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IX. The Holy Sacraments and Their Uses
''The two sacraments, baptism and the Holy Supper, are as it were two gates to eternal life."—T.C.R. 721.
INQUIRER.—What are your views in the New Church, with regard to baptism and the holy communion? Do you observe these ordinances as they do in other denominations of Christians?
MISSIONARY.—It would take some time to explain our views respecting these most important subjects; but I am happy to be able to answer you in the affirmative. That is to say, we are taught that the sacraments of baptism and the Holy Supper were Divinely instituted: that they are in the Word of the New Testament distinctly commanded; and therefore we regard it as a sacred duty to observe them.
I.—Your position is, undoubtedly, correct. At any rate, what you say appears to sound right to my ears.
M.—If you have a desire to hear what the New Church doctrines teach concerning these matters, I shall be very happy to explain some of our views. It is always a great pleasure to me to talk about these grand essentials of our holy religion whenever a suitable opportunity presents itself. And I must confess that my sympathies have never been with those who regard the sacraments, which our Lord Himself instituted, as non-essential.
I.—The holy sacraments which the lord, our Divine Redeemer, instituted and commanded, must surely be necessary, proper, and eminently useful in the promotion of the true Christian life of the member of the Church. So it seems to me.
M.—Very true, indeed. And we shall always find, on due consideration, that baptism and the Holy Supper, as Divinely appointed ordinances, are most profoundly and beautifully significant, and that their uses are really of vast importance.
I.—Our meeting is opportune, I am sure. You say it gives you pleasure to converse on these subjects; and I can assure you that I shall be delighted to hear an explanation of them from the standpoint of the New Church doctrine. And if you have no objections, I will indicate the particular points concerning which I should like some information, by asking some questions. The doctrines of your Church, you know, are nearly altogether new to me. My opportunities for investigating them have thus far been rather limited. But I want to learn more with regard to many things. There was a time, some years since, when I thought I knew a good deal—almost everything that could be known, in fact. But that time has gone by.
M.—Then I may congratulate you upon having entered into a new era, as regards your mental and spiritual state. For it is one of the peculiar laws respecting the growth and development of the human mind on the spiritual plane, that when we come into a state in which we realize that we know almost nothing, and are only beginning to learn that then we are entering into the shining pathway that leads to the attainment of intelligence and wisdom; then we become willing to renounce our prejudices, to relinquish our self-derived intelligence, and to receive the wisdom that is from above, which alone can make us "wise unto salvation." But I must give you an opportunity to put your questions, the consideration of which will probably occupy all our time.
I.—Well, my first question has reference to the mode in which you administer baptism. Do you practise immersion, sprinkling, or pouring?
M.—You will perhaps be a little surprised to hear that we practise neither of the forms you have mentioned.
I.—Yes, I am surprised to hear that; but what other form is there?
M.—The mode in which we administer baptism, is by dipping the hand into the font, and then applying it to the forehead of the candidate, saying: "I baptize thee into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Some of our ministers in the United States and Canada, at least, say: "I baptize thee into the name of the lord jesus christ, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
I.—I never knew of a clergyman in any of the other Churches using this form of words; but it does not impress me as being objectionable; and I presume it can be justified by the Scriptures.
M.—This form of words is used in accordance with the fundamental doctrine of the New Church as derived from the Sacred Scriptures, that the lord jesus christ is the God of heaven and earth, and that the Divine Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one in Him, comparatively as the soul, body, and operation are one in man. Thus the grand distinguishing doctrine of the New Church is presented to the mind, of baptism into the name of the lord, instead of into the name of a tri-personal God. The former is in accordance with the Scriptures, but the latter is both unscriptural and unreasonable, because the idea of three Divine persons in the Godhead, is no other than the idea of three Gods.
I.—It must, nevertheless, be admitted that the doctrine of three persons in the Godhead, is the cardinal doctrine generally held in the so-called "orthodox" Churches.
M.—Yes, and when they baptize "into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," they distinctly understand these to mean the three persons mentioned in the creeds. But herein the theologians of modern times have most lamentably departed from the apostolic doctrine of the Church. For in the Acts of the Apostles we read that the people who heard the Gospel preached with such tremendous zeal and power by Peter on the day of Pentecost, exclaimed: "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" And they received this reply: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you into the name of jesus christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts ii. 37, 38). We also read that those who received the Word of God at Samaria, "were baptized into the name of the lord jesus" (Acts viii. 16).
