TREES AND PLANTS >> Principles and Knowledges
When we understand the science of correspondences, our knowledge is a seed-truth, which takes root, and grows up, in our minds, and branches out in all directions, and reaches further and further into the atmosphere of thought and knowledge. And if there are the vital elements of growth, in our hearts and intellects, we shall begin a mental growth whose progress shall continue through eternity ; increasing in quantity, and improving in quality, as we ascend into the higher realms of spiritual life; leaving behind us, amid the clouds of time and sense, all the darkness, the obscurity, and the doubts, of sensuous life. If we love this knowledge, and live according to it, we shall draw nearer to our Lord, and hence, into greater fulness of life, and into greater happiness. "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of Jehovah; and in His law doth he meditate, day and night. And he shall be like a tree, planted by the rivers of water; that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." (Psalm i. 1-3.)
Life is central and inward ; and it flows outward to the extremities. And all true knowledge follows the course of the flowing of life, from within, outward. Even in the body, to comprehend the pulsations at the tips of the fingers, you must comprehend the heart, and its circulation of the blood. You must go to the centre, to understand the circumference; you must know the inside to comprehend the outside. So, you must know the character of God, as the Central Life, before you can truly understand the works of God in outward nature, or the Word of God in the literal Scriptures. The knowledge of God is the centre of all knowledge, from which all other knowledges branch out towards the circumference of creation.
The growth of human knowledge is like the growth of a tree. It must start from some seed-truth, as a centre; it must proceed by orderly development, according to some plan, or system; and it must "bring forth after its kind." "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit ; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit." (Matt. vii. 16, 17.) Do men gather spiritual truths from the thorns of their own selfishness ? And do men gather natural good from the sensuous falsities of self-derived intelligence? Do men arrive at accurate knowledge by beginning at self, to reason towards God ? No ! Let them begin with the acknowledgment, of the Lord; and then, seeing from the centre, they can trace the line of truth to the circumference, and then they can go from the circumference, back again to the centre ; because, in all their course, they do not lose sight of the centre.
If we do not understand the character of God, and the character of the Scriptures, as His holy Word, we may go on reasoning from our own standpoint, and yet never arrive at any real truth. But, starting with the knowledge of the Lord, and of His Word, the progress of our knowledge becomes like the orderly growing and branching of a tree.
In the symbolic language of the Scriptures trees are named to represent the growing principles in the minds of men; the principles from which, and in which, men live; the principles which bear fruit in men's daily lives. And the same general signification belongs to every other plant, for the tree is used as the general representative of its class, the vegetable kingdom. As you trace the tree from the seed to the fruit, through all intermediate stages, so every principle received into man's mind, undergoes, as a seed, all the corresponding changes, in its progressive development. Every principle is first deposited in the memory, as a storehouse. From the memory, it may be planted in the good ground of a loving heart. As in the seed, so in the principle, it carries within it the germ of all that it will become in the future. That germ was created by the Lord ; and the life which shall develop it is from the Lord. And, from the very beginning, the endeavor of the seed is towards the full end and use in view.
In the good ground of a loving heart, the seed of truth will germinate. "The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard-seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field : which, indeed, is the least of all seeds ; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and- becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof." (Matt. xiii. 31.) The good seed is the good principle, containing spiritual life. When it is planted in our hearts, we begin to inquire how to live, and what to do, to be useful. These inquiries, like the roots, run out in all directions, to gather strength from the soil of the heart. And the shoot goes upward into the upper air of higher thought. The principle branches out in all directions. Leaves appear, as forms of truth and of thought. Flowers appear, as higher forms of thought, sentiments gathered in our growth. And, finally, the fruit appears, the actual life, the good works of love, as the fruits of our principles. And in these are the seeds for future stages of growth.
Trees, then, represent, and correspond to, principles in men's minds. And these may be either good or bad. Good, wholesome trees correspond to good and true principles. Noxious and poisonous trees and plants correspond to evil and false principles.
In the Scriptures, trees and other plants are sometimes used in a personal sense, also, to represent individual persons, in whom such principles are characteristic. This is notably the case in Ezekiel xxxi, where the words are said to be applied, to Pharaoh. Yet they were applied to his character, and not merely to his person. And they apply to all men, in all ages, who are of similar character.
Even on the natural plane of thought, a forest of trees resembles the human family on earth. In the forest, as in the human family, we see all kinds represented, the large and the small, the old and the young, the healthy and the sickly, the living, the dying, and the dead ; the straight and the crooked, the white, the black, the yellow, and the brown. And, while the living" trees stand and flourish, the dead of past generations lie in and upon the ground. And if these things are interesting, merely as natural comparisons, how much more intensely interesting and instructive they become, when understood according to the science of correspondences, in which we plainly see a perfect and full analogy between trees and men.
And thus we can understandingly read the Sacred Scriptures, seeing our own minds addressed, in loving promises of good, or in solemn warnings of evil, and our human states of life pictured, in the familiar symbols of the trees. No longer we wonder why our Lord should say, in His holy Word, "Praise ye the Lord. . . . Praise ye Him, sun and moon ; praise Him, all ye stars of light. . . . mountains and all hills ; fruitful trees and all cedars : beasts, and all cattle ; creeping things, and birds of wing" (Ps. cxlviii, 1, 3, 9, lo, 14) ; for we know that, in these words, inwardly read, He is calling us to praise Him in all our life, from every principle of our being.
