Resurrection after Death

Chapter 4Resurrection after Death
According to the doctrines of the New Church, death and resurrection are the same event in different aspects. The death of the material body is the natural side of it, and consequently it is all we can see while we are in this world. Resurrection is the spiritual side. The material body is left behind and turns to dust. We rise out of it. We are withdrawn from the body as the hand is withdrawn from a glove; and when the separation of the spiritual from the material body is fully effected, we stand a complete person in the spiritual world, with all our senses and our whole organism perfectly adapted to it. We have lost no more than the sparrow loses when it breaks its shell. When the material body dies, we rise. We do not wait for unknown ages, and flit about nowhere, and no-body, waiting for a general resurrection of the material body, that we may crawl back into his old prison and resume its chains. We have left nothing behind that can ever be useful to us again. The beautiful moth never becomes a worm. The sparrow never folds its wings, closes its eyes to the new world in which it has rejoiced for a brief summer, and becomes reinvested with its old shell. So it is with us. The material body returns to the ground whence it was taken. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” The spiritual body is raised up into the spiritual world, its proper home, where it will dwell forever.The statement of Swedenborg on the subject is as follows:

“When the body is no longer able to perform its functions in the natural world, corresponding to the thoughts and affections of its spirit, which it has from the spiritual world, then the person is said to die. This takes place when the respiratory motions of the lungs and the systolic motions of the heart cease; but still a person does not die, but is only separated from the corporeal part, which was of use to them in the world; for the person him or her self lives. It is said that the person themself lives, because a person is not a person from the body, but from the spirit, since the spirit thinks in a person, and thought with affection makes a person. Hence it is evident that a person, when they die, only passes from one world into another.” (Heaven and Hell, no. 445)

He then goes on to say, “that man is man from his spirit, and not from his body; and that the corporeal form is added to the spirit according to the form of the spirit and not the reverse; for the spirit is clothed with a body according to its own form; wherefore the spirit of a person acts into the minutest particulars of the body, insomuch that the part which is not actuated by the spirit, or in which the spirit is not acting, does not live. That this is so, may be known to every one from this alone; that thought and will actuate each and all things of the body with such entire command, that everything concurs, and whatever does not concur is not a part of the body, and is also cast out as something in which is no life; thought and will are of the spirit of man, and not of the body.” (no. 453) “When a person enters the spiritual world, or the life after death, they are in a body as in the world; to appearance there is no difference, and he or she does not perceive nor see any difference. But their body is then spiritual, and thus separated or purified from earthly things, and when what is spiritual touches and sees what is spiritual, it is just as when what is natural touches and sees what is natural; hence a person, when they have become a spirit, does not know otherwise than that they are in their body in which they were in the world, and thus does not know [at first] that they are deceased. A person’s spirit also enjoys every external and internal sense which they enjoyed in the world; they see as before; they hear and speak as before; they also smell and taste, and when they are touched they feel the touch as before; they also long, desires, crave, think, reflect, re affected, love, will, as before; and they who delight in studies reads and writes as before. In a word, when a person passes from one life into the other, or from one world into the other, it is as if they passed from one place into another; and they carry with them all things which they possessed in themselves as a person, so that it cannot be said that the person after death, which is only the death of the earthly body, has lost anything of themselves. They also carries with they the natural memory, for they retain all things whatsoever which they had in the world heard, seen, read, learned, and thought, from earliest infancy even to the end of life.

“But still the difference between the life of people in the spiritual world and their life in the natural world is great, as well with respect to the external senses and their affections, as with respect to the internal senses and their affections. Those who are in heaven perceive by the senses, that is, they see and hear, much more exquisitely, and also think more wisely, than when they were in the world.

“The difference of these external senses is as the difference between sunshine and the obscurity of mist in the world, and as the difference between the light at midday and the shade at evening.” (nos. 461, 462)

Such is a concise and simple statement of the belief of the New Church concerning that change in man called resurrection. It differs from the doctrines usually received in every particular.

