17 Angelic Intermediary in Divine Revelation

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17 Angelic Intermediary in Divine Revelation

“And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things. Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not; for I am thy fellow servant and of thy brethren the prophets. Worship God.” Revelation 22:8,9

The Need for Divine Revelation

Wherever a true religion has existed among men, its inner goal has been to seek a conjunction, not with spirits or even angels, but with God. But since man cannot of himself know God, the first requisite for such a conjunction had to be a self-revelation by the Creator.

Nature exerts so hypnotic an attraction for us that our attention is largely focussed upon its material objects and objectives. We may admit that other men help to form our opinions and excite our moods and motives through actions and words conveyed to our senses. But we are slow to believe that all our shifting mental states, as well as our deeper loves and convictions, have a spiritual origin. Yet physical sensation, and the words of other men, would cause no feeling and have no meaning unless there inflowed from the spiritual world the light of understanding. And this is mediated by the societies of spirits in whose midst our own mind or spirit unconsciously dwells—spirits closely kindred to our own personality. By their imperceptible influx such spirits actually enable our thinking. They utilize the knowledge in our minds, and in so doing they impart to us a sense of its implication and significance.454

But when mankind invites the presence of evil spirits, the conversion of sensory knowledge into perceptions of truth becomes more difficult. The Lord has therefore provided us with a unique opportunity especially adapted to the needs and peculiar genius of our race: He has given a series of Divine revelations of spiritual truth in the form of a written Word of God—as a means by which we may be led into conjunction with heaven and Himself.

Such written revelation was unnecessary in the primeval age symbolized by “Adam” in paradise—when the race had not as yet become infected with hereditary inclinations to evil, and could even enjoy an open intercourse with angelic spirits.455 Towards the end of the Most Ancient Church open communion with spirits became most dangerous.456 And the Lord then prepared special prophets whom He inspired to write sacred scriptures which revealed the essential truths concerning God, charity, and eternal life.

Man cannot think up a knowledge of God or of heaven from rational thought alone.457 Although there is “an influx into the souls of men” predisposing them to accept the truth that God is and that He is one,458 yet whatever religious knowledge mankind possesses was handed down as traditions stemming from primeval revelations. The reason why many pagan religions show a fundamental similarity is that they preserve, in variously perverted forms, such common traditions. The animistic, idolatrous, and magical features which they present are contorted race memories of the ancient science of the correspondences between natural and spiritual things. For the religious truth of the ancients was conveyed mostly in correspondences, symbolic stories, or ritual forms.

The Sacred Scripture was inspired by the Lord in order to preserve the truth in its purity, stripped of polytheistic imagery yet deeply veiled in symbolic language that would hide its inner message from the worldly-wise and prudent while revealing it “unto babes,” that is, to those who are humble and poor in spirit.459

The Angel of Jehovah

The question arises, whether the Lord in revealing Himself by Scripture would need to employ the agency of spirits and angels. A written Word of God is provided especially to prevent the deceptions that corporeal and evil spirits might impose upon men if spirits were permitted to speak to men openly. But can God reveal Himself without the intermediacy of spirits or angels ?

It is an ancient saying that “no man can see God and live.” Seemingly this would effectively prevent any revelation of the Divine Being as He is in His infinite Esse. But the Being (Esse) of God is revealed in His forthstanding form as Divine Man, and as such He has been worshipped in all ages; even before He descended to become incarnate in an earthly body and by degrees manifested His Divine qualities of love and wisdom. For prior to His advent He had revealed Himself both in the heavens and before appointed prophets. Yet this theophany could not be effected except by means of angels who thus for the occasion entered into the most sublime function which any finite being could serve.

The Word of the Old Testament often relates how patriarchs and prophets in vision saw the glorious form of a man, or “one resembling the son of man,” who proved to be an angel, yet who spoke as if he was the Lord Himself. Such an angel was called “Jehovah” or “the angel of Jehovah.”460 How this angelic mediation took place is described in the Arcana Coelestia:

“… It was an angel who appeared to Moses as a flame in the bush, and he spoke as Jehovah because the Lord or Jehovah spoke through him. For in order that the speech may come to man by words of articulate sound and in ultimate nature, the Lord makes use of the ministry of angels, filling them with the Divine and lulling the things which are their own. . . . “46l “Sometimes an angel does not speak from himself, but from the Lord, and he then does not know but that he is the Lord; but then his externals are quiescent. It is otherwise when his externals are active. The reason is that the internal man of the angels is the Lord’s possession; and so far then as their own things do not impede, it is the Lord’s and even is the Lord.”462

It is also said that in such a case the Lord fills or infills the angel with His Divine aspect so that he does not speak at all from himself but hears the words inspired from the Divine. Yet as soon as such angels are addressed by the man to whom they appear they would become aware of their own distinct individuality and avert any attempt of man to worship them.463

In the ages before the Advent the Lord’s appearance to the prophets through some angel whom He infilled with His Divine Spirit was called His “representative Human.” Each angel portrayed some aspect of the Divine. But such a representative Human borrowed from the heavens could not be fully efficacious for it could not spiritually enlighten the natural minds of men; it could convey no rational idea of the Lord, but only a symbolic picture.464

The “angel of Jehovah” served as a medium in the inspiration of the Word of the Old Testament.

The ancients received the Divine influx into their interiors ; but the prophets of Israel simply felt it as a dictation by a living voice, and sometimes as audible sound which they perceived as coming from an angel appearing before them. “They heard a voice, they saw a vision, and they dreamed a dream; but as they had no perception these were merely verbal or visual revelations, without any perception of what they signified.”465

It is essential to note that although angels served as the instruments by which the Holy Scriptures were dictated, not a single word came from the angels nor was it selected by them. And “as the words came forth immediately from the Lord, each of them was infilled with the Divine” and thus they conceal within them the infinite wisdom of God, as an internal sense of which the biblical writers were unaware.466The angelic intermediacy did not prevent the Old Testament from being Divine as to the very text and syllables. But it did prevent the heavenly truth from appearing except in representative forms and clothed in dark symbols; even as Isaiah suggests when he says, “Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior.”467

Revelations after the Advent

The Divinely inspired books of the New Testament—the four Gospels and the Apocalypse—contain some of the words which “the Lord spoke from the Divine itself” in parables and other types of spiritual teaching. His words were indeed pure correspondences, representative and significative of Divine things, yet they referred openly to the things of heaven and the church.468 The entire biography of the Lord, including His own discourses, was also written down by the evangelists under immediate Divine inspiration. The Lord predicted this when He made the promise that the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, would come: “He shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said to you.”469

No mention is here made of any angel mediating the apostolic inspiration. When in the world the Lord appeared to men’s physical sight in His own assumed human. After this had been glorified and after His ascension into heaven He appeared in person to men only when their spiritual eyes were opened.470 It is related in the Writings that the Lord manifested Himself “in person,” that is, in His glorified Human, before Swedenborg’s spiritual sight and filled him with His Spirit, in order that he might receive the doctrines of the New Church in the understanding and “teach them through the Word from Him.” In the course of this his mission Swedenborg was introduced into the spiritual world and spoke continually with spirits and angels. Yet, he adds, “I have not received anything that pertains to the doctrine of that church from any angel, but from the Lord alone, while reading the Word.”471