I.—Just before His ascension into heaven, our lord gave the commission to His apostles, saying: "Go ye, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. xxviii. 19). But I do not recollect any passage in the Acts where it is said that the apostles used this form of words. It seems evident, therefore, that the apostles who went forth into the wide world to perform their great mission, because they baptized into the name of the lord jesus christ, must have believed that the glorified, heaven-ascended Saviour was actually God, in whom was the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as your doctrine so emphatically declares. I never saw it so plainly before. It is wonderful how clearly one can see these things when one has some help in the way of explanation.
M.—The conclusion you have drawn is perfectly logical. You have made a strong point. There is no doubt—but everything goes to show—that the apostles believed that the Divine Trinity was in the lord. And John afterwards wrote to the same effect, saying: "This [jesus christ] is the true God, and eternal life" (1 John v. 20). The apostle Paul, also, in at least two passages speaks of being baptized into jesus christ. (See Rom. vi. 3; Gal. iii. 27). The point, therefore, is settled that it is proper for us to baptize into the name of the lord jesus christ, because the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one, in His most glorious and adorable person.
I.—Do you regard immersion as being objectionable?
M.—No, we do not regard it as particularly objectionable, but as unnecessary. The quantity of water made use of in the administration of baptism is a matter of no importance. It is not the water that washes away the inherited or acquired impurities of man's nature. A single drop of pure water applied to the forehead of the individual being baptized, is as efficacious as any larger quantity. For this reason, namely, that baptism is a purely representative ordinance. Water is used because it is the symbol of truth. A drop of water contains all the properties of water. Its application is "a sign and memorial that man is to be regenerated." Thus it is sometimes called "an outward sign of an inward, spiritual grace." The washing of baptism signifies the purification of the mind, by the removal of evils and falses. Evils and falses are removed by means of the truths of faith from the Word. As the water cleanses and refreshes the body, so the truth, of which the water is the correspondent, purifies and cheers the mind.
I.—I think your explanation is at once practical, reasonable, and beautiful. It impresses me as being in accordance with the Scriptures as well as in harmony with enlightened reason.
M.—It is only an imperfect statement of what the Writings of the New Church teach upon this subject, and these Writings are expositions of the genuine meaning of the Scriptures; our doctrines therefore agree with them.
I.—Is there any particular reason why you apply the water with the hand to the forehead of a person? I ask because you seem to give reasons for things in a manner that is as delightful as it is new to me.
M.—There is a certain significance, or symbolic meaning, in all things that are done in the administration of baptism. Thus the face is the index of the mind; for the moods and affections of the mind are expressed by the face. The forehead is the highest part of the face; and what is highest signifies what is interior or inmost as to spiritual state. The water, as I said before, is the symbol of truth; and the hand with which the water is applied, is the emblem of power. When we now sum these things up, we can see that by the power of the truth of the Divine Word applied to the life and conduct of an individual, the very inmost spiritual principles of the mind are to be purified from evils and falses in the process of regeneration.
I.—You said that baptism by immersion was not particularly objectionable. But do you not think that immersion was the mode practised by the apostles? And does it not seem plain that John baptized Jesus by immersion? I am not a Baptist; nor have I ever been baptized by immersion; but I have always inclined to the view that, according to the letter of the Scriptures, immersion was the proper mode. But I must confess that you have thrown a flood of light upon the subject. You have certainly presented some new ideas which to any reasonable individual must carry with them a great deal of weight. Thus, you have explained that water is used as the symbol of purifying truth. That this is so, no one can deny. And that a drop of water contains all the properties of any larger quantity, is also true. The question, therefore, which arises, is: Is baptism by immersion any more valid or any more in accordance with the Scriptures than the mode you have described?
M.—It seems that the apostles baptized by immersion, and that the lord was baptized in this manner. This opinion very largely prevails in the Christian world. And yet, when the Scriptures are critically examined concerning this point, it still remains a question whether the apostles baptized by immersion, and whether the lord was baptized in this manner? According to the original, we read in Matt. iii. 16: "And having been baptized, jesus went up straightway from the water." But in Mark i. 10, it speaks of His going up out of the water. If we now look at the matter from a strictly literal standpoint, and think of the Saviour as walking down with John into the Jordan to be baptized of him; and if we think further that John performed the Divine ceremony by putting water upon the head of jesus, and that He then returned to the bank of the river; would it not be literally true that He "went up straightway from, or out of, the water"? And all this without His having been actually plunged under the water?
