4 Our Spiritual Guardians

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4 Our Spiritual Guardians

“The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.” Psalm 34:7

Angelic Mediations

At creation, as recorded in the book of Genesis, God said, “Let us make man in our image after our likeness.” Some have been disturbed by this wording, which suggests that many Divine creators might have been at work. And the Hebrew word for God is Elohim, which is a plural construction. It is a “plural of eminence” used for the one God; but only when the Divine truth is referred to, for truth displays the manifold powers and aspects of God. Many Divine laws concurred in man’s creation. The same word, elohim, is however used also for the false gods of the nations and even for the angels and prophets who receive Divine truths.73 And in the spiritual sense, the six days of creation describe the process of man’s regeneration, the name Elohim being used to indicate that in regenerating man the one God acts through innumerable agencies, and that it is through the ministry of angels that He leads, awakens, governs, and disposes man’s spiritual life and thus bestows upon him the truly human qualities which are meant by the image and likeness of God.74

The inmost soul of man, or the human internal, is indeed not affected by this angelic ministry. For it is, in degree, far above the angelic heavens and is acted upon only by the Lord whose life inflows into it by an immediate way.75 But as to the interiors of his spirit or mind, and as to his ruling love and its inner thought which does not fall within the consciousness of man himself, he dwells in a society of heaven or of hell.76 And as to his natural, or what is the same, his rational mind and its conscious thought and will, man is—in all but realization—an inhabitant of the world of spirits.77

The body of man is under the general influx of heaven. It is in the order of its creation and governed by the soul. Spirits are not adjoined to man’s body,78 and do not affect its life and its states directly; nor do they have any part in the expression of our thought and will in speech and act; for this influx of the mind into the body follows orderly laws outside of the control of either men or spirits.79

Spirits do however “inflow” into what is thought and consciously desired by man. Their hidden operations are what make possible man’s conscious life and affection, and manifest themselves in us as impulses, imaginations and reasonings. The angels, on the other hand, act upon man’s interiors, and produce no perceptible effects in man’s mental life. For their influx is “tacit.” It does not stir up material ideas or object-memories ;80 but is directed to man’s ends or inner motives, which are not consciously articulated in man’s mind, but which are none the less efficient and secretly powerful.81 The angels also rule and regulate the evil spirits who are near a man, generally without the knowledge or perception of these spirits.82

Guardian Angels

The revelations of the Second Advent lay bare the magnificent order of the spiritual empire of the Lord, in which the Lord correlates the finite wills of all men, spirits, and angels, and holds them in mutual freedom, under the rule of a law which is able to guarantee a sense of “as-of-one’s-self” life to every living being on every plane, yet is able to weave their uses together for the creation of a glorious form wherein the happiness of each one is reflected to all and that of all to each.

To every man the Lord has assigned two guardian angels, one celestial and one spiritual.82 This is not an arbitrary number. It results from the fact that man’s will and understanding, at every stage of life, each have a ruling state and quality which responds to that particular influx which is most kindred to it. And each angel in heaven also instinctively seeks that ultimate expression for his life which most closely corresponds to his love. For life descends to ultimates. Yet the angel does not desire to descend to the level of merely external human life, or to face again the imperfections of earthly conditions, such as are reflected in man’s outward thinking. He dwells with man in the community of those spiritual riches of the internal man with which man’s supraconscious thought is stored; which include not only childhood “remains” of innocence, but all the later states of faith and worship which abide where moth and rust do not corrupt.

In this life, man is not conscious of his spiritual treasures, or of the brilliant wealth and glory that is concealed within his vague spiritual perceptions. They come to him only as the stirring of something of charity, or as occasional enlightenment and delight in truth.83 The spiritual thought of man flows into his natural thought, which in turn clings to his memory. With Swedenborg, the case was indeed different. With him, by a Divine provision, a certain separation took place between the thought of his spirit and the thought of his body. And he could therefore perceive the presence of the angels and spirits who were with him; which is not possible to ordinary men.84

It is not possible for guardian angels to see the man with whom they are, although they know when they are with a man. To lead and moderate his affections, and to modify and bend them in various directions as far as man’s free will permits, is indeed one of the specific functions of angelic service.85 The angels observe if any new hells are opened; and if man brings himself into any new evil, they close those hells as far as man suffers it. They dissipate foreign or strange influxes which may tend to harm man, calling forth goods and truths from man’s mind to combat the evil put forth by the wicked spirits; and they are vigilant every moment in regard to man’s safety.86 They attentively and continually notice what the evil spirits and genii with man are intending and attempting, and they feel great joy when they perceive that their service has made it possible to remove some evils and to lead man nearer heaven.87

These angels, or angelic spirits, were seen by Swedenborg “near the head” of man. Yet it does not appear that they visualize the man. Unless they reflect, they think no otherwise than that they are the man—but the interior man, the man as to his interior thought which man does not yet consciously realize. If they reflect, they are able to discern that they are angelic spirits,88 and have been with a man; even as we know that some impulse we feel came from spirits. But the angelic spirits consciously perform the use of extending the Lord’s protection to man. And the union at the time is intimate: they dwell in the man’s affections,89 live themselves into his inmost unconscious life, and feel the utmost sympathy with all the good thoughts which thence issue into man’s mind.

