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226 THE Shunamite's BLESSING, OB
By regeneration the old man is rejected and the new man formed in us, —this is our hope and glory,—and thus we surround ourselves with the sphere of true greatness, the sphere emanating from the Prophet Himself. This is shown by the dead child restored to life and placed once more into its mother's arms, as a living form which she can embrace and love with sanctified affections. The miracle was not instantaneous, but consisted of a series of well-directed manifestations of Divine power to illustrate not only how we are regenerated step by step, but also to show us how gradually we have to enter at last into the beatific vision. The entire series, from the descent of the prophet from Carmel's mountain to his giving the Shunamite her son, is a Divine display of the mode—the slow mode—in which our evils are subdued, and by which we are permitted to enter into immortality and eternal life.
When the Shunamite was first called by Gehazi to come to the man of God, she stood in the door. (v. 13.) A door denotes that which admits; as the first elements of truth admit the mind to interior states of conjunction with the Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John xiv. 6.) When called she did not hesitate to believe, but drew nearer and nearer, and conceived the truth represented by the promised son—the son that she was to embrace, and then lose, and then find again with new life. None can enter within the door, strictly speaking, who have not some desire to be purified in obeying the truth. (1 Peter i. 22.) It is not faith alone, but the obedience of faith, that is saving in its power. To love sin is to be a dead child even while we live in this world; but to t)elieve in Jesus is to have life and joy and peace. None can realise this threefold state of life and joy and peace, but such as first come into temptations. Therein they feel as if they had lost all— lost their faith in the Lord, and lost their perception of His presence. They cry out as Mary did—" The Lord has been taken away, and I know not where they have laid Him." (John xxii. 2.) Don't mistake worldly losses and crosses for temptations. The wicked come into anxieties about the deprivations of this life; but it is only the recipient of truth that is permitted to be led into temptations. A man must live in a house on the wall as the Shunamite did,—his expectations must be based on truth and on the love of truth,—before he can come into genuine temptation.
If we compare the little chamber on the wall of the city of Shunem with the mansions of the Father's house, furnished with all the conveniences and elegances of celestial life adapted to the exalted state of God's children in heaven, we shall then have some rational ideas of the
DOMESTIC SORROWS SANCTIFIED. 227
nature of immortality and eternal life. These mansions are outbirths or creations originating in the states of preparation acquired here, and acquired in seasons of temptation when the Divine Elisha was attracted to our hearts and homes; and as one star differeth from another star in glory, so will it be at the resurrection of the just.
Our departed brother strove to attain to the resurrection of the just, (Phil. iii. 11.) and we believe has entered into his Father's house in safety. The preliminary means to attain to it must be acquired here, for this only is the state of probation. Angels are purified spirits, and their mansions are the creations of the Lord by His sphere of love piercing their regenerated perceptions of Himself. They ever vary with increased beauty according to the changing states of the angels. These angels were all once men, and now they are changing from glory to* glory as by the Holy Spirit of the Lord. The Lord Jesus is that spirit, says the apostle; and where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty; and in heaven all the angels behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord, and are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Lord the Spirit. (2 Cor. iii. 18.)
Hence the transcendent beauty of the angels and their mansions. But all originated in the Shunamite saying to her husband—"Let us make a little chamber for the holy man of God, that he may turn in thither and eat bread." (v. 9, 10.) If we consecrate our inmost love to the Lord in it, the Divine Elisha will find His home. There will be the little chamber, there the pavilion of His love. Thrice happy those who find their heaven thus created, with all its scenery and Divine panorama of unfading glory. The Lord Jesus breathe on you all here present His holy spirit. (John xx. 22.) The down trodden and afflicted members of the New Jerusalem may rejoice in the hope of attaining to the glory set before them, as we believe our departed brother has. Of his daughter there can be no doubt. All children dying in infancy and early youth are the Lord's special portion, and are trained in heaven under His Divine auspices to pass from glory to glory. It matters not, then, whether we die in the field or in the house, provided that we are laid at last, by the affection of the great woman of Shunem, in the prophet's chamber, and on the prophet's bed. The prophet's bed is the divine doctrine that the Word of God descended from heaven as to its internal sense, but is covered over by Jewish historicals, of which this narrative of the Shunamite is a part. The laws of order there taught, show us that the material body must be cast off for ever, and that our corruptible puts on, by sanctification, incorruption.