Yet the mediation of angels in the giving of Divine revelation had not ceased with the Lord’s ascension into heaven. In the last chapters of the Apocalypse it is plainly shown how John was instructed by the Lord Jesus Christ through an angel filled with the Divine who declared “the true sayings of God.” The angel was not speaking from himself and therefore explained to John that he was only serving as a prophet and was not to be worshipped; but immediately after this he resumes his message: “I am Alpha and Omega the beginning and the end, the first and the last. … I Jesus send My angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. . . . “472

While the Lord, in His person or as to His Divine Human, is constantly encompassed by the heavenly sun, He often presents Himself “by aspect” in and below heaven and among the angels. This is effected through some angel whom He fills “from afar” with His Divine.473 On a number of occasions the Lord so appeared before Swedenborg. The ancient mode has not been abrogated, but is utilized when the states of the angels so require. Yet there is an important difference. For it is the Lord in His glorified Human—”the Divine Natural”—which is now revealed when it pleases the Lord to appear in a borrowed angelic form.474

Swedenborg and the Angels

The inspired writing of the Heavenly Doctrine and the revelation of the spiritual sense of the Word was not accomplished by any dictation by the Lord through angels. To stress this important fact is not to deny that Swedenborg’s mission would have failed unless the Lord had provided for him a constant and open companionship with spirits and angels.

It should be observed that the prophets of old had two specific states which must be well distinguished. While in vision they saw various representations in the other world with the eyes of their spirit, their body being in a passive state of trance. On the other hand, while writing the Scriptures they were “in the body” and enjoyed a Divine inspiration and a dictate by which the words were selected from their memories, in such a way that each writer retained his own peculiar style.475 Their occasional introduction into spiritual vision was necessary to furnish their memory with a field of symbols and correspondences wider than that which their earthly experience and their narrow knowledge of human history could provide.

Swedenborg, for the writing of the Heavenly Doctrine, had to be given a far wider, more prolonged and profound experience of the spiritual world and all its phenomena. Different from any of the prophets, he was to grasp the laws of that world with a rational understanding and, as an official observer, report what he had been “led to perceive.” His memorable narrations of his spiritual experiences therefore occupy a considerable portion of the inspired Writings. He became familiar, in his daily intercourse with spirits, with all manner of spiritual states, those of the angels and also those of the infernals. Even his contact with the most repulsive spirits could add to his knowledge of the truth.

Thus he notes in his journal, “Even those things which I have learned by means of evil spirits, I have learned from the Lord alone, although the spirits spoke.”476 He was forbidden to believe anything that they said, and was held in an inmost reflection on whatever was represented before him, and at the same time given an internal dictate from the Lord as to what was the truth.477 He perceived distinctly what came from angels and spirits and what from the Lord. “What has come from the Lord has been written,” he testified; “what has come from angels has not been written.”478 His spiritual experiences were sometimes recalled to his memory by an angel when he returned into the state of the body and began to write.479 In order to be informed about the way the prophets were inspired, he was brought into certain experimental states when spirits led his pen and dictated the words.480 But he did not write down the doctrine from any verbal dictation by any “angel of Jehovah,” but from an immediate inspiration, or “from the mouth of the Lord alone.” His inspiration came “while reading the Word.”481 Not only was he then given to see the internal sense of the Scriptures which is the doctrine of heaven, but by the same means he was able to recognize and formulate those many principles of “angelic wisdom” which —as an interpretative philosophy—are applied in the Writings to our human situations and problems, such as relate to social uses, government, marriage, education, or to our concepts of creation and the cosmic whole.482

Revelation through the Word

The reason why the written Word was given is that man can no longer profit from immediate or conscious intercourse with the inhabitants of the spiritual world. Since the Old Testament Scriptures, and also the Apocalypse, were clothed in heavy veils of correspondences and sensuous imagery, an ‘angel of Jehovah’ served to convey them to their inspired writers. But in the Gospels and in the Writings, wherein the correspondential and prophetic Word is fulfilled and explained, the Lord speaks directly and more plainly, as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the glorified Human, the Spirit of Truth which shall lead men into all truth.

The goal of all religion is a conjunction of man with the Lord. Not with spirits or angels, however necessary these are as associates and guardians of our souls. And to the New Christian Church the Lord is at last openly manifested in His Divine Human as the one God of heaven and earth, visible to men and angels even without the mediation of any borrowed angelic form.483

In the literal sense of the Word, when this is understood from the Heavenly Doctrine which is its internal sense, the Lord is present with men and speaks to them directly, and enlightens their rational minds.484 This enlightenment is brought about only when man’s spirit is environed by angelic spheres which hold him in a love of spiritual truth.485 But it is the Lord, not the angels, who is the source of the light. And it is taught that after the Advent this enlightenment is not, as theretofore, “mediate through the angelic heaven,” but “immediate” from the Lord’s Divine Natural.486 The only “mediation” is now the Word itself. The Lord now manifests Himself to men “only” through the Word in its internal sense, for the Word, which is the Divine truth, is the Lord Himself in heaven and in the church.487

The general teaching points out that representatives ceased when the Lord rose from the sepulchre and entered into the power of His Divine Natural, by which He could become visible and “immediately present” with man. For thus He could illustrate man’s natural mind with heavenly light and operate “perceptively” in man by His Holy Spirit, so that man “can comprehend spiritual truths naturally.”488

To see God means to see the truth concerning Him. “They who are in enlightenment when they read the Word, see the Lord; and this takes place from faith and from love. This is effected in the Word only, and not in any other writing whatsoever.”489 “It has been believed that man might be more enlightened and wise if he should have an immediate revelation through speech with spirits and with angels. But the contrary is the case.” Enlightenment by means of the Word is effected by an interior way—through the will into the understanding; while enlightenment from speech with spirits is effected by an exterior way—through the hearing into the understanding. If spirits were permitted to instruct any man they could in any case only speak according to the man’s own religious ideas and could tell him nothing new. This was the reason why the Scribe of the Second Advent—although informed through daily intercourse with spiritual beings—was “not allowed to take anything from the mouth of any spirit, nor from the mouth of any angel, but from the mouth of the Lord alone.”490 And this was the reason why the Lord in His parable cites Abraham as saying, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”491

It is therefore to the Word in all its forms of Scripture and Doctrine that man must turn for Divine instruction and leading. Through that which the Lord reveals man can be separated from the spheres of evil spirits and introduced as to his affections into a secret yet effective bond with angelic societies. This consociation is brought to pass through the sense of the letter of the Word when this is understood from the doctrine of genuine truth; which is now openly disclosed by the Lord in His second advent—not by any “immediate revelation from spirits or angels” but by an “immediate revelation” “from the mouth of the Lord alone.”492

The new doctrine not only opens the internal depths of Divine wisdom within the inspired Scriptures and displays the arcana of the Lord’s glorification and the provisions for man’s regeneration, but it also discloses the secrets of the afterlife and the relations of spirits and men. It unfolds the mind of God and the ends of His creation. By this doctrine of genuine truth the Lord stands revealed in the very literal sense of His Word. For “the Lord is present with man and enlightens him, and teaches the truths of the church, there and nowhere else.”493

The Word in all its forms, whether given through an “angel of Jehovah” or inspired directly by the Lord in His Divine Human, is the sole means whereby an errant race may find its way back to conjunction with God.

