THE SCIENCE OF CORRESPONDENCES
<< CHAPTER VIII >>
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE APPARENT AND GENUINE TRUTHS OF THE
LITERAL SENSE OF THE HOLY WORD EXPLAINED AND ILLUSTRATED.
IN many parts of the sacred Scriptures, however, particularly in the Gospels, we find true doctrine plainly revealed for the simple in heart "the babes in Christ" (1 Cor. iii. 1; 1 Pet. ii. 2); but would we behold the hidden splendors of heaven, which fill the inner courts of the sanctuary, "the everlasting gates must be unfolded,"we must enter through " the veil," and as we meditate on what we see, we cannot fail to adopt the exclamation of the patriarch, and say "This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven " (Gen. xxvii. 17). Nor let it for one moment be supposed that the internal sense of Scripture invalidates or injures, in the slightest degree, its extrinsic meaning and authority. On the contrary, as the soul animates and confers dignity on the body in which it dwells, so the spiritual sense gives life to and exalts the literal sense, which is acknowledged to be eminently holy in consequence of the heavenly meaning of which it is the repository, and which, far from being disparaged, is preserved by it and for it with the most scrupulous exactness. Of the Word of God in both senses it may be truly said, in the language of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, that it "is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (iv. 12). The letter is composed so as to engage the attention of children and to arouse the indifference of the most supine. Here the rudirnental elements of truth and goodness are offered for acceptance. It calls " sinners to repentance" by exciting their hopes and awakening their fears. External promises are annexed to obedience, threatenings to disobedience. To adapt its inward spirit to the lowest and weakest, appearances of truth, or truths as they present themselves to the natural understandings of men, are often substituted for genuine truths, things relative for things absolute. Without impairing the intrinsic verity, the value, the purity, or the efficacy of the Word, in the least, the most salutary lessons are presented therein, under every possible diversity of form, and so wonderfully and mercifully is the whole accommodated to every character, and brought down to the level of every apprehension, that all minds, both simple and intelligent, the illiterate and the learned, may be gradually led, by means of it, from the slavery of sinful propensities and habits, to the liberty of heaven, from spiritual darkness to God's marvellous light, without injury to their freedom. These adaptations of truth to the varieties of human perception may be compared to lenses of various powers convex for one, concave for another.
There are also numerous instances in which genuine doctrine concerning the Lord, and the essentials of salvation, shine clearly and unmistakably, even through the cortex of the letter. These agree in every respect with the deeper truths of the inward spirit, and may always be universally recognized. As the mind receives and obeys, it becomes expanded and elevated, prepared for higher degrees of spiritual light and usefulness. It is like the dawn which precedes the rising of the sun, or the spring which heralds the coming year.
Nor must we omit to notice the fact that all the great doctrines of the Christian religion, those which involve the first steps of moral duty and are essential to salvation, must clearly and legibly be drawn from, and supported by, the literal sense of the Word, in which divine truth lies couched in all its fulness and power. It is the " hem " of the Lord s outer garments, whence healing virtue issues forth on every side (Matt. xiv. 36). Just as appearances in the works of God are to be explained by the ascertained deductions of scientific research, so the appearances of truth in the letter of the Word of God must be expounded by the facts of true doctrine in order to harmonize with genuine wisdom.
The fallacies arising from primary impressions on the mind are " truths in the time of ignorance," and have to be removed or dissipated in the progress we make in all kinds of knowledge. Nor, constituted as wre are, capable of an everlasting advancement in intelligence, is this any imperfection; on the contrary, it lies, in reality, at the root of all improvement. We are surrounded with fallacies and appearances of truth, natural and mental, which observation, experience, and reflection only can explain and correct. Thus all things appear to originate from mere nature. The sun appears to move daily round the earth, to rise in the east and to set in the west. It appears to us as though we beheld objects out of the eye or at a distance from us. The sky over our heads appears concave, the earth beneath our feet as a plain. These appearances with many others are so described in the letter of the Word ; but the genuine truth obtained by scientific investigation and rational analysis, is, we know, the reverse of all this, when we substitute states of life for space and time. To speak according to apparent truths, however, best suits the universal forms of ordinary intercourse, and is sufficient for all the practical purposes of life, because best adapted to the apprehension of all; and when the realities and genuine facts are understood, this mode of speech is attended with no difficulty what ever. To speak according to appearances has been well described by Grindon as the great law of language, " because all language deals primarily with ultirnates and externals," or what is first presented to the outward senses and to the apperceptions of the external mind.