1. It declares that the spirit is the real and only person, and the whole of the person.

The common doctrine practically regards the body as the real person, and the spirit as some vital principle, or motive power which animates the m person an; but of which, by itself, we can form no conception, and, therefore, it teaches us to look for the resurrection of the same body we deposit in the grave; it teaches us that the spirit comes back and reenters the material elements newly organized, and until this reunion is effected, neither the spirit nor the body is a complete man. The New Church teaches that human beings are spirits, and have a material body during the first stage of their being; the earlier idea was that human beings are a material body, and have a spirit.

2. The New Church teaches that the resurrection consists in the withdrawal from the material body and raising up into the spiritual world of the person themselves.

The old doctrine declares that the material body is raised up from the grave and the spirit brought back from wherever it may dwell during its separation from the body, reenters it, and becomes its life.

3. According to the doctrines of the New Church, death and resurrection are two aspects of the same event.

According to traditional doctrine, the resurrection of the material body is to take place at some distant period at the end of the world. The doctrines differ, then, in three particulars; the subject ofthe resurrection, the manner of the resurrection, and the time in which it is effected. The New Church believes that it is the spirit which is raised; the previous idea was that it is the body. The New teaches that the simple act of resurrection is the separation of the soul from the body; the previous that it is the reunion of the soul and body. The New declares that people rise immediately after the death of the body; the previous that they will not rise until some unknown period at the end of the world.

Having thus stated the doctrine of the New Church concerning the resurrection, as taught in the writings of Swedenborg, and, as we believe, in the Bible, I invite your attention to some of the Scriptural and rational grounds of this faith.

1st. We have endeavored in a former chapter to show that man and his spirit are the same. It is necessary to keep this truth distinctly before us, that we may know what and whom we are talking about when we speak of our resurrection. We do not mean that our tools; our material mechanism; our material garments, which were continually changing while they clothed us, are the subject of resurrection. We do not mean oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and iron, even when cunningly woven into nerve and muscle, into brain and heart. We do mean that wonderful spiritual being who formed these dead elements into this delicate and complex miracle, the human body; who lived in it, acted through it, carried it about in all the paths of life, preserved it from decay, gave it a sensitive and conscious existence, and so wielded it to his own purposes and molded it to our own form, that multitudes have mistaken the dead image for the living being. They are now looking down into the grave for the re-awakening and restoration to life of those who have entered the shining portals of heaven, and who, now free from the burden of matter, are clothed with a beauty, and are enjoying a blessedness, which we who yet dwell in these tents of clay cannot conceive, and much less express.

2nd. We are now prepared to examine our second point, which is: That this resurrection consists essentially in the withdrawal of a person from their material body, and not in raising to life the body itself. This would follow as a necessary consequence, from our first position, that people are really spiritual beings, and take nothing of their humanity from the material body, not even their form. But there are positive considerations which tend powerfully to the same conclusion.

I. The original word anastasis, translated “resurrection,” exactly expresses the New Church idea of the change that actually takes place in man at his resurrection. It has no such meaning as raising up to life again in this world. It means a continuance of existence after the death of the body. Our Lord’s argument with the Sadducees, shows that it has this meaning beyond question. But that no one may think this interpretation of the word is peculiar to the New Church, or that there is any attempt to wrest it from its true meaning, I will quote a passage from a sermon of Dr. Dwight, of New Haven, upon the resurrection.

