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The True Christian Religion.
Swedenborg published his “ True Christian Religion, or, Universal Theology of the New Church ; ” and in August of the same year took ship, and left Amsterdam for London. Let us now turn to the consideration of his great last work,mary of the doctrines he was commissioned to teach.
“ The True Christian Religion, containing the Universal Theology of the New Church,” the last work published by Swedenborg, may be looked upon as the summary of his spiritual thought, his theological labours, his heavenly message to mankind. In its ninth English edition, it forms a large octavo volume of 815 pages, and is a complete body of divinity. It is divided into fifteen chapters, a Supplement treating of the states of Luther, Calvin, and Melancthon, the Dutch, English, Germans, Papists, Romish saints, Mahommedans, and the Africans, in the spiritual world ; and seventy-seven memorable relations of scenes and representations witnessed in that world, interspersed between the various chapters ; altogether forming a volume unique in literature, ancient or modern. At the risk of an occasional repetition of what has before been said, let us take a rapid survey of the contents of this massive and marvellous work.
Chapter 1 treats of God the Creator, his Unity, the Divine Esse which is Jehovah, His Infinity or His Immensity and Eternity, the Essence of God which is His Divine Love and Wisdom, His Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnipresence, and of the creation of the universe. On these awful subjects, themes on which, for ages, the weary reason of man has exerted itself, with the poorest results, Swedenborg, with a mathematical exactness, sets forth the true doctrine, and with a simplicity of logic which at every step calls the Word of God and the reason and common sense of man, to witness; leading the reader to wonder why truths so simplc, so soul-satisfying, should have been hidden from human eyes so long. Whilst elucidating subjects commonly supposed to transcend human ideas, and yet which humanity is ever restless to discover, -reverence is in nowise deprived of its exercise. It is a great mistake, yet a common one, to associate mystery with true reverence; to talk of “ignorance”
the mother of devotion." Let anyone ask himself whether the reverence of Sir Isaac Newton for that God whose operations in the universe he was favoured to discover, was inferior to that of an ignorant devotee, or an illiterate peasant. No!
A knowledge of God and his attributes is no destroyer of faith, reverence, or devotion, but the reverse. Our knowledge of Him, however extended, is but the enlargement of a circle which, as it is enlarged, expands
our conception of the infinity beyond. Hence it is that whilst this chapter on God the Creator, goes into details which are the death of mysticism, the truths which it opens to the mind lead to an intelligent and reverential love, to which ignorance can never attain.
Chapter 2 is devoted to the consideration of the Lord the Redeemer. It tells how Jehovah God descended and assumed humanity, that He might redeem and save mankind; and how the humanity was united to the Divinity, and thus God was made man, and man God, in one Person ; that Redemption consisted in bringing the hells into subjection, and the heavens into order, and in thus preparing the way for a new spiritual Church ; and how, without such Redemption, neither men could have been saved, nor could the angels have remained in a state of integrity. Thus Redemption was a work purely divine, and could not have been effected but by God Incarnate. The passion of the cross was in itself alone not Redemption, but was the last temptation the Lord endured in his Humanity; and it was the means of the glorification of that humanity. Hence it is a fundamental error of the Church to believe the passion of the cross to be Redemption itself; and this error, together with that relating to three Divine Persons from eternity, has perverted the whole Church, so that nothing spiritual remains in it.
Chapter 3 sets forth the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and the Divine Operation. The Holy Spirit is the Divine Truth, and also the Divine Virtue and Operation, proceeding from the One God, in whom there is the Divine Trinity, thus from the Lord God the Saviour, Jesus Christ. The Divine Virtue and Operation in and on humanity, signified by the Holy Spirit, consists, in general, in reformation and regeneration ; and, in proportion as these are effected, in renovation, vivification, sanctification, and justification ; and in proportion as these are effected, in purification from evils, remission of sins, and finally salvation. The Holy Spirit being the efflux of Jehovah through the glorified humanity, did not exist until after the incarnation. Hence it is nowhere said in the Old Testament, that the prophets spoke from the Holy Spirit, but from Jehovah God. We have a beautiful and irresistible confirmation of this truth in these words, for the Holy Spirit was not yet, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”
John 7. 39.
