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EVIDENCE OF THE SECOND COMING OF THE LORD
32"Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.(MATTHEW XXIV. 32-35.)
The parable refers to the second coming of the Lord. Every coming of the Divine influence to men, in a new dispensation, is marked by a greater prevalence of good and truth among men. As men grow indifferent to good and truth, and finally oppose them, the Lord presents them in some other form, so that men, if willing, may renew their love for these principles, and may return to the practice of them, And every such return of men to better things, is characterized by the presence of more practical good in their daily life. And the increase of such practical good is evidence of a new inflowing of the Divine life, for human salvation.
The new activity is the sign of a new life, as, in the fig-tree, the new life of summer reveals its activity in the softening of the branches, and the growth of new leaves.
Jesus had spoken to His disciples, about His second coming, and of its results, in bringing a judgment upon the Church and the world, In the language of symbols, He had portrayed the destruction of evil, and the triumph of good.
THE THINGS TO COME.
In close connection with the text, Jesus said; "Immediately after the tribulation of those days, shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken; and then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man, coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels, with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." These are the things of which the text says, "when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, at the doors."
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING.
Therefore, to understand the reference of the parable, we must obtain some idea of what "these things" represent. The Lord had been speaking of the self-destruction of the First Christian Church, by loss of love and faith, in a disorderly life. The darkening of the sun represented the loss of the light, or Divine Truth, because of the failure of love to the Lord, And the darkening of the moon represented the loss of faith, because of the failure of love to the neighbor. The falling of the stars represented the loss of the knowledges of good and truth. "The powers of the heavens shall be shaken" meant that the foundations of the Church should thus be broken.
And thus, the dispensation of the First Christian Church would be brought to an end. But the Lord would come again, as the Divine Truth, to give life to those who, being in the love of good and truth, were mourning for spiritual life. And the Lord would reveal to men the interior spiritual meaning of His holy Word. And the truth of this spiritual sense would be the means of gathering together the good and sincere among men, to establish a new Church. And the text indicates what shall be the evidence and sign of the beginning of this new Church.
Trees represent the living, growing principles of the mind. In the Sacred Scriptures, frequent mention is made of trees, especially the olive, the vine, and the fig tree; which, in the language of symbols, represent the three discrete degrees of human life, the celestial, the spiritual and the natural.
The celestial degree, represented by the olive, is the degree of love to the Lord, a state of mind and life in which a pervading love to the Lord is the great motor power of the man’s conscious being. This is a love of good.
The spiritual degree, represented by the vine, or grape, is the degree of charity, or love to the neighbor; which is the love of truth, as distinguished from the love of good.
And the natural degree, represented by the fig, is the love of obedience to the law. This is a love of doing well, in conduct, sometimes without the profounder conscious love of the Lord, or of the principles of truth, as such. Thus the fig-tree represents the natural degree, and the natural man, or the natural mind of man. And, at the same time, the fig-tree must represent the natural, or external, Church, as distinguished from the internal, or spiritual, Church.
Taking the fig-tree as the natural man, his branches are his affections, which branch out, on all sides, from his ruling-love, or main trunk. And the leaves are the thoughts of truth, which come forth from his affections.
THE TENDER BRANCH.
As the return of vernal warmth, in nature, starts the tree to new life, causing it to soften its branches, and to put forth new leaves, so, in the arousing of new life in the mind of a man, his affections become soft-and tender; and they put forth new thoughts, new states of truth, in the development of new life. From the Divine influence, operating within the man, like the flow of the sap in the tree, there comes a new softness and tenderness of the affections.
In our natural body, the soft parts are the most vital, and the highest, and the fullest of life; and the hard parts, as the bones, skin and hair, are the least vital, and the least receptive of life. So, in the tree, the life and growth are not in the hardest parts, but in the soft and tender parts. During the winter, the tree is hard. But, when the return of the warm season brings a new life, the branches become soft and tender, and then they put forth new leaves.
THE WARM SEASON.
The warm season is when the heat and the light are both present, and are united in their operation. And so, mentally, our warm season of life and growth is when, in our minds, both the light of truth and the warmth of love are present, and are united in their operation. Our mental summer is the activity of a new life within us : it is a new state of the Church, in our minds and lives. And when our faith and our love are united, they come forth into good deeds, the fruits of our principles of life.
And this state of mind is near, which our will begins to soften: to show less of the hardness of self-love, and more of the tenderness of love to others; and when, from this new tenderness, we put forth mental leaves, new thoughts of truth, as evidence of new life. Every active affection is continually putting forth itself in corresponding thoughts.
And wherever we find a very active state of intellect, a multitude of thoughts, we may know that this state is the result of an active state of some affection. And when the intellectual activity is in spiritually good and true thoughts, which seek to embody themselves in good and useful works, we may know that a mental summer is near.
For spiritual nearness is of state, not of time. Of course, times come, in the natural world, but they come together with states, or conditions, in the mental world, "The good time coming" is the good condition coming. And it is coming, when we are coming into it.
THE NEW GROWTH.
