The New Age And Its Messenger

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THE NEW AGE AND ITS MESSENGER

by Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889)

The writings of that most remarkable man of modern ecclesiastical history, Emanuel Swedenborg, have taken a deep hold upon my mind, and affected my whole inner life. He who comes to the perusal of them with an unprejudiced mind, with a sincere desire to learn the truth for the sake of truth—who loves truth for its own divine self—will not fail to find in them principles of great value. He will find there a true spiritual philosophy. He who loves truth for its own sake, and who incorporates it immediately into the life, is in that moral condition which renders the mind of man receptive of enlighten­ment from the Lord, the infinite fountain of all light. There are some minds peculiarly fitted to receive truths of a certain class, as those relating to some one of the sciences. But a soul in the moral attitude referred to above, drinks in spontaneously all spiritual truth. ” He that doeth truth, cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” (Jno. iii. 21.) ” If any man,” says our Saviour, ” will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (Mat. vii. 17.)…

There is the belief of the Church that a brighter age and a better dispensation would have its birth in the future. This hope has shone the brighter when the moral darkness has been the most profound. It has seemed reasonable to some that there will be three grand dispensations of the Church, corresponding to the three manifestations of the one God to the world, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. There has been the dispensation of the Father. This comprehends the whole period before the incarnation. In the Old Testament how little is said of the Son. Christ is there (for every sentence of the older Scriptures is Messianic, and not here and there a passage), but he is there veiled beneath sensuous symbols. It is an age of obscurity. We have had the age of the Son or the Logos—the intellectual age, the dispensation of faith. This has continued until the present. The next, which we doubt not has had its birth, will be the age of the Holy Spirit, when Christ will come as the Comforter, the Paraclete, to impart a new and higher life to the souls of men. In the first the sensuous predominates, in the second, the intellect; the third will be the dispensation of love. Love and its intuitions will predominate in the glorious Church of the future. This better dispensation has been generally denominated the Millennial Age. A moment’s reflection, however, will convince any one that its proper and Scriptural designation is the New Jeru­salem, which term marks the last and most perfect stage in the development of the Church on earth. It is admitted that in the symbolic language of prophecy, Jerusalem sig­nifies the Church. A New Jerusalem, then, can mean nothing but a New Church, or a new and better dispensa­tion of grace. If there is to be a new dispensation, it is self-evident that it must have a beginning somewhere. If the New Jerusalem is to come down from God out of heaven, there is some one to whom it must first come. This Divine influence or effluence from God through the heavens into the Church on earth—which is signified by the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven—must find its first receptacle in some mind fitted to receive it, and to be the centre of its diffusion abroad. Look back upon the history of the Church in all the past ages, and you find that every dispensation of grace has had its rise, and small mustard-seed beginning, in some one individual. So it manifestly must be in the New Jeru­salem stage of the Church’s progress. That Immanuel Swedenborg, servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, was the instrument of Providence in ushering in a new and better age of the Church, seems to me clear. I think there is found in his invaluable spiritual writings the germ of a new and higher dispensation. No one who is at all observant of the signs of the times cam doubt that he is to have at least a most important influence in shaping the theology and the life of the future church. I will give some reasons for this belief, which, it is hoped, will be satisfactory to some sincere inquirers after truth, and who are conscious of wants and spiritual yearnings, that the prevailing religions, with their literature, fail to supply. This work is given to the world for the reason given by another for a different work. ” It is one of our nobler human instincts, that we cannot feel within us the glory and the power of a real conviction, without earnestly striving to make that conviction pass into other minds.” (Comte’s Philosophy of the Sciences, by G. H. Lewes, p. 1.)

Author: Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889)

 

 

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9 Enthusiastic Spirits

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9 Enthusiastic Spirits

“Believe not every spirit . . .” John’s First Epistle 4: 1

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Emotional Good without Truth

It is a matter of common observation that even good men are often misled. If we stop to reflect, we find that the impulse which is thus misdirected is usually “good without truth”; and especially natural good, such as pity or generosity or “sentimentality.”

All men are endowed by nature (or heredity) with inclinations toward certain “goods” or virtues. Some are by nature brave, others seem to be born cautious and meek. Some are naturally generous or affectionate, loyal or trusting, apt to be guided by family feeling, friendship, love of ease, social praise or pleasure. Various circumstances may also encourage the development of certain good natural traits. Yet the Writings teach us to distrust our “natural good.” Not only does it hide the evils of selfishness under a pleasant exterior, but it makes self-examination difficult. Man is apt to take a good deal of credit for his “natural good”; when yet he is no more responsible for it than an animal is for its instinctive nature. We are also warned that natural good is like a reed, on which it is dangerous to lean. It is fickle, deceptive, easily bent. It lays a man open to all sorts of influences. It can turn us to defend evil, it weakens the judgment. It is easily swayed and persuaded. It receives the influx of evil spirits, and thus works harm which we may not intend.

Good, when undisciplined by truth and antagonistic to instruction, is not really good, but is a mere emotionalism. It must therefore be tutored, guided, held under control, made to serve under rational principles. The doctrine is, that “those who are not as yet in truths, are not in safety.”225

True faith, faith in true doctrine, gives protection. The general doctrines of the New Church are compared to the four walls of the New Jerusalem, into which there shall not enter anything that defileth or maketh a lie. Doctrine protects against evil spirits and their false persuasions. It is doctrine which leads to salvation, with gentiles and babes as well as with adult members of the Church.

