spirits burn with the desire to infest and attack us when we sleep, and because, when the conscious mind relaxes in sleep, the spiritual world is able to draw much closer, we properly feel the danger. Because the conscious mind, and therefore the free will, is asleep and unable to protect itself, when a person sleeps he is especially guarded by the Lord, for “love does not sleep” (AC 1983). Spirits who attempt to disturb or infest a sleeping person are severely punished.

In spite of the Lord’s protection, spirits are able to draw near enough to stir and waken the evil desires and unclean thoughts that are lurking under our conscious mind, and these evils within us are permitted to express themselves from time to time. This is not an infestation from without, but rather a stirring up of some of the things that are within, the things that would dominate our waking lives if not controlled by our own self-discipline and the Lord’s help. Frightening and disturbing dreams occur when our fallen nature and hereditary evils–our love and delight in the things of the natural world are stirred by spheres from hell in our sleep.

Dreams and visions were absolutely essential tools used in writing the Old and New Testaments. These were the means whereby the prophets, men living in the natural world among other men, were temporarily brought into the sphere of heaven where they saw and heard wondrous things. Their record of the wonderful things they saw and heard makes up a large part of the Old Testament.

In much the same way, dreams and visions played an essential part in the work that Swedenborg performed. He, like the prophets of old, was permitted to see things in the spiritual world. Unlike the Old Testament prophets, Swedenborg was prepared and permitted to take an active part in his visions. He was permitted to speak with the angels and spirits, to converse with them, to get to know them, to argue with them, and in every other way carry on as if a native of that world. This spiritual experience, combined with his wide range of earthly learning, made it possible for him to carry a spiritual message to men on earth with a clarity, a breadth, and a depth never before known.

But, does this mean that we should rely on our own dreams and visions as guides for the future? No, for several reasons. First, we must ask ourselves, “Who is the source of the dream?” Is it the Lord? Is it an angel? Is it a spirit recently arrived in the spiritual world? Or is it perhaps an evil spirit from hell? How can we tell for certain? The answer is that while we are yet in this world, we cannot tell for certain, and in fact can be easily deceived.

We also have to ask ourselves, “What is being stirred in us by this dream?” Is it our hereditary evils and lusts, or is it our affections of good and truth? It could be either. How can we make an objective judgment about our states in such a case?

Finally, after we have satisfied ourselves that the dream is from a heavenly source and we wish to pursue it further, and that it is stirring good affections within us, we have to ask ourselves, “What is the interpretation of the dream?” Remember Swedenborg’s experience that one spiritual idea could cause any number of different representations in the dream. With the possibility of such variety, how is it possible to reverse the process and deduce the idea from the representation with any degree of accuracy without the Lord’s direct assistance?

Dreams, like all ideas and thoughts, have their origin in the spiritual world. Pleasant, peaceful dreams have their origin in heaven, while nightmares have their origin in hell. Dreams may even give indications of what our future holds by revealing our response to certain types of situations, but never in such a way as to remove our freedom of choice. We must never fall into the trap of taking our dreams too seriously, but instead look to the dreams and visions of the prophets as they are recorded in the Word, and let these sure and certain words, prepared and interpreted by God Himself, let them be our guide for the future. AMEN.

Lessons: Genesis 37:1-11, Matthew 2:11-23, AC 4682:1

VISIONS AND DREAMS

VISIONS AND DREAMS

A Sermon by Rev. Lawson M. Smith Preached in Mitchellville, Maryland, January 4, 1987

“And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also on menservants and maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28,29).

It is the beginning of a new year. We seek a vision from the Lord, to show us where we are to go in the days and months ahead. In many areas of life, people speak of “visions” and “dreams”: a vision for a business, financial vision; to have a dream for one’s life; dreams for our marriages, and for our children; a vision for the church. To be a man of vision is a wonderful thing. What is it that we seek when we wish for “vision”? How can we receive it? Let us look at what the Heavenly Doctrine teaches about visions and dreams, and then see what the prophecy of Joel can teach us today.

