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ON THE USE OF THE LITERAL SENSE OF THE WORD
BY THE NEW CHURCH. It is the glory of the New Church that she possesses the key to unlock the treasures of heavenly and divine wisdom contained in the spiritual sense of the Word ; and doubtless the particulars of that sense, comprising as they do the deepest mysteries of the Lord’s glorification and of human regeneration, should be studied with all diligence by members of the New Church who are supposed to be desirous of diligently searching the Scriptures, “not to obtain unprofitable knowledge, but solid wisdom, the wisdom of loving the Lord, and keeping His commandments.”
Still it may, we think, be asked without the slightest impropriety, whether we may not, as New Churchmen, be so absorbed in the contemplation of the dazzling glories of the spiritual sense as somewhat to lose sight of the less elevated, but scarcely less important lessons of practical wisdom to be drawn from the literal sense, and to forget our author's profound dictum, that in each sense the Word is divine, (S. S. 6.) and that it is “preëminently the Word in the literal sense.” (S. S. 39.)
It might be said, however, that the literal sense is divine by virtue of the spiritual and celestial senses contained within it. Doubtless it is so. But we think that the literal sense is divine by virtue of something besides. We are told the Divine flows into created things by a twofold influx, viz., mediate and immediate. By the former it flows through the heavens, assuming in its descent the several forms of celestial, spiritual, and celestial and spiritual-natural. By the latter, as its name evidently imports, the Divine flows into each and every created being without the intervention of any other being. Thus it is that the Lord acts from first principles and from ultimates at the same time. (D. P. 124.) Now, as the Word exists in all the heavens, and the wisdom of the angels is thence derived, (S. S. 70.) it will doubtless, then, consist of those senses which the angels of the several heavens respectively evolve while man on earth is reading the literal sense under a holy influence. And that the Divine flows into the literal sense through the two interior senses there cannot be the least question. Still, it appears to us that the Divine flows into the literal sense by immediate influx also, in accordance with the universal law of influx; whence it would seem to follow that the literal sense has a
USE OF THE LITERAL SENSE OF THE WORD
divinity of its own, besides that which it possesses by virtue of the spiritual and celestial senses. And this conclusion seems to be borne out by the use of the distributive in the above-cited passage, -" In each sense it is divine.”
Now, if this be admitted, it will follow that the literal sense, being divine by virtue of this immediate influx, is likewise infinite, and therefore inexhaustible. And if to this be added the consideration that there are in each discrete degree a countless number of continuous degrees, each superior to that next preceding, it will be obvious that there are within the literal sense of the Word, still unexhausted stores of Divine practical wisdom suited to the use of the natural man, for his continual advancement in the heavenly life; and that, if we are desirous of promoting our individual regeneration, we must on no account whatever “ have done” with the literal sense, just because it has pleased the Lord, in His mercy, to reveal the spiritual sense.
The present life is the sphere in which it has pleased our Heavenly Father to place us in order to prepare us for Heaven. While in the present life, therefore, our relations and duties will necessarily have reference to beings and things without ourselves, that are similarly conditioned. And it is fairly presumable that the inner continuous degrees of the literal sense of the Word have special reference to those relations and duties, tending to eradicate those notions of right and of justice which result from looking at things through the medium of self and the world, and to establish in their stead those high principles, that lofty tone of thought and feeling, which can only result from viewing the same things through the medium of mutual love and its concomitant truth.
But how, it may be inquired, can we pierce the cortex, the outer bark, of the mere appearances presented by the letter, to get at these inner truths ? We would answer, Diligent and conscientious investigation will do much. The truths that relate to the inner region of the natural mind are not to be attained without much and, in some cases, severe labour ; but their attainment by those means is not impossible. We know, past conjecture, that angelic spirits are ever assisting us in our conscientious searches after truth; and this thought, together with that of the certainty of arriving at the goal, if we “so run that we may obtain," and that of the blessedness of the state we shall thereby realise, should stimulate us to use our best efforts.
Besides, the veil interposed by the above-named appearances is, in
many parts of the Word, transparent, so that we may see, if we will but use our eyes, some portion, however faint, of the high principles of truth and duty which lie concealed within. This the good of the Old Church have in all ages realised ; in this they have found consolation in seasons of deepest trial. And this it is the unspeakable privilege of the New Church to realise in a still higher degree, and to a still more wondrous extent. If Excelsior has become the universal shout, surely it behoves her sons, above all others, to join in it as regards the Word, the charter of their emancipation from the thraldom of deadly error, and of still more deadly evil! For they have, in addition to the aids afforded by investigation per se, and of the gleams of inner truth occasionally piercing through the cortex of the letter, the light of spiritual truth which the spiritual sense, as revealed in these latter days, is shedding over every nook and corner, so to speak, of the literal sense, thus enabling the discerning eye to behold beauty where before all had been darkness, and realising the psalmist's wonderful saying—“ In Thy light shall we see light.”