228 The Shotamite's Blessing, Etc.
Permit me to address one word more of consolation to you, the bereaved children of one family, and I will close. A husband to the widow is God in His holy habitation. "Leave thy fatherless children to Me, for I will preserve them alive, saith the Lord of Hosts," (Jer. xxxviii. 11.) and "My people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down." The commonly attested fact that so many persons now living feel the presence of the departed ones, is a strong presumptive evidence of their continued existence. The natural man ought then to follow the injunction of the woman of Shunem, not to slack his riding till she bids him, and then he will have the full assurance of faith that they live, only in a brighter sphere, and breathe a purer air. "Drive," said the 43hunamite to her servant, "and go forward, slack not thy driving for me, except I bid thee." (Verso 24.) H we do this, we shall realise the sanctifying power that our domestic sorrows are calculated to effect in us. It will be well with us; it will be well with our children after us; and it will be well with our states after our departure. The three degrees of intelligent life must be restored to heavenly order here, the celestial, spiritual, and the natural. These are in subjection one to the other, when the Lord Jesus Christ in us is "the Resurrection and the Life" itself, (John xi. 25.) to whom be glory and dominion now and for ever I Amen.
The Letter Op The Word.—The letter is as the lattices in the book of Canticles, through which Jesus Christ looks forth ;—they darken as well as discover. H. More.
With the exception of the Lord's prayer for His enemies on the cross, His weeping over Jerusalem presents the sublimest moral spectacle that the world ever beheld.
The right view of marriage, as an indissoluble union of soul, is the basis of the Old Testament also. Olshausen.
We are because God is.—Swedenborg.
Inquiries With Answers.
A correspondent writes i—" I shall be much obliged to you, if you will kindly, tinder the head 'To Readers and Correspondents,' either answer the following questions, or refer me to books that will do so.
"1. What do Swedenborgians think of modern Spiritualism?
"2. Do they believe that every one has a familiar spirit, which is the exact image, &c, of him? and if so, Do they think that this spirit follows a person into the next world?
"3. What is the difference between a soul, a spirit, and an angel?
"4. What is the best work for a sceptic to read who is uninfluenced by the socalled orthodox defences of the Scriptures?"
1. We can only answer this question for ourselves, in the belief, however, that we express the views of the New Church generally. We have no doubt of the reality of spiritual intercourse; and think that Spiritualism has this much good in it, that it bears testimony to the existence and nearness of the spiritual world. With this, we think, its use begins and ends. We further think that the practice of it is attended with danger; it is liable to abuse, and lays its votaries open to deception. The members of the New Church, having "a more excellent way," have no occasion to engage in it, and cannot recommend others to do so. In the writings of Swedenborg they have more than all the good that can be found in Spiritualism, and a security against all its evils.
2. We are not aware that any member of the New Church holds this opinion.
3. Soul, spirit, and angel, are but different names for man as to the immaterial part of his nature, in three different conditions of existence. A good man is a soul, a spirit, and an angel in succession: a soul while he lives in the body; a spirit while he is in the world of spirits, or middle state; and an angel when he is in heaven.
4. After Swedenborg's treatise on the Sacred Scriptures, the best work we can recommend is Noble's "Plenary Inspiration of the Scriptures."
On The Force Of Harit.
We have a high authority for the truth of the maxim that habit is second nature. (A. C.) Habit makesus in a great measure what we are, and what we shall be. Habit does not create dispositions; but it gives them a determination and fixedness which makes them the elements of our character and the arbiters of our condition. It moulds the mind, and indeed the whole life, into a form agreeable to itself; and this it does the more completely in proportion to the ardency with which the mind enters into the pursuit of an object, or the practice of a principle.