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11 “Cuticular Spirits” and “Sirens”

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11 “Cuticular Spirits” and “Sirens”

“Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world . . . For all that is in the worldthe lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of lifeis not of the Father . . . And the world passeth away and the lust thereof.” John’s First Epistle 2: 15-17

It is impossible even to classify the various spirits who inject evil enticements of different kinds. But two types are described in the Writings and these may serve as examples.263

Cuticular Spirits

Swedenborg once became aware of the predominance of certain spirits from the province in the Grand Man which answers to the cuticle or the surface of the skin. And it was then shown him what the state is of a person “who takes an excessive care of his skin, which is the same as to have his mind ruled by such spirits.” “When a man is in this state, he is withheld from all useful endeavors (studio), and at the same time there is insinuated into him a distaste for doing anything real, so that there is a certain reaction and consequent repugnance against any project, whether in civil or moral life or in matters of faith and charity, and whether in deed or in thought. For he is held back from these, while at the same time certain blasphemies against them are insinuated into him. …” There is then a distaste for anything interior or spiritual.264

“Cuticular spirits” flock cajolingly around those who place their delight in the appearance or in the sensations and delights of the skin, and draw them away from any good or essential work. Such people are called “delicate” and “fastidious,” placing life in daintiness, culture, refinement, and judging all things by aesthetic standards rather than by their moral, civil, and spiritual values. And so naturally their tendency is also to “place their wisdom … in being able elegantly to vituperate or refute the doctrine of an internal man. . . . “265

It is difficult for a man to guess the tremendous forces of evil that are sometimes present around him, laboring to establish their power by what appears as relatively innocent habits. Evil spirits can hide themselves behind apparent goods, turning these goods gradually to a sinful or shameful end; with a view to exclude spiritual and celestial spheres from the mind and to fill it with worldliness or with externals. All of us find a number of good things to do just to make life pleasant and safe for ourselves and our families—enough to fill our day without taking time out to read the Word or to enjoy a while of worship and meditation before the family shrine. It is a question of Martha versus Mary.

The superficial uses of life, which regard the introduction of grace and beauty and soft comforts into the home and the society, are in themselves good. But they represent only the cuticle, the scarf-skin, of that eternal body of human uses which doctrine calls “the Grand Man.” Their proper function is to introduce, to contain, and to defend interior things. And when there is an equilibrium with other obligations, and they are pliably disposed to serve interior uses, then only are they genuine and in their place.266 Tremendous groups of good and salvable spirits therefore belong to the province of the skin. And their character varies widely.

In relation to heaven as a whole, the spirits who come from our planet mostly serve the function that is described by that of the skin, the membranes and external senses of the Grand Man. Thus their uses have to do with the sciences which are based on sensual observation.267 Yet this does not mean that the spirits of our earth cannot “easily come into the interior and inmost heaven after their exteriors have been devastated.” And some can serve as “ministries for the instruction of others who have no knowledges from revelation” such as our Word provides.268 Among those who come to constitute the skins, cartilages and bones of the Grand Man are also many gentiles who while on earth could not be reached by the Gospel. The modest uses which these perform after death still give them the highest joy of which they are capable.269

All spirits of the province of the skin are comparatively external in type. Since they have no extension of mind, they are mostly easily deceived. Some are devoid of perception and only want to argue about everything, and always from the appearances of the senses.270 Being in relatively little of spiritual life, such spirits dwell in the entrances or forecourts of heaven.271

The “Sirens,” and Interior Obsessions

Depraved skin-spirits are all in the desire to possess man’s whole life. If it were possible, such spirits would fain cast out man’s own spirit, and enter instead. But this can, of course, be done only in fantasy, for man’s spirit is his interior organism which cannot be changed for another.272

The only type of obsession possible at this day is called “interior obsession.” Bodily obsession of healthy individuals by spirits, such as occurred in the time of the Lord, has not been permitted since; although something similar apparently takes place in insanity (which is a physical disorder) and with “mediums” who invite a control by spirits. The things of the body have been exempted from the particular influx of spirits and angels and are instead ruled by a general influx.273 There are indeed spirits (or societies) allotted to the office of ruling the body, but these—like the man—are unaware that they do so. But if spirits should inflow to rule man’s members without such an appointment, and so “that they are quite aware that they are there,” this would constitute a bodily obsession.274 The spirit would then take possession of all man’s senses, speak through his mouth and act through his limbs. In ancient times there were spirits abroad in the world of spirits who could in that way actually possess men’s bodies, which took place by an influx which caused not only endeavors, but acts. Such spirits are now all confined to their hells. Yet the desire to obsess men is still present with many kinds of evil spirits, especially the adulterous, the cruel, and the “corporeal” type.275

Among these are the “sirens,” so called because they allure the unwary. They obsess man’s interiors through his exteriors.276 Such sirens are both male and female, but are mostly women who on earth were distinguished and esteemed, having lived in fair externals and in elegance—in which alone they delighted.277 They are bound by a regard for decorum and apparent propriety which had influenced them more than others; but when acting among themselves, their external bonds are relaxed. Their influx is especially destructive of conjugial love and tends to loosen the bonds of marriage and insinuate what is obscene and voluptuous. The main delight of the sirens is to obsess man and thus as it were return into the world.278With remarkable obstinacy they attempt to insinuate their fantasies even while man sleeps—fantasies which Swedenborg describes. They present themselves in a beauty almost angelic, naked (in order to suggest innocence), and contort themselves like snakes, with the view of breaking down any internal bonds of conscience.279 They labor to come into the very senses of man, especially into the sense of taste (which is however forbidden), and cause an itch in the skin.280 They try to put on the external memory and imagination of man, to obsess and hold it for themselves, clothing their designs by whatever of knowledge and cognition they find. And their power is such that they can identify themselves with good affections and inflow approvingly into the ideas of what is holy and innocent and even doctrinal. In that way they stimulate what is good and true and retain the pretext of what is honorable, while all the time they strive to obsess man’s interiors. They do not so much disturb the exteriors of man’s mind, as his interiors. They enter the thought of some one, follow it for a while, and then they begin to lead it.

We cannot refrain from suggesting that it is the hells of the sirens that are the real source of much of the literature and drama of today which flood the mind with prurient and profane imagery under the pretense of “realism” or “art”; hovering on the brink of the forbidden, making mock of innocence and marriage and the sanctities of human life, or insinuating contempt for the Lord and the Word under the guise of learning. This is the modern form of sorcery and obsession.