When a new Church is being formed by the Lord, the first evidence of its growth is in the greater prevalence of thoughts about natural goodness. For all truth is practical; and it leads to practical results. And so, when a new life begins to operate upon a man's life, the first evidence of any change in the man’s ways is to be seen in his thoughts about his conduct.
And, while the new life is beginning to operate, we must look for a change on the other side, in the breaking up of old conditions of feeling and thought. For a man will not have new feelings and thoughts, from new affections and new states of his understanding, until there has beena breaking up of the old conditions. As he gives up, and outgrows, old conditions, he enters into new states; as the boy grows into manhood as he outgrows boyhood. There is a law of gradual growth, even in the regenerating mind, as in the tree, from the seed to the fruit. And, in the restoration to order, there is a parallel law of gradual growth, out of evil and falsity and sin, into good and truth and righteousness.
THE OLD AND THE NEW.
Therefore, the breaking up of old conditions is a prophecy of the corning of new conditions; for it is the spirit of the new that breaks up the old.
And, as "man doth not live by bread, alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God;" and as the decline of any Church must be followed by a new Church, in order to preserve the human race on earth; so, when we see the decline of a Church, and its impending self-destruction, we know that the coming of a new dispensation is necessary.
"So, likewise, ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near." For we know that the human race can be preserved in no, other way than by maintaining its conscious connection with the Lord. And when we see one phase, or dispensation, of the Church, rapidly declining, and its connection with the Lord closing up, »ie know that the Lord will soon institute a new dispensation, or new Church, for the salvation of men,
The parable refers to both of these events, the decline of the Old-Church, and the rise of the New-Church. The Old-Church declined, because, from evils of life and false teachings, there no longer remained in the Church, any clear knowledge of spiritual truth; but, instead of such clear knowledge and understanding, there arose multitudes of angry disputes, and sectarian bigotry. From evils thus aroused, men were led to despise the simple truths of heaven. They not only failed, to see, and to acknowledge, the real quality of good and truth, but they also profaned and perverted such good and truth as they knew.
Thus the Old-Church was brought to its end. This is “the consummation of the age," or "end of the dispensation," which, in the common version of the Bible has been wrongly translated "the end of the world.” And, at this end of the old state of the Church, the New-Church began, so that men could still be saved from evil.
EVIDENCE OF A NEW CHURCH.
By means of the fig-tree as a symbol, the parable shows us that the evidence that the New-Church has begun, is to be found in the growth, among men, of practical thought towards a more tender, receptive and useful life, on the natural plane. For men never accidentally grow better, without an efficient cause. If they become better, there must be something which makes them better; and that something must come from the Lord, as the source of all good.
And so, a general condition of active thought for greater natural goodness among men, is positive evidence of the beginning of a new Church, whose truths are operating upon the minds and lives of men.
The breaking up of old and disorderly states is a judgment upon men who are in those conditions. And after such a judgment, and because of its results, men are then more free to think, and to receive the new life.
We see this fact physically illustrated in our bodies. Sometimes, men are in unhealthy conditions, which come to a climax in a fever. The fever is as a judgment on that condition of the body; and, if the man lives through the fever, and returns to strength, he is generally in better condition than for some time before the fever; he is more free to receive new life, because of the breaking up of old conditions.
So, mentally, evils accumulate strength, until the mind is ready and ripe for judgment ; and this judgment is effected by the operation of new truths, which are working for a new life. And, by the establishment of a new Church, a refuge is afforded for those who are willing to flee from the old conditions.
THE LORD'S PRESENCE.
The Lord is always with men, as the sun is always with the earth; but men’s evils and falsities, like vapors from the earth, arise to shut out the Lord's influences. But, as men’s evils bring them to judgment, and an old church dies, for want of spiritual life, the Lord sends forth new life, for the salvation of such as are willing to receive it.
And the breaking up of old conditions renders it possible for men to receive the new life, as a result of the storm is to clear the atmosphere for the coming of the sunlight. " It is near, at the. doors. " These doors are in our minds, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in unto him, and will sup with him, and he with Me."
The doors of our minds are on double-hinges; they swing both ways, inwardly and outwardly; and they open upward and downward, Our minds, like the ark of Noah, are of three stories, or three degrees, natural, spiritual and celestial. And there is a door opening into each degree. In the unregenerate state, the higher doors are closed, and the door between the natural mind and the world is the only one open. But regeneration opens the inward doors, and thus opens man's mind to the consciousness of interior life.
When the old, unregenerate conditions break up, the new life comes to our mental doors, knocking for admittance. Though all good comes to us from the Lord, by an inward way, yet we first become conscious of the good in our natural minds. The first door of the man's conscious life, is that which opens to his natural mind. And, when new life comes to a man; necessarily it must influence him first on the natural plane, in the natural degree. Thus, natural good comes first, and forms a base on which spiritual and celestial good must rest. For, on earth, we are in externals; we see principles in their outward application, because we live amid outward things and duties. And thus, a change in our outward life of conduct, is the first evidence we give of a change in our character.
