« PreviousContinue »
labour chiefly for what are, after all, only the means of life, as food, shelter, knowledge. These in the other world are gratuitously supplied to all ; so that every energy is free to pursue the essential ends of being, or those spiritual perfections and benefits which constitute the
very soul of blessing. Our present purpose is to draw to a focus some of the abundant light upon this most interesting subject which shines from the pages of Swedenborg, both in the form of explicit statement and inferential suggestion.
Life in the heavens, as described by the illuminated Seer, compared with the familiar experiences of earth, is at once singularly like and marvellously different. The conventional notions which regard the angels as perpetually engaged in worship, in conversation with the good and great of past ages, or in other similar employments, are exposed as utterly fallacious. One of the most instructive of the Memorable Relations narrates how certain novitiate spirits were allowed to test these preconceived opinions by actual experiment; when they soon found the fulfilment of their expectations so irksome, that they entreated to be released from those very conditions which they had formerly believed to constitute the essence of immortal bliss (C. L. 1, et seq., or T. C. R. 731). For, as elsewhere stated (H. H. 403), "angelic life consists in performing the goods of charity, which are uses; and angels find all their happiness in use, from use, and according to use." The uses in which they thus delight, moreover, like those of the present world, all cluster round those domestic relationships, which here form the great framework of society, and are so intimately connected with most of our purest joys. In other words, the employments and felicities of heaven centre in the sweet home life with which the Lord blesses every inhabitant of His kingdom. There husbands and wives who have lived happily together on earth renew their consociation, with no fear of further separation (A. C. 2732, 2734; C. L. 47*) ; and all who were hitherto debarred from genuine marriage, whether by early removal from the world or any other reason, there meet the allotted partner, and commence an eternity of wedded bliss (H. H. 383; C. L. 229, 316). Nuptials, as solemnized in heaven, moreover, are attended with suitable festivities, varied according to the societies in which they are celebrated (H. H. 383). Swedenborg witnessed at least one such occasion, and gives a most interesting account of the beautiful and magnificent ceremony (C. L. 19, 20; or T. C. R. 746, 747). In another place he describes the visits of congratulation received by a newly-married pair (C. L. 316). And every such united couple possess their own house (A. C. 1628; T. C. R. 622); not laboriously built, but provided by the Lord (H. H. 190; T. C. R. 740; C. L. 12), of an architecture surpassing the utmost earthly skill, surrounded by beautiful gardens, and containing various rooms and bed-chambers (H. H. 184)—for angels sleep and dream (S. D. 2436)—replete, in fact, with everything that can conduce to convenience or beauty (T. C. R. 78). So that heaven is evidently a scene of home life, where the dear familiar delights of domesticity and hospitality shall be renewed on a far more perfect scale. Even the relationships of kindred which here enter so largely into our social pleasures have their corresponding affinities there (S. D. 3031, 3032); dependent, however, not on the arbitrary bond of consanguinity, but on the real ties of congenial disposition, and the ability to increase each other's happiness. Not, of course, that earthly kinship is any disqualification for such eternal union. The parents and children, the brothers and sisters, who share a similar genuine love and intelligence, and thus are mutually fitted to add to each other's usefulness and joy, will doubtless preserve their family affection, and hold each other dear for evermore.
Thus, in thinking of employments in heaven, we start from the familiar platform of domestic life. Angels are husbands and wives, who live in houses of their own, participate in nuptial feasts, pay visits of congratulation to newly married friends, and engage in many other ordinary occupations of mankind. They entertain each other at banquets, furnished with the utmost splendour and refinement (C. L. 17; T. C. R. 745); "for there are in heaven, as in the world, both meats and drinks, both feasts and repasts; and at the tables of the great there is a variety of the most exquisite food, and all kinds of rich dainties and delicacies, wherewith they are exhilarated and refreshed. There are likewise sports and exhibitions, concerts of music, vocal and instrumental, and all these things in the highest perfection" (C. L. 6). When angels visit one another, they knock at the door, and send in their names by an attendant, just as we do (C. L. 208); for in heaven there are diversities of rank, masters and mistresses and servants, but there service is always honourable, “the master loving the servants, and the servants loving the master, so that they serve each other from love. The master teaches the servants how they ought to live, and directs what they ought to do, whilst the servants obey, and perform their duties. To promote use is the delight of the life of all” (H. H. 219). The names of visitors thus carried by attendants to their masters are not, however, the same names borne on earth, for (T. C. R. 300) in the other world “no man retains that which he received at his baptism and derived from his father and progenitors; but every one is named according to his characteristic quality : thus the angels are named according to their moral and spiritual life.”
But existence in heaven is not engrossed in the enjoyment of domestic happiness, or the interchange of social courtesy. Every angel has his definite employment (H. H. 392), pursued as systematically and punctually as the various occupations of earth; for “he in heaven who is in an employment or work corresponding to his use, is in a state of life exactly like that in which he was in the world, for what is spiritual and what is natural act as one by correspondence, but with this difference, that he is in more interior delight, because he is in spiritual life, which is interior life, and therefore more recipient of heavenly blessedness" (H. H. 394). That is to say, if I rightly interpret the passage, not that every one renews in the other life the vocation followed in this, for such a supposition would directly contravene the fundamental doctrine already adverted to, that every necessary of existence is freely given by the Lord (H. H. 393), but that every one is as much a man of business, equally engaged in some specific profession, as formerly on earth. Thus we are taught in another place (C. L. 17, or T. C. R. 745), that after the sweet songs of maidens with which every day commences in the heavenly cities, all windows and doors are shut, no noise is heard, nor are any loiterers seen, but all are intent on their work and the duties of their calling. In a future number we will inquire into the nature of such occupations.