Nay, further, the language of appearances is equally well, and in some cases, perhaps, far better and more universally, adapted to the expression and apprehension of truth than the correct theory and nomenclature of science, which are always changing, or the strict language of philosophy, which would be understood by few unaccustomed to abstract inquiries.
Even in religious doctrines many fallacies exist, which experience alone can rectify. For instance, it appears to some, even honest, minds, that faith alone saves man from sin, and to others, that good works alone are the ground of acceptance with God. From the mere appearances of the literal sense of Scripture, many have inferred that God is angry and vindictive and delights in punishing the sinner for his transgressions ; that the soul is a mere vapor, and the spiritual world a mysterious void ; that the body will rise at some future day from the grave, and the earth will be sublimated into a heaven, and that heaven and its joys are the capricious gifts of God, and will even borrow confirmation of these opinions from the letter of the Word. But all such views are the offspring of appearances mistaken for realities, and of subsequent fallacious reasonings thereon, which can only be corrected and dissipated by a right discrimination between apparent and genuine truths, according to the rule of interpretation here advocated. It is even so with natural knowledge. While one mind will perceive a scientific law in its native lustre, another, without a question of insincerity, will have but an obscure idea of it ; a third will regard it as a fallacy of the senses, and a fourth will entirely reject it as absolutely false and untenable. Hence we are supplied with an incontrovertible argument in favor of the necessity of the Word of God, as we find it, being outwardly suited to the early states of all for whom it was designed.
All men are first external and carnal, and by nature inclined only to what is evil ; yet they have to be impressed with the indispensable truth of God s existence and government and the hatefulness of sin, before they can trust his guidance, be reclaimed from iniquity, attain newness of heart and life, become spiritually-minded, and have correct ideas of spiritual things.
"Howbeit," saith the apostle Paul, " that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural ; and afterward that which is spiritual" (1 Cor. xv. 4(5). But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him ; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned " (1 Cor. ii. 14). A child, for instance, sees any given truth relating to the life and conduct merely in its simple appearance, so that parental affection will assume the form of anger, and parental instruction the form of cruelty ; but a young man will perceive the same truth in a less imperfect state of the intellect, and see it in another light; mature age, however, will again strip it of many adventitious coverings ; while old age will look at it in a higher degree of light, and see it in a totally different point of view, and will from long experience and observation adopt and enforce only what is genuine.
When the deluded sensualist, therefore, approaches the Divine Word, he sees, as he only can see, no further than the mere appearances of the letter. He is warned to escape " the wrath to come." He is threatened, that his natural fears and hopes may be awakened, and that he may be impressed with his awful state by nature and by choice. He looks at the Lord as " an austere man " and a " hard master." He is thus, may be, induced to seek deliverance from evil and error, and, in dependence on Him who is "mighty to save," is encouraged to take the first step in the path of repentance.
The simple in heart and mind approach the same Word, they read and understand its doctrines,, and obey its precepts in simplicity, and partake of its unspeakable consolations, rejoicing as from time to time they see "greater things than these." When the intelligent, who have made some progress and acquired some experience in the regenerate life, read the Word, they can more clearly and rationally see the unfoldings of the internal sense ; and, as they advance in goodness, will have still deeper mysteries and more glorious wonders displayed to their delighted view, until "perfect love casteth out fear " (1 John iv. 18), and the light shining brighter and brighter upon them reveals the open day, and enables them to discern truths in that light by which angels see. (Prov. iv. 18.)