I.—Well, I must confess that it does appear so.
M.—There is corroborative evidence favouring the conception that this was the manner in which the Saviour and others were baptized in the Jordan. On the walls in the Catacombs of Rome, there are a good many pictures which were painted in the time of the early Christians. Several of these pictures, we are told, represent baptismal scenes. But not one of them represents baptism as being performed by immersion. The catechumen stands in the water, while the person administering baptism stands at the water's edge. In one picture—the baptism of a boy— the candidate is represented as standing in the water ankle deep, while the baptizer is standing on the shore. And what is of an interesting significance, the baptizer is in the act of laying his right hand upon the head of the catechumen, as if pronouncing the blessing. We do this in the New Church. After the application of the water to the forehead, and the declaration of the baptism, the minister lays his hands upon the head of the person, reverently saying: "The lord bless thee, and keep thee: the lord make His face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace" (Num. vi. 24-26).
I.—Very appropriate and impressive. If you continue your explanations, I fear you will shake my faith in baptism by immersion; but that is of no consequence. What I want, is to learn the truth of the matter. The early Christians who painted the pictures on the walls of the Catacombs, surely must have known what mode was practised in the administration of baptism, in the time of the apostles. At least it seems reasonable to infer that they knew. And therefore the pictures in the Catacombs you have described, militate against the idea of immersion. But does not the word baptism mean immersion?
M.—We have not time to enter into a full consideration of the subject just now; but T must give you something in reply to your question. The literal signification of the term baptism, is washing; and the spiritual meaning is purification, as we have already seen. Washings were commanded and enjoined upon the sons of Israel, as we read in Leviticus xvi. 4, 24; Exodus xxx. 18-21; Numbers viii. 6, 7, and many other passages. That they might wash themselves, a brazen sea and many lavers were placed near the temple, as described in 1 Kings vii. 23-39. They washed according to Divine command, not only themselves and their clothes, but many other things, such as their utensils and furniture. And these washings were representative of purification, the same as baptism.
I.—And I presume all this was done according to the principle that water is the symbol, or as you say, the correspondent of truth, which purifies when applied to the life and conduct of an individual?
M.—Precisely so. Let us now examine a few passages in the New Testament to see what answer we shall obtain, as to the signification of the term baptism. Your question is: Does baptism mean immersion? I should say, Not necessarily. It simply means washing. And when the children of Israel washed, they did not necessarily immerse themselves. When they washed their furniture, their tables, benches, and the like, they did not necessarily plunge them entirely under the water. It has been asserted that in the original the word baptize means to dip, or to immerse. But Dr. Albert Barnes says, on Matthew iii. 6, "It cannot be proved that a complete immersion ever was connected with the Word, or that it ever in any case occurred." And Schleusner says: "The word never signifies to immerse, when used by the sacred penman." Others say the same. The learned Drs. Tafel, however, in their magnificent Interlinear Translation of the Word, have in one passage—and in one only, so far as I can find—that of Mark vii. 4, rendered the original with the word "dipped;" so that it literally reads: "Except they shall have dipped themselves, they eat not." But of course it does not mean that unless they shall have immersed themselves bodily in water; it means, unless they shall have washed, they eat not.
I.—According to your explanations, as far as they have gone, the Scriptures certainly do not appear to favour immersion as the only proper mode of baptism. But there is a passage in Paul that I should like you to explain. I refer to where he says: "Know ye not, that as many of us as were baptized into jesus christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. vi. 3, 4).
M.—There is a considerable depth of meaning in this passage of the apostle; but its interpretation is not difficult in the light of the doctrine of the New Church. I believe that with our Baptist brethren this is regarded as a strong passage in favour of immersion. But we do not so regard it. Because immersion in water of a person's physical body cannot reasonably be considered as a burial into the death of the carnal man, with his sinful lusts and evil deeds. The apostle is making use of purely figurative language, as he does in many portions of his Epistles. And when he says: "We are buried with christ by baptism unto death," I do not understand him to allude to immersion in water at all.
I.—That the apostle makes use of figurative language cannot, it seems to me, be denied. But what does he mean by the expression, "buried with christ by baptism into death "?