But this remark, that habit is second nature, if grounded in truth, recognises the existence in us of a nature previous to habit; and the power of habit to form a new or second nature, which may take the place of the first. Every human being is now, by birth, naturally inclined to evil; that inclination leads him to love to have his own will, and to seek his own pleasure, without due respect to the will and pleasure of others. If this first and hereditary nature were allowed to have its own way, it would end in a state of confirmed evil and permanent unhappiness. It is therefore one of the wisest and most merciful dispensations of Divine Providence, that the Lord's children and people are provided with the means of correcting this natural condition of the mind, and of gradually forming a new state, which enables them to find their happiness in loving God above all things, and others as themselves. It is of the greatest importance, therefore, that our first and corrupt nature should not be allowed to become habitual, for its removal then becomes a matter of the greatest difficulty. But if, on the other hand, habits which are in agreement with right principles are cultivated and formed, the first and evil nature is gradually weakened, and a second nature is formed and perfected, which becomes almost as easy to us as the first, and far more delightful, while it has this high and heavenly recommendation—that it is the means of benefiting others as well as ourselves.
The dispositions which we feel operating within us indicate the nature of the
habits we are liable to form. Many of these dispositions are so common to ns all that we cannot greatly err, in pointing out those which all are in danger of falling into, and against which, therefore, all require to be guarded. The generality of these are self-will and disobedience, impatience and passion, readiness to take offence and desire of retaliation, indolence and procrastination, insincerity and selfishness.
You will perhaps think I have dwelt too long on the dark side of this subject, and you may feel oppressed with the view which I have presented, of the natural tendency of the mind to form habits which are so pernicious in their nature and consequences. It is far from my intention to show you more of the dark side of that human nature which you inherit than may be necessary to guard you against giving way to its impulses and suggestions, and to enable you to see and approve the bright side, which is formed by habits of obedience, kindness, forgiveness, sincerity, and integrity—in a word—of goodness and truth. In reading the Word of God, we find that there are many more warnings against doing what is wrong than there are persuasions to do what is right. And we are certain that the Lord, who knows our hearts far better than we can know them ourselves, knows also the best means for leading us to amend and improve them. In His Word, the Lord says more to guard us against doing what is wrong, than, to induce ns to do what is right, because, until we cease to do evil we cannot learn to do well. If we avoid doing what we know to be wrong, we will do what is right. For whenever we resist or avoid evil, the Lord gives us the will and the ability to do good. By this means, we prevent any evil from becoming a habit, and the habit of doing good beoomes more and more confirmed.
I will now, then, point out briefly the advantages of acquiring habits of virtue, sincerity, and piety. In the first place, whatishabitualiseasy. We see this exemplified in the ease and facility with which long practice enables persons to perform works of skill which astonish those who have never bestowed such attention and labour upon them. What is done from long habit even becomes seemingly spontaneous, and is done as it were naturally, that is without effort, and almost without reflection. This, in some of its lower
forms, may be what is called mechanical, but in its higher forms is the result of much science, devotion, and labour. There is an attainable state in the life of religion that is similar to this. The habitual practice of what religion teaches, from an adequate knowledge and love of its pure principle, writes the divine law upon the heart; and then, from the fulness of the heart, the mouth speaks and the whole body acts. This celestial state can only be attained by those who cultivate habits of piety and virtue; shunning whatever is opposed to them, in intention and in act.
I observe, secondly, that what is habitual is delightful. I refer here especially to the habits that have to be acquired, and which, in many instances, are contrary to our natural inclinations, and which therefore are at first undelightful. In the Psalms it is said—"Be not ye like the horse and the mule, who have no understanding, whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle." But every human being, like the lower creatures, when they are to be trained to any useful labour, have to become accustomed to bear the yoke, and have for a time to be restrained by the bit and the bridle. They have to be accustomed to some useful employment of their turns—some useful direction of their energies, and their natural impetuosity and other natural inclinations require to be restrained and directed, sometimes by a strong hand, but always by a kind and judicious one. By this salutary course of training, the young, instead of growing np in a state of nature, are rendered intelligent, accomplished, and useful, and in place of savage pleasures, have refined enjoyments. This training is at first, in some measure, severe and undelightful to the young, but habit is capable of making it both light and pleasant. And when good and useful habits are once formed, so much of the enjoyment of life arises out of them, that the interruption of the habitual exercise or labour produces a feeling of languor and nnhappiness. If good natural habits are the means of securing natural happiness, good religious habits are the means of securing spiritual happiness. And all habits that are useful, whether they have immediate relation to natural or spiritual life, have this effect, if they have a spiritual principle within them.