The Lord taught the people of the Most Ancient Church by dreams and visions. These were their primary means of Divine revelation. Angels came to them in their dreams and showed them delightful paradisal gardens and many other things, and at the same time taught them what these dreams meant. Through such visions and dreams, the Most Ancient people learned the most fundamental truths, such as that all life and all goodness and truth are from the Lord alone and none from man. Having been given to understand these fundamentals, from their love to the Lord they perceived countless applications to their lives.

Later, men turned away from the Lord and closed their open communication with heaven. Then the Lord sent an angel to certain people to teach them about Himself and the life after death. The Lord filled an angel with His presence, so that the angel could represent Him to men and speak from the Divine, not from himself. The angel of the Lord came to men in visions during the day, in dreams at night, or sometimes simply spoke to them without being seen. The men to whom the Lord granted visions and dreams then taught others what the Lord had taught them. They were prophets, spokesmen for the Lord. Through them the Lord wrote the Ancient Word and then the Old Testament. The written Word began to be an important means of Divine revelation, though as yet few could read, and the Word was still transmitted mainly by oral tradition.

In Old Testament times the Lord appeared by means of angels to Abraham, Joshua, Gideon and others. The Writings point out that such visions took place by the opening of people’s spiritual eyes, not by their natural eyesight, for the subjects of the visions were in the spiritual world.

Dreams are an important part of the stories of Joseph and Daniel. The Lord used dreams to show them what He was going to do. The Lord also spoke to Solomon twice in dreams, and Solomon also answered the Lord in his dreams.

Later on in Israel’s history, the Lord gave some of the prophets remarkable visions, especially Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah, and later the apostle John, who wrote the Apocalypse. But these visions, along with many other things revealed through the prophets, can scarcely be understood, even in our day, without the help of the Writings. Relatively few people were given visions, and the Lord sent prophets infrequently. Compared to the days of the Most Ancient Church, few people were in a suitable state to accept revelation from the Lord. In Samuel’s day it is said, “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no open vision” (I Samuel 3:1).

Having a vision of what we should do with our lives is very important. But sometimes the word of the Lord seems to come to us rarely, if at all. Then some people will seek visions by other ways than from the Lord.

For example, when the Lord refused to speak to King Saul, Saul turned to a witch or medium to contact Samuel, then deceased. But the law of Moses strictly forbids necromancy and witchcraft: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” a law which even in our day, the Writings say, is altogether to be observed and done (see Exodus 22:18; AC 9349). So Isaiah warned the people, “And when they say to you, `Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? [Go] to the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (8:19,20). This is good advice for us too. It is always unprofitable in the long run to seek guidance by a means which is not according to the Lord’s law, because there is no other source of light and vision than the Lord.

So the Old Testament warns the people to be on guard against false prophets, and to test their words by seeing whether they come true (see Deut.13:1-5). In the days when Jerusalem was under the Babylonian siege, the Lord through Jeremiah commanded the people to surrender, and then they would be well treated in Babylon. But false prophets arose claiming to have been told that there would be peace in the land again soon. Jeremiah urged the people, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: `Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. … They speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the Lord. … I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, “I have dreamed; I have dreamed!” … Indeed, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal'” (23:16, 25-27). The people, sadly, followed the advice of the false prophets, but the word given through Jeremiah came true.

The Lord Himself came into the world when almost all spiritual light and vision had been cut off. He came to bring light to those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, so that we could see a true vision of our God. He did away with the need for representations of Himself through the angel of the Lord. In the Lord’s parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus, now an angel, to warn his brothers; but in Jesus’ words, Abraham says, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

The Writings cite this parable in explaining the law of the Divine Providence that men must not be compelled in the things of religion. “No one is reformed by visions and dreams,” we read, “because they compel” (DP 134). That is, they compel an outward, temporary, grudging acknowledgment that fades away with time, and leaves a man no better than before. Therefore the Lord does not make use of conversations with the dead to teach us today. This is not the kind of vision we should seek.