In this chapter he also speaks of the Trinity. There is a Divine Trinity, consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ; and these three are the three Essentials of One God,—which make a One, like soul, body, and operation in a man. Before the creation of the world, this Trinity did not exist; but it was provided and made since the creation, when God became incarnate, and then centered in the Lord God, the Redeemer and Saviour Jesus Christ. To conceive of a Trinity of Divine persons from eternity, is to think of three Gods; and no amount
of word-playing and creed-making can prevent the mind from falling into Tritheism, as long as a Trinity of persons and not of essentials is spoken and thought of. A Trinity of persons was unknown in the Apostolic Church; the doctrine was first broached by the Council of Nice, and thence received into the Roman Catholic Church, and thus propagated among the Reformed Churches. The Nicene and Athanasian doctrines concerning a trinity, have, together, given rise to a faith which has entirely perverted the Christian Church; and hence has come that “abomination of desolation, and that affliction, such as was not in all the world, neither shall be,” which the Lord has foretold in Daniel, the Evangelists, and the Revelation. For when the Church ceases to know its God, the central point of all faith and doctrine, all subsidiary points must necessarily become involved in darkness. And thus it is that the Athanasian creed has given rise to so many absurd and heterogeneous notions about God, and hence, also, to an innumerable brood of heresies and phantasies on every point of doctrine and life ; so much so, that had not the Lord effected a Last Judgment in 1757, and established a New Heaven and a New Church, no flesh could have been saved. The “healing of the nations,” the new life, light and heat, that have coursed through humanity during the past century, attest the working of Omnipotence for the salvation and restoration of what is most valuable and precious in man.
Chapter 4 is an exposition of the nature of the Sacred Scripture, or the Word of the Lord, proving it to bethe Divine Truth itself. The spiritual sense of the Word, the laws by which it is written, and the means by which it is unfolded, are explained at length, and with great perspicuity. It is shown that the spiritual sense is in all and every part of the Word, that hence it is divinely inspired, and is holy in every syllable. Nevertheless the literal sense is not to be disregarded. It is the basis, the continent, and the firmament of the spiritual sense; in it the Divine Truth is in its fulness, its sanctity, and its power; from it the doctrine of the Church is to be drawn and confirmed; and by it conjunction with the Lord and consociation with the angels is effected. The Word is in all the heavens, and the wisdom of the angels is thence derived. The Church exists from the Word, and the quality of the Church with man is according to his understanding of the Word. The marriage of Goodness and Truth, and of the Lord and the Church, is in every part of the Word. Men inay collect and imbibe heretical opinions from the letter of the Word; but it is hurtful to confirm such opinions. Many things in the Word are appearances of truth, in which genuine truths lie concealed; and many fallacies arise from the taking of these appearances of truth for genuine or absolute truth. The literal sense of the Word is a guard to the genuine truths contained in it, and in the Word is represented by cherubs. To the wicked, it is a mercy that spiritual truth is thus hidden; for
as one man.
if known and not obeyed, it is profaned, and profanation involves the deepest suffering and distress. The Lord, during his abode in the world, fulfilled all things contained in the Word, and was thus made the Word, that is, the Divine Truth, even in ultimates. Previous to the Word which the world now possesses, there was a Word which is lost, but is preserved in heaven among the angels who lived as men in those times, and is also extant among certain nations in Great Tartary, who, however, have probably no true idea of the treasure they possess. By means of the Word, light is communicated to those who are out of the pale of the Church and are not in possession of the Word. This is effected outwardly by the communications of commerce, with those nations who have the Word; and internally and insensibly by that community of soul which makes humanity appear before the Lord
There is no thought conceived, no deed done, but which radiates from soul to soul and produces effects of which the doer is not conscious. Thus it is that the Church-composed of the men who read, love, and obey the Word-benefits the world, and conjoins it with heaven and the Lord. Without the Word, no one would have any knowledge of God, of heaven and hell, or of a life after death, and much less of the Lord. The multiplicity of points involved in these statements, receive, in this chapter on the Sacred Scripture, most copious illustrations, both from the Word itself, and from the common experience of mankind. In reading this chapter, every candid person will feel that, strange and novel though many of the statements may be, he is not dealing with a mere theoriser; and that facts and even Revelation itself must be done away, ere the doctrine of the Sacred Scripture here revealed can be annihilated or proved erroneons.