“This word anastasis,” he says, “is commonly, but often erroneously, translated resurrection. So far as I have observed, it usually denotes our existence beyond the grave…. Many passages of Scripture would have been rendered more intelligible, and the thoughts contained in them more just and impressive, had this word been translated agreeably to its real meaning. This observation will be sufficiently illustrated by a recurrence to that remarkable passage which contains the dispute between our Savior and the Sadducees. ‘Then came unto him,’ says the Evangelist, ‘the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection;’ that is, that there is no future state, or no future existence of mankind. They declare seven brothers to have married successively one wife, who survived them all. Then they ask, ‘Whose wife shall she be in the resurrection?’ – in the future state? Our Savior answers, ‘In the resurrection,’ or, as it should be rendered, ‘in the future state, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God?’ or, as it ought to be rendered, ‘Have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God concerning the future life of those who are dead, saying, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.’ This passage, were we at any loss concerning the meaning of the word anastasis, determines it beyond dispute. The proof that there is an ‘anastasis’ of the dead alleged by our Savior, is the declaration of God to Moses, ‘ I am the God of Abraham,’ &c., and the irresistible truth that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. The consequence is, every one who reads the Bible knows that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were living at the time when this declaration was made. Those who die, therefore, live after they are dead; and this future life is the ‘anastasis,’ which is proved by our Savior in this passage, and which is universally denoted by this term throughout the New Testament.”

The common idea of the resurrection, namely that it consists in bringing the spirit back from the spiritual world, and in the restoration to life of the dead bodies deposited in the tomb, is not derived from this word. It was rather put into it to make the Scripture conform to preconceived ideas. The word has no reference to the body.

2. But again: There is nothing said in the Bible about the resurrection of the body, as there necessarily would not be if the original term means a continuance of life in the Spiritual World. There is much said about the continuance of life after death; or, to use the common term, of the resurrection from the dead, or of the dead; but the terms resurrection of the body or of the flesh are nowhere to be found, because there is no such idea or truth in the Bible to express.

This was the idea of a certain class of Jews, and when it was expressed, at least on one memorable occasion, our Lord corrected it. When He said to Martha, “Thy brother shall rise again,” she answered, according to the common doctrine of the time, “I know he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” What was the reply? Was it an assent to this doctrine, as it naturally would have been if it was true? Did our Lord say, “True, the body you have deposited in the tomb would be raised up again at the end of the world. But, as a special favor, I will restore your brother to life now, though he will again pass into the tomb, and await the final resurrection?” No, nothing of this; “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

The life and the death He referred to could not have been the life or death of the body. They must refer to the life or death of the a person themselves – of their soul. It is the same as though He had said, “You are mistaken, Martha, in supposing that the body is to be raised up at the last day. The true resurrection is that of the spirit. Those who are truly alive, who live and believe in Me, can never die. And though they are dead, if they will exercise a living belief in Me, they shall live. I am,” not I will be; “I am the resurrection and the life now, to all who will receive life from Me.” You see how entirely the body is ignored in this reply, as though it was of no consequence. If a person is spiritually alive now, they can never die. Their separation from the material body does not touch his their any more than the change of clothes. – And if they are spiritually dead, destroying the material body will not make them any more dead. The Lord always strives to lift us above the merely natural idea; to raise us out of the grave of the natural and temporary to the spiritual and eternal. He gives a new spiritual meaning to those terms and ideas to which the sensuous-minded Jew had attached only a material one. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”

This principle shows us how we must understand the 28th and 29th verses of the fifth chapter of John, which probably contain the strongest statement of the doctrine of the resurrection of the material body to be found in the Bible. “Marvel not at this,” the Lord says, “for the hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation.” But just before He had said, “The hour is coming, and now is,when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.” And in the preceding verse, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life.” He “is passed from death unto life.”

By those who are in their graves are evidently meant the same as the dead in the preceding verse, and there it is said, “The hour is coming, and now is.” It is always present. “I am the resurrection and the life.” As life is received from Me, every one is raised up from the dead. A person is passed from death unto life. Here as before, and everywhere, the material body is not referred to, because it is no part of the person.

But suppose we understand it as teaching the doctrine of the resurrection of the body at the last day, how can we reconcile the declaration with the clause, “the hour is coming, and now is,” in the preceding verse? Who or what is meant by all who are in their graves? Are all the generations of people who have lived in this world in their graves? We have the most positive evidence that they are not. Moses and Elias are not in their graves. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not in their graves. And that multitude which no one can number, from every nation, kindred, tribe, and tongue, are not in their graves.