Speech with spirits is still possible, and it would not be harmful with those who are regenerate and established in a true faith based in a life of charity. But spirits do not try to teach people anything, but only speak a few words. In general, spirits speak only out of the things in the person’s own memory, and tend to reflect our own states of mind, or what a part of us wants to hear them say, whereas the written Word is an objective standard.

Some people have criticized Swedenborg as violating the Lord’s warning against conversations with the dead. Many others have been attracted to him merely as, in their eyes, a successful spiritist. But several things set Swedenborg apart from spiritists. First, he never sought contact with the other world. The Lord opened his spiritual eyes in order to reveal things to mankind which could not be made known in any other way, as He opened the eyes of the apostle John and other prophets. Second, all of the Writings rest firmly in the Old and New Testaments. Third, Swedenborg never tried to draw attention to himself. Even the Writings themselves were published anonymously until the last two works, when their authorship was already generally known. Instead, the Heavenly Doctrine always leads us to the Lord.

The Writings say there are several false kinds of visions. There are delusions induced by spirits, affecting our natural sight of things in this world. People who are not strong-minded are prone to this kind of vision. Another kind of vision is inspired by fanatical spirits who believe themselves filled with the Holy Spirit. They insist that what they teach must be believed.

All evil spirits see in a false light. An evil spirit is nothing but a collection of lusts and the fantasies of his lusts. He imagines that what is good is bad, and that what is bad is good; he takes delight in filthy and wicked things, and believes these will make him happy. In hell, one spirit miserably torments another by delusions. They also torment us on earth, inspiring similar fantasies in us, such as the feeling that “only if” I can have or do some selfish thing will I be happy.

On the other hand, when a person has a genuine vision, he actually sees things that really exist in the other life. He sees in the light of heaven from the Lord. The things of the heavens all represent the one and only reality in the Lord (see AC 1966ff). Even though today the Lord does not give us visions and dreams involving the opening of our spiritual eyes, He still does give us spiritual light to distinguish what is real and eternal from what is delusive and fleeting, if we sincerely look to Him for enlightenment.

The prophecy of Joel really looks forward to the New Church. In its spiritual sense, it shows us how we can receive vision from the Lord. The prophecy begins with the devastation of the land of Israel by locusts and invading armies. The Lord through Joel explains the reason these disasters have occurred: Israel has been unfaithful. Then comes a beautiful, clear call to repentance: “`Now, therefore,’ says the Lord, `turn to Me with all your heart … Rend your heart and not your garments'” (2:12,13). The beginning of every true state of the church, or the way to prepare for every gift from the Lord, is to repent of evils that we aware of.

But then the Lord promises to drive Israel’s enemies away, and to bless her with the former and latter rain, so that the crops bring forth abundantly. Then comes the text: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also on menservants and maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28,29).

This describes a state in which we are being regenerated. The Lord pours out His Spirit or breath upon us, the breath of life, when we are ready to receive His Holy Spirit. “Upon all flesh” means upon all mankind. In the spiritual sense, “flesh” means all human states, particularly states oriented to bodily and worldly things, which need to be reformed and regenerated by the Spirit of the Lord. The individual groups sons and daughters, old and young, and servants stand for each of the levels of our minds and hearts in which we need to receive the Lord, in order to see Him clearly. “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5; AC 574).

The Lord pours out His spirit upon us by teaching and enlightening us in truths. A man who is being regenerated then “prophesies,” that is, he understands so clearly that he could teach these truths to others. We prophesy to ourselves when from the rational level of our minds we form an idea of what the Lord is saying to us and how we should act, and then tell ourselves that this is how we are going to act.