In the world of spirits, those who are not in any doctrine but are led hither and thither by their emotions and fantasies cannot dwell in cities. Cities there impose a certain restrictive order. Evil spirits untutored by the self-restraining influence of doctrines or common principles cannot enter the cities, or, if they do, can only traverse the public streets. But in the less inhabited regions around the towns they feel more free to carry out their impulses. Cities represent doctrines. Yet cities in the other life may represent doctrines that are vitiated by falsities. If so, the protection which they give is only temporary. There is no permanent safety against infesting spirits, no permanent salvation except in true doctrine.225

The statement is made that “non-truths communicate with evil spirits.” This seems to mean that falsities and fallacies are planes into which evil spirits can operate effectively and conveniently. When a man has fallen into a belief in some false principle, he opens himself to be led from this error into a series of other fallacies, and into doubts about truths, and thus into a negative attitude. Fortunately, if a man is well disposed, he will—with the aid of good spirits—resist following the logic of his position if he perceives that it is leading him into absurdities or into evils. The Writings cite instances of such a blessed inconsistency. Many who accept the Lutheran dogma of salvation by faith alone apart from charity, would be horror-stricken at the idea of Predestination and “infant damnation”—which yet flows directly from the premises of their own creed! Luther himself, being a good man at heart, did not confirm the dogma of faith alone in his life, although he preached it and confirmed it intellectually. He had been fascinated by the principle of “Faith Alone,” because he saw in it a weapon against some of the abuses of the Catholic Church. And when it was received with acclaim by his followers, spirits infused a pride of self-intelligence— flattering him on his originality and keenness—and induced him to confirm it. He suffered for centuries in the other life for this weakness, and not until after the last judgment did he see his error, and resume his search for the true doctrine of salvation.226

Misconceptions about the Holy Spirit

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Swedenborg himself confesses that he had formerly entertained—from the universal doctrine of Christendom—the false persuasion that the Holy Spirit was the third person of the Divine Trinity. This laid a plane in his external mind for infestations by spirits who supposed themselves to be the Holy Spirit and who terrified him. “But afterwards”—he writes— “I became persuaded that the Lord alone is holy, and that all, both angels and spirits, are profane in themselves, and are called ‘holy’ only from those true and good things which are from the Lord; so I am no longer infested. …” For spirits are obliged to assume the persuasions of the men with whom they are.227

It is of interest to note that clergymen, on their entrance into the other life, are straightway instructed that the Holy Spirit is not a distinct person or separate spirit.228 For if a spirit should hold that idea, he is set upon by so-called “enthusiastic spirits” who are in the insane fantasy that they are the Holy Spirit, and who terrify others if they do not obey them; since many, in the world, were taught that a sin against the Holy Spirit was unpardonable. “Enthusiastic spirits are distinguished from other spirits by this, that they believe themselves to be the Holy Spirit and believe that the things which they say are Divine.”229 The word “enthuse” literally means to “fill with God.” Clergymen are especially vulnerable to these infestations, and also to these fantasies. It is believed by many ministers that while they are preaching from zeal, they are “inspired”; so that some even affirm that they have felt the influx of the Holy Ghost. The fact is—as the True Christian Religion points out—that they have confused the zeal they exhibit while preaching, with the Divine operation in their hearts; when yet zeal is only a violent heating up of the natural man! And this is just as easily excited with preachers who are in extreme falsities, and even more so with enthusiasts, or those who are in the effort to stir up emotions and external affections and play on the feelings of their hearers. Revivalists—under the influence of enthusiastic spirits, the Writings point out—often produce louder shouts and deeper sighs than is usual with those who are in zeal from heavenly love !230

Let us not decry zeal! “If there is within it the love of truth, then it is like the sacred fire which flowed into the apostles”—when, on Pentecost, tongues of fire appeared over their heads.230 But emotional appeals which are not from a love of truth, nor directed to stimulate love of truth, are dangerous. For when a person is under the influence of strong natural emotions, his rational balance can easily be upset, and he may be carried in any direction.

There is that in human nature which makes one love to be stirred by emotion. We enjoy being carried along in mass-emotions—which is an explanation of certain phases of the behavior of a mob, or of a people during war, or at election-time, or at football games. We enjoy being carried off our feet by thrills of various kinds. There is a delight—a sensual pleasure—in casting prudence and responsibility aside, at times, and simply surrendering to the whirl of an emotion.

Some types of people are more than others susceptible to being led by impulse or to being sphered by eloquence and persuasion. Hence religion takes an emotional and fanatical form with such people. It is not as if the emotions were necessarily evil: the main difficulty being, that in states of high-strung natural emotion, the good and the evil cannot be distinguished. Hope and the assurance of faith, high resolve and deep contrition, mingle with guilt and fear and a lust for power or repute. It is a common fact, that at every “camp-meeting” of revivalist sects, there are not only cases of “conversions” but cases of “reversions”—in that some are so moved by the general hysteria that all their moral inhibitions become loosened. If the desire for an emotional outlet does not find a sincere religious form, it may seek a satisfaction in various sensual and sexual excesses.

The pervading idea among the “enthusiastic” sects, is to find salvation by a personal surrender to the Holy Spirit, until its leading is felt, sensibly felt, as a bodily reaction. The “converted soul” is moved by the “Holy Spirit.” The Quakers and the Shakers were so called, because they actually began to tremble, twitch and jerk, or rhythmically dance, under the hypnotic influence of their emotion. The paroxysms, obsessive convulsions, marchings and shoutings which often occur at revival meetings, are reminiscent of the corresponding features of other religions, as that of the whirling dervishes, and of the ritual abandon which marks primitive peoples. In some cases, the religious zealot is apparently acting in a convulsive trance. The Jewish prophets—and Saul was also among them—were thus possessed.

