<< THE KEY TO THE SPIRITUAL SENSE OF THE WORD >>
Swedenborg has opened the spiritual sense of the Holy Scriptures. He has given to the Church the key to its hidden treasures of Divine truth. He has demonstrated to every rational mind that there is a correspondence between the natural and spiritual worlds, and shown that all things in the world of nature exist from and represent things in the higher spiritual realm. Between them there is the relation of cause and effect. The Word of God is written according to this correspondence, and all natural things are significant of spiritual things. This law of relation between material and spiritual things, according to which the Scriptures are written, is seen in all languages." The terms employed to express the things of the mind are borrowed from the material world. The notion of the soul in all the ancient languages is expressed by terms which originally signify wind, air, or breath. This is the case with the Greek words. The same is true of the Latin word spiritus (from spiro, to breathe,) and animus and anima, which are derived from the Greek , wind. The word heart is used for the sensibility, or to express the affections and desires of the soul. The bowels (splanctna) are used by the classic authors, for mercy. So the eye is used to represent the understanding; heat or fire signifies love, and light is everywhere the symbol of truth. All words have, beside their literal material sense, a tropical or spiritual sense. The illustrations of this are as numerous as the words of a language. Take the word edify, which, in its literal sense, signifies to build a house, but in its tropical or spiritual sense, means to instruct and improve the mind in moral and religious knowledge. This opens a large and interesting field for study, upon which we cannot enter. It is the law of the human mind everywhere, that it expresses spiritual things by natural things. If such is the law of human language, much more is it so in the Divine language of the Word of God. The great discovery of Swedenborg, and the grand characteristic of his system, is the science of correspondence, without a knowledge of which the deep spiritual significance of the Word enclosed within the enveloping letter, cannot be understood. With a mind illuminated by the Lord, he has lifted the veil from the abyss of spiritual and celestial truth in the Word, and prepared the way for exploring its unfathomed depths. He has exalted the Scriptures as no man has ever done. He has shown that the Word is holy in every part, that it came down from God through the angelic heavens, and is as well adapted to the highest orders of being as to men upon the earth. It contains the deepest arcana of wisdom, which, through the science of correspondence, now in mercy restored to the Church, is made the property of the spiritual mind. It is the exhaustless fountain of all true wisdom, and in it " are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." The words of Scripture are expressive of the thoughts of God. And one's words always contain something of one's mind, because they spring from our affection and thought, and these are the man. So the words of God find the root of their being in the Divine Mind. It is a manifestation of the affection and thought, the love and wisdom, of the Lord, and these are the Lord Himself.
Swedenborg says, " The Word, which was dictated from the Lord, passed through the heavens of His celestial kingdom, and the heavens of His spiritual kingdom, and thus came to man, by whom it was written; wherefore the Word in its first origin is purely Divine; this Word, as it passed through the heavens of the Lord's celestial kingdom, was Divine celestial, and as it passed through the heavens of the Lord's spiritual kingdom, was Divine spiritual, and when it came to man, it became Divine natural; hence it is that the natural sense of the Word contains in itself the spiritual sense, and this the celestial sense, and both a sense purely Divine, which is not discernible by any man, nor, indeed, by any angel." (Apocalpyse Revealed, 959.) The Word thus becomes the bond of connection between the heavens and the earth, and the means of conjunction vith the Lord.
The doctrine of three distinct senses in the Word, is not arbitrary, but founded in necessity. If we trace it to its first origin, we shall find it in the trine nature of God. There is in the Lord a Divine celestial principle or department of His infinite nature, a Divine spiritual, and a Divine natural. The one refers to the inmost being of God, the Divine esse, which is the love; the other marks the intellectual department of the Divine Mind, and is derived from the former; the last is that in God which in us is our bodily form, and lower mental nature, but which, like everything in God, is infinite in Him. Because these are in the Divine nature, and the heavens are only an emanation from Him; therefore there must be three heavens, or three degrees of heavenly life. The third, or supreme heaven, is in the Divine celestial principle; the second, or middle, in the Divine spiritual; and the or ultimate heaven, in the Divine Natural. The same may be predicated of the Church, which exists from the Lord through the heavens. Because man is made after the image of God, there are in him three degrees or planes of mental being—the sensual, the intellectual, and the intuitional; or in his terminology, the natural, the spiritual, and the celestial. Whether we come into one or the other of these three senses of the Word, depends upon our interior state. If we read the Word of God from the sensuous or natural plane, we extract from it only the literal sense; if we contemplate it from the stand-point of the intellect, we perceive its spiritual sense; if our minds are elevated to the highest plane, and from this lofty position we read the Word of the Lord, its celestial and Divine import is laid open to us. Thus the three senses of the Scriptures are based upon the necessary laws of our being.