Man is of course ignorant of the interior obsession which results from such spheres of thought. But Swedenborg testifies, “This is the obsession which exists at this day.” There is an “incredible multitude” of obsessing spirits, “mostly from the church.” Their power over other spirits was such, he writes, that “unless the Lord should deliver the world of spirits from such, scarcely any good spirits could be in that world without being led captive by them.” He compares them to modern Nephilim, because of the terrible sphere of persuasion which they emit. They could only with difficulty be dislodged from the world of spirits. For they are present with men through simple spirits who relate to man’s external thought; and through these they enter into man’s thoughts and wholly lead them, “so that, being internal, they are the worst who take possession of men; and men cannot be defended from them at all, except by the Lord.”281

At the last judgment the sirens were confined in their hells. But continually new spirits of the same type enter the other life from the earth, and especially from the “civilized” world. And for our admonition the seer was prompted to write:

“Whether many persons are at this day thus obsessed may … be inferred from this: Let a man examine himself as to whether he is in any internal bond so that his thoughts abhor and turn away with loathing [from evil], and he suffers himself—inwardly or as to the thoughts—to abstain in some way from the most wicked, unmentionable, and obscene things; or whether it is merely external bonds which detain him.” Man may then find out whether he is struck with shame and fear and recoils in horror from the thought of such evil, or whether, if fear of the law and public opinion were removed, he would desire to do it. For if the latter is the case, “then he is inwardly obsessed by such sirens.” “Let a man thoroughly ponder whether he is of such a quality, for he is now able to know !”282

This is the purpose of these revelations of the Second Advent. “Man is now able to know.” He is able to know that when his thought is led into evil, this is the direct result of spirits who belong in hell and who must not be entertained in the human mind. But such thoughts—entering as they do even through innocent channels—are not imputed to man nor appropriated by him if he acknowledges their source and prays to the Lord for deliverance.

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New book: Starting Science from God.

Links theism (religion) to science (psychology and physics) without reduction.

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The Hypocrite

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There is never an hypocrite in the world that makes God, or Christ, or holiness, or his doing or receiving good in his station, relation, or generation his grand end, his highest end, his ultimate end of living in the world. Pleasures, profits, and honors are the hypocrite’s all, [which] he aims at in this world. They are his trinity, which he adores and serves and sacrificeth himself unto (1 John 2:16). An hypocrite’s ends are corrupt and selfish. God may possibly be at the higher end of his work, but self is at the further end; for he that was never truly cast out of himself, can have no higher end than himself. An hypocrite is all for his own glory: he acts for himself and from himself. “So I may have the profit, the credit, the glory, the applause, come of God’s glory what will!” This is the language of an unsound heart.

An hypocrite will seem to be very godly when he can make a gain of godliness. He will seem to be very holy when holiness is the way to outward greatness and happiness. But his religious wickedness will double-damn the hypocrite at last. Self-ends are the operative ingredients in all an hypocrite does….When hypocrites take up religion, it is only to serve their own turns, to bring about their own carnal ends. They serve not the Lord, but their own bellies (Romans 16:18; Philippians 3:19)….An hypocrite always makes himself the end of all his service; but let such hypocrites know, that though their profession be never so glorious and their duties never so abundant, yet their ends being selfish and carnal, all their pretensions and performances are but beautiful abominations in the sight of God.

An hypocrite has always a squint-eye, and squint-eyed aims and squint-eyed ends in all he does. Balaam spake very religiously, and he multiplied altars and sacrifices; but the thing he had in his eye was the wages of unrighteousness (Numbers 22:23; 2 Peter 2:15). Jehu destroyed bloody Ahab’s house, he executed the vengeance of God upon that wicked family; he readily, resolutely, and effectually destroyed all the worshippers of Baal, but his ends were to secure the kingdom to him and his (2 Kings 10). Ahab and the Ninevites fasted in sackcloth, but it was merely that they might not feel the heavy judgments that they feared would overtake them (1 Kings 21; Jonah 3). The Jews in Babylon fasted and mourned, and mourned and fasted seventy years, but it was more to get off their chains than their sins; it was more to be rid of their captivity than it was to be rid of their iniquity (Zechariah 7:5, 6)….It is the end that dignifies or debaseth the action, that rectifies it or adulterates it, that sets a crown of honor or a crown of shame upon the head of it. He that commonly, habitually, in all his duties and services, proposes to himself no higher ends than the praises of men or rewards of men, or the stopping the mouth of natural conscience, or only to avoid a smarting rod, or merely to secure himself from wrath to come, he is an hypocrite.

But now mark: a sincere Christian, if he prays or hears, or gives or fasts, or repents or obeys, God’s glory is the main end of all. The glory of God is his highest end, his ultimate end (Psalm 115:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:6). A sincere Christian can be content to be trampled upon and vilified, so God’s name be glorified. The bent of such a heart is for God and His glory; nothing but sincerity can carry a soul so high as in all acts natural, civil, and religious to intend God’s glory (Revelations 9:9-11). A sincere Christian ascribes the praise of all to God. He sets the crown on Christ’s head alone; he will set God upon the throne and make all things else His servants or His footstool (Romans 14:7, 8). All must bow the knee to God or be trodden in the dirt. He will love nothing, he will embrace nothing but what sets God higher or brings God nearer to his heart….He lives not to his own will, or lusts, or greatness, or glory in this world, but he lives to His glory, Whose glory is dearer to him than his own life (1 Corinthians 10:28; Revelation 12:11)….The daily language of sincere souls is this: “Not unto us, Lord, not unto us, Lord, but to thy name give glory” (Psalm 115:1).

Glory is God’s right, and He stands upon His right; and this the sincere Christian knows, and therefore he gives Him His right, he gives Him the honor and the glory that is due unto His name. But pray do not mistake me: I do not say that such as are really sincere do actually eye the glory of Christ in all their actions. Oh no! This is a happiness desirable on earth, but shall never be attained till we come to heaven. Bye and base ends and aims will be still ready to creep into the best hearts; but all sincere hearts sigh and groan under them. They complain to God of them…and it is the earnest desires and daily endeavors of their souls to be rid of them….But now take a sincere Christian in his ordinary, usual, and habitual course, and you shall find that his aims and ends in all his actions and undertakings are to glorify God, to exalt God, and to lift up God in the world….He that sets up the glory of God as his chief end will find that his chief end will by degrees eat out all low and base ends.

No hypocrite can live wholly and only upon the righteousness of Christ, the satisfaction of Christ, the merits of Christ for justification and salvation. The hypocritical scribes and Pharisees prayed, fasted, and kept the Sabbath and gave alms; and in this legal righteousness they rested and trusted (Matthew 6; Luke 18:11, 12). Ponder upon that in Revelation 3:16-18. Upon the performance of these and such like duties, they laid the weight of their souls and the stress of their salvation and so perished forever.