It is obvious that when emotion is given such free range, the spirits who are with the man are afforded an unusually delightful opportunity to take control. And the spirits who inflow are those who rejoice in the flattery offered by the deluded human who gives them credit for being “the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, these spirits then come solemnly to believe —unless challenged—that they are “the Holy Spirit,” and even that they were from eternity !231

The history of such a type of spirits is interesting. The hells of the Noahtic or Ancient Church consist for the most part—we are informed—of “magicians”; spirits who still practice their arts by the abuse of correspondences, by inducing illusions and fantasies and by persuasive assurances and prophesying. It is from the influx of these hells that the various “enthusiastic” movements have arisen in the Christian world.232

As a matter of record, the early Christian Church was very hardly beset by the contagion of old customs and beliefs from the corrupted religions of the ancient East. The most developed philosophies of antiquity contained the central concept that the real, inmost self of man, was a spark of God’s life. This had sprung from the persuasion of the antediluvians that God had transfused His Divine into men so that they were inwardly gods.233 In time, the Orientals—as for instance the Hindoos—began to feel that the God they must seek, was an “inner God.” Brahm (God) and Atman (the soul) were identical. If they could turn their thoughts inwardly, and know their own souls, they would know God. If they listened to their souls, they would come to hear the voice of God ! The real source of wisdom was not—they felt—outside of them, or from experienced knowledge, but within them, in an inner light Divine. All the Christian gnostics, mystics and “Quietists” also sought for illumination from within themselves ; and when they felt a profound perception, or a vague “elevation,” they were assured that this was the light of “the Holy Ghost.”

The Quaker Movement

The Writings speak of this in connection with the Quakers. But there were many enthusiastic spirits in the other life even before the Quaker movement arose about 1650. Swedenborg wrote, a century later: “Almost the whole world of spirits is wicked and enthusiastic, and is sedulously desirous to obsess man.”234 The belief in the falsity that the Holy Spirit was a separate Divine person laid men particularly open to such infestations. In the spiritual world, such enthusiastic spirits as believe themselves the Holy Spirit are held separated from others, and wander about. When Quakerism commenced, however, there came a powerful call for such spirits, who then came out of the forest districts around the world of spirits and obsessed many men. They infused the persuasion that men were moved by the Holy Spirit. With some men their influx was sensible, and resulted in a convulsive trembling.235 For a time, the Quaker movement went from bad to worse, and the usual effects of religious hysteria were manifested by secret and hushed up excesses, into which their “Holy Spirit” led those who gave no moral resistance.

We know the Quakers as a very peaceful, thrifty people, who suffered much unjust persecution in the early periods. But the Writings give a different side of the picture, a side which was observable in the other life, where the logic of human attitudes is finally displayed. George Fox, the founder of the movement, and William Penn, who settled Pennsylvania, both spoke to Swedenborg in the other world, disavowing such abuses as later occurred.236 But it is inevitable that where a conscious leading by spirits is sought by men as the perfection of life, terrible profanations can arise, in both worlds, among those who are evil. The description of Swedenborg’s encounter — in the other life — with these excesses which destroy the sanctity of marriage and abolish the sacraments and profane them, is such that we cannot even cite it. What can be stressed, however, is this, that because the Quakers have no fixed doctrinals of faith, except what they have confirmed in themselves when the spirits move them, they have no protection against alien falsities. They read the Word, and thus accept the Lord about the same as other Christians. But the Word is subordinated to the interpretation which is given in their “quiet time” by the private revelation of the “Holy Spirit” within them.237

Thus they are bound to no doctrine — for what they rely on finally is “the Inner Light.” This is clear from their history : for by degrees the denial of the full Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ took a hold on many in the sect, and the movement called Hicksite Quakers was organized, in 1827; where the emphasis is laid on Christ only as the chief member — or head — of the spiritual body of the church.

In the spiritual world, no society is formed from Quakers. They are spiritual nomads. Other spirits cannot explore them, for they are secretive, reserved in opinion and actions. They are unwilling to speak of their own doctrinal things, yet desire to hear the doctrines of others, but as it were surreptitiously, and without either being impressed by them or rejecting them. Those not confirmed strongly are brought together in desert places; but those who are confirmed in the reliance upon their “Holy Spirits” habitually wander about in forests in the world of spirits, until judged.

It is the most gross among them who become “enthusiastic spirits” and are persuaded in the fantasy that they are the Holy Spirit. These—having no fixed spiritual locality, because no fixed doctrine—inflow with spirits or with men wherever there is the awaiting of influx from the Spirit—or wherever there is a reliance on an “Inner Light.” For adoption of this chief principle of the enthusiasts connects man with enthusiastic spirits, without violating the law that spirits are attached to man according to his faith.

“Those who are taught by influx what to believe or what to do, are not taught by the Lord or by any angel of heaven.” “All influx from the Lord takes place by an enlightenment of the understanding and by an affection of truth, and through this affection into the understanding.”238 The “Light Within,” about which the Quakers are wont to preach, is not intellectual light, but a mere obscure luminous something which does not enlighten at all.

In illustration of the influence of the Quaker principle of an inner guidance, we may refer to the wide and sudden spread some decades ago of a non-sectarian movement whose devotees sit silent, pencil in hand and minds in a blank, waiting for the Holy Spirit to dictate a Divine message as to what they should do or speak.