They consider man as a brother and even defend his faults against too intensive self-criticism; or, on the other hand, they may keep him within sight of his evils.90

Yet angelic spirits are not aware of what man is doing or thinking in the externals of his thought. For their sphere is that of the interior memory.91 And especially is this the case, Swedenborg notes, at this day when angels cannot have any direct conjunction with man.92 The angels therefore have an ardent longing that the kingdom of God Messiah might come so that a closer conjunction might be brought about between them and mankind.93

In most ancient times, as still on certain other earths, spirits were at times able to communicate openly with men and converse with them. The spirit is then reduced to the state in which he was when on earth; his external memory is aroused so that he assumes again the whole complex of his former natural thought; and then the interior sight of the man is opened, and they appear to each other as if both were men together.94 In such a way angels appeared to the prophets. But at this day such vision is rarely given, lest men be compelled to belief. On the other hand, even today, those men who think abstractedly from the body, while in meditation, interior reflection, or sustained abstruse ideas, are sometimes seen as to their spirits in their own society in the spiritual world.95 There such are easily distinguished from other spirits; “for they go about meditating and in silence, not looking at others and apparently not seeing them; and as soon as any spirit addresses them, they vanish.”96

Swedenborg’s Testimony

Because Swedenborg thought profoundly, he would, like other men, normally have appeared at times in societies of angelic spirits. But the peculiar state of Swedenborg was such that he could maintain himself in independent abstract thought and thus consciously converse with spirits and enjoy spiritual sensation even while in bodily wakefulness.

When his spiritual thought was not abstracted from the thought of material objects he was invisible to the angelic spirits. For material objects cannot be reproduced as such in the spiritual world; and the ideas of such objects in time and space cannot be expressed by the universal spiritual language. But when he became “in the spirit”—that is, when material ideas were separated from his spiritual thought (and only those material ideas which were in entire correspondence with the spiritual ideas were at all active)—then he became visible to the spirits, could perceive their wisdom, and consociate with them as one of themselves. It was thus that Swedenborg could explore the heavens and live the life of angels and spirits. It was thus that the treasures of the spiritual sense of the Word, and every Divine arcanum, could be conveyed to his mind and be grasped in enlightenment and later, under Divine inspiration, could be written in rational natural language, “clear as crystal” (DV 6).

But Swedenborg’s mission also gave him an opportunity to instruct angels about their relation to men. We do not imagine that when he visited some heaven he reduced all the angels there into the state of that class of angelic spirits who “are with men” and are called “guardian angels.” Still, Swedenborg was sometimes allowed to direct his spiritual thought into natural thought, and thus—by way of experiment —show approximately the change which occurs when angelic spirits are with men.

Thus it is told how certain angelic spirits, when they retired from Swedenborg into their own spiritual society, came into a spiritual state and into supereminent ideas of spiritual thought and into the understanding of spiritual speech and writing which conveyed this thought most accurately and fully.97 But when they returned to Swedenborg, they found themselves to have come into his natural state and were entirely unable to express their spiritual ideas or to understand the speech or writing of heaven : but they could now think only in terms of Swedenborg’s thoughts or, rather, converse with each other by his ideas and speak to him only by the natural languages that he knew. In other words, from their ordinary state as angelic spirits they had been reduced to attendant spirits, by their directing their attention to his thoughts which were conjoined to his natural memory. Yet they were still able to converse openly and consciously with Swedenborg as a person, for he was in a state widely different from that of other men, and was obviously a different individual from them. Some of these spirits actually accompanied him to his home, and as he began to write they could see through his mind a moth which was walking on his paper.97 This is not possible to our attendant spirits.

The State of an Attendant Spirit

From these incidents it is very clear that our guardian angels are—for the sake of their use—reduced into a state resembling man’s. Angels principally inflow into the interior thought which a man is unable to perceive within himself because it is in the realm of ends and is not articulated to his conscious reflection. This interior thought they assume as their own, implying an accommodated state not comparable to angelic wisdom itself. Since it is true of all angels that

their common basis must be the human race on earth ;98 and since man is the plane upon which the thoughts of the angels rest; it might perhaps seem strange that angels attendant upon man are reduced into man’s own general state. For if this is so, whence comes the progress of the heavens?

The answer must be that the angels have access to mankind as a general basis even when not serving a use as man’s guardians. And it is indeed said that the particular spiritual beings who “are with men” are not from heaven or from hell, but are spirits who as yet await their judgment or final preparation.” But such statements do not contradict the principle elsewhere laid down, that spirits who are with men can indeed be from hell or from heaven. If from hell, they must be such as are not confined there but who—not having been as yet fully vastated—have emerged into the world of spirits for a more complete vastation and are thus in the state of the world of spirits, or in something of a natural-rational state. In the case of angelic guardians, they—whether spirits or angels—must also be reduced into the state of man’s natural thought and life. And the general rule may thus be seen that the guardian spirits with man are all emissaries or representatives of some spiritual society either in heaven or in hell. In other words, they are “subject-spirits.”100

If all angels were reduced into a state attuned to that of man, it would defeat the purpose of influx and guardianship. Instead the Lord provides that each angelic society should act upon man through intermediates. These may be spirits in the world of spirits into one of whom the angels of the society concentrate their thought, and whom they inspire with their own illustration and power so that he may act for them and from them. Or else, one of the members of that society serves as an emissary and subject. In either case the subject acts and speaks and thinks from the society; he thinks nothing from himself, although he feels entirely as if he did so from his own choice and his own thought. The greater the numbers in a society who thus “turn themselves” to some spirit and direct their “intuition” into him, the greater power and clarity does this spirit possess.101

Through these particular spirits the currents of life and illustration are directed to the varied states of man, so as to stir particular states in his mind, without rousing the whole dormant will of the proprium. For his will, from heredity and birth, is entirely evil in tendency. His will is a malformation which can receive only the life of hell. If there should be a sudden excitation of the whole of this life, all would be over with man. He would be submerged in a flood of passion and fantasy; and heavenly influx would be impossible.

The Lord has ordained otherwise. He has provided that man’s native life shall not suddenly exhibit all its hideous potentialities, but that it shall be revealed only little by little while earth-life progresses—aroused only so far as it can be comprehended by conscious thought. In other words, the Lord has provided that there shall be no general influx into the conscious part of the mind, but that man’s responsible life shall be carried on in the understanding by states of thought and will that develop gradually; and that all the forces of the spiritual world shall have their representatives near man and shall balance each other’s influence, and so leave man in freedom.