" For we know in part," says the apostle Paul, " and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child ; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly ; but then, face to face : now I know in part ; but then shall I know even as also I am known " (1 Cor. xiii. 9-1 2)
So also the Lord himself, who is " the same yesterday, to-day, and forever " (Heb. xiii. 3), is perceived and acknowledged, as to his Divine characteristics, just in proportion as truth is unfolded and purity of heart is attained. He is regarded in man's first efforts as a stern teacher, before He can be seen as the God of all wisdom and whose laws all proceed from his unbounded love ; but when man has made advanced progress in the regenerate life, and has become partially acquainted with the influence of love upon his heart, in all its beautiful and tender varieties, then, and not till then, can he see God as He really is, love itself and wisdom itself. And these changes of state are obviously finite, and attach only to the creature, and in respect to God himself are but appearances of truth. In accommodation to human discernment, the letter of the sacred Word sometimes speaks of the Lord as having his dwelling-place above the outward firmament ; as pleased or displeased with every separate action and thought of each single individual ; as changing his mind; as capriciously seeming to grant admission into heaven for a reward, and as arbitrarily casting into hell as a punishment to chastise man for transgressions against his precepts ; and as attributing to Him evil as well as good, electing some and rejecting others, as absent at one time and present at another, coming down and going up, seeing and not seeing, knowing and not knowing.
In such language of mere appearance is the truth presented to us in the letter of the Word, and thus adapted to the states of the unreflecting and the simple ; but those who have advanced in states of intelligence may plainly perceive that the kingdom of heaven is WITHIN (Matt, xii. 28; Mark i. 15; Luke xvii. 20, 21); that God cannot possibly have any favorites, for He is justice itself and is no respecter of persons (2 Sam. xiv. 14; 2 Chron. xix. 7 ; Acts x. 34; Rom. ii. 11 ; Eph. vi. 9 ; Col. iii. 25 ; 1 Pet. i. 17 ; James ii. 9) ; that He imputes evil to no one (2 Cor, v. 19) ; that He is omniscient and omnipresent; that as sin on man s part abstracts nothing from his infinite perfections, for He is goodness itself (Ps. cxlv. 9), and truth itself (John xiv. 6), and unchangeably the same (Mai. iii. 6), therefore both sin and its torment must originate with man ; for as man accepts or abjures the invitations of the Saviour, he secures the things belong ing to his eternal peace and joy, or, on the contrary, is the artificer of his own misery, and brings upon himself the condign punishment he suffers. The great and genuine truth, confirmed by wisdom and experience, is, that the mind forms its own heaven or its own hell in time and to all eternity. The sympathies of our nature our affections, and our thoughts, purified, elevated, and refined b/ the operations of the Holy Spirit in the work of regeneration, will be forever active in promoting the welfare and ministering to the happiness of others, and in that glorious and ever-enlarging work finds a corresponding reward in the approval of conscience, and in a perpetual increase of wisdom, love, and blessedness; and, on the other hand, if selfishness rule the mind and destroy these sympathies, and corrupt these affections and thoughts, the sensual appetites alone remain, which always minister to disappointment, wretchedness, punishment, and wrath. " Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil ; but glory, honor, and peace to every man that worketh good" (Rom. ii. 9, 10). "Behold," saith the Lord, "for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves" (Isa. 1. 1). "They that plow iniquity and sow wickedness, reap the same" (Job iv. 8). And again : " Your iniquities have turned away these [blessings], and your sins have wTithholdcn good things from you "(Jer. v. 25).
Nor is there, as it at first sight might be supposed, anything derogatory to the character of God, nor the slightest prevarication or perversion of the truth in such forms of expression ; for man is born into all kinds and degrees of hereditary tendency toward evils and errors, and it was essential to his freedom and advancement in the life and light of heaven that truths relating to the Divine character and operations should be clothed with appearances in the Word to suit his lowest states of thought and love. On this subject, Swedenborg thus writes: "A further reason why it is permitted to think that Jehovah turns away his face, is angry, punishes, tempts, and even curses and kills, is in order that men might believe that the Lord alone governs and disposes all and everything in the universe, even evil itself, punishment and temptation ; and when they have received this most general idea, those who can be further instructed might afterwards learn how, or in what manner, He governs and disposes all tilings, and that He turns the evil of punishment and the evil of temptation into good" (A. C. 245).