Mysticism versus Enlightenment

The New Church man knows that there is Divine guidance, or government, in all things of life; and Swedenborg perceived in a spiritual idea that man “can never be led better than he is led; so that there are necessities every moment of his life, and that it was foreseen from eternity and provided that each and all things tend to our ultimate end, which is to be parts in the Grand Man, that is, in the Lord’s kingdom.”239

In internals the Lord operates without man’s cooperation —as is plain from the secret processes of bodily growth and digestion and from the operations of spirits and angels upon us and the subconscious effects of these in our minds. But “in externals man is led and taught by the Lord, in all appearance as if by himself.” Man is given the rational responsibility of using his best thought and effort to act as of himself, in all the circumstances of his life. If he seeks Divine guidance and Divine light, it is possible for him to find it in the Word of God, and receive it rationally as enlightenment in the understanding. Man “is led and taught immediately by the Lord alone when this is done from the Word.”240

Enthusiastic spirits operate very differently with different men. While clergymen sometimes feel the zeal of their preaching as Divine inspiration, other men often take a general emotional hysteria to be a sign of the stir of the Holy Spirit. Some again—mostly simple recluses—believe that any spirit which may address them in the course of their religious brooding, is the Lord, or the Holy Spirit. To “quietists,” like the Quakers, a bodily trembling and the fancy of an inner lumen, betokens the presence of the Holy Spirit. And this is sometimes varied, as in Buchmanism, into the belief that God indicates to them what to do.

In all these cases, the fact is that spirits operate into man and persuade him that what is human is Divine. In men who —by education—are intellectually mature, indoctrinated and self-disciplined, spirits cannot act so crudely. But if man believes it possible, spirits are given the power to infuse the feeling that what he does is from the Holy Spirit or that some perceptions of his mind are Divine. And Swedenborg records a meeting—in the other life—with some learned English priests, who held that faith alone produces good works, man being devoid of any freedom to do good, except what is meritorious.241 Faith, they held, produces works through the Holy Spirit. They believed that “when man feels that operation, and from a perception of the operation of the Holy Spirit, does good, then it is good.” But if he does not perceive it, and does good, then, they thought, it is only meritorious, because man’s will is in it.242 Such was their claim.

If this were true, the Lord could not do good through man’s cooperating will, unless man were conscious of the Holy Spirit acting through him! Nor could the Lord cause man to think what is true, except while man felt the Holy Spirit thinking in his understanding!

The error of the English priests was disturbing to Swedenborg, who again and again confutes it. He shows that there is no reception of good and truth except when man acts and thinks as of himself; yet “the good which is imparted by the Lord is wrought within him while he does not reflect from himself upon it; that is, while man remains ignorant of it.”243 This does not mean that man acts from himself or meritoriously whenever he acts from the Word. When he obeys the Lord’s commandments he does good from the Lord. And if all that proceeds from man were to be condemned as meritorious, how could the Lord have said that we would be judged according to our works?244

Through reliance on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, many mystically inclined persons have claimed that their words are holy and infallible Divine truths, or that their perceptions constitute a private Divine revelation apart from the Word. The German mystic, Jacob Boehme, defined this state of an inner light which he felt in himself, as “the self-knowledge of God in man.” He called the Divine wisdom perceived in such a state, “theosophy.” It is the Divinity in man, not the mortal intellect, he taught, which is in possession of Divine knowledge.245

But man cannot rely on any inner light, cannot by any self-conscious process reach for illustration. Light from the Lord does not come by making the mind blank or by placing our God-given faculties at the disposal of nomadic spirits who are on the look-out for an empty mind. Light comes from truths —from the Divine truth revealed in the Word.

Therefore we read: “Illustration is from the Lord. Perception is with man according to the state of his mind, formed by doctrinals; if these are true, the perception becomes clear from the light which illustrates; but if they are false, the perception becomes obscure, which, however, may appear as if clear, from confirmations; but this is from the light of infatuation, which to merely natural sight is like clearness.”246

Illustration is from the Lord alone. Yet it is still effected by the mediation of spirits and angels, and by the introduction of man’s mind—although he is not sensibly aware of it—into association with such spiritual societies as arc in light.247 For spiritual light, which in its essence is the Divine wisdom, enters man’s understanding as far as, from knowledges, he has the faculty of perceiving it. It “does not pass through spaces, like the light of the world, but through the affections and perceptions of truth, thus in an instant to the last limit of the heavens. . . . “248 And we are now assured that “the time is coming when there will be enlightenment.”249

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Blaspheme Against The Holy spirit