The Number of Our Attendant Spirits

In general, each man has four attendant spirits. Two angelic spirits are present. The other two are the subjects—respectively—of the hell of “genii” and the hell of “satanic spirits.” These four are generally invisible to each other, with the exception that the good spirits see the evil spirits whose wicked intent they seek to frustrate.102 And none of them see the man with whom they are, but only his affections.103

The intimacy of these spirits with man’s whole mind may be seen from the revealed fact that the spirits near to man think that they are the man and, if evil, are unwilling to admit that they are no longer living in the body, although this could easily be shown them if they were willing to reflect.104 The appearances upon which their self-deception rests are indeed strong. For such spirits, while they are near man, possess or assume his whole memory! Angelic spirits would assume his whole interior memory; other spirits his exterior memory105 with all his past, with his whole personality, his active self; yet all this without disturbing man’s feeling of self-life and freedom in the least. Nothing of a spirit’s own natural memory is permitted to be active. Spirits forget themselves and their own natural past, lest confusion should result in man’s mind by their communicating their memories to him. Several spirits, forgetting their own identities, may at the same time suppose themselves to be the man, and yet man be happily oblivious of their illusions !106 Each spirit would then take, from the mazes of man’s memory, all that harmonizes with his own affection, and man may thus find himself torn by opposing delights. But all the attending spirits, because they thus identify man’s mind with their own, act as his friends.107

Spirits generally do not remain long with a man but are always changing according to man’s advance in age or state. A striking exception to this rule is suggested in the teaching that death does not separate conjugial partners, “since the spirit of the deceased dwells continually with the spirit of the one not yet deceased, and this even until the death of the other, when they meet again and reunite, and love each other more tenderly than before, because in the spiritual world.”108 But that the partner is always in the state typical of an attendant spirit is not said, and in no wise follows.

From a certain relation we judge that these four special attendants, or at least one among them, may be the same for a long time. In the presence of Swedenborg, and through his memory, spirits could sometimes become aware with what men they were closely consociated. Such consociate spirits resemble their earthly alter ego, sometimes even as to dress. One such spirit declared that he could understand clearly all that the man he attended said, but that the man could not understand the things he, the spirit, said. Another admitted that he thought and spoke from a certain man on earth as the man did from him.109 But this realization was exceptional, due to Swedenborg’s presence.

Without an associate spirit with an affection similar to his own, and thence perceptions of a like kind, a man could not think analytically, rationally or spiritually.110 The attendant spirits may take on the man’s whole memory or only a part, and remain with the man as long as they represent a general state. As the man advances from childhood, both his angelic guardians and his infernal attendants are changed. In infancy, angels of the celestial type, including infant spirits, are with him and insinuate innocence. In childhood, spirits of the natural heaven are close, instilling an affection of knowing. In youth, spirits of intelligence, subjects of the second heaven, are his guardians. And in old age there attend, if man permits, spirits of wisdom and mature innocence, who communicate with the third heaven.111

Yet more remotely there are hosts of other spirits, good and evil, who make temporary use of the shifting ideas of man’s memory and arouse in him passing delights and tentative affections, without so fully identifying themselves with the man. In this variety man finds a freedom of choice, and his thoughts are through them extended to new societies in heaven or in hell.112 Every moment there passes a swift flow of such spiritual associates—like specific radio-currents to which our mind is tuned in—to inspire, maintain and enrich the colorful procession of our thoughts, evoking old memories, suggesting new connections of one idea with another, inducing new moods of courage or dismay, and kindling flashes of new perceptions.

People whose thoughts are fixed upon sensual objects have few spirits with them,113 while with men whose ideas are more interiorly active and are constantly “multiplied and divided,” there are obviously very many more associations made with spirits, good or evil.114 With those who think abstractly there are therefore many spirits in constant flux.115 But it is intimated that those who are led more according to spontaneous order—as for instance children in their innocence—need fewer spirits to govern them than do most adults. Adults, who act from prudence and are apt to resist the truths of faith more stubbornly, require a greater force of spirits to reform them.116The orderly thing is for these spirits to be adjoined when man’s affections are stirred. But there are also “strange influxes” from spirits who are not invited by man’s real consent, but who induce moods of sadness, melancholy or homesickness.117

Such nostalgia seemingly results from spirits who fail to leave man when his state changes, but become attached to the idea of certain places and objects and induce the man to return to them at least in thought. Our guardian angels then have the task of driving such spirits away, by concentrating his interest on some use and bending his affections towards spiritual things.

Spirits Rest on Symbols

Spirits find their resting-place with man in the “ultimates” of his mind—that is, in external signs and symbols which are indications of his inner purposes and loves. To avoid confusion and to prevent strange and unwanted influxes, man has to order his life by self-imposed habits and established externals of worship and morality. The object of all the sacraments, rites, blessings, and institutions of the church is to help to introduce our spirit into heavenly societies. Baptism is a most striking example. For is not its avowed purpose to transfer a man into the society of his faith—into the company of souls who rejoice in the heavenly doctrine and who can protect him against “wandering spirits?” Is not the Holy Supper a means for introducing our spirit into heaven, and a sealing (in the sight of all spirits) of our desire to become the children of God. Is not every good habit of worship and piety, of order and cleanliness, of industry and courtesy, an ultimate protection against strange spirits who would insinuate fantasies, doubts, and conflicts and thus harm our devotion to the uses which we have freely assumed ? Inauguration into the priesthood ensures—so far as the candidate permits—the guardianship of societies which love the priestly use and the salvation of souls, and which encourage interior progress in this use. Betrothal, marriage, and priestly blessings of all kinds have within them the same intent—to assure an interior progress by conjunction with our heavenly guardians.