Chapter 5 explains the Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments, as to their external and internal sense. The Decalogue, in the Israelitish Church, was the very essence of holiness, and from it the ark and the tabernacle derived their sanctity. In the Ten Commandments are contained all things which relate to love to God and love towards our neighbour. In its literal sense, the Decalogue contains general precepts of doctrine and life, but in its spiritual and celestial sense it contains all precepts universally. Swedenborg then takes up each commandment singly, and gives an exposition of its literal, spiritual, and celestial application ; and when he has done this, we perceive that these Ten Commandments, which every schoolboy repeats and feels he understands, nevertheless contain all precepts, and are such as may afford guidance to the wisest angel, and that man can never outgrow them. Taking, for instance, the Seventh Commandment, (the eighth according to the common numbering,) “ Thou shalt not steal," he explains it in the natural sense after the common acceptation. In the spiritual sense, he shows that to steal means to deprive others of the truths which they embrace in faith, in teaching doctrines known to be
false, or teaching for the sake of gain; and in destroying in others, either by word or deed, those truths which lead to salvation. In the celestial sense, to steal is to take away divine power from the Lord, to be vain, to be proud, to arrogate to ourselves the merit and righteousness which are the divine gifts. All who do such things, notwithstanding their seeming adoration of God, do not trust in Him, but in themselves ; and likewise do not believe in God, but in themselves; they steal from God; they are spiritual thieves; and everyone who knows his own heart, must know how often he must refer to this commandment in order to govern his life, and restrain his thoughts, before he can know perfect obedience, and be in truth a child of God. As with this Commandment, so with all. We need to think of them every day, and to use them in all our states. If we purpose to lead a true and happy life, we must cherish them as constant companions.
Chapter 6 treats of Faith. Faith, it is said, is first in regard to time, and charity is first in regard to end; that is, the use of faith is to lead to charity. A saving faith is a faith in the Lord God the Saviour Jesus Christ, because He is the visible God in whom is the invisible. Faith, in general, consists in a belief that the Lord will save all who live a good life and believe aright; and a man receives this faith in consequence of approaching the Lord, learning truths from the Word, and living a life in conformity with them. Faith without charity is not faith, and charity without faith is not charity; and neither faith nor charity has any life in it but from the Lord. Although a man has power given to him to procure for himself faith and charity, and the life of faith and charity, yet nothing of faith, charity, or the life of either, is from man, but from the Lord alone. Charity and faith are together in good works; for charity consists in willing what is good, and good works cousist in doing what is good, from and under the influence of a good will; and both charity and faith are merely mental and perishable things, unless they are determined to works, and co-exist in them, whenever there is opportunity. The wicked have no faith, because wickedness is of hell, and faith is of heaven, and all the truth of faith is derived from heaven. Faith cannot dwell with evil, for evil is like fire,-infernal fire being the love of evil, which consumes faith like stubble, and reduces it and all that belongs to it to ashes. Evil dwells in darkness, and faith in light; and evil by means of the falsehood which it loves, extinguishes faith, as darkness does light. And because the world is at this day full of evil, (notwithstanding the morality of life, and the rationality with which faith is spoken and written about,) of true faith there is almost none, because of goodness there is almost none.
Chapter 7 discourses of love towards our neighbour, and good works. It is introduced by the statement that there are three univer