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Verses 28, 29. Verily I say to you, All sins shall be remitted to men, and blasphemies with which soever they shall blaspheme; but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit has never remission, but is exposed to eternal judgement.What is signified by “sin and blaspheme against the Holy Spirit,” and by a “word against the Son of Man,” has not yet been known in the church, and this by reason of its not having been known what is properly meant by the Holy Spirit, and what properly by the Son of Man. By the “Holy Spirit” is meant the Lord as to Divine Truth, such as it is in the heavens, thus the Word such as it is in the spiritual sense, for this is Divine Truth in heaven; and by the “Son of Man” is meant Divine Truth such as it is in the earths, thus the Word such as it is in the natural sense, for this is the Divine Truth in the earths. When it is known what is signified by the “Holy Spirit,” and what by the “Son of Man,” it is known also what is signified by “sin and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” and what by a “word against the Son of Man;” it may also be known why the sin and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be remitted, and why a word against the Son of Man can be remitted. For “sin and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” consist in denying the Word, also in adulterating its essential goods, and falsifying its essential truths; but a “word against the Son of Man” consists in interpreting the natural sense of the Word, which is the sense of its letter, according to appearances. The reason why a denial of the Word is a sin which cannot be remitted in this age, nor in that which is to come, or to eternity, and why it exposes to eternal judgement, is, because they who deny the Word, deny a God, deny the Lord, deny a heaven and a hell, and deny the church and all things belonging to it; and they who deny those things are Atheists, who, although they say with their lips that the creation of the universe is the work of some Highest Being, Deity, or God, yet in heart they ascribe it to Nature; such persons, inasmuch as by denial they have loosened every bond of connection with the Lord, must of necessity be separated from heaven, and conjoined to hell. The reason why the adulteration of the essential goods of the Word, and the falsification of its essential truths, is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which also cannot be remitted, is, because by the Holy Spirit is meant the Lord, as to Divine Truth, such as it is in the heavens, thus the Word such as it is in the spiritual sense, as was said above. For in the spiritual sense are genuine goods and genuine truths, but in the natural sense are the same goods and truths as it were clothed, and not naked except here and there, wherefore these are called apparent goods and truths; these are what are adulterated and falsified, and they are said to be adulterated and falsified when they are explained contrary to genuine goods and truths, for in such case heaven removes itself, and man is put to pieces from it, by reason that genuine goods and truths, as was said above, constitute the spiritual sense of the Word, in which the angels of heaven are principled. As for example:—If the Lord and His Divinity be denied, as was done by the Pharisees, who said that the Lord worked miracles from Beelzebub, and had an unclean spirit, this is to commit sin and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, because it is against the Word. Hence also it is that Socinians and Arians, who, although they do not deny the Lord, still deny His Divinity, are out of heaven, and cannot be received by any angelic society. To take another example. They who exclude the good of love and the works of charity from the means of salvation, and assume faith exclusively as the only means, and confirm themselves in this idea, not only bv doctrine, but also by life, saying in their hearts,—” Goods do not save me, neither do evils condemn me, because I have faith;” these also blaspheme the Holy Spirit, for they falsify the genuine goods and truths of the Word, and this in a thousand passages, where love and charity, deeds and works, are named. Moreover, as was said above, in all and singular things of the Word, there is a marriage of good and truth, thus of charity and faith, wherefore when good or charity is taken away, that marriage perishes, and adultery is committed in its place; hence it is, that neither are such persons received into heaven. The reason also is, because in the place of heavenly love they have earthly love, and in the place of good works they have evil works, inasmuch as they proceed from earthly love, which, separate from heavenly love, is infernal love. But it is otherwise with those who indeed believe from the doctrine of the church, and from teachers, that faith is the only means of salvation, or who know, and do not interiorly affirm or deny, and still live well, under the guidance of the Word, that is, because it is commanded by the Lord in the Word: these do not blaspheme the Holy Spirit, for they do not adulterate the goods of the Word, nor falsify its truths, wherefore they have conjunction with the angels of heaven; Few of them also know that faith is any thing else than to believe the Word; the doctrine of justification by faith alone without the works of the law they do not comprehend, because it transcends their understanding. These two examples are adduced to the intent that it may be known what is meant by “sin and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” and that sin against the Holy Spirit consists in denying the Divine Truth, thus the Word, and that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit consists in adulterating the essential Goods of the Word, and in falsifying

its essential Truths. The reason why a “word against the Son of Man” signifies to interpret the natural sense of the Word, which is the sense of its letter, according to appearances, is, Because by the “Son of Man” is meant the Lord, as to Divine Truth, such as it is in the earths, thus such as it is in the natural sense; and the reason why this “word” is remitted to man, is, Because most things in the natural sense, or in the sense of the letter of the Word, are goods and truths clothed, and only some naked, as in its spiritual sense; and goods and truths clothed are called appearances of truth. For the Word in the ultimates is as a man clad in clothing, who yet as to the face and hands is naked, and where the Word is thus naked, there its goods and truths appear naked as in heaven, thus such as they are in the spiritual sense; wherefore it can never come to pass but that the doctrine of genuine good and genuine truth, derived from the sense of the letter of the Word, may be seen by those who are enlightened of the Lord, and be confirmed by those who are not enlightened. The reason why the Word is such in the sense of the letter, is, that it may be a basis for the spiritual sense; hereby also it is accommodated to the apprehension of the simple, who can only perceive those things which are so said, and when they perceive, can believe and do them. And whereas Divine Truths, in the sense of the letter of the Word, are most of them appearances of truth, and the simple in faith and heart cannot be elevated above those appearances, hence it is not sin and blasphemy to interpret the Word according to appearances, if so be principles are not formed from them, and these confirmed even to the destruction of Divine Truth in its genuine sense. AE 778.

By “saying a word against the Holy Spirit” is meant to speak well and to think ill, and to do well and to will ill, respecting those things which relate to the Lord, His kingdom and church, and also which relate to the Word, for thereby a false principle lies concealed inwardly in the truths which are spoken, and in the goods which are done, which false principle is hidden poison, whence they are called an offspring of vipers. In the other life it is allowed to an evil spirit to speak what is evil and false, but not what is good and true, inasmuch as all in that life are compelled to speak from the heart, and not to divide the mind; they who do otherwise are separated from the rest, and are immersed deep in hells, from which they can never come forth. That such are they who are meant by “saying a word against the Holy Spirit,” is manifest from the Lord’s words on the occasion,—” Either make the tree good and the fruit good, or make the tree corrupt and the fruit corrupt; how can you speak what is good when you are evil?” (Matt 12:33, 34.) The “Holy Spirit” is the Divine Truth proceeding from the Lord, thus the Holy, Divine Principle Itself, which is thus principally and materially blasphemed. The reason why it will not be remitted to them is, because hypocrisy or deceit about holy Divine things infects the interiors of man, and destroys the all of spiritual life belonging to him. AC 9013. See also, AC 882, 9264, 9818. Also, DP 98, 231. Also, TCR 299.

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” Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is blasphemy against the Lord’s Divinity, and “blasphemy against the Son of Man” is something against the Word, by giving a wrong interpretation of its meaning; for the “Son of Man” is the Lord as to the Word, as was shown above. D. Lord. 50.