If, as our illumined author assures us, the literal sense is for men on earth, is it not clearly the duty of the men of the New Church, while on earth, diligently to investigate its contents ? which, although respectively obscure, if we compare them with the spiritual sense, are nevertheless, we may be sure, no less wonderful than are the countless mechanisms of the human body, although these, too, are as nothing when compared with the still more wonderful structure of the spirit within. Besides, is not the literal sense a part of their “goodly heritage,” of that inheritance which has been bequeathed to them by their Heavenly Father, even the Lord Jesus Christ ? Does it not, therefore, behove them to bestow upon it as careful a culture as they bestow upon those other portions which they deem more valuable ? No part, in fact, should suffer the least neglect; otherwise, spiritual barrenness will be the result, or, worse still, thorns and briars may grow where the Divine Husbandman had designed that the good seed should germ, and in due time wave gracefully, displaying “first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.”
That the foregoing remarks may have the effect of rousing the men of the New Church to a sense of their duty in respect to the literal sense of the word is our earnest prayer.
Jersey, February 5th, 1865.
(Continued from page 111.) But the glimpses we get of the disturbed state of the spiritual world, from the instances of the action of evil spirits on men, as described in the letter of the Gospels, can give us but a faint idea of what was going on in that unseen sphere. A knowledge of the internal sense of the Divine Word, in which this is more fully pictured, together with the revelations made to the New Church attendant upon the opening of that internal sense, make this known to us with terrible distinctness; and when we understand this, then what the Lord was doing for the deliverance and redemption of man begins to be understood more clearly. Look, for instance, at the case of the unhappy man who had his dwelling among the tombs, and who was possessed by the evil spirits whose name was Legion.” When the Lord commanded them to come out of the man, they, acknowledging their subjection to Him, prayed for leave to enter into the swine,—which was granted. “And immediately,” says the account, “the unclean spirits going out, entered into the swine ; and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and were choked in the sea."* In the internal sense, the sea signifies hell; the swine represent the principles of filthy avarice, which those evil spirits loved and chose ; and the rushing down of the swine into the sea after the evil spirits entered into them, signifies that the infernal spirits, giving themselves up to their unclean loves, were thus cast into and immersed in hell. While they were in possession of the man they were not in hell, but in the world of spirits or intermediate state ; moreover, while they had such possession, they were in their delight of tormenting, and could not bear to give it up. Hence their crying out to Jesus, " What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God, Most High ? I adjure thee by God, torment me not,” (for He said to him, “Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.”) The same is meant by their beseeching Him not to send them away out of the country,t that is, out of the world of spirits ; but they were obliged to submit, and were cast out.
This gives us a glimpse into the condition of the world of spirits at the time of the Lord's coming.
" At the time of the Lord's first coming,” says Swedenborg, “the hells had grown up to such a height, that they filled all the world of spirits, which is intermediate * See Mark v. 1–17.
+ Verse 10.
between heaven and hell, and thus not only confused the heaven which is called the last or lowest, but also assaulted the middle heaven, which they infested in a thousand ways, and which would have gone to destruction, unless the Lord had protected it. Such insurrection of the hells is meant by the town built in the land of Shinar, the head of which should reach even to heaven.”—Universal Theology, n. 121.
"At that time, also, the hells were open, and infernal and diabolical spirits issued forth from them, and gained dominion over the souls which came from the world."-Arcana Cælestia, n. 6373.
One class of the infernals, in particular, dreadfully infested the world of spirits, making it almost impossible for any other spirits to exist there. These were certain of the antediluvians, called in the Scriptures Nephilim, or giants,* so called from their intense pride and haughtiness of spirit. These had long been in the hells; but now they emerged, and, entering the world of spirits, assaulted whomsoever they met.
"That nation,” says Swedenborg, “ which lived before the flood, is such, that they kill and suffocate all spirits in such a manner by their most dreadful phantasies, which, as a poisonous and suffocative sphere exhale from them, that spirits are deprived of the power of thinking, so that they seem to themselves half dead ; and unless the Lord, by His coming, had freed the world of spirits from that poisonous race, it would have been impossible for any to have existed there, and consequently mankind must have perished, since they are governed by spirits from the Lord.”—Arcana Cælestia, n. 581.
Again, he says
“By serpents and scorpions,+ in the internal sense, are signified such as had been in subtle and direful persuasions of falsity, by which men are spiritually murdered after death, unless they are defended by the Lord: the antediluvians, who were called the Nephilim (or giants) were in such persuasions above all others; and unless the Lord, when He was in the world, had subjugated and cast them into hell, and shut up their hell, no mortal could have been saved ; for they infested and almost murdered whomsoever they met in the spiritual world.”— Apocalypse Explained, n. 544.
From these statements we may begin to form an idea of what great works, all unknown to man, the Lord was accomplishing while He was in the world. Little did men conceive that while Jesus was walking through the streets of Jerusalem, or teaching in the synagogues, or “retiring into a mountain apart to pray,” or coming to them alone on the sea at the dead of night, He was at the same time carrying on a deadly conflict with the unseen enemies of man in the spiritual world. But though unseen by men, they were not unseen by Him; He saw into that world, and knew all that was doing there. "I beheld,” said He, after one of these conflicts and conquests, “I beheld Satan as * Genesis vi. 4.
+ See Luke x. 18, 19.