M.—The figurative idea of the expression, "buried by baptism into death," is, rejected, put away, consigned to oblivion. Paul is not speaking of any particular external form of baptism; but he has reference to an inward spiritual change, which is effected by man's regeneration. This is evident from the last clause of the text you have quoted, which speaks of "walking in newness of life." And it is further evident from the context, where the apostle says: "Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed" (Rom. vi. 6).
I.—What do you understand Paul to mean when he says: "christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father"? This seems to be a figurative expression also: and one containing a certain sublimity of meaning.
M.—The apostle in this clause manifestly makes reference to the glorification of our lord, that is, to the assumed Human nature of the lord being made Divine, and thus united with the Father, that, as he says in another place, in jesus christ might dwell "all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. ii. 9). "The glory of the Father," is the Omnipotence of the Divine, by which through the human, the Lord conquered the powers of darkness, overcame the hells, performed the work of Redemption, and ascended on high as the Mighty God, the Father of Eternity, the Prince of Peace, to "reign into the ages of the ages" (Rev. xi. 15).
I.—As we have—for the present, at least—disposed of the subject of immersion, I should like to ask how you regard the matter of infant baptism?
M.—We baptize infants and children, as well as adults.
I.—But it is written: "He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved" (Mark xvi. 16); and infants and children surely cannot be said to believe in the Gospel.
M.—Very true; but they can by the Christian sign of the holy sacrament of baptism, be introduced into the lord's Church. They can be trained and educated according to the principles of the Church; and thus be prepared to become earnest and intelligent believers in the lord and in Divine things, when they attain the age of maturity. The lord says: "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God" (Mark x. 14; Matt. xix. 14). Now the Church is the kingdom of God on the earth. Baptism is the Divinely appointed gate of entrance into the Church. And when our Father in the heavens with infinite tenderness, says: "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not," we understand it to mean: Let the little ones that in the Divine Providence are given into your care, be baptized, and forbid or hinder them not to be thus introduced into the Church, which is the lord's kingdom on earth, to the end that heavenly influences, angelic ministries, may be more fully provided for them; that they may be led into repentance and regeneration in due time, and finally into states of unspeakable bliss in the lord's kingdom in the heavens.
I.—I must confess that I never looked at the subject in this light before. But it is very plainly to be seen that since the lord says of the little ones, "Of such is the kingdom of God," and since the Church is that kingdom on earth, it cannot be improper to identify them by means of the Christian sign, as you call it, with the members of the Church.
M.—We are instructed in the Writings of the New Church, that the uses of baptism are threefold, as follows:
The first use of baptism is introduction into the Christian Church, and at the same time insertion among Christians in the spiritual world.
The second use of baptism is that the Christian may know and acknowledge the lord jesus christ, the Redeemer and Saviour, and follow Him.
The third use of baptism is that man may be regenerated.
In the True Christian Religion, Nos. 677-687, these uses are definitely explained. If you will read those explanations, you will obtain much information concerning the nature of baptism.
I.—I will do so at my first opportunity. But it just occurs to me that there are those who think that infant baptism is useless because the little ones know nothing about it, no faculty of understanding or principle of faith being as yet formed in their minds. But precisely the same objection could have been raised against the rite of circumcision. The infants could not know what it meant. And yet it was positively commanded of God that every male child when eight days old, should be circumcised, as we read in Genesis xvii. 10-14. It is even declared concerning the uncircumcised child, that "that soul shall be cut off from his people."
M.—I was just on the point of speaking of this very matter of circumcision. Your argument is good, as far as it goes—quite correct.
I.—Well; now I should be glad to hear you explain the relations existing between circumcision and baptism. Was not the former typical of the latter?
M.—Yes; the Israelitish Church was in all respects representative. Circumcision was instituted in that Church, we are taught in our Writings, "because it represented, and thence signified, the rejection of the lusts of the flesh, and thus purification from evils, the same as baptism" (T.C.R. 675). And we are furthermore definitely instructed on this point, that "when the lord came into the world He abrogated the representatives, which all were external, and instituted a Church in which all things were to be internal;" and that of all those representatives the lord retained but two, which were to contain in one complex whatever related to the internal Church. "These two are baptism instead of washings, and the Holy Supper instead of the lamb which was sacrificed every day, and particularly at the feast of the passover" (T.C.R. 670). Thus the lord did that which is meant by His fulfilling all things of the law, Matt. v. 17, 18.