An hypocrite rests upon what he doth and never looks so high as the righteousness of Christ. He looks upon his duties as so much good moneys laid out for heaven. He weaves a web of righteousness to clothe himself withal. He never looks out for a more glorious righteousness to be justified by than his own, and so puts a slight upon the righteousness of Christ. “For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3). The first step to salvation is to renounce our own righteousness. The next step is to embrace the righteousness of Christ, which is freely offered to sinners in the Gospel. But these things the hypocrite minds not, regards not. The righteousness of an hypocrite is not only imperfect, but impure—a rag, a filthy rag; and therefore he that rests upon such a righteousness must needs miscarry to all eternity (Isaiah 64:6). O sirs! Who will say that that man needs a savior, [who] can fly to heaven upon the wings of his own duties and services? If a man’s duties can pacify an infinite wrath and satisfy an infinite justice, then farewell Christ, and welcome duties.

He that rests upon anything in him or done by him, as a means to procure the favor of God or the salvation of his soul will put such a cheat upon himself as will undo him for ever. Non-submission to the righteousness of Christ keeps Christ and the hypocrite asunder. Christ will never love nor like to put the fine, clean, white linen of His own righteousness upon the old garment, the old rags of an hypocrite’s duties (Revelation 19:7, 8)….An hypocrite’s confidence in his own righteousness turns his righteousness into filthiness (Pro 21:27).

But now a sincere Christian, he renounces his own righteousness. He renounces all confidence in the flesh (Phi 3:3); he looks upon his own righteousness as dung, yea, as dogs’ meat, as some interpret the word in Philippians 3:8. He will say no more to his duties, to the works of his hands, “Ye are our gods” (Hosea 14:3). When they look upon the holiness of God’s nature, the righteousness of His government, the severity of His Law, the terror of His wrath, they see an absolute and indispensable necessity of a more glorious righteousness than their own to appear before God in. A sincere Christian sets the highest price and value upon the righteousness of Christ: “I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only” (Psalm 71:16).

A sincere Christian rejoices in the righteousness of Christ above all: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10)….Oh then, what matter of joy must it be to a sincere Christian to have the rich and royal garment of Christ’s righteousness cast upon him! (Isaiah 28:16). A sincere Christian rests on the righteousness of Christ as on a sure foundation: “Surely shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength” (Isaiah 45:24).

A sincere Christian looks upon the righteousness of Christ as that which renders him most splendid and glorious in the eyes of God: “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9)….A sincere Christian looks upon the righteousness of Christ as his only security against wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Wrath to come is the greatest wrath, wrath to come is the purest wrath, wrath to come is infinite wrath, wrath to come is everlasting wrath. Now the sincere Christian, he knows no way under heaven to secure himself from wrath to come, but by putting on the robe of Christ’s righteousness (Romans 13:14)….Well, for a close, remember this: there is never an hypocrite in the world that is more pleased, satisfied, delighted and contented with the righteousness of Christ, than with his own. Though an hypocrite may be much in duties, yet he never lives above his duties; he works for life, and he rests in his work, and this proves his mortal wound. But,

An hypocrite never embraces a whole Christ. He can never take up his full and everlasting rest, satisfaction, and content in the person of Christ, in the merits of Christ, in the enjoyment of Christ alone. No hypocrite did ever long and mourn after the enjoyment of Christ as the best thing in all the world. No hypocrite did ever prize Christ for a Sanctifier as well as a Savior. No hypocrite did ever look upon Christ or long for Christ to deliver him from the power of his sins, as much or as well as to deliver him from wrath to come. No hypocrite can really love the person of Christ or take satisfaction in the person of Christ. The rays and beams of Christ’s glory have never warmed his heart. He never knew what bosom communion with Christ meant (1 Thessalonians 1:10). An hypocrite may love to be healed by Christ, and to be pardoned by Christ, and to be saved by Christ; but he can never take any complacency in the Person of Christ. His heart never seriously works after union with Christ. The love of a sincere Christian runs much out to the Person of Christ. Heaven itself without Christ would be to such a soul but a poor thing, a low thing, a little thing, an uncomfortable thing, an empty thing. It is the Person of Christ that is the sparkling diamond in the ring of glory (Philippians 1:21; 3:7-10).

No hypocrite in the world is sincerely willing to receive Christ in all His office and to close with Him upon Gospel terms. The terms upon which God offers Christ in the Gospel are these, viz., that we shall accept of a whole Christ with a whole heart (Matthew 16:24).

Now, mark, a whole Christ includes all His offices; and a whole heart includes all our faculties. Christ as Mediator is King, Priest, and Prophet; and so God the Father in the Gospel offers Him. Salvation was too great and too glorious a work to be perfected and completed by any one office of Christ. Christ as a prophet instructs us, as a priest He redeems us and intercedes for us, and as a king, He sanctifies and saves us. The apostle hit it when he said, “Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). Consider Christ as our Prophet, and so He is made wisdom to us. Consider Him as our Priest, and so He is made righteousness and redemption to us. Consider Him as our King, and so He is made sanctification and holiness to us.

An hypocrite may be willing to embrace Christ as a priest to save him from wrath, from the curse, from hell, from everlasting burning, but he is never sincerely willing to embrace Christ as a prophet to teach and instruct him, and as a king to rule and reign over him. Many hypocrites may be willing to receive a Christ Jesus, [who] are not willing to receive a Lord Jesus. They may be willing to embrace a saving Christ, but they are not willing to embrace a ruling Christ, a commanding Christ: “This man shall not rule over us” (Luke 19:27)….”He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). An hypocrite is willing to receive Christ in one office, but not in every office; and this is that stumbling-stone at which hypocrites stumble and fall and are broken in pieces. Certainly Christ is as lovely and as comely, as desirable and delightful, as eminent and excellent in one office as He is in another; and therefore it is a just and righteous thing with God that hypocrites that won’t receive Him in every office should have no benefit by any one of His offices. Christ and His offices may be distinguished, but Christ and His offices can never be divided (1 Corinthians 1:13). Whilst many have been a-laboring to divide one office of Christ from another, they have wholly stripped themselves of any advantage or benefit by Christ.

Hypocrites love to share with Christ in His happiness, but they don’t love to share with Christ in His holiness. They are willing to be redeemed by Christ, but they are not cordially willing to submit to the laws and government of Christ. They are willing to be saved by His blood, but they are not willing to submit to His scepter. Hypocrites love the privileges of the Gospel, but they don’t love the services of the Gospel, especially those that are most inward and spiritual. But now a sincere Christian, he owns Christ in all His offices, he receives Christ in all His offices, and he closes with Christ in all His offices. He accepts of Him, not only as a Christ Jesus, but also as a Lord Jesus; he embraces Him, not only as a saving Christ, but also as a ruling Christ. The Colossians received Him as Christ Jesus the Lord (Colossians 2:6); they received a Lord Christ as well as a saving Christ; they received Christ as a king upon His throne, as well as a sacrifice upon His cross (2 Corinthians 4:5). God the Father in the Gospel tenders a whole Christ. We preach Christ Jesus the Lord; and accordingly, a sincere Christian receives a whole Christ, he receives Christ Jesus the Lord (Acts 5:31)….An hypocrite is all for a saving Christ, for a sin-pardoning Christ, for a soul-glorifying Christ, but regards not a ruling Christ, a reigning Christ, a commanding Christ, a sanctifying Christ; and this at last will prove his damning sin (John 3:19, 20).