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." This generation, or birth, means this natural plane and degree of life, in which our feelings and thoughts are now generated· And, in the regeneration, in the corning of the new life, we are not to expect to attain interior, spiritual life, by the passing away of our natural duties and states; but we are to prove our regeneration by and in "this generation;" i. e., in the natural degree of our life; in the goodness, the order, the usefulness, of our daily life amid outward things. "These things [will] be fulfilled," when our natural mind is filled full of the new life; for then the old conditions shall have been broken up.
Literally, “this generation" was the Jewish nation, which was not destroyed, but preserved, by the Divine Providence, in order that the Hebrew language and the Old Testament might be preserved for the New-Church.
THE SPIRITUAL HEAVENS AND EARTH.
But the parable was intended as a spiritual prophecy, as we see from the next, and last, verse of the parable, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away." In all cases, where the letter of the Scriptures speaks of the heavens and the earth passing away, the language is symbolic: and the mental heavens and earth are meant, not the physical ones. A new heaven is a new state of our interior minds, regarding heavenly things; and a new earth is a new and regenerate state of our external or natural minds, regarding. the things of outward life. Old conditions are broken up; and new conditions are created.
THE NEW LIFE.
It is a very significant fact, that, in the parable, the fig-tree represents the New-Church ; and it shows us that this New-Church is to be introduced by thoughts of new life, which are to effect greater practical goodness among men. Thus, the evidence of the operation of the New-Church upon men, is not to be found in the dogmatic quarrels about doctrines, but by the budding of a new and more tender goodness among men, which shall put forth fresh and living truths, “leaves [which] shall be for the healing of the nations."
And, now, what evidence have we, to-day, of the silent working of a new life among men? The newspapers are full of, reports of human iniquity. But, on the other hand, there are signs of the times which indicate better conditions.
There is a wide-spread tenderness among men, showing itself, as one must expect it to do, in natural good works, and practical truths for natural life; in the decay of sectarianism ; in the care of the afflicted, in all departments; in the societies for relief of human suffering, taking form in hospitals for the sick, the wounded, the blind, .the deaf the dumb, the imbecile, the inebriates, and even the afflicted beasts; in the growing desire for arbitration, instead of war; in the homes for the orphans, the veteran soldiers and sailors, and the aged men and women: in the improvement of the conditions of prisoners and prisons; in the discovery and use of anaesthetics, for relief during surgical operations; in the multiplying of free schools, colleges, and other educational uses; in the prompt and indignant outcries against cruel punishments to men, children or beasts; and, generally, in a more sympathetic and healthier tone in the feelings and ways of men to each other..
True, these things are on the natural plane; but they are the outworkings of a better life; and they are forming a base, on which to build something better and higher. They may begin in merely hereditary goodness, or kindness, which men do, when it does not interfere with their selfish purposes; but these things will come to be acknowledged as good and necessary; and they will be done from regenerate goodness, which is spiritual in its origin, although natural in its application.
Spiritually, it is not summer, yet; but there are signs of the corning of summer. The branches of the fig-tree are growing tender, and new leaves are sprouting. And, as good and truth are united, conjoined, on the natural plane, in good works, we may see evidence of the working of the New-Church among men. And, without this practical goodness, we cannot expect evidence of New-Church life. Repentance, reformation and regeneration are certain to express and embody themselves in a practical goodness, which feels and thinks for the good of our fellow-men.
Since the "Last Judgment," in 1757, (which was a spiritual judgment, in the spiritual world,) the intermediate world of spirits has been in better order, and men are more free to think rationally. Notice the wide-spread change in the character of popular reading. There has never before been a time when so many thoughtful books have had a wide circulation. There is great mental activity. Discoveries and inventions have come, and are corning, rapidly, in all departments of outward life. And all these uses are good.
In olden times, a few men domineered over the masses. Few could read; and few had any voice in making the laws by which they were governed. But there is a rapid rising of the masses towards mental and educational equality with the leaders. Men are becoming less governed by opinions of others, and more by their thinking for themselves. Steam and electricity, by rapid and cheap communication, have brought men into more frequent and intimate association; and have given to the masses the benefits of the learning and. The work of the leaders.
All these things are providing natural bases for the future building and growth of spiritual life. Externals are not to be despised, but loved and used, in the right way, and for the use of the spirit.
THE LORD'S SECOND COMING.
Over one hundred years ago, the Lord sent a herald, to proclaim to men the last judgment upon the First Christian Church, and the corning of a New-Church, as the Second coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ, a spiritual corning, in a new outpouring of light and life. That herald was Swedenborg, who was commissioned to reveal in the writings of the New-Church, the inward spiritual meaning of the Word of God.
When that spiritual truth is known, loved and practised, we may look for spiritual evidence of the work of the New-Church. Men will not glide into the New-Church without true doctrine. But, as we love the truth and “hunger and thirst after righteousness," the Divine Providence will see that we "shall be filled" with a knowledge of the truth, and an opportunity to live by it.
The New-Church will descend into the minds of men, as the old conditions of old evils and falsities are broken up and removed, "If any man will do His [the Lord's] will, he shall know of the doctrine." The softening of the natural man, and the new thoughts and deeds of natural good, give us some evidence that "the summer is nigh."
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887