Sons and daughters are both mentioned, standing for the understanding and the will. The Writings say that our state of enlightenment depends on the state of our minds as formed by doctrinal teachings from the Word, signified by the sons. The more clearly we have the teachings of the Word in our minds, from current, regular reading of the Word, the more clearly the Lord can enlighten us. Faith is perfected by the number and coherence of truths. We can picture a chandelier: the more lights and prisms, the more bright and beautiful a light it will give. There is no substitute for a clear knowledge and understanding of the facts of Divine revelation.

Enlightenment and vision also depend on the disposition of our will, represented by the daughters. For example, we need to be willing to face a vision that calls us to repentance, not just cries of “Peace, peace” when there is no peace.

Each person is different from every other, both in his knowledge of the Word and experience, and in his love’s interests. Accordingly there is a variety of vision as to the uses of life. This variety perfects society as a whole, as long as each man’s vision comes from the Lord.

The old men, who will dream dreams, stand for the gentle, peaceful wisdom of old age, the interior sight that comes from a lifetime of following the Lord. The most ancients received their instruction in dreams. The young men’s visions represent intelligence and an interest in understanding the Word rightly. The men of the Ancient Church received revelation through visions. It is good for us to recognize and value the contributions that each state of life can bring to the church.

The male and female servants stand for rational and natural truths, with their affections. Natural truths are facts, and rational truths are concepts formed from them. Such facts and concepts are servants to visions of spiritual things and dreams of celestial wisdom. When we set our knowledge and our interest in information in subordination to the uses of life rather than making it an end in itself, then the spirit of the Lord is poured out even upon the menservants and maidservants with us.

From this prophecy through Joel the Lord is showing us how we can receive His spirit of regeneration in our lives, and so be blessed with dreams and visions of the goals to which the Lord is leading us. What we really want is a vision of the Lord so that we can cooperate with Him in His purposes. The Lord is always offering us such a vision, as light is always streaming from the sun, but we receive it according to our state. Our vision is always very limited. We don’t see where Divine Providence is leading us; we only glimpse a little of what the Lord hopes and intends for us. But what we can see is enough for us to advance into clearer and clearer light. Our source of vision is the Lord in His Word. If we read the Word, and think about its application to life in whatever uses we seek guidance whether our careers, our marriages, our families, or our church and if we act on what we see with courage and zeal, then the Lord will be able to guide us into the right paths, and into greater light. The prophecy of Joel will be fulfilled: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also on menservants and maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28,29). Amen.