I.—It seems the lord Himself was subject to the law of circumcision, according to what we read (Luke ii. 21). And John also was circumcised on the eighth day (i. 59). And the baptism of our Saviour by John has always impressed me as a very remarkable circumstance. There is such a beautiful spirit of humility expressed in John's saying: "I have need for being baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?" (Matt. iii. 14).
M.—Yes, it was, indeed, a very beautiful spirit which John manifested on that occasion. In fact, he was one of the most remarkable characters of whom the religious history of the world gives us any account. On the one hand, we have the extraordinary simplicity of the man; and on the other hand, the vast importance of his mission, in preparing the way for the Divine Redeemer and Saviour of the world.
I.—From what you have said, I begin to see that the baptism of infants and children is not a useless form, as some think, and as I have thought myself; but that it is eminently proper and useful.
M.—I am much pleased that my efforts at an explanation of the subject appear to have helped you a little, at any rate. When we consider that baptism was instituted by our lord in the place of circumcision; and when we learn the nature and uses of this holy sacrament; when, moreover, we come to see that it. may be the means of exerting a most wholesome spiritual influence upon the life and character of an individual; then we shall be more zealous with regard to its administration. We shall cease to look upon Christian baptism as a mere form signifying little, or nothing; and we shall be able to see, intelligently, that its strict observance will with the Divine blessing,, prove to be an incalculable power for good in the Church and in the world.
I.—As we have a little time yet, I should like you to say something about the holy communion also. I once heard a man make the assertion that the Swedenborgians did not observe the Sacraments at all. But I have to-day learned how wholly untrue this is. You not only believe in and observe them, but you give rational interpretations of their nature and meaning such as it has never been my privilege to listen to before.
M.—Unfortunately there are those who will "bear false witness against their neighbour," by which, however, they do themselves more injury than anybody else. Nevertheless, the assertion is doubtless true that some Swedenborgians do not believe in or observe the Divinely-instituted Sacraments. For some Swedenborgians are followers of the man, Swedenborg, rather than of the lord. There are those who accept the philosophy, in some respects, which they find in Swedenborg's works, while at the same time they reject the theology which is therein taught. The New Churchman, however, is a follower of the lord jesus christ. He regards Swedenborg as having been a most eminent theologian and servant of the lord, whose extraordinary mission was to give to the world from the lord, a Divine revelation of truth, according to predictions and promises written in the Scriptures.
I.—There is, then, an essential difference between a Swedenborgian and a New Churchman. I, of course, have heretofore had no occasion to recognize such a distinction as you speak of, but I see the point.
M.—A New Churchman is perfectly willing to accord to his fellow-men the privilege of thinking for themselves. The freedom of every individual to exercise the faculties with which his Creator has endowed him, is an important principle in our teachings. But a New Churchman generally has convictions, and the disposition to hold them firmly. For this reason, some men have appeared to be dogmatic, when, in fact, that was not their spirit at all. A man is dogmatic, in an objectionable sense, when he attempts to force his views upon another's acceptance; but not when he holds firmly, and expresses plainly those views, at the same time manifesting a disposition to leave others in freedom to think for themselves, and to either receive or reject them.
I.—I think your definition is a good one. Of course, if we feel positive that a certain view of a subject is the correct one, we will feel equally positive that another quite opposite view is erroneous; and in this case, if we have a warm interest in the subject, it is perfectly natural for us to have a strong desire to have others think as we do. Some people allow this desire to carry them altogether too far. They seem to think that if others do not hold the same views as they doy their hearts cannot possibly be in the right place; they seem to feel that unless others are, as it were, travelling on the same road as they are, they cannot by any means be on the way to heaven. But there is in this spirit more or less of fanaticism. They forget that the holy city, the New Jerusalem, has "on the east three: gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates" (Rev. xxi. 13). By which I understand is meant that from different directions, by different roads, that is, from different standpoints of doctrine, and by various experiences and states of the Christian life, people can enter into the kingdom of heaven.