And, in the Scriptures, many other things are said of trees, which could not be literally true of anything else than human beings. Trees are said to talk, to mourn, to laugh, to clap their hands, to discuss questions among themselves, etc. "The trees went forth to anoint a king over them ; and they said unto the olive-tree, Reign thou over us. But the olive-tree said unto them. Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honor God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? And the trees said to the fig-tree. Come thou, and reign over us. But the fig-tree said unto them. Should I forsake my sweetness, and" my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. And the vine said unto them,- Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. And the bramble said unto the trees, If, in truth, ye annoint me king over you, come and put your trust in my shadow ; and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon." (Judges ix. 8-15.) These three trees, the olive, the vine and the fig-tree, represent the three discrete degrees of human life, those of love, faith and obedience, or good, truth and action.
In this parable, the trees in general represent the selfish principles of- the natural mind, which seek to press the higher principles into their service, by pretending to make them rulers. But the higher principles decline, because they see that such a relation would cause the higher things to lose their own char acteristic goodness, by mixing it with selfish things. And so we find the olive, the vine, and the fig declining, because they would have to leave their own characteristic products and uses. But the miserable and useless bramble is very ready to reign over the trees, because it has no good of its own to lose. The bramble represents a pretense of good, a mere counterfeit, from hypocritical selfishness.
We read, in Ezek. xxxi, about Pharaoh, as a cedar of Lebanon, growing great, but afterwards coming to destruction. Pharaoh represents the natural man, or natural mind of man, as to its knowledge and science, by which it becomes great. But, by perverting that knowledge, and using it for the purpose of self-love, it becomes destructive to the spiritual man, or the spiritual mind.
THE TREE OF LIFE.
"The tree of life" [lives], named in Genesis ii. 9, is the principle of life in which love and faith are united. "The tree of the knowledge of good and evil" is the principle of outward knowledge, man's knowledge of good and evil, gathered by his senses, and by his own thought, and not from the Lord's Word. In the orderly state of man's mind, "the tree of life"' is in the centre of the garden, as the central principle ; and "the tree of the knowledge of goodness and evil" is at the outside, as are the senses of man. But, when the woman talked with the serpent, she reversed the order, and put the "tree of knowledge of good and evil" in the centre of the garden, (Gen. iii. 3), because, when the affections [the woman] begin to be led by the mere senses [the serpent], things appear to the contrary of true order. The things of the senses seem to be in the centre, as the most important. After man's fall info the lower and sensuous life, the ground of his natural mind brings forth "thorns and thistles," the evils and the falsities of sensuous life. But the Lord still calls every man to return to Him ; to let the seeds of His' truth fall upon good ground, and not among "thorns." "Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns." (Jer. iv. 3.) And when the Jews from their evil lusts, crucified the Lord, Jesus Christ, they fully represented their own mental states, by putting upon Him "a crown of thorns." (Matt, xxvii. 29.)
In II Kings xiv. 9, we read, "The thistle that was in Lebanon, sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying. Give thy daughter to my son to wife : and there passed by a wild beast that was in Lebanon, and trod down the thistle." So, in the human mind, when the thistle's son [the falsity of the growing natural mind], seeks to unite itself with the cedar's daughter [a spiritual affection], the result is that the good wild beast [good natural passion], treads down the natural falsity. The wicked is said to "spread himself like a green bay-tree," (Ps. xxxvii. 35), which grows rapidly, but does not endure.
Solomon was said to have "excelled the wisdom of all the children of the East country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men. . . .And he spake of trees, from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall : he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes." (I Kings v. 30, 31, 33.) All these things represented the things of the human mind, to know which is genuine knowledge. From the tall cedar to the little hyssop, is from spiritual truths, down to merely outward, natural truths. Natural truths are for the outward life. And, as these cleanse the life, so David sings, in Psalm li. 7, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean." And, in the next psalm (Ps. lii. 8), we read, of the regenerating man, "I am like a green olive-tree in the house of God: I will trust in the mercy of God, for ever and ever."
You see a tree, or a grove of trees, growing and flourishing. How beautifully they represent an orderly and useful community of men, growing in the love and worship of the Lord, and in His care. But, see a broken tree, twisted by a storm ; and how well it pictures the disorderly mind, twisted and rent by the storm of evil passions. Thus in nature is displayed the operation of the Divine Love among men, either pure and clean, in its beauty, or marred by the lusts and passions of evil men. In the Revelation we read, "The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations," i. e., these truths are for the healing of the minds that are suffering in ignorance.
Very clear instruction is given to us in Matt. vii. 15- 27, about carrying out our principles. "By their fruits ye shall know them ;" "a good tree can not bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." Every principle which we love and practice, whether good or evil, must, necessarily, like the beast, the bird, and the tree, "bring forth after its kind." And, showing that men's characteristic principles grow stronger by cultivation, we read, in Luke xxiii. 31, "For, if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?"
In the visions of the prophets, trees were seen in the spiritual world. These trees were spiritual, not material ; and they represented various spiritual principles. In early times, men worshipped in groves of trees. And this was forbidden, in later times, only because men had changed their worship into idolatry.
Some readers may be puzzled to see why trees represent different things in different texts of the Scriptures. But all difficulty passes away, when we understand the nature of correspondences. Trees represent the principles which we adopt in our minds. In the celestial degree, the highest degree of human life, in which the mind is characterized by heavenly love to the Lord, which is a love of goodness, trees signify perceptions of truth and good, because such a mind is guided by intuitive perception. But, in the spiritual degree of human life, in which the distinguishing trait is the love of the neighbor, which interiorly, is the love of truth, trees signify intelligence in the understanding of truths taught to the mind; for such a state of mind belongs to the spiritual degree. But, in the natural degree of life, characterized by obedience to Divine laws as rules of conduct, trees signify knowledges, things known, especially from the letter of the Scriptures, as precepts to be obeyed. In each degree, the growing trees represent such principles as control the conscious operation of the man who is in that degree of life, and on that level. In each case, the principle differs from others, because the man differs in - the quality of his mind. Spiritually, each mind has its own trees, in its own kind of mental world.
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell From Scripture Symbolism 1904