Lessons: Joel 2:12-32; Matthew 2:1-12; AR 224:1-4e

Apocalypse Revealed 224:1-4e

I saw an assembly of spirits, all upon their knees, praying to God to send angels to them, that they might converse with them face to face, and open to them the thoughts of their hearts. And when they arose, there appeared three angels in fine linen, standing before them, and they said, “The Lord Jesus Christ has heard your prayers, and has therefore sent us to you; open unto us the thoughts of your hearts.” And they answered, “We have been told by our priests that in matters of a theological nature the understanding avails nothing, but only faith, and that in such things intellectual faith is of no service to anyone, because it is derived from man. We are Englishmen, and have heard many things from our sacred ministry which we believed; but when we have conversed with others, who also called themselves the Reformed, and with others who called themselves the Roman Catholics, and likewise with sectaries, they all appeared to us learned, and yet in many things one did not agree with another, and still they all said, `Believe us’; and some of them, `We are God’s ministers, and know.’ But as we know that the Divine truths, which are called truths of faith, and which appertain to the church, are not derived to anyone from his native soil, nor by inheritance, but out of heaven from God; and as these show the way to heaven, and enter into the life together with the good of charity, and so lead to eternal life, we became anxious, and prayed to God upon our knees.” Then the angels answered, “Read the Word, and believe in the Lord, and you will see the truths which should constitute your faith and life; for all in the Christian world draw their doctrinals from the Word as from the only fountain.” But two of the company said, “We have read, but did not understand.” And the angels replied, “You did not approach the Lord, and you have also confirmed yourselves in falsities”; and the angels said further, “What is faith without light, and what signifies thinking without understanding? this is not human; even magpies and ravens can learn to speak without understanding. We can affirm to you that every man whose soul desires it is capable of seeing the truths of the Word in the light; there does not exist an animal that does not know the food proper to its life when it sees it, and man is a rational and spiritual animal, who sees the food of his life, not that of his body but of his soul, which is the truth of faith, provided indeed he hungers after it and seeks it from the Lord; whatsoever is not received also in the understanding is not fixed in the memory in reality but only verbally; therefore, when we have looked down out of heaven into the world, we have not seen anything, but have only heard sounds that are for the most part dissonant. But we will enumerate some things which the learned among the clergy have removed from the understanding, not knowing that there are two ways to the understanding: one from the world and the other from heaven, and that the Lord withdraws the understanding from the world when He enlightens it; but if the understanding be closed by religion, the way into it from heaven is closed, and then man sees no more in the Word than a blind person. We have seen many such fall into pits, out of which they have never risen again. Examples must serve for illustration: are you not able to understand what charity is and what faith is? that charity consists in doing well by your neighbor, and that faith consists in thinking well of God and of the essentials of the church, and therefore that he who does well and thinks well, that is, who lives well and believes well, is saved?” … And then they solicited the angels to give them further information, and especially concerning God, the immortality of the soul, regeneration and baptism. To this the angels replied, “We will not say anything but what you can understand; otherwise our discourse will fall like rain upon sand, and upon seeds therein, which although watered from heaven, still wither and perish.” Concerning God they said, “All who come into heaven have their place allotted them there, and thence eternal joy, according to their idea of God, because this idea reigns universally in every particular of worship. The idea of an invisible God is not determined to anyone, nor does it terminate in any; therefore it ceases and perishes …

Concerning Regeneration: “Who does not see that everyone is at liberty to think of God or not to think of Him, provided he be instructed that there is a God; so that everyone has liberty in spiritual things, equally as in things civil and moral; the Lord gives this liberty to all continually, for which reason he becomes guilty if he does not think of God. Man is man from this ability, but a beast is a beast from not having this ability; therefore man can reform and regenerate himself as from himself, provided he acknowledges in heart that it is from the Lord. Everyone who does the work of repentance and believes in the Lord is reformed and regenerated. Man must do both as from himself, but this as-from-himself is from the Lord …

Concerning baptism, they said that it is spiritual washing, which is reformation and regeneration; and that an infant is reformed and regenerated when, on becoming an adult, he does the things which his sponsors promised for him, which are two, repentance and faith in God; for they promise first that he shall renounce the devil and all his works; and second, that he shall believe in God. All infants in heaven are initiated into these two, but to them the devil is hell, and God is the Lord. Moreover, baptism is a sign before the angels that a man is of the church.” On hearing these things, some of the assembly said, “This we understand.” But a voice was heard from one side, exclaiming, “We do not understand”; and another voice, “We will not understand”; and inquiry was made from whence these voices proceeded, and it was found that they came from those who had confirmed themselves in falsities of faith, and who wished to be believed as oracles, and thus to be adored. The angels said, “Be not surprised: there are very many such at this day; they appear to us from heaven like graven images, made with such art as to be able to move the lips and utter sounds like organs, but without knowing whether the breath, by means of which they utter these sounds, comes from hell or from heaven, because they do not know whether a thing be false or true. They reason and reason; they confirm and confirm, nor do they ever see whether it is so. But know that human ingenuity can confirm whatsoever one wishes, even until it appears to be so; therefore heretics and impious persons, yea atheists, can confirm that there is no God, but nature only” …

And after the angels had taught them something concerning correspondence and its effect, some of the company said, “Now for the first time we understand.” And when they said, “We understand,” behold a flame with light descending from heaven consociated them with the angels, and they loved one another.