There are many passages in the Bible which imply or plainly speak of a resurrection. The whole scope and intent of the revelation contained in the Word, is to teach and prove the Resurrection, the “anastasis,”the uninterrupted continuance of life in the spiritual world, after the death of the body, and how that life can be made the most blissful and rich in all spiritual blessings. But there is some difficulty about every passage, if by resurrection we mean the bringing back to life the material body. The passage in Job, which was once supposed to teach this doctrine, is now given up, and by common consent it is conceded that it has no reference to the resurrection of the body. And the passage in Daniel xii. 2 : “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt,” was once claimed as teaching this doctrine. But it is now given up by the most intelligent writers upon the subject. The fatal clausein it is the words “many of them.” Many does not mean all, but only a part. The words cannot refer to a general resurrection, then; and the most learned commentators confess that it has no reference to the resurrection of the dead.

The famous passage in 1 Corinthians, the last one which I shall notice, teaches a doctrine directly the reverse of the one generally entertained, and strictly in accordance with the doctrine of the New Church. Paul declares that there is a natural body, and that there is a spiritual body; that a natural body is sown and a spiritual body raised, that the body raised is not the one sown. But it is needless to enter upon a critical examination of the whole passage. The more critically and exhaustively all the passages relating to this subject are examined, however, the more fully they will be found to confirm the doctrine that the resurrection itself consists essentially in the withdrawal of the man himself from the material body and raising him up in the spiritual world.

There are two resurrections, as there are two deaths. The first consists in the restoration of a person to spiritual life. This is truly a resurrection from death, and is effected while we live in the body in this world, by the voice of the Son of God, or the Divine truth. When the soul, dead in trespasses and sins, hears that voice and obeys it, it begins to rise from the grave of sin and falsity, and to live. It has passed from death unto life, and will die no more for ever. This is the essential resurrection, and the one to which our Lord always refers. The only effect of the death of the body upon such persons is to give them freedom and the most favorable opportunities for the exercise of all their faculties. The second resurrection is the conscious introduction of all, both the spiritually living and dead, into the spiritual world. These two resurrections are so spoken of in connection with each other, the first being described under the form of the second, that it is sometimes difficult to see the full bearing of all parts of the literal statement without a knowledge of this distinction. And much of the perplexity and doubt as to the meaning of many passages which the sincerest seekers after truth have found originates in this duality of statement and meaning. The two ideas, the resurrection from spiritual death and the continuance of life in the spiritual world, are both implied in all statements upon the subject; sometimes one truth appears more prominent than the other, but, generally, both crop out in some form. They do not in any way conflict with each other; and when the whole truth in both forms is understood, every particular passage in the whole Bible will be found to be perfectly consistent with itself, with every other passage, and with the tenor of the whole Scripture, and the doctrines of the New Church concerning the resurrection.

Right reason will always coincide with a true knowledge of Scripture. If this doctrine is genuine truth, reason will also give her cordial assent to it, and we shall find indications and prophecies of it in the created as well as the revealed Word. There is no instance in nature of such a resurrection as the common doctrine asserts. But the world is full of the most beautiful examples analogous to our true resurrection. Indeed, every organized thing passes through analogous states. The coarse rough calyx is as a body to the soul of the plant in winter. Man in this world is only the bud of what he will be. The voice of spring calls to the sleeping blossom, and it bursts the cerements of its grave, and rises up into the new world of light and heat, and blesses the earth and man with its fragrance and beauty. But the blossom is only the swaddling-clothes of the real plant, the seed containing the life, and therefore it fades and falls when the true plant is raised up into life.

The same stages of death and resurrection are still more fully exhibited in insect and animal life. The beautiful moth finds its anastasis; it is raised up from a worm, and emerges into a new world. The sparrow that flies in freedom through every field was once folded within the narrow limits of an egg. The shell was its horizon and the boundaries of its universe. But at the voice of God, revealed in its own instincts, it burst the bars of its tomb, and found its resurrection and its true home in another world.