In each case, these ceremonies are marked by specific acts or procedures which set the person apart, not only in the eyes of men but also to the minds of spirits. Spirits do not see the man baptized, but the memory of the act inheres as a permanent and ineradicable basis of association with spirits of his faith, and as a fulcrum for the presence of angelic societies. The impress of the rite in the external memory is made a symbol for the celestial and spiritual “remains” and for the deep stirrings of charity and faith which at the same time are insinuated in the interior memory—a memory which is forever exempt from any infestation by evil spirits. The knowledge of baptism becomes the center for a gathering group of ideas open to spiritual influx. The Writings aid us to become aware of the spiritual significance and effect of our external acts, customs and decisions. The real issues of our life have to do with the question as to what unseen spiritual associates we invite to linger and lodge in our mind, our imagination, our thought, and our heart. And spirits are associated with our minds by many seemingly inconsequential and trifling circumstances, which yet have deep symbolic significance. Even as a world of emotion can be stirred up in us by the sight of a rose or a child’s toy, so spirits see—in the objective things of our memory—great depths of associated meanings which have immense importance for them and hence for us. This is the basic reason for correspondential rituals.

The mind is ritualistic. We are compelled to resort to ritual to compensate for the fact that we do not fully comprehend the simplest elements of our own thought. We recall an object, and may have to be content to recollect that it once suggested a world of particular meanings—meanings which we ourselves now have forgotten and cannot fathom or explain ! But the spirits with us—they understand ! They cause a host of “such things as were adjoined” to be lifted up around our material idea of the object, as an undulating sphere of associated ideas. By such “spiritual wings” the inner meaning of the object is elevated from the grave of the memory into what we call “consciousness.” “Thereby man has apperception of a thing.”118

In other words, without spirits we could not be humanly conscious—could not interpret our memories into meanings. Our words and memory images would be without sense or import unless there were spirits who can, by their peculiar power and prerogative, see and gather all the implications and arouse all the thoughts and delights that are interiorly attached to these dead symbols. Their prerogative is to see spiritual relations—to see the whole thought with its complex roots and branches. Even with the help of his attendant spirits, man can see only the vaguest generals.118

It is thus clear that a man can think and will only together with the spirits who are with him.119 The teaching that “spirits and men are in each other’s thoughts and affections”120 is countered by another which shows that “everything of thought and affection flows in through spirits and angels,”121 by a third, which states that men and spirits “are not conjoined as to thoughts, but as to affections,”122 and by a fourth, which tells that spirits do not introduce thoughts into man, but only affections.123

It is indeed the affection of the spirit which flows in. But so far as this affection is in accord with man’s interior affection which is built up from his free choice, it can also flow into his understanding and manifest itself there as perception and thought. Man is active as to memory-ideas; the spirit is active as to the affection which carries its own wisdom or meaning within it; and so the two act as one, man and spirit in one mental act which each senses as his own.

Man as a Plane for Spirits and Angels

The evidence presented in the Writings concerning the relationships of spirits and men is very complex and extensive, and as it is largely descriptive in character, it leaves room for uncertainties and for various interpretations. Thus it is the general doctrine that “angels and spirits cannot be separated from men” ;124 yet their life is in effect quite independent as far as all appearances go. We are convinced that angels are not always in the need of assuming some man’s interior memory as their own, any more than all spirits need to identify themselves definitely with man’s personality and natural memory.

Angels who are not assigned to particular men are at greater liberty to use the memories of many men at the same time for their basis. “Many men can at the same time serve as a plane for one angel,” we read. “The Lord so arranges that what is absent in one may be [found] in another ; He also composes one thing from many, so that it may still serve simultaneously for a plane.”125 And if mankind were deficient, it would be possible for the natural memories of spirits to be sufficiently activated so as to become a fulcrum and plane for angelic ideas.126 In fact, things from the memory of an intelligent man may serve for such a plane whether he be thinking about them or about other things, or even while he is asleep. Whatever in the memory of mankind and of spirits might correspond to an angel’s active affection can be called into use as a reflective basis for his heavenly perceptions—as if the whole human race lay before him as an open book, in order that no impediments may prevent his progress into ever greater wisdom.125

But a special widening of the vision of the angels occurs when men on earth read the Word reverently. For the natural thoughts of the man are then not so limited or so colored by his own states as ordinarily. He is in Divine ultimates. And the angels with him then “pay no attention whatever to . . . those things which are in the thought of the man at the time he reads it,” nor to those things which are in the sense of the letter; but only to the interiors of the Word, from the man.127

Angels in this state “take delight in the man because of the wisdom which then flows through the Word to them.” But this approbation of the man is an afterthought.128 They are not aware of the man. They are perhaps reading the Word as it exists in its spiritual form in heaven, and the things within the Word appear to them “as if they thought them from themselves”—appear presented before their eyes “in a celestial and spiritual manner, with innumerable representatives, in the light of life.”129

The question might be raised as to what would happen if the race on some earth in the universe should perish—which is a possibility as a result of man’s freedom to separate himself from the Divine and to rush into unchecked wickedness and race suicide, despite the Lord’s intervention.130 The answer is given that the heavens from the inhabitants of that earth would then be “transferred” to rest on the minds of men on some other planet.131 It was to prevent such a contingency that the Lord came in the flesh and that the written Word was provided as a perpetual ultimate.132

Angelic Perception of Our Word

There are two groups of teachings about the way in which human states affect the angels and qualify their wisdom. On the one hand it is said that the angels are in greater clearness as to the spiritual sense “when little children are reading the Holy Bible” or when the reader “pays no attention to the things he reads and has no perception of them.” Then “the sense and perception of those things are elevated to the angels more distinctly than when the natural human mind is also active.”133 And the general doctrine is given, that when the Word is read by men who are in the life of faith, the spiritual things of the continuous internal sense “lie open to the angels . . . even if they who read do not attend to its meaning.” And the Jews, when in states of external holiness, could also be a means by which the Word was presented before the angels; for the correspondences communicate, whatever the quality of the person who reads, if only he acknowledges the Word to be Divine.134 “All the wisdom of the angels is given by means of the Word, since in its internal and inmost sense it is the Divine wisdom, which is communicated to the angels through the Word when this is read by men and when it is thought from. . . . “135

It would seem that man’s wisdom and understanding do not necessarily have any part in limiting the angelic perceptions. What is more essential to angelic illustration seems to be the quiescence and silencing of our natural imagination and the states of our proprium. Then the angels can use us for a reflecting plane, and can see the interiors of the Word of God in its own glory and light.