Spiritual Frontier – Emanuel Swedenborg

NEBUCHADNEZZAR AND DREAMS IN THE WORD

NEBUCHADNEZZAR AND DREAMS IN THE WORD

A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose

Preached in Bryn Athyn February 19, 1995

“I have dreamed a dream” (Daniel 2:3).

These were the words of Nebuchadnezzar. He knew there was something of great importance in his dream, something to do with his destiny. Yes, a king awakens from a dream and senses that it has an important bearing on his life. That seems to be a recurrent theme of Scripture. We will return to the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, but first let us consider other dreams of Scripture.

The first example is in Genesis 20, and it is very dramatic. Abimelech the king of Gerar had taken the wife of Abraham. And God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said, “You are a dead man … she is a man’s wife.” And Abimelech said, “Did he not say to me, `She is my sister’?” “And God said to him in a dream, `Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.’ So Abimelech rose early in the morning, called all his servants and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very afraid” (verses 3-8).

“And he will pray for you” (Gen. 20:7). This is the first mention of prayer in the Word, and it is here that the Writings give the well known statement about prayer being speech with God to which there answers an influx into the thought of the mind and an opening of the interiors toward God, sometimes a feeling of hope, comfort and inward joy (see AC 2535).

But note especially here that the king was told he was made aware that his actions had been influenced in a way not conscious to him. God said, “I withheld you from sinning … I did not let you touch her.” In this first dream example we note that a king’s actions were being controlled beyond his knowing. And much more than we know, our actions are led. How is this possible? There are angels with us who influence our affections. This is not just a poetic thought, but a constant reality. Indeed, if there were not angels present with us, we would plunge into evil (see AC 5850). By influencing our affections and feelings they influence our actions but never violate our freedom. They “inspire good affections so far as people will receive them in freedom; and by means of these they also control the deeds or works by removing as far as possible evil intentions” (HH 391).

So, in the first scriptural example of a dream there is a lesson about life. Without the Lord we can do nothing, and the Lord is constantly influencing us through angels. And in the second example the subject of angels comes to us in a most memorable way. This is in Genesis 28. Jacob dreamed that he saw the angels of God ascending and descending on a ladder or stairway at the top of which was God. The angelic influence did not take away his freedom or his own initiative. On the contrary it created the setting for him to make choices to make a resolve. If God would be with him in the way he was going, He would worship Him and would give one tenth of all that he had.

When Jacob awoke from that dream he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” He had a new sense about life in this world. “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (verses 16,17). The dream gives a different sense of what life really is. We may be making choices and making resolves about short-term goals in our daily lives, but the dream is a reminder of a much greater reality. We will mention this again in connection with the dream of Nebuchadnezzar.

With Jacob’s son Joseph, dreams become especially prominent, and we notice that these dreams predict the future not only Joseph’s own dreams of the sheaves of wheat and the sun, moon and stars, but also the dreams of others which he interpreted, the dreams of the butler and the baker in prison, and the great dream of Pharaoh, ruler of Egypt. Several times the Writings mention that the meaning of a dream is a foretelling of the future (see AC 3698, 5091, 5104, 5110, 5195, 5252). Let us be clear that we are not intended to know the future. In fact we should not even want to know the future, for knowing it would take away our very humanity. This is the well known teaching of Divine Providence 179, where it is said that it is quite common to have a longing to know the future, but this can be taken away from us and in its place can be given “a trust that the Lord is directing our lot” (DP 179).

Yes, in the case of Joseph and for those whose dreams he interpreted, a general idea was granted of what would happen. This is not so for us. The message for us, one might say, is that there is a future. It is something known by the Lord. A dream signifies His Divine foresight and providence. Well, isn’t it obvious that there is a future? In a way, yes. It is an obvious fact that we are going to die. But this can be so unreal to us. In fact it can require effort to get it into our heads. The Writings invite and urge us to think about it. Now they do not ask us to think about the fact that we are going to die, but that we are going to live. “Let him who wishes to be eternally happy know and believe that he will live after death. Let him think of this and keep it in mind, for it is the truth” (AC 8939).