So it is with us. We attain a resurrection for our material body when we are born into this world, and a resurrection for our spiritual body when we are born into the spiritual world. So fully and clearly does the Lord teach us in the visible things around us what He is doing in the invisible within us; so clearly does He show us in the present what He will do for us in the future.

Now, in all these changes and resurrections, there is no instance of the dead body being raised to life. In no case does any created thing go back and resume its former status. The moth never becomes a worm again. The sparrow never goes back into the shell, to reanimate it. Everything moves forward, completes the cycle of its life, and perpetuates its species. But human beings, being essentially spiritual, and, therefore, immortal beings, find their resurrection by passing into another world, which is their proper home.

There are many inconsistencies and absurdities connected with the common doctrine which its advocates have always found it impossible to reconcile or explain away, and many of them have been given up. It was once maintained, that exactly the same body deposited in the ground would be raised up. But this involves the idea that man is to be raised up with all his physical imperfections and deformities. Most persons die in old age, when the beauty and vigor of adult life are lost; or after the body has become emaciated with disease, or crushed and mangled by accident or in battle. The particles of matter contained in one body have been incorporated into many others, and omnipotence cannot make the materials which belong to two or more bodies, belong exclusively to each one.

To avoid one difficulty, some have maintained that every particle of matter that ever belonged to the body is incorporated into it at the resurrection. But this would make those who live to old age perfect monsters. Allowing the materials of the body to be renewed once in seven years, which is the common estimate, a man who weighed one hundred and fifty pounds, and lived to be threescore and ten, would weigh twelve or fifteen hundred pounds, and Methuselah would weigh nearly ten tons.

Some have tried to avoid this absurdity, and the impossibility of the identical matter which composed the body at death, being raised up, by the theory that the same chemical elements, as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, etc., will be incorporated into the new body.

But the essential difficulty with all the theories is, that they get only a material body, whatever terms may be applied to it, or whatever imaginary perfections it may be supposed to possess; and a material body must be subject to all the limitations and imperfections of matter. It must keep man in this world; and however vigorously its advocates may deny it, the common doctrine leads to an inevitable materialism. Matter cannot be changed into spirit. If it could be, it would cease to be matter, and we do not get the resurrection of the body after all! If such a change is possible, there can be a spiritual body, and if there can, what is the use of a material one? Carry the doctrine out to its legitimate consequences and absurdities, and inexplicable difficulties close about the mind on every side, until its advocates always are compelled to take refuge in the Divine omnipotence.

3. It is not necessary, even if I had space, to dwell upon our third topic. If the first two points are true, the third certainly is; if they are not, it is of but little consequence when the material body is raised. But in all the passages of the Word upon which I have commented, you can hardly fail to see that the Resurrection must necessarily take place at the time of the death of the body. All the persons mentioned had attained their resurrection. But if any further testimony is needed, what our Lord said to the thief upon the cross would be conclusive: “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

In whatever light we view the subject we are brought back to the plain, simple, and comforting truth, that people are essentially spiritual beings, that their resurrection consists in the withdrawal of their spiritual from their material bodies, and that this takes place at the time the material body dies. Death and the resurrection are the same act viewed from opposite sides, and peoples’ departure from this world is their entrance into the spiritual world, where they are to find their home and the theatre of their activities for ever. The voice of God, as it comes to us in the analogies of nature, teaches this doctrine in every plant that grows, in every insect whose life is bounded by a summer’s day, and in every animal that lives; enlightened reason joyfully assents to it, and every aspiration of our souls finds in it the sure promise of the fruition of all our hopes; and especially as with the blast of a trumpet, with no uncertain sound, does the voice of God, in His Holy Word, declare it. So far as we accept it as truth, and bring it home to ourselves as a reality, earth and all its fleeting pleasure, and momentary issues fade away; life and immortality come to light; and only those attainments and possessions which will be of service to us in our final home in the eternal future, seem worthy of our labor or our love.