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His Life, as a Man of Science, ends. The biographer of Swedenborg can feel no difficulty in distributing under proper heads the principal events of his life. It divides itself so distinctly into two parts, at this juncture, that between his past and his future there is what he himself would call a discrete degree.”
In 1745, when the merely scientific phase of Swedenborg's life closed, he had arrived at the mature age of fifty-seven years. As we have seen, he had, from early manhood, united an active and practical, with a deeply philosophic, life. An earnest student of nature, he had never become so engrossed in thought as to forget the end of all thought-the improvement and the happiness of mankind. His long series of scientific works had gained him a wide-spread reputation, and wherever he went, he was hailed as a friend and a brother by the thoughtful and philosophical. In Sweden, as before said, he was well connected, and had he been desirous to live at home, and immerse himself in the cares and politics of his country, he might have reached the highest offices and honours which royalty could confer. At the age of fifty-seven, with Swedenborg's attainments, success, and fame, a worldly man might have been content. Such a one would, probably, have taken his ease, reposed upon the past, and have been content with the competence of comfort and reputation which he had attained. But Swedenborg was a man of a very different character. Love of ease formed no part of his constitution, and if he had not been led by the hand of Providence to the contemplation of the spiritual world and its glorious realities, he would, to the end of his life, have remained a zealous and single-eyed seeker after the truths of the natural world.
The annals of science do not furnish an instance of any one who surpassed Swedenborg in that humility of spirit, and that simple desire for truth, which is the crowning grace and glory of the true philosopher. Although, at times, he propounded views which he knew were antagonistic to the ideas of some of the leading savans of his time, yet we never find him getting angry or attempting to scold the world into belief with him. He simply lays down what he believes to be the truth ; and with the most charming modesty trusts for its acceptance among men to its agreement with reason and facts. Full of this trustful spirit we find him saying in the “ Principia,”—“In writing the present work, I have not aimed at the applause of the learned world, nor at the acquisition of a name or popularity. To me, it is a matter of indifference whether I win the favourable opinion of every one, or of no one; whether I gain much or no commendation. Such things are not objects of regard to one whose mind is bent on truth and true philosophy. Should I, therefore, gain the assent or approbation of others, I shall receive it only as a confirmation of my having pursued the truth. I have no wish to persuade anyone to lay aside the principles of those illustrious and talented authors who have adorned the world, and in place of their principles to adopt mine. For this reason it is, that I have not made mention so much as of one of them, or even hinted at his name, lest I should injure his feelings, or seem to impugn his sentiments, or to derogate from the praise which others bestow upon him. If the principles I have advanced have more of truth in them than those which are advocated by others; if they are truly philosophical, and accordant with the phenomena of nature, the assent of the public will follow in due time, of its own accord ; and in this case should I fail to gain the assent of those whose minds, being prepossessed by other principles, can no longer exercise an impartial judgment, still I have those with me who are able to distinguish the true from the untrue, if not in the present, at least in some future age. Truth is unique, and will speak for itself. Should any one undertake to impugn my sentiments, I have no wish to oppose him; but in case he desire it, I shall be happy to explain my principles and my reasons more at large. What need, however, is there of words ? Let the thing speak for itself. If what I have said, be true, why should I be eager to defend it ? surely truth can defend itself. If what I have said be false, it would be a degrading and silly task to defend it. Why then should I make myself an enemy of anyone, or place myself in opposition to anyone ? And again, in the “Economy,” he remarks, “ of what consequence is it to me that I should persuade anyone to embrace my opinions ? Let his own reason persuade him. I do not undertake this work for the sake of honour or emolument; both of which I shun rather than seek, because they disquiet the mind, and because I am content with my lot; but for the sake of truth, which alone is immortal.” These are long extracts, but they are well worthy of citation, alike for their own intrinsic truth and beauty, and for the illustration they afford of the spirit and sentiments of their author.
The little thought he gave in after years to his scientific writings, and the little care he seemed to have lest the world should forget them, is
very evident from his subsequent writings, in which they are scarcely alluded to. Some of the friends he made in the latter portion of his life, appear to have had very faint ideas of the extent of his achievements in natural science. Count Hopken, a very intimate friend of his, for many years, remarks, “Swedenborg made surprising discoveries in anatomy, which are recorded somewhere in certain literary Transactions." Thus it appears that he was entirely ignorant of the existence of Swedenborg's great work, the “ Animal Kingdom.” What stronger proof could be given than this, of the sincerity with which the foregoing extracts were penned, in which he commits his works to the care of the God of truth, in humble acquiescence in whatever verdict his justice might pronounce.
Great and manifold were the merits of these scientific works, yet we should, perhaps, do well to look upon them, as their author seems to have done, as school-boy exercises. Through the severe training and development of the whole powers of his mind, by the composition of these works, his Divine master was fitting him to gaze upon the awful realities of the spiritual world, and to become a worthy exponent of the hidden wisdom of His Holy Scriptures.