M.—In the Writings of the New Church we have very definite teaching concerning the sacrament of the Holy Supper. Its nature, objects, uses, and effects, as a part of the Divine service and worship which a Christian is to render to his Lord and Master, are very thoroughly explained, and illustrated from the Word. As baptism is an introduction into the Church, so the Holy Supper is an introduction into heaven. When we speak of the Church, we do not mean its; external organizations, or its buildings, or forms of worship; although these are as necessary as are a man's garments; but we are now speaking of the Church as to its Divine doctrine, and of the life of the Christian according to that doctrine. These constitute the Church within man, and through the Church, that is, by the reception of the Divine Truth, and by a life of good into which the truth leads, man is introduced into the kingdom of heaven. And by heaven we do not mean simply a place — although it is a transcendently beautiful and glorious place—but we mean a good, pure, orderly, heavenly, angelic state, as to the heart and mind of an individual.
I.—Yes, the Divine Teacher does say: "Behold, the kingdom of God is within you." It is to me quite interesting to learn how baptism and the holy communion are related to each other. I should be glad to hear a little further explanation of this.
M.—Baptism, as we have seen, signifies purification from evils and falsities. And the meaning of the celebration of the Holy Supper is the reception and appropriation of the Divine Good and the Divine Truth from the lord, the infinite and inexhaustible fountain of life and goodness and truth; the source of all human joys and blessings. For man is a mere recipient of life, and of all things that constitute his being, notwithstanding the fact that he has a self-consious existence by virtue of the exercise of his faculties, and is a free agent in spiritual things.
I.—It seems to be a doctrine peculiar to the New Church that man is a recipient of life, and not life in himself, in the sense of being self-existent.
M.—It is; and this according to the Scriptures. All life proceeds, primarily, from God, "in whom we live and move and have our being." Human qualities are by derivation from the Divine, in whom all qualities are Divinely Human. A tree is dependent for its life upon the influences of the heat and light of the sun of nature. And man, who is in the Scriptures compared to a tree, is momentarily dependent upon the inflowing of life from the Lord, who is the Sun of heaven. Thus it is written: "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven" (John iii. 27). The Lord is called "the fountain of life" (Ps. xxxvi. 9). And as "God manifest in the flesh," He said: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John xiv. 6); and again: "I am the resurrection and the life" (John xi. 25).
I.—That man has no life of himself is a new idea;_ but that it is a truth, is self-evident the very moment you look at it. Your illustration confirms it; for where would the tree be without the heat and light of the sun?
M.—And where would be the man, without the reception of the Divine Good and the Divine Truth from "the lord our God, who is a sun and shield"? (Ps. lxxxiv. 11). The lord says: "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you" (John vi. 53). Now the flesh and blood of the Son of man, the same as the elements of the bread and wine in the sacrament of the Holy Supper, are the symbols of the Divine Good and the Divine Truth from the lord. The flesh and blood of the Lord, the Son of man, are mentioned in the Word as correspondences of the principles of Divine Good and Divine Truth. And unless we receive these, we can have no life that is truly human, that is, no life that is spiritual, heavenly, angelic; and in the Word is called eternal or everlasting life.
I.—I have often in the years gone by, felt a strong desire to understand these things better; and your explanations are a great satisfaction to my mind.
M.—When the lord instituted the Holy Supper, "He took bread, and blessing, brake it, and gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body" (Mark xiv. 22). In the heavenly doctrines of the New Jerusalem we are taught that bread in the spiritual sense, signifies the Divine Good of the Divine Love; and that in the supreme sense, it signifies the lord, and everything holy which is from Him. And this is in agreement with the lord's own words, where He says: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (John vi. 51).
I.—The Jews afterwards had a contention among themselves, saying: "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" (verse 52). They took the words of our Saviour literally; and I dare say the contention arose as to what it could mean; but this was quite natural, because those Jews were in an unspiritual state. It is, therefore, no wonder that it was beyond their comprehension when the lord said: "Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (verse 54). You explained some particulars about baptism, and as I presume all things that were done in the Last Supper have in like manner a spiritual sense, I should like to ask what is meant by the lord's breaking the bread?