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Is There Life After Death?

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By Rev. Ian Arnold

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The Bible on Life After Death

I’ve written about the findings of Drs. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Raymond Moody, both of whom have worked for years with patients who, after being revived from clinical death, have recounted what happened to them during the experience. I’ve also studied and written about “Heaven and Hell”, written by Emanuel Swedenborg in 1758, which contains so much that bears out the reality of what these people described.

Inevitably, in thinking about the afterlife, questions arise about what is said on the subject in the Bible. People tend to think that the Bible says practically nothing about the life after death, and the churches on the whole, tend to teach a ‘wait and see’ attitude. Even Dr. Moody, in the second part of his book, “Life after Life”, where he looks at the Bible for possible parallels to the experiences his patients described, fails to mention what, at least as I see them, are some of the most significant of all things said there.

I want you, if you will, to quietly consider the following:

Jesus said: “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14 :1-3).

As you think about these words ask yourself, what could Jesus have meant by His Father’s house but some kind of higher life? These are very beautiful words. Full of promise and wonderfully reassuring. Where Christ is, there we shall be.

In another Gospel, Matthew, chapter 22, the Sadducees (who, by the way, did not believe in the resurrection or in survival after death) had been trying to trap the Lord, using a ridiculous example to try to make fun of the whole idea. At the end of this particular encounter with them, the Lord said these words: “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22: 31-33). It’s so easy for us to miss the point here. Here was a group of people who stoutly denied the resurrection. As far as they were concerned, and though they revered the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they were dead. Not so, said Jesus. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. They are not dead. They are alive today, though in the spiritual world.

And then we come to Luke’s Gospel, to the description there of the crucifixion. One of the criminals crucified alongside Jesus railed at Him, it is said. The other defended Him and turned to Jesus asking him to remember him when He came to His Kingdom. And (Jesus) said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”. They are startling words, aren’t they? “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

It by no means ends here. I want to refer you to a parable. Now I know that some people dismiss the parables as illustrations, the accuracy and teaching of which can be questioned. Is it, though, likely that Jesus would have used something, inaccurate and fanciful, even though it only be in a parable? For myself I can’t believe He would. In any case, listen to what He said. It is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31.

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, he saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom. And he called out, Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us’. And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment’. But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent’. He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16: 19-31).

Let me say again that though a parable, yet I believe – and a strong case can be made out to this effect – that the Lord was here drawing on essentially real life experiences as He did of course in His other parables. The sad thing, is that it has been neglected for the wealth of information it contains about life after death. Here, in fact, are just some of the points made. The parable takes for granted that resurrection and awakening in the spiritual world follows on after death. Lazarus died and he was taken up into Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and found himself in hell. There is no suggestion of an interval of years. No mention of a last judgment with which many have associated resurrection from the dead. The person goes on living though now in another realm. It’s interesting also that the character people form for themselves in this world goes with them into the next. Death doesn’t change people….it doesn’t change us as to the person we really are inside.

And this raises the whole question of the purpose of our life in this world. Swedenborg explains that whilst the Lord wishes to ultimately bring us all into heaven and to bless our lives with heavenly happiness, yet we must choose this life ourselves. And that, in a very real sense, is why we are here. The kind of person we freely choose to be in this world, selfish or unselfish, greedy for ourselves or more considerate for the well-being of others, is the person we will remain. As the tree falls so it lies. And after death we shall take ourselves to people like-minded to ourselves and with whom we are happiest and most at ease. It is sometimes fondly thought and hoped that when we die we will change. We will be different people. We will get about doing the things and being the person we never got around to being here. But we won’t. Once the surprise and novelty wears off, we will be our old selves once again. It’s always the way. It’s worth dwelling on this for a moment. Another popular idea is that after death we will be called to give account of ourselves and will be judged and sent one way or the other whether we like it or not. But nothing whatever is said to this effect in the parable. Lazarus died and went to heaven. The rich man died and went to hell. They took themselves there, to all intents and purposes. Their lives or the type of person they on earth had chosen to be, determined where they would go.

I remember an older friend of mine saying some years ago… indeed, pointing out the obvious… that in a hundred years from now everyone alive today, adults and children (with a few exceptions, of course) will be dead. And that wasn’t said as some kind of doomsday forecast or in any morbid way. It is a fact. We are all going to die. And it’s useful and healthy to talk calmly about the fact. But while the body dies and is discarded the mind or spirit within, which is the essential person we are, goes on living, just as the parable describes. And that doesn’t mean some disembodied existence. Lazarus and the rich man were just as much people after death as they had been before. The rich man remembered his brothers. “After the death of the body” wrote Swedenborg, “the spirit of a person appears in the spiritual world in a human form, altogether as it appeared in the natural world.”

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Discovering the True Significance of Mary Magdalene: An Easter Surprise

Swedenborg Foundation

 

By Soni Soneson Werner, Associate Professor Emerita of Psychology at Bryn Athyn College

 

“Mary Reaching for His Garment” by Soni Soneson Werner

With Easter Sunday soon upon us, my thoughts turn to the role and nature of Mary Magdalene in the gospel Easter story. In modern times, she has emerged as one of the most intriguing figures in the New Testament. When my interest in Mary Magdalene piqued years ago, I began collecting and critically analyzing evidence about whom she really was. I have gone to France, England, and Israel in search of stories about her and have found illustrations in stained glass, architecture, statues, paintings, and mosaics.[1] I have reviewed literature from both ancient and modern theological scholars and have studied contemporary Broadway plays, novels, and movies that engage Mary Magdalene in some way. I visited two chapels where their followers were worshipping her relics. At this point in my quest, I have come to the conclusion that she has been misrepresented by the conventional Christian traditions, by French politicians, and by artists. People have rewritten her story to fulfill their own needs and desires.

For my reading of Mary Magdalene, I look to Emanuel Swedenborg, who provides clues about her significance that are more profound than what is said about her by any of the other legends. First, let’s review what is not in Swedenborg’s works about Mary Magdalene. There is nothing about her:

  1. sex life as an adulterer or prostitute;
  2. using the ointment from the alabaster jar;
  3. being married to Jesus or being pregnant;
  4. traveling to France to spread the good news;
  5. being a saint;
  6. representing a divine feminine spirit;
  7. holding a red egg when preaching;
  8. being represented by a rose or “V”;
  9. relics being involved in spiritual practices; and
  10. in relationship to the Holy Grail.[2]

Swedenborg’s works focus on the events of Easter morning and furnish an internal sense of the importance of Mary Magdalene’s role. In the four canonical Gospels, we find stories in the plain sense of the text that describe aspects of her Easter role:

  1. Coming to find Jesus in the burial tomb/sepulcher;
  2. Seeing brightly clothed angels at the tomb;
  3. Talking to the angels and Jesus (who had not yet ascended);
  4. Witnessing the earthquake.
  5. Going to tell others the good news.