Verses 31—35. Then came His brethren and mother, and, standing without, sent to Him. And looking round on those who sat about Him, He says, Behold My mother and My brethren! For whoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother, and My sister, and mother.—That a “servant” denotes the Humanity belonging to the Lord, before it was made Divine, may be manifest from several passages in the Prophets; the reason is, as has been occasionally observed above, that the Humanity belonging to the Lord was nothing else but a servant, before He put it off and made it Divine. For the Humanity belonging to Him was from the mother, thus an infirm Humanity, having with it an hereditary principle thence derived, which He conquered by temptation-combats, and altogether expelled, insomuch that there remained nothing of the infirm and hereditary principle derived from the mother; yea, at length, nothing at all from the mother, so that He totally put off the maternal principle, in such a manner as to be no longer her son. To this purpose He Himself also says in Mark,—” They said to Him, Behold, Your mother and Your brethren, standing without, seek You; and He answered them, saying, Who is My mother or My brethren? And looking round about on them who sat near Him, He said, Behold My mother and My brethren; for whoever shall do the will of God, the same is My brother, and My sister, and My mother.” (Mark 3:32-35; Matt 12:46-49; Luke 8:20, 21.) And when He put off this Humanity, He put on a Divine Humanity, from which He called Himself the Son of Man, as on several occasions in the Word of the New Testament, also the Son of God; and by the “Son of Man” was signified the essential Truth, and by the “Son of God” the essential Good, which His Human Essence had when made Divine. The former state was that of the Lord’s humiliation, but the latter of His glorification, concerning which, see above, AC 1999. In the former state, namely, of humiliation, when as yet He had an infirm Humanity belonging to Him, He adored Jehovah as one distinct from Himself, regarding Himself as a servant, for the Humanity respectively is nothing but a servant. AC 2159.

It is to be noted that the Lord successively and continually, even to the last moment of life, when He was glorified, separated from Himself, and put off what was merely Human, namely, what He derived from the mother, until at length He was no longer her son, but the Son of God, not only as to conception, but also as to nativity, and thus One with the Father; and Himself Jehovah. That He separated from Himself, and put off all the Humanity which He had from the mother, so that He was no longer her son, is manifest from the Lord’s words in Matthew,—”A certain person said, Behold, Your mother and Your brethren stand without, seeking to speak with You; but Jesus answering, said, Who is My mother, and who My brethren? And stretching forth His hands over His disciples, He said, Behold My mother and My brethren! for whoever shall do the will of My Father who is in the heavens, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.” AC 4649.

My brethren,—The reason why the Lord calls those His “brethren” who do the will of His Father, is, because in heaven no other affinities are given but such as are spiritual, thus no other fraternities; for in heaven they do not become brethren by virtue of any natural nativity, and they too, who have been brethren in the world, do not there know each other, but every one knows another from the good of love; they who are most conjoined in that good, are as brethren, and the rest, according to conjunction by good, are as relations and also as friends. Hence it is that by “brother,” in the Word, is signified the good of love. That in heaven all are consociated according to spiritual relationships, which are of the good of love and of faith, and that they know each other as relations, see the “Treatise on Heaven and Hell,” 205, and AC 685, 917, 2739, 3815, 4121. That hence by “brethren” in the Word are meant those who are conjoined by good, see AC 2360, 3303, 3803, 10490. AE 46.

By the “disciples,” over whom the Lord stretched forth His hand, are signified all who are of His church; by His “brethren” are signified those who are in the good of charity from Him; by “sisters” those who are in truths derived from that good; and by “mother” is signified the church consisting of such. AE 746. See also AC 685, 917, 2739, 3815. NJHD 9.

Verse 35. Whosoever shall do the will of God, &c.—By “doing the will of God,” is understood to do His precepts, or to live according to them from the affection of love or charity. The “will of the Lord” is, in the Old Testament, called His good pleasure, and in like manner signifies the Divine Love; and to “do His good pleasure,” or “His will,” signifies to love God and our neighbour, thus to live according to the Lord’s precepts. AE 295.

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The Trinity – and the Mistake People Made in 325 AD

           
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Jesus is clearly identified in the Gospels as the son of God, and during his ministry regularly referred to “the Father”, seemingly as a separate, higher being. Yet he also stated his own divinity, which was reinforced when he was resurrected after the crucifixion and appeared, in the flesh, to his followers.

So was he God? What about the Father? Could he and the Father both be God? And what about the Holy Spirit, also mentioned with great frequency? Was that a third divine being?

This seeming paradox led to a variety of interpretations among early Christians, which led to a council of 300 church leaders in the Turkish town of Nicaea in 325 A.D. They settled on the idea of three beings making up one God, an idea which was confirmed and expanded in a second council in Constantinople in 381 A.D. The doctrine took final form in what’s known as the Athanasian Creed, adopted by the Roman Catholic Church in the sixth century.

That creed, which is still central to most Christian churches today, says that the three – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – are equally God and equally all-powerful, and that all three existed from eternity and will exist to eternity. It says the Son was “begotten” of the Father and the Holy Spirit “proceeded” from the Father and the Son, but all three are “uncreated,” are equal, and are together one God in the Holy Trinity.

The Writings say this false doctrine was the beginning of the end for the Christian church, leading to an inevitable belief in three gods, even when people spoke of one God. They also say that three separate infinite beings would be impossible, since something that’s infinite cannot be divided.

Instead, the Writings say that God the Father – Jehovah, as He is known in the Old Testament – planted His own essence in Mary so that it could be clothed with a physical human body. Through Mary the resulting man – Jesus – also inherited all the typical human weaknesses and desires for evil, which meant that despite his divine soul He could lust for evil as powerfully as anyone ever has.