The means by which the spiritual mind may come into an appropriation of this Divine treasure of heavenly wisdom, is the science of correspondence. In unfolding the spiritual sense of the Word, according to the correspondences in which it is written, there is nothing left to mere fancy. Swedenborg's method of interpretation is widely different from that of Cocceius, who laid down the principle, that a passage of Scripture is to be made to mean all that it can signify. This gives room to float off into an ocean of conjectures and fancies. The laws of correspondence, as unfolded by Emanuel Swedenborg, are as fixed as the laws of Geometry. That fire signifies love, and light truth, is as invariable, as the principle that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles. In fact we may almost place correspondence among the exact sciences. It is also one of the most delightful and elevating studies that can engage the human mind. It is the science of sciences.
The life of the Church is derived from the Word of God. The words of Christ are spirit, and they are life. (Jno.,vi. 63.) The quality of the Church's life is according to her understanding of the Word. Who then can conceive the influence of this great discovery upon the life of the Church through all the ages of the future? It is not too much to assert, that the progress of the Church in all coming ages will be the result of the unfolding of the Word of God, by means of the science of correspondence, revealed by that eminent servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, Emanuel Swedenborg. The second coming of the Lord is not to be into the natural world, but out of the Word. According to His own promise He is to come as the Comforter, to lead into all truth. John saw the New Jerusalem radiant with the glory of God, or luminous with spiritual truth from the Lord. It has always been the belief of the pious in every age of the Church, that there is a spiritual sense in the letter of Scripture. The mystic authors, as Fenelon, Madame Guyon, and Tauler, have had glimpses of this spiritual significance; but they had no fixed principles of interpretation. They groped like blind men along the wall. All was left to feeling or to fancy. With the restoration of the lost science of correspondence we have a solid basis on which to rest our interpretations. Swedenborg's explanations of the Word are made with mathematical exactness. His works contain a most valuable treasure of wisdom and spiritual philosophy—valuable not merely for what they actually teach, but for what they suggest. They will be better understood in a future age than they are at present. The more spiritual we become, the more we abstract the mind from the world of sense, and are in an interior (or superior) state, the more we shall see their truth and value, and the infinite sweep of the principles he unfolds. They are not addresed to the sensuous, but to the spiritual mind; and such a soul spontaneously perceives their truth, and receives them. The greater portion of his works is designed to develop the spiritual sense of the Scriptures. But he has only led us into the portico of the heavenly palace, and through the Divine mercy of the Lord put the key into our hands, inviting us to enter, and by a life of love and faith, explore for ourselves.
It is also worthy of remark, that he who grasps the idea of correspondence in its amazing sweep, and sees its infinite bearings, will find not only in the Bible a new revelation, but the whole outward world will be changed. Nature will become a sublime poem. Mountains and vales, trees and forests, rivers and lakes, and all living and moving things, will be words and letters full of heavenly import, he will live and move in a new earth, and beneath new heavens. Every object he beholds will remind him of something spiritual. Earth will wear new charms, for all its forms of beauty are but the counterpart of things that exist beneath the sun of a higher sky. Mrs. Browning, borrowing the conception from Swedenborg, has finely said, in speaking of art,
" we stand here, we,
If genuine artists, witnessing for God's
Complete, consummate, undivided work,
That not a natural flower can grow on earth,
Without a flower upon the spiritual side,
Substantial, archetypal, all aglow
With blossoming causes—not so far away,
That we whose spirit sense is somewhat cleared,
May not catch something of the bloom and breath,
Too vaguely apprehended, though indeed
Still apprehended consciously or not,
And still transferred to picture, music, verse
For thrilling audient and beholding souls—
By signs and touches which are known to souls—
How known they know not—why they cannot find."
The spiritual significance of Scripture is not an imaginary sense. It is unfolded by laws as immutable as those by which we interpret the Word in its literal sense. Neither do we make the Lord say one thing and mean another. When water is mentioned, or gold is spoken of, it not only means all that we understand by water and gold, but much more ;—in the one case truth, in the other celestial good. The literal sense is not invalidated by the interior sense, but greatly exalted by it. There is in Swedenborg no undervaluing of the letter. This is the casket that contains and protects the priceless gem. The more costly the jewel, the more valuable the casket. It is not undervaluing the body to make it the outward covering of the living soul, but gives to it a dignity and importance that it could not otherwise have. The Word, in its literal sense, is the Divine Truth in its fulness ; for this sense is the basis, the continent, and the firmament or covering of all the other senses. No man has so exalted the letter of Scripture as Swedenborg. Those who deny its spiritual import lower its value. It is like taking away from the body its animating soul. They extract the kernel and leave us only the husk. The body derives its value from the spirit, the husk from the kernel it contains and protects.
Author: Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889)