Swedenborg provides an interpretation of these remarkable events that I have not found anywhere else in either scholarly or popular literature about Mary Magdalene. Throughout his works, Swedenborg’s approach is to describe the internal sense of the biblical stories. For instance, that Mary came to the tomb (sepulcher) and “met brightly clothed angels” corresponds to her spiritual sight being opened by God. At that moment, she was ready to receive and perceive the deeper truths being shown to her:

That . . . angels appeared clothed in garments is evident from [those] who sat at the Lord’s sepulcher, and were seen in shining white garments by Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James . . . and especially is the same thing evident from the Lord himself when seen in his glory by Peter, James, and John, in that his [clothing] was then white and glistering, and was like the light . . . by which [clothing] there was also represented the Divine spiritual, that is, the Divine truth which is from him. (Arcana Coelestia §9814:2)[3]

The earthquake Mary beheld refers to an enormous change that was about to happen in the state of the church and to the fact that Christianity was being born with the new awareness of the afterlife as demonstrated by Jesus’s ascension:

Concerning the earthquake which took place when the angel descended and rolled away the stone from the mouth of the sepulcher, it is thus stated:When “Mary Magdalene came and the other Mary to see the sepulcher; and, behold, there was a great earthquake; for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone from the mouth, and sat upon it” (Matt. xxviii. 1, 2). Those earthquakes took place to indicate that the state of the church was then being changed; for the Lord, by His last temptation, which He sustained in Gethsemane and upon the cross, conquered the hells, and reduced to order all things there and in the heavens, and also glorified His Human, that is, made it Divine. (Apocalypse Explained §400:14)

That Mary met Jesus as he was ascending and was instructed not to touch him signifies that she was brought into the spiritual understanding that Jesus’s human aspect was being united with his divine aspect and was becoming the Divine Human:

In heaven, by [the Lord’s] death and burial, are not meant death and burial, but the purification of His Human, and glorification. That this is the case, the Lord taught by the comparison with wheat falling into the earth, which must die, in order that it may bear fruit. The same is also involved in what the Lord said to Mary Magdalene:“Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father” (John xx. 17).By ascending to His Father, is meant the [union] of His Human with His Divine, the human from the mother being completely rejected. (Apocalypse Explained §899:14)

The unity of the triune God lies in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is only one God, and Mary felt confident in this truth and that he was the promised Messiah.
Then Mary was urged to tell what she had seen to the Lord’s brethren, signifying that she must go back to all of his followers and tell them what happened so that she might encourage goodness in everyone she met:

Jesus said to Mary, “Go to my brethren, and say to them, I ascend to my Father” ([John] xx. 17). Similarly here the disciples are called brethren, because the disciples, equally as brethren, signify all those of His church who are in the good of charity. (Apocalypse Explained §746:8)

What an astounding significance for the role, nature, and purpose of Mary Magdalene in the biblical narrative![4] In my search to better understand Mary Magdalene, I have sorted through many of the resources and in turn have come to appreciate the following:

  1. the Eastern Orthodox Church, which never followed along with other traditions that conflated the name of Mary Magdalene with unnamed sinful women;
  2. the artists of the Medieval and Renaissance eras who created remarkable images of the Easter story;
  3. scholars, such as Karen King (see Suggested Readings, below), who have analyzed the non-canonical Gospels that mention Mary Magdalene;
  4. the Russian Romanov family, who built my favorite Magdalene shrine in Jerusalem;
  5. Swedenborg, who provided readers with a powerful and penetrating spiritual interpretation of the Easter story; and
  6. Mary Magdalene, herself, who bravely followed Jesus and spoke up even when it was against the custom of the times for women to have a voice regarding spiritual matters.

If we sort through the legends, conflations of characters, politics of religion, and fanciful tales, we are left with the simple essence of Mary’s role in the Easter story. Then, if we consider the internal sense of those powerful, biblical accounts of her experiences (based on the writings of Swedenborg), we are given a great gift: the chance to vicariously sense the Lord Jesus Christ ascending to heaven and urging us to share the Easter story. Both men and women have been writing and speaking about this story for centuries; but I am particularly appreciative of Mary Magdalene, who found her voice and blazed the trail for female scholars like myself.

[1] For a more in-depth summary of this pilgrimage, see my book entitled Searching for Mary Magdalene: Her Story of Awareness, Acceptance, and Action.

[2] Soni Werner, Searching for Mary Magdalene: Her Story of Awareness, Acceptance, and Action (Rochester, MI: Fountain Publishing, 2011), 81.
[3] Secrets of Heaven is the New Century Edition translation of Swedenborg’s Arcana Coelestia.
[4] Werner, 180. See also Emanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia §§720, 5063, 6472, 9263; Apocalypse Explained §§198, 586; Conjugial Love §100; Heaven and Hell §257; True Christianity §§443, 508.

Suggested Readings

Currie, Susannah. “Mary Magdalene, companion of the Lord.” Unpublished manuscript (see http://www.bridgewaternewchurch.org).

Ehrman, Bart D. Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine. NY: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Haskins, Susan. Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor. NY: Riverhead Books, 1995.

The Holy Bible: Matthew 28:1–10; Mark 15:1–11; Luke 24: 1–11; John 20:1–18. 

King, Karen L. The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle. Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press, 2003.

Swedenborg, Emanuel. Apocalypse ExplainedWest Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1997.

_____. Arcana CoelestiaWest Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1997.

_____. Charity: The Practice of Neighborliness. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1995.

_____. Conjugial LoveWest Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 1998.

_____. Heaven and HellWest Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2010.

_____. True ChristianityWest Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2010.

Werner, Soni. Searching for Mary Magdalene: Her Story of Awareness, Acceptance, and Action. Rochester, MI: Fountain Publishing. 2011.

Visit our Swedenborg Studies bookstore page to explore our series of scholarly titles >

Read more posts from the Scholars on Swedenborg series >

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The Bible

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A still life painting by Vincent van Gogh of an open Bible on a table

The Bible… what do make of it? Clearly, it’s been a huge influence on world culture for two thousand years, and on culture in the Middle East for many hundreds of years before that. How should we read it, and use it, today?

It makes sense that a loving God would try to communicate true ideas to us, so that we could consider them in our rational minds, and decide what to do with them. With early people, before the development of written language, there’s plenty of evidence from their art, and from oral traditions, that they felt a communication with God. Later, as writing developed, we find written works – notably the Old Testament of the Bible – that demonstrate God’s drive to reveal truths to us.

The Bible, as it has come down to us, is a revelation of God’s mind, his plan, his truth, and his love for us. It’s a guidebook that we can use to live good lives. It’s ancient, but still fresh and relevant. Its inner meaning has been the subject of many explorations.

The Bible is divided into two testaments, Old and New. Each testament is divided into “books”, each of which has a name, e.g. Genesis, Exodus, etc. Each book is divided into chapters, and each chapter into verses. The Bible has been translated into many languages, by many translators, some from long ago, and many working still today. By and large, the divisions into books, chapters and verses are fairly standard. There’s some variation, partly because the original texts come from scrolls that differ amongst themselves, but overall it’s a surprisingly consistent, well-preserved set of work.