That human frailty allowed Jesus to engage directly in battle against the hells, which had at the time grown so powerful that people were nearly cut off from heaven. Those battles were waged the same way our battles are waged: through temptation. The Writings say Jesus subjected Himself to temptation throughout His life, on a scale and to a degree that we can’t imagine. But as He won each battle, he forced another part of hell into submission.

Those battles had another effect. With each victory, Jesus turned a little bit of His human reality into divine reality, slowly uniting his human exterior with His internal soul, which was Jehovah Himself. By the time of His ministry, what people saw was mostly divine. Through His final temptation, on the cross, he purified the final aspects of his physical humanity, so the body that was buried and resurrected was fully divine – Jesus was Jehovah and Jehovah was Jesus. And since He took that divine human body with Him to heaven, Jesus is till Jehovah and Jehovah is still Jesus, which is expressed in the Writings as the Lord.

As for the Holy Spirit, the case is this:

The Lord has always offered people spiritual guidance, but originally did so from a distance. The earliest people learned of the Lord through angels, and by seeing spiritual meaning in the natural world. Later the Lord used inspired people – Moses and various judges and prophets – to teach others about spiritual things. This changed, however, when He came among us as Jesus. As Jesus He spoke to people directly, teaching them Himself about spiritual things, teachings that were recorded and passed on to us today. The term “the Holy Spirit” describes the power of that direct teaching and the way the Lord uses it to motivate us.

The Holy Spirit, then, draws its power from things that have always been true, but it’s a power that came into effect through Jesus. That’s why it’s an expression that does not ever occur in the Old Testament, which instead speaks of the Spirit of Jehovah or the Spirit of the Lord.

So what does the Trinity mean to us now? What is the presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in our lives? The Writings say that the three aspects of the Lord do indeed exist, but rather than being three people they are the soul of the Lord (the Father), the body of the Lord (the son) and the Lord’s activity (the Holy Spirit).

http://newchristianbiblestudy.org/

Here is a reference to a key passage in Swedenborg’s work, True Christian Religion 163.

How to become a better person?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

better personNot everybody wants to be a better person and develop along what can be our hectic journey of life. My cat doesn’t. She’s quite content with the stage she has reached in her life — as long as I feed and stroke her on a daily basis. Nor do those human beings who are uninterested in moral values, want to improve their character. You may be different.

Perhaps you have a vague uneasy feeling that you could be a better person – if only you knew how. Not necessarily because you want people to think well of you but because you would like to live a decent life, becoming more patient, tolerant, kind,  fair-minded or whatever. Many people are interested in making spiritual progress.

Becoming a better person through therapy

Much of psychotherapy and personal growth coaching is about strengthening the ego, integrating the self, correcting one’s self-image, building self-confidence, the establishing of realistic goals and so on. However, some therapists tend to believe that self-insight into our hang-ups or personal problems is sufficient for personal healing. And those that don’t actually believe this tend not to report their efforts to tackle the clients’ volition. It is as if new ways of thinking are sufficient for changes in behaviour.

But is this true? Does personal improvement come just from enlightened understanding? Is there really no need for a change of heart in facing a new direction? No need also for effort to change one’s ways?

Becoming a better person through self-discipline

Can I suggest the idea that personal improvement involves the effort of self-discipline. Self-discipline over what we think, say and do.

“Thoughts become words. Words become actions. Actions become habits. Habits become character. And character becomes your destiny.” (Unknown author)

In any trip to the shop there is a price to pay for anything we want to take home. But my point of view is that in becoming a better person it is not so much the wallet or purse that we need to produce but rather the cost of letting go of an attitude that has been with us for perhaps a long time, something that has almost become second nature. One can’t have one’s cake and eat it. So how can you expect to become more patient and tolerant whilst continuing to indulge in impatience or intolerance?

Likewise does not learning self-restraint and moderation mean forgoing excess? If so,  every desirable quality has its opposite that needs to be acknowledged as something that needs to die within the individual.

Perhaps this is why Old Testament injunctions regarding religious laws have been often couched in terms of what not to do. Don’t do this and don’t do that. In other words, you can’t do what is good unless you stop doing what is bad.

The world from biblical times on has had people who have acted selfishly or dangerously. So the Bible and the criminal law is expressed in terms of what not to do. Don’t steal, don’t act fraudulently, don’t murder and so on.

Becoming a better person through affirmations

Yet not everyone behaves badly. My plea is that instead of assuming we have what Christianity has traditionally called our ‘original sin’, we might see ourselves as innocent until our individual actions consistently prove us guilty.

Those adopting this stance practice affirmations. They say :

“I am not the impatience/intolerance/closed-mindedness/unkindness etc that I sometimes feel. I disown such traits. They need no longer cling to me.

Instead I can take on board patience/tolerance/open-mindedness/kindness etc.”

“I can learn to identify myself with good traits and as I practice them they will become ingrained into my makeup.” 

Of course, saying affirmations is one thing, but following through a commitment to change can be quite another. The conscious decision to change can be viewed as a  bridge between acknowledgement and action. If no action ensues then there probably has been no real decision at all but only a flirting with decision.

Becoming a better person through determination

This raises the interesting question about how genuine are our intentions. How real is our decision? The existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom has pointed out that Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godott clearly illustrates a lack of resolve. The characters think, plan, procrastinate. The play ends with this sequence

Vladimir: Shall we go?

Estragon: Let’s go.

[Stage directions: No one moves]

Becoming a better person through trust in a higher power.