It must, necessarily, be a mattter of interest with many, to know what were the religious opinions of Swedenborg at this period of his history. Occupying himself so intensely with natural science, it was hardly to be expected that theology could receive much of his attention. Among his posthumous papers, however, we find a little treatise on faith and good works, in which he comes to the wise conclusion that “there is no love to God if there be none to the neighbour ;" or that “there is no faith if there be no works ;” and therefore, that “faith without works is a phrase involving a contradiction.” Throughout all his scientific writings we find a simple and open assent to the primary truths of religion, and a constant endeavour to confirm some truth of religious doctrine by the natural facts which came under his notice. His religious views up to this time were generally such as the Christian world held, with here and there a quiet dissent as to particular points, and a strong tendency to eschew the merely theoretical and mystical belief, for the practical and active. We have his own testimony to the fact that dogmatic and systematic theology formed no part of his otherwise extensive reading, and thus he came to the study of the Word of God unperverted by the sophisms of creed makers. Of the gentle and earnest piety of his soul, we have striking proof in his “Rules of Life:
1. Often to read and meditate on the Word of God.
3. To observe in everything a propriety of behaviour, and to keep the conscience clear.
4. To discharge with fidelity the functions of my employment, and the duties of my office, and to render myself in all things useful to society.
More need not be said on this head than that he kept these vows.
We now close the first book of Swedenborg's life, and open the second. Emphatically his was a double life. So rich in thought and action were both parts, that either would have been reckoned sufficient to render him a remarkable man. Yet although thus separable into two, they are not to be thought incongruous. It was not a change like that of a scapegrace into a saint, at which the world may well wonder. The one life was an orderly and regular growth out of the other : the first was a providential preparation for the second. Carefully disciplined by thought and investigation in the outer world, through a long series of laborious years, the curtain which separated the seen from the unseen was, for him, drawn aside, and his prepared eyes saw in clear sunlight, those mysteries of life and spirit which the best and wisest of men have most ardently desired to see.
Let us then leave Swedenborg the Man of Science, and turn to him as the Servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, the worthy exponent of the spiritual sense of the Word of God, and the an. nouncer of the New Era in which reason and faith are to be at one, and men everywhere friends and brothers.
His Spiritual Sight opened, and the Conditions of his
Seership. We will now proceed, without circumlocution, to lay before our readers, in all its fulness, the claim which Swedenborg made, at this period, to open intercourse with the spiritual world, under the sanction and protection of the Lord. This assumption runs through the whole of his after life, and without a clear idea of its nature and conditions, we shall be unable rightly to appreciate aught else that follows. In one of his letters, he says, “I have been called to a holy office by the Lord himself, who most graciously manifested himself to me, his servant, in the year, 1743, when he opened my sight to a view of the spiritual world, and granted me the privilege of conversing with spirits and angels, which I enjoy to this day. From that time, I began to print and publish various arcana that have been seen by me, or revealed to me; as respecting heaven and hell, the state of man after death, the true worship of God, the spiritual sense of the Word, with many other most important matters conducive to salvation and true wisdom.” Again, in the preface to his work entitled, “ Arcana Cælestia,” he writes—" of the Lord's Divine mercy, it has been granted me now for several years, to be constantly and uninterruptedly in company with spirits and angels, hearing them converse with each other, and conversing with them. Hence it has been permitted me to hear and see stupendous things in the other life, which have never before come to the knowledge of any man, nor entered his imagination. I have there been instructed concerning different kinds of spirits, and the state of souls after death ; concerning hell, or the lamentable state of the unfaithful ; concerning heaven, or the most happy state of the faithful; and particularly concerning the doctrine of faith which is acknowledged throughout all heaven.”
We are not unaware that these pretensions will be received by many with ridicule, and by some with contempt, arising from a distaste for spiritual subjects; while by a few they will be treated with respectful attention. All that we ask for, is, a little patience, and to readers of every class, we would say,—do not be hasty, do not prejudge the matter, condemn not till you are conversant with the whole circumstances of the case. Swedenborg's claim, we admit, does appear startling, but to greet its announcement with the laugh of scepticism, and to deny its validity, as many do, without an attempt at examination, is anything but philosophical—is anything but righteous.
No reader of this sketch can have failed to perceive the high philosophical genius, and perfect truthfulness of Swedenborg; and all must agree with us in believing that wilful deception was an impossibility with such a man. No explanation of what Swedenborg himself calls the opening of his spiritual sight, can be offered, that is more transparently ridiculous than that of imposture. The degree of vehemence with which some have preferred this charge against him, may be taken as an accurate index of their ignorance of the man, or of their inability to discern a truthful and earnest spirit.
No denial of the possibility of such spiritual vision as is claimed by Swedenborg, can be accepted from the Christian. Such denial is alone the privilege of the professed materialist. We all know how much of our loved and common faith rests on claims that are quite as startling as those of Swedenborg. From the visions of Abraham to those of John in Patmos, the whole Scriptural narrative is interwoven with supernatural incident. Now how is it that we yield such ready faith to whatever is related in Scripture, however marvellous, and have so much wonder to spare over the unbelieving Jews ? The Rev. 0. Prescott Hiller, in a short memoir of Swedenborg, prefixed to a collection of “Gems” from his writings, has some very apposite remarks on this subject. He says, “Swedenborg states that there are three heavens; so does Paul, for he speaks of the third heaven.' Swedenborg affirms, calmly, that his spiritual senses were opened and elevated in such a manner as that he might have a perception of that state of existence, and see and hear what is there. So does Paul. Swe. denborg states that he had, in spirit, been permitted to behold the Lord : so does Paul;— have I not seen,' said he, ‘Jesus Christ our Lord ?' (I Cor. 9. 1.) Thus parallel are the cases. But, exclaims the prejudiced observer-Paul ! Paul! Paul was an Apostle Paul was one of the founders of the Christian Church. Paul lived eighteen hundred years ago ! There are no visions now-a-days-the case is