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew. Its earliest stories, starting with the creation story, and Adam and Eve, are very ancient. At the time of Moses, perhaps 1300-1500 years before Christ, those early stories were written down and preserved, but they were already part of a much older oral tradition.

The New Testament, written shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, was written in Greek. The four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the Book of Revelation, form the core of it, and they are supplemented by letters – epistles – written by early church leaders: Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude.

Should we call this work the Bible, or the Word?

In New Christian theology, we tend to use the term “The Word”. Why? In his many volumes of theology, Emanuel Swedenborg uses the term “The Bible” only a handful of times, and most of those instances are in reference to ancient writing styles. On the other hand, the term “The Word” appears more than 15,000 times, and it is crucially important to the doctrinal system Swedenborg illustrates.

What’s the difference?

In Swedenborg’s works, “The Word” in its deepest sense means divine truth in its fullness, the infinite expression of the Lord’s infinite love, shining on us the way light shines from the sun. In fact, since the Lord’s essence is love itself and love cannot exist without taking form, Swedenborg’s works say that The Word actually is the Lord, and that the Lord actually is the Word (think about John 1:1: “The Word was with God, and the Word was God”).

Divine truth is, to be sure, an expansive thing: It is the agent and force of creation, and is reflected in all aspects of humanity and of the natural world. If we understood enough we could gaze on fields and trees and see the nature of the Lord’s love and the spiritual world. But that is a fluid expression; we can cut down a tree and change it. The ultimate expression of the Lord’s love is permanent and safeguarded, hidden away within the stories and prophecies of the Bible where only those who love the Lord can begin to understand. Understood at the most internal, symbolic level, those stories and prophecies are completely about the Lord Himself, unveiling His love in its infinite forms, and by reading it we open ourselves to Him and let Him flow into our hearts and minds.

In a sense, then, the Bible is a container for the Word, a compilation of natural language that is divinely ordered so that it can hold and express spiritual ideas. That’s one reason churches based on Swedenborg’s works have traditionally called even the physical book itself “The Word” instead of “The Bible.” They want to be open to the love the book contains, not just the external meanings of the text.

The other reason is more controversial. Swedenborg says that only 34 of the Bible’s books are written with a complete and continuous internal sense, and thus only those 34 are truly part of the Word. The 34 are the five books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, the two books of Samuel, the two books of Kings, Psalms, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the four Gospels and Revelation. This leaves out some treasured books of the Old Testament: Ruth, Job, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and others.

But the exact contents of the Old Testament have been debated for millennia and there are already variations in the Jewish, Catholic and Protestant Bibles. What most people find harder to accept is the idea that the works of the early Christian Church — Acts and the various epistles of Christian leaders – are not filled with the divine.

But consider the difference between how the Gospels were written and how the Epistles were written. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were simply trying to record the words and deeds of Jesus, telling what they new of these things in their most outward form. The Lord was able to guide that outward form so that inwardly it could be filled with spiritual correspondences. The epistles, on the other hand, were really the first human attempts to interpret Jesus’s teachings and develop them into a consistent doctrine. The fact that the writers were already trying to find deeper meanings meant that their work could not be used to contain deeper meanings. It doesn’t mean their doctrinal conclusions are wrong – they had vast insight – but they are not divine.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 1403, 1405; Doctrine of Sacred Scripture 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 26, 31, 56, 77, 97, 110, 111; Doctrine of Sacred Scripture 23 [1]; Heaven and Hell 241; The White Horse 16)

http://newchristianbiblestudy.org/

Alone we cannot do good

God is Love

All religions and indeed non-religious ways of living involve the idea that it is important to do good for others. This is best exemplified in the ‘Golden Rule’, expressed by Jesus as: So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets  [Matthew 7:12 ESV]. This Golden Rule is also to be found for example, in Buddhism – Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful  [Udana-Varga 5:18] and in Hinduism – This is the sum of duty; do not do to others what you would not have them do unto you [Mahabharata 5:1517]. And Emanuel Swedenborg commences one of his books [Doctrine of Life] with the words: All Religion has relation to life, and the life of religion is to do good.

So, true ways of living involve doing good for others. But can we really do good?

Matthew, Mark and Luke all include an account of a rich man coming to Jesus and asking him a question as here in Mark’s gospel:

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said to him, Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
[Mark 10:17-18 ESV]

In these few words Jesus makes it abundantly clear that God alone is Good. But we might also ask the question “What is Jesus saying about himself”? Is it perhaps that he wants the rich man to make the connection that Jesus is Good because Jesus is “Immanuel, God with us”. In John’s gospel we find these words of Jesus: For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself  [John 5:26]. We could easily replace the word life with good to emphasise that God in Jesus alone is good.

But where does that leave us?

Emanuel Swedenborg brings clarity to this situation in his opening words of Divine Love and Wisdom paragraph 4: God alone – the Lord – is love itself, because he is life itself. Both we on earth and angels are life-receivers.

Fundamentally we are receivers of love, life and goodness from God. We have no love, life or goodness in ourselves and yet it appears that we can use what we receive as if it were ours alone. And in particular we can try to do good for others from our own resources, motives and desires.

One of the dangers, of course, is that our motives and desires will be selfish and we will try to use our resources to do good for others in a way which seeks to benefit us and make us look good. Such a self-serving approach to doing good may have the external effect and benefit intended for others but internally it is anything but good and certainly does not have God’s goodness at its heart. When we put ourselves first in any situation and concentrate on our needs above the needs of others we are in a sense standing alone. Our world view is then dominated by I, me, mine and we appear alone and totally separated from others and indeed from God. It is in this context that Alone, we cannot do good.

But what of all the good done for other people every day through simple acts of kindness, love and caring, not from some selfish motive but from a feeling that it is the right thing to do? Surely the answer is that, no matter what race, colour or religion we are, when we have someone else’s needs in view the good we do for them is from God whether we acknowledge it or not. What really makes the difference is that we have rejected the error of a life dominated by I, me, mine and moved to one in which you and yours have become more important. We have stopped being alone.

We may still imagine that we are the ones doing good but what we do now has God’s goodness at its heart.

But can we go a stage further in not acting alone?

God gives us life and the sense and awareness that we live from ourselves whereas the reality is that we live only from God. But if we maintain and strengthen the appearance that we live from ourselves by the I, me, mine approach to life then we remain apart, separated and alone from God.

This is clearly not what God wants. In John’s gospel Jesus says the following:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
[John 15:4-5]

God leaves us free to do what we want with the life he gives us and to feel that it is our own. But he wishes that we would link or abide with him in the same way that he can link or abide with us. He wants us to be linked or connected together, to form a union with him, and not remain separated, apart and alone.

And what is the fundamental thing we need to do to make the link and start the process of union?

It is to do good for others as if the love, life and goodness we have is ours but believing, knowing and acknowledging that they are really only from God.

http://www.god-is-love.org.uk/