But it is otherwise when the angels become our guardians. They then accommodate themselves to the particular spiritual things, be they few or many, which we have appropriated unconsciously within our interiors. They are then performing a use; and a use implies certain temporary sacrifices, which eventually are rewarded by still ampler delights. Our most loftly intellectual states are usually not reached in the midst of our uses. A teacher, for instance, must at times enter into the deeper perceptions of his subject by further studies in his field, and he then feels a delight of wisdom. Afterwards he accommodates himself to others and speaks, so far as possible, in their terms, in order that he may convey his message to them. He is not then in the delight of wisdom, but in the delight of his use; and his illustration is very much affected by the response to his efforts, and the reception which he meets will finally make for a conjunction of thought between teacher and pupils.

Thus it is quite comprehensible that there should be a difference of illustration with the angels when they “are with men”—a difference due to the different qualities of the personal states of the men. “As are the ultimates, so are the primaries.”136 Concerning this we read:

“If the men who are reading the Word or thinking or preaching from the Word, are wise, then the angels do not know it, but still the wisdom of their thought falls into them (illa) as into its plane, . . . and they are entirely unaware that it so happens.

“Angels have told me that they are sometimes in great wisdom, sometimes in less, sometimes in clarity, sometimes in obscurity; and that their thoughts are variously directed to the quarters, now this, now that; and that they are in greater clearness or obscurity according to the direction—but that they are [then] not turned to themselves,

but to man; and that thence they know that [they are turned] to the human race where such things are to which they are determined. They said that they have this from much experience; and that when [they are turned] to those things which are in my thought from the Heavenly Doctrine, they are then in greater clearness than otherwise.”137

We may therefore understand how the changes of state with the angels are based upon their uses to each other and to men; how the wisdom of heaven is derived from the Word when this is read by men; how the wisdom and delight of the angels inflow into regenerating men and make it possible for them also to perceive the depths of the Word so far as their natural cognitions allow; and how there is thus a conjunction of thought and life between angels and men—with a lifting of man’s mind and a gracious accommodation on the part of the angels.

For this is a part of the angelic use. And thus although, when man enters with attention and understanding into the interior meaning of the Word, the perception of the angelic spirits is in a measure limited by the alien elements that man may introduce, yet it is better “if man also is at the same time in light” and thus be conjoined with the angels. The higher angels—who love others more than themselves—gladly perform this use. But angelic spirits of a lower order may, at times, instinctively snatch away man’s illustration and delight, by failing to enter fully into their use as guardian angels.138

If man’s mind is furnished with light from the Heavenly Doctrine—and if he loves the Lord and holds evils in aversion —he will not demand so great accommodation or sacrifice of illustration on the part of his angelic guardians. The angels can then retain great wisdom, and will—in all but appearance —consociate their conscious thought with the as yet ineffable depths of the man’s thought, in a common enlightenment.139 This is the manner in which heaven and earth may again be conjoined through the Word.

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1 The Knowledge of the Afterlife

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1 The Knowledge of the Afterlife

“In My Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you, I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14: 2

Few deny that man has a mind as well as a body. And since time immemorial it has been felt—in a parallel fashion— that there is an unseen realm of spiritual life, the abode of souls, the real home of the human mind, beyond or within, the material world.

But in this pragmatic century any mention of a “spiritual world” will likely cause embarrassment or misgivings unless the reference is simply to the familiar haunts of our own mind. Even from Christian pulpits the doctrine of man’s immortality is often spoken of only in apologetic whispers. And when the more conservative among the clergy speak at a funeral, it is only to announce in dolorous tones that the departed will sleep in the grave until a mythical day of general resurrection. Nothing is said of the bourne to which the deceased has departed, nor of the life-functions which might now become his, or the spiritual treasures which he takes with him. Since the churches are silent, it is not surprising to find a credulous multitude who draw a confused comfort from the report of mysterious and unusual happenings which they interpret as interventions by the spirits of the dead in our human affairs.

Nor is it any wonder that the respectable scientist shies off from the study of such a field—wherein fact and fancy seem to intertwine. When the imagination has once been aroused, a less cautious mind may easily overstep the evidence. Even science has bred a fiction of its own, and there has been a recrudescence of a specific brand of popular literature which solemnly gathers hearsay evidence not only about apparitions and “poltergeists” who play noisy havoc in haunted houses and spirits who at will assume “ecto-plastic” bodies, but about space-wanderers in “flying saucers” which defy gravity and dematerialize in a moment!

Such fantasies are enough to discourage sober minds from an acceptance of inconclusive claims. Yet the failure to prove the presence of spirits by sensual demonstrations does in no wise disprove the existence of a spiritual world which influences our lives intimately and in orderly ways, but which by its very nature eludes experimental approach. And although there is much self-delusion, and much trickery and deception among the so-called “mediums” who claim contact with spirits, there is also evidence at hand to show that mankind is still confronted with unsolved problems and that there are undiscovered depths within the human mind itself which transcend our rational analysis. Empirical science has not given any satisfying explanation even of the ordinary processes of our thought, memory, and emotion. Nor can it with any surety deny the visionary experiences of many who assert that they have “seen spirits.”