Thus in Isa. viii. 17 an apparent truth is presented, calculated to awaken the attention of the most careless reader : " I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob." It can only be in appearance that the ever-present Jehovah hides his face ; just as the natural sun appears to withdraw when hidden by a cloud. The truth is, that just as a cloud rises from the earth and shrouds the sun from view, so do the gross thoughts and persuasions, signified by a cloud, spring from the earthly mind or carnal nature, intercept the mental vision, and prevent the beams of mercy, signified by the Lord's face, from being perceived. As it is declared by the Lord Himself, " Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face-from you " (Isa. lix. 2). Here the genuine truth gleams through the letter, and becomes manifest ; the cloud is dissipated, and the sun shines in all his effulgence. So also, in Genesis, we read, " God did tempt Abraham" (xxii. 1). This could only be said in appearance, for the Apostle James states the genuine truth where he says, " Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God ; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man ; but every man is tempted whem he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed" (i. 13, 14). Again, it is said, "God is angry with the wicked every day" (Psalm vii. 11). This representation of the Almighty must be an appearance arising from the disposition of the sinner being opposite to the nature of infinite love and zeal, and not from any angry passion burning in the pure bosom of Deity. With the wicked, God appears to be angry "every day," or in every state, because of their wilful opposition to his Word ; therefore, we read, "With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful, and with the upright man thou wilt show thyself upright. With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure, and with the froward thou wilt show thyself unsavory [or froward]"(2 Sam. xxii. 26, 27 ; Ps. xviii. 25, 26). The Apostle John, then, affirms the genuine truth, whatever may be the appearance to the contrary, where he says, " God is love " (1 Eph. iv. 8) ; and we are assured by the Lord Himself that " fury is not in Him " (Isa. xxvii. 4), and that his nature is unchangeable, "the same yesterday, to-day, and forever" (Heb. xiii. 8). It is man that hates his God, and regards his service as that of " a hard master " (Matt. xxv. 24) ; but God, being immutable love and goodness, can never hate the creatures of his hand. " As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked ; but that the wicked turn from his way andlive" (Ezek. xxxiii. 11).
Thus, true doctrine makes the literal in harmony with the internal sense, and reconciles every difficulty. In the Psalms we read, " Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee ? I hate them with perfect hatred, I count them mine enemies " (cxxxix. 21, 22). How plain it is that these words must have an inward spiritual sense, else they cannot be consistently understood, and would be unworthy a book whose Author is love itself, and who has taught us by precept and example to love even our enemies, Who, then, are our enemies that we have to hate ? The Lord tells us, " If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke xiv. 26). What an extraordinary declaration is this, coupled with the other! What says the Apostle John? "He that hateth his brother is in darkness " (1 Epist. ii. 11). Turn to iii. 15, " Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer ; " and in the 20th verse, " If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar." What says the divine commandment? "Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be prolonged upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Ex. xx. 12). How can all this be reconciled, unless we allow that the Scriptures contain a holy internal sense ? In the literal sense of the fourth commandment we are taught the doctrine of external obedience, to honor and obey our natural parents ; but in the spiritual and heavenly sense we are commanded to honor and obey our heavenly Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and our spiritual mother, his Church, " the bride and wife of the Lamb ;" or, in another sense, to celebrate his divine goodness or love, and his divine wisdom or truth, by a life of order ; then will our days be prolonged, or, according to the spiritual idea, then shall we acquire a fitness for endless life in the heavenly Canaan. In an opposite sense, our own father and mother, and the enemies whom we have to hate with perfect hatred before we can become the Lord s disciples, are the unclean and unholy hereditary principles of evil and falsity in the unregenerate mind ; for they are the parents and kindred of its impure gratifications, wherein its degraded life consists. This father and mother, together with all their corrupt offspring, yea, and our own impure life also, we are to hate, to abhor, to cast out, and to destroy their dominion within us, as it is written, " For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man s fos shall be they of his own household. He that findeth his life shall lose it ; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matt. x. 35, 36, 39) ; and, again, " Happy shall he be that taketh thy little ones," O daughter of Babylon, " and dasheth them against
the stones " (Psalm cxxxvii. 9).