M.—The breaking of bread, and eating together, according to a spiritual idea, means the communication and appropriation of the principle of good, and thus the conjunction which can be effected, on the part of man, in no other way than by the reception and communication of love or charity. Eating signifies the appropriation of principles of good as to the faculty of the will, and drinking signifies the reception of principles of truth as to the faculty of the understanding. As the material substances we eat and drink sustain the body, so the spiritual elements we appropriate nourish the mind and spirit. The lord says of the bread, "This is My body," because by His body is also meant the lord's Divine Love; and those who receive the influences" of the Divine Love, and come into the sphere of charity, and become spiritual-minded, delighting in the reception and communication of mutual love—of these it is said that they are in the lord's body; that they are in the lord, and the lord in them; which means conjunction with the lord, and communion with the angels of heaven. Thus we see that the Church is the lord's body. For all on earth who are in conjunction with the Lord and in consociation with the angels of heaven, constitute the Church. And the Divine Good of the Divine Love, and the Divine Truth of the Divine Wisdom, are the essential principles of the Church with man. They are in the lord, yea, they are the lord, and proceed from Him alone; so that He is All in all. I.—Your doctrine certainly gives one very profound and beautiful ideas, such as one does not hear of in any other system of religious teaching. My uniform experience has been that people do not look at these things intelligently, and therefore they do not recognize the sublime significance of the Divinely-appointed ordinances. It seems to be a generally prevailing sentiment, that if these things are observed in their outward form, it is sufficient, without endeavouring to understand their meaning. This is evidently because they have no knowledge of the spiritual sense of the Scriptures as taught in the New Church. But there are probably too many of the old superstitious notions, too many preconceived ideas, still occupying people's minds, to admit of their becoming interested in the new doctrines. They are satisfied with the old views of things, and appear to have no hunger or thirst for the new truths, which are now revealed—as I begin to see—in comprehensible terms and in rational forms. An indisposition to exercise their minds concerning spiritual subjects, causes many to say that the faith of their forefathers is good enough for them. The masses of mankind, as a matter of fact, seem to have no desire for changes in religious belief. They do not realize the need of any changes. A spirit of this sort would never have begun and carried forward the Reformation. The light of the glorious Gospel being withheld from men, the world would have seen no other than "dark ages" to this day. And what is amazing to me, is that most of the preachers of our time encourage this spirit, and continue teaching the old views to please the people, instead of giving them rational doctrines to enlighten their minds. It seems to me these are not the kind of teachers the Lord promises His people when He says: "I will give you pastors according to Mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding" (Jer. iii. 15). But I had not intended saying so much.
M.—You have not said too much. Indeed, I am glad to hear what you have said, because you have spoken the truth. It cannot be denied that even with all the religious denominations, the Churches so called, the vast cathedrals, and the worship conducted in them, there is nevertheless a widespread and increasing indifference to spiritual things. It is lamentable that it should be so; but our observation and experience are continually presenting proofs of it. Mankind generally are submerged in the sphere of naturalism and materialism. Self-love in various forms, largely prevails among men, insomuch that it is often asserted that every one acts from selfish motives, and that no one is capable of manifesting a disinterested love of the neighbour. Scepticism is advancing with rapid strides, both in Europe and America. There are millions in Christendom who repudiate the Sacred Scriptures as containing a Divine revelation; millions who disregard the sacred ordinances of the Church, and all things of Divine worship; millions who never cross the threshold of any place dedicated to the service of the lord, the God of heaven. Men devote all their faculties and powers to the acquisition of silver and gold and all manner of earthly possessions. Temporal things alone are desired, while spiritual, heavenly, eternal realities are regarded as of no importance. The spiritual state of the world in our time, reminds one of the words of lamentation written under inspiration by the prophet Isaiah, saying: "Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, . . . they are gone away backward" (Is. i. 4).
I.—There is to my mind, a tremendous amount of truth in your characterization. But is there not also a bright side to the picture?
M.—Yes, there is. Thanks and praise be unto our lord, the Father of mercies, for the knowledge and assurance that there is a bright side to the picture! And by contrast we shall perhaps be enabled to see the greater beauty on the bright side of the picture. There is a grand truth expressed in the poetic sentiment: "There is a silver lining to every cloud." It reminds us that the sun of nature always shines. No matter how dense and dark the clouds may be, no matter how the gloom may veil the face of nature, or how fiercely the storm may rage, the glory of the sun is perpetually the same. Exalted in majesty far above the earth, and far beyond the cloud, the sun shines on with undiminished splendour. In like manner, through all the "dark ages" of a consummated Church, through all the fearful conflicts of the religious wars and persecutions which the world has experienced, through all the tribulation and anguish, greater than that" which had been before, or has been since, the glory and majesty of the lord, the Sun of Righteousness, remained the same. His Divine Providence was continually exercised on behalf of the children of men. He always made His sun to rise both upon the evil and the good; for He is "no respecter of persons."