Sometimes the going can be very hard. However much you try to change your ways you may fail. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous recognise this and try to put their trust in what they call ‘a higher power’ many of whom think of as God. Religious faith means just this surrender to something beyond ourselves. For example Christians are taught to try to surrender themselves to the work of the Spirit of God working within them. It is said that without the gift of the Holy Spirit of God they cannot acquire better characteristics.

Those outside organised religion who have a similar approach often are more comfortable referring to this Spirit as the Divine Within without which they are powerless to effect change in their lives.

In my opinion the huge problem with both groups is the erroneous way this insight is sometimes applied. As if belief in a higher power absolves our responsibility for self-discipline and self-control. I trust that active co-operation with what I see as the Divine Spirit can transform my character. This is my challenge. It involves my heart and hands as well as my head.

There are many who declare that man is saved through faith, or as they say, if he merely has faith…Faith however is not mere thought …. thought does not save anyone. (Swedenborg: Heavenly secrets  section 9363)

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

 

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Father Son and Holy Spirit – three essentials in one God

God is Love

Uniquely among the great monotheistic faiths Christianity proclaims a Holy or Divine Trinity in the one God. For theologians and ordinary believers alike this has proved to be a difficult and even divisive teaching. If God is clearly distinguished into the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit how does he remain at the same time one whole and undivided Being? Some simply cannot believe it, others try to accept it as a mystery beyond human understanding, and even among those who have understood it very few see it as a powerful message with which to win new converts. Yet in presenting himself to us as both one and three, God is surely trying to tell us something very important about how he works with us.

Many modern believers start from the first principle that God is love [1 John 4:16 NRSV]. A loving God will never stand apart and aloof from his people. God longs to draw close to his people and to enjoy a fruitful relationship with every single one of them. One of the best loved verses in the New Testament reminds us that, God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life [John 3:16 NRSV]. This longing on the part of God for loving relationships with ordinary mortals is the key to understanding the traditional Christian teaching concerning the Trinity.

For ordinary mortals such a loving relationship with God is full of difficulty and even danger. Finite human beings can scarcely comprehend what infinite love is, let alone draw close to it. The power of God’s love is so great that it is frequently described in the Scriptures as a ‘consuming fire’. The intensity of its flame and heat is greater even than that of the sun or indeed of many suns combined together. Small wonder that God told Moses, You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live [Exodus 33:20 NRSV]. If any meaningful relationship is to exist between the Divine Father and his people then his infinite love needs to be tempered and in some way accommodated to human states.

But how can God temper and accommodate his love in order that we might safely receive it? The biblical answer is to be found in the coming among us of the Son of God. Concerning the Son, Jehovah God said, For lo, I will come and dwell in your midst [Zechariah 2:10 NRSV]. Elsewhere it is Jehovah who says, I am the Lord and there is no Saviour besides me [Isaiah 43:11 NRSV] – The gospel also records, Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, God is with us [Matthew 1:23 NRSV]. These, and other similar verses perhaps suggest that the Son is not a separate God, nor even a separate person from the Father, but is simply the human form which Jehovah took upon himself in order that he might dwell among his people in the natural world.

To view the Deity in this way is to see the life or soul of Jesus Christ as nothing other than the infinite love which is Jehovah God.  This means that the Son of God is not another person but rather the humanity with which Jehovah wrapped himself in order that he could come safely among the human race. This humanity, born of Mary, was lacking in nothing.  Jesus was real flesh and blood and experienced the full range of human feelings and thoughts.  He had all the bodily cravings, felt pain, endured temptations, and suffered a grim death. When he rose again on Easter Day he did so victorious over all human evils and temptations. Now his human body was fully and permanently transfigured with the glory of the Divine. In the Risen Lord Jesus Christ the Father is the soul or Divine life, whilst the Son is the human form in which he exists and makes himself known to us.

Although we commonly speak of body and soul as being the elements that make up a human being, there is also a third essential without which there is little meaningful existence. Life is about being useful, forming relationships and having a good influence on other people. Such activity, whether of the mind or the body, is an integral part of the person we are. Each person’s activity and sphere of influence is unique to them and it can often be very powerful. The Lord also has his sphere of influence and he is continually touching people’s lives for good. This divine activity is the third essential of the Trinity, namely the Holy Spirit.

A very good illustration of what the Holy Spirit is and does is to be found in one of the Lord’s post resurrection appearances to the disciples. He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” [John 20:22 NRSV]. The Holy Spirit is here shown to be the Lord breathing his resurrection life into others so that they might live in a new and heavenly way.  Ever since then the Holy Spirit has been a powerful stream of life proceeding from the Divine Human God to aid and energise all who would live out his gospel in their daily lives.

No human being can live without three distinct aspects to their life. The soul is the very spark of life in them, the body is the outward form enabling them to live as part of the human race on earth, and activity is the expression and use of their life. Although we each have these three clear essentials to our life, still we remain distinctly one person. In this respect we are made in the very likeness of God. Emanuel Swedenborg expresses it well in the following words, Those three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are the three essentials of a single God, which make one as soul, body and activity do with a person [True Christian Religion 166].  

There is and can be only one God. The Lord Jesus Christ is the one Divine Human who, because of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit within him can love all people, be as close to them as their own body, and be a powerful influence for good in their lives.  The great joy of the Trinity is that it means each one of us is able to have a full personal relationship with our God and Saviour.

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

For in (Christ) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. [Colossians 2:9 NRSV]

What the Bible Says

 

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People who search for truth in the Bible often find that the teachings of the Bible are different from what they had been told by others. This series of articles will offer you a summary of some of the teachings of the Bible. Sometimes popular concepts of what the Bible says are based on tradition, misconceptions, or passages taken out of context. So don’t be surprised if you find here some ideas different from what you may have heard elsewhere.


Articles in this Series