Revelations about the Spiritual World

Besides all this: Can we ignore the testimony of all the prophets, philosophers, saints and seers, many of whom we still reckon among the most enlightened of men, and who not only sincerely believed in guardian spirits but whose eyes were at times open to glimpses of the world of the hereafter ? Did not our Lord Himself confirm the age-long conviction of mankind when He said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions. If not, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you”? Yet He also intimated that the time was not yet ripe to speak openly of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. He could speak of them only in parables. “These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs,” He said, “but the time cometh when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall show you plainly of the Father” (John 16:25). “When the Spirit of Truth is come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

The promise of such an explicit revelation was fulfilled in an unexpected way. It was granted to Emanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish savant and philosopher of the eighteenth century, to become a citizen of two worlds for a period of twenty-seven years. Inspired by the Spirit of Truth he was given to write down his experiences gathered during his intercourse with spirits and angels in the spiritual world, and to publish the truth about the afterlife, lest the spirit of denial which was already then beginning to rule the worldly-wise should also corrupt the simple in heart and the simple in faith.1Only a Divine revelation could disclose to our race the truth about heaven and hell. At the same time Swedenborg, after diligent study of the Sacred Scriptures, was inspired to find its internal or symbolic meaning which accorded in every part with the doctrine known to the angels in heaven.

Doctrinal Preliminaries

Since the present little book may find its way into the hands of readers who are not familiar with the doctrines of the New Church, it seems well at the outset to review some of the leading truths which New Church readers take for granted. These teachings, which must be postulated if we are to understand the Scriptures rationally and explain the phenomena of the mind and of nature, may be summarized as follows:

  1. The Divine purpose in creation is to provide a heaven from the human race.
  2. Man is a spirit or mind clothed, while on earth, with a material body.
  3. There are two distinct worlds—a material world in which men live as to their bodies, and a spiritual world where angels and spirits dwell. The spiritual world is substantial, yet independent of what we know as “space” and “time”—which are properties of nature.
  4. The spirit or mind of man is immortal. At death he lays aside his material body, never again to assume it.
  5. No angels were created directly into the spiritual world, nor did any spiritual beings exist before the creation of mankind. The spiritual world contains a heaven and a hell, both of which consist of the spirits of men who have been born on some earth in the vast universe. There are no angels, spirits, or devils who were not born as men.
  6. Between heaven and hell there is a “world of spirits,” which is the realm or state into which all spirits pass immediately after death to prepare for their chosen heaven or for their chosen hell. When evil becomes predominant in this intermediate realm, it is ordered by a general “last judgment.” The final of these judgments—symbolically predicted in the Book of Revelation—took place in the year 1757.
  7. The inhabitants of the spiritual world constantly exert an influence on the human race on earth analogous to the influence which a man’s own spirit exerts on his body.
  8. Nonetheless the two worlds are utterly separate in appearance and invisible to each other, lest the freedom of man or the progress of spirits be disturbed.
  9. It is therefore disorderly and injurious for men to seek open intercourse with spirits, and it is also forbidden for spirits to seek to obsess men.
  10. The only legitimate way to learn about the afterlife is through the teachings of Divinely appointed prophets and seers: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead” (Lu. 16:31). The doctrines given through Swedenborg constitute a final revelation granted for the sake of the restoration of a true Christian religion or a New Church.

The title of our book does not imply any claim that it covers all the relations of spirits and men. Nor is it our purpose here to describe the spiritual world or to define the nature of the soul and its life. But in the voluminous Writings of Swedenborg we have an inexhaustible field of information about the arcana of the spiritual world “from things seen and heard” and about the laws which govern the impact of that world upon our lives. There, also, are shown the different angelic influences which succeed each other as man advances along the path of regeneration.

What we here wish to stress is that man’s character is finally formed by the spiritual influences which he invites from the unseen world. It is often claimed that man is merely a product of his heredity and his environment. But while the parental strain determines the initial form of his mind and the more active loves and abilities with which he starts in life; and while his surroundings are at first predetermined and certainly limit his opportunities for knowledge and usefulness; yet within the range of these two factors of heredity and environment man exercises a choice which gradually builds within him a character quite individual and free. For as to his mind he moves in a spiritual environment which always corresponds to his own states of mind. The ability of man to become responsible for his own inner character and final destiny is due to the fact that he can—in freedom and according to his reason—choose what kind of spirits shall inspire his thoughts, purposes, and decisions. Although he feels at all times as if he were moved by his own affections, his spirit is actually held, unknowingly, in an equilibrium between influences from heaven and from hell, and is motivated either by the affections of angels or by the lusts of evil spirits. He does not live from himself. He is only a receptacle of a life which originates from God but which is mediated by the souls, good and evil, who inhabit the spiritual world.

And the purpose of the following essays is to examine some of the manifold ways in which our lives are moulded for good or ill by the influx of these invisible agencies.

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We are born as eternally living souls

God is Love

The human being by natural birth must necessarily live in a world of time and space. From daily experience on earth we quickly learn that everything has a beginning and an ending. For us, therefore, there is necessarily, A time to be born, and a time to die  [Ecclesiastes 3:2 ESV].  But this is not the whole story, for in many places Scripture teaches us that God cannot be confined or limited by time and space: –

From everlasting to everlasting you are God.
[Psalm 90:2  ESV]

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
[John 8:58  ESV]

With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
[2 Peter 3:8  ESV]

God has neither beginning nor ending. He remains untouched by the passage of time, living in a state of eternal being. Much is revealed by his chosen name, I AM [see also Exodus 3:14]; it is the name of one who is always alive and whom death can never touch. Our own search for immortality will be in vain unless it begins with the God who is, I AM. This God is the same Lord of whom the psalmist writes: –

The Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore.
[Psalm 133:3  ESV]

Because the Lord is ever the I AM, he can do no other than look to what is eternal in all things. As a consequence, his view of the human race and its potential is far wider and bigger than our own. It is this bigger picture that Emanuel Swedenborg glimpses when he writes, We are created so that our inner self cannot die [Heavenly Doctrine 223].  God has put within each one of us the spark of eternal life. This promise of eternity is not written into our physical body which, like everything of the natural world, must inevitably die and decay, but rather into our soul or inner self.