REMARKS ON THE PRESENT CONDITION AND FUTURE
PROSPECTS OF THE NEW CHURCH. In the March number of the Intellectual Repository, the writer called attention, in a paper entitled “Modern Scepticism and its Antidote," to the present state of religious thought in this country; and that communication appears to be a very apt and natural prelude to some considerations which seriously affect the present position and the prospects of the New Church.
The writer of the present article is one who, from the moment his attention was directed to the books containing the New Church doctrines, was so forcibly struck with their reasonableness and lucidity -80 clearly perceived that, while adhering jealously to Scripture, they removed such a mountain of difficulty, such a cloud of obscurity from the faith generally received and acknowledged by the most
advanced Christian thinkers of all denominations, that he felt he should be giving the lie to his understanding if he refused to accept them. Not only so, but he found such a fund of philosophy, such a wonderful vista of wisdom and knowledge opened before him, that, as an educated man and not unknown author, he experienced the keenest pleasure in the prospect thus opened ; and was thenceforth convinced that no writings he had ever met with were so well worth studying, or promised a richer banquet of intellectual food. He had been in the habit of saying with others : “If I were cast upon a desert island, alone, with but one book with which to beguile the tedious hours, I would choose Shakespeare." But now he would willingly exchange his Shakespeare for Swedenborg-or, for the Bible, if he had already caught the whole spirit of Swedenborg. Nor is this all—not only do these writings present a wonderful feast to the intellect and understanding, but as an active and compelling guide to conduct, no writings can equal them ; so that in them there exists everything the human mind requires as an exponent, commentary, and illustration of the Word of God.
If, however, such is the character of the New Church writings and doctrines; if such is the exalted position claimed for them by those who are competent to judge of their excellence, the question thrusts itself upon all thinking persons who have made acquaintance with these writings and doctrines :—How is it they are so little known and appreciated ? And other questions follow upon this, and equally demand attention. How is it that, except in the few and small New Church communities, scattered through the country, the title of New Church is all but unknown, and the name of Swedenborg only the signal for a sneer, or at best an incredulous smile? Why does not the influence of the doctrines indicated spread more rapidly--and if they are, as we are convinced they are, Truth, and must inevitably prevail, and sooner or later meet with general acceptance, how comes it that during the last century they have made so little progress? And, lastly, ought we, as firm believers in the doctrines of the New Church, to be satisfied with the position they at present occupy in the field of religious thought or with the prospect at present afforded of their ultimate conquest over prevailing errors and dominant scepticism?
These questions I propose briefly to consider, premising that, should the reader not be prepared to fall in at once with the views I may put forward, it must be borne in mind that they are offered under a sense of responsibility; and that controversy, or at all events what is too often acrimonious controversy, is deprecated, as directly tending to destroy the very object which this paper is intended to promote. For such controversy implies disunion, and where disunion is there can be no example to edification.
First, then, How is it that the doctrines and writings of the New Church are so little known and appreciated ? The answer to this question casts no discredit upon the leaders of the New Church. The writings of Swedenborg, thanks to the disinterested efforts of the Swedenborg Society are among the best printed and cheapest books offered to the public in this age of cheap literature. They are within the reach of every one, and no one who has the desire can excuse himself from studying these books by affirming their costliness, or the difficulty, on any ground, of becoming the possessor of at least some of them. Noble's “Appeal,” too, a strongly bound octavo volume of 530 closely printed pages, excellent and unanswerable as that book is, and which would put any one in full possession of the leading doctrines, may be purchased, post free, for the insignificant sum of three shillings—a book, which for amount of matter (independently of its pre-eminent quality) is unequalled as a marvel of cheapness. Moderateness of price, too, is a characteristic of many cognate books obtainable at the Society's Depôt. Moreover, the Swedenborg Society are continually offering certain of their books to public libraries, and to private individuals in the ministry, gratis. It is clear therefore, that for an answer to the first question we must look, not to lukewarmness in the efforts of those who have the charge of distributing the works in question, but the reply will fall under some of the other heads of the subject—to which accordingly we will proceed to direct our attention.
Secondly : How is it that, except in the few and small New Church communities scattered through the country, the title of New Church is all but unknown, and the name of Swedenborg only the signal for a sneer, or at best an incredulous smile? Now, it is obvious, that not a few causes combine to effect these undesired ends ; nor must we look to any one counter influence alone. In the first place, in this age of endless ramifications and numberless twigs of belief, into which the religious world seems to delight in splitting themselves, there are certain main branches in which most people are brought up, as Church of England, Congregationalism, Presbyterianism, Baptism, Wesleyanism, etc.; all of which are in their way considered respectable heirlooms, and all of which are held