Sometimes we are so influenced by worldly spirits that our thoughts are fixed hypnotically on this world, and we are told that in order to be delivered we need to think about eternal life (see AC 6201e).

The dream that Pharaoh had and which Joseph interpreted was about seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. And hearing that dream made him choose to turn the power of his kingdom over to a stranger. He removed the ring from his finger and placed it on the finger of a young man he had only just met and said, in effect, “Since you know this, you shall be ruler in my kingdom.”

It is almost beyond believing that a king in full power would turn over that power to another man. As it is said in the Writings, “Pharaoh deprived himself of his own authority, and put all Egypt under Joseph” (AC 5316). Each one of us has a sense that we are doing something. We have in our waking conscious life a sense of our own freedom and strength, our authority and our own prudence. We are king in our own realm. But God is doing something too. What Pharaoh saw (and what he had not seen before) was that what God was doing had a vital application to what he was doing and what he ought to do. He ought to choose out a man. The Writings say to think above the idea of choosing some individual, but to think about “realities” (AC 5287).

When we speak of the operation of the Divine Providence, we mean what God is doing. That operation or working begins at birth and continues thereafter. It goes on first in the simple, unknowing years of infancy and childhood. And even as it continues in our more mature years, we are no more aware of this Divine Providence than one is aware of a forgotten dream.

That private kingdom of our own life’s history is only partly recalled. Some more than others enjoy flashes of tender childhood memories. And those childhood states are realities. The Lord is speaking of our kingdom when He says, “So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how” (Matt. 4:27).

When we consciously acknowledge the Lord, trust Him and submit our lives to Him, we are like a king, remaining on the throne yes, but acknowledging the sovereignty of the Lord. This is not something that happens only once in our lives. We awaken repeatedly into new realizations, and like Jacob we say, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.”

“I have dreamed a dream.” King Nebuchadnezzar knew in the privacy of his mind that he had a dream and that the dream was of great importance. He knew. Many other things he might not be sure of. In fact, things he had trusted he was beginning to distrust that day. Astrologers, sorcerers and wise men had enjoyed his trust, patronage and protection. But now he was awaking to a realization of their inadequacy. If in the past they had been able to say or show things of some value, in the light of that day it was not enough.

Was he right or wrong? Was he a most unreasonable man as his astrologers were protesting? Was he only a superstitious fool? On the contrary, he was less a fool that day than perhaps on many other days. For that day he was not like the man whom Jesus postulated as saying, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink and be merry. But God said unto him, `You fool, this night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'” (Luke 12:19,20). A fool is one who relies upon the fallacies of the sense, or who thinks this world is everything. One who is wise from himself alone, that one is a fool.

Nebuchadnezzar listened with wonder as Daniel told him the meaning of his dream, and he knew that it was his dream and that it had to do with his past life and his destiny. Daniel told him that the dream was given “that you may know the thoughts of your heart” (Dan. 2:30). Some of our thoughts we do not know, because they do not arise in explicit consciousness.

There are people who have much more belief in life after death than they know. The simple “believe they will live after death, in which simple faith, unknown to them, there is hidden the belief that they will live there as men, will see angels, will speak with them, and will enjoy happiness” (AC 6053).

How often the Lord told stories, and if we were wise we would see that He is telling our story, and we would see meaning in the way He recounts it. The dream of Nebuchadnezzar was a vivid sequence. He had seen an image. At the beginning he saw first its head made of gold, and descending from the head the substances changed from gold to silver to bronze to iron, and finally to iron mixed with clay.

