<< THE THEOLOGY OF LOVE >>
Man is capable of living on either of three planes of being—a life of sense, a life of intellect, or a life of love. The Church will pass through successive dispensations corresponding to these three degrees of the mind, for the collective body we call the Church is but a larger man. Its progress differs from that of an individual only as a large circle differs from a small one, it having no geometrical properties which the small one has not. If there is to be a higher and better age of the Church, called the New Jerusalem, it must be the reign of love. It will be the coming back of the charity of the Golden Age. This predominance of love and charity in the Church, by recovering man from the inverted or fallen state of his powers, and by restoring the soul to the Divine order in which it was created, will also elevate his intellect and lower faculties. There are three degrees of intellectual progress, which are denominated by Swedenborg science, intelligence, and wisdom. In the first degree the truths of Holy Scripture are deposited in the external memory. This is the first dawn of regeneration. It is the transition from heathenism to Christianity. Many go no further. The truths of the Gospel lie in the external mind. In the second stage of progress, there is a solid demonstration of the reasonableness of those truths; their beauty and propriety are clearly apprehended, and the soul advances to an intelligent faith, from its first mere sensual, external view. Lastly, the soul rises to the gnosis, the intuition or inward perception of truth. Truth now shines in its own Divine, uncreated light. This is a knowledge far transcending that of the senses, or even reason. It is the maturity or manhood of our powers (of "which Paul speaks), when we see openly, or with unveiled face. The soul rises above all childish conceptions of Divine things. It knows, in some measure, as it is known. Its knowledge is Divine. It has attained the all-satisfying truth that maketh free. There is a fulfilment of the words of the Saviour, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (Jno. viii. 32.) Such a one will have views of truth but poorly apprehended by those on a lower plane of spiritual life. He sees in a passage of Scripture what others cannot find. He has an interior perception of truths, which others dimly see as through a cloud.* He has love, and hence light. He has charity, and hence faith.
In Swedenborg we find the germ of such a state of the Church. In no one do we see exemplified more fully the truth, " Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (1 Cor. xiii. 13.) His is emphatically the theology of love. At the time when he arose, faith was elevated to the first place in religion, and that faith was an intellectual state simply. Perhaps in that stage of religious progress it was natural to exalt the intellect to the highest place. A man who is in the lowest stage of being, aud is sensual and material, will make the delights of sense the chief happiness of his life. All knowledge, except that derived from sense, will seem to him unreal. In philosophy he will make the senses the foundation and source of all knowledge, as in Locke and Condillac, and, before them, in Aristotle. The religion of such a one will be a Pharasaic formalism, a mere mechanism of outward rites. It will be external worship, without internal.
When the soul of the individual, or of collective man, as existing in a society or a church, is advanced from this sensual condition to an intellectual state, it is natural to make faith of the first importance in religion. The Church, during the past centuries of its annals, has not risen above the first or second degree of mental life, except in the case of particular individuals. These sometimes appear like gleams of celestial sunshine in the obscured heavens.The life of faith, Swedenborg denominates the spiritual state; the life of love, the celestial state, or the opening of the soul to the inmost or highest degree. In his theology, which is the theology of love, I see the dawn of a brighter day—the incipiency of a celestial state of the Church. In his teaching, (and the same may be said of his life,) everything is to be consecrated to the good of the neighbor. This is the heavenly order of life. The love of God is an infinite inclination and endeavor to impart its own blessedness to beings made capable of receiving it. This is its essential property. When this love is received into the soul, which is made a created receptacle of it, it does not lose its necessary property, but becomes in us charity, or the love of the neighbor,which is a desire that our own good and truth should be another's. The love of God " shed abroad in our hearts " becomes charity, and this is the " life of God in the soul of man."
The life of charity is the only preparation for heaven. Celestial bliss does not consist in mere devotion, a never-ceasing festival of praise and thanksgiving, nor in an exaltation to power and dignity, nor in emotional bliss and sensuous delights, nor even in paradisiacal scenery, nor in an eternal rest from all activity and labor. But the delight of being useful, originating "in love, and operating by wisdom, is the very soul and life of all heavenly joys. (Conjugial Love, 5.) Such is heavenly bliss. It is to be feared that many who may think themselves fitted for the enjoyments and employments of the higher sphere, will find that their preparatipn is not begun. It is one of the evils of the old churches, that they substitute mere devotional exercises for the life of love, as a preparation for heaven. The best preparation for heavenly life hereafter, is a heavenly spirit here. Swedenborg has clearly shown what that spirit is. Take the following beautiful passage :—
" How great the delight of heaven is, may appear from this circumstance alone; that it is delightful to all who are there to communicate their enjoyments and beatitudes to each other; and all the inhabitants of heaven being of this character, it is plain how immense the delight of heaven must be: for there exists, in the heavens, a communication of all with every individual, and of every individual with all. Such communication flows from the two loves of heaven, which, as has been stated, are love to the Lord and love towards the neighbor; and it is the nature of these loves to communicate their delights to others. The reason that love to the Lord is of such a nature, is, because the Lord's love is the love of communicating all He has to all His creatures; for He desires the happiness of all: and a similar love prevails in the individuals who love Him, because the Lord is in them. It is from this ground that the angels mutually communicate their delights to each ther." (Heaven and Hell, 399. See also 26S, 413, 418.) Let no man deceive himself. This spirit alone contains the elements of heavenly bliss. It is only a life of love that " can complete our training for the skies."
* "What perception is, men are at this day ignorant; it is a certain internal sensation, which comes only from the Lord, whether a thing he true and good, as was well known to the Most Ancient Church; this perception is so clear with the angels, that they know, and thereby acknowledge what is true and good, and what is from the Lord, and what from themselves, and also what is the quality of a stranger, by his mere approach, and by a single idea of him. The spiritual man (or the soul in the second stage of the redemptive progress) has no perception, but he has conscience. A dead man (the mere 'natural mind) has not evea conscience, and most persons do not know what conscience is, still less what perception is." (A. C. 104.)
Author: Warren Felt Evans (1817-1889)