If anatomical studies have never found the soul it is because the soul does not reside in the physical body.  Nevertheless this body is closely connected to the soul, drawing life from it in much the same way as a physical book takes its life from the ideas and affections in the author’s mind.  The human body draws its existence and form from the human soul. We might think of the soul as the life source and the body as an effect which comes into being from that source. Furthermore Jesus Christ teaches us that the soul has an enduring life beyond the death of the physical body, Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul [Matthew 10:28  ESV].

Just as the burning of a book cannot destroy the ideas and affections that gave it life, so the soul remains unaffected by the death of the physical body.  In order fully to understand this we need to know that, Human beings have been so created as to be at once in the spiritual world and the natural world [Swedenborg Heavenly Doctrine 36]. Even while the physical body is alive and conscious in the natural world, the soul or inner self dwells in the spiritual world. There it receives life from the Lord. We are not human, nor do we have existence, from the physical body but from the soul which, Is the prior or primary form from which anyone becomes and is a human being … these inward aspects possess no life in themselves but are recipient forms of the Lord’s life [Swedenborg  Arcana Caelestia 1999].

The human soul, residing as it does in the spiritual world, not only survives physical death but also afterwards remains complete in all respects.  It is sustained by God, from whom it receives an unbroken stream of life.  Does this perhaps go some way to explaining why even as people grow physically older they still feel young inside? Despite the ageing and weakening of the physical body, a person’s inner love and faith can, and often does, grow stronger.  The inner soul is not dependent on the body for its life but on God, in whom we live and move and have our being.

Even as we live on earth we are already, in our inward parts at least, in the spiritual world. The deepest experiences of the human soul are first and foremost experiences of the spiritual world.  And when the physical body finally dies we are released from this natural world of time and space to enjoy the fullness of the soul’s life in the heavens. Many have imagined that this will be a rather ghostly kind of life, for what else can there be if our physical body has been cast off and returned to the dust of the earth?

The apostle Paul, however, suggests something rather different. He writes, So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable … It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body [1 Corinthians 15:42,44 ESV].  Paul seems to be saying that after death we are gifted with a new spiritual body within which our soul remains the essential human life. Emanuel Swedenborg writes at some length about this new spiritual body, reassuring us that it is both human and substantial:

After the death of the body a person’s spirit appears in the spiritual world in human shape, exactly as in the world. He also enjoys the faculties of sight, hearing, speech and feeling as in the world. He has to the full his faculties of thinking, willing and doing, as in the world. In short, he is a human being in every detail.
[The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 225]

The spiritual body has all the same organs, limbs, and senses as does the physical body, but is different in that it neither grows old nor sick. This body enables the human being to live a full and active life in the spiritual world, where we continue to enjoy marriage, friendships, work, worship, and play. All this is possible because the Lord, the eternal I AM, continually bestows life upon all human souls. His whole being finds its meaning and joy in creating, loving, and bringing to eternal life, souls other than himself. In him we shall always have life and have it in great abundance.

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life”.
[John 11:25  ESV]

Jesus said, “That the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him”.
[Luke 20:37,38  ESV]

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We live in two worlds

God is Love

living in two worldsOne of the problems with our busy materialistic world is that we seem to get very little time to think more deeply about what is going on in our lives. Everyday is made up of all sorts of practical and physical activities. We go to the shops and buy food. We cook our meals and wash up. We clean the house and read the newspaper. We mow the lawn or put our feet up in front of the television. We go to work by car or bus or train and come back late and tired. So much can get crammed into one day that we begin to feel unable to cope or at the other end of the scale we may have so little we can do that we feel lonely and cut off from the world around. If we are blessed with all our senses we can see the world around us, we can hear it, touch it, smell it and taste it. And particularly during the spring, when all sorts of flowers are coming into bloom, the physical world around us offers a wonderful array of stimulants for our senses. And we mustn’t forget our interactions with other people: a wave across the street, a smile to a passer-by, a chat over coffee, a lengthy phone call, a letter or text message from a friend, a kind word or a loving kiss. There is so much going on in our physical world that it is not surprising that many people live as though there is nothing else – that everything that goes on in our lives can be explained in physical terms.

But is this really so?

roseImagine you are holding a fragrant rose in your hand. You see the wonderful colour and texture of the flower, you touch its soft and smooth petals and you smell its intoxicating fragrance. So far you have been involved in a physical way with this rose but how does it make you feel? Do you feel happier and a little brighter inside, does a smile come over your face, does it evoke distant memories, do you feel more peaceful, do you feel more loved or more loving? In a wonderful way that rose, out there in the physical world around us, has touched something deep inside you and you have responded.

This is just one example of the countless situations we can find ourselves in when we realise that there is something much deeper to our lives than our physical being. Whilst our lives appear dominated by the physical world around us there is another world within us of feeling and thought where our deepest experiences take place and where we develop our real character. It is our inner world where, for example,  we can feel deep joy when we are very close to someone we love and deep pain when we are separated.

Throughout the ages wise people have realised that we live in two worlds at the same time, a physical outer world and a deeper inner spiritual world. The problem is that we get so absorbed by the state of our physical outer world that we don’t spend enough time on the spiritual world within us. How many people, for example, struggling in a gym to improve their physical well-being, would spend just a little time on spiritual exercises to help them develop their inner world? Is this not a distorted view of our priorities?