What is going on in our lives right now? What is the story? What is the sequence? If asked at a given moment, we might reply that we have time only to say that we are facing certain present obligations and dealing with present needs. But our life is a story that could be told from a distance, or told from the distant perspective of a dream. It could be told in angel conversations taking form in correspondential images in the world of the spirit.

In the dream of Nebuchadnezzar we may see in the first golden state our early infancy, but it passes away. The strength, or iron, is then mixed with clay, and in later years we sense an impending end. Daniel said that the iron was strength and the clay was brittle, but then came a stone cut out without hands which grew into a mountain and lasted forever.

The gold was beautiful, and the iron was strong, but it was followed by what is brittle. How brittle and vulnerable we sometimes feel. Our very senses tell us that we are growing older and more fragile. And it is not just our bodies. We also come into a sense of our inner inadequacy and the limitations of our self-intelligence. Our memories are not as acute, and even the strength we have built up in our lives is mingled with what is perishable.

And all this can enable us to look with absolute wonder to Him who is the rock in whom we trust and in whom we may live forever and ever.

Remember the gift the Lord gives of trust that He is directing our lot (see DP 179). This comes to us like the interpretation of a dream. Our life is in His hands. Skeptical voices may tell us something else, but they are like unreliable astrologers. The voices may come from our own thoughts, arrogance, or self-intelligence. The fallacies of the senses put a wrong construction and a false interpretation on our lives. And even if they make some sense of the present, when it comes to the future they have no answer but are like mute magicians, soothsayers, standing there with nothing to say. But the reality of the Lord’s presence and Providence is like a rock growing to a mountain from which comes all our help. And His voice tells us, “Without Me You can do nothing.” “He that follows Me shall not walk in darkness.” “He that comes to me shall never hunger.” “Great is your reward in heaven.” “I go to prepare a place for you.” “Nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

Particulars of our future we do not know. Our passing states day by day are directed to ends of which we are unaware (see AC 2796). Unaware we may be, but every night that we sleep we are associated with angels sent to us by the Lord, whose Divine knowledge takes form in fragments of dreams which we cannot interpret. And He is saying that He is with us and will not leave us.

Our destiny is in the hands of Him who has all power and strength, “For wisdom and might are His … He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him” (Dan. 2:20,22). Amen.


Lessons: Daniel 2 and AC 1975, 1980

Arcana Coelestia

1975. As regards dreams, it is known that the Lord revealed the arcana of heaven to the prophets, not only by visions but also by dreams, and that the dreams were as fully representative and significative as the visions, being almost of the same class; and that to others also as well as the prophets things to come were disclosed by dreams, as by the dreams of Joseph, and of those who were in prison with him, and by those of Pharaoh, of Nebuchadnezzar, and others, from which it may be seen that dreams of this kind, equally with visions, flow in from heaven; with this difference, that dreams occur when the corporeal is asleep, and visions when it is not asleep. How prophetic dreams, and such as are found in the Word, flow in, nay, descend from heaven, has been shown me to the life …

1980. It is worthy of mention that when after waking I related what I had seen in a dream, and this in a long series, certain angelic spirits (not those spoken of above) then said that what I related wholly coincided and was identical with the subjects they had been conversing about, and that there was absolutely no difference; but still that they were not the very things they had discoursed about, but were representatives of the same things, into which their ideas were thus turned and changed in the world of spirits; for in the world of spirits the ideas of the angels are turned into representatives; and therefore each and all things they had conversed about were so represented in the dream. They said further that the same discourse could be turned into other representatives, nay, into both similar and dissimilar ones, with unlimited variety. The reason they were turned into such as have been described was that it took place in accordance with the state of the spirits around me, and thus in accordance with my own state at the time. In a word, very many dissimilar dreams might come down and be presented from the same discourse, and thus from one origin; because, as has been said, the things that are in a man’s memory and affection are recipient vessels in which ideas are varied and received representatively in accordance with their variations of form and changes of state.