In Genesis we read that " it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at his heart "(vi. 6). Here, again, we have an apparent truth, resulting from man's rebellious disobedience and obstinate impenitence, mentioned in the previous verse, and hence a change is ascribed to the Divine Being ; but He declares his own true character where He says, " God is not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man that He should repent " (Num. xxiii. 19). So, again, we read, " the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart" (Ex. vii. 13). This also is expressed according to the appearance, and in accommodation to the state of the Israelites, who supposed that what the Lord permitted He willed. The genuine truth is asserted in Ex. viii. 15, 32, where it is twice said, " Pharaoh hardened his own heart" (see also 1 Sam. vi. 6). By grief and repentance, when predicated of Jehovah, are signified, in the internal sense, the operations of his divine mercy and wisdom, which are spoken of so as not to transcend finite conceptions, in agreement with the nature of mercy and forgiveness as exercised among men ; and for the same reason human properties and characteristics are so often ascribed to the Lord.
On this part of our subject, Swedenborg thus writes: "Whosoever is disposed to confirm false principles by appearances, according to which the Word is written, may do so in innumerable instances. But there is a difference between confirming false principles by passages from the Word, and believing in simplicity what is spoken in the Word. He who confirms false principles, first assumes some principle of his own, from which he is unwilling to depart, and whose authority he is determined at all events to support, for which purpose he collects and accumulates corroborating proofs from every quarter, conse quently from the Word, till he is so thoroughly self-persuaded with regard thereto, that he can no longer see the truth. But whosoever in simplicity, or out of a simple heart, believes what is spoken in the Word, does not first assume principles of his own, but thinks what is spoken to be true, because the Lord spake it ; and in case he is instructed as to the right understanding thereof, by what is spoken in other parts of the word, he instantly acquiesces, and in his heart rojoices: nay, even supposing a person, through simplicity, to believe that .the Lord is wrathful, that lie punishes, repents, grieves, etc., whereby he is restrained from evil, and led to do good, such belief is not at all hurtful to him, inasmuch as it leads him to believe also that the Lord sees all things both generally and particularly, and when he is principled in such belief he is afterwards capable of being enlightened in other points of faith, at least in another life, if not before : the case is different with those who are self-persuaded in consequence of preconceived principles, and who are riveted in the belief thereof through the pernicious influence of selfish and worldly love." A. C., n. 589.
Again, the same author says, " In many passages of the Word we find anger, wrath, and vengeance attributed to God, and it is said that He punishes, casts into hell, tempts, with many other expressions of a like nature. Now, where all this is believed in a child-like simplicity, and made the ground of the fear of God, and of care not to offend Him, no man incurs condemnation by such a simple belief. But where a man confirms himself in such notions, so as to be persuaded that anger, wrath, vengeance, belong to God, and that He punishes mankind, and casts them into hell, under the influence of such anger, wrath, and vengeance, in this case his belief is condemnatory, because he has destroyed genuine truth, which teaches that God is love itself, mercy itself, and goodness itself, and, being these, that He cannot be angry, wrathful, or revengeful. Where such evil passions, then, are attributed in the Word to God, it is owing to appearance only. It is the same in many other instances."-S. S., n. 94.
Truths accommodated to our gross perceptions are, for the most part, apparent truths ; but seen in spiritual light, their appearance is changed, a transfiguration, so to speak, takes place ; they are invested with new splendors, and are spiritually discerned. Let us " not judge, then, according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John vii. 24) ; for, from making no distinction whatever between the apparent and real truths of Scripture, which correspondence thus opens and explains, all the false and heretical doctrines which have agitated and divided the Christian world have sprung. Hence we see the importance of true doctrine to enable us rightly to understand the revealed Word (see, for illustration, Gen. vi. 7 ; Ex. xxxiii. 12- 14; Jer. xviii. 8-10; Hos. xi. 8, 9; Joel ii. 10-12; Jonah ii. 9, 10; Rev. xv. 1-7).