Jesus highlighted the need to change our priorities in favour of the inner spiritual life when he said:

Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.   Luke 12:29-31 ESV

And the apostle Paul gave some insight into living in two worlds in his first letter to the Corinthians when he wrote

It [the resurrection body]  is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body …  It is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual.
[1 Cor 15: 44,46 ESV]

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the visionary Jesuit priest, wrote in the 20th century:

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

George Harrison, the particularly spiritual member of the Beatles, echoed these words when he wrote:

Remember – we are not these bodies – just souls having a bodily experience.

Emanuel Swedenborg not only recognised that we are living in two worlds but also that when we die our real inner spiritual self goes on living:

As regards the soul, which – it is said – goes on living after death, it is nothing else than the actual person living in the body. That is, the soul is the person’s inner self acting in the world by means of the body and imparting life to the body. When his inner self is released from the body the person is called a spirit and then appears in a completely human form. Arcana Caelestia 6054

Should not our emphasis be on developing the quality of our inner life rather than worrying excessively as we do about our outer physical world?

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http://www.god-is-love.org.uk/twelve-key-teachings/we-live-in-two-worlds/

The Word has a Soul

Lastchurch - The Eternal PurposeFrom Arcana Coelestia ~ Emanuel Swedenborg

In heaven nothing at all is known about the names, countries, nations, and the like; the angels have no idea of such things, but of the actual things signified by them. The Word of the Lord is living by virtue of the internal sense. This is as the soul, of which the external sense is as the body. And just as with man when his body dies the soul lives, and when the soul lives he no longer knows the things that pertain to the body, so when he comes among angels he does not know what the Word is in the sense of the letter, but only what it is in its soul. Such was the man of the Most Ancient Church; who, if he were living and read the Word at the present day, would not cleave at all to the sense of the letter; but would be as if he did not see it, but only the internal sense abstractly from the letter; and indeed as if the letter had no existence. Thus he would be in the life or soul of the Word. It is the same everywhere in the Word, even in its historical parts, which were just such as are narrated, and yet there is not so much as one little word therein that does not, in the internal sense, enfold within it deep secrets which never appear to those who hold the mind in the historical connection.

(Arcana Coelestia 1143)
February 28, 2015

If There Had Been No Word

Lastchurch - The Eternal Purpose

If There Had Been No Word

Selection from True Christian Religion ~ Emanuel Swedenborg

If there were no Word there would be no knowledge of God, of heaven and hell, or of a life after death, still less of the Lord.

As there are some who hold, and who have thoroughly convinced themselves, that man may know without the Word of the existence of God, and of heaven and hell, and of other things taught by the Word; such cannot properly be appealed to from the Word, but only from the light of natural reason, since they do not believe in the Word, but only in themselves. Inquire then, from the light of reason, and you will find that there are in man two faculties of life, which are called understanding and will — the understanding is subject to the will, but not the will to the understanding; for the understanding merely teaches and points out what ought to be done from the will; and for this reason many who are of an acute genius, and who understand better than others the moral principles of life, still do not live according to them; but if their will favored them it would be otherwise. Inquire further, and you will find that man’s will is his selfhood [proprium] and that this is evil from birth, and that from this comes the falsity in the understanding. When you have found out these things, you will see that man of himself has no wish to understand anything except what is from the selfhood of his will, and if this were his only source of knowledge, he would have no wish from his will’s selfhood to understand anything but what pertains to self and the world; and everything above this would be in thick darkness.  For instance, in looking at the sun, moon, and stars, if he should think about their origin, he could not think otherwise than that they exist from themselves.  Could he raise his thoughts higher than many of the learned in the world, who while knowing from the Word that all things were created by God, yet acknowledge nature?  If these had known nothing from the Word what would they have thought?  Do you suppose that the ancient wise men, such as Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, and others, who wrote about God and the immortality of the soul, obtained this knowledge primarily from their own understanding? No; they obtained it from others by its having been handed down from those who first knew of it from the ancient Word…. Neither do the writers on Natural Theology derive any such knowledge from themselves; they merely confirm by rational deductions what they knew from the church where the Word is, and possibly some among them confirm and yet do not believe.

(True Christian Religion 273)
January 7, 2015

Time flies when you’re having fun!

We have all experienced happy events that seemed to come and go in a flash. Whereas, dull or painful events in our lives seem to stretch out for unbearable periods of time and last “forever.”

Einstein’s relativity theory demonstrated the phenomena of time dilation and contraction based on the speed of something traveling through physical space. But humans can experience time dilation and contraction while standing completely still—based on different mental states like happiness or boredom.

Scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg said that the experience of time is not just physical or through space, but spiritual and non-spatial. He stated that when an individual is experiencing happiness in the heart, he or she is elevated into a higher spiritual state that is free of tedium. Time is only experienced when we are in our lower corporeal state of mind where happiness is displaced by some element of worldly impatience. When people experience delight and gladness they take no note of time. Impatience causes us to constantly look at the clock.

In other words, when we (our spirits) are occupied with something we do not love, we are forced to reflect on things that do not belong to our heart’s affection—they become tedious and we are drawn back into our mundane corporeal reality and physical time.

This transition between the physical realm of time and the spiritual realm of non-time is according to what we love (likes and dislikes). What we love is who we really are—the inner fabric of our souls. And, what we really are has everything to do with where in the spiritual world we ultimately find our eternal abode.

Because human spirit and human love is synonymous, the purpose of religion is to guide the heart to make the right decisions—to love God and the neighbor. God’s kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of mutual love. To reject these divine tenets of spiritual love and choose a more self-centered love lands you in a spiritual realm of similarly self-centered people. The result of such people living together is hell.

In the afterlife, people experience reality according to spiritual relativity, that is, through the quality of their hearts.

We control our own non-temporal reality.

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