I.—It was prophetically written: "The lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee; and the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising" (Isa. lx. 2, 3). What application might this passage have to the subject just now before us?
M.—The beautiful passage you have quoted, in the spiritual sense, treats of a new dispensation of the Church, and its establishment on the earth. And in the fact that this is now taking place, we have the bright side of the picture before spoken of. The faith of the New Church, signified by the New Jerusalem (Rev. xxi. 2), is a faith of light. In so far as this faith is received, it brightens up everything in the human mind. The darkness of falsity, ignorance, bigotry, and superstition is dissipated. The rays of the beneficent light of truth shine into the mind, as it were, and communicate bright ideas respecting spiritual and heavenly things. A man's thoughts and ideas are gradually changed, and he becomes more and more rational. The light of the world now goes forth to illuminate the nations; which is meant by the expression: "The lord shall arise upon thee." And the man of the Church in the new dispensation will most readily give up his erroneous ideas just as fast as the Divine Truth points them out to him. And thus he will be led into intelligence and wisdom, even while he remains in this world; and in the world to come he will enter into the joys of eternity. Intelligence and wisdom constitute man, in the true sense of the word; and an angel of heaven is no other than a perfected man.
I.—There are, it seems to me, very few comparatively that can realize any need of new doctrines, or of the founding of a new dispensation of the Church; but I can see great need of a change for the better, even in the affairs of what is commonly called the Christian world. And I am profoundly impressed with the conviction that the lord did not too soon provide for the revelation of the inner sense of His Divine Word. Because we frequently have occasion to notice, when conversing with intelligent men—that is, men who are inclined to reason about things—that the literal sense of the Scriptures is quite inadequate to satisfy them. But as I took you away from the main topic of our conversation, I should now like to bring you back to it, if you please. The time when we must close is near; and I think you have something more to say about the Sacraments.
M.—Before we return to those subjects, permit me to say that with the beginning of the upbuilding of the lord's New Church, there was the dawning of a new spiritual day for humanity; that transcendently glorious and joyous day which many centuries before was prophetically spoken of in the words—to those who had long been in spiritual night, most wonderfully cheering and hopeful words—"The morning cometh!" (Isa. xxi. 12). And although on the part of many millions of our race it is still night spiritually, because "they love darkness rather than light" (John iii. 19), nevertheless the morning has come. The lord, the Sun of Righteousness, has arisen, and His Divine glory is seen: that is, the spiritual sense of the most Holy Word is understood by all who are disposed to look to the lord, humbly praying: "Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law" (Ps. cxix. 18). And with respect to the lord in founding His New Church, is written: "Thy sun shall no more go down; and thy moon shall not be withdrawn: for the lord shall be to thee for a light of eternity, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended" (Isa. lx. 20).
I.—This passage seems to prove, very plainly, your statement that the faith of the New Church is a faith of light, because in it the sun is to continue to shine for ever. I might ask more questions, but will leave this for some future time; and will let you close with any remarks that may occur to you.
M.—A great deal more could be said; but as you intend to read the True Christian Religion, and thus go for information to the fountain itself, I will add but a few words now. You will find it to be there taught that the two Sacraments, namely, baptism and the Holy Supper, are the most holy things of all Divine worship (TCR 699). And these are there particularly explained and beautifully illustrated with numerous passages from the Word. It is said that "baptism and the Holy Supper are, as it were, two gates to eternal life." There are several sublime passages in the Scriptures where gates are mentioned; and thereby are meant the principles of truth and good—from the lord, the bountiful giver of all perfect gifts—which introduce the faithful into the Church on earth, and into the kingdom of the heavens. A reverent and humble spirit will lead one to desire to enter by the door into the fold (John x. 1), according to the order of the lord's appointed way, being in all things obedient and submissive to the Divine will. And therefore it is written: "Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name: for the lord is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth is to all generations" (Ps. c. 4,5). Again: "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in" (Ps. xxiv. 7). And again: "Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city" (Rev. xxii. 14).
I.—Please accept my most grateful acknowledgments for the information you have given me concerning these interesting and important subjects. May the lord bless and prosper you, and grant that success may attend all your endeavours to disseminate the truths of the everlasting Gospel! Farewell.